Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. I love the theme for this week – “Love One Another – Can We Do It?” We know “Love one another” as one of the great commandments, but we are being quite blunt in asking, “Can we do it?” Let’s look at that.
This is a true challenge. And by using the word “can” in “Can we do it?”, the question asks, “Are we capable of doing it?” Look at the adversity in our world, in our country, and in our communities and read this again, “Love One Another – Are we capable of doing it?” It’s a big question and we must look at it with hope. We must believe that we can do it. We need that hope. And as a faith community, we live that hope.
Let’s take a look at John 13:31–35, the scripture for this week. Jesus is talking to his disciples and saying that as his disciples they must love one another. He’s not directing this commandment this time to the world. I am a little surprised by this. Why is Jesus directing this commandment to his community of disciples? And by this statement, Jesus is directing this commandment to us as a community of disciples. This makes it a different kind of challenge. Are there people in your faith community with whom it is a challenge to love? Have you seen firsthand the power of a faith community that works through times of disagreement and love shines through? What a powerful experience and what a powerful witness of Jesus’ teachings.
Community of Christ has worked through differing thoughts and opinions using Faithful Disagreement and I find this to be an amazingly empowering action/reaction. We love one another even if we don’t agree. The commandment to love one another that Jesus told his disciples is for all of us. Allow the differences. Show the power of God in our lives, the teachings of Jesus, and embrace the Blessings of Community, the Worth of All Persons, and Unity in Diversity - just a few of Community of Christ’s Enduring Principles from which to live by.
If we show our commitment to this love commandment, this is how people will find meaning in Christ, God’s son. The invitation to know Christ will be alive. The communities of joy, hope, love and peace will grow. Because as Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (v. 35). It’s not “Can we do it?” Instead, it should read, “Yes, let’s do it!”
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. Do you ever feel so distant from God that you believe God doesn't even know who you are? We are told that the Good Shepherd knows all of his sheep. In John 10:14 we are given the words of Jesus, "I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep know me." When we feel we have drifted away, we can find assurance in those words, "I know my sheep and my sheep know me." How does that make you feel?
We know God. We are his sheep and we can find God by listening for his voice. Sometimes there can be so much noise that it can be difficult, so it may take some effort. But we need to realize that in all the time we are seeking the voice of the Shepherd, the Shepherd is also calling out to us. But you can still feel frustrated and unsure, believing the Shepherd’s voice must not be speaking to you.
Do not despair. It's not impossible to hear the Shepherd's voice. God wouldn't assure us that we'd know his voice if it were impossible to hear his voice.
I love knowing that although God loves us all as part of his flock, his love for each one of us is intentional and personal. I may be the lost sheep in a flock of 100, but God, our Shepherd, will come for me. I mustn't doubt myself so much that I feel unworthy and hide.
Are you hiding? Are you hiding behind feelings of unworthiness or self-doubt? Do you think you are just too busy right now? Or do you think you are too old? Or too tired? Give those feelings to God. I am one who can get overly anxious about getting something done and done well. But I have someone close to me who reminds me that I'm too focused on doing it all by myself and I need to give it to God. I need to be open to God’s voice, to know God's intentions and to trust our Shepherd.
Listen for the voice of the Shepherd. Find that activity (or inactivity) that provides an opening to the Shepherd's voice. Seek out the companionship of others of faith. In their strength, find your focus. Or spend time alone when you can concentrate on listening for God's voice. Listen in the silence and find your focus. And always proceed with expectations that you will hear the Shepherd's voice.
"Listen in the silence. Listen in the noise. Listen for the sound of the Spirit's voice." (Community of Christ Sings, hymn 153)
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. How do you feel right now? Are you happy? Are you anxious? Are you feeling the spirit of God? As you identify your current emotions, take a breath, then another. Inhale deeply, exhale to the fullest amount you can. Now breathe in again – easy and relaxed. Let’s center our thoughts and our focus on God and walk together spiritually for a moment.
I come to the close of my Saturday feeling tired, with aching feet and an exhausted mind. But I am full of joy. That’s the most satisfying of feelings. Exhausted, but filled with deep satisfaction, love, and renewed spirit. Within our faith community, we tried something new today – a new expression of exploring Christ’s mission is our mission. A group of Community of Christ members and friends went to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, with the intent to learn, question, embrace and be challenged in mission and social justice issues.
Within the culture of the First People of the Americas, we found pure truths that match Community of Christ’s Enduring Principle Sacredness of Creation. We witnessed in this history of Native Americans the honor and respect for the land, the sky, the waters and the living creatures that inhabit this amazing planet. I found myself being drawn in awe and reverence to a new spiritual relationship with God’s creation. But I also was reminded of the vulnerability we are facing with limited natural resources and the real evidence of climate change. With the amazing gifts of nature comes amazing responsibility.
I also found Native American history painful, heartbreaking, and even agonizing. My mind turns again to more of Community of Christ’s Enduring Principles, the Worth of All Persons and Unity in Diversity, and I question how people in U.S. leadership could have made such inhumane decisions. What about the Enduring Principle ‘Responsible Choices’? How did our governing leadership miss the ‘Blessings of Community’, another Enduring Principle we profess?
We gathered together after this trip to reflect on all that we had learned and what it meant to each of us and to us as a community. We asked ourselves hard questions. What will we do, individually and collectively, with what we have learned? What is our role as a community of believers in challenging these things?
I wish I could offer you a list of the profound and concrete answers we came up with. We did not create such a list. We still face these challenging questions. But we do have a better understanding and appreciation of the challenge we face with Community of Christ’s Mission Prayer: "God, where will your spirit lead me today? Help me to be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen "
We experienced “Mission at the Museum” and pray for discernment as we search for ways that we as a community of believers can make a difference.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. Can it really be just one week after Easter? I hope you, like me, are experiencing the Easter afterglow, reflecting on and celebrating that Jesus has risen from the dead! But what was happening with the disciples one week after that glorious Easter day? Jesus had already appeared to them, they knew he had won against death on the cross. Yet, they were in the same locked room where they had been on Easter day. In the scriptures, the focus is now on the disciple Thomas… “Doubting Thomas,” who had said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:24-25) But there is more to the story…
The term “Doubting Thomas” has crept into our vocabulary and we know it well, but I’d like to dispute the labeling of Thomas as the “doubting” one. Thomas hadn’t seen Jesus like the other disciples had. Poor Thomas – now and forever labeled as Thomas the Doubter. Yet, the other disciples… How strong was their faith? They had seen Jesus 7 days before, yet they were still in the room behind the locked door. If Thomas is a doubter, are not the other disciples, as well? They all had an imperfect faith. How about your faith? Is it imperfect, as well? The disciples’ faith was imperfect so ours can be, also.
What else did Jesus say? “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Evidently Jesus did not expect perfect faith. I mean, he did find his disciples in a locked room twice! He told them what he had been telling them for quite a while, they had a job to do. And he didn’t expect them to go out alone. Upon telling them that he was sending them out, Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.“
Here we must realize that in this act of Jesus sending out the disciples, it is more than that. It is a message to all of us - He is sending out his church. The disciples had Jesus. We have Jesus’ teachings. On those days when our imperfect faith is weak, find what bolsters your faith, your experience with the Holy Spirit. For me it is listening to contemporary Christian music on the local radio station. And I find focus when I journal my prayers and reflections. My faith is also strengthened when I’m in fellowship and experiencing communal worship with others in my faith community. All of these help my imperfect faith. What helps yours?
Now it is time for us to leave our “locked room” and go forth to share the message of Jesus. Even when our faith is imperfect, we can lean on the Holy Spirit and share the love, hope, joy and peace of Jesus.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotional. He is Risen!! What glorious words to hear! What glorious words to say! We’ve traveled the solemn road of Lent and today we bring out the Alleluias! Let’s share our joy with all people. Jesus is Risen! Who will you share with today?
For me, as I was shopping for flowers to contribute to our Flowering of the Cross for the Easter worship service, I shared the joy of Easter in the tender buds and blossoms and the beauty of the Easter lilies with others as we filled our carts. It lifted my spirits to fill my car with so many colors and the sweet smell of the Easter Lilies, tulips, daisies, and pansies. I pray you see, hear and smell the joy of Easter as spring evolves from our winter weather.
I teach English as a second language and have students from many different countries and of different faiths. They are hungry to learn about the United States and our traditions. We discover what we have in common and what is beautiful about our differences, and some of that covers faith traditions. Easter finds many forms in other countries – religious and secular. But one thing we did discover on the religious side – 2022 offers a unique overlap where the holy days of the world's Jews, Christians and Muslims are all happening together. As more than 1 billion Muslims fast for Ramadan, Jews will be commemorating Passover and Christians will be celebrating Easter. The world will be filled with the prayers of so many who believe in God with a steadfast faith.
Our communities are diverse and with an Enduring Principle declaring the Worth of All Persons, we can celebrate with the shared Ramadan, Passover and Easter an invitation to get to know our neighbors. Our religions may be different but our collective faith calls all of us to treat our neighbors with love and respect.
During Easter, as Christians, we celebrate the miracle of Jesus' resurrection. God loves us so much that our Creator of Life gave us Jesus, who lived and died and rose again to give us everlasting life. We have not just words of scriptural counsel, but Jesus’s life which teaches us every day to rise up against the battles of life, embrace those who are different and those who are on the fringes of our communities. Recognize the Worth of All Persons, and be responsible for working together to build a better life for all. Create a fresh world where we all love our neighbors and peace is possible.
So let all of us – all the billions of us – pray unceasingly for the blessing of peace in this world. May we also be resurrected to new eyes that behold our beautiful world and new energy to make a difference.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. Here we are at the beginning of Holy Week. We’ve accompanied Jesus as he went through the wilderness and then as he came back to the people, teaching and preaching about the love of God and doing marvelous things. He said things to the disciples that they didn’t understand. He raised Lazarus from the dead. Stories about Jesus were quickly passing from person to person and the people were ready to welcome this incredible person whom they felt was destined to be their king, their savior. “Hosanna!” That’s the cry we associate with Palm Sunday. “Hosanna. Hosanna to the Son of David!” What a time it must have been as the people gathered along the road, excited to see Jesus coming into their town. Picture the joy! Picture the excitement. Hear the rising sound of the people’s shouts. Would you have been in the crowd, welcoming Jesus and shouting, “Hosanna”?
Hosanna is a strange word. I went to a dictionary to see exactly what it meant. If you look in a Greek dictionary to find what it means, you find that it is not originally a Greek word, after all. The men who wrote the New Testament in Greek did the same thing to a Hebrew word that our English translators did to the Greek word: they just used Greek letters to make the sound of a Hebrew phrase. Our English word "hosanna" comes from a Greek word "hosanna" which comes from a Hebrew phrase hoshiya na. And that Hebrew phrase is found in one solitary place in the whole Old Testament, Psalm 118:25, where it means, "Save, please!" It is a cry to God for help.
We see this word as a shout of hope and exultation. It used to mean, "Save, please!" But gradually, it came to mean, "Salvation! Salvation! Salvation has come!" So "Hosanna!" means, "Hooray for salvation! It's coming! It's here! Salvation! Salvation!"
The word was a cry for help and it is now a cheer of confidence. It was a desperate plea, now it is an expression of profound praise. When our Palm Sunday hymns ring out “Hosanna”, we sing with joy and confidence that indeed Jesus entered Jerusalem that fateful day and began his final journey toward our salvation. We can sing “Hosanna!” with confidence and assurance. Salvation! Salvation is here! Jesus is here! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
Yes, picture yourself in the Jerusalem crowd, excited to be welcoming Jesus. Then picture yourself today, in a community of Christians, all expressing the same joy.
“Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna, Son of David!”
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotional. We’ve been traveling the Lenten path for 5 weeks now. As we count the 40 days of Lent, did you know that Sundays are not in the count? Only 6 days of each week count toward the 40. So let’s allow ourselves to rest on this 7th day and reflect on Jesus’ journey together as we find it in John 12:1-8…
This week we find Jesus at Mary and Martha’s house. He has traveled many miles in his ministry, and he knows his time on earth is coming to an end. How tired Jesus’ feet must have been when “Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair.”(John 12:3, NLT). The disciples, particularly Judas, objected to Mary’s action noting that the perfume could be sold to raise money for the poor. Jesus defends Mary’s action by pointing out the great kindness it showed, saying, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:8). He appreciates the extreme kindness given to him.
I found myself also questioning Mary’s action, still wondering why this anointing is so important. But as I pondered this, my eyes are opened to realizing the humbleness of the situation. There is a stark contrast between the use of expensive perfume and the feet of a serving, suffering and dying Servant-King. In this action, I feel the compassion and extravagant anointing onf all people, no matter how lowly. We all are given the best gift, the gift of Jesus, God’s own son. Have you ever judged yourself or others as undeserving of this gift?
All are deserving. “For God so loved the world…” he gave us – all of us - his son and the gift of eternal life. There is no one so lowly that the gift is not offered to them. And this gift in no way depends on our worthiness to receive it. God is the ultimate giver.
We are so loved that God gave this gift to us freely. And feeling this love makes us want to respond in love and give to others. What can we give that is worthy? Do we need to raise copious amounts of money, establish far-reaching charities, or find ways to feed all the homeless? These would be wonderful accomplishments, but we can also find small ways to give in return. Small ways are equally important. We can have the feet of a servant. It doesn’t have to be anything grandiose. Small acts are important. Reaching out in small ways is the worthiest of actions. Listen to the song, “Dream Small” by Josh Wilson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOBaLrItEyc
God has given us extravagant love. Seek God’s guidance and be a grateful giver in return.
Mission Prayer: God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. If you are like me, you need help in pulling away from the helter-skelter of daily life. So let’s take this moment and focus together on the love and peace of God. Let’s take a breath, take a seat, and take a moment to turn our minds and hearts to God.
This week’s scripture story is about the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32) and it’s probably one of the best-known of Jesus’ parables. Having heard it first as a child, I aligned myself with the son who decided he could strike out on his own, then loses everything given to him by his father and he returns home. Have you ever been in this situation?
Humbly, the prodigal son comes down the road, no doubt rehearsing what he will say to his father – meekly asking for forgiveness and a place as a servant to the household. He completely submits to acknowledging the patience, wisdom and love of his parent. When the father sees his son in the distance, he drops what he is doing and runs with open arms to greet him. The father doesn’t seem to care about his son’s words of contrition; he just rejoices at his son’s return and sets about putting together an elaborate celebration. Imagine the son’s amazement at being received like this. Have you ever felt welcomed with a joyful hug filled with love?
Perhaps we do an injustice to this story by calling it the story of the Prodigal Son, because this is really the story of the Unchanging Love of the Father. This is a love that doesn’t care about what happened in the past. This is a love that flings open its arms before hearing words admitting wrong-doing. This is a love that is always ready for the return of one he loves. This is the love of God for all of his children. God is ready with open arms and all we must do is turn towards him. What magnificent, unconditional love, and it is ours to receive. All we need to do is turn towards God and God comes running with open arms, greeting us, loving us, and enveloping us in his arms. Close your eyes and imagine this overwhelming reception.
The scriptures tell us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
Even when the helter-skelter chaos of daily life pulls me in multiple directions and the presence of God seems to fade – I must remember that it is I who is drifting away, not God. Even when I feel guilty that I find myself wandering on directionless paths, making poor decisions, and becoming focused on mindless games and materialistic things – I must remember that God is ready to forgive unconditionally and in an instant welcome me back.
So don’t let your tarnished life ever keep you from turning or returning to God. You don’t need to do anything but turn to God and God will see you and rejoice. Allow God’s love to make a home in your heart, and then with God’s love inside you, you will find a new life, ready to reach out to others.
Dear God, our loving parent who stands ready to receive us with open arms. We come in awe and wonderment of your amazing love. We cannot comprehend how your love can be so unconditional – your grace so unending. Humbly, we seek you. May our minds and our hearts be always open to your spirit. May we take this faithful love and spread it out wherever we go. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. Let’s come together on this 3rd Sunday of Lent and evaluate our travels along the Lenten path thus far. Let’s all take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Do it again. Bow your head forward and stretch, feeling the pull in your neck. Then lift your chin high and throw your shoulders back as far as you can. I’m stretching out multiple aches and pains. How about you?
I’m not where I expected to be at this point along this Lenten path. I am not even ½ way through Lent and I find myself weary and I am seeking a chair and an ottoman upon which to rest my feet. My back aches and my feet are in pain. And I am thirsty. Jesus – how did you do it?
Jesus walked the wilderness for 40 days. He was thirsty, but drank only of God’s spirit. He was hungry, but denied himself the bread that God could have provided if he’d only asked. In his dedication to seeking a close relationship with God, he committed time to seeking God, speaking to God, listening to God. Why do I not have the same unflinching focus?
I am in the wilderness, too. My wilderness. And I find myself wandering aimlessly, at times. I get distracted and lose sight of my destination which is time with God. The sink full of dishes steals my attention. As I dry the frying pan and start to put it away, I see that the pan drawer has a few pans that are sitting askew, making the freshly washed pan jam into the drawer frame. I need to rearrange those pans into more efficient stacks. Then I remember the load of wash that needs to go into the dryer. While I’m in the basement, I realize that the meat in the freezer needs to be taken out and defrosted for tomorrow’s dinner. Where is that recipe? Since I’m cooking, I should use those ripe bananas and make a loaf of banana bread. Does your day dissolve like this? Different circumstances, but a similar pattern of distraction?
I go back to my chair and put my feet on the ottoman. I draw in a deep breath. “God – be close. Put your hands upon my head and pull the busy thoughts from my mind.” I take in another deep breath, close my eyes and feel God’s presence in me – in the very air I breathe.
Take your moment. Push aside the distractions and breathe deeply. God promises to be near. He pardons our shortcomings. In Isaiah 55: 9-12 we hear God’s words.
“Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.”
God pardons our weaknesses and continues his promises for us, the imperfect.
Dear God, Our Rock and Our Lifeline. Help us to give you our minutes when our hours are consumed elsewhere. Cleanse our minds and unburden our hearts. Help us focus on You that as we seek, we listen. As we look, we focus. And as we breathe, we feel. May our wilderness never be without You. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. I believe most of us have experienced crazy March weather with roller coaster temperatures and alternating rain and snow. But there was the promise of spring. Let’s close our eyes as we breathe deeply, cleansing our lungs, relaxing our shoulders, and emptying our thoughts so we can center ourselves on God and God’s creation.
Have you looked up at a star-filled sky recently? The scriptures this week tell us how God told Abraham to look at the stars of the sky, more stars than Abraham could count. Those stars showed Abraham God’s promises. I want to see the sky that Abraham saw.
And then suddenly I realized that I do. I see the sky that Abraham saw. I am overwhelmed when I think about that. Isn’t this the same sky that Abraham saw? The stars have existed since long before Abraham’s time. As I gaze up at the infinite number of stars, I think about these being the very stars that God pointed out to Abraham. I am transported across time, feeling like I am standing near Abraham. Abraham had such a strong faith in God. Despite the hardships he had endured, Abraham kept trusting God, and as I look at Abraham’s sky, I feel the strength of his faith.
Does that sound strange to you? When in the midst of a joy-filled crowd, we absorb the group’s enthusiasm. When worshiping with a faith community, the power of the cumulative faith is also strengthening. As we look to the sky on a clear night we should remember that it is the sky that Abraham pondered. It is the sky under which David composed his psalms. It is the sky of the shepherds and the Wisemen (with a little modification for that special event). Abraham saw the stars with a faith that was strong despite the hardships of life. Let that faith soak into your soul. In faith-threatening moments look at the star-filled sky and turn your thoughts to the never-changing love and promises of God that were evident to Abraham. The message of those stars is still true today.
May we look up at the stars and feel the strength of Abraham’s faith. May we go into the world with faith that is kindred to Abraham’s and put that faith into action, delivering hope and kindness, compassion and love.
Author: Bonnie Barber