Friday June 28 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 139

Reflection: Psalm 139 tells us that there is no hiding when it comes to God.  No matter where we go, or what we do, God meets us where we can be found.  Even when we are covered in the darkness of shame or grief or whatever we think has finally separated us from the love of God, when we are in the deepest pit, we are still in the light of God.  Still known.  Still held by God.  God meets us even there, dispelling our darkness with divine light.  And even when we come to the end of all of the days God has formed for us and we spin off this mortal coil, even then, even there, we are still with God, for God cannot forget us, nor will God forsake us.  In the United Kingdom there is a cemetery in the Channel Islands dedicated to the unknown dead of World War II, those anonymous men who lost their lives in battle and could not be rightly identified.  And each headstone in that cemetery is inscribed, simply, with “Known By God.”  This is the way it is with each of us, the inscription carved into every beating heart.

The psalmist also tells us that there are no secrets with God, for we are completely known by the One who, like a patient artist, knit us together stitch by stitch.  Seven times the psalm uses some form of the words “to know”, and on top of that, words like “search” and “acquainted” and “see” describe God’s familiarity with us.  God knows the thoughts that arise within us, we are told.  God knows the words we will speak before we’ve even formed them on our lips.  God is acquainted with our habits, our comings and goings, and the plans we make.  We are known completely.

And knowledge is power.  Which is why it matters, then, what kind of God is doing all that knowing – whether we should read this psalm and hear it as a threat or as a promise.  It matters whether our God is the God that the church has sometimes proclaimed –  which is a God who peers down at us from afar, like a celestial judge, keeping a record of rights and wrongs, rolling his eyes when we’ve made a mess of things, even shaking his head in pity or exasperation, ready and willing to use his knowledge of us against us.  A parent-God who might say, “I’m not angry with you.  I’m just disappointed in you,” which is almost worse.  As a child, I was always uncomfortable with that line about Santa in the Christmas Carol that claims “he sees you when you’re sleeping/he knows when you’re awake/he knows if you’ve been bad or good/so be good for goodness sake.”  Is that our picture of God?

Or, could it be that this psalm provides another picture?  Is it possible that our God is a God who knows us with love, who sees us through the eyes of compassion, the way a mother looks at her child, or a lover at his beloved?  Could it be that our God witnesses to our lives in a way that is patient and kind, in a way that keeps no record of wrongs but rejoices when the truth is made manifest in us?  Could God be a witness that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things?  And could it be that our greatest hope is to one day know ourselves the way God knows us, which is with an unflinching, unending love – for now we can talk about things, we can sing hymns about them and let the music carry us a little closer to grasping them, we can know them in part, but then will we know fully, even as we have been fully known?  “You hem me in, behind and before, and you have laid your hand upon me,” sings the psalmist.  You have not given up on me.  You have accepted me, and yet you are still at work refining me.  “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.  It is so high that I cannot attain it.”

Prayer: Gracious God, you know me better than I know myself.  And even though you know all there is to know about me, you still love me.  Help me to rest in that love, today and always. 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 June 27 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 27

Key verse: (1)
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

Reflection: Fear of failure. Fear of the future. Fear of school shootings. Fear of not getting into college.  Fear and anxiety are the foundation for many in Generation Z.  Those born around the year 2000 until today are the most anxious generation, Gen Z.  We see rising levels of mental health problems in the classroom and church. There’s far less agreement on what, exactly, is driving this but fear is present.

When I was in high school, I am not sure I had a lot of fears. I am pretty sure I would say I was not afraid of anything or anyone. That is the story I have told myself but it is not the true story. Psalm 27: 1 was the verse I memorized for confirmation. Throughout high school, I repeated it when I was stressed or anxious.  It brought me comfort and gave me hope.  It still gives me comfort so many years later, probably because I needed it during some years that were hard.

It is the verse I go to when I find my heart racing for any number of reasons today.

I know it is not just young people who have deep fears. Let us claim the Psalmist’s declaration that the Lord is our light, our salvation, our stronghold, our confidence and our Savior.  This is our hope. This is our strength. This is our confidence.

Prayer: You are my light and my salvation, help me not to be afraid. Afraid of failing or being really seen. You are the stronghold of my life. Move with me into this day. 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 June 26 2019

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Scripture: Luke 22:14-23

Key verse: (19) “This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

Reflection: Today’s reading from Luke relates the story of the Last Supper.  It contains the Words of Institution we use at communion.  “Do this in remembrance of me,” says Jesus to his disciples sitting around the table in the upper room.  Every time we take communion we hear these words again, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  What is the “this” we are called to do in remembering Jesus?

Through the centuries, “this” was taken to refer to the sacrament of communion.  So Christians debated, even went to war over what “this” meant. Roman Catholics discern the body in the bread and in the wine — transubstantiation.  Lutherans discern the body all around the elements, but not in them — consubstantiation.  Anglicans cover all their bases by saying, “it’s a mystery.”  Baptists discern the body in their memory, understanding the feast as a memorial of what Christ did for us. Presbyterians discern the body in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup — in the actions of communion, not in the elements alone.  Some serve in trays in the pews; others by intinction; some use grape juice, most use wine; some only the clergy serve, others only ordained officers; some welcome any baptized believer to serve.  Some invite only their particular tradition to the table, others invite all Christians, and some invite anybody who wants to come.

All this evolved from Jesus’ words passed, “Do this remembering me.”  Is this what Jesus had in mind?  Is all this — transubstantiation, consubstantiation, cups and trays, intinction — is all this the “this” our Lord commands us to do?  Did Jesus imagine debates arising over “this?”  Did he imagine people fighting wars over the theology of “this?” Did he imagine schism in the church over “this?”  Was this what he meant when he said, “Do this remembering me?” Was he referring simply to the celebration of communion, and therefore the ensuing debate about all the varied ways we do this?  If we did not know all this about “this,” if we looked to Jesus’ words for their basic meaning, I believe the “this” would be something very different.

“This is my body, which is given for you,” says Jesus, “Do this remembering me.”  In its simplest understanding, the “this” does not refer to the sacrament of communion, but to offering ourselves for one another in the same way Christ offered himself for us.  “This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  Offer yourselves for one another, remembering me.

Among the prayers of the Iona Community in Scotland is a closing prayer following communion. We use a version of it in our prayer after communion.  Its words are simple, yet profound.  After giving thanks for the feast, these words are offered, “As by the miracle of creation, this bread and wine are changed within our bodies into us, may we be changed into you; to be the body of Christ in and for this broken and hurting world.”  I’m not sure if that’s transubstantiation or consubstantiation or something all-together different, but I do believe it is the “this” we are called to do in remembrance of Jesus Christ.  Together let us do this, remembering him.

Prayer: By the power of your Holy Spirit, may we join your transforming work in the world today, O God, offering ourselves in love to one another, as Christ calls us to do.  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 June 25 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 146

Key verses: (1-2) 1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! 2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Reflection: It seems appropriate for my last devotion to be about praising the Lord. As the Psalmist lifted up songs of thanksgiving and rejoicing to God, so do I, and—I trust—so do you. There is so much for which we can be thankful.

For sunshine after a stormy weekend—we praise the Lord.

For the gift of family and friends—we praise the Lord.

For all those who have taught us about the love of God—we praise the Lord.

For all those who inspire us to work for justice—we praise the Lord.

For all those who show us the mercy of God through compassion—we praise the Lord.

For everyone who has stretched us to be more patient, and more forgiving—we praise the Lord.

For the gifts of children—we praise the Lord.

For the faith of our youth—we praise the Lord.

For a church family that worships, learns and serves faithfully together—we praise the Lord.

For seasons in our life that are blessed, and that equip us all to be a blessing to others—we praise the Lord.

For the joy of serving Myers Park Presbyterian Church for the last 8 years, I praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord, your faithfulness stretches from generation to generation. Teach me to be truly grateful, every day. Help me lift up my voice in praise to you, as I seek to be part of your kingdom-building. 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].

Monday June 24 2019

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Scripture: Acts 5:12-26

Key verse: (12) “Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles.”

Reflection: In the beginning of this passage of scripture, the Apostles are healing the sick.  This ministry of healing was so profound that people were even healed when Peter’s shadow fell across them!  It is hard for us to imagine this kind of miracle –  a miracle in which the sick in body and mind are all cured.  Not just some of them, but all of them.  This was and is quite remarkable.  The church continues to have a ministry to the sick, but we all know that despite our prayers and our faith, not everyone is cured.   Early in my faith journey I struggled with this reality.  I wanted to know why people were cured by the Apostle’s in the early church, but this kind of healing didn’t seem to be available any more.  Why does a good God allow suffering to exist?  Why isn’t everyone cured?  Tough questions.   It’s been difficult to find answers.  I can’t adequately offer one today.   However, in my work over the years, I have observed something quite remarkable.  I have seen people healed without being cured.  Over and over again, I have seen a faithful, loving God; heal the heart and mind of those sick in body.  I have seen the peace Christ promised in the Gospel of John, a peace that the world can’t give, provide solace and healing in person after person of faith.  Of course, when we are sick we want to be cured.  And, most of the time, through the miracle of modern medicine, we are.  We now have cures for many diseases  that couldn’t have been imagined a century ago.  But, there are still diseases whose progression we can’t stop.  In the face of this realization, we are challenged to live fully into our faith – to surrender our lives to God in Jesus Christ who we believe holds our lives in his hands.  It is inspiring to read about the faith of those who first followed the Apostle’s teachings.  They experienced the presence of Jesus through these early prophets and evangelists and it was life-changing.  We can only hope that God will use us to proclaim the love, acceptance and forgiveness of Jesus Christ that we have experienced in such a way that all people might experience his healing touch.

Prayer: Loving God, there is so much we don’t understand.  Life can be difficult and we want answers.  When we see suffering around us that doesn’t make sense, we feel helpless.  In our helplessness, turn our hearts toward love that we might offer your healing touch to all those in need. In Jesus’ name. 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].

Friday June 21 2019

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Scripture: Acts 2:37-47

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

Reflection: In the book of Acts, we get a sense of how the good news of the gospel spread out into the world, transforming lives and calling people to follow Jesus Christ. Luke, the gospel writer, also wrote the book of Acts. Perhaps in his mind, this is the sequel to the gospel, the continuation of the story, and the gospel story continues through history to now include even us.

Luke tells us that the early disciples “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.” These spiritual activities formed the core of their faith practices, helping to encourage them and equip them to share the good news. I am intrigued by the word “devoted.” In the Greek, the words indicate constancy and continued faithfulness. Apparently we know someone is “devoted” because we watch what they keep doing over and over. These practices are habits woven into their lives.

Disciples who devote themselves to learning, and to prayer, and to fellowship, and to worship will grow in faith. They will gain knowledge, but more importantly they will be transformed to be more like Jesus Christ in the world. They will be equipped to share the good news with those around them, in both word and deed. I sometimes think that faith practices shape us the way water shapes a rock; slowly over time the steady and constant drip of water will smooth a rough place. So it is with prayer and worship and Bible study and fellowship!

What are you devoted to? What are your daily and weekly habits? Exercise? Drinking several glasses of water each day? If someone observed your life for a month, what would they conclude about your faithful commitments? Regular prayer? Weekly worship? Gathering with other disciples for fellowship? The summer might be a good time to devote yourself to faith practices because the change in routine creates opportunities for new habits. As a disciple of Jesus, what will you devote yourself to?

Prayer: In these long days of summer, I want to devote myself to you dear Lord. Surround me with faithful community that encourages my faith practices. Help me create habits that will invite your transformation. 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].

Thursday June 20 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 16

Key verses: (5-6)

“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage” (NRSV)

“My choice is you, God, first and only.
And now I find I’m your choice!

You set me up with a house and yard.
And then you made me your heir!” (The Message)

Reflection: Though it is more an interpretation of the Bible than a strict translation of it from the original manuscripts, Eugene Peterson’s The Message occasionally brings helpful insight into familiar, but often hard to understand, verses.  These two from Psalm 16 fall into that category for me.

Consider verse 5 in particular.  It is both an affirmation of the psalmist’s choice of God (The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup) and of God’s providence (you hold my lot). But Peterson’s language captures the surprise of faith that so many of us have experienced along the way, which is that sometimes, we think we are the ones choosing God, only to find out that it is God who has already chosen us.

I remember being on a prospective student tour at Princeton Seminary when our guide stopped outside of the library and pointed our attention to a stone panel above one of its doors.  In the panel was the image of a hand, laid out flat, with the fingers pointing down, as if it were reaching down to the ground.  She asked if any of us had seen the symbol before and what we thought it meant.  None of us could answer, so she went on to explain that it represented God reaching out to us, and not the other way around.  Here we were, a bunch of seminary prospects thinking we were choosing a life with God, and she was reminding us that, before we could ever choose God, God had already reached out to embrace us.

I wonder if you’ve ever had that experience.  You think you’re the one choosing God, only to be humbled by realizing that God has already embraced you.  That’s grace in a nutshell.  The question is, how will you respond with your life?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for your embracing love, and help me to respond to it by extending gracious love to 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].