Pastor Sally’s Devotional 10/6

Dear friends, 

I just want to share a few pictures with you today for our daily devotions.  These were taken on Sunday at our service at the Wellfield.  Thank you, Lord, for church family.

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 10/5

Dear friends,

A couple of weekends ago Mike and I spend a second weekend washing windows in our house.  We have a lot of windows!  While Mike was using the power washer to take the initial crud off the lower windows, he had the gate open because the hose was hooked up out back.  I knew the gate was open, but forgot after several trips through the back door, and I inadvertently let Theo out.

Theo getting out of our fenced yard is a major concern for Mike and me.  We live just off of Lexington Avenue and Theo, at barely two years old, is not smart about cars.  So as soon as we realized he had gotten free we both went out to scour the neighborhood.  Mike went first to the spot Theo usually visits in a neighbor’s yard, but he wasn’t there.  I ran to Lexington and looked up and down the street but, to my relief he had not wandered into traffic. 

I then began calling to him.  I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea or not, since Theo loves to be out and about on his own and often runs away from us.  I just wasn’t sure what else to do, so I sang out his name.  That’s when Mike saw me and said, “Look behind you!”  I turned to see Theo running down the side walk full tilt toward me.  I quickly crossed the street to keep him from dashing across the street to get to me.  Then I fell on my knees to catch him before he ran past me.  I needn’t have worried.  He ran right into my outstretched arms and buried his head in my lap.  He was trembling and wanting comfort.  It was clear to me that his adventure had frightened him.  I suspect he looked up and realized he was lost, and so ran toward the sound of my voice as fast as he could go.

Given that we have been talking about the stories related to the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep, this moment touched me for days afterward.  I wonder if we are sometimes unaware of just how lost we have become.  Surely we have moments when we look up and wonder, “How did I get here and more importantly how do I get home?”  I wonder too if God looks for us and wonders how we got so lost.  Does God wonder if he should call our name or if we will simply run further away and try to hide?

I am confident however, the Lord comes in search of us when we go astray.  He is determined to find us and to lead us safely home.  Like the father of the prodigal son, God waits with open arms for us to return and breathes a sign of relief when we are safe.

Take a moment to think of those you know and love who are maybe a little lost.  Whisper their names to the Lord.  Maybe whisper your own name if it’s appropriate. 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 10/3

Dear friends, 

Today we come to the final phrase in the Lord’s prayer as we know it: “For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.”  Jesus did not actually include these words in the Lord’s prayer.  He concluded with the petition to save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil (or the evil one.)  It seems a rather dark ending to the prayer.  Likely he knew that his disciples, being good Jews, would add a doxological ending to it.

In fact, this is exactly what the early Church did with the Lord’s prayer.   Various manuscripts offer a variety of endings, although some of the early church fathers are clear that the prayer did not originally have such a doxological conclusion.  Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, and Gregory of Nyssa and report the prayer ending as we find it in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels with the request to save us from evil.

You might be interested to hear some of the alternative endings offered by the early church.  Some ended simply with, “For Thine is the power forever and ever”, while others like the Didache, written around 100 A.D. read, “For Thine is the power and the glory forever”, while others read, “For Thine is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit forever”.  Another reads as we know it: “For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever”.  The Orthodox Church, uses the longest version: “For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and always and forever.

However we end the prayer, I think it is appropriate to end in praise to our God.  When we say to God, “the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,” we are essentially saying the end game is in God’s hands, only God has the power to bring about God’s good plans, and when everything is finally make right, God gets all the credit!  It is to simply say, “We know everything is in your hands, Lord,  and we are good with that!”

There is one more word we add to the prayer.  We say Amen at the end.  This is a Hebrew word which would have been said at the end of prayers in Jesus day and long before.  Usually it was not said by the person offering the prayer, but by all of the people listen.  “Amen” was the people’s response to the prayer and the way by which the people would say to God, “I agree with this prayer” or “may this all happen as we have asked.”  I think the thumbs up at the end of the Lord’s prayer in sign language says it all.

Remember, when we gather for worship at the Wellfield Gardens tomorrow at 10:00 AM that we are planning to sign the Lord’s prayer.  I will take a moment to reteach it before we begin worship, but you can also check out the video I made last week to remind yourself of the signs.  https://vimeo.com/461551775

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 10/2

Dear friends,

As we near the end of the Lord’s prayer we come to a couple of phrases that have puzzled Christians for a while, and I believe have been frequently misunderstood.  We say, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil (or the evil one.)  Did Jesus really believe God might lead us into temptation?  His brother James in his letter to the churches at the back of the New Testament said, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” James 1: 13 – 14. 

In fact, the language we have adopted over the years about being led into temptation, is better translated, “do not bring us to the time of trial” and it is important to pair these words with the request for deliverance from evil.  Jesus knew there was darkness in the world brought about largely at the hands of people who give into their darker desires and inclinations.  Jesus would certainly suffer at the hands of those who would serve their own self-interests, their selfish grasping for power and perhaps even a depraved lust for violence.  He knew his disciples after him would fall victim to this same darkness when his church moved to carry on his mission of grace and compassion.  So he told us to pray to our father for salvation in such times of trouble and for deliverance from the darkness. 

New Testament scholar Tom Long says, the best way to understand this petition is to imagine “the congregation heading out the front door of the church to do God’s work in a storm-tossed world and whispering the prayer “Keep us safe our there O God.  Let the forces of evil tremble to see us coming, rather than the other way around, and bring us home at the end of this day even stronger in faith than when we go out.”

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 10/1

Dear friends,

Years ago I was talking with a friend I’ll call Mary, who had been “done dirt” by a neighbor.  I can’t even remember what the offense was, but I remember Mary’s  response.  Mary was angry and had completely cut off the relationship with her offending neighbor.  She was not allowing her children to go down the street to play with her neighbor’s children.  When she was forced into a public encounter she treated the offending neighbor with cold civility.  Still Mary was weary of the wall that had grown between them.  She said it me, “If only my neighbor would say ‘I’m sorry,’ I would forgive her.  I’m a sucker for an apology.”

Forgiveness is at the heart of Christian faith.  The forgiveness of God is gracious, unconditional and enduring.  God forgives us because it is in God’s nature to forgive.  It is from this forgiving heart that we are called to forgive.  God asks us to forgive because it is good for us and it is good for those who need our forgiveness.  My friend Mary, above, was suffering under the weight of her self-imposed grudge.  Her sense of personal tranquility was constantly troubled by this outstanding debt.  Her hackles were raised every time she entered the public arena where her offensive neighbor might be present.  Even her children were suffering because of her anger.  How much easier her life might have been if she could have found it in her heart to simply forgive with or without the apology. 

Forgiveness is as much for us as for the another with whom we are angry.  Nursing anger or offense takes a lot of energy that can better be expended in acts of compassion or love.  Jesus knew forgiveness was essential to the spiritual life.  At the center of his prayer is this petition.  “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Jesus knew that forgiveness was a circle.  We are forgiven by God which provides a shower of relief allowing us to forgive others which provides a shower of relief so we can accept God’s forgiveness of us which provides a shower of relief…. You get the idea.  Receiving the forgiveness of God and the forgiving others are all intertwined.  We know that it begins with God’s forgiveness of us, but we can sure tangle up this forgiveness circle when we get stuck in a grudge.

Take a moment today and ask yourself who you need to forgive.  Then do it.  Stop trying to exact payment for some debt you believe the other owes you.  Just remember the many things God has forgiven you and let go of your anger and see if you don’t feel that shower of relief.  Jesus knew we would be better, more whole and more holy if we could only forgive as God has forgiven us.

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 9/30

Dear friends,

I have to say last night’s debate left me feeling almost hung over this morning.  I woke up with a headache and found myself moving slowly though my morning routine.  The vitriolic nature of the political discourse last night discouraged me.  I’ve never seen anything like it and would be pleased to never see such discourse again.

So this morning as I opened the zoom meeting for Men’s Bible study… let’s just say I wasn’t sure I was up to the task.  What a pleasant surprise to discover that our study of the scriptures and thoughtful, respectful conversation that ensued was just what I needed.  How delightful to explore, discuss and learn from one another as we listened for God’s Word in the scripture.  God gave me my “daily bread” when I wasn’t looking for it.

We come today to the petition in the Lord’s prayer where we ask, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Usually when I pray this part of the prayer, I pray it quite literally.  I like bread a lot.  I bake bread regularly and bake it well.  So when I prayer for daily bread, I’m usually thinking about all the ways I count on God to provide for the basic things we need like food, shelter, protection and love.

This morning, however, I was reminded of Jesus words to the devil who was tempting him to turn stones into bread after he had fasted in the desert for 40 days.  Jesus said, “One does not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Matt 4:4.  (This is a quote, by the way, from Deuteronomy 8:3.)  This morning as I explored God’s Word with the men of the church, I had the real sense that God was feeding my soul with food that mattered both in the words of the scripture and the respectful, caring words of the men as we discussed together.

 

When we ask God to “Give us today our daily bread,” we trust that God knows what we need before we ask.  Sometimes God knows what we need before we know for ourselves.  I am grateful today for God’s abundance of gifts.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 9/29

Dear friends,

We’ve been considering the Lord’s prayer in anticipation of signing the Lord’s prayer on Sunday at our outdoor service at the Wellfield at 10:00 AM.  If you haven’t seen the signing video to help you learn the Lord’s prayer you can click on this link:  https://vimeo.com/461551775.

Today we are looking at the phrase in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  This is a petition on our part that God would have God’s way.  We are asking for God to make things happen accord to God’s desires or purpose.  I think we get a clue as to what Jesus means by this particular petition in the advice Jesus offers just before he teaches the Lord’s prayer.  He says to his disciples,

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  Matt. 6: 7-8. 

It seems to me this actually pretty hard to do.  Most of us when we go to pray have a laundry list of requests to make to God.  We ask for things.  We ask for lots of things.  Jesus tells us we don’t really need to ask for that laundry list of things.  Our Father in heaven, who loves us, already knows what we need, and will give us good things just as any good human father would do. In another bit of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus asks a couple of interesting questions to get us to think about asking in prayer.  He says,

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!  Matt 7: 9-11. 

The trick then is to trust that God does indeed love us and will give us what we need just as any other good father would do.  The other bit to remember, however, is that this prayer is said to “our” father and not just “my” father.  And when we ask for God’s will to be done, we ask not just for ourselves but for God’s will to be done on the whole earth and for all the creatures on the earth just as God’s will is done in heaven.  It’s a big ask, and this petition goes way beyond what each of us individually needs on any particular day.  We’re looking for God’s will to be done for people who caught in the crossfire of civil war, for people who suffer under unjust leadership in their country, for people who haven’t enough to eat or a safe place to sleep, or who are trapped in slavery or in abusive relationships.  We are asking for God’s will to be done on the earth for everyone in need… including us.  It’s a big ask, but I believe God hears and is up to the challenge.

My prayer today as I write this, is that I will remember the next time I go to God with my laundry list of requests to include prayers for those who are beyond my sight and personal daily experience… that I will remember to pray for God’s will to be done and mean it!

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 9/28

Dear friends,

I want to take a break from the discussion of the Lord’s prayer today to talk about a familiar story in the Bible that has special meaning for our church at the moment.  It’s the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10: 25 – 37.

The story was prompted as Jesus was having a conversation with a teacher of the law who asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus responded with the two commandments he deemed most important: 1) to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and 2) to love your neighbor as yourself.  The Lawyer, however, wanted to clarify what was required and asked who was his neighbor.  This was actually a question under discussion in Jesus’ day.  The word neighbor literally means one who is “near.”  Most Jews in Jesus day thought that meant they need only love the people like themselves – their Jewish brothers and sisters.  In fact they shunned anyone who was not Jewish.  They wouldn’t go in their homes, eat their food, touch their utensils…  These people were unclean and included both Gentiles and Samaritans.

So to answer the lawyer’s question, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.  You probably remember the story.  A “man,” (and here we must assume this is a Jewish man)  was accosted by robbers who beat him up, took his belongings and left him for dead.  Two Jewish religious people offered no help probably because they were worried they might sully their state of religious purity.  When the Samaritan saw the dying man he was moved by pity.  Now we need to remember, the Samaritans were considered to be the wrong kind of people.  According to the Jewish beliefs at the time, Samaritans worshipped in the “wrong place,” they had “wrong beliefs,” they were mixed race, and they were despised.  But it is the Samaritan who had pity and stopped.  He bound up the man’s wounds, put him on his donkey, took him to an Inn where he attended to him personally in order to get him through the first night and then left money to have him cared for after he departed.  Jesus completed his story by asking who of the three people on the road that day was a neighbor to the injured man and the lawyer rightly named the Samaritan.  Jesus said go and do likewise.

Now lots of people read this story and assume this is a story about helping and it is to a certain extent.  A neighbor helps those in need.  But the story is also about how easily we judge others to be of lesser value for whatever reason.  Turns out the “lesser valued Samaritan” was the loving neighbor in God’s eyes.  Jesus uses this story to urge us to expand our definition of who is our neighbor and to call us to love all our neighbors.

Over the next several weeks our church is inviting our members and friends to work on Jesus’ call to love all our neighbors.  We think this is a challenging commandment and we need to help each other work on it together.  To help us stretch and grow we have posted on our website a 21 day Racial Equity Challenge.  We are inviting people, for 21 days, to read or watch or listen to one small bit of media related to the challenges faced by our Black neighbors in this country.  I suppose one might wonder why we are focused on our Black neighbors.  Of course we are concerned for all our neighbors, but it seemed to our church leaders that our Black neighbors are the ones who are figuratively lying by the side of the road bleeding these days.  So for now we are paying attention to our Black neighbors.

I signed up for this challenge last Friday.  I figure I won’t agree with everything I read or listen to or watch, but I’m willing to listen to other voices.  I’m willing to stretch.  I’m definitely willing and wanting to learn what I can do to follow my Lord more nearly.  I invite you to join me on this journey.  Go to : https://www.presby.net/better-together-21-day-challenge/  and sign up!

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 9/26

Dear Friends,

As we continue our look at the Lord’s prayer, we come to the petition, “Thy Kingdom come.”  What does that mean?  I think lots of American Christians struggle with the whole concept of a Kingdom.  We don’t live in a Kingdom, and we don’t have a King.  In fact we repudiated the whole notion of Kings back in the Revolutionary war.  So what does it mean to pray for God’s Kingdom to come?

Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven a lot!  In the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, the first words of teaching we have from Jesus’ lips are, “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near.” (Mark 1: 15)  At other times Jesus was known to say, “The Kingdom of God is already among you. (Luke 17:21)   I think Jesus understood the concept of God’s Kingdom was hard for people to understand, so he frequently began his parables, “The Kingdom of God is like….” 

There are a couple of ideas that can help us wrap our minds around the Kingdom of God.  The first is that every Kingdom has to have a ruling monarch… a king or a queen.  In Jesus’ day a monarch ruled over everything, guiding the life of the people.  And a good monarch secured the safety and well being of the people and provided for peace.  Part of praying for God’s Kingdom to come is surely praying that God would take charge of our lives and the whole creation.

The other thing we want to note is that Jesus clearly believed he was ushering in God’s Kingdom, so it is helpful to look at Jesus’ life and ministry to see what the Kingdom of God might look like. So Jesus was very interested in the common people in particular.  He had great compassion on the masses who needed a shepherd to lead them and care for them.  He fed the multitudes, he healed the sick, he was a friend to sinners and to those who were discounted by society and those who were forgotten.  He forgave sins.  He raised the dead.  He preached hope, and one has the impression that the Kingdom Jesus was preaching would mean the world would look very different from our present situation where some have of a lot and some don’t even have enough to feed their children.  I think when we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come” we are asking the Lord to come and set up the peaceable Kingdom pictured in the Old Testament, where everyone has enough, everyone is beloved and everyone honors God.  That’s a lot to pray for and it’s a lot to think about the next time you pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 9/25

Dear friends,

I now have the video ready for you so you can learn the Lord’s prayer in sign language.  The link is below.  I hope this will be fun for all of us.  I find learning to “speak” in other languages opens up my own language in new ways.  I have taken the time to explain the origins of some of these signs so the signing of the Lord’s prayer can be more meaningful for you.

One other thing I want to note as we begin is that signed prayers are always signed with eyes open.  This makes sense if you think about it.  A deaf person cannot participate in prayer without watching the person who is signing the prayer.  And a group of deaf people cannot sign the Lord’s prayer together unless they are looking at the leader in the same way that we listen for the Pastor to lead the Lord’s prayer.  So when we sign the Lord’s prayer together we will sign it with eyes open.  Incidentally there are whole segments of the Christian church who pray with eyes open.  Orthodox Christians are encouraged to pray with eyes open, particularly when they are praying with an icon.  The Coptic Christians of Egypt pray with eyes open to watch for the return of Christ.  So I’m confident the Lord hears us with eyes open or shut.

We will pray the Lord’s prayer with signs this Sunday in our online service and again the following week at our outdoor service at the Wellfield.  Here’s the link to the video so you can learn to sign the Lord’s prayer:  https://vimeo.com/461551775

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



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