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 churches that receive the “One Great Hour of Sharing” offering this year, we will support the disaster-response arm of the church, the United Methodist Committee on Relief or UMCOR. UMCOR is ready to respond on our behalf within minutes of a disaster occurring, and their specialty is long-term recovery. UMCOR is not always the first organization on the scene, but they are often the last ones to leave. This ministry happens, thanks to the way the people of The United Methodist Church live and give connectionally. I invite you to give generously as we worship God through sharing our gifts, tithes, and offerings.

Learn more about UMCOR at www.umcor.org. Find resources for the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering at www.umcgiving.org.

March 8, 2015 – Third Sunday in Lent
Holy God, Creator and Redeemer, you have commanded us to put no other gods before you. Often, our lives have demonstrated that we have done the opposite. We worship “gods” of power, wealth, beauty, popularity and self-gratification, to name only a few. As we give our gifts to you, we proclaim you as the one and only God of love, deserving of our dedication and praise. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.(Exodus 20:1-17)

March Offertory Prayers were written by the Rev. Dr. Ken Sloane, Director of Stewardship & Connectional Ministries at Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Thou Shalt Not, a Reflection on Exodus 20:12-17

Imagine being in that group of people that first heard these commandments. In Egypt, everybody knew what they were supposed to do and not do because the pharaoh and his minions were in charge. Now these former slaves were free of Egypt and were on their way to the land promised to them by the Lord.   

God provides them with a guide to forming a new nation, one in which they can prosper, one in which they care for the other, one in which they recognize that those two things are interdependent.

Verses 12-17 deal specifically with interpersonal behavior, within the family and within the community. Your neighbors are your partners not sources to be exploited.

Reading back through this list of commandments, I'll quote from Preaching the Old Testament, by Allen & Williamson:
Eight of the ten words begin: "you shall not." People often speak of negative commandments as off-putting "do nots" that constrict life....But that misconstrues the negative instructions in the Torah. First, we can keep all of them while taking a nap. ...Second, negative mitzvoth deal with the parameters of behavior. They do not specify what we should do, simply what we should not do. They name the actions that cancel all possibility of living with others a life of well-being (which can only be lived with others.)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

More than Piety is Required, a Reflection on Exodus 20:7-11

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. It seems to me that I was taught not to use certain curse words because they would have been a violation of this command. Later, I was taught that this command deals with more than cussing. We are making a wrongful use of the name of the Lord our God whenever we invoke that name to get our own way. Allen & Williamson, in Preaching the Old Testament, interpret this commandment, "Empty talk, cheap grace, easy religion, self-interest parading as piety: the church should speak against all wrongful use of the name of God."

Remember the Sabbath day,  and keep it holy.  I remember the blue laws, the prohibitions against stores being open on Sunday or, in Mississippi at least, not being able to buy beer or liquor, even in a restaurant. Walter Brueggemann, in Texts for Preaching B, takes a wider view of this command. He reminds us that the original audience for these commands was a group of escaped slaves who had been made quite familiar with forced work. What the emperor wanted was what was important to their overseers. We may not be in slave gangs with an emperor's employee telling us what to do and to keep doing it. But, we still need to consider whose will is directing our actions. As Brueggemann puts it:

In a consumer economy with the vicious cycles of consumption as well as of production. In this "rest," which is ordained into the very fabric of creation, we recover our sense of creatureliness and resist the pressure to be frantic consumers who find our joy and destiny in commodities.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Toward Freedom, a Reflection on Exodus 20:1-6

God had said to those people released from slavery but still living in the wilderness, "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol."

Was it easier for them to focus than it is for any of us? How free are we? Do we consider our surroundings more like a promised land or more like the wilderness?

"No other gods. Don't make an idol." That's the first commandment, the starting place, the first step in preparing to live the new life--or to live life in the new way.

What a god is--the most important factor that we base a decision on. Our god can be our physical safety (or merely comfort), or our financial security, or our need to feel superior, or so on. What influences what we do every day? What is important to us? Whatever that is, that is the idol we have made for ourselves.

Let us repent.

Lectio Divina: Exodus 20:1-4

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Remembering and Believing, Reflection on John 2:17-22

When they saw him driving out the money changers and heard him castigating them, the disciples remembered the line from the Psalms, "Zeal for your house will consume me." Jesus was willing to challenge those who were using for their own benefit what was to be a place to worship. 

Jesus said, "If you destroy this temple, in three days I will raise it up."

By the time that John's gospel was written, this temple had been destroyed by the Romans in retribution for a Jewish insurrection.

Christians began to understand Jesus' words as telling them that he, his living presence, would be the temple for them.

Lectio Divina: John 2:22

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cleansing the Temple, Reflection on John 2:13-16

"The Passover of the Jews was near," John tells us, "and Jesus went up to Jerusalem." The first passover was celebrated when they were still in Egypt, as they gave thanks for the sparing of their own first sons and for the opportunity finally to escape slavery to the powerful Egypt (Exodus 12:1-20). They were instructed to continue to keep passover as a festival, holy convocation, a time of making offerings to the Lord (Numbers 28:16-25).

In Jesus' time, the Passover offerings were brought to the temple in Jerusalem. How jarring it must have been to have a holy day set aside to be grateful for liberation and to come to an occupied city to express their gratitude. Allen & Williamson, their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, write:
Anyone walking to Jerusalem from Bethany or Bethphage, crossing the Mount of Olives and looking at the temple from across the Kidron valley, would have seen the Fortress Antonia, home to the Roman Tenth Legion, standing next to the temple and Roman soldiers posted on the parapets of the fort and on top of the wall surrounding the temple complex. ...The people were in exile in the land of promise.
We still wrestle, or maybe we don't, with the need to recognize our gratitude to God and to give allegiance to the nation that governs our lives.

In the synoptic gospels, Jesus accuses the sellers of turning the house of prayer into a den on robbers, combining references from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. In John's gospel, Jesus tells the ones selling the doves to stop making his Father's house a marketplace. This may be an allusion to Zachariah's prophecy of the final victory, a time when "there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day" (Zechariah 14:1-21).

We may be more comfortable with the ban on robbers than the ban on marketplace. Churches need to collect money for Sunday School material, youth trips, and meals. Some congregations interpret this rule that all commercial transactions must be kept out of the sanctuary but are allowed in hallways and vestibules.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 51:9-13

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Re-Membering, Reflection on Romans 4:23-25

As I read this passage, I thought about a line from Faulkner that went something like this, "He brought the old man with him every time he came." The old man in Faulkner's tale had been dead a generation or so, but his descendants had not even started to let him go. Well, by the time that Paul was writing to the Romans, Abraham had been dead a long time, but his story still was affecting those who had been told about it.

Paul reminded them, "The words--the pronouncement of acceptance of the trusting--were written not just for Abraham. They were written for all believers.

We read the stories in Scriptures not merely for glimpses into history but also to relive those encounters in our own lives, to glimpse how God continues to work in us humans.

Paul expressed the insight that people who were not Jews could be Christians. Yet, the story of Abraham was also theirs.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 22:26-27

Saturday, February 28, 2015

From Hopelessness to Hope, Reflection on Romans 4:18-22

Yes, God chooses us. Yes, God chooses a lot of unlikely people. Abraham and Sarah, for example. They were old, really old--100 and 90--when God told them that they were going to have multitudes of descendants. 

But, notice that Abraham and Sarah didn't just sit idly by waiting for the future to fall on them. Because of their faith, they were able to respond rightfully.

These great ancestors of ours lived in a way that demonstrated that they really believed that God delivers on promises.

(Caveat: those of you who have read ahead know that Abraham and Sarah sometimes slipped up.)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Who gets to join us? Reflection on Romans 4:13-17


Much of Paul's writing is informed by his need to address an important concern on the Christian church of his time: Can a non-Jew become a Christian? Here, in this letter to the Romans, he reminds them that, after all, Abraham himself was not Jewish at the time that God chose him to be our great ancestor. Paul makes an explicit distinction between Abraham's faith and someone's following religious instruction.


The modern Christian church, as has the church throughout history, continues to wrestle with the question of who is eligible to be included in our faith community.

Who is to be included? "We are," Paul says to his fellows Jews, "because we are descendants of Abraham and God promised inclusion to all of his descendants."

Then Paul adds, "But, remember this: God chose Abraham before the world had even heard of Moses. Abraham couldn't follow the law of Moses before Moses brought it down from the mountain. God's choice was not made because Abraham followed the Jewish law, and it still isn't."

God's promise rests on grace.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 22:23-24

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Going Public, Going Wide, Reflection on Psalm 22:23-31

Psalm 22 begins in despair, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It lifts up complaints of mistreatment and mockery and threats. And, intertwined with these laments, are words of remembrance of what God has done and a call to God to do more.

Verse 22 begins with "Save me" but then shifts to "You have rescued me."

How do rescued people respond?

Thank God and make those thanks public. Give thanks in the middle of the congregation.

Those people present there at that place will hear of God's work. And not only them. All of the families of the earth will know what God has done and what God can do. People living now and people to come.

Whose praise of the Lord have you heard? Who has heard your praise of the Lord?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 22:23-27

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Covenant with Abraham and Sarah and their descendants, Reflection on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

This passage parallels last week's reading from Genesis. God chooses to make an everlasting covenant with specific individuals. Yet, this covenant extends to their descendants. The Lord reminds Abram (soon to be Abraham) that those descendants include a multitude of nations.

God further says to (now) Abraham, "These descendants are coming to come through your wife Sarah."

Remember these are very old people.

We may not be sure why Abraham and Sarah were chosen, but they were.

How difficult is it for Christians to accept and understand that Jews and Muslims are fellow descendants from Abraham?

How easy is it for us to give up on promises because they have been long deferred?

How are we responding to God's gift of covenant; are we blameless?

Lectio Divina: I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you (Genesis 17:7).