Monday December 31 2018

Monday

Scripture: Psalm 45

Key verse: (1)
My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

Reflection: On the cusp of a new year, you might be thinking about how you’d like to be different in 2019. Do you want to get fitter? Eat healthier? Do you want to be kinder? More hopeful? More pious? Do you want to have more fun? Perhaps you just want to be more grateful.

I’d like to pray more. And pray differently. I’d like to move through life listening for God with ears attuned to prayer happening all around me. And then join in. Music is one way to pray. A walk in nature is another. Poetry helps me pray too. Here is a poem about prayer from Mary Oliver that I will take into the new year with me, trusting that God hears all our prayers, in whatever forms they come:

I Happened to Be Standing
I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.

He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

“I Happened to Be Standing” from A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver, published by The Penguin Press, New York, Copyright © Mary Oliver, 2012

Prayer: Lord, help me to pray. At all times. In new ways. Lord, hear my prayer. 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].

 

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Friday December 28 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 111

Key verse: (10) “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.  His praise endures forever.”

Reflection: This is a psalm in praise of the LORD.  After Christmas you might feel more thankful than usual!  You made it through another holiday season of festivities.  Praise the LORD!  This psalm offers us some things to be thankful for – the LORD’s provision of grace and mercy; redemption; and faithfulness to us that lasts forever.  Sometimes we don’t realize how precious these things are until we are tested by life.  The challenges and even the pain and suffering of human life can make us more grateful in the long run for God’s remarkable covenant with us.  The psalmist writes that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.  This is not the kind of fear that makes us afraid; but rather the awe that arises when we experience God’s enduring presence and power in the midst of the ordinary days of our lives.  Practicing this kind of awe toward the LORD creates the understanding that God is with us – always – so that even when we wonder where God may be we know God is near.  When we struggle it can be hard and sometimes impossible to feel God’s power or protection.  Praising God before life tests us, will give us strength for the difficult times.  It is wise to practice this kind of devotion.  Today’s psalm is a “pre-pain” psalm because no description of terrible hardship is found in the midst of the psalmist’s praise.  The “pre-pain” psalms have an important influence on our lives equipping us for times of trouble.  With a new year about start, this might be a good time to consider how you will cultivate faith in your life in the coming year.  Reading the psalms devotionally is one way to do this.  Practicing the “fear of the LORD” will help us cultivate wisdom. Praise the LORD!

Prayer: O LORD, we praise you for this day.  Thank you for the gift of life and the world our home.  Remind us of our many blessings and your enduring presence among us.  Where there is pain and heartache this day, lift up those who need your loving grace and mercy.  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].

Thursday December 27 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 19

Key verse: (14) Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Reflection: Many pastors use the key verse above as a prayer before they preach in worship. They might have been taught that John Calvin, our theological ancestor, prayed this prayer in worship. Often they change the verse to pray “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you…” making the second phrase plural rather than singular. This is a prayer for the preacher and for the gathered congregation that heightens our awareness of the holiness of proclaiming and hearing God’s word.

What exactly is the prayer here? I know that the words of my mouth are sometimes tossed carelessly, sometimes aimed like angry daggers, sometimes rolled out full of cynicism or disdain. Asking God to make my words acceptable is a prayer that God will be the Lord over my speech. My words will offer good news, my words will bring peace and hope, my words will call for justice and righteousness.

I know that the meditation of my heart is sometimes dark and brooding, sometimes judgmental and self-righteous, sometimes selfish and rebellious. Asking God to make the meditation of my heart acceptable is a prayer that God will be the Lord over my mind and my will. God will be the Lord over my thoughts and over my decision-making.

This week, between Christmas and New Year’s, let’s ask God to make our words and our thoughts acceptable. As we begin another year, may our words and our meditations be faithful to God’s will. May our words and our meditations reveal God’s values. May we have the integrity between our inner life and our outer life so that we glorify God in all ways.

Prayer: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. 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].

Wednesday December 26 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 119:1-24, 27

Key verse: (27) “Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works”

Reflection: Many years ago, my mother became the talk of the block when, on December 26th, at about 7 a.m., her Christmas tree was stripped of lights and ornaments and taken to the curb for pick-up.  We have teased her over the years about her firmly held conviction that “there is nothing more over than Christmas,” but now that I am an adult and a mother, I get it.  Christmas is a lot of work, a lot of excess, a lot of feasting, a lot of stuff.  It can be stressful to be among those who “make Christmas happen” for everyone else. To boot, routines and healthy habits are off their courses in December, and there are only so many times you can listen to the bear orchestra in Founders’ Hall before being driven to insanity (although that Ella Fitz-Bear-ald is pretty talented!).

My mom is no Grinch, and neither am I, but there is something to be said for the return of normalcy.  Psalm 119 is a celebration of God’s law, and the study of it.  The psalm is an extended meditation on the benefits of delving into God’s word, of carving out time to listen for God’s direction and to build a life on its rhythms.  The psalmist seems to think there is something anchoring about the routine: returning again and again to the practice of meditation, prayer, and praise.

There is no need to wait for January 1 to return to living this way.  If your soul craves a little less flash, and a little more steadiness these days, you are invited to cultivate your own anchoring routines.  When was the last time you were in the daily habit of reading scripture?  Why not begin again now, in the quietness that follows the holiday frenzy?  Perhaps you could pick a memory verse for the upcoming year – one to pray as you exercise or commute or pack lunch boxes. Perhaps there is a bible study, or even an app, that can help you engage the rich resources that God gives us in scripture, so that you might be sustained in this new season.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the change of pace that this day signals.  Give me a deeper desire to learn from (and about) you in the days and weeks to come, and help me commit to care for my spirit as I care for other aspects of my life.  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].

Tuesday December 25 2018

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Scripture: 1 John 4:7-16

Key verses: (7-12) Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Reflection: Parent-child love, sibling love, extended-family love, friendship love, and adversary love are some of the many types of love God shares with us. This Christmas, we remember Christ’s birth, as one sign of God’s ultimate love for us.

God is love, as the writer of 1 John tells us. God defines love; love does not define God. It is God that shows us how to love God, Christ, and each other. We are called to take this idea of love that God gave us, and share it with all. Praise God for this gift!

This Christmas, as we celebrate Christ’s coming into our world, let us remember and exhibit the love for one another that God, through Christ, models for us each and every day.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Prayer: Dear God, we thank you for the gift of love. Among the secular signs of this Christmas Day, help us to remember the love you share with us through Christ’s birth. Encourage us to love you and each other as you love us. 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].

Monday December 24 2018

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Scripture: Luke 1:67-80

Key verses: (78, 79) By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Reflection: Zachariah’s prophecy reminds us of the amazing gift that Mary gives the world. Mary didn’t have to say yes, she could have made excuses, busied herself, fussed with a thousand tasks that meant nothing or just avoided eye contact not looking up until the angel had left the room.

We have that same choice. God acts, then it is our turn. God responds to us and then it is our turn again.

Barbara Brown Taylor calls this the divine dance. Today, you are invited to dance. God sends an angel to invite a girl onto the dance floor and it is no guarantee she will say yes.  The angel stands there with fingers crossed, still holding his breath, because the world needs some light.  Mary doesn’t just say yes. She offers her song of praise and participates with God bringing light and life.

Mary is not the last invited into the dance. She is followed by a whole line of people who participate with God to bring about change in the world. Those who are brave, joyful, adventurous, graceful and say yes to the dance.  Her story reminds us of our story, as we receive the invitation again to join in what God is doing in this world.

Prayer: On this Christmas Eve, we come seeking your creating, redeeming and sustaining presence here and now. Remind us that you are the light that shines in the darkness and nothing can overcome it. Give us courage to claim this good news and guide our feet on the path of peace. In the name of your son Jesus. 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].

 

Friday December 21 2018

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Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

Key verse: (37) “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Reflection:  “How can this be?”  That’s Mary’s question.  Perhaps it is ours.  How can this be? Some pose this question from a scientific perspective.  How is it biologically possible for Mary to have a child? Certainly that’s the starting point for Mary.  Yet once Gabriel explains God has conceived this miraculous plan, Mary is no longer concerned with the science of the process.  Rather, she embraces her call in the holy mystery unfolding.  Too often we get caught up in the science and historicity of this story, refusing to submit to the wonder and mystery of it.  We draw up battle lines with “belief in the virgin birth” as the front of our holy wars.  Fundamentalists affirm their belief.  Atheists reject what they see as “fantasy.”  In the process both fail to recognize they are opposite sides of the same modernist coin, reducing truth to scientific—historical categories.

Perhaps virgin birth is not meant to be explained, but rather to call forth our wonder.  French philosopher Paul Ricoeur spoke of the “second naiveté” – not the naiveté of the child, but the openness to wonder and mystery.  Ricoeur called into question the extension of rationality to all levels of our existence.   He suggests we must fight against the “reduction from the mysterious to the problematic.”  In other words, we must not reduce the virgin birth to a problem to resolve, but rather a mystery to embrace.  Ricoeur rightly diagnosed that if we accept truth only as science comprehends it, then the world becomes the realm of the manageable-“the universally available”—and we believe we can control it.  He called this the “desacralization” of the world.  We might call it, “secularization.”  This modernist thinking has left us with a world void of meaning, a hollowness to life that can explain almost every how, but has no access to the question, “Why?”

Why is the question born of these sacred stories through which we understand the world.  Ricoeur described the power of these stories as “mythicopoetic.”  He writes, “Human beings are always sustained by our mythicopoetic core; always created and recreated by a generative word. I believe that the fundamental theme of sacred story is this awakening and this call, into the heart of existence, of the imagination of the possible.” Or as Mary put it, “How can this be?”  This is not a scientific question, not a question of the means by which this is to happen, but a question of meaning, a question of possibility, a question of imagination.  How can this be?  How can the Almighty God of the universe choose to come among us through a baby born to this unwed young woman from Nazareth?  How can the one who will redeem the world be born in her?  How can this be?

Of Mary’s question, Karl Barth writes, “There is no answer, no explanation to Mary’s question.  As answer there is only God…God will make it possible.”  Ultimately, that’s enough for Mary.  “Let it be with me according to your word.”  She says, “Yes,” to a plan only God could conceive, and the redemption of the world unfolds.

“How can this be?”  We ask.  Nothing is impossible with God. Of this, Barth concludes, “We only notice God’s omnipotence when we do as Mary does, when we grant, concede, agree: ‘Let it be with me according to your Word.’ With this we acknowledge what God has said will be carried out.”  Which is to say, with this we acknowledge, nothing is impossible with God. Welcome to the world of the imagination of the possible.  That, beloved, is the essence of faith.

Prayer: With our sister, Mary, we often wonder, “How can this be?” O God.  We see our broken world filled with struggle and suffering; we contemplate the challenges of our own lives, we consider the pain of those we love and we wonder, “How can this be?”  In love, you join us in the midst of this.  You come among us in ways beyond our wildest imaginations.  Open us, O God to your generative Word.  Open us to the imagination of the possible, that we might be your agents of hope, for nothing is impossible with you.  Give us the faith of Mary, the faith to say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” 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].