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Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

 

November 1–3
November 4–10
November 11–17
November 18–24
November 25–December 11

All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Revelation 7:9–17

Reflection
In recent years, All Saints’ Sunday has become a deeply meaningful occasion for me. To name the saints who from their labors rest has become ever more important in my experience of our shared life in faith. In our evening requiem worship at Fourth Presbyterian Church, the names of members who have died in the last year are read, and a bell is tolled for each name. Together we witness to the powerful promise that “in life and in death, we belong to God.”

Our practice echoes the words found in the expressive written pictures of today’s reading from the book of Revelation. We recall the saints corporately, in worship, anticipating being part of the great multitude gathered in the presence of the Holy One, singing unending praise. And by naming our friends in faith, we renew our trust that they rest within the everlasting love of our eternal God.

While there are no geographical descriptions in the scriptures of the life that is to come, the words of Revelation are evocatively promising. We will be sheltered by our loving God. No longer will we hunger, thirst, or suffer due to natural afflictions. Our souls will be renewed by the springs of the water of life. And “God will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes.” May our voices be raised in praise and thanksgiving to our God of compassion!

Prayer
“Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Reflection written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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November 2, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 12:28–34        

Reflection
Are you a patient, detailed, follower of rules and regulations-type person who loves to clarify and get into the weeds? Or are you into the big picture, don’t want to dig into the details, follow the rules and get going with the plan? Jesus answers for both.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear “commandments,” I’m thinking the Ten Commandments, or the two greatest commandments on which we are reflecting today. Imagine my surprise in discovering that Old Testament Law consists of 613 commandments. Since the Pharisees were devoted to strictly following each one of them, they challenged Jesus on which ones were most important. How can one possibly follow so many?

They were compelled to ask Jesus, “Which is the first commandment of all?” It appears the scribes are lawyer types, and for that one needs precise clarification. I love that Jesus brilliantly simplified all 613 commandments for the non-detailed of us.

Doesn’t it seem that if we “love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind” and we feel love of God in us, it will permeate every aspect of our being? Doesn’t it seem that being obedient to rules without heartfelt love is worthless?

Then our Lord instructs us to “Love your neighbor as yourself”: we must have love in our heart to keep the precepts of God’s law.

Personally, when I think of today’s divided, angry world, loving thy neighbor may be hard, but it is essential. It doesn’t say tolerate or only love some. How can each of us embrace all neighbors, especially those we differ from and with?

In our more familiar Ten Commandments—not the 613—the first four deal with our relationship to God; the other six deal with loving our neighbor. Aren’t the two great commandments Jesus gave us a beautiful summary for us to follow?

What could be a more elegant and simpler path to eternal love and peace?

Prayer
Thank you, Jesus, for your boundless love and wisdom. Please help open our hearts each day so we feel your love within, to love you with all of our being, and then fearlessly breathe your spirit into the world. Amen.

Written by Cris Ohr, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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November 3, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 11:32–44

Reflection
John 11:35 is considered the shortest verse in the Bible in the King James Version, where it simply says “Jesus wept.” Here Jesus is weeping because his beloved friend Lazarus has died. Another time that scripture notes Jesus wept was when he drew near and saw the city of Jerusalem, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:41).

The depth of sorrow or anger a person feels shows how much they truly care about something or someone and wish things were different. Some who saw Jesus weep over Lazarus said, “See how he loved him!” But others said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Those two responses to Jesus capture what many of us think in the midst of tragedy, whether personal or as a society. Part of us believes God loves us so much that when we suffer God suffers with us, weeping when we weep. God’s compassion for us—which in Latin means “co-suffering”—may be the very thing that unleashes God’s power of healing. God strengthens us to face whatever trials life brings, granting us peace that passes human understanding.

Another part of us wonders why God didn’t prevent tragedy and loss from happening in the first place. But there is the mystery: we don’t fully understand why God allows humanity to experience illness and death or to sow evil and experience its consequences. What we know is that there is nothing in life or in death that can separate us from God’s love. That’s huge. May that be enough.

Prayer
Quiet my questions enough, God, so that I can experience your gift of solidarity and presence with me in all seasons of life. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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All Saints’ Sunday, November 4, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Revelation 21:1–6

Reflection
When I was in elementary school, everyone I knew was reading Left Behind. This series of religious novels told the story of the end times, or the apocalypse. The first novel begins with Christian believers disappearing from earth in what is commonly known as the rapture. The left behind are the unlucky disbelievers who must manage the fallout of this mass exodus. Those opening scenes of missing persons and falling airplanes were terrifying. And much to my distress, those images were all that my fellow fifth-graders wanted to talk about on the daily bus ride home. 

One day after one of those dreaded conversations, I ran up my driveway and plowed through my front door hoping to find my mother. Instead, I found the kitchen sink faucet running, the dishwasher open, the television on, and my mother gone. Suddenly I was convinced that the day had come. Luckily for me, my mother had just walked into the other room to get a new roll of paper towels. 

In the Book of Revelation, we are given a glimpse into those end times. We are told of a new heaven and a new earth in which God comes to make God’s dwelling among us. Tears are dried, death is destroyed, cancer and war are no more. Let’s be clear though: this isn’t a quick fix or some sort of jailbreak salvation in which we leave behind the pain and chaos of our world. In God’s reality, we stay put. God promises renewal, not escape. 

In this new world, we partner with God in ways that allow this reign of God to be experienced through us. With our souls and bodies we bring about the new heaven and earth in which God dwells. The end is not near. It’s here. In God’s reality, the end is renewal. 

Prayer
O God, the Alpha and Omega, who makes all things new,
use me to bring about your reign of justice, mercy, and love.
Amen.

Written by Shawn Fiedler, Ministerial Associate for Worship

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November 5, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Ruth 1:1–18

Reflection
Although the Book of Ruth is easily overlooked amidst the longer histories of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, its themes of loyalty, faithfulness, and the creation of new family are universal and useful. The story starts with tragedy: Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah’s husbands all die within the first five verses, leaving Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah widows. Ruth and Orpah are Moabites, meaning that they were not Jewish by birth, and as such Naomi encourages them to return to their lands and families to start anew.

Orpah ultimately acquiesces, but Ruth “clings” to Naomi, promising that Naomi’s people are now her people and Naomi’s God is now hers as well. This idea of religious conversion was a radical concept at the time—and is still surprisingly rare even today—but Ruth’s choice eventually leads to her marrying Boaz and becoming the great-grandmother of King David.

The author of Ruth certainly had this Davidic lineage in mind when writing this story, but later readers and interpreters have chosen instead to reflect on the Hebrew concept of hesed—a word meaning “loving-kindness”—that is present in this story. The main characters all go above and beyond the basic commitments that they have made to one another, highlighted by Ruth’s famous speech in verses 16–17.

All of us carry commitments to others in our lives, but this story encourages us to truly practice hesed in our daily living—going beyond obligation to truly caring for the welfare of those around us.

Prayer
Compassionate and loving God, may you guide and inspire me today to show your loving-kindness—your hesed—with all those whom you have placed in my life. Amen.

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

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November 6, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 24:1–10

Reflection
I am great at beating myself up. Negative self-talk flows through my mind all day long. I’m not pretty enough . . . I’m not thin enough . . . I’m not a good enough mother . . . I’m not successful enough . . . I’m lousy and such and such . . . you get the idea.

Part of this is my own personal stuff and how I’m wired, but some of it has to do with the world we live in. We are constantly exposed to images of “perfection,” whether it be on TV, in magazines, on social media, or even when we are simply walking down the street. Seeing these “perfect” people can make the cycle of negative self-talk and poor self-esteem never-ending. It’s exhausting.

Despite all of these negative thoughts, I try to remember that I am a child of God. I am loved by God more than I can even begin to imagine. God wants to be a part of my life, even when I feel less than worthy.

This psalm is a great reminder that each and every one of us is a beloved child of God, and God loves us despite our weaknesses. We all have moments when we are less than perfect, yet God still invites us to stand in God’s holy place.

Prayer
Gracious God, thank you for your unending love and support, even when I am far less than perfect. When I am faced with challenging thoughts, help me to remember that I am yours, and I am loved no matter what. Amen.

Written by Briana Belding-Peck, Family Ministry Coordinator

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November 7, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Ruth 3:1–5, 4:13–17

Reflection
“Where you go, I will go . . . your people will be my people, your God, my God.” We often hear these words of devotion that Ruth spoke to Naomi read aloud in wedding ceremonies. They are very much about loyalty, commitment, and belonging. The book of Ruth is filled with these themes, as well as the theme of survival in a world that favors some and diminishes others.

In the verses of this story that we don’t read, Boaz asks another relative if he will purchase a plot of land now for sale after the death of their relative. Boaz said, “The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance” (Ruth 4:5).

The other relative declines, and Boaz buys the land and buys Ruth. And we are happy for her, because she will survive and thrive. Naomi lets go of her bitterness and celebrates the birth of a child to Ruth and Boaz. The child’s name, Obed, means “one who serves (God),” and he becomes the grandfather of King David and the ancestor of Jesus.

Ruth, an impoverished foreigner, a widow, desperate and willing to do whatever it takes to survive and to protect her mother-in-law, becomes one of four women listed in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Luke only lists men). Throughout the story, Ruth proves that she is a woman worthy of respect, and Boaz shows that he is responsible and generous in his dealings with family and foreigners. In fact, Boaz welcomes Ruth, the foreigner from Moab, into his own family.

Prayer
Loving God, thank you for walking with all our ancestors, in all times and places. Give me perseverance and wisdom like Naomi, courage and loyalty like Ruth, generosity and character like Boaz. Make me a force for good in the world. Amen.

Thanks to Alphonetta Wines and Wilda C. Gafney for their insights on this story (www.workingpreacher.org).

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry

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November 8, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Kings 17:8–16

Reflection
Time after time we read this story in the Bible, about one of God’s messengers either saying, “Give me some food” or “Give others some food” and getting the answer “No, there’s not enough.” The messengers then say, in those immortal words, “Just do it.” And lo and behold, there is enough. There’s more than enough.

We like to pretend that life is a zero-sum game. We pretend that if we’re going to put food in a needy person’s mouth we’ll wind up taking it out of our own. Whole political ideologies grow up around that idea—that needy people will only take the food out of your family’s mouth, that if sick people can easily get health care, that will mean you and your family won’t be able to, that the poor are somehow bankrupting society.

It’s a lie.

We have enough. The problem is not in our giving; it is in our hoarding. We prize hoarding, we honor hoarding, we reward hoarding. You may say, “No, we don’t think that way; we don’t believe that,” but look at what we do. We say we hear the word of God, but when it comes to this directive, to feed the hungry, our society gets strangely deaf. The truth is out there; there are multitudes of charts showing the small sliver of our wealth that we dedicate to helping those in need. And still we hear that these people are dragging the rest of us down.

God says, “Help people.” We say, “Don’t wanna.” And we make up excuses.

The woman in today’s text doesn’t say, “Get lost, Elijah.” She gives, even when she’s so indigent that she believes she will die. We’re a rich nation, and we cling and clutch and blame and demean, listening not to God’s direction but to those voices that glorify greed.

I don’t know how many times God has to tell us that we have enough to help others. At least a few more times, apparently.

Prayer
Dear Lord, please don’t stop telling us to help each other. When we see others serving those in need, remind us that we are supposed to be that servant. Someday we’ll hear you. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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November 9, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Deuteronomy 6:1–9

Reflection
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

It’s been awhile since I focused my attention on one commandment in particular, especially this great commandment. It leads me to ask: What does it look like in our lives to love God with all our heart, soul, and might? How do I practice this unconsciously? How can I more consciously love God profoundly in my daily life?

If you’re reading this over your morning coffee and have access to a pen and paper, doodle out some of your thoughts to these questions. If you’re reading this on the train or on the go and only have your mind, think about how you’d answer these questions.

Could you come up with one new thought or idea you could practice today? As I was engaging these questions myself, I came up with “trusting my body.” I’m currently pregnant and as a Type A person, I’ve been absorbed in research, practices, and discipline to help this little baby grow and to prepare for the birth. My over-planning is definitely related to my desire to have control over an uncontrollable, yet miraculous experience of growing a new life. When I think about loving God physically—with my heart, soul, and might—I’m reminded of how God created me physically in my mother’s womb. God’s got this! God has prepared my body to do what countless female-bodied humans have done and continue to do. As I seek to love God deeper today, I’m going to love what God has made and formed ready—my body. How can you love God more deeply today?

Prayer
Thank you for how you love us more deeply than we can understand. Help us to reciprocate, God. Amen.

Written by Abbi Heimach-Snipes, Pastoral Resident

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November 10, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Samuel 1:4–20

Reflection
In the text we find Hannah in a desperate position. Hannah was barren, a condition of disgrace for Hebrew women during the time of the story. To further complicate the situation, Hannah’s husband took another wife who was able to bear children. The other wife not only had children, but she repeatedly insulted Hannah.

It can be difficult holding on to hope when unpleasant conditions show no signs of improving. It can be even more hopeless when prayers are not answered as we think they should be.

Sometimes God will not give us immediately what we ask for. In times of delayed response we may experience spiritual growth. In our suffering, persistent prayer moves us to total dependence on God when we realize the Almighty is the only source to satisfy what we desire. Through this time of seeking answers to our request, our relationship with God will deepen.

Hannah had sufficient justification to give up, but she did not. Instead, she took her problem to God and passionately prayed, “Look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son.” In return for God’s favor, Hannah vowed to dedicate her son in lasting service to God.

What a woman of faith. Despite her unhappy situation she continued to seek the Lord. Perseverance in prayer is an essential quality of the faithful. Endurance during times of trial leads to strength of faith and expectations that will not disappoint. After expressing her pain, Hannah felt peace and confidence knowing that her request would be answered.

Always remember that persistent prayer will move us beyond the limits of trouble. Allow Hannah’s story of faith to encourage you during the barren times of your life journey.

Prayer
Almighty God, please refocus our hearts toward your will and purpose so that we will experience peace during times of trouble. Amen.

Written by Robert Crouch, Director of Volunteer Ministry

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November 11, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 12:38–44

Reflection
I am grateful for Jesus’ constant reminder that none of us (preachers included) have gotten the life of discipleship figured out. None of us comes to worship with pure motivations. It is often difficult for us to pray without some kind of agenda, even if we don’t want to acknowledge it. In our Reformed theological tradition, we call this total depravity. Dr. Shirley Guthrie defined total depravity this way: “There is nothing we do that is completely devoid of self-interest.”

I wonder, then, about the widow’s self-interest. What might cause her to be so generous? I ask that question thinking of all the widows with whom I have had the honor of ministering throughout the years. I have learned many lessons from them. One of those lessons was to never stand in their way of being generous. One woman in particular used to get irritated with me for not asking her to give more for God’s work in the church. “Pastor,” she would say, “this is a privilege to be able to give. It feels good to be able to contribute what I can and to watch as my little offering gets added to all of the others and grows in ways I could not do by myself.”

So there you go. If the widow of Jesus’ day was anything like the widow who challenged me, her self-interest might just be that she felt good when she gave what she could. She knew she was making a difference in someone else’s life, and very few other things can mean as much as that. Perhaps sometimes a little self-interest, when used on behalf of others, is not so bad.

Prayer
God, I thank you for all of the unexpected people who regularly teach me what it means to be faithful. I thank you for people like this widow who remind me of the joy found in giving. Help me to walk through my life this day with my fists unclenched, giving what I can and opening myself to the transformation that being generous will make in my life. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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November 12, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Hebrews 9:11–14

Reflection
The driving force behind these verses in Hebrews, perhaps in the entire book, is purity. Words like “perfect” and “without blemish” and (of course) “purify” evidence the author’s concern to establish Jesus’ death as our ticket to perfect, spotless purity.

Hebrews is a unique book in the New Testament canon. It displays an intimate familiarity with the Jewish law and prescriptions for temple worship, and it appropriates that knowledge to make the case that Jesus does not oppose or nullify those strictures but fulfills them. It’s intense. There’s blood involved.

I think we have to ask what’s behind this passion for purity. A historical and contextual understanding of ancient purity laws reveals a troubling equation of “impurity” with women and people with physical and mental illness. Yet these are the people with whom Jesus spent most of his time. The church follows Jesus’ example, sometimes better and sometimes worse.

Still, the yearning for what the author of Hebrews calls purity is easy to relate to, isn’t it? It’s a desire to be completely with God in spirit as well as in body, to have our desires, our intentions, and our actions align with integrity all the time. We long to be pure in our relationships, our diets, our worship, our language, our economic activity; are we not motivated in our best moments to be all-in with God’s intentions for the world? I think that’s purity.

The good news of Hebrews, then (the good news of the gospel), is that our yearning for purity has found fulfillment in Jesus. Because of who he was and how he lived, our longing to be perfect and pure will not, in the end, be frustrated. There’s nothing stopping us from working to be better, but our improvement is a consequence of Jesus’ love for us, not a precondition.

Prayer
Eternal God, who in Jesus of Nazareth has purified all your children, may we so yearn for the perfection of Jesus that our lives are a constant enrichment to all your children, and may we so delight in Jesus’ purity attributed to us that we are freed, body and spirit, to worship you in all we do. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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November 13, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 119:1–8

Reflection
Is your way blameless? (Mine isn’t, either.)

But don’t despair! This is a teaching psalm, not a psalm of self-flagellation. Each one of its verses (or strophes) is “dedicated” to a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet: twenty-two letters, twenty-two strophes. Each of the eight verses in every strophe begins (in Hebrew) with that same letter. Why did the psalm’s author go through these alphabetic acrobatics? Because they make it easier to memorize. It’s a teaching psalm, remember?

And all 176 verses (it’s the longest psalm in the Bible) have to do with God’s law. Doesn’t fill you with confidence and consolation, joy and gladness? Seriously, don’t despair.

For me the key to this psalm is in that last part of verse 8: “Do not utterly forsake me.” God’s law is one of the ways that God is present with us. The law reminds us what a good life looks like, that just and compassionate people (most of God’s laws are about how to be those kind) are usually the healthiest and happiest. God knows that I will not always be blameless, that sometimes I will do wrong, and that other times I will be downright shaky in the keeping of divine statues. If God didn’t know that, there wouldn’t be the need for any laws.

But God still sticks around when I fail, and yes, even when I fail miserably. Even when I can’t imagine anyone—especially God—would stick around. The law is another way God has of communicating that. It’s always there: for us to try again, study again, follow again.

Prayer
Loving God, thank you for how your law teaches and brings us, little by little, into communion with you. Thank you, too, for staying with us as we learn. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Director, Center for Life and Learning

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November 14, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Hebrews 9:24–28

Reflection
Rene Girard, a Stanford professor of history, became renowned for his development of what is known as mimetic theory. In this social theory, Girard posited that people learn to desire by wanting what our neighbor wants or has. When we cannot obtain what we desire, rivalry and violence toward our neighbor ensues. Societies have often resolved such conflict through finding a scapegoat who receives the blame and violence for unfulfilled desires. Girard found this phenomenon at work in many cultures and also in the biblical witness. It influenced how he interpreted Jesus’ death on the cross as an attempt to end the cycle of scapegoating.

Girard’s theory is just one of several ways to understand Christ’s death, but it is not unlike what the author of Hebrews is trying to achieve in summarizing the redemptive work of Christ. Somehow, it is Jesus who restores our relationship with God and one another by entering into the cycle of human offense and judgment. Steeped in the language and culture of Jewish faith in the first century, Hebrews presents a story of sacrificial love that comes from God, brings humanity closer to God, and envelops the process of redemption in the merciful heart of God.

In our efforts at achieving justice and seeking reconciliation in our public and personal lives, we too need God’s tangible presence, stepping into the breach of our suffering and discord. With conflict pervading our everyday lives, remembering the self-giving love of God in Christ encourages us to be people of peace.

Prayer
God of self-giving love, enter into our brokenness and repair our hearts, renew our minds, reknit our relationships. May we in our reconciliation with our neighbors experience a foretaste of your new creation. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

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November 15, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Samuel 2:1–10

Reflection
This passage is “Hannah’s Prayer.” Her jubilant and unshakable trust in her Lord radiates off the page and washes over the reader like the ocean tide. She exults that it is only in her Lord that she finds strength and protection. Salvation is from God and God alone.

She warns against the human tendency towards arrogance. The inequities that plague humankind—rich vs. poor, powerful vs. weak, hopeful or hopeless—these labels, before God, find no purchase and fall away. Clean slate! The playing field is leveled.

God raises up those who put their trust in God. The labels and beliefs that each of us carries around, whether self-imposed or placed upon us, are of no consequence when you choose to follow the Lord. In and through God, anything is possible and we are limitlessly made new each time we stumble and ask for forgiveness.

I am again and again swept away by the simplicity and complexity of salvation through God. The sense of relief and comfort and well-being! 

Reading this scripture verse takes me back to elementary and middle school, when I would open my lunch to find a note from my mom. Sometimes it was silly, always it was loving, and receiving it made whatever worry I had seem much less threatening. Her note reminded me that my concern was a passing thing and that love and reassurance was waiting for me beyond it.

Isn’t that God’s message to us? Love and salvation are available to us as children of God and triumph over and beyond whatever befalls us.

Prayer
Creator God, my heart rejoices with your steadfast love. In your eyes, I am enough. Even when I stumble, your love waits beyond my weakness. May I think and act compassionately towards others in thanks and gratitude. Amen.

Written by Holly O’Mara, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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November 16, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 12:13–31

Reflection
The people I see in hospital rooms and health care portions of retirement homes have been my teachers. They have shown me what it is like to live when all the treasures have been taken away.

One woman whose home had been on Sheridan Road in Wilmette told me how thankful she was to have the one window in her room at Presbyterian Homes. She relished seeing the tree outside. Another woman at the Bowman Health Center at Rush Hospital told me how thankful she was to open her eyes each morning. She was a double amputee. One man in a hospital room, having lost his wife, his home, his profession, still asks how I am and how my family is.

Jesus tells a parable when someone in the crowd wants advice about splitting up an inheritance. The parable is about a man who keeps building larger barns to store his grain. The point of the parable is that all of our striving to acquire things is the wrong focus. The striving should be for the kingdom of God, to bring God’s justice and compassion and love and blessing to the world. Those are the treasures we should be after.

None of this is easy. Jesus tells the disciples not to worry about their lives, what they will eat or drink or wear. But we are filled with all sorts of worries about survival and sending our kids off to college and meeting the rent payments. Maybe we could put all of our worry about things in perspective if we were to ask ourselves what would be left if all of our things were taken away. Would we still have gratitude for each day? Gratitude for a window and a tree? Would we still be able to ask someone else how they are and how their family is doing?

Prayer
Gracious and loving God, please keep teaching me how to live and what is important. Help me put my “things” in proper perspective. Make our greatest striving be for the kingdom of God. Amen.

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

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November 17, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 6:7–15                              

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (NRSV)

Reflection
Today’s passage is one of the most well known and important from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In this context, I am struck by the extent to which the Lord’s Prayer is about forgiveness. I recall viscerally a service following 9/11 when congregations of Chicago Sinai, Holy Name, and Fourth Church prayed aloud at the same time the prayers of their faith--for us and for Holy Name, the Lord’s Prayer. Our collective earnestness and the presence of Spirit made the experience indelible.

Faced with injustice and daunting challenge, “what we want to do is to reclaim our potency and to show . . . our particular and perceived enemies that we can outdo anyone when it comes to unleashing the power of our outrage over what has been done to us,” John Boyle stated in one of his inimitable Prayers of the People. “Forgive us for even thinking that way, however understandable. . . It is because you do understand how we might think that way that we can tell you what you already know about us without fear of your retribution and with openness to your healing grace.” 

How Dr. Boyle transformed his experience in World War II became the basis of his ministry and teaching. “God knows what you need before you ask. . .”--this is the way Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of forgiveness. I now experience the Lord’s Prayer as a reminder to be open to redeeming, reconciling grace and serve steadfastly to further forgiveness. Living this prayer, I hope to be a proponent of God’s true will.

Prayer
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” Help me remember and be opened through your grace to further forgiveness and love in your world. Amen.

Written by Laura Sterkel, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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November 18, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 103

Reflection
Have you ever talked yourself out of bed? You know, like a Monday morning pep talk? The alarm sounds and you say to yourself, “OK, Monday. You can do it.” Or do you rally yourself before you go into a big meeting? Maybe you whisper to yourself, “You’ve got this. You’ll do great.” 

The psalms reveal a very human response to our experience in this life. The psalmist leads us in hymns of lament and songs of praise. The psalmist reminds us that despite the heartache and pain we experience, our God never leaves us. The psalms are full of “holy pep talks.”

Every so often, however, praising God can sometimes be a lot like trying to get out of bed on a Monday morning. We wake to multiple breaking news stories about violence in our city, natural disasters, or political unrest. We greet the day knowing we may encounter those very raw human realities of sickness, heartache, loss, or fear. Sometimes instead of waking with praise on my lips, I pull the covers over my head and ignore it all. 

Truth be told, sometimes we do need to talk ourselves into worship. The same was true for the psalmist. In today’s psalm we encounter the writer giving a word of encouragement to the psalmist’s very soul: Bless the Lord, O my soul. Remember everything God has done for you! Let’s do it, O my soul, and bless the Lord!

Reading the psalms can remind us of God’s promise of love and care. They are guides for our praise when it’s near impossible to summon our hearts to gratitude. So when morning comes and with it the alarm sounds human ills and shortcomings, try turning to the psalms. Then face the day with praise, reminded of God’s presence and promise.

Prayer
O God,
you are worthy of praise without ceasing;
let all that has life and breath within me adore you. Amen.

Written by Shawn Fiedler, Ministerial Associate for Worship

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November 19, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 65    

Reflection
Psalm 65 is a psalm of providence. The psalmist delineates all of the ways that humans rely on the goodness of God—God’s presence in the very life that is underfoot, overhead, arising from the earth, and in the intimacy of prayer. God’s impulse to provide and protect is providential, and providence is also the trust that allows us to lean into things that are tough, really tough.

I think providence shows up at many points in the history of our country. One of these points was in the early voyage of the pilgrims to the New World. The year was 1620. The destination was what we now know as New England. Many of those arriving were fleeing religious persecution. In making the voyage, they left behind the known life for a world that was completely unknown to them. They faced ultimate uncertainty: the harsh realities of disease, starvation, infant mortality, even lack of tools to till the soil. The trip across the Atlantic was anything but smooth. They were often at cross purposes with each other about their vision for the trek. So what sustained them? Their trust was in God’s providence, that God was leading them to a new place and that their voyage to the New World was in God’s providential plan. God would provide.

Certainly there are many narratives that help us understand more fully the cost and the consequences of what occurred in the early days of this country. But at the core of the pilgrim zeal was an unequivocal trust that God is faithful and was calling them to trust in God fully. So also for us. Never, ever give up on God. God’s providence is as real now as it was then.

Prayer
To the farthest seas and the ends of the earth, your unwavering assurance awaits us, O God. Thank you. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

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November 20, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 100

Reflection
The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession—which is one of the twelve Confessions adopted by the Presbyterian Church (USA)—begins with the question, “What is the chief end of man (humanity)?” The answer given is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy God forever.” The Scripture references cited for this answer include

1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”

Romans 11:36: “For from God and through God and to God are all things. To God be the glory forever.”

Psalm 73:24–26: “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

John 17:22, 24 (Jesus’ prayer for his disciples): “The glory you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one. . . . Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

Psalm 100 could also have been cited, because it describes how to enjoy God. Praise and sing to God, make a joyful noise to God, worship God with gladness and thanksgiving, bless God’s name. Even if our day hasn’t gone well, if we turn to God with thankful hearts, joy can be stirred within us. What more could make your heart dance than to remember that God is good and God’s love endures forever?

Prayer
Deepen my enjoyment of you, God, all of my days. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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November 21, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 95:1–7

Reflection
Today is the busiest travel day of the year in the United States. When you stand in the line at airport security or hit heavy holiday traffic, are you prepared to sing to the Lord and make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation? Are you ready to exclaim—just as this psalm does— that everything is God’s, so it’s OK if the turkey is a little dry? And if an intense family “discussion” (we won’t call it an argument here) arises, are you willing to remind yourself that we are all people of God’s pasture—even if you feel that you’re right and Uncle Darryl is totally wrong?

In our society that craves immediate responses, immediate gratification, and immediate praise for accomplishments, it can be hard to live in the moment—to let things unfold in “God’s time”—and to remember that God is with us when life is frustrating and not going our way. This enthronement psalm served as a reminder to the Israelites that God is in charge and is always present with us—in line, in traffic, and at the family table. May this psalm be a reminder for all of us of God’s presence and all we have to be thankful for during this holiday season and beyond.

Prayer
O God, whose hands formed each of us and all of creation, bring us peace when life is out of our control. Help us to remember that you are always with us—walking with us and reminding us of all we are thankful for. Amen.

Written by Marit Johnson, Former Editorial Assistant

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Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 107

Reflection
It’s easy for me to say thank you for my blessings and the things I’m grateful for—for deliverance from distress, for healing, for the love of my friends and family. It’s so much harder to say thank you for the challenges, the tough lessons learned, the loss of something I thought I wanted until God showed me it wasn’t meant for me. It’s much easier to say thank you for deliverance from the storm than to say thank you for the opportunity to learn how to navigate through the rain and the big waves.

But who would I be without those opportunities to learn and to grow? Growth doesn’t happen when things are easy. Growth happens when I’m pushed out of my comfort zone. And while I may not love it at the time, it’s so valuable.

As I reflect on what I’m thankful for this year, I’m realizing that being thankful for something isn’t the same as thinking it’s good. I can think something was hard and painful and still be thankful for the experience because it made me smarter or stronger, because it taught me a lesson and built my character, because it gave me perspective, helped me grow, strengthened my faith, or deepened a relationship.

Prayer
On this day when I reflect on my blessings—on all of the things, people, and experiences I’m thankful for, I also give thanks to you, my God, for the ways you have challenged me. Thank you for loving me exactly as I am and for loving me enough to challenge me to keep growing. Amen.

Written by Nicole Spirgen, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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November 23, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 138

Reflection
Psalm 138 begins with “I will praise you, O God, with my whole heart.” This passage led me to ponder what it means to praise God with one’s whole heart. I remembered a beautiful October day in northern New Mexico. I was on retreat and hiking in the mountains behind the monastery. The glory of God’s creation, as well as a felt presence of God’s love, brought a profound and spontaneous outpouring of gratitude and praise.

Then I began to wonder if praising God in the midst of beauty and in times of well-being constituted praise of God with my whole heart? An interview with John McCain came to mind. The reporter asked him if he was afraid. He replied that when a fear comes up, he says to himself, “Wait a minute, old man. You’ve had a wonderful life, filled with good friends, loving family, travel, and meaningful work. I then feel a deep sense of joy, and I am grateful for the life I have had.” In my view this reflects praising God with your whole heart in the midst of trouble.

At the end of Psalm 138, David asks God to “not abandon the work of your hands.” Human beings understand abandonment—the abandonment of self, of significant others, the multitude of losses that lead to the abandonment of hope. To praise God with one’s whole heart at least means going to the Lord with all of it, the good and the bad and the ugly circumstances of life.

It is in the “full catastrophe” of life that we learn of God’s enduring love. We are never left alone. Regardless of what happens, the good Lord will fulfill God’s purpose for us. This vision invites us to praise God with our whole heart.

Prayer
Good Lord, lead us to an understanding of your great love. Set this knowledge in our hearts so that we may praise you with profound, heart-felt gratitude. So be it. Amen.

Written by Susan Cornelius, Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being

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November 24, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 75

Reflection
We give thanks to you, O God! This psalm reminds me to practice gratitude today. There are times in the fall where I feel overwhelmed with the many tasks at hand. There never seems to be enough time in the day. When the season begins there are new TV shows and with them a new wave of advertisements, bombarding us with messages of not being enough. With every season comes a new set of challenges, and yet there is so much to be thankful for.

Do you ever find yourself easily set off into negativity? I can find myself in those moments, and it really takes a reorienting of my mind and soul to move into a place of noticing what I’m thankful for. I also don’t want to discount the very real sources of disappointment, pain, and suffering that are worth feeling and noting. It’s not healthy to brush over our feelings and force a fake positivity.

But the type of gratitude I’m encouraging us to consider is a practice that turns our distraction and self-centeredness back to God. Instead of complaining about little annoyances in our lives, what would happen if we took even five minutes and just lived into a being of gratitude? Think about what you’re thankful for. Notice God’s presence in your life—those moments you experience love, awe, wonder, challenge. Let your soul dance through these thoughts as you open yourself up to an encounter with God, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel closer to God today.

Prayer
Thank you, God, for all the ways you present yourself in our lives! Help us practice gratitude so we are more prepared to follow you and connect with you each day. Amen.

Written by Abbi Heimach-Snipes, Pastoral Resident

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Christ the King Sunday, November 25, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 18:33–37

Reflection
Today is Christ the King Sunday, which marks the final Sunday in our liturgical year and the fulfillment of the promises that we will hear once again in the first Sunday of Advent next week. Emphasizing Christ as king or reminding ourselves of God’s sovereignty may seem like a strange place to end our liturgical year, but our passage today helps us set this day in context.

When Pilate challenges Jesus, asking him if he is “king of the Jews,” Jesus responds by saying that his “kingdom is not of this world.” Rather than completing our liturgical year in a neat circle, Jesus’ words instead point beyond our lived experience here on earth and beyond time itself: the kingdom that Jesus has come to build lies beyond any of us, and Jesus alone will be responsible for its fulfillment.

I’ve always loved the words of the Catholic bishop Ken Untener (often attributed to the Archbishop Oscar Romero): “It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. . . . We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

As we prepare to begin another liturgical year, buoyed by fresh hopes and expectations, I hope that we keep these wise words in mind—sowing seeds of faith, hope, and love because that’s what we are called to do in this world, even if we may never see them bear fruit.

Prayer
Eternal God, on this day when I am reminded of your sovereignty, I pray that you help me step back and take the long view and faithfully claim my small role in the kingdom you are building. Amen.

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

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November 26, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Daniel 7:9–10, 13–14

Reflection
The verse after today’s text lets us in on Daniel’s reaction to his dream: “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me.”

Hey, I get it. The world has fallen apart, you’re an exile in a hostile land, they’ve just chucked you into a lions’ den a chapter ago. So yeah, it makes sense that when you close your eyes there are monsters all around. And that little horn with eyes and an arrogant mouth running things? We can all relate to that these days.

In our dreams, when things are all awful, sometimes we dream of someone who will make everything OK. Hopefully, when you’re a kid and have nightmares, you’ve got Mom and Dad to make it all right. But when you’re an adult and only a page removed from the lions’ den, and you’re hundreds of miles away from home, whom do you look for then?

When the monsters are really big, you hope, you wish, you pray for someone even bigger to come along and defeat them. But the thing is, if they’re going to beat the biggest scariest monsters, they’re going to be pretty big and scary themselves. So maybe they’re not going to be all that comforting. And you’re still going to wake up scared.

Comfort, that lies in being with someone like us. Someone who can take on the monsters without being a monster themselves. Someone like David, taking on Goliath. Or someone who can, with humility and compassion, take on the rich, the powerful, the oppressors; someone who can take on and defeat that great monster that awaits us all at the end of our lives.

If you have someone like that around, someone you can trust, it’s a lot easier to sleep at night.

Prayer
Lord, all the monsters are scary, even the good ones. Thank you for showing us that we don’t need to call on or become monsters to prevail. Help us to go out into the world with courage and hold to the good. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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November 27, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Daniel 12:1–3

Reflection
The voice we hear in verse one of Daniel chapter 12 has been speaking since verse 20 of chapter 10. The voice is identified there as “one in human form . . . a man clothed in linen, with a belt of gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the roar of a multitude.”

The voice is a vision. And oh what a vision it is. Meant to give Daniel some understanding of what is going to happen to his people during a coming global tumult, it draws on fiery imagery of an archangel (Michael) and hyperbole (“anguish, such as has never occurred”). Hard to believe, sure. This vision is for comfort.

Daniel is Exhibit A in the case for apocalyptic, which is a literary genre that pops up a few times in the Bible. We Christians might recognize some of Daniel’s features from Revelation, the final book of the New Testament. Apocalyptic flourishes in times of persecution and paints a picture of a future controlled entirely by God and not any king or emperor. In all of its chaotic forecasting, apocalyptic is good news for people ground down by the powers of the day: “your people will be delivered.”

We read the big picture here. We don’t squint at the details. And the big picture is God accompanying the faithful through fire and fiasco to new, even everlasting, life.

Amen.

Prayer
God of all history, stir in us the vision you stirred in Daniel, the vision stirred up in your people everywhere facing uncertainty in this world, even destruction. Give us such visions of you victorious and present to all your people that we might find ourselves stirred to give ourselves, body, mind, and spirit, to the gospel vision of things set right, the lost found, the last made first, and the least the greatest. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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November 28, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 93

Reflection
This psalm is an important reminder that through the chaos and storms of life, God is with us. I will admit, when I think of holy “thin spaces” I think of calm, peaceful moments.

One of my go-to activities when I was volunteering in South Korea was to go hiking in the mountains on the weekends. Korea has so many great hiking trails. It was great to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, there were amazing views, and I always felt like the stress of the week melted away the further I climbed. Looking back at the city, everything seemed so small. There in nature I took time to sit and listen to God, to give thanks for creation.

When I would come back down the mountain, back to “reality,” I often let God get lost in the mix of things. But Psalm 93 reminds us that God is in the chaos, that chaos glorifies God as well. The challenge is how can I make space in the chaos to listen to God? Next time I hear a clap of thunder or the blare of a car horn, may I remember that God is mightier than that and use that chaos as a reminder to glorify God.

Prayer
God, you are amazing and mighty. Thank you for always being with me. Help me to remember your presence in my everyday life and that it is all your creation; may it bring me peace. Amen.

Written by Katie Patterson, Youth Mission Coordinator

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November 29, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 13:10–17

Reflection
Just out of college, as a very junior member of the M & A group of a Wall Street firm, I remember two bosses standing over me. One demanded that I change numbers in an analysis to get his client to offer a higher price. “I pay you to obey, not think,” he bellowed at me. “No, think; do what is right,” whispered the other boss. One boss didn’t last very long at the firm. I didn’t either.

In this story in Luke, we see two different views of the sabbath and two different views of how to build, and maintain, a religious community.

While teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath, Jesus says, “You are set free.” The woman healed was in bondage to a crippling infirmity and Jesus freed her. Good work on the sabbath.

On the other hand, there was the synagogue leader. To him, the sabbath meant rules to obey—religious rules, religious traditions. The sabbath was not the day for any work, including the freeing of somebody from her pain.

Jesus’ response to the synagogue community is fascinating. Does Jesus say, “O, the sabbath rules don’t matter. We’re doing away with them”? No! Instead, Jesus argues for a right, merciful evaluation of a person under a heavy burden and then uses the sabbath to relieve her of it. Jesus argues for true values in the use of God’s sabbath, not blind obedience to rigid rules and traditions. It is a day of liberation, for the individual and the church community.

And, at the story’s conclusion, the “entire crowd was rejoicing.”

Prayer
Dear God, you have freed me to think, love, follow and act. May I do so. Amen.

Written by Phil Calian, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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November 30, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | James 2:1–13

Reflection
I was recently directing a guest choir when during a rehearsal one of the basses lamented that he heard some wrong notes in a recent worship service (out of the several thousand correct ones). Being the Music Director, of course I care about getting as many right notes as possible, but I have learned over time that there is so much more to singing together than simply getting the right notes. My response to the choir when the bass commented on the wrong notes was “But there were so many moments of great beauty that I know touched many people, because they told me after the service was over. Besides, even if we sang a wrong note, the world will keep spinning, the sun will come up again tomorrow. There are more important matters to be concerned about than just a couple wrong notes. We are all human and all doing our very best; that is what matters more than some wrong notes.”

I don’t know if the bass was convinced, but I remain confident that if you believe in a choir, or actually anyone—if you truly love and respect them for all that they are, all that they bring—then an outpouring of gifts will occur, far more gifts than you could ever hope for if you focus on the negative, focus just on what we got wrong or how awful everything is. Have hope, show mercy, believe in possibility, share your gifts, and help others share their gifts. This is how the divine gifts of the Holy Spirit can flow through us and into a world that so desperately needs those gifts.

“For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Prayer
Loving God, thank you for the mercy and love you share with each of us every day. Help me to share that love and mercy with those I meet today. Amen.

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

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December 1, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Hebrews 10:11–14, 15–18, 19–25                   

Reflection
I confess I am the kind of person who easily winces at the sight of a needle. And blood makes me squeamish. To see blood is to be confronted with human frailty and the experience of bodily pain. But blood can also be a sign of life. In the biblical witness, blood is often a symbol of purification and health. To give blood is to move it from lifelessness to life from a corpse to a living, breathing body. So it is in this passage from Hebrews that points us to the sacrificial love of God through the work of Christ as the great priest over the house of God. It is the blood of Jesus, given in love, that points us to a new and living way.

What is this new life that flows from Jesus through Christian community like blood through a body? Jeremiah describes it evocatively as the experience of a new covenant. It is a way of living deeply into the promises made in the covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah as well as the Israelites. It is intimacy with God marked by forgiveness. While the prophecy of Jeremiah and the work of Christ often point to a future time, we can experience that covenantal love in God even now. We also share that love in the work of provoking each other to acts of faithfulness and love when we are fully present to one another. How are you letting the love of Christ flow through your life on this day?

Prayer
God of covenantal love, thank you for the promises and for the gift of life and redemption. Like blood flows through the body, let Christ dwell within us, placing your way upon our hearts and sharing your grace with our neighbors. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

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