Offertory Prayer

Each month's Offertory Prayers includes an "Invitation to the Offering" (see below) along with a digital image for those who might want to use it. We hope you will find this a helpful way to remind the people in your pews that their offering travels to many places to make a powerful difference in the lives of people they may never meet. You can find great stories of the difference our giving makes at http://umcgiving.org.

Invitation to the Offering
The offering you made last week empowered ministry within our congregation and in response to the needs of our community. It also helped support the work of ministries beyond the local church that reach people who are in desperate need to feel the touch of love and reconciliation. Through our connectional giving, we support the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) and missionaries around the world -- such as Alex andBrenda Awad, who serve Christians in East Jerusalem and the ministries of Bethlehem Bible College. So when you revive the story this season of the birth of the Son of God in Bethlehem, remember that United Methodists are still working to make the world a more welcoming place for the God of love and peace. This ministry happens thanks to the generous support of United Methodists like you. I invite you once again to give generously as we worship God through the sharing of our gifts, tithes, and offerings.

Learn more about the work of GBGM Missionaries at: www.umcmission.org/Explore-Our-Work/Missionaries-in-Service

December 21, 2014 -- Fourth Sunday of Advent
Dear Lord, you are the only wise God! Thank you for your faithfulness through the ages. You spoke promises through the prophets. In time, you revealed your glory in Jesus Christ. Strengthen us in faith to follow your will today. Empower us to tell our neighbors about you. May these offerings support the ways our church exhibits your steadfast love for all generations. Amen. (Romans 16)

November Offertory Prayers were written by the Rev. Rosanna Anderson, Associate Director of Stewardship Ministries at Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 21

I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, 
and executes justice for the poor.
Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; 
the upright shall live in your presence,
(Psalm 140:12-13)

Zechariah 1:1-21
The prophet reports that rescue and restoration are coming. Their ancestors had deserved their punishment. It's time now for the people are to repent of those evil ways. Zechariah receives a series of visions. First, a man riding on a red horse; the message is that the Lord cares for Jerusalem and is angry with rich nations. The second vision, four horns and four blacksmiths, is a message that the nations that had destroyed Judah will now be struck down.

Troubling question: Does rescue have to be accompanied by retribution?

Revelation 12:1-17
Today's reading from Revelation also has visions. Conflict in heaven: Satan is defeated--thrown out of heaven and sent to earth.

Psalm 140:1-13
A plea for rescue.

Proverbs 30:17
....
Prayer for Today: O Lord, forgive us for the sins we have committed. Help us then to forgive others who have sinned against us. And, if we just cannot forgive yet,  at least direct us away from handling the revenge ourselves. Amen.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 20

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. 
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 
you discern my thoughts from far away.
(Psalm 139:1-2)

Haggai 1:1-2:23
Historical context: Judah's rebellion against the Babylonian empire resulted in an overwhelming defeat. The center of government, Jerusalem, fell, many people were taken into exile, and the Temple, the center of worship, was destroyed. Almost 50 years later, Persia defeated Babylon, and allowed the people to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (from commentary in The Jewish Study Bible.)

The word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai, "Tell the governor and the high priest and the remnant of the people that are left to remember the greatness of the Temple and to look at the rubble it was turned into."

Being faithful does not mean ignoring pain or defeat.

But, in their case, just looking and grieving was not all that the Lord had in mind for them. "Tell them: take courage, I am with you. I was with you when you came out of Egypt. I am with you now. Things are going to get better for you. Rebuild the temple."

No, the church is not a building, but gathering to worship is essential for the church. So, the building that houses that place is important. Many of the prophets had scorn for the temple and what went on there, but none of the prophets can be interpreted to mean that right worship is anything but right--and since the building is the place, then we who gather there should in all ways think and act as God's people.

Interesting sideline (also from JSB): The Lord promises that gold and silver from all over is going to come to Jerusalem. But, note that this treasure is not intended to enrich individuals; rather, it is the Lord's.

Revelation 11:1-19
The time of judgment.

Psalm 139:1-24
The Lord knows everything that we do, no matter where we are, and has always known all. No hiding is possible. That's the message of the first 18 verses; then, the psalm switches to a plea to God to destroy wicked enemies. The psalm ends with a prayer to God, "Search me, see if I have any wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Proverbs 30:15-16
The leech has two daughters; "Give, give," they cry. 
Three things are never satisfied: 
four never say, "Enough": 
Sheol, the barren womb, 
the earth ever thirsty for water, 
and the fire that never says, "Enough,"

Prayer for Today: O Lord, remind us today of all we have to be grateful for. And, O Lord, remind us of  how grateful people should behave. Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 19

On the day I called, you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.
(Psalm 138:3)

Zephaniah 1:1-3:20
When you're tired of hearing people mischaracterize the being whom they call the Old Testament God, remember what the OT actually does say about God, including these verses from the prophet Zephaniah
"Sing out loud. Rejoice and exult. The Lord has taken away the judgments against you. You don't need to keep being afraid."
They may not have deserved God's mercy and grace any more than we do, but God is merciful. They may have known disaster, as many of us have, too. Yet, they knew that God was still with them, still renewing them to face the future after the disaster has past.

Revelation 10:1-11

Psalm 138:1-8
Thanksgiving for support during troubles.

Proverbs 30:11-14
There are those who curse their fathers
and do not bless their mothers.
There are those who are pure in their own eyes 
yet are not cleansed of their filthiness.
There are those--how lofty are their eyes, 
how high their eyelids lift!
There are those whose teeth are swords, 
whose teeth are knives, 
to devour the poor from off the earth, 
the needy from among mortals.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, thank you for the times you have shown us mercy. Now, we ask that you guide us into ways that we won't have to pray for forgiveness. Remind us during our bad times that you are with us. Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 18

O give thanks to the God of heaven.
Your steadfast love endures forever.
(Psalm 136:26)

Habakkuk 1:1-3:19
"O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?"

The prophet laments that he sees destruction and violence all around him. The law is not protecting the righteous from the wicked. And he wants to know why the Lord isn't fixing things right now.

We continue to see injustice. We turn to God both because we think that God would not approve of anyone causing injustice and because we think that God has the power and the willingness to change the situation.

So, we have this reading from Habakkuk that gives us permission to complain, to cry out, and to question God, that gives us words that were said long ago for a specific situation but fit our own specific troubles in our lives.

Habakkuk was willing to wait for an answer and did receive one. The Lord told him to tell others that they, too, would have a vision, but that they too should be prepared to wait.

Good news or hard message? The proud do not see the need for God's help. The righteous, however, live their lives faithfully.

Revelation 9:1-21
Vision of more woes to come. Even after plagues, the humans just would not repent. They continued to care more about their own wealth than the welfare of others.

Psalm 137:1-9
Legitimate anguish. Troubling effect on the one doing the praying.

Proverbs 30: 10
Do not slander a servant to a master,
or the servant will curse you,
and you will be held guilty.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, when we look around us, we see violence and injustice. We can't bear the pain much longer. Fix things for us. Fix us. Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 17

O give thanks to the Lord.
You are good and 
your steadfast love endures forever.
(adapted from Psalm 136:1)

Nahum 1:1-3:19
A reassuring message: God has the will and ability to handle our enemies. And a troubling one: the enemy is depicted as a sinful woman whose punishment will be rape.

Revelation 8:1-13
Woe is coming.

Psalm 136:1-26
While I was distracted thinking about something else, God was over and over doing good things for me, providing protection, smoothing out my path, rescuing me. Over and over. God's steadfast love endures forever. My attention should occur at least sometimes.

Proverbs 30:7-9
Two things I ask of you;
do not deny them to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that I need, 
or I shall be full, and deny you, 
and say, "Who is the Lord?"
or I shall be poor, and steal, 
and profane the name of God.

Prayer for Today: Read Psalm 136 again and give thanks for the steadfast love that God has offered in your life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reflection on one-year-Bible readings for December 16

Your name, O Lord, endures forever; 
your renown, O Lord, throughout all ages.
(Psalm 135:13)

Micah 5:1-7:20
The Lord had accused Israel of inadequate appreciation. Israel doesn't waste any effort in trying to deny that it has not exhibited gratitude for the many gifts of rescue and protection that have been freely given.

Rather, in an implicit admission of that charge, Israel asks, "How should I respond? What is it that I need to give you that would demonstrate my sincere appreciation?"

Israel seems to think that God wants some commodities, "Would calves be sufficient? How about thousands of rams or ten-thousands rivers of oil? How about my firstborn--would that make you happy?"

The Lord responds, "It's not a stack of goods that I want from you. I want you, and I want you to be the kind of person you were intended to be."

The Lord lists three requirements:
do justice
love kindness
walk humbly with your God.
We are being asked to remember what God has done for us and to act as if we do. We are not only to make a gift to the church occasionally; we are to act in the world every day and in every way to insure that those around us--and even those farther away--will have lives that will provide them with some resources, too. We are to be nice to people in church and, more than that, to keep on being nice to people outside there, as well. We are to be active participants in a way of life that assures that people will be treated well. And, we are to continue to remember who is the source of all the good things that have happened to us, to remember that we did not do it alone.

Revelation 7:1-17
John's vision is of a multitude too great to count, a multitude made up of every nation..

Every?

Yes, every. Salvation doesn't depend on which borders surround our place of birth. Rather, salvation belongs to God on the throne and to the Lamb. Therefore, everyone joins in praise and worship.

How is your congregation getting this message of every nation?

One of the elders In this great multitude of creatures addressed John asking him "Who are these, robed in white? Where did they come from?"

John turned the question back to the questioner, "You're the one who knows."

The elder responded, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation ordeal."

They didn't escape ordeal--which would be my first choice, but they did get through it.

Using 6:9-11, white robes are given to those who are slaughtered on earth for the word of God. Thus, we read this to be a description of martyrs who are victorious in heaven who, like Jesus, have given up their lives on earth.

John's words are intended to reassure people undergoing persecution on earth. How helpful are they to those of us who really don't suffer much because of our allegiance to the Lord? What is the message for us?

In the vision, one of the elders addresses John directly, promising him that God will shelter the worshippers (13-15).
They will hunger no more,
and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
The Lamb (5:1-8) will be the shepherd.
The shepherd like the one described in Psalm 23. Also, read Ezekiel 34:11-30 in which God appoints a shepherd to oversee his sheep.

How far off is this promise? Do we have to die to collect on it? Or, is this vision of something that will happen to us on this earth--is happening to us on this earth?

Psalm 135:1-21
Recognition of what God has already done for us. Reminder that false gods can't deliver.

Proverbs 30:5-6 (adapted)
Every word of God proves true; 
You are a shield to those who take refuge in you.
Do not add to the words of God, 
or else God will rebuke you and you will be found a liar.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, guide us into ways that will encourage us and enable us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you, our God. Amen.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 15

Lift up your hands to the holy place, 
and bless the Lord.
(Psalm 134:2)

Micah 1:1-4:13
"Whom can you trust?" Micah asks. "Are they telling you the truth, or are they saying what they think you want to hear? Well, not you, necessarily. They're saying what they think that the ones in charge want to hear."

He's talking about the religious leaders of his time.

Similar complaints continue to be made about prophets and priests of every generation. We see compromises to what congregations want to hear. We see failures in their behavior.

It's impossible for me not to apply this criticism of ancient prophets to our current situation with its current prophets. Candidates for political office, their supporters, and the voters trying to choose among them need to remember Micah's words.

Revelation 6:1-17
The seven seals are opened one by one. A rescuer is coming. Death will take a fourth of the earth with sword, famine, and pestilence, and with wild animals. But, those who have been slaughtered for the word of God will cry out for vengeance. The rich and powerful will hide.

Psalm 134:1-3

Proverbs 30:1-4
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of the hand?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
What is the person's name?
And what is the name of the person's child?
Surely you know?

Prayer for Today: O Lord, make us worthy of your trust. Amen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 14

How very good and pleasant it is  
when kindred live together in unity!
(Psalm 133:1)

Jonah 1:1-4:11
Things are not going well in Nineveh, but Nineveh is a long way away. And foreigners live there. Foreigners who do not worship the Lord our God.

As far way as Nineveh is, God cares anyway.

The Lord calls Jonah: Go right now to Nineveh. Tell them how wicked they are.

Jonah responds immediately to God's call--by jumping on a ship traveling in the opposite direction.

The Lord does not give up. The ship is caught in a big storm. Everybody on board is praying--to many different gods. They have not had the opportunity to know about the Lord our God.

Jonah sleeps through the disturbance until the captain wakes him up. He demands of Jonah, "Start praying to your God. It might work." The crew has a different solution, "One of us on board must be to blame. Let's cast lots to see who is the cause of this storm."

The lot falls on Jonah. In response to their query, Jonah tells them about the God of heaven, sea, and dry land. And he tells them that he, Jonah, has been fleeing from the Lord.

After some deliberation, they finally consent to sacrifice Jonah in hopes that this act will pacify the Lord. They throw Jonah overboard, but God is not ready to give up on this reluctant prophet.

Questions to consider:
Have you slept through challenges?

Are there groups to whom you are unwilling to approach?

How far are you willing to go--literally or figuratively--to avoid answering the call of the Lord?

Considering how ready the sailors were to believe Jonah, why did it take a disaster for him to speak out? Would they have been ready to believe him without the emergency?

He really didn't want to go to Nineveh and waste his time warning them that the Lord had noticed how sinful they were. To avoid the task, he jumped on a ship. That plan did not work for Jonah, and he finally decided to obey the Lord.

He preached to them. They listened. They believed. They repented. God decided not to destroy them.

Jonah's response was shocked anger. "I knew this would happen. This is the way you have always been. You talk about sin and punishment, but what you do is forgive. Why did I have to go to all this trouble, this trip, this preaching? I give up."

He sat down under a bush, waiting to see what God really was going to do.

We can find ourselves in this story. We can see times that we have been Nineveh. Times that we can say we didn't know better and times when someone had instructed us forcefully enough that we lost the defense of ignorance. Times when we did repent for our past doings.

We can see times that we have been Jonah. God wanted us to do something, and we really didn't want to bother. Times when we have done what we thought God wanted and then we weren't satisfied with the results.

How hard is it for us to accept that someone else's sins can be forgiven?

Jonah was unhappy not only about the forgiveness but also because the forgiveness was of foreigners. We are still wrestling with this notion. Here are two opposing views:

Pro Immigration Amnesty http://www.usimmigrationsupport.org/amnesty.html
http://www.usimmigrationsupport.org/amnesty.html

Against Amnesty for Illegal Aliens http://www.theamericanresistance.com/issues/amnesty.html
http://www.theamericanresistance.com/issues/amnesty.html


Revelation 5:1-14
Look back at chapter 4. A door in heaven has opened so that John can see and hear.

In chapter 5, he sees one sitting on a throne with a scroll with seven seals. The lamb took the scroll.

Myriads and myriads and thousands and thousands of angels are singing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered...."

But not just angels are singing.

Every creature in heaven but not just in heaven. Every creature that lives on earth and under it and every creature that lives in the sea--they are all singing.

They are singing to the One on the throne and to the Lamb.

God created us all. The lamb was sacrificed for us all. We all respond with praise.

Off-on-a-tangent thought: I'm struck today by the reference to "the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb." Is this an allusion to the trinitarian God being both powerful and lamblike? (Another tangent: I said trinitarian and then wished I could find an explicit Spirit reference.)


Psalm 133:1-3

Proverbs 29: 26-27
Many seek the favor of a ruler, 
but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.
The unjust are an abomination to the righteous, 
but the upright are an abomination to the wicked.

Prayer for Today: Read Psalm 133 again and pray for the specific unity you need in your life today.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 13

I will not give sleep to my eyes 
or slumber to my eyelids, 
until I find a place for the Lord, 
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.
(Psalm 132:4-5)

Obadiah 1:1-21
Could anything be more scary than you'll get just what you deserve?

Revelation 4:1-11
Vision of the Lord God who is and is to come.

Psalm 132:1-18

Proverbs 29:24-25
To be a partner of a thief is to hate one's own life; 
one hears the victim's curse but discloses nothing.
The fear of others lays a snare,
but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.

Prayer for Today: Pray Revelation 4:11.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 12

O Israel, hope in the Lord 
from this time on and forevermore.
(Psalm 131:3)

Amos 7:1-9:15
The Lord God has shown Amos a vision of locusts and one of fire. "How can we survive?" Amos asks.

Then the Lord shows him a plumb line--a way of measuring if a wall has been built straight. It hasn't been.

This vision in some ways is more ominous than the ones of locusts and of fire. We plant crops but we can't keep the locusts away. Some steps for fire prevention are possible, but some fires can't be stopped.

But, we could have built a better wall.

How much of the pain we suffer is due to our not following God's way for us?

A priest complains to the king that he resents the message that the prophet Amos has been preaching. He tells Amos to go back home, that he doesn't belong in the temple.

Who does? Who should speak? What message? What is it that Amos has said that is so upsetting to those in authority?

Amos asserts that he speaks because the Lord has told him to. His speech has been full of radical social justice (oppressing the poor and crushing the needy (4:1); mistaking ceremony and offerings as a substitute for doing justice (5:21-27); and even more disturbing to us modern readers, living comfortable lives (6:4-8).

Do we get too comfortable in our lives to be able to hear God's call? Who gets our attention? Who does Amaziah think is his real boss? Who do we think is ours?

The prophet Amos outlines the indictment that the Lord God has brought against them: They have trampled on the poor, taken advantage of them, engaged in practices which increased bankruptcies.

How much attention do modern prophets give to financial abuses? Do we consider fraudulent practices sins? Do we believe that God gets particularly upset about financial mistreatment of the poor?

Amos reminds us the the Lord will not forget any of this.

Revelation 3:7-22
The congregation of Philadelphia has amassed little power but has demonstrated patient endurance of the trials they have faced. The angel's message: Hold on.

The congregation of Laodicea, on the other hand, has demonstrated mediocracy. Angel's message: Get earnest. Repent.

Psalm 131:1-3
Psalms 120 through 134 all begin with the superscription, "A song for ascents." According to the notes in the Jerusalem Study Bible, there are several theories about the designation "ascents," the English translation for "ma'alah." Among these theories are the early rabbinic tradition that deduced that there 15 of these psalms to match the 15 steps of the Temple (see Ezekiel 40:26, 31). Some modern scholars connect these psalms to the return from exile. Others have a allegorist understanding; that is, the ascent is of the individual to God.

Psalm 131 begin with an assertion of humility, "O Lord, my heart is not proud nor my look haughty; I do not aspire to great things or to what is beyond me." I'm pausing here to ponder how honestly a typical modern can pray this psalm. Do we think a heart should be proud? Is it hard for us to admit that some things are beyond us? How willing are we to limit our aspirations? Or, I'm wondering if we, on the other hand, can pray this psalm quite honestly. Our humility is part of what drives us to our places of worship. Of course, we can't do everything. Of course, we don't understand why some things turn out the way they do. But, I'm still having trouble with the not-occupying myself part. I, at least, if not we, do tend to worry about a lot of things.

Back to the psalm.

The words of the psalm links the one on the way to the Temple (or on the way home from exile, or the one seeking the presence of God) to a small child with its mother. From an assertion of humility to an example of it. It's hard to come up with a relationship in which one party provides for the needs of the other--even when that other isn't behaving particularly well at all--than the mother and her child.

Proverbs 29:23
A person's pride will bring humiliation, 
but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, sustain in the hard times. And, if the times get too easy, nudge us to remember you and what you intend for us. Amen.