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Daily devotions, written by the staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church,
are available via email (sign up online or send addresses to devotions@fourthchurch.org), Facebook (www.facebook.com/fourthchurch), Twitter (@FourthChicago), online, and in print (from the church literature racks)


March 1–4

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Today’s Reading | John 12:9–11
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus. (NRSV) 

Reflection
Here in these verses, we see that the raising of Lazarus from the dead was not only a tipping point in Jesus’ popularity, but it was also a turning point in the chief priest’s strategy to contain Jesus. Containment of Jesus would require the containment, or even better the reversal, of Jesus’ miraculous, liberating, good works and good news. So in addition to plotting to kill Jesus, “the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well.”

I am struck by the error in this train of thought, and I am struck by its repetition throughout history. It lacks understanding to think that good news cannot be contained, suppressed, or reversed. Good news seeps out and travels fast. Furthermore, truly good news makes its impression deep in the hearts and minds of the people it touches, and before anything can contain it, good news moves people to action.

This is the nature of good news. This is the nature of the Spirit. This is what makes God’s world go around.

Prayer
Almighty God, I never lose hope. No matter how dark and dire the world may become, I know that your Spirit travels throughout the world, touching, transforming, and moving all along the way. This is my hope. This is my prayer. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Sunday, March 2, 2014
Transfiguration of the Lord

Today’s Reading | Mark 9:2–10        
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. (NRSV) 

Reflection
This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, when we mark the revelation of Jesus’ true identity to three disciples on “a high mountain apart.” What is intriguing to me is this: Had Jesus continued in his transfigured state, accompanied by Moses and Elijah, dwelling atop the mountain apart, his divine status as God’s son would have been clearly recognizable and none would have dared to challenge him. However, we see that after God declares Jesus God’s own son and calls on the disciples to listen to him, all the clear signs of divinity disappear, and the simple, human Jesus is all that remains before them.

Even though Peter offered to build Jesus dwellings to maintain their elevated state, Jesus “did not know what to say, for [the disciples] were terrified.” Can we not imagine a moment in which Jesus considered remaining in the protected heights of his divinity, in the good company of Moses and Elijah? Yet what gives Jesus pause? The fear of his disciples. Jesus does not remain set apart and terrible; he becomes human and vulnerable to all of our love and, yes, to our sin as well. We are soon to hear this story again as we journey through Lent to Easter. He dies for all of us and brings us grace and eternal life in his rising again. The amazing choice Jesus makes in assuming humanity, instead of remaining transfigured is, perhaps, the true miracle in this story.

Prayer
God of the terrible and divine, I give you thanks that you are also the God of Jesus who was loving and human. Grant that I might have the same compassion that was in Jesus, who chose humble service to fearful disciples over shining glory on a high mountain apart. Though the choosing might lead to pain, grant me hope as well, that it might all lead to new life in the end. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Today’s Reading | Psalm 111   
Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
     in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord,
     studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is his work,
     and his righteousness endures forever.
He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds;
     the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
     he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He has shown his people the power of his works,
     in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
     all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever,
     to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people;
     he has commanded his covenant forever.
     Holy and awesome is his name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
     all those who practice it have a good understanding.
     His praise endures forever. (NRSV)  

Reflection
God feeds us through the gifts of sun, soil, seeds, water, and the efforts of human hands. I learned at a conference on international justice sponsored by the Presbyterian Hunger Program, PCUSA, that if there was a worldwide switch to producing food through sustainable, organic approaches, global food production could increase as much as 50 percent.

Millions of people are hungry, not because of scarcity in food production, but because of the ways food is being produced and distributed. Multinational corporations are controlling much of the food system, utilizing high-tech, industrialized methods that rely on mono-cropping, chemicals, and genetically modified seeds. The cost and dependence on external inputs and cash-cropping has increased. A high percentage of food is being used to feed livestock and produce ethanol. Many farmers cannot feed their own families. The level of suicides among farmers all over the world is alarming. What once was cherished as a free gift of mother earth and the bounty of God has become a commodity in the global market.

All creation belongs to God. We are called to treat food as sacred. What would it look like to honor God regarding food? All people would eat nutritious food, grown in ecologically sustainable ways, enjoyed in gratitude. Agricultural workers would be treated well, with power to vary the crops they plant using seeds that thrive in their own natural setting. Food would be stored and distributed for local consumption. “God gives food to those who honor him.” We need to honor God, rather than systems of profit margin, so that all may eat and be satisfied.

Prayer
Source of life, make us instruments of your abundant provision for all your people. Guide us to honor you in how we grow, distribute, and eat food so that no one goes hungry. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Today’s Reading | Genesis 48:11–16
Israel said to Joseph, “I did not expect to see your face; and here God has let me see your children also.” Then Joseph removed them from his father’s knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right, and brought them near him. But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands, for Manasseh was the firstborn.

He blessed Joseph, and said,

     “The God before whom my ancestors Abraham and Isaac walked,
     the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
     the angel who has redeemed me from all harm, bless the boys;
     and in them let my name be perpetuated, and the name of my ancestors
          Abraham and Isaac;
     and let them grow into a multitude on the earth.” (NRSV)

Reflection
New York Times columnist David Brooks once asked his older readers for the “gift” of their life reports, brief essays about their lives—the good , the bad, what they did well, and what they regret. In short, Brooks was saying, “Please bless me with your wisdom of time and experience.” In some regards, that is one aspect (of many) that we see in Jacob’s blessing over Ephraim and Manasseh, wise words from learned to youth. One line gets me: “the God who has been my shepherd from the beginning until this day.” So much is packed into those few words. Jacob is telling his grandsons, “My life was devoted to the following of this Shepherd, and not just any Shepherd, but the Shepherd of my fathers.”

This Shepherd of whom Jacob speaks is the Shepherd who said to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, “Don’t be afraid. I am your protector.” Who said to Jacob’s father, Isaac, “I will bless you and be with you.” It is this Shepherd to whom Jacob, about to die, points his grandsons, this Shepherd who has faithfully led him and his ancestors.

As I read those words it makes me think, “Today, whom am I following? Who would I say my shepherd has been in my life report?” The good news is that God wants to be our Shepherd. He wants to lead us in the way of righteousness.

Prayer
God, please be my shepherd today. Train my feet to follow you. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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These devotions are also available via email (send addresses to devotions@fourthchurch.org), Facebook (www.facebook.com/fourthchurch), Twitter (@FourthChicago), and in print (from the church literature racks).