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Daily devotions, written by the staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church,
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September 1–7 | September 8–14 | September 15–21 |
September 22–28
| September 29–30

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 4:7–42
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” (NRSV)

In some Gospel stories, Jesus’ disciples are ignorant and shortsighted (characteristics I can all too easily identify with), but in this story, they are remarkably trusting of Jesus (a characteristic I wish I would emulate more). By speaking with a Samaritan woman, Jesus broke all sorts of religious and social taboos, and his disciples were well aware of it. Yet they didn’t speak a word of protest or criticism. Instead, they trusted their teacher to lead them along new paths of God’s grace and waited to see what would happen. They weren’t disappointed.

How many times do we find ourselves challenged by the Spirit to do something new or radical? Whether it’s welcoming those who are ostracized, caring for those whom society considers untouchable, praying for our enemies and those who hate us, or simply doing something we have never done before, we are in the same position as those disciples long ago at a well in Samaria. When we come to those crossroads of faith, will we have the courage and trust that they exhibited when they found Jesus conversing with this woman?

The disciples trusted Jesus with all of his radical new ideas and practices, and, in the end, they witnessed a harvest of grace and salvation brought to fruition through love and acceptance. The fields are still ripe for harvesting. Will we be brave enough to join in the labor?

Gracious God, help me to trust in the newness of Jesus’ radical love. Amen.

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

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
     whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
     of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
     to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
     they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
     my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
     yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the Lord,
     that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
     all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
     and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
     in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
     he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up
     above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
     sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
     be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
     Your face, Lord, do I seek.
     Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,
     you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
     O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
     the Lord will take me up.

Teach me your way, O Lord,
     and lead me on a level path
     because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
     for false witnesses have risen against me,
     and they are breathing out violence.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
     in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
     be strong, and let your heart take courage;
     wait for the Lord! (NRSV)

David had a heart for God. He also had, in my perception, some major issues with fear. For years, when reading David’s words, “My enemies devour my flesh,” or “though an army encamp against me,” or “though war rise up against me,” I thought, “Really? Really, David?” In this psalm alone, he begins with fear of his enemies, praises God, and then closes with fear that God will reject him!

Now I can relate to David’s words by focusing on the fears and anxieties that can eat away at me, that literally tear at my spirit, threatening to consume me. What was David’s solution? He desired to live in the house of the Lord all the days of his life. The Gospel writers restate this advice with “Before you worry, seek the kingdom of God.” Even though I still struggle with David’s desire to have God “hide me in his shelter” or “conceal me under the cover of his tent,” I do agree with him that we can “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

To that end, I can live every day waiting for the Lord, being strong, and letting my heart take courage. Yes, David, I will wait for the Lord!

Lord, help me to realize that my worry is just a selfish reaction to my inability to control the world. This is your creation, Lord. Help me dwell in your presence on this earth, nurturing a relationship with you that will increase forever. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Today’s Reading | Acts 9:10–19a
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (NRSV)

When we hear about Paul’s conversion from being a persecutor of Jesus’ followers to becoming an apostle of Jesus, we usually think first and foremost of his direct encounter with the divine. While dramatic, it is nevertheless only part of the whole story of Paul’s call. The call is completed when it is confirmed by another: Ananias also receives a vision from the Lord, and obeying the Lord he encounters Paul, lays his hands upon him, and tells him that the Lord has chosen him to carry his name to all persons. It is not until Ananias confirms what the Lord is doing in Paul’s life that Paul’s call is complete.

The story of Paul’s call reminds me of the role that community plays whenever anyone is called to become a follower of Christ. The Spirit works not only through direct encounters with individuals, but also through the community, and as a result, we can provide for each other a sense of clarity and certainty— confirmation—that Christ is calling us. Without one another, the scales most certainly would not fall from our eyes. With one another, might we be able to see more clearly and more deeply that we are called and what we are called to do?

Do what it takes, Lord, to convert me and call me to serve you, but do not leave me alone in my conversion. Instead surround me by others who, when they look and lay their hands upon me, say to me that I have indeed been called by you and invite me to serve alongside them. In the name of Jesus Christ who suffered for our sake, I pray. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Today’s Reading | Acts 10:17–33
Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.

The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”

Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.” (NRSV)

The radical nature of the early church as it is described in the Acts of the Apostles is one of the hidden gems of the Bible. From mystical experiences like the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to the commitment of the early believers to communal living and sharing of possessions, there is a radical break with the cultural norms and mores of the wider society.

This shift is seen powerfully in the exchange between Peter and Cornelius, the Roman centurion who is described as “a devout man who feared God.” Cornelius is, of course, a Gentile (non-Jew), and the encounter here explodes the ancient barriers separating Jew from Gentile. Peter readily admits that in coming to meet Cornelius he is doing something that is “unlawful,” but in the new post-resurrection world, such barriers have no place for Peter as he seeks to spread the good news of the risen Christ.

Peter’s claim is that “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” What a good word for our world in which different religions too often clash employing rhetoric of judgment and exclusion. Pray God that we would follow in Peter’s footsteps in our encounters with people of other faiths.

Lead me, O God, in a way of patience and understanding, that I would reflect your love for all of your children. Amen.

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

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Today’s 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)

I remember as a child having to memorize the books of the Bible in Sunday school. It was an arduous task for a fourth grader. There were all those difficult prophet names to keep in order, and it seemed like an awful lot to remember. But I also learned that if you wanted to find the psalms, just stand up your Bible and open it up to the middle.

Placed in the middle, the psalms acted as the heart of this great book. They were the first hymnbook used in temple worship, and here, one could find the expression of every human emotion. In the psalms, tough questions are asked of God and answers are demanded. The psalms often express feelings of distance from God but always reassure us with trust in God’s eventual presence and deliverance.

In today’s mood of political polarization and economic fear, the words of Psalm 93 are a great comfort to me. We are reminded here that, “he has established the world; it shall never be moved; your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.” Ultimately God is in charge and God will not be moved. We may fear the fast-paced changes of our world, but underneath it all is our majestic God, in whom we can trust, whose decrees are very sure.

Loving God, today we are reminded that more majestic than the thunders of the waves, the thunders of our political debates, or the thunders of our economic woes, is your throne. You alone are from everlasting and will not be moved. So help us to fasten ourselves to you, when we pass through storms, to be renewed and strengthened by your care. Guide us to trust in your presence and deliverance. In Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Today’s Reading | Acts 11:1–18
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” (NRSV)

I think it’s easy to grow impatient with the book of Acts. Many of the stories have a supernatural quality that can be hard to understand. The language is a bit “ho-hum”—not exactly Shakespeare by the time it’s translated into English. Sometimes it’s repetitive. If you turn back to chapter 10, you hear the same story as this one from chapter 11, just from a different perspective. If you can sift through all that, though, I do like the message, and I especially like the repetitive part:  Peter found out he was wrong and had to change his mind, but then he had to tell his friends about it.

Have you been there? The subject isn’t always religion. It could be politics or family issues. We don’t like to be wrong at all, but one of the worst parts about being wrong can be having to admit it to our friends.

This is where Peter becomes a role model for faith and life. From time to time, all of us are wrong. The teaching of this passage, it seems to me, is that when we are wrong and the new insight we’ve gained is important, we have to learn to say to our friends: “I was wrong. I misread the situation. I’ve learned something. Can I tell you about it?”

It’s a lesson in humility. Being wrong happens all the time. What is much more rare is for someone to confess that they have been wrong, which allows others to gain from our struggles. It also allows us to grow in our relationship to God, and God wants us to grow and give of ourselves, and even as we make mistakes, keep on living.

Gracious God, thank you for the gift of forgiveness at times when I have been wrong. When I am wrong, grant me the humility to admit it. And help me learn to extend forgiveness to others. Amen.

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

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 146
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
     I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,
     in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
     on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
     whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
     the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
     who executes justice for the oppressed;
     who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
     the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
     the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
     he upholds the orphan and the widow,
     but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign forever,
     your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

Timothy White, one of the chief editors at Rolling Stone in the 1980s, was once quoted as saying that “familiarity breeds a kind of complacency.” I once utilized Psalm 146 in a prayer service, only to discover that those in attendance had heard this psalm dozens of times in this service before. My heart sank because I wasn’t being “original”; something new wasn’t being revealed. In an age of twenty-four-hour news networks, when breaking news becomes old news before the sun sets, we become accustomed to and perhaps even demand an onslaught of “new.” Things we have seen before become glossed over in an effort to acquire new information.

The words of Psalm 146 do not qualify as new. Many of us may have even skipped over the psalm in the interest of what the reflection will be (a practice I have been guilty of on occasion . . .).  Our familiarity with the joyous words of Psalm 146 can indeed breed complacency. And yet, we should never confuse breaking news with the Good News. The words of this psalm have endured because they are continually springing anew: God is setting the prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, and lifting up those bowed down. Let us indeed “praise the Lord!” for this continual gift!

Dear Lord, help remind me that things don’t need to be new to teach me. Help me rediscover your voice in the gift of scripture, especially in passages that I think I know all too well. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 21:15−19
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”  (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (NRSV)

John gives us glimpses of Peter’s faith journey. When Jesus asks his disciples if they would prefer not to follow him, Peter said, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Later, as Jesus bent to wash Peter’s feet, Peter protested, “Never!” Jesus responded, “If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be my disciple.” Peter replied, “Then wash not only my feet but my hands and head, too!” (John 13:8−9). When Jesus says the disciples cannot follow where he must go next, Peter says, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now?  I will lay my life down for you!” (John 13:37). Then Jesus tells Peter he will deny Jesus three times. Peter indeed did.

The crucified and risen Christ counterbalances the three denials Peter made with three opportunities for Peter to say yes. Peter knew all about denying Jesus—and the ensuing guilt and shame. Now Peter not only discovers what it means to be forgiven but is given a clear, concrete way to express his love for Christ—by pledging his life to care for Jesus’ flock.

I am deeply grateful that in spite of my unfaithfulness, God not only allows us to begin anew but gives us an incredibly meaningful way to express love for God by loving our neighbors. 

Gracious God, I love you. I love you. I love you. Strengthen me to give myself fully to care for people as you desire. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 15:1−10
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (NRSV)

These two parables speak of the joy in finding something that we thought we had lost. They express a joy that differs from the joy conveyed by the saying, “Finders keepers, losers weepers,” because in these parables there is no finder who comes upon something that had previously belonged to someone else. Instead these parables assume that the thing found already belonged to its finder.

All things belong to God, because all things were made by God. We express this belief every Sunday when we offer up to the Lord a portion of what we have received from God. These parables reveal, however, not only a God who created all things, but also a God who values and treasures all that he has created. God will search to the ends of the earth for each person made in his image, and God knows great joy when he finds any one of us. 

You, Lord, are steadfast and loyal. You have not given up on me, even when I have left your fold. For my sake, Lord, do not let me be away from you too long. When I do not make my way back to you, find me so that I may know the joy felt on that day. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Care

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Tuesday, September 10, 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.

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.

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. (NRSV)

Although written thousands of years ago, Psalm 62 speaks with clarity to all of us in these times of uncertainty and anxiety. The psalmist reminds us that the hope that is true comes from God and in that hope alone do we discover salvation. We all stray from that hope as we struggle with the daily challenges of life, but God is always there, our rock and our refuge. The pure love of one person to another is a dim reflection of the love of God toward each of us.

As a parent I dearly love my two daughters, but sometimes they can make me frustrated or even angry, yet I never stop loving them. Sometimes they are discouraged or hurt by relationships with friends and think nobody likes them, so I remind them I still love them and always will. Perhaps this is how God feels toward each of us as we stray from or forget God’s love for every person. God’s love rolls on like a gentle stream through our lives even when we don’t realize or acknowledge that it is there. God’s love rolls on like a mighty river from one generation to another and through all eternity.

O love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be. Amen.
(Prayer from the hymn “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” by George Matheson)

Reflection written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 12:32–40
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (NRSV)

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

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

Maybe seeking the kingdom is as simple as focusing on the love of someone dear to you over and above your trouble at work. Staying longer in the company of someone who needs you rather than rushing off to run errands. Maybe I’ll start trying to seek the kingdom in each and every encounter!

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

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

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 3:14−21
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (NRSV)

One of the privileges of ministry in the church is being invited into people’s lives as they journey through life’s seasons, accompanying them on the walk of faith and life. This means being present in the high points, as they reach the crest of a wave and celebrate marriages and births, new relationships and anniversaries; it also means seeking to bring the presence of God into the darker times of loss or illness, anxiety and spiritual struggle.

It is not unusual for us to turn to scripture to seek God’s word for a particular situation, perhaps during preparation for a celebration or on a pastoral visit at home or in the hospital. Our reading for today is one that I read often in such contexts, because it has an encompassing sense of the mystical nature of our faith—“the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge”—while proclaiming the earthy reality of how we comprehend the mystery: “you are being rooted and grounded in love.”

And ultimately, as in all things in the seasons of our life, thanksgiving and glory are given to our God, whose love sustains our lives.

May I too bow my knees before you, O Lord, that I might be strengthened in your love. Amen.

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

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 17:11–19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (NRSV)

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

There is undoubtedly a political aspect to Luke’s presentation, as the emphasis on the thankful man’s status as a “foreigner” and a “Samaritan” stands out on a Gospel that is preoccupied with the universalism of Christianity. However, today I’ll leave this aspect to your own ponderings. Instead, I’d like to focus on how difficult the mere act of saying “Thanks!” can be. If you are like me, you have a hard time accepting gifts or help from others. Many of us (perhaps nine out of ten of us . . .) operate under the mistaken ethic that we need to do everything ourselves and that we are to be caregivers, not care receivers. To thank someone for their help is to admit that we were not able to do something by ourselves. Instead, Jesus’ probing questions at the end of this passage remind us that we are called to acknowledge help when we receive it. We do this not just for the other person’s benefit, but as an act of humility that reminds us of how we are called to give and receive. I encourage you all to contact at least three people today who have helped you in the past week and to thank them, recognizing how indebted we all are to each other and how indebted we are to God’s grace and love.

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

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 84
How lovely is your dwelling place,
     O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
     for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
     to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
     and the swallow a nest for herself,
     where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
     my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
     ever singing your praise.

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
     in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
     they make it a place of springs;
     the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
     the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
     give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
     look on the face of your anointed.

For a day in your courts is better
     than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
     than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
     he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
     from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
     happy is everyone who trusts in you. (NRSV)

What a gift this psalm is. The writer is able to attach words to profound feelings, to bring us to a place of recognition and understanding about our deepest needs and sorrows and ultimately about the transforming power of God. We all have gone through the valley of Baca on the journey to Zion. “From strength to strength,” through God’s love and grace, we manage to emerge with joy and singing as never before. Weakness, defeat, and suffering are showered with a refreshing early rain and then nurtured with the sun and shield of God. And we come home.  “Even the sparrow finds a home.” As the hymn “God of the Sparrow” asks, how does the creature say thanks and how do God’s children say home?

O God, in the midst of whatever struggles face me today, grant me the attentiveness and patience to move beyond them, trusting in your love and guidance, in your transforming power to bring me home. Amen.

Written by Barbara Cleveland, Executive Assistant

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Scripture Reading: John 4:46−54
Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee. (NRSV)

“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Is Jesus’ statement to the royal official spoken as rebuff, encouragement, or simply observation? The father already had some belief when—out of compassion, perhaps desperation—he begged for Jesus to heal his son. And when Jesus tells him, “Go; your son will live,” he believes and obeys. Yet after his son is healed, the passage says, “he himself believed.” 

Perhaps it’s like my own journey. I go along with my day-to-day belief, sometimes taking God for granted. Now and then, especially when a challenge brings my limitations to the fore, I more urgently seek guidance or help from God. When God strengthens or calms me, opens a door, provides clarity, changes the situation, or gives me a “divine hunch,” more often than not I am amazed. Wow, God really does work in my life and in our world!

 If we lived expectantly, trusting that God is always present and active, no doubt we would notice far more signs and wonders God performs every day. Such recognition requires that we pause and reflect in the midst of our busyness to discern how God is moving. Our faith should not be dependent upon such signs, but when they come, we need to give God thanks and glory.

Loving Creator, open my eyes to see how you are purposefully bringing forth life in our world. Deepen my faith in you and my gratitude for your wondrous love. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 91
You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
     who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
     my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
     and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
     and under his wings you will find refuge;
     his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
     or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
     or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
     ten thousand at your right hand,
     but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
     and see the punishment of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
     the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
     no scourge come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
     to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
     so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
     the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Those who love me, I will deliver;
     I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
     I will be with them in trouble,
     I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
     and show them my salvation. (NRSV)

“Wanna get away?” When one airline began employing that line in its TV ads—began posing that question as a response to embarrassing situations gone terribly awry—it was lifting up a very human inclination. When things get tough or overwhelming, when we don’t know where to turn or exactly how to go on, there is a temptation to run and hide, to cower and take cover, to disappear, forget, and, with some luck, maybe start over.

The psalmist knows there are times like that: times when, for reasons big or small, we would like to—when we need to—retreat, hide, slip quietly away to a safe, protected place.

Our God, says the psalmist in words of assurance and acclamation, is the one in whom we can find that refuge, the one who will protect us from the harms that assail us, who spreads wide God’s sheltering wings and draws us close.

That safe place in our God is not simply an escape, however; not merely a far-off destination. That refuge in God, says the psalmist, is a guiding presence along the way. It is the shade from the desert’s fierce sun, the smoothed pathway in the wilderness’s rocky expanse, the reassurance in the uncertainties of night, the strength in the trials of the day.

God’s protection and presence is for the journey, for the living of our days. It is for here, for now, and for always.

And it is a presence and protection God himself promises. In the final verses of Psalm 91, “the last word belongs to Yahweh,” writes Walter Brueggemann, “and the last word is caring protection. It is the ground for confidence that the last word is not spoken by us, but to us.”

Lord God, keeper of my life, lover of my life, guide my goings out and comings in, secure in your saving grace, this day and forevermore. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Tuesday, September 17, 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)

Consider, for just a moment, what our lives would be like without the burden of needless fear, the kind of fear that holds us back and prevents us from being fully who we are called to be. What if we faced our fears and dealt with them as the disciples faced the storm on the sea? Like the disciples in the boat, we also have God beside us at all times, and we can call on God to quiet the storms in our lives. So “why are you afraid, you of little faith?”

During a rehearsal, I once told the Morning Choir that they sounded afraid of the music and they needed to go headlong into the music and overcome their fear. I told them I have a fear of heights and should parachute out of an airplane to face that fear. I was soon presented with a gift certificate to jump out of a plane, courtesy of the choir. (I’m not sure what that says about my relationship with the choir!) They gave me the opportunity to face my fear, my storm, and quiet it.

What fears do you have? Are you afraid of changing jobs to follow your calling? Or are you afraid of committing to someone in a faithful relationship? Do you have a fear of helping someone because they are different from you? With God by our side, we can face any storm with faith and let go of our fears.

God of radiant brilliance, shed your light on my fears, expose them and transform them with your love and grace. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 8:40–56
Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.” When Jesus heard this, he replied, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.” When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and called out, “Child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened. (NRSV)

A friend of mine who leads worship workshops and retreats tells a story of doing a very creative Bible study exploring this story in Luke’s Gospel. Participants were invited to use random photographic images to illustrate the personality of the principal figures in the story. When it came to the hemorrhaging woman, a number of people chose pictures of thin old women, reflecting the twelve years of illness and marginalization she had experienced.

My friend tells how surprised he was when one woman picked a picture of a hale and hearty middle-aged woman, strong and in seeming good health. She explained her choice by reflecting that the text does not tell us the age of the woman, only that she has suffered for years and lost all her money seeking a cure that never comes. Yet we are told that the crowds were “pressing in” on Jesus, she reflected, and this woman, out of faith, was able to get close enough to Jesus to touch his cloak. In her mind’s eye this meant the woman had a kind of strength and determination to reach for that which gave her hope—Jesus.

Grant to me strength of faith, gracious God, that I might find a way to reach out and touch the hope I have in Jesus. Amen.

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

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 6:16−25
Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. You must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his decrees, and his statutes that he has commanded you. Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may go in and occupy the good land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you, thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.

When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. The Lord displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household. He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land that he promised on oath to our ancestors. Then the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case. If we diligently observe this entire commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, we will be in the right.” (NRSV)

Several years ago, when my wife and I were waiting to bring our firstborn son home from the hospital, I found myself holding him in my arms and anxiously pacing the floor, ready to get him home as soon as possible. During that precious time together, without really thinking about it, I began to tell him stories. I started off telling him about Kal-El of Krypton (better known to most people as Superman), then moved on to Moses (whose story influenced the creators of Superman), and then told him about his biblical namesake, Noah. It was an early indication, I think, of the relationship I hope to have with my sons as I bring them up in the faith and culture that mean so much to me.

I think that this is what the writer of this passage from Deuteronomy meant. As our children grow older, they naturally become curious about the beliefs, practices, and traditions of their parents and community. It is our sacred responsibility as a church to pass on these traditions to our children and youth.

In our Presbyterian tradition, this responsibility is not limited to parents and relatives. At every baptism we celebrate, the entire congregation promises to raise the children of our church in our faith. These are promises that we each make and must be intentional about fulfilling. How is God calling you to support and nurture the children and youth of our congregation?

Dear God, thank you for the young people among us who will carry on the faith we hold so dear. Help me to find ways to support them in our common lives together. Amen.

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

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Scripture Reading: Romans 3:19–28
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. (NRSV)

In this letter to the church in Rome, we find Paul building a case—a case against boasting. No one, Paul has already argued, is without fault, without sin. If no one, therefore, is able to make oneself worthy of salvation by one’s own efforts, what then becomes of boasting?

In a culture in which diligence and excellence are valued, Paul doesn’t need to argue to convince me that though we strive toward perfection, we nevertheless fall short. I am already keenly aware of my shortcomings. This doesn’t mean, however, that I have not been guilty of boasting. Ridiculous as it may be, my boasts have been less about my accomplishments and more about my privileges. Any honest reflection would reveal an ego puffed up by the privileges I have received.

To the recipients of this letter in his time and to us today, Paul builds a case against boasting. Whether our boast is in our merit or in our privileged membership, Paul reminds us that our only boast should be in the Lord. Paul asks us to follow the example of Christ, who, having every reason to boast, for the sake of others gave up every privilege of being God’s beloved Son.

Lord, I must look so ridiculous to you
when I am puffed up with pride.
If I must boast at all, let my boast be in you.
For the sake of your Son, I pray. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 11:7–9, 16–19
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

. . .

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (NRSV)

Who was it that the crowds were looking for? Were they expecting an earthly king of the Jews, a king like Herod, living in sumptuous splendor, cloaked in soft robes, represented on the coins of the territories by a Galilean reed blowing in the wind? Is that why they went out into the wilderness to hear John--to learn of a politically powerful ruler come to save them?

No, says Jesus. For that, one would go to a palace. To go to the wilderness to hear God’s promise, God’s word, suggests a different reality, a different expectation: a world turned upside down. A world in which slaves are freed to live in the plenty of promise. A world in which a prophet focuses not on self but on pointing to the one to come, God incarnate. A world in which lavishness is not the riches of royalty but the generosity of God’s love embracing the tax collector and sinner.

It is easy for us, like the generation to which Jesus spoke, to measure those around us, the world, the kingdom, according to our own expectations and preferences. Thus some found John’s denial of self upsetting, while Jesus’ sharing food and drink with all of God’s children was also troubling. Neither way was familiar--or comfortable; both were challenging. But that challenge is the reality of the world turned upside down, the glorious kingdom in which everyone is invited to the table, to the banquet feast.

Challenge me, O God, to see beyond my own preconceptions and expectations. Let not my human vision and understanding limit my openness to the expansiveness and wonder of your divine kingdom. Open my mind and heart to embrace that kingdom that I might live and love as you would have me do, secure in your ever-present love and promise. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Scripture Reading: Colossians 2:6–15
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. (NRSV)

A friend of mine is perpetually seeking spiritual guidance from whatever pop culture offers. At one point she called to say she was all set: she had The Secret, a sure path to peace and happiness. Despite the clear limitations of her discovery in my opinion, she was excited and relieved. And then some time later she expressed defeat once again: The Secret had not worked. She followed the guidelines and tracked her progress, but she didn’t get the result toward which she had so carefully been building.

For me, this is an example of what Paul refers to when he says, “See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit.” Instead, Paul describes a faith rooted in Jesus Christ to “come to fullness of life in him,” triumphing over the principalities and powers that eventually let us down.

Gracious Lord, in whom I find true strength, thank you for the peace and reassurance you provide as I participate in the events of this day. Guide me as I try to reflect your love in my encounters with those who are courageously struggling with questions and finding empty answers. Amen.

Written by Barbara Cleveland, Executive Assistant

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Scripture Reading: Colossians 3:12–17
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (NRSV)

Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. These are gifts that allow us to live with each other and ourselves in peace. All much more easily aspired to than lived out. Especially if, like me, you like to think of yourself as smart and witty or as someone who gets things done.

More important than thinking of myself in this way, however, is being at peace with my fellow travelers in the world and, from there, with myself. And so, to the extent that I can, I practice being patient and I practice being kind. And I pray for these gifts too, as well as for the gifts of compassion and of humility, because I cannot achieve them only on my own. And I give thanks because nothing in this world quite opens me up to letting the word of Christ dwell in me richly as being grateful for the goodness of God.

And maybe someday, with enough prayer, I’ll desire meekness too.

Lord Jesus Christ, these simple gifts seem too calm for my blood sometimes. I cling fiercely to all the ways I see myself as special and unique. But I know myself to be most truly myself when clothed in your peace, and for this I am grateful. You know most what I need to live in that peace; help me desire and live into those gifts. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 13
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
     How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
     and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
     Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
     my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
     my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
     because he has dealt bountifully with me. (NRSV)

I have on my bookshelf a slim volume which consists of some twenty-five psalms that have been translated, paraphrased, and set to different styles of music for use in worship, including folk tunes, antiphonal settings, and chants.

The title of the collection is one I find helpful in thinking about the place of psalms in our worship. It is entitled Psalms of Patience, Protest, and Praise.

Psalm 13 strikes me as one psalm that combines all three of these responses to God in one poem. I believe that this is one reason why the psalms continue to play such an important role in our worship and devotional life. (Remember that we read or sing a psalm nearly every Sunday at Fourth Church.)

Our relationship with God is not static, not simplistic, not a linear progression. It is complex, paradoxical, and dynamic. In any given situation, we may feel more than one particular emotion, and these emotions may indeed seem contradictory. This is precisely what we encounter in our psalm for today.

Here is a poet whose faith is such that the poem is part of our holy scripture, yet the emotions expressed are at the same time protest--“How long, O Lord?”; patience--“my heart shall rejoice”; and praise--“I will sing to the Lord.”

Thanks be to God who hears our prayers, even when they don’t seem to make sense. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 130
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
     Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
     to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
     Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
     so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
     and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
     more than those who watch for the morning,
     more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
     For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
     and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
     from all its iniquities. (NRSV)

“I hate my life.” That’s what my then-seven-year-old daughter said one beautiful summer day. Trying to be a good father, I reassured her that she really had a good life full of blessings--plenty of food, a nice home, lots of toys, a family that loves her. The psalmist didn’t say, “I hate my life,” but came close when he wrote, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” We all face challenges, different ones to be sure, but everyone’s challenges are real and significant no matter whether one is seven or twenty-seven or seventy-seven.

At Fourth Presbyterian Church, I encounter many people with very real challenges--searching for a new career, struggling to pay bills, dealing with physical ailments, suffering through nights of nightmares. I meet families trying to hold together, people dealing with budget cuts and layoffs. The list could go on and on.

Facing my own challenges in life, I struggle to hold on to the realization of the many blessings around me and to understand that life is a balancing act, holding the challenges on one side and the blessings on another and remaining aware of both at all times. This is ultimately what I hope my daughter will learn. Yes, we all have challenges, but we are surrounded by an overwhelming abundance of blessings. All we need to do is look for them.

Dear Lord, help me to see the blessings around me and to be a blessing for someone in need. Amen.

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

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Scripture Reading: Mark 6:30–44
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. (NRSV)

After a long day of public ministry, Jesus and his disciples are ready to withdraw from the crowds of people. Exhausted, they are looking forward to a quiet time and private space in which they can simply rest and eat. Just when they think they can exhale, an expectant crowd steps in their way.

It is at this point in the gospel story that I watch carefully to see how Jesus responds. When Jesus responds by taking pity on the crowd and by attending to the spiritual and physical needs of the people in the crowd, I am reminded that it is not Jesus’ response that resonates with me, but rather his disciples’ response. Whereas Jesus seems to have an endless supply of energy to respond compassionately and actively, his disciples feel a sense of their limitations. Like Jesus’ disciples, I too would need temporary rest and relief, and, seeing that the people were hungry, I too would ask how on earth we could feed the crowds.   

It is remarkable that Jesus says sternly to the disciples, “Give them something to eat yourselves.” In saying this, however, Jesus doesn’t leave them to their own resources. Rather, he empowers the disciples to give the people what they need. Jesus gives broken bread to the disciples, and they give it to the people.

Lord Jesus, make known to me my limitations, not so that I will shy away from your ministry, but rather so that I will rely on you from whom I receive the power to be gracious beyond my own ability. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1−4
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” (NRSV)

The Bible was written by many different people from various places in ancient Israel across centuries of history. It is therefore no surprise that instead of a single coherent book, what we have in the Bible is a library of numerous books bound together as a type of anthology of sacred scripture. Part of the beauty of this collection is that we get a multitude of voices reflecting Israel’s storied history of interaction between humanity and the divine.

Yet when this somewhat disparate collection is bound together between two covers into a single volume, it becomes something different. It can, in fact, be read as a coherent book that tells a story stretching all the way from creation to the end of history as we know it. And there are clear themes that bind this story together.

One of these themes finds its conclusion in today’s reading from the last book of the Bible. The “heaven on earth” described here, in which God will once again dwell with humanity, points all the way back to the story of the Garden of Eden, when humanity and God existed together in peace. As the story is told in the Bible, the period between Eden and Revelation is characterized by separation and estrangement between God and God’s children. But this vision of Revelation gives us hope that one day that existential divide will be reconciled forever. That’s a story—and a hope—worth sharing.

God of grace, thank you for reaching out to us in love and giving us hope that one day our prayer for “heaven on earth” will be realized. Amen.

Written by John Vest, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 145
I will extol you, my God and King,
     and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
     and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
     his greatness is unsearchable.

One generation shall laud your works to another,
     and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
     and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
     and I will declare your greatness.
They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
     and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
     slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
     and his compassion is over all that he has made.

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
     and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
     and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
     and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
     and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The Lord is faithful in all his words,
     and gracious in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all who are falling,
     and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
     and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand,
     satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is just in all his ways,
     and kind in all his doings.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
     to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;
     he also hears their cry, and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love him,
     but all the wicked he will destroy.

My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
     and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever. (NRSV)

The best way I know to connect with God and cultivate gratitude is to do as the psalmist says:  “Every day I will bless you. . . . On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” I hope that after reading this devotion you will take a few minutes to reflect back on the previous twenty-four hours and recall all the specific ways God blessed you and then offer God your praise. May the particularity of my thanksgiving give glory to God, and may yours do the same.

For the past twenty-four hours I give you thanks, O God:

for the continuity of your faithfulness in the life of my friend as he searches for meaningful ways to serve you, and for your provision of the same for me;

for medical research and remedies that help keep my hormones in balance and my oxalate condition in check;

for two people who called out of concern for how I am;

for a good night’s sleep that refreshes my spirit and brings larger perspective on the previous day’s woes;

for a beautiful sunny day that shimmers with late summer vegetation;

for children excited to announce “I’m three!”;

for a church family who looked after first-grade twin boys all day because their mother was taken to the hospital just before the worship service began;

for a pastor and congregation who called forth my gifts and for the privilege of serving You;

for renewing community with members of the Church of the Saviour through the power of technology;

for authors whose reflections stir recognition of truth in my own life;

for protection for a safe journey on the road;

for your word that ignites my yearning to co-create with you in your ever-unfolding universe;  

for all your wondrous works, I will praise your name forever and ever. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 6:1–11
One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”

On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. (NRSV)

As usual on the sabbath, I went to the synagogue for the service--after all that is what we are supposed to do. It is in the scriptures, isn’t it--about “remembering the sabbath and keeping it holy”?

No working because God rested on the seventh day after creating everything that exists in the previous six. Boy, God deserved that day off!

Anyway there was a guest preacher that day; local guy who had made something of a name for himself, and in the course of making a name he had really annoyed some of the clergy. There was quite a buzz as people wondered if he was going to be controversial in what he said and what the religious leaders would do if he was.

So he starts on about the sabbath and what the scripture means about keeping the sabbath holy. Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather when, right in the middle of the sermon, he stops, looks at me, and says, “Come and stand here.”

Little old me! I don’t normally catch people’s attention; in fact most people kind of avoid me because of my useless hand. The kids make fun of me sometimes, but the adults just tend to overlook me.

I wasn’t sure what was happening; I was so shocked that it all became a bit of a blur. All I knew was that I could feel blood pumping into my hand and it throbbing with feeling and life and strength. I heard him say something about law and sabbath and life.

The self-righteous religious leaders are all mad at him; they say he broke the law.

He changed my life.

Jesus’ hands were kind hands doing good to all,
healing pain and sickness, blessing children small.
(from the hymn by Margaret Beatrice Cropper)

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

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Scripture Reading: Matthew 20:20–28
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (NRSV)

I lump this story into a self-devised category that I call “Disciples Behaving Badly.” Having grown up with the notion of “the first shall be last” as a central aspect of Christianity, I forget how radical an idea it might have been to the people surrounding Jesus, especially when thinking about what the kingdom of heaven might look like and having only worldly kingdoms for comparison.

The thing is, it still is a radical idea, and not only when discussing leadership or political entities. It’s all too easy to place my supposed needs ahead of those of others, especially if I haven’t stopped to think about what their needs might be or why.

That’s part of why I like the language of the Lord’s Prayer, in the form that I first became familiar with: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I bump up against other people all the time, and I certainly notice when I feel others are trespassing against the lines that I have drawn for myself, whether in time, resources, or space. I can tell you, my first impulse is not to think about how I might instead serve them!

So today my heart goes to those first disciples, who left all they knew to follow Jesus and who struggled to understand what that might mean.

Gracious Lord, guide my understanding as I seek to follow Jesus, and create in me the desire to act on that understanding. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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