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Daily Devotion – March 29, 2017
03.29.17

 

Montage Sequence

March 25, 2016

Written by Molly Baskette

 

“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” – John 19:30

My favorite thing in the world is that scene in the movie: the one in which the peppy music comes on, and the wrong-for-each-other couple falls in love, or the gritty neighborhood gets turned around, or the ugly duckling becomes a swan. In other words, the montage sequence. Why can’t the universe be tidy like this, instead of: a hot mess that is rapidly cooling and spreading out into the infinity-frigid-dark-and-formless-void?

Here’s the rub: even Jesus couldn’t escape the hot mess and the cold pain of betrayal, abandonment, and death. If God had to do things the hard way, why should we be exempt?

Most of our spiritual progress, at least once we reach adulthood, is made by lurching from crisis to crisis, grief to grief, and somehow surviving all of them.

The fact of the cross says there is something spiritually important about the hard things that happen. God may or may not send them, but God will absolutely use them, when they happen, to transform us and teach us what we need to know next. There’s no resurrection without a crucifixion.

 

Prayer

God, as we live through this long, hard day with Jesus, thank you for not editing out the fiddly bits. Help us to share deeply in this dying, and may our own sufferings and hard slogs serve to draw us closer to you.

 

About the Author

Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of the First Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church and Standing Naked Before God.



Daily Devotion – March 28, 2017
03.28.17

1 John 1:5

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

 

Devotion by Holly CothranDrake

I am a witness to God’s light.  I was in the darkness, emotionally and spiritually.  God’s light rescued me.  Because of God’s light of love, I can share my testimony with others with the hope they will accept God’s love in their lives.

 

Prayer: 

Almighty God of light and love, thank you for loving me enough to save me.  Help me share your love with everyone I meet.  Amen.



Daily Devotion – March 27, 2017
03.27.17

John 9:39-41

Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.”

  Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?”

  “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.

 

Devotion by Chris Shiver

I used to be spiritually blind.  But then Jesus opened my eyes to him & the love of God.  Jesus said I have taken away your guilt and shame of those wasted years, so we can move forward with your life, now that you are able to see the right path.  But he also reminded me that now I must keep my eyes open, and not drift back into spiritual darkness.

 

My Prayer:

Lord, now that I can see you let my gaze always be upon you.  And where possible let me help to direct the attention of others, who are blind to your love, towards what you have to offer.   Amen.



Daily Devotion – March 26, 2017
03.26.17

 

John 9:35-38

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him.

Devotion by Lynne Buell

I know what it is like to suffer with spiritual blindness.  Your life has no meaning, you do not know what that void is—but you know there is one, and you are very, very alone.

My soul was awakened when the Holy Spirit spoke to me, and for once, I was listening.  I don’t think I consciously disobeyed God; I simply wasn’t listening.

Today, this is my prayer:  Thanks be to God.



Daily Devotion – March 25, 2017
03.25.17

John 9:24-25

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”  He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner.  One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

 

Devotion by David Burns

 

In the end, what we all hope for is someone with the power to help us.

When you are blind or deaf or unemployed or lost or sad or sick, you don’t much care about credentials or beliefs or social acceptability or track record of good choices.  All you want to know about the person before you is whether or not she/he can and will help you.

While I often find the philosophical and theological aspects of Christianity entertaining, I am so, so grateful that the bone and marrow of the faith is in its engagement with the practical, earthy vagaries of human life.  Jesus was so amazingly winsome to people because he actually met their very human needs for psychological healing, physical healing, food and drink, shelter from storms, relief from worry, conversation, presence, and a calling big enough to animate life.

The Church’s winsomeness and vitality come from exercising this same kind of power.  I suspect that, like me, you hang around the church because, in some way, the Church has met or is meeting some very practical need you have.  This is nothing to apologize for.  It is how it always has been and how, I hope, it always will be.

Thanks be to God!

 

Loving God, I thank you today that you care about how it is with me and that you send people to help me on my way.  Open my eyes to the power I have to help others, too.  In the Spirit that was in Jesus, Amen.



Daily Devotion – March 24, 2017
03.24.17

John 9:18-23

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

I see two things going on in this scripture. First, the Jews do not believe. Like doubting Thomas, they want more evidence. In fact, they want to disavow Jesus’ work. The Jewish faith is rooted in the coming Messiah, not His arrival and rise to greatness.

Second, the parents are afraid of those in authority and power. They wield the threat of exclusion. I imagine that’s how gangs hold power over their members, with the threat of exclusion. But as real as that threat is, we all can rely on God’s promise of love and inclusion. Humans have human failings, but God’s love is true and everlasting.

Prayer

Dear God, I thank you for your never-ending love. I hope you can feel my love for you in response. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.



Daily Devotion – March 22, 2017
03.22.17

John 9:8-12

His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?”

Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”  But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

“How then were your eyes opened?” They demanded.

He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put is on my eyes.  He told me

to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

“Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said.

 

Reflection by Darlene Wagner

After he has been given sight by Christ, the man born blind is changed completely.

He is not merely healed in one part of the body; his heart and mind are transformed

to be able to use his new gift of sight.  It is very difficult for an individual born blind

to be able to make sense of sight through healed eyes.  Christ gives the man born

blind a sighted body, a sighted mind, and a sighted spirit, a deed no less than Divine.

In my life, my transformation from male to female was similarly complete.  Not only

did my body change to female, but my mind and voice became female. (Yet, my spirit

was born female). This phenomenon convinced me of the reality of the Divine Spirit

and “miracles.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving:

In you, Great Mother, when I placed my hope

My life gained purpose as your blessings flowed!

My very body shows your hand’s transforming touch,

Thus all my fears I cast into the dust.



Daily Devotion – March 21, 2017
03.21.17

John 9:1-7

A Man Born Blind Receives Sight

9As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

Devotion by Anne Mooney

Apparently, back in the time of Jesus, people tended to think that your sins dictated your situation in life.  By the time this story takes place in the Bible, the disciples have observed Jesus for some time.  They know he doesn’t think like most folks.  So, when they encounter a blind man, they ask him about this idea of sin causing a person to be disabled.  This is particularly important since the man was born blind.  It is hard to imagine how a person could sin before he or she is born, so it led them to consider that perhaps children might be punished for their parents’ sins.

Jesus blew a hole in this blaming theology.  Instead of being a punishment for sins, he told them that the man was born blind so God could be glorified.  In other words, so God’s power could be demonstrated.  Wow!  When I think about that, all my troubles turn into possibilities and opportunities.  Instead of feeling like a victim, blaming others or myself for my sorry lot in life, I can focus on God’s power to help me turn things around.  Maybe I will be given the strength to persevere or accept situations that cause me pain or grief.  Maybe I will be blessed with a sudden change of circumstances.  Either way, a small miracle occurs when I accept whatever is causing me trouble and reach out to God for support and guidance.  When we face our struggles and accept God’s help, we are a living message or testimony for God’s power.

Prayer

Dear God, Thank you for always being with me, with us.  I pray my life is one that demonstrates your love, power, and mercy.  Amen

 



Sermon: “Seeking a New Vision” (Lent 3-A; John 4:5-42) [3/19/17]

Image may contain: 1 person, text        Once upon a time, we had a presidential election.  Things changed.  Now we’re trying to figure out how to inhabit this new reality.  We’re having to re-think almost everything.

Had the election turned out differently, I doubt we’d be re-thinking anything…because the administration that would have resulted from that outcome would have been very much like previous administrations.  I suspect that as a church we’d carry on like we always had—with a few of us doing justice work, all of us doing charity work, and not really having to think a whole lot about how to be the church.  Had the election gone differently, I suspect here at church it would have been business as usual.

The gift of the new reality we’re inhabiting since the election is the way it’s calling us to rethink how we do church.  It’s become clear that so many things we’ve taken for granted for so long, so many battles we’ve already fought—and thought we’d won—are still raging….  The battles of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and the wholesale assault on human dignity.

Human dignity.  Remember when that was something we could assume?  Do you find yourself constantly appalled these days by things public figures and even ordinary Americans are saying to and about each other?  The vitriol people are spewing at each other….how has this happened?  How has it become okay to cut each other down with our words?

And it’s not just words.  Words create reality.  It’s not a coincidence that as hateful rhetoric has risen, so have hate crimes—attacks on mosques and synagogues, bomb threats called in to Jewish Community centers across the country, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia.  Have you seen the pictures?  Knocking down all those headstones—over 100 in each cemetery—took a lot of sustained effort.  It wasn’t just painting derogatory words on a wall and running away.  How could someone engage in all that activity and not once think, Hey, maybe I don’t want to do this?

Image result for pictures jewish cemetery desecration

Crimes against women, lesbian gay bisexual and, especially, transgender people are up.  Race-based crimes are up.  The proposed federal budget cuts out programs that feed school children and the elderly.  There is proposed legislation in our own state that will give adoption agencies the right to bar gay couples from adopting.  What is going on?  Since when did it become okay to throw the least of these under the bus?

The hateful rhetoric to which we Americans have given free rein in the last year—if we haven’t spoken against it, we’ve endorsed it—has led us to this place where the dignity of all human beings can no longer be assumed….and yes, I’m also talking about Facebook posts and informal conversations.  Dehumanization is dehumanization, regardless of your politics.

If there is hope for our country, we must reclaim our commitment to decency.  If there is hope for our country, we must recover our belief in the dignity of every person.  If there is hope for our country, we must recommit ourselves to working for the common good.

And if there is hope for our country, the church must learn to be church in new ways.

In every age, societal shifts call on the church to re-envision and reimagine what it means to follow Jesus for that time.  What does it mean for us to follow Jesus for this time?  What does it mean for us as Pilgrimage United Church of Christ to follow Jesus in this new reality?  How do we as followers of Jesus act the world into wellbeing now?

The current circumstances are calling us to be church in a new way.  What might that new way involve?  I’m not sure.  That’s something we’ll need to figure out together as a community.  I do have a sense, though, of where we must begin.  It’s where any plan for acting the world into wellbeing must begin—by reaffirming the inherent dignity of every human being.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ whole purpose is to show us God…so that we might come to believe.  So what do Jesus’ actions in today’s Gospel story reveal to us about God?

Samaritan Woman

First, Jesus shows us that God isn’t as interested in societal and religious rules as we might suppose.  Jesus speaks to a woman.  A Samaritan woman.  A Samaritan woman of, perhaps, questionable morals.

Had Jesus abided by social and religious rules of the day, he would have stayed as far away from this woman as possible.  He would have seen or sensed all the strikes against her and drawn his own water from the well.

But Jesus saw the person beyond the labels.  He didn’t see just a woman, he didn’t see just a Samaritan, he didn’t see just a person with questionable morals—he saw a human being, a beloved child of God, a person desperately thirsty for living water.  And so, for no other reason than that she was a human being who needed it, Jesus gave her living water.

And once the woman received it, she came to life.  She set down her jug—all it held was H2O…she was now the container for the living water Jesus had given her—she ran back to her village and shared the life she had received from Jesus.  Because of her, an entire village came to believe.

What if Jesus had dismissed the woman at the well, as societal and religious rules dictated?  If he had dismissed her, if he had diminished her, if he had not looked past the labels society and religious institutions had placed on her and seen her as the beautiful child of God she was, a whole village would have missed the gift of life.

I worry that in our country right now we have begun to lose our ability—and perhaps our will—to look beyond labels…of nationality… skin color…gender…economic status… sexual orientation… political affiliation…  It seems like with each passing day, we become more deeply entrenched in an us-and-them mindset.  By doing so, I wonder how much life we are missing?

A church in Connecticut found life looking beyond labels.  The church in East Lyme “was next door to a group home for adults.”  Pastor Erica Wimber Avena writes, “One day one of them came in and sat down before worship, uninvited.  She was painfully overweight and wearing clothing that didn’t fit.  She hadn’t bathed and wasn’t able to breathe or move comfortably.  She wouldn’t speak or make eye contact with anyone.

“From the beginning, she tried our patience.  More than once she forgot where she was and lit up a cigarette right there in the pew.  Her medication prevented her from being able to follow the order of worship.  She fell asleep during sermons.  Her breathing problems escalated and became loud snoring problems.

“You can imagine the conversations we had at council meetings:  ‘She doesn’t belong here; she couldn’t possibly be getting anything out of it so heavily medicated.’  Some tried financial tactics:  ‘I’m tithing to this church, and she’s just giving pennies…she shouldn’t be allowed to ruin it for everyone.’  Some observed that she ate too many cookies at coffee hour.  They worried that she was a deterrent to other visitors.  I worried about everyone.

“Finally, an exasperated council member said she’d had enough of all this talk.  She announced that she would make a friend out of our troubled visitor and would hereafter be sitting next to her in church.  Understand:  this means that after more than 25 years sitting in one pew, she moved…to a different pew.  When the snoring started, the council member gave a gentle nudge; she helped our visitor find the right hymn to sing; she reminded her to put her cigarettes away and limited her to no more than three cookies in the fellowship hall.

“That small act was all our visitor needed.  Soon I witnessed her talking to people; she made eye contact and learned to shake my hand at the door after worship; her first words to me were ‘bless you.’

“Some months later I received a phone call from the woman’s social worker.  He told me that she had never been accepted by any group or able to sustain a single positive relationship until she started coming to our church.  ‘Thank you for welcoming her,’ he said to me.  ‘I have never been to your church, but I know it is an exceptional place.’  After I hung up the phone I sat for a moment.  ‘Exceptional?’

“Empowered now, the woman went on to make friends with the others in her group home and brought them all with her to church.  She had gained her whole life back, put her demons behind her, and told anyone who would listen what the Lord had done for her.”  (Erica Wimber Avena, in Christian Century, January 4, 2017.  Used by permission.)

In this new reality we’ve entered in our country, God is calling us to be church in new ways.  I don’t know what all those ways are.  Through prayer, study, and conversation, we’ll figure all that out together.

Here’s what I do know, here’s what I believe with all my heart, mind, and soul, here’s what I believe it means to follow the Jesus who met the woman at the well… Whatever plan we come up with for being church in 2017, we must begin by honoring the dignity of every person we encounter—family, friends, acquaintances, foes, the least of these, each other …  If we begin by honoring the dignity of every human being, the rest of the plan of acting the world into wellbeing will become clear.  Jesus began with a Samaritan woman’s dignity and a village was transformed.  Who or what might be transformed if we do the same?

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017



Daily Devotion – March 20, 2017
03.20.17

John 4: 39 – 42

 

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’

 

 

Reflection by Monty Wyne

I have often wondered what it would have been like to meet Jesus in person. What did He look like?  Was His voice gentle and quiet?  How did He carry Himself?  Would one know Jesus if he or she encountered Him on the dusty roads leading to Jerusalem?

I can only imagine what the woman felt when she first encountered Jesus at the well. In the beginning, she was impertinent and annoyed and displayed her prejudice and disdain for the man who was a Jew. In those days, Samaritans hated the Jews. Could some corollaries be drawn from this story to modern day?

However, as Jesus spoke to her and revealed that He had water that was far greater than what lay in the well, she expressed disbelief and questioned his authority. Sound familiar, given the current political state in this country?

Yet, Jesus not only spoke of the powers of this water, he went on to tell the woman what he knew of her life. As He continued to speak to her, eventually her opinions and beliefs were changed. The Samaritans invited him to stay with them and they trusted in Him.

I think we need to work hard to change the opinions and distrust that exists in our modern day world. How would Jesus view the inciteful behavior and opinions being so openly expressed today? Maybe it’s time we all go to the well in the hopes of encountering Jesus and hearing of God’s graciousness and acceptance. It’s time we all changed our opinions and beliefs and made this a better world for all who inhabit it.

 

Prayer:

Dearest God….

This world needs You now more than ever. Speak to all of us. Bring us together to do the work that lies ahead. In your name we pray… Amen