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].

Monday November 16 2020

Scripture: James 2:14-26

Key verse: (14) What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?

Reflection: Can you imagine telling your child that you love them, but never giving them a hug? Or how about saying you hope your sick spouse feels better, but never getting them soup or a blanket to warm up? This just seems inconceivable, right? If we love our child, we not only tell them that, but we show them affection through hugs and quality time. And if we hope our spouse feels better we get them food and help them rest.

However, according to James in our passage for today, people are prone to label themselves as Christians but not live into the actions that would show it. James asks, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” Our faith is more than our prayers. Our faith is more than labeling ourselves as caring and Christian. Our faith is more than words. Our faith is lived, it is embodied, it is made concrete in our actions.

Right now when we are showing love by keeping our distance from one another and wearing masks, you might think it difficult to show your faith by your deeds. But you all have been finding creative ways to show God’s love for the hungry, the homeless, the sick, and the lonely. You all have been bringing thousands of pounds of food for those hungry through canned food drives, you have been giving casseroles to the hungry, you have been giving financially to those affected by COVID 19, you have been writing letters and making phone calls to those who are isolated. I am thankful for you all and how you continue to “Live Out Love” in creative ways! May God continue to strengthen you in your faith, that we may both pray for those in need and also respond in our loving deeds.

Prayer: Holy God, stir within us that we may not get complacent in our faithful words. By your Spirit move us to action, embolden us to share, to care, to love in our deeds. And by our actions may all know our love for you, and your love for the world. Through Christ we pray, who showed us love through his own life. 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 13 2020

Scripture: James 1:16-27

Key verses: (19-20, 27) My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Reflection: Most definitions of “emotion” follow Aristotle’s understanding of emotion as “states of feeling.” Jamie Dow wrote in summary of Aristotle’s work on this theory of emotion:

“To have an emotion is to experience pain, pleasure, or both, where this pain or pleasure is intentional and representational. An emotion is pain or pleasure at the emotion’s object, where the object is represented in ways that give ground for the particular emotion experienced.”

How do you understand emotion? More specifically, how do you understand anger? I was told anger is an evil emotion, an emotion that must be silenced and subdued. I think this understanding and guidance on anger comes from this passage in James and others like it. The apostle Paul implores and advises both the Colossians and the Ephesians to get rid of all evil such as anger (Col.3:8; Eph.4:31). However, there are other uses of the word anger that couple the emotion with different advice — be slow to anger. Anger is not evil, but it can be harmful if your anger boils to the surface easily.

What do you feel when you see injustices in the world? How do you feel when experiencing or witnessing prejudice against others? As James begins he calls for “brothers and sisters” to listen up, pay attention, know this! Our purpose as Christians, in James’ understanding, is what follows: quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Is that it? Is that our calling as followers of Christ? So, another question to ponder: can anger be a good thing? As this passage concludes, he states what “pure religion” is: looking after orphans and widows, keep yourself unstained from the world.

Here is how I understand all of this. To be quick to listen is to truly pay attention to and understand what God calls us to do: love God; love neighbor. The way to fulfil this command in the eyes of James is taking care of those oppressed and those on the fridges of society (orphans and widows). But James draws our attention to not merely listening but doing! “Do not merely listen … Do what it says.” By caring for the oppressed, by fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves in this world, anger may be experienced. It is anger that can drive our actions to fight, not freeze or flee. It is our anger that can push us into action to right the wrongs we see in the world. First we must listen, to the Word and to others. Then we take action. I hope the actions we take come from a place of love, driven by our care of the other, keeping ourselves and others unstained from the world, all for God’s glory.

Prayer: In creation you exclaimed that all was good, O God. In the sight of injustice and evil you became angry, O God. I pray that I remember creation is made in your goodness, and I pray that when I see evil I may respond by taking action. Guide me in your call to love, so the orphans and widows may be lifted up from the pollution of this 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].

Thursday November 12 2020

Scripture: Joel 2:21-27

Key verses: (21-22)
21 Do not fear, O soil;
     be glad and rejoice,
     for the LORD has done great things!
22 Do not fear, you animals of the field,
     for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
     the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

Reflection: I always love it when scripture tells us not to fear or “do not be afraid” as it often teaches. The words sound so easy and yet the action of setting aside our fear is such a challenge. In order to not be afraid, we have to know the root of our pain, which is often the hardest part. Accepting what causes our fear, acknowledging it and then deciding to continue on anyway. When I read these words in the bible, “do not fear,” I am reminded that it’s not necessarily a call to not be afraid – that would be disingenuous – but it’s a call to not let fear run our lives.

In our passage for today, the prophet Joel remembers a terrible plague of swarming locusts that descended and destroyed. Joel asks the Israelite’s not to be afraid but instead to look around at all that is, to see the green pastures and the fig trees that are full of figs. This might seem to us like a call to ignore what has been hard and look to the positive, asking the reader to choose happiness over despair.

Instead, the author of Joel wants us to hold these two things together. We are asked not to let fear and sadness rule our lives and at the same time to notice our surroundings. We don’t have to choose between one emotion but rather to allow ourselves to experience both. We hold these two realities to be true. This is our call as Christians – to live in our current world, full of complex human emotions and outcomes and to look ahead to the world to come, promised through Jesus Christ. What a call this is! May we learn to not let fear rule our lives and remember to notice our surroundings in the midst of it all.

Prayer: Merciful God, who knows the breadth of human emotion. Help us to acknowledge and minimize our fear. Teach us to stop and notice our surroundings. Lead us in the way of truth and light, by the power of your Son, Jesus Christ. 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].

Wednesday November 11 2020

Scripture: Joel 2: 12-19

Key verses: (12-13a) “Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.”

Reflection: One of the gifts of the COVID pandemic is the time we have been given because our regular schedules have been disrupted. Some of us have filled up this time with more work.  Some of us have found we have more time to exercise, read a book, connect with others or simply rest because we aren’t commuting or travelling.  For others this disruption has created more space for spiritual issues to emerge. And yet we still have many things that distract us from faith.  Even though early in the pandemic many people filled up their days learning new skills or starting new projects, some couldn’t stop working and from dawn to dusk they worked and worked and worked to the point of exhaustion. It became apparent six months into the restrictions that there were some unaddressed issues.  All of us have had an opportunity to discover where we are in relationship to God. In today’s text, the people of Judah were in a desperate situation.  There was plague and drought.  The prophet Joel attributed this destruction to their unfaithfulness.  They had turned away from God.  Of course, we know that there are scientific reasons why there are natural disasters.  Things like poor farming practices, mining, building too close to the ocean and climate change, are some of the things that contribute to devastation.  We no longer believe that these events are caused by God’s withdrawal from a people or a nation. They are caused by human activity.  We do understand how people lose their way and cause destruction in their lives and in the lives of others. And, yet in the midst of all this, God is generous.  No matter how far away we travel from the LORD; the LORD is ready to give us a second chance.  We are given the opportunity to turn our lives around because it is never too late to return to God. We are invited to return to the LORD at the start of every day – to return to the One who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. In spite of our human failings, God calls us to return.  God is willing to give restoration.  Are you willing to receive it?  What might happen if you humble yourself and submit to this gracious love?  Is God calling you to “return to the LORD with all you heart”?  What will your response be?

Prayer: Loving God, we think we know what we want, but too often we delude ourselves.  Forgive our pride and self-determination when it gets in the way of submitting to you.  Forgive our sins that have hurt us and hurt another person.  Help us amend our ways.  Take our desire to change and restore 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].

Tuesday November 10 2020

Scripture: Revelation 19:1-10

Key verse: (1) After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God, for his judgments are true and just.”

Reflection: I love to sing! Singing in the car, singing in the shower, singing in church. Oh how I miss singing together in church. I have what choir directors call a “choir voice” which is a polite way of saying I don’t sing solos but I can blend in with a big group.

When we think about the book of Revelation, we might think about strange symbolism, and end time predictions, and violent warnings of judgment. But do we think about song? Revelation is full of song because it gives us a glimpse of the heavenly kingdom where the multitudes sing praises to God. In today’s passage the multitudes rejoice that Babylon (the symbolic evil city that probably represented Rome to the first century readers) fell. God has triumphed. Evil has been destroyed. Life has defeated death.

In response, the multitudes sing “Hallelujah” to glorify God. When you imagine it, do you hear the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah? Or do you hear a favorite hymn or worship song? Can you imagine your voice in that choir? Even if you don’t think of yourself as a singer (and believe me, everyone can sing) you are invited to sing praises to God for God’s goodness in your life. The joy of God’s goodness is so overwhelming that even non-singers join in the Hallelujah! Everybody sings to celebrate what God has done. Take a moment today to think about what God has done in your life, think about a time when you have known that God was with you through difficulty or a time when you experienced the triumph of goodness in the world. Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.

Prayer: For today’s prayer I invite you to watch and listen to this fun song of praise! I hope it brings a smile of joy to you.

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].