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
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. It is sobering to realize that we are now in the season of Lent. It seems that time moves on sometimes without notice. But time is a precious gift from God and we must use that gift and give time back to God. We have entered these 40 days that call us to fast and pray and repent as we walk with Jesus. It’s a time to slow down, reflect, and live with intentionality that focuses on God. So let’s do that now. Let’s take a deep breath, clear our minds, and spend some time with God.
Each year, we are reminded to enter the Lenten season with a focus on the sacrifice that Jesus faced. Many people do this by giving up something, usually a food like chocolate or dessert. If we follow that choice, we face this sacrifice as a daily reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice as his journey took him closer to the cross. If you were to give up something, what would it be?
Others look to add something instead of taking something away. It might be a commitment to daily prayer or some other spiritual practice, such as journaling or meditation. It might be new involvement in volunteering a service to others. What could you add?
Whatever the decision, the action should remind us of God and provide us a new moment of time with God. Today’s challenge is to find an action or inaction that reminds you to turn your mind and your heart to God. As part of this challenge to spend time with God, I’ve passed out 2-minute timers of sand to the children in our congregation and tasked them to use the timer to help them focus on spending time with God. Start the timer and focus on God and Jesus. How much time passed by? Did the sand fall all the way to the bottom of the timer? We all need to look at how much time we spend with God in our thoughts, in study, or in conversation. I wonder how we’d all do with a 2-minute timer.
Dear God – our Giver and Forgiver, we thank you for the blessings of life. As we course through our day, may we set our mind on you in thankfulness and repentance. Forgive us those times we get so caught up in the trivial. Help us focus on you and hold you in our hearts. May we walk this journey to the cross with Jesus, ever aware of the sacrifice that was made in love. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotional.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday and the main scripture, Luke 9:28-36, tells about Jesus’ trip up the mountain to pray and talk with God. I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain this week, as I’m sure many of you do, as well. So let’s consider ourselves at the top of the mountain. This is a good time to sit down, put our worries aside and spend time with God. Come join me.
I realized on Friday that I had only been home from my trip to Missouri a week. I had to look hard at the calendar to double-check. It does feel like I’ve trekked up a mountain this week. Just getting back into my normal routine has been part of this rather arduous journey.
In the scripture three of Jesus’ friends, Peter, James and John, went with him and witnessed an amazing sight. Standing with Jesus were Moses and Elijah who had lived long before. Then the friends saw Jesus’ face change (transfigure) and his robes became as white and bright as lightning. As they took all of this in, a cloud overcame them and they heard the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” What a marvelous experience! What was their reaction? They told Jesus they should make a shelter for Jesus and the prophets who were standing with them. It seems they expected everyone and everything to stay unchanged. For Peter, James and John this was surely holy ground.
As I read through this scripture, I wondered, “Was Jesus transformed in front of them, or did they witness the presence of God shining through him?” Perhaps we should look for that brightness and light as the presence of God in others and in ourselves? Does God’s light shine through me? Can others see it? As I journey with Jesus, I know there is a change within me. I am not the same today as yesterday. But does that change show through to others?
How can we let that glow of God’s love shine on those around us? What can we do to fan that flame? This week I reflected on where that intenseness of God’s spirit showed itself in my life and realized it was when I focused on God’s love and the message of Jesus. It was at church camps, reunions and retreats - places where I was able to put the daily stresses of life aside. But it would do no good to stay at camps or retreats and never move on. God’s light shines on us so we can take His light and cause it to shine on others through us. Like Peter, James and John, I cannot stay on the mountaintop. The mountaintop is not the destination. It is the starting place.
Dear God, With Jesus as our guide and our companion, we climb the mountain. And from there, may we step into the world around us, transformed, and ready to share all that we have gained. May others see our transformation that reflects God’s presence and God’s love. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotional. “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Colossians 3:16 (NIV) I’ve been singing a lot the last two weeks. I’ve been visiting my grandchildren and revisiting all the songs we sang together when they lived close by. One of my grandsons requested “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, a song I sang to my children and one that my daughter now sings to hers. In recognition of Black History month, I delved into the history of this Negro Spiritual and wish to share what I found with you.
Many of the words of Negro Spirituals have covert meaning. "Swing low, sweet chariot" refers to Ripley, a "station" of the Underground Railroad, where fugitive slaves were welcome. Because Ripley sits at the top of a hill by the Ohio River, which is not easy to cross, fugitives had to wait for help to take them to the top of the hill. The words of this spiritual, "I looked over Jordan and what did I see/ Coming for to carry me home/ A band of angels coming after me" referred to this part of their travel.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCWtysB-uB4
While I am familiar with other Negro Spirituals, I was surprised to find that “There is a Balm in Gilead” is one as well. We sing this song quite often during a communion service. In the Old Testament, the balm of Gilead is taken most directly from Jeremiah chapter 8:22: "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my [God's] people?" In this spiritual, the balm is spiritual medicine to deal with the sins of God's people. We also have the message that there is a promise of healing, hope, and liberation in Jesus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mO17UImQcto
Another well-known Negro Spiritual is “Let Us Break Bread Together on Our Knees”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DO69zb_0CJk The humble image of being on our knees takes me there every time we sing it. “When I fall on my knees, with my face to the rising sun, O Lord, have mercy on me.”
We have such rich, beautiful Negro spirituals that have spoken to us through time. May we always be aware of how they came to be, and what they meant to those who first sang them.
Dear God, thank you for the many songs that have come from people’s hearts. May we remember with each word and each tune, that the message of Christ is one to be shared. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber