Wednesday October 31 2018

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Scripture: Luke 11:37-52

Key verse: (39) Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.”

Reflection: Tonight children will don costumes and then head out to ring doorbells and gather candy. It’s Halloween! Tomorrow, November 1, is All Hallows’ Day, more commonly known as All Saints’ Day. In Christian tradition, All Saints’ Day is when we remember the dead and give thanks to God for their example of faithfulness and the spiritual gifts they gave us. Tonight is All Hallows’ Eve, a celebration that evolved from preparations for All Saints’ Day.

Costumes give us a fun opportunity to be someone else, a superhero or a famous historical figure or an alter-ego personality. Unfortunately, we sometimes live our daily lives wearing a costume, pretending to be something we aren’t. We are afraid to admit who we really are. We present ourselves in the best light possible and hide our weaknesses and our shortcomings. We are posers, wannabes, trying to fit in.

Jesus saw beyond the outer costume and understood the inner brokenness and sin. At a dinner party, he challenged his host and the other guests, telling them that they were focused on external appearances instead of interior character. Jesus calls us to follow him in a life of integrity, so that the person we present to the world is congruous with the person we really are. The journey to healthy wholeness in Christ begins when we examine ourselves and admit the incongruities. In grace, Jesus invites us to be made whole inside and out.

Prayer: Dear Lord, you know me. I can’t hide my real self from you. You love me as I am. Give me courage to follow your call in Jesus Christ to belong to you fully. Heal me, clean me and make me whole. In Jesus’ name I pray. 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].

Tuesday October 30 2018

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Scripture: Jonah 3:1-4:1

Key verse: (3:1) “The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time…”

Reflection: Do you remember the story about the day Jesus was asked how many times we are to forgive?  He gives a difficult answer: not 7 times, but 77 times.  In my book, he might as well have said, “Never stop forgiving” which is about as impossible as a call gets!  The point, though, is that we are called to stop counting how many times we do something righteous and instead discover a whole new way of living – one that is free of keeping track of grievances.

I always feel a little overwhelmed by that story because I know my desire to cling to the old way of doing things.  But there are little signs throughout scripture that, for God, the “old way” of doing things has long since been out of fashion.  With us, God’s fundamental posture is like what is described above – gracious and patient.

Consider Jonah.  It’s a small phrase that is easy to skip over, but at the beginning of chapter 3, after Jonah has run in the opposite direction of God, hiding from a difficult calling (“Go tell those nasty Ninevites to change their ways!!”), the word of the LORD comes to Jonah a second time.  Here Jonah is, fresh from the belly of the fish, stinky and sitting on dry land after a scary mess he could have avoided, and the word of the LORD comes to him a second time.

Have you ever had that experience? Has God ever spoken to you a second, or a third, or a fourth time, even after you’ve lost your way – or willingly left it?  Have you ever received a word of grace when you’ve made a mess of things?  Has someone forgiven you when you’ve screwed up or broken trust?  Have you been able to hear the good news of a God who doesn’t give up on you, no matter what, but continues to call you again and again to a whole new way of living?

If so, then you’ve got something in common with Jonah, at least here in chapter 3.  And it might help you to hear that word of Jesus a little differently, too.  Thank goodness that God continues to speak to us, over and over again, even when we find ourselves in the middle of messes of our own making.

Prayer: Give me the humility to listen for you, O God, when I think I’ve long since scared you off.  And be patient with me – because I know I will pray this prayer again. Amen.

Author: Anna Dickson

[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 October 29 2018

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Scripture: Jonah 1:17-2:10

Key verses: (3-5)
You cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
4Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
how shall I look again
upon your holy temple?’
5The waters closed in over me;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped around my head

Reflection: Life and death. My experience in our culture is that we shy away from death. It’s not a subject we like to engage. In this passage, life and death are intertwined. It begins with the large fish “swallowing” Jonah and taking him to what many say is the neverworld, a place of death. The passage ends with the fish “spewing” Jonah out upon the dry land, and back to life.

The uncertainty is that the large fish signifies both death and life. Jonah was saved from drowning by the fish, and while in the saving, the fish took him to Sheol. Within the confines of death, Jonah is alive; the fish keeps him safe until he is back on dry land. This could be seen in different ways, Jonah has gone to die, or the fish has saved him from ultimate death. Perspective makes the difference.

The passage makes me think about when I’ve felt like I’ve been dying; these have been times of feeling overwhelmed, sometimes at work, and sometimes in my personal life. Many times, I’ve found myself praying to God for some relief. Often, it comes in unexpected forms. I remember an instance when I felt overwhelmed at work, and then heard of a friend who was diagnosed with a terminal disease. God reminded me what is really important; my perspective was changed. It was a matter of seeing my challenges in a new way.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for changing our perspectives, and for reminding us what is truly important. Help us come out of the heart of the seas and see how you are working to save us. Be with us as we strive to see you in our lives. Amen.

Author: Amy Speas

[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 October 26 2018

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Scripture: Luke 10:38-42

Key verses: (38-42) 38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks;

Reflection: We worry about our young people being so addicted to their devices but in reality those of us in the older generations cannot put our phones down.  Notice how we talk with our phones in hand, sharing pictures or video’s to illustrate a point. Rarely is there a conversation where I have someone’s full attention. Children, youth or adults, we all are distracted. Tom Friedman, in the New York Times, said that we have the disease of “continuous partial attention.”  When was the last time you were face to face with someone and had a real conversation and felt heard?

I wonder if this story of Mary, Martha and Jesus is less about gender roles or even women and about our ability to put Jesus at the center of our lives. Jesus calls out Mary, for having chosen “the better part.” Could it be that Mary was being praised for her singular focus and the ability to be fully present with Jesus? The story of Mary and Martha has less to do with their form of devotion or discipleship than the object of that devotion.

It is easy to live in a state of continuous partial attention when our devotion is to completing tasks, being efficient or even creating a perfect space for the good news to be shared. Where is your attention these days?

May we find time to stop and listen to Jesus. May we give full attention to the one who gives us all that we need.

Prayer: God, we are worried and distracted by so many things. Today, help me let go of my need to be perfect over being present. Help me focus on following your son, so that in all my interactions today, someone may experience your love. 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 October 25 2018

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Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

Key verse: (29)  “And who is my neighbor?”

Reflection: Even in an age of Biblical illiteracy, the parable of the Good Samaritan is familiar to many.  On the news, stories of strangers helping people in need are often referred to as “Good Samaritan Stories.”  On the back of many a Winnebago are stickers for the “Good Sam Club,” an organization for the RV community founded on the principle of helping out when another is in need.  Here’s the logo: goodsamclub.  (For those who might be wondering, no, I did not serve as the model for “Good Sam.”)  The point usually taken from the parable is that we should all be neighborly like the Good Samaritan and help people in trouble.

Our familiarity with this story presents a potential problem.  Because we “know” the story, we just might miss its core message.  It’s important to remember that the parable is not told in order to encourage kind acts for strangers in need.  Rather, it’s told in response to a lawyer’s question to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  It’s told to radically expand our definition of who a neighbor might be.  As you likely know, Samaritans were not considered neighbors in the mindset of the Jewish lawyer who posed the question.  They were considered enemies.  For the Samaritan to demonstrate what it means to be a neighbor, (and for the priest and the Levite to fail in that regard,) offered a radical redefinition of neighbor for that lawyer who originally posed the question.  The Samaritan was the hated “other,” the last person in the world the Jewish lawyer could possible see as living out the law of love and defining neighborliness.

The early church fathers took it even further.  Many of them, including Origen and later Augustine, interpreted this parable allegorically.  Instead of seeing ourselves in the Samaritan, they believed we were all the man in the ditch.  In their allegories, the man in the ditch was Adam.  The Priest and the Levite represented religion and the law—they could not save us.  The Samaritan was Jesus—the last one we would imagine would be our Savior, perhaps the last one we would want to save us.

With election day less than two weeks away, with vitriolic ads peppering us every day in the media, what would it mean to live into Jesus’ radical understanding of who our neighbors really are?  Can we possibly imagine proving to be a neighbor to them?  What would it mean to understand that our salvation is directly tied to our relationship with whomever we understand to be “the other?”

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” asked Jesus.  “The one who showed him mercy,” responded the lawyer.  Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Prayer: Am I the one in the ditch, O Lord?  If I am, help me see my predicament.  More importantly, open my eyes to your presence on the road today.  Help me to see your face in the face of the other, whomever they may be to me.  Give me faith to live out your command to love my neighbor that I might know the joy of your salvation.  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].

 

Wednesday October 24 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 91

Key verses: (1-2) “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

Reflection: It is easy to trust God when life is going well.  In the sunshine of our days, when we are at ease, we do not fear the terror of the night.  The real test comes when fear, danger or darkness move into our world.  Our hope is that no evil will befall us, but that wish is challenged in news about people we love who are forced to face a difficult diagnosis, accident, or life altering change.

In her book Little Women, Louise May Alcott observed that, “Some people seemed to get all sunshine, and some all shadow . . .”   Most of us hope that we will never have to deal with the shadow, even though we know that such a time can’t be avoided.  In reality, we are faced with the shadow side of life every day in one way or another.  So how are we to live?  This psalm is a powerful reminder of where we are to place our ultimate trust.  If God is our refuge and our strength, the psalmist assures us that we will be able to survive.  The psalm doesn’t say we won’t experience any problems or pain at all, but we have someone greater than ourselves to turn to.  As we move through the struggles of life, we have a God who is guarding us, bearing us up, and loving us in the midst of the ups and downs of life.

Are you living in the sunshine or shadows today?  Hear this promise from our God:

“Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.  When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.  I will satisfy them and show them my salvation.” (Psalm 91: 15-16)

This is how the psalm ends.  It is a powerful reminder to all who seek to follow Jesus Christ and place their lives in God’s hands. Trouble will come, but God will be with us.  Seek to live in the shelter of God’s faithful love every day.  Trust this love and know that you are not alone.

Prayer:  Abiding Lord, forgive us for forgetting you until we need you.  Help us to live our lives under the shelter of your love sharing the faith you have given us by serving you and serving others.  For those living in the shadows today, extend your mercy and give them peace.  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].

 

Tuesday October 23 2018

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Scripture: Revelation 7:9-17

Key verses: (16-17) They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Reflection: My husband and I were on an airplane flying to visit family for a holiday. He was seated beside an unaccompanied girl who was on her first flight ever, flying from the home of one parent to spend the holiday with the other parent in the agreements of custody after a divorce. When the plane rose into the air and broke through the cloud cover, she looked out the window and turned to my husband and said “Is this heaven?” He is a wise man and responded “I’ve never been to heaven before.”

Is this heaven? What will heaven be like? The biblical writers describe heaven, trying to convey good news with images from their own contexts. John wrote Revelation, describing the kingdom as a great multitude of people from every nation, every tribe, and every language gathered before the throne of God. John echoes the language of Isaiah 49:10, “they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by spring of water will guide them.” For people accustomed to living in a hot dry wilderness, this is wonderful news!

We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives now. Revelation offers a vision of that truth, with Christ on the throne in the center of the kingdom. The diversity of God’s people gathered together in worship and God provides for all of them to have what they need. John’s vision of the kingdom might give us some clues for how we can live as kingdom citizens today – honoring Christ as Lord, welcoming a diversity of God’s children, and providing for everyone to have what they need. This is wonderful news!

Prayer: O God, by dying, our Lord Jesus Christ conquered death; by rising from the grave he restored us to life. Enable us to go forward in faith to meet him, that, when our life on earth is ended, we may be united with all who love him in your heavenly kingdom, where very tear will be wiped away. Amen.

(prayer adapted from the PCUSA Book of Common Worship, p. 944)

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].