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].

Friday May 17 2019

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Scripture: John 12:9-19

Key verse: (19) “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”

Reflection: Over the years, I have noticed a pattern in Jesus’ ministry, and that is that he always seems to be bringing life where there once was no life at all.  Just before this text, Jesus has gone to Mary’s house and raised her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. That’s a life-from-death story if I’ve ever heard one.  But it is also a story about joy where there was once only sorrow, courage where there was once only fear, possibility where there once was only finality.  Because of Jesus, a man came to life!  That’s an amazing story!  It is so amazing, in fact, that according to John, it is the reason crowds gathered to wave palms as Jesus entered Jerusalem.  They wanted to catch a glimpse of the man who has the power to bring life.

Where have you seen Jesus at work in this way in the world, or in your own life?  When have you experienced renewal after a rut?  When have you been courageous when it would have been easier to slink away?  Who has helped you remember God’s love when you’ve felt utterly alone?  Have you ever experienced the joy that comes in the morning after a long night of grief?  What a miracle! Jesus’ ministry of life has touched you.

Take some time today to think about how you might share Jesus’ ministry of life with a hurting world.

Prayer: Dear God, you call us to life and life abundant.  Give me wisdom and boldness in sharing the gifts of life with others. 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 May 16 2019

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Scripture: Jeremiah 31:1-14

Key verses: (13-14)

13Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14  I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,
says the LORD.

Reflection: Jeremiah writes to the Israelites living in exile with promises of God. “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3). “The days are surly coming” Jeremiah says over and over again to those who feel lost. (Jeremiah 31:27, 31 38) The days are surely coming when I will turn your mourning into joy. Restoration for the people of God.

It is a promise offered to all of us. Restoration. Joy. Hope.

Take a deep breath and be present wherever you are. Hear the promise that God loves you with an everlasting love. Take another deep breath and know that surly the days are coming when there will be joy.

Joy. I wonder if we could transform our idea of joy as an expected experience or something you feel and hear as a lasting way of being in the presence of God. In the midst of exile. In the midst of despair. In the midst of the messiness of our days maybe we can experience a bit of joy because we are in the presence of God. Everyday. Everywhere.

Prayer: God, take away everything that inhibits me from living joy. With you. 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].

Wednesday May 15 2019

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Scripture: Luke 6:27-38

Key verse: (27) “But I say to you that listen…”

Reflection: This week’s gospel reading continues in Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke.  The whole sermon is found in Luke 6:17-49.  Though it is similar to the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew, there are some notable differences.  Most notable is the length.  The Sermon on the Mount is Matthew 5-7—three full chapters.  The Sermon on the Plain is only thirty-two verses, but those verses pack quite a punch.  The Sermon on the Plain is incredibly plain spoken.  Today’s portion illustrates this fact.  “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Matthew’s Jesus takes a few paragraphs to lay all that out.  In Luke, Jesus takes just one verse, making it plain and simple…and incredibly hard.

What are we to do with these commands of our Lord?  One option is to ignore them. Many do. Though by so doing, we would have to ask if Jesus really is our Lord. Another is to read them but not practice them in any meaningful way.  That may be worse than simply ignoring them.  Or we could listen to them.  Jesus said, “But I say to you that listen…”  What would it mean to be counted among the listeners?

Prayer: Open my soul, O Lord, to listen to what you say.  May your words become my actions.  When I fall short of your commands, may your grace sustain me in your love. 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].

Tuesday May 14 2019

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Scripture: Luke 6:12-26

Key verses: (20-21)

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21  “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

Reflection: I attended my son’s college graduation this past weekend. That sentence astounds me, as it seems we just dropped him off for his freshman year. The day before that, he was starting Kindergarten. Now, he is on the cusp of everything. With a job lined up already, he is excited about the future ahead, even with lots of transition in between now and then.

It was different for my husband and me to be sitting in Kenan football stadium on a Sunday morning, instead of in worship, where we usually are. We watched the thousands of students file into their seats, with family and friends applauding. It was a beautiful scene (even though to me, the color was a little too Carolina blue and not the prettier Duke blue shade…)

The graduation speaker was Jonathan Reckford, a one-time Executive Pastor, who is now the CEO of Habitat for Humanity. His address sounded a lot like a sermon to me, and one that I hope the graduates internalize. He asked them some good questions, including these:

  • What voices will you allow to speak into your life?
  • How will you define “rich?”
  • What are you uniquely wired to do?

Our faith asks us those same questions.

  • As followers of Jesus, we are called to let the voice of scripture, of Jesus, and of our faith tradition speak to us. Those are the words and instructions we are to learn, examine, and internalize as we let them guide our actions and our understanding of who we are as children of God.
  • Jesus flipped the idea of what “rich” meant, calling those who are hungry and poor “blessed” and asking pointed questions of those who were conventionally rich. We are to measure our lives by a richness that comes not from monetary treasures, but something much deeper.
  • We are all uniquely wired to be the selves God created us to be. Embracing that, and finding our calling in life, is a task that requires reevaluation over and over again. In this season of graduations and transitions, may we all take time to reflect on who we are, and who God is calling us to be.

Prayer: Lord, you are with me in every transition. Help me listen to you. Teach me what it means to be rich in the way you value. Show me who you have created me to be as your child, blessed to be a blessing. 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].