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Daily Devotion – May 31, 2017
05.31.17

I Corinthians 12:  4-7

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

 

Reflection by Monty Wyne

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  In other words, a spiritual gift is given to each of us so we in turn, can help one another. What a wonderful gift that is when you think about it. You receive a gift and in turn you give back to those who can benefit from that gift.

In the first ages, these spiritual gifts were bestowed upon someone, their purpose being to convince unbelievers, as well as spread the gospel. Today, these gifts are certainly one way to demonstrate the love and care Jesus had for all people. The secret is remaining humble about those gifts each of us has been given.

The “gift of writing” has been bestowed upon me. I am extremely thankful for that gift and I have shared it with others, expecting nothing in return but simply being happy in the fact that I can help someone become a better writer. Ever since I was a young man, I have always believed in the practice of “giving back.” My mother planted that seed in me and the seed has grown and matured from a sapling to a full-grown tree.

As I say that, I am reminded of a book I read, and believe it or not, I wasn’t a child when I read it. I was an adult. The book was titled The Giving Tree, which was written by Shel Silverstein. Despite the fact the boy took and took from the tree until there was nothing left but a stump, the tree continued to give and when the boy became an old man and returned to the tree one last time, his stump became a good place for “sitting and resting.”

Yes, our gifts are wonderful things that we can share with others. You have a gift. Have you shared it with others recently? If not, here’s your chance to put a smile on someone’s face, to provide confidence in someone who lacked that quality before you shared your gift. Here’s our chance to give back, for in giving we receive.  And there’s nothing more beautiful than that.

 

Prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for the gifts you have bestowed upon each of us. Let us share our gifts with others as an example of your grace and our willingness to share with others.   Amen



Daily Devotion – May 29, 2017
05.29.17

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.  The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.  Then everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’       Acts 2:17-21

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

Pentecost is the time of the year when the church can celebrate its birth.  In the Methodist church I grew up in, this often meant that on Pentecost Sunday we could clap and maybe even shimmy a little during the church service without getting a stern eye or getting in trouble afterwards.  It was a wild and crazy time of the year in the Methodist church I attended for sure!  I have also been a part of different kinds of Baptist traditions in my life.  Pentecost Sunday in most of these Baptists traditions was like a call to arms as the preachers prepared for the end of the world and the need to save as many souls as possible before that day came.  I did attend Oakhurst Baptist Church for a number of years and had a more enlightened experience of Pentecost.   Pentecost Sunday was much like the Pentecost Sundays at Pilgrimage.  We wear our red clothing and do our best to clap, dance and let the energy of the day come upon us.  It’s always an enjoyable day to celebrate the church.  There are certainly a lot of ways to celebrate but there is something deeper worth taking note of and that meaning can be found by asking ourselves, what does it all mean?

This scripture gives some insight into the meaning of Pentecost.  The passage tells us that life as we know it will be different.  When the Spirit of God is poured out upon us, we will all become prophets.  We won’t become fortune tellers but we will become dreamers and visionaries for the present which will lead us into the future.  We will become energized when the Spirit mobilizes Jesus’ followers and inaugurates new direction for the ministry of our church and our community.  And when all see the vision and have dreams about what can be made possible that is the day when we will all be saved.

Yes, it is great to wear our red clothing and to dance, and sing, and clap our hands on Pentecost Sunday.  There are plenty of reasons to celebrate.  Pentecost Sunday also means, however, we have the opportunity to celebrate our present and have dreams and visions about the future and its possibilities.   When this energy of the Spirit comes upon us all things become possible.  Indeed, it will lead to the salvation of us all.

Prayer:

Make us dreamers, O Lord, so that we can envision a future where we all can become your prophets.  For we trust that when we embrace your Holy Spirit that has been poured out upon us nothing is impossible.  Even the salvation of all can become a reality.  Amen.



Sermon: “That We May All Be One” (John 14:25-26; John 17:1-11) [5/28/17]

My second year as your pastor, I got this feedback:  “We talk too much about spirituality.”  The statement fascinated me and has stayed with me.  Every so often, I pull it out and reflect on it.  Do we talk too much about spirituality?  We’re a church, a community.  Is there such a thing as a communal spirituality?  Or is spirituality more individual—You have yours, I have mine, and it’s probably best that we not discuss the differences?  J

Today we begin our Summer Theme:  “Building a Stronger Community.”  Between now and the end of August, we’ll look at four areas of our life together and imagine ways we might strengthen each area.  The four areas mirror some of the areas we explored week before last at the CREDO conference I attended in New Hampshire.

CREDO is a program developed by the Episcopal Church to increase the health of its clergy.  The thinking is that healthy clergy lead to healthy congregations.  After 15 years of the program, that connection has proven strong and true.

The UCC Pension Board began exploring using the model 5 years ago.  I was in the fourth group they’ve taken through the program.  I’ve participated in a lot of Continuing Ed experiences.  None has been as practical or energizing as CREDO.  That’s due, in part, to the holistic approach the program takes.  Most other continuing ed events focus only on one part of a clergy person’s life.  CREDO invites us to reflect deeply on each major aspect of our life and then to take note of how each area influences the others.

The five areas of wellness CREDO focuses on are: spiritual, vocational, mental and physical, fiscal, and relational.  For each area, we had a fair amount of homework beforehand.  At the conference, we had plenary sessions, workshops, small group conversations, and one-on-one consultations with faculty members.  By week’s end, each of us had written a CREDO covenant….think of it as an IEP for clergy.

As I prepared for CREDO, I also was thinking about our life together as a congregation.  Few things invite a community to reflect on who it is, its core values, and vision of the future like a proposed building project.  Our Growth Planning Team has been working hard the last year to come up with a plan for upgrading our current facility and replacing the Next Generation House, and doing so in a way that honors our core values and our hopes for the future.  (I heard you all had some good conversation at the Town Hall Meeting last week.  Many thanks to Bill and the Growth Planning Team for their good work on that.)

Drawing from the areas addressed by CREDO, this plan for the summer emerged.  I suspect that looking at the areas of spirituality, vocation, financial and physical/facility health will help us get even clearer about who we are and where we’re headed.  I also think, as decisions about our facility loom, attending to these areas of our life together will guide us in making the decisions that align most closely with our core values and mission as a community of Jesus’ followers.  The other thing it will do is help us to see how all the areas are connected.  What is the relationship between our spirituality and our financial life?  How is our vocational life–our core values and mission–connected with our facility?

So. Does our community have a spiritual life?  I’d love us to spend time reflecting on that question together.  For now, I invite us to focus on today’s readings from the Gospel of John.

Both passages come from what biblical scholars call Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.”  The setting for the discourse is the Last Supper.  It’s like the last day of class for college professors—trying to cram in everything that didn’t get covered during the semester.

After speaking directly to the disciples in chapters 14-16, in John 17, Jesus directs his words to God, in hopes, no doubt, that the disciples will “overhear.”  The prayer begins with Jesus acknowledging that the work God had given to him to do has been completed.

Now that Jesus’ work has been completed, he’s handing the torch to the disciples.  If Jesus’ task was to show people God, now that task falls to the disciples.  He prays:  “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine.”

As he prepares for his death, Jesus prays:  “Now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world. Abba God, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Image result for united church of christ logo

If you look at the UCC logo, you’ll see those words.  “That they may all be one.”  I’d always thought that was included to remind people not to fight so much with each other.  Now I realize that Jesus’ words go much deeper than simply, “Let’s everybody get along, okay?”

In this prayer, Jesus is inviting his followers into the deepest kind of relationship with him and with God.  He’s not talking about one-ness of ideas.  He’s talking about a oneness that comes through deep and abiding relationship with our Abba God and with our brother Jesus.   The source of our oneness isn’t doctrine or dogma or even consensus.  The source of our oneness is our relationship with God through Jesus.  Certainly, each of us has our own personal relationship with God.  And something about our individual relationships with God has brought us here to this community.  So, while each of us is on our own spiritual journey, all of us together, as a community, as Pilgrimage United Church of Christ—our congregation is on a spiritual journey, too.  As a community, we have a relationship with God.  As a community, we discover God in our midst.  As a community, we seek to share God’s love beyond these walls.  As a community, we take the time, and the quiet, and the discernment to listen for and respond to the still-speaking God.

How is all this talk about spirituality feeling to you?  Are you feeling more comfortable that you’ve ever felt?  Or decidedly UN-comfortable?

During our Lenten Bible Study, we spent some time talking about the Holy Spirit.  A couple of folks found it very natural to talk about the moving of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  A couple of others found the language a bit confounding…. Until those who had felt the Holy Spirit started talking about those experiences.

As one person described their experiences with God’s Spirit as a palpable presence, a profound sense of wholeness, of being who God created them to be, of a sense of peace in decidedly un-peaceful circumstances, the eyes of one of the people who’d been confused lit up…and filled with tears—“Oh!  It’s like when I visit people on the oncology ward at the hospital.  I feel something present with me.  I’m able to be with those people who, many of them, are in so much pain.”  Yes.  Exactly.

As I’ve reflected on that person’s epiphany, I’ve begun to wonder if it’s not so much that we’ve never had experiences of the Holy Spirit, but that we just haven’t had a name for those experiences.  If the sign of the Spirit’s presence with us is a sense of oneness like the one Jesus’ describes in his prayer, a oneness the grows out of feeling deeply connected to God, to Jesus, and to each other….Would you say we’ve had experiences of the Holy Spirit?  What are some of those experiences?  (Responses)

The mosaic cross, I think, is a great example of a communal experience of God’s Spirit.  It began by paying attention not only to the season of the church year—Lent, that time when we reflect on Jesus’ journey to the cross—but also by paying attention to an aspect of our worship space that has come to have great meaning for us—our stained glass windows.

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I took the bare-bones idea of a mosaic cross to Jaime Fulsang, who took the ideas further.  We took those ideas to Bill Dischinger who created the acrylic cross.  He got in cahoots with Ric Reitz on the design and lighting.  The whole community became involved in gluing the glass onto the cross…each piece representing a deep connection to Jesus’ and others’ suffering.  Then Chris Shiver brought his engraver to the process.

And then that fateful Palm Sunday when I invited you all to fill in all the spaces and Ric Reitz raised his hand.  “Don’t we believe in the still-speaking God?  Shouldn’t we leave empty spaces for others to bring their brokenness to the cross?”

The process of creating this cross….it was a holy experience from beginning to end.  I’m not sure I’ve ever felt us so together—so at one—as a community.  Each of us came to the cross in the context of our individual relationships with God, and as we patiently waited our turn with glue and glass, our individual spiritual journeys somehow merged into a communal spiritual event.  We became one with God through our brother Jesus.  We became one with each other.

As powerful an experience as creating the mosaic cross together was, many have joined the community since then…people who do not share that particular experience of the Holy.  We’ve heard stories today of other times when we, as a community, have experienced the Holy.  How might we prepare ourselves for more experiences like those?



Daily Devotion – May 27, 2017
05.27.17

Acts 2: 5-13

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

Devotion by Julia Shiver

Many years ago, Chris and I lead and participated in mission trips to Mexico.   Each group would have a week to complete their part of building a new church and community center for a growing congregation.  This often meant a week of building forms and laying concrete in the hot Mexican summers.

I am pretty sure that I was not a lot of help with all of that.  I usually spent my time making sure everyone stayed hydrated.  But at the end of a long work day, we would stop and lead the local children in Vacation Bible school.  We would sing songs, and make sock puppets, and play games.  The favorite activity was always taking the children’s pictures with a Polaroid camera.  Most of these children had never had a picture of themselves.  All of this took place without understanding a word the other was saying.  There was a lot of laughing, and pointing, and pantomime.  The words didn’t matter.  God’s great love was present with us as we ministered to each other.

Prayer:

Dear God, I thank you for the wonderful memories I have of the people of Mexico, especially the children. With the help of your Holy Spirit, we were able to share the love in our hearts, even if we couldn’t share the words.  Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – May 26, 2017
05.26.17

Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Devotion by Lynne Buell

Can this extraordinary event be repeated?  Are we living in a world that would accept those astonishing sights and sounds of the Spirit of God?  If you ask me, I kind of wish it would happen again.  Especially after watching the news this week covering the violent attack on teens attending a concert…innocents, all of whom were oblivious of what was to happen when the concert was over.  I know I do not have a clean slate, but I am filled with the Holy Spirit.  I see my church filled with the Holy Spirit during worship and socially among the community.  So, I guess what we should remember during the season of Pentecost is that our purpose is not to focus on ourselves and our own happiness, but to spread the information about God’s never-ending love for all of us.  If we lose that, then we have no reason to exist.

 

Prayer:

Gracious God, help us to continue with our focus on spreading your Word.  Amen.



Daily Devotion – May 25, 2017
05.25.17

Ephesians 1:15-16

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

Devotion by David Burns

I believe the most essential practice for those who wish to be church together is praying.  We are people who pray for one another.  Or, as Paul described it; when we offer our prayers, we remember one another.

You cannot enter deeply into the presence of God without others coming to mind for we are relational beings. As we ask for ourselves, we also ask for others – our children, our partners, our parents, our friends, our neighbors and even our enemies.  As we ask to be healed, we ask for the healing of others and for the healing of our relationships.

And when we remember those spiritual companions who share this journey with us, we are filled with gratitude.  Grateful to be exploring and receiving faith together.  Grateful for the ways they love us and for the way they share in loving others with us, and even without us.

O Christ of the poor and the yearning kindle in my heart within a flame of love for my neighbor, for my foe, for my friend, for my kindred all.  From the humblest thing that lives to the Name that is highest of all kindle in my heart within a flame of love.  Amen.

–J. Philip Newell



Daily Devotion – May 24, 2017
05.24.17

Luke 24:50-53

The Ascension of Jesus

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

What a shocker! First, can you imagine Jesus coming back from the dead! To be with Him after the crucifixion, being laid behind a stone and disappearing, only to reappear time and time again. Only this time, he really does disappear.

I remember visiting the clock museum in Rockford, Illinois, 25 years ago. There was a peculiar centuries-old, coo-coo clock that had little doors that would open showing a variety of scenes involving Jesus. Behind the 12 o’clock door was Jesus ascending into heaven. He was shown only from the knees down rising into a cloud. The scene was kind of comical. And maybe the clock maker had a sense of humor. But in a funny way, it was memorable too.

One could think that the disappearance of Jesus would be quite frightening. But the people “returned to Jerusalem with great joy”! They understood that Jesus ascended to heaven. They believed. Maybe the clock maker wanted to bring a sense of that joy when he made the clock.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, let me ponder your ascension with great joy. In Your name, I pray. Amen.



Daily Devotion – May 21, 2017
05.21.17

Devotion for May 21

Luke 24:44-45

44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

Devotion by Anne Mooney

I like to think that Jesus came to show us the way to live a life that follows God’s will.  I think that is why some people refer to Jesus as “the way.”  This Scripture made me think of that.  Jesus was spoken about in scripture before he came to live with us.  The words he spoke while he was living with us were written down.  He is spoken about in scripture after he came to live with us.  These words are still with us today.  The words we have been given are a guide for to how to live in God’s kindom.

Prayer

Thank you, God and Jesus for your words and your example.  Help me follow your way.  Amen



Daily Devotion – May 20, 2017
05.20.17

Act 1: 9 -11

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

 

 

Reflection by Monty Wyne

This passage tests your faith, your belief, and your trust. How do you know if Jesus will return?  How do you know if you can trust what the two men in white robes have said to the Galileans? Trust, faith and belief are intricately bound to one another. You can’t have belief without trust and you can’t have trust without faith. Let me share a story with you that happened just this week.

I had driven to Chattanooga on Monday evening, since Joyanna was going to be out of town at a conference all week. It was a long drive, but peaceful. I arrived in Chattanooga about 8:20 that evening. I wanted to drop off a few things at the office so I headed down Broad Street, took a left on 7th and parked at the side door. As I got out of the car an African American woman approached me. She was a little apprehensive. She asked if I could help her. After driving for 2 ½ hours it was the last thing I wanted to hear but I listened.

She said that she had been homeless for two months, but had finally gotten a place to live. She didn’t have any money and she needed toiletries for she hadn’t bathed or washed her hair and hadn’t had much to eat. Then a faint smile broke on her face as she told me she was starting a new job tomorrow. I replied that I had just gotten in from Atlanta and I was tired and… She stopped me mid-sentence and said she understood and was sorry she bothered me. She turned to leave and I said, “I want to help you. Wait here while I put my things in the office and I’ll be right back.”

I returned and walked up to her, reached out and shook her hand in friendship. I asked her for her name. She replied, Phyllis. I said, my name is Monty. Then I cleared the passenger seat of my car and asked Phyllis to get in. We drove to Family Dollar, while Phyllis told me about her life, where she’d been for the past few years and how she had returned to Chattanooga, her home.

As we walked in Family Dollar, the clerk greeted Phyllis and she said to her, “I am so blessed. This man is going to buy me toiletries. Things I need before I start my new job tomorrow.” The clerk smiled and Phyllis picked up a basket and we began shopping.

We found her toiletries and I kept asking Phyllis how about this or how about that. She would say, oh that’s too much, I can’t do that. I would say please, if you need it, put it in the basket. I will pay for everything. She did and about 15 minutes later we arrived at the register and Phyllis continued to tell the clerk how lucky she was and how much this meant to her. And the clerk would smile and add another item to the cash register and place it in the bag. As we left, the clerk who was also African American said, “God bless you sir.” I said thank you and wished her God’s blessings as well.

Phyllis was going to walk home, but I insisted she let me take her there. As we drove to her new place, she told me more stories about her life and how thankful she was for me. In my heart, I was thankful too. Thankful for Phyllis because she opened my eyes and my heart. It took faith. It took belief. And it took trust for me to let a total stranger into my life, but there was something about her. Something that touched me deeply and I knew we were meant to come together.

As she got out of the car and I helped her with her bags, she looked at me and said, “Will you do one thing for me?”  I said, ‘Sure Phyllis, what is it?’  She said, “Say a prayer for me.” As I drove away that night, I stopped just down the street at the light, bowed my head, and asked God to look out for Phyllis. As I Iooked up, the light turned green. I took that as a sign.

 

 

Prayer:

Dear God,

Monday night was a blessing. Continue to watch over Phyllis. I carry her in my heart and thoughts. I know you carry her in yours.  

Amen



Daily Devotion – May 19, 2017
05.19.17

Acts 1:6-8

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

Devotion by  Jim Kennedy

Lord, when will you restore the kindom to Israel? This was the question asked of the Messiah whose purpose and job, so everyone thought, was to get rid of the Roman Empire in Israel and return Israel to the chosen people. The task of the Messiah was to rid the word of the Roman Empire which was the dominant force of the world in which Jesus lived.

This was the point of Revelation, the last book in the Christian Scriptures of the Bible. Revelation was not about the end of the world, as many people believe, but about the end of the Roman Empire, which was the world to most people who lived in the empire.

Jesus was the Messiah but he didn’t think he could take down the Roman Empire, at least not without a lot of help. And Jesus’ ministry on earth was only about three years, which wasn’t enough time to start a bottom-up revolution of the people.

So Jesus went for the next best option, as he said in Matthew Chapter 6 Verses 9 and 10, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Since Jesus could not get rid of the Roman Empire he decided to preach that God would do God’s will and bring heaven to earth.

They did not care about what God wanted to do but to see happen what they dreamed of. They were looking for a restored Israel after their own conceptions. This is the reason they were so dismayed after the incident with the cross.

Things did not turn out as they hoped by getting rid of the Roman Empire. God was differently working things out. There would be a time for these hopes, but there was so much first to do. The people often wanted the reward without the work.

Jesus said it is not for you to know when the Lord will rid Israel of the Roman Empire. Everyone had to be patient for that. As the Bible said, in the book of Romans Chapter 8 Verse 25, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience”, and in the book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 2 Verse 4, “Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient.”

Jesus also said that everyone receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon them. Jerusalem was reached for Christ largely through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church starting on the 50th day after Christ’s resurrection (i.e. Pentecost). Judea and Samaria was reached through a great number of individuals and significant events. This was the reward for being patient with the demise of the Roman Empire.

Prayer

Dear Lord I pray that I may patient in waiting for your gifts and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit which has come upon me.