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The season of Lent calls Christians to embrace the faith journey by reflecting upon and deepening their relationship with God and by acting upon their Christian beliefs. In these days we are invited to thoughtfully take up the gifts of faith—worship, study, prayer, and service—in preparation for Holy Week and Christ’s journey to the cross.

As a resource for such Lenten reflections, these daily devotions—written by Fourth Presbyterian Church members and staff specifically for Lent—are an accessible way to approach a liturgical season that often baffles or even intimidates Christians. Through these pages we will make our way together through the entire Gospel of Luke, watching again as the angels visit Zechariah and Mary, traveling as disciples through Galilee, joyfully entering Jerusalem only to soon make our way to the place of crucifixion and then to the tomb . . .

Thank you for being a part of our journey. Blessings to you this Lent.

—Members and staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church


Lenten devotions are available via email (sign up online or send addresses to devotions@fourthchurch.org), Facebook (www.facebook.com/fourthchurch), Twitter (@FourthChicago), online, and in print (from the church literature racks).


February 10–13 | February 14–20 | February 21–27
February 28–March 5 | March 6–12 | March 13–19
March 20–26 | March 27–31

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Scripture Reading: Psalm 51

Reflection

Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has been played more than 65.5 million times on YouTube. Cohen’s song is a musical depiction of the relationship of King David and Bathsheba, coupled with other biblical allusions. For me, Buckley’s version musically depicts a sound and tone of penance, the giving over of a broken spirit. I return to “Hallelujah” every year at Lent. In ancient Judaism, mourning and brokenness were experienced through the ritual of wearing sackcloth and ashes spread upon the living body—a public acknowledgment of their grief. It is from this that part of our Ash Wednesday ritual derives.

Psalm 51 is King David’s plea to God after visiting Bathsheba. In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan comes to David to report to him that he, the king, has failed God. Have you ever experienced a space and time where you may have done less than what you know the Lord expects of you? I most certainly have, countless times. Many of the Bible characters that we consider “good” today have experienced this space in their lives: Abraham lying about his wife being his sister, Moses murdering a man out of anger, eleven brothers selling Joseph to the highest bidder, and King David looking out over his vast kingdom, seeing a woman bathing, and in the blink of an eye all that he is was forever changed.

It is a solid thing to remind ourselves, most especially during Lent, that all the people that we read about in scripture were fully human just like us. They were people with all of the same needs, emotions, troubles, and sinfulness that we have today. In our fullest humanity, this Lenten season we walk together with Jesus through the Gospel of Luke, bringing the penance of our whole hearts and truths to God.

Prayer

God of mercy and steadfast love, through your will and your way, wash me, cleanse me, teach me, purge me, create in me, restore unto me, deliver me, and rebuild me! Amen.

Written by Mark Eldred, Worship Coordinator and Interim Director of Adult Education

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:1–38

Reflection

Prayer is one of the great mysteries of faith. When we think about God answering prayers, we tend to equate answered with yes. Similarly, we equate unanswered with no. But no is, in fact, an answer, even if it’s not the answer we’re hoping for.

For many years, God’s answer to Elizabeth’s prayer for a child was “not right now.” The world wasn’t ready for John the Baptist, and even though she may not have known it at the time, God was asking Elizabeth to be patient and wait for the right timing.

Luke’s clear explanation of Elizabeth’s prayers for a child leaves me wondering what Mary prayed for before the incarnation. I wonder what hopes and dreams of hers God said “no” to so that she would be prepared to be Jesus’ mother. I wonder if at some point she looked back and saw those answers less as “no” and more as “I have something better planned”?

It won’t always be that God’s answer of “no” has another meaning. It won’t always be that “no” really means “not right now” or “I have something better planned.” Sometimes the answer is “no” simply because what we’re asking for isn’t what’s best for us. Are there times in your life when you’ve asked God for something and in retrospect have been really glad the answer was “no”?

Prayer

Omniscient God, help me to know that you always hear me when I pray. Remind me that you always answer, even if it’s not the answer I want in the moment. Help me remember that sometimes the answer is “yes,” sometimes the answer is “no,” sometimes the answer is “not right now,” and sometimes the answer is “I have something better planned.” Give me patience like Elizabeth and trust like Mary as I listen for your answers to my prayers. Amen.

Written by Nicole Spirgen, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:39–80

Reflection

Luke includes in this part of his historical narrative several “aha” moments as experienced by significant witnesses and actors in the earliest recorded events in the life of Jesus. Elizabeth recognizes that Mary is carrying the promised Savior, as her child, John, “leaps in her womb.” Mary realizes that because she has been chosen as the mother of Jesus, she will be called blessed throughout history. Zechariah, after receiving back the ability to speak, prophesies that John will be a prophet who will prepare the way before the Lord.

In this passage, for a moment, each significant realization or mystery revealed was like a veil parting, and it was unlikely that it was fully understood at the time. The truth of these mystical revelations would come much later, after birth, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection. How is this scripture--with its spirit messages, prophecies, revelations, and mystical truths--related to our lives today? If Jesus’ life shows us the Way, then surely our lives, too, have mystical moments when we can look back and notice the messages and meanings that bring truth and coherence to our life stories.

During this time of Lent, take the invitation to be reflective on how the mysteries of birth, ministry, suffering, death, and new life have been evident in your life story. Also, be open to what you may be invited to shed or let die as you move into new possibilities, understanding, life choices, or opportunities this season.

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for the deep mystery of calling us your beloved children. Open us to your grace and mystical truths. Lead us to shed that which no longer serves you or us in this world. Give us courage to listen and be open to new life and callings. We desire to reflect your loving nature in our relationships with all people and the planet. In the name of Jesus, our brother and Savior. Amen.

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

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:1–20

Reflection

We are currently in a season of anticipation. We wait for weeks and weeks and, before we know it, the day is here.

Tax Day.

Most of us dread it, stress about it, or just find it inconvenient—and, if you are like me, you might put it off until the last minute.

In this passage from Luke, the Roman Empire is right in the middle of its own “tax season.”

In the ancient world a “registration” was an opportunity for the government to take stock and severely tax its citizens. But unlike our whiny dislike for paperwork, the ancient process wasn't merely a minor stress or inconvenience. For the people living under Roman rule—particularly the Jews—it was a harsh reminder of who was in charge. Some people, like Mary and Joseph, kept their heads down and peacefully complied; others didn’t—revolts were common.

And this is the world Jesus entered. Tense. Hostile. Hopeless. The scene at the manger is peaceful—the world outside is not. This child, this “great joy for all the people,” brings a promise of relief from feelings of fear and powerlessness. It was a reminder, for everyone, that oppression and violence don’t have the last word.

It means the same for us today. It means that when we feel hopeless, we can trust and find comfort in the promise that Jesus brought into the world. But it also means that if we want to be and live like Christ, we must also, like Jesus, become a source of “good news and great joy” for the oppressed and powerless of the world—both in word and action.

Prayer

God, give us the strength to be a source of hope and love—as the church, as a community, and as individuals. Help us follow your example of bringing light into the darkness. Amen.

Written by Jeremy Pfaff, Editorial Assistant

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:21–40

Reflection

Waiting can be a hard thing to do, especially for me. I think about the prophet Simeon here. It was revealed to him through the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Messiah. He had to trust that the Lord’s promise would come. “For my eyes have seen your salvation!” How lucky we are that we have assurance knowing Christ came, walked the earth, and was among us!

In this season of Lent, this passage makes me stop and appreciate how lucky I am that God blessed us all with his only Son, who freed each of us from our sins. We live in a time where we need not question when the Messiah will come and walk the earth and save us—it has happened! The groundwork has been laid. I think about what Simeon must have felt holding Christ in his arms knowing the good to come for so many.

God continues to promise us so much. This passage is a reminder of the endless blessings awaiting each of us if we just wait.

Prayer

Lord, this day you have given me right now is a gift. Your love is vast and your Son Jesus is an example to me of all that you have promised. Help me to believe in your love right now, to trust in the glory of what is to come, and to rejoice in the present gift you have given. Amen.

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

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 2:41–52

Reflection

I can’t imagine the level of panic that Mary and Joseph felt on the realization that Jesus was missing and was at least a day’s journey away from their current location. They searched for him through three tortuous days, filled with anxiety and worry that few have to go through, and when they finally found relief in locating their son, their response is exactly what you would expect: “How could you do this to us? Do you not know our pain and suffering?” And in response, Jesus questioned them. Why had they been searching and worrying? Didn’t they know that he was in the Father’s care?

While I’ve never had to search for a lost child, I have on many occasions found myself in stretches of fear, panic, and anxiety over my lack of control over my surroundings. But time and again, Jesus tells us not to worry. I find this to be one of the most difficult aspects of being a disciple of Christ. We’re not called to play Pollyanna and simply ignore the problems of the world or pretend they don’t exist. But we also cannot be consumed by worry or be overwhelmed when we are not in control.

Embracing the peace that Christ brings is difficult, but it allows us to face with confidence whatever is before us, firm in the knowledge that we are in the Father’s care no matter the situation in which we find ourselves.

Prayer

Son of God, help me remember your words and promises. Help me to dive into your grace and peace and remember that it is you that reign over the world and all the situations I may encounter. Amen.

Written by Jared Light, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 3:1–20

Reflection

In this passage, the people need a simple message. John the Baptist is preaching about baptism that leads to the forgiveness of sins, but some don’t understand the need to repent, because they feel that being ancestors of Abraham is more than enough. But it isn’t.

John expected those wanting to be baptized to change their ways, so he further simplifies his message: share with those in need, do your job with fairness and to the best of your ability whatever the job may be, and be content with what you have.

This sounds so simple, but life gets in the way. Shouldn’t ethical guidelines for life include these things anyway? Of course we don’t have to go far to interact with someone in need. We should always do any job fairly and to the best of our ability, in fact, to our maximum potential. And if we are doing a job as well as we possibly can, hopefully others will see its worth and express appreciation. No matter what, God will.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, as we journey through Lent toward your glorious resurrection, help me to always remember your expectations of me. Let them be a guide for serving you. Amen.

Written by Ellen Schaller, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 3:21–38

Reflection

This long list of names might seem meaningless because so many of the people included are unknown to us. Their names are hard to say, and the list goes on and on. Who cares! But if we look a little deeper, we can begin to pick up the secret message that Luke has hidden in this long list.

Jesus, of course, comes from God and is part of the family of God. But according to Luke, Jesus also comes from the archetypal parents of all humanity. Every tribe, every people group, every town, city, and nation is populated by the descendants of Adam and Eve, the first children of God. So Jesus is related to us all.

I once made the effort to learn the names of my mother line, so that I could honor and recite my ancestry of women. I am the daughter of Grace Marie, the daughter of Nellie Ann, the daughter of Nellie Sarah, the daughter of Martha. But what Luke’s lineage of Jesus reminds us is that although we come from a long line of humans, as Jesus did, like him we are also children of God, tied back to the original parents. We are diverse in the particulars of our families, but we are all part of the same humanity and all part of the family of God.

In the baptism story, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in a bodily form, spirit made flesh, and with the physical form comes a verbal blessing. In our own baptisms God speaks words of love to us, too.

Prayer

O Holy God, help me to remember and understand that I am part of the wide, diverse human family, all of us created by God and beloved. Let me live out my baptism by receiving that blessing of love, and let me share it by honoring all of God’s children. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Minister for Congregational Life

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 4:1–13

Reflection

At some time in our lives, all of us have done something that we have come to regret or wish that we had not done. Quite often when reflecting upon that event, we dismiss it or try to justify it with that trite rationalization, “He caught me in a weak moment.”

In today’s biblical passage, Jesus has been led about in the wilderness by the Spirit. Alone and not having eaten for forty days, Jesus is vulnerable. Surely even for Jesus this is a weak moment!

Nevertheless, when thrice tempted by the devil, Jesus, having been filled with the Holy Spirit, not only rejects the entreaties of the devil but lectures him.

But this is not the end of the story. Having had no success with Jesus, the devil withdraws; he will wait and try again in another weak moment.

The message: Beware; the devil is still at work in our world. But Jesus also is at work in our world—his world—through the Holy Spirit.

As our earthly lives continue, more weak moments are destined to occur; when they do, how will you respond? One of my favorite hymns came to mind came to mind while writing this devotion. When my weak moments arise (and surely they will), may its beautiful lyrics be my prayer:

Prayer

“Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.
  Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
  Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.” Amen.

(Prayer from Daniel Iverson’s hymn “Spirit of the Living God”)

Reflection written by J. Barlow Nelson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 4:14–30

Reflection

“You can never go back home again.”

Something strange happens when we grow up and move away from home (even if not very far). No matter how positive or negative one’s home life or family may have been during childhood, a fundamental shift occurs once we begin making choices for our individual trajectory, whether involving career, geography, partnership, ideology, or anything else. “Going back home” isn’t home the same way anymore, and similarly, the life we create beyond that home isn’t always fully recognized by those still there. Nostalgic memories can’t be recreated, and the adult we become may go unnoticed by those who knew us as a child.

Jesus encounters this early on in his ministry. Although he is “filled with the power of the Spirit,” has just survived intense trial, and is “praised by everyone” around Galilee, coming home to Nazareth is treacherous. When he proclaims fulfillment of the prophetic text given him to read in his home synagogue, those gathered are “amazed.” Eugene Peterson’s The Message states they were “surprised at how well he spoke. . . . ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son, the one we’ve known since he was a youngster?’” They were blinded by Jesus the boy from seeing Jesus the man, the teacher, the healer. When he then challenges their preconceptions by declaring the broader scope of his ministry, they attempt to kill him.

While hopefully no murder attempts are made on your or my life when we visit “home,” it can challenge the life of our hopes, dreams, or identity. Even well-meaning questions or attempts to help can feel difficult. Thanks be to God who walks alongside us and for those who become our “home” community wherever we are today.

Prayer

O wholly understanding parent and sibling God, thank you for the people and places of my childhood and the communities you surround me with now. Help me find rest in the home that is you. Amen.

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

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 4:31–44

Reflection

This is the Jesus I like the most, the Jesus I crave. Superhero Jesus. Giving people good news, driving out demons, healing the sick. It’s the Jesus that is easy to get behind. When friends or strangers challenge why I bother with being a Christian, I can point to a passage like this and say, “This guy. This guy is my hero.”

But the passage leaves me full of longing and, frankly, anguish. Why can’t Jesus be like this now? Why did he have to die after only three years of this? Or if he had to die and rise again, why did he have to leave after he rose again? I know I’m supposed to say “Jesus is alive,” but he’s not literally here in flesh and blood. Why can’t we have the hero, the one with authority, who will teach us, who will fight evil spirits and cure people of all kinds of diseases?

My friends with degenerative eye conditions who will be blind before they are forty; my friends in chronic pain every day; my graduate school colleague paralyzed by a car crash; the many people who suffer from cancer, AIDS, strokes, Alzheimer’s, ALS; my friends with clinical depression and debilitating anxiety: I want Jesus here to literally heal them.

The people of Capernaum wanted the same. Don’t go, superhero Jesus! Stay here so we never have to suffer again! But off he went. They didn’t get to keep him. They’re back to being responsible for themselves. Like us.

Reconciling the fact that Jesus saves spiritually, struggling to allow his love and mercy to empower me, inspire me, comfort me, and to journey on with my community is hard. But on I go, to lend my small help toward God’s kingdom. Without superpowers.

Prayer

Lord, I long for you to be more literal, but my longing blinds me to your presence. Help me feel your presence in my fellows, in the world, in myself. Help me see you in small and large acts of kindness. Help me find you in connective moments of fellowship. Transform me in moments of forgiveness. Amen.

Written by Kat Evans, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 5:1–11

Reflection

Trying to figure out what to say about Luke 5:1–11, I glanced up at a Joseph Campbell quote on my bulletin board: “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” This story illustrates the kind of trustful openness to which this quote calls us.

Peter personifies a willingness to let go of what is familiar and comfortable and to grab on to what is unknown and promising. First there’s his initial generosity—even though he had just spent a long and frustrating night working—in taking this itinerant preacher out in his boat so he could teach the crowds more effectively. Then Peter accepts Jesus’ suggestion to cast his nets into the water again, defying logic and common practice and exhaustion. Finally there is Peter’s humble and radical acceptance of a mysterious invitation to be a “fisher of men,” which apparently couldn’t be done in the context of life as he knew it. He and the others “left everything and followed” Jesus. And they didn’t even have Joseph Campbell quotes tacked up to encourage them!

What if I could be like Peter and the other apostles this Lent? What if, instead of seeing Lent as a time to strip away what is sinful and reject what pulls me toward “less-than-ness,” I embraced it as a season of this kind of openness? As a time to discover what Life is waiting to be poured into my life if only I would allow it? As an adventure? If I could muster up that kind of courage, I might well “look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” as St. Benedict of Nursia says.

Prayer

Master and Lord, I too am a sinful person. Help me to see, as you do, who I am and who I could be. Accompany me, please, through Lent 2016, and invite me into life that is more than I have planned. In your name. Amen.

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

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 5:12–26

Reflection

Two stories of healing. In both Jesus is very aware of the relationship of the institutions of the day to the needs of the people they served. In the first one, he tells the leper, “What happened, that’s between you, me, and God, OK? Just go do what you have to do to show gratitude.” Very modest, very self-effacing, yet still in touch with the laws and procedures.

In the second story, though, we see why he doesn’t look for the attention—because if the religious folk got into the middle of everything they’d just have a debate about whether he should be helping, and if so, how. Jesus wasn’t much for those debates, especially with a sick person lying in front of him.

“What are you saying? You’re OK with me saying ‘get up and walk,’ but not ‘your sins are forgiven?’ Why are his sins so important?” And he tells the man, get up, pick up your stuff, and go home. And the man does just that. And then Jesus did drop the mic and say unto them, “Boom!”

Well, he could have.

There’s a lot of talk these days about who deserves help and who doesn’t. There are a lot of politicians and pundits who are a lot more focused on merit than need and using the moving bar of their own judgment to invalidate the needs of others. Jesus still asks, which is more important, your supposed superiority or their need? And while you have your little debate, I’ll just keep working, because they’re the ones I’m here for.

Prayer

Lord, none of us can ever meet the bar of your example, and yet you see to our needs. Remind us to show others the love we’ve been shown, without condition or restriction. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 5:27–39

Reflection

It’s amusing to read this passage and note how uncomfortable the Pharisees and scribes are with Jesus’ increasingly radical teachings.

“But you’re eating and drinking with the sinners!” they whine. “Look at us: we’re righteous. We’re fasting and praying and reinforcing the right religious and social behaviors. Why can’t you just eat with our kind of people?”

Sure, it’s easy to apply biblical teachings to one’s code of conduct when it’s satisfying or convenient. In picking certain aspects of their lives to sacrifice—the amount they eat, how often they pray—the Pharisees and scribes seem to be saying, “Look at what we’ve given up! We’ve clearly figured everything out. We’re good.” They’re holding onto the parts of their lives to which they’ve grown accustomed and have sprinkled some worship alongside.

But, as Jesus points out, one cannot seamlessly combine pieces of a new garment with the old, just as the scribes and Pharisees cannot retain their lifestyles and pick and choose pieces of God’s word to follow. They must, as Levi did, drop everything and open their minds to the grace of these new ideas—regardless of how uncomfortable they feel—and receive righteousness through God, not through themselves.

And do they adhere to Jesus’ teachings after this day? No, they just keep questioning him in Luke 6. Those scribes and Pharisees never learn, do they? But there’s still hope for us.

Prayer

Lord, open our hearts and minds, so that we might shed the old and fully clothe ourselves in the grace and truth of your teachings. Amen.

Written by Katie MacKendrick, Editorial Assistant

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 6:1–19

Reflection

Jesus was in conflict with religious leadership over practices that were central to Jewish piety and to their identity as God’s people. These two controversy stories about the sabbath come on the heels of two stories about Jesus’ eating habits. First, the disciples, in plucking and rubbing grain, were harvesting and threshing, both regarded as forbidden work on the sabbath. Second, Jesus healed the withered hand of a man, when curing was considered unlawful on the sabbath.

In both cases Jesus courageously claimed a teachable moment. He lifted up a precedent when a human need—hunger—made a claim prior to that of sacred ritual. He proclaimed himself Lord of the sabbath: it is Jesus’ words and actions that determine when, where, and how sabbath laws apply. He used the law for good. Though it was risky, knowing others were closely watching in order to find grounds to accuse him, Jesus intentionally cured a man. He posed the issue as to make inactivity before a human need no real option: you must choose either to act to save life or refuse to act, which destroys it. There is no wrong day to help another.

Jesus could have played it safe and healed the man the next day. But his reason for being was to reveal to us God’s love and how to love one another. His integrity led him always to show that to truly honor and obey God—on the sabbath or anytime —one does that which nurtures and saves life.

Prayer

God of love, show me when I play it safe and thus diminish my faithfulness to you. Give me courage to stand up for what is good and to act on behalf of others, even when it challenges the norm. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 6:20–49

Reflection

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This passage actually contains the Golden Rule, which is, to me, the basic rule of life.

I like to think that I am a good person: kind, loving, and accepting. I follow this rule. Yes, of course, I do.

Really? Honestly? Every time?

Even when I’m busy? Just to people I know and care about? I’m not mean or rude, but do I truly look, take an interest in, and help those that I don’t know? Do I love them? Do I serve them?

Could I live out this rule more fully? What would happen if I did? Would I be overwhelmed or empowered? Both? If 10, 100, 1,000, or 1,000,000 of us really live this, how would our world be different?

Prayer

Dear Lord, please help me to understand what it truly means to treat others as I wish to be treated. Please give me the courage to live out this rule more fully. Amen.

Written by Cara Crosby, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 7:1–17

Reflection

Years ago, I wandered alone into unfamiliar woods. Fear overwhelmed me when I realized that I did not have a clue as to how to get out. I had no cell phone, GPS, or other such device. What do I do? Which way do I go? How am I to find my way home?

Then I listened to the still small voice within saying, “Stop! Don’t panic! Look for light to guide you.” In faith, I walked toward the sunlight beaming through the treetops, believing that I would find a way out. Finally, I found a path that led to an old railroad track being converted into a walking trail. It was my way out.

When the centurion sent for Jesus to come and heal his dying servant, it was an act of faith of the centurion. When he said to Jesus, “Say the word, and my servant will be healed,” the centurion was speaking words of faith. He believed that Jesus would heal his servant, and Jesus did. When Jesus raised the widow’s son from the dead, he revealed divine compassion, restoring life and bringing joy to all who witnessed this miracle of “God with us.”

The faith and compassion illustrated in this sacred text are attributes of grace available for our lives today. Thank you, God!

Prayer

Divine Spirit, help me to daily trust you to heal and to renew life. Thank you for the light of faith guiding me with the assurance that even in the heart of darkness you are ever present. Amen.

Written by Mary Lenox, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 7:18–50

Reflection

I’ve often heard this part of Luke explained as the opposing forces of faith versus doubt, exemplified by the sinful, but faithful woman and the doubting Pharisees. I remember these opposing poles taking the form of a dichotomy between certainty and disbelief. The takeaway was always “Don’t be the doubter.”

Yet maybe the poles of faith vs. doubt are not so much marked by certainty vs. disbelief as by openness vs. judgment. Even John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus uses John’s doubt as a teaching moment. And when the Pharisees ask, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” it marks movement towards a better understanding, not a dismissal, of Jesus.

In fact, it is the people who appear most certain who are the ones that Jesus rebukes. Jesus doesn’t reprimand Simon for doubting. He reprimands Simon for judging. “If this man were a prophet,” Simon thinks, “he would have known . . . that she is a sinner.” Simon isn’t judging the woman; he is judging Jesus. Simon is certain about the way he thinks Jesus should be and balks when divinity doesn’t conform to his vision. Openness to God’s presence is contrasted with limiting preconceptions of who and how God should be.

How many times have I failed to recognize holiness in the people and situations I encounter? How many times have I myself judged God?

Prayer

Lord, help me be open to your presence.
Whatever form it should take,
help me to see the sometimes unexpected,
breathtaking ways you work in the world.
Do not take away my doubts,
but let them bring me closer,
giving me an ever-greater understanding
of your own unending faith and love. Amen.

Written by Berry Kennedy, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 8:1–21

Reflection

While I wasn’t gifted with a green thumb, my maternal grandfather (or as I called him, “PaPa”) tended to a multitude of plants. He had a rose trellis, crabapple trees, tulip planters. But his prized possession was his vegetable garden.

He was always so excited to show me how with some patience, rain, and good soil, the garden would thrive. Some of my fondest memories at my grandparents’ house included the moments with my PaPa in the garden, admiring how much he tended to such fragile and new life.

In today’s scripture, we witness Jesus sharing one of his more complex parables with his disciples. At its core, the Parable of the Sower relates to the variety of ways we react to, and nourish, the word of God within ourselves and share it with others. At our weakest points, we let our faith falter and wither away. But at our strongest points, when we embrace God’s word through prayer, discipleship, and good works, we truly nurture our faith and deepen our relationship with God.

It may seem simple to deepen our faith when life is calm and steady, but how do we nourish and tend to our faith during the stressful and demanding days we encounter unexpectedly? This is our greatest challenge as Christians: to continue to grow and thrive despite the thorns we meet on our human journey. With the same patience and love we put into our earthly gardens, we too can nurture our fragile faith and prayer.

Prayer

Dear God, cultivate my faith among strong, deep roots. Allow me to discover my growing faith within your love. Let me share that faith with all whom I encounter, through my words and through my deeds, in Christ’s name. Amen.

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

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Monday, February 29, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 8:22–39

Reflection

How odd: instead of praising and thanking Jesus for relieving a man of his extreme mental and physical suffering, the witnesses and others were filled with fear. The transformation was just too overwhelming, and so Jesus was asked to leave.

We are told that this demon-possessed man was without clothing or shelter, hand and foot chained, and kept under guard. Sounds like a miserable existence, trapped by abhorrent conditions.

It seemed easier to keep the status quo and watch the man suffer with his demons instead of rejoicing and supporting him in his transformation.

How many of us are too fearful to change and face our own demons? Is it easier to enable or tolerate the demons in our loved ones? Is the thought of letting go and being transformed into a new way of living too overwhelming? In what ways do we ask Jesus to leave?

Prayer

Dear Lord, when we face our “demons,” help us through our fear of change and the unknown. Remind us to invite you to stay and praise you for your power to transform us for the better. Amen.

Written by Jeannine Forrest, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 8:40–56

Reflection

Every day when I turn on the evening news I am overwhelmed by all of the negative news stories: death, disease, pain, and suffering are all around us. I often feel as if I should not bother watching all the sad stories, because if I am ignorant, won’t I at least be happier? Ignorance is bliss, right? Then I pray, “God, how can you let this happen?” If a woman can reach out and touch Jesus’ robes and instantly be healed, surely it won’t be too hard to solve world hunger!

This passage reminds me that God hears all our cries and is, in fact, surrounded by them on all sides. The response, however, varies. Sometimes all we must do is reach out in faith, while other times help does not come until we think that all is lost. God works on a different timeframe; it is never early or late. Help comes to the hemorrhaging woman, an outcast in society, and to the daughter of a leader of the synagogue. God’s love does not discriminate.

Prayer

Thank you, God, for hearing my prayers. In this world full of strife and pain, give me the strength to be patient for your response when it comes, for your wonders know no bounds. Remind me of all the wonders you have given me. Thank you for your unwavering love. Amen.

Written by Katie Patterson, Junior High and Youth Mission Coordinator

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 9:1–27

Reflection

A first read through the text causes squirming. Acts of healing, casting out demons, proselytizing, miracles, and questions of divinity. It is the type of text that reminds me of my upbringing with a literal interpretation of the word of God that resulted in many questions and frustration.

A deeper review of this text seems to reveal a call for the group of disciples and followers to be empowered. Jesus doesn’t give them the exact manual but directs them to go and take action. Maybe the text is recounting a simplicity of telling stories of transformation, caring and seeing those in need without grand accolades, unorthodox ways of sharing that generates abundance, questioning, and awakening to see Jesus in a deeper way.

At this time in the narrative of the life of Jesus there is not yet “died for your sins.” Instead it is Jesus empowering and setting new ways of responding to others outside the legality and social norms.

The calling is not what Jesus would do but what Jesus empowered his disciples to do. Where are you called to boldly go? What are you called to boldly do?

Prayer

Create a clean heart within me and cast me into the mess of life empowered to transform the small sphere of my world through my actions. Amen.

Written by Dala Lucas, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 9:28–36

Reflection

This scene on top of the mountain is at once revelatory and transcendent. Jesus, in view of the disciples, stands alongside the most revered leader (Moses) and prophet (Elijah) in Israel’s history and yet outshines them. But this transfiguration scene, transcendent as it is, nonetheless brings with it a familiar human reaction: a desire to remain within our experiences with the divine rather than to be inspired and propelled by them.

Peter, awestruck by what he has seen, leaps into action and proposes building three ”dwellings” (literally “tabernacles” in the Greek) for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Peter wants to domesticate this sacred moment—to remain on the mountain and cling tight to this experience—but both God and our author remind us that Peter does not know what he is saying. “This is my Son, my Chosen”, God says—recalling language from Jesus’ baptism. “Listen to him!” This call to listen is an imperative, active verb set in the present. It is not completed, but ongoing.

In this season of Lent, we come once more to listen—seeking not just to relive a familiar story of Jesus’ journey toward the cross, but to allow it to shape our journeys in the present as well.

Prayer

Holy and awe-inspiring God, help me to listen actively in the midst of this Lenten journey—seeking not just to experience you, but to allow that experience of you to transform my life. Amen.

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

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 9:37–62

Reflection

I read this scripture three times. Each time I was struck by the startling dichotomy that was Jesus’ existence. A human being but also of God.

The scripture reveals Jesus’ humanness in the way that he is impatient with his disciples’ silly posturing and their lack of focus.

I acutely sense Jesus’ exhaustion in his words “but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Pushed to his limit, he still can't rest because there is another crowd to navigate; one more soul to save, heal, or transform; one more follower wannabe, tugging on his sleeve, eager to join the cause, but with conditions.

I wonder, was Jesus overwhelmed at times by the spiritual distance he had to cover with his disciples, who had been handpicked to carry on after him but who couldn't perceive the significance of their time with him?

I witness the divine part of Jesus by the way he knows his disciples’ hearts and their hidden insecurities and accepts their limited perception of all that he is. When his words don’t reach them, he tries again: “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me . . . for the least among all of you is the greatest.” Jesus’ unrelenting message is always one of love.

Could I have been one of those disciples, caught up in the momentum that swirled around Jesus, fervent and devoted, yes, but also distracted and shortsighted? Am I still one of those disciples today?

Prayer

Creator God, I am always trying to follow you like Jesus’ example. I am dedicated, but easily distracted and too aware of myself. Walk with me when I get it wrong and share my joy when I triumph. Thank you for knowing and still loving me. Thank you for the awesome gift of Jesus. Amen.

Written by Holly O' Mara, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 10:1–24

Reflection

How we live out our Christian faith is always a difficult question to grapple with, which is why I’m always so thankful for these passages of scripture that can bring us back to the basics. When Jesus sent out his disciples to spread the news of the kingdom of God, the message was incredibly simple. They were instructed to carry the simple message of the gospel; the first words to come from their mouth were to be an exclamation: “Peace be unto this house!” As disciples of Christ, we have the great honor to carry Christ’s peace out into the world, a peace that is given to any who are willing to share in that peace.

While this passage is instruction for how to be a disciple, it also provides great insight into how we should treat those who come into our communities: with welcome, offering food and drink. For when we do this to Christ’s children, we do this for Christ himself. And by listening to those voices, we listen to Christ.

Prayer

Lord, in my journey, help me be an envoy of peace in the world. Help me to carry your spirit everywhere that I go. And help me to welcome all people as your children, to open my ears to the messages of your disciples that will come from unknown places. Amen.

Written by Jared Light, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 10:25–37

Reflection

Many years ago, during a particularly dark and challenging time in my life, I was living in Kansas City. It had been a tough day, and I was glad to be heading back home for the night. As I was driving down the street, in a rough neighborhood, I heard the dreaded sound of a flat tire. I pulled off the road into an empty parking lot and called a friend for help. After a while, a man approached me, and I was terrified. He asked if I had a flat tire, and he offered to put on the spare for me. I accepted his offer, although I was still feeling pretty uncomfortable about the situation. We chatted a bit as he changed the tire, and he said. “You know what? You must have been the reason that I stayed at work late today.” That comment always stuck with me, although it wasn’t until long after that that I realized he was a good Samaritan, sent to me by God in a time when I really needed one.

Reading this parable makes me grateful for the good Samaritans I encounter. It also brings up questions. Am I truly a good Samaritan? Do I have restrictions on my acts of kindness, reserving them mostly for friends or for when it is convenient for me? I hope and pray that I am always aware of others and their circumstances and that I do all that I can to help out.

Prayer

Thank you, God, for the good Samaritans that appear in my life. Help me to recognize them as a blessing from you during dark times. Give me the courage and the willingness, dear God, to be a good Samaritan to those I meet who are in need. Amen.

Written by Briana Belding-Peck, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 10:38–42

Reflection

In today’s scripture text, Jesus is traveling with some of his disciples and comes to a village. Presumably out of kindness and generosity, a woman named Martha and her sister Mary welcome Jesus into their home. Hospitality was just as important then as it is now. And also then as now, the women typically provided it. So Martha immediately engages in the duty of making her guests comfortable. There are meals to be prepared and beds made up. But dear sister Mary is more interested in what her honored guest is saying in the living room. She sits at Jesus’ feet and absorbs his every word. When Martha discovers that she is doing all the work by herself, she goes ballistic. Rather than quietly asking Mary for a little help, Martha commits a breach of hospitality by admonishing Jesus himself for not telling Mary to help. Oops! Not surprisingly, Jesus calms Martha, gently corrects her, and defends Mary for having her priorities straight.

I must confess that, like Martha, on occasion I have been guilty of being caught up in what I was doing, not using good judgment, and saying something that I later regretted. More importantly, I have also been guilty of failing to follow Mary’s example of doing the right thing at the appropriate time.

Prayer

Gracious and forgiving God, in order that I may better serve you, please guide me to focus on what is important and to do the right thing. Amen.

Written by Andy Costello, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 11:1–13

Reflection

When we first set out on this Lenten journey of ours, Luke made certain we had our bearings. We are traveling a landscape of kingdoms: we have King Herod of Judea in the opening words of chapter 1. Then there is Emperor Augustus and Quirinius governor of Syria. Moving from births to public ministry, we discover that Tiberius is Emperor, Pontius Pilate is governor of Judea, Herod is ruler of Galilee, and Philip is ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias is ruler of Abilene.

Against the backdrop of that very clear power structure, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray to their God “Your kingdom come.” What bold, defiant words for those who follow Jesus to utter. To proclaim. Words that give voice to what Jesus has been showing us all along this journey: that true power lies in feeding the hungry, healing the hurt, forgiving sins, welcoming the outcast, loving the neighbor, not passing by on the other side. That is Luke’s picture of God’s kingdom come. It is a kingdom in which we see, writes N. T. Wright, “God revealed in the inglorious glory of the manger, in the powerless power of the cross.”

It is a kingdom that orients and locates us not just in where and what but just as importantly, for Luke, in when: “In the days of King Herod.” “While Quirinius was governor.” “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor.” And “Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread.”—or in the Greek translation, tomorrow’s bread, that language for the grace-filled abundance of the messianic banquet, where all are welcome and all are fed. This day.

To that we, the body of Christ, are called, that it might be so each day on earth as it is in heaven.

Prayer

Thine is the kingdom, O God, the power and the glory. Now. And forever. Amen

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 11:14—12:3

Reflection

There are many scripture verses that speak to us of light, of receiving light, of light as a metaphor for God’s grace and love for us. To cite just two, Psalm 27:1 states, “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” and Jesus declares in Matthew 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won't walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” I’m sure that other passages will come easily to the mind of the reader of this reflection.

As I write this on the celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., I am struck by the relationship between today’s scripture and Dr. King’s quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.” In our scripture today, Jesus tells us to receive the light of God’s love so that it fills our very being.

When we walk the labyrinth in prayerful meditation, our hearts are open to receive that light and God’s grace. May we light the way for each other during this Lenten season.

Prayer

Loving God, kindle thou in my heart within a flame of love to my neighbor, to my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all, to the brave, to the knave, to the thrall. Amen.
(Adaptation of a Celtic prayer from Carmina Gadelica.)

Written by Marsha Heizer, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 12:4–59

Reflection

The twelfth chapter of Luke challenges me in many ways with unanswered questions. As I read the verses I tried to discern what God is asking of me. Finally I decided to focus on verses 54–59, thinking that finding an answer there would be a significant piece to my puzzle.

“You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know to interpret the present time?”

I believe God is telling me that we are living in “present” time and need to share God’s grace and love. I feel that God wants me to avoid being bogged down in a “small picture” life and encourages a joy and love for the world—God’s creation. That includes the smallest bird flying past my window and the friends and strangers I meet on the street. Nothing is outside God’s grace! I envision it as freeing me from judgment and criticism and opening my heart to live as a person free to be welcoming to all.

Prayer

Sovereign God, open my mind and heart so that I may truly live in your grace. Ease me over self-imposed roadblocks. Help me to share this love in a way that honors your name. Amen.

Written by Barbara Timberlake, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 13:1–35

Reflection

The last five verses of this chapter of Luke start with the Pharisees warning Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. Jesus’ response foretells his coming death in passionate and defiant terms. He calls Herod a “fox” and tells the Pharisees to let Herod know that he has no time for his death threats: “I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.” Then, in the verse that strikes me most, Jesus first condemns Jerusalem emotionally—“Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”—and then, in his very next breath, describes how he longs to love and protect the people of Jerusalem, like a hen does her scattered and vulnerable chicks—“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
 
I don’t generally enjoy ugly confrontations and try to avoid them. However, a couple of my favorite parenthood memories involved unfortunate incidents in which one of our kids was being threatened or hurt and my wife stepped up, in the moment, and lashed out to protect her babies like the angry mama bear in one of those Animal Planet videos. This is a beautiful and poignant thing to behold. Love in one of its purest forms.

The image of the hen in Luke is a powerful one in the same way. Jesus, the mother hen, longs to protect the confused and vulnerable people of Jerusalem—and even give his life in the end to save them. An act of love.

Prayer

Dear God, we are grateful for your unrelenting love that embraces and protects us, even when we are confused, lost, and have strayed from you. Amen.

Written by John Shonkwiler, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 14:1–35

Reflection

As Christians, we like the idea of spending time in solitude, fellowship, and care-giving. We like the idea of living in God’s kingdom.

However, life is good at getting in the way. That meeting with the friend whom you haven’t seen in ages: it needs to be rescheduled due to problems at home. That time for prayer that you’ve been craving: it takes a back seat to getting the kids ready for school. That community project that you’re passionate about leading: it’ll have to wait until work dies down.

We know that we can’t ignore our responsibilities, but life’s tradeoffs often leave us feeling busy, tired, and dissatisfied. Trying to remain hopeful, we convince ourselves that we will experience joy after we finish our to-do list.

Luke 14:15–24 reminds Christians not only of our tendency to speak of God’s kingdom with joyful anticipation but also of our failure to accept God’s invitation to experience it right now. Our struggle to merely keep up causes us to look to the future for joy, when in fact God offers it to us right now.

With every breath that we take, God invites us to the banquet table. It is our choice whether to accept or decline. Knowing that you will never get this moment back, do you accept God’s invitation?

Prayer

Lord, you’ve invited me to experience your kingdom in this very moment. I accept your invitation and ask that you help me to enjoy this day for the blessing that it is. Amen.

Written by Ken Perkins, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 15:1–10

Reflection

Reading Luke this month, I was struck by a sense of urgency to Jesus’ travels and teachings, an urgency that gave new force to some familiar stories: those of sabbath healing, of Mary and Martha, of the watchful servant. I was also struck by images of the small becoming powerful: the mustard seed and the yeast. And it seemed to me these hold true for our stories today.

Be quick! There is no time to wait when seeking what is lost—a sheep may be easy prey for animal or thief, or stumble on rocks or be tangled in brambles. A coin can so easily be hidden, swept into the street, or fall into a crack and gone forever. But what of ourselves? Are there parts of our lives that feel lost? Do we seek to be made whole?

Go, look now, and when you have found what is lost, rejoice at its return. For who knows what role it will play in the story of the world. Will that coin purchase the spices brought to the tomb? Or that lamb become part of the Passover feast? We do not know. Their owners do not know, but in the kingdom of God we can be sure that nothing is lost, nothing is wasted. Let us offer it all to God then, every part—those we fear we have lost and those we seek to lose—for in offering all this up, we invite God to use us in new ways, to restore wholeness to us and through us to the world. So seek for your lamb, your coin, your self that you thought lost, and bring it to Jesus with all speed and gladness. And there will be rejoicing in heaven.

Prayer

Blessed Jesus, I come to you, lost and searching. May what I find become part of your heavenly kingdom, and may I be made whole. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 15:11–32

Reflection

Have you ever felt you were owed something for doing the right thing? Better yet, have you ever seen someone who constantly makes mistakes finally do something right and be rewarded for what you do every day? It is easy to call the brother in this parable self-righteous or jealous. Yet if we are honest, at some point we have all waited or are still waiting on our reward. 

The difficulty of this passage is that the father does not seem to care about the good deeds of one son over the other. Instead, he celebrates those lost being found and those dead being resurrected. Through this parable, Jesus reminds us that God is a God of love who welcomes us with open arms despite our pious actions, manufactured appearances, and judgmental thoughts. Jesus challenges us to step out of our self-centeredness and to celebrate life. That is our reward. What may be stopping you from receiving it?

Prayer

God, in this Lenten season, may I seek not a reward but seek first your goodness, life, and love. And may I rejoice knowing that you are always with me, and everything you have is mine. Amen.

Written by Chris Williams, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 16:1–31

Reflection

In reading this parable-filled passage, I am struck by the difficulty in attempting to understand the teachings of Jesus. After several readings of the passage I can see why these lessons for living provoke confusion and curiosity. Maybe that’s the point.

What does Jesus mean by “No servant can be a slave of two masters” or “God sees through you”? I have to ask why would a master commend a steward who had cheated him? I also wonder about money, debt, and business in Jesus’ time and question whether there are aspects about that which we can know very little compared to today. Were there customs then which we no longer practice? Parables often seem purposely confusing. Again, maybe that’s the point: to cause one to think, to really consider the story’s elements.

I think Jesus is trying to teach something about living here and now in God’s kingdom and challenging us to turn popular beliefs on their heads. What exactly are my resources? How do I use my resources in the short term and long term, and can I honor God in the use of those resources? Is Jesus talking about more than money and property? What constitutes generosity?

The theme of this passage that resonates the most for me is one of responsibility. In these stories, Jesus presents intricate and difficult problems that cause me to think in ways that are not obvious. I believe Jesus wanted to disturb the status quo and challenge his listeners then and now to find new ways to understand God’s will.

Prayer

Loving Creator, help me to see beyond the status quo and to think about all my resources and how to use these in a loving way, honoring your intentions. Amen.

Written by Elise Magers, Assistant Director, Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 17:1–37

Reflection

Never look back. It is a message we encounter in Genesis 19, when Lot’s wife looks back and turns into a pillar of salt. And in the final verse of Luke 9, Jesus says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

In each case, though, the act of looking back is based in uncertainty. We can imagine Lot’s wife thinking, “Are we really going to escape the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah safely? And if so, then where are we headed?”

The act of looking back can imply a lack of conviction. A failure of faith. But our reading today offers a different view. In this passage, Jesus heals ten lepers and tells them to show themselves to the priests. Each of these men has borne not only the trauma of disease but also the pain of social isolation, because lepers were considered unclean. The priests alone could pronounce them “whole” and thereby allow their return to society.

So naturally these ten men hurry toward the temple, but one of them, a Samaritan, stops. He not only looks back; he rushes back and gives thanks to Jesus. The Samaritan is certain of the outcome—he is healed! The priests can wait! And through this very expression of gratitude, Jesus gives the Samaritan one more gift: a declaration that faith—his faith, and not the words of the priests—has made him whole.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, if, on our Lenten journey we are compelled to turn back, help us look back in confident faith. Your gifts are all around us, and you alone can make us whole. May we follow the Samaritan’s example of unbounded gratitude, and may we see your healing hand at work in the world. Amen.

Written by Sarah Forbes Orwig, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 18:1–17

Reflection

On several occasions, I have had people complain to me that "they tried prayer, but it didn't work," as if they had gone on the divine Internet in search of a particular item, only to find it out of stock. Were the two parables about prayer which we read today a response of Jesus to similar complaints?

The first parable portrays a widow, one of the most vulnerable people in that very patriarchal society, seeking justice in the courts of her day. She finds herself before an unjust judge who strives to ignore her petitions. Yet she persists, pursuing her cause unceasingly. The judge relents, granting a just decision in her favor, so she will stop bothering him.

When I struggle to keep my prayer life strong, I find the graphic human circumstances Jesus expressed sustaining my efforts. Generalities do not help: keep trying, God will yet respond, don't give up. Instead, I discover renewal as I picture the courage and conviction of the widow. If she could succeed with the unjust judge, how much more mercy will I experience in the mysterious ways of our loving God?

Lest we become complacent in our patterns of prayer, Luke places a second parable of Jesus immediately following. Pharisees were religious leaders of the day, highly regarded and respected. Tax collectors, on the other hand, were agents of the occupying Roman Empire, religiously unclean, despised. Yet it is the humble prayer of the tax collector that Jesus affirms, startling his hearers!

When we are too proud of our prayers, and all that we do to try and follow Jesus, the petition of the tax collector is a wakeup call.

Prayer

Gracious God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Thank you for the very human characters in the parables who stay with us and inspire us as we seek to stay in prayerful conversation with you, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 18:18–43

Reflection

The story of Jesus, on his way to Jericho, stopping to heal the blind man, can be viewed in two very different ways, the first being a person in need has the ability to hold Jesus for ransom, and the second being that of a transactional agreement between two people.

Why do I say this man is holding Jesus for ransom? Ransom and transactional are scary words, but they stand to define how I see our relationship with Jesus. Nothing negative, just my view. The man calls out to Jesus, even yells over people shushing him. He demands his healing. The blind man is pegging on the mercy of the Son of David, that Jesus, because of his divinity and patronage, would do so. When Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?” the blind man does not give flowery verse, nor does he beg. He simply says, “Lord, I want to see” to which Jesus responds, “Your faith has healed you.”It’s that simple. Jesus had something the blind man needed: healing. When given what he asked for, he worshiped the Lord, transaction done. This story is one of give and take, where both sides benefits.

Prayer

Lord, I give you thanks, for all the things I held you ransom for, for all my wants and needs that had gone unsaid but you have heard. Lord, help me to understand that mercy can be my faith, and I can be healed of my self-inflicted blindness. Help me to shout louder than those who wish to see me silenced and to call out to you when I need you the most. In your loving name I pray. Amen.

Written by Tisha Mason, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 19:1–27

Reflection

When I was about twenty-three years old I attended the Goethe Institute in Munich, Germany, and learned to speak German reasonably well. A few weeks after arriving, I took a train to Landshut, a beautiful Bavarian village. When it came time to take the train back, I wasn’t sure where the station was, so I asked, “Wo ist der Bahnhof?” I got a torrent of German at such a fast pace that I understood almost nothing. I just smiled and said, “Vielen Dank” and walked in the direction I thought they had sent me. After doing this several times I was completely lost and had walked out of Landshut into the countryside, where I could see train tracks across some farm fields. So I walked across the fields and along the tracks until I got to the station where, in front of a lot of horrified Germans, I hopped up onto the train platform from the tracks below.

We are all on a journey of some kind, and what happens along that journey is often more important than the arrival or end. Jesus always took time to be present in the moment. In today’s text, Jesus was “passing through” Jericho. He was not there to meet Zacchaeus, but nonetheless he took time from his journey to stay with Zacchaeus and get to know him, changing Zacchaeus’s life forever.

We too should take time on our journey to be present in the moment, being open to whatever experiences may happen. We may notice a person needing our attention, and in that encounter we can change a person’s life. We may notice a piece of music, a tiny beautiful detail, and be stunned, awakened, by what had always been there but we had not taken the time to notice before. Those moments are when God is saying, “I love you and am always here for you.” Jesus knew that God was with him and trusted so much that he could even journey to face the cross. We too can face whatever lies before us, knowing that God is with us, always there waiting for us.

Prayer

Loving God, help me to find you, finding me. Amen.

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

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Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 19:28–48

Reflection

Recently, I was watching the Super Bowl with some friends and colleagues, including our newest pastor, Rocky. Rocky and I were rooting for different teams after a week of good-hearted ribbing of each other. Frustratingly the game didn’t go my way, but in the midst of the competition and the celebration, I looked over at Rocky and the others and realized that the real gift was just getting to hang out and laugh together.

On this Palm Sunday, it is easy to get caught up in the celebration and excitement of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. And it’s equally easy to lose ourselves in anxiety of the rising tensions and impending violence and betrayal that the coming week will bring. What strikes me, though, in this text is Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem. He cries, “If even you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” But the people of Jerusalem don’t recognize these things. They are given over to fear and biases and conflict, and the result is death and pain.

In many ways, it feels like these words from Jesus speak to us today. A football game is just for fun, but all around us conflicts and violence erupt in the form of Islamophobia and racism and even in bitter vitriol spewed in the midst of an embattled political season. I wonder what is at risk if we ignore our call to seek Christ and recognize the means of peace and justice for all. What if we, like Jerusalem, are the ones who could make a crucial difference if we would only see each other and this world with God’s eyes? This work is surely more important and world-transforming than our fear or our need to be right. What means of peace does Christ show us in the world and in our own lives today?

Prayer

Loving Christ, show us how to hold on to you in the midst of this world’s chaos. Help us to recognize and seek your peace, loving all whom you love, and seeking justice where its absence hollows out peace and undermines love. Amen.

Written by Layton Williams, Pastoral Resident

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 20:1–47

Reflection

The priests have Jesus in their sights. The religious leaders question his authority and seek to trap Jesus throughout this chapter chronicled by Luke.

The stakes are high. The priests are defensive. They attack rather than engage and seek any whisper of heresy to arrest Jesus.

If faced with this unjust and spiteful setup, I’m certain I would not respond as calmly and measured as Jesus did with parables or view this as a “teachable moment.” Jesus could have channeled his oratory and charisma to demonize others to save himself. He could have fired up the crowd to turn on the priests but rather he strives to unite.

When asked, “Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus responds, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Later when priests challenge him about resurrection, he responds, “He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. To him they are all alive.”

The priests have no response. Jesus was not trying to humble them but to inspire people to serve and engage.

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. . . . To him they are all alive.

Prayer

In the season of debates, campaigns, charges, and counter-charges that often leave us empty, fearful, and angry, O God, help us to engage and participate in the civic arena. We are called to extend beyond our pews and champion justice for all, not just for people who look or think like us. Help us to listen, collaborate, love, and serve. Help us be the voice for those unable to speak. Amen.

Written by Ranjan Daniels, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 21:1–38

Reflection

The phrase “of biblical proportions” gets its meaning from passages like this one. Jesus describes a whole host of really bad things that will happen. It's overwhelming to read, and I want to distance myself from this mysterious message that I want to be “not for me.” But then I listen to the news and realize there are many people living this reality today. An Iraqi or Syrian Christian would find this passage uncannily relevant. Each of our lives could be upended in a heartbeat. In the midst of dire circumstances and suffering, Jesus gives us guidance and hope with his directives:

Give your all in service of others.
Do not be terrified.
Lift up your heads.
Trust I will be there at the very moment you need me.
Run for cover if you have to.
My words will not pass away.
Know that hardship can transform you and be life giving.
Stay alert and vigilant and be careful not to numb yourself

As a psychologist, a parent, and someone living a stressed life myself, I am increasingly aware of the many means at our disposal to numb and distance ourselves from the painful and stressful parts of our lives. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, food, money, work, perfectionism, video games, or the Internet, they all give momentary escape and relief, yet eventually add to our stress and distress.

Jesus ends by encouraging us to pray for strength. That’s an invitation we don't want to pass up.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, you know life can be hard and has suffering in it, and we know you have suffered and know what it means to be human. Thank you for your invitation to pray for strength and your promise to be ever present with us. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 22:1–38

Reflection

Here in Luke much happens: Jesus’ death is plotted, Passover is prepared and celebrated, disciples argue over who is the best, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial, and Jesus has the disciples once again prepare for what is to come. Among so much preparation, there is time for a meal, and Jesus is insistent that this meal take place, giving clear directions to the disciples. For Jesus, celebrating this meal was a time of calm, of preparation, of remembering, and, most importantly, a time of equality. By sitting together, all are equal. Even knowing that Peter will deny Jesus and Judas will hand him over to die, Jesus sits with them as equals where they all share together and have things in common (a reference to Acts 2:44).

Jesus gives away his true nature once again at table: in the midst of his impending suffering and sacrifice, Jesus brings about the kingdom of God at the Passover table where all are equal, even in their unbelief and betrayal, and where the power of God is present in Jesus as he offers the bread and wine and himself to them. Jesus charges the disciples in verse 16, letting them know he will not partake in the meal at the table of God until they learn to serve one another. Now the responsibility is upon all those who follow Jesus, the responsibility to usher in the kingdom through service to one another.

Prayer

God, you set a table at our feet just as Jesus did for the disciples at Passover. Help us remember all the ways in which you serve us each day. Give us the guidance to serve others on a daily basis, in the hope that your kingdom might become the reality here on your beloved earth and among your created, beloved people. Amen.

Written by Shelley Donaldson, Senior High and Confirmation Youth Coordinator

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Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 22:39–65

Reflection

A mob scene. That’s what this is. Crowds filled with anger and fear have come for Jesus. Judas and Peter are both there, and they are both betrayers, for different reasons. Judas is a perpetrator of evil, plotting gain for himself. Peter is simply weak and fearful. I feel sad about these betrayers and sad about the multitude of times I’ve betrayed Jesus.

Unanswered prayers also make me sad. Jesus prayed so hard it’s as though his sweat turned to blood. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me . . .” Jesus’ prayer makes me think of the pain expressed by so many over the years, in the confidence of my office. “Why weren’t my prayers answered? Why did my loved one die? Why did I lose my job?”

And I feel sad for Jesus and the mocking and physical violence he endured. It makes me sad for all of those others in the world still enduring violence and persecution.

But I feel something else too. I’m inspired by Jesus, who prays hard and still entrusts his life to God. I’m inspired by Jesus, who halts his people from fighting back with violence. “No more of this,” he says to the man who wielded the sword on the high priest’s slave. Instead Jesus touched the wounded man’s ear and healed him. I’m inspired by Jesus who saw Peter’s betrayal and loved and forgave him nonetheless.

There’s no getting around the sadness of this story, but there’s also no getting around how much Jesus inspires me.

Prayer

Dear Lord Jesus, forgive me for my betrayals and lack of trust. But also thank you for coming into the world to inspire me to act with love no matter what. Amen.

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

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Good Friday, March 25, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 22:66—23:49

Reflection

I remember the first time I truly heard this story of Jesus’ last few days. It was my first Good Friday service, and I was around eight years old. That evening I sat in the front row with my sister. My mother always sat in the chancel with the choir, and my father occupied his chair near the pulpit. On that night, though, he did not preach. Rather, he read this selection from scripture.

When my father came to the part where the crowds demand Jesus’ death, the choir suddenly joined their voices with his voice. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” they all cried. I was startled hearing those words coming from the mouths of adults I loved and trusted. I knew they were reading scripture, but that did not dissolve the terror. And then, as my father read the verse that states “they crucified Jesus there with the criminals,” he pounded a nail into a piece of wood. I can still hear the sound of that hammer pounding, reverberating off of the tile floor and sending a chill down my spine.

Later my father wondered if he had been overly dramatic. He probably was, and I am sure people told him so. Yet for me, both then and now, the sounds and the feelings evoked by this passage are important. It is important to remember how very “God with us” Jesus was and is. He held nothing back from loving us. Even when we joined our voices with the crowd and demanded his death, he did not hold Love back. Even when he experienced physical pain along with emotional rejection, he did not hold Love back. Even when he stood at the threshold of death, he did not hold Love back. “Father, forgive them,” he said. “You will be with me,” he promised. “I commend my spirit,” he prayed. Love poured out, emptied, for all.

Prayer

Holy God, as we come to this day and time, we pause and lift our hands. Words fail us. Feelings overwhelm us. Yet your Love sustains us. Thank you. May your Love transform not only our lives but your world. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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Holy Saturday, March 26, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 23:50–56

Reflection

Do you wonder what Pontius Pilate would think about the fact that we recite his name every Sunday in the Apostle’s Creed? More than two thousand years later, all over the world, the followers of Jesus Christ remember the name of the man responsible for his death, and I suspect that the generations that follow us will continue with this important collective recitation.

In his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks writes about the difference between your “resume” self and “eulogy” self. The resume self tends to show your career-oriented and ambitious nature. It’s based on how you hope people see you. The eulogy self is the internal side of your nature – focused on love, sacrifice, and service to others. Think of some of the best eulogies you’ve heard and recall that you may not have known all the good qualities of the person being eulogized.

On this Holy Saturday, a day of rest while we await the joy of welcoming the risen Christ, think about how you would like the world to remember you. Perhaps Pilate would have chosen a different path if given the chance.

Prayer

Lord of all creation, help us to nurture our eulogy selves. God of all humankind, your Son is not forgotten today or any day. His love and sacrifice for us is our inheritance. May we renew our pledge today to use it wisely. Amen.

Written by Lesley Conzelman, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 24:1–12

Reflection

Where death is the last thing, fear of death is combined with defiance. Where death is the last thing, earthly life is all or nothing. . . . But wherever it is recognized that the power of death has been broken, wherever the world of death is illumined by the miracle of the resurrection and of new life, there no eternities are demanded of life but one takes of life what it offers . . .; one neither clings convulsively to life nor casts it frivolously away. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics)

Consider our world, where the wonders of technology promise limitless knowledge and global economies deliver custom-built satisfaction. Is human life given greater respect today than it was in Bonhoeffer’s time?

Still, into this world God calls us to speak an “idle tale” (in Greek, silly talk). The men who had been following Jesus disregarded it at first—their faith in the absolutes of life and death obscured the true value of the story of Jesus, who moved through and beyond worldly realities to save us from them. Instead the women, who did not seek power to inflict earthly death or look to their own strength to preserve earthly life, are the first ones to accept and pass on the idle tale of Jesus’ saving resurrection. They receive it by simply remaining faithful, in life and in death, to the one they loved.

On this glorious Easter, beloved friends, may we have the courage to remain faithful to Christ and not the absolutes of life and death in this world. Inspired by the example of the faithful women who served Jesus, let us speak “silly talk” about the one gone beyond death, who brings us resurrection life that can never be extinguished.

Prayer

God of the empty tomb, today we give you thanks that Jesus died and rose again to free us from the earthly realities of life and death. Help us, in humility, to stop relying on our own power to save. Instill in us the faith of the women who treasured the “idle tale” of your beloved Son, the one who moved beyond death to grant us the life that will never end. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Easter Monday, March 28, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 24:13–35

Reflection

Is this an odd time for Jesus to be having an Undercover Boss moment? In disguise, meeting up with a couple of his pals, asking “So, what’s new?” and Cleopas saying, “Where have you been for the past three days? Behind a rock?”

To his credit, Jesus doesn’t respond, “Well, now that you mention it . . .”

I mean, the Apostle Paul talks about people entertaining angels unawares, but these guys entertained Jesus and they had no clue. Kind of like all of us, most of the time.

We go through our lives, we have our discussions, we talk about who did what to whom and why, we are very free with what should have been done and why our opinion has so much substance, and really, if people knew what we knew and acted how we want them to act, then you know? The world would make sense and everything would be better. And right alongside us is this guy, who says “Oh yeah? What about this? Have you forgotten about that? Do you even know what that means?” And how many of us really pay attention to that voice? How many of us dismiss it as someone who has been living behind a rock or something?

Cleopas and his companion don’t do that. They say, “Stay with us. Tell us more.” They feel their hearts open as they listen to this stranger. That voice, it strikes something inside them, a voice that resonates. And when the bread is broken, they remember—like the disciples were told to do, just a couple of chapters back in Luke’s Gospel. And the world becomes a different place.

All because they listened, because they were open to the random person who joined them on the road. Because yeah, you never know where that voice will come from—the one that strikes the chord, that finds the resonance of the heart.

Prayer

Lord, remind us not to disregard the voice because of the appearance of the speaker. Help our hearts to feel the resonance with you, that we may hear your voice and know your presence. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Easter Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 24:36–49

Reflection

Doubt is a central theme in this familiar passage from Luke. When Jesus appears in their midst, the disciples don’t believe what they see. Jesus assures them that he is real. He asks them to look at his hands and feet and to touch him. He tells them that his return and his presence with them after death fulfill scripture. He then encourages them to spread the gospel throughout the world.

We all experience doubt in our lives—doubts about ourselves, about others, about the world. Doubt is also often a part of our life in Christ. At times we may doubt the Bible, Jesus, even God.

As we as a family thought about this passage and discussed its meaning, we found it very reassuring that Christ was so aware of the disciples’ doubts and so straightforward in his manner of dispelling them.

One of our family’s favorite children’s stories is Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant.” It is an allegory on the Christ story in which a giant who behaves selfishly befriends a little, Christ-like child. The giant, wondering who the unusual child is, sees wounds on the palms of the child’s hands and on his feet. He asks the child who has made the wounds, crying “Tell me, that I may take my big sword and slay him.” “Nay,” answers the little child, “but these are the wounds of Love.”

For almost two thousand years, the gospel story has found its way into literature, art, and even movies. It is exciting to witness how the gospel has spread, and continues to spread, throughout the world. Christ lives. He lives indeed!

Prayer

Dear Jesus, please help me to believe when I have doubts in you. Help me to see what you want me to see. Help me to hear when you speak to me. Help me to do what you want me to do. Amen. (Prayer by Caroline, age 7)

Written by Brett, Kristen, and Caroline Cochrane, Members of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Easter Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 24:50–53

Reflection

There are times I have a harder time believing in the ascension than the resurrection. Isn’t that odd? It may be because the resurrection is at the core of our faith and the Easter celebrations. We are an “Easter people.” After the victory over sin and death, the ascension can feel underwhelming.

Another reason might be the ambiguity of what or where “heaven” is. We're conditioned at an early age (fess up, parents) to think that heaven is in the sky somewhere. On a beautiful spring day, who has the heart to argue otherwise?

Is God in heaven? Hard to say, since God surpasses all human understanding. Concepts like location hardly apply. God is all powerful, the creator of all things, beyond the concepts of time and space. His omnipresence dilutes our notion that heaven is an actual place.

But Jesus was and is a physical being. Jesus walked this earth with people. He felt joy, heartache, betrayal, suffering, anguish, loneliness, and death. He knows down to his core what life is like for us. He is fully divine and fully human. And out on the countryside near Bethany, with blessings from him and praise from his disciples, he was lifted into heaven.

It doesn't matter where he went. It's the why that's crucial. Jesus is now with God, at God’s right hand. He became human for us, defeated death for us, and carries that experience for us. We have this assurance when we pray, that the Father and the Son know what we are going through, and how we've tried and fallen short, and love us nonetheless.

Prayer

Dear Lord, through all the mysteries of faith, help me hold tightly to my greatest certainty: that you love me. Amen.

Written by Jim Garner, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 100

Reflection

I love the straightforward and simple elegance of this psalm. All too often I find myself struggling to overcome the density of scripture, especially when it comes to the Old Testament: there’s an awful lot of vengeance and violence and I have a difficult time reconciling that with the message of Christ’s unconditional love. But not here in Psalm 100! Here the joy bursts forth. It is an affirmative and powerful expression of the fullness to be found in consciously and intentionally bringing all of ourselves into worship. And it’s an affirmation of our relationship to God—one that is wrapped in the knowledge that we are surrounded, encircled, by God’s everlasting care.

I love the command to make a joyful noise. Essentially we are told “Don’t just sit there! Be present. Be involved.” Shannon Kershner recently preached to the joy of being a God person. She said, “Taking the time, making the time, to drink in the joy of our Lord might just be the only way we will have the spiritual stamina to keep doing what God calls us to do and being who God calls us to be in our messy, complicated, broken, and chaotic yet shimmering-with-joy world.” In Psalm 100 we are reminded yet again that the fullness of that joy can be found always within us in the deeply rooted belief that God’s love endures and is faithful. And it can also be the hope we bring to each day. It is the promise expressed by the psalmist, and it is the promise kept on Easter morning.

Prayer

Lord God of faithful, enduring love, help me feel the overwhelming gift of life lived in the joy of your embrace. May my noise be always joyful. Amen.

Written by Kenneth Ohr, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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