Thursday February 28 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-thurs

Scripture: Matthew 5:27-37

Key verse: (27) “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you…”

Reflection: On the first full day of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we visited “The Mount of Beatitudes,” the traditional location of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7.  It is a beautiful spot, even filled to the brim with tourists and pilgrims.  It’s not hard to see why Jesus would have taken his disciples up that hill to offer them his first sermon concerning discipleship.

joe 2 28

Yet the serenity of the setting betrays the tension present in Jesus’ sermon.  After declaring blessings upon those the world views as cursed, Jesus then talks about the disciple’s relationship to the Jewish law.

Many in the Jewish community thought those who confessed Jesus as the Messiah had rejected the law.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is clear.  “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”  Our reading for today exemplifies the standards Jesus set.  He challenges his followers not just to live by the letter of the law, but to embrace the Spirit of the law.  This is accomplished by a series of “you have heard that it was said…but I say to you,” statements that up the ante on the law.  The Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” but Jesus says if you objectify another by lust, you already done it.  He raises the bar on divorce, and on making oaths.  He will go on to challenge them to love their enemies, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile.  Jesus challenges his disciples to live not just by the letter of the law, but by the spirit of the law.

Later in Matthew’s gospel, when asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-39)  Love is the spirit of the law according to Jesus. I came across this cartoon on Facebook the other day.  It’s a pretty good summary of where Jesus is coming from when it comes to understanding the law and the prophets, which is to say, understanding all of Scripture.  The cartoon says it all:

joe 2 28 cartoon

Prayer: We long to follow your will, O Lord.  Too often we make it too complicated.  We debate the meanings of particular verses of your Word.  We condemn those who do not agree with our interpretations.  Yet you have set a simple standard: love.   Love is the heart of your law; loving You, loving one another.  While that may not be complicated, it is incredibly challenging.  Help us to love this day, O Lord, that we might fulfill the spirit of your law.  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 February 27 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-wed

Scripture: Psalm 147:1-11

Key verses: (1-5)

1   Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
2   The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3   He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
4   He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
5   Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.

Reflection: As I write this devotion, our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church are struggling through a painful church debate over disagreements about biblical interpretation and human sexuality. It’s not a new debate. We certainly have wrestled through our own painful disagreements as a denomination, as have others. As the wife of a United Methodist pastor, I’m invested in their decisions. I have spent a little time tuned into their debate online. It is familiar in many ways. Some of the deliberation is indeed about human sexuality, and about how to interpret scripture. Much of it is about the procedure of making decisions as a church. Sadly, some of it reflects the way our ability as a society to talk with respect and civility to one another has eroded. At this time, it is unclear what the future will hold when all the voting has finished.

Regardless, I am confident that God will continue to work through the United Methodist Church, the people who have been raised and nurtured in her churches, and even those who might choose to leave a fractured denomination. God will, because God has before. Over and over again, God makes a way in a broken world. God gathers those who are brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. God is great and abundant in power, even when we are weak. God holds the future, even when we can only see a little way in front of us.

May God bless all those who struggle to make faithful decisions for the Body of Christ: on big national stages that affect whole denominations, and in small church board rooms. May God bless all those who seek to love both God and their neighbor, as Jesus called us to do. May God bless you today, as you seek to live out your faith in a hurting world.

Prayer: Lord, you hold the future. Bless any in your church anywhere, who are hurting. Help us all who call ourselves disciples learn how to live in unity for the sake of your kingdom. Help us be faithful and loving, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, 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].

Tuesday February 26 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-tues

Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20

Key verses: (13a, 14a) “You are the salt of the earth . . . you are the light of the world.”

Reflection: In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus laid out some of the essential elements of faith in action.  Beginning in chapter five, he taught about key topics related to how we are to live in the world. In today’s text, Jesus called his followers to be salt and light to everyone around them. I love how the Bible uses all the senses in describing faith.  We are the salt of the earth.  We are to add flavor to our relationships.  As one commentator has said: “Salt does not exist for itself”.  It enhances the flavor of everything it is added to.  In other words, every encounter is an opportunity to show the love of God to a person, a situation or a community.  When salt loses its taste, it has to be thrown out.  It’s not good for anything.  Likewise, we are to be light to the world.  The light of God needs to shine in our lives in such a way that others can see it.  We are to reflect the tangible expressions of love and justice.  If we hide what God has placed within us, then we are of no use.  Perhaps the most challenging verse in today’s passage is found in verse 20.  Jesus says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  This sounds impossible to achieve on the surface.  However, Jesus criticized the “righteousness” of the religious leaders who were adhering to the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. Disciples are called to exceed this righteousness, not copy it, by living as citizens of the kingdom of God.  The Sermon on the Mount outlines what this citizenship looks like and how it can be lived out.

How will you be salt and light today?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for calling us to show your light and love to others.  Help us as we seek to live as people who belong to you.  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].

Monday February 25 2019

Monday

Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12

Key verse: (3) Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Reflection: I was holding our baby when someone told me how wonderful it was to have a healthy infant.  I hesitantly said something like “yes, we are grateful.” The other person quickly scolded me and told me we were blessed. Blessed? Really? So does that mean that God chooses some couples to “bless” with healthy children and other families aren’t “blessed”? I don’t think that fits with my understanding of God.

When we read today’s passage, we get a glimpse of what it means to be blessed by God. Jesus proclaims God’s blessings on the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. Apparently in God’s kingdom, the blessed ones are an interesting bunch. They aren’t the people the world considers blessed – the healthy, the happy, the prosperous, the successful.

As a disciple of Jesus today, how will you identify the blessings of God? How will you join God in blessing the unexpected ones? In a world where #blessed is a quick affirmation of worldly happiness and success, how can you live as a citizen of a kingdom in which #blessed may be a word for the least, the lost, the last, and the lonely? Bless an unlikely person today as you live in Jesus’ way in this world.

#BLESSED (2)

Prayer: Dear Lord, open my eyes to notice the people you choose to bless. Disrupt my assumptions and empower me to bless them too. Give me courage to live in the way of Jesus in this world. 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].

 

Friday February 22 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-fri

Scripture: Mark 12:28-34

Key verses: (30-31) “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength…you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Reflection: A few friends and I have dubbed this month “Self Care February” – and this for two reasons.  The first is that February is the shortest month of the year, and experts say it takes about 28 days to form a habit. Perfect!  The other is that we’d all had jam-packed Januaries and were just feeling out of whack.  So, we each committed to one or two habits to stick to for the month to prioritize health, rest, and stress relief, and we’ve been encouraging each other along the way.

It sounds indulgent – and maybe a little trite – to even write those words as part of a devotional about the Bible’s ethic of neighbor-love.  We are used to reading these words as a call to selfless action, a reminder of the Golden Rule, even: treat others as you would have them treat you.  And, of course, that is what they are.

Here’s the fly in the ointment.  The underlying assumption we tend to have when reminded of Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor as yourself” is that we love ourselves well. If we want good things for ourselves, we should also want them for all of God’s children.  This is true.  But I wonder if re-reading these verses today might be an opportunity to stop and examine if we are loving ourselves well.  Are we taking care of our spirits by including things we love to do in our calendars?  Are we finding time for rest, even in the midst of busyness?  Are we tending relationships that fill our cups?  Do we prioritize our own mental health and spiritual growth?  Would you want someone to speak to you the way you speak to yourself?

I know it can be true for me that the busier I am, the lower on the priority list some of these strategies for self-care drop.  And yet, I also know that I am a more patient mother and a more compassionate minister and friend when I don’t consider self-care a necessity vs. a “nice to have.”

Take a minute today to check in with yourself.  How can you show yourself some compassion today, so that you might also show others compassion?

Prayer: Dear God, sometimes in the midst of my busy life, I forget to be a good steward of this life you have given me.  Help me to reflect with honesty about ways I can tend my spirit in this season, trusting you.  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].

Thursday February 21 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-thurs

Scripture: Psalm 80

Key verses: (3, 7, 19)

3   Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

7   Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

19  Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Reflection: “3 is a Magic Number,” is my favorite Schoolhouse Rock song. I still recall the first few lines: “Three is a magic number. Yes, it is. It’s a magic number. Somewhere in the ancient mystic trinity, you get three, as a magic number.”

You can check it out here.

Culturally, we use three’s in many expressions, “third times a charm,” or “three’s a crowd.” The number is prevalent in the Bible in that Noah had three sons, Jonah was inside of the belly of the fish three days and nights, the Trinity, and of course, Jesus’ resurrection after three days.

Therefore, it’s not a surprise the refrain is offered three times in Psalm 80 for emphasis. While not a holy number, it is a significant number in Scripture.

The Israelites are praying: Bring us out of exile, cause us to return to you, O God. Give us our life back. As your face shines, be present with us. Bless us, keep us, be gracious unto us, and give us peace.

It’s a timely prayer today as well, as we can sometimes feel in exile as wars continue around the world, too many children are killed by gun violence in this country, and affordable housing is more and more of a challenge each day in our city.

As I pray to God, I often find myself repeating prayers over and over and over again. Three times feels complete, like I’ve asked the appropriate amount of times. The first time can feel like a plea, the second time, like it’s right, and the third time for finality. Three is a magic number!

Prayer: Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we might be saved. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. 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].

Wednesday February 20 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-wed

Scripture: Mark 11:27-12:12

Key verse: (12) When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.

Reflection: If we had a list of the top five favorite parables, the wicked tenant would not make the cut. The parable is harsh and speaks a strong word to the original hearers and to us.  Jesus told this story as a parable against the religious leaders of Jerusalem. The Lord had given the people of Israel over to their leaders to be cared for and nourished. Instead, the temple system took advantage of the people and harmed them.

If you have ever walked through a vineyard, you know the care that is needed for each vine.  The fruit is protected, the vine cared for and there is beauty all around.  In this parable, the vineyard owner gives all of this over, trusting his tenants.  This is HUGE!

When the time was right for produce, the owner sent servants to the tenants to get some of the fruit of the vineyard. However, the tenant farmers met those servants with violence. Some they beat and some they killed.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to begin to apply this parable to ourselves and creation. God created the universe with love and possibility. God gave the earth to humanity, to you and me, to nourish and manage. Humans have taken advantage of the land, overused the earth’s resources and been selfish with God’s gift.  The original hearer’s of Jesus’ day refused to listen to the message of the parable. Can we hear a message about our role in caring for all of God’s creation and God’s people?

Prayer: God of Creation, help us to tend your creation and to use its resources wisely. May we be good stewards with every gift you have given to us. 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].