Friday January 17 2020

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Scripture: John 2:1-12

Key verse: (11)  Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Reflection: In the gospel of John, Jesus’ first miracle is when he turned water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana. Here Jesus appeared to be a reluctant miracle-worker. When his mother told him that the hosts had run out of wine, Jesus dismissed her. His mother persisted and the miracle unfolds.

Standing nearby were stone water jars used in the Jewish rites of purification, likely to wash hands before and after meals. Each jar would hold 20-30 gallons of water. Jesus told the servants to fill the jars with water and somehow that water was transformed into wine. We don’t know anything about how it happened but now the party had 120-180 gallons of very good wine. (A Medieval commentator suggested that the water recognized its creator and blushed.) That wine becomes a sign, the first sign in the gospel, pointing to the identity of the one who performed the sign. A sign is a clue that heaven and earth have intersected in a transforming way.

This sign reminds us that Jesus is God’s extravagant, abundant, full, “lavish beyond our imagining” presence in the world. Jesus has more love, more grace, more power, more truth, more life than we have ever encountered before. The presence of Jesus transforms ordinary things into extraordinary things and transforms ordinary people into extraordinary witnesses of love. God is not stingy. God does not dole out doses of love in little tiny cups. God’s feast doesn’t run out of abundant grace. The good wine of God’s presence flows with abundance.

Prayer: Dear Lord, you have poured out your love for me in Jesus Christ. When I am reluctant, make me generous in sharing your love and grace with the world. 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].

Thursday January 16 2020

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Scripture:  John 1:43-51

Key verses: (43-46) The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Reflection: Can anything good come out of Nazareth? We know the answer is, yes! Jesus came from Nazareth and transforms our lives through his birth.  Knowing the end of the story makes the question seem irrelevant.  Why did Nathanael ask this rhetorical question?

Take a look at the humble beginnings of Jesus. Born in a dirty stable to poor parents, he was one of the least of these. Jesus is not from the center of power. Good things were not supposed to come from Nazareth or all of that.  God had other plans.

This weekend we celebrate the work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who also said good news was coming from the poor. He and other leaders began planning a Poor People’s Campaign where the poor from across the nation and across racial and ethnic lines would come together in Washington, D.C. to proclaim to the nation that our world was not in order. Racism persisted despite the civil rights legislation and change was needed. King had come to see that it was the poor themselves who would be called to be the leadership of this movement, and he began pulling together leaders from poor whites, poor blacks, poor Native Americans and poor Mexican Americans and poor Puerto Rican Americans. They were already working for changes in regards to housing rights, living wage rights, land rights, treaty rights, welfare rights, voting rights and education rights but each in their own community. Coming together, they would be good news not only for themselves but for the whole nation and world.

We don’t hear much about the Poor People’s Campaign because King was assassinated before the march on Washington and work could be done. Maybe we don’t hear about it because it’s hard to imagine that good would come from the poor.  MLK knew God and knew that in God’s time, in God’s kingdom, good news comes from the margins.

Good news still comes from where we least expect it. God does not think that some people are more worthy than others. Look to the stable for confirmation that God knows good news comes from even the most unexpected places and in unexpected ways. Let us hear God’s call to work together, where all persons are valued and there is no longer room for poverty, racism, food insecurity or a living wage. Our God comes to us in unexpected ways.

Prayer: God, open our eyes and ears to unexpected leaders working for justice and peace. Open our eyes to your presence.  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 January 15 2020

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Scripture: John 1:29-42

Key verse: (38) “Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’  And they said to him, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’  He said to them, ‘Come and see.’”

Reflection: What are you looking for?”  That’s the question Jesus poses to Andrew and his friend in John 1:38.   They have been following John the Baptist for quite some time, most likely coming to John to be baptized; looking for redemption, to be washed of their sin in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, the one who would bring the kingdom of God.  That’s who they were looking for, the Messiah.  But what were they looking for from the Messiah?  Maybe they were looking for adventure, for new experiences, to see the world beyond the sleepy little village in which they had spent their lives.  Maybe they were looking to make a difference.  Maybe they were looking for meaning and purpose in their lives.  Is it possible they were looking for some of the same things 21st- century seekers might?

People come to church looking for something. Some are looking for twelve o’clock to get out and beat the traffic to a favorite brunch spot.  Some are looking for community, for a place to belong, to connect with other people, and connect more with God in the process.  Some are looking for a foundation upon which to build their lives; others for a connection with the divine; others for a connection with the past, with what life was like when they were growing up.  Some are looking for healing, of body or soul or both.  Some seek redemption, new life on the other side of mistakes made or opportunities missed.  People come to church looking for many things.

Jesus’ question carries great power because everyone is looking for something.  The world is ready and willing to offer solutions to the search.  Can it be found in a big salary and the corner office?  How about in that dream house in the perfect neighborhood? The world offers many possibilities: wealth, power, material possessions, the list goes on and on – but they are all ultimately found wanting, for they are dead idols.  They cannot fulfill what the human heart ultimately seeks.

In 1987, the Irish rock group, U2 released what would become one of their bestselling songs, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”   The song’s best version is arguably the recording that includes the Harlem Gospel Choir in accompaniment, found on their “Rattle and Hum” album. See it here .  Its lyrics speak of that search inherent to the human condition.  The song also speaks of a belief in the coming of God’s kingdom, yet ultimately, it expresses an innate sense inherent in the human condition.  “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

At the turn of the 18th century, theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher wrote of humanity’s quest for something beyond themselves, describing it as, “a taste for the infinite.”   In the 20th century, Paul Tillich would speak of God as “the ground of being,” the subject of life’s “ultimate concern,” or concern for that which is ultimate, that is, beyond one’s self.  Until it is recognized that the human heart longs for the infinite, the ground of being, the ultimate concern, we will not find what we’re looking for on this side of eternity. Yet with Andrew and his friend, those who would follow Jesus are invited on a journey.

“Come and see,” calls the Christ.  Join the journey, for in the quest itself, there is life to be found, and from time to time, by God’s grace, one just might get a glimpse of what every human being is looking for.

Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 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 January 14 2020

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Scripture: Genesis 3:1-24

Key verses: (8-9) “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. God called and said, “Where are you?”

Reflection: So often when I am reading scripture I find myself laughing at the questions that God asks us. In our text for today Adam and Eve have disobeyed God, have listened to the crafty snake, and in their fear have hidden from God in the trees. And then we get this question from God, “Where are you?” God, who created the world that the man and the woman are living in, who created the fruit that they ate, who created the Adam and Eve themselves and the trees that they are hiding in, this God asks, “Where are you?” I find it hard to believe that God didn’t know where Adam and Eve were hiding. God’s sovereignty, presence, and wisdom are too great for God to lose at an easy game of hide and seek.

So what was God’s question getting at? I often think that we as humans get ourselves into situations that we aren’t quite sure how we got into them and at the same time aren’t quite sure how to get out. And instead of seeking help, admitting we were wrong, or facing those who we’ve made mad, we often find ourselves sitting in trees, pretending like nothing is out of the ordinary. But thankfully God doesn’t play along with our tricks, instead God shakes us back to reality, helping us realize that we are grown adults sitting in a tree, hiding. Hiding from a mistake, from fear, from shame, from something that we have made bigger in our mind, from something that we have made worse by our hiding. And God, in God’s loving way jolts us out of our downward mindset and brings us back to God’s loving presence. For in the end, the worst didn’t happen to Adam and Eve, their lives continued, they got out of the trees and moved on with their life facing God and facing each other.

Where in your life have you made a choice, said some words, or done who knows what, and have found yourself up in the trees, hiding, standing firm in your position even if it’s not comfortable and you don’t really know how you got there? Do you know what I’m talking about? We’ve all been there, an argument that starts out small but gets way too big, a firm position we hold that we don’t know why other than we can’t admit there might be another opinion to be heard, a small mistake that turns into avoidance. Wherever that is in your life, pause for this moment … hear God say, “Where are you?” May this be an invitation to get down out of the trees with God’s grace by your side and face whatever it is that brought you up there.

Prayer: Holy God, you know us too well. We are often a stubborn people that allow small things to turn big, and allow anxieties and fears to morph into unhelpful actions separating us from one another and from you. By your Spirit call us down out of the trees, help us to approach each other with your love and grace. For you are a compassionate, patient, and caring God, may we remember that all of our days. 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 January 13 2020

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Scripture: John 1:1-18

Key verses: (2-4) 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

Reflection: Each time I read this passage I think of Wendy Johnston, a biblical storyteller, who loves exploring creative narration and is challenged by our response to God’s work in the world…God’s ongoing story. She tells John 1 this way…

the word…became flesh

I went to the beginning, and it was light. And white. No darkness anywhere.
I heard someone singing a message. But I didn’t understand.
“Who are you?”, I asked. “WORD”, was the reply.

I asked, “How long have you been here?”
“Always”, WORD said.

“Who is here with you?”
“Oh, God is here with me”, WORD smiled.

“What are you then?”
“I am God”, WORD replied.

I still didn’t understand.
So, I asked, “What are you here to do?”
“I AM”, WORD said.

“Huh?”, I furrowed my brow. I felt dumb. WORD smiled again.
“The Message I sing, tells everyone who I AM. God’s Love Song cannot be silent! Singing Love and bringing Life. I am Creator – through me all things were sung into being.
Nothing came into being without me.
I am Logos – God’s Message to humankind.
I am The Light – no darkness can overcome me.

I thought…HARD!
If WORD was there in the beginning, then WORD was never created!
If WORD was there in the beginning, then WORD was the one who created.
If WORD was there in the beginning of all things, then WORD created ME!

“Come with me”, WORD said, “I’ll show you.”
We found ourselves in an animal shelter. Cows, sheep and …. a newborn baby with his mother and father. Shepherds with simple hearts and shining eyes, kneeling in the dirty hay praising and worshipping God the WORD in human form.

I am starting to understand. WORD said… “My Creation have forgotten me, so I am singing them my Logos; my God Song. Coming to my people in human form: WORD made flesh.

A life-changing WORD from God the Father. Living among you. Bringing the True Light.
And why? To remind you… I LOVE YOU!

And if you believe in me, you are my child.
A “baby WORD” if you like. A child of God. Full of grace and truth.”

Now I understand… I AM LOVED.[1]

Prayer: Ever-present God, you spoke your Living Word and revealed to us in your Son Jesus Christ a love so deep, a mercy so endless, and a grace that abounds for eternity. Speak to us now, so that your Word may fill all of creation once more. 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].

[1] This story was originally posted by Wendy Johnston in her blog “Once Upon a Story Told” – you can learn more about Wendy and read this work and others on her site found here.

Friday January 10 2020

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Scripture: John 10:7-17

Key verse: (11) “I am the good shepherd . . .”

Reflection: One of the most common metaphors used for God in scripture is Shepherd. God cares for us the way a shepherd takes care of a flock.  However, most of us don’t know much about tending sheep or the pivotal role of the shepherd.  Here are some interesting facts:

  • Sheep follow a shepherd because they recognize the shepherd’s voice.
  • Sheep are timid, stubborn, and easily frightened.  They require more care than any other kind of livestock.
  • Sheep won’t lie down or rest unless they are free from hunger and thirst, pests and fear.
  • A good shepherd does everything in his or her power to provide for and protect the sheep.

It isn’t by accident that Jesus uses this metaphor and calls himself a shepherd.  But, I’m not so sure I like being referred to as a sheep!  Yet, I know at times I am restless and anxious; stubborn and afraid.  I need the protective care of God – I need a shepherd.

Jesus identifies himself as the good shepherd.  He invites us to listen for his voice, to follow in his ways, and learn to trust him.  Just like a shepherd lays down his life to protect a flock of sheep, so Jesus lays down his life for us.  We find rest in his loving care.  He is the good shepherd and will not abandon us. He invites us to follow him. And, when we do we will move out into the world with confidence, ready to serve in his name.

Prayer:  Jesus, like a shepherd lead us, much we need your tender care; in your pleasant pastures feed us. For our use your folds prepare.  Blessed Jesus, help us to turn to you and receive the comfort of the promises you have made to show us mercy, grace and freedom. Help us to share your love with others. In your 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 January 9 2020

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Scripture: Colossians 1:24-2:7

Key verses: 2:6-7 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Reflection: Many years ago a confirmation student shared his profession of faith, saying “I know my faith is strong and will never change. What I believe will never change.” I was a little sad. I think he meant that he would make faithfulness a priority for the rest of his life and he was aware that he was making a significant commitment to follow Jesus Christ. But what I heard was “I won’t be open to new ideas. I won’t grow. I’ll be an adult with the spiritual understanding of a thirteen-year-old.”

Faith is more of a verb than a noun. It’s not something you receive like a gift and put on a shelf to admire. Instead you receive faith and you use it. You study. You pray. You serve, loving your neighbors. Faithful people change. They are open to listening and having their minds and opinions change. They are willing to take risks and to try new ministries. They can try new spiritual disciplines. They recognize that new experiences will bring questions and struggles, as well as affirmation and encouragement.

The writer of the letter to the Colossians encouraged the Colossians to grow in faith. The good news doesn’t stop once you “accept it” or “know it.” The good news unfolds every day as we live our lives in Christ. Faith is a journey, not just getting to the destination. It’s not primarily about getting saved, or joining a church, or becoming a Christian, or understanding the good news. Faith is about living our lives in Christ, living out our salvation, and following where Jesus guides us.

Prayer: Dear Lord, give me the courage and the strength I need to follow Jesus today. Deepen the roots of my faith and built me up. I am thankful for your presence and your grace at work in my life. In Jesus’ name I pray. 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].