Wednesday July 31 2019

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Scripture: Acts 16:16-24

Key verse: (19) “But when her owners say that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities.”

Reflection:  Today’s reading from Acts is absolutely stunning in its brutally honest look at the ways of the world.  It begins with a woman who is enslaved because she has “a spirit of divination.”  She’s a fortune teller, and makes a lot of money for her owners.  What a horrible life she must have had.  She reminds me of women entrapped in trafficking schemes in our day and age.  Her situation embodies the greed of the world.

Then there’s Paul.  He is annoyed by this poor woman who keeps shouting out, “These men are slaves of the most high God.”  He does not demonstrate any compassion for her, nor empathy or concern.  Rather he’s simply aggravated by her.  In his aggravation, he commands that evil spirit that gives her the ability to prophesy to come out of the woman.  Paul embodies that busy-ness of the world that leaves us blind to compassion for our neighbors.

Then there are the woman’s owners.  Their “money maker” is gone.  They’ve lost their hope for profit.  In their rage, they take Paul and Silas before the magistrate.  They are not honest about their motives for punishing Paul and Silas.  They do not say, “We can’t make money anymore because of these men.”  Rather, they appeal to the civic good.  “These men are disturbing the peace.”  Then they get uglier, they turn to anti-Semitism.  “They are Jews and are advocating un-Roman customs.”  Apparently demagoguery through race-baiting is as old as the Bible.  Their tactics get the crowd going, as such tactics usually do.  That leads the magistrate to beat Paul and Silas with rods.  This scene drips with greed, guile, racism, and downright brutality.

Yet in the midst of all this sin, a woman is saved.  Amid the greed and self-absorption and demagoguery and depravity, a woman is freed from her enslavement in the name of Jesus.  None of that can stop God’s power from working.  That gives me hope that in the midst of the messes of our world, God’s power is working today to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.  That’s what Jesus said he’d come to do in Luke 4.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, that’s what the Risen Christ is doing even now.  And nothing in the world can stop him!  Thanks be to God!

Prayer: In the midst of the messiness of this world, may your power work to free us from all that holds us captive.  In the powerful name of Jesus Christ we pray.  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 July 30 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 28

Key verse: (6) “Blessed be the LORD, because God has heard the voice of my supplication.”

Reflection: This psalm is a prayer for deliverance attributed to King David.  If you are familiar with the history of Israel, David spent a lot of time in battle fighting those who wanted to destroy him or his country.  He regularly asked for protection and much of the book of Psalms chronicles his fervent prayers for deliverance.  The Psalms also include his joyful songs of praise.  Sometimes these two themes of deliverance and praise are woven together like we see in today’s psalm.   Notice the way David uses poetry to give voice to his personal struggles and those of the people of Israel.  Now consider how these same words, spoken across thousands of years, also give voice to our struggles.  These are words of comfort and strength that help us, especially when we feel like we are under attack by the challenges of life.   We have hope, like David, that God will hear our prayers in the midst of struggle.   Perhaps you are facing an “enemy” right now.  Read this psalm as a prayer to God.  Then, trust in the LORD and let God be your strength.

Prayer: Almighty God, we need your strength.  Help us to trust you in every circumstance of life.  Remind us that you care for us and what happens to us. We give thanks that you hear our cries and will not forsake 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 July 29 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 145

Key verse: (4) One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.

Reflection: Summer brings changes to our routines. Many of us have opportunities to spend time with family and friends. Vacations at the beach, weekends in the mountains, trips to new destinations to visit museums and historic sites. Children go to day camp and “sleep away” camp. Youth go on mission trips, or walk the Camino in Spain, or go to Montreat for youth conference.

We have about another month left this summer. How are you sharing your faith across the generations this summer? You might enjoy the summer schedule at church, coming to worship at 10 and then going out for brunch to talk about how each of you experienced God in worship. You might write a letter to a child at camp and include a favorite Bible verse with the explanation of why it’s your favorite. You might visit your aging parents and take the time to ask them about how they have known God’s presence with them over the years. You might ask a young person for a “God sighting” (where have they seen God today?) and then share your own.

The psalm calls us to share with one another the wonderful works of God. Take a moment now to think over the last week. Where have you seen God this week? When have you experienced love and grace, perhaps shared by your family or friends? How have you felt the Spirit’s nudging you to serve or to give? Taking the time for spiritual reflection in our own lives can enable us to share our faith with one another and with the next generation of disciples. As the psalm ends, “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.”

Prayer: Sometimes I am so busy that I don’t pay attention to your presence, O God. Slow me down. Give me eyes to see you and ears to hear you. Give me opportunities to share my faith with words that praise you. Through Christ 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 July 26 2019

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Scripture: Mark 5:21-43

Key verse: (34) “He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’”

Reflection: I have an early memory of the way my parents would leave the house when they went out on a date.  When the babysitter would arrive, my sister and I would usually be bathed and eating dinner, and my mother would talk to her about the evening.  Even though my mother was talking to the babysitter, we all knew the conversation was really for the benefit of my sister and me.  As she communicated how the evening should go, we learned what to expect, and how we should act.

It can be odd to encounter a question on Jesus’ lips in scripture as we do in this healing story from Mark 5, but I wonder if something similar is going on in this text.  A woman who has been suffering for 12 years of a bleeding disorder makes her way through the crowd to Jesus, and in a desperate attempt to be made well, touches his hem.  The text tells us that she immediately feels in her body that she has been healed.  That is one piece of the healing that takes place in the story – healing of her physical ailment.  But remember that a woman suffering in this way would also have been marginalized from society in every way – seen as unclean, untouchable, beyond repair, without a voice.  And so, when Jesus turns and asks, “Who touched me?” it isn’t so much that he is actually unsure of her identity and asking for information as it is a desire to make the healing complete – not just physical, but relational.  The woman is both healed and made whole, restored to life in every way.

The healed woman’s courage in this passage is astounding. Not only does she seek her own healing, but she fights through fear (v33) to stand before Jesus and the crowd around him and identify herself as the one who touched him.  That is when he says to her, in the hearing of his disciples, the leaders of the synagogue, and everyone else in that crowd, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Of course this was for her benefit.  Jesus goes beyond the physical healing to offer her dignity and relationship.  But I wonder if the blessing he spoke over her isn’t equally for all who overheard it that day, and overhear it now.  Here is Jesus, reminding us again that those who have been marginalized, ignored, deemed unclean, unworthy, or un-loveable actually have central place in the kingdom of God.  That those who have suffered without relief, that those who have audaciously reached out for healing, that those who have fought through fear to stand and be known by God are those who are held as examples for all of us who wish to follow this wild and wonderful healer.  May we read this story about Jesus, and be reminded of what to expect from him, so that we then might think about how he invites us to act.

Prayer: O God, grant me courage to seek after you, and to hear what you have to say to me, that I might be reoriented by your good and challenging news. 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 July 25 2019

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Scripture: Mark 5:1-20

Key verses: (18-20) As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

Reflection: When reading this passage, I get stuck on the pigs. That is where the action seems to be as the demons enter the pigs and off they go, over the side of the cliff.  I know it is easier to make a joke out of the story then to face the pain of the man possessed.

Jesus calls this man out, exposes him as being limited, chained and tormented.  In a world where we like to hide our demons, being called out might be worse than being possessed. It wasn’t like the townspeople didn’t know his struggles but this was Jesus. He was probably used to being called out with ridicule and hatred around town. We live in fear of having our masks ripped off as most of our lives are built around keeping the defenses intact. So when Jesus does it — it makes us all uncomfortable. We can deal with the chains and tombs, but exposure and love is hard. Jesus reaches out to him, and us, with a liberating love.

When Christ enters into the struggle with this man, he identifies with him in his pain.  A cure is not easy. (Here is where the pigs come in!) Jesus exposes the demons and speaks the liberating word. Into the pigs they go! This man is free — free of his demons, free of the ridicule, free of the chains, maybe even free of himself.

Prayer: God, may your liberating love free us from our demons and guide us to freedom. In the name of Jesus we pray. 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 July 24 2019

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Scripture: Mark 4:35-41

Key verse: (39)  “Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace!  Be still!’  Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”

Reflection: Over the desk in my office is this amazing piece of art entitled, “Storm at 13 Mile.”

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It’s by Richard Bickel, an artist who lives and works in and around the Apalachicola Bay in North Florida.  I can’t imagine a more physically demanding job than harvesting oysters.  These hard working people put 12 ft. rakes into the bay, scrape the oysters off their reefs and pull the rakes back into their boat to collect their catch.  They do that hundreds of times a day in the heat of the sun until they have a pile large enough to make the effort worth their while.  Suffice to say, oystermen live really hard lives.  They probably look something like the people Jesus chose to be his first disciples.  In fact, when I first saw this photograph, I counted twelve oystermen; though I’ve never been able to get past ten since then. These particular oystermen are working the Apalachicola Bay at the 13 Mile Marker as a storm is rolling in.  I’ve always been struck by how remarkably calm they seem to be in the midst of the coming storm.

In the face of the storm in Mark 4, Jesus’ disciples were not calm.  In fact, they were terrified, believing they were about to die.  In the meantime, Jesus is sleeping in the front of the boat.  In their panic, they cry out, “Do you not care that we are perishing!?”  What a fascinating thing to cry out to the Savior of the world.  Jesus wakes up, and in an instant, calms the seas.  Then the apostle’s get even more afraid.  The English there is translated, “they were filled with great awe.”  The Greek there is ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν, (ephobAYthesan PHObon MAYgan.)  The root of the first two words is phobos—from where we get the word “phobia.”  It’s not “awe;” it’s paralyzing fear.  The final word is the origin of the English prefix mega, meaning “great or large.”  In other words, they feared with great fear.  They were even more afraid then when they were in the storm!  Apparently, Jesus’ power to calm the storm means he’s even more powerful than the storm, and that frightens them, because they really don’t know who he is yet.

Of course, we do; which brings me back to the photograph.  Part of what I love about it is the calmness of the oystermen.  I have no idea whether they are people of faith or not.  But they remind me in the midst of the storms we face, we can remain calm.  Why?  Because Jesus is in the boat.  And he’s stronger than any force we may face.  The Apalachicola Bay is special to me because when I was in high school, my Mom and I would go to St. George Island, crossing a bridge over that bay, not far from the 13-mile marker.  St. George was sanctuary for us in the midst of some seriously stormy seasons in our lives.  Looking back, I realize Jesus was in the boat with us through all that.  We made it through.

Seeing this photograph, I’m reminded in the midst of every storm we face in life, Jesus is in the boat.  So we need not fear.

Prayer: In the midst of whatever storms may come my way this day, help me remember, O Lord, you are in the boat.  Therefore, I will not fear. 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 July 23 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 30

Key verses: (6-7) As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.”

Reflection: In the good times it is easy to be certain of your faith in God.  Gratitude and blessing fill your life with peace.  It is a challenge to have this same kind of faith when life falls apart or when our plans change and life takes an unexpected turn.  In times like this, you may have cried out in prayer – certain that God would give you the answer you wanted.  But, what happened when the answer didn’t come?  What happens when we discover that the faith that was so strong in the good times seems inadequate for what we face.  Psalm 30 acknowledges this struggle.  It reminds us that our faith isn’t a matter of getting God to do what we want, but rather a reminder that God has made promises to us.  When we feel like God is a million miles away, God is still with us.  It is normal to feel like God has forsaken us when life collapses around us. Even Jesus on the cross struggled with this reality of being human.  When we are going through these trials it feels like there will only be an unhappy ending.  The Psalmist challenges God in a way that we might do in verse 9: If you don’t help me God, then who is going to praise you?  The Ancients believed that bad things happened because God was angry with them.  But, we know that things can and do go wrong even to saintly people.  All of us are mortal and life is fragile.  Bad things happen. And, yet God helps us.  God gives us the hope we need to endure, friends to walk with us on the journey, a faith community to show us the loving kindness and compassion of God.  None of us is so strong in faith that we will never be shaken. Life happens.  The LORD will lift us up eventually, but it usually is in a way we didn’t think of.  There are no magic formulas – only hope and faith and the belief that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  So, even when we feel like God is hidden, God is with us.  Cling to God’s love and remember that weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.  You will be changed by the difficulties in life, but you can find wholeness again.  It takes time to accept the new normal, so don’t take this journey alone.  There are resources in every faith community to help you make it through until you discover peace and joy again.

Prayer: Lord, God there is so much we don’t understand.  Help us in times of doubt and struggle to keep our eyes on you. Even in our fear and pain, send us a sign of your great love through the care of a friend, the support of a faith community, or the resources of our faith.  May we place our lives in your hands when our faith is challenged, knowing that you are near.  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].