Friday May 31 2019

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Scripture: Proverbs 17:1-20

Key verse: (1) “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house of feasting with strife.”

Reflection: What are some of your favorite proverbs?  “A stitch in time saves nine.”  “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  These are some I remember; none of them are from the Bible.  In twenty-one years of ministry, I’ve preached two sermons from the book of Proverbs.  Put another way, out of the roughly 962 sermons preached, 2 of them have been on Proverbs.  That’s .2%! Those two were both on Proverbs 1 and 8, out of the narrative sections that describe “Lady Wisdom” and “Lady Folly.”  (Wisdom in Hebrew is a feminine word, so wisdom personified is a woman.)

Why have I avoided Proverbs?  In the first place, there is little narrative logic to Proverbs, which makes it difficult to preach.  As with today’s reading, there are collections of sayings that are not necessarily related to each other.  Take verses 6 and 7 of chapter 17: “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their parents.  Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; still less is false speech to a ruler.”  What do those two sentences have to do with each other? There is no real theme there, just unrelated sentences.  In the second place, a good proverb says it all.  It summarizes an aspect of wisdom in one well-crafted sentence.  It’s hard for a sermon to add much to a good proverb.

The entire book of Proverbs does offer themes. Dr. Alyce McKenzie, who teaches preaching at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology suggests that Proverbs poses a very practical question of its reader, “How will you spend today?”  There are two options offered in Proverbs, as a fool or as a person of wisdom.  She goes on to suggest that fools are described with six overarching Hebrew words in Proverbs:

1.       Peti—naïve, untutored

2.       Kesil—stupid/ignorant

3.       Ewil—obstinate

4.       Ba ar—crude

5.       Nabal—brutal

6.       Les—foolish/conceited

Some of these six words are included in today’s readings.  “Those who mock the poor insult their Maker,” “The crooked of mind do not prosper, and the perverse of tongue fall into calamity.”  Proverbs warns against such behavior, promoting the opposite—learning, intelligence, flexibility, reverence, kindness, and humility. My favorite from today’s reading: “A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.”

How will we spend today?  Proverbs offers us guidance in this regard.  Let us pursue the path of Wisdom today, and shun the way of fools.

Prayer: Guide me through this day, O God.  Close my ears to fools.  Open my heart to hear the call of wisdom in my life, and follow wherever she leads. 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].

Thursday May 30 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 28:16-20

Key verses: (16-20) 16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Reflection: I love what Matthew’s gospel says about those disciples on the mountain in Galilee, after the resurrection. They followed Jesus’ instruction to gather there. They saw him, risen and alive! They worshiped him. But some doubted. I love that little line, “but some doubted.” It is honest. Here is the Lord whom they saw crucified and buried, suddenly speaking to them again. I can certainly imagine doubting. In fact, I have and do sometimes. The story of the resurrection is amazing because it is doubtful and unlikely and outside the realm of our human expectations. Learning to see and recognize resurrection and new life takes a different kind of lens than we are used to wearing.

Yet Jesus calls us into discipleship even in our doubt. He says to all the disciples gathered, even the ones who doubted, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” He tells the ones who are all in, the ones still wondering what is happening, and the ones who flat-out don’t get it, to go tell others. Go ahead and baptize in his name, even though some of those whom they will baptize will also sometimes doubt. Go ahead and teach them what Jesus has commanded, even though those whom they teach will have questions and wrestle with what the gospel says and means in their day and age. Get busy with living out the gospel even when you have your own doubts. “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Always means even when you doubt. Jesus is with us when our faith is strong, and when it is weak. That is good news, indeed.

Prayer: Lord, you know that I have doubts sometimes. I wonder how I can live out the good news on those days and in those seasons. I worry about others who have questions about you, and wonder how to share the message of new life. Help me to trust that you are with me always. Strengthen me to go and teach and call others to follow you. Help me be your disciple. In your name 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].

Wednesday May 29 2019

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Scripture: James 5:13-18

Key verse: (16) Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. ”

Reflection: Many people don’t want anyone to know what they are going through. It takes trust and vulnerability to confess your struggles to someone else.  It’s even harder to confess your sins. But, one way to be healed is to be vulnerable – to let others know you are hurting so they can draw alongside you and pray for you in your time of need.

Prayer is powerful.  The act of standing before God, admitting our weaknesses and asking for help changes us.  Prayer can heal our circumstances and lead us to change.  The instructions in today’s passage are important.  They show us that we need each other and that sin is real, but healing is possible.  Our circumstances won’t change overnight.  Healing takes time.  But, don’t lose heart, let others in to support and encourage you.  Remember that prayer is effective and you don’t have to suffer alone.

Prayer: Gracious God, help us to look for those suffering in the body and sick in soul.  Give us courage to walk with those who are seeking your healing.  May we show your grace in our words and actions.  In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Our church has resources to help you through a difficult time. One such ministry is Stephen Ministry.  Check out this link if you want more information.  https://myersparkpres.org/project/stephen-ministry/

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 May 28 2019

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Scripture: Deuteronomy 8:11-20

Key verses: (17-18) Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

Reflection: God delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and led them through the wilderness to a promised land. Moses was the leader God chose for the people. Much of the book of Deuteronomy is written as Moses’ instructions to the people.

In today’s passage, Moses acknowledges the possibility that life in the promised land will be prosperous and affluent. Moses warns that prosperity can lead to spiritual apathy or even to self-delusion. When you have more than you need, you might forget your dependence on God. When you have “eaten your fill and built fine houses…and all that you have is multiplied,” you might believe you’ve earned it. You might be tempted to think you deserve it. You might conclude that spiritual faithfulness doesn’t matter very much. You might accept the delusions of self-sufficiency and self-made success.

Moses calls us to remember. Spiritual amnesia is a serious problem. Remember the Lord your God. Remember all that God has done for you. Remember that God has given you the strength and abilities that make you who you are. Remember that God is the source of everything. Remember all of this and respond with gratitude and generosity.

Prayer: The earth, and all that is in it, belongs to you, O Lord. I belong to you. When I am tempted to forget, remind me. Remind me that you are my Creator and that my very life depends on you. Teach me gratitude and generosity. 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].

Monday May 27 2019

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Scripture: Luke 9:18-27

Reflection: One of the things I appreciate most about Kate Bowler’s book, Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved), is the way that she models how studying a religious tradition that is not your own can sometimes help you reflect on your own convictions with honesty.  Bowler studies the prosperity movement, which is the strain of Christianity that claims that God rewards human faithfulness with health and wealth.  When our faith is strong, so the logic goes, our bodies and our finances will be, too.  God blesses devotion with this-worldly well-being.

The temptation might be to mock that sort of thinking.  After all, it seems foreign to the God revealed in Jesus Christ, who calls followers to “deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  But when Bowler finds herself reeling after a horrible diagnosis, she says, “I would love to report that what I found in the prosperity gospel was something so foreign and terrible to me that I was warned away. But what I discovered was both familiar and painfully sweet: the promise that I could curate my life, minimize my losses, and stand on my successes. And no matter how many times I rolled my eyes at the creed’s outrageous certainties, I craved them just the same” (Everything Happens, xiii-xiv).

The life of discipleship requires that kind of honesty.  We can read verses like the ones assigned for today and think to ourselves, “Of course the life of faith is not about certainty. Of course it is about denying self and taking up our cross,” but it might be worthwhile to linger a little longer and ask ourselves some follow-up questions.  How much security do we place in our own performance?  How much of our self-worth is wrapped up in our ability to garner admiration, accolade, distinction?  When was the last time our faith called us to give something up – really give something up – for the sake of the kingdom?  What – or who – has helped you to grow deeper in your trust of the living God?

Prayer: Be with me daily, O God, as I seek to follow you.  Make me humble and honest in my pursuit of righteousness, trusting always in your grace. 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].

Friday May 24 2019

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Scripture: Luke 8:40-56

Key verses: (43-48) 43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Reflection: Women are prominent in Jesus’ ministry but there’s something distinctive about Jesus’ encounter with the woman who touched the hem of his garment. She came to Jesus desperate but she could not even get close because of the crowds. This might have not been the best time for Jesus, but she could not wait.

She believed in Jesus and his ability to change lives so she reached out and touched the hem of his garment.  Amazingly, her bold touch caught the attention of Jesus. He stopped right where he was. The irony of this story is that dozens of people had been touching Jesus in these few minutes of moving towards the house of Jarius but only one had touched Jesus with a desperate faith.

Faith is often expressed at that broken, growing edge of life that is acquainted with fear. This woman of bold faith has spent twelve years in sickness, embarrassment, and frustration. She reached out at her weakest moment.  I don’t know about you, but I am not usually reaching out in my worst moments. This boldness of this women invites us to reach out.  When we do, Jesus is there.

Prayer: God, help us see everyone as someone worthy of love. Loved by you and loved by us. Guide us to be bold in our faith and not afraid of our brokenness. 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 May 23 2019

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Scripture: Luke 8:26-39

Key verse: (30) “What is your name?”

Reflection: What is your name? I was named for both of my grandfathers — Joseph Michael Clifford and John Henry Troeger. My family and lifelong friends call me “Joe John.” Since graduating from college I went to Joe. I had an uncle who called me “JJ.” I didn’t like it when anyone else called me that, but I loved hearing him say it. “Joey” was right out for me.

What is your name? That’s the question Jesus asks the man possessed by demons. He replies, “Legion.” He’s forgotten his name. He’s come to believe his name is his demon. How often does that happen with the demons of the modern world? “Alcoholic,” “Addict,” “Depressed;” these can become our names.

Jesus reminds us these are not our names. We are not our demons. Our healing begins when we can name those demons that possess us, but we must never become those demons.

What is your name? First and foremost, you are “Child of God.” Never forget that is the deepest truth about you!

Prayer: In the midst of the madness of this day, O God, remind me who I am — your child, holy and beloved. 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 May 22 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 9

Key verses: (1-2)

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

Reflection: There’s a file I’ve kept in my office, with prayers in it. Not prayers I wrote. And not prayers that other pastors have written, or that came from books or official church liturgies. No, these are prayers that the children of the Weekday School have written over the years. In our weekly chapel time, the 3, 4 and 5 year-olds gather to worship God. We tell a Bible story, sing enthusiastically, and we pray. We learn that prayer is talking to God, and we practice getting still and quiet so we can talk and listen to God, and our neighbor sitting beside us can too.

The teachers have asked the children before they arrive at chapel what they’d like to pray about. Teachers write the child’s name, and their prayer on a paper, and then share it with me.  Most of our prayers are about things for which we are thankful. We pray some of these aloud, and then the children help me tell God “thanks.” Always we give thanks for moms and dads, for brothers and sisters and new babies. We regularly give thanks for our pets, and our teachers. Most weeks someone is thankful for God and for Jesus, and for the whole wide world.

I am amazed at the development of the way children pray. They begin by naming those closest to them. They can get very specific about “things” that make them say thanks: toys, Jedis, firetrucks, dress up, Legos, baseball, butterflies, grilled cheese. They learn to give thanks for people around them: family, specific friends, teachers and community helpers. As they grow they learn to pray for the needs that others have: a teacher who is sick, a friend with a broken arm, people who need food. (I won’t put the prayer here that the Panthers win the Super Bowl, but that gets prayed regularly too.)

Our youngest disciples know that God hears our prayers, and wants us to give thanks for specific blessings, and share our particular needs. May we all continue to grow in our prayers, knowing that God is listening.

Prayer: God, we are thankful for many things. For all the particular blessings in our lives. For specific people who help us learn and grow and love us. We lift up those who are in need. We thank you for the prayers of children, and that you hear us all when we pray. We’d all like to tell you God, “thanks.” 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 May 21 2019

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Scripture: Romans 12:1-21

Key verse: (2) “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Reflection: Have you ever noticed how hard it is to change?   We can change our clothes, our hairstyle, our habits and routines, but transformation is something else entirely.  Can we transform ourselves?   The Greek word for transformation is μεταμορφόω (metamorphoó) from which we get the word metamorphosis which means a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means. Butterflies and moths are two examples of natural metamorphosis.  The caterpillar spins a cocoon and within a certain number of days a completely different looking insect emerges.  The caterpillar can’t make it happen.  She creates the environment for transformation to occur.  This is the only power she has and this may be the only power that we have when we want to become completely different – to create an environment in which God can change us.  Unless we do this, there is very little we can do to transform ourselves.  We can dress up the outside; but we can’t become who we are truly created to be without God’s power to transform.

We all make decisions that determine what course life will take, but our plans for change can only go so far.  The kind of transformation the Apostle Paul is talking about isn’t something we do – it is something God does when we put our lives in God’s hands.  This transformation can happen when we step out of our comfort zone; when we pray or dedicate ourselves to spiritual disciplines, when we stand up for someone who has no voice; when we fight for justice, feed the hungry or visit the sick.  If we stop trying to conform to the ideals of the world, God will begin to transform us from the inside out.  You can lose weight and still have a poor body image; you can dress for success and still feel like a failure; you can even succeed in business and not be satisfied.  When we conform to the world, satisfaction will elude us.  Without an inner sense of God’s peace, we will feel discontented from ourselves and others. When we are transformed, we can find joy and peace no matter our circumstances.

This chapter in Romans outlines what the renewing of the mind looks like.  What might happen if you gave yourself to God as a living sacrifice and then waited to see what happens?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for the gift of new life.  Help us to receive this gift and let you transform us.  Make us into the people you have created us to be.  Transform our minds that we might more fully give ourselves 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 May 20 2019

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Scripture: Jeremiah 32:1-15

Key verse: (15) For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Reflection: Jeremiah was a social critic and a spiritual guide who challenged God’s people to faithfulness in an anxious time. Remember that God had given the chosen Hebrew people a promised land and they had formed a nation with Jerusalem as their capital. They built a temple in Jerusalem that was the spiritual center of their faith. The land, the nation, and the temple all symbolized God’s presence with the people and assured them of God’s care for them.

Jeremiah preached around the time when Babylon conquered Jerusalem, reducing much of the city to rubble. Jeremiah wasn’t a popular prophet because he challenged the people for their lack of trust in God. In today’s passage, Jeremiah is in prison when he learns that his cousin Hanamel needs to sell land and is going to offer it to Jeremiah for purchase. This was called “redemption” when a relative bought back the land during a time of financial distress and kept the land in the family.

Buying land, when you know that Babylon is about to conquer your nation, doesn’t seem very smart. It’s like buying land right before it’s flooded by the construction of a new dam. It’s not a sound business decision. But Jeremiah bought the land as an act of faith. His purchase became a sign of his trust that God would one day restore the nation and return the land to the people. Jeremiah was willing to invest his money in an act of faith. A foolish real estate transaction became a sign of God’s future for the people.

As we begin this week, how will we live out our faith? How will we invest ourselves (yes, including our money!) in ways that reveal our trust in God? How will we invest our time and our energy this week? Maybe we are called to do something that looks foolish because we believe in a powerful God and a future of hope.

Prayer: O God, give me wisdom and courage today so that, as I face every decision, I will trust in you. Reveal opportunities to me when I can invest in your kingdom and in your promises for the future. 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].