Advent Devotions Dec. 16 Love and Relationships

love_thy_neighborTuesday, Third Week of Advent,  December 16             

Matthew 5:21-22, 22:34-40

Love and Right Relationships

 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

 In Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus provides his interpretation of several key commandments in the Jewish Law (found in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament). There is a sharp contrast between his interpretation (the way of radical love stated in Matthew 22:34-40) and widely-accepted understandings of first century Judaism. In doing so, Jesus provides six examples of right relationships. These examples offer a guide for disciples to live in a manner compatible with Jesus’ vision of reality. They are worthy of our attention and reflection. It is not just murder that is the problem, for radical love avoids the expression of anger that destroys relationships in community and the name-calling that diminishes a Christian brother or sister.

 How does Matthew 22:21-22 influence your understanding of Jesus’ view of right relationships?

How might our congregation more fully manifest this vision of community?

What insights have you gained about the church as a community living in right relationships?

Prayer:   O God, we commit ourselves to your way of gentleness and right relationships, of peace and justice. Help us to trust in you to act on our behalf and on behalf of all those who suffer because of others’ wrongdoing. Amen.

 

Advent Devotion Dec. 15 Salt and Light

june10thMonday, Third Week of Advent,  December 15              Matthew 5:13-16

 Salt and Light

 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

 There is always a danger that a faith community becomes inward-focused.  To counter this tendency, Jesus’ sayings in the next segment of the Sermon on the Mount offer two images that emphasize the world-wide and world-affirming mission given to the Christian community: “You are the salt of the earth…” (5:13), and “You are the light of the world…” (5:14). The community’s mission as salt and light is a gift of God’s grace. With both images, Jesus uses the second person plural to describe the new identity of the community of faith conferred “You are (all of you together) the salt…” and “You are (all of you together) the light…”

 Yet these images also point to the task conferred upon the community of faith: joining in the mission of Jesus Christ: “You are the salt of the earth…” “You are the light of the world…” Jesus’ follow-up comments for both images emphasize the tragedy of salt that no longer serves as salt, and the absurdity of a city on the hill being hid or a lamp being put under a bushel rather than on a lamp stand. Put positively, salt is to do its salting and light is to do its illuminating.  So we have a unique purpose and usefulness. If a church does not fulfill this purpose, it is of no use.

 If a church is dramatically formed by what it does, what are some of the works that currently shape our congregation? What kind of a witness do these works present to the world?

How could Willow Grove  live more fully as salt and light for the world?

 Prayer:   Let us pray for Willow Grove Church and all churches, that Christ’s light may not be hidden under a basket but put on a lamp stand. Let us pray for those in our community and the world, that they may see Christ’s light reflected in us. Amen.

Advent Devotion Dec. 14 Mary and Her Song

annunciationThird Sunday in Advent,  December 14                    

Luke 1:46-47, 43-55

Mary and Her Song

 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 “According to Luke, when Mary sang, she didn’t just name those promises but also entered into them. Notice, for instance, that the verbs in Mary’s song are all in the past tense. Mary recognizes as she sings that she has already been drawn into relationship with the God of Israel, the one who has been siding with the oppressed since the days of Egypt and who has been making and keeping promises since the time of Abraham. The past tense in this case doesn’t so much signify that everything Mary sings about has been accomplished, but rather that Mary  is now included in God’s history of redemption.

 How do the words of Mary’s song, The Magnificat, speak to you?

 When you think about Mary’s response to God, what are some of the words you would use to describe her—Faithful?  Courageous?  Open to God’s plans?

       Joyful?  Grateful?  What can we learn from Mary?

 Prayer:  Lord, let us as a congregation claim your promises to Abraham, Israel, and Mary.  Let us take time during this season to  listen to music that inspires us and helps us feel the joy of Christmas. Amen.

Advent Devotions Dec. 11 Being a Community in Contrast to Culture

E008405Thursday, Second Week of Advent,  December  11          Matthew 5:1-12

 Beatitudes—Being a Contrast Community

 

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

               The beatitudes offer a vision of a “contrast community.” A contrast community following the way of Jesus offers in its values, priorities, and behaviors a life giving alternative to the values, priorities, and behaviors of the world around it—whether the world of Jesus’ day or 21st century North America.  The  community which received the gospel of Matthew containing the Sermon on the Mount was one that was in transition from being a community taught by Jesus to one whose view of their mission was tested in the crucible of  the conflicts that experienced by the early Jewish Christian house churches.

              Because its members take Jesus’ Beatitudes so seriously, a Christian congregation stands in tension with its surrounding society.  Such faith communities honor what and whom God honors,, not what the popular culture demands.  Striving for this can work against a faith community that welcomes all persons, including those judged by others as of little or no worth.

What insights have you gained about the church as a “contrast community”?

Prayer:  Let us ask God for guidance in discerning our call and knowing how we are to be different from the world around us. Help us at Willow Grove to display justice in contrast to the practices happening locally and nationally for marginalized communities. Amen.

Advent Devotions Dec. 10 Beatitudes and Life Together

communityWednesday, Second Week of Advent,  December  10                         Matthew 5:1-12

 Beatitudes—Life Together

 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

               The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 describe the way of life of the disciple community— those who follow Jesus. This is the character of the faith community that believes in God and trusts God’s way. This blessed community is to practice a new way of seeing and acting.

        Why do you think it could be said that “it takes a community” to live the Beatitudes?

       Which ones seem most important to Willow Grove? 

 Prayer:  Help us to trust in you to act on our behalf and on behalf of all those who suffer because of others’ wrongdoing. Hold before our eyes the example of Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Advent Devotion Dec. 9 Beatitudes and Blessings

Java Printing

Tuesday Second Week of Advent,  December  9               Matthew 5:1-12

 Beatitudes—Thinking about Blessings

 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Sermon on the Mount begins with Jesus’ beatitudes. The community lives under God’s gracious blessing: “Blessed are you…” Jesus uses this form to declare persons “blessed” whose attitudes and activities diverge markedly from those commonly assumed and even celebrated in the Roman world. In that world, it would be astonishing to claim that the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the ones hungering and thirsting after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the makers of peace, and those persecuted for the sake of righteousness are blessed by God.

 How do the attitudes and activities described in the Beatitudes compare to how society today views what it means to be “blessed?”;

What are some of the blessings you are thankful this Christmas?

 Prayer:              O God, we commit ourselves to your way of gentleness and right relationships, of peace and justice. Amen.

Advent Devotions Dec. 8 Christian Community and Sharing Burdens

matthew-11-28-30Monday, Second Week of Advent,  December 8                 

Matthew 11:28-30

Christian Community and Sharing Burdens

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

 In this passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus recognizes the difficulties of human life, the heavy burdens that persons are carrying, and offers relief, but also a summons to a new relationship with God expressed through discipleship, the life and practice of Jesus’ followers. Jesus’ teachings within the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) aren’t really sayings about the private individual’s moral character or behavior, although often read that way. Rather, they represent the quality of life and witness of communities of people who have heard the gospel—the proclamation of the new life to be found in relationship with Jesus Christ—and are living out the implications of this good news.

The Sermon on the Mount is aimed at the community of faith, and has as its goal the guidance of those who would follow Jesus. Willow Grove Church is that community of faith where you are being called to both hear and live out the sayings of Jesus.  Just as was true in the Ephesians passage (See Monday of the first week) , the word used for you in the Greek, ὑμᾶς, is plural (like y’all in the South or you’se in Philadelphia).

If The Sermon on the Mount is a vision for life in God’s community rather than being about one’s own personal experience,  how can living in a Christian community that reflects God’s love affect your own burdens and yoke?

How can life in our Christian community reflect both our burdens being lightened and God’s challenges to us to live out his love?

Does being a solitary Christian not involved in a church make any sense based on the Biblical message?

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, help us together to take on your yoke and find rest in you. Even in this busy season, let us share our joys and sorrows. Amen.