Monday September 30 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 6:25-34

Reflection: The late Peter Gomes, who was for a long time the minister of The Memorial Church of Harvard University, told a story about preaching on this text at a commencement ceremony.  Taking Jesus’ encouragement not to worry upon his lips, he preached a sermon about trusting in God and the futility of our own anxiety. After the service, a parent came up to him and berated him for what he considered an outrageous and irresponsible message.  “It was anxiety that got my daughter into the school, it was anxiety that got her into grad school, and it will be anxiety that will fuel her performance in her first job. How dare you!” Gomes, with his characteristically wry twinkle, pushed back by saying they were not his words, but Jesus’.  The parent wasn’t won over.

I wonder how many of us have a similar reaction when reading Jesus’ exhortation, “Do not worry.”  I, at least, read it and immediately wonder how out of touch Jesus had to be to say something like that! There is so much in our world that is worrisome.  Our phones buzz all day long with concerning headlines. We worry about the health of our children, our aging parents, our planet. We worry about some of the systemic injustices in our very own city.  And wouldn’t it be nice, Jesus, if we could just DECIDE to stop worrying? In my experience, anxiety works like an itch: just deciding not to think about it doesn’t make it go away. It nags. More than that, to say, “Don’t worry, be happy” to someone who is truly struggling to manage their concerns can feel like awfully cold comfort – even a cutting dismissal of a real and difficult experience.

But I’ve never known Jesus to offer cold comfort, or to shrug off the concerns of his people.  Which is why I don’t think Jesus is offering unrealistic optimism or failing to show empathy when he invites us not to worry. Here, when Jesus invites us to consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and how God cares even for them, I think he’s inviting us to cultivate practices that focus our attention on what is most important about us, which is that the God who created us is watching over us, and even now dreaming of who God hopes we will become – people who know the full, abundant life to which we have been called.

So much competes for our attention these days, but here you are reading a devotion, carving out space to stop, breathe, reflect, and pray.  I wonder … where might you carve out 5-10 minutes today to once again stop, take a deep breath, reflect, and say a prayer. Perhaps it is a quick walk around the block where your office building is.  Perhaps it is that blessed 10 seconds after you’ve closed the car door after buckling your children in and are walking to the driver’s seat. Perhaps it is in putting whatever your preferred screen is down 10 minutes earlier than normal before bed tonight to write down three things for which you have been grateful today.  Decide while you’re reading this, and commit to “consider the lilies” even for a few minutes today — your small act of defiance in a world of rushing worry.

Prayer: Dear God, you care for me in every moment.  Awaken me to your presence. Fill my lungs with your praise and my heart with your peace, so that I might be grounded again in your love for me. 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].

“Through the month of September, we’re examining “The Life that Really is Life” through our Annual Giving Campaign. We encourage you to make your pledge to support the ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in 2020 at myersparkpres.org/pledge.”

Friday September 27 2019

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Scripture: Matt 6:7-15

Key verses: (9-10)
9 Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10     Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,

Reflection: Confirmation has started and we are seeking to understand the church. It is hard to convey to 8th graders that our hope for the church is not always the church that they see.  Hope is an orientation of the mind. It is not a wish but a confident expectation of God’s faithfulness. Hope is the longing for the world that God promises to bring about, but does not yet exist. Hope is longing for the Kingdom of God.

“Your kingdom come.”

Even though hope is rooted in a NOT YET future, it allows us to find strength and courage in the present. It is about what is already with an awareness of possibility.  When we embody hope, when we accept that we are given grace, when we trust that God is working to bring about a new heaven and new earth, than we are already embodying what it means to be the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God not yet.

My hope is that we can join God in bringing about the kingdom.

Prayer:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but
deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power
and the glory, forever.
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].

“Through the month of September, we’re examining “The Life that Really is Life” through our Annual Giving Campaign. We encourage you to make your pledge to support the ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in 2020 at myersparkpres.org/pledge.”

Thursday September 26 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-8

Key verses: (3-4) “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Reflection: During a recent workout, the person leading the class encouraged us “to move from self-consciousness to self-awareness.”  He was speaking about physical awareness as it related to fatigue, but the phrase struck a chord with me.  Within Family Systems Theory, the work of self-differentiation involves moving from self-consciousness to self-awareness; that is from focusing on what others think of you to focusing on what you think of you.  As one of my coaches once said to me, “What other people think of you is none of your business!”

Today’s reading from Matthew comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus proposes a shift in thinking about religious practice.  “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them,” Jesus warns.  In other words, “Don’t be holy because you are self-conscious about what others think of you.”  Jesus goes on to give examples related to alms giving and to fasting.  What others think of your piety is none of your business. All that really matters is what God thinks of your spiritual practice.  Is it pleasing to God?  Does it honor God?  We are called to be conscious of what God thinks of our actions, and aware of our own motivations in our spiritual practice.

This Sunday is our final Sunday in our Annual Giving Campaign.  Each year we are all invited to consider what we will give to support the ministry of the church.  If you have not already made your commitment, you can do so here: https://myersparkpres.org/give/#pledge.  We won’t be sounding any trumpets before you so that you might be publicly praised.  What you give is between you and God.  What others think of what you give is none of your business.  What God thinks is all that really matters.  As you make your decisions about this, focus your consciousness not on others, but on God. I pray that whatever you decide to do brings you joy in being a part of God’s work in the world, and the contentment found in living a life that is pleasing to God.

Prayer: O Lord, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.”  Amen.  (An excerpt from “The Merton Prayer,” being used by our Youth this year in their focus on the spiritual journey)

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].

“Through the month of September, we’re examining “The Life that Really is Life” through our Annual Giving Campaign. We encourage you to make your pledge to support the ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in 2020 at myersparkpres.org/pledge.”

Wednesday September 25 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48

Key verse: (44) “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Reflection: A few years ago a country song came out that makes me think of this passage in Matthew. The song follows a guy who hasn’t been to church in a while, and when he finally does go the preacher tells him to pray for his enemies. The rest of the song is a litany of this man’s prayers for his enemies. Sounds nice so far, right? Except the man prays for all sorts of bad things and accidents to happen to his enemies, I’m sure this was not what the preacher was thinking and definitely not what Jesus was thinking in this passage.

How then are we to pray for our enemies both sincerely and faithfully? How do we truly love and care for those who have harmed us or our loved ones in some way? This is no easy task, but prayer for our enemies, those we dislike, those who frustrate us, is a transformative task. If you are at a loss of words (or at least faithful words) for your enemies don’t worry, prayer doesn’t always have to be us going to God with a plan for God to execute, we don’t need to know exactly what we are asking for in prayer. Prayer can be a time of listening to God, and some of my favorite prayers are when I trust that when I don’t know what to say that the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26). Maybe part of praying for our enemies is going before God as mediator, seeking reconciliation, seeking goodness and wholeness for all, hoping against hope that the world may be different than we can even imagine.

Prayer: Holy God, may you give us the boldness and strength to pray for our enemies. May you open our hearts to a world different than we can even imagine, where peace reigns and wholeness comes to all. And when we are without words, may we listen for your word of love and hope and trust in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Author: John Magnuson

[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].

“Through the month of September, we’re examining “The Life that Really is Life” through our Annual Giving Campaign. We encourage you to make your pledge to support the ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in 2020 at myersparkpres.org/pledge.”

Tuesday September 24 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 99

Key verse: (8) O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.

Reflection: The emphasis in verses 6-8 is the nearness of God, responding to the cries of people in distress. Who is God responding to in this passage? “Them” refers to Moses, Aaron, and Samuel (v.6), who called upon God in prayer for guidance and help. Moses and Aaron bridged the gap between God and the people at the time of the exodus (Exodus 4, 5-11). Samuel called upon the Lord for help and the Lord answered (1 Samuel 7:7-11; 12:16-18). They turned to God in times of need; God heard, and God responded.

The Psalm speaks about God as the One who hears and responds. In the business sphere of life, response time may differ from a ground floor worker and the CEO of the company; but here the psalmist tells us that God responds, over and over. The CEO and Creator of the universe responds. This is a reason for praise and an invitation to all people to call upon the Lord in times of distress to receive help and forgiveness.

In verse 8b God revealed Godself to them as the God-Who-Forgives. Our God is a forgiving God, and we can learn from this. God forgave them — them being either Moses, Aaron, and Samuel or Israel as a whole — but condemned their wrongdoings. Forgiving is not accepting the behavior. God looked upon them in mercy, forgiving the soul, not the action.

How hard is it for us to respond to those in our lives reaching out for help or guidance? Even further, how hard is this to do when there is a wrongdoing that needs forgiving? The psalmist holds response, forgiveness, and accountability together. Can we take a few moments each week to respond to those reaching out to us? God is a responding God; God is a forgiving God. May we be just as quick to respond and just as merciful in forgiving.

Prayer: Responding God, you answered your priestly people when they called upon you. We praise you for your nearness in times of distress. Help us to respond to those who call to us, so that to them we may share your mercy and love. Amen.

Author: Ben Brannan

[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].

“Through the month of September, we’re examining “The Life that Really is Life” through our Annual Giving Campaign. We encourage you to make your pledge to support the ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in 2020 at myersparkpres.org/pledge.”

Monday September 23 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 145

Key verses: (1-3) “I will extol thee, my God and King, and bless thy name for ever and ever.  Every day I will bless thee,    and praise thy name for ever and ever.  Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.”

Reflection: Many scholars believe that today’s psalm may originally have been the final psalm in the Psalter.  The psalms that follow (146-150) are drawn from its focus on praise.  As one author has noted, it was the custom, in Jewish religious tradition to “repeat Psalm 145 as a way to confess the insufficiency of self and the sovereignty of God.”  This psalm reminds us that God is sovereign and the ultimate source of our salvation.  In the face of a world that is full of suffering and injustice, fear and confusion, God invites us to look to God as the source of our hope.   This kind of hope was very important for the nation of Israel as they emerged from a brutal exile. It also has been very important to the Christian community over the centuries.  St. Augustine, a well-known saint of the church, quotes Psalm 145 at the beginning of his Confessions.  This is followed by his famous words:  “You stimulate (us) to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find peace in you.”  We are invited to live by “this great truth” and get to know God through praise.  When we do, we might discover that we feel a renewed sense of gratitude to God for the gift of life.  Through praise we can discover the life that really is life.

Read through the Psalm again and hear God’s word of life for you today.

Prayer: Gracious God, we give you praise for your relentless love.  You refuse to give up on us and constantly show us patience and mercy.  Help us to sing your praises.  Remind us that you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing that draws close to you. Show us how to put you at the center of our lives so that we might more fully live for 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].

“Through the month of September, we’re examining “The Life that Really is Life” through our Annual Giving Campaign. We encourage you to make your pledge to support the ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in 2020 at myersparkpres.org/pledge.”

Friday September 20 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 5:11-16

Key verse: (16) In the same way, let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Reflection: When I was confirmed in the eighth grade, the pastor of our church chose a verse for each confirmation student. In the confirmation worship service, he laid his hand on the student’s head and read the verse he chose for that student. My verse was Matthew 5:16 and that verse has become my personal mission statement.

Matthew understands Jesus as a “new Moses,” a great teacher who would guide the people to live faithfully. Chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s gospel are the Sermon on the Mount, a long series of teachings and instructions for God’s people. Jesus uses the metaphors of salt and light to describe God’s people, and he ends with verse sixteen “let your light shine.”

You are the light of the world. It’s not “try to find a little glimmer of light somewhere” or “work hard to shine.” You already are light and you can let your light shine. That was great news for my eighth grade self and for my older self now. I, just being myself, have something to offer that other people need. I have some gifts that encourage other people to be faithful. I have ways to witness to God’s love. So, don’t hold back. Don’t cover up. Don’t wear a mask or put energy into faking it. God created you and Jesus proclaims you are the light of the world. Let your light shine!

Prayer: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” Thank you for the light dear Lord. Shine through me just as I am so that others will see your love. 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].

“Through the month of September, we’re examining “The Life that Really is Life” through our Annual Giving Campaign. We encourage you to make your pledge to support the ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in 2020 at myersparkpres.org/pledge.”