Friday August 23 2019

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Scripture: Mark 12:35-44

Reflection: Several years ago, I sat down for coffee with a young adult who wanted to get involved in church, but wasn’t sure she could take the plunge.  We talked about the many reasons she had for that.  A few were theological questions, but mostly, she was concerned about what she called the “behavior mismatch” she observed in many so-called religious people.  Espousing a God of grace, they seemed awfully ready to pass judgment on those with whom they disagreed.  Speaking about the God of love in one breath, they seemed quite ready to talk about the things and people that God hated in the next.  Christians, in particular, had come to be defined by what (and whom) they were against, than what (and whom) they were for – and this concerned her.

If we are to be followers of Jesus, then we should also be concerned about the “behavior mismatch” that bothered my friend so much, because it concerned Jesus as well.  In fact, throughout Jesus’ life and ministry, he was constantly calling people of faith to reevaluate their faith practices, and the way their theological beliefs intersected with their daily living. Here, in the gospel of Mark, we are given a story where Jesus calls for a real integrity for those who would practice (and, in this case, be a leader in) faith.  He tells his followers to be wary of those who love the pageantry and show of religious prestige while at the same time being party to great injustice in the community.  Here, the scribes love to walk around in long robes and say long prayers and be treated as honored guests (that’s the pageantry!) while they also allow the most vulnerable in their community to be taken advantage of in order to line their own coffers (see 12:40, 41-44 – the generous widow should be praised for her generosity, but a case might also be made that those overseeing the treasury might be engaged in predatory practices).

Perhaps this passage provides an opportunity for each of us to examine where the “behavior mismatches” in our own walks of faith might be.  Perhaps it is an invitation for us to consider our own behavior around worship and giving (do we love the fanfare of a Sunday morning, but fail to seek out ways to live in more just and merciful ways alongside our neighbors?).  More broadly, perhaps it is an invitation to prayer, that God might show us where we have failed to live according to Christ’s example, so that we might also ask for guidance in how to align our “walk” with our “talk.”

Prayer: Guide me, O God, as I seek to follow you in all my ways, and give me courage to open myself up to your leading, not so that I can earn your love, but so that I can reflect it in my living, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Author: Anna Dickson

[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 August 22 2019

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Scripture: Mark 12: 28-34

Key verses: (28-32) 28One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’

Reflection: Notice the scribe off to the side, listening to Jesus answer question after question.  His life is about the religious rules and he boldly asked Jesus his own question.

What commandment is the greatest?

Jesus didn’t miss a beat citing words right out of the Old Testament. The Lord our God is one God and we are to love God with all of our being. Loving God first helps with everything else. Loving God puts it all into perspective.

Everyone in the room, followers and opponents of Jesus were probably all in agreement about this first part of his answer. Jesus then turned everything upside down by saying the second part is to love your neighbor as yourself. Loving God enables us to get our relationships right with each other. Loving God enables us to love ourselves more fully.  It is not just about being religious or being good, it is about love. It is always about love.

Prayer: God, tear down the walls we have built up around our hearts to keep you and others out of our lives.  Tear down the walls, God. 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 August 21 2019

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Scripture: Mark 12:13-27

Key verse: (13)  “Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said.”

Reflection: “They sent to him…;” that’s how today’s reading begins. I’ve always wondered who “they” were.  Were they the chief priests?  Were they the Sanhederin Were they Roman leaders?  “They sent to him.”  How often are our lives defined by what “they” say we must do?  Do we ever take time to define who “they” are?

In our reading, “they” seem to have quite a lot of power.  “They” manage to get the Pharisees and Herodians together to trap Jesus.  Pharisees and Herodians did not cooperate together on anything.  They represent opposite ends of the political spectrum of Jesus’ day.  Pharisees were committed to maintaining the holiness of the Jewish people through strict adherence to the laws of God.  They could not stand Herodians, who were people supporting Herod, the puppet king of Judea placed there by the Romans.  Herod was not Jewish, nor was he Roman, but his power was given by Rome and he advocated Roman ways.  It would take a lot of power to get the Pharisees and the Herodians together about anything.  This would be like saying, “the Sierra Club and the NRA came together to trap him.”  “They” orchestrate all that.

They pose a troubling question: is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?  If Jesus says, “yes,” then the Pharisees will accuse him of capitulation to the Romans.  He will alienate himself with most Jews who opposed the tax so much it led to a revolt in 6 AD.  If he says, “no,” then the Herodians will accuse him of treason.  The trap is set and ready to be sprung.

As is his custom, Jesus responds by asking them a question. He does not have a Roman coin, so he asks them to produce one, and they do.  The coin likely bore an image of Tiberius, with an inscription, “Son of the Divine Augustus.”  For faithful Jews, this money was unclean as it bore a graven image and claimed divinity for a human being.  It is ironic that the Pharisees would have it.  Jesus asks, “Whose head is this?”  The Greek there is “iconos,” meaning idol. They answer, “Caeser’s.”  The “holy” men are holding Caesar’s idol.  Jesus responds, “Repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” implying they belong to Caesar.  Then he offers the closer, “and to God the things that are God’s.”  Of course, everything belongs to God — even Caesar.  And they are amazed.  Which is to say, they get caught in their own trap.

Jesus has a way of confounding the powers of the world.  “They” have no power over him.  In our lives, it often feels like “they” run the show.  As people of faith, we do not live for “them.”  We live for God.  Today, may we offer to God the things that are God’s, which is to say our very selves.

Prayer:  Bless me this day, O God, with a sure sense of our divine providence, so that I might live in faith, free from the powers of the world, freed for loving service to you in Christ’s 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].

 

Tuesday August 20 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 123

Key verse: (3) “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt”

Reflection: Today’s psalm is called a Song of Ascents.  It is one of many psalms that were used when pilgrims were travelling up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  These kinds of psalms prepare the heart and mind to be open to God’s transforming power. This is a prayer of deliverance that calls a person to submit to God.  We live in a world where we resist submitting to anyone or anything.  In some cases, this is justified because of abuse which must never be tolerated.  So, it’s important to note that the psalmist is not suggesting we humbly submit to abuse or abusers.  Rather, this psalm invites us to humbly submit to God, to acknowledge that there is One who is greater than any of us, the Lord of heaven and earth in whom we place our trust. It is common to be open to this kind of submission when we are afraid or in despair and we feel the need for God to intervene.  I wonder what might happen if we submitted ourselves to God on the days when life is going well.  What might happen if we did this every good or bad day? What love and mercy might we experience that would give us courage to face the ups and downs of life, as well as, the confidence to reach out to those who need help.

What if we humbled ourselves before God?

Prayer: Merciful God, have mercy on us. Free us from all that holds us back from receiving your mercy so that we can share it with those who need love and hope.  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 August 19 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 135

Key verse: (5) For I know that the Lord is great; our Lord is above all gods.

Reflection: The biblical writers don’t waste words trying to prove the existence of God or to prove that their God is the only God. They were very aware that all of the nations and peoples around them worshiped other gods. So rather than proof, the writers proclaimed that their God was above all other gods.

I’ve never found it helpful to argue with an atheist or an agnostic about the existence of God. Arguments rarely convince anyone of anything. I am intrigued by the challenge that our God is above all other gods. If you accept that humans organize their life around some commitment to a guiding principle, then I think our God is above all other options.

Who is your god? And what has that god done for you? The psalm writer proclaims that the idols worshiped by other nations are only “the work of human hands” and made of “silver and gold.” They have mouths but don’t speak. They have eyes and ears but don’t see or hear. They are objects. We might easily dismiss the psalm because we don’t worship gold figurines and we don’t bow down before silver statues. But we do worship other gods – the god of work, the god of family, the god of success, the god of perfection, the god of emotional highs, the god of money, the god of our own desires. Those gods aren’t living. They enslave us rather than free us (Psalm 135:8-12). Any good they bring is short-lived. As the writer says “Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them.” (v. 18)

What is shaping your life? What guides your decisions? Who is your God? The Lord is great; above all gods we might choose otherwise.

Prayer: O God, when I am tempted to let other gods guide my life, remind me of your power. When I am tempted to worship other gods, remind me of your love and deliverance. When I am tempted by other priorities, remind me that you alone are my Lord. 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 August 16 2019

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Scripture: Mark 10:46-52

Key verse: (50) “So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus”.

Reflection: It seems like a small narrative detail, but when Bartimaeus stands and throws his cloak off to run to Jesus, we should take note.  This is because Bartimaeus was blind, and as a blind man in his society, he would have been consigned to a life of begging at the city gate.  There, at the gate, Bartimaeus would have sat on his cloak, keeping his material possessions nearby, so as not to lose track of them.  This was his lot in life.  Nobody expected much of old Bartimaeus.

But Bartimaeus expected much of Jesus – so much, in fact, that when Jesus summons Bartimaeus, the blind man stands and flings his cloak and goes.  It is a sign than Bartimaeus expects something to happen. He expects transformation at Jesus’ hand, and he asks for it with boldness: “Let me see again.”  In the words of the apostle Paul: the old life has gone, a new life has begun.

This is why Bartimaeus is held up as a paragon of faith. It is because he expects something of the power of God to be present in Jesus, and that this power will restore him, will move him from sitting on the side of the road to following Jesus in the middle of it, will give him a whole new life.

Imagine what the church would be like if we all shared a bit of Bartimaeus’ expectancy!  Where might we take a new, but faithful risk in following Christ?  How might our prayers come to life?  What comforts of the old life might we fling off as we venture out onto the road, following the One who travels in mercy and truth and grace?

Prayer: Gracious God, when I have forgotten your power to heal, to bring wholeness, to call me out of my place and onto the road, forgive me.  Show me the power of your grace, that I might walk in faith all my days. Amen.

Author: Anna Dickson

[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 August 15 2019

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Scripture: Mark 10:32-45

Key verses: (41-45) 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Reflection: I love driving to and from work in the summer because there are no cars! As school sports are starting and people are coming back from vacations, it is getting a bit more crowded on the road. It can be frustrating to be in traffic. We do not like to wait. Waiting in line is even harder. We even huff because our coffee that we ordered, so we wouldn’t have to stand in line, was not ready when we arrived.  With new delivery systems, we can order those few things we need from the drug-store, dinner or even our groceries and we do not have to wait in line.

I think we can all understand James and John and their eagerness to move to the front of the line. We judge them, but let’s be honest, we would have asked too.

Jesus doesn’t shame James and John in response to their question but uses it as a teaching moment. The Kingdom of God is not about bypassing the line or getting what you want.  There is no seat of honor.  Discipleship is about serving.  James and John had privilege. Jesus reminds them of their responsibility.

Jesus doesn’t shame James and John but he does comment on the nature of power. Power is what will bring about his death.  Jesus didn’t tell them to fade into the background or let people have power over them. He challenged them to serve, sacrifice and continue to work for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ message is more than relevant for each of us and for the church today.

Prayer: God, we are here to serve. Use us in the work of justice, love and peace. 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].