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, such as our Archives and History Center on the campus of Drew University in Madison, NJ. Here, a small group of dedicated archivists preserve the history and artifacts that keep us connected to our past – what they call “the ministry of memories.” By preserving historical photographs, sound recordings, published documents in digital formats, as well as treasures such as the Bible used by Francis Asbury or the journals and handwritten notes of John Wesley, scholars of today can be reconnected with our beginnings when we were more of a movement than an institution. Many in the church hope that this Holy Spirit movement can be recovered for a new generation, and those hopes are made possible through the work of our Commission on Archives and History. 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 the General Commission on Archives and History at http://www.gcah.org

April 26, 2015 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
O Lord, you are the good shepherd! Your son Jesus laid down his life for all who belong to you. Thank you for nurturing our life and sustaining our faith. In gratitude, we want to help others to know your love. Open our ears to listen to your voice. Open our eyes to see our brothers and sisters in need as sheep of your flock. May our tithes and offerings give voice to Christ's love for all people, especially those who have gone astray. Amen. (John 10:11-18)

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

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Love One Another, a Reflection on 1 Peter 1:22-23

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.
As Beverly Gaventa puts it in Texts for Preaching, a new life and a new way of living it are required:
While this new birth is intensely personal, in that it involves individual human beings who find their lives radically changed by the gospel, it also involves an intensely social dimension. Those who experience the new birth belong to one another in a profound and unrelenting way. These newborns are not members of disparate family units, each of which may take its own infant and go home. They belong to one another, as surely as they belong to the God who granted them this new birth.
How much of Peter's instruction is palatable to us today? Do any congregations exhibit the kind of love that he is talking about?

Not included in the lectionary, but read it anyway, is his quotation from Isaiah:
All human life on the earth is like grass,
and all human glory is like a flower in a field.
The grass dries up and its flower falls off
but the word of the Lord endures forever 
(CEB).

Saturday, April 25, 2015

New Way, a Reflection on 1 Peter 1:17-21

This letter was written originally to Gentile converts. "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?

Friday, April 24, 2015

It's time to move, Reflection on Psalm 23

Gary Sims, when he used to write the Reflections each week for First United Methodist, Albuquerque, asked these questions:
Do you dwell in the house of the Lord?
If not, when are you planning to move in?
Will it be after you take care of a few things in your life?
Do you have an agenda or plan that you want to follow before turning your life over to God?
Are you putting God's goodness and mercy on hold?
Are you counting your blessings to see if your cup is overflowing?
Are you looking for a bigger cup?
Do you see that now is the time to move into God's house so that these promises of life can begin?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

By Whose Authority? a Reflection on Acts 4:5-12

Peter, a religious man, has been acting on his religious training and experience, is now called to account by religious authorities.

"Who gave you the authority to do this?"

Holly Hearon  asks:
When have you experienced a life-giving event in your life that has been viewed with suspicion by others? When have you found yourself suspicious of what someone else has identified as a life-giving event? What criteria should be used in assessing such moments?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shepherd in the Scriptures, a Reflection on John 10:14-15

To help us understand the term "shepherd" and its meaning to the first hearers of John's gospel, here are  a couple references to the term from the Old Testament."

Sometimes, "shepherd" refers to God. For example,
He blessed Joseph, and said, "The God before whom my ancestors Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day (Genesis 48:15).
Sometimes, "shepherd" refers to an employee of God:
Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. The archers fiercely attacked him; they shot at him and pressed him hard. Yet his bow remained taut, and his arms were made agile by the hands of the mighty one of Jacob, by the name of the shepherd, the rock of Israel, by the God of your father, who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above. Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb (Genesis 49:22-25).
Other references include Genesis 29:9; Numbers 27:17; 1 Samuel 17:15; Isaiah 13:14. New Testament references include Matthew 2:6; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:20; and Revelation 7:17. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Caring for the sheep, Reflection on John 10:11-13

Important distinction: attributes of the good shepherd with that of the hired hand. A good shepherd is willing to give up his own life to protect the sheep in his care. A hired man is willing to give up the sheep in order to protect himself.

Sometimes we can read these words as reassuring. When I am in trouble, Christ was protect me. Surely, the first Christian communities would have needed such reassurance.

But, we can also read them as prescriptive. We who are the body of Christ, we who are the church, have in our care many who need protection. Or, we should have them in our care.

Look around you. How are the sheep doing in your town? When trouble comes to them, do you run toward them or away?

Another distinction--that may not be important: sheep in my fold and sheep that do not belong to my fold. Who are the other sheep? Do you consider them to be the responsibility of your congregation?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Delayed Recognition, a reflection on Luke 24:13-35

Not everyone catches on right away. Jesus was right there with them. And they didn't recognize him. They knew about the resurrection. They were even surprised that their travel companion didn't seem to.

They may not have been able to recognize Jesus right away, but they are ready to talk about him to strangers who show interest.

They tell of what they had been expecting and what they had been told.

They tell this stranger about Jesus, how he was a prophet and the one who had been sent to redeem them; yet he had been handed over by the religious authorities to the Romans who had consequently condemned him to death and crucified him.

The story got stranger. Some of the women in their group had told them that when they had gone to visit his tomb, a vision of angels had said he was still alive. Hearing this, some in the group went to the tomb and confirmed that the body was missing, but they didn't see Jesus.

And, on the road to Damascus, they don't recognize him yet.

Although the one that they had hoped would rescue them had himself been executed, although they had not been able to see for themselves the angels that some of the women had said had told them that he was not alive, they still allow a stranger to walk along with them, to talk with them. They even listen to a sermon from him. Then, since the day is almost over, they invite him to stay with them.

Loss. Disappointment. Frustration. Yet, an offer of hospitality.

And at the table, when he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it with them, they recognized him.

Loss, disappointment, and frustration did not end with those first Christians.

And, as we celebrate Holy Communion, we can recognize him.

As soon as they recognize him, they can understand something that has already happened, something that they hadn't noticed at the time but now makes sense to them--"Were not our hearts burning within while he was talking to us about the Bible?"

It's night, they've had a long walk, it's after supper, and they decide to go back to Jerusalem right then, not the next day.

The recognition of the Lord has to be shared, and shared immediately.

In Jerusalem, they learned that the Lord had also appeared to Simon.

Note the repeat about how he had been made know to them in the breaking of the bread. We usually interpret this to be related to Holy Communion, but we may also want to think about we recognize Christ in our midst when we share those ordinary meals as well.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Lawlessness/Righteousness, a Reflection on 1 John 3:4-7

After the reminder, "You know that he was revealed to take away sin and that in him there is no sin." John issues an indictment (a warning?), "No one who abides in him sins. Anybody who sins doesn't even know him."

But John does not allow us to give up or in. "Do what is right."

Here is the commentary by William Loader:
This then enables us to see 3:1-7 in perspective. It is not about how many morality boxes we can tick to qualify ourselves as righteous or as a child of God. It is about whether love flows. Here, too, it is not about how many acts of love we summon up our energies to perform - ticking the goodness boxes, but how much we open ourselves to receive the love which God gives, which in turn flows through us to others. Love gives birth to love. Later the writer will speak of our loving because we were first of all loved by God (4:19). The author might say today: no amount of doing good deeds and no amount of having impressive spiritual experiences will count for anything if it is not connected to a real change that is relational. It may be cosmetic goodness and religion, but without that love it is nothing much. Paul made much the same point in 1 Corinthians 13.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Children of God, Reflection on 1 John 3:1-3

John writes, "Even the world realizes that we are children of God." We are accustomed to recognizing that Christ is the Son. How do we think of ourselves as sons and daughters? How does the world know that we are? What does the world think that being children of God means? Who else do we think is eligible to be children of God?

"We will be like him." In what ways? Will we love? Will we suffer? Will we overcome suffering? Will we reach out to the unlovable? Other ways? Any or all of these?

John is both reassuring us and challenging us. Hope for what we may become helps us to make the effort now.

(with thanks to William Loader, First Thoughts.)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Praying at bedtime, a Reflection on Psalm 4

Psalm 4 is a traditional choice for night prayer. The next time you are kept awake from anxiety, try praying it yourself.

This psalm begins with a direct address to God:
Imperative--what the psalmist wants God to do.
Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
Reminder--what God has already done.
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Imperative--an echo of what the psalmist wants.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
Then the psalm addresses adversaries
Accusation--Read this portion as God speaking to us:
How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
Repentance
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself.
Reminder
the Lord hears when I call to him.
Imperative
When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices,and put your trust in the Lord.
Then the psalm returns to an address to God:
There are many who say, "O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!