Friday June 29 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 20:29-34

Key verses: (29-34) 29As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” 32Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

Reflection: Lord, let our eyes be opened.

Let our eyes be opened when it is dark around us. When we look and strain for a glimpse of light, but instead see just an engulfing darkness.

Lord, let our eyes be opened.

Let our eyes be opened when we don’t want to see what is right in front of us. When you have made the path clear, but it seems too hard, so we close our eyes to your signposts.

Lord, let our eyes be opened.

Let our eyes be opened to the needs of those around us. To the suffering, the hurting, the desperate, the lonely. To those closest to us, to those down the street. To those out of sight.

Lord, let our eyes be opened.

Let our eyes be opened to people who aren’t just like us. Who don’t think like us. Or look like us. Or live like us. Open our eyes to the ways we are so much alike, made in your image, brothers and sisters in your great family.

Lord, let our eyes be opened.

Let our eyes be opened to where we have got it wrong. Where, in our own quest for truth and wholeness, we have closed our eyes to something we need to see again. Give us fresh vision for old problems.

Lord, let our eyes be opened.

Let our eyes be opened all the time: times when our tears are blinding, times when the sun shines so bright we have to squint, times when we are so busy we can hardly focus, times we are sure we seeing clearer than anyone else.

Lord, let our eyes be opened.

Let us see you.

Prayer: In the name of Christ, who gave sight to the blind, we pray. Amen.

Author: Julie Hester

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Thursday June 28 2018

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Scripture: Matt 20: 17-28

Key verses: (20-23) 20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

Reflection: This scenario is not uncommon today, with “helicopter” mom’s interceding on their adult children’s behalf.  Moms have been seen moving into their own apartments on college campuses for the first month of school. They have been known to enter the workplace of their adult children, demanding shorter work days or advocating for advancement. It is happening less and less with this new generation but it continues enough to be an issue.  A request from any mom for their adult children is inappropriate.

The mother of James and John was demanding a prominent position in the kingdom for her children.  James and John were on the front row for the transfiguration but they wanted more. Their mother made a request of Jesus that was highly inappropriate. Inappropriate because they misunderstood the nature of the kingdom. They were looking for honor, prestige and power in Christ’s kingdom. Had they not heard anything Jesus had been saying? The kingdom of God is not of this world. Jesus offers an opportunity to serve and work for justice. Jesus invites compassion and sacrifice. It was not a kingdom like any other they had known with positions or a hierarchy. This is a kingdom of peace and James and John were already at the table.

We are also invited to the party, invited to join in the work God is doing in the world to bring about the kingdom. We have some work to do, so let’s not worry about where our children get to sit.

Prayer: God, let us walk humbly in our service with your son. Amen.

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Wednesday June 27 2018

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Scripture:  Matthew 20:1-16

Key verse: (1) “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard…”

Reflection: As I write this devotional, I’m preparing to head to Ahuachapán, El Salvador with 30 of our youth group for a week of service with Habitat for Humanity of El Salvador.  As you read this devotional, we are likely starting our fourth day of work on a home in the community.  Most of our group has no doubt been working really hard; sanding, painting hammering, sawing, digging, and no doubt sweating as they have spent the majority of the day in demanding physical labor.  I, on the other hand, will likely be getting pulled out for meetings with leadership of our partner organizations, maybe even in air conditioning.  So at the end of each day, I’m probably not as worn out as the rest of the group likely is.  That is no doubt making me feel guilty, as I have not borne the burden of the day as many of them have.

So I couldn’t resist writing today’s devotional on Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard.  I get why the people who have been working all day are not happy that they get the same wages as people who only worked for an hour.  And I would imagine some of those workers hired at the end of the day are pretty uncomfortable receiving the same wages as those who worked a full day, (probably not uncomfortable enough to give some of their wages to their friends!) but at least there’s likely a little guilt in play.  In the parable, from the standpoint of the landowner, it’s all good.  He met the obligation he made to those who worked a full day, paying them a full day’s wage.  And he chose to be generous to those who didn’t work a full day, also giving them a full day’s wage.  “Are you envious because I am generous?” asks the landowner to one of the workers who put in a full day’s labor.

Where do you find yourself in this story?  Informed by our Calvinist work ethic, most of us see ourselves as those who have worked a full day.  As I’m in business meetings while our crew is laboring in the heat here in El Salvador, I no doubt feel more like those workers blessed by the landowner’s generosity, because I’m receiving something I don’t feel like I’ve really earned.  According to this parable, in the end, who among us can really say we “earned” anything?  It is the land owner who makes it all possible.  Our very lives are a gift, as is the strength to labor, not to mention the generosity of the Lord who gives us so much more than any of us could ever really deserve.

According to Jesus’ parable, the Kingdom of God is like this.

Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” O Lord; in our lives, in our relationships, in our community, in our nation, in our world.  Let not your generosity to all create any envy in us. Amen.

Author: Joe Clifford

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Tuesday June 26 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 19:23-30

Key verses: (25-26) “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

Reflection: What kind of things distract you from God?  What is keeping you from experiencing the Kingdom of Heaven?  Most of the people I know are burdened by all the “stuff” they own – sometimes without realizing it.  Homes, cars, boats, toys, you name it can take over our lives.  There is always something to take care of when you have a lot of possessions.  And, none of it can go with us into the Kingdom of Heaven.  I think almost everyone has seen the picture of a hearse towing a U-Haul trailer.  The Egyptian kings and queens were buried with all of their wealth and possessions.  But none of us, no matter how hard we try can take all of our stuff with us – at least not into God’s kingdom. In Ancient Israel, wealth and possessions were thought of as a sign of God’s favor and blessing.  From the disciple’s point of view, a rich person would most certainly have a place of honor in God’s kingdom based on this alone.  But, Jesus challenged their understanding by saying it would be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven if they are overly attached to their possessions.  Only God can save us. God knows our hearts and where our attachments lie.  There is a song I recently heard by the group Selah called Broken Ladders that reminds me of the kind of striving after things that is often part of our lives. I hope you will go on-line and listen to it and then, consider what you are holding on to that might be keeping you from experiencing the joy of eternal life right now.

You never asked me to be king

Build my tower up to the sky

So why do I try

You never asked me to be rich

Buy the things that gold can buy

So why do I try All You ever wanted was my heart

My heart, my simple heart

To You that’s all that really matters

Why do I feel I have to reach

Believe I have to rise

When You never said I had to climb

These broken ladders

 

You never asked me to be complete

By myself, find all I need

So why do I try

Oh, You never asked me to stand alone

Face the struggles on my own

So why do I try

 

When all You ever wanted was my heart

My heart, my simple heart

To You that’s all that really matters

Why do I feel I have to reach

Believe I have to rise

When You never said I had to climb

These broken ladders

 

‘Cause all they do is take

My eyes off of You

Make me forget the truth

 

All You ever wanted was my heart

My heart, my simple heart

To You that’s all that really matters

Why do I feel I have to reach

Believe I have to rise

When You never said I had to climb

Oh, You never said I had to climb

These broken ladders

Oh, these broken ladders

Broken Ladders by Selah, From the Album Unbreakable 

Prayer: Eternal God, help us to let go of the things that are keeping us from you.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Author: Deborah Conner

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Monday June 25 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 145

Key verses: (4-7)

4   One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
5   On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6   The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
and I will declare your greatness.
7   They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

Reflection: It’s hard for me to choose one favorite part of our Vacation Bible School weeks. I love seeing so many adults and youth invested in sharing faith with the next generation. I adore the brief snippets of faith conversations I overhear as children move around the building. Watching children learn that they belong to God by being part of a church that welcomes and makes space for them is powerful. Seeing them make connections that help them understand stories from the Bible and their daily lives is a sign that faith formation matters. This year, one of my favorite parts was our focus on hands-on mission experiences for every child, every day: the littlest ones collected cans for Loaves & Fishes, the middle ages worked on daily mission projects for ministry partners, and our oldest Mission Kids served out in the city every day.

But in truth, if you had to pin me down, my actual favorite part is always the singing. I know parents might get tired of listening to that VBS CD over and over and over again. But when all of Oxford Hall is rocking with almost 300 people jumping up and down and belting out songs of praise to God, it’s hard not to feel like it’s all worth it! One of the favorite songs this year was “Every Move I Make” but the children called it the “Na Na Song” because it ended with a lot of “na nas” and jumping up and down… May it be our prayer today.

Prayer:
Every move I make, I make in You, You make me move Jesus
Every breath I take, I breathe in You
Every step I take, I take in You, You are my way Jesus
Every breath I take I breathe in You

Waves of mercy, Waves of grace
Everywhere I look I see your face
Your love has captured me
Oh, my God this love
How can it be?

Amen.

Author: Julie Hester

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Friday June 22 2018

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Scripture: Matt 18:21-35

Key verses: (21-22) Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Reflection: Our youth this summer are doing a scripture challenge, memorizing verses of the Bible. This is a Bible verse worth memorizing.  It is practical wisdom for living and a reminder of who we are as children of God.

Jesus said we are to forgive others, “seventy times seven” in response to Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus was speaking not only about forgiving one another but about Christian character. Jesus was not limiting forgiveness to 490 times, but reminding disciples that forgiveness is beyond counting. Forgiveness for others and forgiveness for ourselves. We are capable of this extravagant forgiveness because the Spirit of God lives within us and provides us the ability to extend grace over and over. Forgiveness is meant to be abundant, like the grace of God for each of us and all of us.

Prayer: God, pour out your grace upon us because we are broken and our lives are messy. Give us courage to live into your forgiveness so that it is part of who we are as we follow your son. Amen.

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Thursday June 21 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 18:10-20

Key verse: (10) “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.”

Reflection: Over the past six weeks, children have been pawns in the immigration debates of our nation. Passions have run high in these debates. Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order ending the practice of separating children from their families when they have entered our country illegally. Thanks be to God! While the details of this order have yet to be defined, and while we are a long way from solving the challenges of asylum seekers coming to our nation for protection, I am thankful something has been done to curb this practice.

How might God feel about all this?

Today’s passage from Mathew’s gospel gives us some insight. It continues a discourse Jesus has with the disciples concerning greatness in the kingdom of heaven.  In yesterday’s passage, Jesus placed a child among his disciples and said, “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”  In today’s passage, Jesus continues the object lesson, warning his disciples not to “despise one of these little ones” as they have great favor from God’s point of view.  In fact, in Luke’s version of this story, Jesus says of children, “for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.”  (Luke 18:16)

What do these passages tell us about God?  God loves children.  In fact, children are the most favored citizens of God’s kingdom.  While nations of this world are challenged to define immigration policies that are just and humane, there are no immigration debates regarding the place of children in God’s kingdom.  All are welcome.

What does it tell us about who we are called to be in the midst of all this.  We are not to despise any children.  Harming children comes with great consequence from God’s perspective.  God cannot abide by losing even one child, neither should we.

How might this impact us as Christians?  How might it inform our discipleship?  How might it shape the way we think about the children impacted by the present crisis?

One thing is certain: on the chess board that is God’s kingdom, children are never pawns.  They are the most important pieces on the board.

Prayer: Give us your wisdom, O God, that we might see the challenges of our day with your vision and respond faithfully that we might know your kingdom.  Amen.

Author: Joe Clifford

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].