Unity and Diversity—Worldwide Prayer

Scripture Focus: John 1.14
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Anniversary of Covid Pandemic: One year ago today, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a worldwide pandemic. Some countries dealt well with the crisis, some failed to do so. As of March 7th (as I prep this post) 525,000 have died in the United States and 2.59 million worldwide. Approximately twenty percent of Covid deaths have been in the United States. The spiritual and emotional impact is real all across the world. Vaccines becoming available won’t change the trauma endured by those who lost loved ones or who served on the front lines. The Humanitarian Disaster Institute is hosting today, a free Spiritual First Aid Summit which aims to help churches and believers respond to the needs of their communities in times like this. We have been a sponsor of this summit and pray that many of you, our readers, and your churches will take advantage of the free resources and training available through the summit and through the Humanitarian Disaster Institute.

May God use us as his hands and feet to be with and care for those who have lost loved ones and those currently ill.

Reflection: Unity and Diversity—Worldwide Prayer

By John Tillman

Much of John’s gospel is concerned with unity. John holds a unity of purpose—that we may believe in the name of Jesus and have life in him. John describes the unity of the trinity—describing the interplay and relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. John also spends a large percentage of his writing (most of chapters 12-17) detailing the struggle Jesus underwent in the final hours before his arrest to prepare the disciples and bring them to unity.

Unity cannot be won in debates. Unity cannot be claimed by a victor. Unity cannot be seized as a weapon. (Although cries for unity often lead to armed conflict and suppression of dissent.)

Unity cannot be achieved by defeating others but by embracing them. Unity does not come by our cleverness, but by foolishly clinging solely to Christ and his cross.

As we pray this prayer from Germany that celebrates unity and diversity, may we look forward in our minds to these familiar passages in John. May we be one as Christ and the Father are one…

Unity and Diversity

A prayer of celebration from Germany

Lord, our God and Father, in Jesus Christ we pray. We are impressed by your power, by your greatness, by your excellence.

Your praises are heard in a multitude of languages which we cannot understand. But you hear all of them. We are shaped by different cultures and traditions. We express our thoughts and feelings in different ways. But you know exactly what each of us means.

You rejoice in the diversity which is your creation; you show your affection to each one of us according to our special needs.

Send your Holy Spirit to untangle your perplexity so that we can accept brothers and sisters whose expression of faith is different, because you created all of us in your own image.

Lord, creator of the universe, how amazing you are. We adore you; we exalt you.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “And the judgment is this: though the light has come into the world people have preferred darkness to the light because their deeds were evil…but whoever does the truth comes out into the light, so that what he isdoing may plainly appear as done in God.” — John 3.19, 21

Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 22 (Listen – 4:23)
John 1 (Listen – 6:18)

Read more about Reflecting the Unity of Christ 
I thank you for the opportunity of worship with members of the worldwide Christian family, across barriers of every kind that separate people and keep them apart.

Read more about Lent is a Community Project
Lent is a community project we engage in as a partnership between us, the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s body, the Church.

He Raises Us — Love of Advent

Scripture Focus: Zephaniah 2.3
3 Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, 
you who do what he commands. 
Seek righteousness, seek humility; 
perhaps you will be sheltered 
on the day of the Lord’s anger. 

Luke 24.44-49
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49

Reflection: He Raises Us — Love of Advent
By John Tillman

Zephaniah calls tenderly, yet urgently, to those who are faithful in the land to respond to God while there is still time.

Seek righteousness. This is more than seeking our own good or simply doing good for ourselves. Any good that we do that does not also benefit our neighbor deserves not the name of “doing righteousness.

Seek humility. He is already calling to the humble in the land. This shows that humility is a constant seeking and lowering of one’s self and one never truly arrives at the bottom.

Perhaps you will be sheltered. In the family of believers there are many among us who know from experience that we may not always be shielded from all of life’s ailments, sicknesses, and hurts. Our dear Lord’s word that we would have trouble in this world is as equally true as his promise that he has overcome this world. His love is shown as much by his embrace when we are weeping as it is by blessings of laughter and joy.

Trouble is coming to this world. It is, after all, a world of darkness. How could it be otherwise? We made it so.

In our sinfulness, we wrested the world to our whims and wrecked it with our sins. Under Satan’s sway the world we cursed writhes in the evil darkness to which we subjugated it.

But no matter how low we have dragged the heights of God’s creation, he searches these low valleys for us.

No matter how deep in sin we sink our feet, or what bog’s stench hangs on us, or what fell parasites and diseases of the swamp cling to us, he reaches in. He wades deep. He dredges us up.

However low we are, he comes to raise us.
However vile we are, he comes to cleanse us.
However sickened we are, he comes to heal us.
However broken our body, he comes to make us whole.

Seek righteousness! Seek humility!
We may not all be sheltered from calamity, but we will all be raised!

Made like him, like him we rise…” (Christ the Lord is Risen Today — Charles Wesley)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle


Today’s Readings
Zephaniah 2 (Listen – 2:44)
Luke 24 (Listen – 6:16)

Read more about End of Year Giving and Supporting our work
We need and pray for donors of all amounts. A donation does not have to be exceedingly large to make a large difference.

Read more about His Loving Presence :: Love of Advent
He is always the God who comes to us—not just during Advent.

Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Brad
I loved how this commentary highlighted afresh the especially current relevance of Jesus’ ministry, his focus on the marginalized, elevating their status and making them central figures in the gospel story.  As Jesus’ followers, we get to continue his example in treating all people with dignity and respect, being God’s image-bearers. 

Originally published, April 13, 2020, based on readings from Proverbs 31 & 1 Timothy 2.

Scripture Focus: Mark 16.9
He appeared first to Mary Magdalene…

Luke 24.22-25
In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

John 20.19
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Reflection: Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

“Firsts” are important in the scriptures. So we cannot imagine that it is a coincidence or a mistake that Jesus appears first to the women. 

One reason Jesus may have done this is that they, along with John, were with him to the end. They were the last faces he saw as he gave up his spirit. It makes sense that he would honor them to be the first to behold his now glorified face, raised by the Spirit’s power.

Jesus did this despite knowing that no one would believe them. A woman’s testimony was considered invalid in court. Today, a woman’s testimony counts according to the technicalities of the law, but still counts for less in the general culture. All these centuries later, we still have problems in our society taking a woman at her word.

If the gospel accounts had been written late, with intentional warping of the facts to make plausible an extraordinary claim, the women’s testimony, which not even Jesus’ closest followers believed, would have been deleted and replaced with that of Nicodemus or someone else with moral standing. (See more on the trustworthiness of the Resurrection accounts here.)

Instead, Jesus not only appeared to women first but gave his most personal resurrection greeting to a woman shamed by her culture for having been demon-possessed. Mary Magdalene is also (probably falsely) accused by history of having been a prostitute. 

Jesus was intentionally exalting the humbled, by placing the women, and scorned outcasts, at the center of the narrative in an irreplaceable and immovable way.

He also was intentionally confronting the disciples with their cultural blindness and propensity to doubt. This was not to pile shame on them but to build faith in them. He was weaning them off of faith by sight, knowing that soon they too must believe in him without seeing him.

Faith by sight is faith limping along on a crutch. Faith by sight dies in the dark. Faith by sight is blind to the Spirit, for it never looks beyond the physical. But the worst thing about faith by sight is that even it still fails.

What is extraordinary about humanity is not that we are capable of believing without seeing. It is that we are capable of seeing, and still refusing to believe.

Like the women, we will be doubted. But let us still run and tell, “I have seen the Lord!”
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. — Psalm 98.1– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 34 (Listen – 4:15)
Psalms 5-6 (Listen – 2:45)

Read more about Easter—The Happy Beginning
Easter is a season in the church calendar, not a day. But in our lives, it can be an evergreen season that blooms throughout the year.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post helped you better understand scripture?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances

Scripture Focus: Mark 16.9
He appeared first to Mary Magdalene…

Luke 24.22-25
In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

John 20.19
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

*This Easter week as we shelter in our homes due to COVID-19, we may feel more like the fearful gathered disciples than we ever have before. We will look this week at the appearances of Jesus, who comes to stand in our troubled midst and say, “Peace be with you.”

Reflection: Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances
By John Tillman

“Firsts” are important in the scriptures. So we cannot imagine that it is a coincidence or a mistake that Jesus appears first to the women. 

One reason Jesus may have done this is that they, along with John, were with him to the end. They were the last faces he saw as he gave up his spirit. It makes sense that he would honor them to be the first to behold his now glorified face, raised by the Spirit’s power.

Jesus did this despite knowing that no one would believe them. A woman’s testimony was considered invalid in court. Today, a woman’s testimony counts according to the technicalities of the law, but still counts for less in the general culture. All these centuries later, we still have problems in our society taking a woman at her word.

If the gospel accounts had been written late, with intentional warping of the facts to make plausible an extraordinary claim, the women’s testimony, which not even Jesus’ closest followers believed, would have been deleted and replaced with that of Nicodemus or someone else with moral standing. (See more on the trustworthiness of the Resurrection accounts here.)

Instead, Jesus not only appeared to women first, but gave his most personal resurrection greeting to a woman shamed by her culture for having been demon-possessed. Mary Magdalene is also (probably falsely) accused by history of having been a prostitute. 

Jesus was intentionally exalting the humbled, by placing the women, and scorned outcasts, at the center of the narrative in an irreplaceable and immovable way.

He also was intentionally confronting the disciples with their cultural blindness and propensity to doubt. This was not to pile shame on them, but to build faith in them. He was weaning them off of faith by sight, knowing that soon they too must believe in him without seeing him.

Faith by sight, is faith limping along on a crutch. Faith by sight dies in the dark. Faith by sight is blind to the Spirit, for it never looks beyond the physical. But the worst thing about faith by sight is that even it still fails.

What is extraordinary about humanity is not that we are capable of believing without seeing. It is that we are capable of seeing, and still refusing to believe.

Like the women, we will be doubted. But let us still run and tell, “I have seen the Lord!”

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 31 (Listen -2:50)
1 Timothy 2 (Listen -1:38)

Read more about Easter—The Happy Beginning
Easter is not a happy ending. It is a happy beginning.

Read more about A New Day :: Worldwide Prayer
May we follow the example of the first witnesses: the women who were more faithful than the betrayers, braver than the soldiers, and the first to believe in and spread the gospel.


The Context of The Widow’s Mite

Luke 20.47; 21.2-4, 6
They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely…
He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.””…
“As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”…

Reflection: The Context of The Widow’s Mite
By John Tillman

Many lessons about the widow’s mite focus on how beautiful her faith is. 

The widow’s faith is beautiful because it is centered on God, not on an institution that is corrupted by sinful leadership. Her gift is beautiful because it shows how deep her faith goes—all the way down to her last pennies. Her gift is beautiful because it shows where her treasure truly lies.

We should praise the widow’s faith, as Jesus did, but taken in context, this scripture has more to say about unscrupulous religious leaders than about generous poor people. It tells us that judgment is coming on leaders who take advantage of the poor. 

In Luke and in Mark, the widow enters in the middle of a scene where Christ is confronting the religious leaders’ materialism and hypocrisy and, just afterward, tells his disciples that the Temple they value so much will be torn down and destroyed.

Luke includes the detail that Jesus “looked up” and saw the widow’s deed in the midst of his teaching. The words just off of his lips are ones of judgement on religious leaders who “devour widows’ houses.” When Jesus points out the widow, he is showing us that his meaning is not metaphorical. The widow’s story gives us someone to emulate in faith, but also points out someone we should serve with action.

Scripture doesn’t tell us what happened to the widow. Some propose that God would miraculously provide for her. If forced to conjecture, I pray that one of Christ’s disciples, being as concerned about the destruction of the widow’s life as about the destruction of the Temple, would take her in. Sometimes miracles are simply disciples taking practical action. (I like to imagine that perhaps it was Mark.)

The bright light of the widow’s faith shines within the darkness of hypocrisy and abuse. What does the Spirit of Christ speak to you in the light of her faith? 

Are we like the religious leaders? Are we projecting piety while living extravagantly?

Are we like the rich? Are we giving because it looks good or until we feel good?

Are we like the disciples? Are we over impressed with wealth and success, equating it with God’s favor?

Can we learn to live like the widow? Are we able to live in faith, despite our systematic victimization, despite our poverty, and despite the existence of corruption? 

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let your loving-kindness be my comfort, as you have promised to your servant. Let your compassion come to me, that I may live, for your law is my delight. — Psalm 119.76-77

Today’s Readings
Exodus 19 (Listen – 4:04)
Luke 22 (Listen – 7:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 20 (Listen – 3:21), Luke 23 (Listen – 6:39)
Exodus 21 (Listen – 4:44), Luke 24 (Listen – 6:16)

Thank You!
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Read more from A Cry to God for the Poor from Zimbabwe :: Worldwide Prayer
It grieves us and must grieve you that so many defenseless people live without shelter, clean water, primary healthcare, education, food. Help us, Lord Jesus, to care and share with the less privileged the material resources you have graciously blessed us with.

Read more about Good News to the Poor
Our manifestation of Christ will be in direct proportion to our acknowledgement of needing him more than we need our comforts, our possessions, our luxuries, or even our daily bread.

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