Blog
Daily Devotion – November 30, 2016
11.30.16

Psalm 122: 6-9

 

Pray For Peace

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.’
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

 

Reflection by Monty Wyne

This passage touched me deeply. I read it over and over again. I reflected on my Sundays in church and the many times Pastor Kim has said, “Peace be with you.” Four simple words we exchange with other members of the congregation, yet how many times have I contemplated the true meaning of these words?

“Peace be with you.” Such comfort, such serenity, such utter trust is echoed in that phrase. If you open your heart and receive it, the words bring a sudden calm to your being. In that moment you first hear the phrase, you are relieved of the day’s burdens. You feel accepted and safe. That’s a wonderful feeling given the rancorous political battle we’ve all witnessed recently on television, social media, and in the press.

What would happen if you passed a casual acquaintance on the street and instead of nodding your head or saying Hello, how are you, what if you said “Peace be with you?” How would that person respond or would that person respond? Such a beautiful phrase, especially in this time of such uncertainty in our country, with talk of deportation and walls, and ethnic slander, and in some cases outright hatred, “Peace be with you.”

Yes, “Peace be with you, and with you fathers and mothers of the world, with you world leaders, with you teachers and politicians, with you corporate icons, and with you who labor in the fields, and with you who secure our streets and homes when night falls, and with you who came to this country with a dream and a hope of a new beginning, and with you who share the word of God with your congregations, and with you who have little room in your hearts for others of a different color or belief, and with you who have little and with you who have much, and with all of us who are part of this world and its shortcomings, its beauty, its tragedies and its triumphs, “Peace be with you.”

 

Dearest God,

My prayer… “Peace be with the world.”  Amen

 



Daily Devotion – November 29, 2016
11.29.16

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

Psalm 122:1

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

Last week was Thanksgiving, and I had a few days off of work to celebrate.  I was so glad when the end of the work day came on Wednesday and I was able to go home and attempt to rest (I will admit though that with three kids resting has a different meaning in our house).  I was glad because it had been a long week at work.  In the world of hospice, the emotions created by loss are intensified during the holidays especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas.  As a hospice chaplain, the intensified emotions require extra attention and care that lead to a long deep breath after the week is over.  Thus, I was glad when I was able to end my day and my week and make my way home.

Likewise, I know the Psalmist had his share of hardship, grief, loss and, at times, feelings of hopelessness.  He pours his feelings out with great honesty all throughout his writings and his music.  His days are filled with the work of searching and pleading for God’s presence.  At times, he even writes as a person tormented by the darkness.  He seems to know, however, that his entire struggle is brought to peace when he enters the tabernacle of God, which brings him great joy when he is able to make the journey to this place of rest.

Do you have a place of rest?  A place where you know you can go and experience love and peace.  Do you have a place that brings you joy?  A place like this can create feelings of enthusiasm about going to and being within its presence.  If you have a place such as this, then it would do you well to visit it as many times as you can during this Advent season.  If you don’t, then finding this place, this sanctuary would serve you well.

Prayer:

Teach us, O Lord, to find rest in your tabernacle.  May it be a place that allows us to find peace and comfort in a world that at times feels anything but peaceful and comforting.  May it also fill us with gladness.  Amen.



Sermon: “When Presence Is Prophetic” (Nov. 27, 2016) [Isaiah 2:2-5]
11.28.16

It looks like we’re going to have to find a bigger venue for the Cobb County Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service.  Since these interfaith gatherings began 12 years ago, Temple Kol Emeth, which seats between 800 and 900, has hosted them.  The place was packed Thursday before last.  When she couldn’t find parking, one of our members had to turn around and go back home.

Do you know how the Ecumenical Thanksgiving celebration began?  In 2000, the baccalaureate committee for Walton High School chose Rabbi Steve Lebow to give the main address.  The service was to be held at a local United Methodist church, which meant that Rabbi Lebow would be preaching.  The pastor objected to a non-Christian speaking from the church’s pulpit and told the planning committee if the rabbi remained the speaker, they would not be able to host the baccalaureate.  The event was moved to the Cobb Civic Center.

In response to the controversy, several interfaith partners planned an interfaith Thanksgiving service for the community.  The first was held in 2005, at Temple Kol Emeth, the synagogue Rabbi Lebow still serves.  With each passing year, the gathering has grown…. to the point that it looks like we’ll have to find a larger venue.

The thing I hear from those who attended the service is, “It was just so good to be in the same room together with people of other faiths.”  It’s true.  Women in hijabs.  Men wearing the turbans of Sikhism.  Yarmulkes.  A drumming circle.  Singing bowls from our friends at Unity.  The call to prayer from one of our Muslim friends.  And the Muslim children’s choir that stole everyone’s hearts!  In a time when divisive rhetoric is high—especially against our Muslim friends—there was something deeply moving about being together in the same room.  Reflecting on the event later, I realized that sometimes, the most radical thing you can do is simply to be in the same room with people who are different from you.  Sometimes presence is prophetic.

Have you seen the video that demonstrates what to do if you see someone being bullied?  The clip depicts a woman in a hijab sitting on a park bench being yelled at by a man leaning over her.  As the man yells, another person walks up, joins the woman on the bench, and begins a conversation with her, ignoring the bully.  That’s a great example of presence being prophetic.

The prophet Isaiah offers another image of the transformative power of presence.  “In days to come the mountain of God’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.  Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of God, to the house of the God of Jacob that God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” 

We 21st century folk understand God to be present in all the world, not just on mountain tops or in sanctuaries.  But let’s go with this image for a minute.  First, we have a mountain, taller than all other mountains.  On top of this mountain is the house of God, a place to worship God, to learn from God.  And from as far as the eye can see, people are streaming to this mountain.  (Kind of sounds like the parking lot at Eastminster Presbyterian the night of the Thanksgiving service.  J)  From every direction, people of different races and ethnicities and nationalities and languages and sizes and shapes and colors and dress are streaming to the mountain of God.  They get to the bottom of the mountain and start climbing.  Why?  Because they want to get closer to God!  They want to learn from God.  And so, they climb.

And as all these different people climb the mountain to get closer to God, look at what else happens!  As the people get closer to God, they also get closer to each other…so that, by the time they get to the top of the mountain to commune with God, they’re sitting right next to each other!  And what do they do once they get there?  They learn from God’s ways so they can follow them.  Somehow it seems fitting that getting closer to God happens as we get closer to people who are different from us, including those who worship God differently.  Who knew the mountain of God was located at the corner of Sewell Mill and Old Canton Road!

The prophet doesn’t only offer an image of a better world, though.  He also offers an image of how to get there.  Listen:  ‘For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of God from Jerusalem.  God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of God!

Swords into plowshares.  Spears into pruning hooks.  Take your weapons—implements of war—and transform them into implements of peace.

“The words of Isaiah 2:4 (‘They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’) are engraved in large letters on the wall opposite the United Nations headquarters in New York City.”

Image result for un isaiah wall

And in Washington, DC, ‘welded to a 16 by 19 foot steel plowshare are thousands of disabled handguns confiscated by the Washington Police Department.  The label for the sculpture reads, ‘Guns into Plowshares.’”

The words of Isaiah serve well as a mission statement of sorts of the UN.  And the creativity with which the Washington Police Department has contemporized the image is beautifully instructive.

But perhaps the most powerful use of this image is a nine-foot sculpture that stands in one of the gardens at the UN.  In that sculpture, a muscular blacksmith is beating a sword into a plowshare[2].  What the blacksmith has is neither sword nor plowshare.  It’s something in between.  The blacksmith is in the process of making peace.  He’s in the process of conversion.

Image result for un isaiah wall

As are we.  Oh, to live in a world where nations do not lift swords against each other!  Oh, that war-making could be removed from our collective curriculum as obsolete!  Unfortunately, for us—as for the prophet Isaiah—our conversion process is not yet complete.  We live in a world where nations do war, a place where senseless violence still occurs.  It’s hard—so hard—for us to imagine a world without war or violence, but that’s why God gave us prophets.  Prophets help us imagine.  And Isaiah helps us to imagine a new day, a day where people of different backgrounds and faiths and colors meet together on the mountain of God in peace.

When Isaiah wrote about the mountain of God, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking about the corner of Sewell Mill and Old Canton Roads.  It was probably Mount Sinai or Mount Horeb, one of those tall mountains in Israel or Egypt.  But really, any place where people of diverse backgrounds come together to worship God, where implements of war are transformed into implements of peace….any place where that happens can become a dwelling place for God.

Even this place, our church, on this hill.

In light of the increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric, one of our members contacted me a couple of weeks ago and asked how we might support our Muslim friends in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.  Last December, several of us visited our friends at their mosque in Norcross.  Then, in February, several members from their community came to visit with us.  You’ll recall that we had a wonderful time of fellowship and learning.  We pledged at the time to do it again soon.

When I saw Nafis Rahman—Mahmooda’s husband—at the Thanksgiving celebration a couple of weeks ago, we talked about getting together again.  Now, it’s Advent and we don’t have a lot of extra time on our hands, but here’s an idea.  We first got to know our friends in the Ahmadiyya Community when we partnered together to work in Family Promise.  Because of their religious beliefs, housing people overnight in their facilities isn’t an option for Muslim communities.  Even so, Ahmadiyya wanted to participate.  Since Pilgrimage is the smallest participating congregation, Family Promise paired Ahmadiyya with us.  Mahmooda and her group take care of providing breakfast and lunch for our Family Promise guests.

So, here’s what I’m thinking.  Our next Family Promise host week begins two weeks from today, December 11.  We won’t have time for the kind of conversation we had when they were here in February, but we can invite our friends to worship.  I’m thinking—as an act of worship—we can receive the food offerings from Mahmooda and her crew.  Then we can share our prayers and hopes with our friends as a sign of our love and support.  (I’ve actually already extended the invitation.  Nafis is checking to see if it might work for them.  If they aren’t able to come on Dec. 11, we can hand write our prayers and hopes for them and send them to them.)

I invite you to share your prayers and hopes for our Muslim friends with me before December 11th…..that way, I can plan the service around them.  And perhaps on Dec. 11, we can set up a time to go back and visit Ahmadiyya Community at their place.

Our work of Advent is like the work of the blacksmith in the sculpture at the UN:  the call this Advent is to be about the process of making peace.  Perhaps extending hospitality, prayers, and good wishes to our Muslim friends is one way to create some peace, to turn a sword into a plowshare or a spear into a pruning hook.  And perhaps in doing so we will realize that God-with-us is with us…and has been all along.

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



Daily Devotion – November 28, 2016
Forgiving and Forgetting

Martin B. Copenhaver

“I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more.”
Jeremiah 31:34
In my experience, when someone says, “I will forgive, but I will never forget,” it usually means:  “I will never forgive.”
In his masterpiece, City of God, Saint Augustine says that, when we are redeemed in the world to come, we will still remember our own wrongdoing, but in a different way than we do in this life.  In this life, we cannot remember our own wrongdoing without being pained by it.  In the world to come, we will be able to recall events without remembering the pain associated with them.  There will be a kind of forgetfulness.  To be redeemed, then, is in some way to be spared the pain that can accompany recollection.
In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet announces God’s new covenant and makes a promise.  God says, “I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).  In forgiving, God chooses not to remember.
To forgive, something like forgetfulness is required.  We are not expected to erase every memory of hurt or injustice from our cerebral “hard drives.”  Rather, we are to forgive so completely that it is as if we have forgotten.
Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard observed that forgetting is the opposite of creating.  In creating, you make something out of nothing.  In forgetting, you make nothing out of something.  He says that choosing to forget hurt or injustice suffered at the hands of another is like taking something and putting it behind your back-it’s still there, if you were asked about it, you’d have to grant that it exists, but you don’t look at it, it’s not between you, but behind you.
Prayer
O God, help me to remember to forgive and, in so doing, to forget.
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Martin B. Copenhaver is President of Andover Newton Theological School.  His newest book is Room to Grow: Meditations on Trying to Live as a Christian.



Daily Devotion – November 27, 2016
11.27.16

Romans 13:12

the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light;

 

Devotion by Julia Shiver

Paul lived in a time when Christ’s return was expected any moment.  And here we are, two thousand years later, still waiting.  But the Christian life isn’t about the endpoint, the goal, the prize at the end of the rainbow.  For me, the Christian life is about living in the journey.  We move from night, our past, with all its faults and missteps and move into the light of morning, the future.  We try to live our lives awaiting the Advent of Christ, as a baby and as our resurrected Lord.  It is a journey of Hope.

 

Prayer

Loving God,

Be with us as we await your return with hope and faith.  Help us to always turn towards the light of a new day.  Amen

 

 



Daily Devotion – November 26, 2016
11.26.16

Romans 13:11

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;

Devotion by Lynne Buell

This is part of Paul’s urgent message to the Romans encouraging them to change their immoral behavior.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus took place about thirty years before he wrote this letter; but it was not too late to believe in Christ’s purpose and follow God’s will.

Now more than ever I get what it means to be a Christ believer.  I don’t totally sacrifice as I take care of myself and my possessions, but I do give to my community as generously as I can.  It brings me great pleasure to provide for my family and friends; whether it be in the form of food or assistance in one way or another.  And I love learning about the stories and messages in the Bible.  Can I do better?  Of course I can.  I pray every day for help to be a moral and upright person.

As we begin the season of Advent on Sunday, I encourage us all to not only thank God for all he has provided, but to open our hearts to God’s master plan for the world.

Prayer:

Gracious God, help us to see the good in everyone and everything that is happening in our world.  Help us to refrain from negative and discouraging ways.  Help us to love one another.  Amen.   



Daily Devotion – November 25, 2016
11.25.16

A Song in a Weary Throat
Talitha Arnold

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? – Psalm 137:4

“By the waters of Babylon,” the Psalmist remembers, the exiled Israelites hung up their harps. In that strange and hard land, they’d lost hope and lost their voice. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” they lamented. But the Psalmist reminded them how to sing, even in exile.

“Hope is a song in a weary throat,” proclaimed the Rev. Pauli Murray in her 1970 poem Dark Testament. A Civil Rights activist, feminist, attorney, author, and the first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest, Rev. Murray knew first-hand such weariness. The granddaughter of slaves, she was born in 1910. By the time Murray was five, her mother had died and her father was committed to a segregated mental hospital due to a mental illness caused by typhoid. He was later killed by a white guard.

Murray was rejected by the University of North Carolina because of her race and by Harvard Law School because of her gender. Yet Murray persevered, graduating from Howard University and later Yale. A fierce activist who refused to obey Jim Crow laws, Murray was also a brilliant legal writer. Thurgood Marshall called her 1951 treatise, States’ Laws on Race and Color, “the Bible of the Civil Rights movement.”

Murray wanted to be remembered most for essays, Negroes are Fed Up (1943), and her poetry. With her poems, she offered her people what the ancient Psalmist gave the exiles in Babylon—a song for an often strange and hard land. Dark Testament concludes:

Give me a song of hope
And a world where I can sing it . . .
Give me a song of hope and love
And a brown girl’s heart to hear it.

In our land wearied by racism and fear, we all need Pauli Murray’s song—and the courage to sing it.

Prayer
Thank you, God, for Pauli Murray’s witness, in her time and in ours.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Mark Part 1 and Mark Part 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.



Daily Devotion – November 24, 2016
11.24.16

Philippians 4:8-9

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

Focus on the good and you will be happy. Focus on the good, and God will be with you. This is comforting. It can be easy or it can be difficult. The choice is ours. We choose what we think about. We choose onto those things which we focus.

Our minds can be occupied by what we have, who we are, with whom we are in a relationship. Or we can occupy our minds by what we lack, whose we are not, and whom we are out of relationship.

Having my mother live with us has been quite a challenge. Much of the time she is negative. A growing percentage of the time she cannot remember what has occurred earlier in the day. I can choose to focus on how she hinders my life or I can choose to use this time as an opportunity to grow. I know that I’m a little more forgiving because of living with my mother. I can chalk much of what she says or does because of her limited memory. She doesn’t intend to be annoying by asking the same question a dozen times. It’s just that she’s forgotten what the answer was the previous eleven times. I’m growing more patient as well. I know it takes her a long time to think of something or do a simple task. But I know that she’s moving as quickly as she can. She drives me crazy, but it takes a little longer before I lose my patience with her.

It’s the great circle of life. Perhaps as a child I asked the same question repeatedly. Perhaps it took me a long time to do a simple task. Now it’s my turn to parent my mother. When I focus on the good, I know that it pleases God. And when God is pleased, my life is more peaceful.

Prayer

Dear God, continue to help me see the good in every opportunity. Thank you for blessing me with your peacefulness. Amen.



Daily Devotion – November 23, 2016
11.23.16
A Victory Speech from Someone Who Never Wins Anything
By Lillian Daniel
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” – Ephesians 4:2
When it comes to little contests and games of chance, I never win anything. But guess who guessed the number of chocolate coffee beans in the jar last Sunday? It was me, it was me, it was me! The humble pastor!
Ethical concerns prevented me from keeping the gift. Church leaders even suggested it might be appropriate to choose another winner instead of the minister, but I persuaded them to let me have my moment, since, after all, I never win anything. I promised to share my chocolate coffee beans with others. My win was about the honor of the thing, not material gain.
Sadly, nobody wanted to hear the full three-hour victory speech I prepared about what lead me to make the winning guess on the coffee beans. So let me reflect on my success here in this devotional in the hope that you’ll be inspired by my example.
As I look back on a lifetime of never winning anything, I now see that I was being trained for that one competitive moment, when a decisive instinct would put me out in front of the pack. I can’t explain it, I just did what I had to do. I went out there and executed at a high level. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the little people, as well as the coach. It wasn’t about my skills, it was about the whole ball club. It takes a village to raise a child.   Measure twice and cut once. It was 90% mental and the other half was physical. As a player, I left it all out there on the field. And lastly, God bless America.
Prayer
Dear God, help us to remember that our “accomplishments” are not our own, and that every “win” is just a chance to give you thanks for what we did not achieve all by ourselves. Amen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lillian Daniel’s new book Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To: Spirituality without Stereotypes, Religion without Ranting is now available for purchase, but you can hear it all for free at 1st Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa.


Daily Devotion – November 22, 2016
11.22.16

Psalm 100

 

  1. Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
  2. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs,
  3. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his,we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
  1. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
  1. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

 

Reflection by Darlene Wagner

 

During my Bible studies as a teenager, I tended to skim over Psalms and other verses

offering praise and thanks. I did not understand how good it feels to offer thanks

and praise to the Immeasurable Divine. Finally, during the loneliest, most austere

days of my wanderings, I felt embraced and comforted by an Ever-Present Mother.

I’ve always felt rejected by the God of Christianity (and I still feel alienated). Thus, in

my prayers and praises, it feels inappropriate for me to address this Embracing

Mother as “God”. Rather, my Ever-Present Mother is Goddess, Queen, or Eternal

Mother. Here I recount a praise I wrote on February 17, 2001, on a bus to Seattle to

embark upon a season in the Bering Sea Fishery.

 

Praise during wandering:

 

Dear Eternal Mother,

Like rain to drought-browned grass,

your joy-lending love pours over the shoulders

of anyone worn out by pangs of loneliness.

The silence of snow-cloaked canyons barely

demonstrates your infinite tranquility,

that state of rest within you.

The smile of a friend regained, the friendly

stranger’s face in a hostile crowd are only

the beginning of your warm affections.

I praise you, thank you, Lady of my Life!

I sing in gratitude for you, your simply Being!