Saturday: Dec. 16

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

from Kenneth Hardway, Wheeling, WV  First Christian Church and Associate Regional Minister for Youth and Young Adults (WV)

This text is meant to help us prepare for Advent, which means ‘coming’.   We spend this time being exhorted, admonished, and preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ.

There are really three ‘comings’ that are celebrated in these days: 1) the ‘first-coming’ of God at the manger; 2) the ‘second-coming’ of Christ at the end of the age; and 3) a ‘third-coming’ that is happening in-between. (see Bernard of Clairvaux)

In this ‘third coming’ we are becoming renewed (dare I say, reborn!) communities of life and spiritual vitality for these days.  In just a little over a week, we will light candles, sing carols, and proclaim Christ is born…in us!  We will celebrate that past birth in that long-ago manger, even as we look to a final coming; yet what is immanent and palpably realized is a hope-fulfilled moment where Christ really is being born anew in each one of us on that night, as the church.

But I read this text, and I know that what it says is not true of me.  Not yet.  I want to pray without ceasing.  I desire to hold fast to what is good, noble, and righteous.  I long to be whole—spirit, body and soul.  I seek to be found sound and blameless, and to know and be known by the will of God in Jesus Christ.  But sometimes I’m not thankful.  Sometimes I’m not prayerful.  Sometimes I quench the Spirit.  This text is not true of me…not-yet.

Could the ‘not-yet’ still be hopeful? Could the ‘not-yet’ be the creative tension of Advent?  ‘Coming’ means not yet here, but is on the way!  What we long for is not-yet, but it is coming in this third-way, sooner than we realize.

May we be found at peace with the ‘not-yet-but-soon-to-be’.  For “…the one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”  This, and far more than we could dare to ask for or even imagine. Amen.

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Read Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Giving thanks is a spiritual discipline—a deepening of the relationship between the saved and the Savior.  Yet it is also witness!  The Psalmist encourages us to remember our story, remember our struggles, and to remember how God has delivered us.  This remembering isn’t only for the sake of “me and God,” but when shared as testimony gives witness to the very nature and character of God.

Every Sunday, we remember in great thanksgiving.  When our Lord was betrayed he took bread and cup and said, “Remember.”  Remember when we were sick, and God healed us.  Remember when we were broken, and God mended us.  Remember when we were outcasts and unloved, and God received us anew.  Remember when we were lost and forgotten, and God remembered us.  “Thank you, Lord,” are always the words that pour forth from the lips of the redeemed.

In this Psalm, you’ll find a litany of specific dangers from which the redeemed were saved.  Perhaps this Lent we should prepare such litanies for ourselves at the Lord’s Supper, for Communion is a private devotion, and it is public witness!  It is a sign to the world, and in a very particular way our testimony of God’s very nature—savior, redeemer, lover and friend.

Remind us, O God, of the particularity of our salvation, and embolden us to share our witness with the world that needs it so. 

Kenneth Hardway

First Christian Church, Wheeling, WV

Associate Regional Minister for Youth and Young Adults

Prayerscapes is presented by the Order of Ministry of the Christian Church in WV and the Christian Church in PA.  It is made possible for your free use because of your faithful support of Disciples Mission Fund,  for which we all give thanks.

 

Read Ephesians 5:8-14

“Now you are children of light.”  “Christ will shine in you.”  It sounds like Advent all over again.  Yet this is taking that from the natural world, and using it to illumine spiritual truth.  This comes from Holy Scripture, and extends through the long line of Christian spirituality that looks to creation—or what some have called our “first bible.”

 

How can the natural order of the world illumine our souls, especially when everything in the natural order dies?  Yes, this is one way to look at the world around us.  Yet we travel through this Lenten season with the illumination of Christ and see what is exposed with Resurrection eyes.  Let this change your worldview—the natural order of the world is not life and death, but rather is life-death-resurrection!

 

Skin cells die every moment, but new ones take shape and live on!  The perennials planted last year showcased evidence of death all winter, but now sprout forth with new buds!  I shed many a tear over the loss of life this winter, but with Easter on the horizon I feel a sense of beauty in hearing the words, “Sleeper, awake!  Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

 

Give us eyes to see your light, O Risen One, and the hope to see

that, in you, the death of things will always spring forth in newness of life.

Kenneth Hardway

First Christian Church, Wheeling, WV

Associate Regional Minister for Youth and Young Adults

Friday, Dec. 23            Read Matthew 1:18-25

from Kenneth M. Hardway, First Christian Church, Wheeling, WV, and Associate Regional Minister  for Youth and Young Adults:

God is with us.  Promise.  Hope.  The answer to our prayers, “Be near to us, O Lord.”  As near as the sun’s warmth upon our skin that breaks through the cold.  As near to us as the songs placed upon our hearts.  As near to us as the beating of our own hearts.  As near to us as our dreams.

 

Dreams have had a profound place in the story of God with us, especially in the book of ‘beginnings’ called Genesis.  God speaking to the hearts of the faithful: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph.  God has even used dreams to speak to unlikely characters like Abimelech and Pharaoh.

 

In this beginning of something new, something wonderful in Matthew’s Gospel, God again speaks through a dream to reassure and to empower the faithful to continue on.  God is doing a new thing!  And God is near.

 

“What keeps you up at night?”  That is a question that gets to the heart of our stresses and our worries.  But today you are asked, “What do you dream about?”  This is a question of open hearts, even as we slumber.  And an assurance of hope: God is near to us.

 

Give us hopeful rest, O God, and grant us dreams of our present that point us to your future. Amen.

This ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in West Virginia is supported by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund.

Read John 13:1-32

from Kenneth Hardway, Wheeling First Christian Church, and Assoc. Regional Minister for Youth and Young Adults

Jesus loved them fully. Jesus’ actions affirm it. We see it in the washing of the feet, the sharing of a meal, and in his willingness to give of himself fully for their sake and the sake of the world.

Even Judas? As much as I tried to gloss over it, this text is about Jesus foretelling his betrayal. Why Judas? Why!?! Was it greed? Power? Was he manipulated? Did God make him do it? The devil? Or is betrayal the world’s natural reaction to pure love? Please re-read that last one.

If we’re honest with ourselves—and today we should—betrayal is a part of our story as well. As much as we try to gloss over it, we are prone to making excuses for every rejection of God we are about (it began with Adam & Eve!).

Yet, Jesus loved them fully. Even Judas. Even us. We are washed in our baptisms. We are washed in the blood. When we come – sinner, yes, but also as guests invited – and eat the bread given to us by Christ, we know we are loved. Fully.   Remember, this is pure love we’re talking about here!

How great is your love for us and all your world, O God.

As our memories once again embrace Christ’s offering of self,

may our lives reflect such love in new ways of living.

This ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in West Virginia is supported by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund.

Read Psalm 32

from Kenneth Hardway, Wheeling First Christian Church, and Associate Regional Minister for Youth and Young Adults

“Happy Lent!” It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. Is there anything happy about the confession of our sin? Yet the Psalmist declares the joy of one whose sin is covered over! Happiness in giving our sin over to God. Life, this happy life the Psalmist shares in, is freed to blossom with the liberation from guilt.

Have you ever lived with a secret? A darkness that you were too ashamed to admit, yet one you cannot forget? It travels with you. It haunts you. It eats at you. It keeps you down and robs you of the simple gifts of joy, laugher, and love. This is death.

Have you ever admitted your fault, only to have someone constantly remind you of it? Bring it up when they need to manipulate you and keep you in your place? This, too, is death. Death is not of God.

In God, death is defeated. Guilt is destroyed. Sin is removed, and joy conquers despair. Happy are those who confess. The soul is spared from devastating floods. Shelter is given in the chaos of the storms. The weight of sin and death is lifted. The shackles are shattered and life is set free.

Forgive us and heal us, O God, to life fulfilled and blossomed in ways unimaginable to us now. Amen.

Read Luke 2:21-49

from Rev. Kenneth Hardway, First Christian Church, Wheeling and Assoc. Regional Minister for Youth and Young Adults

Wow! We have a lesson today that spans Jesus’ entire childhood experience! What is it that we notice here? Jesus is raised in a faithful, modest family—faithful because they observed the Levitical purification laws after childbirth, and modest because the offering of two turtle doves or pigeons was a provision to the poor who could not afford the sacrifice of a lamb. Despite their modest income and social status, the Holy family made the annual trek to Jerusalem for the Passover.

What is it that we notice about Jesus? From his birth he has been blessed by the sages. A precocious young man, he dialogs in a masterful fashion with the priests and temple elites. Was Jesus a troublesome child? At least we know Jesus got scolded once by his momma for worrying his parents half-to-death (Jesus and I have that in common). While not canonical, there are ancient stories from those presuming to be followers of Jesus who tell all kinds of wild antics of Jesus’s youth. I always find joy in thinking of Jesus in that way.

Another thing to notice about Jesus’ childhood retelling… it starts and ends in the house of the LORD.

Let us not neglect to mark our lives in the same ways…faithfulness, modesty, surrounded by sages, and found attentive in the house of God.

Raise us up, O God, as your family, and direct us in the way that we should go.