Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Scripture:  He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."--Mark 4:26-32

Have you ever given a thought to how Jesus must have felt during his short ministry?  He was always the outsider, the newbie; he must have always had butterflies in his stomach!
One way that Jesus drew new groups of people to him was to speak to them in parables. They were not new in Jesus’ day, the Jewish Law Professors had been teaching Midrash, or stories with a moral point, for centuries.  The form however, was perfected by Jesus. If he saw a group of farmers standing in the square complaining about their crops, he spun the Parable of the Sower – got them to thinking, first about why their own crops weren’t producing their maximum, then about their own lives.  Maybe he overheard a group of women talking about the mystery of life, of creation itself the day he made up today’s lesson.  He looked at their hands and also knew that they dug in the dirt, probably in the house gardens they grew to feed their families, so he answered their creation questions by talking about the mystery of a seed growing into a grain stalk, and again, when he described the fascinating drama of the mustard tree’s growth.  Maybe some of them just thought about their gardens -- others took his message to mean that they should grind more condiments for their households -- but those to whom God sent the Word began to see more, deeper meanings in what he said -- meanings which began to change their lives.

When we master our butterflies and encounter those to whom God sends us we find that he gives us just what and how to speak.  So don’t fret when God sends you out of your comfort zone to “sow seeds” – just sow your seeds into the lives of those to whom God sends you and trust that through the power of the Holy Spirit, your message will be sufficient for the situation.

Jesus Saves
We have heard the joyful sound: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Spread the tidings all around: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Bear the news to every land, climb the mountains, cross the waves;
Onward! 'tis our Lord's command; Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

Prayer:  Mighty God, get us out of our own way so that we can share your message with others boldly, when you send us. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia McCullough

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

Are You "All In"?

Scripture:  So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord --for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.--2 Corinthians 5:6-9

"Who’d Have Thought I’d Know You This Way", By Donnie McClurkin & Marvin Winans
There is an academic tension running through the threads of the New Testament, between the Gnostic worldview and that of the Hebrews. These Gentile converts were philosophers, thinkers, and they sought, in the first century, to fit this new Christianity into their long held beliefs about the self contained human who is spirit, has a soul and lives in the body.  The deal breaker, for these new believers, was to convince themselves and others that because it was their spirits, which God solely communed with, actions emanating from their souls, the emotional locus, or their flawed bodies were not counted against them.

Counter to this argument, the much older tradition of the Hebrews demonstrates that the body, soul and spirit are all tied together, inextricably.  In other words, what effects one effects all.  As a woman, I can witness to the veracity of this viewpoint.  There are days and even weeks of the month when I find myself a little more irritable or unable to sleep.  Most of us, male or female can attest to times of body stress which challenge our moods and even our faith.  Those connections, which are part of our fearful and wonderful make-up, help bind us to each other, to God and to the rest of creation.  We are not just brains waiting to break out of our “earthly shells”.  Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians, that the ultimate act of incarnation was not to think about our sin issues, but for Jesus to exploit his body, soul and spirit to create the new, redeemed being God was longing for.  “For the love of Christ always answers that the final death was for everybody, eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14 ( a personal translation)

We are poised, in this body, with these feelings and thoughts and our ever reconciling spirits, to know God and ourselves in ways that are unique to our situation.  Yes, we “groan” to be fully present with God; but also cherish the gift that the incarnation has given us in this life.

Prayer:  Oh God, our desire is to please you.  Show us faithfulness in whatever we find ourselves in for your glory in all the world.  Amen.

The Reverend Dr. Cynthia McCullough

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Praise in Verse

Scripture:   It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, 
proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, 
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. For you make me glad by your deeds, LORD; I sing for joy at what your hands have done.  – Psalm 92: 1-4

Hallelujah, by Amy MacDonald, written by Leonard Cohen

Music, whether instrumental or vocal, is a boundless form of communication.  It exceeds our capacities for thought, reason, logic or deliberation. It viscerally moves us to feel, to believe, to dream, to contemplate; it expands our minds and adds flavor to our imagination; it has the power to bring unity or to separate, to create boundless joy or profound sorrow ; it is, quite simply, the heart’s connection to the soul and their melodic dance before the Lord.  It is small wonder when I discovered the college love of my life was tone deaf I summarily dumped him!

I recently read that when composing our worship music, Hallelujah, lyricist Leonard Cohen actually wrote and edited the text for five years and wrote over 80 verses.  For decades, singers have perused these multi-verses, choosing only the ones which fit their style and message. This song, therefore, has a unique capacity to speak to both singer and audience.

The writer of this Psalm echoes the God be praised, “Hallelujah” spirit of the song. Overcome by the supreme superlative that is the nature of God, she sets a worship agenda designed to last all day and all night.  Imagine how different our lives would be if our response to every jot and tittle that make up our day was a heart/soul felt “ God be praised!  Hallelujah!”  What a change in perspective and lift to our hearts would be the result of  such purposeful worship.  Hey girls, that’s music to my ears – let’s give this idea a try!

Prayer:  Lord of All Music, sing new songs of life to us and make us respond with choruses of gratitude! In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

The Reverend Dr. Cynthia McCullough

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The God of All Creation

ScriptureThis is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the forest will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it. - Ezekiel 17: 22-24

Holy, Holy, Holy, by:  The Kurt Carr Singers
It is a challenge for most of us to begin to fathom the sovereignty of God.  What must it be like to be without limits or bounds?  More importantly, what must it be like to employ absolute self-sacrificing love as the filter for the actualization of that sovereignty?  When I think about this, my response is constant, jubilant praise and ethical living.

I was awestruck by the notion in verse 24 that God’s attributes are communicated to the trees! We tend to limit God’s attention to humans (and sometimes even just to those who look \ think \ act like us), but the God who created these vessels of praise on the third day and called them “good” continues in loving communication with them.  What a paradigm shift this is! God actually birthed new life from the old cedar and did not just use it as a lesson for the humans but for the trees as well.

This morning,  as I was attempting to write, I was interrupted by Ebony, my little black cat, who demanded “mommy time.”  Regardless of my schedule, she requires 30 minutes of cuddling and stroking, including a few minutes for me to look in her face and tell her how special she is.  The God of this Ezekiel passage, the one who talks to trees, would agree that her needs are just as important as my schedule, as she, too, is part of creation and the redemptive plan of the Sovereign Lord.

As you go through this day, take the time to affirm everyone and everything in your life as a loving expression from the mind of a creative, all loving , all powerful God who made you and everything else and called us good!

Prayer:  O Wonder of Wonders, at this moment we submit to your sovereignty. You who have the whole world in your hands, hold us in our times of need, times of lack, sickness and fear. Remind us that you, who teach lessons to trees will also take care of us.  In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

The Reverend Dr. Cynthia McCullough

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Blessedness of Blessing

Scripture:  The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion. May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. Selah. May he grant you your heart's desire, and fulfill all your plans.--Psalm 20:1-4 

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee

The most profound experience of grace that we can receive from another is the impartation of a blessing.  Counter to the magical acquisition of possessions, the biblical expression of blessing is different from “luck,” or “fate”. It is the approval of God over our lives. It recognizes the total sufficiency of God and God’s absolute generosity towards us. It is the Word incarnate for us; that Word says, “You have enough , You do enough, You are enough!”
In the final scene of Kathryn Stockett’s  bestseller, The Help, the plain, under valued toddler, May Mobley, repeats the mantra taught to her by her Shero-nanny, Abileene:  “You is kind, you is smart,  you is important!”  What words of blessing, of validation, of affirmation, approval and love from one person to another!  In a world where she clearly did not meet her mother’s standards, the three year-old, May, heard her “real mother” (her words) say that she did matter, that she was enough – just as she was.
We live in a culture that constantly bombards us with messages to do more, expect more, get more, even as they tell us that we are insufficient – that we will never be thin enough, young enough or prosperous enough to matter. The grace note; however, coming through that den of noise, is that we receive  blessing and approval from the God of the Universe, who assures us that God’s grace is sufficient, and through the gifting of that grace to us,  we are blessed,  we are affirmed,  we are enough!

Prayer:  Sovereign Lord, let your blessing, approval,  grace and love so surround us that we are not moved by the fury of the day nor the race to grab.  Make us know that in you, we have, do and are enough.  In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

The Reverend Dr. Cynthia McCullough

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Change Can Feel Good!

Scripture:  1 Samuel 15:34- 16:13 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”- 1 Samuel 16:1

Worship Music:
"Feeling Good", By Nina Simone. By Leslie Bricusse. Piano Vocal. 8 pages. Published by Cherry Lane Music (HL.354090)

One Monday, six years ago, I awoke to discover that I could neither walk nor feel my body below the waist. A sleepwalking fall sometime during the night badly injured my back. Three days later terrible, soul-killing pain started in my foot; doctors diagnosed it as permanent and incurable.

Needless to say, in the days and months to follow, I cycled through repeated stages of grief: denial, depression / anger, bargaining, acceptance and back again.  Greater than my justice issues was my guilt, surprisingly, and my feelings of utter uselessness. How could I serve God with excellence when I could not walk or drive, or when pain made it impossible for me to concentrate; I was at a loss because the perimeters by which I measured my life had fallen away. I was drowning, and looking for anything, anyone who could return a measure of control to my broken, bleeding life. Times of change, grief, fear and uncertainty can scare us back to the status quo, even when such a choice is to our detriment.

Today’s reading tells us about Saul’s downfall and David’s pronouncement as king. God called on the prophet Samuel to proffer the exchange.

Samuel knew Saul; Saul was not a particularly good King, nonetheless he was familiar, so it grieved Samuel greatly for God to reject him and instruct Samuel to anoint another king. Samuel grieved for the missed opportunities, for the coming drama and even for the personal danger this mission brought.  God knew his heart, but eventually grew impatient with Saul for continuing to embrace what God had rejected.

When faced with change, good or bad, we must learn to trust the God of the future with our future.  God’s “I AM – ness” assures us that we need not fear the future nor hold on to the past.  The God who has the whole world under control has our future in control, and when we trust God, fully, we can face the uncertainty of the future, our “New Day”  feeling good!

Prayer:  Lord of all eternity, we thank you that you have our futures carefully ensconced in your hands,  and regardless to the situation You are working in it for our good!  In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

The Reverend Dr. Cynthia McCullough

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Remembering Eden

Scripture:  They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate." The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel – Genesis 3:8-15

I remember Eden. I really can. I don’t think I’m the only one. I believe that it is a memory lodged into all of our souls, we can recall a time when God walked amongst us in the cool of the evening. We can recollect when we were naked and were not ashamed. We can remember because we were there in Adam and Eve, we were all there. We must have been there because we certainly have all felt the sting of the curses that resulted in the infamous act of disobedience:

I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked- Gen. 3:10
We know well the shame Adam speaks of and we know well the compulsive need to hide our true selves from others and from God. We are afraid of ourselves.

The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate. –Gen. 3:12
We know the alienation in our relationships with others; we know hatred, blame, and abandonment, we experience it in the way we relate with those whom we love most. We accuse one another.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. - Gen. 3:15
We know the disconnect we have with animals in particular and creation in general. We hate and destroy the very creation that God gave us to care for. We destroy our world.

We live this every day. And yet deep down, we know this isn’t right, we know this isn’t the way the world is supposed to be. Why? Because we can remember Eden. 

Prayer:  Creator, my prayer for my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ is to not just remember Eden but to live Eden as well. Jesus has reconciled us back to you, back to ourselves, back to one another, and back to creation. He has empowered us to make the world the way it is supposed to be. A place where love abounds, a place like Eden.  Thank you for your transforming Spirit.  Amen.  

The Reverend Tiffany Thomas

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