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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)


October 1–4 | October 5–11 | October 12–18
October 19–25
| October 26–31

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

From all that dwell below the skies
let the Creator’s praise arise:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Let the Redeemer’s name be sung
throughout every land, in every tongue.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

In every land begin the song;
to every land the strains belong:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
In cheerful sound all voices raise
and fill the world with joyful praise.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Eternal are thy mercies, Lord;
eternal truth attends thy word:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thy praise shall sound from shore to shore,
till suns shall rise and set no more.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Isaac Watts’s “From All That Dwell Below the Skies”
(tune: Lasst Uns Erfreuen)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
When we celebrate the sacraments of baptism and communion, we affirm that we are part of the universal church. This is not the table of the Presbyterian Church we refer to during communion. This is Christ’s table and it is he who invites you here. In this hymn, Issac Watts reminds us of our part in the larger catholic, or universal, church to which we Presbyterians have always affirmed our strong connection. “Let the Redeemer’s name be sung throughout every land, in every tongue. . . . In every land begin the song; to every land the strains belong. . . . Thy praise shall sound from shore to shore till suns shall rise and set no more.” For this reason I love going to church when I am on vacation. Many people think that is strange. “But you don’t know anybody there," they say, "and you are not a part of that church?” But I find I actually am a part of them. At times I am in places that don’t have a PCUSA church, so I have attended a wide variety of other churches. These churches are always a place of welcome, a reminder that wherever I am the body of Christ is also, that there is a larger family of faith that we are each a part and to whom we can always turn. We have family members from shore to shore because of the eternal truth of God’s mercy through Jesus Christ. This is indeed a cause to sing Alleluia!

Prayer
Loving God, we are each a thread within the tapestry of your universal church. Help us to ponder the great beauty of this gift. Thank you for calling to each of us. Help us to lead our lives in service to you and not ourselves. Help us to understand our deep connection to others and focus on what unites us rather than our differences. “In every land begin the song; to every land the strains belong.” Alleluia. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of Lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood,
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” from Liturgy of St. James
(tune: Picardy)
trans. Gerard Moultrie
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Have you ever had a moment of feeling God’s presence so profoundly that you were struck silent?

When I was eighteen, I went on a mission trip to Brazil with a group from my church and a group of young Brazilian missionaries. For a week we lived on a boat and sailed up and down the Amazon River, bringing medical care, Bible school, and other support to villages we passed. Every morning as we traveled to the next village, we would all gather on the deck and worship together for several hours.

I remember one morning in particular, with the river and the rainforest surrounding us, as we laughed and prayed and sang songs to God in both English and Portuguese—I had a moment of absolute, overwhelming awareness that God was present. It was powerful, and for just a moment I could do nothing but sit there and feel it.

These moments don’t happen all the time—often we are rushing around just catching snatches and glimpses of God whenever we can. But when we do stumble upon these moments, they are often astounding in their simplicity.

While all the intense power language in these verses can be a bit disconcerting, they are really about how amazing it is that Christ comes to us in a way that is humble rather than steeped in power and might. The phrase “fear and trembling” refers to Paul’s letter to the Romans, when he ponders the overwhelming truth that Christ became human to reach us and be present with us.

God meets us not in power and perfection but in our humble humanity—and this is indeed a striking truth. In the moments when we become particularly aware of this profound truth of God’s love, we must take a moment of silence to rejoice in it.

Prayer
Loving God, you are always with us and you come to us not through might and force but through your pure and gentle love made known to us in Jesus Christ. Help us to know this truth and to take time to rejoice in it with awe and silent wonder. Amen.

Written by Layton Williams, Pastoral Resident

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the shadows clear away.

At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
“Alleluia, alleluia,
alleluia, Lord most high!”

“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” from Liturgy of St. James
(tune: Picardy)
trans. Gerard Moultrie
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
There are a lot of monsters in the lore of the Judeo-Christian world. “The six-winged seraph, cherubim with sleepless eye.” “Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way.” Creepy—like an invading army of dragonflies. Like most monsters, they are manifestations of qualities that we struggle to understand—in this case, the speed and power of God and God’s constant awareness.

These days, we have different ways of understanding the size, scope, and power of God. On February 14, 1990, at a distance of nearly 4 billion miles, the Voyager spacecraft turned and took one final snapshot of Earth, before the craft’s cameras were shut down. The result was the famous photo “Pale Blue Dot” showing an infinitesimally small Earth against the immense blackness of space. A universe of this size was inconceivable to biblical writers. Instead, they created monsters. We can look at the size of the universe and behold the power and majesty of God and see ourselves on that small speck, in the words of Carl Sagan, that “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Sagan had this to say about the impact of this photo:

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

Here is God’s truth from the mouth of a self-proclaimed agnostic. Deal more kindly with one another. In this large cosmos, on this small mote of dust, the greatest imperative is love, and kindness, and compassion.

Prayer
Lord, you are too great for our comprehension. Your love for the dust on this cosmic speck is beyond comprehension. Help us to practice love for each other, knowing that we share an impossibly small vessel in the universe. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Kum ba yah, my Lord, kum ba yah!
Kum ba yah, my Lord, kum ba yah!
Kum ba yah, my Lord, kum ba yah!
O Lord, kum ba yah!

Someone’s crying, Lord, kum ba yah!
Someone’s crying, Lord, kum ba yah!
Someone’s crying, Lord, kum ba yah!
O Lord, kum ba yah!

Someone’s singing, Lord, kum ba yah!
Someone’s singing, Lord, kum ba yah!
Someone’s singing, Lord, kum ba yah!
O Lord, kum ba yah!

Someone’s praying, Lord, kum ba yah!
Someone’s praying, Lord, kum ba yah!
Someone’s praying, Lord, kum ba yah!
O Lord, kum ba yah!

“Kum ba Yah,” African American spiritual (tune: Kum ba Yah)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
We often consider this well-known spiritual song a hokey, complacent tune, but its origins stem from a unified cry for God’s intervention during some of the most horrific human experiences in our nation’s history. Contrary to common interpretation, it's not a campfire song reserved for idealists. It’s not something that should be dismissed. It's a vibrant prayer that God remain close to those oppressed and browbeaten.

I’ve participated in my fair share of protests, and each gathering echoed a handful of clever chants to make our message heard. Whether the words came from those truly experiencing the struggle or advocates like me, they were delivered with fervor and faith that something was unjust—someone needed to speak up.

Kum ba yah is a true call to action, but one that transcends the power and ability of human force. It gives hope to those crying out for God’s intercession to “Come by Here” in the name of justice and peace. It also nags at the oppressors who consider their power warranted and unbreakable.

The peace anthem is, in fact, idealistic. Its choir hopes and believes that a better world is possible, with God’s help. With the constant suffering we witness and hear about, we must remember that God calls us to create a better world. We are called to create heaven among us, but we cannot do that without God’s support and grace.

Prayer
God of peace and justice, be with us during our times of triumph and our times of distress. Our hearts long for your presence when the world isolates us and denies our humanity. Let us rest our trust in your power to heal and restore this broken world. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens, Program Development Manager,
Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

This is my Father’s world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world;
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas,
his hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world.
O, let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world.
The battle is not done:
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
and earth and heaven be one.

Maltbie D. Babcock’s “This Is My Father’s World” (tune: Terra Beata)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Often while singing a hymn text we encounter words or phrases that we would not use in our everyday language. I relish each of these moments because they are reminders that a hymn has stood the test of time and has been sung by countless generations. These texts have nurtured so many people and continue to inspire even today.

The text for the hymn “This Is My Father’s World” was written in 1901 by the pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City. Sadly, he died soon after writing these words. This beautiful text contains several words and phrases that pull the ear back into the nineteenth century--phrases like “I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought.”

Not only does it connect us to a past age, it makes us think a bit more about its meaning as it stands apart from everyday language. Today we might just say, “Wow, God is totally awesome.” But to use the text from 1901 makes us slow down and think about what we are singing. Somehow the words of a century ago--or in many cases many centuries ago--make the text stand apart from our everyday language and that can be a good thing. Even Jesus said, “Be in the world, but not of the world.”

I am thankful that many of the great older hymns of the faith are included in our new hymnal, hymns that have spiritually fed generations and will continue to do so for many more, hymns that make us pause and contemplate their beauty and meaning.

Prayer
Lord, thank you for poets and composers who have given us hymns so we may nurture our faith and sing always to your praise and glory. Amen.

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

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Monday, October 6, 2014

All people that on earth do dwell,
sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell.
Come ye before him and rejoice.

Know that the Lord is God indeed;
without our aid he did us make;
we are his folk; he doth us feed,
and for his sheep he doth us take.

William Kethe’s “All People That on Earth Do Dwell”
(tune: Old Hundredth)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
For many years I had the privilege of teaching in a private school where I could regularly take my students to chapel—for worship, reflection, or a lesson from the art and architecture. Inevitably something would happen that led the kids to laugh. And they would look at me (especially early in the school year when we were just getting to know each other) with faces that said, “So how much trouble are we in now?” One of the lessons I most loved teaching them was that not only is it OK to laugh in church, but that unless the laughter is disrespectful or mean, it is right to laugh in sacred spaces!

Where does this come from, this widely held feeling that we can be only solemn and serious the minute we step into a place with stained-glass windows or pews? Certainly the vast majority of us were “shhh-ed” in church as children because we were fooling around, and that was one of the ways we learned about reverence and appropriateness. But why does that lesson stick so hard and universally when other childhood disciplines fall away?

This hymn counters that feeling. We sing about mirth, a word that rings with rich connotations of laughter and joy and fun. And we are counseled that mirth should accompany our service of God. Of course it should as part of who we are as whole human beings. Full-throated laughter praises God. Surely that belongs in church—and wherever else we find ourselves during the day.

Prayer
O God, you whose servant Sarah laughed in response to the message of an angel, help us to lighten up. Tickle us into remembering that holy laughter refreshes, strengthens, and shapes us—and praises you. We ask this in the name of Jesus our brother. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

O enter then his gates with praise;
approach with joy his courts unto;
praise, laud, and bless his name always,
for it is seemly so to do.

For why? The Lord our God is good;
his mercy is forever sure;
his truth at all times firmly stood,
and shall from age to age endure.

William Kethe’s “All People That on Earth Do Dwell”
(tune: Old Hundredth)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
When I was young, I remember reading the words “The Order of Worship” in the bulletin. Later, after seeing the “Book of Order” on our bookshelf, I began resenting the Presbyterian ways, thinking, “Man, they sure do like to boss you around!” It wasn’t until I pondered the words of William Kethe in this hymn that I began to finally consider the concept of order. Many psalms instruct us to begin our worship with praise. Every worship service at Fourth Presbyterian Church begins with praise. This is no accident. We do this because the Bible tells us to.

Stanza three of this hymn tells us to praise God first. Left to my own devices, I would praise God, but not first. My psalm of worry would go something like this. “Great is the panic and fear! Greatly to be avoided! Enter, ye with cries of doubt! If situations resolve to your satisfaction, praise God! Praise him timidly if you remember to praise him at all!” This cannot and does not work.

If stanza three tells us to praise God first, verse four tells us why. The Lord our God is good. His mercy is forever sure. We need to proclaim this, if only to remind ourselves. If we really get that and live in that, we will not dwell in the panic and fear. Sometimes at night, when all I can do is spin in worry, I make a deal with myself. I bring the concern to God in prayer, but only after listing ten blessings of the day. Almost every time, in the midst of listing the things for which I am grateful, I become secure and anchored in the love and power of God.

Prayer
Dear God, when I praise you, I remember that your truth stands firm, and all things fall into perspective. In gratitude I pray. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord.
She is his new creation
by water and the word.
From heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride.
With his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

Samuel John Stone’s “The Church’s One Foundation” (tune: Aurelia)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
“Here is the church, here is the steeple . . .
. . . open the doors and see all the people!”

As a young boy, I used to recite this rhyme (accompanied by hand motions) almost every week in Sunday school. I especially liked how I made the steeple with my index fingers pressed together, only to turn my intertwined hands over to wiggle my fingers to represent all the people of the church.

As an adult, I now frequently talk about “church” as an actual physical building, a structure with a solid cement foundation, made of bricks and mortar. “I’ll see you at church,” I say to a friend during a weekday encounter, or, “Tuck in your shirt; we’re in church now,” I commanded my four sons just prior to entering the Sanctuary on a recent Sunday morning.

This Samuel John Stone hymn about the church being “one foundation” with its construction imagery prompts me to remember the wisdom of the simple children’s rhyme: We—the universe of all believers; not a building—are the church.

Jesus died for us so that we could live and form a living church. We only become a church when we share meals with those who are poor and marginalized, help those who are sick, when we listen, repent, confess, forgive, are forgiven, when we sing, embrace others, love those different than us, when we witness and love in the world.

In short, each of us makes us a church, God’s one church.

Prayer
Dear God, please help us understand that whenever and wherever we gather together, and whenever and wherever we do your work, we are your church. Amen.

Written by Phil Calian, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Elect from every nation,
yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation:
one Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.

Samuel John Stone’s “The Church’s One Foundation” (tune: Aurelia)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
My memories of this great hymn go back to childhood; it is so familiar to me that I am able to sing a good part of it from memory—even beyond the first verse. It is robust and powerful in its reiteration that we may seek the church wherever we may be and of the Christian belief and reminder of the unity of Christians, no matter where they may be.

As a preacher’s kid and throughout my adult life, I’ve spent a lot of time in church—in fact, in many churches: small city churches, large city churches, small town churches, rural churches, African American churches, high church, low church, Catholic churches, Baptist churches, UCC churches, Methodist churches, and others. As a Commissioner to Presbytery, a Presbytery staffer, seminary staffer, church camper, and conference attendee, I’ve experienced church in noncongregational settings, too. This stanza of the hymn reminds me that the church transcends all these settings and denominations—notice how frequently the word one appears.

Christians come from different places, worship in different ways, and yet we are one in Christ who, through his life and teachings, is the foundation of what we believe and do. Once, when a move to a new city was imminent, I was expressing some anxiety about getting to know the new city and new people. A dear friend said something like this: “Well, find your church—when you walk in the door, you know what it is about, you will know what to do, and you will feel at home.” And so it was.

Prayer
Good and gracious God, help us to always remember that we, as members of a particular church, are part of the Church Universal, holding your Son Jesus as the foundation of our faith and seeking to follow him in every way. Remind us to seek the church wherever we may be, that we may live out our call to be one with Christians everywhere. Amen.

Written by Martha Brown, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Though with a scornful wonder
this world sees her oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up: “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

Samuel John Stone’s “The Church’s One Foundation” (tune: Aurelia)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
I can’t stop myself from singing this hymn. It’s been in my head for days now as we cycle through all the stanzas. What I love most about it is the memory it instills: how the church sings this tune with such gusto because we’ve all been singing it our entire lives. Perhaps while the Fourth Church organ is out for restoration, we could sing this a cappella. I know we would rock the sanctuary.

This particular verse is unfortunately very apropos for the place in which we find ourselves today. It was written over a hundred years ago about a situation in the church in South Africa, but it could have been written about all the strife in the world around us today. There are days where I can’t bring myself to open my computer for fear of hearing about one more perilous situation somewhere.

Just when things seem so bleak, the sunrise catches my breath, or some random act of kindness assures me that all is not lost. Each of us has a small part to play. Edward Everett Hale, a nineteenth-century Unitarian minister, wrote:

I am only one but still I am one.
I cannot do everything but
I can do something and because
I cannot do everything, I will not
refuse to do the something I can do.

Think of one thing you can do today to brighten our world. And then repeat it tomorrow.

Prayer
God of all things, don’t give up. Shine your light on us today and forevermore. May it always be so. Amen.

Written by Lesley Conzelman, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore:
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

Samuel John Stone’s “The Church’s One Foundation” (tune: Aurelia)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
“The Church’s One Foundation”—what a strong and martial hymn. What an uplifting and hopeful hymn. What a familiar and easy-to-sing hymn. And yet, read the words alone as a poem. Read the words alone as a profession of faith. I learned while “Googling” this hymn that it was written as part of a series to illustrate and enrich understanding of the Twelve Articles of the Apostle’s Creed. This hymn in the series is meant to reflect on the “holy catholic church and the communion of saints."

This is the fourth stanza of the hymn and it speaks to us of toil, tumult, tribulation, and war; peace, glory, victory, and rest. For each of those words, a picture: toil—a farm worked bent over in the sun; tumult—a protest rally with bullhorns and chants; tribulation—the all-too-common homeless person with a cup and a cardboard sign; war—bombs, bodies, blood in the dark of night.

But in this hymn, amongst all these terrible things, the church “waits.” Waits? We can’t wait. We can’t sit by. We need to act. We need to create the other pictures, the ones for peace and glory and victory and rest. Create them now with me. Turn the farm worker in the field into a family day on the beach. Turn the protest rally into Grant Park on November 4, 2008. Turn the homeless person into someone who helps others as a crossing guard near an elementary school. Turn war into Love.

A few weeks ago, Shannon asked us who we think Jesus is. For me, Jesus is Love. And if Jesus is Love, his church is Love, and we should strive to be Love and act Love. Create Love everywhere for everyone. Then we (and the church) will have earned our rest.

Prayer
Dear Jesus, help me to bring Love forth in the world in every way and with everyone I meet today. Bless us and our church as we work to earn our rest in you. Amen.

Written by Jean Marie Koon, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Yet she on earth has union
with God, the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,
like them, the meek and lowly,
may live eternally!

Samuel John Stone’s “The Church’s One Foundation” (tune: Aurelia)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
I have yet to meet one side of my family. They live in North Korea. As so often happens in war, people get displaced and families get separated. Having been displaced in the Korean War over sixty years ago, my father was the only one in his family who did not remain in North Korea. Man-made borders and geo-political realities have kept them separated ever since.

When the church sings about its “earthly union with God, the Three in One, and about the “mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won,” I pray for the day when my father will be reunited with his family. Though it may never take place in his lifetime here on earth, I am comforted by the knowledge that it will take place someday. Someday, he will see his parents, face to face, who lived without knowing if their son had survived the war. Someday, he will be with his sister and brother, no longer separated by an artificial threshold.

This is the hope with which I sing. It is a hope not only for my father and his family, but for all who long for the reunion that only God makes possible.

Prayer
God of our lives, though we cannot always see those whom we love face-to-face, we hold onto the hope that there will be a time when you will reunite us with them. Until then, help us to trust in you, the Three in One, and in the eternal communion that you make possible. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Monday, October 13, 2014

I’m gonna eat at the welcome table;
I’m gonna eat at the welcome table, Alleluia.
I’m gonna eat at the welcome table;
I’m gonna eat at the welcome table, Alleluia.

I’m gonna eat and drink with my Jesus;
I’m gonna eat and drink with my Jesus, Alleluia. 
I’m gonna eat and drink with my Jesus;
I’m gonna eat and drink with my Jesus, Alleluia. 

I’m gonna join with sisters, brothers;
I’m gonna join with sisters, brothers, Alleluia.
I’m gonna join with sisters, brothers;
I’m gonna join with sisters, brothers, Alleluia.

Here all the world will find a welcome;
here all the world will find a welcome; Alleluia.
Here all the world will find a welcome;
here all the world will find a welcome; Alleluia.

We’re gonna feast on milk and honey;
we’re gonna feat on milk and honey, Alleluia.
We’re gonna feast on milk and honey;
we’re gonna feat on milk and honey, Alleluia.

“I’m Gonna Eat at the Welcome Table” (tune: Welcome Table)
African American spiritual
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
In the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we not only remember what Christ did with his disciples, but enact a here-and-now expression of God’s reign on earth. At the Lord’s Table, all people—illiterate and educated, well-fed and hungry, new to faith and seasoned, guilty and innocent, citizens and undocumented, young and old, comfortable and war-torn, gay and straight, and people of all colors—all people are welcome. We honor the self-giving love of Jesus, who scandalously invited everyone to his table, whoever showed up, including the “wrong” kind of people.

There are no “wrong” people at the Lord’s Table. The Lord’s Supper is a corporate, inclusive act of sharing. Our oneness with others as brothers and sisters in Christ shows a glimpse of God’s kingdom on earth.

When I was on retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemane, Father Damien greeted a group of us by saying, “The kingdom of God is real. It is right here, now. Within you and me. Make it come alive this week. Be conscious of everyone in the group. Experience the kingdom of God by giving space to one another.” And later in the week he taught, “We take the piece of bread and say, ‘This is the body of Christ.’ We drink from the cup and say, ‘This is the blood of Christ.’ And then we come to know that this”—pointing to us as a group—is also the bread and the cup. God says, ‘You are the vessel in which I bring my Son alive.’”

Prayer
O God of all creation and peoples, open my heart to embrace everyone as my brother and sister. Erase any walls I erect against others. May my life, like your table, be a place of welcome for all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

O God, in a mysterious way
great wonders you perform.
You plant your footsteps in the sea
and ride upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never-failing skill,
you treasure up your bright designs
and work your sovereign will.

O fearful saints, fresh courage take.
The clouds you so much dread
are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

Our unbelief is sure to err
and scan your work in vain.
You are your own interpreter,
and you will make it plain.

William Cowper’s “O God, in a Mysterious Way”
(tune: Dundee)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
To really appreciate the beauty of this hymn and the depth of Cowper’s words, you need to understand William Cowper. William, raised by his father after his mother died at a young age, struggled with severe depression throughout his entire life and even attempted suicide on several occasions. It was while he was staying at St. Albans Asylum in the late 1700s that he came to know Christ after coming across a Bible on a park bench.

This hymn really expresses an everlasting trust in Christ. The pain that Cowper endured during those times of deep despair and the faith that came out of it is truly remarkable.

“The clouds you so much dread are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.” I love this verse; how beautiful! Yes, we all have dark clouds, but the shower of blessings that can come are worth the pain because God’s “sovereign will” is for us all.

Prayer
Lord, this walk of faith can be very difficult at times, especially when I feel there is no relief to my struggles. Please help me to always remember your grace and that you orchestrate every piece of my life and day for your good. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rejoice, ye pure in heart!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing!
Your festal banner wave on high,
the cross of Christ your King.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing!

With voice as full and strong
as ocean’s surging praise,
send forth the sturdy hymns of old,
the psalms of ancient days.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing!

Edward Hayes Plumptre’s “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart!” (tune: Marion)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Today’s hymn was written in 1865, so if it sounds a bit old fashioned to your ears, that is why. It was written by Edward Plumptre, an Anglican priest and scholar of whom it was said, “His pen was never idle.” It calls us to rejoice, a word we rarely hear outside of church today. The hymn has a call and response structure; women of the choir would sing one rejoice and the men would answer back with another. “Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice, give thanks, and sing!”

So as we read these words almost 150 years later, what do you rejoice and give thanks for today? Like me, you may be filled with news reports of Ebola, enterovirus, and Isis and not be feeling very joyful. But the world of 1865 was filled with just as much strife, or more. In England there was the Duar war with Bhutan, an uprising against British rule in Jamaica, and the Staplehurst rail crash in Kent. In the U.S., the civil war ended and President Lincoln was shot.

So whatever year we are in, there will be strife; but in the midst of that strife, the love of God is present. God is here, today, right now at this very minute, and “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” The cross of Christ has already won the final battle, and so although daily battles will continue, we know how the story ends. “Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice, give thanks, and sing!"

Prayer
Everlasting God, help us to always remember that good will ultimately triumph over evil. That you are the Alpha and the Omega, and your light shines in every dark place. Each day help us to rejoice and give thanks for the power of your love. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Yes, on through life’s long path,
still chanting as ye go,
from youth to age, by night and day,
in gladness and in woe:

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing!

At last the march shall end;
the wearied ones shall rest;
the pilgrims find their home at last,
Jerusalem the blest.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing!

Then on, ye pure in heart!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing!
Your festal banner wave on high,
the cross of Christ your King.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing!

Edward Hayes Plumptre’s “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart!” (tune: Marion)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection

The people of God respond with words and deeds of praise and thanksgiving in acts of prayer, proclamation, remembrance, and offering. In the name of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian community worships and serves God, in shared experiences of life, in personal discipleship, in mutual ministry, and in common ministry in the world.

PC(USA) Book of Order, Directory for Worship 1.1005b

Hymnals have been powerful resources of faith for Christian communities in the past—and this is no less true of our new hymnal, Glory to God. Yet, as with any other tool, it might take us some time to get used to our new hymnal, to understand exactly how it works, and to unlock all that it has to offer us.

This hymnal is set up in such a way that helps us keep an eye toward the big picture of worship. As described in the quote from our constitution above, Presbyterians understand worship as an act that stands as a linchpin between our grateful acceptance of the wonderful things God has done for us and our inspired and faithful response to God’s action in the living of our lives out in the world. If you look at the table of contents for Glory to God, you’ll see that the hymns are organized into the three sections, “God’s Mighty Acts,” “The Church at Worship,” and “Our Response to God.”

“Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart!” is a wonderful hymn that encapsulates this sense of worship. The middle stanzas help us to sing out in praise of our creator with the rest of creation, to see our worship as a part of our life’s journey in service to God, and to look forward to the rest that is to be enjoyed by the saints who have received God’s grace. This portrait of our faith journey is framed by stanzas that call us all to rejoice in God and in Jesus Christ our leader. And all of this is enlivened by a refrain in which the different parts of the congregation call forth to each other to “Rejoice!”

If we can hear this hymn’s call to rejoice!, if we can open ourselves to all the expressions of thanksgiving, dedication, praise, and supplication that are to be found in our new hymnal, I believe we will be renewed in our worship and be made even more aware of how all of our life is to be made a response to God’s gracious action in the world.

Prayer
Gracious God, whose mighty acts call us forth from our individual spheres to gather together as a grateful people in worship—convict us with the word that is proclaimed in our midst, shape our hearts by the prayers that pass our lips, and inspire our imaginations by the songs that we sing, so that we might truly rejoice in our relationship with you. May the thanksgiving of our hymns be reflected in the service we live out as we look forward to the end of our march and our well earned rest with you. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.
Yes, every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.

Upon the mountain, when my Lord spoke,
out of God’s mouth came fire and smoke.
Looked all around me, it looked so fine,
till I asked my Lord if all was mine.

Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.
Yes, every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.

Jordan River, chilly and cold,
it chills the body but not the soul.
There is but one train upon this track.
It runs to heaven and then right back.

Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.
Yes, every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.

“Every Time I Feel the Spirit” (tune: Pentecost)
African American spiritual
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
I have to confess that it feels odd when we sing old African American spirituals in our big mostly white city church. It’s not that it sounds odd—the Morning Choir could sing a pizza delivery menu and make it sound amazing—but it feels odd. There is always this little voice that whispers “inauthentic” in my ear, whispers that these are songs born of suffering we cannot imagine, that they come from depths of experience that are utterly foreign to us, that we are appropriating something we haven’t earned.

On a compared-to-what basis, we don’t suffer much these days, compared to the circumstances that gave birth to songs like this. Suffering is something we actually try to avoid, something we step away from rather than step through. When we sing these songs born in an inescapable suffering, aren’t we taking them out of context?

Maybe. Maybe we are. But maybe there is a message to us, in our comfortable times, from these people who endured so much. The songs aren’t ornate. When you’re under duress, real duress, you don’t have the luxury of ornamentation. You boil things down to what is simple and necessary. These songs are simple, and what they say is simple. Trust. Believe. Pray.

The challenges we have in our twenty-first century world are very different from the ones that gave birth to this song. Dehumanizing brutality is not generally a part of modern American life in the way it was in the antebellum South. It does not mean, however, that the pain we see in the world is trivial, or that our own struggles are meaningless. It can be really difficult to go on at times, even in this age of relative ease for many of us. Life can be awful, even in the best of circumstances. And when we find ourselves in these circumstances, there’s comfort in the wisdom of these songs. Trust, believe, and pray.

Prayer
Lord, help us to feel the Spirit moving in our heart, and remember the wisdom of simplicity—to trust, to believe, and to pray. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Savior, like a shepherd lead us;
much we need your tender care.
In your pleasant pastures feed us;
for our use your fold prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
you have bought us: we are yours.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
you have bought us: we are yours.

We are yours: in love befriend us;
be the guardian of our way.
Keep your flock: from sin defend us;
seek us when we go astray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
hear your children when we pray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
hear your children when we pray.

“Savior, like a Shepherd Lead Us” (tune: Bradbury)
from Thrupp’s Hymns for the Young
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
The alarm on my phone sounds exactly like that ear-piercing alert that interrupts all the city radio stations simultaneously just before a severe storm—probably not the most peaceful way to wake up each morning! But that’s what it takes to rouse me after one of my restless nights. My best hours of sleep come in the early morning hours, when my racing thoughts and worries finally run out of steam. And then what do I do? I wrench myself out of that sleepy peace with a couple (hundred) cups of Starbucks coffee in order to jack myself up to keep pace with the day. And so it begins again. My mother expresses this cycle perfectly when she proclaims, “I want off this speeding train!”

I’m always searching for ways to quiet my heart and mind, as I know so many others do. And I’m always amazed at how quickly my good intentions, daily stressors, fears, and worries can crowd out any space I have made for God, although I know in the deepest part of my soul that the only real comfort and peace I have ever truly felt has been rooted in some way to God’s love. So why is this “brain-space” that is most important to me and should belong to God the first to go out the window when things get tough?

Every day we all are bombarded with events, expectations, and responsibilities that demand that we “manage it, own it, overcome it, balance it, fix it, ignore it, or control it”—the list goes on and on!

I often forget that I am one of God’s children, whom he protects as a shepherd takes care of his sheep.

I love the words to “Savior, like a Shepherd Lead Us” because it brings me back to the comfort of knowing I’m not in this alone, nor am I expected to handle everything by myself. And the repetition of the words combined with the calming imagery of the flock, quiet pastures, and gentle Shepherd never fails to deliver a rush of security amidst the chaos of my days. I can’t think of better words to sooth my frazzled nerves. They remind me of God’s gentle love, friendship, and guidance—the perfect elixir for my troubled thoughts—if I will only make room for God’s goodness.

Prayer
God, I am so thankful to be one of your sheep. Help me to remember to look to you, my Shepherd, and your love and guidance in my life journey. Amen.

Written by Patty Donmoyer, Receptionist

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

You have promised to receive us,
poor and sinful though we be;
you have mercy to relieve us,
grace to cleanse, and power to free.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
early let us turn to you.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
early let us turn to you.

Early let us seek your favor;
early let us do your will.
Blessed Lord and only Savior,
with your love our spirits fill.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
you have loved us; love us still.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
you have loved us; love us still.

“Savior, like a Shepherd Lead Us” (tune: Bradbury)
from Thrupp’s Hymns for the Young
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
When I was in seminary, I developed a close group of friends unlike anything I had ever experienced before. We varied widely in age, life circumstance, background, and even—to some extent—in ideology. We had in common our time at seminary and our love for the life of faith, but otherwise we were pretty different. Despite these differences, we grew very close over the several years that we shared daily community together. I found myself, really for the first time in my life, trusting my friends enough to let them fully see me. Over time, they saw me at my best and my worst. They knew my prides and my embarrassments. They knew when to call me out and when to comfort me. And I knew them in those ways as well. I could trust these friends to know me deeply in all the ways I had been scared to be known, because I knew that deeper than anything else, they loved me.

This hymn reminds me that Jesus loves us deeper than anything and deeper than anyone else can. Jesus desires to know us—to know us fully—and we can trust him with that knowledge because there is no part of us that he does not love. That is the love in which all of our hope rests. It is the love that compels us to go into the world and live as Christ calls us. And because we know that Jesus feels that deep love not only for us, but for everyone, we can dare to love and know each other in that way as well. Indeed, what a love to let fill our spirits and to let fill this world!

Prayer
Loving God, we give thanks for your Son who knows and loves us so very deeply. Fill our spirits with that love, that we may carry it out into your world and to each other. Amen.

Written by Layton Williams, Pastoral Resident

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Monday, October 20, 2014

I love thy kingdom, Lord,
the house of thine abode,
the church our blest Redeemer saved
with his own precious blood.

I love thy church, O God.
Her walls before thee stand,
dear as the apple of thine eye,
and graven on thy hand.

Timothy Dwight’s “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord”
(tune: St. Thomas)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
“I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord” was written in 1801 by Timothy Dwight, one of the great early American hymn writers and a descendent of the famous American preacher Jonathan Edwards. Dwight was a scholastic of the highest order—he graduated from Yale when he was seventeen (!) and later became President of Yale for twenty-two years. Yet for all of his accomplishments, Dwight was also a pastor through and through. During the early years of his career, he preached to troops during the Revolutionary War and inspired numerous students to pursue ministry. In this hymn, we see one of Dwight’s most powerful convictions at play: that the church is meant to reflect God’s kingdom both inside and out.

At first glance, the hymn text might seem a bit myopic—the words house, abode, and walls all lead our minds towards a physical structure. However, Dwight has something larger in mind. Paraphrasing numerous psalm texts, he goes on to paint a picture of the church as the body of Christ—called to participate in remaking and reshaping the world around us into God’s kingdom. This hymn is intended to point us far beyond the brick and mortar, outward beyond our walls. It is a call to build God’s kingdom through our heart and daily work, pausing in worship and communion with one another to be restored for the work that is ahead.

Prayer
Dear Lord, challenge us as a church community to recreate the deep compassion and peace of God’s kingdom as best we can—not just within our own walls, but outside them as well. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

For her my tears shall fall;
for her my prayers ascend;
to her my cares and toils be given,
till toils and cares shall end.

Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways:
her sweet communion, solemn vows,
her hymns of love and praise.

Sure as thy truth shall last,
to Zion shall be given
the brightest glories earth can yield,
and brighter bliss of heaven.

Timothy Dwight’s “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord”
(tune: St. Thomas)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
The theology presented in this hymn is different than mine. It reflects an “I/me/my” vision of faith, whereas I am attracted to images of the kingdom of God as communal activities such as feasts and weddings.

I don’t like this hymn much.

But I’ve been doing theological reflection long enough to know that I need to pay attention to what rubs me the wrong way, what I resist. And so it is here. Once I get past the individualism in the hymn and let the text work on me, it presents quite an examination of conscience.

I have been going to church all my life and have spent the bulk of my career working for religious institutions. How often, though, have I cried for the church? Have I been wholeheartedly willing to give my best work to the church until I die? Have I valued “beyond my highest joys” the songs, unity, and pledges of fidelity and charity that I have found in church? This hymn equates the church with the kingdom of God. Is that how I think about it? Treat it? Behave in it? Speak of it? Do I, in fact, love the church as an expression of the kingdom of God present right here? Not always.

This hymn invites me to wonder about all these questions and challenges some habits of mind and heart. That’s a good thing, and a valuable reminder to pay attention to what I would rather dismiss.

Prayer
Gracious God of the gathering, you who call us out of our little lives into life with you, help us to be good stewards of church. Enable us to see it as a foretaste of heaven and treat it so. We ask this through Jesus, who showed us what the kingdom looks, feels, and sounds like. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Guide my feet while I run this race; yes, my Lord!
Guide my feet while I run this race; yes, my Lord!
Guide my feet while I run this race,
for I don’t want to run this race in vain!

Hold my hand while I run this race; yes, my Lord!
Hold my hand while I run this race; yes, my Lord!
Hold my hand while I run this race,
for I don’t want to run this race in vain!

Stand by me while I run this race; yes, my Lord!
Stand by me while I run this race; yes, my Lord!
Stand by me while I run this race,
for I don’t want to run this race in vain!

I’m your child while I run this race; yes, my Lord!
I’m your child while I run this race; yes, my Lord!
I’m your child while I run this race,
for I don’t want to run this race in vain!

Search my heart while I run this race; yes, my Lord!
Search my heart while I run this race; yes, my Lord!
Search my heart while I run this race,
for I don’t want to run this race in vain!

Guide my feet while I run this race; yes, my Lord!
Guide my feet while I run this race; yes, my Lord!
Guide my feet while I run this race,
for I don’t want to run this race in vain!

“Guide My Feet” (tune: Guide My Feet)
African American spiritual
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
When I was just a few months into my ministry here at Fourth Church, I faced a dilemma that highlights the tension that many of us feel between our personal or family lives and our professional lives. About a month after the beginning of the youth ministry program year, my wife was running the Chicago Marathon and she really wanted me to be there to cheer her on. But as a young pastor beginning a new call—not to mention a relatively new spouse—I didn’t feel like I could miss a Sunday morning so early in the year.

I didn’t realize how important my presence and support was to my wife until I dropped her off at the race and saw the look of disappointment on her face. I tried to slip away between my morning commitments and make it down to the finish line, but it was too little too late. To make matters worse, the excursion ended up disrupting what I was trying to do at church as well, so I felt like a failure on all fronts. It was a rookie mistake I promised myself I would never make again.

I had the chance to redeem myself last week as my wife once again ran the marathon. This time I took Sunday off and hauled our two children around the city to cheer her on at several predetermined spots along the race course. We saw her toward the beginning of the race (after running a mini-marathon of our own to get there), but somehow we missed her at the halfway point. We pressed on and eventually made our way to a location just over a mile from the finish line. As the pack had thinned out considerably by that point in the race, we found her easily and gave her just the boost she needed to finish the race with excitement and joy.

I understand now how meaningful it is for marathon runners to feel supported by their loved ones. It’s just as true for all of us as we run the race of life: we long for the love and support of our partners and spouses, our parents and children, our friends and even strangers. And whether we always have the words to articulate it or not, I believe that we all want to feel the presence, love, and support of God, whom I believe is always there as we run our race.

Prayer
Gracious God, I’m your child. Help me to know that you are always with me. Search my heart. Stand by me. Hold my hand. Guide my feet. Amen.

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

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Praise God, all you nations.
People of God, sing praise!
Praise God, all you nations.
People of God, sing praise:
God’s love is great,
and endures forever.
Praise God, all you nations.
People of God, sing praise!

“Praise God, All You Nations” (tune: Da N’ase)
Psalm 117;
para. Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song, 2011
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Our diverse and multicultural world is a beautiful gift for us to witness during our human experience. We have the opportunity to learn from our sisters and brothers and cherish so many wonderful traditions beyond our borders and our everyday experiences. Unfortunately, it’s often these very differences that cause misunderstandings and conflict among countries. Tensions rise and war erupts simply because we don’t take the time to find the common ground we all share as humans.

Fourth Church has the wonderful spiritual opportunity to chant, sing, and pray in the style of Taizé. This communal form of prayer originated in Taizé, France, during World War II. It welcomed people of all faith traditions to sing and chant simple phrases, psalms, and scripture as one voice. While the world was being torn apart by violence and hate, a growing community formed in rural France to respond with song, praise, and peaceful worship. This pilgrim village, and its many global gatherings, embraces both the differences we have in our cultural makeup and the common faith we hold within our hearts.

Today’s psalm reminds us we are more alike than we are different, and we share one of the strongest bonds because of our faith in God. When we come together for prayer—whether it be for a weekly service, communal prayer, or our compassionate service to one another, let us remember we are all God’s people, a global community, and praise God for our diverse family.

Prayer
Dear God, you call each of us to be a part of your diverse family. Remind us to give you praise at all times. Despite our borders and boundary lines, we are your collective children longing for your infinite love. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens, Program Development Manager,
Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Keep your lamps trimmed and burning;
keep your lamps trimmed and burning;
keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
for the time is drawing nigh.

Sisters, don’t grow weary;
brothers, don’t grow weary.

It’s our faith makes us happy;
it’s our faith makes us happy;
it’s our faith makes us happy,
for the time is drawing nigh.

“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning”
(tune: Keep Your Lamps)
African American spiritual
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
The point is to be ready. And to stay alert. And to live expectantly. That’s what it means to keep our lamps trimmed and burning.

Our daughter, whose baby is now just over a month old, talked for awhile before the baby’s birth about packing her hospital bag. That bag was packed days before her due date, because at any moment their baby would be born. She and her husband needed to be ready.

I find myself walking around Chicago with a great deal of attention on being alert. I don’t want to trip because of a pothole. I guard my purse. I’m watchful for possible traffic, for lights changing, for cars or people not paying attention. I try not to be distracted. I stay alert.

Sometimes I wake early enough to watch for the sunrise. If I have time, I find out what time the sun is expected to come up and place myself at our windows ahead of that moment, so that I can wait for that special first glimpse of the sun’s light peeking out from the horizon. It’s a thrilling moment. I’ve been expectant.

The words of this African American spiritual remind us to be ready and alert and expectant for the visible work of God in our lives and in the world. To keep our lamps trimmed and burning is to wake up with the expectation that God will act in our lives and in the world during each day. If we are ready and alert and live with expectation, it’s amazing how much more we see. It had to have been constant work to keep those lamps trimmed and burning. I think it still is. But I also know it’s worth the work.

Prayer
Good and gracious God, forgive the many days in my life when expecting to meet you was the farthest thing from my mind. Forgive the constant pull toward distraction or cynicism or discouragement, for I know that those things are like magnets, exerting negative force on my heart. Have mercy on my inattention and help me to live with renewed expectation that I will see your miraculous works, your redeeming love, and your inexplicable presence. Amen.

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

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder;
we are climbing Jacob’s ladder;
we are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
for the time is drawing nigh.

Sisters, don’t grow weary;
brothers, don’t grow weary.

Every round goes higher, higher;
every round goes higher, higher;
every round goes higher, higher;
for the time is drawing nigh.

“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning”
(tune: Keep Your Lamps)
African American spiritual
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
I have, on a couple of occasions, done a bike ride around Lake Tahoe. It’s beautiful and it’s challenging. You’re in the mountains, and there is climbing involved. There is one climb in particular that comes to mind, an eight-mile climb that begins about eighty miles into the ride. It comes when you’ve been riding between four and five hours, so you’re tired. It tops out at about 7,000 feet, so there’s a bit of an oxygen issue. It’s a long grind, and it’s hard, and it’s hot, and you can never really see the top until you’re there.

When you’re on one of these long climbs and you can’t see the top, it’s really discouraging. You’re never going very fast, and it feels like you’ll never get there. The trick, I’ve learned, is not to think about the top, but to imagine yourself as being in a box just about the size of your bike. You get in the box and turn the pedals. You don’t think about the top. You just stay in the box and turn the pedals. And sometimes, just as you think that you could just step off the bike and it would all stop, you’ll meet someone and they’ll say “You’re looking great” and that keeps you going for a few more turns. Or you’ll be the one saying it, and simply saying it makes you feel stronger. And so it goes. Every round, higher, higher.

Bike or no we are, all of us, always climbing. This thing about being over the hill is a myth. Sometimes the hill is really steep. Often, the last part of the hill is the steepest. But you never know if you’re near the end or in the middle, so your job is always the same. Turn the pedals. And if you meet someone else grinding up that same stretch of road in their little box of pain, encourage them, because we are all climbing.

Prayer
Lord, we are climbing. Step by step, round by round. Help us to encourage each other as we go along, so that we can weather the weariness. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

For the life that you have given,
for the love in Christ made known,
with these fruits of time and labor,
with these gifts that are your own:
here we offer, Lord, our praises;
heart and mind and strength we bring;
give us grace to love and serve you,
living what we pray and sing.

Carl P. Daw Jr.’s “For the Life That You Have Given”
(tune: Pleading Savior)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
(Text copyright © 1990 Hope Publishing Company. OneLicense.net. License A-712340.)

Reflection
At Fourth Church we sing this song every week in the morning church services to celebrate the gifts we have shared with the church. But how often do I think about the words I am singing? I have to admit, now that I have this song memorized, I often don’t think twice about what I am saying.

If only I were the same about my tithing. Instead, my tithing is a constant calculation. Can I really afford to give this money? Can other things besides monetary donations count as tithing? And the excuses pile up as well.

This morning as I walked into work I passed so many people whose circumstances are less fortunate than my own. I think, “How lucky I am that I have a job and an income.” And while I have mixed feelings about sharing my money with the people on the street, I know the wonderful things that God can do with my money to help those people when God pulls my small tithe together with my greater church community.

So next time I join in song, may I think about the blessings that God has shared with me and then see as praise the sharing of the fruits of my labor with others.

Prayer 
Lord, give me the grace to love and serve you. Thank you for the wonderful blessing you have bestowed upon me. I ask that you put my time, talents, and tithe to work serving your greater purpose. For Lord, we as a community can achieve far greater than any one individual alone. Amen.

Written by Katie Patterson, Junior High Youth and Mission Coordinator

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Monday, October 27, 2014

I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
his baptism in the Jordan river,
his death on cross for my salvation,
his bursting from the spiced tomb,
his riding up the heavenly way,
his coming at the day of doom,
I bind myself today.

“I Bind unto Myself Today” (tune: St. Patrick; Deirdre)
trans. Cecil Frances Alexander
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
I remember the sermon at my friend’s wedding. The minister preached about marriage in terms of the proverbial ball and chain. Since weddings are supposed to be all things lovely, I found that image distasteful, but it nevertheless underscored the point of the sermon. In marriage, two persons bind themselves to one another and, quite amazingly, they choose to do so. Unlike families that we are born into, whose members we never choose for ourselves, in marriage two people actually choose to become family. They choose to bind themselves to one another.

Choosing to become family, by marriage, adoption, or baptism, is the result of the power of faith. It is, after all, by faith—trust and loyalty—that we bind ourselves in relationship, and when we do so, we are never the same again. We take on a strong new name, the name of the Trinity, “the Three in One and One in Three.”

Prayer
Today, Lord, keep me bound to you by the power of faith, and seal me in your strong name, the Three in One and One in Three. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the star-lit heaven,
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
God’s eye to watch, God’s might to stay,
God’s ear to hearken to my need,
the wisdom of my God to teach,
God’s hand to guide, God’s shield to ward,
the word of God, to give me speech,
God’s heavenly host to be my guard.

“I Bind unto Myself Today” (tune: St. Patrick; Deirdre)
trans. Cecil Frances Alexander
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
In the first verse today, the author binds unto himself certain earthly images. In an ancient Celtic practice, the hands of a bride and groom are bound together during the marriage ceremony. This ritual is very moving. But what does it mean to bind oneself to an image?

As I read these words, I call up visions of these earthly events, in order to bind them to myself in my imagination. I can see the star-lit sky. I am a young girl standing outside with my dad, listening to him describe the constellations. I tell him I can see them even though I cannot. I can hear his voice. I bind myself to that sound. In another image I can see the hymn writer’s “whiteness of the moon at even.” I am looking out the window of a cabin at the untouched, crystallized snow in Jackson, Wyoming. It is midnight. I cannot sleep for the brightness of the moon reflecting on the ice. I bind myself to the frozen moon.

I, like the author, can bind myself to the images in today’s first verse. Yet, in the next verse, the images do not immediately come. To bind myself to the images in that second verse, I need to visualize God’s eye, God’s ear, God’s might, God’s hand, and God’s shield. Binding myself to these images will provide protection, yet my mind’s eye is blind. I panic, fearing that I will be unable to connect to my God. Then I return to the images that I do have. I realize that God must be in those images. God’s spirit comes to us through our experience in his world. God is present. I bind myself to God.

Prayer
Dear God, with gratitude I realize that I have found you again. You are here. You have touched my mind with your Host as I live in and experience your world. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

“I Bind unto Myself Today” (tune: St. Patrick; Deirdre)
trans. Cecil Frances Alexander
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Reading this I’m most struck by the phrase “Christ to win me.” Immediately I think of centuries of poets and mystics writing of Christ as lover, as bridegroom, as beloved. And I think of how, just as love can be as much a choice, a decision that is made, as it is a sudden expression of emotion, so too can faith be.

I choose to follow Christ. I grew up unchurched, aware of other faiths. I also grew up immersed in an environment rich in Christian culture: visual, musical, and literary. Choosing to follow Christ has been a decades-long process, one that didn’t end when I was baptized as an adult or when I was confirmed in the Episcopal church, one that may never end.

In today’s world, where many consider themselves spiritual yet not religious, yet where we who attend church still believe in the importance of being part of a community, of the importance of worshiping together, of declaring ourselves to be part of the body of Christ, how might we help Christ win those who wish to love him? How might we be Christ to others today?

I was won to Christ through the mouths of friends and strangers, through centuries of artistic expression, and through the affirmations of faith by people I admired. What are our mouths saying about Christ today?

Prayer
Beloved, thank you for your love always. Thank you for the gift of grace that lets me know whose spirit was sustaining me. May I in turn always carry you within me in such a way that others may see and know your love too. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

I bind unto myself the name,
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three,
of whom all nature has creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
salvation is of Christ the Lord!

“I Bind unto Myself Today” (tune: St. Patrick; Deirdre)
trans. Cecil Frances Alexander
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
The first definition of bind is “ to tie or to secure.” When we bind ourselves to God, we have a security in this world which is unattainable by any other means. Jesus himself put it like this in Matthew 7: “Everyone who hears these words of mine was like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.”

Binding ourselves to God does not protect us from the difficulties of life. It does not mean we will be spared hardship, illness, or strife. We know better than to trust televangelists who seem to promise prosperity if we only believe enough and have a strong faith. It would be so nice if that were true, but that is not really what the Bible teaches.

Binding ourselves to God does mean that we will be able to weather the storms of life, because the spirit of God dwells within each of us. The eternal God described above as “Father, Spirit, Word,” will be with us and will see us through, not only in this life but, ultimately, through our salvation. So sing “Praise to the Lord of our salvation; salvation is of Christ the Lord!”

Prayer
Loving God, thank you for creating the world good and making us in your image. Thank you for sending your Son to reveal your love to us and to teach us how to live. Help us to feel your Spirit, which dwells within us as closely as our heartbeat. Open our ears to hear not just our everyday troubles and stress, which preoccupy our thoughts and keep us from being aware of your presence, but your eternal words. Bind us to you eternal Father, Spirit, Word. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Friday, October 31, 2014
Reformation Day

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.
Our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he.
Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him.
His rage we endure, for lo, his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.
The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still.
His kingdom is forever.

Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
(tune: Ein’ Feste Burg)
trans. Frederick Henry Hedge
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Today is Reformation Day, a day we celebrate in worship on the last Sunday of October. So we have recently sung this hymn with all the stops pulled out! The great reformer Martin Luther adapted Psalm 46 and gave the hymn this shape.

Psalm 46 is always assigned for Reformation Sunday, and I’ve wondered why that might be. When I think of the images used for God in this hymn (fortress and bulwark), I imagine things that don’t move, don’t change, are certainly not open to reform. Yet when we pay attention to the Reformation movement in our history, we are led to also pay attention to our call to continually be open to the reforming, new winds of the Spirit. Paying attention to our historical Reformation nudges us to recognize the tension of living in a space where we celebrate who we have been while knowing we have not yet arrived on our journey of sanctification.

This creative tension between past and future reminds me of the great line in our Book of Order when it talks about innovation in our use of language and expression. It states that in worship, “while respecting time-honored forms and set orders, the church may reshape them to respond freely to the leading of God’s Spirit in every age.” Even in our worship, we try and find the balance between order and chaos, honoring and holding on to the best of our past while actively moving into the promise of our future.

So why do we sing this hymn on Reformation Sunday? How is it that this hymn aids in our continual reformation? Might it be that this fertile tension of “being a church Reformed, always willing to be reformed according to God’s Spirit” is precisely why Psalm 46 is always read and sung on Reformation Sunday? James Mays, Old Testament scholar, offers a potential rationale for tying this psalm with the call to be open for constant reformation. He writes, “The Psalm does not invite us to trust in a place, but in a Presence” (Psalms: Interpretation). So I wonder if the images of God as bulwark, as mighty fortress, are not images meant to suggest a static, stay-in-one-place kind of God who is closed and locked up tightly, but rather images meant to evoke a trust in the promise of a Divine Presence who is always constantly with us, even as we move, change, shift. I wonder if Luther’s adaption of this psalm is meant to give us tools for being ready to be reformed.

After all, if we remember that God travels along with us every step of our journey, doesn’t it change the way we feel about possibilities for our future? If we know and trust that no matter how often we feel the chaos of change, no matter how often our own strength begins to fail, no matter how often “though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,” we can still be unafraid, because we are grounded in God’s abiding and constant presence. God’s presence is the solid rock on which we stand, the mighty fortress in which we make our home. The promise of God’s presence is what does not change, no matter what. May God’s promise of presence continue to give us courage, both as a church and as individual disciples, as well.

Prayer
O Mighty Fortress, bulwark of love and presence, open our eyes to the ways you travel with us on this day. Open our hearts for the constant reforming and renewing work of your Spirit. Don’t let us grow content with what is but give us vision for what, who, we might become as your people and as a church. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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