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

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Today’s Reading | Ezekiel 34
The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land, so that they may live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely. I will make them and the region around my hill a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase. They shall be secure on their soil; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and save them from the hands of those who enslaved them. They shall no more be plunder for the nations, nor shall the animals of the land devour them; they shall live in safety, and no one shall make them afraid. I will provide for them a splendid vegetation so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the insults of the nations. They shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, says the Lord God. You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture and I am your God, says the Lord God. (NRSV)

“Your word is a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey.”

Ezekiel’s words remind us that what God promises us, that the Christ who reigns, the messiah who comes, is a shepherd king. A good shepherd king. Not one who is in it for himself, tending the flock toward the end of more milk, better wool, and a fine meal. Not one of those shepherds who “tend themselves.” No, thanks be to God, our shepherd is one who rules with justice, for whom the well-being of the flock is first and foremost.

God called shepherd Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. He anointed shepherd David to be Israel’s great king. He summoned shepherd Amos to speak his prophetic word. And he sent his only begotten Son, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the flock.

The kingdom we pray to come, then, is the kingdom in which the lost are found, the scattered are gathered, the hungry are fed, the weak are strengthened, the sick are healed, and the injured are bound up. It is a kingdom governed by a covenant of peace and of justice. And in praying “on earth as it is in heaven,” it is a kingdom in which we hear the call to “take care of my sheep,” “feed my flock,” “follow me.”

O God whose kingdom shall have no end, you have searched me out, led me and fed me, protected and guided me all the day long. You are truly the Lord of love, of life, of peace, of years. To you, O Good Shepherd, all praise and glory throughout eternity. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Today’s Reading | Ezekiel 36; Psalm 126
And you, mortal, prophesy to the mountains of Israel, and say: O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God: Because the enemy said of you, “Aha!” and, “The ancient heights have become our possession,” therefore prophesy, and say: Thus says the Lord God: Because they made you desolate indeed, and crushed you from all sides, so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations, and you became an object of gossip and slander among the people; therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God: Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, the watercourses and the valleys, the desolate wastes and the deserted towns, which have become a source of plunder and an object of derision to the rest of the nations all around; therefore thus says the Lord God: I am speaking in my hot jealousy against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom, who, with wholehearted joy and utter contempt, took my land as their possession, because of its pasture, to plunder it. Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains and hills, to the watercourses and valleys, Thus says the Lord God: I am speaking in my jealous wrath, because you have suffered the insults of the nations; therefore thus says the Lord God: I swear that the nations that are all around you shall themselves suffer insults.

But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot out your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel; for they shall soon come home. See now, I am for you; I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown; and I will multiply your population, the whole house of Israel, all of it; the towns shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt; and I will multiply human beings and animals upon you. They shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. I will lead people upon you—my people Israel—and they shall possess you, and you shall be their inheritance. No longer shall you bereave them of children.

Thus says the Lord God: Because they say to you, “You devour people, and you bereave your nation of children,” therefore you shall no longer devour people and no longer bereave your nation of children, says the Lord God; and no longer will I let you hear the insults of the nations, no longer shall you bear the disgrace of the peoples; and no longer shall you cause your nation to stumble, says the Lord God.

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, when the house of Israel lived on their own soil, they defiled it with their ways and their deeds; their conduct in my sight was like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual period. So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed upon the land, and for the idols with which they had defiled it. I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries; in accordance with their conduct and their deeds I judged them. But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that it was said of them, “These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.” But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleannesses, and I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field abundant, so that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you shall remember your evil ways, and your dealings that were not good; and you shall loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominable deeds. It is not for your sake that I will act, says the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and dismayed for your ways, O house of Israel.

Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the towns to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. The land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, “This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined towns are now inhabited and fortified.” Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places, and replanted that which was desolate; I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do it.

Thus says the Lord God: I will also let the house of Israel ask me to do this for them: to increase their population like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed festivals, so shall the ruined towns be filled with flocks of people. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves. (NRSV)

When selecting songs for the Cherub and Children’s Choirs, I look for repetition. The more something is repeated, the easier it is to memorize (e.g., “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me”). I believe this to be the comfort in many Taizé songs—both in lyrics and musical line. I think too of the phrase “You shall be my people, and I will be your God,” which is repeated six times in the book of Jeremiah.

The psalm reading for today is one of the fourteen Psalms of Ascent, also referred to as Songs of Steps or Pilgrim Songs. These songs were sung as people ascended toward Jersulem on the road for Passover and other pilgrim festivals. These psalms were characterized by brevity and repetition. (Sounds perfect for children!) Psalm 126 is uplifting and reassuring, stating how joyful the Israelites were after God delivered them from captivity. “Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter; our tongues were filled with joyful shots.”

This psalm is paired today with the words of the prophet Ezekiel, who tells of God’s promise to soon deliver God’s people out of exile and to reclaim them as his own. Today’s reading pairs a “Yay, God is going to deliver us” with a “Yay, God has done great things for us!”

I began this reflection stating what works for young minds and see that God’s Word has been coming to us in the same fashion all along.

Dear God, give us this day our daily bread . . . in many, many small bites. Help me to remember the very simple fact that I am your child, and your delight is that I seek you. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Today’s Reading | Ezekiel 42:14
When the priests enter the holy place, they shall not go out of it into the outer court without laying there the vestments in which they minister, for these are holy; they shall put on other garments before they go near to the area open to the people. (NRSV)

Sometimes I run into my doctor at the grocery store or on the street. Without his white coat on, he is hardly recognizable to me. So I understand when congregants, used to seeing me only on Sunday mornings, experience a moment of surprise at encountering me in ordinary “street clothes.” All of us get used to associating people with particular garb and particular garb with particular contexts.

For much of religious history, putting on and taking off vestments has been one way by which thresholds have been marked. As a minister, I become acutely aware of this whenever I, still wearing my clergy collar, cross over the threshold of the church onto Michigan Avenue. When I start to feel more self-conscious than I would like, I am reminded of what Paul told the Galatians. To the newly baptized, he wrote, “All who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. Unlike the priests of the temple of which Ezekiel speaks, all who are baptized in Christ, whether professional clergy or laity, are called to wear Christ, as though wearing new clothes, no matter the thresholds we cross in life.

Lord, with each threshold I cross, let me be as aware of my baptism as of what I am wearing. Whether or not they are yet comfortable, let them be the clothes that I put on. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Today’s Reading | Ezekiel 48
These are the names of the tribes: Beginning at the northern border, on the Hethlon road, from Lebo-hamath, as far as Hazar-enon (which is on the border of Damascus, with Hamath to the north), and extending from the east side to the west, Dan, one portion. Adjoining the territory of Dan, from the east side to the west, Asher, one portion. Adjoining the territory of Asher, from the east side to the west, Naphtali, one portion. Adjoining the territory of Naphtali, from the east side to the west, Manasseh, one portion. Adjoining the territory of Manasseh, from the east side to the west, Ephraim, one portion. Adjoining the territory of Ephraim, from the east side to the west, Reuben, one portion. Adjoining the territory of Reuben, from the east side to the west, Judah, one portion.

Adjoining the territory of Judah, from the east side to the west, shall be the portion that you shall set apart, twenty-five thousand cubits in width, and in length equal to one of the tribal portions, from the east side to the west, with the sanctuary in the middle of it. The portion that you shall set apart for the Lord shall be twenty-five thousand cubits in length, and twenty thousand in width. These shall be the allotments of the holy portion: the priests shall have an allotment measuring twenty-five thousand cubits on the northern side, ten thousand cubits in width on the western side, ten thousand in width on the eastern side, and twenty-five thousand in length on the southern side, with the sanctuary of the Lord in the middle of it. This shall be for the consecrated priests, the descendants of Zadok, who kept my charge, who did not go astray when the people of Israel went astray, as the Levites did. It shall belong to them as a special portion from the holy portion of the land, a most holy place, adjoining the territory of the Levites. Alongside the territory of the priests, the Levites shall have an allotment twenty-five thousand cubits in length and ten thousand in width. The whole length shall be twenty-five thousand cubits and the width twenty thousand. They shall not sell or exchange any of it; they shall not transfer this choice portion of the land, for it is holy to the Lord.

The remainder, five thousand cubits in width and twenty-five thousand in length, shall be for ordinary use for the city, for dwellings and for open country. In the middle of it shall be the city; and these shall be its dimensions: the north side four thousand five hundred cubits, the south side four thousand five hundred, the east side four thousand five hundred, and the west side four thousand and five hundred. The city shall have open land: on the north two hundred fifty cubits, on the south two hundred fifty, on the east two hundred fifty, on the west two hundred fifty. The remainder of the length alongside the holy portion shall be ten thousand cubits to the east, and ten thousand to the west, and it shall be alongside the holy portion. Its produce shall be food for the workers of the city. The workers of the city, from all the tribes of Israel, shall cultivate it. The whole portion that you shall set apart shall be twenty-five thousand cubits square, that is, the holy portion together with the property of the city.

What remains on both sides of the holy portion and of the property of the city shall belong to the prince. Extending from the twenty-five thousand cubits of the holy portion to the east border, and westward from the twenty-five thousand cubits to the west border, parallel to the tribal portions, it shall belong to the prince. The holy portion with the sanctuary of the temple in the middle of it, and the property of the Levites and of the city, shall be in the middle of that which belongs to the prince. The portion of the prince shall lie between the territory of Judah and the territory of Benjamin.

As for the rest of the tribes: from the east side to the west, Benjamin, one portion. Adjoining the territory of Benjamin, from the east side to the west, Simeon, one portion. Adjoining the territory of Simeon, from the east side to the west, Issachar, one portion. Adjoining the territory of Issachar, from the east side to the west, Zebulun, one portion. Adjoining the territory of Zebulun, from the east side to the west, Gad, one portion. And adjoining the territory of Gad to the south, the boundary shall run from Tamar to the waters of Meribath-kadesh, from there along the Wadi of Egypt to the Great Sea. This is the land that you shall allot as an inheritance among the tribes of Israel, and these are their portions, says the Lord God.

These shall be the exits of the city: On the north side, which is to be four thousand five hundred cubits by measure, three gates, the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah, and the gate of Levi, the gates of the city being named after the tribes of Israel. On the east side, which is to be four thousand five hundred cubits, three gates, the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin, and the gate of Dan. On the south side, which is to be four thousand five hundred cubits by measure, three gates, the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar, and the gate of Zebulun. On the west side, which is to be four thousand five hundred cubits, three gates, the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher, and the gate of Naphtali. The circumference of the city shall be eighteen thousand cubits. And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord is There. (NRSV)

Ezekiel 48 reads like an alderman’s manual on how to divide up a neighborhood, with it difficult to understand the appropriations without a political lens, wrought with so much information that it almost becomes as useful as having no information at all, and sanctioned by a greater power; in the case of Ezekiel, it’s said to be God, and in the case of Chicago, it’s the powers-that-be.

I’m suspicious when there’s all this divvying up of the land and it’s done in God’s name. Politics, as a former professor of mine once stated, is “who gets what, when.” I wonder who the land is being taken from and who it’s being given to. I’m suspicious of the priestly class that, like in many other cultures, often wielded great political influence for personal gain.

Maybe it’s a legitimate way to look at how we might approach city planning as a sacred task (but we must leave this idea for another time), but whatever the many points in this passage, there is one that gives me the grandest of hopes, but it doesn’t come until the last verse—of the entire book in fact. “The Lord Is There.” The Lord? Yes. There. There, in the messiness of our cities. There, in the streets filled with statistics, the stench of polluted rivers and of political corruption. There, even, in the polluted souls that we can sometimes become in an election season. The Lord is there. Present. No, the Lord is not hiding, not turning away, not waiting for people to come, but there. Go and do likewise.

God, give me the strength to be present, even when it’s hardest, as your hands and feet, in the world and for the world. In your name I pray. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Today’s Reading | Daniel 8
In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after the one that had appeared to me at first. In the vision I was looking and saw myself in Susa the capital, in the province of Elam, and I was by the river Ulai. I looked up and saw a ram standing beside the river. It had two horns. Both horns were long, but one was longer than the other, and the longer one came up second. I saw the ram charging westward and northward and southward. All beasts were powerless to withstand it, and no one could rescue from its power; it did as it pleased and became strong.

As I was watching, a male goat appeared from the west, coming across the face of the whole earth without touching the ground. The goat had a horn between its eyes. It came toward the ram with the two horns that I had seen standing beside the river, and it ran at it with savage force. I saw it approaching the ram. It was enraged against it and struck the ram, breaking its two horns. The ram did not have power to withstand it; it threw the ram down to the ground and trampled upon it, and there was no one who could rescue the ram from its power. Then the male goat grew exceedingly great; but at the height of its power, the great horn was broken, and in its place there came up four prominent horns toward the four winds of heaven.

Out of one of them came another horn, a little one, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the beautiful land. It grew as high as the host of heaven. It threw down to the earth some of the host and some of the stars, and trampled on them. Even against the prince of the host it acted arrogantly; it took the regular burnt offering away from him and overthrew the place of his sanctuary. Because of wickedness, the host was given over to it together with the regular burnt offering; it cast truth to the ground, and kept prospering in what it did. Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one that spoke, “For how long is this vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled?” And he answered him, “For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.”

When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I tried to understand it. Then someone appeared standing before me, having the appearance of a man, and I heard a human voice by the Ulai, calling, “Gabriel, help this man understand the vision.” So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I became frightened and fell prostrate. But he said to me, “Understand, O mortal, that the vision is for the time of the end.”

As he was speaking to me, I fell into a trance, face to the ground; then he touched me and set me on my feet. He said, “Listen, and I will tell you what will take place later in the period of wrath; for it refers to the appointed time of the end. As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia. The male goat is the king of Greece, and the great horn between its eyes is the first king. As for the horn that was broken, in place of which four others arose, four kingdoms shall arise from his nation, but not with his power.

At the end of their rule,
when the transgressions have reached their full measure,
a king of bold countenance shall arise,
skilled in intrigue.
He shall grow strong in power,
shall cause fearful destruction,
and shall succeed in what he does.
He shall destroy the powerful
and the people of the holy ones.
By his cunning
he shall make deceit prosper under his hand,
and in his own mind he shall be great.
Without warning he shall destroy many
and shall even rise up against the Prince of princes.
But he shall be broken, and not by human hands.

The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true. As for you, seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.”

So I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days; then I arose and went about the king’s business. But I was dismayed by the vision and did not understand it. (NRSV)

“How long will this vision last?” For anyone reading through apocalyptic literature like Daniel, writings full of strange and elaborate visions like this one, the question posed in Daniel 8:13 might strike close to home.

Yet what I find most intriguing is not the question but the answer. Two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings?! Can you imagine being plagued by this vision for more than six years? It sounds like a nightmare to me.

But I wonder if now is also a time in which we could use such a repetitive vision. Clearly God wanted to get a point across. Clearly God wanted to inspire the people with a unique vision during a process of difficult work. What is God calling us to do that might require such a vision?

What if we saw visions of hungry and homeless people every evening and morning for two thousand three hundred days? What if we saw visions of emerging generations losing interest in the church and what God is doing in the world? What if we saw visions of people oppressed and marginalized? What if we saw visions of people suffering abuse and violence?

Perhaps our media-saturated and short-attention-span culture needs a repetitive vision like this. Perhaps it might inspire us to do something radically different in the world. Perhaps it might point us toward God’s kingdom emerging around us.

Give me a vision, God, and don’t let me change the channel too quickly. Amen.

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

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Today’s Reading | Daniel 10:8–13
So I was left alone to see this great vision. My strength left me, and my complexion grew deathly pale, and I retained no strength. Then I heard the sound of his words; and when I heard the sound of his words, I fell into a trance, face to the ground.

But then a hand touched me and roused me to my hands and knees. He said to me, “Daniel, greatly beloved, pay attention to the words that I am going to speak to you. Stand on your feet, for I have now been sent to you.” So while he was speaking this word to me, I stood up trembling. He said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me twenty-one days. So Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia. (NRSV)

Daniel is tired here. He is weak, and he is anxiously awaiting a vision from God in response to a message he received earlier. After three weeks of prayer he is visited by an angel who says to him, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel, because from the day you first set your mind to understand things and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard. I’ve come because of your words!”

This picture is so visual for me. Prayer can be a laboring process, and sometimes it can take a long time to really hear God’s voice, but as verse 12 tells us, God hears our words from the first moment we decide to humble ourselves and enter into that conversation. We are greatly “treasured” by God; God wants us to come to him but also tells us that we have to be patient. God tells us that our prayers will be answered, but how often are we really willing to wait for those answers? When do we allow ourselves to submit, sometimes to the point of being tired?

I know that when I practice the piano it can be monotonous at times. However, after much patience and practice, there is that amazing point when all of a sudden I sit down to play and my fingers just find the keys with ease. I look at prayer in a similar light. Prayer can feel frustrating at times when you feel like you have asked multiple times and not received, but if you pray repeatedly and discipline yourself, there is that magical moment when you get your answer and it all unfolds with God’s grace.

Lord, help me to always remember that you hear my words before they even leave my lips. I pray that you always give me that energy, even during times of silence to wait for your reply. Amen.

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

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

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

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

A few years back some the little boy of some friends of mine set up a small pup tent in the middle of their living room. After setting up the tent, he asked his parents if God could come into his tent. They, of course, told him that God would love to dwell in the tent with him. A few days later, their pastor, an older gentleman with gray hair and a beard, came over for dinner. After dinner, the little boy said to the pastor that his parents had told him that he would come into his tent. At that moment, my friends realized that what their little boy meant by God was their pastor. Of course, their pastor didn’t miss a beat and crawled into the little boy’s tent and talked about life in the living room. 

Today we come to the second to last chapter of the Bible, and the writer is describing all things being made new and particularly describing the words from the one seated on the throne, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God.” Friends, this is the simple story of the entire Bible: the God of the universe desires nothing more than to dwell with us, his people. 

The God of the universe wants to dwell with you, with me, right where we are—even if it is a pup tent in the middle of the living room. Today, do not resist God’s appearing; rather let our loving God come and dwell with you.

Dear God, thank you for making yourself known to me. Please come and dwell with me today. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Day of Pentecost, Sunday, June 8, 2014

Today’s Reading | Acts 1:6–8
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (NRSV)

I can’t imagine what was running through the disciples’ heads when Jesus told them that God’s plan wasn’t for them to know, but it had to be something along the lines of outrage and dismay. They had thought Jesus was back to lead them; rather than fumbling along trying to discern what God wanted them to do, they could just sit back and take orders. Wouldn’t that be for the best for them—for us?

But Jesus knows better. Without any sort of responsibility, our following his orders would be fruitless. Think of Christ ordering the disciples to stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane. Not only did they fall asleep, but they soon abandoned him. Without the chance to experience ministry firsthand—to wrestle, to struggle, to be inspired, to love—our devotion may be just as fleeting.

Instead, we are challenged to receive the Holy Spirit and be witnesses. Acts records the empowering of the disciples and all of Jesus’ followers as they spread out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Amazingly, the same people who had fled when Jesus was arrested prove to be willing to die spreading the Gospel.

What a gift it is that we are entrusted with God’s ministry—to spread the good news and to be witnesses for Christ. What a joy that we don’t merely take orders but are called to be partners in restoring the kingdom.

God, I am grateful that you have entrusted me with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Empower me to live out your call each day of my life. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Today’s Reading | 2 Corinthians 5
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 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 old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!”

How often do we wish for precisely that: that “old things” would go away—old habits that are hard to break, old regrets of things we wish could be undone, old things that have gone from being needed or enjoyed to a status of clutter, to-do lists that never reach a state of “all finished” but merely accumulate new tasks to add to the lingering old? “If only I could just start over . . .”

Isn’t that the appeal of New Year’s—and a birthday and a new school year and a new project and a new season? Each a marker, each an opportunity to declare a time to start over, to start fresh, to strive to put away old things and embrace the new. “This time I’m going to do it right . . .”

Thanks be to God that in Christ old things have gone away and new things have arrived. There is a new creation and we are part of it. We have been granted new life; old sins are not counted against us. We live forgiven and reconciled, claimed and named children of God.

On the church calendar we have these past months moved through new season after new season, from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost; we have celebrated new birth, new life. And now we stand poised to settle into the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. But we enter this season as Easter people, people who have seen new things arrive, people who are part of a new creation. So we move boldly into this new season, celebrating the sacred in what some would call “ordinary,” in what is a new creation. In the day-to-day and everyday we live anew.

Renewing, re-creating God of new beginnings, you free us to live a new life in you. With each rising of the sun, with each new day, help me to embrace again that freedom, that gift, that I might live life anew in and through you. All praise and thanks be yours, this day and always. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Today’s Reading | Micah 4:1–4
In days to come
     the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
     and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
     and many nations shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
     to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
     and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
     and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
     and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
     and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
     neither shall they learn war anymore;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
     and no one shall make them afraid;
     for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. (NRSV)

We have so often heard this passage from Micah used to describe the reign of the Christ child. We so often refer to Jesus as the long awaited Prince of Peace. It has become a well-worn name in our mouths.

Yet we all know our world is filled with conflict: military forces are engaged in battles all over the globe, gun violence continues to tear through local communities, families continue to be shaken by domestic abuse. What does it mean to worship the Prince of Peace in a world that so lacks it?

In American Sign Language, the sign for peace is a combination of the two signs for become and settle. The sign for become is made by using two hands placed upon one another, then changing positions, to show that becoming entails a fundamental change in the state of a thing; and then the hands move downward in a calming, soothing, motion to indicate that things are settled in this new state.

Is this not what the prophet tells us will happen when the nations come to recognize the lordship of our God in the days to come? The “mighty nations” will learn from God; they will learn to transform themselves and their ways, so that “they will no longer learn how to make war.” Let us usher in the rule of our Prince of Peace by helping our own communities and nation to change our culture of military might and violence, so that we might be a people transformed and settled in peace.

Help me to be open to your transforming Spirit, O God. Let me become an instrument of your peace, and let me be settled firmly in it. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Today’s Reading | 1 Peter 3
Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight. It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by accepting the authority of their husbands. Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord. You have become her daughters as long as you do what is good and never let fears alarm you.

Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life—so that nothing may hinder your prayers.

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.


“Those who desire life
     and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
     and their lips from speaking deceit;
let them turn away from evil and do good;
     let them seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
     and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you —not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. (NRSV)

“Those who want to love life and see good days . . . seek peace and chase after it.”

Not so many years ago, a plain-looking person in plain-looking clothes found a vacant spot next to a trash bin in one of the busiest stations of the Washington D.C. Metro system. During the morning rush on this random Friday, he pulled out a violin, pushed the opened case out in front of him, and began to play. Over the next hour, the violinist played six classical pieces while more than a thousand people passed by. Few listened intently, most ignored completely; these were not recognizable melodies composed to attract a crowd, in any age. A quick decision needed to be made by each and every passerby: Enjoy the beauty or keep on your way? Throw a buck in the case for posterity’s sake or get to work on time? Open your mind for a few short moments or continue on your own self-planned path?

Almost everything is veiled in some fashion—both good and evil. Often it’s almost impossible to cut through the fog of appearance, or confusion and conscience, to determine what we should be paying attention to and what really is God’s excellence.

Those who walked by and ignored that subway violinist in January 2007 missed the chance of a lifetime, but not because they had little way of knowing it was one of America’s foremost musicians playing some of the most complicated and elegant music ever composed and doing so on one of the world’s most valuable instruments. They missed the “good” there at L’Enfant Plaza. Three modern miracles . . . and a thousand people just walked right by.

Your miracles are everywhere, O God, no matter how and in what spot they appear. Help me to continue to recognize your virtue and to hear the music that you make, even in the most unexpected of locations. This is your will, why I praise your name, and the reason I seek your peace in every place. Amen.

Written by Ryan Loeckel, Coordinator for Music and Worship

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Today’s Reading | Psalm 123–125
Psalm 123
To you I lift up my eyes,
     O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants
     look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
     to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
     until he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
     for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than its fill
     of the scorn of those who are at ease,
     of the contempt of the proud.

Psalm 124
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
     —let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
     when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
     when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
     the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
     the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
     who has not given us
     as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
     from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
     and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
     who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 125
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
     which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
     so the Lord surrounds his people,
     from this time on and forevermore.
For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest
     on the land allotted to the righteous,
so that the righteous might not stretch out
     their hands to do wrong.
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
     and to those who are upright in their hearts.
But those who turn aside to their own crooked ways
     the Lord will lead away with evildoers.
Peace be upon Israel! (NRSV)

I am struck by the powerful imagery of Psalms 123, 124, and 125. Psalm 125 states, “The people who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion: never shaken, lasting forever. Mountains surround Jerusalem. That’s how the Lord surrounds his people from now until forever from now.”

Imagine God protecting you as the mountains enclose the city. God is a wall, a boundary through which nothing can pass. You cannot see this mountain, but God is here surrounding you twenty-four hours a day; you are never alone. God’s presence is constant; we just need to remember and to reach out in prayer. This does not mean that bad things will not happen. The psalms are full of stories of the trials of God’s peoples. But what the psalms remind us of is that we will be carried through these times. It is our trust in God, and God’s ultimate protection, that keeps us from losing our foundation, even when times are tough. Psalm 124 ends, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” And so it is. So give thanks this day, and remember, God’s presence surrounds you.

Loving God, just as the psalmist did, “I raise my eyes to you—you who rule heaven.” It is hard to see you, God, I wish you were more tangible. But faith is the promise of what is hoped for and not seen. So strengthen my faith in you, so when the difficulties of life shake me, you will be my foundation and I will not be moved. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Today’s Reading | Zephaniah 1:7a, 12–14
Be silent before the Lord God!
     For the day of the Lord is at hand.

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
     and I will punish the people
who rest complacently on their dregs,
     those who say in their hearts,
“The Lord will not do good,
     nor will he do harm.”
Their wealth shall be plundered,
     and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
     they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
     they shall not drink wine from them.

The great day of the Lord is near,
     near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
     the warrior cries aloud there. (NRSV)

“The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.” This is the sentiment deep in the hearts of those who live complacent lives. They live as though God, whether he exists or not, does not matter, since God does neither good nor harm. Ironically, they are the people for whom the Lord will search, with lamps, so as not to miss a single person that he intends to punish. Sooner than they think, they will be struck in every way that matters to them, and they will come to know that complacency has consequences.

What a frightening image! To shake us from any delusions we have about whether God really matters, about whether God really has power and passion, the prophet Zephaniah says over and again, “The great day of the Lord is near.” Zephaniah invokes the image of Judgment Day, the ultimate religious symbol of consequences.

The consciousness of God with which we live each day has profound consequences. What we say deep in our hearts about God matters. In place of complacency, there can be faith— trust in the Lord’s words: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm.”

God, remove all complacency from my heart. Replace it instead with trust—a trust in your power, in your passion, in your care for me. Remind me that I matter to you, and let nothing matter more to me than you. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Today’s Reading | Hosea 11
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
     and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
     the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
     and offering incense to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
     I took them up in my arms;
     but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
     with bands of love.
I was to them like those
     who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.

They shall return to the land of Egypt,
     and Assyria shall be their king,
     because they have refused to return to me.
The sword rages in their cities,
     it consumes their oracle-priests,
     and devours because of their schemes.
My people are bent on turning away from me.
     To the Most High they call,
     but he does not raise them up at all.

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
     How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
     How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
     my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
     I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
     the Holy One in your midst,
     and I will not come in wrath.

They shall go after the Lord,
     who roars like a lion;
when he roars,
     his children shall come trembling from the west.
They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
     and like doves from the land of Assyria;
     and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.

Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
     and the house of Israel with deceit;
but Judah still walks with God,
     and is faithful to the Holy One. (NRSV)

Hosea 11 reads like the private journal of God.

Journal Entry 1
“I remember when you were just a young one, Israel.”

It sounds like a parent recalling, “Yesterday’s diapers are now today’s car keys.” Or it’s like remembering dropping off a child at school on his or her first day and perhaps, like my mother, shedding tears (and later trying to think back to those moments in the trying years of puberty and high school).

Then the tone of God’s next entry changes.

Journal Entry 2
“But you pull away from the love I offer. You prefer to be in superficial connections rather than in authentic relationship. You go and serve masters (Baals) when I would have you my Beloved. Soon this will make you suffer. But don’t expect me to help. This was your choice.”

Journal Entry 3
“But how can I give you up? How can I just sit here in your suffering as my heart winces in pain, you melt me to tenderness?”

Journal Entry 4
“No. I will call you, and we will walk together. I will return you home, for you have been away too long.”

On occasion, read this Hosea journal. It’s full of the imagery of a God that is precisely not the God we have imagined—the clock-maker in the distance, the chess player sitting on a throne—but a God caught up with the destiny and dynamics of creation.

Read it, again. If only to remember that God has chosen to be God with you rather than God without you.

God, sometimes I choose to serve masters rather than live in your covenant, to be your Beloved. Remind me, by the power of your Spirit, that you have promised to be God with me and not God without me, and that I am never alone. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Trinity Sunday, June 15, 2014

Today’s Reading | Psalm 148
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
     praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
     praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon;
     praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
     and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
     for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever;
     he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
     you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
     stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills,
     fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
     creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
     princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
     old and young together!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
     for his name alone is exalted;
     his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
     praise for all his faithful,
     for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

In our pluralistic and religiously diverse world, the chances that all of creation will erupt into praise for the God of Israel are pretty slim. It’s an evocative image, to be sure, but not likely to happen—short of a miracle, that is.

But I’m not convinced that the kind of praise envisioned in this psalm—and in numerous places throughout the Bible—is what God is really all that interested in anyway. Ancient Israel, like many other premodern people, understood God as a kingly deity, seated on a throne, deserving—or demanding—the praise of his subjects. This kind of patriarchal and often imperial understanding of God is less compelling today. And so I wonder if our conception of “praising” God should also be updated.

It seems to me that what God really wants is what Jesus told us was most important: loving God with our entire beings and loving our neighbors as ourselves. What better praise could we offer God than to do these things?

And perhaps this kind of love is something that might actually be possible throughout a pluralistic and religiously diverse world. Perhaps the world could unite in such “praise.”

We’re far from it now, of course, but we are called to hope, to dream radical dreams of what the world could look like when transformed by the powerful love of God. So let’s dream that dream of worldwide praise.

Loving God, I offer you the highest of praises: my total love for you and for all of your children. Amen.

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

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Today’s Reading | Jude
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.

Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great Day. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael contended with the devil and disputed about the body of Moses, he did not dare to bring a condemnation of slander against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” But these people slander whatever they do not understand, and they are destroyed by those things that, like irrational animals, they know by instinct. Woe to them! For they go the way of Cain, and abandon themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of gain, and perish in Korah’s rebellion. These are blemishes on your love-feasts, while they feast with you without fear, feeding themselves. They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever.

It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers and malcontents; they indulge their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, flattering people to their own advantage.

But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (NRSV)

At Fourth Presbyterian Church, our worship services always conclude with a blessing and a charge, a reassurance that God will always love each of us and that we are called to share that love with all we encounter.

The author Jude wrote one of the most powerful of all blessings, “To the one who is able to protect you from falling and to present you blameless and rejoicing before his glorious presence, to the only God our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, belong glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, now and forever. Amen.” That is powerful stuff! However, we cannot receive such a blessing without also receiving the call to serve others. We must pass the blessing on and share it with others. In doing so we bless them as God has blessed us. The more we pass on the love, the more love we have to share. This is what is most amazing about the love of God: the more we give it away, the more we have to share.

The cross itself is a poignant reminder of this reality. With its vertical beam going up and down we are reminded of God’s never-ending love for each one of us, and with the horizontal beam going across we are reminded of our love for each other stretching ever outward. I am so thankful to be a part of a church that is really good at sharing God’s love with others, but it only begins at church; it doesn’t stay there. We are called to love and serve everyone, all the time.

God bless us all so that we may bless you in all. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Today’s Reading | 1 John 3:4–6
Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. (NRSV)

Recently a friend of mine was at church and asked his friend, a doctor, about a red line running up his arm. The doctor calmly told my friend to wait a moment. The doctor walked away and made a phone call. After the call he came back and told my friend that he had just contacted a local emergency room and they were awaiting his arrival. My friend, of course, listened to the doctor and proceeded to the hospital. The red line was a serious infection that had the potential to take over his entire body. That little red line on his arm was actually a mark of tyranny against his entire body.

I wish I would think about sin this way. It was just a momentary lustful thought: what is the harm? The harm is anarchy, oppressive bondage, and death. By doing this I am robbing myself and those around me of peace, joy, hope, and love. This is what John is talking about in 1 John 3:4—that sin brings nothing but destructive rebellion that leads to death.

But there is good news, 1 John 3:5 says, Jesus “appeared to take away sins, and there is no sin in him.” We have a sinless King who has defeated the infection. We have a mighty King who has overthrown the oppressor. We have a loving King who sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes on our behalf. And “every person who remains in relationship with King Jesus does not sin” (1 John 3:6).

God, I confess I take my sin too lightly. Remind me again today that choosing sin is choosing death. Remind me again today that knowing Jesus means life. Thank you for sending a mighty King, an effective Savior, and a loving Friend who has successfully defeated sin and death. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Today’s Reading | 1 John 3:4–6
I have done what is just and right;
     do not leave me to my oppressors.
Guarantee your servant’s well-being;
     do not let the godless oppress me.
My eyes fail from watching for your salvation,
     and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise.
Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love,
     and teach me your statutes.
I am your servant; give me understanding,
     so that I may know your decrees.
It is time for the Lord to act,
     for your law has been broken.
Truly I love your commandments
     more than gold, more than fine gold.
Truly I direct my steps by all your precepts;
     I hate every false way.

Your decrees are wonderful;
     therefore my soul keeps them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
     it imparts understanding to the simple.
With open mouth I pant,
     because I long for your commandments.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
     as is your custom toward those who love your name.
Keep my steps steady according to your promise,
     and never let iniquity have dominion over me.
Redeem me from human oppression,
     that I may keep your precepts.
Make your face shine upon your servant,
     and teach me your statutes.
My eyes shed streams of tears
     because your law is not kept.
You are righteous, O Lord,
     and your judgments are right.
You have appointed your decrees in righteousness
     and in all faithfulness.
My zeal consumes me
     because my foes forget your words.
Your promise is well tried,
     and your servant loves it.
I am small and despised,
     yet I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,
     and your law is the truth.
Trouble and anguish have come upon me,
     but your commandments are my delight.
Your decrees are righteous forever;
     give me understanding that I may live. (NRSV)

Kids are wonderful . . . and horrible. Wonderful in the way they trust, and horrible in their sheer, utter childishness. Wonderful in the way they can be generous to one another, and horrible in . . . well, don’t forget that Lord of the Flies was written about kids.

The contrast between childlike and childish is all through this passage. There’s bargaining and self-congratulation and demanding:

“I’ve done what is just and right. Don’t just hand me over
to my oppressors.”
“It is time for the Lord to do something! Your instruction
has been broken.”
“That’s why I walk straight by every single one of your precepts.
That’s why I hate every false path.”

Didn’t we all know a kid like this in elementary school? “I always do everything you tell me, Teacher. And I get so mad when other people don’t. They’re bad, because they’re not following the rules. I follow the rules, so you have to be on my side.” Didn’t you just loathe that kid? And if by chance you were that kid, didn’t you know how much you were loathed? You probably did.

“I’m insignificant and unpopular, but I don’t forget your precepts.”

One look at the world and you know we’re not so far removed from the playground. But there is also a childlike trust in this passage, a reliance on God to help us make sense out of the world:

“I’m your servant! Help me understand so I can know your laws.”
“Your laws are righteous forever. Help me understand so I can live!”

And that’s the real heart of it: “help me.” Help me to understand—not because I’m better than others, or because I deserve it more than others. Help me because you are God and I need you.

Lord, help me to remember that grace is not the prize in a contest, not a reward for good conduct. Remind me that grace is freely given, because you are God and you know I need it. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Fine Arts Coordinator

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Today’s Reading | Isaiah 19:16–25
On that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the Lord of hosts raises against them. And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians; everyone to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the plan that the Lord of hosts is planning against them.

On that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord of hosts. One of these will be called the City of the Sun.

On that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the center of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; when they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior, and will defend and deliver them. The Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians; and the Egyptians will know the Lord on that day, and will worship with sacrifice and burnt offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. The Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing; they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their supplications and heal them.

On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.” (NRSV)

In Isaiah’s oracles against the nations (chapters 17–19) it seems like God is giving the prophet a message that is just as merciless and vindictive as any you might hear in American politics. Worse, maybe. It’s shocking for me to listen to God speak of scattering other peoples like chaff, lopping off the heads of their “spreading branches,” and draining their land of all water.

Yet God does not hold on to an attitude of righteous vengeance against the enemies of God’s people for long. Isaiah 19:16–25 brings us a message of hope and new relationships. Isaiah pronounces a reprieve, saying, “The Lord will strike Egypt; striking and then healing. They will return to the Lord, who will hear their pleas and heal them.” And later on he includes all the nations who have been judged, and amazingly, he speaks of them as if they were also God’s children: “The Lord of heavenly forces will pronounce this blessing: Bless Egypt my people, and Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”

Once Abraham Lincoln, when confronted by a woman who couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t condemn Southern secessionists as irreconcilable enemies, asked the question, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Perhaps we can discern a way, in our message from Isaiah and even from an American politician, by which we are to bring a close to conflict without closing off our relationships with our adversaries.

God of the nations, remind me that even you—seated above all and justified in all your judgments—do not withhold mercy from anyone, no matter how much they might deserve punishment. Help me to live by your example and to embody the message given to us by your prophet Isaiah: that even our worst enemies are your children too. So help me to believe this truth that I might reform who I am and, being reformed, work with others to remake our world in the image of your kingdom. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Today’s Reading | James 3:4–5
Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! (NRSV) 

In Maine, my grandfather used to have a small racing sailboat. When the winds would pick up, it could be quite frightening as the boat tilted completely sideways in the water. At times our boat would feel out of control. My grandfather loved to sail though, and he had such confidence on the water that when those winds would pick up, he never faltered. He knew he had some control with his boat and would steer us to where he wanted to go.

I know we all probably feel like the sailboat sometimes, wondering how we will ever get things in control when things seem overwhelming, not knowing the direction that our life can lead us.

Then there is this small rudder, a small piece of wood that directs everything. It doesn't take much to steer that boat. The wind moves us along, yet there is the rudder ultimately directing us. It is amazing to me how something so small can make such a change. I really just love that image.

When I read this verse I do not look at how the tongue can have the ability to boast widely in a negative way; my first thoughts are of how much good it can do in a small way. Sure our tongues can be hard to control, but they can also be such a blessing at the same time. Let us never forget that. Let us always remember that our words ultimately steer us down life's path and can do so much good, even in the smallest ways!

Lord, I know that my tongue can be hard to control at times, but let me always remember the good that it can do in glorifying you and your love. Amen.

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

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Today’s Reading | James 4
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin. (NRSV)

Recently I was struck by a shirt that read, “You have not because you ask not”—struck partly because of the biblical reference to James 4 but more importantly because I’m always asking and don’t always have. I’ll call a family member for life-advice; I ask my tech-savvy buddies for help on the latest tablet and they remind me that I won’t buy it anyway.

In fact, I was that kid, with all the questions about the world and its entirety and wondering if I could have seconds. Maturity means I do it less frequently but probably more than most. And I even ask God—and I’m embarrassed to admit—for special “favor” (as it regards finding lost keys, a good deal, or even a parking spot).

But James seems to be saying, “No, you’re really not asking” or “You are asking, but with the wrong intentions.” In our wealth and comfort, maybe there is the simple question we need to ask in humility; maybe when we’re too isolated in our own crowded cities, we fail to ask those around us for help, whether it’s to address our depression, our grief, or even to share in our joys.

Perhaps this is also a rebuke by an author that is so concerned about community. We ask for so little when we could ask for so much more! We pray for just ourselves or our families, but not for neighbors and enemies. We pray for a new job when God offers us a life’s vocation. We pray to be liked by all when God offers us deeper friendships. We pray for God to take pain away, because it understandably hurts, but God offers us strength instead, through and beyond the pain.

Go ahead, then. Ask the community for support and for help. Ask God for more than you might even think you deserve. But this time, really ask.

God who hears all of our questions, help me to ask the community around me for support and help, but also help me to ask for much more than I sometimes feel I deserve, as you have promised me much more than what I sometimes ask for, and that is your gift of grace that is new every morning. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Today’s Reading | Titus 2
But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.

Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.

Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.

Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you. (NRSV)

Each summer when I was a young girl, my family and I would drive from Kentucky to Minnesota for our annual visit with relatives and close friends. We made the trip in two days, stopping for lunch and breaks at rest areas and the occasional fast-food restaurant along the highway. On the day of departure, I wanted to roll out of bed and right into the station wagon, but instead my sister and I had to first dress ourselves in the tidy clothes picked out the night before and comb and part our hair so that it could be pulled neatly back into barrettes with bows.

I remember asking why we had to fix our hair when we were going to be in the car for two days. My mom explained that many of the people in the towns along the way most likely had never seen an Asian person before. Therefore, we would want to make a good first impression. Of course, once we got to the home of my aunt and uncle, we played long into the days, frolicking in our pajamas with our hair mussed.

As I read the letter to Titus, I get the sense that underlying the various instructions is a concern similar to that of my mom’s: that the behavior of the members of the Christian household should make a positive impression upon people outside the family of faith. In the rationales that follow the instructions to each group in the church you can see what was believed to be at stake: “that God’s word won’t be ridiculed,” that “they might make the teaching about God our savior attractive in every way.”

Our faith should make a difference in our behavior; good news should show up in good behavior. It is also through our actions that our faith is most clearly witnessed. At a time when the church was strange in society, it was important to make truly good impressions.

God of our lives, remake my heart so that my life reflects your image. Then, when strangers look upon me, they may see your reflection there. For the sake of Christ I pray. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Today’s Reading | Isaiah 30:15–18
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
     in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
But you refused and said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”—
     therefore you shall flee!
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”—
     therefore your pursuers shall be swift!
A thousand shall flee at the threat of one,
     at the threat of five you shall flee,
until you are left
     like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
     like a signal on a hill.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;
     therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
     blessed are all those who wait for him. (NRSV)

Have you ever felt you were running for your life? Have there been those times when you had to work constantly to defend yourself from some pursuing thought, from old wounds, from childhood tapes that run in your head about your self-worth? Or have you felt you wanted to get off of the treadmill of proving to everyone around you that you were worthy or competent enough?

Through the prophet Isaiah, God speaks to the Israelites who have begun to wander away from God. They doubt God’s plan, which they can’t quite see, and instead trust their own, which they think they can control. And God speaks: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Years ago, a pastor read this scripture to me when I was in the middle of treatments for breast cancer, when I felt I was fighting for my life, and when my insides could not settle down, could not trust. I could run and flee and plan and defend all I wanted, but the scripture reminded me that if I kept doing that—depending on my own resources and only on my own resources—I could eventually be like that lone flagstaff on the top of a mountain, exposed and alone. Hearing the scripture on that day in my pastor’s office reminded me to slow down and catch up with myself, to trust that God had a plan, even though I couldn’t figure out what that plan was, and reminded me of the promise that the “Lord waits to be gracious to you.” By the power of the Holy Spirit on that day, as my pastor read these words, I could believe that the Lord waited to be gracious to me, too. In that moment, I found rest.

Dear Lord, help me to trust you so that I can slow down and stop living as though I must do everything alone, solve every problem, fend off every threat, prove the rightness of every thought I have. As you wait to be gracious to me, help me hear the whispers of your voice urging me to return to you. Amen.  

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

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Today’s Reading | Isaiah 35
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
     the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
     and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
     the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
     the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
     and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
     “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
     He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
     He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
     and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
     and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
     and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
     and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
     the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
     and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
     but it shall be for God’s people;
     no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
     nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
     but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
     and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
     they shall obtain joy and gladness,
     and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (NRSV)

For 364 days of the year my cactus is very plain to look at, and it is so prickly that about the only thing you can do is look at it. But for one day of the year there is a glorious white flower that blossoms. That flower, so soft and delicate, is a total contrast to the hard, bristly plant that produces it.

I like to keep the cactus around, not just for the beautiful flower, but because it gives me a lot to think about throughout the year. In some ways I feel like that cactus too; nothing much may be happening on the surface, but inside I know God is doing wonderful things that are just waiting to blossom when the time is right. That cactus is also a reminder that all of us have flowers, gifts, just waiting to emerge.

The cactus also reminds me to not only relish the flower, but also the waiting, the days of soaking up the sun, absorbing and transforming the energy into new life. It reminds me to enjoy the gift of simply being aware of the pleasure of each moment, seeking and finding something to be grateful for each day. John Ortburg has written, “Waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be.” 

Dear God, what do you want me to be? What flowers are inside me just waiting to blossom? Help me find the gifts that you call me to share. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Today’s Reading | Isaiah 37—38
When King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God heard the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.”

When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor, and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’ ”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah; for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning King Tirhakah of Ethiopia, “He has set out to fight against you.” When he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus shall you speak to King Hezekiah of Judah: Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. See, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, destroying them utterly. Shall you be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my predecessors destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?”

Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; then Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, saying: “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, and have hurled their gods into the fire, though they were no gods, but the work of human hands—wood and stone—and so they were destroyed. So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”

Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning King Sennacherib of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:

“She despises you, she scorns you—
     virgin daughter Zion;
she tosses her head—behind your back,
     daughter Jerusalem.

“Whom have you mocked and reviled?
     Against whom have you raised your voice
and haughtily lifted your eyes?
     Against the Holy One of Israel!
By your servants you have mocked the Lord,
     and you have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
     to the far recesses of Lebanon;
I felled its tallest cedars,
     its choicest cypresses;
I came to its remotest height,
     its densest forest.
I dug wells
     and drank waters,
I dried up with the sole of my foot
     all the streams of Egypt.’

Have you not heard
     that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
     what now I bring to pass,
that you should make fortified cities
     crash into heaps of ruins,
while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
     are dismayed and confounded;
they have become like plants of the field
     and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
     blighted before it is grown.

I know your rising up and your sitting down,
     your going out and coming in,
     and your raging against me.
Because you have raged against me
     and your arrogance has come to my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
     and my bit in your mouth;
I will turn you back on the way
     by which you came.

“And this shall be the sign for you: This year eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that; then in the third year sow, reap, plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. The surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward;

for from Jerusalem a remnant shall go out, and from Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city, shoot an arrow there, come before it with a shield, or cast up a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return; he shall not come into this city, says the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

Then the angel of the Lord set out and struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; when morning dawned, they were all dead bodies. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria left, went home, and lived at Nineveh. As he was worshiping in the house of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped into the land of Ararat. His son Esar-haddon succeeded him.

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the Lord: “Remember now, O Lord, I implore you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city.

“This is the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised: See, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined.

A writing of King Hezekiah of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness:

I said: In the noontide of my days
     I must depart;
I am consigned to the gates of Sheol
     for the rest of my years.
I said, I shall not see the Lord
     in the land of the living;
I shall look upon mortals no more
     among the inhabitants of the world.
My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me
     like a shepherd’s tent;
like a weaver I have rolled up my life;
     he cuts me off from the loom;
from day to night you bring me to an end;
     I cry for help until morning;
like a lion he breaks all my bones;
     from day to night you bring me to an end.

Like a swallow or a crane I clamor,
     I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary with looking upward.
     O Lord, I am oppressed; be my security!
But what can I say? For he has spoken to me,
     and he himself has done it.
All my sleep has fled
     because of the bitterness of my soul.

O Lord, by these things people live,
     and in all these is the life of my spirit.
     Oh, restore me to health and make me live!
Surely it was for my welfare
     that I had great bitterness;
but you have held back my life
     from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins
     behind your back.
For Sheol cannot thank you,
     death cannot praise you;
those who go down to the Pit cannot hope
     for your faithfulness.
The living, the living, they thank you,
     as I do this day;
fathers make known to children
     your faithfulness.

The Lord will save me,
     and we will sing to stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
     at the house of the Lord.

Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a lump of figs, and apply it to the boil, so that he may recover.” Hezekiah also had said, “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?” (NRSV)

When I think of prophets in the Bible, I think of humans sent by God to “tell the future.” Recently it has come to my attention that the purpose of the prophet was not to foretell, but to forewarn the people of God who were straying from God’s path, which would lead to harm. To greatly simplify it, they could be compared to a parent on the playground saying, “Put that stick down, or you’ll put out your eye!” The prophet Isaiah’s job was to warn the Israelites that by worshiping in a lavish and self-indulgent manor while ignoring the needy, they would soon be disciplined by God.

I have heard the prophetic portions of the Bible more than once being shouted into a bullhorn by a person on a busy street corner. They seem to be warning the “sinners” that walk by. The first reaction to being warned (or scolded) is to become defensive. (Back to the playground scene: “Oh Mom, I will not hurt myself!”). This is what makes the prophetic portions of the Bible so hard for us to hear and apply to our own lives. 

It is very helpful to read the story of the Israelite leader Hezekiah. When battles raged around him, he did not simply fight. He turned to God in repentance and humble prayer. Much like the child on the playground who actually did hurt himself with the stick (duh) and then runs to the parent for comfort, Hezekiah brought his hurt to his God.

Dear God, when I stray from your path (daily), help me to hear you, turn not away but toward you, and seek your love and compassion. Amen.

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

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Today’s Reading | Psalm 105
O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
     make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
     tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
     let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
     seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
     his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
     children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

He is the Lord our God;
     his judgments are in all the earth.
He is mindful of his covenant forever,
     of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
the covenant that he made with Abraham,
     his sworn promise to Isaac,
which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
     to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan
     as your portion for an inheritance.”

When they were few in number,
     of little account, and strangers in it,
wandering from nation to nation,
     from one kingdom to another people,
he allowed no one to oppress them;
     he rebuked kings on their account,
saying, “Do not touch my anointed ones;
     do my prophets no harm.”

When he summoned famine against the land,
     and broke every staff of bread,
he had sent a man ahead of them,
     Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
His feet were hurt with fetters,
     his neck was put in a collar of iron;
until what he had said came to pass,
     the word of the Lord kept testing him.
The king sent and released him;
     the ruler of the peoples set him free.
He made him lord of his house,
     and ruler of all his possessions,
to instruct his officials at his pleasure,
     and to teach his elders wisdom.

Then Israel came to Egypt;
Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham.
And the Lord made his people very fruitful,
and made them stronger than their foes,
whose hearts he then turned to hate his people,
to deal craftily with his servants.

He sent his servant Moses,
     and Aaron whom he had chosen.
They performed his signs among them,
     and miracles in the land of Ham.
He sent darkness, and made the land dark;
     they rebelled against his words.
He turned their waters into blood,
     and caused their fish to die.
Their land swarmed with frogs,
     even in the chambers of their kings.
He spoke, and there came swarms of flies,
     and gnats throughout their country.
He gave them hail for rain,
     and lightning that flashed through their land.
He struck their vines and fig trees,
     and shattered the trees of their country.
He spoke, and the locusts came,
     and young locusts without number;
they devoured all the vegetation in their land,
     and ate up the fruit of their ground.
He struck down all the firstborn in their land,
     the first issue of all their strength.

Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold,
     and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.
Egypt was glad when they departed,
     for dread of them had fallen upon it.
He spread a cloud for a covering,
     and fire to give light by night.
They asked, and he brought quails,
     and gave them food from heaven in abundance.
He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
     it flowed through the desert like a river.
For he remembered his holy promise,
     and Abraham, his servant.

So he brought his people out with joy,
     his chosen ones with singing.
He gave them the lands of the nations,
     and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,
that they might keep his statutes
     and observe his laws.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

Psalm 105 is a wonderful summary of the escape of the Israelites from Egypt. It begins earlier with God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, moves on to the Joseph story in Genesis 39–50, and concludes with the miraculous acts of Exodus from chapters 1–18—texts we read earlier this year.

The psalms often look back at what God has done to give us faith and confidence in what God will do. This is called salvation history and was a wonderful reminder to the early Israelites and to us to trust in God’s ultimate deliverance. “Pursue the Lord and his strength; seek his face always! Remember the wondrous works he has done, all his marvelous works and the justice he declared.”

When we are in the middle of a difficult situation it is often hard to see if God is helping. When we most need to rely on God’s strength, we often find it hardest to pray. Thinking about what God has done in the past, which we often can’t see until we are removed from the situation, gives us confidence that God will ultimately deliver us from whatever we face. So take heart, no matter what you face, “pursue the Lord and his strength.” Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and our God is always working to deliver us.

Loving God, thank you for delivering the Israelites from Egypt so long ago, and thank you for the psalms that remind me of your steadfastness. Even when I find it hard to have faith, remind me of your presence in my life, and reassure me that you are always with me. Help me, O Lord, to rely on your strength when my own strength has gone. Your strength brings deliverance, and you will also deliver me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Today’s Reading | : Psalm 104
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
     O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
     wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
     you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
     you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
     fire and flame your ministers.

You set the earth on its foundations,
     so that it shall never be shaken.
You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
     the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they flee;
     at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
     to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
     so that they might not again cover the earth.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
     they flow between the hills,
giving drink to every wild animal;
     the wild asses quench their thirst.
By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
     they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
     the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
     and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
     and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
     and bread to strengthen the human heart.
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
     the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
     the stork has its home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
     the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
     the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
     when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
The young lions roar for their prey,
     seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they withdraw
     and lie down in their dens.
People go out to their work
     and to their labor until the evening.

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
     In wisdom you have made them all;
     the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
     creeping things innumerable are there,
     living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
     and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

These all look
     to you to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
     when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
     when you take away their breath, they die
     and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
     and you renew the face of the ground.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
     may the Lord rejoice in his works—
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
     who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
     I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
     for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
     and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

Let my whole being bless the Lord . . .

This text brings to mind an experience I had while waiting for the 147 bus north, to make my way home after a particularly long day. The skies were grey all afternoon but never did pour out rain. I was glad to see the bus pull up, almost empty. I was exhausted. After two stops, I saw a mother board, holding the hand of her young son. He insisted, very vocally as they made their way down the aisle, that they sit in the seats that move back and forth when the accordion center articulates at each turn. “It’s very important,” he explained to his mother.

As the bus made its way along Michigan Avenue, it never really filled, but many people boarded and many got off. With any shuffle of a passenger past this young boy—still eager and always looking ahead to see when a turn would approach so the seats would move—he would greet the person with a boisterous “Hello!”or “Have a good evening!” He changed the greeting each time and pulled each person’s attention—and smile.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at this amazing little boy—so excited to communicate with everyone and spread his joy. Over the rather long run, the boy must have greeted fifty or so people. When it came to his stop and the doors opened, he turned to me, smiled wide enough to show an impossible number of teeth, and said, “Goodnight! Have a great day tomorrow!”

And I did.

. . . Let my whole being bless the Lord!

Lord, thank you for your magnificent splendors! Help me to remember, like the psalmist, to spread these joys to all people, no matter how familiar. Help me to remember to thank you again and again for what you’ve created for your children. And most of all, help me to remember you are there always, in everyone and everything. Amen.

Written by Ryan Loeckel, Coordinator for Music and Membership

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Today’s Reading | Psalm 102
Hear my prayer, O Lord;
     let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
     in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
     answer me speedily in the day when I call.

For my days pass away like smoke,
     and my bones burn like a furnace.
My heart is stricken and withered like grass;
     I am too wasted to eat my bread.
Because of my loud groaning
     my bones cling to my skin.
I am like an owl of the wilderness,
     like a little owl of the waste places.
I lie awake;
     I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.
All day long my enemies taunt me;
     those who deride me use my name for a curse.
For I eat ashes like bread,
     and mingle tears with my drink,
because of your indignation and anger;
     for you have lifted me up and thrown me aside.
My days are like an evening shadow;
     I wither away like grass.

But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
     your name endures to all generations.
You will rise up and have compassion on Zion,
     for it is time to favor it;
     the appointed time has come.
For your servants hold its stones dear,
     and have pity on its dust.
The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
     and all the kings of the earth your glory.
For the Lord will build up Zion;
     he will appear in his glory.
He will regard the prayer of the destitute,
     and will not despise their prayer.

Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
     so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord:
that he looked down from his holy height,
     from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
     to set free those who were doomed to die;
so that the name of the Lord may be declared in Zion,
     and his praise in Jerusalem,
when peoples gather together,
     and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.

He has broken my strength in midcourse;
     he has shortened my days.

“O my God,” I say, “do not take me away
     at the mid-point of my life,
you whose years endure
     throughout all generations.”

Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
     and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you endure;
     they will all wear out like a garment.
You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
     but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall live secure;
     their offspring shall be established in your presence. (NRSV)

“I am like an owl of the wilderness, like a little owl of the waste places. I lie awake: I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.”

A little owl of the waste places. A lonely bird on the housetop. Sitting awake at night, when there’s nothing to do about the things that worry us, those things that seem so huge, out there in the darkness . . . don’t we all know how that feels?

Big worries. The psalmist is worried about health, as we all do at some point, particularly as we get older, worried about the time left to him on the earth. And how can God, the Eternal, appreciate the dread that time can put on those of us who live under the ticking clock? How often do we ask for just a little more time?

“My days disappear like smoke. . . . My days are like a shadow soon gone. . . . God, do not take me away in the prime of life, your years go on from one generation to the next.”

The things that keep you up at night.

The truth is, time is as limited for the young as for the old. None of us knows how much we have, and we’d all like just a little more. We worry about what we are going to leave behind, who will take care of our families and loved ones? At the end, sitting awake and alone in whatever darkness surrounds us, all we have is a prayer:

“Let your servant’s children live safe; let your servants’ descendants live secure in your presence.”

Lord, we are always in your hands, though we only occasionally remember it. Please grant me knowledge of your eternal presence, and grant me peace and rest in you. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Fine Arts Coordinator

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Today’s Reading | Psalm 119:97–120
Oh, how I love your law!
     It is my meditation all day long.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
     for it is always with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
     for your decrees are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
     for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
     in order to keep your word.
I do not turn away from your ordinances,
     for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
     sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
     therefore I hate every false way.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
     and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
     to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted;
     give me life, O Lord, according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord,
     and teach me your ordinances.
I hold my life in my hand continually,
     but I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
     but I do not stray from your precepts.
Your decrees are my heritage forever;
     they are the joy of my heart.
I incline my heart to perform your statutes
     forever, to the end.

I hate the double-minded,
     but I love your law.
You are my hiding place and my shield;
     I hope in your word.
Go away from me, you evildoers,
     that I may keep the commandments of my God.
Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live,
     and let me not be put to shame in my hope.
Hold me up, that I may be safe
     and have regard for your statutes continually.
You spurn all who go astray from your statutes;
     for their cunning is in vain.
All the wicked of the earth you count as dross;
     therefore I love your decrees.
My flesh trembles for fear of you,
     and I am afraid of your judgments. (NRSV)

“Your word is a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey.”

Those words bring vividly to mind for me the bookmarked Bibles and worn hymnals I have that were once my great-grandparents’, my grandparents’. They resonate with images of those who brought me up in the faith, who nurtured that faith in me by word and, even more profoundly, by example, by their deep and abiding commitment to and reliance on the word of God. By their living that word and following that light.

“Before my feet, for my journey” we are reminded. It is for our living, our doing, our being, this word of God. Not simply for the reading and pondering, quoting and preaching, but for our journey, our movements along life’s way. We are, after all, says James, to be doers of the word, not hearers only.

But it is also not only about the journey. It is about a journey illuminated and guided by that light. It is about our call and commitment to do that reading and pondering, learning and studying so that that word might be our lamp, our strength and shield, our bedrock, the very foundation for how it is that we live our lives. It is about being guided by that word so that, with all the saints, our lives too might confess the name of Jesus, the love of God, and the Lord of our life.

For the gift of your word and for all those who have nurtured me in it, I give thanks, O Lord. May your word be always a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey. May it so shape my living that all I say and do and am might bear witness to you, my rock, my fortress, and my might. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Today’s Reading | James 1
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved.

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act —they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (NRSV)

When I’m painting, I feel as if I am completely absorbed into the canvas. Time has no relevance as I brush and sculpt acrylic paint on the canvas. The colors merge into each other in surprising, even beautiful patterns, and I have very little control over their final outcome. I often feel as if the painting is emerging from somewhere beyond my own imagination and that I am only a conduit between the paint and the end result. The act of painting makes me feel so creative and alive, “a doer and not only a hearer.”

That is what James said we should all strive to become. He said, “You must be a doer of the word and not only a hearer.” In other words, get involved and don’t just sit on the sidelines. We should not be passive or half-hearted about the projects we commit to, but throw ourselves completely and passionately into everything we do. When we are wholly committed to something, it is so easy to lose ourselves into that goal that is larger than ourselves. In those moments of passion we become the canvas and God is the painter working on our souls. God, who loves every one of us, can create surprising results that are even more wonderful than anything we can imagine.

God, help me to be fully alive so that in all I do or say I may come closer to your vision of who I am called to be. Amen.

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

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