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Daily Devotion – November 17, 2017
11.17.17

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
 
Reflection by Janet Derby
 

Don’t you wonder if Jesus was tempted to “unheal” the nine who did not return and give praise to God? Really, just a little gratitude would be appreciated. All were clean, but the thankful one was also made well. Though I noticed something as I read the story this week. The ten were made clean and healed of their affliction. Still, Jesus tells the foreigner that his faith had made him well. Is that different from being healed? I think it may be. A while ago, I listened to a podcast concerned dealing with loss. The participants discussed the idea that there is a difference between being cured of the brokenness that comes from loss and being healed. Once that loss occurs, we will not ever be the same, scars will persist, but we can move forward from it. Perhaps that’s what Jesus was telling this man. While the nine may have been made clean, the one who gave thanks was truly made well. His recognition of God’s grace and his gratitude were going to allow him to fully appreciate his healing. The others – who knows – may have continued to feel bitter about the years they had endured the disease and the ostracism that had come with it. In this season of thanksgiving, we might do well to emulate the leper who returned and gave praise to God. We might try to let go of past hurts and resentment and trust that God will make us well.

 
Prayer:
Healing God,
Help us to recognize our many blessings that come from you and live with grateful hearts. Amen.  

 



Daily Devotion – November 16, 2017
11.16.17

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.  Therefore, encourage one another and build each other, as indeed you are doing.  1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

Judgment is such a natural instinct.  It seems it’s easier to judge somebody than it is to show them mercy or to show them love.  I’m not completely sure why that is.  I’ve asked many people why they find it easier to judge rather than encourage one another.  No satisfying answer has ever been given to me.  Judgement does seem to give us a sense of control and power over another.  When we judge, we take control (albeit a false sense of control) over somebody or a situation.  We make quick judgements that allow us to quickly understand someone or something.    We can easily then decide whether we like, don’t like, agree or don’t agree with the situation.  We can then dust our hands off and move on.  This attitude of moving on quickly denies us the opportunity to get to know one another in a way that would build empathy towards each other.  Of course, and probably most importantly, judgement keeps us from getting hurt and suffering more pain.

Recently, we have been experiencing tragic losses of lives of our fellow human beings; from the Las Vegas shootings to the man who ran over people in New York to the church shooting in Texas and now I have to add most recently the shootings in California.  Each situation gives us plenty of reasons to judge.  Those who were responsible for each of the tragedies certainly took it into their own hands to cast judgement, and that judgement was fatal to not only others but to themselves as well.  If we are to live as Christ commanded us to live, then judgement is not the avenue we should take.  Instead, we should seek to be mindful to understand the pain and hurt caused on both sides and allow that pain to transform us into beings that are kinder, gentler and more loving.

Indeed, this is not an easy task because it requires so much of us.  But if we are to truly be followers of Christ then we must practice this as the scripture says, “whether we are awake or asleep” so that we may be living the life God has intended for us at all times.  The result will be a world where we build each other up and encourage one another rather than seeking ways to bring each other down.   We will seek understanding, compassion, kindness, mercy and love over judgement and blame.

It’s not an easy task to do, especially as we are taught every day that judgement is necessary so that others can know where you stand.  I would encourage you today to start with yourself if you find it difficult to know where to start.  Try to be kinder, gentler and more loving with yourself and see where it takes you.  I guarantee you it will not disappointment.

Prayer

May we all rush to show mercy instead of judgement.  May we seek kindness over indifference, gentleness over violence and love over hate.  God, give us the strength to live the way you have destined us to live.  Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – November 15, 2017
11.15.17

1 Thess. 5:6-8
So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night.

Reflection by Ellen Green

In the verses prior to today’s passage, Paul tells the Thessalonians that Jesus will return to the community of believers like a thief in the night. Our tendency to focus on the immediate demands of daily life makes us liable to neglect the big picture. The time to “get right with God,” individually and collectively, is now.

Specifically, today’s passage asks us to consider the habits of action or inaction that define us. Is the way we live now a way of living into the Kin-dom of God? I recently saw on social media an image created by UCC Justice and Witness Ministries. The text read, “Don’t wonder what you would have done during the Civil Rights Movement. You’re doing it now.” Let us not fall asleep as others do.

To say that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night is to offer a word of caution and instruction. I believe it’s also a word of hope. The Day of the Lord, the Kin-dom of God, will show up in a form we may not expect, at a time when we least expect it. Jesus will catch us by surprise. My jaded heart says thanks be to God.

 

Prayer

Redeemer God, awaken us to your presence in these times, so that we may participate in building your Beloved Community. Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – November 13, 2017
11.13.17

I Thessalonians 5:1-3

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!

 

Reflection by Janet Derby

 

We don’t own tomorrow. We know that, and yet, we habitually go through our days as though we do. It often takes a shocking situation to make us realize once again that life is precious though there are reminders all around us. As we approach the 5th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting tomorrow, we are still reeling from the shooting at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church. While we cannot become consumed by these events, they can help us to appreciate life and our loved ones.

 

Prayer:

God of All Times and Seasons, help us to not be complacent, but to live each day to its fullest. Amen.



Daily Devotion – November 8, 2017
11.08.17

Matthew 5:8

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

This scripture is so simple in what it says, but has additional meaning in what it doesn’t say.

It doesn’t say those who work harder have a better chance at seeing God. It doesn’t say those who work smarter, or accumulate more or give more will see God. It simply says, those who are pure in heart. It doesn’t matter who you are. What your abilities are. Where you are on life’s journey, what matters is what is in your heart.

Polly often states that God knows what is in my heart at the times that I race through grace before a meal. Sometimes I do it because I’m hungry. But usually when I do it, it’s because I don’t want the food to get cold. If I pause to think though, I don’t know what hunger is. Even when I didn’t eat solid foods for 40 hours prior to my recent colonoscopy (everything came out okay by the way ;) ) I wasn’t really hungry. Not compared to a sizeable percentage of the world. And if I wait an additional minute before I begin eating, much of the world would love to eat food that “cold”.

Maybe God does know what’s in my heart. If so, I have a lot of junk to clean out to make it pure.

Prayer

Dear God. Forgive me. Help cleanse my heart so that I may see you. Amen.



Daily Devotion – November 6, 2017
11.06.17

Matthew 5:6

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 

Devotion by Lynne Buell

I’m one of those late faith bloomers.  As I become more aware of longevity at this stage in my life, I try to place my focus on how to better myself.  I long to receive God’s blessing, although trying to be a righteous, moral person every day is extremely challenging.  With the help of certain individuals who are now a part of my existence, however, I am confident that I am on the right path.  I have love and support from people I need in my life.  Nine years ago, I hungered for a loving and accepting community, and that hunger was sated.

We’re all a work in progress.  As long as we are open to God’s Spirit, we will be accepted into God’s Kindom.

 

Prayer

Loving God, help me from being distracted by unnecessary material needs and to place emphasis on how I can come closer to you.  Amen.

 



Sermon: “Humble Saints” (All Saints, 11/5/17) Matthew 23:1-12

Who are your saints?  Who’s inspired you to live your life with authenticity and generosity?  Who, by their actions and words, has made God present to you?

What do you imagine contributes to their saintliness?  Kindness?  Integrity?  An unwavering commitment to caring for the least of these?  Joyfulness?  Teresa of Avila, 16th century nun, once said, “May God protect us from gloomy saints.”  Yes.  Please.

Who are your saints?  What makes them your saints?

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus isn’t talking about saints.  This is way before the concept even existed.  But in talking about the kindom of God–God’s dreams for the world–he addresses a key characteristic of those most adept at creating God’s kindom:  humility.

What is humility?  Sr. Joan Chittister characterizes humility as a profound sense of authenticity.  It’s having a clear sense of your place in the universe.  You don’t think of yourself more highly than you are, nor do you think of yourself as more lowly than you are.  You simply are who you are.  She writes:  “Humble people walk comfortably in every group. No one is either too beneath them or too above them for their own sense of well-being. They are who they are, people with as much to give as to get, and they know it. And because they’re at ease with themselves, they can afford to be open with others.”

Sadly, I don’t think Sr. Joan is talking about the Pharisees in today’s Scripture story.  Matthew tells us from the get-go the Pharisees tried “to trap Jesus in his words.”  In an attempt to discredit him in front of the faithful—or get him imprisoned…that would work, too—the Pharisees pelted Jesus with manipulative questions.  Finally, an exasperated Jesus asked a manipulative question of his own.  He asked it to show just how manipulative the authorities’ questions had been.  He asked it to shut the others up.  It worked.

THEN, once his detractors have been silenced, Jesus preaches a sermon.  Let’s call it “Beware the Hypocrisy of the Pharisees.”   He proclaims:

‘The religious scholars and the Pharisees have succeeded Moses as teachers; therefore, perform every observance they tell you to.  But don’t follow their example; even they don’t do what they say.  They tie up heavy loads and lay them on others’ shoulders, while they themselves will not lift a finger to help alleviate the burden.  All their works are performed to be seen.  They widen their phylacteries and wear huge tassels.  They are fond of places of honor at banquets and the front seats in synagogues.  They love respectful greetings in public and being called ‘Rabbi.’ 

 

Back in the day, the role of religious leader came with lots of perks.  The Pharisees liked their perks; they liked their power.  But exclusive power, by definition, “excludes” most people.  For a few people to hold the bulk of the power, the rank-and-file have to give up most of theirs.  This disproportionate divvying up of power created an unjust system, one that was the opposite of what Jesus imagined the kin-dom of God to be.  Here’s how Jesus imagines the kin-dom:

But as for you, avoid the title ‘Rabbi.’  For you have only one Teacher, and you are all sisters and brothers.  And don’t call anyone on earth your ‘Mother’ or ‘Father.’  You have only one Parent—our loving God in heaven.  Avoid being called leaders.  You only have one leader—the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest.  Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves with be exalted. 

 

Jesus isn’t just calling for a redistribution of power.  He’s calling for a whole new kind of power, one that isn’t hoarded by some, but rather, is shared by all.

I suspect all our personal saints lived out of this understanding of power–that we’re all in this thing together, that we’re all stronger when we support each other, that lording religious authority over people doesn’t usher in God’s presence nearly as well as loving our neighbors as ourselves.  If we’re grabbing for power, we’re trying to reach beyond who we are.  If we allow others to grab our power, we’re dismissing our own agency in the world.  But when we all simply are who we are, we discover a profound connection to God through our connection to each other.  In short, the kindom of God–the world God dreams of–is created by humble saints.

Since the Catholic Church began canonizing saints, there have been books of saints.  These books chronicle the lives and miracles attributed to each saint.  The thinking is that stories of the saints will inspire the faithful to live even more faithful lives.

Blessed Among Us:  Day by Day with Saintly Witnesses, is a recent book that updates the book of saints concept.  It includes canonized saints like Teresa, Brigid, Francis, and Patrick…but it also includes people who have not been canonized, some of whom aren’t even Christian, people like Anne Frank and Dorothy Day, Mohandas Gandhi and Mahalia Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Fannie Lou Hamer.  Taking in stories of these saintly witnesses, readers are invited to imagine how they might live their lives more faithfully.

About a year ago, I posted something on Facebook about Koinonia Farm.  The farm was established in 1942 as an intentional interracial Christian farming community.  For Sumter County Georgia in 1942, that was visionary.  And gutsy.

A friend from Oklahoma commented on the post.  “My uncle helped found Koinonia Farm!” she wrote.  Clarence Jordan gets most of the credit for starting Koinonia, in part, because he stayed at Koinonia until his death in 1968.  But Clarence started Koinonia with Martin England.  Martin and his wife, Mabel, were my friend, Jo’s, uncle and aunt.

I asked Jo lots of questions about the Englands.  She answered what she could, then referred me to a book written by the Englands’ daughter, Beverly.  The cover of By Faith and By Love: Martin and Mabel’s Journey, contains two pictures—one of Martin and Mabel and a painting of a black man leading a team of horses pulling a wagon behind them.  The first thing Jo told me about her aunt and uncle was the story depicted in that painting.

Martin’s family came from the hills of South Carolina near the Georgia border.  In 1861, Martin’s grandfather, Jasper Wilson, was called up to serve in the Confederate army.  At some point, Jasper was badly wounded on the battlefield.  After several weeks in the hospital, Confederate officers sent Jasper home.  A friend “knew Jasper’s discharge was a bad sign.  It meant the officers thought he was going to die.”  The friend ripped open a seam of Jasper’s coat, filled it with money, and sewed it up again.  “He prayed that his friend would die at home, not on the train, and that his family would find the lump in the coat.

“Jasper’s grandson Martin told the next part of the story:  ‘The train crews lifted my grandfather off one bumpy, crowded train and onto the next.  Finally Jasper got to the village of Walhalla, South Carolina, the end of the railroad.  It was about 40 miles to his home in the mountains.  No one in the family knew he had been wounded; no one knew that he had been sent home to die.  He lay on the station platform in Walhalla two whole days, begging anyone to take him home or to get word to his family that he was there.  Finally a black man, a former slave who had bought his freedom, an old man who hauled freight in a horse and wagon, put Jasper in his wagon and took him the two-day journey home.

“When they got to the little stream beside his house Jasper called to his wife, my grandmother Jeanette, ‘I’m home.  Bring clean clothes and towels and soap but don’t come near me.’  Caked with blood and pus and the lice that spread from soldier to soldier, he warned her, ‘I’m lousy.  Don’t come.  Throw my clean clothes across the creek.’  And my grandmother did just that.

“The old man gently undressed and bathed my grandfather there in the stream, dressed him in clean clothes and took him home.  He carried him across the creek and up to the house in his arms.  My grandmother lived up in the hills and had seen very few black people.  But that sight, of the old black man carrying her husband across the creek, made an impression on her.”

The story of that old man’s kindness to Martin England’s grandfather completely shaped Martin’s life, as well as the lives of his descendants.  Martin and Mabel served as missionaries in Burma before and after World War II.  It was during a furlough from their two tours when they started Koinonia with Clarence and Florence Jordan.  The summer of 1963, when Martin served on the Pension Board of the American Baptists, he followed Martin Luther King, Jr., around the south trying to get him to sign up for a pension and life insurance.  A benefactor already had paid the premiums, all Dr. King had to do was sign.  At the urging of Ralph David Abernathy, who already had gotten his policy, Dr. King finally signed.  The other Martin was among the first people to visit Coretta and the rest of the family after Dr. King’s death in 1968.

In our correspondence, Martin and Mabel’s niece, Jo, talked about remembering the story of Martin’s grandfather’s rescue during the struggle for desegregation in Birmingham, Alabama.  She, her sisters, and her cousins were among the few white students who continued going to school during the unrest.

The story of a freed black man saving a Confederate soldier’s life, traveling two days to get him home, cleaning his putrid, lous-y body, then carrying him in his arms to the arms of his adoring wife has continued to reverberate through the England family….and through their family to the rest of the world.  The stories of your saints, no doubt, have played a similar role in your life.

As I think about it, all these saintly stories do beg the question—In whose saint book might we earn a page?  What story or stories might that page contain?  Once we are gone, will we too be known as a humble saint?

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017



Daily Devotion – November 5, 2017
11.05.17

Matthew 5:5

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 

Devotion by Laurie Spencer

 

What is Meek?  The thesaurus offers so many possibilities.  Here are just a few.

Soft. Gentle. Powerless. Kind. Serene. Docile. Passive. Timid. Unassuming. Differential. Humble. Mild. Modest. Orderly. Peaceful. Resigned. Tame.

My Dad has several of these qualities. Kind. Considerate. Patient. Constant.  Orderly.  He deals with anger in a reserved way that doesn’t hurt others. There are many examples of people in our lives who are just like this. Can you think of someone?  Or can you count yourself as one?  How very blessed you are indeed.

But not all of us have these qualities.  I may find moments of peacefulness. There might be a day when I look back and see I was patient. Or extended kindness. But some of us just don’t fall into the meek category. I can’t turn my personality upside down. I can just pray that I don’t hurt others and recognize it’s important to nurture those small meek moments and help them grow.

 

Prayer

Father, Mother God, help me to be the person you created me to be.

Amen.

 

 



Daily Devotion – November 4, 2017
11.04.17

Matthew 5:4
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 

Devotion by Meg du Plooy
When we think of mourning, we often think of it in the context of grieving the loss of a loved one. In this scripture, I also think it refers to those who mourn for what God also mourns – poverty, famine, abuse, war, abandonment, the suffering of others. While we grieve, we must not let these things overwhelm us and steal our joy. Rather we can share the message of God’s love by showing compassion and helping others as we are able. That is where we will find the comfort that Jesus refers to. God will be there if we allow Him in.

Prayer:
Dear God, help me to be compassionate toward those who suffer, to help them when I can, and to rely on your promise of comfort when I feel powerless. Amen.



Daily Devotion – November 3, 2017
11.03.17

 

Matthew 5:3 – The first of the “Beatitudes”

“God blesses those who are poor (in spirit) and realize their need for him,  for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”

 

Devotion by Chris Shiver

For many years I resisted God “If God even exists, God doesn’t care what happens to me or the world…religious people are hypocrites…belief is for the weak and ignorant”.  But then I met some Christians who were, as best they could, acting out God’s love as illustrated in the Beatitudes and the other words of Jesus.  I realized that I was poor in spirit and that I was in need of something that neither the world, or my loving wife, or children, or career, or anything else could supply.  I needed God – and at that moment I was blessed in ways that I could not imagine – I received my first glimpse of the “Kindom” of Heaven.  And since then whether my outward life seems to be up or down, I have been blessed.

 

My Prayer:

Jesus, I pray that I will always be aware of my need for you, no matter my circumstances.   Amen.