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Daily Devotion – December 30, 2015
12.30.15

Isaiah 9:6

6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Reflection by Don Tawney, Sr.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” The prophet is speaking as though the birth of this child were already done. It has already been accomplished in the mind and faith of Isaiah the prophet. In this scripture we see the mighty God is a child born in a manger. God, the Ancient of Days, is born as an infant to a life span on earth of 33 years. The everlasting Father is a son given. He condescended to this world to take our nature upon Him. He humbled and emptied Himself to exalt and fill us with His presence. He, Jesus Christ, is our foundation for hope of a joyous Life, and salvation from the guilt and sin, which only His sacrifice on the cross could make possible.

During this Christmas season, I saw a man carrying a large placard back and forth on the roadside reading “Christmas is all about Jesus”. As shoppers drove to the mall to purchase their gift for their loved one or friend, they could not help but see the five word message of truth and grace. I haven’t forgotten it, and the man walking with the message of the gospel. This man did what the angel did when he told some shepherds who were watching their flock by night that “in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”.-Luke 2:11

Prayer:

Dear God,
Without You, I am full of doubt and fear. Because You have given me hope and faith, I can hold on to Your everlasting arm, and say, “You are my salvation!”
Amen



Daily Devotion – December 29, 2015
12.29.15

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

I have been talking to a lot of people lately that are discouraged by the violence, hate, and evil that seems to be rampant in our world. The response to their discouragement has ranged from anger to sadness to indifference. Many long for a world where peace reigns but feel hopeless that any of it will ever change unless Christ returns and sets things straight. Well, during this Advent season we have been waiting for the Messiah to come, to be born, and bring light in the darkened world. But, like most years, we have now celebrated Christ’s birth and yet the problems that existed before we waited for Christ’s birth remain. What are we to do?

This verse in Colossians points the way for us. If want the world to change then we have to start believing that change is possible. My response to those who are discouraged is often to encourage them to remember the promised gifts Christ brought into this world: peace, hope, joy, and love. When we center our lives on these gifts, we can meet violence, hate, and evil with a response taught to us by Jesus. In order to do this, we have to trust that the promised gifts are able to triumphant over any struggle we may face. It will require us to listen to our fears and fears of others, and offer them love in response. We will have to be kind, gentle and patient. We will have to be thankful for all things.

Christ has been born, offering hope for a broken world. We should rejoice and, as the scripture says, let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.

Prayer:

Let your peace reign within us. Let us face our fears with the promised gifts of peace, hope, joy, and love. Let us be thankful for the gifts you have given us and teach us to keep them in front of us as we face the fears and struggles on our journey ahead. Amen.



Daily Devotion – December 27, 2015
12.28.15

Colossians 3:13

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Devotion by Julia Shiver

Ah. Forgiveness.  I’ve certainly wrestled with this one over the years.  Learning to forgive others.  Learning to forgive myself.  It is not forgetting.  It is not excusing what has been done.  It is simply not letting it take control of your life anymore.  Don’t give it the power to make you unhappy.  God forgives us so we can forgive each other and ourselves.  What a wonderful gift.

Dear God,

I thank you for helping me to forgive those who have hurt me over the years. And I especially thank you for helping me to forgive myself when I have fallen short of being the person you have called me to be.  Only in letting these hurts go can I fully feel your presence in my life.

Amen

 



Christmas Eve Homily (2015)
12.26.15

At the beginning of Advent, a clergy colleague said, “Easter and resurrection?  Oh, anybody can believe in that.  Believing in ‘Peace on earth, good will to all?’  That’s hard work!”

Peace on earth, good will to all….It is getting harder to believe in, isn’t it?  On the whole, in the western world–perhaps especially in the United States–we have been insulated from random violent attacks.  This year, our insulation is thinning.  San Bernardino, Charleston.  Colorado.  Chattanooga.  Add to those, attacks in Paris, Nigeria, and ongoing conflicts in Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan… And peace on earth feels about as elusive as it ever has.

I’ve recently begun reacquainting myself with science fiction.  When I was a child, I loved science fiction.  I loved the thought of space travel, of transporters and transponders like they had on Star Trek.  I remember one book I read had a picture of a little boy talking to someone through a small TV sitting on his desk.  Pure fantasy, it seemed!  With new devices coming out all the time, I’ve decided that techies are really Trekkies–they’re trying to make everything we saw on Star Trek a reality.  :-)  (With traffic these days, I’m ready for that transporter technology….like, NOW!)

In addition to what seemed at the time far-fetched techie gadgets, both Star Trek and Star Trek the Next Generation dealt with social issues.  In the midst of all the transporting and warp-speeding, the concern to treat every being humanely was central to both shows.  Gene Roddenberry and his successors invited us to imagine a more hopeful, more humane future.  They invited us to see a better, more evolved human race.

In contrast, other science fiction is more cautionary.  Works in this vein show us what the world will look like if we fail to evolve ethically and spiritually.  In the movie Children of Men, the time is 2027.  The story begins with the death of the youngest person on the planet, a 25 year old man killed in a bar brawl.  Joseph Ricardo was the last child born before the world was seized by infertility.

What does a world without children look like?  Pollution has turned the sky permanently gray.  Schools and playgrounds are abandoned.  One by one, cities are dying.  The people who are left constantly fight each other.  Refugees are caged.  Compassion is a rare commodity.

In this violent, infertile world, a young woman becomes pregnant.  Fearing for her safety, a group of resistance fighters protects the young refugee to ensure a safe delivery for her baby.

Shortly after the baby’s birth, mother, child, and a friend find themselves in an apartment building under siege by fighting actions.  Desperate to keep the baby safe amidst the gunfire, the mom and friend try to hide the child.

But the baby cries.  The strangest thing happens when those around the child hear it.  They drop their guns.  A hushed murmur begins, “A baby!  A baby!”  The young woman—clutching the baby to her breast–and her friend, slowly walk through the crowd, down the steps, and outside.  As they walk, guns are lowered; a hush descends; everyone stares in wonder.

As the trio makes its way down the road, a wave of resuming gunfire rushes in behind them.

Believing in “peace on earth”…It does take a lot of work, doesn’t it?  So maybe we too should look at the baby in our midst, the one we’ve come here tonight to celebrate, a baby also born into a chaotic, violent world….  If we long for peace, good will to all, perhaps we too need to turn our attention to the baby…then drop our weapons—drop our guard–and allow ourselves to be overcome with wonder in the presence of the baby.

Perhaps then we’ll be able to believe in peace on earth.  Perhaps then we’ll be able to create it.  I can almost hear God saying—with a suave British accent—“Make it so, Number One.  Engage.”

 

https://todayinspacehistory.wordpress.com/2007/12/25/christmas-day-prayer-by-apollo-8-astronaut-frank-borman-1968/



Daily Devotion – December 24, 2015
12.24.15

 

Luke 2:8-14

The Shepherds and the Angels

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

Imagine living at the time of Jesus. As a Jew you’ve been told your entire life that the Messiah is coming. I imagine even Gentiles were aware of this portion of the Jewish faith, and whether or not they believed, they had heard that the Messiah is coming. Now you are a shepherd, laying half asleep with your flock in the countryside. The night is quiet. There are no lights except the stars. There is no sound of traffic. This night is like every other night, except an angel appears! And you may think you are imagining things, but all of your fellow shepherds see the angel as well.

The angel, recognizing the terrified reaction by the shepherds, tells them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah,# the Lord.”

Tomorrow is Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Share the good news of great joy with all the people! Merry Christmas!

Prayer:

Dear God. We rejoice this Christmas Day! Amen.

 



Sermon: Power in Humility (12/20/15)
12.23.15

When I received this month’s issue of National Geographic and read the title aloud:  “Mary, the Most Powerful Woman in the World,” my husband remarked, “But isn’t Mary supposed to be humble?”  I’m not sure, but I think he might have smirked.

The article focused on the adoration of Mary, especially among the world’s Catholics. What some call the “cult of Mary,” holds significant sway in the lives of millions of people across the globe–which is why the author calls Mary the “most powerful woman in the world.”

My response to Allen’s query about Mary’s humility–you know I had one–was this:  “But isn’t her humility the source of her power?”

I was, of course, only trying to counter what I perceived to be my beloved’s smirk… but it got me thinking.  Is humility a source of power?  Was Mary both humble and strong?

The story begins when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and delivers a message similar to the one he delivered to Zechariah a few verses before:  “Surprise!  You’re going to have a baby!”  For Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, the surprise is that they’re older than you’d think new parents would be.  For Mary, the surprise is that she’s younger, or at least less married.

The message Gabriel delivers to these two sets of parents is similar, but how he responds when they doubt the veracity of the message is quite different.  When Zechariah expresses doubt, he is struck mute.  When Mary expresses doubt, Gabriel patiently walks her through everything that’s going to happen.  He even gives her a ready-made support system–her kinswoman Elizabeth.  If I were Zechariah, I’d be filing a grievance with somebody!

It’s after Zechariah gets the announcement about his impending fatherhood, but before his son is born, that Mary arrives with the news of her pregnancy.  So, when Mary shows up, Zechariah is still mute and Elizabeth is six months pregnant.

Luke tells us that “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Elizabeth goes on like that for a while.  Then Mary responds the way most folks in the Gospel of Luke respond–she breaks into song (I like to call Luke the “Broadway Gospel.” J). We sang a version of Mary’s song before the sermon.  As we hear the Scripture text on which the hymn is based, see what you think:  Is Mary powerful, humble, or both?

‘My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,

47   and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior,

48 for you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant

And from this day forward all generations will call me blessed;

49 for you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,

and holy is your name.

50 Your mercy reaches from age to age

for those who fear you

51 You have shown strength with your arm;

You have scattered the proud in their conceit.

52 You have deposed the powerful from their thrones,

and raised the lowly to high places;

53 You have filled the hungry with good things,

While you have sent the rich away empty.

54 You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,

Mindful of your mercy,

55 the promise you made to our ancestors,

to Sarah and Abraham and their descendants forever.’

 

So, what do you think?  Is Mary humble?  She begins by offering praise to God, which hints at humility, but then she goes on about her humility for a verse and a half.  God has lifted up her lowliness; God has done great things for her…which, she off-handedly mentions, will lead people from generation to generation to call her blessed…  So, here’s a question:  If you have to tell folks how humble you are, how humble are you?

What is humility, anyway?  Often, we equate it with humilitation.  But what I’ve learned  from the Benedictines is that humility isn’t about beating up on ourselves or allowing others to do so.  Rather, true humility comes from seeing things as they are, from seeing ourselves as we are.  Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister suggests that humility is about “knowing our place in the universe, our connectedness, our dependence on God for the little greatness we have,” (77).  “Humility lies in knowing who we are,” (82).  Poet Mary Oliver describes this kind of humility as “knowing our place in the family of things.”

So, looking at Mary in light of this understanding of humility, is she humble?  Absolutely.  As shocking as Gabriel’s news is to her, she takes time to process it, then accepts it and goes with it.  “Let it be with me as you say,” she tells Gabriel.

What if Mary had continued in her reticence?  What if she’d said, “Oh, no.  I just couldn’t.  I can’t do what you’re asking me to do.  I’m just a teenager!  I’m not smart enough!  I’m not brave enough!”  If Mary had not been clear-eyed about who she was and believed in what Gabriel was telling her her life was meant to be, it’s doubtful Jesus would have gotten the parenting he needed to discover what his life was meant to be.  If Mary hadn’t accepted her place in the family of things, it’s doubtful Jesus would have discovered his.

So, Mary is humble—after some discernment, she discovers what she is called to do and be…and in accepting that calling, in finding her place in the family of things, she also finds great strength.  Sr. Joan acknowledges this paradox when she writes:  “The irony of humility is that, if we have it, we know we are made for greatness, we are made for God.”  (82)  So, my response to Allen’s question about Mary’s humility (and I say this with great humility) was right on the mark— Mary’s humility was the source of her power.

And look what she did with that power!  She raised Jesus to become all God created him to be.  Where did Jesus learn to stand with the poor, to seek justice for the down-trodden, to live God’s love by acting others into wellbeing?  Where he did get the image of a God who “scatters the proud, deposes the powerful, raises the lowly, fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty,” if not at his mother’s knee?  Who knows?  Maybe Mary sang him the song she sings Elizabeth and Zechariah.  Perhaps it was this ancient song sung by his mother that inspired Jesus to work to discover his place in the family of things.

Power in humility.  That’s Mary’s lesson for us today.  There is great power in seeing ourselves exactly as we are—not as we want to be, not as we once were, and not as others want us to be.  No.  The greatest power we have comes from being who we are created to be.  And when we are who we’re created to be?  That’s when God can really start using us.

That’s what happened with Sarah and Angelina Grimke in early 19th century Charleston, South Carolina.  Allen and I spent a couple of days in Charleston this week celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary.  While there, we took the Grimke sisters tour.  http://grimkesisterstour.com/

Sarah and Angelina, the Grimke' Sisters".  The info - size (54" x 36") and "acrylic on canvas. Prints can be purchased on request.

The tour is based on sites and stories included—and some that aren’t–in Sue Monk Kidd’s historical novel, The Invention of Wings.  (The book club will be discussing the book at its Jan. 5th meeting.)

As daughters of a wealthy planting family in the early 1800s, Sarah and Angelina were expected to receive a small bit of education—enough to be able to run the household—then to attend finishing school, find a suitable husband (which meant someone of equal or higher economic status), and have babies.  That’s the position in life their upper class society had assigned them, but it wasn’t the life God imagined for them.

Extremely bright, Sarah always hoped to become a lawyer like her father and brother.  Her father even told her once that she’d make an excellent attorney, “If you were male.”  But she wasn’t male.

Sarah also wasn’t willing to sit idly by while her fellow human beings were treated savagely through the legal practice of slavery.  Sarah, and later her 11 year younger sister Angelina, both committed themselves fully to the causes of abolition and women’s rights, traveling around the country—mostly in the northeast—speaking against the woeful (and shameful) circumstances of slavery and advocating for equal rights for women.

In 1836, Angelina wrote An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, urging southern women to petition their state legislatures and church officials to end slavery.  Three months later, Sarah followed up with a similar letter to Charleston’s clergy.  It wasn’t long before the sisters’ activism made them pariahs in the south.  From the late 1830s until their deaths after the Civil War, the sisters lived in the north.

When I hear about all the radical, brave things the Grimke sisters did in the cause for justice, I don’t know about you, but I feel lazy, ordinary, not so brave.  We’re also facing some pretty intense social justice issues in the 21st century.  Our world needs some people—a lot of people—like Sarah and Angelina.  But I just don’t know that I can do the kinds of things the Grimke sisters did.  I just don’t feel that strong.

Huh.  So, if I don’t feel strong, maybe I need to work on my humility.  Maybe that’s true for all of us.  When we feel overwhelmed by the world’s needs, when we feel powerless in the face of all that must be done, maybe that’s when we need to center ourselves and get in touch again with who we are, reacquaint ourselves with our unique place in the family of things.

Howard Thurman said it this way:  “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Sarah and Angelina Grimke–and Mary–were able to do the things they did because they had come alive; they had found their places in the family of things.  Have you?

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2015



Daily Devotion – December 21, 2015
12.21.15

Psalm 96:13New International Version (NIV)

13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,     he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness     and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Devotion by Anne Mooney

Jesus is coming. He is coming soon. Christmas is just 4 days away. Children are excited. Adults are tired, but hopeful. Everyone is wishing for a joyous time with family and friends. We all want peace and harmony.

I don’t know about you, but looking forward to being judged doesn’t help me feel peaceful. It makes me nervous and anxious. After all, I surely fall short of perfection. I make many mistakes and I am often irritable and grumpy. Talk about judgement and righteousness sends me into hiding. I become defensive and fearful. Isn’t that what makes the world a scary place? When people feel afraid, they tend to act out.

So I went looking into some commentaries to see if I could get a clearer picture of what the psalmist meant when he said the Lord would come to judge the world. For you see, I want to look forward to Jesus’ coming. I want to feel like this is a time to be joyful. I learned something and it gave me a new perspective.   When this verse was written, judges were not just people who handed down verdicts of guilt or innocence along with the consequences. Judges were considered to be the ones who reigned. Think Samson, Samuel, and Gideon. Judges had strength, wisdom, and offered deliverance. Jesus will come to be greater than any of these judges. The judgement he brings will be to help us to put our world in order. If we truly are faithful and follow the way he showed us, we can as Pastor Kim says, help others come to a place of well-being. That is peace to me and that is reason for rejoicing.

I chose the NIV version of this scripture because of its closing words. They speak of faithfulness. I think faithfulness speaks to the patience our Lord must have as we struggle to hear and incorporate his message into our lives. I am grateful for that faithful patience, just as I am grateful for this time of Advent that reminds me to be hopeful and to look forward to welcoming Jesus back into my life in new ways.

Prayer

Dear Creator God, Thank you for the coming of your son, Jesus. Thank you for his message of hope and peace, but most of all for his demonstration of how to live and love. I pray we all can learn to follow his example. Amen

 

 

 



Daily Devotion – December 19, 2015
12.19.15

Isaiah 9:2

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-on them light has shined.

 

Devotion by Jim Kennedy

 

This verse is part of the Righteous Reign of the Coming King part of the Bible. The people that walked in darkness are the true character of all the people of God before conversion, who were in a state of darkness, under the power of sin and shut up in unbelief. The people were in the dark and could see no objects in a spiritual sense.

The prophet(s) who wrote the Book of Isaiah lived around the time of the 8th century BCE in the kingdom of Judea, or roughly 800 years before the coming of Jesus. So the people could not know of Jesus who told divine and spiritual things, of the grace of God, of the way of peace and life, and the work of the blessed Holy Spirit.

But the people of the time of Isaiah did see a great light the shined on them as they walked in deep darkness. What could this light have been? Could they see ahead 800 years to the coming of Jesus?

Isaiah sees in her or his vision, or both, a light shining on the forlorn and weary wanderers. Historically the return of some of the inhabitants of that region to their allegiance to Yahweh may have been the starting point of the prophet’s hopes. This was the time of monolatry, where everyone had their own god and their god was better than your god. Monotheism arose out of the “Yahweh’s the One” feeling in the kingdom of Judea.

On them who lived in a land of deep darkness in the time of Isaiah a light shined. Light is not only an emblem of knowledge in the Scriptures, but of joy, rejoicing, and deliverance. It stands opposed to moral darkness, and to times of judgment and calamity.

The language of the Isaiah is adapted to extend 800 years into that future period when Jesus the Messiah should come to that dark region and become both its light and its deliverer. Isaiah may have referred to the immediate deliverance of the nation from impending calamities, but there is a fullness and richness of the language that seems to be applicable 800 years into the future to the Messiah Jesus.

The light which reveals to us our sin reveals to us also the mercy of God, a love greater than our transgressions, a pardon greater than our sin. It is the light of Jesus’ future teachings about God that gave people in the time of Isaiah hope.

Never did God appear in more perfect holiness than when God pardoned sin. Unlike other religions and philosophies which made compromises with sin, Isaiah was prophesying a religion where God forgave sins. Not a bad prophesy for 800 years or so before the coming of Jesus.

 

Prayer:

Dear Lord I pray that I may see the light on my walk through darkness so that my sins may be forgiven by God through Jesus.



Daily Devotion – December 17, 2015
12.17.15
Micah 5:4-5

4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
5 and he shall be the one of peace. 

If the Assyrians come into our land
and tread upon our soil,
we will raise against them seven shepherds
and eight installed as rulers.
Devotion by Janet Derby
I do not get on Facebook every day, but I happened to see this link that a friend posted and it intrigued me. Perhaps it was because I have always been a Peanuts fan, particularly a fan of  “A Charlie Brown Christmas“, and very much an admirer of Linus. In this blog, the writer points out that in the middle of sharing “what Christmas is all about,” he drops his security blanket. Linus is never without that blanket and suffers duress when he thinks he may be. Yet, at the very moment when he says, “fear not”, he lets go of it. The blogger believes, and I agree, that Charles Schulz did this intentionally to send the message that we need not hold onto things that yield a false sense of security. Today’s scripture from Micah prophesies the coming of the one who will feed God’s flock and allow us to live in safety and free from strife. In spite of all the fear, both personal and global, with which we live today, we are able to drop our blankets and live in the peace and security of God with us.
Prayer:
Protecting God, help me to remember that the birth of Christ and your presence with us gives the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.


Reflection: How Can We Keep from Singing? (12/13/15)
12.16.15

(Intro to today’s Christmas Music program at church.)

An organization called Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence (http://marchsabbath.org/) has declared this weekend Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend.  The dates they suggest—Dec. 10 – 14—are significant.  December 10, 1948 is the date the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights was finalized.  December 14, 2012 is the date of the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The hope for this Sabbath is that people of all faiths will come together to remember those who have lost their lives to gunfire, pray for those whose lives have been forever changed because of the loss of a loved one, and to educate one another on proven strategies to reduce gun violence.

When I talked with Missions Co-chairs Janet Alspach and Julie Binney, we all agreed that we’d like to do something, but we didn’t feel like we had time to pull together a whole service for today.  And besides, the choir already was scheduled to present their Christmas program. We didn’t want to detract from that.  While we do want to begin exploring ways in which we might add our voices to the important work of ending gun violence, for today, we decided to focus on the Advent theme of Joy.

When the world gets crazy like it has been lately—with terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, with college presidents and presidential candidates inciting hatred toward Muslims—sometimes we feel guilty for feeling happy.  When so many people are grieving tragic, evil events, or are terrified because their religion is being targeted by hate-mongers, it seems rude or, at the least, unkind to laugh or feel joy.

But sometimes, that’s exactly what we need to do.  We need to remind ourselves that joy, happiness, wholeness for all people is the goal of this life.  What better way to remind ourselves of that fact than to celebrate a little?

So today, we’re going to remind ourselves again of the hope our faith brings, the peace we are called to create, and the joy that it is all around us, even when things look grim.  We’re following Leonard Bernstein’s advice:  “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.