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Daily devotions, written by the staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church,
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January 1–4 | January 5–11 | January 12–18
January 19–25
| January 26–31

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Today’s Reading | 2 Corinthians 5:17–21   
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NRSV)

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

This metaphor of journey famously forms the central image of John Bunyan’s classic of Christian literature, The Pilgrim’s Progress, tracing the allegorical journey of Christian to the Celestial City and describing all the barriers placed in his way and wrong steps he takes.

What has all this to do with Paul writing to the church in Corinth (apart from the fact that we are told that Paul’s life was one of journeying to spread the gospel!)?

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Today’s Reading | Galatians 4:4–7        
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (NRSV)

When I was a child, I was notorious within my family for losing things: keys, books, backpacks. If something was able to be carried, chances were that I’d set it down someplace else without thinking and then be forced to recruit my family to look around the house to help me find what I’d lost. Even though I valued many of the things that I kept losing track of and I tried to be deliberate about what I did with them, invariably my old habits would creep up and ruin all my best intentions. Old habits are indeed the hardest to break.

In this passage from Galatians, Paul writes to the Galatian people about how they need to take ownership of this new identity that they have as children of God and heirs to the kingdom. Although they had been entrusted as owners to bring God’s love out into the world, they are instead losing that message by falling back on an old way of thinking and operating—an old habit, if you will.

Many of us at the outset of the year have resolved to break from a habit we’ve set up for ourselves—something that causes us to lose focus from what is truly important to us. Paul’s proclamation to the Galatians is one that we would do well to keep in our minds this time of year: Where are we falling back into old habits and how are those habits preventing us from bringing God’s love to those around us? The circumstances may have changed, but the question is as piercing as ever.

Dear God, help me to examine my life for the places where my own pattern and habit have obscured your call to love and to serve. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Today’s Reading | Philippians 2:5–11     
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
    who, though he was in the form of God,
        did not regard equality with God
        as something to be exploited,
    but emptied himself,
        taking the form of a slave,
        being born in human likeness.
    And being found in human form,
        he humbled himself
        and became obedient to the point of death —
    even death on a cross.

    Therefore God also highly exalted him
        and gave him the name
        that is above every name,
    so that at the name of Jesus
        every knee should bend,
        in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    and every tongue should confess
        that Jesus Christ is Lord,
        to the glory of God the Father. (NRSV)

This passage begins “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” What a tall order that is! Many of us remember the “WWJD” bracelets, so popular for a time. “What would Jesus do?” they asked us to ask ourselves. The problem, some like to point out, is that Jesus did not live or do things the way the people of his time thought he should. He ate with outcasts and sinners. He let the untouchables touch him. So it is hard when confronted with new experiences to sometimes know what Jesus would do. The Pharisees certainly got the answer all wrong. This passage continues to reflect on Jesus’ obedience to God until death. This obedience is lifted up as the way we should recognize him so that “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

So although it is very hard to have the same mind in ourselves that is in Christ, it is more obtainable to confess Jesus Christ as the Lord of all of our lives. What does that mean for you?

How do you confess, by what you say and by what you chose not to say and by how you live, that Jesus Christ is the Lord of your life? If we really try to do that, then our minds will become more like Christ’s.

Loving God, help me to live my life so that others see that Jesus is the Lord of my life. Transform my ways into your ways, and use me as an instrument of your peace. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Today’s Reading | Mark 1:1–8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
    “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
        who will prepare your way;
    the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
        ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (NRSV)

Once Christmas is behind us, the tree and decorations are down, and the music in the stores has gone back to normal, it’s instructive to take a look at the beginning of the Gospel according to Mark. Mark doesn’t tell any of the beloved Christmas stories we love. There’s no angel appearing to Mary, no story about finding a place in the stable behind the inn, no shepherds or wise men. Mark strips the story down to its essentials: Jesus came just as Isaiah said he would, and John the Baptist proclaimed it to people who were ready to change their lives.

Mark apparently believed this was all we needed to know. The miracle of the birth of Jesus was magnificent enough without any of the stories the other Gospel writers provide. Mark thought it was incredible enough for us to grapple with the idea that God has come here, right into our world, and it’s time to change our lives for the better.

So in this post-holiday season, absent all of the distractions of December, consider this simple and challenging truth: God is with us, calling us to change our lives for the better. What will you do today?

Gracious God, help me to hear again the magnificent story of Christmas and to be moved toward a better life for me and for the world around me. Amen. 

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

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Today’s Reading | John 14:6–14
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (NRSV)

When I was a ministry intern at a residential retirement community, my supervising chaplain once told me that endings are important for beginnings. In accompanying people through their grief over the loss of loved ones, he had observed that those who had experienced end-of-life closure in their significant relationships were more emotionally capable of opening themselves to new relationships in the future than those who have not experienced such closure.

Whenever I read John 14, I am reminded of this wisdom. In this chapter, Jesus speaks to his disciples of the time when he will no longer be with them. He gives a farewell speech, and in this speech he tells them everything they will need for moving on despite their grief. He offers them closure.

Jesus tells them two things in particular. First, repeatedly pointing beyond himself to God, he wants them to know that they are all part of something bigger than themselves. Just as Jesus abides in the Father and the Father in him, the same is true for all of them. Second, Jesus gives them a mission to carry out, and in fact he says to them in verse 12, “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” In his farewell address, Jesus tells his disciples that they have work to do and that, in fact, they will accomplish greater things than he has accomplished because his disciples will work long after he is gone.

In his farewell address, Jesus offers his disciples everything they need, not only to prepare for the end of his life, but to prepare for a new beginning—the beginning of the church.

Father in heaven, I give you thanks for your Son, Jesus Christ, who in birth and death has prepared us for new beginnings. In his name I pray. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Today’s Reading | Matthew 2:1–12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

    ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
        are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
    for from you shall come a ruler
        who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (NRSV)

So you’re Herod, sitting in your palace eating figs. And these three guys come in, bringing valuable gifts, wanting to see the newborn king-to-be. They’re certain that this king has been born—there is this big star in the sky—and making the natural assumption that one king fathers the next, they’ve come to the palace. The only problem is, your wife hasn’t had a baby.

Talk about awkward. Kind of makes you glad you’re not Herod.

Now Herod is no dummy. He’s seen that big star, and he does a little metaphysical math, and to him, it adds up to the birth of the Messiah. Checking with his people (guys like Herod have always had people), he comes up with Bethlehem as the birthplace.

Thinking on the fly, he tells the visitors where to go and to come back and tell him where to find the baby so he can “go and pay him homage,” which of course means “have my soldiers take care of this problem.” Yeah—the king of Judea thinks he’s going to put out a hit on the Messiah. And, because he’s never read a detective novel, he doesn’t have the three guys followed. They can do the political math, and it doesn’t hurt when they all have the same dream, saying “That thing you’re thinking? Yeah.”

So Herod’s plan falls apart, and he overreacts in an awful way. But that fails, too, because his target has relocated—assisted no doubt by gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

To the powerful, the worst thing that can happen is to lose power, and they will do anything—inflict any pain, threaten any destruction—rather than lose it. That desperation doesn’t make them strong or smart. It makes them weak.

Thank God that the one person with real power was willing to set it aside when we needed him to do exactly that.

Lord, remind me that the greatest weakness is the need for power, and the greatest strength is the willingness to surrender that need to you. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Today’s Reading | Colossians 1:15–23
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel. (NRSV)

My first reaction to this passage was unrest. Frankly, I got caught up with the fact that for women this passage can feel pretty exclusionary. “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God.” I read the verse, and my mind jumped to another passage: “We are made in the image of God, male and female alike.” “Where am I,” I thought, “in this passage about Jesus, a male, being made in the image of God?”

The purpose of the writer of Hebrews is far from exclusion. Rather, it is to defend the status of Jesus as the image and fullness of God, to affirm his humanity, and, therefore, all humanity in opposition to Gnostic heresy. The Gnostics believed that knowing God required supreme intelligence and the ability to navigate step after step of an arduous journey toward that knowledge. For them, salvation was intellectual knowledge. Very few could know God. Furthermore, Gnostics believed that all creation was evil. For that reason, they thought, God could never have created the world. Some lesser, more evil being was responsible for creation. The Gnostic system of belief was a bleak picture of creation and humanity.

Paul’s words affirm Jesus as the image (eikon, in Greek) and fullness of God. His words affirm humanity and flesh. They affirm God’s initiation in reconciling (bringing together) humanity and divinity. The words are meant to shout out again that we are one with God—not separated by layers and layers of some sort of pecking order or levels of intelligence or because of our humanity or because of race or class or gender. God has reaffirmed in Jesus the image and fullness of God and has drawn us fully into that of the divine and sacred. All of us. Thanks be to God.

Dear God, I thank you for your affirmation of our humanity in Jesus. I thank you for creating this world, for the assurance that this world was created as good. I thank you especially that I am created in your image, along with all else in creation. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Today’s Reading | Colossians 1:24–2:7
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

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. (NRSV)

The Nicene Creed is the oldest statement of Christian faith included in our Presbyterian Book of Confessions. It unites us with the church universal and ties us to the early communities that struggled with what it meant to believe in and follow Jesus.

For example, the Nicene Creed addressed an important early Christian controversy days: What is the relationship between Jesus Christ and God the Creator? Jack Rogers, writing about the Nicene Creed and this question, said, “The question is Jesus’ relationship to God and to us as humans. What is at stake . . . is our salvation: How may we as humans be related to God?”

The answer the Nicene Creed offers all of us is that, yes, Jesus Christ was indeed essentially linked to God, being made of the same substance—and because Jesus was also fully human, in him, we could also be connected to God. Long before this was established as Christian orthodoxy, Paul urged us to see things the same way. He makes this bold claim: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” And he urges all of us to see ourselves the same way: “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” (Jack Rogers, Presbyterian Creeds, p. 49).

God our Creator, I know that you have been with your people through the ages, just as you are with us today. Though I proclaim you to be incomprehensible, far beyond the bounds of the world that we know, I also thank you for the assurance—handed down through our tradition—that you came near to us in Jesus Christ; that, through him, you are in each one of us. Help me to live my life in the light of this truth. May the good work you began in Jesus be furthered in my own body and my actions. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Today’s Reading | Colossians 2:8–23
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.

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence. (NRSV)

This scripture warns against submitting our lives to external regulations: Do not handle. Do not taste. Do not touch. “These indeed have the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.” Spiritual masters teach against seeking to transform our own lives through our own efforts. Even when our motivation is to become more God-like, when we rely on our own striving, our own character-building and ego-development, we are not surrendering ourselves to God’s Spirit to shape us or accepting ourselves as God accepts and loves us.

There is a teaching “If you want to grow spiritually, don’t do anything. Just notice.” Benedictine sister Suzanne Zuercher wrote,

Genuine conversion is not a task we can bring about. If we live our lives fully, we will be tested and tempered by such commitment until we are shaped into the person God intends us to be rather than the one into which we form ourselves. It is for us to come to knowledge of who we are, our light and shadow, our gift and compulsion, our instinct and our excess. Life teaches that information, humbles us, leads us to self-acceptance. . . . To become a full human being we need to become contemplative, alert, and aware of inner and outer reality as it becomes known to us moment by moment.

It is through God’s presence in our lives, and life itself, that we become who we are meant to be.

Loving God, help me accept my own creatureliness. Turn me towards you, who knows and receives me as I truly am. Make me friendly toward unwelcome aspects of myself and others. Increase my awareness of my limitations and submit them to your transforming love. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Scripture Reading: Colossians 3:1–17
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things —anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

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)

Every Monday night I relax with an hour of yoga, and in each class the instructor presses her hands together in front of her, bows, and greets us with the 4,000-year-old Indian salutation “Namaste,” and we, her students do the same for her. This one simple, beautiful word has layers of deep meaning. When I say “Namaste” I am saying “I honor all that is in you.” I am letting go of my own personal agenda and acknowledging that we are connected, united with each other, united with all who came before and all who will come after.

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, written about 2,000 years ago, he has the same message and even more as he writes, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 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 whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Namaste, I, and all I greet, are God’s chosen ones.
Namaste, I ask for compassion to guide my way.
Namaste, love binds us together in perfect harmony.
Namaste, allow the peace of Christ to rule in my heart.
Namaste, whatever I do, in word or deed, let it be in the name of Jesus.
Namaste, give thanks to God.

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

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Scripture Reading: John 1:19–28
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,
    “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
    ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. (NRSV)

“Make straight the path of the Lord.” These are the words of John the Baptist, 2,000 years ago, testifying to the advent of Jesus and telling those who were listening that the Son of God has arrived and has come to take away the sins of the world—that there is a path that leads to life.

This message is good news to those of us who want to be done with our own sin-filled path. Yet with these words comes the relinquishing control of our steps. We have to admit that our path is not saving us—that our navel-gazing path is leading us nowhere.

Last month we celebrated the story of Jesus coming into our world. Now the question that presses into our new year is whether or not we really want the path of Jesus to cross into our personal sin-filled world? Do we want the path of Jesus to enter into our daily activities? Do we really want to hold up the way that we live to Jesus and ask him to look in? Are we willing to surrender where our feet currently tread? Especially when we know that he will ask us to die to ourselves.

The message “Make straight the path of the Lord” is an incredible story of how God entered our world, but in order for the story to germinate in our hearts we have to be willing to receive the daily path-changing call of Jesus.

Jesus, please intersect my life with your path. Open my eyes to see your ways and my ears to hear your words. Save me from myself. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Scripture Reading: John 1:29–34
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (NRSV)

One thing I always notice when reading about great peacemakers, like Dorothy Day, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela, is that no matter how people praised them for the work they were doing, they dismissed the compliments and instead exuded a passion for working for the greater good. Their works were never about themselves but about emerging revolutions to raise awareness. What’s more, they knew their work was just the beginning. It was the forefront of great work that would come centuries after them.

The same was true for John the Baptist. In this passage, we find how praise and joy easily surrounded his presence, as many thought he was the savior at hand. However, John knew someone greater would follow—Christ. John brought hope to those he baptized with water, but Jesus welcomed the Holy Spirit into his ministry, offering zeal, passion, and wisdom.

How do we like John, as followers and believers of Christ, find joy in that humility? We are so small in this amazing life journey. But this humility we can attain, this meekness we should embrace, allows us to be in awe of all that God has created and all that Christ calls us to be. Humility is not easy, especially when our personal accomplishments, goals, struggles, and ongoing growth often consume our every thought. Let us look to John, and our modern-day prophets, for embracing the humility and meekness with which we honor Christ and his works.

God, remind me to accept myself for what I am. I am a speck of sand and a mere glimpse in all your creation. Allow me to prepare those after me for Christ’s great works, rather than focusing on my own needs or achievements. Help me to take hold of this humility and remain amazed by your gifts and blessings. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens, Associate Program Manager, EDSSC

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Scripture Reading: John 1:35–42
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (NRSV)

John 1:35–42 describes how Peter and Simon became Jesus’ first disciples. Upon my first reading of these passages, I admittedly thought, “OK, so they decided to follow Jesus. And?” I didn’t understand what made this story so special. I thought about how many decisions I make in the course of a day, some hastily and some with great thought. And I thought about the choices I’ve made that turned out to be mistakes and the ones that changed my life. The word “first” came to mind. These were the very first disciples Jesus had. What incredible things happened after Peter and Simon decided to follow Jesus! I wonder if they had any idea how their lives and the world would change as a result of their decision or how Jesus would work through them.

The first time I accepted Christ as my Savior (and I say first, because I’ve “reaccepted” him a few times since then) it was because I had a crush on a boy in my confirmation class. Our budding romance floundered before the class was over, but it was too late—something had changed in me and a new relationship with God was formed. From the first moment I made that decision to follow God, even as I went through the confirmation class motions not fully realizing the importance, Jesus made a home in my heart, and my life changed. Peter and Simon’s decision to follow Christ marked a monumental moment in Christian history. But our individual decisions to let him in are just as important.

God, awaken me each day to the many ways you have been and always will be present in my life. Fill me with gratitude for all that you have done and are, and help me to continue to follow you with gratitude and love. Amen.

Written by Patty Donmoyer, Receptionist

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Scripture Reading: John 1:43–51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (NRSV)

“What a friend we have in Jesus.”

So goes the old favorite gospel hymn that has brought comfort and solace to generations of Christians. There are numerous references to friendship in relation to Jesus in the New Testament. In today’s text we see Jesus making friends with two men who will become part of “the twelve”—the disciples, Jesus’ friends.

Friendship has “a complex yet rich history,” notes Gregory Jones, as a topic of discussion in the Christian tradition. This is mainly because friendship has a mutuality that is inherent in its makeup, and for some Christians true Christian love (in the Greek, agape) can have no call for a response to the love given, often citing the command to “love our enemies” as the proof of that.

This seems like a rather harsh and limiting understanding of love, which places friendship outside the economy of Christian experience. This is particularly so when Jesus often cites friendship in the context of his own ministry, even calling the disciples “not servants but friends” (John 15).

In my experience friendship is a central part of the experience of living in Christian community and is a kind of laboratory for learning how to love in a way that is not excluding but leaves one open to living into the call to agape.

Indeed when we ordain pastors, elders, and deacons, they are asked, “Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry?”

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. Amen.
(From the hymn by Joseph Scriven)

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

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Scripture Reading: John 2:1–12
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days. (NRSV)

In the classic film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, a profound discussion ensues about the nature of Jesus and how we picture him in our hearts and minds. The character of Cal Naughton Jr. adds this perspective to the conversation: “I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-shirt because it says ‘I want to be formal, but I'm here to party.’”

I think Jesus is here to party, too. I don’t think it was an accident that his first miracle recorded in the Gospel of John is turning water into wine at a wedding party. It fits well the picture of Jesus we have from the other Gospels, a man accused of being a drunkard and a glutton by his detractors. Eating and drinking with others were not “secular” or “profane” activities for Jesus—they were sacred opportunities to connect with God and each other.

When we do things like “BBQ Church” out in the courtyard or “Tailgate Communion” at Soldier Field, we bear witness to the fact that God is found in every aspect of our lives, not just in decent and orderly sanctuaries and solemn worship services. Jesus invites us into a relationship with the God of our whole lives and models for us how to celebrate life in faithful and transforming ways.

So every now and then, break out the good stuff and share God’s love with others. Throw a party and count on Jesus being right there with you.

God of our whole lives, fill me with joy and help me share that joy with all of your children. Amen.

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

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Scripture Reading: John 2:13–22
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (NRSV)

“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

The disciples had seen so many wonderful things, miraculous things, in their travels with Jesus that it makes perfect sense to them that this statement is to be taken literally. If you’ve seen a guy raise the dead, calm the storm, and feed multitudes with a few loaves and a couple of fish (and he’s done it twice, in case you missed it the first time), why would it be such a stretch to think that he could do some expedited construction on the temple? They believed in him, completely, and his determination to come to Jerusalem no doubt confirmed to them that the time was now, that the kingdom of God was at hand, that all the debasement of the land was going to be reversed through a liberal application of God’s power.

What a shock it must have been. They were expecting a totally different outcome, and what they got was the same series of events that occurred to anyone who challenged the supremacy of Rome and its proxies. They were so sure. He was supposed to be different. All the prophecies were wrong.

Then, three days later, they got the message that he was different and that his words were true, that it was their interpretation of his prophecy that was incorrect, that it was their interpretation of his words that led them into shock and despair. “After he was raised from the dead, they remembered.”

And this is a huge part of the story of our journey toward God—simplistic interpretations leading to darkness, followed by awakenings to God’s truth that put everything into a new light. We think we’re so smart, until God shows us that we have misunderstood everything.

Lord, thank you for reminders that my understanding of your word is always evolving. Keep opening my eyes, so that I will not remain stuck in how things have been but keep moving toward how things will be. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Scripture Reading: John 2:23—3:15
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (NRSV)

Nicodemus, a Pharisee who undergoes a transformation from skeptic to follower over the course of three different scenes, is one of the more fascinating characters from the Gospel of John. It should be noted that Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of night, clearly worried about being seen with him but unable to avoid his desire to understand more about this man. What he receives, however, is confusion. Jesus speaks of rebirth, being born of water and the Spirit, and salvation—terminology that we don’t bat an eye at when referenced during a baptism service but terminology that seems to leave Nicodemus at a complete loss.

Nicodemus’s stunned confusion is a reminder of how truly radical the theology behind baptism is and how desensitized many of us are to the language surrounding the practice of sacrament. Baptism, as Jesus describes in this passage, is a fundamental and sweeping change in the life of a person—a complete and utter rebirth that leaves the baptized as a new creation.

This past Sunday, we welcomed several newly baptized children into the life of this congregation, and as on each Baptism Sunday, we as a congregation made promises to love and support these children as they grow. Just as we’ve become accustomed to the radical nature of baptismal theology, so too we’ve become accustomed to the radical promise we are making: each child that is baptized is one of our own, meant to be loved and cared for with all our hearts.

Dear God, may the meaning and promises surrounding baptism never become mundane to me; instead, may the incredible mystery that is your grace and love surprise and challenge me as if I were Nicodemus hearing it for the first time. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 4:14—5:6      
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
    “You are my Son,
        today I have begotten you”;
as he says also in another place,
    “You are a priest forever,
        according to the order of Melchizedek.” (NRSV)

Brene Brown, the researcher and popular author on the subject of vulnerability, points out an important disconnect in the way most of us think: we hesitate to be vulnerable before others for fear of being perceived as weak, but when we see others willing to be vulnerable before us, we interpret their actions as pure courage. It takes a brave person to be vulnerable—and we know it—but we have trouble applying that wisdom to our own behavior.

The Hebrews passage from today indicates that God seems to understand this disconnect. God understands it because God sent Jesus Christ into the world to live just as we live and to experience things the way we experience them. The result of this (we read in Hebrews 4:16) is that we should never be afraid to approach God from a position of weakness. God will understand, and moreover, God understands because Jesus lived in the midst of human weakness.

For many of us, it would be an incredibly courageous move to be vulnerable before one another. For starters, perhaps you should try being more vulnerable before God. God promises to understand and receive you, whatever weakness or need you may bring.

God, please help me when I am weak to bring my concerns to you, knowing that you will welcome me, that you are full of forgiveness, and that you want to help me to be more courageous. Amen.

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

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 10:19–25
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (NRSV)

I saw the movie Dead Man Walking four times. During that time in my life, my kids would make fun of my fascination with the movie and at random moments would suggest, “Mom, I’ve got an idea: Why don’t you go see Dead Man Walking!” I was taken with the story of Sister Helen Prejean and her courageous, faithful engagement with Matthew Poncelet, sentenced to death.

Toward the end of the movie, Sister Prejean makes one of her many visits to Matthew in his prison cell and he finally confesses to his crime, with tears and remorse for the first time. Sister Prejean tells him, “Matthew, you are a son of God.” He looks at her with surprise but also with the innocence of a child and says something like, “I am? I’ve never been no son of God before.” And again he cries.

It was this scene that came to mind when I read the words of Hebrews “since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Somehow in Matthew’s truth-telling and through his tears, his heart was sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, his body washed with pure water.

It is a great gift we have been given—the ability to approach God directly in our prayer lives, to be honest about our sins and failings, knowing that somehow in the mystery of faith, our hearts are sprinkled clean and our bodies are washed with pure water. Matthew needed another person to help him make that approach. Sometimes we have that need, too. But alone, or with another, the assurance is there: You are a daughter of God. You are a son of God. You are loved.

Great God, help me to approach you and to approach you with honesty. Give me courage in my prayers. And most of all, thank you for those times when I am reminded that I am your child. Thank you for those times when that realization takes my breath away. Amen.

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

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Scripture 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)

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In this context I have often thought of perfect according to the definition “entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings.” But who, then, is capable of being perfect?

Today we celebrate the memory and legacy of a man who set a standard against which anyone working for justice, freedom, peace, and human dignity will be measured. Martin Luther King Jr. did more to prod the United States toward realizing care and respect for all people than most—making real his faithfulness to Jesus, who did the same. Yet, as more recent struggles over defining his personal legacy have shown, we have trouble calling even a great man like him “perfect.”

We recently witnessed the death of another great leader who carried on King’s legacy—Nelson Mandela. At that time I read a republished article from the Guardian entitled, “Nelson Mandela is a hero, but not a saint.” It mentions many of Mandela’s shortcomings yet highlights the ways in which he was exactly the leader South Africa needed.

People like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela had their flaws but were also persons “exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose”—which is another definition of “perfect.”

Jesus called on his followers to bring peace to the world by being like a God who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, who gives rain to the righteous and the unrighteous. Though none of us can be without flaw, defect, or shortcoming, we can still do our best to live in ways that fit the needs of a broken world and that are directed toward God’s plan to be reconciled with all peoples.

God of peace, free me from feeling like I am not strong enough, wise enough, or good enough to solve the problems of this present age. Fill me with your Spirit, which moved your prophets, empowered Jesus for his ministry, and inspired leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. Show me what I might be and do, so that I can play my part—for which I am perfectly suited—in your plan to save the world. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Scripture Reading: John 3:16–21
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (NRSV)

You’ve seen the large signs often lifted up by fans in sports arenas, the signs that say “John 3:16.” Do those in our secular age who don’t know about the Bible wonder, “Who’s John?” I question the effectiveness of seeking to draw people into faith through such signs. I also get turned off by those who wave this verse around, guessing that they are promoting an exclusive way towards salvation.

Yet if one were to choose a single biblical text to capture the Christian message, John 3:16 is an excellent choice. It proclaims that God loves the world. God loves the world so much that God became one of us, the Word made flesh, to live and dwell with us, to give his life for us, to show us God’s saving love. God loves the world so much that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will not perish. God loves us so much that we will have eternal life. Such good news!

What news could be better? Fear of abandonment and death, pain over rejection, anxiety that our Creator or the universe is hostile, confusion over not knowing the way to life abundant—all these are dispelled by this good news.

Yet the familiarity of this message may have diminished its liberating power and comforting assurance. So I encourage you to meditate on this good news and what it means for you and for our world. Spend a moment reflecting on each of these phrases: God loves the world. God gave the world God’s only Son. Everyone who believes in Christ will not perish. We have the gift of eternal life.

Loving God, open me to receive and embody the good news of your love, for me and for the world. Move me to dance in your grace. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1—2:3
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights —the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night —and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (NRSV)

When I read Genesis 1:1–23, I sometimes think about a great line from one of my favorite movies, Message in a Bottle. In the movie, Kevin Costner’s character writes a letter to his deceased wife, Catherine, places it in a bottle, and sends it out to sea. In the letter, he refers to Catherine as his true North. He writes, “'Dear Catherine: I’m sorry I haven’t talked to you in so long. I feel I’ve been lost . . . no bearings, no compass . . . crashing into things, a little crazy, I guess. You were my true North.” What an act of faith! This grieving man pours his heart out to the one who made sense of his life, believing in her presence even though he can no longer see her. It brings tears to my eyes every time.

Genesis 1:1–23 talks about God’s creation of the world—God’s transformation of a black formless void to a place of light and life, from chaos to the perfect order of day and evening, from barren soil to fruitful vegetation. It describes the bounty, the beauty, and individual purpose of every piece of the world’s fabric, from the oceans to the earth and the animals, to whom God extends his blessing.

When my life feels like it’s spinning out of control and darkness and fear take over my thoughts, I remember Genesis and I search for my own “true North.” I can’t see God, but I see the Creator’s powerful work all around me, and I know God is there. While the sunlit sky turns to evening stars and the seasons change, God remains my constant.

God, when I am lost, help me to find you again—my true North. Amen.

Written by Patty Donmoyer, Receptionist

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 2:4–25
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

    “This at last is bone of my bones
        and flesh of my flesh;
    this one shall be called Woman,
        for out of Man this one was taken.”

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. (NRSV)

Becky and I are on the couch watching the stream of our television. The screen is showing a multimillion-dollar forty-three-minute family drama. We are invested. We are in the second season. We know the characters. We have tracked the narrative of the current episode and watched the problems peak and then resolve and now the screen is showing a large family gathering together in the most beautiful backyard decorated with plants, flowers, and other charming things. In the yard a table is set with elegance and yet it has a whimsical country feel. The pictures on our television screen advance ahead, and the family is seated, consumed with smiles and laughter. Emotive music plays, and Becky and I are moved by the beautiful images, the power of story, and most of all the picturesque togethernesss of this united family. The credits begin to roll.

I turn to Becky and say, “I love television.” She knows the sarcasm and cut in my tone. She knows that what I am really saying is “Life is only like that on television.”

Getting the family around the table is difficult. First, you have to have a family. Second, you have to have the resources—the time, a place, a table, and food. Third, if you want to enjoy the time, you need to have a family that wants to be together. These three things, as we all know, are not easy. The Genesis 2 story of a beautiful creation, life together, and naked and unashamed around the table often feels faraway and unreal. Maybe we would say, “Only on television.” Oftentimes our days are much closer to the Genesis 3 story.

Yet we need the Genesis 2 story out in front of us. Sometimes we need the multimillion-dollar television drama to awaken within us again the beautiful, the charming, the togetherness of life. Genesis 2 drilled down to its core tells us that God meant and means good for us.

Good and loving God, please open my eyes to see that you are good. Open my ears to hear that you are good. Open my heart to know that you mean good for us and your world. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 3:1–24
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent,

    “Because you have done this,
        cursed are you among all animals
        and among all wild creatures;
    upon your belly you shall go,
        and dust you shall eat
        all the days of your life.
    I will put enmity between you and the woman,
        and between your offspring and hers;
    he will strike your head,
        and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman he said,
    “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
        in pain you shall bring forth children,
    yet your desire shall be for your husband,
        and he shall rule over you.”
And to the man he said,
    “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
        and have eaten of the tree
    about which I commanded you,
        ‘You shall not eat of it,’
    cursed is the ground because of you;
        in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
    thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
        and you shall eat the plants of the field.
    By the sweat of your face
        you shall eat bread
    until you return to the ground,
        for out of it you were taken;
    you are dust,
        and to dust you shall return.”

The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. (NRSV)

I thoroughly enjoy reading Genesis. I picture its stories read round a fire, some children fading into the arms of a night’s slumber, nestled in their mother’s lap. Others are wide awake with wonder, imagination, and curiosity—something like Christmas morning or like the elaborate imaginations shown in Rugrats. Adolescents, adults, old men, ancient sages, medicine women, and healers, all gathered around the stories that tell of where they come from, why the world is as it is, and who they are in the midst of it.

This story is a piercing one, as it’s not full of details that a modern novel would have to describe, but in between the lines are jarring realities. Just before this passage, we are being told of paradise, and by the end of today’s reading, the first humans find themselves “east of Eden.” Our ancestral storytellers knew something about human tragedy, existence as struggle, and about the world as it is and as it could be.

We know this well, don’t we? We see the world as it is and imagine what it could be. We know something has gone wrong—that it includes systems already present (the serpent was already in the Garden) as well as personal choices and responsibility (the blame game doesn’t take responsibility away from Adam and Eve).

There’s something else that our storytellers knew. The first humans lose paradise, perhaps because they would otherwise destroy it, but they don’t lose God. God remains and will one day walk amongst them in Jesus as the Christ and in us, temples of the Holy Spirit, until we cultivate paradise again.

We are thankful, that in the midst of a tragic world, you are with us. Lead us as your partners in cultivating paradise, in thy kingdom come. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 4:1–16
Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.” Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (NRSV)

Here we have an archetypal biblical story about sin and our struggle to control it. “Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain clearly failed to overcome the temptation that preyed on him, and he spilled the innocent blood of his very own brother.

God’s motivations and preference for Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s are not clear or understandable. Are things much different for us? Things happen in the world that we cannot comprehend or understand, and we do not always respond in appropriate or healthy ways.

Likewise, we don’t know the full story of Cain and Abel and what their relationship was like before this tragic incident. Perhaps their lives were not all that different from ours, filled with unspoken pain and complicated relationships.

Parsing out who is the victim and who is the aggressor is not always easy. But when sin is let loose and unchecked, everyone loses.

Can sin be mastered? Humanity’s bloody history and the pain of our own lives don’t inspire much hope. But we do find hope in the testimony of those who lived and even died following God’s way of love and peace. For Christians, we find this most fully in Jesus. May his way be our way, and may the Spirit help us master the sin lurking at our doors.

I am constantly tempted, God, to stray from your way and let sin overcome me. Help me to make better choices and to let your love guide my path. Amen.

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

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 6:9—7:24
These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate;
and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came on the earth. And Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. And after seven days the waters of the flood came on the earth.

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons entered the ark, they and every wild animal of every kind, and all domestic animals of every kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every bird of every kind—every bird, every winged creature. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in.

The flood continued forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days. (NRSV)

In this passage God has said that enough is enough. “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is full of violence because of them.” It is hard to read this as a twenty-first century Christian. How are we to really interpret this flood story? Why is a loving God destroying everything?

The passage continues, and God chooses Noah and his family and states, “But I will establish my covenant with you.” A new act of creation is about to begin with Noah and his family. New creations are always possible with God because the world is to reflect God’s divine image, and when it does not, something needs to change. This fact is fundamental to our faith.

God is always creating, making new, and calling us to transform the world into the way of God’s kingdom. We, as Christians, are a people of hope because we know that violence and hatred are never the last word. God brings new life out of death and darkness.

So where are the dark places in your life? What new thing do you need God to create within you, to help build God’s kingdom?

God of all creation, create in me a pure heart. Renew me for your service, and help me to live my life as a person of hope. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 8:6–22
At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more.

In the six hundred first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.

    As long as the earth endures,
        seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
    summer and winter, day and night,
        shall not cease.” (NRSV)

I can only imagine how happy Noah felt—after being inside the ark for as long as he was—when the dove came back with an olive leave in its mouth. I recently made a very empowering decision for myself. After struggling with something for some time, feeling like the raven that flew in circles waiting for a conclusion to happen, I finally became like the dove, and I made a decision when the time was right. The dove knew there was no reason to go back to the ark after a certain point; he knew that what lay outside provided everything he needed.

I think all of us are like the raven at many points in our life—we refuse to go back to the place that God told us to wait, and instead we fly in circles going about our own plans. If, however, we become like the dove and make decisions after being patient and knowing that we will not land anywhere while out trying to make plans for ourselves, leaving the nest will never feel so good. We will have waited until water receded, and we will see what God ultimately wanted for us.

Lord, I pray that you guide my heart to always help me see what it is that you ultimately want for me. Help me to see clearly when sometimes I want to make decisions based on my own accord because, in the end, I know what you have planned for me is greater than anything I could ever try and create for myself. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 9:1–17
God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.

    Whoever sheds the blood of a human,
        by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;
    for in his own image
        God made humankind.

And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.”

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (NRSV)

One day when I was working in Korea, I was out with a young student playing with sidewalk chalk when a rain storm came up. I figured my student would be upset to go outside after the storm and see all his hard work had been washed away. Instead he was delighted to have a fresh slate; all his mistakes had been washed away. Now that he realized he could wash away mistakes, he used a bucket of water every time he messed up. He became obsessed with perfection. I wanted to tell him that there was beauty in his art “flaws.” He was not convinced.

Thankfully God doesn’t have the same obsession with perfection. God makes a promise with Noah and will all of creation, at that time and forever, that he will never again wash away creation for their sins. God gives us the sign of the bow in the cloud. Some interpret the rainbow like a bow and arrow without the arrow or string to make it a weapon—God acknowledging God’s strength and power and choosing not to put it to use. The best part of the promise is there are not conditions or stipulations. God takes the burden entirely upon himself. No matter how far we as God’s creation fall, there is always hope and grace for us. In this covenant God places a high regard for human life, protecting the sanctity of creation despite its imperfections, and God will not let it be destroyed.

God, thank you for your grace, mercy, and restraint. I know that you have the power to create a prefect creation, but instead you choose to love your creation, flaws and all. Amen.

Written by Katie Patterson, Junior High Youth and Mission Coordinator

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 11:1–9
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. (NRSV)

The story of the Tower of Babel is one of the most haunting stories in the Bible. It speaks of human ambition and takes measure of optimism in human accomplishments. The optimism is palpable when the people of the earth say to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.”  At their disposal is the brick needed for stone and the bitumen needed for mortar. Once they see that they have everything they need, they envision building a city and within it a tower so tall that it will reach into the heavens. Given how unified the people are, speaking one language and sharing one culture, it seems as though their plan might just work.

Nothing seems to stand in their way until God complicates their plan. Confusing their common language into multiple different languages and geographically distancing them from one another, God complicates their plans. It is almost as if God wants to show them that they have been dreaming too small, that their vision has been too provincial. It is almost as though God wants to teach them that the work of building a city in which true unity and peace reign takes more than the hard work of supplying sufficient brick and bitumen. It takes the harder, more vulnerable work of traveling to distant lands, understanding and being understood by others, sharing dreams, and then realizing those dreams together. 

Almighty God, forgive us when our plans are too provincial. Correct our ways and set us on the right path. For the sake of your Son, who traveled a great distance to dwell with us and to help us to dream, we pray for peace for all your people. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 12:1–9
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb. (NRSV)

I’m from an Air Force family, so this kind of road trip is actually kind of familiar. Abraham (I’m just going to call him Abraham) starts out in Ur of the Chaldeans, in what is now southeastern Iraq. He takes his family and goes northwest along the Euphrates River to Haran, in present-day Turkey near the Syrian border.

Anyway, God appears to him and says, “Get moving.” And he heads south into Canaan. God says, “I will give your descendants this land,” and Abraham says, “Great!” He builds an altar and keeps moving, just like that—he moves on, pitches his tent, builds an altar, and keeps moving south, through Canaan toward the Negev and eventually on into Egypt.

It’s a roundabout route. It’s as if the Joad family left the Dust Bowl, went north to Canada, then west, heading to California via Seattle, then not stopping in California but heading on down to Mexico.

I imagine that Abraham was hearing a lot of “Are we there yet?” I can imagine Sarah thinking, “Canaan, isn’t that our exit? Weren’t we supposed to turn off here?” But it’s really noteworthy that Abraham doesn’t stop once he hears God say his descendants would get the land. He doesn’t sit down and say, “OK, God, do your thing.” He keeps pitching his tents, building his altars, and moving on.

Psalm 27 says, “Wait for the Lord,” but this waiting is always active—it is patient perseverance in living the lives that God has given us. God knows where we are going to wind up. Our job is to be active, to stay on the road, to keep moving ahead. Faith is never passive—it requires constant expression in the action of our lives.

We’ll get there when we get there.

Lord, remind me that I am to wait while moving. Help me patiently to do your work, to build your altars, and to persevere in my journey to the place you have provided. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Friday, January 31, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 17:1–22
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”

God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. (NRSV)

Working in the Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center, I frequently encounter men and women who have experienced extreme struggles and obstacles that no human should ever have to endure: long-term unemployment, chronic pain, homelessness, isolation, and sometimes societal ridicule. My role is to listen and walk with individuals as they strive to overcome these challenges. I recently worked with an EDSSC guest I knew from my previous employment. He had experienced homelessness for the past ten years, working with various agencies to find housing and employment, but gave up hope when promises fell short. A series of providential events led us to work together, and he was offered supportive housing within one month. 

During a recent visit, he shared how he knew God was testing him somehow, but he never truly gave up hope. He shared how he knew things would happen on God’s time, when God was ready to restore his own faith. He believed he had made mistakes throughout his life and had almost become complacent with experiencing homelessness on the streets of Chicago. He thought that was his only destiny. So when I shared that he would have his own place to call home, he thanked God countless times instantaneously.

Abraham maintained that same type of trust in God. Regardless of all the trials, obstacles, and sacrifices placed on Abraham and Sarah’s journey, Abraham remained a constant man of faith and obedience, certain that God was leading him through these struggles. Abraham was constantly tried and tested, but his obedience and faith in God was rewarded with a covenant of fruitfulness and joy for generations of his descendents.

Dear God, allow me to remain a patient and obedient servant, especially when faced with the unknown trials and challenges placed on my life journey. Your blessings are abundant, and though I may not acknowledge their presence while in the eye of a storm, guide my heart and faith to perpetually persevere and seek your promised joy. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens, Associate Program Manager, EDSSC

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