Thursday October 31 2019

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Scripture: Rev. 5:11-6:11

Key verse: (5:12) Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!

Reflection: Today’s lectionary reading from the Revelation of John offers two very different scenes.  The first is the myriad saints of heaven worshipping the glorified Christ in the heavenly realm.  What a beautiful image to invoke on the eve of All Saint’s Day when we remember all those who have gone before us in faith who now live eternally with God.  This vision offered by John has inspired the church throughout our history.  Perhaps the most famous inspiration born of this passage is “Worthy is the Lamb,” from Handel’s, “Messiah.”  You can listen to it here. Not a bad way to start your day.

The scene shifts abruptly to the glorified Christ opening five of seven seals.  The opening of the first four seals releases the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse upon the earth.  First comes a white horse, perhaps symbolizing Christ and the spread of the gospel.  The white horse is followed by the red horse, likely symbolizing war; then comes the black horse, symbolizing famine, or economic ruin, followed by the pale green horse, symbolizing death.  This is far removed from the beauty of the heavenly vision immediately preceding it.  Yet it is a poignant description of the way of the world, then and now.

With the opening of the fifth seal, the saints and martyrs in heaven call out, “How long, O Lord?”  In the midst of so much suffering in our world, do we not join their voices wondering, “How long?”  Whether it’s loved ones battling cancer, or freedom fighters battling despots in our world, how long will war and famine and disease and death define creation?  That is the question of the saints then and now.

I’ll confess I don’t like the Lamb’s answer.  “A little longer,” says the voice.  A little longer … until “the number will be complete.”  Which is to say, until we are all included in this radical transformation of the world.  Ultimately that’s the story of the Revelation — the transformation of the world into the kingdom of God.  It is a painful transformation, as the four horsemen reveal, but Death, that final horseman, is not the final word.  The final word is life and joy and peace.  You can read it in Revelation 21.  God’s going to win.  That’s the end of the story.  And that is the hope of all the saints through the ages.

Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  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 October 30 2019

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Scripture: Revelation 5:1-10

Key verse: (2) “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”

Reflection: Who is wise enough to solve the problems of our day? Who is strong enough to overcome challenges and obstacles never before defeated? Who is innovative enough to stay ahead of changing times and trends? I don’t have to tell you that we are just about one year away from the next presidential election. Wherever you stand politically, we have a tendency of putting all of our hopes in one person, thinking that our candidate will somehow be the one to solve all of the problems that no one else has yet been able to figure out.

The author of Revelation, through grand vision and metaphor, paints a picture of a world in waiting, waiting for someone to come and solve all of the problems that no one else has been able to figure out. After many attempts, it seemed as though no one would be able to open the scroll, no one would be able to solve the problems that weighed upon the people. But then appeared the great lion, from the royal line of David. Surely this one, strong and powerful would be the one! But as we turn our attention in the text to see the lion, what we see is not a pretty sight, we see a slaughtered lamb. And yet, it is this one, the mighty lion turned slaughtered lamb that is worthy to open the scroll.

Beloved, may we not place our hopes in empty promises, may we not look for solutions among those unable to satisfy our needs. For in Christ we see the strong made weak, the proud made humble, the wise made foolish. And the mighty one who rules all nations is the slaughtered lamb, bloodied from enduring our suffering for us that we may live.

Prayer: Sovereign God, we give you thanks for your Son Jesus, our Lord, who is bringing about his kingdom of peace through the gentleness of a lamb. Calm our hearts, O God, that we may neither be too excitable nor find ourselves in despair with all of the issues of the day. Grant that we may place our hope in you who brings together people of every nation in peace. 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].

Tuesday October 29 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9

Key verse: (3) And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.

Reflection: This very well-known parable is commonly titled “The Parable of the Sower.” This parable is interesting because Jesus explains it a few lines later in verses 18-23: the seed is the Word of the Kingdom and the various soils represent people’s readiness and faithfulness as they receive the Word. Makes since, right? But why is it called “The Parable of the Sower?” With the provided interpretation, shouldn’t it be called “The Parable of the Soils” (as the CEB does). But with the Sower as the title character, I wonder how it might read if we are seen as the sower, instead of as the soil?

Imagine with me: You are a farmer and your livelihood is dependent on the “fruitfulness” of your harvest. Would you be as sporadic as this sower in spreading seed? Seed is very expensive so you must not waste any. How might you feel if you spread seed and it lands on the path, settles in the rocks, or is even lost in the thorns. That’s a waste! How might this change if you were only given a certain amount of seed? How intentional would you be with spreading the limited seed you are given as to not let any of it go to waste?

What if the seed we are given represents our time here on earth? How might you spread time-seed? Sporadic or intentional? We are all only given 24 hour-seeds a day; that is 1,440 minute-seeds a day or 86,400 second-seeds. We are gifted only a certain amount of time, and our life will not bear fruit if spent on a rough path, with no depth to grow. The same can be said if life is spent among the hardened and lifeless rocks or the thorns of greed, wealth, and power that chokes the life from us. But what if we spend our time-seed in good soil? The soil that welcomes you as you are and provides the nutrients for your life to grow and grow deep. Find your good soil! Spread seed in the good-soil places that energize you, those places where vulnerability is met with deep joy. How do you identify your good soil? Frederick Buechner would say that your life’s good soil “is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” Where is that for you?

Prayer: I walk on the path and the soil is hard and shallow. I walk on the rocks and my foot slips and I stumble. I walk among the thorns; I am cut by the sharpness and try to leave but the glimpse of a rose lures me back. Guide my feet, O Lord, to walk in the good soil, soil that nurtures my soul, soil where I can grow closer to you. 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].

 

Monday October 28 2019

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Scripture: Zechariah 1:7-17

Key verse: (16) “Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with compassion; my house shall be built in it, . . .”

Reflection: The prophet Zechariah is not typically the book most people turn to when reading the Bible. It is best known by most Christians as the book that predicts the coming of the Messiah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, our king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he.  Humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech. 9:9).  This book does prophecy the hope of a future for the people of Jerusalem.  Reduced from a population of 6,000-7,000 before the destruction of 586 BCE, there were only a few hundred people left by the time of this prophecy in 520 BCE.  Zechariah’s prophecies sounded too good to be true.  And yet, these prophecies are all about reversals and God’s power to restore.  To the modern reader, the visions of Zechariah may seem strange but they point to “the ongoing story of God’s judgment and promise”, as one commentator notes.  At the beginning of the book there is a promise:  Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you. (v. 3)  In today’s text, there is a vision of a man riding a red horse.  This rider is part of the horses and riders who are patrolling the earth.  These riders have discovered that the whole world – not just Jerusalem – is at rest and peace which was another way of saying that the nations were complacent.  So, the LORD will now return to Jerusalem and show mercy.

The imagery of Zechariah is strange, but the message is one that resonates with us today.  There continues to be a longing for restoration and a yearning for hope. These themes continue to be important in our world. God, in the book of Zechariah, was determined to “rearrange things”.  God gave Zechariah an alternative vision of what the world could be.  To people who had suffered the weight of judgment and the destruction of Jerusalem, which included the total disruption of their lives, suffering and death, the words of Zechariah gave them hope for the future. Something new was going to be born.  What about the state of the world in which we now live?  Most of us are unbelievably comfortable, but most of the world is not.  There is tremendous unrest and destruction in so many places. Even in the lives of those who have so much.  All of us feel the weight of judgment because of our choices.  Some of these choices are more damaging than others.  But, the LORD who restored Jerusalem can also restore our lives because the LORD who invited Jerusalem to return to God, also invites us to return. Our God is full of compassion so we hold on to hope.

Prayer: Loving God, help us to respond to you.  Show us the way, restore our hope and help us be part of solutions that will strengthen our community giving hopeless people hope. 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].

Friday October 25 2019

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 16:10-24

Key verses: (19-20a) The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, greet you warmly in the Lord. All the brothers and sisters send greetings.

Reflection: Paul ends his letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth by exchanging greetings among the disciples living in various places. As a missionary preacher, Paul had traveled extensively throughout the region and he knew faithful people scattered all over.

The majority of us likely will never go on an international mission trip. Yet we are called to an awareness that we are part of a church universal. There are faithful disciples of Jesus Christ on every continent. We share a common commitment to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior but we find ourselves in vastly different contexts. We recognize that the Body of Christ is always bigger than our own circle of friends and family, bigger than our neighborhood or city, bigger than our denomination.

In the Apostles’ Creed we affirm a belief in the “holy catholic church” and the word “catholic” means “universal.” Our Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order states “Because in Christ the Church is catholic, it strives everywhere to testify to Christ’s embrace of men, women, and children of all times, places, races, nations, ages, conditions, and stations in life.” A holy catholic church means we are connected by faith with people who are very different from us, who face different challenges than we face, and who bring different gifts and experiences with them.

At Myers Park Presbyterian our ministry partners in Congo, Cuba, El Salvador, Hungary and Uganda are our brothers and sisters in the church universal. Their faithfulness can be a source of inspiration and encouragement to us. Their witness to God’s love challenges us in our own discipleship.

Prayer: O God, your love for the world is wider and deeper than we can ever imagine. We pray for brothers and sisters in the church universal whose names we do not know and whose faces we do not recognize. Teach us to celebrate the gift of our difference while honoring the common faith we share. In the name of Christ we 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 October 24 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 12:15-21

Key verse: (15) When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them.

Reflection: Jesus is a healer. Earlier, in Matthew 8, Jesus is said to have healed all the sick that were among the crowds. That does not surprise us, because we know stories of Jesus healing the paralytic, the man born blind and the woman who touched the hem of his garment. Stories were spreading about the miracles of Jesus and his ability to not only heal but to raise someone from the dead. Jesus instructed them not to make him known or to keep these things to themselves.  Regardless, the stories of Jesus miracles spread.

Even though the stories of healing do not surprise us, there is something that catches me off-guard. The statement that Jesus healed “all of them” is unexpected.

We don’t all need healing! (or do we?)

In one of my first visits to the hospital, I went to see a member and he asked me very abruptly, “why are you here?” Clearly I was there to visit him, I thought, so I was not sure what he was saying. He didn’t mean he didn’t want me to visit, he just thought I had more important work to do. I told him that I would stay 5 minutes, say a prayer and then I would be on my way, to something more important. In reality, our care and compassion for one another is important work. (After this visit, this member continues to have a special place in my heart.)

Jesus healed “all of them”, important ones and invisible ones. He healed all. Jesus continues to offer us healing even when we don’t think we need it. I am betting we do.

Prayer: Lord, leave us not to our own defenses. Heal us, redeem us and comfort us. 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 October 23 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 12:1-14

Key verse: (10) “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

Reflection: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy … you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God delivered you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:12, 15)

It’s one of the “Big Ten,” Sabbath observance, a practice that differentiates God’s people from the rest of the world.  In Deuteronomy, the reason for Sabbath is that the Israelites knew what it was to be slaves working seven days a week, and so they were commanded to enjoy a day off, a day of freedom to remember the God who saved them from that life of constant work.

For centuries, Christians took Sabbath quite seriously.  Stephen Miller, author of “The Peculiar Life of Sundays,” speaks of the Puritan blue laws established in the 17th and 18th centuries.  He writes, “There were Connecticut blue laws in the 18th century, which said that you could not kiss your baby. You could not tell a joke. There was absolutely no frivolity on Sunday. And you could not play an instrument.”  He continues, “There was a French soldier stationed in Boston, and during the Revolutionary War he started playing the flute. He was arrested. No flute-playing on the Sabbath!”  This type of Sabbath observance is in keeping with that of the Pharisees in our reading from Matthew.  Jesus rails against such enforcement of relaxation, reminding us Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath.

I wonder what Jesus would have to say to us about keeping Sabbath these days. The pendulum has certainly swung in the opposite direction.  With stores open all hours, athletic tournaments in full swing, the NFL on TV, smart phones connected to work 24/7, we’ve lost any sense of Sabbath rest in our society.  Over the past 40 years, the personal importance of Sabbath has plummeted.  In 1978, 74% of Americans told Gallup that Sunday had particular religious meaning.  Today, less than half of Americans feel the same way.  Less than one in four attend a religious service.  Sabbath has become just another day we fill with activity like all the other days.  We’ve become slaves once again, to the to-do lists of the world, unable to unplug, in constant motion living under the illusion that the world can’t get by without us.

In our reading, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand, even though it was the Sabbath.  I wonder what kind of healing Jesus could bring us on the Sabbath, through the Sabbath.  Perhaps simply taking one day in seven to rest, to let God be God and to realize the world can turn without us pushing it, maybe that’s the healing we really need.  God knows we could use the rest.  That’s why God made it a commandment, not just a suggestion.

Prayer: In the midst of a world that demands we keep on keeping on, 24/7, with no rest for the weary, help us remember you have saved us from all that.  You delivered us from the yoke of slavery to the Pharaoh’s of the world.  You set us free to love you with all we are and our neighbors as ourselves.  Help us live in the freedom we can only find in you, that we might remember the Sabbath, keep it holy, and discover the healing you will for us all.  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].