Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. Are you still in the afterglow of Thanksgiving? Hopefully the leftovers are consumed or tucked away. Maybe there’s even a piece of pie left. But I hope you feel the peace of love surrounding you. The Thanksgiving holiday is such a perfect catalyst for entering into the preparation time for Christmas because we are entering a new season now – the season of Advent. Let’s explore this new beginning. Take a deep breath as you prepare for the journey.
Advent means ”the coming or arrival of something or someone that is important or worthy of note.” It’s a beautiful definition as we fill in Jesus as our “person of note”. It’s a time to prepare ourselves and our heart to receive Jesus…again. That’s the beauty of knowing Jesus already came. We get to relive the joy of his birth every year. So we can use the Advent season to really focus on the marvelous gift God gave us. What do you recommend doing in preparation?
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13.
Do you have a battery-operated candle in the midst of your Christmas decorations? If not, stop by any Dollar Tree or discount store and buy an inexpensive battery-operated tealight. Light it in the morning so it catches your eye as you get ready for your day. Look into the light of the candle and say, “Jesus brings Hope.” If you have no candle, simply inhale, pause and say those three words. Inhale and say the phrase again, then a third time. Small rituals like this can set the tone for your day. Start your day centering on hope.
When do you feel hopeful? For me, I feel hopeful when I see people respond with generosity when they see a need. In the Chesapeake Bay Mission Center, we have a Mission/Social Justice Team and we regularly watch for opportunities to serve with generosity of spirit and/or funds. Supporting social justice opportunities, such as providing shoebox presents for the homeless, or gift cards or food items for families in need are ways to offer hope to others. You can view our Social Justice Corner on the new Chesapeake Bay Mission Center public website at https://www.cofchrist-cbmc.org/social-justice-ministries.html. What opportunities do you see there that tug at your heart?
As we offer hope for others, we take steps in preparing for Jesus’s birth. What opportunities have you responded to that offer hope to someone in need? It can be a simple overture of welcome or a bigger contribution to a worthy cause. Each evening review your day and find where you offered Hope.
Dear God, we pray in the name of your son, Jesus, the Source of all Hope. We pray that we take time during the beginning of our preparation for celebrating Jesus’ birth, to remember those examples Jesus lived in providing love, grace and mercy. May we offer those same things and bring more Hope into this world, recognizing that though times in life seem desperate or full of despair, we can look forward with hope, for You are with us. May we allow your guiding hand to direct our ways. We pray in Hope. Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. In only a few days we celebrate Thanksgiving. Life has been changing since Thanksgiving a year ago. It is a tradition for many of us to take a few moments when sitting down for our Thanksgiving meals to go around the table and say something we are thankful for. Let’s get a head start on that and take a moment to reflect on our blessings and feel gratitude for people, events, and things in our lives.
“This is the day which the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalms 118:24)
As I reflect on changes in my life over the last year and a half of the pandemic, I feel thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to connect to people online. People who were acquaintances before the pandemic are now my friends. My life’s circle has grown larger and it crosses boundaries of cities, states, even countries. Community of Christ of Washington, DC holds English classes for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). We had been actively teaching English for 6 years, holding our classes in our building in Washington, DC. Nineteen months ago the pandemic caused us to close the doors of the church and we took our classes online. Now the relationships we’ve established with our students continue as they move home to their countries. How has your group of friends and acquaintances grown? For whom are you thankful?
And as a teacher, I have met amazing people and been given the privilege of seeing our country from different perspectives. One of the questions we ask our students is what they like about the United States. What do you think are the special things that people from other countries see in the United States?
One observation that really surprised me came from two students from South Korea. What did they like best about the United States? The blue skies. I thought they must be speaking about their experience when flying across the United States, but they were speaking about the blue skies they see everyday living in Washington, DC. The skies of South Korea are so full of pollution (smog), even outside the major city of Seoul, the students are struck by the clear skies of Washington, DC. Some students comment on the amount of green grass, plants, and parks in our cities. For others, the foremost observation is the friendliness of strangers. In their countries, people would never greet or strike up a conversation with a stranger while standing in line at a checkout register, on an elevator, etc. The students help me count my blessings.
Let me go another direction about what we can be thankful for as we enter our “post-pandemic” life (I hope we really can call it “post-pandemic”.) A good friend just posted a picture on Facebook of them visiting a parent who has been in a nursing home for multiple years. This wife/mother/grandmother got to physically see her family for the first time in 18 months. I can’t imagine the heartache and immense joy that the family is all feeling. I am thankful for the growing opportunities to rejoin our life’s circle as vaccinations have become available.
I am also thankful for reconnecting with people within my neighborhood. Those evening walks helped us reacquaint ourselves with the parents of our children’s school friends of 20 years ago. How about the new people in your lives or those you’ve reconnected within the last 18 months? Let’s be thankful.
If you are the parents of small children, what are the blessings you account for since the pandemic hit? For many, it might still be hard to get past the stress and hardship of having school-age children connecting to school via their computers while you were working from home yourselves. But we saw no harsh colds, flu, ear infections, etc. during our time of isolation. And we have some precious memories and insights from those times.
There are so many things we are grateful for. And in our gratitude, let us reach out in generosity and offer kind moments to others. Smile at the passing stranger and say hello, say a word of thanks to the cashier who’s been on their feet for hours, offer a word of encouragement to the parent who is placating their child in the crush of people in the grocery aisle. Be generous of spirit. Not only do you offer a gift of comfort and peace to another, you receive the same yourself.
Christ is in those moments. “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. I write this after having traveled across many states over the last three days, and as I unpack my suitcase, in an act of mindfulness, I also unpack the stress of my travel, stretching out the cramps in my shoulders, releasing the stiffness in my muscles, and focusing my mind on the enjoyment of my destination. Come with me and unpack the cares and stress of your last few days and focus on where you are at this moment.
As I looked at the worship resources for this Sunday’s worship service, the suggested Call to Worship really spoke to my heart. I want to share it with you and reflect on each part together.
""Leader: “We believe in the gathered community of faith. Through it, we learn to love and to value life. In it, we find acceptance.”
People: We believe."
On this Sunday morning, I will be at a Community of Christ other than the one I call home. As I walk into that building, I know I will feel comfort and love within those walls, because I know I will be in a community of faith, my community of faith. The first time I visited a Community of Christ congregation while on a weekend trip, I was surprised to be welcomed so warmly. Now I know I can expect it and I look forward to it. You don't have to know anybody there, but there is a very good chance that you'll find someone who knows someone you know. Community of Christ is a family across all the miles. Yes, I believe in the gathered community of faith where I learn about love and the value of life, where I find acceptance. Have you ever had an experience like that?
"Leader: “We believe in the wholeness of life. We are not intended to be split and divided as persons. We are created and set in a fractured world, so that we can bring it to wholeness as well.”
People: We believe."
We believe in the wholeness of life. One of the descriptions of Community of Christ I love to share is that we are a peace and justice church. Our Enduring Principles point us toward valuing Worth of All Persons, Unity in Diversity, and Blessings of Community. We work toward goals which value resolution over being entrenched in the division. In Doctrine and Covenants 163:3a-b we are told, “You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.
Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.”
"Leader: We believe in one God expressed in three ways: Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit. When we worship one, we acknowledge all. When we are troubled, God responds.
People: We believe."
Creator, Healer, Spirit of Wisdom, Spirit of Love? What names for God do you use?
How has the presence of God helped you through troubled times? When I have felt broken, just knowing that God is there and walks beside me helps me continue to put one foot in front of the other. Finding or recalling scripture bolsters me and provides a handrail for added strength. From Isaiah 41:10 we hear God say, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” How does God give you strength, peace, forgiveness or hope in troubled times?
"Leader: We believe in the flow of life, from birth through death into everlasting life. We cannot capture the wonder of life before God with explanations. We only know God is with us.
People: We believe."
What is your experience with God? The Bible teaches that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). How do you feel when you feel God's presence? As you have experienced God in your life, how do you describe that experience?
Each day as you travel your journey in life, may you seek God’s presence. And when you feel the joy of God within you, or the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit, respond and say,
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. This is the time of year when I take a deep breath and turn my focus from the crazy end-of-summer fun to the gentle and blessed season of thankfulness and generosity. So take a breath, shrug off your stress, clear your mind, and come along as we walk the path of a thankful response to a generous God.
In thankfulness, I look around and re-engage in the beauty of nature and the joy of community. When I take a walk there is so much to see, even in the concrete jungle of our cities. And I say thank you, God, for helping me see You in all that is around me.
God is truly a generous giver. And in that spirit of generosity, I find myself looking for ways to give of myself. In Doctrine and Covenants 163:9 we are told: “Eternal joy and peace await those who grow in the grace of generosity that flows from compassionate hearts without thought of return.” Giving generously of our time, talents, treasure, and testimony - that is a life that embraces whole-life stewardship.
The gift of time is unique for each of us because we are the only ones who can give it. Time is precious and cannot be stored up like grain in a barn. Once a day is gone, it is gone forever. But does that mean we must fill every hour with a long list of tasks? Looking at my To-Do List, I feel the need to answer that question with a, “Yes”. However, that is short-sighted. It is the Martha in me (Martha, of Martha and Mary). God wants us to slow down and be like Mary. God wants us to spend time with Him, build our relationship with Him, and draw him into our minds and our hearts. Let the Martha in you make room for Mary.
Have you ever truly assessed your talents and gifts? Do you think you fall short? How about your “Mary” qualities? Do you listen as a friend shares? Do you offer a smile or word of encouragement to a stranger as you pass? If you are like me, it is hard to slow down. On Saturday we had the mission center’s Women’s Gathering and we were provided a preparatory booklet of spiritual practices. I started to rush through those about 45 minutes before the gathering began.
Soon I found myself slowing down, allowing my vision to clear and become more focused on my journey in life and what I could offer in God’s service to my neighbor. God gives us talents and gifts to use for enriching the lives of others and in that, we serve God.
When we address giving generously of our treasure, we can think about opportunities to make a difference in the lives of those neighbors whom Jesus tells us to love. Look at the poor widow who could only put 2 small coins in the temple offering, but whom Jesus pointed out was offering more than the richest people who gave only that which they felt was from their excess. Give generously without looking for reward. In 2 Corinthians 9:12-13, “What you are doing is much more than a service that supplies God’s people with what they need. It is something that will make many others thank God. You believed the message about Christ, and you obeyed it by sharing generously with God’s people and with everyone else.”
The last element in our whole-life stewardship is testimony. How can you spread the message of Jesus, the Peaceful One? You say you are not a preacher? Don’t forget, action is louder than words. All that you do, in even the smallest ways, makes a difference. Be the yeast that makes the dough grow. Be the seed from which springs a mighty oak. In Josh Wilson’s song, “Dream Small” it is the little things that change the world. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOBaLrItEyc)
Prayer: O, Heavenly God, we come in thanks for all things. Help us to see the world with our eyes opened to your generous hand. In thankfulness, may we dedicate our lives to being stewards and caregivers of your creation, realizing that in even the smallest ways, we are your hands and feet. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.