Friday January 31 2020

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Scripture: John 6:1-15

Key verse: (5) “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”

Reflection: The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle other than the resurrection that is shared in all four gospels.  Today’s gospel reading is John’s version of the story.  This Sunday’s worship will focus on Mark’s version.  Each gospel offers a unique element.  In John’s version Jesus poses a test question to the disciples: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”  John even tells us, “He said this to test them for he himself knew what he was going to do.”  Predictably, the disciples respond with an attitude of scarcity, “Six month’s wages wouldn’t be enough for each to get a little,” says Phillip, flunking the test.  Apparently a boy was willing to offer what he had — another element unique to John — five loaves and two fish.  And all are fed.

A story in  Tuesday’s Charlotte Agenda offered a potentially modern version of this story.  You can read it  here. It details the development of the Mezzanine at Freedom project, an affordable housing development made possible by people offering what they could in response to the need for affordable housing in our community.   Marsh Properties donated the 7.8 acres upon which the development is built. Covenant Presbyterian raised $2 million to help provide bridge financing. The city added $4.5 million from its Housing Trust Fund. It yielded 185 apartments, 129 of which are reserved for income-qualified renters at various levels of affordability.  I think that’s miraculous.

The challenge of the story is found in the fact that over 1,000 people lined up to apply for those 129 income-qualified apartments.  This reveals the incredible need we face in our community.  Those 1,000 people are a visible representation of the shortage of at least 24,000 units of affordable housing in our community.  Reading the story I felt Jesus’ question to his disciples posed in the context of our modern challenge.  “Where are we to find housing for these people?”  He says this to test us.

The end of the story details our efforts in partnership with Antioch Baptist and Grier Heights Presbyterian to support Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership’s development of a similar project in Grier Heights.  Our leadership is hoping to be able to help with even more projects in the area.  It’s our five loaves and two fish.  Offering it to Christ, who knows what miracles may unfold?

Each day we face the challenges of a world too often defined by scarcity.  And each day Christ poses the question to us: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”  He says this to test us.  May we have the faith to pass the test!

Prayer: In response to the challenges we face in our lives, in our relationships, and in our communities, help us, O God to trust in your power to provide.  Give us faith to offer what we have in Jesus’ name.  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].

 

Thursday January 30 2020

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Scripture: John 5:30-47

Key verse: (39) You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.

Reflection: One of the blessings of my first year at Myers Park has been teaching the Wednesday evening Disciple Class. This group of faithful disciples gathers for two hours every Wednesday from September through April to read the bible together. The curriculum goes from Genesis to Revelation and touches just about every book in between. There are moments in class when a piece of scripture is new and surprising to individuals, or new and encouraging, or new and confusing. As we journey together through scripture, we ask many questions, we seek context, we explore history, and we examine our faith.

How is it that you engage with scripture? The focus verse up above is taken from the gospel lesson for today, 18 verses in total, and it is one of three scripture readings along with two Psalms for the day. Do you read the focus verse, the entire passage, all of the readings for the day, or do you have another means of reading scripture all together? So often when it comes to reading scripture we are looking for answers in our lives, for fixes, for a set of rules to live by, or a path to follow. And yet, in our text for today we hear Jesus saying, “You search scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.” Jesus isn’t saying that scripture isn’t important, but that it is a witness to his life and presence among us.

My favorite part of Wednesday evening Disciple Class is after we’ve talked about context, history, form, and faith, and then we look up and around the room and examine Christ among us in our lives and the world around us. When looking at our lives through the lens of scripture both the bible and our lives become fuller, richer, and more meaningful as we become aware of the living Christ in our midst. I encourage you to read scripture, to read it in its fullness, in its context, and in faith. I also encourage you to read your lives through the same lens. For not only is it scripture which testifies to Jesus’ presence, but is also his works as Jesus says, “The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.” (John 5:36).

Prayer: Loving God, guide us by your Spirit this day that the words we read in scripture may illumine our lives to see and experience your love among us. Open us to the work of your Son in the world, through Christ we pray. 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].

Wednesday January 29 2020

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Scripture: John 5:19-29

Key verse: 24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

Reflection: Last week I, along with 18 other pastors, attended “Transitional Ministry Training” at the Charlotte campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary. Transitional ministry is a new term for Interim ministry, designating that ‘interims’ do not simply fill a spot but guide and join the congregation in transition. However, this concept goes beyond churches who are between called and installed pastors. The idea of transition is for all of us as we are all in transition. You are not the same person you were yesterday; the world is not the same as it was last week; this church is not the same as it was last year. Life is transition.

One aspect of the training was determining transitions in terms of from-to: from this to that. The gospel message as a whole, as this passage tells us, says that life in Christ is one of transition. In Christ we move from death to life, from our old life to our new life in Christ. I wonder what transition you are experiencing in your life. I wonder if you can identify the from and the to in your transition. Could your transition be from one job to another, or from one position to another. Your transition may be from single to engaged, from engaged to married, or from married to divorced. Your transition may be from healthy to diagnosed, or from cancer patient to cancer survivor, from care-giver to care-receiver (or the reverse), from working parent to stay-at-home parent.

I wonder if there is transition in your spiritual life or your perspective on life. Imagine moving from comfort to courageous, from being fed to feeding, from inward to outward. I wonder what transition our church is in. Where are we moving from, and to where are we going? What was the old life, and what is the new life we are moving towards? Transition is not always easy. But it is necessary for growth and renewal. In Christ we are made new. In Christ we move from death to life.

Prayer: You came so that I may have life and have it abundantly. You give me life, O Lord. Call me to move forward in my transition closer to you. By your power and in your mercy, guide me from here to there and be forever changed. 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].

Tuesday January 28 2020

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Scripture: Genesis 15: 1-11, 17-21

Key verses: (5-6) “ . . . “look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then God said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

Reflection: Today’s passage describes the covenant God made with Abram and Sarah. The covenant ceremony is very strange to us, but this ancient tradition was how binding promises were made and sealed between God and humans at that time. Abram and Sarah took a great risk leaving their country and moving out into the larger world. This is the beginning of the history of Israel. Since Abram and Sarah were older and didn’t have any children, what God was promising seemed unlikely. How was an elderly couple going to start a family? Why would they leave all that was familiar, at their age, to go out into the unknown? It was a leap of faith founded in deep human need and faith in God. The LORD promised to be with them every step of the way. But, even with this promise, they had moments of doubt.

When God calls us to do something in the world, the typical response is usually a combination of resistance and willingness. We need reassurance. Yet, there is always that moment when we have to make a decision without knowing for sure what the outcome will be. We can plan and ponder; we can collect information and review the facts, but in the end there is that leap when our faith is tested. It’s scary and exhilarating. Abram and Sarah made this leap based on their trust in God. Of course, if you continue to read the story, there were times along the way when they doubted and tried to speed up God’s agenda. This is human nature. Our fear and worry can get the best of us and we take matters into our own hands. Ultimately, God is faithful, continually showing us the way we are to go. Following God can be a challenge. Life takes many twists and turns and there are times we want to have more control than is possible. But, the LORD is right here with us, promising to be with us no matter what might happen; strengthening us when we are weak and lifting us up when we fail or fall. In Jesus Christ, God has made a promise to us as binding as the one God made to Abram and Sarah. The LORD we meet in the Old Testament is the same God we meet in Jesus. Remember this when the doubts come and the way isn’t clear. “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield . . .” These same words are offered to us, as we move out into world offering hope and mercy to all people.

Prayer: O Lord God, we are grateful for your patience with us. You remain close when we are hesitant and afraid. Thank you for your call to action and your steadfast love that will sustain 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 January 27 2020

Monday

Scripture: Hebrews 8:1-13

Key verse: (6) But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.

Reflection: Meditation is a structured process in which a third party attempts to resolve a conflict or discrepancy between two other parties. It might be negotiating a divorce agreement, sorting out the custody arrangements and the financial obligations. It might be resolving a lawsuit in which one person believes they have been harmed by another. It might be an attempt to work through a personal conflict between peers or co-workers. Mediation is used to lessen financial costs, reduce violence, and support peaceful processes.

The New Testament writers use a wide variety of images to describe the saving work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is a redeemer, he is a shepherd, he is a sacrificial lamb, he is the firstborn in God’s family. The writer of Hebrews uses the image of a mediator to describe Jesus. The writer reminds his readers of the lineage of priests who served God and God’s people. The priest designated as the High Priest was responsible for making sacrifices in order to seek forgiveness of sins.

In Hebrews, Jesus is a new high priest. The former priests were “prevented by death from continuing in office” but Jesus will be a priest eternally (Hebrews 7:23-25). The former priests did their work in an earthly sanctuary but Jesus works in the cosmic tent that the Lord has set up (Hebrews 8:1-5). Jesus is the mediator for humanity and God.

Now the image has its problems if taken too far. That’s true for all of the biblical images for Christ. Human attempts to explain the divine will always be imperfect and fall short of what Christ actually is doing. However, this image can be a powerful one when we feel estranged from God or when we feel unworthy and small in the presence of God’s holiness and majesty. We have a mediator. We have someone who comes to us on God’s behalf and who offers us mercy and forgiveness. Good news.

Prayer: Thank you for Jesus Christ, for his coming to live in the flesh among us, for his steadfast love and transforming power, for his selfless sacrifice on the cross. Deepen my trust in him and encourage my faithfulness as I seek to follow him. 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 January 24 2020

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Scripture: Hebrews 7:1-17

Key verses: (1-7)  This “King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him”; 2 and to him Abraham apportioned “one-tenth of everything.” His name, in the first place, means “king of righteousness”; next he is also king of Salem, that is, “king of peace.” 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

4 See how great he is! Even Abraham the patriarch gave him a tenth of the spoils. 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to collect tithes from the people, that is, from their kindred,though these also are descended from Abraham. 6 But this man, who does not belong to their ancestry, collected tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had received the promises. 7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.

Reflection: Melchizedek is one of the most mysterious figures in the Bible. When we were taking our Bible Content exams to become ordained, we knew Melchizedek would be the subject of several questions. He appears Genesis 14, Psalm 110 and Hebrews 5-7, all pointing to the priesthood of Christ. Jesus is of the eternal priestly order of Melchizedek.

What does this passage have to teach us today? We could debate the nature of the priest Melchizedek or we can just sit with the mystery. The mystery of Melchizedek reminds us that there is much we cannot understand. God and God’s ways always exceed our understanding. Maybe we need a little mystery in this world where we can google everything and quickly find an explanation. We don’t often just sit around and wonder. Wonder about the priest Melchizedek with no genealogy who resembles the son of God. Wonder about God’s love for us in Jesus that was not reactionary but part of the drama of God’s redeeming love. Let us sit with the awe-inspiring mysteriousness of God.

Prayer: Guide us, O God, as we seek to know you better. May we be open to learn new things from scripture. Give us grace to trust you. 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].

 

Thursday January 23 2020

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Scripture: Genesis 11:1-9

Key verse: (7) “Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

Reflection: “What we’ve got here, is a failure to communicate.”  That famous line from the 1967 classic, “Cool Hand Luke” aptly describes the story of the Tower of Babel.  Babel represents the close of what scholars call Genesis’ primeval history.  Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad suggests the first eleven chapters of Genesis can be understood as a succession of four falls paired with four acts of grace on the part of God. Eden is the first fall, leading to Adam and Eve’s expulsion.  Grace is found in that God gives them skins to protect them, softening the sentence. In the second fall, Cain murders Abel, and is cast out to the land of Nod.  In grace, God marks Cain for his protection. In the third fall, the earth is corrupt with violence, so “God pulls the ultimate CONTROL-ALT-DELETE,” by flooding all the earth. Yet the ark embodies God’s grace as a remnant is preserved.

In von Rad’s assessment, Babel represents the fourth fall.  So what is the sin?  “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” What could possibly be wrong with this?  Wouldn’t it be great if the whole world could get together on something?  Can you imagine if we all spoke the same language?  That would make things so much easier.  And what could possibly be wrong with everyone sticking together and settling in the land of Shinar? A hint is found in that the Hebrew word Shinar grows out of a root word meaning, “We shall rebel.”

There’s something about this togetherness that represents rebellion.  In the first ten chapters of Genesis, time and time again God calls humanity to spread out.  “Be fruitful and multiply … fill the earth,” says God to Adam and Eve.  “Be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it,” God says to Noah and his family as they exit the ark.  After the flood, the nations scatter over the earth; a good thing as far as God is concerned.  Yet at Babel, the whole earth has one language and the same words, and they all come to Shinar and settle there.  The rebellion of Babel is not unity, it is homogeneity.  They gather together around sameness and seek to make a name for themselves by building a tower.

Christian ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr described this kind of sameness as a type of faith.  He called it “henotheism, that social faith which makes a finite society … the object of trust [and] loyalty. …In henotheism, the community’s continuation, power and glory are the unifying end of all its actions.”   It is essentially when a culture or a cause becomes a god.  So it was in Babel.  To make a name for themselves, the people seek to build a city with a tower reaching to the heavens, “lest they be scattered abroad upon the whole face of the earth,” which is actually what God told them to do.  What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.  So God scatters them and confuses language, shattering their henotheism.

So where’s the grace? It begins with the next chapter, with the call of Abram and Sarai to leave what they know, to trust God’s vision for their tomorrows and go to a land God will show them that God might make of them a great nation, and bless them, and bless all the nations of the earth through them, and make their name great.  So begins the unfolding story of God’s grace in response to the fall at Babel, the story that is the rest of the Bible.  That story reaches its conclusion in Christ, who embodies God’s love for all people, who embraces this scattered world and reconciles us to God and to one another, establishing a beautiful unity amid the God-ordained diversity of our world.

In the midst of the polarizations of our society, where culture and cause can become our false gods, what might we learn from Babel and the grace God offers in response?

Prayer: Open us to the other in our midst, O God, whomever they may be.  Help us remember we are united not by earthly categories, but by your love which makes us all family, for in Christ you claim us all as your beloved children.  Empower us to love our sisters and brothers who do not speak our language.  In Jesus’ name.  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 January 22 2020

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Scripture: John 3:22-36

Key verse: (23) “John was also baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there.”

Reflection: Where does ministry happen? In his book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, theologian Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Often I find that ministry is identified by the deep hungers around us without recognizing the gladness and joy that is present as well. We are able to name the statistics of the housing crisis here in Charlotte, the homicide rate in 2019, the havoc of the opioid crisis. The hunger around us is real, and we know it.

As I was sitting around a table with the Tuesday morning Bible Study yesterday, the stories of need were coupled with stories of deep gladness; of being known and knowing others, of tears in prayer, of lives transformed, and hope for the future. In our text for today I was struck by the reason for John the Baptist’s location of baptizing – there was abundant water there. John went to the place of great resource, of deep abundance. And when John took that resource and used it for the world’s great need, there was deep gladness, John knew his place within God’s calling for his life and he was overjoyed to be a part of God’s story.

We all know the deep needs in the world, and at times they can be overwhelming, paralyzing us not to act. So for today, think about where you may have a place of deep abundance, where in your life is there “abundant water” like John had used. Perhaps this is time, money, particular skills, an elevated voice of power. Whatever the abundance may be pray about how that can connect with the world’s great need. When these two come together, we see not our own power, but we see the transformative power of Jesus. And for John the Baptist, his use of the abundant resources meeting the world’s great need resulted in the joy of being in Jesus’ presence. John describes his encounter in this wedding metaphor, “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled.” May God open our eyes to the gifts we have been given, to be used for the well being of all to the glory of God.

Prayer: Holy God, you bless us abundantly, each in different ways, and yet the needs of the world overwhelm. May we take that blessing and use it to your glory. Open our hearts that we may be moved to follow in your way, that we may know the joy of being in your presence. 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 January 21 2020

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Scripture: John 3:16-21

Key verse: (21) But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Reflection: “John 3:16” –– can be seen plastered around town (at least in the South) on billboards, beautifully drawn in sharpie on journals or posters, and even colorfully displayed as graffiti on bridges and freight cars. This verse is one the most well-known and quoted verses of the bible. God gave Jesus, the Son, so that you can have eternal life. All you have to do is believe. Simple. Well, maybe not.

God’s grace is for us all, and God’s love is for us all. But as you keep reading through this passage, we are being asked to do much more than believe. Jesus is asking for exposure.

When a journalist writes an expose’, secrets are revealed; this may lead to condemnation or judgement. We hide things, conceal our faults from others, for we fear that exposing all that we are may not be enough or accepted. Exposure is scary. Exposure is uncomfortable. When we are exposed, some may feel shame or embarrassment. You might be revealing flaws or insecurities. Exposure tends to be viewed negatively due to the shame associated with it.

I wonder what Jesus is saying to us here. Is it a warning that in “coming to the light” we will be found out as a fraud or a fake; or worst, not accepted because of who we are? I wonder how uncomfortable this may be, to reveal our whole self, flaws and faults included.

In asking for exposure, I hear a calling to feel God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. We are being asked to take off our masks, reveal who we are, and come to know that it is enough in the eyes of God. God’s love is deeper than our flaws. God’s forgiveness is bigger than our faults and insecurities.

Imagine how freeing it may feel if we reveal our whole self to God. I wonder how much trust it takes to show God our true self. Jesus is asking you to step into the light, be exposed, and know that you are loved still.

Prayer: You gave your Son so that I may have life, O God. Yet, I confess I hide in the darkness. Forgive me. I fear not being loved because … silent personal prayer. Guide me back to the light and remind me how to live as a child of the light. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, the light of the world. 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 January 20 2020

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Scripture: Hebrews 4: 14-5:6

Key verse: (15) “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

Reflection: Every person is tested by life.  We all will, at some point, experience struggles that will challenge our faith.  We will make mistakes that hurt ourselves and others.  Eventually, we will suffer illness and death.  In between our first breath and our last, there will be times of joy, failure, celebration and incredible love. Scripture tells us that God knows everything about us – our strengths and weaknesses and our joys and sorrows.  Jesus promised to always be with us and today’s passage confirms this reality.

While Jesus is above all and in all, he is one who can sympathize with our weaknesses because God came and lived among us as a human being, as Jesus Christ.  Tested by mortal life, Jesus knows both life’s joys and sorrows.  He also died our death.  So, when the hard times come, we are confident that God in Christ understands the depth of our emotions.  When we mess up God in Christ deals with us gently, even when we deserve a harsh punishment or can’t forgive ourselves.  Through Jesus, our high priest, sins are forgiven, hope is offered and we can live knowing that he is near, loving and caring about all people.

If you are wondering about the significance of Melchizedek in today’s passage, he was a high priest who blessed Abram in Genesis 14 and is referred to in Psalm 110. He has no lineage that can be traced, so he was considered a priest for all people.  How much more is Jesus by comparison?  The writer of Hebrews makes a connection between Melchizedek and Jesus in order to point out that Jesus, while superior, is from this same order – one who understands and extends his love, care and forgiveness to everyone, everywhere. With confidence, we can approach the throne of grace and receive mercy and help from God.

Prayer: Loving God, there is no one like you.  We give thanks that Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses and understands our frailties.  Help us to rely more and more on him in our everyday lives.  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].