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June 1–4 | June 5–11 | June 12–18
June 19–25 | June 26–30

 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Today’s Reading | Leviticus 25:1–17   

Reflection

Seventh day. Seventh year. Seven times seven years.

This passage reminds us how important time is in our Judeo-Christian tradition.

“Time is money.” “Don’t waste your time.” “I can’t lose time by doing that.”

Our Western culture values time, too, but in a very different way. (I’m indebted to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By for powerfully pointing this out to me long ago.)

In our very modern, very Western culture, time is a commodity: something to be invested well and managed carefully. We should profit from our use of time.

Leviticus, and similar passages in Exodus, help us balance our approach. Time is a gift. Time is holy. What we have received as a gift, we should tend gratefully and lovingly. What we have received as a gift, we can share generously and joyfully.

It’s not that we need to reject either view; rather it’s helpful to let them inform each other. The ancient scripture has its own wisdom that sounds pretty contemporary. We work better when we take time to rest. Work endeavors fare better when everyone is treated fairly. Land produces better when it’s given time to lie fallow.

As we begin meteorological summer today, let us rejoice in the cycle of time: another season, unique and extraordinary, to enjoy and celebrate. In cherishing it, wantonly wasting some on what helps us rest and helps us grow, we can offer it back to the God who invites us into time and will one day call us out of it into eternity.

Prayer

God of moments and days, weeks and years, thank you for your gift of time. We are grateful for your sabbath mandate and call to jubilee. Help us to take these as seriously as we do our work. May all of what we do and are be a pleasing gift to you. We ask this in the name of our brother Jesus. Amen.

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

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 13:1–16         

Reflection

So, there’s this guy, and he has one job. To go sow seeds. Seeds reserved from last year’s crop, so that there might be something to eat this year. One job. Make sure they get planted. And what does he do? He goes out and starts throwing seeds everywhere. Doesn’t pay any attention to where these seeds are going; he’s just winging seeds left, right, and sideways. Into the road, onto the rocks, into the weeds, wherever.

He is the worst seed-sower in the entire history of agriculture. He clearly didn’t read the first page of Seed Sowing for Dummies, where it clearly says, “Be sure to sow your seeds in the plowed field.” By some miracle, some take root, but a lot of them? Just gone.

Jesus tells this story, and the disciples are, to say the least, nonplussed. “What’s with all these stories, Jesus?” I mean, really. Why not just come right out and say what you want to say? Why is everything a fable wrapped in metaphor, without the moral? It’s so confusing.

And Jesus’ response? “Well, you guys clearly understand everything I’ve been teaching, but those people? If I told them straight out they’d never understand. They’d just miss the point like they always do. You’re lucky you’re not like them.”

And because they “understand so clearly,” he proceeds (in the next passage) to give it to them again, in a simpler, dumbed-down version. A metaphor that they still fail to grasp.

You see, it’s not about the ground. It’s about the seed.

The word of the kingdom, the gospel, is given to everyone. It’s not a targeted message for the few, and no one can tell where it’s going to take root. It has to be sown everywhere, even where people won’t listen, or can’t understand, or don’t care enough, because when it takes root amazing things happen.

Flinging the seeds all over the place may be bad agriculture, but it’s good evangelism.

Prayer

Lord, as your love is for all people, help us not to be calculating in spreading the word of that love. Let it take root in unexpected places and be a blessing to us all. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Friday, June 3, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 13:18–23 

Reflection

I had a hard time with this passage the first couple of times I read it. I couldn’t help but think about how unfair it seems. Jesus seems to be saying that if you don’t understand God’s word the first time you hear it, or if you hear it and get excited about it for a while and then wander away, that you’ve somehow missed the boat and that’s the end of it—that the only people who get it right are those that Jesus refers to as “good soil” and who hear the word and understand it the first time. That’s tough.

But as I thought about it more, I realized that’s not what Jesus is saying. He’s not saying that we only get one chance to hear God’s word. At some points in our lives, and for a variety of reasons, we are like the rocky ground and it’s difficult to hear God’s word. And at other points, we are good soil and it’s easy. Fortunately for us, the sower throws new seeds every year and so too does God continue to reach out and speak to us throughout all the chapters of our lives.

Prayer

Gracious God, forgive me when your word falls on rocky ground or among the thorns. Guide my thoughts, words, and actions so that your words may fall on fertile soil and take root in my life. Amen.

Written by Nicole Spirgen, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Today’s Reading | Ephesians 1:1–10           

Reflection

Ephesians begins with prayer. To be more precise about it, Ephesians begins with a berakot, a prayer common in Jewish liturgy but one that has fallen out of use in Christian liturgy (Verhey and Harvard, Belief: Ephesians). A berakot is a special form of prayer that typically begins with the words “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe.” Here Paul has adapted the berakot for his purpose of proclaiming the gospel.

But though he expands the blessing for his particular context, Paul still begins and grounds the letter in prayer. Before he offers any ethical teaching or talks about church controversies or gives the readers specific work to do, he first prays and invites that church to join him. He blesses God for who God is and for all that God has done and will do. Perhaps Paul hoped that framing this letter with a blessing, a prayer, might make the community of faith more open to hear what he had to say.

That posture of openness often happens in prayer. Martha Moore-Keish writes, “God is around, beneath, before, and beside us all the time, but if we never actively stop to notice this, to call out a breath of thanksgiving or petition, lament or praise, then we live falsely, pretending that we live as independent beings. Prayer requires our attention so that we might have our eyes opened to the way things really are,” (Belief: Ephesians, p. 57). I imagine Paul began with prayer specifically so the Ephesians would first remember who and whose they were as some of God’s covenant people. All other actions and decisions, all other counsel and admonitions, would come later, after their eyes were opened to the way things really were.

Prayer

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe. You breathed creation into being and lovingly formed all people in your divine image. May I begin my day remembering who and whose I am. And may all of my decisions be formed in response. Give me the eyes to see the way things really are. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Today’s Reading | Ephesians 2:1–10 

Reflection

What might spiritual death look like? Feel like?

I remember a time of feeling dead spiritually. I felt disconnected from everything, a shade passing through the world, absorbed solely with myself and what I saw as my needs. I attended to those around me only in part, easily angered or irritated when I bumped up against others. At that time I didn’t know to be otherwise.

And this is the spirit of the world we live in; the powers of sin are all around us in the air, in what we hear and what we see, selling us images of ourselves that have nothing to do with how we might be in true relation to others but only with how we might appear; selling us ways to escape our restlessness, our discomfort with ourselves and our world, but these ways only act to make us more so.

But through the mercy of God I was made alive with Christ. I woke up; I could see—and this was none of my own doing but truly a gift. Since then the work of my life has been to live more and more as Christ made me, created for good works, for the way of life I was uniquely made for.

And even now, when I forget myself and my own inertia and the spirits of the world act to keep me dead, through the mercy of God I am brought again to life in Christ.

Prayer

Great and giving God, keep me in full awareness of your saving grace, that I may most fully live into life in Christ and fulfill the path laid out for me. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Today’s Reading | Ephesians 2:11–22 

Reflection

The Jews had immense contempt for the Gentiles. Jews became unclean if they went into a Gentile’s home. If a Jew married a Gentile, a funeral for the Jew was held. This is the context in which Paul proclaims a remarkable, new reality in Christ: those who had been strangers and foreigners are now fellow citizens and members of the same household of God.

Imagine two conflicting parties who cannot come together on the basis of a legal document. A person they both love and trust intervenes. This one aids their willingness and ability to understand one another. Through the presence and efforts of the third person, the two parties are reconciled and find peace. That is what Christ does. Jesus Christ is our peace.

Currently there’s much talk—and building—of walls and fences to separate people of different countries, religions, ethnicities, and classes. To follow Christ means we break down these barriers.

Some soldiers during war brought the body of their dead comrade to a French cemetery for burial. The priest gently asked if their comrade had been a baptized adherent of the Roman Catholic church. They didn’t know. The priest apologized but said he could not permit this burial in his courtyard. So the soldiers sadly buried him just outside the fence. The next day they came to check on the grave but couldn’t find the freshly dug soil anywhere. As they were leaving in bewilderment, the priest approached and said his heart had been troubled by his refusal, so early in the morning, with his own hands, he had moved the fence to include the body of the soldier who had died for France.

Prayer

God of us all, help me move and remove the fences that separate us from one another. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Today’s Reading | Exodus 3:1–12

Reflection

Do you hear God speaking to you in your daily life? Do you feel like there are signs of God’s presence in the world? Can you perceive the reconciling grace of Jesus working understanding between enemies? Do you feel the movement of the Spirit, pushing us all to seek justice for the oppressed?

With all the bad things that are going on in the world around us—with all the hard things that you might be experiencing in your personal life this very day—it would be great to be able to see God’s miraculous power at work, wouldn’t it? If only we knew where to look for it.

Moses and his people were in need of God’s care and presence as well. They needed a miracle that would free them from the oppression of slavery in Egypt. But, when we meet Moses, they had already endured generations of servitude. Why would anything change now?

“When the Lord saw that Moses had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’”

Moses turns aside from the everyday, but important, task of keeping his father-in-law’s sheep to examine a strange bush that is on fire but that is not consumed. He directs his attention to something that fills him with wonder. Only then does God speak to Moses.

Perhaps this is how God’s presence and power might come to us as well. What are the things that bring you to a sense of wonder? Do you turn aside to give them a closer look?

Prayer

God of miraculous power, remind us that we have a role to play in bringing about a world of peace and justice and that you will speak if only we become ready to listen. Come to us—in burning bush and lightening sky, in human resilience and in nature’s diversity, in the vastness of space beyond us and in the microcosm of each human mind. We will do our best to turn aside and pay attention. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Today’s Reading | Ephesians 3:1–13  

Reflection

While I grew up in a church, faith did not become real for me until my husband and I started attending a church after our oldest daughter was born. At that time, I agreed to go back to church because it was simply a good thing to do. And then it happened. I started questioning in ways I had never questioned before. I wondered what I believed and if I believed.

On those Sundays, that congregation was in the habit of reciting the Apostles’ Creed weekly. Because I was questioning most everything of faith in those days, I would say aloud only those things in the creed that I could believe and I would silence myself during any of the phrases I doubted. And then on one of those Sundays, I had an experience a bit like Paul’s conversion experience. Something—a feeling—washed over me in the middle of the recitation of the creed. Suddenly I realized that there was truth in those words far beyond and way deeper than the words on the page. It felt like relief, and it was life changing.

When I read Paul’s words, I thought back to that Sunday. He referred to his experience as when “the commission of God’s grace was given” to him. He spoke of the sudden “knowing” of the boundless riches of Christ. He knew that he had inherited the promise of the gospel. He knew that he had access to God and that grace had been given to him, despite being the “very least of all the saints.”

When was the “commission of God’s grace” given to you? For whose sake was it given to you? I love the phrase, because it’s powerful to think that the “commission of God’s grace” has been given to me. I hope you know it’s been given to you, too.

Prayer

Gracious and loving God, thank you for “the commission of grace” you’ve given to me. Help me to use it for the sake of others. Amen

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

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Today’s Reading | Ephesians 3:14–21

Reflection

It’s hard not to look around at the world today—at the discord, destruction, disagreement, devastation, and overall dissonance—and wonder whether the hope we preach is actually founded in reality. We believe—or at least aspire to believe—that an ounce of love is stronger than a pound of hate, that a small light can pierce through the darkness, and that Christ is indeed coming to make all things new, but there are many times when our world seems to suggest quite the opposite. What maintains our faith through it all?

It starts, either Paul or one of Paul’s close followers suggests, with trying our best to take the long view. We are to ask for strength, a strength rooted in Christ’s love. We will be pushed and pulled to expand our understanding of the height and breadth and depth of what that love is. But more than anything, we are being asked to trust that God is doing more in our world—in and through and with each of us—than we would even imagine in the moment.

One of my favorite benedictions, an old Franciscan blessing, sums it up like this: May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Even in the times when God’s love seems absent in this world—or perhaps especially in those times—I hope that we can each share enough foolishness to trust that God’s love is stronger than anything else we might encounter and that we live lives proclaiming that truth.

Prayer

Holy God, strengthen me in hope when my spirit is waning, and challenge me to live my life according to the height and breadth and depth of your love. Amen.

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

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Today’s Reading | Ephesians 4:1–16   

Reflection

This passage reminds me of the line, “No person is an island.” While some might argue this, the fact is that God did not create us to live in isolation but to live in beloved community. The problem is that we do not always do that, or sometimes we have a distorted idea of what a beloved community looks like. Here we have a clear example: it is the body of Christ in the world, and we are called to be that body.

But it’s not that easy, there is more to being the body. Like all that makes up our own bodies, we must grow and thrive and each do our part.

When a baby is born, parents love and care for it; a baby cannot survive alone. Each of us comes into the world dependent on the people around us for everything. So why would we think that this is any different as we grow as a body of people? To do this, we must support one another, and we must tend to our responsibilities as given to us by Christ: to love the Lord with all that we are, and to love our neighbors the same. By doing these things, we live into God’s intention for us as God’s creation: to be the beloved community.

Prayer

Creator God, you made us to be your beloved community here on earth. Help us to see the ways in which we distort what it means to be your beloved community, and help us live into authenticity as we love you and those around us. Support each of us as we support one another, and help us to allow others to support us when we are too stubborn to do so. Amen.

Written by Shelley Donaldson, Senior High and Confirmation Youth Coordinator

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Today’s Reading | Ephesians 4:17—5:2

Reflection

At its core, this passage is about repentance—turning from unhealthy habits to start out on a new path. It’s a pretty tall order. Could we really live day-to-day with “no evil talk [coming] out of [our] mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that [our] words may give grace to those who hear”? Could we really make such a radical shift in our own lives, not to mention in our workplaces, churches, schools, and governments?

Paul doesn’t give the Ephesians a clear plan—at least, not in these eighteen verses—but he leaves some clues.

Be angry but do not sin.

He doesn’t say “Never be angry!” or “Anger is evil!” but instead, “Go ahead, get angry, it’s natural—but think about how you act on that feeling. Use it to help others, not tear them down.” I know from experience that it never ends well when I ignore or suppress my anger, or sadness, or any emotion. Sometimes it’s a challenge to be honest but also express my feelings constructively. I love that Paul allows for that tension. He doesn’t ignore the complexity of the truth in favor of a neatly packaged, ear-pleasing solution.

We are members of one another.

We can’t make this daily transformation in isolation. I know I can’t. We are all one body. Paul isn’t laying out some arbitrary rule for behavior. He is reminding us that we are all connected—what I do affects you, and what you do affects me, and what we do affects our community, our church, our nation, our world. It’s quite practical. Of course, it isn’t easy, which means we need each other even more. We can’t do it alone.

Prayer

God, give us the strength to be honest and loving in our speech and actions. Give us the courage to be vulnerable with one another, so that together we might turn from our old ways and reflect your love and grace. Amen.

Written by Jeremy Pfaff, Editorial Assistant

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 27

Reflection

My dad’s sister, my Aunt Arilda, is one of the strongest people I know. She is a very sensitive person, and we have always had a special bond. A couple of years ago I was going through a very difficult breakup with my boyfriend; at the same time she was going through cancer after a year prior losing her husband, the love of her life, to esophageal cancer. She had also lost both of her parents three years earlier. As I was talking through how I was feeling, she said, “I know no one really wants to think of life this way, but it really is a series of challenges and it is how you react to them and face them that makes all the difference.”

I’ve never forgotten those words. Yes, we all have great times and there are peaks in life, but the valleys teach us something too. Getting through painful times gets a little easier the more you face them because that is life, a series of challenges amongst the really good times.

This psalm reminds me of what my Aunt Arilda said about facing those troubles in life, and I hold the last verse close to my heart. In the words of the New International Version, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Prayer

Lord, your majesty is great, your protection strong, and your heart overflowing with love. I pray that you help me see your hand reaching out in front of me, guiding me through the days where I feel I cannot go on, through the days when I do not feel your presence. Amen.

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

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Today’s Reading | 1 John 3:18–24 

Reflection

Posted directly above my bedroom light switch is a small quote I received during my sophomore year in college while on retreat: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s quote strikes us with a bit of tension and makes us reconsider our reality. I leave this tattered quote in my daily reach because I too often become complacent in what I perceive as the correct way to express love—words, niceties, compliments. However, those words easily remain surface-level unless we follow them with concrete actions that test our vulnerability and willingness to show the uncomfortable sides of our humanity.

In today’s letter to John, we are reminded of God’s commandment to love other as God loves us. God knows our innermost secrets, fears, and wants. Our relationship with God is one of the true definitions of love. Everything is sacred; everything is simultaneously exposed and forgiven.

How do we set our hearts to this type of love in daily life? It takes a great deal of strength to expose yourself to strangers and share genuine concern for their deepest needs. What can be even more difficult is maintaining this strength and persevering with love when someone so close to you has deeply hurt you.

This is when we truly learn to love without hesitation, to follow God’s commandment and live without judgment, regret, or disdain. Our humanity prevents us from instinctually choosing this way to love, but God continuously models this holy presence by accepting our true being, regardless of readiness to offer the same.

Prayer

God of love and forgiveness, remind me to echo your limitless love with those who know what’s on my heart and with those whom I have yet to meet. Give me strength to embody your grace. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Today’s Reading | 1 John 4:7–21    

Reflection

John devotes this entire passage to the topic of love as an amazing gift from God demonstrated by God sending Jesus to atone for our sins and as the right response for us to have to God’s amazing gift.

John’s singular focus on love says two things to me. First, that John understands God really does want a world in which all his followers live lives devoted to loving one another. Second, that John realizes how difficult it is for us, in all our humanness, to fulfill God’s vision.

John could very well be talking to a modern-day audience, pleading with us to please love one another, exhorting us to fully appreciate the magnitude of God’s incredible gift to us by sending Jesus into the world and letting him die for us.

As John’s plea highlights, and as we all know, understanding that we should do this and doing it are two very different things. It means much more than “not hating” someone; than accepting or even liking someone. We are to love them, because God loves us.

And if we can do this—if we can love one another with no expectations and no conditions, if we can love one another simply because it is God’s will—how amazing the world would be.

Prayer

Dear Creator God, thank you for your incredible patience with us. Please give us the strength to respond to your amazing gift of love by loving one another, by loving all our brothers and sisters—particularly those we find most challenging to love. We offer this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by Ed Miller, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Today’s Reading | 1 John 5:1–5           

Reflection

I do not often find myself in the writings of the pastoral epistles, like 1 John, so I needed a reminder of the setting and the author. Most scholars now agree that this letter is a treatise or sermon circulated among the early churches in the Johannine tradition. The author was likely an unknown teacher addressing that same network of congregations.

The first verse speaks to me in a powerful way. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” Through I trust that Jesus is the Promised One, the Christ, the Messiah, I am assured that I, and all who share this trust, are beloved children of God.

For years I have spoken of Jesus as our friend. Recently, though, I have been drawn back to a centuries-old tradition of addressing Jesus as our elder brother. The repeated refrain, uttered by Shannon, our pastor, naming Jesus as “our brother and our Savior” helped catalyze this transition for me.

Our response to the gospel’s claim on our lives is shaped by the language we use for God and for Jesus. How do the images of Holy Parent and of Jesus as our elder brother speak to you?

Prayer

Holy Parent, I thank you for all the gifts of grace you have granted your children. Continue, I pray, to lead us in the way of our elder brother, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 29          

Reflection

We wake each morning and move forward in our usual routine. The day ahead pulls us, and there is little time to think about anything beyond the demands of the day. I know there are days when I am not fully engaged until I find myself seated at my desk and responding to the emails from the few hours since I last responded.

Today, in the blessing our Fourth Church devotion brings, we are given the opportunity, through Psalm 29, for God to break into our lives. King David gives us several examples of the ways in which he noticed God breaking into his life. Psalm 8 is a meditation on the beauty of a moonlit night, Psalm 19 reflects on a beautiful sunny morning, and here we are in Psalm 29 in the power and strength of a mighty storm.

In ways I pray we cannot ignore we are reminded that God is in all the moments of our lives. We are told to give God glory and strength; we are told God shakes our lives and is with us in our challenges. We are told God will bless us with peace. Now, that is the way to start our day and the way to end our day!

Prayer

God of the thunder, God of the lightning, God of the only true peace—I give you praise and thanksgiving for the ways you break into my life. I pray you will guide me to notice, to pause, and to respond with a life that reflects trust in your strength and gift of peace. Amen.

Written by Sylvia Robertson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 8:15–17

Reflection

This passage speaks of two ways that Jesus’ healing powers made a difference in people’s lives. He touched Peter’s mother-in-law, healed her fever, and then went on to heal many others of their emotional and spiritual ills. My question is how do we relate to this today and continue to experience Jesus’ healing in our lives?

I recently woke at 4:30 a.m. to symptoms of a heart attack. In the hospital, the emergency medical team realized the seriousness of my blockage and rushed me to the surgical lab. I knew it was important to stay calm and positive. As I lay on the gurney being guided to a life-saving procedure, an image from a church in Antigua, Guatemala, came to me. A mural there contains the image of Jesus in the midst of a surgery, guiding the surgeon’s hand. I remembered this painting and imagined Jesus being present in that high-tech room of bustling urgent activity. It was very reassuring and calming to imagine Jesus supporting all the work being done on my behalf.

Days after, my sleep and dreams were laced with panic as I struggled with a pervasive feeling of not being able to get enough breath. All of my known calming and meditation techniques did not give the relief I needed. A song written by the Waterboys, whose lyrics repeatedly state “every breath is yours, beloved,” became my companion. This music calmed me as I realized my breath was a gift from God, and I imagined Jesus facilitating my breathing. These experiences reminded me that Jesus continues to be a powerful healing presence and available resource in our lives today.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, thank you for being present with us every step of the way as we go through life contending with all that life deals us. Help us to take full advantage of your healing presence and to be agents of your healing love to others through acts of kindness and presence. Amen.

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

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 8:18–27

Reflection

When I read the Gospels, I find that I ascribe thoughts and motivations to the actions of Jesus. I think I know “the rest of the story,” and I generally fill in my own narrative based on how I would feel in the same situation (or how I am feeling that given day).

Take, for instance, this passage when Jesus called for a boat to take him to the other side of the approaching crowd: “Then a scribe came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’” My “rest of the conversation” goes something like this: “Excuse me, can I get some personal space, here?” or, “Gee, why don’t you people just leave me alone!” The next verse reads “Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” To this I add, “Fine, do whatever! I don’t need you anyway.” I am embarrassed to read my thoughts, which seemed perfectly justified in my head.

The good news is that there are people in my life who share their thoughts on the very same scripture, providing a much deeper understanding of the account. Perhaps the scribe was too hasty in his desire to sign up or was doing it to join the “in crowd.” Perhaps Christ was showing him it is not easy living in this world and apart from this world. And as for the disciple, perhaps following Christ is not something that you can do “after” you have first tried to handle your life on your own.

Prayer

Dear God, help me to not speed-read through the quiet, subtle ministry of our Savior. Teach me to discern the true message of your Word. Amen.

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

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 8:28–34

Reflection

In this story, Jesus has not only saved the two demon-possessed men from their horrible fate, but in saving them, Jesus has also made it safe for the people to travel on the road again without fear of violence.

You would think the people would be grateful for that and thank Jesus, asking him to come over for dinner and stay in their city to help with other healings. But the line that fascinates me in this story is “then the whole city” came out to meet Jesus and “they pleaded with him to leave their region.”

Who and what are they afraid of? Are they afraid of Jesus’ power because it changes everything? Are they afraid of the demons that are set loose from the men? What if the torment the possessed men had experienced now has to be shared more broadly by society? Are they worried about physical pain? Are their worries spiritual?

In allowing the pigs to die, Jesus allows a large portion of the people to lose their income and possibly a food source. (This story takes place in the Decapolis, on “the other side of the lake” from the Jewish community, where herding pigs provided a livelihood for some.) Are their worries economic?

In this same story in Mark’s and in Luke’s Gospel, the demons identify themselves as “Legion,” which evokes the Roman Legions, the soldiers occupying the people’s territories. In exorcising these legion demons, does Jesus free the people from oppression? Are their worries political?

When faced with change, we too can become consumed with worries. We may be tempted to “plead” with Jesus to just let things stay the same as they have always been. Can we welcome God’s presence when confronted with life-changing events?

Prayer

Dear God, comfort my soul. Help me to trust that you are with me in all my trials and that you will support and uphold me even when I am uncertain what the future holds. Let me trust in you. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Minister for Congregational Life

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 9:1–8

Reflection

It is with the best of intentions that when we see a problem, we often try to fix it with our own understanding and our own solutions. We think we know better. Without necessarily understanding the whole story or the perspective of those seeking help, we jump in with what appears to us a quick, easy, direct fix, whether or not it’s what the person in need really desires. Indeed, our own deepest and most painful problems are seldom easily perceived at first glance.

The friends of the man in today’s reading earnestly sought to help him as best they knew how. Having heard stories of miraculous healings performed by Jesus, they carried their paralyzed friend to him as soon as he arrived in town. Jesus, seeing their love for their friend and his deep need, encourages him and tells him he is forgiven for any wrong done. I imagine the companions thinking, “Really, Jesus? That’s what you think we brought him here for? Can’t you see he can’t walk!” The religious leaders were also unimpressed and outraged by a spiritual healing rather than a physical one, and so Jesus uses the opportunity to proclaim his power over both inner and outward pain. As the man walks, all there glorify God for both healings, giving Jesus’ ministry greater influence than a mere physical solution would have done.

I also wonder how the man reacted inwardly. Certainly he was excited to walk again, but perhaps an even greater relief came at the first healing. His heart was made whole so he could fully rejoice in a restored body. Where do we most need restoration today?

Prayer

All-Understanding God, thank you for reaching to the heart of every need, whether or not it is obvious to anyone else. Help me to see as you see; heal my own hidden scars as I seek to help others. Amen.

Written by Sarah van der Ploeg, Member of the Morning Choir

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 9:9–17           

Reflection

Are we the well or the sick? This is the question we must answer in order to properly engage with this text. Though modern understandings of disability and ableism add a layer of complexity to how we talk about wellness, the larger metaphor in this passage is about spiritual brokenness and Jesus’ role in healing it. The Pharisees understand themselves to be well because they are righteous and uphold the laws. They see tax collectors and the other social pariahs with whom Jesus associates to be a sickness to their society. But Jesus doesn’t confirm this understanding; he only uses it to show them how he operates differently than they expect.

The Pharisees thought that they were morally superior to the people Jesus called friends, but Jesus recognized that the Pharisees too were caught up in personal and systemic brokenness. Their distorted understanding of God’s love was something from which they needed to be healed as well. When we come to this text, it has two important truths to offer us. First, it reminds us that our understanding of who God loves and cares for—of who is good and worthy of acceptance—is not Christ’s understanding of those things. God’s love is broader than we can imagine—probably broader than we are comfortable with. Secondly, this text reminds us that we, too, are included in that healing love—no matter how broken or unwell we feel. Christ comes to sit at table with us.

Prayer

Loving God, we give you thanks that you came to us in the form of Christ to welcome us to the table and make us well. We thank you too that you came for others whom we might cast off or overlook. Help us to see them as you see them so that, made one body in your love, we might work to make the whole world well again. Amen.

Written by Layton Williams, Pastoral Resident

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 9:18–26  

Reflection

The story of Jesus’ ministry is full of stories of faith and the miracles that happen when people have faith. I always feel conflicted about these stories. I grew up in an environment where faith was on a pedestal, where doubt could not be acknowledged, and if you did have doubts, then you were somehow an inferior Christian. Over the years, I’ve come to believe that faith is far more than just the absence of doubt. It’s not simply a belief that will come true if you hope and wish and close your eyes really tight and think really hard.

What I think this story illustrates is that faith is making yourself vulnerable before Christ and being open to his will. It is putting away pride and opening yourself up to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

It’s a daunting task, but doing so puts us in a position to take part in the unimaginable. If we take small steps, we might see healing—whether physical or within a community. We may see institutional hatred broken down and justice rise in its place. As an Easter people, this is the challenge and promise of faith.

Prayer

Lord, give me the faith to be vulnerable and open to your will. Give me the courage to take the first step, and in those steps let your kingdom be made known in this world. Amen.

Written by Jared Light, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 33

Reflection

I love songs; they can express so many different emotions. On my phone I have playlist after playlist—songs for working, songs for working out, songs for good days, songs for bad days . . . the lists continue, but you get the idea. Depending on the day, I will pick a playlist and generally sing along with the music I have chosen.

Similarly, David has psalms, many of which he put to music; psalms of praise, psalms for lament, psalms for the days in between. Psalm 33 seems to me like a psalm for the days in between. It reminds us to give thanks, to celebrate, to fear, and that God is in control. It is a check-in: How are you doing? Are you doing what you need to be doing? What is the next step you need to take? Trust that, because God is with you, even when you are scared. Give thanks and sing along.

Prayer

God, thank you for the wonderful gifts you have given me; for your wonderful creation, blooming before me; for the talents you have bestowed upon me. Thank you for checking in and caring how I am doing. Remind me that I am your creation and you made me for your purpose, that you have a plan for me. Please give me the strength to trust it. Amen.

Written by Katie Patterson, Junior High and Youth Mission Coordinator

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 12:1–14

Reflection

We take it for granted that our sabbath is on Sunday. The first time I attended meetings in a country where the work week begins on Sunday (in this case, Bahrain), I remember clearly thinking that it was just plain wrong to be working on the sabbath. But spending time in non-Christian countries puts a finer point on the role of the sabbath in our Christian tradition. And I appreciated it so much more given an alternative context.

Wendell Berry says, “Sabbath observance invites us to stop. It invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help. It invites us to delight in the world’s beauty and abundance.”

Regardless of the day of the week, I appreciate the opportunity to rest and reflect. Removing yourself from the busyness of life is a gift. Find space wherever you are, whatever the day, to dwell on the wonder around you.

Prayer

Abundant God and giver of all life, allow me to focus on the beauty of the world around me. Today and every day. Amen.

Written by Lesley Conzelman, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 13:31–35

Reflection

It’s astounding to me that a mustard seed—which as “the smallest of all the seeds” is about .05 inches in size—grows into a plant that is as tall as ten or fifteen feet. Every time I make bread in my kitchen, I gaze in wonder at how my dough expands and transforms when a quarter of an ounce of yeast is added.

Can you imagine what these planters and bread-makers in Jesus’ time must have thought when their mustard shrubs emerged and their bread doubled in size? When the smallest materials elicited such grand effects? While I can point to science to explain these phenomena, the only resources people had at that time were magic or, as Jesus suggests, faith.

Jesus offers his explanations of the kingdom of God as parables as a way to “proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world,” linking belief with practical, concrete examples. He challenges his audience: Do you doubt that the work of God’s church can move mountains, can effect grand changes from such humble beginnings? Just look at the mustard seed, at yeast—nothing is impossible if these insignificant materials can paradoxically expand plants and bread. So too has the kingdom of God expanded and blossomed to have a great spiritual impact.

Prayer

God, keep my awe of life’s small miracles alive as a reminder of the power of your work. Amen.

Written by Katie MacKendrick, Editorial Assistant

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 14:13–21

Reflection

This selection makes me think of the phrase “Jesus has my back.” Even when faced with tasks that seem insurmountable, they can be made manageable as long as you have faith and trust. Jesus was trying to retreat to a private place, but when faced with the thousands of hungry people following him, he performed a miracle to feed everyone—including providing enough for leftovers.

It is a struggle for many of us to “let go,” to give up control and to trust others, but knowing Jesus has performed miracles before, we shouldn’t have to worry: everything will work out. Even if something doesn’t go your way, you’ve attempted it and you can learn from your mistake. You will be given another chance in the eyes of God. Live life with no regrets.

Prayer

Dear Lord, help us have full faith and trust in your magnificent miracles, your strength and guidance as we maneuver though our daily lives. Remind us of the beauty you’ve given us on this earth and continue to protect us from evil. Amen.

Written by Doug Whitmer, Director of Human Resources and Office Administration

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 14:22–36

Reflection

I took a lot of Spanish when I was a kid. (Stay with me, this pays off later.) Born in South Texas, grew up in California, so it was always in the air. Took it in middle school and high school. I could communicate, not fluently, but fairly well. Then I took French in college, played around with Italian some, a little Icelandic, took Polish for a job . . . and by and by my Spanish was pushed to a particularly dusty corner of my overly-cluttered brain.

Until about ten years ago, when I wound up working on an archeological dig in Spain. Here I experienced an odd phenomenon: When I didn’t think about what I was doing, I could speak Spanish as well as I ever did, but once I realized what I was doing? Once I thought “Hey, I’m speaking Spanish?” All gone. Totally sunk. I couldn’t have ordered takeout at a Taco Bell.

Which brings me to Wile E. Coyote. (Stay with me.)

He’s chasing the Roadrunner. He runs off a cliff and just keeps going. He doesn’t fall—until he looks down and realizes he’s in midair. Then down, down, small dot, puff of smoke, boom.

Which brings us to Peter, the Wile E. Coyote of the Gospels. Doing fine, cruising along out to Jesus on top of the water, then becoming aware of what he’s doing and, well, going the way of my vocabulario.

You see, I could speak as long as I was thinking about connecting with another person. As long as the coyote was pursuing the bird, he could chase. As long as Peter was focused on getting to Jesus, he could walk on water. But that moment of self-consciousness, brought on by a strange sound, the lack of sound footing, or a stray gust of wind—when we lose that intention to connect, when we think we’re the significant one? That’s enough to render you mute, powerless, and sunken.

Connection with others helps us do amazing things. Self-consciousness? Not so much.

Prayer

Lord, help us to connect, always to connect, and in that connection to find you always between and among us. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 15:21–28

Reflection

Here’s the script for requesting a faith healing (the outsider version—the script for religious insiders is longer):

Plainant: Heal me/my child/my spouse please!

Faith Healer: No.

Plainant: Okaythanksbye.

That’s not the script performed in this story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman. She asks. Jesus ignores her. She keeps asking (shouting). He finally replies, “No.” She begs. His refusal stands.
Then it gets weird. She pivots.

She’s listening to the conviction behind Jesus’ refusal, granting it legitimacy, and then pushing back with a better version of it. It’s genius. Sure, don’t steal from your kid to feed the dog. I’m not asking for that. I’ll take table scraps.

There’s a lot not to like about this exchange in cultural and gender terms; I prefer “Let-the-little-children-come-to-me” Jesus to “This-non-Jewish-woman-is-a-dog” Jesus. But the Jesus I like less of those two changes his mind. This person that his tradition and culture scorn gets the better of him, and he owns it. He’s smart.

She’s brilliant.

Prayer

May we hear the pleas of the needy, wherever they find us, and may we advocate as brilliantly for them—before God and before Congress—as the Canaanite woman did. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 15:29–39  

Reflection

It’s incredible to think about what the scene would have been at both of these miracles: enormous crowds of people, all needing help of some sort. I imagine that things were pretty chaotic and probably overwhelming for many. Jesus was compassionate towards everyone and knew exactly what they needed, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
 
The feeding of the 4,000 really speaks to me. The disciples seem so perplexed by this situation. “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” I find this to be a little funny, given that Jesus had performed a similar miracle previously when he fed the 5,000. The disciples acted as if they hadn’t even witnessed that! They somehow missed the point. Jesus was able to fully provide all of their needs, regardless of the circumstances.

How often do we miss the point and not realize what God is doing in our lives? How often do we worry over something and not pray about it? How often do we pray about something, begging for a response, and not notice that God’s answer is right in front of us? I know that this is true for me. It seems that I usually realize after the fact that God was working in my life. It is important to remember that God has taken care of us in the past, and God will continue to care for us day in and day out, in all circumstances.

Prayer

Gracious and loving God, open my heart and my eyes so that I may be aware of your presence. Allow me to see how you are working in my day-to-day life. Help me to trust that you know all of my needs and that you will always fully provide for me. Amen.

Written by Briana Belding-Peck, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 40

Reflection

Play like its 1908! That is now being printed on shirts seen all over Chicago and that certainly sums up the attitude of every Cubs fan. Those of us who are Cubs fans have waited patiently since 1908, and it is nearly impossible to believe it, but this may be the season when the waiting is finally over. Of course, many Cubs fans will never believe it until it really happens. They have been close before, only to be jolted at the last minute. I think of my wonderful grandparents sitting in their backyard in Jackson Center, Ohio, listening to Cubs games for decades, all the time waiting, just waiting.

The psalmist writes, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” Waiting patiently for the Cubs or for most anything does not come easily to me or, I imagine, to most people. But in the waiting we sense our own weakness, our yearning and our truest needs. Waiting allows us to discern what is really important, and ultimately nothing matters more than our relationship with God, the loving and eternal one. God is always there waiting for us, and we only need to take time to be in union with God. That unity with God can bring hope in the darkest moments, peace in times of struggle, and comfort even in times of affliction. There is nothing more important than waiting for God, listening for God, talking with God, because that is where all truth and strength can be found. That is where all desires are fulfilled. That is the beginning and the end of the journey. God is our true home, and our journey with God begins by just waiting.

Prayer

Loving God, be with us in our waiting and in our knowing. Amen.

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

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