Sunday November 29 2020

Scripture: Mark 1:1-3

Reflection: Prepare the way of the Lord! And so the season of Advent begins. During the season we usually are busy preparing – preparing for parties, preparing for gift exchanges, preparing for family photographs, preparing for travel. But this year will be different. How can we prepare the way of the Lord this year?

Several years ago I asked a group of children about how they prepare at home for the arrival of guests. They talked about cleaning up their toys, cooking, making beds and even fluffing the pillows! As we prepare for the coming of Christ, we are invited to do some spiritual housecleaning. We are invited into a time of self-examination and reflection. It might be time to declutter and get rid of some old grudges or resentments. It might be time to straighten up by creating a new spiritual habit like daily prayer or Bible reading. It might be time to focus on loving your neighbors by finding a way to serve in our community. We are reminded that Christ is coming into our lives and into our world. This year, Advent will be different. Perhaps it’s an invitation to deeper spiritual preparation. It’s just the beginning of the good news. There is so much more to come.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me prepare myself, my community and my world for your coming. When I am distracted by the world’s busy-ness, remind me of your presence. Make this season of Advent a time of transformation in my life. Amen.

year in the Bible

A Year in the Bible, Beginning January 1, 2021, myersparkpres.org/bible – Join with reading plans for all ages, from children to adult. Supplemented with videos, celebrations, and discipleship events.

[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 27 2020

Scripture: Luke 19:28–40 

Key verse: (40) He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Reflection: The day after Thanksgiving is not the day we usually read the Palm Sunday story and yet this is our scripture today. Jesus was on a donkey, turning everything upside down. People were shouting, “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” It was infuriating to the religious leaders. It was embarrassing and the voices of the crowds got louder and louder.

The religious leaders told Jesus to make them stop.

It reminds me of the times when my children were little, laughing hysterically on a road trip and my husband would say, “Hold it down!”.  Driving, he couldn’t see the joy in the moment or hear each giggle, he just heard noise.

The crowds were full of joy as Jesus offered them hope of a new day. A new way. Resurrection.

They didn’t know about the new life, Jesus death and resurrection but they knew Jesus was bringing life to a place that had been dead.  They couldn’t help but shout “Hosanna!”.

Jesus replied to the request to quiet them down, “Even the stones would shout.”

It is still Thanksgiving. Well, yes, it is an ordinary Friday but every ordinary day can be holy.  Let’s keep laughing loud, sharing moments of gratitude and offering resurrection moments. New life in the midst of a dead time. Love in the middle of some very dark days. Do not be silent, because even the stones would shout out the good news of today, regardless of how ordinary.

Prayer: God, open our eyes to the holy in every day. Take away our fear of being too loud, too loving, too grateful. Thanks be to you for this moment in time. 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 November 26 2020

Scripture: Ephesians 1:15-23

Key verse: (16) “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”

Reflection: Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!  While 2020 has been a year for the books, I pray you can still find much to be thankful for this year. Our gatherings are no doubt different today, but our reasons for giving thanks remain the same.  What’s on your list of blessings to be thankful for this year?  Each Thanksgiving we talk about that as a family.  We’re thankful for family, for the love we share, for health, for the blessings of our respective callings in life.  This Thanksgiving, the absence of my father-in-law will be profoundly felt.  But even that sadness points to the blessing of his life and love we knew for so many years.  What’s on your list today?

Paul’s list in today’s reading focuses on the saints in Ephesus.  He has heard of their faith, and of their love toward all the saints, and so he does not cease to give thanks for them.  Paul’s words speak across the centuries, for he gives thanks not only for the saints in Ephesus but for all the saints who through the years read these words.  And his prayer for them becomes a prayer for us, that we might be given “a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know Christ, that the “eyes of our hearts” might be enlightened, so that we “may know what is the hope to which Christ has called us.” What a beautiful prayer!

This Thanksgiving Day, I give thanks for you, the saints of Myers Park Presbyterian Church, for your faithfulness through this unprecedented time, for your love shared with our congregation.  And I pray for continuing wisdom and revelation in your walk with Christ, that the eyes of your heart might be enlightened to know the hope that is ours in Christ.  God bless you and yours today and always.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the saints of our church and for the ministry we share.  Give us wisdom and revelation that the eyes of our hearts might be opened to hope for better days ahead.  In Christ’s name we pray. 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 November 25 2020

Scripture: Luke 19:1-10

Key verse: (4) “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.”

Reflection: “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree, For the Lord he wanted to see.” Is it possible to read the passage in Luke about Zacchaeus and not sing the childhood song? (try it, and let me know).

For many, the Zacchaeus story is familiar: a rich tax collector, climbing a tree, Jesus calling him down, and Zacchaeus pledging his money to the poor and righting all wrongs in his life. It is a pretty powerful and compelling story, a story with a call to action. But, for today, let’s focus on what happened before that call, how did Zacchaeus get in that tree?!

In reading this passage, I was struck by verse 4 “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.” If it wasn’t enough that Zacchaeus knew Jesus was someone he should have been following, Zacchaeus took the initiative to go ahead to where Jesus was heading, and climbed a tree to be on the lookout. Zacchaeus knew where Jesus was going. How did Zacchaeus know this? Of all the roads in Jericho leading to all the places, how did Zacchaeus know which way Jesus would turn?

Zacchaeus’ skill of knowing where Jesus is heading is one I invite us all to practice. In the church, we call this discernment. This means taking the time to know the people and the places that attract Jesus’ heart, to become familiar with Jesus’ past actions so we can predict his future ones. Discernment is being aware of Jesus’ character and listening and looking for signs of his presence so we can be present there as well. And when you come to find where Jesus is going, may you dare to follow, even if that takes you up a tree! For often when we go out on a limb to seek Christ we are met with a transformative moment.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are always on the move bringing about your Kingdom through love and peace. By your Spirit open our eyes and soften our hearts that we may know you more fully and be with you wherever you lead. Thank you for calling us along on this journey. 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 November 24 2020

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:10-23

Key verses: (10-11) According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

Reflection: Motivational speaker and author Jon Gordon speaks on how to build a proper foundation. When builders begin building skyscrapers they do not start by building up. Instead they start by digging below the ground in order to create a foundation of stability. They have to go down deep and excavate soil, sand, clay, all the loose stone and rock to reach the bedrock so they can build something that is sturdy and reach incredible heights.

Our lives, careers and teams work the same way. If we want to build up, we have to first dig deep and develop our foundation. However, it is not always easy to unearth the stuff below (the fears we have, the wounds we carry and the things that hold us back) but once we uncover them, we can reach the core of our foundation and begin the building process to reach greater heights.

Paul develops the metaphor of a building and calls the church a building. More specifically, Paul says the church is God’s temple, the place of God’s presence. It is not just that where God’s people live, work, and fellowship had become holy ground — though that is true — but that the shared life in community is indwelt by God. And noting our work on this “building project”, Paul makes it clear that there is retribution in not following the building instructions given to the church. The building instructions of holiness are pretty simple: a foundation must be laid prior to building up, and that foundation is Jesus Christ; building material must not be made of “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw” but made of things that will survive the fire.

Paul closes with a reminder that all we have been given to build up the church is ours; yet, it all belongs to Christ who belongs to God.

The work to dig deep is hard. It can be painful. It can be scary. But I encourage you that in removing the sand, stone, and rocks that create instability in our lives, Christ is there to provide the firm foundation on which we can begin building up again. We do not have to search for the tools or the materials; everything we need is given to us from God in Christ. Also, this is not an individual endeavor. It is not a building project for one. We, as the church, are all part of the crew, all working together and all helping out. I wonder what we are building now, and I wonder what we will continue to build in our life and the life of the church.  

Prayer: O Lord, you are our firm foundation. For the work of our hands, we pray that it may last for eternity in your name, our Rock and our Redeemer. 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 November 23 2020

Scripture: Gal 6:1-10

Key verse: (9) So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.

Reflection: There is no weariness like the weariness that comes from 8 months in a pandemic. We are tired in ways we haven’t experienced before. We are weary. As we head into Thanksgiving week, many of us are making sacrifices around our holiday traditions. We have to make tough choices about what these celebration days will look like. We are weary and tired of having to decide what the right thing even is.

When reading the Galatians passage for today I was struck by this word, weary, and Paul’s call to the Galatians to remember that the harvest will come. As Christians, we look forward to a time when human suffering will cease and we will rest in the eternal. There is deep hope in this. We live in these weary times but we know that the harvest will come. And Paul tells us not to give up.

I wonder what is making you feel weary today. Where do you place your hope for the harvest? What would it look like for you to not give up today? As we continue to live into this season of tough decisions, draining zoom calls, and new ways to live our lives, I hope that we can look forward to the harvest, even if we are not sure what it will look like. I hope we do not give up because of weariness but find the strength to carry on in each other and even more so in God.

Prayer: God of all things, help us in our time of weariness. Give us visions of a plentiful harvest and the bounty that you show us through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Author: Savannah Demuynck

[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 20 2020

Scripture: Luke 18:1-18

Key verses: (2-3) “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.  In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him . . .”

Reflection: One commentator has written: “No expression of faithfulness to God is more deeply rooted than the duty to care for widows, orphans, and the powerless and homeless in our midst.” (NIB, p. 339, volume VIII) There is a woman at the center of today’s parable.  Not only is she a woman, but she is a widow –  someone who has no rights in the ancient world without a father, husband, brother, son or uncle to stand up for her.  She is on her own – she is helpless – except for her persistence and determination. We don’t know what case she is bringing before the judge to adjudicate. But, she is seeking justice.  Her situation so dire, she has nothing to lose.  Without any laws to protect her – except God’s law – she stands before a judge who doesn’t fear God and doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him. In his eyes, she is nothing to him, so her chances of finding justice or compassion for her situation are slim to none.  He wants her out of his courtroom. When he finally rules on her case it’s because she is annoying him. She refused to give up.    

This parable is part of a “series of scenes” in scripture that focus on the contrasts between the “poor and the privileged.”  Everyone hearing Jesus’ parable knew how God felt about the widow, the orphan and the homeless person.  There were specific “religious duties” involved in caring for those on the margins of society.  This was enough for the good judges of Israel to make their rulings wisely. The judge in our story isn’t a good judge.  He didn’t care about God or about other people. Yet, the widow in persistent.  So, Jesus concludes:  Remember that God does hear your cry for justice and will not delay to help you. God is not an unjust judge.     

What is Jesus teaching us?  If we follow the thread of the first verse of our passage – we could conclude that this parable is about persistence in prayer.  Don’t lose heart Jesus says, let me tell you about a persistent widow.  Or if we follow the thread at the end of the parable, we conclude that God is not like the unjust judge, but hears our cries for justice and offers us compassion. Both of these elements are in the parable.  Both are an important part of faith. Instead of focusing solely on the persistence of our prayers, the parable also reminds us of a compassionate God who hears our cries.  How often have we forgotten this and heaped up prayer after prayer as if God didn’t hear or couldn’t hear unless we really made a lot of noise? God doesn’t need to be badgered, yet we often approach God that way.  God hears our prayers and our cries for justice because God is compassionate. In fact, our prayer life and God’s compassion are inextricably linked.  Justice and compassion can’t be separated. They go together. As the body of Christ, we are called to embody this essential teaching. Jesus concludes by saying God is not like this judge.  God is just.  God hears the cries of God’s people.  God will not delay in bringing about justice. However, when the Messiah appears – will he find faith? Will there be anyone who perseveres in prayer clinging to a loving and living God?  No matter what. Will we seek justice on behalf of another allowing the compassionate God to work through us? 

Prayer: Loving God, forgive us for turning away from those in need.  Help us to work for justice and live by your command to love mercy and seek justice for those who are not heard.  Make us instruments of your loving activity in the world that others might know 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].

Thursday November 19 2020

Scripture: James 4:13 – 5:6

Key verse: (4) Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

Reflection: Who are the laborers who work for you and with you? They might be the cafeteria workers at the school, or the lawn service crew that comes weekly, or the cleaning service that empties the trash in your office and cleans the bathrooms. They might include the Uber driver who takes you uptown, or the TSA staff at the airport, or the pizza delivery person. They might be the grocery store workers who work at the cash register or who gather the carts from the parking lot and return them to their place in the store.

Today’s passage has a rough warning for rich people. The riches we have are temporary – clothes are eaten by moths and jewelry can rust and lose its shine. The author turns our attention to laborers and harvesters and claims that the Lord hears their cries when they are treated unfairly. And then the author warns that those who live in luxury and pleasure will be judged harshly.

I like luxury and pleasure. Don’t you? Sometimes I seek luxury and pleasure under the label of “self-care.” I work hard so I deserve this – right? But does my “luxury” mean that someone else is treated unjustly? Does my “pleasure” mean that someone else is demeaned? Are the “laborers” paid a living wage? As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I am called to work for justice in the world even when justice means I will lose wealth or power. Ouch. James wrote words of tough love to shake us out of complacency and to open us to see those outside our socioeconomic bubble. Ouch. The Lord hears the cries of those in need. Do we?

Prayer: Let your justice roll down like waters, O God. Give me the courage to recognize my own privilege and to see the ways my life hinders your justice. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear those who are treated unjustly. Give me strength to change what I can. 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].

Wednesday November 18 2020

Scripture: Luke 17:11–19

Key verses: (15-18) 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 

Reflection: Thanksgiving. Yes, it will look different this year. This year, I will not run into you at the airport excited to escape for some sun without any family or about to board an international flight to catch up with a college student who is doing study abroad. We may not be adding the extra leaves to the table or cooking quite as much.  What will not be different this year? The opportunity we have to gather together and give thanks to God.

That is what I really love about Thanksgiving. The time to acknowledge that each moment of life is enough. We have enough, we are enough and what we experience is enough. Jesus healed ten but only one returned to give thanks, with a LOUD voice. Did the other nine not notice they were healed or were they too busy to give thanks? Let’s start practicing our gratitude as we walk these days to Thanksgiving. God has certainly brought some healing, transformation and definitely grace into our lives this year. 

If you have not seen the healing, give thanks for the ordinary, everyday things that bring you joy. A child’s laugh. A text from a friend. Chocolate chess pie.

I invite you to stop for a minute today and just take notice of all that God has given you. It is enough.

When we practice gratitude, we cultivate the ability to see wonder, awe and possibility in each moment of our lives. You will be surprised what begins to happen. God enters our lives with healing and wholeness. Bitterness is replaced with contentment. Daily routines become defining moments. The ordinary becomes holy.

Gratitude researchers and scientists also show that this faith practice can bring actual healing; creating stronger immune systems, lowering blood pressure, and helping us sleep better.  Grateful people also have a greater capacity for joy and positive emotions.

Let’s not wait until Thanksgiving. Be like the Samaritan and give thanks. Be loud.

Prayer: God, I am grateful.

For …

And …

And even …                    

Thank you for your love that sustains me every day. 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 17 2020

Scripture: James 3:1-12

Key verses: (5-6) “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.”

Reflection: Fire, in and of itself, is neutral. It is simply energy. When it is focused and controlled it accomplishes great things. It can be used to cook, to heat, to propel forward. Uncontrolled, fire can be terribly destructive.  We’ve witnessed its power to destroy this year in recent fires in the west of our nation. 

So it is with our speech, suggests James.  Words, in an of themselves are simply words.  Yet they have the power to shape worlds, or to destroy them.  James warns his readers of the destructive power of words, of the need to control our tongues, and moderate our speech.  What a word for our world right now.  It is critically important that we measure our words and moderate how we employ them in these incendiary times. Let us heed James’ advice and choose to use our words for blessing, not for cursing. 

Poets know the power of words.  David Whyte is one of my favorites. I’ve been thinking about his poem, “Loaves and Fishes” in these days.  It exemplifies the power of words to bless:

Loaves and Fishes

This is not

the age of information.

This is not

the age of information.

Forget the news,

and the radio,

and the blurred screen.

This is the time

of loaves

and fishes.

People are hungry

and one good word is bread

for a thousand.

Prayer: “May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  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].