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Daily devotions, written by the staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church,
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October 1–5 | October 6–12 | October 13–19
October 20–26
| October 26–31

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Today’s Reading | Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can human beings do to me?” Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

. . . Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (NIV)

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. The letter to the Hebrews, most famous for its definition and explication of faith, ends with a call to love.

Keep on loving. In a society so certainly determined by class structure as was the Hellenized world (and certainly we can see class issues in all cultures), it is poignant to read “as brothers and sisters.” Families share names and all that comes with it. For so-called noble families it was status, wealth, reputation, influence, education. It also meant something for lower classes—cycles of poverty, the absence of rights, and discrimination by others. And all families shared dark family secrets, pasts they embellished to escape shame. Hebrews calls us all into the journey of faith, the call to keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters, no matter our family name—whether our family names bring us memories of shame, guilt, pain, trauma; whether the memories associated with our family name get us caught in the cycles of self-loathing, self-criticism, black-and-white judgment, withdrawal, and ability to deeply wound others. Whether our family names connect us to poverty or to wealth, financially, spiritually, and psycho-emotionally, we are invited into God’s family where we are loved and called to love.

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters, as one family of God in Christ. Brothers and sisters, when it’s hard, keep on loving. When we don’t want to, keep on loving. When we don’t feel loving, keep on loving. When we want to be hurtful, withholding, withdrawn, judgmental, and greedy, let us keep on loving.

God of love, remind me that I am loved. Remind me to return to the source of all love, so that I might draw the deep and satiating waters of love, running like a river so that my cup runneth over with love, and in loving, may I be wonderfully showered in, bathed in, drenched with, and saturated by the ocean of your love so that I might share it with my brothers and sisters. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Today’s Reading | Matthew 4:18–25
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. (NRSV)

As a senior in college, I was faced with the reality every young adult experiences: uncertainty and fear about life’s next journey. I had a deep desire to give of myself and embrace a new environment, so after many application essays and much discernment, I decided to dedicate a year as a Colorado Vincentian Volunteer. Similar to Americorps, CVV echoes the charism of St. Vincent de Paul, with twelve postgraduates living in an intentional community. Our program focused on service, social justice, community, faith, and simple living.

Our group of thirteen became dedicated to a modern form of discipleship. We hosted communal dinners, worked at our respective social service agencies, protested against oppressive laws and institutions, advocated for those experiencing homelessness, mental illness, hunger, sexism, racism, etc. In a way, we answered Christ’s call to leave behind our daily comforts and seek out those who were often forgotten. It was not an easy call to answer, and we faced just as many challenges as triumphs. As a daily reminder that Christ was calling me to do his work in the service of others, I painted the words from the song “Pescador de Hombres” on my bedroom wall.

We must continue to ask ourselves, how can we forgo pieces of this modern world to truly become “fishers of people?” How can we emulate the disciples in our relationships, interactions, and service? Jesus welcomes us on this journey of discipleship, and we are blessed to welcome others in our arms.

“Lord, have you need of my labor, hands for service, a heart made for loving, my arms for lifting the poor and broken? O Lord, in my eyes you were gazing, Kindly smiling, my name you were saying; All I treasured, I have left on the sand there; close to you, I will find other seas. Lord, send me where you would have me, to a village, or heart of the city; I will remember that you are with me.” Amen.
(Prayer text from the song “Pescador de Hombres” by Cesáreo Gabaráin)

Reflection written by Jackie Lorens, Associate Program Manager,
   Elam Davies Social Service Center

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Today’s Reading | Matthew 5:1–10
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
          “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
          “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
          “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
          “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
                for they will be filled.
          “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
          “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
          “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
          “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
                for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (NRSV)

Our culture too often defines people by their accomplishments. Where do you work? How many kids do you have? Success is defined in making good grades, having a good job . . . But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus implores us to redefine our priorities.

          Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . acknowledge your spiritual poverty
                before a holy God, acknowledge our shortcomings.
          Blessed are those who mourn . . . grieve over your sinful inclinations
                and come in true repentance.
          Blessed are the meek . . . choose a posture of humility, putting others
                before self.
          Blessed are those who hunger and thirst . . . persist in seeking God’s                 righteous standard on every level.
          Blessed are the merciful . . . be gracious to the undeserved,
                not casting judgment.
          Blessed are the pure . . . making yourself ready and open-minded.
          Blessed are the peacemakers . . . proactively reconcile relationships.
          Blessed are those who are persecuted . . . courageously endure adversity                 because of unshakable convictions.

          Please help me
          Enjoy others
          And see the good they
          Can bring to life.
          Even when I am
          Moody or
          Keep me calm
          Enough to
          Remember your law of love and
          Serve others by bringing peace. Amen.

Written by Katie Patterson, Junior High Youth and Mission Coordinator

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Today’s Reading | Matthew 5:43–48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (NRSV)

To be beneficent where one can is a duty; and besides this, there are many persons who are so sympathetically constituted that, without any further motive of vanity or self-interest, they find an inner pleasure in spreading joy around them and can rejoice in the satisfaction of others as their own work. But I maintain that in such a case an action of this kind, however dutiful and amiable it may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth. . . . . [When one] performs the action without any inclination at all, but solely from duty—then for the first time [that one’s] action has genuine moral worth.

                                                  Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals
                                                  Immanuel Kant

Do you make a point of trying to do good things for others? If you’re like many others in this present age, it’s very likely that participating in activities that serve the common good is a regular part of your life. But have you taken much time to consider why you carve out that time and energy to do those good things?

The philosopher Immanuel Kant, in Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, urged us to consider why we do good things. According to Kant, the morally superior actions are the ones that we perform simply because we should—not the ones we do because they make us feel good or the ones we grudgingly perform because we want to avoid feeling bad.

Kant’s approach to duty and morality is interesting, but I think that for us, as Christians, it falls short. Yes, it’s true that we should be willing to be “beneficent” as a matter of duty; it’s also true that we should perform that duty even when it results in no advantage to ourselves or when we are not immediately inclined to feel kindly toward the target of our beneficence. Jesus tells us so, right in the middle of our reading today. However, Jesus goes on further to give us a positive reason for doing good to others—one that moves beyond duty—and that takes us beyond Kant’s realm of theoretical morality. Jesus tells us to do good to others so that we can be like God, who is kind to us all.

In that difference of motivation, it seems to me, is revealed one distinction between being a good person and being a Christian.

Loving God, in whom we live and move and have our being, help me to recognize your ever-present sustaining of the world and your particular care for us, who have done nothing to deserve your goodwill. Lead me, by your providence, by the sacrificial example of your son Jesus, and by the inspiration of your Spirit, to acts of kindness toward others. Through them, make me more and more like you each day. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Today’s Reading | Matthew 6:1–8
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

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

There is a fine line between avoiding hypocrisy and retreating into an overly privatized practice of faith.

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is warning his followers to avoid the pitfalls of the “hypocrites” who go to great lengths to make their expressions of faith known to the public. In contemporary parlance we talk about people who “wear their religion on their sleeve.” Sometimes such people are sincere; sometimes they are only using public expressions of Christian faith to advance an agenda.

While we are right to avoid this kind of showy faith, especially when it is disingenuous, we shouldn’t make the common mistake of concluding that faith is therefore a private matter that only involves an individual and God. The entirety of the Bible bears witness to a kind of faith that is at the same time deeply personal and deeply integrated into how we engage our shared experience of the public arena. Sincere faith should always inform how we interact with others and how we participate in the public nature of a democratic society like ours.

Jesus was clearly committed to encouraging us to live public lives that reflect the gospel and God’s love for the world. Here he counsels us to support our public acts of witness with private and sincere acts of spiritual devotion.

Loving God, strip me of religious pride and acts of “faith” that only draw attention to myself. Fill me instead, in the secret moments we share, with wisdom and courage to live as Christ lived. Amen.

Written by John Vest, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Today’s Reading | Matthew 6:9–14
          “Pray then in this way:
          Our Father in heaven,
                    hallowed be your name.
          Your kingdom come.
          Your will be done,
                    on earth as it is in heaven.
          Give us this day our daily bread.
          And forgive us our debts,
                    as we also have forgiven
                    our debtors.
          And do not bring us to the time of
                    trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (NRSV)

When I was a child I used to pray when I wanted things—a new Barbie doll, a larger weekly allowance, a good grade on a test, or, I’m ashamed to admit, to somehow miraculously avoid punishment when I misbehaved. I have no doubt my prayers were heard. But I laugh now at the conclusions I’d draw about God based on the answers I was given. If I got what I wanted, God became this magical benevolent being. If the outcome was not what I asked for, God became a judgmental, stick-in-the-mud killjoy.

Fortunately for me, as I’ve grown older, my values have matured along with my perception of God and God’s commandments. My prayers are more complicated now, though. Instead of praying for the things I want, I find myself praying for the desire to do the things God wants me to do. This is hard sometimes. It’s not easy to trust that God will meet my daily needs without me and my will intervening or to forgive those who wrong me. And let’s face it, temptation is everywhere and evil manifests itself in some pretty tempting ways!

But words of prayer in Matthew 6:9–14 remind me not only of the very reason I need God and God’s will, but of the promise of forgiveness, the kingdom of heaven, and the kind of glory that far surpasses the quick fixes I crave here on earth.

God, breathe in me the desire to carry out your will, not my own, despite all the things I think I want and need. Open my eyes to the daily gifts that you place before me, and help me to trust that the greatest gift, from the One who loves me most, is yet to come. Amen.

Written by Patty Donmoyer, Receptionist

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Today’s Reading | Matthew 6:16–21
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (NRSV)

As humans we crave attention and long to be noticed. It’s natural to share our good news with others, but even more common to share what’s bothering us. The feeling of release is somewhat refreshing when we’re struggling to overcome some obstacle. But as Matthew reflects in this scripture, what do we really gain from our external lamentations? The real challenge we face is that of humility and solitude with God. God already knows our struggles, our hopes, and our failures, but it seems a tall order to personally acknowledge them internally. Theologian Henri Nouwen once said, “As soon as we are alone, inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. . . . We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.”

Those distractions, our “treasures on earth,” prevent us from truly opening up to God and, more importantly, to ourselves. We are in this human experience for such a short time, and our treasures on earth can’t compare to the treasures of faith and relationship with God, which is eternal and ever-growing. Let us be open to Matthew’s call for humble hearts and trusted faith in God.

God, guide me toward humble solitude, and allow me to find peace amidst the inner chaos that lies within. My true treasure lies not in earthly distractions, but in your hands and my ever-thriving relationship with you. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens, Associate Program Manager,
   Elam Davies Social Service Center

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Today’s Reading | Matthew 6:25–34
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (NRSV)

This passage occurs in Matthew’s Gospel as part of many teachings that occur in the context of Jesus speaking to the crowds that followed him at the time. How odd these sayings must have sounded to the ears of those who came to hear Jesus! This passage still strikes us as strangely contrary to daily life and common sense. Who among us doesn’t worry about things like what we will eat or drink, or what we will wear?

What is striking in these teachings is the way Jesus turns upside down the priorities that we earthly creatures tend to live by and the way they thereby reveal the deeper truth of what Jesus proclaimed to be his kingdom, the kingdom of heaven. Later, when Jesus is questioned by Pilate, Jesus claims that his kingdom is not of this world. In contemporary language we might say that the gospel of the kingdom of heaven is “out of this world” in terms of what the world finds important and valuable.

Jesus does not dismiss the things of this world, for our Heavenly Father loves the world and knows what we earthly creatures need. Jesus simply wants to put all this into a new perspective that allows us to live a life free of preoccupation or even enslavement to the things of this world. To live in righteousness is to seek first the kingdom of heaven, to live in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, the Christ, who is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. Jesus calls us not to worry, because to worry is to lose sight of the Truth found in him, a life of trust and faith in our loving Heavenly Father. When we live a life of trust and faith we discover that contrary to common sense, “all these [earthly] things will be given to you as well.

Lord, teach me that to live righteously is to put my trust in you and to be amazed when you give us each day our daily bread and surprise us with the Bread of Heaven. Amen.

Written by Michael DeVries, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Today’s Reading | Matthew 7:1–5
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (NRSV)

Those things of which we are critical in others are likely the same traits in ourselves that we do not acknowledge or accept. For example, when I feel negatively towards another because she monopolizes the conversation, I probably am critical of myself for my own yearning to have more attention. But I may not realize it or may not see my own temptation to do the same. Jesus encourages us to look first at ourselves and explore our own limitations before focusing on and judging the limitations of others.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Once we are free from judging, we will be also free for mercy.” He also wrote in With Open Hands that compassion shows us that our neighbors are people who share our humanity with us. He wrote about our relationship with our neighbor, “There is nothing in me that he would find strange, and there is nothing in him that I would not recognize. In my heart I know his yearning for love, and down to my entrails I can feel his cruelty. In his eyes, I see my plea for forgiveness, and in his hardened frown, I see my refusal. When he murders, I know that I too could have done that, and when he gives birth, I know that I am capable of that as well.”

To put ourselves in another’s shoes, to imagine the factors that result in another acting as they do, will help us not only be more empathetic, but also more conscious that we carry the same weaknesses, limitations, and temptations.

Gracious God, whenever I criticize another, stop me to examine what in myself I do not accept or like. Help me claim your loving acceptance and forgiveness, that I may extend the same to others. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 7:7–12
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (NRSV)

I remember the first day of Miss Springsteen’s ninth-grade English class, specifically all the talk about the big research paper due at the end of the semester. Well, as the semester progressed and we were supposed to be working on the paper I wasn’t. And when the day came to turn in the rough draft—I didn’t. I lied and made up some story. And then came the final draft date and again I turned nothing in. I remember the weight of the guilt. The fear of my parents finding out. The fear of having to tell another lie. The anxiety of feeling so far behind. Eventually my teacher called my parents and the lies were exposed and truth made its way to the top. As a result, I was ashamed and embarrassed, but I was free, because the truth exposed my need and it allowed me to finally ask my teacher and my parents for help.

I know there were several reasons for not working on that paper, but in looking back at it now, a large reason was I was overwhelmed by the bigness of the project and didn’t know where to start. I was too embarrassed and scared to ask for help.

In getting older, oftentimes I still feel that if I ask for help what I am actually saying is I am not smart. I feel this in my job, my relationships, with my stuff, my time. Because truth be told, I want to look smart and in control. I don’t want to feel out of place or inadequate. Yet when I really look deep within myself, Jesus’ invitation to ask for help is an invitation to freedom. It is an invitation to live in the truth, that I need help, in my job, in my relationships, with my stuff, my time, everything. And amazingly, according to the Son of God, our Father loves to help us by sending us gifts, more specifically a Gift, his Son, our Good Shepherd.

God, please help me today. I cannot go it alone—I need you. Please be my light and path today. Amen.

Reflection written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 7:24–29
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (NRSV)

On a hillside near Capernaum, Jesus punctuated the end of his message with the story reflected in our text. It was a homily beginning with what we now know as the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount. The sermon probably covered many days of preaching.

The people were magnetized by Jesus and his message of love and forgiveness. It seemed they could not get enough of listening to or of spending time with this man. They hung on his every word.

Imagine choosing to listen for several days to a sermon and with no soft pews upon which to sit. God’s creation was their cathedral, the music the birds and the soft rustling air.

Jesus shared the wisdom of living life well as envisioned by our Creator and ended the sermon with a challenge and a choice:

“Hear my words and put them into practice, as the wise man who builds his house securely on a rock, confident it will stand despite any oppressive weather. The other choice is a foolish one, building one’s house on the sand, with the wind and the rains and the storms, and with no resiliency of foundation, causing the house to fall with a great crash.

It is said “he taught as one who had authority” and whose quiet call is, follow me.

Grant me, Creator God, the wisdom to choose to follow the rock-solid ways Jesus taught in his challenge and to desire to return over and over to the quiet, peace-filled cathedral on the hilltop to seek your truth for my life. Amen.

Written by Ruth Beckman, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 8:1–17
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to himand saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.

When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (NRSV)

There are wonderful things about this passage—the faith shown by the leper and the centurion, Jesus’ humility, Jesus calling the entitled to account, Peter’s mother-in-law returning service for healing—all wonderful things. But the section that catches my attention comes when the writer says, “This was to fulfill what was written by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’”

Now, just a minute. Isaiah 53 is not a reference to making things disappear; it’s about the Suffering Servant bearing those conditions himself; and while that is beautiful, that is not what happens in Matthew 8. Jesus doesn’t get leprosy or become paralyzed or get a fever or anything else. He simply makes these conditions nothing.

That miracle of transformation was not enough for the author of this Gospel, who was not named Matthew, who compiled this account from a number of sources decades after the death of Jesus. This author was creating a prophetic context and indulged in a bit of rhetorical gymnastics to make the actions of Jesus serve his point. And not only did he do that, “Matthew” also suggested that this is why Jesus helped people, to fulfill a prophecy and establish his credentials.

How often do we do this today, take a word or an act and bend it to our previously determined purposes? How far do we have to look to see it done? We all have systems of self-justification, and it’s just more convenient to have God act in accordance with our systems, even if we have to try to force him into it.

But God is not the servant of the Word, and when it came to caring for people, Jesus did not think about his context in some prophetic structure. He just helped people in need. He acted for their benefit, not his own. That’s what selfless love is. It serves people, not systems.

Lord, how often we forget that you do not serve the Word, you are the Word. Shake our systems, confound our orthodoxies, and bring us to the simple service of love. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 8:23–27
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (NRSV)

This story reminds me of the power and reliability of Jesus and God. The disciples and people around Jesus were witnessing his miracles and still trying to understand the nature of his being. It seems that they had not yet identified Jesus as the Son of God. They categorized Jesus with their limited human understanding as a “person” who was capable of magnificent acts of power.

I live in Chicago where the weather changes frequently and fast. I often leave the apartment prepared for all four seasons. Living not far from Lake Michigan, I have been afraid of storms rolling in from the lake—sometimes lightning and thunder, other times blinding snow or hail, and usually accompanied by high winds.

In this passage it seems that Jesus is truly perplexed by the apostles’ fear. Perhaps, like me, the disciples had an illusion of control; they thought they should be able to react effectively to the winds or the storm to keep from drowning. They made a good choice in waking Jesus and letting him protect them. Jesus gave orders to the winds and the lake and there was great calm.

I can choose to behold the wonder of God’s creation and rest secure in the knowledge that God, not me, is in control. When I really surrender (like the disciples in this story) and acknowledge God’s power, I have peace and confidence that God will take care of me. If not, I’m a trembling soul sitting in a boat waiting to be buffeted about by the winds of change. Sometimes I have to pray for faith and the ability to surrender, because it is more comfortable to hang on to my illusion of control. Am I willing to believe and be amazed?

God, please grant me the willingness to rely on you in any kind of weather. Remind me of the security and comfort that will be mine if I will only believe and place my trust in you. Amen.

Written by Robin Moncrieff, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 9:1–8
And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town.

And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins “—he then said to the paralytic —”Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings. (NRSV)

In this passage, Jesus offers a man who is paralyzed what he has not asked for—forgiveness. This is as strange to me as it is as blasphemous to the scribes around him. Sin breaks us, says Augustine of Hippo; it makes us bend into ourselves so that we cannot walk the spiritual path of God’s love. What Jesus offers this man is forgiveness—but not simply a forgiveness of the divine that is angry with the human, but rather the forgiveness that will allow this man to forgive himself.

I do believe forgiveness is a process and it starts somewhere, not in your pretending to forgive or simply trying to forget, but in your choosing to forgive even when it seems unforgiveable. You choose to say the words “I forgive” and follow up with the action to encourage the other to walk so they won’t be broken by your anger, bitterness, and condemnation. You offer them to join the process of forgiveness so that in it they can forgive their very self and so can you. From this place of strength, you begin to live into the impossible task of forgiveness and remember the place of your forgiveness, when God called you beloved.

God of forgiveness, I struggle to forgive. I’m afraid that I will be hurt or taken advantage of and made a fool. Sometimes I don’t want to forgive, and sometimes I don’t think I should forgive, and still other times, I don’t know if forgiveness is even possible. God of all possibilities, forgive me, even as I struggle with forgiveness. Help me to overcome my fear that I may walk the journey of forgiveness—that of my own and of others. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 9:9–13
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

When I was growing up, holidays were always such an exciting time for me—whether it be excitement over some school days off, getting to open a bunch of carefully wrapped presents, seasonal music I could only play once a year, or the big family meals that always seemed to manifest themselves amazingly while I was playing with relatives in another part of the house. Oh, those meals! The smells would waft through the house all day, the result of what seemed, from the other part of the house, like a minute amount of effort from my mother, grandmother, or any other family member who arrived and was a distinctly trained member of the “kitchen club” (you weren’t really allowed in there on holidays unless you were a member: steadfast kitchen rules).

After hours (and sometimes days, I realized many years later) of work was completed, the mélange was spread, and all would gather at the table. We had our normal dinner table for the four of us to dine at each morning and evening, but at a holiday gathering the table grew just about as much as the amount of extras it needed to hold. Tons of extra food, extra relatives, extra kids, extra everything—with each added piece and some quick shifting around, the table seemed to grow even bigger. It was cramped, undoubtedly every season, but everyone was always welcome: no latecomers uninvited, no kiddie table in the next room, no one turned away. And without fail, every single time, all of us fit perfectly.

Lord, help me to remember there is always room at your table, no matter sinner or saint, and that I will always be fed with your knowledge and everlasting love. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 9:18–26
While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district. (NRSV)

I am always touched by the courage displayed by the protagonists in this text. The leader of the synagogue, perhaps in utter desperation at the loss of his daughter, approaches the controversial figure, Jesus, knowing that he has a bad reputation among the religious authorities. The man may even be putting his leadership position in the synagogue at risk by these actions, yet for his daughter’s sake he steps forward.

As for the woman who stretches out to touch Jesus and receive healing for her broken body, she is one of my favorite characters in the Gospels. Unnamed, blighted by a wretched physical ailment, she is, we imagine, cowed and exhausted and weak, but she proves to be smart and strong, fighting her way through the crowd to get close to Jesus. So close that she can reach out and, rather cheekily I think, touch his clothing, sure and steadfast in her belief that in doing so “I will be made well.” And she is!

Courage may seem like a rather Victorian virtue, yet as we see from these exemplars of faith, it is an important aspect of the life of following Jesus Christ.

          Courage, brother (and sister) do not stumble,
          though your path be dark as night;
          there’s a star to guide the humble;
          trust in God and do the right.
          (from the hymn text by Norman Macleod)

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

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 9:27–34
As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.” But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.

After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.” (NRSV)

In this text, Jesus heals two men who were blind and one who was mute. Previously in Matthew, Jesus had performed other miracles and healing. News was spreading about Jesus. There was desperation among the afflicted, and we see the great faith of people in being healed by Jesus. He stops and listens to those asking for his mercy. He verifies their faith in him and in God. He shows great compassion for the less fortunate. Many were amazed and astonished, words we often see in the New Testament. But others were fearful of his powers.

Here we see the great commitment of Jesus to us and the need for us to be servants and respond to the need we see all around us, individually and as a church. We also see Jesus testing the level of faith that allowed the blind men to regain sight.

In this modern world, are we still amazed and astonished as were the people during Jesus’ time?  

Dear God, may I understand that despite any circumstantial limitations that I may have, I will be rewarded for my deep, persistent, and growing faith. Help me to reach out to you, to receive your grace. And just as Jesus aided the less fortunate, I also must stop, look, and listen and have compassion and do what I can to help, reflecting Jesus’ example. Amen.

Written by Claudia Winkler, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 93
The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty;
     the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.
He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
     your throne is established from of old;
     you are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
     the floods have lifted up their voice;
     the floods lift up their roaring.
More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
     more majestic than the waves of the sea,
     majestic on high is the Lord!

Your decrees are very sure;
     holiness befits your house,
     O Lord, forevermore. (NRSV)

“The floods have lifted up, Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.” It is easy to forget when reading this on paper just how impressive pounding waves can be when you see them in person. My grandparents have a summer cottage in Maine that is on a cliff facing the Atlantic Ocean. Most days it is peaceful and serene and you think, “I am as close to heaven as I can get.” However, when there are storms, it can be a little frightening.

The waves during the winter months and during a large storm can sometimes reach up to our cottage and splash the deck and house, making you realize just how quickly a scene can change. Although a little frightening, it is also kind of exciting to watch. “Thunder, pounding waves” a visual representation of the beauty God creates and has control over.

My grandfather was a stained-glass window artist and found tremendous joy in painting simple things from nature. A bee, a lily, and a rose were his three favorite things to paint. In Maine, on the cliff of the rocks, he felt closest to God, I learned a lot from him in finding beauty in the small wonders of God’s creation. With every storm, with every rainbow, I always think of him. God reigns over everything! Let us always be reminded of that in every circumstance, in every small encounter with something miraculous.

Lord your power and majesty is great. Thank you for all you do in creating such a beautiful world for us to experience your love. Amen.

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

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 47
Clap your hands, all you peoples;
     shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome,
     a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
     the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah

God has gone up with a shout,
     the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
     sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth;
     sing praises with a psalm.

God is king over the nations;
     God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
     as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
     he is highly exalted. (NRSV)

The writer of Psalm 47 is beckoning us to clap, shout, and sing because God is king over the nations. Reading this I asked, what is my emotional response to the idea that God is a great king who rules over the nations? Cynicism quickly surfaced. God is doing a lousy job. Daily people are killing each other. Hourly people are dying of curable sickness. By the minute children are being born into resourceless communities. By the second money lenders are charging such high interest rates that people are stuck in holes for decades. Where is the justice? How can I sing about God being our great king of the nations when the injustice feels overwhelming?

But then as I moved from the macro injustices around me to my micro world, I saw something. Yes, so much is wrong around me, yet within me, God is doing something. It isn’t necessarily newsworthy but it does testify to something. In December of 1997, God pressed on my life choices. I was living as king of my world and my life was a disaster. So, I get onto my knees and I told God I was done doing it my way. I was tired of my path. I wanted to go in God’s direction. There was no angelic chorus; no mysterious checks in the mail; no automatic regaining of trust of those around me I’d hurt; and no, my life did not become easier. But over the course of the last fifteen years God has been working in me. I am learning to be free from the weight of my sin (Romans 1:8). Justice is important to me; I love mercy; and I am starting to see the joy of walking with God in humility (Micah 6:8). I believe my life is changing because of my King. When I think about this I rejoice and sing, because I once was king and I was lost, but then by grace, a great and glorious King found me and that King saved me.

Heavenly Father, thank you for saving me from myself. Please continue to be my King today. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 143
Hear my prayer, O Lord;
     give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness;
     answer me in your righteousness.
Do not enter into judgment with your servant,
     for no one living is righteous before you.

For the enemy has pursued me,
     crushing my life to the ground,
     making me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
     my heart within me is appalled.

I remember the days of old,
     I think about all your deeds,
     I meditate on the works of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
     my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah

Answer me quickly, O Lord;
     my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me,
     or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
     for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
     for to you I lift up my soul.

Save me, O Lord, from my enemies;
     I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will,
     for you are my God.
Let your good spirit lead me
     on a level path.

For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life.
In your righteousness bring me out of trouble.
In your steadfast love cut off my enemies,
     and destroy all my adversaries,
     for I am your servant.

I have a little problem with psalms like this one, the “save me from the bad people and beat them up, O Lord” psalms. It’s not that the psalmist is looking to the Lord for help in times of trouble—the preceding psalm, 142, is kind of wonderful in that way in how it says “Lord I am utterly alone, please help me.” But 143, while it starts that way, it then goes a little too far, with the line “In your steadfast love cut off all my enemies and destroy all my adversaries for I am your servant.”

Really? “In thy steadfast love, destroy my adversaries”? That’s not that far from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Then did he raise on high the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, saying, ‘Bless this, O Lord, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.’”

It’s a little juvenile, and probably pretty representative of its attributed author, David, who could be a little juvenile and full of himself. But at the core of this psalm there is a powerful truth here that can get lost in all the “me-vs.-them” stuff.

“No one living is righteous before you.” “My heart within me is appalled.” “Do not hide your face from me, or I shall be like those who go down into the pit.” This writer has screwed up, he knows it, and knows how deeply he needs God’s grace to recover, to transform his state.

Transformation, that’s the thing. It’s easy to see that this writer wants an utter transformation in his circumstances. It’s also apparent that he knows full well that this transformation begins with a renewal of his relationship with God. God transforms in ways we are powerless to achieve, and God’s favor to us is not a result of our goodness—it’s not a transaction, God is not bound to hold up a bargain. It’s a gift, and it’s up to us to acknowledge it and be grateful.

Lord, I know that no one is righteous but you. Let me always remember that, and not turn self-righteousness on others. Transform my heart, so that I might work to transform the world. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1–11
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you —unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them —though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. (NRSV)

When I learned about the 1920s as a high school student, I felt like I’d really missed my decade. Zoot suits, jazz, Hemmingway . . . How could I possibly have been born in 1978?

I love verse 8 in this passage—the bit about Paul being “untimely born.” Another translation says “as if I was born at the wrong time.” Paul is asking a question many of us have entertained: Have you ever wondered what it would have been like if you were born at another time? What about in another place? Here’s one that may hit a little closer to home: do you think you’d be happier if you had a different job, or lived in a different place, or had a different spouse?

One of the most deceptive things about happiness is the idea that if we were someplace else, sometime else, with someone else, everything about us would be complete. The reality is that none of these external influences will “fix” us. The fact is that you are where you are supposed to be. Paul, finding himself in a difficult place, asked why he was untimely born but concluded that he should do his best with the place and time in which he found himself. What will you do with the day you have been given, in the place and the time where you find yourself?

God, please grant me the insight to do the best I can with the day you have given me, in this place and time, surrounded by the people you have placed alongside me. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12–28
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. (NRSV)

Some of the Corinthian Christians had difficulty affirming the resurrection of the dead, even though they believed Christ had been raised from the dead. The Apostle Paul urged them—and us—to believe in the resurrection of the dead by proclaiming the sovereignty of God: all things are subjected under God so that God may be all in all. God will put every ruler, authority and power, and all enemies under God’s feet. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Death has lost its old dominion. God has the last word.

This echoes other words from Paul in Romans 8:37: “In all this, we are more than conquerors through God who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In life and in death, in life beyond death, we belong to God. Believing this frees us to trust in God’s eternal love, invest our lives in hope for God’s kingdom on earth, and work with confidence for God’s purposes, even though we may not fully see that work bear fruit in our lifetime.

I praise you, O God, who causes hope to spring up from the ground. Christ is risen. Christ is giving life eternal, life profound. May my life proclaim your victory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Prayer adapted from Nicolas Martinez’s hymn “Christ Is Risen”)

Written by Victoria Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:35–49
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.

 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. (NRSV)

I grew up in a fairly evangelical church environment. So there were many ways in which I always felt inadequate when it came to my spirituality. One of my inadequacies (that I seemed forced to reflect on every time someone else told their own faith story) was that I couldn’t ever remember having a “conversion” experience. Yet being converted—being transformed from one state of being to another—is exactly what Paul is saying takes place for believers.

In Paul’s understanding of the universe, all things have one of two essential natures. Some have the nature of the flesh, which leads to sin, corruption, and death. Others have the nature of the spirit, which leads to holiness, perfection, and eternal life. Paul is telling Christians that we all start out as flesh, but he also offers Christians the hope that we can become spirit, if we are willing to place our lives under the care of Jesus Christ.

I still can’t tell a story about a blinding flash of light or a voice speaking to me to make me feel like my life in the flesh had ended and my life in the spirit had come. Yet I do believe that I have glimpsed brief moments of my life as God intends it to be—in worship or prayer, in fellowship around table with faithful friends, in shared service among God’s people, and even in the ecstatic inspiration of song.

One of Mumford & Sons’ most popular songs is “I Will Wait.” My understanding of it is that it is a reflection on, and little glimpse of, the conversion that Paul urges us toward—both in its meaning, and in the hearing of it. Maybe you will find it to be so for you as well.

God of the Spirit, it is often that I feel weighed down by my own flesh and the ways in which it makes me distant from you. But I praise you for the assurance that, in Jesus Christ, we can be united with you in Spirit. Thank you for the experiences that help me believe this is true. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:51–58
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
          Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
          “Where, O death, is your victory?
          Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (NRSV)

Some weeks after my mother was diagnosed with a very rare form of breast cancer, I overheard a conversation she was having with a friend. Using the kind of dark humor that can bring momentary relief, she said to her friend, “Yeah, I think I’ll start smoking and drinking and having affairs.” If you had known my mother, you would know how funny the statement was.

Paul’s words in this passage are meant to convince those who heard them that their lives mattered and were therefore imperishable. His words aren’t focused on a proof of the eternal afterlife. Our perishable bodies put on imperishability when we realize that our lives are gifts that can be used for good purpose, for God’s purposes. That’s when the sting of death is taken away. That’s when death is swallowed up in victory.

We all know we will die. I don’t look forward to it at all. But the realization of my death would be far more damaging to me if I thought my life had no use. I know my life is valued, not because of my own efforts or my own striving, but because somehow God has broken through my thick head and once hardened heart and given me “that victory” of knowing I’m loved and valued. That’s what keeps me moving forward. And that’s what gives me courage when I slip up.  Paul says it this way: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Gracious and ever-generous God, don’t let me forget that you love me and value my earthly life. Don’t let fears and death-producing thoughts delude me into thinking that nothing matters, that life is pointless, that faith is a hoax. Instead, O God, fill me with such gratitude that I may remain steadfast, immovable, and always excelling in the work of the Lord. I ask this in the name of the One who has given us victory. Amen.

Written by Judy Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 20
The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
The name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary,
     and give you support from Zion.
May he remember all your offerings,
     and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices .{Selah}

May he grant you your heart’s desire,
     and fulfill all your plans.
May we shout for joy over your victory,
     and in the name of our God set up our banners.
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.

Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed;
     he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories
          by his right hand.
Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
     but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
They will collapse and fall,
     but we shall rise and stand upright.

Give victory to the king, O Lord;
     answer us when we call.

If you’re anything like me, you find the psalms sometimes majestically beautiful, full of moving words and imagery. Other times, they seem written by a broken person, asking for God to bring down violence on others. Context is important, but it can still make our reading very uncomfortable. But what if the psalms offer us not a definitive theology about who God is, but a practical theology of how we can address God about the struggles and joys of our lives?

This is the power of spiritual journaling, whether you do it through the visual arts, sound recorder, or written and typed. Read as a spiritual journal entry, Psalm 20 is a poem as prayer. “May God,” prays the author, who must have been struggling with fear, perhaps feeling overwhelmed by pain, looming threats, burdened by feelings of inadequacy. And this practice does end up telling us about God—the one who grants us permission to grieve, to lament, to plead, to pen our pain, to shout our frustration, to whisper our fears.

Today I invite you to journal. Do it for thirty seconds or five minutes, for as long as you need. Already do it? Then journal with others, share your journaled thoughts with others. In moments of need, return to it and remember God is with you. In moments of joy, return to it and find there your humanity and the indisputable reality of God’s love for you, just as you are.

May God help you find your strength for the road ahead; may God help you open your ears to hear God in new ways, your eyes to see God in new places and in people’s faces, your mouth so that you can thank God and encourage others, and your hands, that you might be open to the gifts of the Spirit and to the love of God. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 12:1–14
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”

He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. (NRSV)

Form over substance—elevation of practice over belief—is what Jesus chides the Pharisees for doing in this exchange. He chastises them for their focus on form—the appearance of being holy. Citing scripture to them, he paraphrases the prophet Hosea, who brought the Israelites this message from God: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.” Jesus is not breaking any new ground. Rather, he is pointing the Pharisees (and his disciples) to the true expression of their faith, one concentrated less on the performance of rites or obligations and more on what is in the heart.

This message is one that bears constant repeating. Over the centuries, since the end of Jesus’ ministry here on earth, we have developed many forms for keeping the faith. As we have traveled further from that time, we have learned to rely on practice and form to maintain our system of belief. But if we look at the history of our faith, even if we look only at the Presbyterian history, we see that those practices have changed, sometimes dramatically. A Fourth Church member from 1914 walking into the Gratz Center or our sanctuary today would be amazed and perhaps scandalized. But I hope that any Christian encountering our ministry today will recognize that our practice is merely the form and that in our hearts we seek to reveal the love of God to the world.

Lord, please prevent me from making an idol of religious practice. Teach me to focus on what is in the heart. May the contents of my heart be acceptable to you, and may my actions further the kingdom of God. Amen.

Written by Juli Crabtree, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

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

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

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

There were three different times throughout the year that the Hebrew people would journey to Jerusalem to worship together (Feast of Passover, Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles). Collectively as a people they would journey the road to Jerusalem for these celebrated feasts and on the way they had a collection of sixteen songs that they would sing. (Psalms 120­–135, commonly called the Songs of Ascent). Our devotional text today, Psalm 122, is one of those songs.

In Psalm 122, David is filled with gladness about Jerusalem being a city built for gathered worship. He writes, “Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together.” I think this is a twofold image: yes, the architectural space of Jerusalem was a place firmly bound together, but also, with all of the people gathered together in the city celebrating a feast, the people themselves were firmly bound together. (The word “bound” in Hebrew is related to the word “companion.”)

The Hebrews worshiping together in Jerusalem on a regular basis correlate today with our worshiping together on Sundays. Just as the Hebrews did in Jerusalem, so we too gather together to retell the foundational stories that have been given to us and act out the sacraments which we have been signed and sealed with in Christ. We gather from different places, different callings, and different experiences, and taking these fragments, we put them together and form a single bounded voice in worship to our God. And in this firmly-bounded-together worship, our hearts are gladdened; our mental batteries recharged; we are filled with hope again, because we are reminded of the great work our God is doing in us, through us, and around us.

God, thank you for local gatherings of worship. It gladdens my heart to worship in community. Please, by your Holy Spirit, help me to be a joy-filled worshiper today. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:1–9
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” (NRSV)

“Hey there mister, can you tell me what happened to the seeds I’ve sown? Can you give me a reason, sir, as to why they’ve never grown? They’ve just blown around from town to town till they’re back out on these fields, where they fall from my hand back into the dirt of this hard land.”

The Parable of the Sower is so familiar that once someone starts it, we can finish it without thinking. Bruce Springsteen turns this parable around, however, and turns it into a tale of rootlessness—where the seeds become people, dropped into a world that is hard and unwelcoming, people who are looking for a place where they can belong.

“We’ve been blowing around from town to town looking for a place to stand . . .”

And just like that the Parable of the Sower stops being about how we hear God’s word and becomes a question of how we practice what we hear. Look at the news. It is not difficult to see the hardness and hostility in how the sick, the hungry, the elderly, and the immigrant—all those people that God has told us to nurture and care for—are treated in our world. These seeds, it seems like they are blamed for the kind of ground they find. They’re told, “The ground is hard? That’s your problem. There are thorns and weeds? Well, too bad for you.”

Good ground doesn’t happen by accident. The first mechanical invention that put us on the road to civilization was the plow, an instrument for breaking ground. If we want the ground to be fertile and welcoming, we have work to do to make it happen. Break the ground. Tend the soil. Then the seeds have a place to take root and grow.

The parable is not about hearing—everyone hears, but some don’t understand and some lack the commitment to put the Word into practice. It’s about preparing the soil and nurturing the seeds, and the work never stops, because those seeds are blowing around out there every day.

Lord, please remind us that you have not called us to be a hard land but rather to be a fruitful and welcoming place. Help us to remember to tend the land and care for those you have sown among us. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:10–17
Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
          You will indeed listen, but never understand,
          and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
          For this people’s heart has grown dull,
                    and their ears are hard of hearing,
                              and they have shut their eyes;
                              so that they might not look with their eyes,
                    and listen with their ears,
          and understand with their heart and
                    and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. (NRSV)

I am going through a situation right now where I am just not choosing to hear with my ears and see with my eyes and understand with my heart what God is trying to tell me. There are times I feel all of us choose reason over what we feel deep down to be true when facing a problem. God must get so frustrated with me sometimes saying, “Ashley, there are only so many times and there are only so many ways I can tell you the answer to this problem!” Obedience is what God is asking of me.

Why is it that sometimes we find the solution to a problem so much more quickly than at other times? If we are “seeing with our eyes and hearing with our ears and understanding with our hearts,” isn’t that enough to yield a reasonable approach to troubles?

Why is it that one of those three things is usually out of place? God asks for us to be obedient first so that we might receive the wisdom he is trying so hard to share. My twenty-one-year-old brother never answers his phone when I call him to talk and catch up and just recently he answered and we caught up for an hour and a half. He said, “Ashley, what do you know deep down to be true? Do you feel God really wants this for you? You know the answer; you are just choosing not to see it.” God will heal me and God will help me, but only when I choose to listen.

Lord, I pray that you always help me face life’s challenges with an open heart. I pray that you make the decisions I come across in life easier to bear because of what you teach me. Thank you for always being patient with me, even when I choose not to listen. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:18–23

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

I remember one of the first children’s sermons I was asked to give on the Parable of the Sower. “Egads!” I thought, “Sowing? I can’t even thread a needle!” Well, thank goodness everyone isn’t as dense as I was, but I do think we still miss how important successful farming was to Jesus’ audience. You don’t have to go back many generations in my husband’s family to get the picture. I can hear his mom tell me, “Rob’s granddad put five kids through college on 150 acres.” To many people, it was and is a matter of life and death.

As a writer of devotions, I’ve been blessed with a text today in which Jesus himself explains his parable. Here is a paraphrase of the four examples in the parable:

1. Seeds falling on the path = a person hearing the message and not understanding it.

2. Seeds falling on rocky places = a person hearing and understanding with joy, only to fall away when persecution because of the Word comes.

3. Seeds falling among the thorns = a person hearing and understanding the message who chokes and is made unfruitful because of the worries and deceitfulness of wealth.

4. Seed falling on good soil = a person hears, understands, and produces a crop.

In Jesus’ explanation (as I understand it) it is not about hearing the Word without understanding. It is not about hearing and understanding (a gift that I believe God bestows on each and everyone who searches)—simply understanding it doesn’t allow it to stay in your life very long. It is about hearing, understanding and most importantly, producing a crop—doing something with your knowledge.

Dear God, the Word comes from you. My understanding is a gift from you. Please help me with the only thing you’ve left to us—to produce thirty times what was sown. Amen.

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

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 62

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
     from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
     my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

How long will you assail a person,
     will you batter your victim, all of you,
     as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence.
     They take pleasure in falsehood;
they bless with their mouths,
     but inwardly they curse. Selah

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
     for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
     my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
     my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
     pour out your heart before him;
     God is a refuge for us. Selah

Those of low estate are but a breath,
     those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
     they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
     and set no vain hopes on robbery;
     if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

Once God has spoken;
     twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
     and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
     according to their work.

Although October 31 and Halloween have become synonymous in recent years (it was certainly my first thought upon receiving this devotion assignment) this October 31 date has a profound significance for us as Protestant Christians as well. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther is thought to have posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, Germany—a humble gesture that would nonetheless spark a massive religious revolution. Commemorated as Reformation Day, October 31 became more than just a night of spiritual contemplation on the eve of All Saints’ Day (the original intent of All Hallows’ Evening). Instead, Reformation Day is a chance to reflect on our beliefs as Protestant Christians.

The soaring refrain of Psalm 62 does a more than adequate job: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.” This is a beautiful psalm that captures the sovereignty of God and our trust that God is with us even in the darkest of circumstances—a trust that Luther would later capture in his famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” In this day filled with costumes and candy, let us remember as well the courage and candor involved in the Reformation and may that boldness inspire us to undertake the work to which God has called each of us.

Dear God, you are indeed my rock and salvation; a fortress that shall never be shaken. Embolden me to be your light in this world, a torchbearer of your great love. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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