Friday April 30 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 46:1-13

Key verses: (3-4) “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn grey I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

Reflection: What are you carrying? Truly, stop right where you are and consider all that you are carrying, or try to remember all that you’ve carried so far today. Right now I’m fairly light, with just my glasses, watch, and keys. But so far through the day I’ve carried my backpack, a watering can, children, clothes, and books. What do you carry throughout your days? Sure we have different items we physically lug around, but we also have emotions, thoughts, and concerns that we carry with us. What have you been carrying lately emotionally? Do you take with you the worries of a child, or the concern of a relationship, the uncertainty of your health? All that we carry adds up, and sometimes we can feel overburdened, weighed down. Have you ever felt like you had the weight of the world on your shoulders?

In our passage for today, Isaiah is prophesying to the Israelites taken captive in Babylon. The people are surrounded by Babylonian idols made of wood, silver, and gold; watching the Babylonians carry these idols from the market place, to homes, to places of worship. I can only imagine the Israelites seeing all these idols carried by others and becoming tempted, tempted by the perceived power of the idol, tempted by the image, tempted by the status of carrying something shiny and weighty. All the while, the Israelites were carrying the baggage of being taken into exile, carrying questions of identity, carrying sorrow of a lost homeland, carrying burden of being a foreigner in a new land.

And yet, as Isaiah proclaims to the overburdened people, the answer is not to carry one more thing, to pick up some man made metal or wood, to hold on to an external marker of materialism, but instead to trust in God and allow yourself to be carried by God. Isaiah reminds the people of who they are and who God is, Isaiah reminds the people that it is God who created the world and all that is in it, that it is God who created them and would redeem them.

Today, may you hear the good news from Isaiah – for those who feel as though the weight of the world is on their shoulders, the one who made the world and all that is in it will in fact carry you. I love the maternal imagery of God in verses 3 and 4, may these words comfort and carry you throughout the day, letting go of all the burdens that you carry and trusting in God’s goodness. You “who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn grey I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

Prayer: Creator God, when we feel overburdened by all that we carry may we find rest in you, who knit us in your womb and carries us in your loving embrace throughout all of our lives. 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].

Thursday April 29 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9

Key verse: (6) I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
    I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
    a light to the nations

Reflection:If there is one thing that we have needed in the past year, it’s hope. Hope that we would see the other side of the COVID pandemic. Hope that our chaotic households would find a sense of peace. Hope that the division that we have experienced in our world, our country, our communities would cease. We have needed hope to find a light in the midst of darkness and uncertainty – a light to the nations, if you will.

The first half of the book of Isaiah speaks to the Israelite people who are feeling similar weariness to us today. They are tired, beaten down, and looking for a change. The second half, where we are today, the Israelite’s are able to look beyond their situation. They start to look toward hope. In our text for today, Isaiah speaks of a servant who will bring the very thing the Israelites needed – hope. This hope isn’t necessarily what the Israelite’s expect though. Isaiah doesn’t specifically describe the servant but rather he describes the actions of the servants. And it’s the actions that will bring the hope the Israelites need. The servant will be chosen by God, bring justice to the nations, open eyes that are blind. The servant is part of a new thing that God is doing. The description of the servant doesn’t point to one specific person but to the ways that God will bring forth God’s vision for the world, through people, chosen by God.

It is easy for us as Christians to conclude that this servant is Jesus, and Jesus certainly fits the description of the servant, but more importantly this servant is meant to bring about the Kingdom of God in justice, light, and freedom. The servant described points to the new things that God continues to do throughout time by bringing forth light into a world of darkness. This text celebrates the hope that God works in the past, present and future to bring about God’s realm of justice and love. As we continue to wait expectantly for God’s teaching, we can rest in the hope that Jesus will come again. May we wait in hope.

Prayer: Creator God, you continue to break into our world to bring about new things. We give you thanks for the hope that you bring through Jesus Christ our Lord; may we hear your call to live as people of hope in the world today. 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 April 28 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 40: 25-31

Key verse: (28a) “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”

Reflection: When I was in seminary, one of my Old Testament professors invited us to go through the Bible and underline every time we saw the words “who is like God”?  It was amazing to see how many times this question was asked when people found themselves under extreme duress and God seemed absent.    There are many things that happen in our everyday lives that can distance us from God – grief, personal attack, suffering and loss are just a few.  So, it’s important to have reminders of who God is when we feel like God is very far away.

In this passage in Isaiah, God is offering comfort to people.  God is reminding us, through the prophet, that God is great in strength, mighty in power, calling each of us by name and giving us strength when we feel powerless.  God promises to lift us up no matter the circumstances.  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  And while we might fall exhausted because of the trials of life, God never grows tired or weary.    

So, if you are going through a tough time right now, God is with you even if you feel like God is a million miles away.  God gives each of us the strength we need to move through our crisis or trial.  God is here with us lifting us up on eagle’s wings, carrying us through our joys and sorrows, reminding us each day that there is no one like God.   

Prayer: Loving God, in times of distress, when we feel like you have abandoned us, remind us that you know what we are going through and you will give us a full measure of your strength to get us through the ups and downs of life.  Remind us of your great love and the promises you have made to never forsake 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 April 27 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 36 – 38

Reflection: Fast forward to the Gospel of Matthew (we’re not quite there yet through this Year in the Bible!) and you will read in the opening genealogy for Jesus of King Hezekiah.

Funny how little we know of him!  Saul, sure.  David, yes. Solomon of course.  But Hezekiah?

2 Kings 18:5 tells us “No king of Judah, among either his predecessors or his successors, could … be compared to him.”

If I were to surmise one of the secrets to the “strength” his very name means in Hebrew, it would be this: his life of prayer.

In our text for today, Hezekiah prays on behalf of all of us who are getting older! He petitions, ““In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years?” His prayer gives words and angst to a difficult illness he endured.

After being honest with God, Hezekiah found himself re-centered by the end.  In Isaiah 38:20 he concludes, “The Lord will save me, and we will sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the Lord.”

May we find encouragement from his life of prayer and his honest petitions to God.

Prayer: Gracious and merciful God,
We learn from the great stories and characters of scripture
Insights into lives well lived
As humans take on challenges with courage,
Circumstances with prayer,
And even getting older with grace.
May we learn from Hezekiah secrets to the mystery of life
And may we live out that meaning and purpose in our own –
Through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Author: Lisa Hickman

[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 April 26 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 35: 1-10

Key verse: (8) A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

Reflection: God’s people were in exile and the prophet Isaiah offered them a hopeful vision of the future when they would return home. This entire chapter rings out with joy. The vision of a dry wilderness desert blooms with abundant joy. The sound of singing fills the air. The weak and disabled are strengthened and healed. The hot sand under their feet will become a pool of cool water. They are headed home! The highway is before them and they will walk and dance and sing and shout the entire way.

No traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.  Not. Even. Fools. What fabulous news! I know some fools, don’t you? And sometimes I am a fool too; how about you? So often the path of faith seems full of twists and turns, trials and tests. So often the journey looks ominous and threatening. So often the way is blocked by obstacles. But not the Holy Way home to God!

Maybe it’s like the yellow brick road or a red carpet. Maybe there are guard rails. Maybe there are herding dogs to nip at the heels of those who begin to wander. Maybe there are arrows painted on the ground and signs posted on every tree. In whatever way God has built it, the Holy Way is foolproof! God invites you home. God welcomes you. The journey of faith isn’t easy street but with God’s help, even fools don’t go astray. Let’s dance and sing and shout like a bunch of holy fools!

Prayer: O God, thank you for loving me even when I am foolish. Thank you for welcoming me even when I’m not worthy. Thank you for leading me home even when I am prone to wander. Thank you for your steadfast love for all of us fools. 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 April 23 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 18-22

Key verse: (18:4) For thus the Lord said to me:
I will quietly look from my dwelling
    like clear heat in sunshine,
    like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.

Reflection: After Easter, the frenzy of lives has started to swirl again. Everything that was canceled over the last year is being scheduled or planned because it was so sad we missed each and every event. That is on top of everyday life. I want to go back to my porch and quietly look out at the world, sipping my cup of tea. I know that is a bit of avoidance and a lot of privilege but what do we do with the frenzy. I was a bit surprised at how fast things picked up!

Our passage reminds us that nothing takes God by surprise. The sovereignty of God is a strong foundation as the nations rage and threats of war are present. The King James Version translate verse 4 as, The lord revealed to Isaiah, “I will take my rest”. God did not lay aside all care for the people but rested with the purpose of comforting them and giving them refreshment like clear heat after the rain or a dew in the time of harvest.

The rays of the sun are a gift after the damp cold of winter. The same is true of rest or Sabbath. Sabbath tells the story of rest and grace, but it’s not always an easy story to hear. Rest and grace upset the cart.

This past year was really hard for many of us. We found out we like afternoon walks with our partner. We enjoy dinner with our family and Saturday brunch with a friend on the front porch. Where can we find those moments to take Sabbath rest during our day?  I don’t know about you but I can go in an hour later to work to have a cup of tea on the front porch and enjoy the quiet of the day. Where will you find your Sabbath rest this week or in your routine? May God guide us to take our rest.

Prayer: Quiet my heart God, give rest to my soul and refocus my spirit. Holy Spirit, help me to be intentional with my time and worship, and encourage me to find rest in you alone. In Jesus’ name. 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 April 22 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 13-17

Key verses: (14:3-4a) “When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon.”

Reflection: It is a moment ingrained in my mind.  The year was 1985.  The place was Legion Field, Birmingham, AL.  Van Tiffin had just kicked a 52-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the Iron Bowl to beat Auburn, 25-23, snatching victory from what moments earlier seemed the certain jaws of defeat for the Tide. As an Auburn sophomore, I was devastated.  Then their “Million Dollar Band” played that infernal song, “Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer,” and their fans taunted us singing, “Hey Auburn, Hey Auburn, we just beat the he(double-toothpicks) outta you!”  I hated that song.  They must have sung it 100 times that night.  Uggh.  Twenty-five years later, in 2010, after an unlikely 24-point comeback in Tuscaloosa, Auburn defeated Alabama, 28-27.  In Bryant Denny stadium that early evening, the Auburn band turned the tide, and the visitors’ section changed the lyrics, replacing “Auburn” with “Alabama,” singing that taunting song right in the midst of the Auburn’s Babylon.  Here’s a video if you’d like to see it : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g05QG_p1U1E

That’s what came to mind when I read the oracle against Babylon in Isaiah 14.  Isaiah writes, “You will take up this taunt against Babylon.”  That’s what 2010 felt like to me.  “How the oppressor has ceased!  How his insolence has ceased!”  However, such taunts, such longings for vengeance do not emerge from our best instincts, do they?  Certainly they do not come from what is holy.  If our world were ruled by the mentality of such taunts, we would only have endless cycles of vengeance.  Our ultimate destiny would surely be destruction.  As our Lord said in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” (Mt. 26:52)  Yet here is Isaiah’s invitation to take up the taunt in response to his oracle of judgment against the hated Babylonians, an oracle tucked amid other oracles against the nations, against Assyria, Philistia, Moab and Egypt.   What are we to make of this?

As is true of all scripture, it must be understood in its larger context.  These oracles and this taunt are not ends, in and of themselves.  They are part of a bigger picture.  While they reflect the judgment of God upon the powers of the world, that judgment is part of the redemption of creation.  “The whole earth is at rest and quiet,” in v. 7a. The cedars of Lebanon are rejoicing because the powerful no longer chop them down to erect their mighty houses. This is but part of a process that will involve judgment not only upon Israel’s enemies, but also upon Israel itself.  That judgment is a necessary part of redemption, for God’s judgment always grows from God’s love.  The goal of all this judgment is a new creation that calls forth a new song to be sung in Isaiah 42. It’s the new creation where lions and lambs lie down together (Isaiah 11, 65), where swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2).  That’s God’s big picture in Isaiah. 

Amid the tensions and taunts of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry, I’ve glimpsed that big picture. Less than five months after the 2010 Iron Bowl, on April 27, 2011, a terrible tornado devastated Tuscaloosa, killing 41 people.  It was a horrible tragedy.  In response, Auburn and Alabama students came together to build Habitat Homes and to repair homes seriously damaged by that tornado.  In March of 2019, tornados hit Auburn, killing 23 and leaving hundreds homeless.  Alabama students came east in the wake of that disaster to help rebuild people’s lives in Auburn.  It was a glimpse of the peaceable kingdom that is God’s vision for the world’s tomorrows.  Life’s ultimate destiny is not defined by the temporary taunts of victors born of a particular moment, but rather by the redemption of all that is the destiny of creation. 

Prayer: “Amid life’s temptations to taunt, open our eyes to the vision of your big picture, O God, and open our hearts to respond in faith that the world might know the power of your redemption.  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 April 21 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 9-12

Key verse: (11:6) “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”

Reflection: I love this paining by John August Swanson titled “Peaceable Kingdom” and inspired by Isaiah 11:1-9. The image is full of animals that aren’t just often at odds with each other, but who naturally find their existence through the destruction of one another through consumption. In the world as we know it the lion and the goat are in relation to one another as predator and prey. However, in this image and in Isaiah’s passage the lion and the fatling (an animal plumped for consumption) lie down together in peace. I love both the literary and artistic imagery of this peace described by Isaiah, for it is all encompassing, not just surface level peace.

At the time when Isaiah spoke these words, Israel (specifically the southern kingdom of Judah) was rife with conflict with surrounding nations and also within its borders among its own people. Conflict identified the people as a whole, inside to out, from interpersonal to international. In Isaiah 9 we read of the nations at war with Judah and then in chapter 10 we read the specifics of the injustice done to its own people. Like the animals listed in 11:6-8, the people were identified by their hostility toward and destruction of one another.

And yet, Isaiah prophecies for a time of peace. True peace. God’s peace. This peace is not just a superficial cessation of violence, but it transforms the very nature of relationships between opposing forces. Predator and prey have to find a new way of identify themselves and relating to each other. What a transformation! What a promise!

Take a look at the picture again. Do you notice how all of the animals seem to be looking out of the picture and staring at you? When I meditate on this picture I see the animals as a witness of peace while also calling us to accountability and action. Their staring eyes seem to be watching to see how we respond. Right in the middle of the picture is the peacock, a historic symbol of the resurrection, reminding us that while we await Christ’s coming to fulfill this kingdom, we can by God’s grace begin living into this peaceable kingdom now. In these 50 days of Easter reflect upon the relationships of our lives, of our city, of our nation and the nations of the world. What relationships do you find yourself in that are adversarial by nature? How might God be calling us to a transformed way of identifying ourselves and relating to one another?

Prayer: Gracious God, we give you thanks that you can imagine this world in a new and peaceable way. By your love guide us in this way that we may be transformed and be lead in peace. 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 April 20 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 6

Key verse: (13)
 Even if a tenth part remain in it,
    it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
    whose stump remains standing
    when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

Reflection: Our text for today includes Isaiah’s call story. Isaiah’s call from God offers a window into what his ministry will be like – Isaiah will speak God’s words and yet the people will not turn from their ways. God speaks of dulled minds and destruction of the people, and yet, Isaiah’s message to the people becomes one of both judgment and salvation. The words we read for today are meant more to prepare Isaiah for his ministry than to give the message that Isaiah will be passing on to God’s people, a helpful reminder when we these read words full of great destruction.

God tells Isaiah that his ministry will continue until cities are torn down and the land is left desolate. This is not the hopeful message that we want to hear from a prophet. And yet, the message ends with a glimmer of hope. “The holy seed is its stump.” In the midst of the sinful and corrupt human ways, there lives a holy seed, planted by God at our beginning. God continues to send messages and messengers (like Isaiah) to God’s people to break into their hearts, turning them from the ways of sin to a path of love. This love can be found within each of us, if we just take the time to weed through to the stump, the holy seed.

Are there parts of your life that need to be broken through? Have you turned too deeply to the ways of the world? Do you need a messenger to remind you of who you are at your core? God continues to break into our world, dwelling among us, shining light on our darkened souls. May we hear the messages of hope that are before us, and may we live into the love of the holy seed that dwells within us.

Prayer: Holy God, you continue to send us prophets who call us to turn from the ways of sin and corruption to your great love. Help us to listen to these words, that they might move and transform us. Reveal to us the Holy Seed that lies within us that we might use it to do your work in the world. 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].

Monday April 19 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 1-4

Key verses: (1: 16-19a)

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

    remove the evil of your doings

    from before my eyes;

cease to do evil,

    learn to do good;

seek justice,

    rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,

    plead for the widow.

 Come now, let us argue it out,

    says the Lord:

though your sins are like scarlet,

    they shall be like snow;

though they are red like crimson,

    they shall become like wool.

 If you are willing and obedient, . . .”

Reflection: The beginning of the book of Isaiah starts with poetry that is described as a vision of Isaiah. The call of the prophet Isaiah doesn’t happen until Chapter Six, but the entire book is attributed to him. God is speaking to God’s people and imploring them to return to faith. These beginning chapters are addressed to the remnant of a defeated people in Judah after the enormous devastation done by the Assyrian army led by Sennacherib. The cause of this destruction was not merely political, but spiritual.  The people had turned away from God.  Time and again they sinned.  This sin went against everything that God had called them to do and be as children of God.  They practiced evil in all of it forms and turned away from all who needed justice:  the orphan, the widow and anyone who was oppressed.  They had set up worship places for other gods and fell into self-serving practices that were contrary to the law and ordinances that God had given them so that they might experience life. In this first chapter, the LORD is disgusted with their meaningless sacrifices and festivals.  What the LORD really wanted was repentance and a change of heart.  Come let us argue it out (or reason together).  Let’s talk, says the LORD.  God was so willing to forgive, if only they were willing to turn their lives around.    

A lot of people don’t like to read the books of the prophets because there is so much destruction and God is so angry.  But, what I find in these scripture passages is a loving God who is continually calling out to us and warning us about our choices and actions just like God did centuries ago. God wants us to give our full hearts and lives to God. God wants us to be all in, fully committed to living lives of love, acceptance, forgiveness and justice.  We are to be God’s agents in the world showing our faith to others through our actions. Most of us think we are pretty good people and that none of what we find in Isaiah applies to us.  But, I’m not so sure.  We are all capable of evil or condoning evil. It’s easy to fall away from God. It’s easy to compartmentalize our faith and separate it from our everyday lives.  Are we continually learning to do good, seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan and pleading for the widow?  Are we listening to God and applying what scripture teaches us in our lives? God invites us to return before some self-destructive behavior destroys us.  Our lives might not be as dramatic as life was in Judah in 701 BCE.  There is no army threatening our existence (at least not right now), but in what ways are we worshipping other gods that threaten to destroy us?  Reflect on your life today, turn toward God and experience the great love God has for you.

Prayer:  Lord, help us to find you in the midst of all that pulls us away from you. May we cultivate clean hearts, transformed by you and your living presence.  May we hear your word and embrace your love for us.  In Jesus’ name.  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].