Tuesday April 23 2019

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Scripture: Acts 2:36-47

Key verse:  (42) “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”

Reflection: I will never forget the conversation I had one morning over coffee with a potential new member at a former church.  Like most people these days, she’d had a variety of experiences with the church, as well as several seasons of life marked by absence from church.  She was attracted to our traditional Presbyterian worship style and encouraged by the warmth of the congregation, but was having trouble getting on board with saying the Apostles’ Creed every week in worship.  This was because she did not fully understand what it meant to confess that Jesus “descended into hell.”

We had an interesting conversation from there.  To me, the line highlights the unwavering love of Christ, who walks with us in all circumstances – even and especially those times in life that feel godforsaken.  That, even there, when we do not see or sense God at work, we confess that God is present.  This is hard to do when you’re the person experiencing one of those times.  But, to me, there is something powerful about hearing the community around you confess this in worship, even when you cannot.  When there are things we cannot believe for ourselves, our community steps in our behalf.

That is the power of being part of a community of faith.  We are drawn together by the risen Christ to proclaim good news to a hurting world.  Sometimes, that means claiming it for those who sit just down the pew who cannot claim it for themselves.  In our individualistic society, we are taught that it is virtuous to “go it alone,” but life itself teaches us another lesson: we need each other to get by.  Being part of a faith family means we are buoyed by the faith of others.  We rely on one another.  We care for one another.  We hold faith for one another.

None of us can -nor are any of us called to – go it alone. In these weeks after Easter, how might you recommit to fellowship with others, trusting that there is blessing to be found in sharing life with others?  How might you engage your faith with other people?  Is there a group you’ve been thinking about joining – or starting?  Is there someone who would appreciate a visit?  Do you find yourself in a season where you might benefit from the support of others?  Keep your eyes and ears open! There are so many ways to do this at MPPC and beyond – and, indeed, it is part of our common calling.

Prayer: Dear God, when I am tempted to try to live by my own strength, challenge me to reach out to others.  When I have become so cozy with my own opinions that I haven’t heard another one expressed lately, help me to seek out diverse community.  When I am not sure how, or where, I fit, give me the courage to recommit to something that has brought me life – or to explore new ways of engaging my brothers and sisters in faith. 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 April 22 2019

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Scripture: John 14:1-14

Key verses: (1-2) “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

Reflection: With these words Jesus cares for his disciples, his closest friends, as he prepares them for his death at the Last Supper.

Do not let your hearts be troubled.

Our hearts are often troubled. We worry. Sometimes we are anxious and sometimes we are stressed. We long for an assurance that God is with us and that God is at work in the world. God hasn’t abandoned us no matter what we face.

Believe in God, believe also in me.

Believing in God isn’t about acceptance of a list of principles or doctrines. Believing in God is about trust. Do we trust God to care for us and to love us? Do we trust God even in the midst of great difficulty?

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.

God’s house is more expansive than anything we can imagine. The hospitality is awesome. Every single human being is created in God’s image, belongs to God’s family, and is welcome in God’s house. Many, many dwelling places.

If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

Preparing a place is a sign of radical hospitality. We are known. Our uniqueness is cherished. Jesus chooses to care for us with personal intentionality. Finding a place that is prepared for us means we belong here. We know the destination of life’s journey is already prepared so we are set free to embrace the journey along the way.

Jesus brought the good news of God’s love and grace to the world. Jesus embodied that good news in his death on the cross and in his resurrection from the tomb. Death doesn’t have the last word. God brings new life. We respond with faith and with hope, with faithfulness and with service.

Prayer: God of all consolation, our refuge and strength in sorrow, 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 every tear will be wiped away; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(prayer from the Book of Common Worship pastoral edition, committal service, p. 230)

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 April 19 2019

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Scripture: John 13:36-38

Key verses: (36-38) Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”

Reflection: On Good Friday the light disappears. We are tired at the end of Lent, weary from the journey to the cross. Today, from noon until three, we will watch as the world grows dark.  It is not an eclipse but an experience similar where we remember the cross. We remember the death we follow. We remember the darkness that followed after Jesus took his last breath.

When Jesus said his final good-byes to those he loved, he told Peter of his betrayal. Peter moves into this darkness with denial for the one he loved, fulfilling the prediction of Christ. We remember Peter’s betrayal today. We experience the darkness of Good Friday as we are honest about our own broken promises and rejection. Darkness looms with lost hopes, grief, death, broken relationships. Good Friday invites us to sit in the darkness.

We don’t remain in the darkness. The journey to Easter continues and we carry with us hope and the promise of resurrection and redemption.

Prayer: As we remember the Good Friday events of long ago, O God, give us courage to linger in the darkness holding tight to hope found in the promise of resurrection.  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 April 18 2019

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Scripture: John 17:1-26

Key verse: (23) “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Reflection: Today Christians around the world will observe, “Maundy Thursday,” by gathering to worship, remembering the Last Supper, celebrating communion, and following the story to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was betrayed and taken into custody, setting in motion his trial, torture and death on Good Friday.  The name, “Maundy,” comes from the Latin, mandatum, meaning mandate or command.  This derives from the words of institution, “Do this remembering me,” and from his command in John 13 to love one another given after he washes the disciple’s feet.

In John’s version of the Last Supper, after a lengthy farewell speech, Jesus offers what scholars call, “The High Priestly Prayer.”  This is our reading for today.  If you typically just read the key verse, I would encourage you to read the whole prayer today.  Knowing Jesus prayed for us, reading how he prayed for us and what he prayed for us will bless you on this holy day.  Jesus’ words weave together a beautiful tapestry using the threads of first, second and third person pronouns.  “I in them and you in me.”  “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them.”  “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.”  If the threads of this beautiful tapestry are the pronouns, then the world and the kingdom of God are the “warp” and the “weft” of the weaving loom—the longitudinal and latitudinal threads, woven in opposite directions.  We do not belong to the world, just as Christ did not belong to the world.  The world is hostile to the Word, yet as God sent Christ into the world, so Christ sends us into the world.  The tapestry woven by all this is love.  It is done, “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them,” as Jesus concludes his prayer.

Like Maundy Thursday, this week in our world has been filled with sin and evil, with tragic death, with painful reminders of the fragile nature of our existence.  We witnessed the destruction of African American churches in Louisiana at the hands of a white supremacist, seeing the evil that is too real in this world assaulting Christ’s church.  We witnessed the body-cam video of a Charlotte police officer shooting and killing a Charlotte citizen, seeing the complexities that exist on the front lines of our world where life and death decisions are made every day, and where too often those fragile moments tip in the direction of death for young, African American men like Danquirs Franklin.  The fragile world we live in was revealed in the tragic fire that consumed so much of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  Almost 300 years to build to completion, over 800 years of worship, and a matter of hours to bring it to ruin.  Such is the nature of this world in which we live.  It is so fragile, so transitory.  Indeed, it is passing away.

Jesus’ high priestly prayer reminds us that it is into this world we are sent.  We are sent to live out the love of God we know in Christ Jesus, so that He might be in us, and we in Him, so that we may be one.  Or as Jesus put it at the conclusion of his prayer, “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  God knows this world needs such love this holiest of weeks.  See you in worship tonight at 7 in the sanctuary.

Prayer: For your love lived out for us this holiest of weeks, we thank you, O God.  May your love embodied in Christ live in us and we in you so that the world will know that you are love, and that those who abide in love abide in you and you in them.  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 April 17 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 27

Key verse: (4)

4   One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple.

Reflection: As I write this, Notre Dame Cathedral is burning. The damage looks devastating. On social media, people are posting their own photos from travels there. I looked back through my own vacation album from last summer, when I was standing in front of it, sweltering in a different kind of heat. I can’t bring myself to post any of the pictures, though. My smiling face, my daughter’s Instagram-worthy posing—all of it seems too light-hearted in the face of what seems sure to be a historical loss. I want to lift up the joy of our trip there, and give thanks for the soaring architecture, and the centuries of faithfulness and inspiration represented, and affirm that another renaissance will come. But I’m honestly too sad today.

I’m also conflicted. I understand the collective and communal sadness at the damage to an architectural wonder. I’m also aware that my travel photos in front of it, and yours if you have them, remind us of our privilege. To hold a passport, to have so many vacation photos I have to really concentrate to find the right ones, to have an office with a window that has a Rose window sticker from the Notre Dame gift shop in it—all this reminds me how very fortunate I am. And we are. And how so many lose so much every day, while I too often scroll right past.

Holy Week is a week of sadness, and conflicted feelings. It’s a week of loss and tears, and beauty turned into ashes. It’s a week of power and privilege seeming to overwhelm humility and weakness. It’s a week when Jesus takes all the messiness in me, in you, in our culture and our world, and bears it willingly, out of love. There may not be services this week in Notre Dame, but there are opportunities here to lift all our messy conflicted selves to God, and remember how we are known, loved, and redeemed.  Join us for prayer stations in the parlor, Wednesday morning communion in the chapel, Maundy Thursday service in the sanctuary, and Good Friday service in Oxford Hall.  Join us to get ready for Easter Sunday. Like the story of the cathedral in the middle of Paris, which is sure to be rebuilt, the story of Jesus doesn’t end in ashes. We know that Sunday is coming.

Prayer: Lord, you take all our mess, and our humanity, and love us anyway. Help us walk through this week fully. Help us not look away from the ashes of death and destruction. Prepare us for the joy of Easter resurrection. 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].

Tuesday April 16 2019

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Scripture: John 12:20-26

Key verse: (26) “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”

Reflection: When I think of Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem for the last time, I feel a deep sadness.  Did he know what was to come?  Did he hope for a different outcome?  If Jesus was truly human and truly divine, he had to have struggled with the very real human fear of dying.  Even dying for a cause.  In this section of the Gospel of John, a group of Hellenic Greeks (non-Jews) arrive in Jerusalem and want to see Jesus.  They had come to worship at the feast.  So, they were most likely seekers, but John makes it clear they are non-Jewish.  This is a preview of events to come when the church will have a mission to the Gentiles.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection all people will eventually be included in salvation.  This is reflected in Jesus’ words to his disciples, as well as, to the Greeks who are seeking him out when he said “whoever serves me must follow me.  Where I am, there my servant will be.”

Jesus gave his life so that others might receive life.  This Holy Week each of us is invited to make a renewed commitment to Jesus’ ministry.  We remember his teachings about love and forgiveness.  We remember his witness of compassion and care.  We remember his passion for justice and righteousness.  We remember his call on our lives to follow.  During this season we confirm our desire to follow Jesus and renew our commitment to share his love with others – those who know him and those who do not.  Confident that Jesus is with us, we move through this week giving thanks for the opportunity and privilege to follow our savior.  As one poet has said:

He came with healing in his touch,

and was wounded for our sins.

He came with mercy in his voice,

and was mocked as one despised.

He came with peace in his heart,

and met with violence and death.

 

May we remember, in all humility, that Jesus came that we might follow him.

Prayer: Gracious God, we give thanks that your invitation is for all.  Help us focus our hearts and minds on you that we might serve you with confidence knowing that when we follow you, you are there with us.  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 April 15 2019

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Scripture: Philippians 3:1-14

Key verses: (7-8) Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Reflection: “Rubbish” is a polite word to translate the Greek word in this verse. According to my Greek textbook, it could be translated “dung” or “human excrement.” Paul writes that all of his privileges and accomplishments are rubbish compared to his relationship with Jesus Christ. A pile of it.

In the mathematics of faith, Paul understood that Christ was far greater and more important than any worldly recognition. I think, for many of us, Christ is the “extra” on top of our privileges and accomplishments. We would rather not have to give those up or write them off as a loss. We prefer Christ AND those things rather than claiming Christ INSTEAD of those things.

Read verses 4b – 6 to learn Paul’s list of accolades. What’s on your list? Your inherited wealth? Your degrees? Your memberships? Your awards? Your ordination as a deacon or an elder? Your position at work or your investments? Your recognition as a volunteer? Would you pile all of those things up and call them rubbish in order to embrace the grace of Jesus Christ?

As we begin this Holy Week, we are reminded that Christ gave everything up for us. The privileges of divinity were rubbish compared to being incarnate and living in the flesh among us. The gifts of human life were rubbish on the cross compared to loving us and offering us a new way of living. How will we follow Christ this week? What goes on the dung heap so that we can follow Jesus now?

Prayer: For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation.

Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation,

Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,

I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,

Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not my deserving.

Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder

(prayer – verses 4 and 5 of the hymn Ah, Holy Jesus written by Johann Heermann)

[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].