Thursday October 10 2019

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Key verses: (4-5) “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; . . . “

Reflection: Remember that old saying:  Variety is the spice of life?  It comes from a poem written by William Cowper in 1785 called “The Task”.  The full line reads: “Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all it’s flavor.”  Cowper is also known for his hymnody.  He wrote the Christian hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” which is titled “O God, in a Mysterious Way” in the hymnbook we use in our Sanctuary worship services.  It’s interesting that we still hear this expression about variety.  It reminds us that we are all different, and that is what makes life interesting. Most of us agree that diversity is good until we have to try and get along with each other.

In today’s scripture passage, the Apostle Paul is addressing the issue of spiritual gifts with the church in Corinth.  This church was very diverse and in his letters he tried to head off divisions between them, because when it comes to spiritual gifts it is important not to “grade” some as better than others.  Every follower of Jesus has been given a gift that allows him or her to contribute to the service and activity of the church community.  Even though it is human nature to rank order things in our lives, Paul stresses that all gifts are activated by God and therefore of equal value to building up the whole community.  If we were all the same, think how boring life would be!  How much less we would be able to contribute to our church, community and world.  The gifts Paul mentions are:  the utterance of wisdom; the utterance of knowledge; faith; gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. These are just a few of the ways the Spirit of God manifests itself in our lives.  There are many more gifts than the ones that are named in this letter – hospitality, compassion, administration, and generosity of spirit are some of the gifts we often see lived out here at our church. When the Holy Spirit imparts these gifts it is humbling.  God entrusts the ministry of Jesus Christ to us.  I hope we will continue to celebrate how God is working in each of our lives for the good of others because – variety is the very spice of life.

Together we can do much more than if we are apart.

Prayer:  Lord, we thank you for giving us gifts by the power of Spirit to serve others in Jesus’ name.  Help us to celebrate one another’s gifts instead of envying them.  Guide us as we use the spiritual gifts you have given us to build up the body of Christ and grow in our faith. 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].

Wednesday October 9 2019

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:23-34

Key verse: (23) For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread.

Reflection: When I was growing up, the church did not allow children to receive communion. Communion was a sacrament for adults. Finishing confirmation class as an adult member of the church was the “ticket” to receive communion.

Over the years, the church policy changed and now baptized children are welcome to receive communion. The Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order reads “All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding.” Occasionally I will have an adult say “I don’t think children should receive communion because they don’t understand it.” I typically feign amazement and say “You understand it? Theologians for two thousand years have found it to be a mystery. If you understand it, you should write a book.” (snarky response, I know!)

What happens at the table is a mystery, but somehow in the bread and the cup we are reminded of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ and we are assured that Jesus Christ is with us even now. In today’s passage Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth (and subsequently reminds us too) that the meal is holy. That does not mean that communion must always be somber and serious. Paul is reminding us that the meal is an act of the faith family gathered together in community. When we receive the bread and the cup, we are called to live like Jesus Christ in the world. We are called to care for one another and to provide for one another. The Lord’s Supper is an immunization against our own selfishness and that is something we all need, regardless of our age or understanding.

Prayer: Gracious God, you have made us one with all your people in heaven and on earth. You have fed us with the bread of life, and renewed us for your service. Help us who have shared Christ’s body and received his cup, to be his faithful disciples so that our daily living may be part of the life of your kingdom, and our love be your love reaching out into the life of the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 (prayer from the PCUSA Book of Common Worship, p. 77)

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].

Tuesday October 8 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 9:1-8

Key verses: (4-5) But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?

Reflection: Matthew’s story is good news to the paralytics and their friends who originally heard these words, and the ones who hear them today.  God’s love does not wait for us to work through the answers to the big questions. God’s love does not rest on our ability to formulate an answer to the questions of faith. Jesus does not wait for an answer before healing the paralytic.

Our relationship with Jesus is not transactional, it is relational. The healing doesn’t happen because of the faith of the paralytic.  The healing is an unmerited gift.  Maybe that is why the people standing around were filled with awe. This is not what was or is ever expected so we have to respond with praise and joy. Thanks be to God for love and healing that is always working in our lives.

Prayer: We are in awe God, for things great and things small and for your love that is in both. We give thanks for every unearned ounce of Your grace.  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].

Monday October 7 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 8:28-34

Key verse: (34) “Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.”

Reflection: One of the key principles within family systems theory is the concept of homeostasis.  The word comes from two Greek words meaning, “same” and “steady.” Put simply, systems seek balance.  When something new is introduced, or if something familiar is taken away, systems will seek balance to compensate for the change, attempting to re-establish homeostasis.  In families this manifests around birth, death, marriage and divorce.  As a family member is added, or taken away, the energy of the system ramps up to create a new homeostasis.  When I do pre-marital counseling, we talk about the energy in the bride and groom’s families created by the homeostatic forces working on their families because of the addition of an in-law to the family system.

Today’s reading from Matthew is a story of homeostasis.  Jesus enters the land of the Gadarenes in Gentile territory.  Coming into that system he meets two demoniacs who live among the tombs.  Jesus’ arrival upsets the homeostasis.  The demons know he has come to destroy them.  So they beg him to cast them into a nearby herd of pigs. The pigs are part of the system as well, likely an important component of the economic system of the community.  Jesus casts the demons out and into the swine, who proceed to rush down the hill and drown themselves.  Homeostatic forces are unleashed in a big way.  While the two men are healed, the swineherds have lost their business.  They run to the chamber of commerce in town and tell what’s happened.  The townspeople all come out and meet Jesus.  Rather than rejoicing that the two people have been healed, they fear Jesus.  Apparently they care more about the pigs than these two human beings.  To return to homeostasis, they beg Jesus to leave their community.

I’ve seen this story played out in real life.  I’ve seen people battling alcoholism get sober, and then watch their families fall apart. Something about their alcoholism held the family in balance. I’ve seen a church bringing healing to homeless people be demonized by the community because the church was blamed for the presence of homeless people in the city.  The church was part of the solution to a systemic problem, but like Jesus, the neighborhood would’ve rather seen the church go away.

When Jesus enters our lives, things change.  And change is hard.  Homeostatic forces resist change in our lives.  We would rather remain the same.  Yet Jesus brings us life and freedom and joy.  The old life we lose pales in comparison to the new life he brings.  He’s not the problem.  He’s the solution.

Prayer: For your presence in my life, I thank you, Lord.  Sometimes your presence challenges me, calling me to let go of life as I have known it to embrace the life you call me to live.  Free me from the fear that longs to return to what has been, that I might discover the life to be found following you. 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].

Friday October 4 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 8:1-17

Key verse: (3) “He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’”

Reflection: In these 17 verses for today we read the account of three specific healings, and hear of many more in general. When confronted by the leper asking whether Jesus would heal his disease or not, Jesus proclaims, “I do choose. Be made clean.” The centurion approaches Jesus on behalf of his servant, and from afar Jesus heals the sick servant. And when Jesus enters Peter’s house, he immediately sees that Peter’s mother is sick and without any prodding Jesus heals the woman. We can never fully discern when or how Jesus heals, it looks different each and every time. And surely there are people who Jesus didn’t heal, or who weren’t able to make it to Jesus. What has been your experience in life, have you been one of the ones who has seen or experienced Jesus’ healing, or are you still waiting for Jesus’ healing to take place, wondering if you have been passed over? Wherever you stand, we can be assured that Jesus’ desire is for wholeness for all, his persistence and his presence shows this.

This wholeness for all I am talking about isn’t just healing for those who were sick, but a healing of an entire community. This includes a leper no longer isolated who could return into family and communal life, a servant whose master’s love sent him searching for solutions, and Peter’s mother who cared for her household. Whenever one is sick the ripple effects of that illness go out from the one who is ill touching many. And when the sick are healed the ripple effects of healing and wholeness are felt far and wide. If you have experienced the ripple effect of Christ’s healing, give thanks today. But may we also remember those who are still seeking healing. Responding to Christ’s desire for wholeness, reach out today to those in your life who are sick or ill, lift them and their circles of community in prayer for healing. And whether you are battling an illness or are caring for a loved one, may you know that you are not alone, for the presence of God’s community surrounds you.

Prayer: Loving God, we give you thanks for your desire for wholeness. Surround us Spirit, that we may know your love that embraces us, guide us to be your presence for those in need and soften our hearts to receive your love from those who care for 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].

Thursday October 3 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 7:22-29

Key verse: (25) The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.

Reflection: It seems downtown metropolitan areas are constantly under construction; orange cones and concrete blocks line the roads, tall cranes extend shadows against nearby buildings, sidewalks become tunnels under scaffolding as the skyline adopts a new member into the family. What is so fascinating when a new build begins to create a skyscraper is the first step: dig down. When builders begin constructing skyscrapers, they do not start by building up. Instead they start by digging below the ground in order to create a foundation of stability. Builders have to go down deep and excavate soil, sand, clay, and loose rock to reach the bedrock so that they can build something that will reach incredible heights. Constructing a building that touches the sky will only last when built on a firm foundation.

The same can be said in all aspects of life. Our life, careers, teams, and our faith work the same way. If we want to build up, we must first dig deep. We need to dig deep and find our foundation and build upon that foundation. However, it is not always easy to unearth the stuff below — our fears, the wounds we carry, identifying the things that hold us back. But once we uncover them and name them and claim them, we can begin the building process to reach incredible heights. Our Christian foundation is built on the love and joy and grace of God found in Jesus Christ. When our foundation is built on the promises of God, the love of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, no matter how hard rains fall, how deep flood waters become, or how swift winds blow, Christ is the foundation that will hold our house up. Praise be to God!

Prayer:

Jesus You’re my firm foundation, I know I can stand secure.

Jesus You’re my firm foundation, I put my hope in Your holy word.

I put my hope in Your holy word.

You’re my firm foundation.

You’re the rock of my salvation.

You’re my firm foundation.

Amen.

(John Chisum, Firm Foundation)

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].

Wednesday October 2 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 7:13-21

Key verse: (13) “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.”

Reflection: Every day brings new decisions.  We have a choice about how we are going to be in the world.  For Christians, the life of faith is a journey that begins and ends by following Jesus.  Today’s passage is found at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. The Church over the centuries has struggled with these chapters in the Gospel of Matthew for a variety of reasons.  First, how can anyone live up to the standards outlined? Second, does the sermon apply to all people or just some people? Third, how should Jesus’ teachings be applied to everyday life?   Following the ethical teachings Jesus outlined in the entire sermon is definitely not easy.  Together they create a narrow road.  Hard to follow, yet not impossible.

My father used to love to quote this verse to me during my teen years. I wasn’t a particularly wayward child, but it was very clear to me that this was meant to be a warning.  Over time, I learned that the road is wide and easy that leads to destruction.  If we follow all of our ideas and passions, wherever they take us, without thinking our decisions through we will find trouble.  It’s easy to do whatever we want without thinking about anyone but ourselves.  It’s easy to fall into a crowd that does whatever they want without regard for themselves or others.  But, this kind of behavior eventually has consequences.  To live differently takes courage and strength.  To make wise decisions, ethical decisions that reflect what we believe, takes maturity and wisdom.  It also takes devotion to God cultivated by a life of service and prayer.  We need God’s help to enter through the narrow gate.  There are too many temptations in life for us to find or follow this road alone.  Jesus offers us an invitation to take the road that leads to life.  We hope and pray that he will guide us so that we can find and follow this road.

Prayer: Gracious God, we give thanks for Jesus and how you use him to show us the way to true life.  Help us to lean on you as we travel through our days. Give us wisdom to recognize what is true and what is false.  Give us strength to overcome the many temptations of the world that distract us from loving you and loving others.  Mold us and shape us into the followers of Jesus you hope we will become.  In his holy 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].