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Daily devotions, written by the staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church,
are available via email (sign up online or send addresses to devotions@fourthchurch.org), Facebook (www.facebook.com/fourthchurch), Twitter (@FourthChicago), online, and in print (from the church literature racks)


November 1 | November 2–8 | November 9–15
November 16–22
| November 23–29
| November 30

Saturday, November 1, 2014
All Saints' Day

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
Alleluia! Alelluia!

William Walsham How’s “For All the Saints” (tune: Sine Nomine)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection

Saints by their profession are bound to maintain a holy fellowship and communion . . . which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.

—Westminster Confession of Faith

For Presbyterians, all who “call upon the name of the Lord Jesus” are given welcome into the company of God’s saints. How strange that our greatest blessing is granted with such little personal fanfare.

“For All the Saints” is set to a tune, written by Ralph Vaughan Williams, that has been called one of the finest in twentieth-century hymnody. He composed it specifically for a beloved All Saints’ Day hymn, written by English bishop William Walsham How. Yet instead of gracing it with a soaring or elegant title, instead of relating it to a particular person or place special to him, Williams chose to leave it nameless. That’s what the tune title “Sine Nomine” literally means—without name.

Vaughan’s grand tune is meant to be sung by all members of the congregation in one voice, as opposed to the harmony that defines many of our hymns. This nameless song invites all the living saints of the church—all of us, that is—to join in glorious praise of the company of God’s saints—not because of who they were, but because of the one that was revealed in their lives. How’s words also embody a universal language of sainthood, in which we can identify our particular saints who have labored with Christ, who have fought the well-fought fight, and who now rest with the God whom we worship.

As we celebrate All Saints’ Day, singing this hymn can help us live into the spirit of saints like Vaughan and How, in whose biography it is written, “The writer dies; the hymn remains; the song goes on; tired ones listen and find rest. . . . To be praised is the ambition of the world; to be a blessing is the abundant satisfaction of those who, like Bishop Walsham How, sing because their hearts are full, and who, like their Lord, find their joy in loving service of humanity” (from Frederick Douglas How’s Bishop Walsham How: A Memoir).

Prayer
Almighty and everlasting God, on this All Saints’ Day I give you thanks for the saints I have been blessed to know, who have raised me into awareness of your love, and who now rest with you. I thank you also for the countless and nameless company of saints with whom I am joined together in the body of Jesus Christ, your Son. Make me a blessing by this fellowship, and let my full heart sing out in joy that you have called us together to serve others in your name. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Sunday, November 2, 2014
All Saints' Sunday

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle; they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

William Walsham How’s “For All the Saints” (tune: Sine Nomine)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
On this All Saints’ Sunday, we remember those who have come before us. We remember both those whom we have known and loved and lost, and those whom we have never known but who, in ages past, have nevertheless shaped our common story. As Christians, we talk often about the importance of a community of faith. Here at Fourth Church and around the world, people of faith join together and live out their lives in relationship and community, because we proclaim that we are all part of the body of Christ. The amazing truth of God is that this body of which we are part extends beyond the boundaries of earthly life and time. We are gathered up in a holy community not only with those who share our present, but also all those who have come before us and all who will come after.

Though we carry these saints with us all the time, it is important that we take time within the seasons of our faith to honor them and remember all the ways that we are joined with them as one church. We draw strength and inspiration from their faith and courage, and we resolve to live lives of such witness that others might one day draw strength and inspiration from us.

This year, there is one saint particularly on my heart. Pam Byers entered the Church Triumphant this past week. She was the founding Executive Director of Covenant Network, and in her life and ministry, she worked tirelessly for a more inclusive church. This week I heard story after story as our common friends celebrated her life and the gift she was to the church. I didn’t know Pam, but as an out bisexual woman who will be ordained as a minister in just two weeks’ time, I know that I stand on the shoulders of Pam and other saints like her who fought hard to make ordinations like mine possible. I am endlessly grateful to be in community with them.

Prayer

May we all be grateful, this All Saints’ Sunday, for all those whose shoulders we stand on—all those who have come before and who stand with us in the common story of our faith. Alleluia indeed. Amen.

Written by Layton Williams, Pastoral Resident

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Monday, November 3, 2014

By all your saints still striving,
for all your saints at rest,
your holy name, O Jesus,
forever more be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
we sing our praise anew
and, walking in their footsteps,
would live our lives for you.

Horatio Bolton Nelson’s “By All Your Saints Still Striving”
(tune: King’s Lynn)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
This hymn recognizes the good deeds of those saints that have for many years walked before us, encouraging us to follow in their ways. I believe it is so important to have someone to look up to, yet, what good is it if we consider them holy and do not take into account their earthly flaws? Saints are flawed individuals; we are all flawed. The footsteps left behind of those before us were made with mistakes and they were made with error. Let us always remember the path taken to righteousness for all.

I love the quote by Thomas Edison: “I haven’t failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Our paths should have steps laid down by the good deeds of others, but we must also be patient with our own progress in seeing the journey on which God is taking us. The more we act as one body of Christ, the more we appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of others.

Prayer
Lord, the day you have given me is filled with possibility. I pray that you bless it according to your will, forever guiding me down the road you have set for me. Let me always be attuned to the good deeds of others, all the while upholding my own virtues for the betterment of your love. Amen.

Written by Ashley Elskus, Director, The Center for Life and Learning

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

We praise you for the Baptist,
forerunner of the Word,
our true Elijah, making
a highway for the Lord.
The last and greatest prophet,
he saw the dawning ray
of light that grows in splendor
until the perfect day.

All praise, O Lord, for Andrew,
the first to welcome you,
whose witness to his brother
named you Messiah true.
May we, with hearts kept open
to you throughout the year
proclaim to friend and neighbor
your advent ever near.

Horatio Bolton Nelson’s “By All Your Saints Still Striving”
(tune: King’s Lynn)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Today’s hymn reminds us that John the Baptist came before Jesus to prepare people to recognize Christ. It seems even in the past, people were busy enough that they needed a little extra warning so they wouldn’t miss God’s Son. We all have people who have been forerunners of our faith. For some it was our mother, father, grandmother, college roommate, or youth pastor. Who was pivotal and helped you to follow Christ? Who helped you to know that Jesus was the messiah, your savior?

We worship God as the Trinity, the God who creates, redeems, and sustains us. Some view the Trinity as a reminder that faith is a communal act, that we are actually created for community. So let us remember today who has helped to bring us into this community of faith. In the words of this hymn, “May we, with hearts kept open throughout the year, proclaim to friend and neighbor your advent ever near.”

Prayer
Merciful God, we thank you for the forerunners of our faith. In every age you have called people to show us whom to follow and to be a witness to your loving Son, Jesus Christ. Help us, O Lord, to be alive in Christ, so that we can guide others to your transforming light. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

For Magdalene we praise you,
steadfast at cross and tomb.
Your “Mary!” in the garden
dispelled her tears and gloom.
Apostle to the apostles,
she ran to spread the word.
Send us to shout the good news
that we have seen the Lord!

We pray for saints we know not,
for saints still yet to be,
for grace to bear true witness
and serve you faithfully,
till all the ransomed number
who stand before the throne
ascribe all power and glory
and praise to God alone.

Horatio Bolton Nelson’s “By All Your Saints Still Striving”
(tune: King’s Lynn)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Eternity.

I remember the mental snap I experienced when I finally began to understand that eternity didn’t refer to “forever and ever” (i.e., time that just goes on and on and on), but to a state “outside of time.” Trying to intellectually wiggle out of the constraints imposed by living in time—the only way we humans can really be in the world—is pretty hard.

Yet my favorite line of this hymn invites me to do just that. “We pray for saints we know not, for saints still yet to be.” My contemplation of the communion of saints tends to focus either on a litany of figures from salvation history, such as this hymn presents, or on an internal slide show of people I have loved and learned from who now live in the fullness of the Kingdom. On good days I see the “great cloud of witnesses” all around me now, women and men still daily striving to “bear true witness and serve God faithfully.” But there are all those saints in the future, too, those who will know, love, and serve God, well and faithfully, long after I am gone. Praying for them stretches and deepens my contemplation.

In eternity all of us, together, stand before God, united in the praise and blessing that life is.

Prayer
O God of expansive inclusiveness, we thank you for the communion of saints. Keep inviting us into timelessness so that we may understand what is true and real and important. We ask this through the One who was born into time so that we may live in eternity. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator,
The Center for Life and Learning

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Praise my soul, the King of heaven;
to his feet your tribute bring;
ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
evermore his praises sing:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise the everlasting king.

Praise him for his grace and favor
to his people in distress;
praise him still the same as ever,
slow to chide, and swift to bless:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Glorious in his faithfulness.

Henry Francis Lyte’s “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven”
(tune: Lauda Anima)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
When you think about it, praise is an odd thing, really. It’s what you use to train a puppy: “Who’s a good puppy? You are! You are such a good puppy!” It’s what you use to build up a peer: “Way to go, dude!” or “You go, girl!” It’s also what you use to suck up to a really insecure boss.

How does this fit into our relationship with God? They’re all a little awkward. Maybe “Way to go, dude!” is the closest to being OK. I’m not incredibly comfortable with “Who’s a good God? You are!” because when you get right down to it, we’re the puppy in that relationship. And really, thinking about God as an insecure boss who really needs to be praised by subordinates is kind of the opposite of worship.

Maybe it’s useful to think of praise as a way of giving thanks. The lyric above, it’s all thanksgiving. “Thanks for doing these wonderful things, Lord.” And that’s one of the most important prayers—simple thanks.

Praise is also something else: it is a deep expression of wonder. I was at Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies a few weeks ago, and looking out over this beautiful valley between snowcapped mountains I was struck silent by the sheer beauty and majesty of where I was standing. That “Wow . . .” is an act of praise.

In the end, praise is also an acknowledgement of love. It’s what we do when we love someone: “I think you’re wonderful.” When we say it and when we hear it, it confirms that we are linked by love. Thanks, and wonder, and love.

Prayer
Dear Lord, thank you for all the amazing things you do. Wow. I think you are wonderful. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Father-like, he tends and spares us;
well our feeble frame he knows;
in his hands he gently bears us,
rescues us from all our foes.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Widely yet his mercy flows.

Angels, help us to adore him;
you behold him face to face.
Sun and moon, bow down before him,
dwellers in all time and space:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise with us the God of grace.

Henry Francis Lyte’s “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven”
(tune: Lauda Anima)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
I always chuckle when I hear that old expression that goes something like “We make plans, God laughs.” When I first heard it, my initial reaction was to get a little bent out of shape; what does that mean, God laughs—at my plans, my hard work, the way I choose to handle things? But I calmed down somewhat when I thought more about the message in that statement. Our lives are in God’s hands. But I must not be totally satisfied with that answer, in all truth, because I always want to do things my way instead of leaving things up to God, who is the Shepherd of us all.

Henry Fancis Lyte’s hymn “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” reminds me of how God “tends us” or cares for us and “gently bears us” amidst all of our burdens. He “rescues us” from our foes and “spares us,” knowing so well our “feeble frames” are flawed.

And there is so much more in those lines beneath the surface that hold so much meaning to me. Who are my foes? Oftentimes, as the events of my life play out, I find that I am my own worst enemy. How many times have I boldly plunged head-first into a situation with nary a thought of God, so certain that my way was the best way, only to come out of my flurry feeling like a human wrecking ball? Too many times to count. Those are the times I thank God for sparing me from myself and protecting me from harm, and I vow to consult with God next time and allow his wisdom and strength to guide me.

God’s mercy and love for us is, and always will be, unfailing, yet these few lines acknowledge how hard it is for us to let God fully care for us. The very words of the hymn implore the angels to “help us to adore him.” I’ll admit it’s something I struggle with daily. But every single time I manage to trust God’s plan, I am rewarded far beyond my expectations.

Prayer
Lord, help me to trust in your plan and open myself to true joy. Help me to let go of the familiarity of my routine and my tired ways. Amen.

Written by Patty Donmoyer, Receptionist

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Scripture Reading: Matthew 23:1–12
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

“They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father —the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (NRSV)


Prayer

Creator of all, as we are gathered to praise and thank you, we are present with all your people.  There is one bread, one body.  Behind all differences of custom, all disagreement over how to do things, all variance in our positions, the people whose Lord is Christ are one people.  Hallow us all to your service, and give us the love for one another which brothers and sisters in faith ought to have.

Father and Mother God, we come here not only with all those who name you, but with the vaster company still of all whom you have made and who are yours whether they know it or not.  They are here because we are here, for we are a part of them and they are a part of us—our families, our neighbors, our work colleagues, those we watch on the screen and read about online.  We give thanks for them and pray for them.  May the bread which feeds us here feed them also through us.

We thank you especially this day for the joyful and triumphant company of those who went before us in the faith—in their time stricken, like us, with difficulties, doubts, disasters, yet holding fast to Christ and so to thankfulness and hope.  May we feel here the breadth and depth and strength of the communion of saints, so we, too, may persevere in the journey of faith.

Continue to be with all who work for peace, whether in our cities’ neighborhoods and schools or in war-torn countries of the world.  Comfort those who have lost loved ones, and strengthen and heal all who face health challenges.  Protect and strengthen medical workers seeking to diminish the impact of Ebola, and bring calm where there is unfounded fear.  Guide our government leaders, that those elected might work for the common good and be guided by your wisdom.  We pray all this in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray: Our Father . . .

(The third paragraph is adapted from a prayer in A Call to Prayer, edited by Caryl Micklem.)

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Victoria G. Curtiss,
Associate Pastor for Mission, on Sunday, November 2, 2014

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

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

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

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


Prayer
Almighty God, throughout the ages you have been the world’s refuge and strength. You have been our very present help. In the midst of every changing time and place, you have been with us and for us, reforming and recreating us.

We need so much to ground our hope in this knowledge, the knowledge that just as you created out of nothing the earth, the heavens, and seas, you are recreating the world out of what it is and what it has done. When we look around the world, God, we not only see the moon and the stars, the handiwork of your creation, but we also see the accidents and mistakes that we have committed, the consequences and damage with which we have to live.

Help us, God, not to avert our eyes from it. Let the world be witness. Help us to see not only what is already in plain view, but also what needs exposure. As we witness the peoples and politics in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Israel, as we behold the loss of lives in West Africa, as we see how power is won and wielded here and elsewhere, what can we do but pray to you? We know that our own and others’ best efforts can never be enough to make right the wrongs that have been committed. There are scars too deep on bodies and hearts, on your earth, to be removed. Therefore, we put our ultimate hope in you, almighty God. Only you see the world for all it can be.

Be for us all that we need and more. Where we lack wisdom, give us the long view. Where we suffer from a narrowness of vision, expand our spheres of concern. Where we see the false shape of things, give us truth that lies in the details. When we cannot see straight because we are overcome by fear, supply the moral courage we need. And do not let our commitments falter, almighty God, for in the end, when all is complete, we want to be by your side, as your steady and faithful servants.

In the end, we want to be wearing your seal, with your word impressed upon us and our bodies bearing the grooves of daily service.

For the sake of the world for whom your Son spent his life, we pray as he taught us: Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Joyce Shin,
Associate Pastor for Congregational Life, on Sunday, October 26, 2014

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Scripture Reading: Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills
—from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore. (NRSV)


Prayer
Holy Mystery, you are the source of our life,
the love that sustains us,
and the very breath that fills our lungs.
We are grateful for the way you have heard us in the past,
the deep faithfulness you show to us in new beginnings,
and the way you beckon all of us to follow you into your future.
We are deeply grateful for who you are,
for the gift of being created in your image,
and for the way you knit us together as your body.

This day we pray for all those who don’t feel that way.
We pray for those who look in the mirror and do not like whom they see.
Give them your vision. Help them to see your face in their face.
We pray for those in our world whose anger causes their jaws to clench
and their hearts to harden. Gentle them, O God.
May your spring of living water soothe their souls.
We pray for those whose grief chokes all hope.
Loosen death’s powerful grip. Hold them in your light of life.
We pray for those who battle cancer or other illness or health challenges
every day of their life. May they know you stand with them.
May they feel your courage and your strength in their weary bones.
We pray for those who face surgery or other medical treatments.
May your wisdom dwell within the doctors and nurses who care for them.
May they trust they reside in your hands.

We pray for this church, Fourth Presbyterian Church.
You know what you have in store for us.
You have our future in the palm of your hand.
Whisper your call into our ears and our hearts.
Grant us the courage to follow what we hear.
Grant us the wisdom to know when we get off track.
But most of all, grant us the faith to keep on moving and loving,
remembering and renewing.

Holy Mystery, Three-personed God, keep us in your arms.
May we always be faithful in our words and in our deeds,
or may they harmlessly fall away.

It is in the name of your Son, our brother and Savior, we pray, saying,
Our Father . . .  

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Shannon Kershner, Pastor
on Sunday, September 21, 2014

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Scripture Reading: Joshua 24:1–3a, 14–25
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.

. . .

“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. (NRSV)


Prayer
Great and gentle God, Giver of all life, refuge and strength, Light of the world, as the days before us continue toward ever-increasing darkness and cold, make us ever more mindful of your light and warmth. Help us to see signs of your presence: the hand of a child, the gift offered, a meal delivered, a call of condolence, a truthful but needed word, the quiet loyalty of a spouse or a tutor or a good friend or a family member. Help us to read those signs harder to detect: the inner turmoil that leads to greater trust in you; disturbances that keep nudging us to move on; the tears of a child or the struggle to speak of an aging adult, causing us to slow down, to get on our knees so that we can listen more intently; a blaring siren heard and the prayer we quickly pray for whoever it is being rushed to the hospital.

Merciful God, the world around us groans with disruption and need. We continue to pray for health workers everywhere at every level, on the front lines of the Ebola crisis, for families devastated by its relentless attack, and for health workers everywhere, paid or unpaid, revered or hardly noticed.

On this day we remember veterans of all wars. We thank you for their service for the sake of freedom. We cry out to you wishing there was no need for soldiers anywhere, but the need still exists. And so we pray for those who have lost their lives and for their families who remain. We pray for those who continue to live with haunting memories. For those with injuries and no easy access to adequate health care, we ask for agencies to move and advocates to speak. And for ourselves, dear Lord, we ask for forgiveness because we have taken these ones who fight on our behalf for granted. We have judged from the peaceful places of our living rooms.

You know our hearts, O God, the painful memories, the joyful thanksgivings and praises, the people for whom we worry, the places in the world that seem so in need of the miracle of peace. So in this next moment of silence, hear us as we lift those particular concerns in our lives to you.

We pray all of this, holding fast to the hope that you are our sovereign God, Creator of the universe, Redeemer of all sin, Sustainer of our lives when we don’t know what or if we believe. In the name of your Son, our Lord, we offer now the prayer he taught to his disciples, saying together, Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Judith L. Watt,
Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care, on Sunday, November 9, 2014

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 45:1–15
Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

“Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.”

Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him. (NRSV)


Prayer
Lord of all creation, in this season of summer
we come to this place with words of thanksgiving on our heart:
thanks for the opportunity to spend time with family and friends,
for your beautiful creation and the vibrancy of the city,
for this place where we can be fed by your Word and fed at your table.

And yet even in the midst of our thanks, O Lord,
we know that there is much that is not right in our world:
there are wars that rage and there is hurt, anger, and distrust
between those who have been marginalized in this country
and those in positions of power and authority.
Violence lingers in our own city’s streets,
cutting short the lives of teens and children well before their time.
Economic inequality continues to increase as well,
creating a tale of two cities between those with great opportunity
and those who are isolated and trapped in a destructive cycle of poverty.

There are no easy or quick fixes to any of these problems, Lord,
but we know and hope and trust that you are there
in the midst of each of these situations,
sometimes producing bold change and sometimes producing quiet hope.
May we be a part of enacting your plan,
welcoming our brothers and sisters in Christ with open arms
just as Joseph welcomed his brothers,
seeking reconciliation, forgiveness, and a new beginning.
Challenge us to be with all in our society who exist
on the margins of our consciousness.
Give us both the clarity of vision that helps us to see people’s needs
and the wisdom to meet those needs in ways that are meaningful and lasting.
Bring peace in those places that feel trapped in cycles,
places that have known war or rumors of war for far too long.
Dissipate the hatred that simmers beneath the surface
and expand any tunnel vision, that reconciliation may occur
while still holding to your justice.

As we hold all of these prayers in our heart,
we humbly ask that you don’t allow us to despair
but to instead believe in the gospel promise
that you are indeed making all things new.
Give us hope that is stronger than our discouragement
and inspire us to live our lives through your deep love—
giving generously of ourselves in a way that builds this world up
rather than tearing it down.

And we close this prayer with the words that your Son taught us to pray: Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Matt Helms,
Minister for Children and Families, on Sunday, August 17, 2014

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:26–39
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NRSV)


Prayer
Gracious God,
in this moment our hearts and minds are full—
filled with the inspiration and hope we come here to feel;
filled with happiness and joy from the many blessings of our lives;
filled with anxieties and fears from the challenges we face;
filled with sadness and grief from our failures and losses.

Even in this moment,
even in this place,
sometimes we don’t know what we should pray.
Sometimes we don’t know how to pray.
Yet in this moment, in this place,
and when we are not in this place,
living our lives in the world to which you call us,
we are grateful that your Spirit fills us up
and prays with us, prays for us.

In this moment, loving God,
we hold silence and seek to feel your presence.
We open ourselves to your Spirit;
we listen for your voice.

God, if you are for us,
who or what can be against us?
It’s true that some of us are sick;
it’s true that some of us have terminal illnesses;
it’s true that some of us have lost love ones;
it’s true that some of us face uncertainty;
it’s true that some of us are at risk;
it’s true that some of us are marginalized or oppressed;
it’s true that some of us are hungry or homeless;
it’s true that some of us fear for our lives in a culture of violence;
it’s true that many in our world are in the midst of war;
it’s true that each of us are sinners in need of redemption.

But we know, O God,
that none of this separates us from your love.
We know that ultimately the victory is already won.
We know that you will be with us, no matter what.

Holy God,
we are profoundly grateful for your love and care.
The weight of our troubles
is matched only by the magnitude of your grace.
The joy we share
is a reflection of your presence in our lives.

Even when we don’t know what to pray,
even when we struggle to hear the Spirit’s voice,
we have the prayer that Jesus taught us.
So hear us now as we join our voices as one,
praying for the coming of your kingdom,
using the words of your Son, our Lord.
Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by John W. Vest,
Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry, on Sunday, July 27, 2014

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Friday, November 14, 2014

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

Prayer
Gracious God, we are humbled as we experience how quick you are to enter into our everyday. Through the gift of stories that challenge our hearts and minds, in the wonder of music that resonates deep within our souls, and by the relationships that transform our lives, you make yourself comprehensible to us, limited as we are, and for this we give you thanks.

We give you thanks for your Son, Jesus, who came among us and lived as we lived. He understood the weakness of our human natures and the mundane realities of our context; and yet, by his gift for telling stories, he took the base material of our existence and crafted parables to give us visions by which we might understand you and your goodness. We treasure the stories he told and ask only that you would make the seeds of those stories grow in our hearts, that they might bear fruit in our actions and in the words we speak to others about the new world you are making right in our midst.

We give you thanks for the many relationships with our mission partners, in this city and around the world. Through these bonds, you make it clear to us that your church is far greater than anything that could be contained within the walls of our buildings, but also that it should never think itself too grand to address the real needs of all your children who struggle to find wholeness and dignity. By the work and by the witness of all the members of this community who participate in mission, may we see your will being done in this world, and may we all be inspired to go and do likewise.

Giving you thanks for all these things, trusting that you hear these prayers and are faithful in responding, we lift our hearts to you in this moment, and as we do so, we pray the prayer our Lord Jesus taught, saying, Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Hardy H. Kim,
Associate Pastor for Evangelism, on Sunday, July 13, 2014

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Scripture Reading: Matthew 3:13–17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (NRSV)

Prayer
Creator God, you grant us the breath of life and baptize us with water and the Spirit. You bestow our identity as your beloved people of faith who belong to Christ Jesus. We thank you for claiming us as your children, directing us to your task, humbling us in our strength, and consoling us in our weakness. We thank you that Jesus became one of us so that we may be one with you. We praise you for your unconditional love that frees us to honor not only ourselves but all your children as people of divine worth.

Just as you entrusted Jesus with the mission to give his life for others, so you have called us to serve, working for the welfare of our brothers and sisters. Strengthen the efforts of all who seek to aid those who face the daily challenges of homelessness due to poverty or disruptive violence. Use us, and shape our societies, to feed the hungry, secure employment, provide shelter from the cold, and offer hope for the future. Be with refugees. Comfort all who mourn the loss of loved ones, and make known your presence in the lives of those who feel alone and abandoned.

Your impartiality, God of all, transcends all our differences. We pray for your healing and reconciling love wherever alienation, hatred, war, and oppression threaten lives. Protect those who serve in the military, and also the people in the lands where they serve. Guide the political leaders of all nations toward harmony and toward shaping a world which especially cares for the most vulnerable. Bring justice wherever workers are paid poorly and their rights crushed. Free young girls and women, boys and men, who are exploited in human trafficking, right here in our own city and throughout the world. Bring peace and wholeness to those struggling with health issues. We need your healing in our broken world.

All this we lift up to you, O God, because we know that you care for us and your creation through Jesus Christ. Hear us now as pray together the prayer he taught, saying, Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Victoria G. Curtiss,
Associate Pastor for Mission, on Sunday, January 12, 2014

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Scripture Reading: Philippians 2:1–13
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

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

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (NRSV)

Prayer
Almighty God, your good news, which even death cannot contain, is everywhere to be found. You are not stingy with it; instead you are generous. Help us to see it not only in the likely places, but in the places that we are likely to overlook.

Sometimes, God, we occupy ourselves so much by looking at other people’s lives that we overlook your grace in our own. Our lives have been written into your book. Help us to trust in you, that you have plans for our welfare and not for harm. Give us a sense of purpose that is greater than our own and that rests securely in you.

So often, O God, we seek you only in places that are central in our city. Remind us that we can often find you on the margins of society. It is there that you work in the hearts of those who are humble. Bring us with you, God, to spend time with and serve those who have less privilege and less power. Let us be friends, teaching and learning from each other, encouraging and empowering one another.

We tend to seek you in clean, well-lit, orderly places, and yet we know that you are powerfully at work in the places that we would avoid. Wherever there is trouble, you are in the middle of it. At least that is our prayer. We pray, O God, that you are at every intersection of violence, making it safe for peoples to meet and live together. Move us to care enough to act for the good of all, not just those in our neighborhoods, but in every neighborhood of the city.

There is trouble, God, in so many parts of your world. We know that decisions we make here affect peoples elsewhere—in Syria and Iraq, in Palestine and Israel, in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Be with your world in all of its actions and inactions, and in all your wisdom, make every interaction work toward good.

Our hope lies in you, great God, upon whom all authority in heaven and earth has its beginning and end.

Now hear us as we boldly pray the prayer your Son taught: Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Joyce Shin,
Associate Pastor for Congregational Life, on Sunday, September 28, 2014

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:1–9
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (NRSV)

Prayer
Gracious God, thank you for this day, for this time, for this very moment. Thank you for this space, for the people sitting next to us, or behind us, or in front of us. Thank you for all the people over the years who have sat just where we are sitting now, for you were their God just as you are our God. You heard their prayers, just as you hear our prayers. You softened their hearts, just as you soften our hearts.

Again we come to you with the unpleasant task of praying for a world that is struggling, and despite all of our questions and our confusion and our doubt we pray, because we so want to believe that you hear us, that you know our worry, that you have your eye on the world, that you are Sovereign.

As the Ebola virus spreads across national boundaries and makes its way onto different continents, ratchet up our international efforts to bring aid, to stem this threat, to increase compassion. Remind us to pray for the health workers in the most devastated cities in Africa; remind us to pray for our own troops on their way; remind us to pray for all who are suffering. And through it all, remind us of our connectedness as human beings and the value of life and health.

We pray for refugees all over the world, but especially we pray for refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. We pray for people in towns under direct attack by ISIS. Somehow, O God, transform hearts full of hate and envy into hearts full of love and compassion. Somehow, O God, transform hearts, ours included, into hearts that beat for justice. As powerless as we feel, remind us that we can ratchet up our own ability to love and to show justice in the worlds in which we travel.

God, we have our own personal struggles, too. Some of us worry about our health. Others of us worry about our jobs or the ability to provide for a family. We have burdens of caring for aging parents or children who need special care. Some of us desire to have children and find that desire thwarted. Others of us have regrets, life decisions we have made that were harmful, or times in life that were taken for granted, or words exchanged that can’t be retrieved. So we need you, O God. We need to trust you to carry our burdens with us, and we need to know that despite our regrets, you always give us a way forward.

We pray for our church and its leaders, staff and lay leaders alike, that you would empower us with the vision you want for this particular church, that you would bind all of us together in Christian community, always with our eye toward those who are hurting, both inside and outside of our walls. Give us joy and grateful hearts that overflow with praise. And keep us humble, trusting in your leading.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for loving us, for living in this world for us, for showing us who God is, for reminding us that the Holy Spirit will always be with us. Hear us now as we pray again in one voice for the coming of your kingdom, saying together, Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Judith L. Watt,
Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care, on Sunday, October 12, 2014

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 7:1–15
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever and ever.

Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!”—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?

You know, I too am watching, says the Lord. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, says the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim. (NRSV)

Prayer
God of our ancestors,
God of the prophets:
How easily indeed are we deceived
into thinking that by simply coming to this place,
to this sanctuary set apart,
to hear beautiful music,
to listen to challenging sermons,
to offer you our prayers—
how easily we are deceived
into thinking that we have fulfilled your will.

Today you have reminded us
that what we do in this place
as we demonstrate our love for you
is only the beginning of our sacred work,
that you call us to leave this place
and be your presence in the world.

You call us, O God,
to seek justice in a world of profound inequality,
to remember the poor who are so easily forgotten,
to divest some of our own wealth to support the common good,
to champion those who are abandoned,
to provide shelter for the homeless,
to share food with the hungry,
to bind up the wounds of the afflicted,
to care for the sick and the dying,
to set prisoners free,
to stand up for the marginalized and the oppressed,
to make peace instead of war,
to cooperate instead of antagonize,
to ensure education and opportunity for all of your children;
simply put: to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When we do these things, O God,
we are reminded that you indeed dwell among us,
that you have always dwelled among us,
and that you always will.

Through the words of your prophets you challenge us, God,
yet we must admit that sometimes we don’t feel up to the task.
We, too, are hurting;
we, too, sometimes feel abandoned;
we, too, suffer illness and pain;
we, too, mourn and grieve.

So meet us here in this place, God,
in this modern-day temple,
this house of God,
to heal our wounds,
to make us whole,
to set us free,
to love us so that we may love ourselves as you have made us
and love each other as sisters and brothers.

Help us, loving God,
to not believe the lies the world tells us
or the lies we tell ourselves.
Open our ears instead to the truth you speak
here in this place
and in every place.

And hear us now, O God,
as we pray for the coming of your kingdom,
As Jesus taught us to pray:
Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by John W. Vest,
Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry,
on Sunday, October 13, 2013

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Scripture Reading: John 14:1–14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

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

Prayer
Almighty and gracious God, down through the ages, you have been our refuge and our strength—and to this day you remain a very present help in times of trouble. As witnesses to your steadfast love and faithfulness, as recipients of this inheritance of grace, keep us certain in the knowledge of your presence among us, for we confess that we are often overwhelmed by the world that we face. It is a world of rapid change, where it is difficult to find any certain foundation upon which to build our lives.

Though we live in an age where we feel called to celebrate our common humanity, we find that we are still divided, nation against nation, neighbor against neighbor—shut off from each other on account of differences in race and creed, gender and sexual orientation, class and culture.

In spite of all the ways that we have labored to find ways to master your creation and to secure ourselves by our power, we find that we have twisted the good world that you have given to our care.

We surround ourselves with the latest technologies and lose ourselves in online networks, all the while desperate for a kind word from a stranger or the loving touch of a close friend.

We obediently pursue our quotidian lives, not stopping to see how our economies exploit the world and make slaves of our sisters and brothers.

We seek blind comfort in our daily pleasures, even as our ways of living slowly make this green earth a desolation.

And we madly scramble to improve ourselves and to find practices of being inwardly attentive, all the while doing our best to ignore the urgent and painful need of the poor and neglected sitting on street corners just down the road, the wounded who suffer from violence in our cities, and the disappeared innocents who suffer the predations of paramilitaries or human traffickers in this country and abroad.

In the midst of all of this, O God of creation, make us open to change and unafraid of the future—though the waters around us should roar and foam, though the mountains should tremble in tumult. Give us the assurance that you are with us.

Even as you have established us as a bulwark against the world in the past, make of us now a great river whose streams might make glad this city of God. Help us in these days ahead to become ever more a faithful people, willing to set aside what we have been, willing to step forth from this place, so that we can be the people you call us to be: a community that gives life to this city; whose work proclaims to this city that, truly, God is in its midst and that God, and God’s people, shall not be moved.

Help us to show that, in us, God will continue to reach out to welcome and to serve this city and the world beyond.

Make us bold to proclaim a message of your justice and love to all who come near this place, and in the days ahead, make of us a mighty instrument of the peace that only your son Jesus, the Christ, can grant—a peace that will make all wars to cease, that will shatter all the weapons we use to hurt and kill, a great peace that demands us to be still and know that you are God.

We pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who assured us all that we have a dwelling place in you, who welcomed us home by your grace. And now we join our voices to say the prayer he taught: Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Hardy H. Kim,
Associate Pastor for Evangelism,
on Sunday, May 18, 2014

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Scripture Reading: Luke 11:1–4
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (NRSV)

Prayer
You bless us abundantly, gracious God, with the gifts of loved ones, of our health, of meaningful ways to serve others, and of opportunities to learn and grow. You surround us with both the beauty and bounty of creation to feed our spirits and our bodies. You amaze us with the wondrous fragility and resilience of nature. You have bestowed upon us the important responsibility of being good stewards of your creation.

Forgive us when we take for granted all the gifts of life, including your presence with us always. Forgive us for being short-sighted and opportunistic in the ways we relate to other species on earth, destroying their habitats and disregarding what is needed to address climate change. Move nations to work together for the preservation of life in its many forms.

We thank you for granting us the gift of forgiveness, for a fresh chapter in life, allowing us to let go of regrets, resentments, and the desire for fairness and to embrace ourselves and others with newness and a commitment to reconciliation. You know where in our lives we need to offer forgiveness to ourselves and to one another, and we ask you to help us let go of past wrongs, so that our wounds not eat us up.

We pray for all who live in discord with others: the youth of our city caught up in gang warfare; sects and ethnic groups competing with or dismissing one another; nations torn apart by war and unrest. Grant us your peace and restore our unity; lead us to seek your vision of harmony and justice among all people. We especially pray for the youth in our city. Protect them from violence, teach them the way of forgiveness to break the cycles of retaliation and revenge, and open opportunities for growth and work that allow young people to confidently embrace a more hopeful future.

We lift up to you all who are bowed down with grief, who are challenged by illness or recovery, who are constrained by depression or confusion. Grant your comfort, your healing, your light and joy. All this we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray: Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Victoria G. Curtiss,
Associate Pastor for Mission, on Sunday, July 28, 2013

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Scripture Reading: Luke 18:1–8
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ”  

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (NRSV)

Prayer
God of all miracles and God of all mysteries, how is it that you are the creator of the universe and also the creator of each one of us? How is it that you know the rhythms of the sun and the moon and the stars and also the rhythms of our lives, the joys and the sorrows, the challenges and the gifts, the places of pride and the places of shame? How do you know all of this? How do we believe that you know all of this?

O God, when we wonder about our worth, help us to trust. Help us to trust when we wonder about our significance or our ability or if we are loved. Help us to trust when the way before us is unclear or when we are afraid of the future. Help us to trust, dear God, and then to stand in awe that you are mindful of even us, that you, who created the world, created us too.

We come again to this day with collective worries and discouragements. We grieve over places far away. We worry about the human ability and endurance to care for refugees all over the world. We grieve over violence and bloodshed, both far away and close to home.

Sovereign God, those of us who have much struggle with priorities, know we rely on acquisition of things, talk about clutter and overeating, wonder what ticket to buy next, feel cheated when we can’t see some event or another. Give us wisdom about the resources we tend—our money, our time. Help us put our treasure into things of your kingdom. Help us know how to make sacrifices for the sake of others.

We pray for those who face serious illness. We give thanks for people who work in places of healing. We ask that you sustain those burdened with daily care of another. And we ask that you wrap your tender arms around those who grieve—who experience what seems like a long loneliness. Bind our community of faith more closely together, so that in even greater measure we would be Christ’s hands and heart to the world around us.

We thank you, for all of your blessings and for the gift of Jesus, who came to us to proclaim your love, love given not because of our ability or intelligence or wealth, but given instead out of sheer and passionate love, love even for us. We pray all of this in the name of Christ, saying together the prayer Jesus taught to those closest to him, Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Judith L. Watt,
Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care,on Sunday, October 20, 2013

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1–13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (NRSV)

Prayer
Almighty God, out of love and for love you have created us. You have endowed us with hearts that beat not just to live, but to live for one another. While we know that love is our highest calling, we confess that it is also our hardest.

It is harder to be loving than to move mountains, than to speak in the tongues of angels, than to give away all our possessions. And yet you call us to this task. You command it. You command us to forgive our enemies out of love; to welcome the stranger out of love; to care for the sick, visit the prisoner, and clothe the naked out of love. You call us to be peacemakers because of love.

And so we pray to you, God, for love. We know that our love for your world is small; make it big, for we want to learn to love those beyond our homes, beyond our neighborhoods, beyond our churches, beyond our borders. We want our love to make a difference for people whose hardships are heartbreaking. We pray for the displaced and injured, for the oppressed, for those who suffer. Let love make the difference.

In our own lives, too, we pray that your love make all the difference. We have trouble forgiving those closest to us, and sometimes we struggle to forgive ourselves. We hold onto resentments and feel helpless in our estrangements. Help us to trust that your love leaves nothing the same, that by your love all our relationships may be made whole. In our daily living, may we trust that love recreates all things.

Almighty God, until that day when your heaven and earth are a new creation, pour out your love upon us, that we might feel it, share it, and be empowered by it.

We pray this for the sake of your Son, who taught us also to pray, saying Our Father . . .

Offered as the Prayers of the People by Joyce Shin,
Associate Pastor for Congregational Life, on Sunday, November 10, 2013

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Sunday, November 23, 2014
Christ the King Sunday

O worship the King, all glorious above!
O gratefully sing God’s power and God’s love:
our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

O tell of God’s might; O sing of God’s grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space,
those chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form;
and bright is God’s path on the wings of the storm.

Robert Grant’s “O Worship the King, All Glorious Above!”
(tune: Lyons)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
You may recall the tragic earthquake that devastated Haiti in January of 2010. An estimated 3 million people were affected by the quake, and though we cannot know for sure, it is likely that more than 220,000 people died from it. Morgues were overwhelmed by dead bodies, and eleven days after the earthquake the government of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, officially called off the search for survivors.

I’ll never forget watching the news on television one evening two weeks later. Search efforts had begun to wane. Still, small groups of individuals sought to find their loved ones buried beneath the rubble. It was one of those desperate efforts that a news camera caught on tape, and it happened to be one of the last successful rescues. From beneath layers and layers of rubble, a woman was pulled out alive. The camera caught her thin, collapsed body being carried by a few good men, and as I beheld this most remarkable scene, I was even more astounded by what I heard. She was singing. With a parched, frail voice, the woman came out singing.

Because of the singing, I will never forget that moment. I knew neither the song nor the words she sang. I did not understand the language in which she sang, and yet I felt as though I knew exactly what she sang, because as she was singing, I too was praising God, the God who raised her out of the rubble.

I imagined her song telling of God’s power to save her, to shield and defend her, to bring her into the brightness. I do not know what she actually sang. It is simply because of my own faith that I imagined the song as one of sheer joy and amazement at God’s saving presence in her life.

Prayer
God, make your saving presence known to everyone who needs your protection. In the end, let everyone come out singing. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Monday, November 24, 2014

The earth with its store of wonders untold,
Almighty, your power has founded of old;
established it fast by a changeless decree,
and round it has cast, like a mantle, the sea.

Your bountiful care what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air; it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills; it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in you do we trust, nor find you to fail;
your mercies, how tender, how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.

Robert Grant’s “O Worship the King, All Glorious Above!”
(tune: Lyons)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
There are books written about how different personality types are nurtured in their spiritual journey. For example, some find yoga, creating or listening to music, journaling, or a break from everyday routine helpful. Others find it renewing to engage in chanting, guided imagination, painting, or reading the psalms, while still others are fed by intercessory prayer, dream-work, walking slowly, or praying conversationally. But all types (according to Enneagram theory) find balance and are renewed spiritually by being in nature. This hymn conveys why: the earth around us is full of wonder and bounty. Creation proclaims a generous God, who brings forth vibrant colors and amazing creatures simply for the joyful sake of birthing and sustaining life. If one pauses to behold the beauty and power of creation, one can breathe in and be in awe of how God surrounds us with abundant care and blessings.

I have often been struck by the interconnectedness of creation, both its fragility and its resilience. The physical body itself is both vulnerable and yet able to heal. This hymn speaks of our own fragility as human beings and asserts that we put our trust in God. Why? Because God’s mercies are both tender and firm. God is the one we can count on without fail, to the end! What reason to sing praise: God, the Creator who made us, also comes to our defense, frees us for fullness of life, and is our friend forever. “Your bountiful care, what tongue can recite?”

Prayer
Stop me this day, O God, for moments when I will pause and breathe in the wonder of your generous, abundant love, so that my heart sings your praise and overflows in gratitude and love for you. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Come, ye thankful people, come;
raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in,
ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker, doth provide
for our wants to be supplied.
Come to God’s own temple come;
raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field,
fruit in thankful praise to yield,
wheat and tares together sown,
unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade, and then the ear,
then the full corn shall appear.
Lord of harvest, grant that we
wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home;
from each field shall in that day
all offenses purge away;
give the angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast,
but the fruitful ears to store
in God’s garner evermore.

Henry Alford’s “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”
(tune: St. George’s Windsor)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
I consider one of the benefits of getting older to be an increased appreciation for things I long took for granted. For example, sometimes I’m absolutely awed by the produce of our earth—the beauty of a simple lemon and the multitude of ways a lemon can be used; the wisdom of hard outer coverings for certain fruits—like watermelon; the delicacy of some other fruits meant to be enjoyed right away. My list could go on and on.

The hymn by Henry Alford makes me yearn to have felt God’s provision firsthand on a farm—in the fields—during the harvest. I suspect that all of us would appreciate our food much more if we had been responsible for planting, growing, harvesting, canning, preserving. We would know firsthand the truth of the words “God our Maker doth provide.”

The second stanza of the hymn makes an analogy that I think is meant to help us understand God’s transformative power in our lives. The assurance is that our process of growth is slow but steady, like the process of the growth of a stalk of corn. First the blade and then the ear and then the full corn appears. Not overnight. Not in an Internet instant. But slowly and steadily our growth proceeds. The prayer at the end of the stanza is a prayer voiced to the Lord of the harvest. It is a prayer that we— like a stalk of corn, hoping to bear good grain—would become wholesome and pure grain through the process of growth and prayer, by experiencing both joys and sorrows, in the hard work of germination, pushing through the hard earth, and reaching up toward the light.

By God’s grace, I hope to remember that growth and transformation is a process—sure and steady. And by God’s mercy, perhaps the fruit we produce will be useful and lasting, wholesome and pure.

Prayer
Gracious and good Lord, help us to hear your invitation—“Come, ye thankful people, come!” Let us come before you, Lord of the harvest, entrusting our lives to your tender care, and making our hearts full of trust and praise. Amen. 

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

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Now thank we all our God
with hearts and hands and voices,
who wondrous things hath done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who, from our mothers’ arms,
hath blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in God’s grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
in this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God,
who reigns in highest heaven,
to Father and to Son
and Spirit now be given:
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore,
the God who was, and is,
and shall be evermore.

Martin Rinkhart’s “Now Thank We All Our God”
(tune: Nun Danket Alle Gott)
trans. Catherine Winkworth
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Although you’d never know it from the upbeat tune and the lyrics extolling God bounty, the history behind “Now Thank We All Our God” and its author, Martin Rinkhart, is actually quite challenging. Rinkhart was a pastor in Eilenberg, Germany—a city that became flooded with refugees during the Thirty Years’ War, which raged throughout central Europe, and a city that dealt with a terrible plague outbreak in the midst of that lengthy conflict. By 1637, every single clergy person in Eilenberg other than Rinkhart had died of the plague—which left him alone to preside over close to fifty funerals a day.

The number of funerals that Rinkhart performed that year (an estimated 4,000) is a jaw-dropping and troubling figure, but what is truly jaw-dropping is his unshakable faith in the midst of all of that tragedy. Although the exact date that he wrote “Now Thank We All Our God” is unknown, most scholars believe Rinkhart wrote the words to the hymn during the middle of the Thirty Years’ War, shortly before the plague outbreak demanded all of his clerical services. Later, when the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, Rinkhart’s hymn text was set to music and used as a thanksgiving celebration for the end of the war.

How could Rinkhart sing God’s praises so beautifully, even surrounded by disease, hunger, and death? The answer lies in his unshakable faith in the “bounteous God—the God who was, and is, and shall be forevermore.”

No matter what is going on in our lives, we always have a promise from God that God will be with us through it all—truly a reason for thanksgiving!

Prayer
God, even in the dark seasons of my life, help me to feel your presence and to know that you will be there to walk with me through it all. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Thursday, November 27, 2014
Thanksgiving Day

What shall I render to the Lord;
what shall my offering be,
for all the gracious benefits
God hath bestowed on me?

Salvation’s cup my soul shall take
while to the Lord I pray,
and with God’s people I will meet,
my thankful vows to pay.

Not lightly dost thou, Lord, permit
thy chosen saints to die;
from death thou hast delivered me;
thy servant, Lord, am I.

Within God’s house, the house of prayer,
my soul shall bless the Lord,
and praises to God’s holy name
let all the saints accord.

 “What Shall I Render to the Lord” (Psalm 116) (tune: Martyrdom)
from The New Metrical Version of the Psalms
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
The first stanza of today’s hymn section is a reworking of Psalm 116, verse 12: “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?”
The hymn’s author has replaced “make a return” with “render,” and I am grateful. I like to play with words, and “render” leaves room to play. My beat-up paperback dictionary from high school gives nine definitions for “render,” and without too much effort, I can get every one to work in the context of this hymn.

My favorite definition is the last, and perhaps the least likely. “Render” sometimes means “to melt down,” as in rendering fat.

When my life is “melted down,” what will I have to give back to God? To what will my life amount? What will God and the communion of saints that we have celebrated this November find as the essence of my life, the true flavor, the distillation of however many days I am granted?

Indeed, God has bestowed more “gracious benefits” than I can count. I can never repay God for my extraordinarily ordinary nurturing family, or the opportunity to do meaningful work, or a body that does (pretty much) what I want, or a safety net of loving and faithful friends, much less this gorgeous world, or the gift of faith, or all the rest.

All I can offer back is what I do with my life. I want it to boil down to some form of grateful witness. Each day is another chance to clarify this life a bit more, get another imperfection out, trim the extraneous and ragged edges.

Prayer
Gracious God, who gives from abundant and extravagant love, help me to acknowledge and thank you for my many blessings. When all melts away, may a truly grateful and humble heart be what is left. This I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator,
The Center for Life and Learning

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Friday, November 28, 2014

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
he chastens and hastens his will to make known;
the wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
so from the beginning the fight we were winning;
thou, Lord, wast at our side; all glory be thine!

We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,
and pray that thou still our defender wilt be,
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

Adrianus Valerius’s “We Gather Together” (tune: Kremser)
trans. Theodore Baker
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
I have always thought of this beloved hymn as a Thanksgiving hymn. That is probably because it is listed in our old blue hymnal in the “Thanksgiving” section and many congregations always sing it on the Sunday closest to that national holiday! I was surprised, therefore, when I opened our new hymnal and found it in the section labeled “The Life of the Nations.” I did not understand that categorization at all. But after researching the origins of this hymn, I have new clarity. Dr. Michael Hawn, Professor of Church Music at Perkins Seminary in Dallas, offers a detailed history of the hymn:

This hymn is a late sixteenth-century expression of celebration of freedom by the Netherlands from Spanish oppression. . . . The Dutch, long a stronghold for the Reformed theology of John Calvin, were in a struggle against Spain for their political independence and against the Catholic church for religious freedom. A twelve-year truce was established in 1609, giving young Prince Frederick Henry a chance to mature into an able politician and soldier.

During this time, the Dutch East India Company extended its trade beyond that of the English. The high period of Dutch art flourished with Hals, Vermeer, and Rembrandt. Under the guidance of Prince Frederick Henry’s leadership, Spain’s efforts to regain supremacy on land and sea were finally overcome in 1648. There was indeed much for which to be thankful. (www.bit.ly/11Cwc0U)

I had no idea that this was a “war” hymn! But once we know that history, the hymn reads differently. With that background, it is easy to slip into reading the hymn as a triumphalist cry of victory. And yet, even though that probably rings true to the original intent, the last stanza stands on its own. The last stanza truly is an eschatological verse. It speaks of freedom, but not from Spain. It speaks of freedom from pain and tribulation, from tears, perhaps from war. The poetry also lifts up God as our true Sovereign, echoing Psalm 143 that reminds us, “do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” By claiming God as Sovereign, they are reminding themselves and us under whose reign, in whose household, we truly live. And that is a verse I can sing with gusto at Thanksgiving time, as well as all year long. 

Prayer
Gracious Sovereign, we are truly thankful that you continue to call us together as part of your body in this world. We are thankful that we can help each other sense your guidance, your blessing, your order in our lives. Yet most of all, we are deeply grateful for the way that you continue to be our Home. For only when we are abiding in your household, your reign, are we truly able to be free. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Praise ye the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to his temple draw near;
join me in glad adoration!

Praise ye the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth,
shelters thee under his wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been
granted in what he ordaineth?

Praise ye the Lord! O let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before him!
Let the amen sound from his people again;
gladly for aye we adore him.

Joachim Neander’s “Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty”
(tune: Lobe den Herren)
trans. Catherine Winkworth
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
She was the most humble, ordinary, and yet, happy person I think I will ever know.

She lived most of her life on a small farm in Ohio with no bathroom in the house, just an outhouse about twenty feet away. The smell of that outhouse still lingers in my nostrils. There were five kids and many lambs, cows, and chickens, and dinner was often whichever chicken was the slowest to run away. I can still remember how to wring a chicken’s neck and pluck the feathers to make a tasty meal. Her life was hard but filled with blessings that she never took for granted.

My grandmother, Betty Sherer, lived the final years of her life in an assisted living facility that was wonderful, very different from the farm; she enjoyed the people, the games, and having someone else prepare the food.  She was always optimistic about every day and even in the end was looking forward to being with God.

Her bed was near a window, and out that window was a tree with a bird feeder. She had always enjoyed watching the birds play in the tree and eat from the feeder. As she waited to meet God, several family members had gathered around and were blessed to hear her final words. “Oh, look! The birds are having a party.”  Then she entered into life everlasting with complete hope and trust in God’s all embracing love. She experienced wonder and joy to her last moment and wanted to share that hope with those around her. 

“Praise ye the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth; shelters thee under his wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!” 

Prayer
Lord of all creation, help us to give thanks and praise to you in all things and at all times. Guide our words and actions so that they may always be a reflection of your love and tender care. Amen.

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

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Today’s Reading | Isaiah 40:1–11

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep. (NRSV)

Reflection

“Here in time we celebrate the eternal birth that God the Father bore and still bears constantly in eternity, and which is also now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says that this birth is happening continually. We should ask ourselves: If it doesn’t happen in me, what good is that birth after all? What ultimately matters is that God’s birth should happen in me.”
—Meister Eckhart

In an important sermon about Advent (the season of preparing for Christ’s coming into the world that we now start to celebrate), Christian mystic Meister Eckhart challenges all his listeners to consider our own connection to the birth of Jesus in the world. He is trying to get all Christians to see that the story we tell at Advent and into Christmas means nothing if it doesn’t actually change our own lives.

As we hear the words of Isaiah 40:1–11, it is important to realize that what we are given is not a simple message or speech; it is a dialogue. We hear the voices of the prophet (who calls the people to hear good news) and of God (who assures the people that their troubles are over). We also hear a voice crying out that we should prepare for God’s coming into our lives, and another voice reminding us of our fragility and of the dependability of God’s word.

Consider this about dialogues: if you’re not actively engaged in listening, in seeking to understand, and then finally in speaking yourself, you’re not part of the dialogue. You’re just an observer. The dialogue that introduces Isaiah’s message of hope and liberation to the world invites all his hearers to participate. By it we are invited to tell those around us to listen up for good news, to encourage them to prepare a way for God to enter their worlds, and even to remind them that the heavy concerns that weigh down their lives are nothing compared to the word of hope by which God will gather them in.

Will we answer Isaiah’s invitation? As we celebrate Advent and Christmas, how might our actions and our attitudes reflect the voices of the dialogue to those around us?

Prayer
God who is coming to free all the world from bondage, grant me the ears to truly hear your Advent story anew, the imagination to see my place in it, and the courage to let that story live and speak through me. And make me part of a church that offers a true message of real hope to the world. In the name of the One who is always coming to us to save, I pray. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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