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August 1–6 | August 7–13 | August 14–20
August 21–27 | August 28–31

 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 57

Reflection

There’s no doubt that the person who wrote this psalm faced a huge challenge. The most graphic indication is “I lie down among lions that greedily devour human prey; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords.” As challenging as life’s circumstances were for the psalmist, the end of the psalm proclaims a deep knowledge of God’s love: “For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds.”

When people come to see me because they are facing terrible life challenges, they aren’t as sure about God’s love as the psalmist seems to be. They often have a strong suspicion that God does not love them, isn’t aware of them, or has abandoned them. They wonder whether God is punishing them. I remember a time in my thirties when it seemed as though every aspect of my life was crumbling. And yes, I doubted God’s love at that time. I couldn’t imagine why God was letting any of this happen to me.

When a work situation is unbearable, or when a loved one is withering away inch by inch, or when a marriage is rocky, or a teenager is impossible, it might feel as though lions are waiting to devour us and something like spears are coming at us from all directions. It is during those times when it might be helpful to proclaim to ourselves, whether we believe it or not, that “God’s steadfast love is as high as the heavens and God’s faithfulness extends to the clouds.” First, because it’s a great visual image. Second, because proclaiming this to ourselves might serve the same purpose as an anchor. And third, the proclamation might help us see God’s actions of love coming toward us through the loving and steadfast actions of people in our midst.

Prayer

Steadfast and loving God, when lions roar all around me and when I slip into wondering if you love me, put the words of sure proclamation in my mouth and help me trust. Help me see your hand at work in the care extended to me by the people in my life. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 5:1–11

Reflection

As far as we know, Simon Peter, James, and John had a reasonable, if challenging, life as hard-working fisherman. After a long night of work with little return, they were occupied with cleaning up and maintaining their equipment when Jesus entered the scene.

Something about Jesus’ presence changed everything. Suddenly where there had been failure and scarcity, there was now success and abundance. Some preachers interpret this to mean that God wants to give us a lot of money, but I think it’s more about abundant life.

I imagine those nets full to breaking with wiggling, flopping fish—food for so many people. I imagine how stunned the fishermen must have felt to see it, after years of dogged persistence and bare subsistence. It would have been hard to believe. It would have been hard to trust that it was real. I imagine the fishermen thinking to themselves, This isn’t happening. This can’t be real.

Can you imagine that moment when the heart, which longs for it to be true, finally believes that it is? Can you imagine the moment when the fatigue and disappointment of hard physical labor with little success gets washed away and replaced with more abundance than they could possibly imagine?

Jesus shows these fishermen that the world is different from the way they thought it was. He showed them a possibility that they couldn’t even imagine. In response to their new vision of reality, they reoriented their whole lives toward people.

What if there is possibility in our world that we haven’t yet seen and can’t yet believe? How would that change your decisions today?

Prayer

Loving God, open my heart, my eyes, and my ears so that I might see the world differently, so I might see possibility where before I only saw failure, disappointment, fatigue, or hopelessness. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Minister for Congregational Life

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 5:12–16

Reflection

Jesus was breaking down barriers that no one dared to cross. There was no one more banned and cut off from the community than a leper. Lepers were expected to live alone or in colonies with each other. Any decent person in Jesus’ time would have followed the custom of staying at least 150 feet away from a leper, but Jesus intentionally sought him out and actually touched him.

By touching the leper, Jesus was completely going against what society considered normal or even safe, but his goal was to change society and break down discrimination, to go against the norm that considered this person worthless. Jesus loved this person and gave wholeness and healing—not only to the leper but, through him, to the whole world. The leper becomes symbolic, because if Jesus could touch and heal a leper, then absolutely no one was, or is now, beyond redemption.

As followers of Jesus, Christians are called to break down barriers that divide us and restore all people to wholeness. We are called to change the systems in our society that hold people back, that segregate and divide us. Christians are called to be peacemakers bringing healing and salvation as Jesus did to even the most unlikely recipient.

Are we building up walls that divide or bridges that connect? Are we unjustly labeling people, or do we see each person as a child of God? Jesus was clear in his goal to touch and embrace the most untouchable person he could have found. Jesus Christ expects us to do the same even today.

Prayer

Loving God, help me share your love, your embrace, your healing, with a person in need today. But do not let that love stop with one person, but go on to another and another until the whole world knows your love. Amen.

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

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 5:17–26  

Reflection

If I were the paralytic in this story and heard Jesus proclaiming not “Your paralysis is cured” but “Friend, your sins are forgiven you,” I might have felt dejected. After all, as the Pharisees claim, there is less evidence for forgiveness of sins as a healing gesture; there was no physical proof that the paralytic was going to have a better quality of life after this.

But, as we see, the paralytic does not complain; he does not protest, “Hey, I thought you were going to help me walk!” He lies on his bed in silence, letting the doubting Pharisees and scribes argue, until Jesus commands him to go home. Although he was not told that he would be able to do so, he is so filled with faith in Jesus that he tries to stand anyway, and for that he is rewarded with the ability to walk.

Can you imagine the amount of faith that would have taken? Despite the risk of falling flat on his face in front of this crowd of people, the paralytic walked and disproved the (no doubt open-mouthed) Pharisees. He knew the power of the phrase “Your sins are forgiven.” I can only pray that I may be so consistently faith-filled as to give myself over to Jesus’ spiritual healing in times of turmoil.

Prayer

God, give me the faith of the paralytic, and cleanse my doubting heart and soul. Help me to remember that even when I don’t know how things will turn out, you will always provide for me through the forgiveness of sins. Amen.

Written by Katie MacKendrick, Editorial Assistant

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 5:27–32         

Reflection

In this short scene from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus begins to show how distinct his understanding of what living a godly life looks like against those of other religious leaders of the day. Tax collectors were hated figures in the biblical world, often accused of taking more than they should and probably symbolizing Rome’s authority and occupation to many of those from whom they collected. That Jesus would sit down and break bread with those widely viewed as sinners was a breaking of kashrut, the wider Jewish dietary laws from which the well-known term kosher comes. But in spite of this, Jesus not only seems to suggest that sitting down amongst sinners is permissible, it is perhaps even to be encouraged! “I have come to call not the righteous,” he responds to the critical Pharisees, “but sinners to repentance.”

In his famous book Christ and Culture, theologian and ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr once asserted that there are five particular stances that Christians have taken to the prevailing culture of their day: to be firmly against it, to be decidedly a part of it, to be “above” or removed from it, to hold church and culture in paradox, or, finally, to be within culture while seeking to transform it. It’s that last stance that we see playing out in this passage, I think—one in which Jesus is willing to be with the sinners and outcasts but is nonetheless asking them to repent and calling them to something better. May we too not look to remove ourselves from the world but instead be called to all of the darkest places—seeking to transform them with light.

Prayer

Dear God, we know that your love extends far beyond our walls or our understanding. Help us to reach out into the places where we see darkness and to share that transforming love. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 5:33–39

Reflection

Sometimes I wonder if we Christian folks wrestle with expressing joy. We don’t always seem to “do” joy very well. We do perseverance. We do struggle. We do service. We even do love, but joy? Joy can sometimes be hard for us. Perhaps it is our Puritan Calvinist heritage coming out, but we—Presbyterian Christians—tend to be quite serious, especially in church. Joy just seems to be a hard emotion for us to corporately express.

Apparently people in Jesus’ day struggled with expressing joy in their religious practice too. “Why don’t your disciples take their following of you, their discipleship more seriously, Jesus?” the serious religious people asked him. “The disciples of the Pharisees fast. John the Baptist’s disciples fast. But your disciples eat and drink and express joy. What is wrong with them?”

In response, Jesus basically tells them there will be plenty of time for seriousness as they move into the future. But while he is there, flesh and blood amongst them, he was not about to limit their expressions of joy and sense of the fullness of life. It was time for a new thing, a new wine, a new cloth. And he was not going to stand in their way of fully embracing it all.

One of my favorite artistic interpretations of Jesus is the “Laughing Jesus” picture. In it, Jesus has thrown back his head, his mouth wide open, eyes crinkled shut, in full-blown laughter. He radiates complete and total joy. I can easily see Jesus having that raucous reaction after telling this parable. How might we, then, open ourselves to experience something similar—the joy of following Jesus?

Prayer

Laughing and loving God, I can forget that your joy is a current that undergirds us. Even at the moment of creation, you took joy in what you made. Help me, O God, feel your joy and express that joy in my own life. Make me into a fresh wineskin so I can hold all the love and joy that you continuously pour out. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 61           

Reflection

In times of weakness, despair, and fear I know I often hold on tight to the illusion that I am in control.

Though it always feels counterintuitive, in those moments I only find relief by releasing my grip on that illusion as much as possible. I’m not successful at it often, and in the face of the many recent horrendous acts of violence around the world, I have felt I have no choice but to release my grip and come face-to-face with my many fears—for myself, my family, and the world—and the uncertainty and doubt that I so often try to keep at arm’s length. I’m forced to acknowledge that I do not have control—it’s a sort of involuntary humility.

Psalm 61 is attributed to David, and we know that he faced many moments of fear, uncertainty, downfall, and despair—before, during, and after his reign as king. Like many other psalms, Psalm 61 strikes a beautiful balance between the resignation to the place the author has found himself, the honest expression of his helplessness, his trust that God is present, and his commitment to continue to praise God. I love the way the psalms reflect human experience so accurately: we live in a tension between faith and doubt, helplessness and hopefulness, despair and praise, and that’s OK.

Prayer

Hear my cry, O God. We live in an uncertain world. At times that’s a scary thing, but the unexpected can also bring joy. Help me to be open and honest about the uncertainty in the world, but help me to be open too so I don’t miss the moments of love and happiness that also arise unexpectedly. So I will always sing praises to your name. Amen.

Written by Jeremy Pfaff, Editorial Assistant

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 148

Reflection

By my count there are thirty different aspects of creation called on to praise God in Psalm 148. I made seven different categories (your results may vary) from cosmic forces to geologic features to people, but all bound together by a “duty that will not pass away” (verse 6).

The word “duty” caught me. What is this obligation all of creation shares? Certainly Psalm 148 names it as “praise,” and we do that when we pray and sing and worship, absolutely. But we do it even more profoundly when we are who we are and do what we do—be “we” hail or hill or creeping thing or maiden or whatever we were created to be—as authentically and unselfconsciously and joyfully as we can. That duty, seemingly so simple, takes a lifetime to figure out and get good at (for me, anyway). Luckily that is what we are given.

Mulling this over, words from a prayer regularly prayed at my house come to mind:

We the whole of creation,
in all our frailty and mystery,
with all our races and peoples,
join hands around your table—
in doubt, in love, in risk, in hope—
and offer you thanks in a new way,
not by being lifted out of what is human,
but by daring to be what we truly are—
the work of your loving hands.
God-touched and frail,
yet possessing a dignity beautiful
beyond belief . . .                     

(from Eucharistic Liturgies: Studies in American Pastoral Liturgy)

Prayer

Creator God, we thank you for the cosmic bounty of which we are but a piece. May it—may we—praise you forever. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 6:1–11

Reflection

Today if we saw people walking through our gardens or by our fruit trees or cornfields helping themselves to produce to eat, we’d be upset that they were taking what did not belong to them. Not so in Jesus’ day. Then it was fine for travelers to gather fruit or grain from a field as they passed by. The hungry had a right to eat. The Pharisees questioned why Jesus’ disciples took food, but not because of stealing. The disciples, in reaping and rubbing the grain in their hands (threshing), engaged in work that was forbidden on the sabbath. Jesus responds by citing an earlier incident in which David and his companions had suspended religious law to satisfy their hunger.

On another sabbath, the scribes and Pharisees intently watched Jesus in order to bring accusation against him for curing. Jesus, fully aware of this, boldly healed a man with a withered hand. The scribes and Pharisees were furious and became more intent on destroying him. Jesus challenged not only their understanding and use of sabbath law, but their obsession with its strict adherence to be considered righteous. He frames his compassionate intervention with the question “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or destroy it?”

Jesus is Lord of the sabbath. He taught that every day it is right to do good towards others. Whenever we find ourselves hanging on tightly to certain ways of doing things, we need to question whose needs and expectations, or what fears, motivate us. We need to ask, “Am I serving God?” “Am I loving others?” “Is this life-giving?”

Prayer

Deliver me, gracious God, from focusing so much on what I think is right that I fail to love you and others. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 6:12–26

Reflection

It’s been a tough time for everyone. Violence and hatred, right up in everyone’s face, so widespread that resisting feels like being up to your neck in the ocean and trying to resist the waves. It’s depressing, and one of the most depressing things is to see the arrogance of the powerful, how they lord their station over the ones they consider small and worthless.

The reaction to this condition is perhaps the most human thing imaginable: Rise up. Knock them down. Turn the tables. It’ll be different when we’re on top.

Except it won’t. The only thing that will be different is who is in the “Blessed are” camp and who is in the “Woe to” camp. The pendulum swings, the wheel turns round; and when the tables turn, all that changes is who is sitting in which seat. The despair and arrogance remain.

Despair and arrogance are perhaps the most enduring of human diseases, diseases of the soul. They are the diseases that Jesus is trying to cure here. No doubt leprosy was easier. I mean, we can handle that now—a few drugs, and good-bye leprosy. But despair and arrogance? Still no cure. They’re chronic conditions, and these days one might be excused for worrying that they might be terminal.

So how does Jesus treat these persistent and debilitating conditions? With copious applications of hope and humility, lifting up the lowly and leveling the privileged—not to turn the tables but to balance the scale, to make it possible for us to stand face-to-face with each other and look at each other and see one another, and in so doing to see ourselves in each other.

Seeing ourselves in each other is a prerequisite for Jesus’s clear and unequivocal command, given five verses later: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

The diseases are treatable. We need to believe in the cure, and take our medicine.

Prayer

Level us, Lord. Help us to see ourselves in others, and in so doing to see you in every human face. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 6:27–38

Reflection

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Quite aside from any reward here or in heaven, what else do we think could possibly bring peace? Not that these things are easy. But all that I have control over are my own actions, and then only to the extent that I seek awareness of my emotions, expectations, and motivation. Cycles of provocation, reaction, and further reaction can only stop when one person refuses to play. Why not let that person be me?

Somewhere I picked up the language of viewing other people in a spirit of generosity—of assuming they are doing the best they can do, despite how flawed their best might be. As I get older I also see that other people aren’t thinking about me nearly as much as I might think they are. So what may seem like a personal affront may have nothing to do with me at all. Can I possibly set down my self-importance and not react from a spirit of defensiveness? Can I possibly—trusting that others may be aching in their own way as I might be—pray for them? Offer a blessing? Attempt to love them?

This doesn’t mean to put myself in harm’s way or to fail to move out of it. But it does mean not returning any harm I feel may have been done me. And who knows how my unexpected refusal to react—or my unexpected regard—may ripple out?

Prayer

Merciful God, help me to not judge, to not condemn quickly. Help me cultivate a spirit of generosity such that I might look for the best in others and offer them the best of myself. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 6:39–45

Reflection

We live in a world where competition and comparison are constantly in our faces. We hear about it all the time on the news, especially when it comes to sports and politics. It’s no wonder we start to do the same in our personal relationships. Think about how often you talk about an acquaintance and call out the faults or shortcomings you’re quick to notice after brief encounters. It seems harmless.

Now think about how often you point out those same faults or shortcomings in your close friends and family members. The people who know what’s on your heart and have seen you in your shining moments but also in your darkest days. They can probably point out your faults and shortcomings just as quickly.

In today’s Gospel from Luke, we are reminded that our role as disciples is to introspectively consider how we lead and guide others, before judging the actions we deem unsuitable. As Jesus teaches, if we fail to consider where we ourselves can grow and remain free from sin, we will simply model the same behavior we critique in others. This leads to mutual failure and suffering.

As Christians, we must challenge ourselves to speak the best of others and see the best in others. We hope all those we encounter will do the same for us. This challenge requires us to be humble and grounded in a faith where we commit to continual growth and mercy toward one another.

Prayer

God of mercy, grace me with a humble heart and open arms. Guide me to love my neighbor and seek love and kindness above all else. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens, Director,
Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 6:46–49  

Reflection

I’ve never built a house. Heck, I’ve never even owned a house. House-building is one of those things I regard as out of my reach, a platform of adulthood I will never reach. I mostly feel like this when I’m sweating through Ikea furniture assembly. I’m certain people who build houses don’t tinker with dressers and bookcases called “Hemnes” and “Besta.”

Even so, these words of Jesus that close out his “Sermon on the Plain” resonate with me. They’re all about action. The person who acts on Jesus’ teaching is like one who builds on a solid foundation. The person who hears and does nothing is like a shoddy builder whose work will get washed away.

What about that teaching, then? How do you act on “Blessed are you who are poor?” What steps do you take in response to “Love your enemies?” How does “Turn the other cheek” issue in observable actions?

The old dichotomy between “belief” and “works” is not one Jesus makes, at least not here. For Jesus, our action is scaffolding for our belief, infrastructure without which faith won’t endure.

Prayer

Help us to act our way to belief, O God, or to believe our way into action. For the sake of Jesus and the reign he is initiating. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 62

Reflection

In this summer of chaos and cacophony in so many places around the country and the world, I read with outright relief the words of David in Psalm 62: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from God comes my salvation.”

This is the right time, I feel, to be reminded by the psalm that those who threaten and oppress are not to be feared when viewed against God’s might and God’s majesty.

This is the right time, I believe, to remember, as the psalm says, that the source of true security and hope lies not in the increase of wealth or at the hands of the powerful but in God alone.

This is the right time, I know, to recollect through the psalm that God’s immutable, deathless love for us will always be waiting when we mere mortals take a break from the terrible things we do to one another and find ourselves reflecting that we really, finally, at last must do what God calls us to do with love here on earth in God’s holy name.

Prayer

Loving and gracious God, we are in awe of your eternity. Our lives—indeed, our souls—depend upon the security and love you alone offer. Remind us to keep our earthly victories and defeats in perspective. Give us the strength and hope to accomplish those things you call us to do for others in your name. Help us to remember that this is what truly matters. Amen.

Written by Hilary Richardson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 114

Reflection

I believe, begins our confession of faith. Each Sunday we stand to profess together who our God is, to affirm who and whose we are, to recount how our God is at work in the world.

Remember, scripture calls to us, again and again.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.

Remember that the Lord your God has led you.

Do this in remembrance of me.

I believe, proclaims the psalmist. I believe that God brought God’s people up out of Egypt. I remember that God frees us from the bonds of slavery. When the way forward looks impossible, God makes a path for us through the raging sea and across the river. Protects and nourishes us. Leads us into the promised land and dwells among us. In this, creation surely rejoices. The immoveable mountains, the hills that have stood firm through the ages, skip for joy.

And that which is hardened, the rock and the flint—in God’s hands they are transformed into that which sustains us, into that which offers respite in the desert days of our lives: water. Life-giving water.

Remember. “I will see the rainbow and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature,” says God. “I will remember my covenant with you,” says God again and again.

I believe, we believe, in a God who remembers—and who calls us to do the same. In word and image, in ritual and rite, we affirm that we remember. We proclaim the life-giving story of our God at work in the world, creating and claiming, freeing and forgiving, sustaining and saving, calling and leading, remembering and dwelling among us, always.

We proclaim it, and we claim it. We live our lives knit into that story, that story that does not let us forget the promise of living water, now and forever.

Praise be to God, Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

Prayer

Our hearts skip for joy, O God, for we do remember. You have woven us into your story and called us your own. May our lives be professions of that which we believe. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 7:1–10

Reflection

This centurion is an unlikely example of someone of great faith in Jesus Christ. He’s a man of power, an officer in the Roman army. He’s an enemy, part of the occupying force in Judea and Galilee during the first century.

Yet the centurion exhibits as much faith in Jesus’ power as he does in his own abilities. He sends Jewish elders to ask Jesus to heal his dying servant, clearly believing that Jesus can heal the servant from afar: “Merely speak the word, and my servant will be healed.”

It’s an example of such great faith from such an unexpected person that it surprises even Jesus.

What if we were to open ourselves up to see examples of faith in unlikely people or places? What if we looked past our differences and saw people not as a label but as who they really are?

I traveled with our Fourth Church youth to Asheville, North Carolina, this summer, and there I met Richard during our work at Liberty Corner Enterprises, a community for people with disabilities. Life experience made us different: Richard was in a car accident when he was nineteen. His skull was crushed, and his neck was broken. Now sixty-one, he struggles to speak and make simple movements.

Richard told me that he believes he survived because Jesus loves him. What has stood out the most in the forty-two years since his surgery is the love of his family and friends. “That’s why I have survived,” he shared.

Richard and I looked past our differences and saw each other as individuals. In doing so, we had a profound experience that was life changing for both of us. It was one of my most profound memories from the trip.

Prayer

God of love and God of all, open my eyes and my heart to examples of your love where I’m not expecting it. It’s a constant struggle, but let me to see those that are different as equals. Help me to look for the good in others. Help me love all your children. Amen.

Written by Mark Nelson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 7:11–17

Reflection

When we read this passage, it is tempting to focus on the fact that Jesus raises a man presumed to be dead and was headed to his burial. The story is certainly dramatic: Jesus and his followers, fresh from Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s servant, meet a funeral procession at the gates of the town. The deceased is his mother’s only son and her sole support, as his mother is a widow. Jesus speaks to the man and the man sits up, risen from the dead. It is truly a miracle.

The promise of this passage, though, is not that God will raise our loved ones from the dead. Rather, the promise of this passage has to do with God’s compassion for us. Luke tells this story (which does not appear in the other Gospels) to show Jesus’ compassion for the grieving widow. Unlike others in the Bible who seek assistance from Jesus, the widow in this story is so caught up in grief over her loss and over the uncertainty of her future that she does not ask Jesus for help. Moved by compassion, Jesus reaches out to her before she says anything at all. He tells her not to weep and restores her son to her.

But what does that mean in the context of a world where we sometimes feel surrounded by loss and violence? The promise of this passage is that God is aware of our needs before we even reach out to him. He sees our situation, understands our grief, and promises us his grace, his support, and his love. And he promises to create a better world for us as we seek to do his will here on earth. While we may not receive the immediate relief that Jesus provided for that widow at the gates of Nain, we have God’s presence, compassion, and love, always.

Prayer

Dear Lord, help us to remember your promise of compassion in a world where many are suffering and whose problems can seem to overwhelm us. Remind us of your abiding love for us and all your people, and help us as we seek to spread your love in this world. Amen.

Written by Julie Crabtree, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 7:36–50

Reflection

I’ve tried to imagine who I would be in this story. Would I be the Pharisee, with an eye toward rules and societal norms and a rank order list of sinfulness in my head? Or would I be the woman with the alabaster jar, lavishing Jesus with hospitality and love, regardless of what anyone around me thought? Would I be Jesus, welcoming of the woman’s show of affection? Would I be able to frame her lavish actions in a way that gave her dignity?

I am pretty sure I’d be right in there with the Pharisee. The abundance of the woman’s show of affection might embarrass me. Or I might find myself suspicious of her motives. Is she just putting him on? And of course, I would want Jesus to like me best. As I write this admission, my stomach is telling me how uneasy I am with the truth of it. There’s a dark place in my heart called Selfish and Scared. You might not see it, but I know it’s there.

The woman was a known sinner. That’s true. The Pharisee might have recognized sin in his own heart, but he also thought his sin was less important, less weighty, less deserving of judgment than her sin. And he also certainly thought she was less valuable as a person. The Pharisee probably had a blessed life in comparison to the life of this woman.

Jesus reminded him and reminds me that the way Jesus loves and judges isn’t anything like our way of loving and judging. “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

Prayer

God, show me the depth of my sin, so that I can know the depth of your forgiveness. Show me the stinginess of my loving, receive my confession, and help me to love you with abandon. Amen.

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

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 145

Reflection

Each time I read aloud this psalm I am reminded of being in Jerusalem and hearing this psalm recited throughout the day. In the Jewish tradition, this psalm is prayed in its entirety at least three times a day as a reminder of all the great works of God. After returning home, I would often read this passage aloud. The words seemed to flow off of my tongue, and by the end of the psalm I was left with a smile on my face. When we sing or speak words of praise, it is easy to be joyful. It is not always easy to be joyful when we hear and see things happening in our world that bring sadness and destruction.

As people of God, we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, and as such we should bring joy with us. This psalm is a prayer of joy for God in a dark world. When we remember God and recognize God’s great works, we bring light that takes away the darkness. When we remember that God is merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, faithful and lifts us up, we should be joyful, for these are all things that God does. God does these things because we are God’s beloved creation, and we can take joy in that.

Prayer

God, we praise you for the joy that you bring and for loving us before we could even conceive of your love. We praise you with our mouths and our bodies, each day. Help us to bring joy into the world as you do. Amen.

Written by Shelley Donaldson, Senior High and Confirmation Youth Coordinator

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 63:1–8      

Reflection

There are those nights that come to most, if not all, of us when we are tossing and turning, worrying about what has happened or what may happen in the future. Doubts may gnaw at us. Fears may toy with our hearts. Regrets may weigh down on us. Sometimes these nights may turn into day, when we are fatigued by not enough sleep and cranky about every little thing that doesn’t go our way.

It might happen on a more subtle level, too. Maybe we haven’t thrashed around in bed last night, but still the little doubts and fears and regrets may hover over our shoulders just out of sight. We may try to cover our anxieties over with a smile, but we know that our hearts are not at peace.

What are the doubts and fears and regrets that flit through your mind today?

This psalm gives us other images to hold in our minds as a kind of antidote to the worries. This is a form of Christian meditation—to hold things in mind. (Eastern traditions call this contemplation, but Christian contemplation involves emptying the mind.) The Bible gives us so many different images for God, so many ways to meditate on love and life-saving grace.

Meditate—imagine—God sheltering you under a great wing.
Meditate—imagine—God feeding you with nourishing food.
Meditate—imagine—God’s hand holding you as though you were a tiny bird, safe in the nest of God.

The psalmist also blesses God in this psalm, and I wonder if that act is also part of what saves the psalmist. To express our love of God in prayer, to become the one offering blessing, first to God and then to the world, might be another way to let God’s love change us.

Prayer

God of strength and comfort, thank you. Help me to rest in you, to be strengthened by your love, and to turn around and share that love and blessing with others. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Minister for Congregational Life

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 150

Reflection

Psalm 150, the last of the psalms, emphasizes praise to God. His marvelous work is evident in our sanctuary, in nature, and in the acts of greatness that impact our lives. This psalm urges us to enthusiastically praise God. While contemplating this devotion, I looked around me. I opened my mind, my eyes and ears, and my heart. Instead of being a commitment, the writing of this devotion became a gift. I became very aware of the means we use to demonstrate praise. I witnessed God’s acts of greatness. Perhaps I was taking much for granted. Perhaps we all are.

I come to our church sanctuary. Worship services evidence praise as we join together in song, listen to choirs and instrumental music, share prayers, and internalize sermons. Outreach programs involve youth in dance and performance arts. Young people are giving praise and sharing their gifts. Within the community, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus were magical as they performed Te Deum by Anton Bruckner. (Another of Bruckner’s works is Psalm 150.)

I listened to the birds singing and the waves lapping the shores of Lake Michigan. I sat outside with family on a beautiful summer evening and noticed the full moon overhead lighting up the city’s skyline. I reveled in the birth of my first great niece, a namesake: a joy I thought I would never know.

All around me there is evidence of praise to God. I reflect. Have I noticed? Do I routinely praise God for his greatness and gifts that have touched my life? I vow to be more intentional going forward.

Prayer

Dear Lord, may we all praise God. May every creature employ every means and opportunity available to offer praise. We are truly blessed by your gifts. Amen.

Written by Eloise Foster, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 8:1–15

Reflection

You just stepped right on the word of God, and you didn’t even notice!

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus told a parable of a farmer sowing his seed and explained to the disciples that the seed is the word of God. Because the disciples listened to Jesus’ explanation, they could “hear” the message. The general public would not understand. To them it would remain just a story.

To me, this scripture tells us that everyone hears the word of God—it is distributed evenly all over this earth. We determine the outcome. We are the soil. How healthy is your soil? Can it sustain and grow what God so freely gives? Is it unprotected—allowing God’s message to be stolen and not lived out? Is it rocky— joyfully receiving, but not able to sustain faith through tough times? Is it thorny—able to grow God’s word, but choked by the worries, riches, and pleasures of the world?

I believe the word of God is all around us. It is not limited to the strong, clear messages coming from our pulpit or daily devotionals. It is scattered around us everyday—even thrown at us, like rice to the bride and groom! Could the word of God be someone’s smile? The voice of a loved one? A sunrise?

These seeds are all around you. Don’t step on them! Water your soil and commence to grow the word!

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for trusting your children enough to cast your seeds toward us. Help us grow your word. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 8:16–21

Reflection

When I read through this passage, the song “This Little Light of Mine” immediately pops into my head. I remember the joy singing this song brought me as a child, particularly the verse that says “Hide it under a bushel: NO! I’m gonna let it shine.” When we sing this song during Children’s Chapel, our kids belt that verse with the same energy and exuberance that I recall as a child. It’s fun to sing, and it also holds a pretty powerful message.

Do you let God’s light shine as you go about your daily life? In June, I taught handbells to several wonderful groups of elementary students at the Presbyterian Association of Musicians Worship and Music conferences in Montreat, North Carolina. The final day of classes were tough, as we were all sad to say good-bye to each other after a great week of music making. One student brought me a “kindness coin” on our last day of the conference. He explained that he was giving me this because he appreciated what I had taught him, and he thanked me for being such a nice teacher. He then told me that I had to take this coin back to Chicago and pass it on to someone who was kind to me. By the end of the day, I had an entire collection of kindness coins, ready to pay them forward. A simple hello or a kind word can make a huge difference in someone’s day. These simple deeds show others God’s light and love. I keep one of those coins in my wallet as a reminder to keep that light shining!

Prayer

Gracious God, remind me to keep the light of your love always shining, so that all who are around me may see and receive this light. Amen.

Written by Briana Belding-Peck, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 17:11–19   

Reflection

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

If you are like me, you have a hard time accepting gifts or help from others. Many of us operate under the mistaken ethic that we need to do everything ourselves and that we are to be caregivers, not care receivers. To thank someone for their help, we think, is to admit that we were not able to do something by ourselves. Instead, Jesus’ probing questions at the end of this passage remind us that we are called to acknowledge help when we receive it. We do this not just for the other person’s benefit, but as an act of humility that reminds us of how we are called to give and receive.

I encourage you all to contact at least three people today who have helped you in the past week and thank them, recognizing how indebted we all are to each other and how indebted we are to God’s grace and love.

Prayer

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

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 8:26–39  

Reflection

Today’s story from Luke’s Gospel is both graphic and dramatic. The characters and the circumstances stay with us. Jesus has ventured into Gentile (non-Jewish) territory, only to encounter one of the most marginal of residents, a man who has been possessed by demonic spirits for years. Yet even this man, a danger to himself and others, Jesus manages to heal.

I have struggled over the years to grow in my understanding of demonic forces. They can be experienced both individually and collectively. And they are also referred to as powers and principalities.

Scholar and preacher Fred Craddock helps me out with two key insights. “Demonic forces, though hostile to God, are ultimately under God’s control.” Thus Jesus brings a power that can overcome evil itself.

The fear and uneasiness felt by the neighbors of the demonically plagued man also call for our attention. Craddock comments, “A community thus learns to live with demonic forces, isolated and partially controlling them.” The shootings of two African American men by police days before I sat down to reflect, followed by the shooting deaths of five police officers, tragically convey Craddock’s insight.

The horrible gun violence that shatters our common life in this country (along with attacks on other civilians worldwide) underlines the fact that we have learned to live with the demons of this societal reality, and we are isolated from one another by this demonic control as well.

My hope is that we can trust in the justice and peace of our loving God, lived out in Jesus, which can somehow heal us from this demonic possession we experience.

Prayer

Heal us, O God, that we too might find ourselves in our right mind in the common life we share as your people, through Jesus, our brother and our Savior. Amen.

Written by Jeff Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 8:40–55

Reflection

There are two different miracles in this story. In one, a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years touches Jesus’ cloak and is healed. In the other, the young daughter of a prominent leader is raised from the dead. Despite the incredible nature of these healings, the most striking and revealing aspect of this scripture is the way that the two miracles are grouped together. It’s safe to assume that socially the hemorrhaging woman and the young girl would have had little to do with one another. The woman—by virtue of her “unclean” condition and presumably unmarried status—would have been a pariah left to fend for herself on the margins of society. The girl, meanwhile, belongs to a powerful family at the center of the community.

Remarkably, Jesus makes no distinction between these two people and pays no heed to the social parameters that define their differences. They are both children of God in need of his healing touch, and so he serves each of them. In general, human beings are not good at overlooking differences. We are prone to prejudice and tribalism. Even our best efforts to seek justice often pit one group against another. But Jesus—even as he meets people in their own individual need and experience—breaks down the barriers that would separate them and binds them together by his miraculous love. Thus, there is the potential for a third healing in this story: the healing of a broken, distorted community into one where all are worthy of life and community. In the midst of our ever-more divided society, Christ calls us to understand the ways that we are connected and to remember that our wellness and wholeness and healing are bound up together.

Prayer

Loving God, help us see each other as Christ sees us. Help us seek healing and justice for one another, and help us understand that we are one community bound together by your love. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Written by Layton Williams, Former Pastoral Resident

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Today’s Reading | Romans 14:13–21   

Reflection

The Apostle Paul no doubt discovered newfound freedom in knowing that in God’s eyes nothing is unclean. Nothing we may eat or drink renders us unclean. But instead of pushing that truth on others, Paul urges followers of Jesus to respect that others may not believe the same thing. He even goes so far as to say, “It is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean.” Later he says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” So take care that your freedom, your behavior, does not lead another to act against their own conscience or beliefs. We are to pay attention to how our actions may influence another to stumble or fall.

Most of us don’t believe substances will make us unclean. But, still, our own freedom to engage in certain actions should be limited by any negative impact we could have on others. I may not be an alcoholic, but I should be caring towards others who may be or become an alcoholic. I need to guard against encouraging social situations in which the availability of alcohol or my use of it tempts others to overindulge. So, too, with food. I may have an effective metabolism and no issues with overeating (not!), but it’s best if I choose to offer myself and others healthy foods in a balanced amount. Being sensitive to others so they do not stumble applies to any matter of conscience. Our overriding goal needs to be “to pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” We are called to walk in love with one another. “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Prayer

Loving God, help me discern whether my actions could harm another. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Today’s Reading | Romans 15:1–13

Reflection

“Americans enjoy explaining almost every act of their lives on the principle of self-interest properly understood,” writes Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America. “It gives them pleasure to point out how an enlightened self-love continually leads them to help one another and disposes them freely to give part of their time and wealth for the good of the state.”

In the United States—particularly as part of a Presbyterian tradition that celebrates freedom of conscience—we have long held that freedom can and should lead to good for ourselves and for our communities. On the other hand, there are those who (out of a desire to maintain the goodness of our traditions) ask us to examine whether our traditional faith that our individual exercise of freedom will actually lead to positive outcomes for our communities (e.g., http://bit.ly/2aDRcLQ).

As we enter into a season when critical decisions—about power and place in society, about social and environmental justice, about our financial and national priorities—will be made through the exercise of our freedom to vote, I think it is right for us to once again wonder, “Is it necessarily good that my freedom to act should be guided by my self-interest?”

De Tocquevillehimself admitted, “If the doctrine of self-interest properly understood ever came to dominate all thought about morality, no doubt extraordinary virtues would be rarer.” Yet are we followers-of-Jesus not called to “extraordinary virtue?” Paul calls all of us to “put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. . . . For Christ did not please himself.”

As we make important decisions in the days ahead, about electing leaders and defining policies, I pray that we might use our freedom directed by “the God of hope” who “[fills us] with all joy and peace in faith so that [we] overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Prayer

Holy Christ, whose love and grace grants me every power and freedom I enjoy, help me trust you as I use them, that I might not be anxious about my own benefit, but instead do all I can to lift your people to a fuller experience of knowing your justice and goodness. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 146

Reflection

The exuberance of this psalmist makes me wonder if I take the magnificence of my God for granted. The psalmist exclaims that our God is “forever” faithful and executes justice for all those who are oppressed. God is a helpful presence regardless of the nature of our need or hardship. Maybe you’ve never really been hungry or starving, but most of us know what it is like to have psychological and spiritual hunger that prevents us from thriving. Sooner or later we will all know what it is like to lose a loved one. We all have blind spots in our lives where we need help seeing. Who of us has not been burdened and “bowed down” by life or been imprisoned and “held captive” by physical, psychological, or spiritual shackles. We have all felt like “strangers” in big or small ways and have needed help, support, and companionship.

How amazing that God’s very nature means we never have to feel alone in time of need. God is there and has us covered!

And . . . it’s not all about us, is it? We are extensions of God’s love and presence. Think of all those who are hungry; imprisoned physically, psychologically, or spiritually; blind and need help seeing; in need of someone to provide justice for them; are burdened and weighed down by their life; are being made to feel like strangers because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religious beliefs, and more. So, rejoice that God will be ever present for you, and be aware of how you might be God’s intended instrument for others to experience God’s amazing love and presence in their lives!

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for your steadfast faithfulness, love, and presence in our lives. Keep us alert to how our actions and choices can help others experience your presence and love in their lives. Amen.

Written by Thomas Schemper, Director, Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 65

Reflection

From God creating a beautiful and wondrous world to forgiving our sins to providing an abundance of crops and sheep, this psalmist has a long list of blessings to give thanks for.

Two things strike me about this psalm. One, there is no mention of enemies. Most of the psalms I’ve read include at least one verse either thanking God for, or asking God for, deliverance from enemies. Two, it doesn’t include any prayers of supplication. The psalmist doesn’t ask for one single thing. Again, most of the psalms I’ve read include at least one verse asking God for continued protection or for a need to be met. This psalm is entirely focused on praise.

These days, you can turn on any media outlet and within just a few minutes you’ll be bombarded with discussions of enemies—a negative political ad, another unarmed black man shot by police, an update on the unrest in the Middle East, another heart-wrenching story of innocent lives lost in a terrorist attack, the list goes on. There are plenty of good and righteous prayers of supplication to lift up for our broken world—not to mention what’s happening in our own lives. And we should absolutely pray for those things.

But let us not forget to take the time to reflect on the good in our world and in our lives and to thank God for those blessings.

Prayer

Lord, in the midst of this broken and pain-filled world, help us to see moments of your love and the abundance of your blessings. Shine your light through us so that others might see you through our words and our actions. Amen.

Written by Nicole Spirgen, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 147

Reflection

Sadly, I tend to worship a small, incapable, and unreal God. It is not because God is any of these things. Instead, it reflects my conception of God, one that is difficult to admit, but that I must admit if I am honest. My feeble prayer life is just one indication of the underlying weakness of my faith.

These bracing reflections of my soul come from the magic mirror of God’s Word. It reveals to me faith-areas that require attention. It reminds me of God’s greatness—God determines the number of the stars—and that the provision I have enjoyed every day of my life comes from God’s hand. The psalmist encourages me to celebrate and sing about this. Let’s take a moment to offer thanks for God’s gracious provision.

I also need to be reminded that God’s ideal profile for human beings, and the world’s profile, are very different. God does not delight in the mighty but in worshipers who put their hope in the Lord’s unfailing love. Though this fortifying hope in a glorious God whose love never fails is beyond my ability, it is not beyond God’s ability to grant it. And so I pray—weak though my prayer life is—that God might grant me this great spiritual gift and delight in me.

Prayer

Great Provider, you are the source of all of our blessings, including hope, faith, and the knowledge of God. You have been revealed by scripture to be larger than any problem that confronts us and are worthy of all praise, glory, and honor. Reveal yourself to me to the degree that I am able to bear so that my vision of you is clearer, my hope and faith in you is stronger, and my love for you is undying. Amen.

Written by Tom Payne, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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