February 2012


Wednesday: Feb. 29                                                  

Mark 1:9-15

            In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

             Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

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            What a text!  Tough to preach, tough to read.  Jesus is baptized, the Spirit descends on Jesus, a voice from heaven says “’You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’  And the Spirit immediately (my emphasis) drove him out into the wilderness.”  I must confess, I just do not like this.  Jesus pleased; Spirit sent him into awful place.  And I want to be a disciple; I want to be pleasing to God?  So much for the “feel good” gospel.  But Jesus wasn’t alone there.  The scripture also says “…and the angels waited on him.”  Wherever we go, whatever happens, we are not alone!  That’ll preach!

God of the wilderness, thanks for your presence – everywhere.

Rev. Janice Hill

First Christian Church, Parkersburg

Tuesday: Feb. 28                                                       

1 Peter 3:18-22

            `For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

             And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

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            Among the most public facts with which the Apostolic Church dealt was the crucifixion of Jesus.  In the Roman world, crucifixion was known widely as the most shame-laden means of execution, reserved for slaves and the off-scouring of society.  That Jesus died was known; and the means of his death was blatantly common knowledge, such that the Church from its first days was obliged to understand and interpret the violent death of the Lord.  As a result, the early teaching centered on the cross and the death of Jesus.  Even the Gospels have been called passion narratives with extended introductions.

            So we encounter the Lord Jesus as having died for sins once for all.  “Hapax”, the Greek word for ‘once for all’, claims the uniqueness of this death for sins.  Only once is this death happening, even by the cruelest, most shaming means available.  The affront on sins, often taken in sacrificial terms as an act that atones for sins, is an act of the righteous for the unrighteous, an act of enablement, by which he brings us – writer and reader alike – to God.  The cross, that is, transports us to the face of God.  Here we would be like the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai, exposed to the awe-inspiring intensity of God – before the people suggested someone else take care of this intimate connection for them!

            Before our text goes on to speak of baptism, we find it prefaced by a comment on us: “being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (we might say, Spirit).  We go on to the simile of Noah passing through the water, the eight souls saved through water, directed to baptism and opening toward the proclamation of Jesus to the spirits formerly lost and now recovered.  Here the Lord is lifting those previously lost – having been put to death in the flesh, now made alive in the Spirit – just the same as we, you see.

            The trajectory of faith is by way of the cross, into the catalogue of death as partner to the life made fresh in the Spirit: a transition, transformation in common with the Lord Jesus, drawing us inviolate into the joy of God before whom we stand by the righteousness and justice of Jesus our Lord, the Crucified.

Our God, bring us whole into your glory.

By your splendor in the cross of Jesus,

bring us near to joy in your delight by Spirit’s gift: new life in Jesus.

Rev. William Flewelling, Proctor, WV

Monday: Feb. 27                                                          

Psalm 25:1-10

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

O my God, in you I trust;

do not let me be put to shame;

do not let my enemies exult over me.

Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;

let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O LORD;

teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth, and teach me,

for you are the God of my salvation;

for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD,

and of your steadfast love,

for they have been from of old.

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;

according to your steadfast love remember me,

for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

Good and upright is the LORD;

therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

He leads the humble in what is right,

and teaches the humble his way.

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,

for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

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            Fuhgeddaboudit!   According to the urban dictionary, this word means, among other things, to “forget about it.” In the season of Lent, Christians try to prepare for the coming of Easter by seeking forgiveness for past sins and resolving to live more righteously.

            Psalm 25 is a reminder that the people of God have always tried to do this. The Psalmist is asking God to forget about past sins and transgressions and to be judged according to God’s steadfast love. This is more than forgiveness; it is a complete wiping of any history of the events of the past. Love, as Paul wrote in I Corinthians 13, “keeps no record of wrongs.” This is what we want from God.

            The Psalmist also asks, “teach me your paths.”  This Lent we should practice God’s love toward others.  More than forgiving, we must completely forget past wrongs.

Guide us toward your divine forgiveness.

Rev. Daniel Harry

Community Christian Church, Beech Bottom

First Sunday in Lent: Feb. 26                                       

Genesis 9:8-17:

            Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

             God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

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            Don’t tell anyone, but I own the Muppet Movie and the sound track from the movie (on a 33 1/3 vinyl of course).  I may watch the movie or listen to the album on rare occasions, but I am not admitting to it.  There is something very catchy and inspiring about the opening song, The Rainbow Connection.  There is also something inspiring about the rainbow in this scripture.

            What is inspiring is God’s promise, symbolized by the rainbow, that his anger will never reach the point of obliterating the earth and its inhabitants.  It is further inspiring that this covenant (used seven times in the passage) is unconditional and unrelated to how well we behave.  This covenant is based on God’s love, not on our obedience.  This is especially comforting to me during Lent when, examining my heart and life, I realize how I stand in need of his unconditional love.

Lord, may your unconditional love ever encompass me draw me to you.

Rev. Del Parris, Lost Creek, WV

Saturday: Feb. 25                                           

2 Corinthians 5.20b – 6.10

            We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

             We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,  beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see–we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

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            Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.  We are fighting today for costly grace.”  Bonhoeffer is echoing Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth as he reminds them that while God’s grace is abundant and free, a life of faith is not simple or without struggle.  Paul notes the difficulties we experience in life (afflictions, hardships, imprisonments, sleepless nights, hunger, etc.), but notes the power of God’s grace to overcome them through “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, truthful speech, etc.”  Lent reminds us that while death is present, it cannot overpower grace.  While pain and sorrow are present, they cannot outlast compassion and mercy.  While doubt and uncertainty cloud our faith, we find comfort and reassurance in daily glimpses of God’s presence.

Graceful God, guide us toward a faith that is open and honest,

 that we might enter into full discipleship and covenant with you and the world.

Rev. Kevin Snow

Central Christian Church, Huntington

Assoc. Regional Minister for Youth & Young Adults

Friday: Feb. 24                                                                  

Psalm 51.1-17:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is ever before me.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned,

and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you are justified in your sentence

and blameless when you pass judgment.

Indeed, I was born guilty,

a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;

therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins,

and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from your presence,

and do not take your holy spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

and sinners will return to you.

Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation,

and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

O Lord, open my lips,

and my mouth will declare your praise.

For you have no delight in sacrifice;

if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

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            What an awesome penitential psalm!  Although I often find myself somewhat flippantly saying “Lord, have mercy,” the psalmist is being anything but flippant as he acknowledges his sin and guilt and calls upon God for mercy.  One senses a feeling of near desperation as he humbly begs God for forgiveness. His denial is at its end.  He is, once and for all, facing the truth of his sinful humanity. 

            These days of Lent are the perfect time for donning a cloak of humility as we cease the denial, acknowledge our sin, come before God with  “… broken spirit; and a broken and contrite heart…”   Then we can honestly offer to God our confession.  Then with gratitude, as we receive the undeserved yet certain mercy that God constantly provides, with the psalmist our tongues can sing aloud of God’s deliverance, and praise his name for all to hear.

God of mercy and love, wash me, cleanse me, and restore to me

 the joy of your salvation, so that I may praise your name in all that I do.

Rev. Judy Bennett

Island Christian Church, Wheeling

Isaiah 58.1-12:

Shout out, do not hold back!

Lift up your voice like a trumpet!

Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.

 

             Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

             “Why do we fast, but you do not see?

            Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”

            Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,

            and oppress all your workers.

             Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight

            and to strike with a wicked fist.

            Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.

 

            Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

             Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

             Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

 

            Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

             Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

             The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

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So, here we sit at Board Meeting again.

Here we sit bored at meeting again

trying to make these old church bones rise—

 

Arguing over the color of the carpet,

how to restore the stain-glassed windows,

which sort of music to sing, just what our mission

statement ought to be. Lamentations! Lamentations!

 

Then the scrape of God fingers runs down the blackboard,

Old Isaiah’s words pick wax from our ears—a prayer goes up!

 

God is not with us. God has gone out of our meeting

to meet the shout, to meet the prayer of the oppressed.

Bored with the Board, out God goes to

loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free.

Out there, God calls us to walk the talk—

To share bread with the hungry,

bring the homeless poor into our house

to see the naked covered, to be present for our kin.

 

We who cry for help to make our creaking church bones rise

Can get it done, if only we say, “Here I am!”

Stop pointing the finger, stop speaking evil—

if only we offer food to the hungry,

Satisfy the needs of the afflicted ..,

 

Then shall our light rise in darkness and our gloom will be like the noonday.

Then the Lord will make our bones strong

And we shall be raised into Kingdomwork and our lives will shout

Glory! Glory! Glory! Glory to the Lord!

Rev. Dr. Larry Grimes

Bethany College

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