March 2009


Read John 10:1-18

 

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

 

Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.  So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.

 

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

 

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

(NRSV)

 

     from Pastor Judy Bennett, Island Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Wheeling

 

He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out….

            There is nothing in all of scripture that affects me more powerfully than the knowledge that Jesus knows me by my name.  And I take great comfort in the fact that He calls my name when I am being as dumb as a wayward sheep – going off on some tangent of my own – suddenly finding myself lost among the clutter of my own wrong decisions and childish actions.  But then, deep in my self-imposed stillness, comes that still, small voice that calls my name and gently leads me back to where I need be in order to continue my journey of life.   

            As we move ever closer to the cross, may we listen for His voice as He calls us each by name.

 

Shepherding God, open our ears

 that we may hear you call our name

and then lead us in the way you would have us go.

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Read Romans 10:1-13 

                          

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.  I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened.  For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness.  For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

 

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.”  But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

 

But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.  The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

 

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”   (NRSV)

 

from Rev. Andrea Brownlee -Big Run Christian Church & Fork Ridge Christian Church  (Disciples of Christ), Cameron

 

            “Justified” and “saved” are words we often hear in Christian circles. Depending upon where you live, you might hear them more or less often than others. When I began seminary many people asked me to share my faith journey, not much salvation talk. When I received the call for my first church many people asked me to tell them my story of salvation.

            Some people have stories of great struggle, which eventually lead to great triumph, realizing that Jesus is Lord.  Others have grown up in the faith.  In either case, the fact remains that when we believe in our heart and confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, we are truly ready for something to happen.

            We all have different stories, we all have different backgrounds, but one things remains: the same Lord is Lord of all.   In this Lenten season let us not forget that if we confess with our mouth what we believe in our heart, everything else will fall into place on its own.

 

God, Lord of all, give us the courage

to proclaim what we believe in our hearts.

Read Jeremiah 24:1-10

 

The LORD showed me two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the LORD.  This was after King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the artisans, and the smiths, and had brought them to Babylon.  One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten.

 

And the LORD said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”

 

I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”

 

Then the word of the LORD came to me:

             Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel:

            Like these good figs,

                        so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah,

                        whom I have sent away from this place

                        to the land of the Chaldeans.

             I will set my eyes upon them for good,

                        and I will bring them back to this land.

            I will build them up, and not tear them down;

            I will plant them, and not pluck them up.

             I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD;

                        and they shall be my people and I will be their God,

                        for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

            But thus says the LORD:

            Like the bad figs

             that are so bad they cannot be eaten,

                         so will I treat King Zedekiah of Judah,

                        his officials,

                        the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land,

                        and those who live in the land of Egypt.

             I will make them a horror, an evil thing,

                        to all the kingdoms of the earth—

                        a disgrace, a byword, a taunt, and a curse

                        in all the places where I shall drive them.

            And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them,

                         until they are utterly destroyed

                        from the land that I gave to them and their ancestors.

(NRSV)

 

            Harsh judgment in two baskets of figs?  It may be hard, indeed, to read the language of the prophet, yet it sounds a promise to those who experience exile:  God has not finished with us yet.  We are to be given new hearts, and a new openness to God. 

            Despite the pain of our personal experience of exile—whether real or imagined, voluntary or compulsory—there can be redemption and new life in it. 

 

When I am far from you—even when exile is only in my mind—

turn me, O Lord, to the joyful promise of your word,

and make my heart rejoice in you, for you are my redeemer.

Read Psalm 84

 

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!

My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD;

            my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.

 

Even the sparrow finds a home,

            and the swallow a nest for herself,

            where she may lay her young,

                        at your altars, O LORD of hosts,

                        my King and my God.

 

Happy are those who live in your house,

            ever singing your praise. Selah

Happy are those whose strength is in you,

            n whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs;

            he early rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength;

            he God of gods will be seen in Zion.

 

O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;

            give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

Behold our shield, O God;

            look on the face of your anointed.

For a day in your courts

             is better than a thousand elsewhere.

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God

             than live in the tents of wickedness.

 

For the LORD God is a sun and shield;

            he bestows favor and honor.

No good thing does the LORD withhold

            from those who walk uprightly.

 

O LORD of hosts,

             happy is everyone who trusts in you.

(NRSV)

 

from Rev. Dawna Watkins – Bluefield, WV

 

            When traveling to new places, I like to have a map. This goes for trying new things like recipes, craft project, or home improvements. When I started thinking about marriage, I sat down and penned this to the one who would later be my husband:

 

                 We started life in caring, nurturing families.

            Then one day we set out to understand our place in life.

                 We discovered many people and things through

            pain and confusion and separation from family.

                 A year ago today we discovered that together

            we make continuing to explore on your own less lonely.

 

                 We started a new journey together.

            We discovered love and nurturing of family with each other.

                 Our journey continues as we find our way

            loving and nurturing each other as family.

                 One day our children will explore their place

            and discover it in their own families.

            If we could take a look at each day as spending “one Day in God’s (family) house” maybe we won’t get so lost along our journey.

 

Call us toward your self, O God.  Knowing that you are our home,

we can take another step today.

It is very easy to get lost on a long journey. 

One wrong turn.  One bad decision.

One moment of futile thought. 

Our spiritual journey is one that requires

our constant attention as well as the aid of fellow travelers.

Read John 6:60-71

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

 

But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?  Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.  And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

 

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.  So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

 

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

 

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.”  He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.  (NRSV)

 

from Rev. Larry Grimes – Community Christian Church  (Disciples of Christ), Beech Bottom

 

            Did you listen to the news this noon?  In no uncertain terms it was reported: “Flesh is useful. Studies show that flesh gives life. Flesh is life. Polls confirm that most Americans find flesh most useful and are most fleshy themselves.”

            A minority insists that we are spirit and life. When asked if they wanted to go away, to leave the flesh, the majority said, “Like the devil we do!”

            Judas spoke for the majority. He bet hard silver, thirty pieces of it, that flesh would trump over spirit any day, in this the only life we’ll ever have.

            That’s Friday’s noon news—I can’t wait to see what they’ll have to say come Sunday!

 

Help us to look beyond the hard evidence of what our eyes can see,

and know what is unsearchable truth: 

All of life belongs to you, O God, the one true Giver.

Read Romans 8:28-39

 

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

 

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?

 

Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

 

Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

 

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (NRSV)

 

from Rev. Richard Howard – First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Morgantown

 

            Today’s lesson from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome is a classic standard used in times of great distress.  Specifically, it is one of several I regularly use in funeral services because it offers its hearers such great hope.

            It is hard to “read the signs” of God’s presence when one has just suffered a great loss.  In this passage the Apostle Paul clearly and boldly proclaims the omnipresent sovereignty of God.  When we find ourselves in the depths of despair, hope comes to us from these words: ”Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”  To be sure of the totality of God’s presence, perhaps we should also ask, ”What can separate us from the love of Christ?”   Paul makes clear that no one and no thing can ever separate us from the Lord.

            Anyone who doubts the absolute power of God, after having heard or read these words of Paul, wasn’t paying attention!  “Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword?”  With a resounding “No,” Paul answers his own question: “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  And he loves us still.

            How can we be without hope for long in the face of such convincing evidence? The signs of God’s great power and ever-presence are there for us to see, if we but open our eyes.  Even in the face of great distress, we are already on the side of victory! Nothing, and no one, will ever be able to take this away from us.  We are God’s own.

 

Help us to see how you love us, O God.  Help us to see and believe.

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