To the Least of These, You Did it to Me – Matthew 25:37-40

37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Daily Reflection

This is a very inspiring verse and so well known.  It has been the impetus behind countless food pantries, charities, and benevolent activities.  Undoubtedly, each of us would lend a helping hand to anyone who was presented with a dire physical need, but there are other situations in which a physical need is not apparent that also require us to dig deep and demonstrate mercy.  In fact, God calls us to learn to employ mercy in our dealings with each other on a daily basis.  Everyone has their sharp edges, blind spots and annoying quirks, and on some days, even a normally lovable person can be very difficult.

Oftentimes, we just do not think before we speak. Mistakes made in the past can seem to hang over us like a cloud and never go away, and thus we do not feel forgiven or cannot let go and forgive.  How does this affect our attitudes toward others?  Negatively of course, and that appears outwardly as a lack of compassion for others. Of course, we all have different backgrounds and different political beliefs.  Each of these differences can ignite conflict with our closest family members, friends, and coworkers.

“The least of these” may be someone in our lives who appears to have it all but is still struggling to accept themselves and find acceptance from others. It may be someone who is obstinate in their opinions or beliefs. We cannot see into the other person’s heart; nor do we know their intentions and attitudes.  What we do know is that mercy will soften the hard shell far more effectively than logical arguments, slews of facts, or unwanted advice.  

Daily Prayer

Loving God, bless me with patience to truly listen and see your child in each person, reaching to me for mercy and acceptance through expression of your beautiful and abundant grace.  Amen.

~Roxanne Tavakkol

Same Mind/Love as Christ – Philippians 2:1-2

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Daily Reflection

When I read this scripture, I had to read it multiple times to really get a grasp on what was being said. I never really thought before about being the same mind as Christ, and it can seem frightening. I kept thinking and turned on some calming music to help me think and I found the answer: music. We are not being asked to save the world or change our lives dramatically, we are being asked to play the same notes that Christ is playing. We are asked to share a wavelength with Christ. That wavelength is love, compassion, joy, and peace.

I recently moved back into my dorm at Fairfield University and was struggling to find a place to get my haircut. My friends and I stumbled into a salon downtown, simply looking for a quick haircut. What we got instead was refreshing. The women in the salon were so joyous and compassionate it blew us away. They asked us about how school was going and how our journey at Fairfield was going. We walked out of that salon feeling joyous and compassionate.

Now after having that experience and reading the scripture, I know how important Loving Thy Neighbor is. You are not only helping your neighbor; you are refreshing yourself and adding peace to your life. The first step we all need to achieve Loving Thy Neighbor is simple, join the same wavelength as Christ.

Daily Prayer

Dear lord, please give us the courage and strength to enter into your love and compassion. Lead us with no fear, and allow our love to be spread to all our neighbors and beyond. Amen.

What Does the Lord Require – Micah 6:8

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Daily Reflection

Reading this text, one memory was strong in my ‘COVID’ laden brain – my grandmother, Doris Hornick.  My grandmother was not only my grandmother, she was my mentor.  I often reflect on how I would not be where I am today if it was not for her.  Growing up, my grandparents raised my sister and I because both of our parents worked and were often not home and back then daycare centers did not exist.  You relied on family to watch your young ones and that was my grandparents.

My grandmother was one of a kind and pretty much a patron saint of Lake Avenue (Boonton), She was even crowned a Morris County legend at one point, mainly for her community work with the Presbyaires where she would play piano for the group and travel and perform at nursing homes all over Morris County.  She was very active in our church (First Presbyterian) and often dragged my sister and I along to events (sometimes against our will, but it grew on us).   She cared deeply for her family and for our neighborhood and neighbors.  The coffee pot was always on and ready to go and she always had Entenmann’s cakes ready to be shared with whoever stopped by.  She LOVED to perform on her piano, whether it be for the neighbors, her family, at First Presbyterian, or any of the other churches in town.    She was silly, kind, fair, stern, faithful, and most of all humble.  She did all of these things out of love and compassion and never wanted anything in return. 

As I grew older, I too, began volunteering and helping others whether it was organizing park and river cleanups, joining the volunteer fire department, or eventually becoming a Deacon.  When someone would ask why I do all this, my answer was always the same: my grandmother.  She taught me to be kind, to love, to care for others and to always be humble.  My grandmother, Doris Hornick IS this text:  To do justice, to love and show kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.  Thank you, Grandma.  Xoxo

Daily Prayer

God, during these challenging times, continue to remind me and others to be more like my grandmother Doris – to show love and compassion; to be fair and kind and to most of all, be humble. Amen

~Natalie Pisarcik

Nothing Can Separate Us – Romans 8:38-39

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Daily Reflection

This passage tells me that there is nothing in this life that can be a barrier in-between us, and God’s love.  Everybody’s life has had some tough times (different from mine, I’m sure), but God will always be there.  God’s love is shown in so many different ways, from feeding the hungry to helping the homeless, from teaching underprivileged children, to nursing the sick, but it shines through in so many ways. All you have to do is look around your town and the neighboring towns to see how many ways His love is changing the world.

Just think what this world would be like if we didn’t have God’s love.  Oh, I don’t even want to contemplate it.  We wouldn’t have any teachers, because people wouldn’t care whether other people learned anything, nor any food pantries, because (again) people wouldn’t care if families had nothing to eat.  God’s love brings the caring out in people, and that’s because He loves us unconditionally. There is nothing standing in the way between us and God’s love.

So how do we let God know we need to be shown His love?  We pray.  Yes, we can let Him know by prayers.  He would be more than happy to shower us with all His love if we told Him in prayer.  Because He has more than enough love, but He just needs to know when we need it.

I want to close with a hymn (a song is just a prayer that’s sung, and what else would a choir member choose?!)

Daily Prayer

I will give thanks with my whole heart,

Before You, God, my praise express,

I will bow down before Your throne

And praise Your love and faithfulness.

~Betsey Papp

Undivided Heart – Psalm 86:11

11 Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.

Daily Reflection

Any scripture that refers to “the heart” speaks very loud to me right now after almost losing my son to an aortic dissection. On January 6, when our nation’s capital was in chaos, Rob was fighting for his life. The surgeon let him Face Time his wife, Nicole, and kids, before going into surgery, thinking it would be the last time he would see his family. Nicole, a woman of deep faith, immediately sent out a plea to family and friends to pray fervently for God’s miraculous healing. God heard those prayers and set in motion, his miracle, through an outstanding hospital, a skilled surgeon and medical staff. Several days later, Rob learned that the doctors had given him only a 15% chance of surviving. One nurse came into his room and said, “Do you know how lucky you are?” Rob said, “I am beginning to, because when I ask how long it will take me to recover, no one can tell me. I am beginning to think it is because not many people survive this kind of surgery.” The nurse squeezed his hand and said, “That’s right, you are a Miracle Boy”!

We continue to praise God for his miracle of healing. He has given Rob new life and a chance to share his survival and faith journey with others.

The outpouring of love from family and friends was understandable, but the community’s response was amazing. People they did not know came to their door with gifts of food and money. The community came together and responded to a family in need, a true example of loving your neighbor.  Mark 12:31 “…Love your neighbor as yourself…”

Daily Prayer

Heavenly Father, help us to learn your ways. May we rely on you ALL the time, and not just in the times of crisis. Open our hearts and eyes to see the needs of those around us. We praise your name and give you thanks for your love, mercy, and healing power.  Amen

~Linda Blank

Speck Out of Your Eye Matthew 7:4-5

Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Daily Reflection

My Mom would say, “Mom and Jesus love you.”  Jesus, and by extension Mom, did not put provisos or quid pro quos on love.  Qualifiers on love would mean examining others to determine their worth.  Matthew’s writings are emphasizing that pointing out flaws and shortfalls in others and disregarding our own, is not how we should behave as a follower of Christ.  Just as Jesus loves us for who we are and what we do, so we should love our neighbors. 

This past year has been difficult for all of us.  As I consider this reflection, I know I have made mistakes. I have been critical when I should have been understanding of others.  By nature, I am a cynical person; examining situations and people looking for what could go wrong.  That has evolved into a negative outlook on life.  I have said, “I will try to be better” but the reality is there is no “try”, only “do”.  Thinking about making change, considering different actions is not enough. 

For me, Lent is the call to see clearly, so that I may be a better person and a better Christian.  I am thankful for the support of friends and family.  I am grateful for the opportunity to look into the mirror and see the log. And I know Mom and Jesus love you all as well.

Daily Prayer

Dear Lord, grant us the courage to admit we are flawed and the strength to take action to improve ourselves before we concern ourselves with the shortcomings in others.  Guide us so our actions as your follower match our words.  In your name we pray, Amen.

~Bill Segulin

Love is Patient – 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Friday

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 

Daily Reflection

Many couples choose this beautiful scripture to be included in their wedding vows and ceremonies. It’s a wonderful bit of advice for people who are preparing to make a lifelong commitment to one another. But these thoughtful words shouldn’t be exclusive to newlyweds. These profound words should be embraced by anyone who truly believes Christ lives within them.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best, in one of his many infamous speeches … “I have decided to stick to love … Hate is too great of a burden to bear.”

I find it much easier to share my love with family, friends, and the many people who come into my life and I believe love is the cornerstone to finding and experiencing true happiness. But to live a life of love we must develop the discipline and virtue of patience because without patience finding true love will be very challenging.

Patience gives us the ability to accept different opinions, helps us to be less judgmental, makes negotiations or compromises peaceful, and reminds us as Christians to put others’ needs before our own. It’s written in many scriptures, that God is the true foundation of love. My interpretation of this scripture is simple. Love is patient, and patience is derived from wisdom, and wisdom is bestowed upon us from God, and God is love. Those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them. 

Love can be shared in the smallest of gestures. A kind word to a neighbor, saying hello to a stranger and just acknowledging the presence of others. Love is contagious and when you share your love, God rewards you ten-fold. Love is the emotional connection to those who are with us today and the spiritual connection to those who have passed to the next wonderful world with no end.    

Daily Prayer

God grant me the wisdom, compassion and especially the patience to be the best possible person I can be. Help me to walk in the light of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to share my love with all who come into my life. God let Your ever-loving light of love shine through me and brighten the lives of everyone I meet. Amen.

~Dave Scelba

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Anger – Ephesians 4:25-26

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,

Daily Reflection:

Reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians struck a particular chord with me.  One of Paul’s themes is that of unity; that all Christians are one family in Jesus and they should act with love towards each other.  Yet here we are; families, a people, a community and a country divided.  Many speak and carry signs and banners that espouse and profess a life guided by Christ yet which are used to display hatred for persons of different religious beliefs, racial backgrounds, ethnic origins, social status and political affiliations. Civility and understanding are in short supply. 

Paul says “That is not the way you learned from Christ!” (Ephesians 4:20).  We are told to put away our former lives and to be renewed in the spirit.  In this season of Lent, when giving up something is encouraged, let us give up our hate and misunderstandings and follow the teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Let us unite with our brothers and sisters to be one body in Christ and work for peace in our lives and in our world.

Daily Prayer

Precious Lord and maker of all things good, you provide guidance to us for living our lives as Christ teaches us.  Help us to put away our hateful ways and to pursue lives that follow in your light.  Let us awake with a renewed purpose in the Spirit.  We pray for your love and mercy in all that we do.  We ask this in Christ’s name, Amen.

~Ken Nickel

The Great Commandment – Matthew 22:37-39

Ash Wednesday

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Daily Reflection

This commandment is nothing for people of faith through the millennia. Here, Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” That text was central to the Jewish liturgy and to life itself and precedes to 10 commandments given to the Israelites in both Deuteronomy and Exodus.

Jesus adds a second commandment in Matthew: “to love our neighbors as ourselves”. We certainly need this commandment especially in the last year we’ve endured where mud-slinging and hatred of neighbor and other has been at a devastating all-time high.

The challenge in Jesus’ second commandment is far more difficult that it appears. The commandment is simply to ‘love your neighbor’. It is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. 

Herein lies the rub. There is a causal relationship between self-love and our ability to love others. It is impossible to be kind and loving to others, especially in tense situations if we are unable to do that with ourselves.  The more harsh, judgmental and unkind we are with ourselves, the more we will transfer that to others, especially those who we do not know and/or understand. Self-love, at its root, is where the deep work of loving others must begin.  The genesis of that journey to greater self-love is acknowledging our flaws and our sins to God, where we are open and vulnerable not to God’s wrath but the tenderness from which God’s forgiveness comes.  On this first day of lent, Ash Wednesday, I encourage us all to come together for our Ash Wednesday Worship where we will all be able to share and show our desire for forgiveness and renewal by imposing ashes on ourselves and others, in a live Zoom meeting format.

Many of you are familiar with the Serenity prayer written by Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s.  Here’s the prayer in its original form:

“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”

~Rev Jen

Holy Saturday: Burial of Jesus by Josephy of Arimathea Luke 23:50-54

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning.

Final Reflection

Why did Joseph ask Pilate for Jesus’ body? The four Gospels supply us with many thoughts, musings and possible answers to that question but, why don’t we enter Joseph’s inner debate as he seeks to answer that question. Joseph is pondering…

“I’m taking a big risk, asking Pilate for the body of Jesus, a convicted criminal. I’m well aware that Jewish law prohibits executed criminals in family tombs, but I own a new, unused tomb in a garden near-by that would not violate any of our laws if used.

This is the Day of Preparation and our rabbinic tradition teaches that a body should not be allowed to remain unburied beyond the day of death. I feel I should hurry to bury Jesus’ body as sundown is near. Perhaps I owe this to him since I was not in agreement with the action taken by the Sanhedrin in condemning Jesus.

For a long time, I have been looking for the Kingdom of God, and Jesus did say he is the dawning of that kingdom. My friends, Jesus’ disciples, certainly believe he is innocent and is sent from God. John the Baptist also called him, the Kingdom of Heaven.”

In the end, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked to be given the body of Jesus. Mark, in his Gospel, even said he went boldly. Why do you think Joseph asked for Jesus’ body? Could you or I find the courage to do the same?

Daily Prayer:

God of Discernment, guide us as we seek answers to things that trouble us and then help us find courage to take action favorable in your sight. Amen. 

~Marilyn Ward