Thursday December 5 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 21

Key verse: (43) Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.

Reflection: Waiting. Watching. Hoping. Advent seems to be very passive as we wait for the birth of Jesus, the one we call, Prince of Peace. We crave peace. “Peace on earth, goodwill to all!”, seems to be in every Christmas movie, TV special, Christmas card or song in this season. Peace is our hope and prayer.

Peace rarely has anything to do with waiting.  Peacemaking is active and not very peaceful. It is disruptive and disorientating.

Our parable today is NOT a favorite and not very peaceful. It calls us to face the violence in our own lives. Violence within ourselves, violence in the community and violence in systems and structures. I believe it is also a call to fight against the violence and exploitation of people and the very earth we stand upon. The purpose of parables is to stretch your mind and challenge our thinking. They are not meant to be easy or comfortable.  The parable of the wicked tenants could be an allegory for so many current controversial subjects or it could be read almost literally, with us being the stewards of God’s earth.  We may not actually kill messengers who question our misuse of the earth but we are not gentle with them.  Greta Thornburg can attest to death threats, ridicule and attacks she received as one who speaks boldly about climate change.  The work of peacemaking is definitely not easy but truly necessary to bring about the Kingdom of God.

Essentially, this parable challenges us to join God in the pursuit of justice and peace. “Peace on Earth”, might not just be a hope, it might be a rallying cry.

Prayer: God of Justice and Peace, forgive us for our apathy towards the violence all around us. As we wait and watch for your Kingdom breaking into our lives at Christmas, guide us to do some Kingdom work. Help us trust in your peace even when we cannot see or feel it around 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 December 4 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 21:23-32

Key verse: (23) “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Reflection: When I was a child, Walter Cronkite anchored the CBS evening news.  There were only four television channels then and Cronkite was my parent’s choice of news anchor.  He finished every broadcast, “And that’s the way it is.”  And by golly it was.  In fact, Cronkite was named, “The Most Trusted Man in America,” in a public opinion poll in the 1970’s.  Can you imagine a news anchor being given that kind of authority these days? What if the CBS news anchor closed their broadcast with, “And that’s the way it is,” today?  Half the country would respond, “So says the liberal media,” and turn to Fox News to get the real story.  Others might question why a middle aged white man got to decide the way it was in the first place.  By what authority are such statements made?

Authority is a tricky term in our day.  What do you consider authorities?  Government used to be an authority, but today politicians are held in exceedingly low regard.  Law Enforcement officers are often referred to as “the authorities,” though many in our society question police tactics and the ethics behind them.  Pastors used to carry some measure of authority, but now we’ve become like news anchors — if you don’t like what one pastor says, then find another who speaks your language.  In his book, The Death of Expertise, Tom Nichols suggests that while technology and increasing levels of education have exposed people to more information than ever before, this has also fueled a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism.  In other words, we are our own authority.  If I believe it, then it’s true.  He writes, “Today, everyone knows everything: with only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual footing with doctors and diplomats.”  It’s certainly true in the religious world as the vast majority of best-selling Christian authors have little or no theological education.  Yet people consume their religious opinions as if they are the gospel itself.

When I get myself going on this, I end up feeling like the Pharisees in our reading from Matthew.  They were the religious experts of Jesus’ day, and they were very concerned with authority.  “By what authority are you doing these things?” they ask Jesus. Jesus gets playful with them, saying, “I’ll ask you a question and if you tell me the answer then I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things.”  He goes on to ask them about the authority of John’s baptism of repentance — by God or by human beings?  They’re stumped, and so “the experts” are forced to say, “We don’t know.” So Jesus decides not to answer their question.  He goes on to tell a parable about a father with two sons.  One refuses what the father asks, but then eventually does it; the other says he’ll do it, but never does.  Actions speak louder than words.

Time and time again in the gospels, the crowds are astounded by Jesus’ actions.  “He teaches as one with authority,” they say, “and not as the scribes and the Pharisees.”  Jesus doesn’t just talk about loving neighbors, he lives it out, healing, feeding, teaching, forgiving.  He lives out love in all he does, and so he has authority with the people.  As Christians, Christ is our authority.  His is Lord, no one and nothing else is — no worldly leader, no political party, no news media, no earthly authority, not even my own opinion.  What he says goes.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit … blessed are those who mourn … blessed are the meek.”  (Mt. 5:3-5) “Love the Lord your God with all you are and your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:37)  “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.” (Mt. 25:40)  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)

Beloved, that’s the way it is!

Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven … for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.  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 December 3 2019

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Scripture: Amos 3:1-11

Key verse: (8) “The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?”

Reflection: We are three days into Advent, and Amos is not letting us get ahead of ourselves to the manger of Christmas. Even though I love the beautiful Christmas decorations that have adorned my neighborhood since before Thanksgiving, we are not yet at Christmas. The prophets we read throughout Advent bring us back to this reality year after year. Advent is a special season, a season that both looks back and looks forward. We look back as we recall the waiting and anticipation for the Messiah, the one to come and save God’s people. For there was a lot that the Jewish community prayed to be saved from; from oppressive foreign rule, from economic inequalities, from the threat of war and violence, from homelessness and dispersion from their land. In the prophets at this time of year we read of the waiting for a savior.

And yet in Advent we also look forward, to the coming of Christ again to reign in full. And like the community long ago we too are waiting, for the kingdom of our savior to be realized. We wait for communities of violence to be at peace, we wait for economic inequalities to be leveled, we wait for the homeless to find a place of rest and comfort and peace.

It is tempting to skip over these words of the prophets, to move right to the manger. But even if we rush past these words of waiting and warning, our problems don’t go away. In fact, by reading Amos and the other prophets in Advent, we are encouraged and emboldened to know that our waiting is holy, that our waiting comes from a place of hope, that our waiting will be answered with the coming of our savior, Jesus.

As this Advent season is still young, sit in the waiting. Notice where the world is groaning around you and offer to God in prayer the waiting of our world.

Prayer: Holy God, we lift to you the brokenness of the world around us. In this season of Advent, we give thanks that you came to us in Jesus as our Prince of Peace, as our mighty savior. We long for your coming and the reign of your kingdom. Strengthen us in this season of waiting, and open our hearts and our eyes to your kingdom breaking in around us. 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].

Monday December 2 2019

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Scripture: 2 Peter 1:1-11

Key verses: (3-4) His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises…

Reflection: When reading scripture, we can be too focused on the details. The small stuff gets in our way of seeing the main points. Although they are important at times, the small stuff and our dissection of the details should not take focus away from the big picture. Too often, we view the big picture of religion and faith as what God wants from us. We may read in verses 5-7 as God demanding knowledge, self-control, patience, and mutual affection to then become faithful followers and then we may enter into the kingdom. The big picture is not what God wants from us; the big picture is what God wants for us. This passage frames the truth.

First, God has given us everything we need — a starter kit if you will — to become who we are meant to be. Yes, this letter says quite a lot on the moral effort we are to make. But it is clear: it all comes from God in the first place. In saying this, we cannot do anything for ourselves to gain such divine inheritance of kingdom-entry. We have what we need, and it all comes from God.

Second, God wants nothing less than that we share God’s own divine nature. If we believe we are made in the image of God, yet as humans we fall short, there must be some essence of that divine beloved-ness remaining. And if we say that the Holy Spirit lives in us, what is that to say than the divine nature is indwelling in us, sustaining us in life until we are suffused with God’s own presence and power, now and forever?

This is the outer framework of this passage, the big picture of what the author is telling whoever reads this letter. It is all the more important because it highlights whatever we do by way of obedience, love, and loyalty to God, it all takes place within and by the grace of God, by means of the promise of God in Jesus Christ, through the power of God in the Holy Spirit, leading to the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Giving God, thank you. Your grace is enough. Your mercy is enough. Your power is enough. Your love is enough. For all I have comes from you, and I am called your beloved child. 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].