Friday November 29 2019

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Scripture: 1 Peter 3: 13-4:6

Key verses: (16-17) “. . . Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.”

Reflection: There are times in life when we suffer for doing the right thing.  Unfortunately, we live in a time when many people try to get away with things they know are wrong. Failing to take responsibility for their actions, they do everything they can to hide their guilt.  It is easy to talk yourself into believing you are doing the right thing, even if it’s wrong, especially when self-interest is involved.  Jesus taught us some things that seem odd to the world –  loving your enemies; forgiving the person who has hurt you; turning the other cheek and not judging others.  Jesus suffered for doing the right thing and as his followers we might suffer, too.

The author of today’s text reminds us to hold on to our faith and not give in to fear and intimidation.  We are to be ready to defend the hope that is within us.  This living hope we have been given in Jesus Christ needs to be shared.  We need to be ready to address injustice, neglect, abuse and inhumanity.  Not just some of the time, but all the time.  We are called to move out into the world with gentleness and reverence.  Following the example of Jesus, we are called to love, to serve and to offer hope to others through tangible acts of mercy and compassion.   This doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes.  We will.  But, hopefully, our actions won’t keep the persistent hope we have been given by God from shining through.  May we live in the power of the Holy Spirit so that others seeing us might see the hope we have in Jesus.  And, if we are punished for doing good and living out our faith, we are in good company.

Prayer: Loving God, help us to do what is right – not according to our will, but according to yours.  We know your thoughts are not our thoughts and your ways are not our ways.  Keep us from destructive pride and judgmental attitudes toward others.  Help us to turn away from doing evil as we pursue peace. May the hope we have received from you take root in our hearts as we follow Jesus.  In his 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].

Thursday November 28 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16

Key verses: (14-15) “Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

Reflection: Happy Thanksgiving! Today we pause from our regular routines to give thanks for the many blessings we have. You might gather with family or friends or you might have some quiet time alone today. Take the time to reflect on your life and to be grateful.

Comparing ourselves to other people can be a gratitude “buster.” Today’s passage is a challenging parable about God’s grace. A landowner goes out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. Then he went out again at nine to get more workers; he went again at noon; he went again at three in the afternoon; and finally he went out at five. When the work day ended, the owner gave each worker the same daily wage. Those who had worked all day grumbled because it wasn’t fair. The landowner reminds the workers that the wage was what they agreed upon and that it is his (the landowner’s) discretion to negotiate with each group of workers.

We might be tempted to compare ourselves to others and think “it’s not fair.” Why do good things happen to bad people? (a twist on the usual question!) Why do some people have more than we do? Why do some people gloat about being “#blessed” when we might be struggling?

Perhaps we need to shift our focus from “more” to “enough.” Do you have enough? Do you have what you need? Give thanks. Find contentment in what is enough. Ask God to shift your focus from your material blessings to your spiritual blessings. Give gratitude to God for forgiveness, for glimpses of love, for moments of peace, for expressions of joy.

Prayer: For the good world; for things great and small, beautiful and awesome; for seen and unseen splendors; Thank you, God. For human life; for talking and moving and thinking together; for common hopes and hardships shared from birth until our dying; Thank you, God. Above all, O God, for your Son Jesus Christ, who lived and died and lives again for our salvation; for our hope in him; and for the joy of serving him; Thank you, God. Amen.

(Prayer adapted from the Book of Common Worship, p. 792-3)

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].

 

Wednesday November 27 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 19:23-30

Key verse: (21)Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Reflection: Wake up early to put the Turkey in the oven, watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, make a few pies, work on the puzzle we set out for the week, before eating a few pounds of turkey and finally an afternoon nap.  That is my ideal Thanksgiving plan. No stress. No family fighting. No worrying about a perfect meal and perfect place settings. No last minute run to the grocery store. Do you have a plan?

On November 28th, families and friends all across the country will gather together to kick off the holiday season.  Thanksgiving is not only a day to give thanks and to celebrate family, but it is also a day where we spend a lot of money!  According to the LendEDU, the average person plans on spending $186.05 on Thanksgiving, up 7% from last year.  A few things to think about: that is not for the average dinner but by person and this is an average number.  Another amount that I have seen floating around is $500 for the average Thanksgiving meal. The amount we spend on one meal is more than most people will spend on groceries this month.

The day before Thanksgiving and our scripture is the rich young ruler. Of course it is!  On this day of true gratitude and love, we have to admit that occasionally we are more concerned with the perfect table and what is on it rather than those who sit with us. I haven’t even mentioned Black Friday shopping that begins the following day. Our scripture today is a reminder that the only cure for fear is trusting God. The only remedy for greed is trusting God.  Food, possessions, perfection are not bad until we begin to worship them.  May our pursuit for possessions and perfection not take priority over our concern for each other and those who go without this Thanksgiving.

Prayer: In the name of the Creator whose love sustains us, and of the son, whose life redeems us and of the holy spirit, whose presence brings us comfort, we ask your blessing for this day and always. 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].

Tuesday November 26 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 19:13-22

Key verse: (14) “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Reflection: Sunday afternoon I had the opportunity to see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the new film inspired by one interviewer’s experience with the Reverend Fred Rogers, better known as “Mr. Rogers.”  It’s not really a movie about Mr. Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, it’s more like an episode of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” that focuses on the life of the interviewer, Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys. The movie was an inspired by a 1998 article in Esquire Magazine written by Tom Junod.  (See: https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a27134/can-you-say-hero-esq1198/ )

Like last year’s powerful documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” the movie brought tears to my eyes. Mr. Rogers was a calm presence for me in the midst of a relatively turbulent childhood. His calming voice, his kind manner were my balm in Gilead.  He embodied not only innocence and kindness, but wisdom and deep truth.  His capacity to connect in such a genuine way through such an artificial medium as television was uncanny.  Something about his way made you feel loved for being you, and so it was ok to be honest about your feelings, to talk about the things that troubled you and ask about the things you wondered about.  As I child, he seemed to be the ideal adult.  Ironically, for many adults he seemed childish.

“Let the children come to me,” said Jesus to his disciples, “for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”  Fred Rogers had a deep understanding of this biblical truth.  It informed his life and ministry.  As a child, his show provided me with a taste of the kingdom of heaven, though I didn’t know it at the time.  As an adult, I now see his innocence, kindness, wisdom and truth as reflections of his Lord.  Something of his way reflected the truth about life we know in Christ.  And so Mr. Rogers gave us all a taste of the holy.

In one scene in the movie, in the middle of a Chinese restaurant, Mr. Rogers asks Lloyd to just take one minute of silence to think about all the people in his life who helped him become who he was. Everyone in the scene stops, and so did everyone in the movie theater.  One minute of silence to think about the people who helped us become who we are, who “love us into being.”  That moment brought tears to my eyes, and though the theater was dark, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone.  That moment was a taste of heaven, of the deep thanksgiving and gratitude at the heart of the life of faith.  Apparently Fred Rogers asked people to do that all the time, sometimes for one minute, but more often just for ten seconds.  He did it as part of his acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award in 1997.  You can see it here.

“Let the children come to me…for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Prayer: For today’s prayer, take Mr. Roger’s advice and just take 60 seconds of silence to think about the people who loved you into being, then giving thanks to God for them.

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].

 

Monday November 25 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 145

Key verse: (4) “One generation shall laud your works to another.”

Reflection: Don’t blink now or else you could very well miss Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas and wake up in the New Year. For so many, these next few weeks are going to fly by very quickly. From the gatherings of Thanksgiving to the festivities of Christmastime. On the other hand, there are many out there who wish they could blink and miss Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas and wake up in the New Year. For some there are no happy gatherings no festive parties or happy memories to share.

As Christians, however, one thing is for certain, that we are part of a large family of faith. Psalm 145 reminds us of all that is passed down to us; from the songs of praise for God’s goodness, to stories of God’s deliverance, to accounts of God providing in a time of need, to the ways in which God comes to us when we are downtrodden. Whether you are excited for the season of holidays coming up or whether you are not feeling so festive, know that you are in a family of faith where these stories are your stories. We share in the stories of praise and the stories of lament as one family. As a spiritual practice this week leading up to Thanksgiving try to recognize someone else in your family of faith; if you are rejoicing right now, be aware of someone who is mourning and mourn with them. If you are mourning right now, try to give thanks for the joy found in the life of another. And wherever you are, be aware of the stories and faith that we pass on. As the psalmist says, “One generation shall laud your works to another.” In what ways are you continuing to share the goodness of God in your life and the life of those around you? Wherever you are in this season, may Psalm 145 be an entry into Thanksgiving, reminding you of the blessings that come from God and encouraging you that you are not alone in this journey.

Prayer: Gracious God, we give you thanks for the opportunity to give thanks. We give you thanks for the blessings in our lives and the blessings we can see in the lives of others. We give you thanks for the promise of new life even when this life may seem so dim. We give you thanks for the community of faith. 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].

Friday November 22 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21

Key verse: (20) And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.

Reflection: As we approach the holiday season (a.k.a. the season of eating), I look forward to gathering with friends and family around a table to share in community and food. One thing is for sure, I will leave from wherever we gather with a plate of leftovers— piled high mashed potatoes, layers of ham and turkey folded into soft rolls, creamy mac-n-cheese, savory green beans, crunchy fried okra, and more. I have learned to bring my own leftover containers.

On the other hand, many go without gathering in community to join in a shared feast. Many are hungry through the holiday season and are hungry beyond this season. It is hard at times to live into the reality of plenty and the reality of want. This miracle story is one of scarcity turned to abundance.

When I read this, I picture the disciples reaching into the basket of bread, pulling a loaf out to share with the community, reaching back into the basket, pulling more bread out, over and over and over again. It is kind of like how a magician can pull the scarf out of a pocket and the scarf never ends. The loaves and fish were enough to supply the needs of the people. A divine miracle of multiplication.

Others see a community in action in this miracle. The gospel of John tells us that a small boy offered his bread and fish to the disciples. Like the disciples, I am not sure how far 5 loaves and two fish will get in feeding a group of over 5,000. But Jesus took this small offering, he blessed it and gave it out to the people. In seeing the selfless sacrifice of this young boy, the group was moved to give what they had. As the disciples were serving the crowd, each offered what they had, adding their contribution to the whole. Now this is still a miracle, not of multiplication but of compassion. It is a miracle of changed hearts; it is a miracle of contribution for the good of the whole.

I wonder how a single selfless act can change the hearts of others. I wonder the courage it takes for someone to stand up and offer all they have, even though rationally it seems it’s not enough. I wonder how we can trust that God will multiply. Even further, I wonder how we sometimes play the role of the disciples, questioning where our needs will be meet. And conversely, I wonder what moves in us when we play the role of the young boy.

The crowd was feed. The crowd also gave. They received plenty, and realizing their own abundance, they gave plenty. And whatever they gave, individually and as a group, God took and God multiplied.

Prayer: God of abundance, thank you for your wondrous miracles. Help us to see our abundance, so that we may give to others in their want. For we know that all we give to you will be multiplied for your glory. 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].

Thursday November 21 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 18:1-9

Key verse: (1) “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Reflection: Why did the disciples ask Jesus this question? Were they vying for position or looking for a reward? It’s such a human question. We ask it in all kinds of ways in our competitive world. Jesus answered them by calling a little child to stand among them. Then he told them they must become like children – vulnerable, powerless, and humble. Think about how many babies, puppies and kittens we “ooh” and “aah” over because of this kind of innocence. We might not think of children this way, especially when we are up all night with a crying baby or a temperamental toddler, but there is something precious about the purity we see in little children. We know what they can’t know yet, that the world can be a dangerous and unforgiving place. Jesus invited the disciples and invites us to be innocent, like children. This is a powerful (and challenging) metaphor to describe true greatness. Jesus warns the disciples that the desire to be the greatest can lead to sin and the harm of others. When I reflect on those who are truly great in this world (not the kingdom of heaven) I am struck by the humility and grace by which they accept the world’s praise. The true “greats” don’t take themselves so seriously that they are consumed by gaining position and power. In the kingdom of heaven there is no good, better, best. Jesus invites us to be powerless, living lives of wise innocence remembering that there is no competition in the kingdom of heaven because only God is the greatest.

Prayer: Patient God, thank you for reminding us that being great is not about position or power, but rather humility, compassion, and self-discipline. Give us the will to become like little children – innocent, open and kind. Help us to love others the way you love 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].