Friday December 6 2019

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Scripture: Amos 5:1-17

Key verse: (11) Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.

Reflection: The cashier at the grocery store asks if I want to round up my bill to give thirty-seven cents to a charity. Outside the door, there is a Salvation Army bell ringer with a familiar red bucket. In the lobby of the office building, there is an “angel tree” with gift tags to buy things for children in our community. ‘Tis the season. Charitable giving reaches a peak this month as the giving spirit of the holiday collides with the last month of the tax year.

In our Advent waiting we find ourselves again and again listening to the words of the Old Testament prophets. In today’s passage Amos laments the sin of God’s people and calls for them to repent and seek God. They have trampled on the poor and taken from them “levies of grain,” requiring them to pay a portion of their crops for taxes or in bribes. The prophet warns that God’s people will face consequences for their treatment of the poor. They won’t be able to use the houses they’ve built or the vineyards they’ve planted.

Do we believe that we will face consequences for how we treat the poor? It might be easy to assume that we can protect ourselves from consequences. The prophet warns that, even if everything appears to be going well, there are still consequences ahead. Amos calls us to examine ourselves and our lives, asking ourselves how the choices we make impact others. Are we trampling the poor, perhaps without even realizing it? Are we taking advantage of unfair opportunities? How can we lift up rather than trample? I doubt this is as simple as the few cents given to a charity or the gift bought for a child. This is a call to think about our lifestyles – the houses we live in, the cars we drive, where we shop, how we spend our time, where we vacation – and ask how we might love our neighbors in those choices. The prophet is ringing a bell for us today, ringing “Wake up, pay attention, look carefully and seek God’s way.”

Prayer: O God, give me courage to ask myself difficult questions about my lifestyle. Give me strength to change the things that need to be changed so that I can love my neighbors who are poor. Give me wisdom to live in your way in 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 December 5 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Wednesday December 4 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 21:23-32

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

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

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

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

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

Beloved, that’s the way it is!

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

Author: Joe Clifford

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Tuesday December 3 2019

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Scripture: Amos 3:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: John Magnuson

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Monday December 2 2019

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Scripture: 2 Peter 1:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Ben Brannan

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Friday November 29 2019

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Scripture: 1 Peter 3: 13-4:6

Key verses: (16-17) “. . . Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.”

Reflection: There are times in life when we suffer for doing the right thing.  Unfortunately, we live in a time when many people try to get away with things they know are wrong. Failing to take responsibility for their actions, they do everything they can to hide their guilt.  It is easy to talk yourself into believing you are doing the right thing, even if it’s wrong, especially when self-interest is involved.  Jesus taught us some things that seem odd to the world –  loving your enemies; forgiving the person who has hurt you; turning the other cheek and not judging others.  Jesus suffered for doing the right thing and as his followers we might suffer, too.

The author of today’s text reminds us to hold on to our faith and not give in to fear and intimidation.  We are to be ready to defend the hope that is within us.  This living hope we have been given in Jesus Christ needs to be shared.  We need to be ready to address injustice, neglect, abuse and inhumanity.  Not just some of the time, but all the time.  We are called to move out into the world with gentleness and reverence.  Following the example of Jesus, we are called to love, to serve and to offer hope to others through tangible acts of mercy and compassion.   This doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes.  We will.  But, hopefully, our actions won’t keep the persistent hope we have been given by God from shining through.  May we live in the power of the Holy Spirit so that others seeing us might see the hope we have in Jesus.  And, if we are punished for doing good and living out our faith, we are in good company.

Prayer: Loving God, help us to do what is right – not according to our will, but according to yours.  We know your thoughts are not our thoughts and your ways are not our ways.  Keep us from destructive pride and judgmental attitudes toward others.  Help us to turn away from doing evil as we pursue peace. May the hope we have received from you take root in our hearts as we follow Jesus.  In his 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 28 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16

Key verses: (14-15) “Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

Reflection: Happy Thanksgiving! Today we pause from our regular routines to give thanks for the many blessings we have. You might gather with family or friends or you might have some quiet time alone today. Take the time to reflect on your life and to be grateful.

Comparing ourselves to other people can be a gratitude “buster.” Today’s passage is a challenging parable about God’s grace. A landowner goes out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. Then he went out again at nine to get more workers; he went again at noon; he went again at three in the afternoon; and finally he went out at five. When the work day ended, the owner gave each worker the same daily wage. Those who had worked all day grumbled because it wasn’t fair. The landowner reminds the workers that the wage was what they agreed upon and that it is his (the landowner’s) discretion to negotiate with each group of workers.

We might be tempted to compare ourselves to others and think “it’s not fair.” Why do good things happen to bad people? (a twist on the usual question!) Why do some people have more than we do? Why do some people gloat about being “#blessed” when we might be struggling?

Perhaps we need to shift our focus from “more” to “enough.” Do you have enough? Do you have what you need? Give thanks. Find contentment in what is enough. Ask God to shift your focus from your material blessings to your spiritual blessings. Give gratitude to God for forgiveness, for glimpses of love, for moments of peace, for expressions of joy.

Prayer: For the good world; for things great and small, beautiful and awesome; for seen and unseen splendors; Thank you, God. For human life; for talking and moving and thinking together; for common hopes and hardships shared from birth until our dying; Thank you, God. Above all, O God, for your Son Jesus Christ, who lived and died and lives again for our salvation; for our hope in him; and for the joy of serving him; Thank you, God. Amen.

(Prayer adapted from the Book of Common Worship, p. 792-3)

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].