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Devotion from Meghan Killingsworth

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:7-12 
If you ask 100 people which bible stories they know, I’d be willing to bet that at least 10 of them would mention this story of the woman who was nearly stoned to death for being caught in adultery. Few people notice that the dude isn’t in sight anywhere in this trial and near-execution but that is for another day. Alas, Jesus finds himself in the midst of a crowd both trying to trap him in a difficult moment and trying to make an example out of this woman. ‘The law says we have to kill her, Jesus. What should we do?’ Jesus, the ever skillful conversationalist mentions that anyone who is totally blameless according to the law is free to uphold it now. As we know, the crowd drops their stones, one at a time from the eldest to the youngest, and only Jesus is left with this woman. This has to be one of the most dramatic moments in the stories of Jesus: just Jesus, a woman nearly killed, and the deafening silence of everyone else’s sudden humility remain in the room.
Most of the time when we read passages like this, we image ourselves to be the woman standing in condemnation. Maybe we remember a time when someone else’s judgement, harshness or hatred hurt us deeply. And, there’s something kind of satisfying about imagining Jesus dropping a bomb like that on our opponents, humbling them publicly while we get some level of satisfaction. But I think interpreting the story that way might tell us more about who we could be in the picture here. The fact is, what the Pharisees wanted was to publicly shame this woman for breaking the rules that it was their job to keep, and to crush their opponent (Jesus). There are more folks with stones in their hands than fear on their faces. We’re at least statistically likely to be the Pharisees some (dare I say most?) of the time.
In this world that seems to be increasingly harsher, sharper, and in all our ideologies, more fundamentalist, maybe in times of crisis we can be the folks who consistently check our palms and ensure that we aren’t carrying the stones we decry when they fly in our direction. Maybe the witness of people who love Jesus in this fearful and worrisome world is that we could be people who make altars out of our stones rather than wounds. Our wise bishop, Ken Carter, once said, “We often want justice for others and grace for ourselves.” May we be people who follow Jesus to our own softening in an increasingly sharp world. Maybe this is the light of life Jesus spoke about?
Gracious God, thank you for being everything we need, even when you are not what we want. Give us enough grace to love ourselves and others as you do. Give us the vision to build monuments to grace rather than enemies and death. Amen. 

Devotion from Mark Thompson

John 21:11-13 – Breakfast by the Sea

“Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, net was not broken. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared to ask Him, ‘Who are you?’ – knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.”

 

Prior to the scene in the verses above, the disciples had gone fishing through the night, and had come up empty-handed (netted?). From the shore at sunrise, an as-of-yet unrecognized Jesus called out to them, gave them some direction, and they caught a lot of fish (153 to be exact!). 

He was waiting on the shore, with a charcoal fire blazing, when they hauled in the catch. Jesus already had some fish and bread cooking, and added some of the disciples efforts to the grill as well.

There is a lot happening in this passage. My favorite is realizing that the risen Christ just wanted to hang out with his friends and have a cookout on the beach at sunrise. Doesn’t that sound great? The ultimate heavenly Host? 

Also, He already had fish on the grill, but he wanted to involve the disciples, and their efforts, in this meal. We are a part of the plan. We could have been created to subsist on one boring thing (Soylent anyone?), it could have fallen from heaven, or we could have been designed not to eat at all I suppose. But we are brought in to a network that provides a tremendous variety of foods, bursting with flavors and textures for us to enjoy. He asks us to take part, and says, “Come and eat.” 

Lastly, similar to walk on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), it is through the meal that their eyes are opened and Jesus is recognized. As it was then, I believe it is today as well. When we gather with friends (virtually if need be), and share a meal, we see Jesus.

PS – It is speculated that the fish that was caught was Tilapia (aka St. Peter’s Fish), which is now available much more easily at your local grocer.

 

Holy God

It is an honor that You would have us involved in your design for this world and the perfect world to come. It is humbling to think that You relish joining us at dinner parties and cookouts. May our eyes be opened in the breaking of bread and may we see You, the risen Christ, in those at our table.

We also realize that putting food on the table is challenging for some in our midst and around the world. We pray for parents struggling to make ends meet, those who suffer from food insecurity and those for whom a piece of fish is a luxury. And we, the church, commit to being the hands and feet of Jesus to our neighbors, inviting them to our tables to dine amongst friends.

Devotion from Shirley Rumsey

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

 

We all have trials in life, but right now we are all experiencing the same trial together. We are feeling the separation from family, friends, and missing the normalcy of our lives due to Covid-19.  Although we may struggle, we can always rejoice that we have Christ.  Jesus offers us his peace; he hears our prayers. We can rejoice in knowing that God is more powerful than anything the world can throw at us.

 God calls us to give thanks in all circumstances. Why would that be God’s will for us? Many times, the Bible reminds us to not be afraid.  If we are praying, rejoicing and giving thanks, fear is overcome because we know God is in control and He provides. So, let’s thank God for our blessings during this challenge, and rejoice that Jesus has overcome the world.

 

Prayer:

Almighty God, we rejoice in knowing that you loved us so much you gave your only son, Jesus. We thank you for how you always provide for us, especially in times of doubt. We ask that you please increase our joy and help us to be more grateful for the blessings you have given us. Please strengthen us to do your will. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

 

Devotion from Cynthia Kozak

Psalm 25:21
Your perfection and Faithfulness are my body guards for you are my hope and I trust in you as my only Protection.

Isaiah 41:10
Do not yield to fear for I am always near NEVER turn your gaze from me for I am your Faithful God I will infuse you with my strength and help you in every situation I will hold you firmly with my victorious right hand.

Reflecting Without having Faithfulness in our hearts we would have no trust as a Human. It brings me Calmness to my Heart it gives me Peace. It actually brings me Joy! Keep your eyes on the Lord at All times and he will see us through any tough times in life .

Prayer:

Dear God
Lift us up today and everyday with your Blessings.I pray that you will anoint me with courage and strength. I Pray that you will give me Patience and wisdom. I pray that you will encourage me to walk proudly and behave well in times like this
Amen

Devotion from Rebekah Richey

I don’t know about you, but during this Pandemic, I sometimes imagine the unseen Coronavirus as a “thief coming to steal, kill and destroy.” (John 10:10). I am thankful my grandmother taught me, “when I am afraid, I will trust in God.” Psalm 56:3

During these days, I believe we all have visual images and stories of kindness to share. A long time family friend who could not accompany his wife inside the hospital for her surgery remained in his car to prayerfully wait for any news. Teacher friends delivered cards to our friend alone in the hospital before she moved alone to a nursing home.  The son of my dear friend and his fellow inmates in a federal prison are fearful of the spreading coronavirus due to measures not being taken to sanitize or provide masks and gloves. Psalm 102:20 “…the Lord gazed out from heaven to earth—to hear a prisoner’s groaning.”

Large numbers of “essential workers” such as medical staff, farmworkers, nursing home workers, grocery workers, postal and delivery drivers, are included as first responders and we rightly call them heroes because we realize they are risking their own lives to serve us.  Let’s come along side them with more than kind words since we know they need personal protective gear, living wages, affordable housing or health care.  As Dr. King reminded us “all labor has dignity,”   Jesus called on us to “love your neighbor as yourself?  Mark 12:21

How grateful we should be that farmworkers continue to harvest food so we can purchase it in grocery stores and share it through our own Picnic Project with our Sanford neighbors who are food insecure.  Yet, just a couple of days ago the number of positive tests among Immokalee farmworkers had risen to 27. Social distancing is impossible when 3-4 families must share rooms in the same trailer; to acquire personal protective gear is nearly impossible.  Psalm 146: 6-7“…he defends the wronged, he feeds the hungry.”

Marlyssa Gamblin and Bread for the World reports how the history of racial inequity in our country has led to higher rates of hunger, health challenges, loss of jobs or working in the 10 lowest paying jobs for people of color. She calls these “preexisting conditions,” leading to  African Americans, Latinos and Indigenous people contracting and dying of COVID-19 at higher rates, sometimes twice as high, as their white counterparts.

As a teacher, my heart goes out to the families, children and all educators, working to insure than children are not falling behind in their education during this time of “home schooling,” How good that our school system is attempting to provide school lunches to those who are in need.  Matthew 25 :…”I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.”

This stay at home and social distancing we are choosing to follow has been a challenge but I am grateful that it has afforded me time to be more intentional in prayer, meditation and study. Turning off the news to “Be still and know that I am God, “ (Psalm 46:10) helps me listen for the quiet voice of the Spirit.  Even though at times I feel overwhelmed, anxious or angry, sad or shocked, I am choosing to spend more time to read, study and contemplate.  I have braved ZOOM to connect with family and friends and reach out more by phone calls. Music has played a huge role for me from when I was a child. I recently I recalled how  my father had introduced me to Mahalia Jackson and we sang with her “He’s God the Whole World in His Hands”.   My mother, whose birthday is today April 26th, taught us Great is Thy Faithfulness which resonates with many in our family. So at a time when we can’t hold hands let us remember in the words of an old song, “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn, lead me on through the night, through the storm…”  We can know that God is leading us.   I believe we are blessed with Pastors Meghan and David Killingsworth who help us learn more about God and how to “Love thy Neighborhood.” May we take the risk of joining together, even though virtually, to do our part in building this part of the “beloved community” open to all. May we  recognize that nudge reminding us that Jesus is not only here but walking with us on this journey and God promised in :

 

Isaiah 43:2

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers,

they will not sweep over you

When you walk through the fire,

you will not be burned.

the flames will not set you ablaze.

 

God of life, we give thanks that you are with us in our grief and in our laughter, that you have always been there through our individual storms of life including this Coronavirus Pandemic .  By your Spirit, may we come closer to you, especially now, as love requires that we keep our distance from one another and closer to one another.

 

Devotion from Scott Russell

Who am I?

These are unique times. We face being told to stay indoors, educate children ourselves, work from home. Many people may have lost their jobs or perhaps the roles in their families have shifted.
These circumstances can result in a feeling of, “Who am I now?”  We’re no longer the manager, accountant, server or mechanic. We are no longer the provider for our family. We have lost our identity. We live in fear.
But that is because we’ve focused on WHAT we are instead of WHO we are in Christ. Consider some of the promises made to those who believe in Him:

We are children of God (John 1:12).

We are given a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

We can approach God with confidence to find grace and help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16). We are reminded that worrying doesn’t solve anything, and that God will help with things big and small (Luke 12:22-26).

Don’t forget who you are and how much you are loved!

 

Lord, without You our minds race with worry. Our priorities get all jumbled up. We can’t see how it will all work out. But, thankfully, You do know. Help us to calm our minds and listen for Your voice. Help us to separate our needs from our wants. And, Lord, forgive us when You hear us say, “I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” Amen

 

Devotion from Meghan Killingsworth

“I Thirst.” -Jesus (John 19:28)
One of my favorite books right now is Prayer by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson. If you’ve been in worship with us recently (pre-COVID) you’ve probably heard me talk about this work of art. It combines an artist’s prayerful image and a pray-er’s artistic eye for what God might teach us in this moment. One of the prayers strikes me every time I accidentally find it again: May my limitations be doorways to partnership and relationship rather than reasons to feel shame and isolation.
 
In our world, we’re often given the impression that the most powerful and celebrated person should be the one with no needs. We’re told that what we should be striving for is self-sufficiency. Now certainly, we all have gifts and skills and assets that God has blessed us with and it is our job to use them! We believe that the world suffers when we aren’t who God created us to be, and we when we don’t use the gifts God gave us. And at the same time, having gifts and skills and investing in your world is not the same as being need-less. Even if you grew all your own food, built your own home and sewed your own clothes, we’re learning more and more these days that humans don’t survive well without connection. It turns out, we’re actually created to need one another. In fact, our needs have a way of weaving us together in relationship with one another beautifully. I cannot be everything! And therefore, I get the joy of offering my needs and skills in combination with others.
I think this is at least one of the things Jesus models for us from the cross. In his darkest and most dreadful moment, he offers these words to those around him: I thirst. Jesus doesn’t shy away from having needs or seeing the needs of others. In fact, he recognizes those and weaves people together across lines of ‘need’ and ‘gift’. It turns out that all of us are actually on both sides of that coin. So, in this time when we may all be acutely aware of our limitations, our loneliness, or our barren pantries, know that it is following in the footsteps of Jesus to allow our limitations and needs to be doorways to relationship.
Holy God, give us eyes to see our own needs, our own gifts, and the opportunities for relationship with you and others. Help us to see ourselves and others as you do. Thank you for being the sort of God who shows us what it means to truly be human. Amen.

Devotion from Drew Weiss

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 satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

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

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

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Matthew 5:3-10 (NET)

 

In times of struggle and stress, I find myself reading Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.  There is always a verse or a teaching or a parable from these chapters that are pertinent to the situation that caused me to turn to them.  Instructions on how to treat others, or on how to do good for other, or on how to approach biblical law.  In this time of collective struggle and stress, I have found myself turning to the Sermon on the Mount more often than usual.  It has made me recognize that the instructions given in Christ’s sermon are largely personal, at least from the perspective of a reader two thousand years later.  It makes me wish to be among the people who heard this sermon, to understand the community Christ was addressing.  I wish to be a part of that crowd.

The reason why I chose the Beatitudes specifically is because I just finished a Bible study with a group on these verses.  We began before covid-19 made its way to the States, so we got the chance to meet in person.  About halfway through our study we started using online platforms to host meetings.  Through our study, my wish came true.  Being able to understand scripture in the context of our own small community was a blessing each week.  The honesty and love expressed in our group helped to erase the alienation time and culture had imposed on me in these texts.  I have found my crowd.

Thankyou to Bonnie Klein for hosting this study.  I am grateful that from now on when I think of the Beatitudes, I will think of you as well.  Thankyou to our pastors, David and Meghan, who remain committed to creating a generously loving and inclusive church.

 

Father God I pray that as this crises continues we are able to find communities to belong to even as we remain physically distanced.

Devotion from Bonnie Klein

“Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever, for wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons, removes kings and sets up kings. He reveals deep and mysterious things; he knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him.”  (Daniel 2:20-23)

 

King Nebuchadnezzar had demanded that his magicians, enchanters, and sorcerers tell him the dream he dreamed and its interpretation or they would be “torn limb from limb.” They were terrified, for who can tell another man his dreams? But Daniel, now among the court wise men, urged his companions to ask God for mercy concerning this mystery so that they would not all perish. In a vision that night, God revealed all to Daniel, who responded with the words above.

We find ourselves, certainly now but also at many other times, feeling helpless and even hopeless in the face of overwhelming circumstances. Sometimes it feels like we can’t breathe, and we just want to throw up our hands and shout, “What do you want me to do?!” Daniel gives us the answer. We remember that the God of the Universe, who has power beyond imagining, wants the best for us, wants to love us, and IS present with us. We can ask him for mercy and seek his assistance, knowing that, every time, he will be with us in our trials.

 

Holy Father, you have sacrificed your Son so that we may be reconciled to you—you love us that much. Help us to keep our focus on our relationship with you, that we may experience the peace Jesus said he gives to each of us. Praise you, God, for your honor and power and glory. Amen.

Devotion from Henry Jehan

Proverbs Chapter 3, Versus 5-6, Source: New King James Version (NKJV)

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Note: Alternate translations for verse 6 : “make smooth your paths” or “make straight your paths”

 

I can still remember back when I was a small boy.  Whenever something would scare me or make me afraid, my mother would tell me “we must not rely on our understanding, we must trust in the Lord,” and everything will be all right.  It wasn’t until I was older, and reading the Bible for myself, that I realized that her message of assurance came form the Holy Scriptures.  She was just paraphrasing what I believe to be some of the most profound advice in the Bible, Proverbs chapter 3, versus 5 and 6.

I don’t know if it was the memories of my mother’s words, or some sort of a conscious act of my own, but throughout my life these Bible verses have become ingrained in my thinking and served as an anchor  in all I do.   As a mere human, my vision is limited to my experience and knowledge, but the Lord of love is all knowing, always present and all powerful.  He is unlimited.  He knows the past and He sees the future.  Again and again when I have placed my trust in the Lord, He has directed my path;  often in ways I would have never chosen.  Sometimes it’s a wonderful journey, and other times He leads me through dark and fearful valleys.  But when I look back, I realize that if I hadn’t passed through the dark and fearful valley I would have never known the new opportunities and blessings He has bestowed on me.  Sometimes God says “no” as so aptly summed up by Garth Brooks in his song “Unanswered Prayers.”  Often taking us on a path we would not have chosen on our own, the Lord will protect us and guide us if we have the courage to trust Him with all our heart.

 

Most Glorious and Awesome Lord God, help me to strengthen my faith that I may put aside my fears and lack of understanding, and fully trust You to direct my paths to the glory of Your kingdom.