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November 1, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Ephesians 1:11–15
Today is All Saints’ Day. In many traditions, this day is the day to remember those who have gone ahead of us in the faith. Many churches will use this time to say a prayer and perhaps light a candle for those who died in the last year.
The fundamental belief behind All Saints’ Day is that there exists a strong spiritual bond between those in heaven (the Church Triumphant) and the faithful still on earth (the Church Militant).
In earthly terms, we speak about that tie between those who have passed on and those still on earth as an “inheritance.” According to Webster’s dictionary, to inherit means “to come into possession of or receive, especially as a right or divine portion.”
Today’s passage from Ephesians talks about inheritance, but it is not referring to the passing down of something from a deceased parent to a still living child but a different kind of inheritance—that which is passed down from God to the community of the faithful.
Rather than an amount of money or grandmother’s fine china, this inheritance in faith from the Living God includes our hope in Christ, a life in praise of God’s glory, the word of truth, the good news of salvation, and the promise of the Holy Spirit. That’s quite a gift and a powerful heritage to pass along!
In this inheritance, not only are we the “heirs” of this promise, we are also the ones called and ordained to pass it along to the next generation.
So, what aspect of the faith that you have inherited will you pass along to future generations?
Thank you, God, for the powerful faith and witness that you have entrusted to us as your people. Help us be bold in passing it along to the next generation. Amen.
Written by Stuart Jamieson, Major and Planned Giving Officer
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November 2, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 6:20–26
It is possible to slip into saying “I’m so blessed” or “we’re so blessed” when things are going well. It’s a way that we try to express gratitude for abundance that we have, or for peace, or health, or relationships that are thriving. But Jesus here points out a difficulty with using that language. Do we mean to say that people who are experiencing rough times are not blessed or, worse, that somehow God wants them to suffer? Of course we don’t mean to take it that far!
Yet we can slip into this way of thinking, or our words can imply and lead other people to think they are not blessed if they are poor or hungry or grieving. In Jesus’ time, and still in our time, there are people who teach that if we love God, if we do what is right, that God will bless us and we won’t suffer.
But no one, no one, is exempt from the vulnerabilities of life. There will come a time when all of us suffer from a physical ailment, the loss of a loved one, financial difficulties, personal failures and mistakes. We will have a greedy moment; we will take something too lightly and laugh when we should take something very seriously. Woe will come to us all.
In this scripture Jesus tells us that even in those moments when we weep, when we hunger for food or love or justice, when we are poor in spirit or in resources, even then God will bless us. God’s blessing is for all of God’s people. When we think we can withhold it from some, we end up turning away from our own blessings, as our hearts and our minds close. Woe to us when we separate ourselves from parts of God’s creation.
Holy One, open me to receive your blessing. Bind me to the household of faith and to all your creation, all your children, all of your beloveds. Be with me in my sorrows, and bring me consolation and, yes, even joy and laughter. Amen.
Written by Nanette Sawyer, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry
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November 3, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 19:1–10
Haven’t we all wanted Jesus to notice us? Haven’t we all had the urge to climb up the sycamore-fig tree and hope that Jesus calls us down from our perch and insists upon being a guest in our home, in our hearts?
What does that mean for Jesus to be a guest in our home? Zacchaeus declares readily to the grumblers in the crowd that he will give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone four times the amount for any cheating he has done. Who among us is so ready to do that? Right now I am in a season of drought, and the thought of giving up half of my possessions and paying anyone back four times what I might owe them if I cheated them sounds like a cross I cannot bear. But what if the debt isn’t financial? What if the debt is emotional? What has been taken from me then? Inversely, at the same time, don’t I always have something to give? Yet if it all belongs to God, to Jesus, then what do I have?
This is that idea of radical hospitality, right? Not only does Jesus practice it, but he asks us to practice it as well—to and for him. A lot of the time we look for Jesus in people, forgetting to also let Jesus himself in, to see Jesus in ourselves. And so he insists: when we feel short, when we think we have to give in order to get. Yes, he has gone to be the guest of a sinner. And let us welcome him. Let us welcome us.
Dear Jesus, remember us like Zacchaeus. Call to us. Notice us. Especially when we feel short, when we are unsure, when we don’t have anything to give, when we think giving is the way to getting. Watch over our households and recognize us as rightful sons and daughters of Abraham, because the Son of Man has come to save and seek those who are lost, especially in ourselves. Your way is the way. Remind us when we grumble, draped in sin. Remind us when we are radiant. Most of all remind us that we are your guest and you are ours. Amen.
Written by Jessica Wang, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
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November 4, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Daniel 7:1–3, 15–18
Faith Today, the Bible study sponsored by the Center for Life and Learning, studied the book of Daniel last year. Members of the group took turns leading the study as we tried to apply the lessons of this ancient and mystical text to our everyday lives.
It was no small task. Daniel, filled with visions and dreams, not to mention fiery furnaces and lions’ dens, is weird. Interpretation takes effort; applications aren’t obvious.
The group’s commitment to the process, though, is one of the reasons why I count it as a great privilege to facilitate the group. Ordinary folks gather weekly—bringing our quirks and questions, belief and unbelief, subtlety and forthrightness, pain and pride—to consider what the heck might be going on in these lines.
We learned that Daniel often comes down to one main message, and this passage is a great example of it. The message? God is in charge. That does not negate all that is found in human experience, be it Daniel’s or ours. Political intrigue is rampant and confusing. Trying to discern what our lives are supposed to be about can be puzzling and sometimes terrifying. There is evil and injustice in the world; we can feel trapped and paralyzed by how insurmountable it seems. But we are not alone. God never abandons us and will provide help, often from quite unexpected places and people. Our job is to remember that and watch for the ways through which we can cooperate in God’s saving plans . . . and then to bless and thank God for the miracles of mercy, freedom, and righteousness.
“Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our mothers and fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
and blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.
Bless the God of gods, all you who fear the Lord;
praise and give thanks
because God’s mercy endures forever.” (Daniel 3:52, 90, New American Bible)
Written by Susan Quaintance, Director, Center for Life and Learning
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November 5, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 13:44–52
I’m caught by the line “in his joy.”
What would it be like to give everything up, joyfully, for the highest treasure?
We celebrate people who have done this—when they are successful. We worry about those we might actually know in person when they do so. We say, “Moderation in all things,” and “Don’t put all your eggs into one basket.” And we judge, all the time, what it is people decide is treasure.
But isn’t the value of a thing at least partly in the fruits of loving it? In how you are with others, how you are with yourself? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Your treasure should be whatever allows you to live most fully into that.
God of grace and mercy and abundance, help me to know what is true treasure and to have the courage to throw myself after it. Amen.
Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life
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November 6, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 13:53–58
Our brains implement many subconscious tricks and coping mechanisms in attempts to help us make sense of the world and stay safe. Some of those tricks work better than others. One of the more problematic tricks a protective brain can experience is cognitive dissonance, a psychological tension felt when attempting to uphold two “truths” that are contradictory to each other.
As I read this (admittedly challenging) account in Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus, I get the sense that Jesus’ audience in his hometown synagogue was steeped in cognitive dissonance. On one hand, the people recognized a fellow Jew proclaiming profound teaching and performing miraculous wonders. On the other hand, this recognition clashed with their perception of his social status. How could someone so impressive also have such an unimpressive background? It didn’t make any sense.
The people of Nazareth seem to have had stifling expectations of wealth and vocation, and those limitations of perception prevented them from understanding who Jesus really was. I’m confident the hometown head-scratcher could have flexed his divine power to humble his audience into believing his Kingdom message if he wanted to. Such an aggressive display is usually not Jesus’ style, however. He is not aggressive or excessive in how he exerts his ability or shows his love. Instead, Jesus is most fully appreciated by people with open and humble hearts, who are not concerned with social status or societal structures. The gathered people were not ready for that kind of reception on this particular day, and Jesus would not force it upon them. In my experience, brute strength is rarely the most loving or effective way to solve cognitive dissonance.
Jesus knows better ways to transformations, for those willing to see them.
Loving God, Three in One, please shape in me a humble spirit that recognizes your good works and miraculous power all around me today, especially in the people and places I don’t usually expect it. Thank you for your grace and patience. Amen.
Written by Michael Mirza, Director of Worship
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November 7, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 119:137–144
I’m a stage actor, and the best way for me to understand this psalm was to say it out loud, like a Shakespearean sonnet. At first I had a hard time with the vastly different feelings the speaker juxtaposes: Things are terrible but I’m completely happy. My enemies are laughing at me but it’s totally fine. I’m in huge trouble but I have certainty I’m in the right. I thought, How on earth does one get to this place of confident trust when things are so bad? I wish I had this speaker’s faith.
But perhaps she makes those statements because she wants to feel that way; she’s seeking feelings of trust, confidence, faith. As I worked the psalm like a soliloquy, the tone for those “happier” statements became full of longing, fear, hope, desperation.
This character is in a very bad place. She’s losing battles; she has little evidence that things are going to work out. She is trying to get to a place of assurance. She utters statements of faith in order to keep herself together. They don’t work right away; that’s why she keeps talking. She admits that things are bad, describes aspects of just how bad, then attempts to steel herself. She wants to trust, but it’s hard. She praises God out loud to keep from falling apart. She finally asks for understanding, because she doesn’t.
Now I have a text to say over and over again when I need reassurance.
Dear God, please speak to us through your texts; help us work through terror and bad times. Give us understanding so we can live. Amen.
Written by Kat Evans, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
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November 8, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | 2 Thessalonians 1:1–4, 11–12
Reading the words to the Thessalonian church, it is easy to set your mind immediately toward the effusive praise of the community’s witness. They are growing abundantly, their love ever increasing; they are steadfast and faithful.
But there is a more troubling backdrop only hinted at here: the persecutions and afflictions they have endured. In fact, if the Thessalonian community is a mirror of Paul’s famous trilogy of faith, hope, and love, the only virtue that appears to go unmentioned in this passage is hope. Where is this community’s hope? Perhaps it’s an indication of a community doing all the right things but, with suffering, not seeing the outcome they had wished for.
Have you felt as though you were doing all the right things—making wise choices, practicing selfless love, maintaining self-integrity—and yet your desired outcome felt ever more elusive? In those moments perhaps our gut tells us that this is a time that calls for a sacrificial faith. Any hope of joy must step aside. We let go of the deep dreams of our hearts. Indeed, there are times like this.
However, before we rush to such a conclusion, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian’s reminds us that while it is God’s glory and honor we seek to reflect, God also glorifies those who witness to that same glory. As we strive for God, God strives to do a work of beauty in us. There is a divine interest in our flourishing, not just our sacrifice. Perhaps this is what the Thessalonian community needed most. A fresh reminder that the life of faith is not all toil and tribulation but that moments of celebration and triumph are not only to be hoped for but, with God’s help, can be realized. As people of faith so determined to pursue the right and the just, we must not forget our hope.
As we strive and press on to demonstrate your care and practice your love, help us, O God, to not grow weary in doing good. Invest us with the hope of your promises. Help us see the new and marvelous thing you are doing in and among us. Amen.
Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism
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November 9, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 1:10–18
“I am sick and tired of you people.” Thus saith the Lord. “I’ve had it with you.”
Good morning, everyone. The Lord thinks we (are kind of awful).
And, you know, when I look at the news, I kind of think the Lord has a point here. I mean, I get sick and tired all the time and have had it up to my eyeballs with people. And by “people” of course, the Lord means “religious people,” with their offerings and sacrifices and their solemn assemblies and their appearances in the courts of the Lord. And the Lord’s got a point.
When a large church advertises for a pastor who can connect with “those who have outwardly made it in life,” the Lord’s got a point. When a representative of a Christian organization says that “God allows terrorism to show we need him,” the Lord’s got a point.
And when people see this all going on and don’t do anything about it but shake their heads, well, the Lord’s got a point.
I mean, if God wanted to be in the business of throwing lightning bolts at those who provide the outward show of piety while practicing its opposite, this world would provide what the military calls “a target-rich environment.”
But God’s more patient than that, thank . . . well, God.
After we get the word from God about how much we (are kind of awful), we get the command: Shape up. Clean up your mess. Do better stuff. Stuff like rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, pleading on behalf of the bereaved. The justice stuff. Do that.
Cease to do evil. Learn to do good.
Try not to (be kind of awful).
Lord, help us to turn from evil and hold to the good. Remind us that the practice of justice is the proclamation of your kingdom. Amen.
Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts
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November 10, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 20:27–38
Land your plane, guys.
“Moses wrote . . . if a man’s brother dies . . . the man shall marry the widow . . . seven brothers . . . the second and the third . . . all seven died childless . . . finally . . .”
Oh, honestly. It’s like the Sadducees spinning out this hypothetical expect Jesus to be floored by it, like he’s going to gasp, “My God, I’ve never thought of it like that before!” Of course he’s thought of it. He just doesn’t want to waste the time it would take to engage their tale on their terms.
So it’s like this: the future is in God’s hands, and that means it’s in good hands. The future of “that age,” the future of “resurrection from the dead,” is hard to imagine, so don’t try. Just know it’s good, like gooder than good. It’s so good that institutions we take as fundamental to human experience will be wholly irrelevant; nobody will need to be “given” to anyone in this future.
And lest we equate Jesus’ future vision with a fantasy, he reminds us that the God behind (and ahead) of it is the God we know well, the God of those who have come before, the God not of the dead but of the living.
God of the living, fit us for the future, even as you accompany us in the present, just as you have all your peoples’ past. Amen.
Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry
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November 11, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Haggai 1:15b—2:9
Written in a hopeful period when Jerusalem’s inhabitants were returning and rebuilding after the Babylonian exile, the prophet Haggai’s book is filled with promises for a new era for the Jewish people. In today’s verses, Haggai makes a call back to promises made in the books of Genesis (Abram) and Exodus (Moses) as he makes the case for why the temple should be rebuilt. This “second temple” would lead to the dawning of renewed national hopes of what Israel could be as, to use the words of Isaiah, “a light unto the nations” and would mark a return to glory and status after an event that many assumed would be its end.
However, while Haggai’s vision of other nations’ wealth flowing to the temple makes sense in the context of the aspirations of a tiny nation trying to rebuild itself, I think it’s an important passage to step back and reflect on in an era when many churches are struggling to stay afloat and are investing increasing percentages of their budget into maintaining their property. We aren’t exactly “filling our houses with splendor,” but the ethics of maintaining property at the expense of an outward facing mission of prosperity for all is a question that all of us churchgoers need to wrestle with. Is our property helping us fulfill our mission to be “a light unto the nations,” or is it hindering it?
God of glory and God of challenge, throughout the ages you have called your people to be your witnesses to the world—“a light unto the nations.” Help us respond to your call again, as together we work for your glory. Amen.
Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry
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November 12, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | 2 Thessalonians 2:1–5, 13–17
In 2 Thessalonians Paul’ writes to a community of Christians who likely believed that the return of Jesus was imminent but wondered how, when, and where it would happen. In this passage, Paul reminds them that there are whole hosts of forces posturing as the day of the Lord or the final intervention of God in human history, luring the community into thinking that what is happening is Christ’s return.
Few of us interpret the difficulties of our lives as Paul did in the first century. We probably don’t believe in a Faustian Satan warring with God over our lives. But when horrible things happen, we might find ourselves wondering “why?”: Evil? Satan? The deceiver? The Apostle Paul has such faith and trust in God and in the early Christian community that he challenges the people to look squarely into the face of these forces with no denial of the power of anything that would undermine the power of the risen Christ and at the same time with an absolute faith in God’s radical “Yes” for this world!
We still are waiting for the fullness of God’s realm to be established in our midst. We are also called by Christ to usher in the realm of God today! There are days when we wonder if the forces for ill have the upper hand. But the kind of liberation that this passage forwards is one that unequivocally trusts that God has not abandoned us to the forces that work for harm or hinder the flourishing of our days. We are to stand firm and hold fast to what we know: that Jesus loves with an unrelenting love that will not let us go. When we open our lives to his love, we are strengthened to face even the things that shake us out of our wits!
Present God, we live in troubled days with so much that is beyond our control. Help us trust that you are right here with us and calling us to fullness of life. Stand firmly with us. And help us know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you come to us, you abide with us, that you will never let us go! Through Christ. Amen.
Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education
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November 13, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Job 19:23–27
In the midst of increasing physical and emotional agony, his spirit almost broken, Job affirms his faith in God. Even when he experiences God as absent, with no answer to prayer and no justice in sight, Job proclaims, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; . . . then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side.”
The most difficult times to hang on to one’s faith are when all hell has broken loose, either in one’s personal sphere or in the world surrounding us. Death of someone dear to us, chronic health issues, the loss of meaningful work, feeling helpless in the face of social ills, self-doubt and depression, all tax our spirits. We are left questioning if there is a God, or if God can be trusted. Yet here is Job, claiming that he knows in the depths of his being that his Redeemer lives and that the day will come when he shall see God on his side.
Ironically, a “best practice” when we feel overwhelmed or traumatized is to turn to the very God from whom we may feel alienated and voice our need for God’s strength and healing. If we cannot mouth any prayer ourselves, we can be lifted up by joining other believers in worship who carry the sacred narrative of God’s steadfast love through song and prayer and holy word. Avail yourself of the richness and power of the communion of saints as they gather to praise God’s name.
“Your faithfulness, O Lord, is sure in all your words, your gracious deeds; you gently lift all burdened souls and well provide for all our needs.” Thank you. Amen.
(Prayer from the hymn “Your Faithfulness, O Lord, Is Sure”)
Reflection written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission
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November 14, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 32:1–7
In early August, my husband, daughter, and I welcomed an eight-week-old Goldendoodle puppy into our family. This is a new learning experience for me, as I’ve only had cats throughout my life. The pup shows so much joy and excitement whenever we get home from work and school (or when we come back into the room for that matter!) as many dogs do. She wants to spend every moment with us, even if I just yelled at her for chewing on a piece of furniture or for stealing something off of the kitchen counter or for using my arm as a teething toy. This dog shows us complete forgiveness, acceptance, and love at all times. At times, I struggle with showing forgiveness, acceptance, and love to others, dog included. I have a hard time forgetting things and have been known to hold on to a grudge for things that I should be able to shrug off.
In this psalm, David expresses the great joy found in both offering and receiving forgiveness. None of us are perfect and will make mistakes that hurt others. We will all be hurt at times from mistakes made by others. When we bring our mistakes to God, we can find comfort and joy in God’s forgiveness and unconditional love. God holds nothing against us, and we are blessed with a fresh start each and every day. For that, I am grateful, and I will do my best to show love and forgiveness to others, just like our sweet puppy.
Loving God, thank you for your forgiveness and for a chance to start over each day. Help me to show love and forgiveness to all, even when it may be tough to do so. Amen.
Written by Briana Belding-Peck, Family Ministry Coordinator
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November 15, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Nehemiah 12:27–31a, 42b–47
“Whenever God is about to make a really powerful change, God always sends the musicians ahead first.”
Hearing comments like this one after our 2015 concert at Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis is what the Fourth Church and Trinity United Church of Christ Music Mission for Racial Reconciliation was all about. Ten people from each church came together to sing and to talk honestly about race issues in America. Through our concerts of music and poetry we brought hope and healing, and we brought challenge and truth, to people in Cincinnati, Atlanta, Memphis, and St. Louis.
Singing in concerts and worship services was rejuvenating, because in the music we were one: one in message and one in breath. In the music we became the community God intended us to be, listening to each other, appreciating each other’s gifts, supporting each other in moments of challenge, and lifting others up with our music.
An important part of our time together was the fellowship and getting to know each other as children of God, all equal and all created in God’s image. To be honest, there were many challenging moments in our discussions. It was certainly revealing to be so open about race and the centuries of wrong and hurt it has caused, but we were able to discuss it and be totally open about it. Yet our group of twenty only scratched the surface, and there is a need to do so much more at every level throughout our society and culture.
Loving God, help us to see your face in each other; help us to all understand what it means that we are your children, all created in your image and all created good. Help us to imagine a world where truth and reconciliation can happen and where justice and peace can finally prevail. Amen.
Written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music
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November 16, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 149
God delights in you. The Holy Creator takes great pleasure in you as a child. Your holy parent created you and loves you just as you are. Regardless of your unique identities or self-defined shortcomings God desires an eternal relationship with you. So why not live with a sense of gratitude to the one who formed you.
Allow God’s love to transform how you live. Celebrate this wonderful life designed especially for you. The realization that God created you and delights in you is cause to rejoice. You should never look down on yourself or feel like you don’t measure up. Rather than look through the lens of this world, view yourself through the heart of a loving God.
The psalmist lays the foundation for the reason we sing the doxology. It is because of God’s amazing love for us. The psalmist notes, “For the Lord takes pleasure in people.” That verse alone is reason enough to praise the one that created us. Let the truth of God’s love fill you with confidence knowing that God takes unwavering pleasure in you. The next time you sing the doxology, do so with rejoicing because you are loved by an adoring God.
Because God takes pleasure in us, we have the crown of salvation. When adversity comes—sickness, separation, loss, brokenness, disappointment, God is there to provide what we need. So whenever you feel confined by your circumstances ask God to strengthen you with divine power. Since God takes pleasure in us, no good thing will be withheld.
As the psalm writer proclaimed, our God takes great pleasure in the people and absolutely nothing can change that.
Loving God, your affection for us is truly amazing. It is beyond our comprehension, and we are privileged to be called your child. Help us to live fully in the reality that you delight in us. Thank you for making us your absolute pleasure. Amen.
Written by Robert Crouch, Director of Volunteer Ministry
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November 17, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 John 2:1–6
Grace is a concept that isn’t easy for us humans to comprehend. Oh, we like to try and pay it lip service. But the idea of giving love unconditionally with no strings attached is so far outside the bounds of how we operate that it’s not something we can easily wrap our minds around. Even when we do begin to understand it, we try and apply it selectively. We treat it like something someone must earn, and we withhold grace and love from others. And in many cases, we convince ourselves that God’s grace does not apply to us.
What I love about this scripture is that it denies both of these attitudes. Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t just for “our” sins, but for the sins of the entire world. All are worthy and equal in God’s eyes. Christ’s grace is not selective.
We can’t reject it for ourselves, and we can’t withhold it from others. With that grace comes responsibility. If we say we abide in Christ, we are to walk and love just as he did. We must allow ourselves to be overcome by his grace and take that into the world.
Lord, thank you for the overwhelming gift of grace and forgiveness. Help me to breathe in your love. I pray that I would have the opportunity, strength, and courage to be your disciple and to walk like you in this world. Amen.
Written by Jared Light, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
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November 18, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 65:17–25
What a beautiful vision this scripture creates, of a time when past suffering will be truly forgotten and all people will move into a new way of life. In this just and fair new world, everyone will be cared for and live long, abundant lives. No one will be pushed to the edges of society or taken advantage of.
This vision cast by the prophet Isaiah came to the people after they had suffered much. They had been enslaved in Egypt. They had lived under the domination of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, forced into exile from their homeland. Remember that song “By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion”?
Isaiah paints a picture that creates longing in human hearts and hope, when we despair, that this world is filled with greed and insensitivity, injustice and violence. We can imagine the new heaven and new earth as a world beyond this world, a description of life after this life. But I think this scripture is also a gift to us in this lifetime, in this world, because it puts vision, longing, and hope into our hearts and minds.
Holding in mind today all that we long for changes what’s possible in our lives. It reminds us of where we are heading, what we are seeking to build in our world. It also reminds us that God is with us on this journey and has a longing for our futures, too. That new heaven and new earth may not be here now, but that’s the destination we’re setting out for.
Creating God, you have a vision of a world of justice, peace, and abundance. Help us to co-create with you as we journey through this life. Fill our hearts and minds with a sense of hope and possibility so that we don’t give up on your dreams for the world. Amen.
Written by Nanette Sawyer, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry
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November 19, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13
This passage is an easy one to misunderstand. I have heard it quoted in order to support getting rid of the social safety nets of Medicaid and Food Stamps. “People who can work and who don’t work should not receive benefits,” folks will state, then quote from this scripture. Yet it is important to remember, as scholar Frank Crouch has written, that “Paul is not trying to establish social service policies for the city of Thessalonica. He is trying to establish a ‘do good for others even when you don’t have to’ ethic among those who seek to follow Christ” (Frank Crouch, www.workingpreacher.org). Paul was writing to a faith community, not to the city council.
The faith community context is important. It is important because one of the things Paul is demonstrating in this letter and in this passage is that there is no part of our earthly lives that is to be separated from our faith. All of our humanness (including the need to be productive and the need to eat) is claimed by God. And in response, all of our life is to be a continual thank-offering to our God. We are to worship God in all things and with our whole selves.
One last thing to note: Our translation of verse 6 and 11 that has opted for variations on the word idle is a bit off. The actual word Paul uses is a rare one, and it is better understood as “disorderly” or “disruptive.” When we see these verses through that lens, all of the sudden we realize that those within the church who Paul is chiding are not just being lazy and not contributing to the whole. Rather, they are actively stirring up trouble with the church. No wonder Paul wanted to call them out!
Gracious God, help me to live this day as an extension of my worship of you. May I move through the minutes and the hours knowing you are with me, and may my response to that knowledge of your presence fill me with gratitude. Amen.
Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor
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November 20, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 145:1–5, 17–21
“It’s always a joy for me to get up in the morning and say: ‘Here’s another day.’”
The beaming face of Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the beloved chaplain of the Loyola University Ramblers’ basketball team at her hundredth birthday celebration, reflects the God–filled exaltation of the psalmist. The Chicago Tribune quotes her telling the reporter that she practices the St. Ignatius examen at night, reflecting on her day, the good (and bad) she’s done and, no doubt, exalting God for the joy God has brought into her life and those around her. Sister Jean exemplifies how “one generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4). In her joyous smile and unflagging optimism, she conveys to young students the “glorious splendor” and “wonderful works” of “God the King.”
After enjoying this uplifting Tribune article, I turned to Talking to God, the inspiring anthology of John H. Boyle’s prayers during his ministry at Fourth Church, published late last year by his widow, Kathye. Dr. Boyle’s joy and confidence in his God, whatever the circumstances, evoke in those who read his prayers awe, praise, gratitude, and humility—his generation commending God’s works and care to generations to come.
The psalmist ends by reminding us that “the Lord is near to all who call on him,” but adds, “to all who call on him in truth . . . who fear him . . . who love him.” So there are some conditions to feeling this joy, to feeling truly exultant. We must be honest with God and with ourselves; we should maintain awe and respect; and we should remember that God is a God of love and one whom we should love and praise—every night, like Sister Jean does.
Loving God, we thank you for your wonderful works in our lives and pray that we will be forever grateful and worthy of them, so much so that we may commend with joy your works to other generations. Amen.
Written by Rebecca Dixon, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
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November 21, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 18:1–9
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
When my brother, Teddy, was a toddler, we started attending a new church. It’s not easy to bring a young child to worship, and my mom was nervous about disturbing others when Teddy was a bit noisy. All of that worry disappeared when our pastor preached on Matthew 19:14 (but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me . . .”) and welcoming children and valuing their presence in our lives and in our worship spaces.
That sermon prompted one of the senior members of the church, a man named Art Watson, to ask my mom if she thought Teddy would give him a hug. My mom responded that Teddy probably would, because he was missing his best friend since our grandpa had just recently passed away. From the moment he took Teddy into his arms, Art became our adopted grandpa and was renamed “Papa Art.” He welcomed us not just into the church family but also into his own. He gave Teddy tips on how to sneak out of the pew, treated us to Sunday breakfasts, and was there for every important moment and every hardship of our lives.
Papa Art passed away four years ago. Teddy had his Confirmation not long after that. Papa Art couldn’t be physically with him, but Teddy shared that he could feel his presence hugging him as Teddy read his faith statement aloud in front of the congregation.
That’s the good news for me in this passage: we can all be that welcoming presence. It only takes a small gesture to have a huge impact.
Dear God, I give you thanks for the family I have in you. Help me to be that welcoming presence for others. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Written by Katrina Buchanan, Editorial Assistant
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November 22, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 12
In chapter 11 of Isaiah, just before our passage for today, phrases more familiar to us appear. “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid . . . for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:6–9).
Those words helped me understand what Isaiah means in today’s verses when he references how things will be “in that day.” In that day, according to Isaiah, we will give thanks to the Lord. And in that day, when peace is the norm and all know the name of the Lord, we will make known God’s deeds among the nations.
I often wonder when that day will come. As a baby boomer I remember the hope and energy of the ’60s, the firm belief that my generation was “on to something” and would change the way the world worked. Protests against the war in Vietnam. College campus sit-ins. Martin Luther King Jr. So many of us thought we would live to see that day. And yet that day hasn’t come to pass. It can be discouraging.
Isaiah, like the other prophets, kept calling the people to get their act together, to worship authentically, to acknowledge the blessings of God and at the same time to acknowledge the suffering of the world. And to do something about it. Not just on high holy days. Not just in church.
I believe it’s pretty normal to feel discouragement about the state of the world. In churchy language, we call it lament. But I also know we can’t stay there. Leonard Cohen, perhaps a present-day prophet, says it this way: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” I know I must keep hoping for that day. And I must keep looking for the glimpses of light that seep into each day.
God of all history, open my eyes to the glimpses of light seeping into places of despair and suffering, injustice and conflict. Help me continue to keep offering what I can to a world so in need. Most of all, help me keep giving thanks. Amen.
Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care
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November 23, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 10:34–42
Well, the holidays are upon us, and what better words to welcome the season than these, where families are set against each other and swords are part of the equation. Countdown to Thanksgiving! Let’s carve the turkey!
And yes, I know that Jesus didn’t mean to literally take a sword to people—Peter thought he did and cut off a guy’s ear, and Jesus was none too pleased about that, remember. “Peter! It’s a metaphor!” So what was Jesus talking about?
There was an old samurai master who said, when firearms began to be used in Japan in the sixteenth century, “a gun is very useful in war, but I will continue to train with a sword.” He said this because a sword trains your mind in a way that guns do not.
A sword requires a level of physical and psychological commitment. The Japanese talk about “cutting in two with one sword stroke,” meaning a moment of committed decision. If you waver, you don’t make the cut.
As Yoda says, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”
Jedi, samurai, it all adds up the same way. Swords and truths divide. And in today’s world of “alternative facts” truth, real, palpable truth is going to divide people like the stroke of a sword.
But we’re supposed to be bringing people together, right? Shouldn’t we accommodate? Yeah, maybe. Maybe you should at Thanksgiving dinner. But you shouldn’t make a habit of not speaking truth for fear of offending. There’s a Japanese phrase, “mukashi no tsurugi, ima no na-gatana,” which means “once a sword, now a vegetable knife.” It’s used in reference to something valued that has fallen into disuse. A sad thing to say about truth.
Jesus came to bring the truth, and he knew full well that speaking the truth divides people. The question is, are we going set it aside for comfortable accommodation or will we tell the truth?
In the moment of truth where do we come down?
Lord, train us to serve the truth, knowing that you are the spirit of truth. Amen.
Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts
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November 24, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 23:33–43
Here Jesus is going through the harshest punishment of the time. Crucifixion was specifically designed to be humiliating and so torturous that it would discourage future potential criminals. And Jesus uses it as a teaching moment. He starts by asking God to forgive those who are mocking and tormenting him. Then he demonstrates God’s unrelenting mercy.
In a time when Jesus’ disciples had abandoned him we discover an unlikely believer. The criminal who is being crucified next to Jesus understands the true reign of Christ. This man, who admits to being rightfully punished by being sentence to death on the cross, understands something that everyone else doesn’t. Christ reigns a non-earthly kingdom. And hearing that simple profession of faith, Jesus assures the man that he will join Jesus in paradise. Christ welcomes into his kingdom the sinner for whom the world saw no redemption.. No matter the evil or crime one has done, it is not a barrier to salvation.
Who are the unlikely believers in your life? The people you are quick to condemn? Do you have the strength to show compassion and mercy to those people?
Jesus, thank you for your unending mercy. Give me the strength to show your mercy to others. Help me to forgive those who do not know what they do. Amen.
Written by Katie Patterson, Youth Ministry Program Manager
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November 25, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Jeremiah 23:1–6
Woe is one of those words that feels uniquely prophetic. It’s an all-purpose wail on other peoples’ lips, but coming from a prophet it stings more. Job has his “Woe is me!” and the wisdom of Ecclesiastes pronounces woe upon the one “who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.” But those woes feel different from the prophet’s woe, Isaiah’s “Woe to the guilty!” (3:11), Ezekiel’s “Woe to the bloody city!” (24:9), even Jesus’ woes for the Bethsaidas and Chorazins that rejected him (Matthew 11), not to mention for the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23).
The target of Jeremiah’s woe in this text is “the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of [God’s] pasture.” It’s an internal verdict, not an external one. In a moment of profound foreign policy crisis, the prophet’s word of divine judgment is aimed not at the leaders of Israel’s threatening neighbors but at the peoples’ own leadership, who have driven the people away and failed to attend to their needs. Is the prophet condemning authoritarian cruelty, wealthy indifference, or a specific political decision? The specifics are omitted.
The shepherds know, it is assumed.
The good news here is that God knows about these shepherds and God plans to act against them. God promises to get personally involved in replacing the faithless shepherds and gathering the scattered sheep back again so that none are missing and all are secure.
“Woe” is the word to any malevolent leader who ignores the needy and attacks the vulnerable, both then and now.
Lord, you are our shepherd. Strengthen us with your word of judgment upon those who, appointed to care for and protect, abuse and neglect instead. Forbid it, Lord, that we should so fail in the leadership entrusted to us. Be with us, that we may lead your people as Jesus leads us. Amen.
Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry
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November 26, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 46
I taught English as a second language in Tokyo one summer. During the middle of a session an earthquake startled the class and put newfound faith into their teacher. Without warning, the ground shook violently and unevenly. The classroom building rattled with noises that I had never heard before. Everything else not secured down simply slid, rocked, or tumbled one way or the other. Had the chaos continued longer, it would have done a lot more damage. Not soon enough, inertia took back its steady command. The shaking faded and was followed by an eerie silence and calm.
I learned later that earthquakes and tremors are commonplace in Japan (there were more that summer) and the Japanese have come to endure them with a sort of powerless inevitability. I could only imagine a whole life waiting for the next big one. How does one deal with such an outlook?
While tremors and earthquakes are geological events, in many ways disruptions in our lives can feel like ruptures to the fault lines in our spirits. Without warning our lives can be turned upside down, and in seemingly uncontrollable ways. Worse, we often project into the future the worst of outcomes from the ongoing turmoil. Despondent, without hope, fearful of what is ahead, our courage is zapped of its strength. Certainly singing a psalm will be one of the last of the options we identify—after all, its fight or flight time!
Deep down we know finding calm is best for restoring our faith and ability to move forward. Unlike waiting hopelessly for the next seismic event, we often forget that we are part of something larger—God’s enduring, watchful care. If you’re like me, having some reassurance goes a long way in this regard. That’s what I find the psalmist encouraging here: maintain hope by trusting in the power of God’s will and knowing that divine providence will deliver us through the tremors and shifting fault lines of our lives.
Lord, help us to feel the comforting solace of your power and grace during our dark times. By singing this psalm we outwardly express what our faith instills within us: that “the Lord Almighty is with us . . . our fortress.” Amen.
Written by Ken Walker, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
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November 27, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 1:68–79
This prophecy from Zechariah appears just after his son, John (later John the Baptist), was born. It provides a mission statement for John’s ministry to come and is one of the first exclamations in Luke of God’s grace for God’s people.
What I find particularly moving about this passage is the focus on redemption and positive love. Unlike many of the psalms, Zechariah does not predict the downfall or destruction of our enemies but rather focuses on the “tender mercy of our God,” whom we will now be able to “serve without fear” and who will “guide our feet into the path of peace.” How much more peaceful might our world be if we were all to take such a courageous view of our service to God! Zechariah reminds us to be bold and unafraid in our worship and reminds us that God’s influence will always push us toward more loving, peaceful relationships, actions, and communities.
Lord, thank you for serving as a guiding light of peace even when I find myself in darkness. Walk with me this day, and guide me to serve you without fear, so that I may bring love and peace to all I meet. Amen.
Written by Michael Pankratz, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
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November 28, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Colossians 3:15–17
Today’s verses from the letter to the early church in Colossae are most timely on this day of Thanksgiving. As part of the author’s specific instructions on the living out of faith in Jesus Christ, we find these concise words. “And be thankful.”
Our Christian tradition echoes the call we share with American siblings of all faiths on this civic holiday. There is so much in our common life within this country for which we are grateful. Amidst all the chaos and disruption of our current national existence, gratitude helps us keep perspective.
Yet these words speak even more deeply to our primary trust in God, through Jesus. As I seek to stay in prayerful dialogue with the Holy One, gratitude is my conversational starting point. Giving thanks reminds me whose I am and how grace continues to uphold me and transform my life.
My efforts of personal prayer shape my leadership in worship at Fourth Presbyterian Church. When it comes to the Prayers of the People, I begin each time with thanksgiving, which opens up the prayerful conversation we share together in this vital portion of Sunday worship. Grateful for all the ways God has graced us, individually and collectively, we are then led to intercede for the world and all God’s people in particular need, as well as for friends, family, and ourselves. Thanks be to God!
Gracious Donor of our days, I am grateful for your overflowing love that nourishes my life and our common life as well. Renew my thankfulness for all the outpourings of your grace upon your creation and in my experience, through Jesus, our brother and our Savior. Amen.
Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults
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November 29, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Colossians 1:11–20
Jesus Christ became one of us as Word made Flesh,
revealing to us who God is; embodying who we are called to be.
Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Jesus Christ gave his life for us,
that we may see how expansive is God’s love for all.
In Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created.
All things are made one in Christ.
Jesus Christ was raised from the dead,
assuring everyone that goodness is stronger than evil, life is stronger than death,
light is stronger than darkness, love is stronger than hate.
Christ has authority over all. In Christ all things hold together.
Jesus Christ is exalted in glorious victory to make us sharers in God’s divinity,
drawing all people into one family of God.
Through Christ, God was pleased to reconcile all things,
whether on earth or in heaven, even to the end of the ages.
Jesus Christ departed from a particular place to be in all places.
In Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
As Jesus Christ ascended into heaven,
he promised all followers a power from on high.
Though Jesus Christ is now hidden from our sight, he sent us the Holy Spirit
who enables us to see Christ in one another, and to abide in Christ
until God’s mercy and grace fill the whole creation.
Glorious God, clothe us in your Spirit,
that we may share a common ministry of service for the whole world.
By your power, fill our voices with stories of your grace.
Strengthen our hands for the work of your mercy.
Transform us into your instruments of love,
bearers of your light, carriers of your hope,
agents of justice, bridge-builders for reconciliation. Amen.
Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission
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November 30, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 17:1–9
Whenever I read any of the psalms, I am reminded that these are examples of earnest communication between humans and God. The psalms of David are a guide from another time, telling us how we might speak with God today. Many are hard to understand, and some of the well-known versions contain antiquated or obscure language. The Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggermann even goes so far as to say the psalms are full of code words for the faithful. However, I think the plea for divine help in this psalm is clear, so clear that when read backwards it makes even more sense:
There are those around me who do not like me and may wish me harm.
Protect me the way a mother bird hides her chicks under her wings
and remind me of how important I am to you.
I know you are present in my life and that I can count
on your enduring love for me.
If I seek your help and protection, I trust you will provide me with love and care.
I have done my best to follow your commandments and have trusted
you to guide me before and that you will do so now.
People say and do bad things in this world but in following the path
you have laid out for me, I have tried to avoid this behavior.
When you look into my heart you will find that even though
I have been tested and tempted,
I continue to seek your guidance and I will always speak honestly to you.
Dear Creator of all that is, hear my words, answer my prayers, know that I am listening with an open mind and heart. Amen.
Written by Elise Magers, Assistant Director, Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being
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