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Daily Devotion – July 31, 2016
07.31.16

Sing Once, Pray Twice, or Just Sing Already
Lillian Daniel

“Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!” – Psalm 150:3 NRSV

“He who sings, prays twice,” said the great church reformer Martin Luther. I’ve always thought that was kind of unfair to the people who don’t like to sing.

But there is a work-around solution. For those of you who prefer to silently stare at your feet when everyone else is singing a hymn, just go home and pray for that same amount of time. And then double it.

Or you could just sing along.

Some verses seem to write themselves on our hearts when we mouth the words, even if we do so very, very quietly. Take this lovely hymn by Fred Pratt Green, one of the best-known of the contemporary school of hymn writers in the British Isles.

When in our music God is glorified
And adoration leaves no room for pride
It is as if the whole creation cried: Alleluia!

That verse explains why church musicians do not take a bow or expect applause. They are not performing for an audience; they are worshiping God.

So when the rest of us hear their music, our response is worship too. Sometimes we respond with reverential silence, other times we clap, sometimes our jaws drop and other times we shed a tear. It’s all a response to the Holy Spirit, something we do for God, not for other people.

Prayer

“How often making music we have found, a new dimension in the world of sound, which leads us to a more profound Alleluia!”

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lillian Daniel is the Senior Minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ, Dubuque, Iowa, and the author of When “Spiritual But Not Religious” is Not Enough.



Daily Devotion – August 30, 2016
07.30.16

Luke 6:31

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Reflection by Monty Wyne

Such a simple heartfelt request, yet how difficult it is sometimes to follow the words of Jesus. If more people did to others as they would have them do unto them, we would have a much nicer world. Not a week ago I was talking with one of my colleagues at work about “doing good for others.” You’re standing in line, waiting to get to the counter to order a coffee at Starbucks and when you finally arrive, the person in front of you has not only paid for your cup but the person standing behind you, as well. What a treat, but more importantly, what a lesson. It sends a simple but lasting message, a moment of kindness reaps a lifetime of gratitude.

 

Prayer:

Dearest God,
We need more kindness, more thoughtfulness versus thoughtlessness. The violence, the damaging rhetoric, the taunts, the threats, needlessly taking the lives of others, giving in to one’s impetuous impulses. I am weary, as are many others, wondering when it will stop, if it will stop. We can pray, ask forgiveness of those we have offended, smile more, be happy for the small stuff and the big stuff and I don’t mean possessions. Passion for life and for people and compassion for all of humanity should be a priority. Help us to carry these things in our heart and share them with those in need.  Amen



Daily Devotion – August 29, 2016
07.29.16

Pastor as Pointer

Matthew Laney

 

“It has been reported to me that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. Each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Peter.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” – 1 Corinthians 1: 11-13

 

People in the First Church of Corinth had succumbed to cults of personality. Some strutted about claiming allegiance to Pastor Apollos, some to Pastor Peter, others to Pastor Paul, forgetting that pastors are called to point beyond themselves to Christ. To focus on the pastor is to miss the point of the pastor.

 

Thank goodness we’ve gotten over that. Surely no one in your church has the current or former minister on a pedestal so high they block out the cross. If so, you might get a testy email from Paul, similar to the letter he wrote to the cultish Corinthians, saying, “Can Christ be divided? Have any of the leaders you put above Christ died and been raised to new life for you? Were you baptized in their name?”

 

Your pastor (or their predecessor, or their predecessor’s predecessor) might be the most amazing minister ever to grace God’s church. As wonderful as they are, they did not die for you and for the sin of the world. You were not baptized in their name. You were baptized in the name above every name, the one who is the true Lord and head of your church.

 

Far more important than worship attendance and giving, your minister’s ability to point beyond herself to Jesus, and follow his lead, is the best measure of success.

 

Prayer

Jesus, let my church profess you as Lord and help us support our pastor’s call to point to you.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew Laney is the Senior Minister of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, UCC, in Hartford, Connecticut.



Daily Devotion – July 27, 2016
07.27.16

Luke 6:27-28

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

Devotion by Julia Shiver

There are a lot of people out there right now I really don’t feel like loving. After the last couple of weeks, I’m sure we all have a few of those.  But we are told to love them.  It doesn’t mean forgetting what they may have done; it is not letting them abuse you or curse you.  Sometimes the most loving thing is to just walk away.

And that is a good start. But the real heart of it is when we take time to pray for those who hurt us or anger us.  They don’t even have to know about it.  But it brings a change, a peace, to your heart.  You might even find some bit of understanding, some insight into why they do what they do.

Don’t let some other person’s problems, anger, blindness, get in the way to being one with God. Pray for them.  Let God take care of them.  And let God take care of you.

Dear God, I thank you for the people in my life who have caused me pain, but who have brought me to a closer place with you.  Amen.



More and Bigger Barns Increasing our Inequality – July 24, 2016
07.26.16

Isaiah 5:1-2, 7-9 and Luke 12:16-21, 34

Rev. Trish Greeves – July 24, 2016

 

Accept, O Lord, the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts

into your very self, and return them to us with your love, your truth, and your power. Amen

 

This has been a difficult sermon for me to prepare. There is so much to be said! I had

notes spread all over the house this week; Bible, concordance, and Gospel Parallels

open next to my desk chair; and the web browser on my laptop really humming.

 

I suspect that not everyone will agree with what I say or even, perhaps, think it belongs

in a sermon. I will simply do my best, trusting in the grace and goodwill of this

community and in our ability to talk and listen, to respectfully disagree, and to grow in

the process.

 

Today’s topic is economic justice. This is part of our summer-long series on ‘Acting the

World into Well-being.’ Now the economy is an exceedingly complex matter and I am

not an economist. I can’t pretend to have any understanding of how multiple factors and

players interact and react to shape the US economy as part of an increasingly

globalized world. I do believe with all my heart, however, that economic justice is at, or

near the top of, God’s checklist for our world and that the pursuit of economic justice is

integral to Christian faith and practice.

 

To begin at the beginning, as they say, the book of Genesis presents the poetic image

of God creating the world, bringing forth life, providing everything that would be needed

to live in that garden; blessing it, calling it good, and inviting human beings to be

stewards of the garden, so that all may prosper and multiply.

 

God’s vision was quickly corrupted by over-reaching and violence, bringing a fall and a

great flood. Successive laws and covenants are followed by repeated human failures.

The continuing grief and judgment of God fills the pages of the Bible.

 

Today’s passage from Isaiah follows that pattern. It’s begins with a love song recalling

God’s expectations for the chosen people that had been carried out of slavery into a

promised land—a vineyard that would be safe, fertile, well-managed, and very

productive. Then Isaiah brings it home (as profits are wont to do): The people of God

are that vineyard. The produce was to be justice and righteousness, not the wild, sour

grapes they have produced.

 

[As an aside: When we speak of justice in American society, we may think of things like

courts, judges, prosecutors, and prisons as the means for enforcing law and order.

When we hear the word righteousness, many of us may focus on matters of personal

piety and goodness. In the Bible, however, the Hebrew words most commonly

translated as “justice” (misphat) and “righteousness” (sedaqah) refer to defending the

rights of the powerless and society’s most vulnerable people so that harmonious

relationships are possible. A just society is one where the weak and voiceless are

brought into the community to participate and contribute to the life of the community and

enjoy its goods and services.]

 

Now back to Isaiah: The owner of the vineyard is horrified at what has become of that

precious planting. Speaking in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the prophet Isaiah

foresees the utter desolation that will be the consequence of rampant greed in joining

house-to-house and field-to-field without regard for the other inhabitants of God’s

vineyard.

 

Long after Isaiah’s vision of God’s vineyard, in 1630, John Winthrop inspired the first

Massachusetts Bay settlers by recalling Jesus’ admonition for his followers to be a ‘light

to the world’. “We shall be as a city upon a hill”, Winthrop exhorted, “an example for the

rest of the world in rightful living.”

 

We in the United States today are the heirs of that vision. We use words like “under

God”. We say, “In God we trust;”. We often hear the phrase, “American exceptionalism.”

But I’m very sure that the God of this vineyard we call the United States of America is

dismayed by the economic injustice evidenced by our growing inequality. For example:

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Cay Johnson illustrates our nation’s rising

income inequality in this way, using IRS data adjusted for inflation and analyzed

by two highly regarded economists:

 

  • Between 1966 and 2011 the annual income of the bottom 90% of
  • taxpayers rose only $59.
  • In the same time period the income of the top 10% rose over $116,000.
  • Among the top 1% income rose almost $629,000.
  • And among the top 1% of that 1%, income rose $18.4 million dollars.

 

To illustrate these differences, let’s use distances. Like on a map, our key is 1

inch equals $59. So what that means is:

 

  • The income rise of the lowest 90% is 1inch (about the distance from my finger to my nose right now).
  • The income rise of the top 10% is 163 feet, or from where I’m standing to the edge of our parking lot next to the softball field.
  • The income rise for the top 1% would be 884 feet, or about the walking distance from here to the new Starbucks.
  • And the income rise for the top 1% of that top 1% would be about 5 miles– about the driving distance from here to Canton Road!

 

And one other point:  the amount of tax paid by the highest income group during

that same time period of 1966 to 2011 has declined.

 

Adapted by Julie and Dan Binney for our location from UCC website:

http://www.ucc.org/justice_economic-justice_inequality1

 

That illustration describes inequality of annual income. Wealth inequality, which

measures accumulated assets, is 10 times worse than income inequality. That’s what is

depicted on today’s bulletin cover.

 

This picture of gross inequality is the result of deeply embedded historical patterns

related to race, geography, education, and special interest protections; the increasing

role of corporate influence on government policy; insider manipulation of our tax codes;

and the obscene and pervasive power of money in our electoral process. It is an unjust

economic arrangement and God cares deeply about this.

 

The totally self-preoccupied rich landowner in today’s reading from Luke is obsessed

with building more and bigger barns in which to hoard his assets. He could be a poster

boy for the economic state of affairs in our country. There is no mention or concern for

the laborers who work for him; no thought about investing his wealth for the common

good of the community in which he lives; no schools, hospitals, housing—just more

storage barns!

 

As Jesus observes, this man is rich toward himself but not rich toward God and God’s

vision for vineyards where all have what they need to flourish. It turns out to be futile for

the landowner who dies that night, but the real tragedy, may I say sin, is the loss of all

that he could have done and the increase in human suffering and hardship caused by

his inaction.

 

I’ll say it one more time: The use and misuse of material resources matters greatly to

God. Two of the Ten Commandments deal with this. All together, the Bible includes

more than 2000 verses on money. Fifteen percent of everything Jesus taught was on

the topic of money and possessions—more than his teaching on heaven and hell

combined. One of every seven verses in the Gospel of Luke talk about money.

 

Governing leaders are typically called shepherds in the Bible. They are responsible for

upholding and maintaining economic justice and God judges them when they fail to

promote justice and righteousness in the land. Here’s a little sampling of that:

 

The shepherds have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way,

to their own gain, one and all. (Isaiah 56:11)

 

Woe to the shepherds who shepherd my people, who destroy and scatter the

sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. It is you who have scattered my flock, and

have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. (Jeremiah 23:1-2)

 

The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel: 2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds

of Israel: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should

not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the

wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep… with force and

harshness you have ruled them…I myself will search for the lost sheep…I will

feed them with justice. (Ezekiel 34:1-16)

 

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by

injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them

their wages; (Jeremiah 22:13)

 

Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and dill and herbs of all kinds, and

neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced,

without neglecting the others. (Luke 11.42)

 

God holds leaders responsible for the welfare of their subjects. In our vineyard that

includes elected officials, other civil servants, religious authorities, corporate officers,

teachers, accountants, doctors, lawyers, other professionals, supervisors, coaches,

parents. In some garden plot or another, it’s all of us.

 

When we want to help those on the margins of society, our first thoughts typically relate

to charity because charity provides immediate, tangible assistance for clear, short-term

needs. Advocacy for economic justice, however, addresses underlying systemic causes

that create these needs. Economic justice deals with social structures and institutions. It

tackles issues which are often complex, intangible, and frustrating. Solutions can be

elusive and controversial. Charity gives, justice changes. Personal responsibility is

critically important, but we can’t pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps if we have no

shoes!

 

Pope Francis highlighted economic inequalities in his December 2013 Apostolic

Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. He criticized trickle-down economic theories and

lamented, “The common good has been threatened in recent decades by rising income

inequality, the decline of workers’ rights and unions, and the power of multinational

corporations in shaping a culture of consumerism.” He recalled that even in the 4th

century, Saint Augustine had recognized that “Charity is no substitute for justice

withheld.” (This paragraph was not part of the sermon as delivered)

 

So here’s the bottom line of today’s sermon: (1) The God we worship as disciples of

Jesus Christ judges people and nations according to the welfare of the least of these in

our midst. God has “a preferential option for the poor.” (2) We are part of a grossly

unjust economic system maintained by the influence of vested interests on government

policy at all levels, favoring a few at the expense of many.

 

(3) There is a lot of work to be done. It is big. It is hard. It will be an ongoing process. I

think of another Isaiah passage, one of the best-known readings of the advent season.

It’s the image of a massive construction project: Lifting up valleys and bringing down

mountains in order to make a highway for our God. Wherever we are in the vineyard, we

all have a role to play in this great task.

 

Few of us, however, have a lot of extra time to investigate the complicated dynamics

and interactions of our economic systems, nor the expertise to understand their

implications. So how can we participate in this mammoth, road-building, justice-seeking

endeavor God is calling us to? Here are some thoughts that came to me. I look forward

to hearing yours.

 

First, we can become more self-aware, because how we view and use our personal

resources is a pretty reliable indicator of our faith. Do we hoard them? Worship them?

Use them only to elevate ourselves? Or do we use what we have— our money, our

influence, our wisdom, our energy, and our hope in pursuit of the common good, God’s

kin-dom on earth. For where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also.

 

Second, we must embrace the political implications of our faith. As the late theologian

Marcus Borg wrote, “It’s not that the Bible is primarily about our personal relationship

with God and oh, by the way, there are a few political implications. The Bible is a

pervasively political document from beginning to end.”

(https://www.explorefaith.org/borg/politics.html)

 

Third, we need to be more informed. I hope many of you can stay for “Inequality for All,”

the Robert Reich documentary, we are showing here this afternoon. [Note: available from

Netflix] Check out the Common Good News twice-weekly summary from Faith in

Common Life, “a strategy center for the faith community advancing faith in the public

square as a powerful force for justice, compassion and the common good.” [Website:

www.faithinpubliclife.org ] We can align ourselves more closely with the UCC’s Justice and

Witness ministries. Most of the materials I reviewed this week came from their website.

 

My fourth recommendation is for each of us to adopt an economic justice lens for our

public engagement with regard to policies, programs, issues, or situations in our

communities. We can do this by asking questions like these:

 

  • How does this reflect our best understanding of God’s life-giving vision for human community and all creation?
  • How does this serve the widest common good in the area affected?
  • How does this affect the marginalized of society?
  • In what ways does this accede to unjust cultural norms that should be examined more closely?
  • How is economic power being employed in this situation?
  • What are the associated long-term social, economic and environmental impacts?
  • What are the costs of inaction and what segments of society are paying those costs?

 

(Based on Social Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice by Joe Holland and Peter Henriot)

 

Do you remember the Honk if you love Jesusbumper stickers? I always preferred the

alternative one: “If you love Jesus, Work for justice. Any fool can Honk.”

 

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

wholeness. Amen.



Daily Devotion – July 26, 2016

Luke 6:25b
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Devotion by Lynne Buell

This scripture is a warning to folks who believe that wealth and material things will bring them happiness.  The truth is, money cannot buy you happiness.  Ever hear that saying?  I’m sure you have.    Do you play the lotto when it becomes so huge that you have a two million in one chance to win, yet you dream about what you would do with all that money if you won?  And why do winners of the lottery often end up broke.  Sure they laughed and spent and laughed some more and spent some more until it was gone.  Then there was nothing.  I wonder if they mourned and wept afterwards.

There weren’t lotteries in Biblical times.  Wealth was based on extensive land holdings, either inherited or acquired from neighbors or debtors.  In Jesus’s time, the rich owed their wealth to agriculture.  And we mustn’t forget the people who extorted money as tax collectors.  Yet, there’s little difference between human nature back then and now.  Materialism is basically about attitude.  People who love wealth often face a variety of temptations and their spiritual life becomes non-existent.  They lose sight of what it means to be an honest to goodness Christian.  Their wealth makes them selfish and greedy despite being surrounded by poverty.

I am at a good place in my life right now.  I’m not wealthy with material things and money, but I am wealthy spiritually.  Oh, and this thought just popped in my head:  I’m wealthy in community too.  Without my friends, I wouldn’t be worth much either.

Prayer:

Gracious God, help us to set an example of mercy and generosity in efforts to distribute the world’s wealth among all of those in need.  Amen.      

 

 



Daily Devotion – July 25, 2016
07.25.16

Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” Luke 6:25a

 

Devotion by David Burns

This snippet of scripture from Luke 6 is something of a parallel to Matthew 5.  Both chapters include a list of beatitudes.  Matthew’s list is spiritualized so instead of “Blessed are you who are hungry now,” you get, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Luke’s version is more earthy and physical, and therefore, more problematic.  Luke is the only one who includes a list of woes alongside his list of blessings.

Jesus did so much feeding of people throughout his ministry that it seems unlikely that he was trying to say that being full is a bad thing, in and of itself.  His audience that day included disciples from Judea, Jerusalem and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.  I assume that among them were people who were full and people who were hungry.  Verses 18 and 19 tell us they had come to hear him and be healed of their diseases…and that power came out from him and he healed all of them.

Sometimes we are prone to look around us and assume that the wealthy and sated are being blessed by God and that the poor and hungry must be doing something wrong.  I think Jesus wants to blow that theory apart.  The reality is that life includes times of fullness and times of hunger and neither occasion is void of the power of Jesus to heal us at a much deeper level.

I have been full and I have been hungry.  When I was hungry, it was nice to know that sustenance was on the way and when I was full, it was good to remember that not everyone was full and I could do something about that fact.  Luke’s beatitudes and woes are leading toward the responses Jesus asks from all of us:  In your hunger and in your fullness “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” and “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

 

 

Loving God, help us to always remember that your work is not done until all are adequately nourished.  Move us to be as concerned for the feeding of others as we are for ourselves.  In the name of the Bread of Life, the broken loaf given for all, we pray.  Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – July 23, 2016
07.23.16

Luke 6:22-23

 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

 

Devotion by Rochelle Lofstrand

Last week I preached about opening our hearts to serving and acting others into well-being as a way to do God’s will.  Today’s text speaks of encouragement if, while doing the work of God, we feel discouraged by those around us.  While we do God’s work in the world, some we meet along our journey might question our work or our intentions but instead of being surrounded by negativity, let us stay constant on our journey and leap for joy in the love of God.  For it is the reward we receive here on Earth through this work that is truly the gift!

 

Prayer:

God, our hearts leap for joy as we do your will here on Earth not because of the possibility of reward in heaven but because of the rewards here on Earth.  AMEN. 



Daily Devotion – July 22, 2016
07.22.16

 

Luke 6:21b

21b. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Reflection by Darlene Wagner

For those of us accustomed to weeping due to loss, discrimination, or illness, it is difficult to

imagine laughing. Indeed, laughter seems impudent and heartless during times when so many

people have lost loved ones to violence. Yet in Matthew’s gospel, Christ’s blessing is worded

differently: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). As with

all apparent “contradictions” between the gospel accounts, differences in wording not only

preserves meaning, but expands it. Perhaps, Luke’s gospel speaks of the laughter in the sense

of a child being comforted by her parents, rather than laughter from levity. As we weep, or

suffer grief, depression, etc., we find comfort by simply drawing near to our Divine Parent.

No need to ask for comfort, the Divine Being bestows healing joy by our mere act of drawing

close in devotion and praise.

Hymn –

To thee I offer praise, Great Father!

Bright and glorious as noon you are;

Generous as rain on drought-parched fields!

All worldly sorrows flee before you!

To you Eternal Mother, I give thanks!

Mere mortal words fail to recount

How from your womb all life was formed!

All hurts are healed by your kind touch!

 



Daily Devotion – July 21, 2016
07.21.16

Luke 6:21a

‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,    for you will be filled. ‘Blessed are you who weep now,    for you will laugh.

Devotion by Anne Mooney

I like these words of hope and promise. They remind me that with time all things change, even my pain and hunger. I am pretty sure Jesus wasn’t just talking about simple physical hunger and pain, however. I tend to think of Jesus as a man who talked in layers. His words often seemed to have hidden or deeper meaning. In this case, I think he was telling us that it is good to hunger for things that are not of this world. It is good to be aware that we are disconnected from God and others. If we persevere and put our sights on higher things such as gratitude, honesty, generosity, loving-kindness, and intimacy with our God, then we will ultimately find a peace and happiness that is beyond what the physical world can give us.

I like this quote by Andre Gide: “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” It reminds me that it is not always easy to set aside the pull of culture and worldly goods. It is not easy to see ourselves through God’s eyes instead of our neighbor’s, but when we take on the challenge, Jesus promises us food for our soul and laughter in our hearts.

Prayer

Thank you for these words of hope. Give me patience and the desire to hunger for intimacy with you, God. Amen