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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)


May 1–4 | May 5–11 | May 12–18 | May 19–25 | May 26–31

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 8:16–25

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

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

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

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

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

How challenging!

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

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

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

What are you going to do with your little light?

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

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 8:26–39

Reflection
Let’s admit the obvious: this passage is challenging and certainly feels far removed from our culture. Let’s imagine it in its context. First, the world of Hellenized Palestine is steeped in a spiritual mythology: there are spirits, good and evil, that are responsible for everything, deities that rule over everything. Therefore, this passage is not strange to the early reader.

Yet even as a person influenced by the Enlightenment, I don’t want to dismiss this story out of hand. I have seen the demonic, haven’t you? I have seen the documentaries on the Holocaust, on the massacres of the indigenous in Guatemala, the persecution and systematic exclusion of people of color in the United States. We’ve read stories about slavery; we know communities that encounter gun violence, the vulnerable that encounter abuse and domestic violence, and children that are kidnapped and trafficked on the sex market. This is evil. This is demonic.

Jesus confronts the demonic. In this case (and here I borrow from Dr. Brian Blount, president of Union Presbyterian Seminary), it is interesting to point out that when confronted, the demons who’ve possessed the man respond with one of the Roman Empire’s clearly political-military terms: legion. Is this a commentary on the demonic, the evil that Rome has committed in its imperial pursuit to control the world through violence?

My challenge to you on this day is to revisit this story through a political lens and explore what this passage might be saying about Rome and the demonic and do so without surrendering the spiritual reality of the demonic that leads us to evil. Ultimately this story is about the end of oppression and our call into freedom. My prayer is that we confront the demonic, as Jesus did, claim our own freedom, and call others into theirs.

Prayer
On this day, may I confront “Legion,” the sociopolitical systems of oppression, and all the ways in which we participate in the demonic. Free me from fear, by your love, and lead me into your radical and total freedom, on this day and evermore. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 8:40–56

Reflection
We can barely imagine how desperately the woman who’d been bleeding for twelve years hoped for healing. Her chronic physical condition was far more than a nuisance. It no doubt exhausted her, but even worse, it meant she lived day and night, year after year, as an outcast, ostracized from others, seen as disgusting. In her day, while a female was bleeding from menstruation and for a week afterwards, she was considered unclean, was quarantined, was barred from places of worship, and was not to “contaminate” others by touching them. According to Leviticus, women were also considered unclean for seven days after giving birth to a boy and fourteen days after giving birth to a girl, with extended periods of purification then required (twice as long if the child were female than male). Plus, the priest had to make a “sin offering” before she could reenter an area of worship.

The “good” Jewish male would be expected to say to such a woman as this, “Be gone, you filthy woman!” Thus this woman showed incredible courage and faith to dare to touch Jesus’ clothing. When Jesus calls forth whoever touched him, she comes in fear and trembling, expecting rejection. Jesus’ response was shocking. His healing was an act of justice; his affirmation of her faith and declaring her whole was a strong, public contradiction of viewing women as unclean. Thankfully we don’t have such overt blood taboos. But there is still fear and shame around sexuality. Women still are excluded from certain roles; many “obediently” hold themselves back.

We all need to be audacious enough to claim the power Jesus gives us for healing: healing that embraces all people in society, and healing that makes us personally whole.

Prayer
Loving Christ, embolden me to touch you in ways that release your liberating power. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 9:1–17

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Rob Koon, Fine Arts Coordinator

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Scripture Reading: 1 Timothy 3:14–4:5

Reflection
There is a strain of spirituality present in some Christian theology that sees the created world as being hopelessly broken, fallen, and inherently bad. Purveyors of such beliefs spend their time lamenting this state of affairs and warning people about the dangers lurking around the corner.

It is to challenge such a group of people that 1 Timothy was written. Addressed to an early Christian leader identified as Timothy, the writer quickly warns Timothy to beware of false teachers. We learn from our text today what the false teaching is. “Don’t get married,” say the false teachers. “Don’t eat certain foods,” they warn, wailing over the world.

The writer counters this argument with a clarity rooted in scripture:

For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected (1 Timothy 4:4).

We are reminded of the first chapter of Genesis and the account of creation in seven days with the refrain, “And God saw that it was good.”

This then is the true teaching the early church should follow as indeed should we.

The goodness of God’s creation is an important strand in contemporary theology, and it contains a challenge as to how we steward that creation in our use of resources.

Prayer
Enjoy the earth gently. Amen.
(an old Yoruba prayer)

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

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 9:18–27

Reflection
There are some lines I read in the Bible and I’m not sure how well they translate to modern ears. One of them is Jesus’ statement that those who wish to follow him must “take up their cross daily.” What does this mean? Sometimes I think this gets confused with some kind of invitation to voluntary suffering, and I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind.

My thought about what Jesus might have meant is a different. The cross was the particular burden that Jesus had to bear, just like each of us have burdens in our lives. We all have burdens to carry, such as our regrets, shame, faults—whatever it is that stresses you out, that bothers you, gives you that tightness in your shoulders and unsettled feeling in your stomach.

Something I noticed today as I read this passage is the idea that Jesus says “take up” your cross. There’s a sense of action and agency there. What I take from that is that although it is unavoidable that all of us will have burdens in our lives, we don’t have to stand still and hold those burdens. We can take them up and go somewhere with them. Like Jesus did with the cross, we can take something burdensome and, quite often, we can do something about it or learn something from it in order to make it meaningful.

Prayer
Gracious God, help me to be honest with you about the burdens in my life, and where I might work through or learn from them, give me the courage to do so. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 10:25–37

Reflection
The recipe for eternal life sounds so simple: Love God with all your heart and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. Yet if you are anything like me, those two tasks get muddled daily by life’s routine twists and turns, highs and lows. I start the day loving God and being thankful for all that I am and have—that’s easy. And then the day unfolds. I fall short of who I want to be, and I don’t accomplish the things I want to accomplish. I make the wrong choices, and some of my actions reveal anything but love and compassion for myself, much less my neighbor. The daily news bombards us with acts of hatred, greed, and shows humanity at its worst. Suddenly I’m angry and Jesus’ commands become the tallest orders. What difference does it make if I love God, myself, and my neighbor? No one cares!

And then I see it, as plain as day, everywhere I turn. I witness God’s love outside the coffee shop when I see someone hand a shivering homeless person a hot cup of coffee and wish him a good morning and I feel my heart swell. I feel God’s love after spending an hour on the phone consoling a girlfriend and feel a rush of gratitude remembering all the times she was there for me when I was in pain. Jesus and his recipe for eternal life exist in the compassion we feel for our neighbors and the empathy we experience when they suffer.

I believe Jesus wants more from us than loving deeds. Loving with our heart and soul stirs us to go the extra mile, just as the Samaritan did for the man who was robbed and beaten. His love and empathy for the injured man led him to care for him beyond simply dressing his wounds. I believe this is the way God wants us to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors.

Prayer
God, help me to move beyond simple acts of love, to love fully through compassion and empathy just as you love us. Amen.

Written by Patty Donmoyer, Receptionist

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 10:38–42

Reflection
Imagine this scene acted out as a play. Martha has invited Jesus, and presumably some followers, into her home. The room is modest and represents Martha’s high standards of order and cleanliness. The shutters and door are open to capture cool breezes and possibly to show the neighbors her prominent, if controversial, guest. Men and women surround Jesus, who is teaching them patiently. Mary, sister to Martha, is among those sitting near Jesus and listening intently.

Martha is in the kitchen, separate from the house. She is accompanied by servants who follow Martha’s strict commands as they prepare food and drink. Children, naturally drawn by the commotion, are shooed away but linger outside the windows, unseen. Martha, at a distance from the room where Jesus sits and busy as the hostess, cannot hear Jesus’ words. She wipes her calloused hands on a cloth and looks around for her sister to help, but Mary does not appear.

Frustrated and confused, Martha finally spies Mary sitting with the guests at Jesus’ feet. Martha does not send a servant to retrieve Mary; she does not grab Mary by the ear and drag her outside. Martha stomps into the house and chastises Jesus for condoning her sister’s behavior.

Martha’s boldness is met by Jesus’ gentle teaching. Mary, distracted by Jesus, is reminded of Martha’s good work. Jesus brings the sisters together for the first time in the story. Now, finally, Mary and Martha face each other with Jesus to bridge them.

What do they say to each other in the presence of their Teacher? Will they see each other differently than before? What will their relationship be like when Jesus leaves? What happens next?

Prayer
Teacher, you know very well the relationships in my life that need your presence. You know the coworkers, relatives, and friends against whom I bear a grudge, great or small. As you lay yourself down as the bridge, help me to cross it willingly and with an open heart meet those on the other side. Amen.

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

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 24:36–52

Reflection
The ascension of Jesus is a critical moment in the wider Luke-Acts narrative—a final foreshadowing from Jesus about the day of Pentecost that is to come. After physically appearing to the disciples, Jesus commissions them to go forth from Jerusalem to all nations, proclaiming repentance and a forgiveness of sins. The increased emphasis on Jesus’ physicality in both Luke and John is intriguing (and likely polemical), but the author’s true focus lies in verse 49: “See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised.” He is referring to the Holy Spirit, and the promise of the Spirit’s arrival is the true joy of this day, a promise that will come to full fruition on the Day of Pentecost.

What a wonderful reminder it is to us that we are not left to our own devices when it comes to following the difficult path of discipleship, that we are enabled and empowered by the Spirit to live lives of service, proclaiming that though all have fallen short, our God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. It is tempting, of course, to stay solely in the world of the Gospels, learning Jesus’ teachings, but the story of the ascension challenges us to not remain in that world forever. Instead, we must put those teachings into practice. Jesus may no longer physically be with us, but this story is far from over—it has only just begun.

Prayer
Dear God, I am ever grateful for the promise of your Spirit given on this day. May the ascension be a reminder of the life that you have called me to live as one of Jesus’ disciples. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Today’s Reading | Hebrews 4:14–16

Reflection
Recently I had an old silver filling removed from my mouth and replaced with a new filling. After the procedure the dentist told me the filling was set and that I could chew as normal. He said there might be a little sensitivity for a while but that is normal, so chew with confidence.

Well, to be honest I have been chewing hesitantly. The little bit of sensitivity has made me nervous that maybe the new filling isn’t solid. I just don’t trust it yet.

The writer of Hebrews is kind of like my dentist, telling me, Danny, draw near to God with confidence the relationship has been set and now you have full access to God, the giver of mercy and grace. Wow! What a privilege.

Yet if I am honest, I don’t draw near with confidence that often. I’m busy. I’m tired. I’m self-sufficient. And also, sometimes when I do try to draw near, I feel like maybe I am just talking to myself. I am tentative to believe that God is actually interested in me. Or I begin to ask again, Is there a God? Did Jesus really grant me access to God? Am I foolish for believing this?

And this is exactly why we draw near to God: to be reminded that God does exist and that our gracious and merciful God calls us to draw near to him. Friends, today in our fears and doubts, let us together draw near to God so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need.

Prayer
Dear God, I believe in you. Help me to believe more and more. Help me today to walk by faith and not by self-sufficiency. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Administrative Assistant to Children, Youth, and Family Ministry and the Day School

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 11:1–13

Reflection
Prelude to a Scream.” This is the title of the major work performed by the squirmy, red-faced infant in your arms. If you have ever been in this situation, you know to take action immediately. You are not angry. You do not give them ice cream or a fur coat. You may not give them anything at all, but you do pacify and tend to them. This, I think, is the relationship with God that Jesus was trying to offer the disciples.

“Teach us to pray,” they asked. It is interesting to me that our Lord did not answer in a parable. In fact, he skips any instruction and feeds them a concise, ready-for-memorization prayer. This prayer sets up and sums up the essence of Christ’s teaching.

Our Father.” Well there it is: the invitation and explanation of the relationship with God. Every human on this planet has parents. The primal instinct to reach out to those people exists in all of us long before we can reason or communicate.

Our . . . us . . . we . . .” I think the pronouns used in this prayer transcend the fact that the request was made on behalf of all the disciples. For me, the power of the prayer is in its corporate nature. Could it be that our Lord encourages us to pray and praise together?

. . . as we forgive each other.” Just as Jesus lays out our parent-child relationship with God, he moves on to define our relationship with each other. Can it be clearer? “Love the Lord your God,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Prayer
Lord, thank you for providing all that we need, and allowing the daily exams of our lives to be taken “Open Book.” Amen.

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

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 12:13–21

Reflection
Pastors hear a lot of stories about what happens when the last parent has died and the sons and daughters try to split up the family inheritance. Even the healthiest of families struggles with the task.

“I really wanted Mother’s dressing table, but . . .”
“I wanted Dad’s fishing tackle, but . . .”

There’s something about the family inheritance, the family heirlooms, the family stuff that carries a great deal of emotional weight.

In Luke’s story, someone yelled to Jesus, “Tell my brother (probably the oldest brother) to divide the family inheritance with me.” In that day, the oldest was usually the one to get everything. So the request to divide the inheritance, which seems reasonable to us today, was pretty edgy then.

Jesus dodges the request that he become the arbitrator over this squabble. Instead he jumps beyond the situation at hand and speaks to a condition of the heart: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed!”

I don’t think this story is meant to make us think we shouldn’t have desires about the family inheritance or that we readily should give up our entire portion. I believe Jesus is asking us to do a heart check. How attached are we to things? How much struggle comes before we let go of something or give something up? On a scale of 1 to 10, where do we fall on the greed scale? Personally, I’m not so greedy about money, but I don’t like sharing best friends, and I can get pretty greedy about my time. The question Jesus’ story asks is, what riches keep you or me distracted from being rich toward God?

Prayer
Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for the rich inheritance you have offered me—faith, a church community, brothers and sisters in Christ. Show me the nature of my greed, and help me to loosen my grip. For your sake! Amen!

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

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 12:22–31

Reflection
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life . . .”

But I am worried things aren’t going to go well at all, and I’m definitely worried I won’t complete this devotion in time—in fact it is already late. It’s also likely people won’t like it or, even worse, not pay attention at all.

Since this is running behind, the rest of the endless list of things I need to get done also will not be finished when they’re supposed to. Everything will affect the next like dominos, and even worse, I’m positive it will continue to knock the next and the next over until the very last one falls.

So now I’ll be staying up until the wee hours of the night and waking up early to play catch-up. That will definitely affect when I can do the laundry and get down to the dry cleaners to pick up my shirts for work. More than that: I’m definitely out of cleaned work shirts already.

And it looks like rain, probably a thunderstorm. I’m sure I’ll get soaked walking home; catch pneumonia. Or something worse—there’s always something worse.

There’s definitely always something worse.

“. . . for God knows what you need. These things will be given to you.”

Prayer
Lord, your words console me and your power can always supersede any and all of life’s minor worries. Help me always to not waste away the time you have given me with miniscule thoughts, so that I may focus more on the path you have set and the mission with which I am charged. Amen.

Written by Ryan Loeckel, Coordinator for Worship, Music, and Adult Education

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 12:32–48

Reflection
The simple message of this passage is this: be ready when Christ returns to usher in the kingdom of God.

When considered in the context of the early church, it becomes more complicated. Most of the New Testament writers expected Christ to return within their lifetime. They spoke in urgent and immediate terms about what they believed to be impending apocalyptic events. Nearly two thousand years later, it is clear that what they believed would take place never did.

Does this call into question the truth or relevancy of these early Christian writings? I don’t think so, though it does demonstrate the fallible human elements of our sacred scriptures.

I tend to think that what Jesus talked about as God’s kingdom has been emerging slowly over time. The “return of Christ” that the early Christians anticipated and that many subsequent Christians have waited for seems to me to be a metaphorical concept. As Easter people, we speak as if the risen Christ is present with us already, and I believe that to be true.

Rather than wanting us to wait for Christ to return in some apocalyptic endgame, God is, I believe, waiting for us to fully realize our calling as the body of Christ in the world. The simple message still holds: be ready. Even more, be attentive and alert, because God’s kingdom is already emerging around us.

Prayer
Help me be ready, God, for what you are doing in the world. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 13:10–17

Reflection
The idea of a sabbath has always been somewhat foreign to me. Traditionally I try to take part in remembering the sabbath on Sundays. When I was young, my father would sometimes work on Sundays. And then there was the occasional soccer game or birthday party. As I got older and started working, Sundays were typically very busy for me. And then in college, Sunday was the night I did all my homework from the weekend. The word “sabbath” just became a synonym for “Sunday.” It wasn’t anything special.

But the sabbath is supposed to be special! Not just because it means a day of no work, but because it is a day of rest. In our passage for today, I think this is the point that Jesus is making. Prohibiting certain acts on the sabbath but not others doesn’t necessarily imply rest. Every creature deserves rest. Even the work animals, the ox and donkey, are given a day of rest. So when Jesus saw the opportunity to give a woman the chance to rest, he took it.

We also need to take chances given to us for rest. It doesn’t have to be Sundays. And quite honestly, I’m not sure it even needs to be a twenty-four-hour period. But taking a break to turn off the cell phone, not check email, update Facebook, or any of the myriad of distractions we have these days, is a good thing. This is the rest we need.

Prayer
Almighty and powerful God, even you rested. Jesus reminds us that all of creation deserves time to rest. Guide me to the water and help me take a drink. Let me rejoice at the chance to rest! In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Written by Sarah Bennett, Director of Junior High Ministry

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 14:1–11

Reflection
When I read this passage, I immediately thought of my Grammie. My grandmother is the most humble person I know. Every morning my grandmother lovingly sets out my grandfather’s cereal for him. In all that she does, she takes no credit for anything and puts other people’s priorities first. I sometimes forget that she is eighty years old; she takes more care of others than herself, still!

We all know people like that in our lives, people who humble us by showing God’s love in more ways than one. What wonderful reminders they are to us, whether living in a busy city or having such busy schedules that we feel like we work, work, work and at the end of the day think, “I am exhausted, what about me?” Being a patient person can be tiring. Being a caring person can be tiring, especially when you feel like your work can go unnoticed.

Mother Theresa has a wonderful quote that I think sums up our work as humble Christians:

People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

God sees our good work, even if no one else does!

Prayer
Lord help me to always be the humble servant you want me to be. Amen.

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

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 14:12–24

Reflection
The story Jesus tells here is surprisingly easy to relate to, even in our own time. Most of us have had the experience of trying to plan a party or an event for our friends, throwing out some dates and times, and finding out that most of the people we’ve invited cannot come. Nobody likes that feeling, and usually you think to yourself, “This was going to be so much fun. I can’t believe everyone thinks they have something better to do!”

Jesus tells this story because he’s making a point about God. There is nothing better we could possibly be doing with our time than spending it with God—in prayer, in study, in contemplation—but we tend to neglect these opportunities in favor of doing something else. Maybe God thinks, “I can’t believe Adam is going to the grocery store instead of praying. What a fool!”

Include God in your plans today—don’t turn down God’s invitation. You may not realize it yet, but the dinner to which God has invited you is worth rearranging your plans for.

Prayer
Gracious God, help me to slow down a little and make more time for you. Amen.

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

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 15:1–10

Reflection
In February of 2008, Andy Pettitte, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, held a press conference at Yankee Stadium during which he apologized for illegally using a growth hormone in order to recover from injury. At one point in the press conference he said, “The truth hurts sometimes, and you don’t want to share it. The truth will set you free. I’m going to be able to sleep a lot better.”

When Pettitte apologized and took ownership I was so impressed with him, I think partly because I struggle to take ownership of my wrongs. Instead I am often crafty with excuses, wanting desperately to avoid the embarrassment and shame of having someone know that I did it wrong. I’m afraid if I confess the wrong, then the person will be mad at me and not like me because of the hurtfulness of the sin.

But Jesus, in Luke 15, says something interesting. He says, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” I need to hold these reminders close to my heart, because again at some point today I will have to repentant for doing wrong. The truth is when I repent, God’s posture toward me is one of full joy. The truth is if I take ownership of my sin and sincerely apologize for it that I will sleep a lot better and be set free.

Prayer
Dear God, help me to take ownership of my sin. Help me to trust you that it is better to be repentant and to acknowledge my brokenness than to be scared and stiff-necked. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Administrative Assistant for Children, Youth, and Family Ministry and the Day School

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Today’s Reading | Acts 2:1–21

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer
Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
. . . Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. Amen.
(Holy Sonnet 14 by John Donne)

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

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Today’s Reading | Acts 3:1–10

Reflection
Reflecting on the story in Acts 3 as I am in these days after Easter, I am struck by the character of Peter and what it speaks to us about the meaning of the resurrection. Remember this is the same Peter who in the telling of Luke (who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles) emphatically and repeatedly denies any knowledge of the tortured and imprisoned Jesus: “Man, I do not know what you are talking about” (Luke 22:60).

In Acts, the weak, cowardly Peter has been transformed into a leader of the early church, preaching eloquently and boldly, doing “wonders and signs” and carrying on the ministry of Jesus in ways that imitate his master, such as, in our text, the healing of the man begging.

Resurrection, for Peter, is not an abstract theological concept but the life changing event by which he knows God’s love for him in Jesus Christ and how that love offers new life to him and to the world. That is true for the church in every age and in our time.

As we open ourselves to the same spirit of Jesus given at Pentecost we too are called out of the dark and broken parts of our lives to be the body of Christ loving and healing in our world.

Prayer
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Amen.
(from the hymn “Spirit of the Living God” by Daniel Iverson)

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

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Today’s Reading | Acts 8:26–40

Reflection
This is the story of the first Gentile to be converted.

Having inherited Christian faith from my parents, I have often wondered what it takes for people to become Christian in the first place. What are the conditions by which a person seeks or is open to such a change of heart? How is the seed of conversion planted, and what makes it take root? Most likely the experience of conversion is so personal that it differs from person to person. What strikes me as common, however, is the need for a companion to ask, “Do you understand?” Whether we have inherited our faith or have had a faith conversion, each of us needs a guide, a mentor, a teacher.

As important as collective worship is, as edifying as public preaching, praying, and singing can be, nothing can take the place of those personal conversations in which faith is passed on from one person to another, in which questions from the heart are asked and answered and real cares and concerns put those answers to a test.

Whether we have inherited our faith or have had a faith conversion, the Spirit seems to make its way in the world traveling from person to person.

Prayer
I give thanks to you, God, for the people in my life from whom I have inherited my faith. Move me now, as you did them, to pass on the best of what I have learned. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Today’s Reading | Acts 9:1–19

Reflection
This is the famous story of Paul’s conversion and therefore tempting to explicate, but I will resist and point us to something else God is doing. Saul (who later becomes Paul) is known by Ananias to be a persecutor, a man who has done great harm. Later, this same Ananias, led by God, calls Saul “brother.”

That is the “economy of God.” The labels are dismissed. The charges are dropped. The vengeful justice we would like to execute becomes the restorative justice that God carries through the body of Christ. In the courtroom where we are judge and jury, God calls us to forbear, to forgive, and to drop our charges so that we might remember all we’ve been forgiven and to see forgiveness as the vehicle through which God enacts an entirely new justice.

This justice doesn’t take away Saul’s responsibility: he will be called to difficult tasks throughout his ministry, and he will struggle within himself. Instead, both Saul and Ananias are empowered to be agents of transformation in the world—through forgiveness. The theologian Miroslav Volf issues a challenging word in his work, that at the center of Christianity is forgiveness and we cannot be Christians unless we participate in it. All else is commentary to the central challenge of accepting our own forgiveness, extending it to others, and living in the freedom that comes from it.

It is then that our enemies become a brother or sister, and we empower them to be who they truly are in Christ.

Prayer
On this day, help me to let go of my labels of others and to reject others’ labels of me. On this day, help me to accept me own forgiveness and to extend it to others. On this day, help me to walk in the freedom of your forgiveness and, in so doing, remember and remind others of your unrelenting decision to be God for us, with us, and among us, by the power of your love. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Today’s Reading | Acts 9:32–43

Reflection
One Sunday afternoon, my husband and I strolled through Lincoln Park Zoo. As we were concluding our walk, heading to our car, a boy about nine years old urgently called to us, “Excuse me—do you know where the white barn is?” The barn was far away. We were about to give directions when we saw that big tears were rolling down his cheeks. Immediately I said, “I’ll walk you there. You’ll be alright.” The barn was the last place he had seen his family. I didn’t think they would still be there an hour later, but there we headed. As we finally neared the barn, Akim recognized his family’s vehicle and said he would just stay there and wait. I headed to the barn myself. No family, but I found a zookeeper who called the center for lost people. At last Akim’s father knew where to find his son. Back at the vehicle, Akim and I soon heard it begin to beep, and then the ignition started remotely. What comforting sounds! Only then did I feel free to take my leave of this boy whom I had never met but who suddenly mattered to me a great deal.

Peter went to Tabitha upon request without delay. During the bombing in Boston, many people rushed to aid others. Akim’s tears moved me. Now I understand why people shrug off praise for good deeds: our hearts are so touched that we naturally want to help our fellow human beings. God has created us that way. Violent atrocities stun us because they go against our humanity. God has embedded compassion within us to connect in community.

Prayer
Thank you, God, for creating us to need one another and giving us the desire and capacity to respond to one another in love. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Today’s Reading | Acts 10:1–33

Reflection
In college I was introduced to the historical and critical study of religion. As it applies to my own Christian faith, this approach has helped me realize that religion is never static. Rather, religion is always dynamic and changing.

Such thinking would have been considered heretical in the conservative churches in which I grew up, and many Christians would vehemently disagree with my belief that God (or at least our understanding of God) and the ways in which we relate to God and each other are constantly changing.

But today’s story, and the larger narrative of the birth of Christianity, is all the proof you need that even major elements of our faith change. If God and/or God’s way never change, then Gentiles (like me and most of those reading this devotion) would not be considered part of God’s covenant people. Or if we were, we would have to first convert to orthodox Judaism and—among many more significant lifestyle changes—would not be allowed to eat shellfish or pork.

So unless we want to practice the kind of Second Temple Judaism that Jesus and his ancestors practiced, let’s not fool ourselves about the ways in which our faith and religious practices have always changed and, guided by the Spirit, will continue to change in ways as unthinkable to us as eating unclean food once was for Jesus’ faithful disciple Peter.

Prayer
Open my heart and mind, O God, to the changes you are bringing about in the world and the church. Amen.

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

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Today’s Reading | Acts 10:34–48

Reflection
I just had the amazing opportunity to hear Dr. James Cone speak at the inaugural conference of the Society of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion. Dr. Cone, who is known for his work on black liberation theology, would agree with Peter’s words in verse 34: “I am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another”.

These words, taken somewhat out of the context of Acts 10:34, are still very inspirational today. Dr. Cone said, in speaking specifically about the United States in the 1960s, that it was impossible for Christians to speak about the love of Jesus Christ on Sunday and lynch black Americans Monday through Saturday. This is still true today. Peter speaks of different nations worshiping God and doing what is right in God’s eyes. So as Christians, can we speak of Jesus’ deep, unwavering love on Sunday, but then act with hatred towards those of other races, religions, or ethnicities Monday through Saturday? No, we cannot.

An important part of liberation theology is finding Jesus in the outcast, the people on the margins. Dr. Cone and other liberation theologians like him say that it is necessary for one group to not dominate or attempt to control how another understands and relates to God. Every group needs to listen and have the opportunity to share stories and interpret the Bible for themselves. God cares equally for all of creation, and we are charged to do the same.

Prayer
God of many tongues, your creation is great and mysterious. Sometimes that which we do not understand is cast aside as “the other.” Help me to recognize that you have created everything and that there is good in everything. Give me the strength and courage to actively practice the intense love taught by Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen.

Written by Sarah Bennett, Director for Junior High Ministry

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Today’s Reading | Acts 11:1–18

Reflection
I don’t hate Leviticus. It’s some of the dullest reading on the planet, but I don’t hate it. It’s a code of conduct for a nomadic people in the Bronze Age, trying to survive and keep their identity in a hostile environment. In the event of a zombie apocalypse and the total collapse of civilization as we know it, who knows, maybe we’ll need those laws again.

(Um, your devotion isn’t on Leviticus.)

Yes, it is. Let me finish.

In this chapter of Acts, Peter—good God-fearing Peter—is commanded in a dream to chow down on stuff that a good observant Jew wouldn’t touch. Rattlesnake chili. Shrimp scampi. Bacon croquettes wrapped in bacon and deep-fried in bacon fat. A cornucopia of deliciousness, but Peter, knowing the Law as set down in Leviticus, won’t touch it. And the voice from heaven says, “God says it’s clean, so don’t you say it’s dirty.”

Three times this happens (Peter’s probably a little sensitive to things that happen three times), and then he’s awakened by the arrival of three guys from Caesarea, the Roman provincial capital. Gentiles. And there’s that voice again, telling him to go with them and make no distinction between himself and them. Make no distinction.

Leviticus is about making distinctions, about separating an “us” from a “them,” about defining the “us” as God’s people and the “them” as, well, not. And people use that book as a kind of club, to beat people into submission, usually to a particular interpretation that ignores the parts of Leviticus that it finds inconvenient.

But we are commanded to go along with these “others” and make no distinction between ourselves and them. In the eyes of God, there are no “ins” and “outs.” There are only people, who are loved.

Prayer
Lord, we are all travelers on a journey, each traveling a path that leads to you. Let that part of you that dwells in us recognize that part of you that dwells in others, so that we may greet each other as we go along together. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Fine Arts Coordinator

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Today’s Reading | 2 Corinthians 1:3–7

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

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

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

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

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 15:1–2, 11–32

Reflection
Each time I read the parable of the Prodigal Son, I want to side with the older brother and discredit both the father and younger son for their deeds. However, this particular time that I read the story, I was drawn to the compassion of the father. While not a parent myself, I can only visualize how the father felt when his youngest son wanted to take his inheritance and run away from the family home. I’m sure he felt devastated that his son would rather take his money early and live on his own than spend valuable time with his father and brother. I’m sure the father worried about his son, as any normal father would, and without our current communication tools, the father probably didn’t have any method to get in touch with him. Imagine the father’s surprise when one day he sees his son coming up the road. By this time, the hurt and pain of his son’s departure has worn off and the father is ecstatic to see his child return home. I understand why the older son would be angry—the father seems to value the younger son over the older son—but the father explains to the older son, “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life” (Luke 15:31–32).

Similar to the younger brother, we also make mistakes in our daily life. Thankfully, like the father in this parable, God also forgives us for our wrongdoings and welcomes us into his kingdom.

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me to remember that even though I make mistakes, I can always come to you asking for forgiveness and you will welcome me back with open arms. Amen.

Written by Megan Eddy, Editorial Assistant

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Today’s Reading | 2 Corinthians 4:5–12

Reflection
One of the great things about being a pastor at Fourth Church is that you are surrounded by great clergy colleagues. In that company, there is much wisdom to be found, and one consistent and generous source has been John Boyle. He sometimes asks us to pay attention to things we would rather quickly pass over. And once, in explaining why, he told us that, “It’s very often more important to understand your failures than your successes.”

I recently spoke to him about his comment and how I’ve reflected on it many times. During that conversation he said that it was important to consider this because, “Jesus, by any measure of his community or times, was a failure. He even ended up on the cross.”

We who follow Jesus Christ are always seeking to live into his resurrection, to find ways of simply overcoming the difficulties we face. However, John reminds me that it is important for us to explore the cross of Christ in equal measure, to truly examine the places where we have failed or are weak, and to not be ashamed to expose our wounds to the light of day.

Perhaps it’s true, as Paul said, that our frailty and brokenness are important, because they show that it is God’s power, and not our own, that allows us to live as resurrection people. But I also believe that the “death” of Christ, as Paul puts it, is something that we need to fully experience for our own sake as well, so that our rising to new life can be made fully powerful and real and not just be a willful ignorance of the brokenness of our world and ourselves.

Prayer
Help me, God of the Risen Christ, when I struggle with my brokenness and the sin I experience in the world. Hold me when I am afflicted, persecuted, or struck down. And make me a willing servant of Christ, one who does not flee from difficulty but is willing to carry within me that death that Jesus suffered—so that by my living into newness I might allow others, and myself, to know that you are able to redeem us from every evil. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

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

Reflection
“So we do not lose heart.”

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, May 31, 2013

Today’s Reading | 2 Corinthians 5:11–6:2

Text for this reflection | 2 Corinthians 5:16–21

Reflection
Often when Paul speaks about what God has done in Jesus Christ, he speaks about a new creation in which the old has passed away and the new has appeared. In Jesus Christ, God has set all things right. So radical and amazing is this act of God that Paul exclaims, “See, everything has become new!” It is a ta-da moment, no less significant or amazing than what God created “in the beginning.”

There is, however, a big difference between the new creation made possible in Christ and the original creation in Genesis. Whereas “in the beginning” God created the world out of nothing, in Christ God re-creates the world out of what already exists, including what we have already done for better or worse. God does not create from a slate wiped clean; God does not undo what was done or override our mistakes. Rather, in Christ God comes down to us, dwells among us, is offended and betrayed by us, suffers and dies because of us. And yet he advocates for us, prays for us, and forgives us. Christ re-creates us.

When I lead in worship the Declaration of Pardon that follows the congregation’s Prayer of Confession, I often say that “God created the heavens, the mountains, and the seas. Even more amazing than this is how God re-creates us through the love and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I truly believe that in Christ we are not the same as we were before; in Christ we are a new creation. Thanks be to God.

Prayer
I know, Lord, that I have to live with all I have done. And yet, because of you, I do not fall into despair. I pray that you forgive me, and I pray that I forgive others so that the tragedies of our lives and the catastrophes in our world can become the new creation for which we hope. For the sake of Christ I pray. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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