Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. I expect there are still leftovers in the fridge from your Thanksgiving meal. And, I pray, you have some meaningful and special memories of time spent either in person with family or friends, or via phone, texts, or social media. This is a wonderful time of year when we get to transition from a swelling of thankfulness to the special meaning of Christmas.
This is the first Sunday of Advent and as we progress through the weeks leading to Christmas, we often assign Peace, Hope, Joy or Love to one of the four candles of the Advent Wreath. This week we assign Peace to candle #1.
If you are feeling euphoric from your season of thankfulness, it might feel natural to move into the sense of peace emitted from the flicker of the Advent candle. God gave us His son, Jesus, to further His love and peace into the world. However, there is not peace in the world today. There are warring nations, heartbreaking acts of violence, and politically-divided people. As we face unrest, frustration and brokenness, this is a perfect time to gaze into the flame of the Advent candle and remember the immense love and grace of God as we reflect on the birth of His son, Jesus.
One of my favorite scriptures foretelling of a peoples’ move toward peace is in Isaiah 2:1-5 where “[people] will beat their swords into iron plows, and their spears into pruning tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war.” In Isaiah, the people of Judah were being invited to take the first steps toward creating Zion and the reign of God: “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” (v. 5). We must also walk in that light and we keep alive the hope of peace to come. But how can we do that?
Remember in your preparation for Christmas to mindfully move through each step, allowing God and God’s call for peace, to be part of it. What gestures or generous acts, big or small, can melt the weapons and words of war into a spirit of love, compassion and oneness?
Let’s begin our Advent season with peace. May God’s spirit fill you and give you inspiration and resolve to be an ambassador for peace and justice as you walk your journey in this world. Amen.
(author: Bonnie Barber)
"Witness the Suffering Servant" Christian liturgy on this day calls for us to remember the suffering Jesus went through on the last day of His life. Why is it important to remember His suffering? Perhaps it’s to realize in times of need our solace is in our relationship with the Divine.
When the time came for Jesus to embark on his final journey, he asked for time alone to talk to God. His disciples waited under the olive trees while Jesus walked ahead and prayed. He lay his burdens at his Father’s feet for he was troubled, however he wasn’t afraid of death or pain. His very heart was heavy-laden with the weight of the sin of the world on it. Like Jesus, we need to surrender our fears and turn to Him in meaningful prayer and discernment.
Why is it important to remember His suffering? Perhaps it’s to recognize that as Jesus walked that lonesome Calgary Road, so must we. In the lyrics of hymn “Jesus Walked this Lonesome Valley, Community of Christ hymnal #452, it reads: “You must go and stand your trial, you have to stand it by yourself. Oh, nobody else can stand it for you. You must stand it by yourself.” Yes, there will be difficult times, but we must have faith and be comforted by the knowledge that we don’t walk the valley alone. God is with us. There was only one path for Jesus and that was to the cross. So must we too carry our cross in the same manner and surrender wholly and fully to God’s will.
Why is it important to remember His suffering? Perhaps it is to remember that hard times don’t last forever. For three days after Jesus’ death, darkness descended over the world. Many might have thought it was the end of days, not fully understanding it wasn’t the end, but the beginning of true salvation for everyone. We are all worthy of His compassion and His forgiveness – be assured. That assurance is dawn in the distance, light on the horizon. It is HOPE for all mankind.
The world reawakened with Jesus’ resurrection and so, too, on this day, we must remember Jesus’ suffering not as a reminder that His life ended, but the new beginning his sacrifice gave us all.
What possibilities do you see for the compassion of Christ to be transformational in today’s world? And how can you be part of that transformation?
(author: Deb VanHeest)
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. Happy World Kindness Day! And it couldn’t have come at a better time, right? World Kindness Day is an international holiday that was formed in 1998 to promote kindness throughout the world. As part of the World Kindness Movement, it is observed annually in many countries including the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and the U.A.E. Beautifully stated, the theme of World Kindness Day this year is “Be Kind Whenever Possible,” which was taken from a Dalai Lama quote: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
As I look at my statement earlier when I said World Kindness Day couldn’t have come at a better time, I realize that I need to retract that statement. It infers that we need World Kindness Day to make us kind. But it is not a day delegated to kindness that will make a difference. We need to make a difference. And we shouldn’t need one day of the year to remind us. But, unfortunately, perhaps we do.
Kindness must go beyond a fleeting trend or a singular act. Kindness needs to be a lifestyle and mindset that implores us to live our lives with greater empathy and justice. Kindness asks us to go beyond niceties and good manners. Kindness must be a transformative action that offers compassion, inclusion and love.
Did you know that there are scientific facts about being kind? Experiencing acts of kindness makes kindness contagious. We experience kindness and we react by offering acts of kindness, as well.
I googled for inspirational quotes and found these:
“You cannot do kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
“Because that’s what kindness it. It’s not doing something for someone else because they can’t, but because you can.” Andrew Iskanders
Yes, we can go to modern quotes and inspirational phrases about kindness, but the best words of kindness are rooted in scripture.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV) “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 ESV)
We must celebrate and live kindness every day. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.” (Luke 6:35 ESV) In offering kindness, we can be like patient zero – we can start an epidemic of kindness.
Be well, my friends. And be kind.
Welcome to the Sunday morning devotion. Our theme today is “Have Courage” and our scripture reference is from Haggi. This reference is basically the story of the Jews who were banished to Babylon returning to Judea. They want to restore the temple that was trashed by the Babylonians, but resources were scarce, and the people put off restoring the temple. Eventually God lets the people know that it is time to stop procrastinating and get on with rebuilding the temple. However, the people are still reluctant to do the renovations. Their hearts were not in it and resources remained scarce.
Have you ever put off doing something which you knew needed done because you were uncomfortable and didn’t think you had the resources to do it. I have. There was a time not too long ago that I knew it was time to relocate, sell my house and begin a whole new chapter in my life. I kept putting it off. I felt that my life was over and not worth moving on. Eventually, with the help of my family and my church family I began to move forward. God paved the way for me to sell my home and find a new place to live. It’s not the same but it is fine for my needs.
I found the courage to move forward as did the people of Israel. The temple that they built was not as glamorous as Solomon’s temple, but it was good in God’s eyes. They knew that God had not deserted them and loved them for their efforts.
There are going to be many times in life when we have to do that which is scary and uncomfortable, and it will take courage - the courage that comes from a close relationship with God. God can do marvelous things and he wants to walk with each of us as we move into new territory.
As we go into this next week with a national election, may we use the courage that God shares with us to vote with confidence and courage.
Author: Kathy Wolfe
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. As I explored the worship resources for this week, we find in Habakkuk 1:1-4 and 2:1-4 that the prophet Habakkuk is among those who no longer find satisfactory answers to the concept that if you are disobedient, you will be cursed (punished). Today, I find it unfathomable to apply punishment to victims of violence, let alone the horror of conquest and devastation.
I find myself feeling anxious as I witness the injustices of today. For me I think about everything from homelessness to the war raged upon the people of Ukraine. I feel broken over the mass shootings and the drills for children ages 5 – 18 should a shooter come into their school. I see even more injustices in our laws, minimum wages, and issues of health insurance. What injustices come to your mind?
Have you ever felt like protesting against the injustice you see in the world? What did you do? In the DC area we have opportunities to participate in a protest virtually every week.
Some think that protests are not for them. This is where I ask, “Do you vote?” Voting is a way of protesting. By voting you make your voice heard and our Election Day is only a week away – November 8th.
We could spend hours discussing the injustices we see in our communities, our country and the world. How do we apply our faith in today’s world? God reminds the prophet Habakkuk that the righteous live by faith, even when circumstances are difficult and the result unclear.
As I reflect on personal parts of my life that were very painful, I do know that it was my faith that held me together and gave me strength. "Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always." (1 Chronicles 16:11) "The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace." (Psalm 29:11) "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you." (Deuteronomy 31:6)
I pray that as we face injustice, violence and devastation, we turn toward the divine. God inhabits the very breath that we breathe. Take a deep breath. Scoop it up in your hands and let it flow over you. Then find a way to make a difference. Face the injustice by becoming informed. Talk about it and challenge the minds around you.
We are told to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Jesus also used his voice. Let’s use ours.
Let’s use our voices to bring the peace of Jesus Christ.
Author - Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. As I look back at the week, I could be consumed and overwhelmed with the work that still had to be accomplished. But instead of focusing on that, I remember a meme I saw that really spoke to me. “Sometimes it’s okay to take a pause...” In this meme there was also a cute picture of a baby sloth and in full disclosure, it said, “Sometimes it’s okay to take a pause and enjoy a photogenic baby sloth.” The sloth was adorable, but it was the first words “…take a pause” that spoke to me.
Those words came back to me again and again this week. And it was in those moments that the burdens lifted and I felt the tenseness in my neck seep away.
Maybe the baby sloth influenced this initial feeling, but my active mind reset and I felt the comfort of the divine. In Psalm 61:4 it says, “Let me dwell in Your tent forever; Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings.” Pause, take a breath and feel the presence of God. “Sometimes it’s okay to take a pause...”
It’s a challenge, isn’t it? But I found that even in a small moment where I paused, there was a great sense of emptying myself of the hurried overflow of thoughts and worries. Sometimes we associate feeling empty with depression and loss, but this pause clears the clutter.
We need to slow down and breath, taking in the presence of the Spirit so we feel the love and peace of the divine. And all this can happen in just a paused moment. Can you imagine if we allow moments to grow either in time or frequency?
I said the baby sloth was not a meaningful part of my moment, but maybe it was. It caught my attention and helped me reset my thoughts, even for a second. It allowed me to hear “take a pause” and there I found the blissful and serene presence of God.
Welcome the blessings of the Spirit. Stop and take a pause to reset, refuel and renew even in the most unintentional moments and recognize that God is in those moments waiting to offer peace and love.
May your week be filled with pauses where the busyness of life suddenly drains from your thoughts and is replaced with the wonder of God.
(Author: Bonnie Barber)
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. As a church, we have various seasons we celebrate which cause us to focus our gaze in a certain direction and spend time in meaningful reflection and preparation. Advent and Lent are 2 of the most widely known. In Community of Christ we also recognize the Season of Generosity. This is a period set aside to recognize the grace of God and to discover a deeper joy in discipleship through intentional whole-life stewardship. What does whole-life stewardship mean?
A steward is really a “manager.” So we could say that in whole-life stewardship we manage God's resources God's way because of God's love. Many times our thoughts automatically go to giving 10% of our money. But in whole-life stewardship we manage, i.e., take care of, 100% of everything God gives us. As stewards, we are tasked to look after the world for God. We must look after the interests of the planet and all life on it.
In making this part of your spiritual journey, how do you view the generosity of God? One way to meditate on the beauty of the earth is to find videos such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyZMCd6nS0Q
But there is more to the whole-life stewardship. As we gaze and meditate on the powerful beauty of God’s creation, we must also be thankful for God’s generosity in all that is provided to us.
Think about all the blessings you see around you in God’s world. Around me I also see food, shelter, people of compassion, unique gifts and talents of others, the blessings of a diverse community, and a desire to make a difference.
We are so blessed by the generosity of God in all things and there are things we can do in sharing the responsibility to protect and nourish all those parts of God’s world. It is in the responsibility to protect and nourish that we live the life of the disciple, sharing the message of God’s love not just through words, but also through action. In 1 John 3:17 we are told, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” I challenge you to find ways to make a difference. What programs offer compassionate assistance to others in your community? In the DC area, we have the upcoming Winter Warmth https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/SQPKJWN5BXQ?ref_=wl_share
where Friendship Place sponsors a program to offer coats, hats, and gloves to those in need. There are also special programs in 46 of the states and Washington, DC, that offer a weekend food backpack program providing food to children experiencing food insecurity. (see https://www.blessingsinabackpack.org/)
Make a difference. Respond to the generosity of God by responding generously yourself. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?
What will you do?
(Author: Bonnie Barber)
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. There are so many variables to each day. But one thing I’ve learned is that how I start the day affects much of what follows. As I read the Psalm scripture in this week’s worship lectionary, memories of peaceful God-infused mornings came back to me. Let me share from the first few verses of Psalm 66.
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you,
sing praises to your name.”
Take a deep breath and read these verses a second time. Then a third. Allow these thoughts and words soak through your mind and into your soul. Feel the peace.
Studies show that when you begin your day in a positive mood, it increases your chances of remaining happy as the day progresses. As I look back, I remember that starting my day focused on making a “joyful noise to God” was the most positive way I could start a positive mood, and I can personally attest to how it affected my day.
I wish I could tell you that having found this spirit-filled start to my day became a daily practice. It did, but only for a while. Somewhere, somehow, I lost that pattern. But reading this scripture today brought back memories that make me long to return to this type of morning routine.
I stop as I realize that if I don’t do something right now to make this change, I will continue to wake up each morning and entrench myself in the daily news from my online feeds. So, before I finish my next sentence, I am googling “Praise scriptures”.…
… I found numerous entries but the most promising is in Verse for the Day. https://www.verseoftheday.com/topics/praise/ where there are approximately 70 different praise scriptures written out. I’ve emailed it to myself and I’ve printed the few pages. Now when my alarm goes off at 7:00 a.m. the alarm label says “Offer Praise”. And by the bathroom mirror is taped page 1 of the praise verses.
I challenge you to do something similar. Print off a list of praise scriptures and tape it next to your bathroom mirror, or next to your coffee maker, or on the refrigerator – wherever you will pass it every day. Stop, take a deep breath and read the scripture once, twice, then a third time. You will find yourself less distracted and more focused when you get to the third read. Add a few words of your own and be thankful for God’s enduring love and peace. If you miss doing it in the morning, it is still there when you pass it again.
In closing, use these words in Psalm 104:33-34 as your words (reading 3 times): “I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.”
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. I often view life as a journey and this journey is never along a straight path. It winds and curves. It moves upwards and downwards. It can be smooth at times but is often full of bumps and rocks. One of my favorite (fun) quotes is “Life is like a road trip. We may appreciate the smooth stretches, but the bumps in the road are what truly make the journey memorable.” (author unknown)
We often think of bumps in the road representing something hard and unpleasant. But sometimes those bumps are because the road is just unpaved. “Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.” (author – Lin Yutang) It is the presence of this hope that speaks to me. Hope helps us traverse the road, whether straight or winding, uphill or downhill. And having faith helps us hope.
In Luke 17:5-6, the disciples ask Jesus to “Increase our faith.” Jesus replies saying, “‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.” Have you ever seen a mustard seed? It is so very, very tiny – about the size of the head of a straight pin. But Jesus tells us that faith the size of a mustard seed can bring about unimaginable things.
There is the story of Carol Kane and The Mustard Seed of Central Florida. In 1984, Carol started a small operation out of her garage. She believed that through her efforts, she could help someone who was homeless transition to becoming a productive and whole member of the community. Over the next 4 years, Carol’s inventory grew and she expanded to include the elderly and the single-parent families. Her efforts grew so much that in 1988 The Mustard Seed of Longwood, Inc. became a nonprofit corporation.
From a single woman‘s dream of wishing to help one family per month, the Mustard Seed grew into an organization that helps over 1,000 families a year with furniture and 700 families with clothing. Over the course of a year, an estimated $1.5 million of furniture, clothing, and other household goods are distributed free of charge. Through faith and hope, Carol traveled a road not yet paved. She no doubt found it windy and full of bumps. But she held onto her hope and she and others walked along this rough path, creating a road that brought blessings to her community.
May we always remember the words of Jesus, telling us that even with the smallest hope we can accomplish great things. Don’t look at hope the size of a mustard seed and just see something so tiny that a wisp of wind can cause it to float away. See the potential and with faith move forward knowing this mustard seed of hope is strong and full of promise.
During this time following the destruction caused by Hurricane Ian, may we be the mustard seed of hope for others by providing compassionate help. The Red Cross and UNICEF have programs in place to provide assistance and could use our donations.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion.
Let me just put this out there. I love rocks. Big ones, small ones, flat ones, round ones. They are all so unique. Rocks are amazing and beautiful. I have a cherished collection of rocks in my garden.
Most of my rocks come from the red clay soil around my house. We discovered them as we dug out new gardens. They came from the same soil, yet all have very different appearances. Some are smooth and some are rough. Some are light and some are dark. Some have streaks of quartz and some have red and gray layers. With so many differences, these rocks obviously didn’t have the same origins, but here they are: together. Their differences are even more obvious and beautiful when they lay together in my rock garden. The patterns of their differences contribute to the overall beauty.
I could go on and on about my rocks. I’ve added new ones occasionally that came from different places. These new additions just add to the beauty of my community of rocks.
Community of rocks? That is a strange way to put it. As I write this description about my rocks, I find myself thinking more and more about community. For you, this might be a stretch, but let me explain my musings.
You see, my pile of rocks is like a community. Within a community there are a diverse and special people who look different, think differently and have their own special characteristics, i.e., gifts and talents. We are all beautiful and unique. Some big, some small, some flat, some round, some smooth, some rough, some light, some dark, some that shine, some with interesting layers. But we are a community, a wonderful, diverse community. We are like my rocks and we experience the blessings of unity and diversity found in communities.
You know, in the middle of the rocks in my garden there is a rock carved with the inscription: Jesus is My Rock. “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust…” (Psalm 18:2) For me, it is significant to have this inscribed rock mixed into the collection of rocks. In it I see the rock of God’s strength and everlasting faithfulness.
In our communities, we must be rocks because rocks are strong. Rocks hold up to the pelting rain and freezing snow. As a community we face the onslaught of external forces that beat upon us. But as a community, I pray we only shift closer together and be more unified. May we nestle around the rock of God which gives us a stronghold. In Matthew 24-25 we are told, "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”
Yes, I love rocks and I love how they symbolize so many elements of my faith. Rocks are part of many metaphors in the scriptures, and I’d like to leave you with this one from 1 Corinthians 10:4. “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”
So I invite you to join me in finding the connection to God and our community as we gaze upon rocks. May we see the beauty in the diversity; and may we be the rocks of our community, in close communion with God. Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Various authors throughout the Chesapeake Bay Mission Center and beyond provide these thought-provoking weekly devotions.