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May 1–7 | May 8–14 | May 15–21
May 22–28 | May 29–31

 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 4:12–17

Reflection

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels, Jesus’ public ministry begins with proclamation. It is only in Matthew’s Gospel, though, that we see this curious addition that Jesus “withdrew” to Galilee. The other Gospels have it a little more immediate: Jesus “came” to Galilee (Mark) or “returned” to Galilee (Luke). Only Matthew has this brief pause before Jesus’ proclamation commences. What could it mean?

The Greek behind the word “withdrew” is slightly ambiguous, but Matthew is consistent throughout the rest of his Gospel in using it to mean “escaped” or “withdrew oneself.” Did Jesus escape to Galilee out of fear of arrest? Perhaps, but the scene prior had Jesus face to face with Satan, and I dare say that would have been slightly more terrifying. Instead, Jesus seems to be following a consistent pattern: before a major moment of proclamation and teaching, he seems to center himself before speaking. He withdraws to mountains, to boats, to sit beside the sea. He knows how to take a break.

In the summer ahead, many of us will make promises to ourselves to be better people: eat better, exercise more, and work harder. Perhaps we can learn from Jesus’ ministry in a different way than is typical, not by his words but by his actions. Perhaps we need to take a break--to withdraw ourselves—before returning to the busyness of our lives.

Prayer

O Lord of Peace, help me to remember that the pauses in my day are not time waiting to be filled, but gentle reminders of a need for rest, a need to be in your calming presence. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Today’s Reading | Acts 17:16–34

Reflection

Although it provided no measure of reassurance at finals time, while staring at questions of theological complexity, one of my college professors nonetheless sought to remind our class that all our theology studies really pointed to but one thing: “God loves you.” If that is all we took away from what we learned, we would have learned well and sufficiently. And yet the professor still encouraged us to dig deeply into the texts and concepts before us. In doing so, we added flesh, color, dimension to what it means for God to love us, how God loves us, how we live as ones loved by God.

In this string of parables that make up the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus draws picture after picture of the kingdom of heaven, each with different images, different emphases. How are we to resolve the differences? Is the kingdom the hidden treasure that we happen upon or is it a fine pearl we find when we intentionally search? Or can it not be both: something we keep as our centering focus and to which we are open to encountering in ways and at times least expected?

It is the treasure of what is new and what is old--the stories that take us back to a creating God, continue in a God journeying with God’s people through the desert, bring us to God incarnate with us, a Messiah who will come again--that, put together, daily give dimension to the kingdom of heaven, to the love of God we are called to receive, to embrace, to live.

Prayer

God of love, be with me in my searching. Open me to discovery. And keep ever before me, ever at the center of my life, that pearl of great value, your kingdom come. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Today’s Reading | Acts 17:16–34

Reflection

When I ride down the elevator in my building in the morning, I’m struck by how many people spend the entire ride glued to their cell phones—checking email, plugged into iTunes, responding to text messages. It doesn’t make for good conversation or neighborliness or a chance to exchange simple pleasantries. As efficient as those of us are who use our cell phones for almost everything, I’m willing to bet we don’t exercise terrific skills of observation about our environment when we’re focused on our phone.   

It’s a good thing Paul didn’t have a cell phone that day in Athens, while he was waiting for his friends. He had the chance to observe his surroundings, to notice the abundance of idols. The preponderance of them everywhere told him these people had a desire to put their belief in and pledge their loyalty to something beyond themselves. His observation allowed him to take advantage of the opportunity to let them know about the God he believed in.

Paul made a careful and intelligent case for the God we know in Jesus Christ. This is not a god, he said, who lives in temples fashioned by human hands, far removed from the lives of human beings. Paul’s God is engaged in human life and, in fact, is so related to us, Paul claims that “we are his offspring.”

We may not be able to make a speech like Paul’s during our elevator rides, but we all have opportunities to take note of the people around us and to be engaged. Our relational engagement would be one way to model what we believe about God and model what Paul proclaims about God: that the God we know in Jesus Christ is a God engaged with our human lives, willing to enter into our lives, even when we are strangers.

Prayer

Dear God, disrupt my preoccupation with that which is unimportant. Open me to your people. Allow me to take note of my surroundings and take advantage of opportunities to show and be shown who you are. Amen. 

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Today’s Reading | Mark 7:24–37   

Reflection

Be opened.

So many stories of Jesus healing.

I am a long-distance runner. Sometimes on my long (and not-so-long runs), I hurt. There are lots of things I can do to distract myself from the pain—listen to uplifting music, fantasize about something pleasurable, or in the worst cases just count to four over and over again—and of course I can always just quit. But the most effective and the most true method I have for dealing with pain is to open myself up and invite Christ into me.

What healing is possible in those moments when we invite Christ in? When we ask for ourselves, or for others, as the woman did for her daughter or the man’s neighbors did for him? I have seen lives change. My life has been changed. What healing might we see in our homes, our neighborhoods, our cities, our world when we make ourselves open, vulnerable, like that?

It does involve risk, and it does involve choice. And sometimes all we can do is ask for the willingness to be open.

But oh, what we might receive!

Prayer

Lord Christ, I place myself in your hands. Enter me, guide me. May I be strengthened in my weaknesses; may I be healed to do your will. And as for me, so for us all, and for our beautiful, fragile, hurting world. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Today’s Reading | Mark 8:34—9:1         

Reflection

Eight years ago, I had opportunity to visit and work with the people of El Salvador on a college service immersion. I always admired the work of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the transformation he welcomed during the latter part of his life when his role as archbishop exposed him to the struggles and suffering of the Salvadoran poor.

My group visited many historic sites that honored Romero and his commitment to the Salvadoran people. Each site depicted an image of the crucifixion. I was used to seeing many images of Jesus—the good shepherd, the teacher, the prophet. But the recurring scene of Jesus on the cross, and the Salvadoran passion for it, confused me.

It wasn’t until we spoke with community leaders who witnessed the Salvadoran civil war that I understood the devotion to the mournful image. The cross, which each of us is asked to take up, represents true discipleship. It means letting go of everything that is easy, normal, and comfortable. It means foregoing what society deems important and instead caring for those whom society forgets. In the case of Romero and the Salvadoran people, it meant ministering to the poor and oppressed who lost their land, families, and, sometimes, their hope.

This central image of Jesus on the cross follows me today. How can I “take up his cross”? There is little to gain from confining myself to everyday conveniences. But there is much to gain by giving up my life and caring for those others may ignore. The cost of this sacrifice is great, but the reward is greater: discipleship, community, and grace.

Prayer

God, you summon me to give my life, my comforts, and my contentment here on earth to follow Christ and do good works. It means leaving what is “normal” behind and being a true disciple—caring for the lost and forgotten all the days of my life. You provide this amazing gift to us, to look beyond finite comforts, and truly follow your words and works. Let us all be open to this invitation. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens, Director,
Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Today’s Reading | Mark 10:13–16

Reflection

My favorite worship service each month is the celebration of the sacrament of infant baptism. It is a joyous and festive occasion: young parents present their children at the baptismal font. They’re joined by several generations of family and many friends. The parents give answer to the liturgical questions, and then, one by one, the children are blessed.

When all of the children have been baptized, the pastor takes one of them into his or her arms (just as Jesus did) and walks among the congregation, introducing our newest member.

However, this does not conclude the celebration. In keeping with our Presbyterian tradition, an elder addresses the congregation and asks, “Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture these children, by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ, and to be faithful members of his church?”

During one such baptism service, while addressing the congregation, the pastor used the analogy that an infant’s mind is like a blank page, waiting to be inscribed with knowledge, understanding, and love. With the vows professed by the parents and the commitment spoken by the members, individually and collectively we all undertake the directive proclaimed by Jesus in today’s scripture reading. Thus it is incumbent upon all of us to teach the children and to inscribe upon the blank pages of their minds the words of scripture, the meanings of goodness and truth, and an understanding of the power of God’s grace and love. What a privilege! What a challenge!  And by teaching the children, as adults we also will become stronger in our own faith and understanding.

Prayer

Gracious God, help me to be faithful to my commitment to teach our children to know and love you. Amen.

Written by Barlow Nelson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Today’s Reading | Mark 10:35–45             

Reflection
Mark Twain once said, regarding a critic, “I do not attend every argument to which I am invited.” Forbearance (a quality often underappreciated) is present here in Jesus’ reaction to James and John. It’s really present in a lot of his interaction with the disciples. I often think that, had I been Jesus, I would have spent so much time grabbing the disciples by the side of the head and shaking them that they would have been known throughout the land for the length of their ears.

“Make sure we sit closest to you.” And then, when the others hear about it, it becomes, “Why should you sit closest to him?” Of all the petty, stupid little things. And yet how often do we still hear about this person or that person acting like they think they are closest to God, that God whispers directly in their ear and we should do what they say? I can’t help thinking that these people are ripe for an ear-stretching.

Humility is also a quality often underappreciated. “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Position and status are moot. If the Son of God is saying, “What can I do for you?” how do any of us justify demanding anything of others? The thing about humility is, when you see it in practice, it is a humbling thing. When you see someone who has position and status humble themselves, how can you not do the same? The love of God is the greatest equalizer. For those with no power or status, it lifts them. For those who are very conscious of their position in the world, it brings them off their high horse and down to earth—usually by a firm tug on the ear. The love of God reminds us that we are all the same in the eyes of God, and the humility of that love reminds us that God is always right next to us.

Prayer

Lord, please remind me that there is no one who is more loved than any other and no one who is loved less, that love is love for all. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Today’s Reading | Mark 12:28–34

Reflection

This passage comes in the midst of a set of passages that are full of questions—people questioning Jesus’ authority, asking him whether it was lawful to pay taxes, whether people who were married on earth would still be married when they were resurrected, what is the first (most important) commandment. Questions. Questions. Questions. Trying to trip him up. And finally in this passage, he answers the question—and the questioner agrees with him. “You’re right. Those are the two most important things. Love God. Love each other.” No one could argue with the truth of that. And after that “no one dared to ask him any question.”

I think when I read this passage I always focus on the “love your neighbor as yourself” portion. As if that were the first commandment, instead of the second. It’s the one that I gravitate to. I like to think that it is truly the Christian perspective. Take care of each other. Forgive each other. Love each other.

But this time when I read it I noticed the emphasis on the “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” So simple and so complete. All of you. Use all of you to love God. Your emotions, your spirit, your intellect, and your body. Love God with all of you. That’s the most important thing. “More important than whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Love God. Just love God.

Prayer

Thank you God for loving me. I love you too. Amen.

Written by Jean Marie Koon, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Today’s Reading | Exodus 23:10–13

Reflection

These rules in Exodus were the law of the land: leaving the land untouched every seventh year meant it could recoup the nutrients and moisture needed to produce healthy and abundant crops in the future. The crops that did mature during the seventh year—those that survived on their own—were to be left for those in need. If this year of fallow, this year of allowing nature to reenrich the soil, was bypassed, the crops in the following years would yield less and less, and the poor and the wild animals would not get the food they surely needed.

As for the people, they were to work six days, labor six days, teach and instruct six days—but on the seventh day, rest, so that they and all for whom they were responsible could recoup and gather strength for the coming six days.

Do we hear the wisdom of these rules in our current society, thousands of years separated from the people to whom these rules were addressed? I like the part about resting the seventh day—that should not be too difficult. But how about the way we treat the land that produces what we eat? With fertilizer and irrigation, we can produce abundant crops, feed livestock, and even fuel our cars and trucks, but we also pay a high price. The cost is not for the goods produced, but for the pollution from fertilizer runoff, for the quantity of water used to grow crops, and for the eventual destruction of the soil. How might the guidance of Exodus encourage us to care for ourselves, those around us, and all of creation?

Prayer

God of all creation, I thank you for the earth you have given us and I ask you to help me be the best possible steward for you. Amen.

Written by Roger Wilson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 104:24–35

Reflection

My grandfather helped me experience a reverence for life and living things—not so much by all he said, though his words were always wise, but in who he was and in what I experienced with him in many walks outside together. Along those walks, he helped me see the world as a magnificent system. Perhaps it is why I feel most connected to the earth and to God and all of creation when I am out in nature.

I’d seek out a feather for his description of its origin. He called my attention to the smell of the tilled soil as we planted together. He introduced me to the unparalleled flavor of lettuce from the garden or sun-ripened tomatoes just off the vine. He helped me learn to swim and to surf waves.

In Granddad’s Prayers of the Earth, Douglas Woodwrites, “All beings of the world pray, said my Granddad, as they slip through the forest or sparkle in the water . . . as they climb the mountainsides or soar into the clouds or burrow into the earth. . . . Each living thing gives its life to the beauty of all life, and that is a gift of its prayers.”

Sometimes I need to be in nature to draw a spiritual contrast to my busy life in Chicago. I take my dog and head out to the park, appreciating the season and the life around me. I experience again the joy of being Dicky’s granddaughter. I hear his voice (and perhaps God’s) whispering to me with loving reverence for life and living things. I find again my grounding, my right place as part of God’s magnificent system.

Prayer

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful: the Lord God made them all. Amen.

(Prayer from Cecil Frances Alexander’s hymn text “All Things Bright and Beautiful”)

Reflection written by Laura Sterkel, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Today’s Reading | 1 Peter 5:6–11  

Reflection

There are times when I visit people in the church and walk away from the visit knowing that I have spent several precious minutes with a “saint.” These are people who endure great suffering but have somehow managed to “humble themselves under the mighty hand of God.”In other words, despite their sufferings, despite the illnesses they suffer, despite the challenges they face, they know that God is the victor no matter what happens in their lives. They are able to speak honestly about their sufferings and simultaneously proclaim the hope they have experienced in a saving God, a God who is sovereign over all. 

The words from 1 Peter tell us to “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God so that God may exalt us in due time.”This does not mean that we are to accept our sufferings with bland resignation or proclaim that God is the one who gives us our sufferings or believe we are being punished by God via those sufferings. Peter is speaking to people who are being persecuted for their faith in the God they know through Jesus Christ. His instruction is modeled after a phrase that was a commonly used metaphor: “to be humbled under someone’s hands” was a metaphor for being overthrown by enemies. Peter twists the phrase and uses it positively, instructing his listeners to put their lives in God’s hands, to acknowledge God as victor, to let God capture their hearts. This is not a passive act. The instruction goes on: “Discipline yourselves, keep alert.”

I’ve met people who live this way, fully cognizant of the sufferings they face and fully confident in the God they know in Jesus Christ. Sitting in their presence is an experience of joy and sorrow all wrapped up together. I leave those visits with an extra bounce in my step and a new joy in my heart. 

Prayer
Great and glorious God, let me allow you to capture my heart again. Remind me to talk about your saving grace just as much as I talk about the troubles of this world. Amen.      

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 4:1–13

Reflection

What if this was a play in a contemporary theater?

Lights up. A small spot where JAY sits. Another person, DECIDEDLY NOT JAY, enters.

DECIDEDLY NOT JAY: Hey, how’s it going? (JAY does not reply.) Forty days fasting. Wow. Got to hand it to you. Quite an accomplishment. (JAY does not reply.) Hey, check it out. See that rock? I bet you could just turn that into a loaf of bread. Go on. Forty days, man. That’s a long time. You deserve it. Nice fresh bread, all warm and smelling good. Sourdough . . .

JAY: Listen, Skippy. Fasting’s voluntary. If bread were all that mattered, I would have eaten, like, thirty-eight days ago. Sometimes other things are more important. Like listening to the Man. Like I’m trying to do here.

DNJ: All right, that’s cool. The whole low-carb, gluten-free thing, I get it. But check this out: (Lights up further. Vegas. Glitz and glamor and casual indulgence.) Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. The Man, he put me in charge, and I can use a strong-minded guy like you. Throw in with me and I will set you up.

J: Like I would work for you? You’re just a tenant. You’re not the landlord. When your lease runs out, you’re done. Me, I’m working for the landlord, the Man. Him, and only him. Got it?

DNJ: Oh, you’re in with the Man, now. He’s looking out for you. I bet if you went up on the tower and jumped off, the Man would just set you down light as a feather. Go on, show me how tight you are with the Man. Bungee!

J: The thing you never got clear on is that you don’t test the Man; the Man tests you. It’s about the Man and it’s always been about the Man. What the Man wants, not what I want. The second I let you make it about me, I’m no better than you.

DNJ: All right, you be that way. I will catch you later.

He goes.

J: Maybe. But you won’t keep me.

Prayer

Lord, help me to remember my role: that it’s important to listen to your words and that it’s not about me; it’s about you. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 5:27–39   

Reflection

Although confusing on the surface, this provocative “new wineskins” parable is one of my favorite teachings from Jesus. Challenged by the Pharisees about the minutiae of the social and religious behaviors of his disciples (They eat with tax collectors! They do not fast!), Jesus instead invites the Pharisees and scribes to pull back and recognize how truly radical his teaching is. This new way of being cannot comfortably coexist with the social and religious norms of the day, Jesus argues, or else the “new wine will burst the old skins and will be spilled.” So too the old wineskins cannot be modified by attempting to place pieces of new skin over the holes and cracks; instead, Jesus’ teaching—this new wine—will inevitably create new social and religious norms that differ from those of the past.

Given the time frame that the Gospel of Luke would have been written (in the years 70–85), there is certainly a polemical aspect to this saying for the early Christian communities. However, this parable is also a fantastic reminder of how transformative our faith should be if we are following Jesus’ teaching. Too often we try to patch new wineskin onto our beliefs, selecting the bits and pieces we find satisfying or convenient, only to find that our faith feels like a strange amalgam of our own creation. Jesus is challenging us to leave our old wineskins—the calcified norms of the day—behind and to instead embody his teachings in whole.

Prayer

Dear Lord, challenge me to embody your teachings even when they seem at odds with the norms that are all around me. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 8:16–25

Reflection

I can’t read this passage and not think of this song:

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

And then of the passage from Romans 12:1–8 on how we are all members of Christ’s body, belonging to each other, each with our own gifts.

How encouraging! We don’t all have to be prophets or leaders; we have different gifts, no matter how big or small we may consider them.

But we are called on to cultivate those gifts, to grow them and let them be seen, to use them to God’s glory and to strengthen the body of Christ here and now. Or, as Luke warns, “Those who have will receive more, but as for those who don’t have, even what they seem to have will be taken away from them.”

How challenging!

Thankfully, there’s another verse to that song, not as well known.

“Jesus gave me the light, I’m gonna let it shine.”

Jesus gave us our light—it doesn’t come to us through our efforts. We can ask Jesus to help that light shine in us and through us, a gift to the world.

What are you going to do with your little light?

Prayer

Precious Jesus, without you I can do nothing, but with you the world opens, the sea is calmed. Transform me always “through the renewing of my mind” so that I may trust in your mercy and act in faith. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Today’s Reading | Acts 2:1–21

Reflection

I like to think of myself as fairly articulate and capable of explaining pretty well the ins and outs of our Presbyterian expression of the Christian faith. After all, it’s a pretty important part of doing the work of welcoming new members to Fourth Church.

However, I will never forget the time I was being examined by my Session at my home church and an Elder I knew well asked me, “What is your relationship with Jesus Christ?” In sincerely attempting to answer that question, I found that my words fell short. They couldn’t convey the overwhelming emotions that tumbled through my heart. I stumbled through an answer, but I could barely keep my composure, and I think all the Elders knew that the true answer to the question went far beyond my words. I still remember the burning feeling that overcame me.

In the story of Pentecost, the miracle is that the Holy Spirit descends, like fire, upon Jesus’ followers, and so they’re empowered to speak words that testify to the truth of Jesus Christ. They bring people of faith from all over the empire into a new relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you’re like me: the burning fire of your relationship of faith and love with Jesus Christ doesn’t rest visibly on your head, but you can feel the power and brightness of your relationship with Christ in your heart. And maybe your words, like mine, aren’t enough to truly explain the richness and depth of it to others.

I pray that, by some miracle, the Holy Spirit might empower us to find a way—perhaps by our actions or in our relationships—to convey our love of Christ to a world that needs the grace only he can offer.

Prayer

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
. . . Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. Amen.

(Holy Sonnet 14 by John Donne)

Reflection written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Today’s Reading | John 5:19–29 

Reflection

Nearly a hundred years after Jesus died, the early Christians were being persecuted for their belief that Jesus was the Son of God. To counter this persecution and to provide support for those that needed it, John wrote a passage, which we read today, establishing the absolute authority of Jesus and his equal nature with God the Father.

While those early Christians may have been comforted to hear such words of authority, many people in today’s world have issues with authority. We expect authority figures, like our boss, teacher, or president, to earn our respect and trust, and when they don’t, we reject their authority. Other people have a more inherent authority, such as our parents; but when they disappoint us, as they inevitably will, we realize that they are only human and we question their authority.

God gives us a choice to accept God’s authority or not. God’s willingness to give that choice to us is a complete freedom we experience with no other human authority. This freedom gives me great strength and comfort. Ultimately, this freedom makes it possible for me to turn my life over to God, to choose life over death at every moment.

Prayer

God of life, you sent your Son to show us the way from death into life. Give me such a confidence in your authority that I may surrender to you and rest in your complete freedom. Amen.

Written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 11:33–36

Reflection

“He finally saw the light.” Implicit in that familiar statement are the questions “What took so long? How could he have missed it?”

Light is rather obvious, after all. Even the faintest flickering light stands out, is noticeable, in a dark space. Yet, we still don’t always see that which is right in front of us, all around us. In the passage preceding today’s text, Jesus notes that the people of his generation are looking for a sign and yet they miss the sign greater than all those that have gone before. The people of Nineveh repented upon hearing the message of Jonah, he says, and yet here, among the gathered crowd, is one who brings an even greater message—and the people do not see it.

That message is from one who fills all with light, a light that shines into every corner of life. Those seeking to focus solely on ritual cleansing, heeding sabbath legalities, and other proscriptions for particularities of life are overlooking, says Jesus, that life in God’s kingdom is not compartmentalized. It is about the light shining into every corner, illuminating and informing every thought and action.

Where are those parts of our lives where we have not let the light of life in God’s kingdom wash over all that we do and are, where we have let darkness linger? How might we today not only let that light shine forth to others but also completely fill us?

Prayer

“I want to walk as a child of the light.
I want to follow Jesus.
In him there is no darkness at all.
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus. Amen.

(from the hymn “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”
by Kathleen Thomerson)

Reflection written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 12:32–40           

Reflection

In this passage, Luke tells us to be “ready for Christ’s reappearance” as if we were “servants who are waiting their master’s return from the wedding banquet.” He also tells us to be prepared for the Son of Man, who “is coming at an unexpected hour [like a thief in the night].”  Perhaps I encountered this passage at too young of an age, but, to be honest, it has always creeped me out! “If the owner had known what time the thief was coming he would not have allowed his house to be broken in to.” Yipes! Red-alert! Hide from the Son of Man!

Maybe, when considering this passage now, I can find the Spirit leading me in a different direction. Luke tells us, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Wow . . . really? Our job is only to wait, watch, and be ready to receive? Today? What a wonderful concept! This, I can do. I can seek the kingdom—here. Today—everyday.

Maybe seeking the kingdom is as simple as focusing on the love of your child over and above your trouble at work. Staying longer in the warm embrace of your spouse on a Saturday morning rather than getting up to start the laundry. Maybe I’ll start tomorrow in trying to seek the kingdom in each and every encounter! 

Prayer

Dear Father, if it is indeed your good pleasure to grant me the kingdom of heaven, then by all means, bring it on! Amen.

Written by Katy Sinclair, Associate Director of Music for Children and Youth

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 24:36–49           

Reflection

I’ve always been a fan of countdowns. When I was little, it was for my birthday or Christmas. As I grew older, it was for bigger life transitions—the first day of high school, college, and my respective graduations. I’m sure many of you have felt the same way; there’s something fun about anticipating a special day or moment. You prepare yourself emotionally if it’s going to be especially joyful or maybe challenging. Sometimes you spend every waking moment considering how to make the most of the upcoming day. Party favors selected, gifts purchased and wrapped, documents in order, college transcripts submitted.

Then the day actually arrives. And despite all your plans and preparations, things don’t go quite as you planned. And instead of remembering to enjoy the day and savor the special moment, you find yourself overwhelmed with the details and what you thought it would be like.

In Luke’s Gospel, we witness the disciples experiencing this very same process. They had things down to a science. They heard Jesus and many prophets say he would rise on the third day, yet Jesus’ resurrection still caught them by surprise. Their anticipation and expectation overshadowed the culmination of this prophecy in action. Despite Jesus’ impatience with the disciples’ amazement, he provides words of comfort, reassurance, and grace.

This reassurance is not limited to Luke’s Gospel. Christ provides us with still hearts and quiet minds. When we find ourselves anxious and anticipating that which we cannot control, Christ reminds us to put our trust and patience in him, who always provides.

Prayer

God, remind us that Christ will be our patient heart and quiet mind in times of anxiety and fear. Help us to trust in your word and promise that Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection will give us countless days of joy, hope, and grace. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens, Director,
Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 104:1–23

Reflection

So many things come to my mind when I read this passage. My initial thoughts are about some of my favorite hymns we sing honoring God’s creation, particularly because with spring upon us and summer around the corner, it is a wonderful time to celebrate the gifts of the earth.

The passage also reminded me of a twelve-hour car trip my father and I took to see my grandparents when I was very young. On that trip, I asked my father many questions. Every time he answered a question, I responded with, Why? Somehow he was able to answer all my whys.

All of the whys of today may not be so easy to understand. But when I read this passage, I am comforted by being reminded that God is in control. God has a why and a plan. God gives us many gifts to remind us of his presence. I am thankful for “the beauty of the earth” and “all creatures great and small.”

Prayer

God, thank you for your presence in my life. Thank you for the gifts of the earth. Help me remember your presence as I enjoy the beauty of your creation. Amen.

Written by Rebecca Nilsson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Today’s Reading | Genesis 1:1–2:4

Reflection

When my wife and I were blessed with the opportunity to go to Australia, we marched through the oldest rainforests on earth, still unspoiled from the ravages of pollution. The unique sounds of the birds and rustling of the leaves reminded me of how truly wonderful God’s creation is. When I think of the creation story, as told in Genesis, I imagine that after God was finished, the world could have looked similar to the lush and undisturbed rainforests that I visited.

Unfortunately, much of the wildlife we encountered is endangered, some of it near extinction. That served as a constant reminder of how fragile God’s creation is. We witness this fragility all around us: the air we breathe, the lakes in which we swim, the littered parks where we walk. Our actions have the potential to destroy or sustain the nature that we often take for granted.

After creating humankind, God tells us to “replenish the earth” and that we have dominion over all creatures. God entrusts us with God’s creation, an awesome responsibility, and entrusts us to be responsible caretakers to let future generations enjoy God’s work.

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for all that you have created. Please help me to be mindful of the nature around me so that I can be a faithful steward of your creation. Amen.

Written by Rod Gedey, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Today’s Reading | John 15:1–11

Reflection

I went to grad school about twenty-five miles from the Napa Valley. My wife and I went there on our honeymoon. There’s a great romance about wine that has grown up through the ages, so when I read today’s passage about the root and the branches I naturally think of one thing.

Flies.

Specifically, one small species of parasitic fly called Phylloxera, which attacks grapevines. Once the bug becomes established it destroys vineyards, and it almost destroyed the wine industry of France. Think of it—no Burgundy, no Bordeaux, no Cotes du Rhone, no Champagne.

The horror . . . the horror . . .

There is really only one way to combat Phylloxera, and that is to graft the branches onto a root that is resistant to the pest. The grafted branches retain their individual identities, and the root protects them. The sustaining rootstock used against the Phylloxera attack in France came from North America, and the result of grafting these vines onto a strong and sustaining root is that the French wine industry was saved, and the wine “which gladdens the heart of man” (Psalm 104:15) continues to flow to this day.

A vineyard of ripe grapes glistening in the sun is a romantic picture, one created by hard daily work. If the vineyard isn’t producing, one of the first things to check is the rootstock. If the branches are not grafted onto the right root, it all goes to waste. Without the protection and sustenance of the root, the branches will not thrive. They will wither and die, and all the work will be for nothing—literally, fruitless.

You see, it all depends on the root.

Prayer

Lord, all the fruits of our labor grow from our rootedness in you. Thank you for sustaining and protecting us as we do the work you set before us. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Today’s Reading | John 15:12–17

Reflection

Edmund Kimbell was a remarkable musician who loved Fourth Church, particularly singing in the Morning Choir. When he was a child, he had received a kidney transplant, but while only in his thirties, that kidney began to fail. As it did, the Morning Choir became Edmund’s care team. Every day someone from the choir went to his home to change dialysis bags, prepare food, and clean his apartment. Because his calling was to be a musician and the choir meant so much to him, he continued singing, even when other choir members had to carry him up the steps into the choir loft. This lasted about a year until Edmund passed away, but the choir would have been glad to have done it even to this day. Edmund loved Fourth Church, the choir, and the music we made together, and the choir loved him for the person that he was.

Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Fourth Church is such an incredible, loving community, and there are many stories like the Morning Choir and Edmund in which individuals or care teams share God’s love with people in need. I am so thankful to be a part of a community that is putting love into action every day through tutoring, food and clothing distribution, counseling, care giving, and so many other ways. Every one of us is a child of God, created in God’s image, and we are called to share God’s love with each other at all times and in all places. Where can you put God’s love into action today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life?

Prayer

O, Jesus Christ, you loved us so much that you gave your life on the cross. Help us to be your hands and feet in this world, so that helping others we put your love into action. Amen.

Written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Today’s Reading | John 20:24–31           

Reflection

Have you ever wondered why Thomas wasn’t with the rest of the disciples when Jesus appeared to them? It had been such a big event. The resurrected Christ had blown right through the closed doors of the room. He showed them his wounds, breathed the peace that passes all understanding on them, and commissioned them. If I had missed that, I would have spent a fair amount of time berating myself. And I probably would have dismissed the excitement of the others, doubted it, simply to protect myself so that I wouldn’t feel so bad about missing something so important.
           
Thomas missed Easter. I assume he had been with the others on Good Friday, but when the resurrected Christ appeared in that room the first time, Thomas missed it. The fact is, we all missed that first Easter. None of us were there. And at some level, just like Thomas, we carry around this internal doubt. How does it make sense? Could it have really happened? Are these other people a bit crazy?
           
The part of the story that brings me to tears is that Jesus graciously came again to that same house. This time Thomas was there, and Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds, to see for himself.

We all missed that first Easter, but over the centuries Jesus has continued to come into our lives, one by one, with his mark on experiences we can touch and see and with the gift of a peace that passes all understanding. When this happens, we can’t physically see him or touch him, but we know it—or at least we have a gut sense of it. We all missed that first Easter. But Jesus keeps showing up with the words, “Do not doubt but believe.”

Prayer

Gracious Spirit of the Living God, remind me that you keep appearing in our wounded lives and doubtful hearts. When I sense your presence and when you invite me to touch and see for myself, allow me to take you up on the offer and then fall to my knees in gratitude, saying “My Lord and my God.” Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Today’s Reading | John 21:1–14   

Reflection

I have always wondered why it is that Peter does not recognize Jesus standing on the beach when he sees him. Having denied knowing Jesus three times before Jesus’ arrest, you would think that any chance to see familiarity would make him anxious.

All of us have been at a point like that though. So deep in despair for something that it can be hard to think or believe that you will be forgiven and renewed for something you regret. Later in the story, after they have breakfast on the beach, Jesus approaches Peter and asks him three times, “Do you truly love me?” Peter tells him, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus has forgiven Peter and later tells him, now “feed my sheep.”

This story is such a powerful example of forgiveness and of faith that Jesus is there. I know I have had times where I just feel like my relationship with God is distant, and then there is always a moment that God wakes me up and makes himself known to me. God is present and provides unconditionally. Sometimes God will tell me to “throw my net into the water” and other times not, but regardless always providing me with an opportunity to trust. God never distances himself completely, just like Jesus did here in making himself known to his disciples. He remains constantly in our lives. Let us try and always remember to remain awake to see the miracles he has in store for us!

Prayer

Lord, thank you for always giving me a second chance, even when my distrust can hurt you. Thank you for being constantly present in my life, willing to offer your love and grace. I pray that you always help me remember you are there waiting at all times and in all circumstances. Amen.

Written by Ashley Elskus, Director, Center for Life and Learning 

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 9:1–17

Reflection

First of all, there is the commission: Proclaim the kingdom of God, and heal. Pretty simple. That’s the thing about what Christ tells us to do: It’s not complicated. It’s not elaborate. “This is the good news.” “How can I help?” Jesus was pretty direct when he wanted to be, and when he told people what he wanted them to do, he was very clear.

Then there is the instruction: Travel light. Don’t worry about possessions. Keep your mind on the mission. It’s easy to wonder why Jesus would send them on this mission without supplies, but it’s a purposeful thing. If you need to ask everyone you meet for the necessities of life, you have to cultivate a certain humility. The “you are evil sinners, and by the way, can you give me a sandwich” approach is not likely to be the most successful way to sustain a ministry about the kingdom of God. Jesus wants the disciples to remember that they need the people they meet.

Then there is the curveball: If you aren’t welcomed, shake the dust off your feet when you leave. It sounds like putting a curse on someone, doesn’t it? “Shake the dust off your feet, then the flying monkeys will come and destroy them.” Sounds a little vengeful. But there’s a difference between a curse and testimony. Testimony is simple; it’s not aggressive. It’s just a statement of fact: “They gave us nothing.” And this advice also carries something very healthful—the reminder not to carry someone’s ill treatment along with you. When you step in something, the first order of business is to scrape it off your shoes.

Proclaim the kingdom of God, and heal. Travel light. Shake it off. Simple instructions for a complex world. Remarkable how effective they are.

Prayer

Lord, help me to remember that when the path seems hard, it’s not because it’s complicated; it’s because it’s simple. Remind me to shake off the slights of the past and look to what is to come. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 30

Reflection

“You have everything if you have your health.” You have likely heard this familiar phrase and known something of its meaning. Not only does physical illness change you and your ability to work, play, and focus your life, but physical illness, injury, pain, and the like can affect your mental state as well. It can be debilitating when you can’t do the usual things in life; you can feel as though your life is spiraling down.

In this passage, David shares these same feelings. However, when his health starts to improve, David has a new problem. Now healed, he becomes boldly proud; his new state goes to his head, and he feels he is invincible: “This is forever; nothing can stop me now!”

We must remember that life remains fragile. Life has its ups and downs, including our health and mental state. But God is steadfast, always with us, always ready to heal. In the darkest of nights, our minds can be occupied with worry, “but in the morning there is joy!”

Prayer

Dear Lord, you remind me often that your steadfast love remains with me. Be with me again today as I face what the day will bring, be it joy in the morning or the pain of illness. Teach me to enjoy the health I have and to live life to the fullest. When injury and illness and challenges come, keep me mentally in focus through it all. Now and always. Amen.

Written by Rick Sabol, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Today’s Reading | Colossians 3:12-17

Reflection

Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. These are gifts that allow us to live with each other and ourselves in peace. All much more easily aspired to than lived out. Especially if, like me, you like to think of yourself as smart and witty or as someone who gets things done.

More important than thinking of myself in this way, however, is being at peace with my fellow travelers in the world and, from there, with myself. And so, to the extent that I can, I practice being patient and I practice being kind. And I pray for these gifts too, as well as for the gifts of compassion and of humility, because I cannot achieve them only on my own. And I give thanks because nothing in this world quite opens me up to letting the word of Christ dwell in me richly as being grateful for the goodness of God.

And maybe someday, with enough prayer, I’ll desire meekness too.

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, these simple gifts seem too calm for my blood sometimes. I cling fiercely to all the ways I see myself as special and unique. But I know myself to be most truly myself when clothed in your peace, and for this I am grateful. You know most what I need to live in that peace; help me desire and live into those gifts. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregation Life

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Today’s Reading | Exodus 20:1–21

Reflection

As a society, we appreciate rules and structure to help organize our lives and maintain order and safety for those around us. As individuals, however, we often feel bogged down and restricted by rules, however logical they might be. And the Ten Commandments? No one feels particularly happy after reading the scripture recounting the epic interaction between God and Moses. Being told everything we can’t do or say or think sounds rather oppressive, and God just rescued Moses and the Israelites from their slavery and captivity under the Egyptians. It almost seems counterproductive.

But if we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we see God providing the Israelites with guidelines on how to live fully and genuinely, by highlighting two relationships: the relationship with God, and the relationship with neighbor. These relationships are at the core of Christianity.

Being a Christian (in biblical times or in present day) does not mean focusing your time solely on your own needs, wants, and responsibilities. It means giving of your time, sharing your spirit, and cultivating your faith to grow and learn as you build relationships. God did rescue the Israelites from oppressive leadership, but they were not simply given God’s blessings. These blessings would have to be earned through remaining faithful to God and to one another.

This challenge and offer of autonomy is a greater gift than simply handing over blessings and miracles. It allows us to truly experience the human journey and share God’s unlimited love and grace with one another as we both fail to meet this challenge as well as surpass our own expectations.

Prayer

God, help me to focus my energy and spirit in relationship with you and among my neighbors. Remind me my outward love fosters a true Christian community and centers around your grace. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens, Director,
Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center


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Monday, May 30, 2016

Today’s Reading | 2 Corinthians 1:3–7

Reflection

Today is Memorial Day, a federal holiday remembering the tremendous sacrifices that have been made by men and women on behalf of this country. For many of us, Memorial Day is the kickoff to summer—a day of celebration intermingled with our gratitude for what these men and women were willing to give up in the hope of improving our safety. Our passage this morning, however, is a reminder that there are many for whom this is also a day of great sadness and who are in need of consolation.

Any conflation of religion and nationalism is inherently dangerous, but our passage from Paul reminds us that our faith still has a message to speak on a day like this. Paul opens with a benediction to the troubled Corinthian community, reminding them that God is the God of all consolation. Through his suffering on the cross, Christ shares our burdens and pain. This past decade of war has devastated many families both in our nation and global community, but there is an implicit promise in these words of comfort from Paul: God is with us no matter what.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers” will ever be able to separate us from the love of God. On this Memorial Day, let us remember that this promise goes with each of the men and women who gave of themselves in the service of this country.

Prayer

Dear Lord, I am grateful for the gift of your love—a love that is constant with me no matter where I am at. Be with each of those who grieve on this day, and fill them with your promise of new life. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Today’s Reading | 2 Corinthians 4:13–5:10

Reflection

“So we do not lose heart.”

I don’t know how Paul felt when he wrote these words. I know that when I have the opportunity to read this piece of scripture as the presider at a memorial service, I stand taller when this phrase comes tumbling out of my mouth. It comforts me as much as I hope it comforts the mourners.

Paul wasn’t presiding at a memorial service when he first wrote this letter. He was attempting to encourage the church followers at Corinth to stay strong in the faith. They had become fragmented by internal strife and disagreement. He wrote these words to shore them up in their ability to follow the crucified Christ at a time when their expectations had been dashed. Paul’s message was to “keep on keeping on” and to believe that it was all worth it. “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”

Paul writes, “This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen.”When I read these words at a funeral, the person who has died has usually experienced a long and debilitating illness. The family is devastated not only by the death that has occurred but because they have witnessed the deforming effects of disease. It’s a bit risky to refer to what they’ve experienced as a slight momentary affliction, because what they have endured has been big. What I hope they hear is the message that there’s more. There is a bigger picture. There is the long view. There is something beyond what our eyes can behold and always the possibility of an“eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” Struggle and human disagreement and church strife and pain and death and disease are not the end of the story. Keep on keeping on.

Prayer

Dear God, I ask that you grant me the long view, a glimpse into eternity beyond the momentary afflictions of the present. And may that glimpse help me to continue following the crucified Christ in this world. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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