Tuesday July 31 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 27:32-44

Key verse: (44) “The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.”

Reflection: This week the gospel readings from the daily lectionary take us through the crucifixion of Jesus.  It’s a strange thing to read about Good Friday on the last day of July, but perhaps we should read the story of the Passion more often than just on Good Friday.  It’s a painful story to read.  Today’s reading focuses on the mocking Jesus endured.  In Matthew’s gospel, everyone mocks Jesus; the soldiers, people passing by, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, even the bandits who were crucified with him, all taunt him.

It made me wonder, where would I be in the crowds that day? Would I have joined in the taunting?  Or would I have been with the other apostles, as far away from the brutality and the ugliness as I could get, trying to stay safe and out of the melee?  Where does this scene unfold today?  Where does the cross exist in our world?  Where do the innocent suffer?  Where are those the world sees as guilty suffering unimaginable pain while the world taunts them in their agony?  I can’t help but think of the plight of refugees in our world today.  It’s stunning to see the ways desperate people fleeing war or gang violence are turned into criminals, or worse, terrorists.  Yet that is happening in many places in our world these days.  While I abhor the demagoguery and xenophobia, I’m afraid too often I’m with the apostles running for cover, just trying to stay safe.

There is another possibility offered in today’s reading.  We see it in Simon of Cyrene.  He only gets one sentence.  “As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.”  Cyrene was located in North Africa, in the eastern part of today’s Libya.  He was likely an outsider in the world of Jerusalem.  He is compelled to share Jesus’ burden.  In 1963, this one verse inspired a man named Anton Wallich-Clifford, (I’m not aware of any family connection!) who was a Catholic probation officer in London, to start the Simon Community, a movement to come alongside people living in homelessness.  They started small house communities of ten, including volunteers from the movement to live in Christian community with people who had formerly been homeless.  What an inspiring response to this one verse of Scripture.

Where do we see the cross today?  How do we respond?  Are we with the crowds, joining the taunting?  Are we with the Apostles, running for cover?  Or are we with Simon of Cyrene, coming alongside those who are suffering to help them bear their cross?  Wherever we find ourselves, we can be sure Christ is with all who find themselves on a cross this day.

Prayer: Grant me eyes to see you, O Lord, in those who are suffering today.  Compel me to join Simon and help them bear their cross.  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].

 

Monday July 30 2018

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Scripture: Joshua 24:16-33

Key verses: (16-17a) “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight.”

Reflection: At the end of the book of Joshua, the tribes of Israel renew their covenant with the LORD God.  This last chapter tells a condensed history of their journey into the Promised Land and the faithfulness of God.  This happened right before, Joshua, their leader, died.

It is important at times of transition to review where you have been in order to know where you are going.  The people of Israel recommitted themselves to the LORD.  They did this by remembering how they were released from a life of bondage in Egypt to become a free people united under God’s commandments and ordinances.  They were given new life.  Laws were put in place so that they might experience true freedom within boundaries. Joshua encouraged the people to forsake the other gods they had been serving and choose the LORD.  This was especially important as they moved into a new land.

Perhaps you are moving into a “new land” where life will be different.  Maybe it’s a move to another city, job, school, retirement community or some other adventure.  This would be a good time to review where you have been and how you have been travelling through life.  Take an inventory of what you have learned from the past and reflect on how God has been faithful.  Have there been times when you created lesser gods to worship?  Gods of work, achievement, or possessions?  Maybe it’s time to put these things in their proper place. What might happen if all our choices served God?  How might we be blessed as we renew our commitment to God, ourselves and each other?

The world is constantly changing.  Our lives and circumstances, over time, will continue to change.  Will we be faithful?

Prayer:  Almighty God, you love us with a fierce love.  Help us to remember that you have called us to have no other God’s before you.  Help us to let go of the gods that we worship that can never satisfy.  May we always remember your faithfulness to us.  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].

Friday July 27 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 27:1-10

Key verse: (5) Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

Reflection: Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. When a celebrity commits suicide, there is more public conversation about it. Apparently suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.  You can learn more about it here https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/health/suicide-rates-kate-spade.html

One of the amazing things about the Bible is that it doesn’t shy away from difficult topics like suicide. I am grateful that our holy scripture is down-to-earth enough to speak the truth and not just a sugarcoated utopian version of human life. In today’s passage, Judas sees that Jesus has been arrested and Jesus’ enemies hope to bring about his death. Judas repents of betraying Jesus and he tries to return the money he received as payment for turning Jesus in to the religious authorities. The authorities refuse to accept the money and Judas throws it down and then hangs himself. Judas became overwhelmed with guilt and saw no way out. He felt hopeless.

So what does our faith say about suicide? Some claim it is an unforgivable sin but we do not believe that to be true. A person in pain isn’t condemned for wanting the pain to end. Suicide is tragic and leaves behind hurting people who will live with more questions than answers. People who feel hopeless or who want their pain to end need the faith community to be a place of safe welcome. The church can be that place if we are willing to acknowledge difficult topics and we are willing to listen to deep pain. God is with us and God offers hope through the love and care we are able to give to one another.

Prayer: O God, when I feel hopeless and don’t see a way out, please give me courage to ask for help. Give me strength to love hurting people and to face the truth of pain in our world. Walk with me and walk with all those who journey through the valley of the shadow of death.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder

[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 July 26 2018

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Scripture: Romans 15:1-13

Key verses: (5-6) 5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection: I got to attend a musical performance of “The Color Purple” recently. It was funny and touching — a powerful statement of faith in self and in the presence of a loving God. I was struck by the blending of voices in harmony during some beautiful and haunting duets. In the middle of a story with some truly terrible moments in it, there is a remarkable prayer of thanks to God.

Dear God, dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples, dear everything, dear God
God is inside me and everyone else that was or ever will be
I came into this world with God and when I finally looked inside
I found it just as close as my breath is to me
Rising like the sun is the hope that sets us free
Your heartbeat make my heart beat
When we share love
Like a plate of corn, like a honeybee, like a waterfall
All a part of me
Like the color purple. Where do it come from?
Now my eyes are open. Look what God has done
It take a grain of love to make a mighty tree
Even the smallest voice can make a harmony
Like a drop of water in the river high
There are miracles for you and I. I don’t think us feel old at all
I think this is the youngest us ever felt, yes
Amen

Prayer: Enjoy this sung prayer from the Broadway production with Cynthia Erivo and Jennifer Hudson.

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].

Wednesday July 25 2018

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Scripture: Romans 14:13-23

Key verse: (19) Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Reflection: We crave a little more peace in our lives but pursuing peace, that is something different altogether. We want peace just to happen. I know I would love to fall right into a peaceful moment. Pursuing peace is not easy. Paul puts this in the present tense which means we must go after this and cultivate peace as a lifestyle. One paraphrase of the bible puts it like this: “So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said: “The followers of Jesus have been called to peace. When He called them they found their peace, for He is their peace. But now they are told that they must not only have peace but make it.” Jesus is once again countercultural. Peace isn’t cheap and easy. Pursuing peace is part of being a person of faith.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:9:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”

Jesus didn’t tell us to be “peacekeepers,” but instead “peacemakers.” It takes effort to bring conflict to an end. Working for reconciliation and resolving conflict, we are doing what God does.  We cannot wait around for peace; it must be pursued. Let us remember:

  • Ephesians 4:3: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

  • Psalm 34:14: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

  • Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Prayer: God of compassion, Remind us of our complicity and responsibility in this complex world. Lead us towards generous engagement and always towards a vision of peace. 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].

Tuesday July 24 2018

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Scripture: Romans 14:1-12

Key verse: (8) “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

Reflection: Dr. Shirley Guthrie taught theology at Columbia Theological Seminary for almost 40 years.  Not long after his retirement he was diagnosed with an advanced cancer.  When the doctor told him, he responded by quoting Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”  That embodied one of the many things I loved about Dr. Guthrie. He walked the talk.  His life reflected the freedom that is ours in Christ —freedom even from anxiety about death because we are claimed by God’s love in Christ.

Another freedom faith provides described in today’s reading is freedom from judging others. Paul describes a community where some eat only vegetables and others eat anything they want; where some observe special days while others judge all days alike.  His conclusion is that regardless of our dietary choices or calendar observances, our lives are ultimately defined not by us, but by the love of God in Jesus Christ that has claimed us — “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”  So Paul asks, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or why do you despise your brother or sister?”

What a powerful word to our world today.  A recent cartoon in the New Yorker had the caption, “The problem with our country is that 50% of Americans think the other 50% are idiots.”  Can we imagine a world where we do not despise one another, because we all belong to the Lord?  That reminds me of another Shirley Guthrie story.  In the midst of one our denomination’s heated polity battles, Dr. Guthrie was invited to mediate a debate in the Greater Atlanta Presbytery.  I was at the meeting and was excited Shirley was moderating because I thought he would support “my side.”  I was shocked when he suggested that perhaps God was no longer listening to either side. “You’ve got self-righteous people on all sides arguing with other self-righteous people,” he said. “Maybe God is saying ‘no’ to what we are doing while hundreds of thousands of people are starving to death.”  In that moment, we were all put in our place.  Our judgment of one another was placed under the judgment of God.

Ultimately, that is what Paul says to the Romans.  There is no place for self-righteousness in the life of faith.  There is no place for judging one another.  Why?  Because Christ has claimed us all.  He is the only one afforded the seat of judgment.  “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God,” says Paul, “each of us will be accountable to God.”   The freedom of faith is not an “anything goes” kind of life.  Each of us will be accountable to God.  We are claimed by God in Christ, and we are accountable to God through Christ.  Let us live in the freedom of faith, loving God with all we are and loving one another as we love ourselves.

Prayer: In life and in death we belong to you, O God.  And so do they.  Free us from our proclivity to judge one another that we might live into the fullness of your grace, remembering we are ultimately accountable only to you.  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].

Monday July 23 2018

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Scripture: Romans 13: 8-14

Key verses: (9-10) “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Reflection: Commenting on the Ten Commandments, Paul sums up the law with one word: love. We don’t usually put law and love together in our culture.  But, when Paul speaks of love he isn’t talking about rules.  He is talking about good news.  The law or Torah was, as scholar Walter Brueggeman says, “made (and makes) humanness possible.” It is meant to be transformative; not restrictive.  Six of the ten commandments have to do with how we treat one another.  When we treat our neighbors well, respecting their possessions, preserving their lives, and rejoicing in their success, we show love.  This kind of love is not romantic or self-serving, rather it is the voluntary self-giving of one’s self, time and efforts to build up another person.  Yet, “love your neighbor as yourself” often only remains a beautiful sentiment because many people don’t love themselves.  If you don’t love yourself, it’s hard to love someone else.  I wonder how many of our efforts to love our “neighbor” are thwarted because of this sad fact. Early life experiences can rob us of the joy of knowing how much God loves us.  Sometimes our neighbor reminds us of our own brokenness.  Sometimes our neighbor reflects back to us everything we don’t like about ourselves.  Sometimes we are so busy trying to fill an emptiness inside that we forget to think about anybody else.  Paul reminds us that the only thing we owe to one another is love.  Out of gratitude for God’s self-giving, long-suffering and merciful love, we are called to reach out to one another – not just the people we know – but everyone in our community.  This includes, those we agree with and those we don’t.  Those we are related to and those who are strangers.  Those who live on the streets of our city and those who live in luxury.  Those who are like us and those who are different.  It’s not easy, but that’s the challenge of love.  Jesus is our example and we are invited by Paul to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Try it and you might discover that God’s love is accepted everywhere.

Prayer: Gracious God, we need your help.  There are too many times when we act out of our own self-interest forgetting our neighbors.  We struggle to love ourselves in a life-giving way.  Transform us into compassionate servants of Jesus Christ in order that others looking at us might see him.  In Jesus’ name we pray. 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].

Friday July 20 2018

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Scripture: Romans 12:9-21

Key verse: (17) Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

Reflection: In this passage Paul gives an overview of what discipleship looks like. Read the verses carefully. None of this is easy to do. Be patient in suffering? Bless those who persecute you? Do not be haughty?  Perhaps the hardest is “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”

Living in the way of Jesus Christ is hard to do. If I’m hurt, my first instinct is to hurt someone back. When I think of Jesus, I remember that he was hurt and never hurt anyone in retaliation. He was pushed out-of-town and taken to a cliff to be hurled off, and he passed on and left town (Luke 4). He was beaten and crucified and prayed “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23). He was denied and abandoned by his disciples and then appeared to them after the resurrection with peace (John 20).  Jesus did not repay anyone evil for evil, but responded to evil with love.

The world doesn’t work that way. The world teaches us to respond to evil with evil, to strike back, to retaliate and even to escalate the violence. We are watching this now in our culture, locally, nationally and globally. Walking away, forgiveness and peace are seen as the wimpy ways out when really those responses take more spiritual strength than evil does. I wonder how the world would be transformed if disciples of Jesus tried to live in his way, and not repay anyone evil for evil. It’s not easy to do but we can pray that God will enable us for the sake of the kingdom.

Prayer: Dear God, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. With your powerful grace, enable me to live in the way of Jesus even when it’s hard to do. Forgive me when I fall short and encourage me to follow Jesus once again. Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder

[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 July 19 2018

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Scripture: Joshua 3:14-4:7

Key verses: (4:4-7) 4Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. 5Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, 6so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”

Reflection: You may know the story of Moses leading the escaping slaves out of Egypt, and the water of the Red Sea parting to let them through. This event came after, but is not as well-known. (Moses gets all the glory!) Joshua led the people of Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, with the ark of the covenant in tow, and by God’s providence, the water parted to let them through on dry ground.

Following God’s command, Joshua asked a leader from each tribe to step back in the middle of the dry Jordan riverbed, and choose a stone. They placed them into a memorial so that they would never forget what the Lord had done for them. Seeing it, generations of children to come after will ask, “what do these stones mean?” The memorial is a way to remember, and to pass down the stories of faith that shaped the people of God.

What are the stones and stories of your faith journey? What memories and signs have you picked up along the way on your walk with God? Maybe they were uncovered during a time of great change and transition — scraped from the bottom of a dry and dangerous place. Or maybe they were collected on a mountaintop experience, carefully selected and lovingly displayed. Or maybe you picked them up and put them in your pocket without really even noticing, and they are jostling around with your keys and loose change, unnoticed.

Take time today to think about what would go in a memorial you might build. When someone asks, “what do these stones mean,” what stories of God with you would you have to tell?

Prayer: Holy God, you are always with me. When I am crossing raging rivers, or scaling high peaks, or just doing what needs to be done, you are there. Thank you for your constant presence. Help me notice and remember. Teach me to give thanks and to share the story of your great love. In the name of Christ, I 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].

Wednesday July 18 2018

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Scripture: Matt 25: 31-46

Key verse: (40) And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Reflection: Addictions come in many forms. As Christians, we have an addiction to doing and being good.  We give awards for it and work hard to find places where our children can do good acts. Sometimes we don’t even ask if the recipients needed the help or the “good” we were offering. We make assumptions that we have something to offer so we can do some more good. That is an addiction.  We are not Jesus. The poor are not Jesus.

Nadia Bolz-Weber said that we, “get to experience Jesus in the holy place where we meet others’ needs and have our own needs met. We are all the needy and the ones who meet needs.” Jesus is present when needs are met, not just in doing good. This is the Kingdom of God and we are the body of Christ. We have to take our walls down and admit that we need Jesus. Our needs might be met by those seen as the “least” in our world.  In having our needs met, we see Christ.

Prayer: God, stretch our hearts so that we can give AND receive love. In your son’s name we pray. 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].