Thursday March 14 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 27

Key verse: (13) “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”

Reflection: What is the first thing you pay attention to in the morning?  Once the fog of sleep has dissipated a bit, or the caffeine has hit your system (can I get an “Amen!”?), and your day has begun, what do you focus on first?  Is it your family? The paper? Your favorite screen? Your to-do list?

One thing that is often said about the Millennial generation is that they are a generation totally saturated with information.  This is true for all of us, really.  From the moment we wake, we are inundated with news of events the world over.  Sobering news stories come to us with alarming alert sounds on our phones.  We find ourselves scrolling headlines whenever we have to wait in line.  Often, we even know what that person we worked at summer camp with a million years ago ate for dinner last night (thanks, Facebook!).  There is no more waiting for the 5 o’clock news to air.  You can be plugged in to everything all day long.

There are plenty of upsides to this.  We have to know what is happening in the world so that we can be good global citizens.  And, of course, it is easier than ever to stay in touch with friends from all phases of life.  But, I sometimes wonder what happens to our spirits when we are so inundated with (mostly negative) news all day long.  Do we have a moment to breathe and re-focus?  Are we ever allowed to unplug?

Psalm 27 is an earnest prayer to God.  It weaves together familiar statements of faith (“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”) with images of war and danger (evil doers assail me, an army encamp against me).  Over and over again, the psalmist declares faith in God in the midst of these circumstances – a faith which asks him to look again and again for God even in places that seem godforsaken.  This kind of faith is distilled in verse 13, which reads, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”

Perhaps Psalm 27 suggests a Lenten discipline for us, which is to pay attention to the world and all that is in it, good and bad, scary and celebratory, unbelievable and awesome, and to cling to the hope that God’s goodness will be made manifest, here and now.  Perhaps “unplugging” doesn’t mean hiding our heads in the sand, so much as paying attention, and then instead of mindlessly scrolling, taking a break to offer all these things to God in prayer.

Prayer: Dear God, in the midst of the troubles of this time, give me eyes to see your goodness, here and now, even in challenging circumstances.  When it is hard to see you, grow my trust that you are always at work. 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].

Wednesday March 13 2019

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Scripture: Hebrews 3:12-19

Key verse: (14) For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.

Reflection: Partners. When I think of this word, many partners come to mind. My doubles partner on the tennis court. Conversation partners. Partners in financial advisor firms. Partners in life.

Are any of them life-long partners? I’ve had several doubles partners in my life. I have many conversation partners, and they come and go as time passes. Partners in financial advisory firms transition in and out. Are there really any partners from the beginning until the end?

This is where in a youth group setting, or a children’s message, a young person might say, “Jesus!”, and that person would be correct. Christ is our partner in life.

Christ fulfills many roles for us, the Almighty One, the Bread of Life, and Lamb of God, among the many names for our Savior. However, I must confess, I don’t often think of Jesus as my life partner.

Hebrews tells us that the core of our faith must be as securely held at the end as at the beginning. We know this through an often-quoted verse from Revelations, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13). Hebrews reminds us that Christ is with us in all parts of our lives.

Christ is our true life partner. Let us remember that.

Prayer: Dear God, we are grateful for the Son of Man and Son of God, Jesus Christ. Help us to remember that our Lord and Savior is with us in the beginning, the middle, and the end, in all times, and throughout our lives. Help us to see Christ in all that we do. Amen.

Author: Amy Speas

[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 March 12 2019

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Scripture: John 2:13-22

Key verses: (19-20) Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”

Reflection: The temple was the heart of Judaism.  People came to the temple for worship, celebration, mourning, politics and community. The temple was where God had promised to live in the midst of his people.  At Passover, everyone gathers at the temple to celebrate their liberation and freedom from slavery. Jesus once again, turns everything upside down.

Entering the temple, Jesus is witness to the consumerism and chaos often found in a marketplace. The anger builds up and Jesus took a whip through the temple. Tables were turned over, doves released and money scattered.  Those in authority did not ask why Jesus was turning over the tables but they asked if he had “authority”.  They knew.

We see ourselves on the side of Jesus but we knew this day would come too. Richard Rohr reflected well on these words saying, “I am told that there are three kinds of cultures in the Western world today, each with its own “bottom line”: political cultures based on the manipulation of power, economic cultures based on the manipulation of money, and religious cultures based on the manipulation of some theory about God. These three cultures are based on different forms of violence, although it is usually denied by most participants and hidden from the superficial observer. Evil gains its power from disguise. Jesus undid the mask of disguise and revealed that our true loyalty was seldom really to God, but to power, money, and group belonging. (In fact, religion is often the easiest place to hide from God.)”  When Jesus went through the temple, it was a clear rejection of this corruption. Are we hiding from God in the chaos of our lives or even the church?

Lent is a time to be honest with ourselves and with God.  God is at work drawing us into relationship both with the divine and with the divine in each person we encounter.  Jesus reminds us of this important message: God could not and will not be contained in the temple, structures, systems or even in the rituals. May the disruptive grace and mercy of God move through our lives turning over everything that stands in the way of a deep, authentic relationship.

Prayer: God, turn over the tables that provide a barrier between us and between love. 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 March 11 2019

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Scripture: Deuteronomy 8:1-20

Key verses: (17-18) “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.”

Reflection:  The other day I was driving around the church trying to find a parking space during Millie’s weekly Bible study.  The place was packed and there was no space to be found.  I said a quick prayer, “Lord, if you’ll just give me a parking space, I’ll increase my pledge to the church.”  At that moment, a car backed out from a prime space right by the door.  “Never mind, Lord,” I said, “I found one!”

It’s so easy when things are going well in our lives to give ourselves the credit.  “My hard work has really paid off!” “I deserve this.”  Our culture nurtures such thinking.  We employ phrases like, “I’m a ‘self-made-man.’” We admire a “boot-strap mentality” that encourages self-reliance, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.  (If you’ve ever worn boots, you know that’s not possible!)  God knows about this tendency within the human spirit.  God knew it would be tempting for the ancient Israelites once they reached the Promised Land to live into the illusion that it was their doing.  They walked all that way from Egypt.  They endured 40 years in the wilderness.  They fought the battles.  They took the land.  God knew they would be tempted to say, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”

So through Moses, God warns them about this.  For the record, the problem is not hard work; it’s forgetfulness.  There’s nothing wrong with taking responsibility for your life and working to do the right thing. That’s what we’re supposed to do.  The problem is when we forget that life itself is grace from God.  Every breath we take is a God-given gift.  Our intellect, our health, our ability to work, our capacity to be responsible are all gifts of God’s grace. When we forget this, we become our own gods.  We make life about our own desires, our own wants.  We make life about us.  By so doing, we forget the covenant.  God has blessed us with life.  So we are called to love God with all we are, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  This is the covenant.  When we forget this, everything goes wrong.  That was true for the Israelites over 3,000 years ago, and it’s true for us today.

Prayer: Cure us of our spiritual amnesia, O Lord.  Let us not forget that every breath we take is a gift from you.  May we use our lives, our gifts, our talents, our time, our treasure to honor you, that we might live into your vision for the world’s tomorrow, the Promised Land that is your Kingdom.  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 March 8 2019

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Scripture: John 1:35-42

Key verses: (35-42) 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Reflection: When we set up our registrations here at the church, we have the option to add a field called “Goes By” in the name section. In Children’s Ministry we often add this field. Parents can enter a child’s full name, and then the name he or she goes by—their nickname. This helps us print name tags the children can find themselves and be happy to wear. In my own family, only one of us goes by our given name. The others all use a nickname or — even worse, according to our son —  a nickname of a middle name.

But we all have other names too — names we don’t put on forms — names that get used only by certain family or friends, or at certain times. All of these names tell something about us. They sometimes tell us our place in the family, or what we were called as a very young child or a middle school kid. Or they are a grandparent name, or what someone called us because they couldn’t pronounce our given name. Sometimes they illustrate a characteristic we have, or once had. The names we go by in public, and in private, help us know who we are.

In this small passage in John’s gospel, Jesus gets called four different names. Each of them tell us something about him, and about who he is. He is just being introduced in this gospel, both to the reader, and to his followers, and John wants us to know right up front that Jesus is something special. He has his given name, “Jesus.” He is also called “Lamb of God.” He is addressed as “Rabbi”, which means Teacher. Then one of his new followers describes him as the “Messiah” (and we learn that means Anointed.)

Not only do we learn about Jesus by his names, but he takes the first opportunity to give a new name to Simon, and calls him “Cephas”, or Peter. Those who follow Jesus are told something about ourselves by the names we carry. Child of God. Disciple. Sister and Brother. Beloved. When you think about being a follower of Jesus, what name do you carry with you?

Prayer: Lord, you know my name. You know all of my names. You know the ones that feel right, and the ones I’ve outgrown. You know every version of me. And you have also named me your beloved child. Help me live into the name, and wear it gratefully. In the strong name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

Author: Julie Hester

[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 March 7 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 126

Key verse: (5) “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.”

Reflection: This particular psalm is known as one of the Song of Ascents.  In ancient biblical times, when people travelled up to Jerusalem for festivals and holy days, they would sing these songs along the way.  This group of psalms (120-134) recount events in the life of the nation of Israel highlighting God’s saving grace.  Psalm 126 reminded them of the joy the people experienced when the exiles returned from captivity in Babylon.  It was sung as a reminder of God’s salvation from destruction and loss.  When Jerusalem was restored and the people returned it was like a dream.  No one thought it could ever happen, but it did. Their tears turned into shouts of joy.

Have you ever had something happen in your life that turned your entire world upside down?  At the time it may have seemed as if all was lost – there was no hope.  But, when you were set free from the pain of adversity, it may have felt like you were dreaming.  Life can feel very surreal when we emerge from suffering.  It is such a relief that we might burst out laughing with joy because what seemed impossible comes true! If you are exiled somewhere right now because of tragedy or destructive choices, pray that God will restore you. Remember God’s faithfulness in the past and cling to hope for the future. Be patient and know that the God of the captive ones of Zion is the God who is with you.  One day you will be able to sing again.

Prayer: Lord, be with us in times of exile and times of restoration.  If we are unable to shout with joy today, remind us that our weeping won’t last forever.  Give us strength for the journey and help us support one another in love. 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 March 6 2019

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Scripture: Luke 18:9-14

Key verse: (14) “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, for all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Reflection: What does it mean to be justified? If you are typing in Word, you have the option to justify your text to the right (that’s how most documents are) or to the left or centered. To be justified means to be in right position relative to something else. In faith, to be justified means we are in right relationship with God and with one another. We recognize our proper position related to God (we are creatures and not the Creator; we are disciples and Jesus is Lord) and our proper position related to our neighbors (we are equal in value though different in gifts).

In today’s passage, Jesus told a parable about two men who went to the temple to pray. The first was a Pharisee, a religious leader who was committed to living according to God’s will, a model of piety and religious responsibility.  The second was a tax collector, likely viewed as a dirty national traitor, a model of greed and sinfulness. The Pharisee stands by himself (a hint that he might not be justified in his relationship to other people!) and prays with gratitude that he isn’t like the tax collector. The tax collector stands far off (a hint that he might feel guilty or ashamed) and prays for God’s mercy.  Jesus ends the parable by telling us that the tax collector was justified rather than the other.

As we begin the season of Lent today, we begin by acknowledging our proper position toward God and toward one another. We are creatures and not the Creator. We are humble in the presence of God. We are welcome because God is gracious, not because we are worthy. We are part of God’s family, with brothers and sisters all around us. Let us confess the ways we position ourselves incorrectly, not admitting our need for God or for one another.

Prayer: May this song from The Many be your prayer today.

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].