Thursday May 9 2019

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Scripture: Luke 5:1-11

Reflection: Is it just me, or are the soon-to-be-disciples a little grudging in this story?  In the other gospels that contain it (Matthew and Mark), they pretty easily drop everything to follow Jesus when he calls.  John adds more detail.  The fishermen have been working all night and have caught nothing.  They’re tired.  They’ve cleaned up their tools and put things away.  They’re ready to go home.  And here comes this Jesus, asking them to push him out into deeper water so he can keep on teaching.  And then, Jesus asks them to throw their nets back into the water where they’ve been working much longer than he has even been there.  Their response sounds an awful lot like the one I imagine I would give “We’ve working all night, but if you say so….”.  I’d probably have added an eye roll.

Are any of us really at our best when we are tired?  What about when we’ve tried and failed?  What about when the night has been long and frustrating and we’re worried about our bottom line?  What is noteworthy to me about this story is the fact that Jesus meets these tired, stressed out, frustrated people where they are, asks for their trust, and calls them anyway.  The disciples – at least here in John – don’t follow Jesus without a question or without a thought to what they’re leaving behind.  Dare I say it, they follow him while muttering under their breath about how they know better about what to expect and what is possible.  The God of Abundant Life surprises them anyway – and that is where the journey begins.

If you’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, you’re not disqualified from discipleship.  If you’re disgruntled or discontent, if you have tried and failed, if you’ve forgotten what it is like to expect great things out of your same-old-same-old, you’re still in the game.  If you’re tired, you’re not alone.  God is with you in Christ, inviting you to trust, and calling you anyway.  Even if the only response you can muster today is “if you say so,” that’s enough, and God is patient and persistent and wants you to take part – and will meet you more than halfway so that you might join in.  Thanks be to God for that kind of grace. Amen.

Prayer: Give me an extra measure of your grace, O God, that I might enjoy your surprising goodness today – even if I don’t feel like it. 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 May 8 2019

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Scripture: Luke 4:38-44

Key verses: (42-43) At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. 43 But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”

Reflection: “Gotta Run.”  That was how I signed my letters to my grandmother from the time I could write. Not “Grace and Peace”, not “see you later” but “gotta run”. My grandmother would ask me what was so important that an 8-year-old would have to get up from writing a letter and run to whatever was next. Jesus was pretty much saying “gotta run” to the crowds looking for him. Jesus had some kingdom preaching and teaching to do!

The kingdom of God.  This is one of the first times it is mentioned by Jesus. This is not some futuristic place or hope for life eternal. Jesus refers to the in-breaking of God’s rule and dominion over all the earth that very day. Yes, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law was important. The fact that Peter was married and we somehow missed that point through his life, not really the point. The point was that through the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus, we can see the kingdom of God.

If we come to church assuming that we will not see the kingdom of God in our lifetime, we miss glimpses of light and peace that could ground us in gospel hope.  Look around. Light, peace, love and God are all around. VBS children are inviting us to live out our faith in mission by just ordering something off of Amazon.  The children’s excitement is certainly the light of God’s love. Youth are asking to volunteer at Freedom School to help younger children read. This is kingdom work but the in-breaking of the spirit of God will be in the love and peace the children offer back. Look around. Do you see God’s kingdom?

What are you going to do to continue the growth of the Kingdom? Let’s get going and join Jesus in bringing about the Kingdom. Gotta Run!

Prayer: God, guide us every step of every day. 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].

Tuesday May 7 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 11:25-30

Key verses: (28-30) “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Reflection: This is one of my favorite sayings of Jesus.  When I was a lay person in Franklin, TN, my pastor, Dr. Tom Walker, would recite these words as he served communion to us.  As a twenty-five-year-old banker striving to make my mark while struggling with a potential call to ministry, these words washed over me in grace.

However, reading them in their original context, I’m not sure these words were as comforting to the people who first heard them.  This is the close of a sermon to the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.  He has berated them for failing to turn to the Kingdom of God in response to the miracles he has performed in their cities.  This is the only “hellfire and brimstone” sermon Jesus ever preaches to the crowds.  He tells them, “It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom” than for them on the day of judgment.  That does not sound like an easy yoke or a light burden.  That sounds heavy to me.

Those harsh words come after his instructions to the twelve in Matthew 10.  In that address he warns the apostles that they will be “like sheep in the midst of wolves,” (Mt. 10:16,) and that they will be dragged before governors and kings because of him, and that they will be flogged and hated because of him. (Mt. 10:17-22)  He’s told them that he has not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword, “to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother.” (Mt. 10:35-35)  Not much of that sounds easy or light!  In fact, it sounds heavy to me.

What are we to make of these words?  What exactly is the rest Christ offers us?  Tom Long’s commentary on Matthew offers a helpful word.  He writes, “What Jesus offers is not a hammock, but a yoke.  In Judaism, the yoke was a symbol of obedience to the law and wisdom of God.  Likewise, Jesus’ yoke is obedience to the commandments of the kingdom of heaven, a willingness to serve others in humility and mercy.  Jesus’ yoke is ‘easy,’ and his burden is ‘light,’ not because there is little to do or the way is safely paved.  To the contrary, there is a cross to be carried…The yoke of Jesus is easy and his burden is light because it is the way of God, and it is profoundly satisfying to the human soul.” (Tom Long, Matthew, in the Westminster Bible Companion Series, p. 132.)

Looking back on hearing Tom Walker recite these words, I realize what was really happening for me was a call to ministry.  While this call has not been easy or light, it is indeed profoundly satisfying.  In answering this call, my soul has indeed found rest.  What is Christ calling you to do today?  It might not be easy or light as the world might view it, but in answering that call you will surely find deep satisfaction and rest for your soul.

Prayer: Open our ears to hear, our minds to see, and our hearts to receive your call to us this day, O Lord.  Give us courage to respond that we might find our soul’s promised rest in 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].

 

Monday May 6 2019

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Scripture: Luke 4:14-30

Key verses: (16-21) When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Reflection: Jesus knew how to make an impact when he spoke. He didn’t have a long sermon here. He read scripture that was familiar to all who heard it in the synagogue. It was a passage from Isaiah the prophet, who spoke of the Messiah to come. This one, sent from God, would be chosen, anointed, to upend everything. He read the words of hope aloud. Then he took a pause to roll up the scroll, hand it back, and sit down. With everyone watching and listening, he announced that the day had arrived. His listeners thought it was a pretty good sermon. At least, until he began to say things that sounded like the hoped-for Messiah might have come for people outside of Israel. Then, they were filled with rage and tried to throw him off a cliff.

It was a tough audience! It actually makes me feel better as a preacher. Even Jesus couldn’t please everyone. What words make you uncomfortable from the pulpit? Would the interpretation of a passage like this one from Isaiah—if it sounds like a call for actual policies of freedom from oppression—make you mad? Would it feel like that kind of talk has no place in worship? What about a sermon that shakes up your idea of those whom God loves? Would you ever try to run the preacher out of town if it sounds like, or feels like, a sermon is directed at you? May God give us all ears to hear what we need to hear, even when it is uncomfortable.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see. Help me to hear. Help me to love. In the name of Christ, the Messiah, 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].

Friday May 3 2019

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Scripture: Luke 3:15-22

Key verse: (16) “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; . . .He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Reflection: Baptism is powerful.  It is a sign and seal of God’s claim on our lives.  Most people in the Presbyterian Church were baptized as babies.  They have no recollection of their baptism.  In other traditions (and sometimes Presbyterian), people wait until they are able to make a profession of faith before they are baptized.  Either way, baptism starts with water, administered by a pastor, but the power comes from God.  It is God who shapes and transforms a person’s life from the inside out by the work of the Holy Spirit.  This power is like fire – refining and purifying.

When we read the story about John the Baptist in the wilderness, we are reminded of our desire to be cleansed by God – to receive forgiveness for our mistakes and the gift of grace and love for our daily lives.  There is a longing in every person to be made new.  We want to be closer to God and find true hope and joy.  Every day the water of baptism reminds us of our connection to God – a connection that can’t be broken.

Baptism is once and for all.  We can’t re-do what God had done.  God begins a good work in each of us.  There may be times we lose track of God’s hand on our lives but the water of baptism reminds us that we belong to God.  When we remember our baptism, we can recommit to it.  The water has been poured on our heads and the Holy Spirit is at work.

I invite you to remember your baptism today.  Embrace it.  Give thanks for it.  Surrender to God’s loving will and pursue God’s hopes and dreams for you.

Prayer: Gracious God, we give thanks for the power of baptism.  We thank you for the faithfulness of John the Baptist and the prophetic message he had then and now.  Help us to give ourselves wholeheartedly to Jesus’ love and the courage to live out of his transforming power.  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].

Thursday May 2 2019

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Scripture: Luke 3:1-14

Key verse: (10) And the crowds asked him “What then should we do?”

Reflection: John the Baptist preached in the wilderness, proclaiming “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The gospel writers looked back and saw John as the prophet who prepared the way for the Messiah to arrive. John’s sermons were full of “fire and brimstone.” He called people to repent, literally to turn their lives around, by recognizing that their relationship with God didn’t depend on their ancestry but instead on their own behavior.

Fortunately, we believe that our relationship with God depends on God’s grace alone, and not on us to get our lives right first. (I would be in big trouble. How about you?) However, John’s challenging words are a call for us to respond to grace with our behavior. If we have experienced God’s love, our lives should bear good fruit. Our actions and our character should reflect the love and grace God has for us and for the world.

In response to John’s proclamation, the crowds asked him “What then should we do?” Then the tax collectors asked him, “what should we do?” Then the soldiers asked him “And we, what should we do?” They all clearly understood that hearing God’s word should lead to behavior. What should we do? What should you do?

Ponder that question today. Pray about that question. Talk about that question with your family or with a close friend. If you read these devotions regularly, do you close and delete and then go about your day, or do you pause to think about what you will do to respond?

Prayer: O God, thank you for your love and grace poured out on me in Jesus Christ. Show me how to respond to you. Enable me to bear good fruit. Give me the discipline and the courage to ask “what should I do?”  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].

Wednesday May 1 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 147

Reflection: Though I was successful in keeping it from them until last month, my 4 and 2- year-old children have discovered the earworm of a song, “Baby Shark” that has been on repeat in most preschool aged children’s homes for the better part of a year.  It would be an understatement to say that it is catchy.  I find myself humming it while I’m assembling PBJs.  I caught myself gurgling it while brushing my teeth the other day.  It is relentless — repetitive, upbeat, hard to shake once it is has been implanted in your mind.  It sends my children into a wild and happy dance every time — and for them, at least, it never gets old.

I wonder why some songs tend to stick in our minds and others don’t.  Someone smarter than I am could probably answer that.  What is it about “Let it Go” or the theme to “Game of Thrones” that keeps playing in our minds well after we’ve moved on to something else?

Psalm 147 suggests that our lives should be filled with songs of praise — for God’s healing (v3), for God’s providence in creation (v4), for God’s wisdom (v5), for God’s care of those in need (v6), the list goes on.  All day long, there are reasons to begin singing the theme again: God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.

How might you make God’s praise manifest in you today? Will you literally sing?  Will you stop and notice God at work in your little corner of the kingdom and take the time to return thanks? Will you write it down in a journal or on a sticky note and tape it to your computer to remind yourself of the reality of God’s steadfast love? Settle on a practice to help the song “catch” for you, so that it becomes a part of your daily rhythm.

Prayer: Tune my heart to sing thy grace, O God. 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].