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 are playing a key role in the fight against Ebola in West Africa on many fronts. United Methodist Communications formed its Information and Communications Technologies for Development team (ICT4D), whose work includes bringing technology solutions to the fight against poverty. When Ebola was first reported in Liberia this past summer, many residents dismissed it as political propaganda or superstition. The historic text message shown here from Liberian Bishop John Innis, the most effective means of mass communication in this situation, made real the threat. 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 United Methodist Communications at: www.umcom.org/global-communications.

November 30, 2014 -- First Sunday of Advent
Our Heavenly Father, we worship you. You are the God who does awesome deeds that we did not expect! You have come down from on high, sending your precious Son Jesus to make your presence tangible. You work wonders for those who wait for you. Thank you for sending your Spirit to work in our life. Give us patience as we wait for the revealing of your glorious kingdom. May the gifts and offerings we present today serve your purposes as we await your coming in glory. Come soon, Lord Jesus! Amen. (Isaiah 64)

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 28

Truly I love your commandments
more than gold, more than fine gold.
Truly I direct my steps by all your precepts;
I hate every false say.
(Psalm 119:127-128)

Daniel 5:1-31
King Belshazzar gave great festival for a thousand of his lords. They drank wine from vessels of gold and silver that had been looted from the temple in Jerusalem. As they drank, writing on the wall appeared. Nobody, even the enchanters, diviners, all the wise men, could interpret the message. When the king got very worried, the queen reminded him of the man who had interpreted his father's dream.

Daniel came when summoned, rejected lavish gifts, gave them a summary of the harshness of that former king that had led to his being deposed. Daniel said to King Belshazzar, "Your father lost his throne and his mind. Then, when he acknowledged the Most High God had sovereignty and chose who would be in charge. It's now time for you to humble yourself."

The writing on the wall said MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARES. Daniel interpreted these words: God has numbered the days of your kingdom; You have been found wanting; Your kingdom will be lost to the Medes and Persians.

Daniel received a gift from the king, who was that same night killed.

2 Peter 2:1-22
Not everyone who claims to be speaking the word of God is. He describes them as waterless springs driven by a storm. He warns that these false prophets speak bombastic nonsense, and behave licentiously.

Psalm 119:113-128
A caution not to be one of those false prophets that Peter's letter warned about.

Proverbs 28:19-20
Anyone who tills the land will have plenty of bread,
but one who follows worthless pursuits 
will have plenty of poverty.
The faithful will abound with blessings,
but one who is in a hurry to be rich will not go unpunished.

Prayer for Today: Pray today's verses from Psalm 119.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 27

How sweet are your words to my taste, 
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
(Psalm 119:103)

Daniel 4:1-37
Another dream. Another interpretation: The king would be punished, but after atonement, would be reinstated.  When things turned out the way Daniel had foretold, the king praised God.

2 Peter 1:1-21
Necessary characteristics of Christians: goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, love.

Psalm 119:97-112
This portion of Psalm 119 helps us to put into words how we can perceive God's instructions as a blessing to us--rather than an onerous burden. An understanding of this world that God has created, we help us know we may best live in it. In the words of the psalm, God's law makes us wise.

And this wisdom that we have learned affects the way we live, the choices we make.

And we will be glad that we are following God's intentions for us:
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore, I hate every false way.
Proverbs 28:17-18
If someone is burdened with the blood of another, 
let that killer be a fugitive until death;
let no one offer assistance.
One who walks in integrity will be safe, 
but whoever follows crooked ways will fall into the Pit.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, keep us mindful of your call for us act out in our lives the faith we have been taught, to show your love in my world. Amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 26

My eyes fail with watching for your promise; 
I ask, "When will you comfort me?"
(Psalm 119:82)

Daniel 2:24-3:30
None of the king's wise men could interpret his dream, but Daniel could. He relayed to the king the interpretation of his dream that God had revealed to him. Daniel told him,, "You will be powerful, the head of gold, but then a series of inferior kingdoms will overcome. Your kingdom will be divided then destroyed." The king was delighted. Why was he?

Daniel and his three friends were given promotions. But, when they refused to worship the golden statue that the king had erected, he had them thrown into a furnace. His anger turned to amazement when they came through the ordeal unscathed. He decreed that anyone who blasphemed their God would be destroyed.

The powerful can do a lot of harm, but God can foil their efforts. [On the other hand, God's people may be subjected to suffering. See today's reading from 1 Peter 4:12-19].

1 Peter 4:7-5:14
Not everyone will appreciate your being a Christian. Sometimes, the things you do because you are a Christian will irritate people a lot. For example, in a country that is not friendly with the U.S., Christian evangelism may be seen as an attempt undermining that country. But, besides trying to get religious people to change their religion to ours, what do Christians do that would be upsetting?

What are Christians supposed to do to be Christians? Love one another. Feed the poor. Care for the helpless. Visit prisoners. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Forgive. Pray. You can think of others.

Some groups don't like the idea of feeding the poor or making sure old people will be able to afford health care twenty years from now.

These long-ago Christians were told to humble themselves. I'm wondering how many of us Christians of today think we are still supposed to be humble. Is humble something to be desired? accepted? Wouldn't we rather have that exaltation now rather than some time in the future?

Psalm 119:81--96

Proverbs 28:15-16
Like a roaring lion or a charging bear 
is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
A ruler who lacks understanding
is a cruel oppressor;
but one who hates unjust gain
will enjoy a long life.

Prayer for Today: Kindle within us love for each other. Open us to ways to help each other. Remind of your grace and help us to get past the shortcomings of others. Lead us through our times of pain into renewed joy. Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 25

Your hands have made and fashioned me;
give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
(Psalm 119:73)

Daniel 1:1-2:23
The Lord has allowed Babylon to take over Judah. In addition to temple treasures, four young men of noble families are take to the King Nebuchadnezzar's court in Babylon. They are to be taught the ways and language of this new home in order that they can serve in the palace. One of them, Daniel, balks at the routine. His religious scruples will not allow him to eat the palace food or drink the wine.

Less dramatically than his situation of losing a war and being kidnapped, we may find ourselves in a job situation that has some requirements that don't match well with our religious training. Recurring question arises: Who's the boss of me?

In Daniel's case, they let him and the three other captives with him to stick to a vegetarian diet with water to drink. The results were good. They were stronger and smarter than the others in the court.

The king has a dream that none of the court magicians, enchanters, or sorcerers can interpret. He gives them this test, "Tell me what was in my dream so I can know that you really can interpret it." Enraged when they couldn't do it, he threatened to have the all executed.

God revealed the dream to Daniel, for which he gave thanks.

1 Peter 3:8-4:6
This letter is advising new Christians how to react when non-Christians criticize them. The essence of the advice is for them not to worry about it but be ready to answer any questions. And if they do respond to the attacks, they are to do so with gentleness and reverence.

Do we find this advice helpful to our modern congregations? What are the criticisms that onlookers make against the church (or churches) today? Paul said for Christians not to fear what their critics fear. What do our critics fear? What are we afraid of? How do we respond to criticisms? What if our congregation is not criticized? Does that mean outsiders think we are doing everything right? Or, does it mean that we are doing anything that anybody even notices?

When writing to these Christians who were suffering harassment, he reminds them that Christ also had suffered but had continued to evangelize.

He then uses an example whose meaning is still being debated--comparing the rescue from the flood with rescue from sin by baptism. God waited patiently while Noah built the ark that would save eight persons. Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Rather than trying to be the person that will finally settle the arguments over this flood/baptism tie, I'm instead going to return to what seems to be the main purpose--to speak to Christians who are suffering unjustly. Here's what Beverly Gaventa says in Texts for Preaching:
In the face of any suffering, whether caused by human inhumanity, by disease, or by nature, the available answers always fall short. What Christians can assert with 1 Peter, as with Christians of every time and place, is that God stands with those who suffer and that God ultimately triumphs over that suffering.
"Christ suffered for sins once for all--my sins, their sins. The righteous suffer for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God" (verse 18).

How does your congregation live differently from the folks around you that are not part of any faith community? What suffering by the righteous have you witnessed? What suffering was done for the unrighteous? Why am I equating church membership with righteousness, anyway?

"Christ was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" (verse 18). The physical death of Jesus was not the end of him or his work. Rather, his resurrection demonstrated God's purpose and power to save.(thanks to Allen & Williamson, once again.)

"Christ suffered for the righteous and the unrighteous. He made a proclamation to those who in former times did not obey." (verse 19). God's purpose in Christ is not restricted to Christians alone. God wants to save sinners who didn't pay attention earlier.

What do we do with this idea? Are we to believe--and behave as if we believed--that just as God of Israel wanted to save non-Jewish Gentiles, that this God wants to save non-Christians? Again, why am I equating righteousness with belonging to the same faith that I do?

"Our baptism is a reminder of the ark," (verse 20-21). Many years at Lent, I read Bread and Wine, Plough Press. Here is what Will Willimon has to say about baptism:
His message is not the simple one of the Baptist, "Be clean." Jesus' word is more painful--"Be killed." The washing of this prophetic baptism is not cheap....That day at the Jordan, knee deep in cold water, with old John drenching him, the Anointed One began his journey down the via crusis. His baptism intimated where he would finally end. His whole life was caught up in this single sign. Our baptism does the same.
The chief biblical analogy for baptism is not the water that washes but the flood that drowns. Discipleship is more than turning over a new leaf. It is more fitful and disorderly than gradual moral formation. Nothing less than death, often painful, lifelong death will do.

Psalm 119:65-80

Proverbs 28:14
Happy is the one who is never without fear, 
but one who is hard-hearted will fall into calamity.

Prayer for Today: Use the reading from Psalms to guide you in a prayer.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 24

This is my comfort in my distress, 
that your promise gives me life.
(Psalm 119:50)

Ezekiel 47:1-48:35
When they return from exile, the land is to be divided equally.

1 Peter 2:11-3:7
This letter gives instruction to people who were being treated unjustly, specifically including household slaves, a reminder that  people even at the lowest ranks of society were included in the Christian community from the beginning, a note to us that they still are.

The message is to those who suffer,  a group we still have among us.
What about Christianity causes someone to suffer unjustly?
How does doing something right cause someone to suffer?
Does any suffering that we do because we are Christians really evoke the image of Christ's suffering?

For those of us who find the membership in a Christian church full of rewards rather than threats of harm, is there something that we are neglecting? Are we not doing something that God would approve of?

I hope I can remember this passage, 2:22-25, the next time someone cuts me off in traffic or gets ahead of me in line. When Christ was abused--and, in his case unlike mine, really abused, he responded not with threats or revenge but entrusting himself to God.

In what way can we live for righteousness? How would our lives change if we began to understand that revenge was sinful and that we don't have to practice that particular sin anymore?

Peter says "For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd...." Isn't it about time for us to join that flock?

Psalm 119:49-64

Proverbs 28:12-13
When the righteous triumph
there is great glory,
but when the wicked prevail, 
people go into hiding.
No one who conceals transgressions will prosper,
but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, unify us, kindle within us sympathy and love for each other. Guide us into forgiveness and away from retribution. Amen.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for November 23

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
(Psalm 119:34)

Ezekiel 45:13-46:24
Rules for the reclaimed homeland: No more violence and oppression. Maintain honest business dealings. Make religious offerings. Take time for celebrations.

1 Peter 1:13-2:10
This letter is written to people who live far away from the true home, "Live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You're one of us now. You've been rescued from the futile ways that your ancestors lived. Christ has ransomed you."

How do we read the letter today? What does it say to our lives?

First, I'm struck by the term "exile." I hear people refer to America as a Christian country. Yet, I read polls that indicate that when asked what their religion is, the largest number report "none." Furthermore, as I read the morning paper or listen to conversations, I don't always hear Christian principles discussed. Have I, like these ancient people, inherited futile ways? Worse, am I passing on futile ways to the generations that follow me?

What do I have faith in? What are my hopes set on?

Peter is writing to the new converts: The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope. Rejoice because you are also included.

He outlines the appropriate response to the news of salvation:
Consider what's important.
Consider what lasts.
How much of Peter's instruction is palatable to us today? Do any congregations exhibit the kind of love that he is talking about?

Peter says to them--and through them, to us, "Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house."

These words remind me today that the early Christians had little interest in building those big buildings on the corner that we now think of as defining church. We say "A church is not a building" a lot, but I'm not sure that we really get it. This passage helps me.

First, I'm struck by the metaphor of "stones" for individuals. A stone is strong and durable, but it takes a lot of stones to make anything useful. One stone looks different from another. To make something, we need to find stones that fit together, that fill in the gaps of the ones next to it. And, if a stone cracks or falls out, another stone can be inserted. Moreover, when the needs for that building exceed its current capacity, the builder can add on to it. And that add-on may look entirely different from the original structure.

After all, our spiritual houses are all founded on the same cornerstone.

Even though I am a Methodist, thus an Arminian, I can readily see how others could find instruction from passages like this that say "as they were destined to do" and "you are a chosen race."

Rather than argue the differences, today I am more interested in that spiritual building that we who are Arminian and we who are Calvinist comprise. We share a precious cornerstone.

We choose to believe or believe because we are chosen, but we share that cornerstone.

And chosen and believing, we share a function: to proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called us out of darkness into the marvelous light.

Peter was telling his listeners that they are part of God's family. Extending his message to our time, we can recognize that Christianity is inclusive of people whose backgrounds, whose behavior, whose appearance may be very different from our current congregation. And the message is still that they, like us, have received mercy.

Psalm 119:33-48
If you see any of these signs, please pay attention.

Warning signs are intended to help us. So, are God's statutes.

Proverbs 28:11
The rich is wise in self-esteem,
but an intelligent poor person sees through the pose.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we give you thanks for including us in your family. Open us now to reach out to others, even those who look or act differently from what we are used to. Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for November 22

Open my eyes so that I might behold
wondrous things out of your law.
(Psalm 119:18)

Ezekiel 44:1-45:12
Troubling message: Not all will be welcome.

1 Peter 1:1-12
This letter was to Christian congregations in what we now call Turkey, as the Common English Bible puts it," to God's chosen strangers in the world of the diapora."

He reminds them of what they already have--a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He offers them reassurances that God will continue to protect them.

But, as we read these reminders and reassurances, we also realize the reason Peter offered them--They were undergoing suffering because of their faith.

Peter's explanation for the suffering is that it is necessary so that their faith may be found genuine. Suffering helps us get rid of the unnecessary and focus on the important. For example,
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight--indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness (Malachi 3:1-3).
Many Christians during Lent do a kind of purification, choosing to eliminate certain foods or distractions from their lives so that they can focus more on what is really important. I'm wondering whether we have picked those habits back up when Lent is over or whether we have now become a new kind of Christian.

Peter says to them to rejoice. Their new faith that has come through the period of testing, will be genuine and will result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Reading these words from Peter (or as my Bible commentaries lead me to believe, someone else for whom the early church put Peter's name on his letters), I'm wondering how applicable they are for me. I know that in some parts of the world that Christians are under attack. But where I live, they really aren't. What is it that I have to give up in the world that I live because I am a Christian? Am I suffering because of it?

How genuine is my faith? How much of my life, how many of my decisions are based on example of Jesus Christ?

Can I discern what is important? Can I tell the difference between the gold and what should be refined away?

Psalm 119:17-32

Proverbs 28:8-10
One who augments wealth by exorbitant interest
gathers it for another who is kind to the poor.
When one will not listen to the law,
even one's prayers are an abomination.
Those who mislead the upright into evil ways
will fall into pits of their own making,
but the blameless will have a goodly inheritance.

Prayer for today: O Lord, keep our faith strong as we pass through life's difficulties. Focus us on what is important to you. Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 21

Blessed are you, O Lord; 
teach me your statutes.
(Psalm 119:12)

Ezekiel 42:1-43:27
A vision of the temple, restored and filled with the glory of the Lord. Is the temple being described to be a physical structure or is it metaphorical? Verses 10-12 in chapter 43 the description of the temple, now destroyed but to be rebuilt, is tied together of the with recognition of their sins and their need to observe and follow God's law and ordinances.

James 5:1-20
James warns the rich that their riches won't protect them and that they should have paid higher wages to their employees.

James reminds us that Christians know both the bad and good of life. "When you are suffering," he says, "then pray." We are not alone. We are not with help. And he tells us, "When you are cheerful, sing songs of praise." Again, we are not alone, and we need to remember with gratitude the help we've received that led to our cheerfulness.

Also, James reminds us that being a Christian is more than that me-and-Jesus thing. He says to confess our sins to each other. To each other?

And not just pray for my healing, my gratitude, my sins, but also I'm to pray for yours.

James uses the Scripture to bolster his teaching: Remember Elijah.

Psalm 119:1-16
A way that Christians have used to express disdain for Jews--and Protestants for Catholics--is to say that they are obsessed with the law. Walter Breuggemann reminds us that Torah piety is a living-out of the realization that they have been disobedient but were rescued by the Lord anyway. Thus, their commitment to doing what God wanted them to do was driven not by guilt, fear, or coercion, but by joy, comfort, and well-being (Theology of the Old Testament).

Psalm 119 demonstrates this praise of the law and the law-giver.

Brueggemann again, but this time in the commentary, Texts for Preaching, points out the three steps in this section of Psalm 119: Step 1, verses 1-3, We have seen destruction and disappointment. The Lord has shown us how we can attain happiness. Step 2, But, just have been told what to do is not enough. We need continued support--verse 4 shifts to a prayer to the Lord. The third step, verses 5-8, the psalmist expresses the resolve to keep Torah and to establish God's instruction as the pole around which life revolves...and the joy to be found in that commitment.... At the same time that the psalmist gives voice to this resolve, however, he or she confesses the power of human ignorance and weakness. In order to keep Torah, it must first be learned (v. 7b). And even when God's instruction has been learned, faithfulness to it is often interrupted by human weakness and sin, so that the petition in v. 5 becomes a necessary one for the poet to raise.

Proverbs 28:6-7
Better to be poor and walk in integrity 
than to be crooked in one's ways though rich.
Those who keep the law are wise children, 
but companions of gluttons shame their parents.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 119:12-16.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for November 20

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
(Psalm 118:19)

Ezekiel 40:28-41:26
The temple will be rebuilt.

James 4:1-17
"Why can't we just get along?" someone asked.

Well, why can't we?

James seems to be telling me that I'm not going to be able to get along with anybody as long as I'm worried about my own self too much.

Give thought to what God wants.

Is there any hope for me?

James says "Of course. Just give up what the devil wants and start wanting what God wants."

Can it be as simple as James makes it out to be: Resist the devil and he's beaten. Draw near to God and God's with you.

James writes of the importance of wisdom and also of the divergent outcomes of being wise and being unwise. He says that it's pretty obvious if somebody is wise. If you're envious or selfishly ambitious, you're not.

Moreover, your envy and selfishness harms everybody. (I'm wondering if envious and selfish people worry about this.)

How God wants us to be, according to James, is peaceful, merciful, impartial, and not hypocritical. Perhaps, if I would try to attain and act out those characteristics, then I wouldn't be envious or selfish. Or, if I weren't so envious and selfish, then I would find it easier to practice peace, mercy, and impartiality, rather than hypocrisy.

When you are aware of bad things happening in the congregation, what is your responsibility? Please note that I'm not talking about the many times that we don't agree with someone or the times when we don't get our way.

Psalm 118:19-29
I often used to begin the worship service by quoting the first part of 24, "This is the day the Lord has made," and the congregation would immediately respond, "let us rejoice and be glad in it."

The "us" is important. Everyone in that congregation had known some kind of pain or rejection. Yet, they could rejoice.

We wouldn't need victory if we didn't already know rejection, but our lives have both. We don't have to pretend that our lives haven't had and don't have grave difficulties. But, we can remember and be thankful what the Lord has done and continues to do for us. And,  even in that rejoicing over what had been overcome, we still need the strength and support that God gives us. This is the day. Every day is this day.

Proverbs 28:3-5
A ruler who oppresses the poor
is a beating rain that leaves no food.
Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
but those who keep the law struggle against them.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, forgive us for those times that we have been envious or selfish or hypocritical. Guide us into ways of peace, into ways of accepting others, into ways of helping people in difficulty. Amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for November 19

O give thanks to the Lord.
You are good; 
your steadfast love endures forever!
(adapted from Psalm 118:1)

Ezekiel 39:1-40:27
Restoration. They had deserved their losses, but the Lord will take them back.

James 2:18-3:18
One of my new favorite books is The Twible, in which Jana Riess presesents all the chapters in the Bible in 140 characters or less. For example, she sums of James 2:
EPIC FAIL RELIGION: when a cold, hungry guy hears a Christian say, "Stay warm and be fed, pal!" while passing him by.
James asked, What is the conflict among you? If he were writing to Americans right now, we could say that it is this recent political season  exposed quite a bit of conflict. Here's a suggestion of how we could be more Jamesian when we express a political opinion (by Ginger on her blog RambleRamble):

But, of course, we don't restrict our trash talk to discussing politicians. We may also judge the people we are around us. James say to stop it now.

Psalm 118:1-18
"The Lord is my strength and might; he has become my salvation." We acclaim the victory, yes, but we also recognize what impact that victory has on us--how we are to live now.

"I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord." We wouldn't need victory if we didn't already know rejection, but our lives have both.We don't have to pretend that our lives haven't had and don't have grave difficulties. But, we can remember and be thankful what the Lord has done and continues to do for us.

Proverbs 28:2
When a land rebels,
it has many rulers;
but with an intelligent ruler
there is lasting order.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we give you thanks for what you have done for us and continue to do. Help us now to live the lives that show your love. Amen.