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


July 1 | July 2–8 | July 9–15 | July 16–22 | July 23–29 | July 30–31

Monday, July 1, 2013

Scripture Reading: John 6:16–27

Reflection
In the story above, Jesus tells a crowd of his followers that they have followed him not because they saw his wondrous deeds of healing the sick and multiplying loaves and fish, but because they ate their fill of food. In other words, Jesus, seeing right into their hearts, knows what motivates them to follow him. He knows that they are looking for benefits. Following Jesus, for this crowd of people, is not an end in itself but is a means to another end.

We may have multiple and different motivations for following Jesus Christ. Taking the opportunity to teach the crowd, Jesus says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Jesus’ words remind us that although temporary benefits can attract all of us, faith based on temporary benefits will not enable us to follow Christ through the ups and downs of life, through good and bad times. Accompanying Christ to the cross takes a faith that is rooted in a love for Jesus Christ as the Son of God and not as a means to some other end.

Prayer
Good and gracious God, you are the source of all good things. You offer me so many gifts in and through your son Jesus Christ. I am sorry that I sometimes confuse the gift of Jesus Christ himself with the other benefits made possible by him. Correct my foolishness, God. Fill me with the right appreciation, and make this the basis of my faith. In the name of your precious Son, I pray. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Scripture Reading: Acts 4:32–37

Reflection
During the middle parts of the twentieth century, many Christian thinkers reflected on the relationship between Christianity and communism. Communism (Soviet style) was the great opponent of the West and (in its “purer” Marxian form) a philosophical worldview that informed many aspects of politics and sociology focusing on the plight of the powerless. Opinion ran from Reinhold Niehbuhr’s pragmatic anticommunist stance (related directly to the prevailing Stalinist regime) to political theologies informed by the Marxist critique of capitalism as a dehumanizing economic system (for example in the work of Jürgen Moltmann and the development of liberation theology). British writer Barbara Ward once described the Marxian concept of communism as “one of the great Christian heresies.”

This may all seem rather quaint in these post-communist (and we are told post-ideological) times, and yet in today’s little nugget of scripture is this description of the life of the early church. No private property, common ownership, no needy people, and resources “distributed to each as any had need.”

One might sympathize with Ward’s description as you place that passage beside Marx’s famous dictum that what he called “higher communism” would be present when community resources were distributed “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

Whatever your view of the (perhaps rather dated) debates of the last century, at the very least we should reflect on what Luke’s account of the early church’s “stewardship approach” says to our society in which, as a newspaper report put it, because of the concentration of wealth and the generational nature of poverty, ours is a “rags to rags and riches to riches” country.

Prayer
We believe that God resides in slums, lives in broken homes and hearts, suffers our loneliness, rejection, and powerlessness. But through death and resurrection God gives life, pride, and dignity. Amen.
(Prayer from “Bread for Tomorrow: Praying with the World’s Poor”)

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

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:21–28

Reflection
The first act of ministry Jesus conducted, according to Mark, was exorcism, the casting out of an unclean spirit. Jesus healed many people of their demons. Psychiatrist Rollo May defined the demonic as any natural function that has the power to take over the whole person. We sometimes say, “I don’t know what possessed me” or “I was beside myself.” Whether it’s a strong emotion, such as rage or hatred or passion, an addiction to food or work or wanting to be liked, or a compulsive habit we can’t break or a mindset that is shut, we have experiences of something at work beyond our control and intellect. We recognize both positive and negative forces unleashed in groups: when momentum shifts in a sports game, or a mob turns violent, or nationalism either rallies or blinds us, or everyone in a meeting falls silent because it feels too risky to speak.

Those around Jesus were amazed at his authority to cast out destructive forces. Though I shy away from singing hymns with militaristic imagery like “Onward Christian Soldiers,” I cannot dismiss that there is a battle between good and evil in our world. The good news is that the power of Christ’s love is victorious and can heal and transform us. As Martin Luther wrote and we sing, “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing, . . . and he must win the battle.”

Prayer
Almighty God, help me turn to you and trust that you are stronger than anything I am facing. Free me to surrender to your power to make me, and our world, whole. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Scripture Reading: John 14:15–19

Reflection
In today’s text, part of the “Farewell Discourse” in John’s Gospel, Jesus tries to convey the unity between himself and the Father as well as reassure the disciples that they will not be left alone. Jesus’ sudden mention of the Advocate begins here and is not duplicated in other Gospels.

The Greek word parakletos carries a variety of nuances, so the Bible you use may show a different translation: Advocate, Comforter, Counselor, Helper, or Paraclete. To us, the word denotes God’s Holy Spirit. According to John, the mission of the Paraclete is to abide with Jesus’ followers after his death and resurrection, to live among those who follow Jesus’ teaching and example.

A quick Internet search brought up an unlikely hit: Paraclete Armor & Equipment located in North Carolina. They produce “custom-designed equipment for the specific needs of highly skilled and forward force members of the military and law enforcement communities.” Testimonials from soldiers in Iraq show Paraclete’s protective vests to be life-saving.

I am tempted to make some kind of connection between John’s Advocate and God’s protection, but the many nuances of parakletos do not include the role of physical defender. At the same time, a glance through the catalogue made me want to own some armor and equipment. I want to go out into the world prepared for the worst: bring it on!

But honestly, I don’t know what to think. Help me, God.

Prayer
Lord God, Jesus promised that your Spirit would live among us as a help and a comfort. I know that promise to be true, and I am so grateful. But sometimes my desire is for a weapon or the muscle of a boxer. Help me look to you for all my help and might and to walk in your way all the days of my life. Amen.

Written by Patty Jenkins, Director, Center for Life and Learning

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Friday, July 5, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 10:32–45

Reflection
Jesus’ life and death are a paradox that many of us in the church today still have trouble understanding. Like James and John in this story, we fail to recognize that Jesus’ death was intimately related to the central themes of his teaching. We refuse to acknowledge the connection Jesus made between selfless service and true power.

Instead, from our lives as individuals to our collective lives as communities and even as a nation, we view success according to the conventional wisdom of the world. Whether we admit it or not, we choose to understand power in terms of domination and control. We want to sit on thrones instead of kneel to wash feet in service.

But Jesus’ vision of new life among his followers is so radical and subversive that even after 2,000 years of being church, we still fall far short of what Jesus intended. To be sure, both as individuals and as collectives, we come close now and then. But like James and John, more often than not we delude ourselves and seek what we want instead of what Jesus wants.

What we need more than anything is to come back, time and time again, to the feet of our master and learn what he teaches. It took James and John and the other disciples a long time to finally get it, if they ever did. We must be just as diligent and pray that God is just as patient.

Prayer
Patient God, continue to instruct me in the paradoxical ways of Christ. Give me the wisdom to understand and the courage to act. Amen.

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

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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 13

Reflection
Have you ever been through a bad time in your life, but then on the other side of it, you felt like you understood yourself a little bit better? Maybe you had a bad breakup, but later you realized that you had learned something about what you were looking for in a mate. Maybe you took a job that didn’t work out well, but you had to go through the disappointment and frustration of that job in order to discover that something quite different was really what you were called to do.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann would call today’s psalm one of “reorientation.” The psalmist has gone through a time of disorientation, feeling let down, lost, and distant from God. Most of the phrases in the psalm express these negative feelings, and in the closing phrases, the psalmist expresses a renewed feeling of God’s presence. The renewed feeling is actually stronger than it was in the beginning, because the psalmist has experienced what the difficult times of life are like and knows that God is still there.

Sometimes we need reminders that mature faith isn’t about expecting life to be easy or expecting God to solve all of our problems and make us happy. When we acknowledge the difficult parts of life, cry to God in those times, and find our way back into companionship with God after feeling what it is like to be distant from God, we experience “reorientation” and renewal and come to know what it truly means that God has dealt bountifully with us.

Prayer
God, help me to know that you walk with me in the good times of life and in the bad. Help me to be unafraid to cry out in sadness, anger, and pain when times are tough. Help me to remember you when the sun rises on a new day and life feels good once again.
Amen.

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

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:13–21

Reflection
It is hard to imagine such abundance—enough food to feed five thousand men as well as women and children and to have twelve baskets of bread and fish remaining. Even though the story of Jesus’ feeding of five thousand is quite familiar to me, it never ceases to astonish me.

I think we are called to pay attention to those times when we are astonished. As students of the Bible, we are called not to dismiss but to take seriously every astonishing occurrence, not because we have to believe everything we read, but because we believe in a God who can act in astonishing ways. 

Well-versed in stories of God creating the world out of nothing, emancipating slaves from an Egyptian empire, forming a people out of no people, raising Jesus from the dead, and in the stories of Jesus working wonders (feeding five thousand and making the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the lepers clean, and the debts of the poor canceled), we are willing to be astonished. We are open to the possibility of miracles and to the reception of gifts. We know how to rely on the power of hope in the face of adversity. 

At a time when it seems like there is everywhere a shortage of what we need, a shortage of resources both public and private, it seems especially critical that we exercise our capacity to be astonished—astonished by new gifts to be given or by a Giver of gifts. 

Prayer
You, O God, give me more than I could ask for—more love, more grace, more forgiveness, more hope, more bread. I am truly astonished. So saturate my heart with appreciation, God, that I always feel full and overflow with your grace. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 10:21–24

Reflection
My nephew once came back from an outdoor activities retreat and announced to his parents that the trip had been very good. He had been riding horses every day, playing lots of sports, made good friends, and even had a discussion with the chaplain about the Trinity! “I had never heard of that before,” he stated.

I found it interesting that for all his time spent at youth group and Sunday school, he had never (knowingly) reflected on the Trinity as an expression of God.

I suspect it may be because it never came up; it seems hard enough to engage adults with the complex theological history, language, and conceptualization involved, never mind pre-teenage boys.

The words of Jesus in today’s passage may, however, open some doors for all Christians, regardless of age, to begin to reflect on this foundational understanding of God.

Rejoicing, thankfulness, handing over, intimate knowledge—these are all terms used by Jesus in reference to the Father and the Holy Spirit and are all relational words, so we surmise that Trinity involves relationship.

That may be an adequate place to approach the Mystery: the very being of God implies relationship.

Prayer
God is One-ness by communion, never single or alone,
All togetherness, including, friendship, family, and home. Amen.
(prayer text from a hymn by Brian Wren)

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

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013
 
Scripture Reading: Luke 11:33–36

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

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

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

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

Prayer
“I want to walk as a child of the light.
I want to follow Jesus.
In him there is no darkness at all.
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus. Amen.
(from the hymn “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”
by Kathleen Thomerson)

Reflection written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 12:32–40

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 15:11–32

Reflection
Rembrandt painted a beautiful depiction of this parable that so captivated Father Henri Nouwen that he wrote the book The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen had long identified with the younger son. He spent many years teaching at a university, being involved with numerous movements, and meeting many people, but was left feeling homeless, tired, and lost. When he saw in Rembrandt’s painting the tender way in which the father held his son close to his heart, Nouwen identified with that lost son wanting to return home and be embraced by his father.

Later in life, a friend said, “I wonder if you are not more like the elder son.” Nouwen reflected on how he had lived a quite dutiful life—responsible, traditional, and homebound. He also saw his jealousy, anger, touchiness, doggedness, and sullenness, with a tendency toward complaining, resentment, and subtle self-righteousness.  

Years later, another friend told Nouwen, “You have to realize that you are called to become the father.. . . The time has come to claim your true vocation—to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking any questions and without wanting anything from them in return. Look at the father in the painting and you will know who you are called to be.”

With whom do you most identify in this story today? Why? What is God’s word to you?

Prayer
God of the ages, God near at hand, God of the loving heart, help me, your child, shine joy; help me, your child, claim home. Amen.
(prayer adapted from the hymn “God of the Sparrow” by Jaroslav J. Vajda)

Reflection written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Scripture Reading: Exodus 17:1–7

Reflection
One of the toughest things about being a Christian is having faith when God seems to be absent.  Let’s say you’re going through a transition in your life, one in which frustration and sadness just seem to go on and on. Or maybe life has become too routine and you feel stuck where you are. At times like these, sometimes our prayers seem to do no good. Then maybe out of frustration or anger, we stop praying, because God seems to be absent, so what difference does it make anyway?

Well, that’s what today’s passage is about. In “the wilderness,” the Israelites wander around and wonder where God has gone and why God doesn’t give them what they need—in this case, water. As the Israelites wander around, they’re looking for an oasis (where they would expect to find water), but then, contrary to everything they expect, God draws water out of a rock in the middle of the desert.

This is the message to us: “the wilderness” is the places in life where God seems absent but is not. Often it seems to us like God is absent, but the story reminds us that God is present, even in the most desolate of places, and often in ways we would never expect. One more thing: the Israelites are in the wilderness for forty years! So this passage also tells us to be patient. It’s a big challenge, isn’t it, this life of faith? But fear not, because God is here, even when God seems absent. And sometimes water comes from a rock, in the middle of the wilderness.

Prayer
God, help me to know that you are present, even in the times in my life when I feel like I am in the wilderness. And grant me patience. Amen.

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

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 136

Reflection
People of faith are an odd bunch. First, we are  people, so we grasp for certainties. At a time of great uncertainty in my life, a pastor taught me to name one thing of which I was certain. “I am certain that I have warm shoes to wear.” Or, “I am certain that if I call my friend she will talk to me.” No matter how small the certainty, it steadied me.

But we are also of faith. To be “of faith” is not simply to acknowledge great mystery, to cautiously point a finger at it from across the room. To be “of faith” is to step out onto the mysterious and know it will either hold our weight or catch us when we fall.

Psalm 136 nurtures our trust in the mysterious by immersing us in the wonder of all God is and has done in human history. Give thanks to God who does great wonders! God’s love endures forever! With a mighty hand and outstretched arm, God’s love endures forever!

Physician and patient Rachel Naomi Remen writes, “I used to try to offer people certainty in times which were not at all certain and could not be made certain. I now just offer my companionship and share my sense of mystery, of the possible, of wonder.”

I believe that as we mature in our relationship with God, we require less certainty and become more strengthened by mystery than anything else we have ever experienced. In the way of circles, mystery and certainty become indistinguishable as we rise up in the Grace of God.


Prayer
Dear God, many of my days seem ordinary, tiring, forgettable. Help me to grow in a discipline of wonder so I might bask in the mystery of your presence in my life and in my world. I will give thanks to you for your love endures forever. Amen.

Written by Patty Jenkins, Director, Center for Life and Learning

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 17:11–19

Reflection
I’ve always found Jesus’ reaction in this passage to be a tad bizarre and perhaps you have too. If I didn’t know better, it would seem as though Jesus was miffed that his good deed wasn’t rewarded with widespread praise—just like we all bristle when we don’t get credit for something that we’ve done. And yet this is the same figure who told us to give in secret in order to not be praised (Matthew 6:2). So what gives?

If you are like me, you have a hard time accepting gifts or help from others. Many of us operate under the mistaken ethic that we need to do everything ourselves and that we are to be caregivers, not care receivers. To thank someone for their help, we think, is to admit that we were not able to do something by ourselves. Instead, Jesus’ probing questions at the end of this passage remind us that we are called to acknowledge help when we receive it. We do this not just for the other person’s benefit, but as an act of humility that reminds us of how we are called to give and receive.

I encourage you all to contact at least three people today who have helped you in the past week and thank them, recognizing how indebted we all are to each other and how indebted we are to God’s grace and love.

Prayer
God, help remind me that I do nothing on my own. Thank you for all the times you have touched my life, not only in the difficult moments, but the joyous ones as well. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 18:15–30

Reflection
The gospels teach that the kingdom of God belongs to children, the poor in spirit, the persecuted, and those who respond to the needs of the hungry and thirsty, the naked and sick, the stranger and prisoner. In the Kingdom, the greatest are those who are the least, who humble themselves, who live out God’s commandments. It is a hard place to enter for the rich—who, by the world’s standards, includes most of us Americans.

Jesus recognized how hard it is to let go of our money. The more we have, the more we think we need. We pursue money as the source of our security, the measure of our worth, the means to happiness, the essential bottom line. Doing with less scares us. 

I have led numerous retreats on money and faith. When participants were asked how they felt about their financial resources, they expressed a consistent pattern. Regardless of their level of income, those who gave away a higher percentage used words like “blessed,” and “grateful” while those who gave away less felt worried or burdened. Giving money away both follows from and contributes to greater freedom.

Thomas Merton wrote, “We do not detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God, but rather we become detached from ourselves in order to see and use all things in and for God.”

Prayer
Source of Life, strengthen me to seek first your kingdom and trust that all the rest I need shall be given to me. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:1–8

Reflection
In the chancel of the Fourth Presbyterian Church Sanctuary, there is a beautiful stained glass window above the organ console, the Great West Window. At the bottom of the center panel is a depiction of John the Baptist pointing upward toward Christ. That particular panel has special significance for me each time I sit directly below it to play the organ. It is a reminder to me that my role as a musician is to lead other people in glorifying and worshiping God. Like John the Baptist, I too am pointing toward Christ.

Being a musician has been the primary way I have lived my call as a Christian, but over time I have extended that calling into all facets of my life, not just when I am making music in the sanctuary, but when I am taking care of my family, talking with strangers, or reading newspaper accounts of people far away.

We are each called to point to Christ with all our being, with all our life energy, in every moment. At times it may seem easy, but at other times it can be very challenging. It takes a great deal of effort to truly point to Christ; yet the rewards of living out this calling become more apparent with every passing day.

Prayer
O Christ, help me focus on you, believe in you, and point to you with my words, my actions, and my life, so that others may know your love, your joy, and your peace. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 1:1–3; 33:11–16

Reflection
The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel and the hand of the Lord was on him. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to start each day hearing God’s voice, feeling God’s touch? What do we need to do to experience that? Some start the day in meditation or prayer, others do yoga or take a walk by the lake. We may want to consider starting by recognizing our sins—what we have done and what we have failed to do, our actions, thoughts, and feelings that have come between ourselves and God. And then ask God for forgiveness and really mean it. We might be surprised at what happens when we leave room for a response.

We do this early in each Sunday worship service with the Prayer of Confession and use phrases such as “we confess our sin and the sin of this world” and go on to list specific examples. In our daily prayers, those lists are highly individualized. This is our opportunity to be candid and thorough. It needs to happen to enable us to move “from guilt to grace” as Barbara Brown Taylor describes the process.

What greets us is God’s loving mercy and forgiveness. Ezekiel assures us that God takes no pleasure in the “death of the wicked” but in the transformation to life lived in the light and love of God. Don’t get stuck in “sin saturation” as another author describes it: God wants us to get on with our lives, to live them fully and joyfully.

Prayer
Just as I am, O Lamb of God, I come. Receive my confessions today, forgive me, let me hear your reassuring voice and feel your loving touch. Amen.

Written by Barbara Cleveland, Executive Assistant to the Pastor

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 41:17–20

Reflection
Water is such a powerful symbol for the creative activity of God in the world. The symbol of water resonates powerfully with our fundamental needs as living creatures. As the prophet Isaiah knows, when we seek water and there is none, our tongues are parched with thirst. We know that without water, nothing, including ourselves, can be born and grow.

Faith in God means that we understand God to be the ultimate source of life. God is the spring from which all life flows. God’s creative power makes all things possible. As the prophet Isaiah writes, God can make even rivers to open on the peaks of mountains and fountains to originate in the deep valley. God’s creative power surpasses what we expect from nature so that even water can flow from rock.

There are hard places in our lives, places from which we think no good could spring forth. And yet our faith in God gives us hope that new life is possible.

Prayer
Plant in me a soft heart, O God, and keep it supple, so that through my heart, you might continue your creative work in this world. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 95:1–7

Reflection
I used to say that I am an avid hiker and camper. I don’t say it so much anymore because, like many people, the confines of the city and the busyness of life often get in the way of my passion for the outdoors. I suppose, though, that this unrequited longing makes those precious escapes into the wilderness all the more profound and meaningful. For me, there is something deeply spiritual about getting away from the comforts of civilization and living in the midst of nature.

When I am able to answer this call of the wild, one of the feelings that I inevitably experience is a deep sense of gratitude toward the God who creates and gives. I stand in awe of the God who holds together the depths of the earth, the heights of the mountains, and the powers of the seas.
I am humbly thankful that God has made this incredible world for us to enjoy.

Yet I am also reminded that this fragile world is not just for us to enjoy, but also to care for and to love as God loves it. And with this I am reminded of how best to express my gratitude: by doing all that I can to protect and preserve God’s gift to us all. Indeed, what greater thanks can we give?

Prayer
Thank you, God, for the wondrous world you have given us. Help me and others to treat it with the care it deserves as a creation of your love. Amen.

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

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:5–7

Reflection
The story ends like it began: “I will be his God and he shall be my child.” All the way back to Exodus we hear these same words: “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7). God in the Old Testament has a bad reputation as being harsh and punitive. But from the Alpha to the Omega, God has wanted only one thing: to be in loving relationship with us.

The first few verses of John’s Gospel teach us that Christ was with God, and was God, from the very beginning. The Christ who is known all over the world for his loving compassion did not enter the world as if he had never seen it before. Christ was there when the world was made! God’s love did not begin with Christ; God is love from the very beginning.

God’s love isn’t new, but we are. Or we can be. We can be new people. The process begins by receiving Christ into our lives. We have seen the baby in the manger and heard his newborn cries. We have sat in awe with Mary and Joseph to hear the angels sing and ponder over the shepherd’s visit.

Imagine cradling the Christ child in your arms. Imagine him looking at you and touching your face with tenderness. Know that he was born for you, that you may be reborn for him. Christ is making all things new.

Prayer
Holy God, I praise you for the tradition of faith that teaches me of your love. I praise you for reaching out to me in love, for letting me hold you and know you. I ask that you reveal your love to me in ways I can perceive, so that I might share your light with all the world. Amen.

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

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1–19

Reflection
I’m sometimes surprised to hear people toss around language about how complicated the church has become, as if there were a time when all Christians were in agreement. Paul makes it pretty clear in this introduction to Corinthians, and in all of his letters, that people in the church have always struggled with disagreement. The miracle is that the disagreements aren’t the end of the story for Paul. As a matter of fact, he gives thanks to God for the diversity of opinion within the church.

If you’re ever frustrated that the church has so many different ways of worshiping God, governing a church, and experiencing life together in a common community, it might do you well to remember that consensus has rarely been the case in the church, and furthermore, consensus may not be the point.

The great twentieth-century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that Christian community is “not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” (Life Together, p. 30).

Paul does something paradoxical in the opening of the letter to the Corinthians: he first gives thanks for “every way we have been enriched in Jesus Christ, in speech and knowledge of every kind.” Then Paul immediately admonishes the church to have no divisions and live in unity.

I thought Associate Pastor John Vest summed up this paradox quite well in a sermon, quoting Bono: “We’re one. But we’re not the same. We get to carry each other.”

Prayer
Gracious God, thank you for all the gifts and diversity of your church and your people. Help me to be attentive to people who are different from me; help me to learn from them; and help me to share of myself that your glory might be
more fully known. Amen.

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

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:5–12

Reflection
David, a shepherd called to be king. Amos, a shepherd called to be prophet. Again and again the Bible tells of many such “clay jars,” “everyday” human beings who come to shine forth the love of God. Tending God’s people. Bringing the word of God to the people of God. As the story unfolds, that very Word assumes human form, come to earth, “God with us,” as a helpless infant. Leading God’s flock as a simple shepherd. Taking the ordinary, everyday elements of the world around us—two loaves and five fish multiplied into baskets full, water turned into wine abundant—for the feeding and nourishing of God’s people, for the spreading of the great banquet feast. Healing. Forgiving. Loving. And through the human act of dying, bringing new life, life eternal.

Clay jars all—that which God has used and continues to use to shine forth God’s love to the world, to tell God’s story to all of creation. And, which Paul reminds us, what God calls us to be, that which we already are: earthen vessels lovingly crafted by the creator’s hand.

When we think that surely we must have to be more than we possibly can be in order to be of use to God, that we must have to do something grand or profound and more than we possibly can in order to serve God, Paul reminds us that we are not called to be God. We are simply called to be ourselves, to do what we can, each of us, as unique children of God, each of us in our own way letting the light of Christ shine brightly for the world around us to see.

Prayer
Creator of all, let everything that I say and do this day, in ways both small and large, proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:16–21

Reflection
The life of faith (or the faithful life) is not a straight trajectory, where one begins with no knowledge and over time builds up a body of information that allows one to practice (unlike, say, learning a language or a musical instrument). The metaphors that are common to describe the experience of faith often use the language of journey or pilgrimage, with all the connotations of moving forward, yet sometimes finding side roads and going down cul-de-sacs, encountering forks in the road, the changing seasonal conditions, and so on.

This metaphor of journey famously forms the central image of John Bunyan’s classic of Christian literature, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which traces the allegorical journey of Christian to the Celestial City and describes all the barriers placed in his way and wrong steps he takes. What has all this to do with Paul writing to the church in Corinth? (Apart from the fact that we are told that Paul’s life was one of journeying to spread the gospel!)

It is that for me on my faith journey, as I struggle with the task of “faith seeking understanding,” and go down the occasional blind alley or find myself at a dead end, 2 Corinthians 5:19 is like a compass for me, reminding me what the Christian life is all about: God’s grace in Christ and our work of healing. I particularly like it in the King James Version:

God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself . . . and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

Prayer
God of the journey, protect and watch over me. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 33

Reflection
Who’s in charge? We all like to think that we are. “You’re not the boss of me” is a common refrain for our society of autonomous, self-sufficient go-getters. Many have commented on the American ethos of “rugged individualism,” a phenomenon that plays itself out every day in the news, in popular entertainment, and in the lives of countless rugged individuals themselves. And it seems that the more we succeed, the more we think that it is because of our own doing.

But this psalm, along with a chorus of voices from scripture, opens our eyes to a much greater truth. The God who created the universe and all that is in it has not left creation on its own but watches over the cosmos like a king surveying his realm. Not only does God maintain the balance of the natural world, God is also concerned with humanity.

The fancy theological term for this concept is providence, but all it really means is that God is involved in human history—both on the macro scale of world history and on the micro scale of individual lives. How exactly God intervenes in human history is one of the great mysteries of our faith and is discussed in a variety of ways throughout the Bible. However we understand this mystery, we can rest assured that we are not alone and that we are not as in charge as we think we are. Given my stubborn tendency to make a mess of things, this is a truth for which I am profoundly and humbly grateful.

Prayer
Watchful God, forgive me for my arrogance when I think that my success is all my own and my pride when I think that only I can help myself when life throws me a curve. Remind me of your patient and gracious care for me in both the struggles and triumphs of life. Amen.

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

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 4:12–17

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

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

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

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

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:44–53

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

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

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

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

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Scripture Reading: John 5:19–29

Reflection
Nearly a hundred years after Jesus died, the early Christians were being persecuted for their belief that Jesus was the Son of God. To counter this persecution and to provide support for those that needed it, John wrote a passage, which we read today, establishing the absolute authority of Jesus and his equal nature with God the Father. While those early Christians may have been comforted to hear such words of authority, many people in today’s world have issues with authority. We expect authority figures, like our boss, teacher, or president, to earn our respect and trust, and when they don’t, we reject their authority. Other people have a more inherent authority, such as our parents; but when they disappoint us, as they inevitably will, we realize that they are only human and we question their authority. God gives us a choice to accept God’s authority or not. God’s willingness to give that choice to us is a complete freedom we experience with no other human authority. This freedom gives me great strength and comfort. Ultimately, this freedom makes it possible for me to turn my life over to God, to choose life over death at every moment.

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

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

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 138

Reflection
Though I do fear heights, I nevertheless marvel at the views of cities and landscapes from above. Whether flying in an airplane or looking out the window of a high-rise building, I appreciate the extraordinary perspective offered by such aerial views. Beyond the buildings that scrape the sky are the people, places, and things that lie closer to the ground, and they are nearly impossible to see. Only because we know what it’s like to exist on the ground, moving from place to place, putting one foot in front of the other, can we know that aerial views do not capture all things.

What view of earth and of our lives does God take? Just as the psalmist, we often imagine God as having a bird’s-eye perspective, able to see from a vantage point all the things that ordinary creatures never see from below. And yet, in verse 6, the psalmist says, “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.” What irony of perspective! The psalmist points out that though God is situated high above the rest of creation, God chooses to regard those who are close to the ground. Moreover, God chooses to keep his distance from those who proudly stand out to the rest of the world.

What a reversal of the way we imagine God to see the world. Rather than looking down on us, God takes a special interest in us. An up-close view of our lives, we know, is not always pretty. It is nevertheless so precious to God that in the person of Jesus Christ, he comes down to be with us, for God wants to see us from every vantage point, even face-to-face.

Prayer
When you look upon me, Lord, do not turn away. Do not lose sight of me, for I want so much to be always in your mind’s eye. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor of Congregational Life

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Monday, July 29, 2103

Scripture Reading: Romans 3:21–31

Reflection
The letter to the Romans is Paul’s densest and most complex reflection on the meaning of the person and nature of Jesus Christ. In it he uses various rhetorical devices to emphasize his understanding of how God acts in the world through Jesus. It is worth remembering that Paul is the first written witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ that we have in our canon of Scripture. (The placement of the books of the New Testament is not chronological.) In this passage, Paul uses a technical form of expression known as a diatribe (which does not carry the same negative connotations as the word has in modern English.) In essence, Paul outlines his beliefs by responding to questions that he sets up as if in opposition to what he is proposing and resolves them in the text.

Two words which Paul uses are of particular importance in understanding his beliefs: righteousness and atonement. I have always found it helpful to understand that the meaning of atonement is found in the word itself—“at-one-ment”—meaning the process by which we are made one with or reconciled to God. Righteousness has a similar meaning in that it refers to our being in right relationship with God, rather than the brokenness of relationship, which our sin causes. These are “relational” words, and in recognizing that, we can be sure of the nature of our God, who, through Jesus Christ, calls us into new ways of loving and being and relationship with our God and with each other.

Prayer
Mystr’y shrouds our life and death
but we need not be afraid,
for the mystery’s heart is love,
God’s great love which Christ displayed.
Amen.
(from the hymn text by Bill L. Wallace)

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

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 19:13–15

Reflection
A poem I read years ago said, “A child need not be clever / To learn that, Later dear, means never.” To a busy parent, teacher, or pastor, the temptation to put off a child can be hard to resist. Sometimes all you want is to complete a thought without interruption, much less an actual task like going to the bathroom.

It seems reasonable to believe Jesus enjoyed the play and company of children. The images of a smiling Jesus lifting a little girl into the air or telling a story to a little boy on his lap are sweet to hold. But I noticed that Jesus does not say, “Let the little children come to me; I love being with them.” I think Jesus had something more profound in mind when he chided his disciples for trying to send the children away.

The way Matthew tells the story, Jesus was a masterful teacher. The arrangement of Matthew’s Gospel reflects the image of Jesus as someone who spoke thoughtfully and purposefully. I can imagine the disciples and parents looking at the children skeptically as the adults took in Jesus’ words.

With those simple words, Jesus elevated the status of children within the community of faith from rug rats to rabbis. If the kingdom of heaven belongs to children, then I want to know why; I want to learn what a child has to teach me about my salvation. Surely no one who witnessed the interaction that day could look at children in the same way.

Prayer
Dear God, thank you for reminding me that there is something special, even holy, about children. Help me bring time, patience, and a listening heart to my interactions with children so we might teach each other about your love. In your Son’s name I pray. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, July 31, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 10:25–37

Reflection
Reports of teen suicides have flooded the news: teens that were bullied by their peers because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation felt they had no other way out. They were punched, kicked, called names, and left to die alone, wondering if anyone loved them. Like the man in the parable, these teens had been pushed into a ditch and saw countless people they trusted pass them by and leave them to fend for themselves in this tough world.

How many of us have passed by others as they lay on the periphery of our vision? How often do we ignore the suffering people on our own journeys? I know I am guilty of changing the channel when a depressing story comes on the news or turning the newspaper over so I don’t have to read another account of pain and suffering.

But throughout the Gospels, Jesus calls us to cross the road, to look the injured in the eye, and to offer him or her a hand up. We are to see the humanity in those around us, whether they think the same as us, disagree with us, or even are our enemies.

When we cross the road and stand with people whom society has pushed into a ditch, it is a way to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ and to reach out to those on the side of the road.

Prayer
God, widen my gaze to see the sides of the road; strengthen my step to climb down into the ditch; open my hand to reach out to the hurting; and soften my heart to love whomever I find. Amen.

Written by Kimberlee Frost, Youth Ministry Associate

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