Jul 022020
 

I remember the days of old,

I think about all your deeds,

I meditate on the works of your hands.

I stretch out my hands to you;

my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. (Psalm 143:5–6)

Time and time again – throughout the entirety of the biblical story – people of faith are called to remember. In fact, much of the life of faith is about remembering – remembering who we really are, remembering who God is, remembering all that God has done. And I find three things especially interesting about these calls. First, it seems to me that we have to be called to remember because we’re constantly forgetting. We get so wrapped up in the humdrum of everyday life that we forget who we are, who God is, and what God has done. Second, these calls to remember always seem to come during times of distress. In this case, the psalmist calls her community to remember as enemies approach and threaten the well-being of her people; and do we really need to mention the distress of our own time and place?

But third, in the life of faith, memory is from whence our hope comes. When we remember who we are, who God is, and what God has done, God sparks the hopeful expectation that we are indeed people of faith, that God is indeed mighty in strength, and that God will indeed do wonderful things once more. So let us heed the psalmist’s call today. Let us stretch out our hands to God and remember. – rc

Jul 012020
 

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

so the LORD surrounds his people,

from this time on and forevermore. (Psalm 125:2)

Throughout the Book of the Psalms, song writers often use the image of a mother bird nestling her chicks under her wing (see Psa. 17, 36, 57, 61, 63, 91). The image is comforting, gentle, and nurturing, safe, warm, and tender. However, that is not the image used in Psalm 125. Today, the psalmist offers not an image of steadfast love and tender care, but instead draws upon the sustaining strength and protective power of the mountains that surround Jerusalem. There is, perhaps, no better image of immovable strength and permanent power than the mountains . . . and when we look around us here in Wilkes, we see what the psalmist sings. In these uncertain times, it is good to be enveloped in the strength and security of a sustaining God.              – rc

Jun 302020
 

Save me, O God, by your name,

and vindicate me by your might.

Hear my prayer, O God;

give ear to the words of my mouth. (Psalm 54:1–2)

To you, O LORD, I call;

my rock, do not refuse to hear me. (Psalm 28:1a)

The psalmist wakes up this morning and asks God to listen to her prayer and she will go to sleep this evening asking God to listen to her prayer. In the morning she prays because she needs help to deal with her day; enemies have risen up against her, so from first light, she dedicates her day to God, asking God to listen to her cries for help. And when the sun is setting, she recognizes that she will need strength to deal with the new challenges she will face in the coming day. Morning and night she asks God to hear her prayers; but morning and night, she also places her trust in the strength of God who is her rock and refuge. Morning and night, we too might place ourselves in God’s hand, dedicating ourselves to God and trusting that God is with us. – rc

Jun 292020
 

The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry . . . (Matthew 21:14–15)

This episode follows on the heals of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple in which Jesus turns over the money-changers’ tables and accuses them of turning the “house of prayer” into a “den of robbers” (Matt. 21:13). This is important background to our story for this morning because it adds more fuel to the anger of the chief priests and the scribes. All too often, I’ve heard that their anger had more to do with Jesus’ blasphemous silence about the crowds’ proclamation that he was the “Son of David.” However, the cleansing of the Temple, the miraculous healings, and the crowds’ recognition that Jesus is, in fact, the Savior all serve to threaten the status quo for the chief priests and scribes; it all threatens the power and privilege of those in charge. With all of this in mind, our story today is much more about creating a world in which everyone has access to God’s abundance – where no one is blind, no one is lame, no one lords power over people . . . where everyone experiences peace. And it is Jesus that shows us the way. – rc

Jun 262020
 

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24)

We are one week removed from June 19, the annual Juneteenth celebration commemorating the symbolic end of slavery. We gathered together. We marched together. We celebrated freedom and unity together. But that was the easy work. It is easy to gather together at a one-day event. It is easy to march together for a one-day event. It is all-to-easy to celebrate together for one, single day.

And now comes the hard part. Now comes the challenge of living our freedom and unity together. Now comes the difficulty of searching our own hearts and discerning how we are complicit in the injustice around us. Now comes the day-in, day-out call to work together for peace and justice, for this is the way everlasting. – rc

Jun 252020
 

Restore us, O God;

let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:3, 7, 19)

Today, the psalmist calls out from her despair, cries out in her frustration, sings out her desire for some peace and normalcy in her life. “How long?” she wonders (v. 4). How long will everything be in disarray? How long will the world feel as if it’s crumbling down around us? How long before things are set right? She remembers the good ol’ days when things were going so well (vv. 8–11) but now there is neither rest nor peace. “How long?” she asks. “How long?” It’s the same question many of us are asking ourselves these days. How long will we have to keep this social distancing up? How long will we have to wear these face masks? How long will we be apart from one another? How long?

It is the circumstance(s) of the psalmist that lead her to cry out in hopeful prayer (or, prayerful hope) and it is our own circumstances that lead us to do the same. Restore us. Shine upon us. Save us, we pray. – rc

Jun 242020
 

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised

in the city of our God.

His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,

is the joy of all the earth. (Psalm 48:1-2a)

The psalmist looks around at her city, at God’s city. She lifts her eyes toward the mountains, toward the heavens. She catches a glimpse of the temple, the home of her God. The temple was perched high up on the mountaintop; mountains were considered the most sacred of places, the meeting places of heaven and earth where the divine realm meets our earthly realm. And there, upon that mountain rested the very presence of God. The psalmist sees the power of the mountain. She feels the strength and stability of God’s defense. But she also experiences the joy of being with God and God being with her.

With mountains all around us, we too are surrounded by the beauty of God’s good creation. We too are reminded of God’s steadfast strength. And we too can experience the joy of God’s presence with us. When we look at the beauty of our mountains, I hope we can take a moment to give praise to God. If you ask me, this is a psalm for Wilkes if there ever was one.              – rc

Jun 232020
 

Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (Matthew 19:27)

What we have before us today is Peter’s response to Jesus’ teaching about wealth and discipleship – that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (v. 24). So after hearing about giving everything up to follow Jesus, Peter asks about what he’s going to get, how he’s going to be rewarded. It seems to me that he’s asked just the wrong question, he’s missed the point about true discipleship, he seems to be more concerned with becoming first rather than becoming a follower. This is why Jesus confronts him – for “many who are first ill be last, and the last will be first (v. 30).

The time has come for the Church to stop asking the same questions that Peter is credited with asking. The time has come for the Church to stop seeking rewards for herself. The time has come to give up ourselves for the good of following Christ.  – rc

Jun 222020
 

They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright;

          they are gracious, merciful, and righteous. (Psalm 112:4)

Even though some restrictions are being lifted and places are beginning to open up in our community, there is still a heaviness in the air, an anxious feeling in many hearts, a seeming darkness hovering over us. But the psalmist sings that it is for such a time as this that we are here. She sings that we were made to shine into dark times (v. 4a). We were made to sing grace and mercy and righteousness into uncertainty (v. 4b). We were made to live fearlessly for justice (v. 5, 7). So with grace and mercy and righteousness and courage and confidence, let us shine the light of Christ into dark times, for that is our purpose and that is where our true happiness is found (v. 1). – rc

Devotion for June 19, 2020

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Jun 192020
 

You desire truth in the inward being;

          therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. (Psalm 51:6)

Today is Juneteenth, a day when our African-American sisters and brothers celebrate the symbolic end of slavery as June 19, 1865 was the day when the Emancipation Proclamation was read in Texas, the last of the Confederate States in which the address was read. So it is fitting that the psalmist today sings a song of confession, a song of repentance. It is a deeply personal psalm – “me” and “I” abound in the song as the psalmist recognizes past sin and begs forgiveness. But it is also a deeply corporate psalm – it is a community of people coming together in worship who sing this song together, recognizing their past sin and begging forgiveness.

Yes, today is Juneteenth, an important day for our Black sisters and brothers. But it is also an important day for our White sisters and brothers as well, a day when we might search our inward being and change our ways so that there might be justice for all. – rc