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Daily devotions, written by the staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church,
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August 1–3 | August 4–10 | August 11–17 | August 18–24 | August 25–31

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Scripture Reading: Acts 16:25–40
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

When morning came, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported the message to Paul, saying, “The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul replied, “They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed. (NRSV)

Why don’t Paul and Silas run? I mean, that’s a no-brainer: you’re whipped and thrown into prison, you pray, all of a sudden there’s an earthquake, and the walls come a tumblin’ down. The next step is to beat feet, right? God has set you free; you don’t need an engraved invitation. But they don’t run.

Of course, if they had run, the jailer would have killed himself. So there’s that. But even after they take care of him and stay put so he’s not blamed, when their release warrant comes they still don’t go. In fact, Paul give the magistrates some lip in return: No, Skippy, you don’t throw us in jail publicly and release us privately. You get yourself down here and do it in person.” And the magistrates have to come down and face the two men they had unjustly brutalized.

And that’s why they didn’t run: they intended to hold the institutions of power accountable for their abuses.

Power makes a show of exercising power. Let me correct that: insecure power makes a show of exercising power. Insecure power needs a demonstration, needs to make examples, cannot—under any circumstances—admit it was wrong to do so. To do so would require a degree of moral courage that insecure institutions of power do not possess. It would require a sense of justice.

We don’t have to look far to see institutions dodging accountability for their lack of justice. It’s up to us to say to these institutions of power—be they political, social, or economic—“No, you don’t get to dodge. You get down here and do the right thing and be accountable for your actions.”

Lord, give us the strength to hold power accountable to justice. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 148
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
     praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
     praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon;
     praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
     and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
     for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever;
     he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
     you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
     stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills,
     fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
     creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
     princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
     old and young together!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
     for his name alone is exalted;
     his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
     praise for all his faithful,
     for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

I read a devotion from a pastor recently in which he stated that he never begins a prayer to God without first giving thanks. When I read that I thought to myself, “I don’t think my first instinct is to begin a prayer with thanks, especially when I am feeling down.” How much different would my outlook be if I began a prayer positively, even when I have small conversations with God all day? I tend to pray throughout the day, but I do not stop and thank God enough. “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” it says in Philippians 4:11. I love this verse because it gets right to my problem: so often I am never just content in the moment, giving thanks to God for what I have right then and there.

After work recently I played volleyball with the Fourth Church Young Adults at Oak Street Beach. It was a gorgeous summer evening with the water bright blue, a nice breeze, the sun setting: I stopped and just took it in. All the worries I had on my mind before that melted away. Life is so much easier when we do that. This psalm praises God from all aspects of creation: the “shining stars” the “lightning and hail,” the beautiful and the rough. Let us always remember to praise God first for what God has created and done in our lives, and maybe then that will lead to a more “content” heart in us all.

Lord, thank you for this moment in my life, for all that I have right here and now. I pray that I appreciate all of the simple pleasures you so often bestow upon me, pleasures that I am too often too busy to see. Amen.

Written by Ashley Elskus, Special Events and Membership Coordinator
   for the Center for Life and Learning

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Scripture Reading: Acts 17:16–34
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him —though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, For we too are his offspring.’

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” At that point Paul left them. But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them. (NRSV)

When I ride down the elevator in my building in the morning, I’m struck by how many people get on and spend the entire elevator 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 and had the chance to observe his surroundings. He noticed the abundance of idols in that city. The preponderance of idols everywhere told him that 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, wherever we are, and to be engaged even with strangers. 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.

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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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Scripture Reading: Romans 14:7–12
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

So then, each of us will be accountable to God. (NRSV)

In the first half of Romans 14, Paul challenges his listeners to not judge others and to not ourselves be judged by others. Rather, God is the judge.

To be honest, the thought of God being my judge frightens me. I often think that God is a bitter person who finds joy in judging me with cynicism and hardness. But in reality, the cynicism and impatience I cast on God has more to do with me. I'm the cynic who is quick to be critical and judgmental of myself and others, not God.

According to the Bible, God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (Jonah 4:2). God is love (1 John 3) bearing with us in our struggle. The one who sends rain on the earth to water the tomatoes and sweet corn. God is the one who sent Jesus, God’s Son, to save me from my cynicism and judgment of self and others.

The good news of salvation through Jesus Christ is that we don't belong to ourselves. We belong to a patient and loving God who is making us new. Let us live in and dwell in this freeing truth together. God, the judge, loves us, and in Jesus, we are being set free from the death of judgment to the life of love.

God, you are the righteous Judge. Yet often, I think I am the judge. Please realign me again today. By your Holy Spirit, remind me that I belong to you, the gracious and compassionate one, slow to anger and abounding in love. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Administrative Assistant
   for Children and Families and Youth

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 7:24–37
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go —the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (NRSV)

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!

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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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 8:1–10
In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.” His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. (NRSV)

When I was a chaplain at Trenton State Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey, a colleague named Kate shared something really powerful with me: “In our brokenness, we depend on God, and while this is powerful, God also asks us to grow up—not in some judgmental way, but in an empowering way.”

In this story, Jesus is asking his disciples to “grow up.” He chooses not to perform another miracle while they sit as spectators; he wants them to take action instead of depending on his. So he asks them, “How many loaves do you have?” In other words, take responsibility; go to the task of sharing God’s love with God’s people.

Here’s what’s so empowering about that: our contribution to the work of God is valued! We have something to offer, by God’s grace. What’s more, God doesn’t disappear and leave us to it. The same God that was father to the fatherless and mother to the motherless continues to be with us, promising us that we’re not alone, but this time as our deeply gracious guide; God loves us enough to let us make mistakes and let us trip up but also to allow us to be a part of the miracle that feeds God’s people.

I don’t view the journey as a linear one: we will encounter seasons when we depend completely on God, for we must, but other seasons in which God asks us to look to our gifts to meet our community’s needs. You have bread to share. You have gifts to share. You have a task to take up. Get to it, for you are never alone; your community is with you, and so is God.

God who grants us permission to be, to exist alongside creation in gratitude, help me always to value that which you value, to see my own value, and to value my God-given gifts. Help me to remember that I witness to the Bread of Life by sharing my bread, by being community, and by using my gifts. In your name I pray. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 8:34–9:1
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (NRSV)

Five years ago, I had the 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 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, Jesus on the cross. I was used to seeing so 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 and 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, as it says in Mark’s Gospel, “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.

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, Associate Program Manager for the Chicago Lights
   Elam Davies Social Service Center

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 118
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his steadfast love endures for ever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures for ever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
‘    His steadfast love endures for ever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
    “His steadfast love endures for ever.”

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
    the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
    What can mortals do to me?
The Lord is on my side to help me;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to put confidence in princes.

All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
    they blazed like a fire of thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
    but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
‘The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
    the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
    the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.’
I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
    but he did not give me over to death.

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
    O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
    We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
    and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
    up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God, I will extol you.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures for ever. (NRSV)


“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.” 
       —Mahatma Gandhi

I can often be focused on the negative things in my world and in my life. A recent article I read challenged me to consider whether I celebrate the good things in my life as much as I complain about the bad. Sadly, I only needed a brief moment of introspection to confirm that, no, I don’t spend nearly as much time focused on the good things that happen to me as I do on the bad.

The psalmist urges the community of Israel to see all the ups and downs of its history and its daily life as simply a part of a story that reveals God’s eternal steadfast love. The concept of this love, God’s hessed, is a foundational characteristic of God in the Hebrew scriptures—a characteristic that our English language has trouble fully explaining. This hessed is such a fundamental part of who God is for Israel that there can be no fear or uncertainty in the face of difficulties or enemies. The hessed of God assures Israel that God will redeem all of the bad for good. It calls God’s people to constant positivity.

I am challenged by the call of the psalmist to “give thanks to the Lord” and to say, “God’s hessed endures forever.” I am called to see all the good, as well as the small amounts of bad, in my life in the larger context of God’s love for all creation.

God of steadfast love and faithfulness, help me to see and to celebrate all the good things that are in my life—to focus on these and to understand that they are a part of your care for me. And when I face difficulties, help me to know that all of my days, even the hard ones, are a part of the bigger story of your love for the world. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 9:14–29
When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.” (NRSV)

The urgency in Mark’s good news is palpable. Immediately, immediately, immediately! Three times in this single episode, the author shouts, “Immediately.” We see three responses to Jesus’ presence, as each one speaks from the immediacy of their own emotions and trust.

Jesus approaches the crowd along with Peter, James, and John, who have just witnessed the Transfiguration. “When the crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe and ran forward to greet him.” The powerless, shepherdless crowd responds with reverence and rushes to be near Jesus.

When the evil spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into convulsions, casting him to the ground. The evil spirit tried to demonstrate its power by hurting a helpless boy and leaving his family in despair. Jesus exposes the limit of the evil spirit’s power by casting it out and restoring the boy.

The father of the boy is the only one who answers Jesus when he asks what they have been arguing about. The father does not care about the argument and simply blurts out the truth of his need and despair. When Jesus offers a word of hope, the father immediately responds in truth, “I believe! Help my unbelief.”

To me it seems they each responded according to how much power they imagined they possessed. The one who had an illusion of power immediately resisted Jesus’ presence and was forever cast out. The crowd who had experienced powerlessness was drawn to Jesus and greeted him. The man who knew profound helplessness as he tried to care for his son, the one who was most honest with Jesus, was the one most transformed—along with his son.

Lord God, how often I try to hide my needs from you. How often I want to handle things myself because I fear facing my own limitations and sin. Open my eyes to your presence and free me to cry out, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” Amen.

Written by Patty Jenkins, Former Director of the Center for Life and Learning

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Scripture Reading: Acts 20:1–16
After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement, he came to Greece, where he stayed for three months. He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia. They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas; but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days.

On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’ Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

We went ahead to the ship and set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there; for he had made this arrangement, intending to go by land himself. When he met us in Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. We sailed from there, and on the following day we arrived opposite Chios. The next day we touched at Samos, and the day after that we came to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. (NRSV)

This passage is such a great cautionary tale for preachers: Paul talks for too long, and a young man falls asleep sitting on a windowsill, falls out the window, and almost dies. So I’ll try to keep this brief!

A group of Fourth Church members traveled with me to Greece this past May to walk in the footsteps of Paul. One of the hardest things about recreating Paul’s travels is to relate to how long it must have taken in those days: Paul didn’t move through the ancient Near East on a tour bus. 

There are a lot of things we do better in 2013 than they did in the ancient world, but slowing down isn’t one of them. So here’s a short list of things you might do today to slow down to a more Paul-like pace. Give one of them a try:

  • If something or someone sets you off today, take five long, slow breaths before you respond.
  • As you walk to or from work today, stop and notice something that the tourists are appreciating . . . and appreciate it. (Paul was a tourist everywhere he went in the Book of Acts).
  • Take out a blank piece of paper and spend ten minutes writing about something in your life that is important to you. (Set an alarm so you won’t keep looking at your watch.)
  • Finally, a word about the young man in Acts 20:9. Tonight, try to fall asleep while praying. Who knows if that’s what Eutychus was doing in the window, but ending the day with God in your thoughts can’t possibly be a bad thing.

God, thank you for the good things, help me with the difficult things, and keep me in your care. Amen.

Written by Adam H. Fronczek, Associate Pastor for Adult Education and Worship

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12–31
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. (NRSV)

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he presents an anatomy lesson to portray the body of Christ. He describes a body that is made of many parts, all having different functions. I have to admit that the song “Dem Dry Bones” by James Weldon Johnson popped into my mind at first reading, and I was humming “Now hear the word of the Lord.”

What a perfect way to describe the body of Christ. It is a powerful image that says to me that no one part has a value greater than another, but without all of the parts there is no body. Recognizing that each part has a different function, it appears to be a call for diversity.

The most powerful experience I have had related to the body of Christ was when my daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. She tearfully asked me one day how she could find God in what had happened. My response was that God was in the love that was being shown to her by her friends from all walks of life. This to me is the body of Christ.

Loving God, encourage me to recognize and use the gifts that have been given me. Make me bold in loving the people who touch my life. I ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen.

Written by Barbara Timberlake, Fourth Church Member
   (Stephen Ministry Leader)

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Scripture Reading: Acts 20:17–38
From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus. And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.

“And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship. (NRSV)

Being a Christian wasn’t easy for Paul and the earliest Christians. We get a very real sense of that from this passage. Paul knows that he is bound to experience imprisonment and persecution—and ultimately death—because of his faith. The tears shared in this encounter with the elders of Ephesus bear witness to the risk each of these Christian leaders assumes.

It’s hard for Christians in the United States today to appreciate the danger and pathos of this kind of faith. Though some like to portray Christians as a persecuted minority, such posturing strains credulity. It may in fact be the case that Christianity is losing relevance or respect in our culture, but Christians are rarely on the receiving end of persecution in our context.

Of course, there are places in the world in which it truly is dangerous to be a Christian. There are places in which the church is under attack. Those of us who practice our faith in places of privilege and security should remember these brave sisters and brothers and do what we can to support them—not in the spirit of Christian triumphalism but in the hope that all people might be able to practice their faith in freedom and peace.

God of all people, attune my heart to the struggles, risks, and dangers that some of my Christian sisters and brothers face each day and show me ways that I can stand in solidarity with them. Amen.

Written by John W. Vest, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 9:33–37
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

We’ve all had those days. We have all experienced the feeling of being caught up in “the race”—for the best things, the highest honors, the greatest job, the ideal relationship. We set our goals, and then we charge after them, entering the lifelong competition, tracking our accomplishments and defining our self-worth by how we stack up against our friends, colleagues, and enemies. I’m guilty.

And just when I think my place in the race is secure, that I’m a contender, I come across someone who has, in my eyes, done so much more with his or her life—who’s traveled the world, owns three homes, has a fabulous job and a boat—and my spirits sink. I suddenly feel like I’m dead last in the race, way behind where I should be in life. And my mind starts telling me I’m not good enough.

I love Mark 9:33–37 because it completely changes the yardstick! Jesus can’t be any clearer in this passage. With his words “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all,” he encourages us to step out of the race (and out of ourselves) and focus on the simple command God gave us: to do our best to love, serve, and welcome one another in his name. And just like that, I am reminded of what’s most important.

Lord, when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the standards I set for myself and the comparisons I make to others, remind me that your standards are the only ones that matter and that your love for me is unfailing. Amen.

Written by Patty Donmoyer, Receptionist

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 89:1–18
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
     with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
     your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
     I have sworn to my servant David:
‘I will establish your descendants forever,
     and build your throne for all generations.’ ” Selah

Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord,
     your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?
     Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
a God feared in the council of the holy ones,
     great and awesome above all that are around him?
O Lord God of hosts,
     who is as mighty as you, O Lord?
     Your faithfulness surrounds you.
You rule the raging of the sea;
     when its waves rise, you still them.
You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
     you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours;
     the world and all that is in it—you have founded them.
The north and the south—you created them;
     Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
You have a mighty arm;
     strong is your hand, high your right hand.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
     steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
     who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance;
they exult in your name all day long,
     and extol your righteousness.
For you are the glory of their strength;
     by your favor our horn is exalted.
For our shield belongs to the Lord,
     our king to the Holy One of Israel.

Reading this psalm, the word that kept jumping out at me was faithfulness. Then I noticed the first line: “I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever.” As one who has had the great fortune to be given the opportunity to come into a family business, I find that much has been passed down to me from previous generations. In 1892, my great grandfather founded a church music publishing company and called it Hope, presumably because that was all he had. In 1923 when my grandfather was running the business, William Runyan, the music editor, wrote the tune “Faithfulness” to Thomas Chisholm’s text, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” This beloved hymn continues to be Hope’s most well-known song, and when it was suggested that we sing it at my mother’s funeral a few years ago, I recall my father saying, “Well, we should. It’s the family hymn.” With this in mind the second line of Psalm 89 takes on new meaning as well.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see
all I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
join with all nature in manifold witness,
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.


Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
thine own great presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.


By Thomas O. Chisholm 

Words © 1923, Ren. 1951 Hope Publishing Company

Reflection written by John Shorney, Fourth Church Member

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 42
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
     so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
     for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
     the face of God?
My tears have been my food
     day and night,
while people say to me continually,
     Where is your God?”

These things I remember,
     as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
     and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
     a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
     and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
     my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
     therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
     from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
     at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
     have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
     and at night his song is with me,
     a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock,
     “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
     because the enemy oppresses me?”
As with a deadly wound in my body,
     my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
     “Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
     and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
     my help and my God.

“My soul longs for you, O God . . . my soul thirsts for the living God.” “I pour out my soul . . . my soul is cast down within me.” Perhaps you remember times when your spirit, your essence, felt parched and far removed from the refreshing waters of God’s Spirit. Our yearning for communion with God is itself God’s Spirit at work within us. We are created to be in union with God and do not feel whole without that oneness. “Deep calls to deep” describes how God beckons us to come close, to drink deeply of the life-giving fountain of God’s love.

Depression among teenagers is especially difficult, and sometimes suicidal, in part because they don’t have previous experience that their depression will end, nor do they have hope that they will come through it returning to a place of joy.

Here the psalmist is constantly weeping and being continually taunted by others that God is absent. But he interrupts his own lament by purposely recalling more joyful times, times when he was part of a festival, leading the crowd in praising God and gladly giving thanks with shouting and singing. Then he questions his own unrest. For God has not changed. God’s love is still there for him, ever the same.

When we experience hard times, let us be like the psalmist, remembering God’s steadfast love for us and trusting that one day we will again praise God, with our thirst quenched.

O God, deepen my faith that, whether bidden or not, whether I feel it or not, you are present. When I am consumed by current troubles, help me recall times when I felt close to you and filled with joy. Help me remember your steadfast love, so I can anticipate the future with hope. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 10:13–16
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

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.

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

Written by Barlow Nelson, Fourth Church Member

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Scripture Reading: Acts 22:6–16
“While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’ Since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, those who were with me took my hand and led me to Damascus.

“A certain Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law and well spoken of by all the Jews living there, came to me; and standing beside me, he said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight!’ In that very hour I regained my sight and saw him. Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear his own voice; for you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.’

Conversions are life-changing experiences. When people share with me stories of their conversion experiences, I have found that, as different as they are from each other, they often pivot on a significant question.

In this account of Paul’s conversion from Saul to Paul, from a zealous Jew to a passionate reformer of religion, Paul’s conversion pivots on the question that Jesus directs to Paul. This was not a theoretical or philosophical question. It is concrete, urgent, and highly personal. Addressing Saul by name and in the second person, Jesus asks Saul directly, “Why are you persecuting me?”

It seems to me that at the heart of any thorough conversion is the personal realization that the way I have been living, the things I have been pursuing, or the approach I have been taking brings harm upon another person. When that recognition takes place, and my desire no longer to harm someone leads me to revise my worldview and to redirect my course of action, I have undergone a conversion.

Paul’s conversion fueled his great reformation of the church to be inclusive of every kind of person—Gentile and Jew, slave and free, and male and female. It is as though the question by which Jesus converted Paul in the first place continued to reverberate throughout his life, making it impossible for Paul any longer to teach and pursue religion in a way that would bring harm to others.

Not all conversion experiences endure; some are short-lived. Perhaps the power of a conversion rests in the question that confronts us in the first place. The question that Jesus poses to Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?” is a God-given question that perhaps can convert us all.

Almighty God, please forgive me for the fickleness of my commitments. Address me directly, personally, and powerfully with the questions that you would have me pursue for the rest of my life, for I want to be your faithful servant. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 10:17–31
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

“What must I do to inherit eternal life? “Then who can be saved?” These are the questions the followers of Jesus asked.

As a disciple of Jesus, I have read and listened to this text multiple times. I must admit that I look for ways out of giving up my family, friends, possessions, and lifestyle to follow Jesus. I couldn’t imagine life without my family and friends. It never made sense to me that this is what Jesus is asking.

This summer I’ve been leading a graduate-level course. The students are very bright, engaged with the subject matter, and have made a commitment of their time and money to participate. The teaching experience is new to me, and I have been baffled by the questions raised by the students: “When is this paper due?” “What are the margins?” “When will you post grades?” And here I was concerned that they’d want to debate the content of the readings and lectures.

What I think they are asking me is “How can I do well?” “I can I reach my goal?” “What will it take to get the A?” My response has been “Trust the process; you’re learning something new.” “It will all make sense in the end.”

Perhaps in the passage we can forget about getting the answer right, right this minute. Maybe the answer is to trust the ultimate teacher and trust that he will keep us on course, correct us when we’ve strayed, and one day the answers will become clear.

Loving God, be with me as I struggle to find the answer. Remind me that you’re not asking me to be right, but rather to follow you. Amen.

Written by Maggie Lewis, Fourth Church Member

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 10:35–45
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

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.

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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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 10:46–52
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

When I read Bible stories, I like to imagine being in the story, to imagine what I’d think or feel if I were there. Especially our reading today from Mark 10 where Jesus asks Bartimaeus, the beggar who is blind, “What do you want me to do for you?”

My response, and I imagine the response of many gathered in this story, was probably why did Jesus ask him what he wanted him to do?  Clearly Bartimaeus is blind. Doesn’t Jesus know this?

I think Jesus knew, but he is doing something more in this moment. Jesus responds to Bartimaeus’s request for sight by saying, “Go, your faith has healed you.” Yes, Bartimaeus lacked sight, but he did not lack faith, and Jesus wants the surrounding crowd to know this.

I have the reverse problem of Bartimaeus. I have sight but little faith in Jesus. Instead, I think that another gin and tonic is going to ease my mind or I would matter more if I had the power and prestige of the people on television or . . . I am hungry for life, and yet I look for the temporary things to give me life—the things that cannot give life.

Today it is good for me to enter the story as Bartimaeus and to allow myself to be needy and hear the words from Jesus: “Daniel, what do you want me to do for you?” “Jesus, I want to see with eyes of faith, like Bartimaeus, I want to recognize that you are the life giver and that to follow you is to truly see and live.”

Dear God, help me to have eyes of faith. I confess that often I am led and tempted by lies. Help me instead to look to your Son for life. Realign my eyes to be focused on Jesus. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 11:27–12:12
Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin ’?”—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?”

When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.

When Jesus quotes the scripture about stone, he is expressing that the society these socio-religious leaders are building won’t hold, for it has rejected the cornerstone (or keystone). In references to this society in other parables and stories, Jesus also suggests that the society has been built on the oppression of widows, the strangers, the sick, and the poor.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, I wonder about the society we’ve built. The racial tensions have been highlighted, once again, in a country with a tragic history of racism and oppression. Our arguments are largely technical or legal. Have we missed the cornerstone to building a society in which we can live as neighbors in community, work toward the common good, and value each child of God?

What about sharing God’s love with all of God’s creation? As author Jim Corbett shares in his book Goatwalking:

The quest for truth (as science) and for right (as law) is the quest for communion (as religion). . . . Each seeks reconciliation, integration, and coherence. . . . When I seek truth, right or communion rather than victory, my adversary is precisely the teacher I need.

In the wake of tragedies and conflicts, with all their complications, we don’t need to prove our points and win the argument or tangle over technicalities. What is needed from the community of faith is compassion, a willingness to listen, and the space to learn how to share God’s love. Yes, let us be informed about the events that challenge us, let us cry out for justice with righteous indignation, let us work for good, and let us do this all with the love of God that is the true cornerstone for a just and compassionate society.

Loving God, help us to receive rather than reject the cornerstone—your love; help us to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 12:13–27
Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that ‘if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’ There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”

The classic “clash of empires” story.

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

This is how the King James Version of the Bible famously translates Jesus’ response to the question that his hostile interlocutors have posed: “Should we pay taxes to the Roman authorities or not?”

As the text tells us, this is not some sort of parlor game they are playing; the religious authorities are trying to trap Jesus in a kind of “lose-lose,” where to say yes would be to acknowledge the emperor and his quasi-divine status, and to say no could be seen as a seditious act, rebelling against the occupying Romans.

Jesus knows all about the clash of empires, for he has come to proclaim God’s reign among his people who are oppressed under the yoke of Rome. God’s reign, which Jesus calls “the kingdom of God,” is the rule of love, and it stands over against the rule of Rome, which is the rule of power.

The devastating response by Jesus (devastating to the questioners) challenges them as to who they have allegiance to: Rome or their God—the rule of power or the rule of love.

For it can’t be both!

The Lord of heaven is thirsty
for justice and for peace;
God’s battle is unending
Till hate and oppression cease. Amen.
A Peruvian prayer

Reflection written by Calum I. MacLeod,
Executive Associate Pastor and Head of Staff

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 12:28–34
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself ,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

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.

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

Written by Jean Marie Koon, Fourth Church Member

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Scripture Reading: Galatians 3:23–4:7
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Early in my ministry at Fourth, I asked John Boyle to help me by visiting with a young couple who needed a little more discipline in their relationship. John agreed, and afterwards reported to me, “I gave them my ‘Old Dutch Uncle’ talk.” (Can’t you hear John saying that?)

A lot of people may read Galatians 3:24–25 and think, “That sounds great—no more discipline!” That seems like a misguided reading to me.

When John Boyle died this year, I realized one of our wisest disciplinarians was gone. John always knew how to strike the right balance between discipline and grace. What will we do without this wise counselor to advise us on the rules of life?

In thinking about that this week, I saw something new in this passage from Galatians: Faith is not without discipline; faith is a discipline that is agreed upon between you and God. It doesn’t matter if someone else is there to enforce the rules; in matters of faith, you and God have agreed upon the rules because you’ve come to a mature, adult realization of what is best. 

John used to have in his office a framed quotation from Søren Kierkegaard, the point of which seems to be that disciplined faith means learning that God does not hold up a list of rules in front of us, but that God sustains us in times when we ourselves realize that we have not followed the rules we know are best for us and realize we must do better tomorrow. I’ve copied that quotation as today’s prayer.

“Father in heaven! Hold not our sins up against us, but hold us up against our sins, so that the thought of you when it wakens in our soul, and each time it wakens, should not remind us of what we have committed but of what you dids’t forgive; not of how we went astray but of how you dids’t save us!” Amen.

Reflection written by Adam H. Fronczek,
Associate Pastor for Adult Education and Worship

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Scripture Reading: Acts 26:1–23
Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and began to defend himself:

“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, because you are especially familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews; therefore I beg of you to listen to me patiently.

“All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night. It is for this hope, your Excellency, that I am accused by Jews! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

“Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.

“With this in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending youto open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

“After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had help from God, and so I stand here, testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would take place: that the Messiah must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

This long passage tells the story of Paul defending himself in front of the king. He was being persecuted for his beliefs, much as he had persecuted Christians before his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. His conversion was so spectacular that he took a 180-degree turn and began preaching to people about Jesus. Even as a prisoner, he took this chance to tell the powerful story of Jesus’ life and resurrection to the king—to witness to the life-changing power of Jesus in his life.

I grew up in an evangelical denomination where groups would sometimes go out on weeknights to witness to people in their homes about the impact of Jesus in their lives. We don’t do that as Presbyterians. But it seems to me that we have the powerful ability to witness to the life-changing impact of Jesus everyday by the way we live. We are unlikely to be in Paul’s shoes—persecuted for our beliefs. We probably won’t have a dramatic stage upon which to tell the story of what Jesus means to us and our lives. But we can show his influence every day in the way we interact with the people we meet as we go about our day, in the way we treat our family, friends, and neighbors and in the choices we make.

And sometimes showing the love of Jesus can be more compelling than talking about it.

Lord, thank you for the privilege of living at a time and in a culture where I am free to express my belief in you without fear of persecution. Show me how to share the power of your love in my life every day as I interact with your people in the world. Amen.

Written by Juli Crabtree, Fourth Church Member

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 14:1–11
It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

In the early 2000s my grandfather died. It was summertime, and I was working at a camp on the coast of South Carolina. In a whirlwind trip, I met up with my family in Wichita, Kansas, for the funeral.

In the midst of those frantic days and my own foolish youthfulness, there was a powerful moment that unfolded before me that I will never forget. As the service finished, we lined up and walked past the casket for a final good-bye. My dad was in front of me. I watched as he approached. He put his face close to my grandfather, and my dad broke down. His tears were uncontrollable. I stood stunned, watching as my father’s body was overwhelmed with emotion.

It was just a moment, amidst a whirlwind, but it was beautiful—filled with a deep and intimate love. I wanted to know this kind of love.

Our Bible reading today is the same. It sits amidst the whirlwind of Mark’s narrative. Jesus, who is crucifixion bound, appears to know what lies ahead, but most of the others around him do not, and in this moment they are soon to be stunned by what transpires. A woman opens a most expensive bottle of perfume and anoints Jesus’ head with it.

It was just a moment, amidst a whirlwind, but it was beautiful—filled with deep and intimate love. I want to know this kind of love.

Heavenly Father, my pace is frantic and I am living in a rush. By your Holy Spirit, please slow me. Help me to see and experience the beauty that surrounds me. Teach me again today the power of your love. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay,
Administrative Assistant for Children and Families and Youth

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 99
The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!
     He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The Lord is great in Zion;
     he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name.
     Holy is he!
Mighty King, lover of justice,
     you have established equity;
you have executed justice
     and righteousness in Jacob.
Extol the Lord our God;
     worship at his footstool.
     Holy is he!

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
     Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
     They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.
He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
     they kept his decrees,
     and the statutes that he gave them.

O Lord our God, you answered them;
     you were a forgiving God to them,
     but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
Extol the Lord our God,
     and worship at his holy mountain;
     for the Lord our God is holy.

It is clear to me in reading Psalm 99 today that in addition to it stating that God is king over the nations, it also makes clear our place in relationship to this God our king. Phrases like “Let the earth shake,” “Let the nations tremble,” and “Worship at his footstool” leave in my mind little room for personal interpretation. Being raised by a Calvinist, I am quite comfortable with the thought that God alone unchangeably decrees the covenantal relationship with God’s creation. I should be way ahead on this “trembling at his footstool” concept, but I am not. I have recently been trying to pray on my knees in the morning. This has been very humbling. I am humbled in a good way, showing, accepting, and honoring my relationship to God, my king.

I am sometimes humbled in a humiliating way, when, on my knees beside the bed on a morning, I hear my husband turn over toward my side. I quickly abandon my God and king and pretend I am looking for my glasses . . . nice. I have since moved my humble prayer from bedside to the exercise mat, where I can disguise my prostration as some sort of yoga stretch. Why can’t I assume this footstool relationship with God!?

The Bible teaches me that Abraham, Moses, Solomon, and Jesus prostrated themselves when praying. A Muslim assumes the Sajdah position of prostration when praying the words “Glorified is my Lord, the Most High.” Why in our culture are children most often depicted as the ones praying on their knees? Perhaps it is easy to consider our God as king. But is it so easy to accept that we are not a member of God’s court, but a lowly servant?

God, you are exalted over all the nations. Please help me understand that you are exalted over me. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 3:3–15
Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”

Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. He came to Jerusalem where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. He offered up burnt offerings and offerings of well-being, and provided a feast for all his servants.


“God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of the peace, justice, and freedom among nations which all powers of government are called to serve and defend. The church, in its own life, is called to . . . commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace.”
       —PC(USA) Book of Confession: The Confession of 1967

In his imagined dialogue The Republic, Plato places this warning in Socrates’ mouth—that, “he who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one who is worse than himself.” This is a warning that American Christians might want to take more seriously. We, like the person questioning Socrates, might object that politics seems so distant from the morally pure life that we would like to lead, is based on expressions of self-interest, deals in base notions of wealth and power, is open to abuses—the list of objections to getting involved is long.

Consider Solomon’s request of God. The story begins by revealing that Solomon is not perfect, yet the request he makes of God in a dream—that he be given the wisdom to rule God’s people well—reveals his desire to live fully into the position of power and influence that God has granted him and to do so in a way that pleases God.

We, also, should not shy away from the power and influence that we have been granted. God calls us to affect the decisions that are made by our public institutions—and sometimes God even calls us to exercise the power to govern the people, always seeking God’s wisdom as we do so.

Almighty God, who granted Solomon wisdom beyond compare, give us hearts that are willing to step forward to do your will and minds that are capable of understanding how. Make us bold to enter into public debate and systems of power so that, in our actions and words, the love you revealed to us in Christ might be active in the world. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Thursday, August 29, 2103

Scripture Reading: Psalm 122
I was glad when they said to me,
     Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
     within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city
     that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
     the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
     to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
     the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
     May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
     and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
     I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
     I will seek your good.

Jerusalem is a complicated place. I had the privilege of being there almost two years ago. On one hand it is beautiful city, and on the other hand it is a confusing city. The psalm speaks of Jerusalem as a destination, a pilgrimage destination. So long ago anyone would have been excited to have traveled, likely by foot, for miles and miles and then finally gain a glimpse of the magnificent temple way off in the distance. For the tribes of Israel, the temple was where God lived. To be in that temple, if only for an hour or two, would have been awe-inspiring.

Beautiful, complicated, and holy. Today Jerusalem is still a holy site. It inspires Jews and Christians and Muslims, because it holds so many of our shared memories as people of God. But today there is little peace in Jerusalem. The state of Israel is threatened by nations surrounding it, and it is also a threat to those same nations.

It is still important for us to pray for peace in Jerusalem, as the psalm instructs. Peace would be realized if justice could be achieved. Pray for peacemakers working for justice in Jerusalem and in the West Bank and in Gaza. Peace in Jerusalem would be far more awe-inspiring than the sight of the magnificent temple far off in the distance. God would be so pleased.

Dear God, thank you for peacemakers working in fractured environments. Sustain them with your grace and our prayers. We pray for peace in Jerusalem. Amen.

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

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 3:16–28
Later, two women who were prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. The one woman said, “Please, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house. Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. We were together; there was no one else with us in the house, only the two of us were in the house. Then this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. She got up in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your servant slept. She laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. When I rose in the morning to nurse my son, I saw that he was dead; but when I looked at him closely in the morning, clearly it was not the son I had borne.” But the other woman said, “No, the living son is mine, and the dead son is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead son is yours, and the living son is mine.” So they argued before the king.

Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; while the other says, ‘Not so! Your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’ ” So the king said, “Bring me a sword,” and they brought a sword before the king. The king said, “Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one, and half to the other.” But the woman whose son was alive said to the king—because compassion for her son burned within her—“Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!” The other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.” Then the king responded: “Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.” All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.

I’m leaving Solomon out of this one, mostly. He’s not very interesting here anyway; he is smarter than everyone else, and he has less personal stake in the outcome. He decides on the basis of a trick, and that’s not interesting, really. The two mothers, though—that’s a contest. “I give up” versus “I would rather no one wins than I lose.”

Look at the world today. Everywhere you look there are those who would say “Better no one wins than I lose.” Those who show willingness to give up one thing to get another, they are derided for weakness and a lack of conviction. Compromise—what a dirty word. Shows an appalling lack of conviction, of moral fiber.

What kind of mother would give away her child?

When the choice is life for her child rather than death, the only true mother is the one who will give in. The one who would rather the child die than be raised by another mother, the one who would rather the child die than she lose the contest—that’s no true mother. That is someone who cares more about herself than the child.

This story crosses cultures. It is not only “people of the book” who recognize the wisdom of Solomon’s decision. Everyone who hears it does. But the world is filled with people who would rather burn everything down than think they have lost. And we are placed, every day, in the place of Solomon, deciding whom we will call just, whom we will call true, whom we will call humane.

Compromise is often disappointing and painful. The alternative? It’s not much of an alternative, is it?

Lord, please remind us of your teaching—that it is the weak who fear compromise, but strong who are able to give themselves up for the good of those in need. As you gave yourself up for us, let us learn to give ourselves up for others. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 139:1–18

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
     you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
     and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
     O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
     and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
     it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
     Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
     if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
     and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
     and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
     and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
     the night is as bright as the day,
     for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
     you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
     Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
     intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
     all the days that were formed for me,
     when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
     How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
     I come to the end—I am still with you.

I am one of those people enamored with Top 10 lists for almost anything (especially Things to Do in Chicago’s Summer or Chicago Restaurants—recommendations welcome!). This psalm goes on my personal Top 10 Favorite Scriptures: the poetry is beautiful, the imagery moving.

This psalm is, for me, the essence of the God who has chosen to be God For Us and God With Us, the God whose name was revealed to Moses in a burning bush as the “I Am that I Am” or in a rougher translation, the Being One. Eternally present with us, when we slumber and when we awake, at the beginning and at the end, in all that we do and in all the places we go, we’re not alone. God doesn’t give up on us, even when we have given up on our world and on ourselves.

Maybe you find yourself despairing or mourning because there is loss, injustice, and suffering—God is there. Your heart may be full of pain and sorrow—God is there. Maybe you feel far from God, you’ve lost your way or have turned away—God is there. Maybe you feel beyond forgiveness and grace—God is there. When you smile, when you experience joy, when you greet your loved one, when you lift up the fainthearted and defend the vulnerable, when you help your neighbor and befriend a stranger—God is there.

Out on the farthest edge, there in the silence, you were there.
My faith was torn to shreds, heart in the balance, but you were there.
I thought I had seen the end, everything broken, but you were there.
I’ve wandered heaven’s gates, I’ve made my bed in hell, you were there still
always faithful, always good, you still have my heart.
You have me. You have my heart completely. Amen.
(adapted from a Gungor song, “You Have Me”)

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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