March 2011


Read Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
                 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
                for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
                you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
                and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

 

From Rev. Magdalyn Sebastian, Wheeling, WV; Interim Pastor at Fairhill Manor Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

                Separated as we are by millennia from the time this Psalm was written and our own time, we really don’t get all the pastoral references.   We think we do.   Shepherd cares for sheep and protects them.  Got it.  These are the comforting words said in times of trial.  

                Do we recognize that much of Psalm 23 talks about the shepherd disciplining his sheep?   The shepherd takes the sheep through the routines of eating good food and not something else that would get them sick, of drinking by still waters since running water is frightening, and of gently being kept in line with the rod and staff.   There is peace in knowing someone is taking care of us through the love of discipline—limits–guidance.   We are not left bereft, in fact we are showered with abundant love.

Good Shepherd, we rejoice that you are always guiding and prodding. 
May we respond in life-giving ways.
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Read 1 Samuel 16.1-13

 

                The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”  Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’  Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”
                 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?”  He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
                 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.”  But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
                 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel.  He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”  Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”  Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.”
                 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?”  And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.”  And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”  He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”  Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

 

From Rev. Aaron Watkins, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Bluefield

                Recently my wife bought for me a pair of nice slacks for me to wear to work during the week.  They were not the high priced slacks from Gucci, Nordstrom or Louis Vuitton.  I don’t need high end clothes like that.  I find it more important to be ‘high end’ on the inside.  With God’s help I am working on that.   I know though that my heart is not clean because I am a sinner; but I am fully aware that, despite my sins, because of Jesus Christ I am forgiven, and I thank the Risen Lord for that.  Among other joys, this Easter I will celebrate how perfect Jesus was before and after His death and Resurrection.

You, O Lord, look upon the heart.
Search my heart and reveal yourself within me,
that I may live faithfully as your child.

Read John 8.12-20

                Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”  Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.”
                 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.  You judge by human standards; I judge no one.  Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.  In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid.  I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.”
                 Then they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”  He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

 

From Rev. X. Rae Browning, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Cumberland, MD

                Jesus’ testimony of the light that wipes out darkness–even when things look bleak to the human heart and eye–holds great truth. When things take place that seem to blot out all manner of life and hope, turning to Jesus as the Light gives hope to the believer. Calling on the Father to send the great Healer to minister to a loved one in need generates a revealing of the truth that Jesus never leaves us alone.  Jesus with the Father stand together, loving us so much that the promise is made sure:  Beyond all suffering, pain, and sorrow lies a glorious future.  So trust in Jesus and call on God’s light to take away the darkness in the world.

Father Almighty, where there is darkness let there be light —
the light of Jesus that opens our hearts to believe and receive.

Read John 7.37-52

                On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”  Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
                 When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.”  Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he?  Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”  So there was a division in the crowd because of him.  Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
                 Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?”  The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!”  Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you?  Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him?  But this crowd, which does not know the law–they are accursed.”
                 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?”  They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you?  Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”

 

From Rev. Dennis Sparks, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Ravenswood, and Executive Director, WV Council of Churches

 
 Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water;
Put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea.
Take a look at yourself and you can look at others differently,
By putting your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee.
Every Time I look into the holy book I wanna tremble
When I read about the part where the carpenter cleared the temple
For the buyers and the sellers were no different fellers
           than what I profess to be,
And it causes me shame to know I’m not the gal that I should be.  
                                                         (Gene Maclellan, © 1971, Emi Blackwood Music Inc.)

                Writing about this passage, the Anne Murray pop song of yesteryear dominates my thoughts. For in so many ways we all remain “the buyers and the sellers” and “the Pharisaic tellers.” They were all good and successful people protecting the core values passed down from generations before them.

                Believing in and turning to the ancient scripture, they proclaimed that no prophet had ever come or was to come from Galilee.  Only those who did not know the law supported the one who stood in the temple shouting, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water,” to be a prophet.  So many times the “good news” comes in reverse of what we perceive as truth and causes us shame.

O Lord our God, may we look into the depths of our souls
and give up those old things that keep us away
from the  gospel of living water flowing from our hearts.

Read Psalm 77

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
                in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
                my soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints.  
You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.
I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit:
                 “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
                 Has his steadfast love ceased forever?
                Are his promises at an end for all time?
                Has God forgotten to be gracious?
                Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”  
And I say, “It is my grief
                that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD;
I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.
                 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?
                 You are the God who works wonders;
                                you have displayed your might among the peoples.
                 With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
                                the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.  
                 When the waters saw you, O God,
                                when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
                                                the very deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered;
                 your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
                your lightnings lit up the world;
                                the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

 

From Rev. Judith Bennett, Island Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Wheeling

                Remember when…?  This a question we hear bantered about whenever groups of family and friends celebrate together at reunions, baptisms, weddings and other joyous occasions.  It’s also one we hear when the same people gather to grieve the death of one of their own. 

                We are a remembering people.  Whether we are remembering a time of joy or one of sadness, God’s presence can be evidenced in them all when we have placed our hope and trust in Him.  During this Lenten season as we call to mind the myriad and wonderful deeds of our Lord, may we boldly proclaim them to all those we encounter. 

God of all creation, help us to never forget the wonders of your Love.

Read John 4.5-42

                So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.  A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)
                 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
                 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?  Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”  Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
                The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”  Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”  The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;  for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”
                 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
                 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”  Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
                Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”
                 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”  They left the city and were on their way to him.
                 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.”  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”  Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.  Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.  The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.  For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
                 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”  So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of his word.  They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

 

From William Flewelling, Proctor, WV

              From Jacob’s well a drink,
              then promised water lures –
              the living water, Jesus Christ,

              who satisfies.

 
              Familiar are the ways
              our Jesus fills our days:
              by opening the Spirit’s flow

              he satisfies.

 
              Intensely worshipping
              in spirit and in truth,
              we come together to the Lord

              who satisfies.

 
              By word of heart you speak.
              O Lord, expose on us
              the speaking that reveals the heart

              now satisfied.

                                                                                                                                                                                                (6.6.8.4.   Suggested tune: Amen Court)

Read Romans 5.1-11

                Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

                For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.

                 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

 

From Rev. Delma Parris, Lost Creek, WV

                In our age of information overload it is easy to become indifferent to messages that crowd our brains, particularly to those that are repeated.  As Christians this is no less true of our response to the gospel.  We have heard that God is love, that Christ died for our sins, and other similar messages so often that it is easy to think, “Yes, I know that,” and move on.  For several years I have attempted to bring Christ’s death and suffering alive by listening to music, reading a book and/or simply reflecting on the gospel accounts of the passion during Lent.  “But God shows his love for us (me) in that, while we (I) were yet sinners, Christ died for us (me.)”   How will these words come alive for you?

Awaken me to your good news, O God,
by whatever means I am able to receive.

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