2 Corinthians 8:7-15

2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Everyone loves a stewardship text, right? Perhaps not. It is hard to be asked, or to ask others, to give of their worldly possessions. We especially have strong emotional ties to our money because, like it or not, it represents security and control. Often we don't mind giving of our excess (if we ever have any!), but to give beyond that means to risk not having enough for ourselves and our families. In an uncertain world, we don't know what tomorrow may bring.

Paul is not ordering the Corinthians to give; he is encouraging them to prove that their love is sincere. Giving to others as a way to feel better about yourself is not helpful. Instead we are to give cheerfully, knowing that if we are in need, God will take care of us through the generosity of others. Stewardship should not be viewed as something we are obligated to do, but as something we are motivated to do out of love for Christ and our fellow human.

Dear Lord, you are the sustainer and provider of life. Help us to trust in your provision as we look to the needs of your children. Amen.
Laurie Neill
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (NRSV)

7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.

9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—

11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.

12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.

13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between

14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.

15 As it is written, "The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little."

Psalm 30

Psalm 30

A good friend of mine just buried her second husband. She and George had nine wonderful years together, but he succumbed to prostate cancer. She told me once that she knew God could take away George's cancer, just like he could have saved her first husband from his heart attack, but for some reason, God chose not to work a miracle in either of these two cases. It was hard for her to understand, but yet she felt at peace.

This Psalm has offered comfort to many who mourn, knowing that the grief of the moment will not overcome us. While there was no miracle cure for George, the real miracle is that he rests in the arms of the Lord and that there will be a celebration of reunions in the life everlasting. At one point, George asked if he had been good enough, and my friend responded that it wasn't being good enough that mattered—it was being forgiven. She said a look of peace came over his face. That is the miracle! We grieve the loss of our loved ones, but we cling to the promises of God.

Dear Lord, we ask your comfort for those who mourn. May your love and forgiveness be the balm of hope that heals. Amen.
Laurie Neill
Psalm 30 (NRSV)

1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.

2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.

3 O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

4 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.

5 For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

6 As for me, I said in my prosperity, "I shall never be moved."

7 By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.

8 To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication:

9 "What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?

10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!"

11 You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Lamentations 3:22-33

Lamentations 3:22-33

My local paper had an article today about a successful businessman who had grown his small company to 150 stores, in 10 states, with $200 million in revenue. As he shared his views on success, he said he looks for people who, when a problem comes up, don't spend 80 percent of the time talking about the problem and only 20 percent figuring out a solution.

Isn't that the human tendency—to try to figure out ways to blame another for the problems we find ourselves in? Yet the author of Lamentations suggests that perhaps the trouble we find ourselves in may be of our own doing. Instead of blaming others, we are told to "bear the yoke." In other words, come willingly under God's discipline in order to learn the lesson that God has to teach us.

This passage from Lamentations offers up several ways to do this: sit alone in silent reflection (v. 28); humbly repent our wrongdoings (v. 29); face the consequences of our mistakes (v. 30); and be confident that the Lord's lessons are for our good because of his unfailing love and compassion (v. 32). The writer knew from experience that God was faithful and just. Even when we make mistakes, we will not be consumed by them. But it is wise to learn from them.

Dear Lord, thank you for your mercies which are new every morning. Help me to admit my failures, learn from my mistakes, and hope in you. Amen.

Laurie Neill

“I Love to Tell the Story,”

"I Love to Tell the Story,"
Recently, I was faced with the question:, "Why do you believe that the Bible is true?" Being a recent seminary graduate, one might expect that I would pull a seasoned theological argument out of my back pocket, citing the works of many great biblical scholars. While I know that there are many scholars who have written on this subject, my answer is a lot simpler. I know the Bible is true because it transforms lives. In particular, it has transformed my life.

The words of the hymn, "I Love to Tell the Story" resonate with me. Verse 1: "I love to tell the story, because I know it's true; it satisfies my longings as nothing else would do." The power of this old, old story never fades but rather grows with each encounter. I love to tell the story that has transformed lives throughout history and continues to transform lives today.

Holy God, thank you for the gift of your word. Teach us how to share your story so that the whole world might be transformed by your saving grace. Amen.
Grace Duddy
"I Love to Tell the Story,"

1 I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story, because I know it's true;
it satisfies my longings as nothing else would do.

Refrain

I love to tell the story;
I'll sing this theme in glory
and tell the old, old story
of Jesus and his love.

2 I love to tell the story: how pleasant to repeat
what seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet!
I love to tell the story, for some have never heard
the message of salvation from God's own holy word.

Refrain

3 I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
I'll sing the old, old story
That I have loved so long.

“On Jordan?s Bank the Baptist?s Cry,”

"On Jordan?s Bank the Baptist?s Cry,"

"Awake! Hearken! The Lord is coming!" John the Baptist implores us from Jordan's bank. I often think that we have lost the wonder of Jesus' coming. Growing up in church, the gospel can quickly lose its luster. The Bible becomes just another book for our shelf. We've read it, we know how it ends. The cross loses its power, becoming just another church symbol. We need to be infected with the urgency of John's message.

John is heralding the coming of Jesus. God is coming to earth. Everything is about to change. God is turning the world upside down through the salvation of Jesus Christ. God's grace is changing the world and changing our hearts. We can only respond in the words of verse 3, "We hail you as our Savior, Lord, our refuge and our great reward; without your grace we waste away like flow'rs that wither and decay." Without Christ we are nothing.

Jesus Christ, awaken our hearts that we might know the urgency of your message in the midst of our daily lives. Amen.
Grace Duddy
"On Jordan?s Bank the Baptist?s Cry,"

1 On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
announces that the Lord is night;
awake and hearken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings.

2 Then cleansed be ev'ry life from sin;
make straight the way for God within,
and let us all our hearts prepare
for Christ to come and enter there.

3 We hail you as our Savior, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward;
without your grace we waste away
like flow'rs that wither and decay.

4 Stretch forth your hand, our health restore,
and make us rise to fall no more;
oh, let your face upon us shine
and fill the world with love divine.

5 All praise to you, eternal Son,
whose advent has our freedom won,
whom with the Father we adore,
and Holy Spirit, evermore.

Luke 1:57-67 (68-80)

Luke 1:57-67 (68-80)

The neighbors ask in verse 66, "What then shall this child become?" In his birth narrative, God has clearly set John apart. Zechariah's prophecy sets the stage for John's ministry. A Savior is coming in fulfillment of God's promises and John will prepare the way. He will make known God's salvation through the forgiveness of sins. John is the herald of God's mercy and grace.

We, like John, have also been set apart. Through baptism, God claims us as his own, naming and declaring us as God's children. We become members of the body of Christ and recipients of God's salvation and forgiveness as heralded through John. So also the community asks of us, "What then shall this child become?"

Just as God called John, so God also calls us to be instruments of God's salvation. Thanks be to God that God works great things even through our broken lives!

God of new beginnings, you set us apart for yourself. Grant us the courage to follow your call. Amen.

Luke 1:57-67 (68-80)

Luke 1:57-67 (68-80)

In our passage for today, God is breaking with tradition and doing something new. John's birth breaks all of the rules. Not only is he born of an aged, barren woman, but also his name comes from outside his family. Elizabeth and Zechariah name the baby John, meaning "God is gracious." God has claimed John as the messenger of God's grace. God breaks with the traditional system in order to show grace. Yet, God's habit of breaking tradition is not just limited to John. Rather it is a theme that runs throughout the Bible and continues even today. Just when we think that we have it all figured out, God comes in, messes up our system and does something new. While this experience can be unsettling, it is a reminder of God's grace. A reminder that God's love is bigger than any system that we might conceive.

Gracious God, thank you for continually making all things new. Let us not make idols out of tradition. Open our eyes so that we may see your grace shining through as you break with and restore our traditional systems. Amen.

Acts 13:13-26

Acts 13:13-26

Paul begins his exhortation in Antioch with a story, proclaiming the history of the Israelite community from Abraham to John. While this story certainly has meaning to those in the Israelite community, what meaning does it have for the "others who fear God" in his audience?

In verse 26, Paul proclaims, "My brothers, you descendants of Abraham's family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent." No matter your ancestry, this is now your story. This is your salvation. God has been faithful to Israel, but God is not finished yet. Through Christ, we become members of God's family and characters in God's story. We become woven into the tapestry of God's work in the world that extends from Israel out to the whole world.

God of Israel, thank you for sending the message of salvation to us. Teach us how to be good stewards of your story. Amen.

Be Not Afraid John Michael Talbot, go to U Tube

Be Not Afraid John Michael Talbot

Psalm 107: "Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven."

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? And why does this Jesus, who can command the wind and the waves and order the chaos, wind up being crucified along with the powerless and oppressed?

Be Not Afraid John Michael Talbot

Psalm 107: "Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven."

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? And why does this Jesus, who can command the wind and the waves and order the chaos, wind up being crucified along with the powerless and oppressed?

Psalm 107: "Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven."

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? And why does this Jesus, who can command the wind and the waves and order the chaos, wind up being crucified along with the powerless and oppressed?

Psalm 141

Psalm 141

The words of Psalm 141 remind me of the service of Holden Evening Prayer. There is something unbelievably moving about a community coming together to pray. I first participated in Holden Evening Prayer during college. I clearly remember the dark, candle-lit chapel, the incense and the beautiful singing. The darkness of night called attention to our loneliness and brokenness. The burning candlelight reminded us, ever so gently, of Christ's presence in our midst.

Together in words, song and silence, our prayers rise up like incense as we offer our hearts, minds and our very selves to God. Together as a community, we acknowledge God as our rock, refuge and strength in the face of our fear, failures and burdens. Together we find hope, in the stillness of the silence, the glow of candlelight, the embrace of a friend and the promise of God's coming.

O God, our refuge, we cry out to you. Bring light to our darkness. Shelter us from our enemies. Guard our hearts. We trust in you alone. Amen.
Grace Dudd

Psalm 141 (NRSV)

1 I call upon you, O Lord; come quickly to me; give ear to my voice when I call to you.

2 Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.

3 Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.