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].

Friday April 12 2019

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Scripture: John 11:1-27

Key verse: (16) Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”

Reflection: Thomas gets a bad rap. He is the disciple of Jesus who is known mostly for being a so-called doubter.  This is based on one story which occurs on the first Easter evening, when the risen Jesus visits the disciples, and Thomas is the only one who misses it, and therefore doesn’t believe that it has happened.  Doubting Thomas.  It is the story that defines him.  Over the centuries, he becomes synonymous with lack of faith and skepticism.  Who is Thomas?  The one who doesn’t believe.

Human beings have a tendency to reduce people to one story like this.  We forget that all of us are complex people – that we are all capable of beautiful acts and sinful ones, sometimes in the same hour.  We’d like to categorize people into “good” and “bad”, but it is more true that, as Solzhenitzyn once wrote, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through every human heart.”

The story today is about Jesus being summoned to raise Lazarus, but it is also a story about Thomas’ dedication to following Christ.  While the other disciples question Jesus’ decision to go to his friend, Thomas pledges his loyalty, summoning his friends to follow Jesus, trusting him.  This is a story we do not often hear about Doubting Thomas, because it contradicts what we think is truest about him – that he lacked faith.  And yet, here he is, inviting us into deeper devotion.  Pair this story with the more famous one, and he is both Trusting Thomas and Doubting Thomas.  Are we all not such a mix?

What a wonderful surprise, and a word of encouragement to those of us who know we have a checkered record of faith.  What if it is true that, as Thomas suggest to us, we can be people who are full of faith and honest questions at the same time? Take it one step further: what if it is true that, as Bryan Stevenson would have it, “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done?”   What if it is really true that God invites us – all of us – regardless of merit or strength of faith, into abundant life?

Prayer: Dear God, give me eyes to see myself and others the way you see me, that I might accept myself and others as beloved children of God. 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 April 11 2019

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Scripture: Jeremiah 26:1-16

Key verses: (3-8; 12-16) 3It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings. 4You shall say to them: Thus says the LORD: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, 5and to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently — though you have not heeded — 6then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.

7The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. 8And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die!

12Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “It is the LORD who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. 13Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you. 14But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. 15Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the LORD sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

16Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God.”

Reflection: In a recent Friends in Faith class, the women studied Ecclesiastes, and hevel, the Hebrew word translated as breath — it occurs over 30 times in the book. We discussed how breath is necessary, particularly as life is constantly changing and slipping through our fingers. Breath is part of our human existence; it can also be a pause, or a break in our day-to-day hectic world.

This Scripture reminds us there are times to take that breath. In Jeremiah’s prophecy, he states in verse 3, “It may be that they will listen … that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings.” It’s a simple if/then statement, if the people listen, then God may not bring a disaster in the future.

The priests and officials quickly reacted by declaring a death sentence for Jeremiah. The prophet had another chance to speak and reiterate the message. The community paused, listened again, and changed their mind. Jeremiah’s life was spared.

There are times in the minutes, and hours, in each day, to take a breath. There are times to ask someone to repeat a message, and listen a second, or maybe even a third time. This is what the priests and officials did in Jeremiah, and a life was saved. What a wonderful model for us all.

Prayer: Dear God, we are thankful for your prophet, Jeremiah. We are grateful for moments in our lives to take a breath. Help us to recognize these opportunities to pause, and listen again, as we seek to live out your Word. In the name of the creator, sustainer, and redeemer we pray. 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].