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Daily Scripture and Prayer November 2020

Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church

We begin this month’s devotions on All Saints’ day as we complete the narrative of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus and the universe shaking repercussions of that event. From this moment Jesus declares that death will never again have the last word for human life. It has a purpose, but it is not final. This upending of theology and human experience, in John, leads inexorably to the cross and the ultimate declaration that life is eternal, if changing. The people around Jesus wrestle with this new reality in different ways as we see this month. As Jesus watches them come to terms with what has happened, he realizes that his time has come and heads to Jerusalem for the last time.

2020 11 i thankfulNovember 1: John 11:45-46 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. The ‘many’ in these verses are the faithful Jews and friends of the family who have come to sit shiva (ritually mourn the passing of Lazarus). This mourning is both an act of community caring and worship. There is a large gathering. The ‘some’ are a few who feel it is their duty to report to the hierarchy what they are seeing and hearing. It is often the ‘some’ in any community who make trouble for the ‘many.’

Dear God, oh how often a few people can create such havoc for a community, a church, a nation. Lost in fear or greed, any of us can find that we fail to see the big picture and make self-serving choices that hurt others we do not even know. Help us today to live with clarity, kindness and wisdom so that our efforts are never used to cause harm. We give thanks to you for all who have gone before us to show us the way. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 2 – John 11:47-48 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, ‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.’ The report from the ‘some’ is cause for an emergency ‘session meeting.’ Remember that John’s community has been in bitter dispute with the Pharisees for some time and there is no love lost between them, so he is predisposed to see them in a dim light. The ‘council’ is the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jewish religio/political establishment. In John, the word ‘signs’ refers to more than mere miracles. A sign is a pointer to a broader reality. They are afraid that the works he is doing are showing who he really is. They cannot afford to let who he is be broadly known or they will lose their power and their adherents. They are also afraid of trouble. Rome doesn’t care much what they believe. Rome cares a lot if it gets messy. The leaders know that everything is at stake for them. There will be both religious and political consequences. Note the word ‘we’. This word indicates self-interest.

Dear God, how easy it is for us when we are comfortable to fall into patterns of self-interest and resist the truth! Help us to focus again today on who you are in Christ, to see your very self in him. Help us to grasp what fear prevented the Pharisees from seeing, that we will lose nothing that really matters by following Jesus. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 3 – John 11: 49-50 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have
one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.’ The high priesthood in Jesus’ day was a complicated but usually lifetime appointment. Sometimes, a high priest retired from active service but still held the position in title and, often, in influence. Caiaphas is beginning to realize that there is often strategic collateral damage that must be accepted in order to keep power, protect that which is important, or to accomplish desired ends. He would rather see Jesus killed than the Temple destroyed.

Dear God, frightened people with undue power have always been willing to sacrifice others to get what they want. We too know how to do that in small ways in our own lives. We gossip to gain advantage. We lie to make ourselves look better. We ignore needs of those around us to get something we want more. Help us today to be mindful of who and what we are willing to sacrifice to get what we want. Turn us toward your better way of love. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 4 – John 11: 51-52 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. This verse is an editorial comment by the author. Apparently, Caiaphas had received a revelation, through the casting of the sacred dice, that Jesus was going to play a role in the restoration of Israel to sovereignty. John’s community loved the truth that even those who don’t get what God is up to can be God’s instruments. It is poignant that this man receives prophetic illumination even as he is trying to suppress it.

Dear God, we thank you that in your graciousness you choose to use us even when we do everything in our power to deny or circumvent your will. We know how to turn insight into weaponry, forward progress into the enemy. Help us today to receive your insights and calls willingly and with gratitude. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 5 – John 11:53-54 So from that day on they planned to put him to death. Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples. The word ‘planned’ is a word for a formal, official decision. So Jesus goes out to the outskirts to await the next stage of his journey. The wilderness is an important spiritual testing and fitting ground. This is where ego is tamed, and spirit grows strong.

Dear God, when Jesus threatened their hold on power and the very certainties around which they had built their lives, the Sanhedrin decided it was appropriate to pervert the justice system in order to retain the status quo. O God, protect us from this instinct in ourselves and in our nation. Make us unwilling to use others unjustly to accomplish dubious ends. Help us to both see and do the greatest good for all concerned. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 6 – John 11:55-56 Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?’ Some time has passed, and Jesus prepares, for the third and final time in John, to go to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, the great feast of freedom. He is still a hot topic of conversation in the community. People wonder if he will
risk death to come into town. They also wonder if he does, if he will initiate messiah’s work as they currently understand it. Will he risk his life to redeem Israel?

Dear God, sometimes we too look for Jesus and wonder if he will come to us in indisputable ways. Despite all we know that he has done, we doubt what he is willing to do for us. Forgive us, and help us to trust that Christ will move in our lives at exactly the right moment in exactly the needed way. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

2020 11 sunrise 325November 7 – John 11:57-12:1 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. ‘Given orders’ is the word for a forever decree. ‘Let them know’ and ‘arrest’ are both legal terms as well. People have been put on order. Jesus, is apparently ready for the next phase of action and heads back to Bethany, a kind of home base for him a few short miles from Jerusalem.

Dear God, as Jesus did, help us to recognize the right time and place for the actions that are required of us. Help us to return often to the places where we have experienced grace and to find comfort in each other for whatever journey lies ahead. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 8 – John 12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. We don’t exactly know what kind of dinner this is. It is not the Passover feast. Perhaps a special dinner to end Sabbath as a way of welcoming and honoring Jesus. Martha is acting as server/leader. The word here is ‘deacon.’ Lazarus is up and taking nourishment. He is not a ghost.

Dear God, you have brought us ‘back from the dead’ too many times to count. You have spread a table for us to strengthen us for new life over and over again. Help us to fellowship with you and receive your nourishment so that we can, like Martha, serve you with all that we are. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 9 – John 12:3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. The ‘nard’ is a liquid ointment made from pistachio and myrrh. It very expensive. People saved their whole lives to acquire a little of this ointment for anointing bodies after death. This is a vast quantity. It is very unusual for this ointment to be used on the living. The verb ‘wiped’ is the same used at the foot washing and has sacred undertones. This is an extravagant act of devotion. John’s community saw themselves as the new perfume that gave sweetness and sacred fragrance to the whole world (house.)

Dear God, how beautiful is Mary’s lavish devotion. She holds nothing back when she recognizes you and what you are doing for her. Help us also to hold nothing back from you. Make us a sweet, sweet fragrance of love and hope in our homes and communities. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 10 – John 12:4-6 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money
given to the poor?’ 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)Judas is a complicated figure in our faith story and was even more complicated in the early church. He is portrayed largely as the ultimate betrayer. However, in some texts he is also seen as a passionate zealot and even a collaborator with Jesus to bring about the cross and therefore salvation. John adds hypocrisy and thievery to the picture. Remember that usually when there is a ( ) in the text of John, it is the author’s editorial comment. The word ‘thief’, kleptes, refers to the kind of thief that threatens a flock. John’s community saw Judas’ sticking his hands in the till as a cautionary tale. Small wrongs done and excused over time make big ones possible if not inevitable.

Dear God, we know that over the years small wrongs of the church have compounded into larger and more devastating ones. We know that sometimes we, as a broader church, have preyed on the unsuspecting, the vulnerable and the weak. It grieves us to recognize this and we live with the consequences to our shame. Help us today to recommit to profound personal morality so that we may never steal even a moment’s joy from another. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 11 – John 12:7 Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. This is a strange verse in Greek. The words ‘she bought it’ do not appear in the text. Jesus defends Mary and basically says, let her keep it for my burial day. Mary’s sees where all of this is heading. Her purpose seems to be revealing what is coming. No victory parades or glorious armies. It is tender that Jesus allows this woman, who he permitted to sit at his feet with the men, to be the one to declare the ultimate truth: he is about to die for them.

Dear God, tune our spiritual eyesight so that we can see you in everything. Help us to clearly discern your direction and, to help others recognize your truth. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 12 – John 12:8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ Jesus’ point is that spontaneous love and spiritual insight will never ignore the poor. The opposite is true. The more closely one draws to Jesus, the more clearly the work of caring will appear. In the early years, rabbis debated about what good acts were the greatest. The general consensus was that acts of mercy (burying the dead) that caused one to make sacrifices were most noble. Acts of justice were second and included almsgiving. Jesus is talking about the kind of love that the Greek word‘eros’ connotes. That kind of love allows one to stand in the shoes of another person, or cause, with empathy that is not denied by the endless problems of people. Jesus recognizes this in Mary’s action and requires it of his followers' ethics.

Dear God, help us today to stand in the shoes of the hurting with empathy and not exhaustion. Fill us with your Spirit’s power that we may never tire in works of mercy and justice. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 13 – John 12:9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. People always want to see a show. In this case they want to see the dead man
walking. Beneath that desire, however, is the need for personal hope that what happened once with Lazarus, might be possible for them as well.

Dear God, today please fill us with renewed hope for the future. Help us to remember your mighty acts and know that you are the same today as yesterday and will be the same tomorrow as well. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 14 – John 12:10-11 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus. No longer will one man’s death suffice. Now they plan to kill Lazarus as well. One person’s death is never enough once the bloodletting starts. Killing has its own energy.

Dear God, please turn back the hands of violence, especially violence sanctioned by the powerful and packaged as necessity. Protect the vulnerable. Guard the helpless. Shelter the weak. Use us everyday to serve you as we work for the greatest good for all your children. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 15 – John 12:12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. This verse connects the triumphal entry with the events of the anointing and Judas’ growing anger. Notice that John’s story is much shorter than that in the other Gospels. He has no preparation narrative of sending disciples to secure a room and find a donkey etc.

Dear God, every day for us is a festival of freedom in your name. Help us to tune our hearts to the ways that you come to us and to prepare you room. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 16 – John 12:13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!’
Palms are only mentioned in John. They are symbols of national triumph. Here Jesus is pictured as a national political hero. The quotation comes from Psalm 118 which is a song for thanksgiving in battle. The crowd still misunderstands the nature of Jesus’ power.

Dear God, it is hard for us to think of Jesus as a mighty military hero. We have been so formed by the image of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. We have seen the dangers of completely equating country with righteousness. It is more precious and complicated than that. Still, we, too, know how to misunderstand Jesus and what he offers us. Help us, who also cry out to Jesus ‘Hosanna, save us’, to open our hearts and minds to the ways he longs to make us whole. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 17 – John 12:14-15 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’ The young donkey image comes from Zech. 9, an eschatological prophecy and implies that Jesus is not coming as a warrior king with horses and chariots. The ‘donkey’s colt’ alludes to Numbers 22 and reinforces that this is a humble entrance.

Dear God, how hard it is for us to recognize that humble service is what saves! The prophets recognized it. They knew it was God’s way, not to crow and cower the masses, but to ride alongside them with presence and love that changes everything. Help us today to see you with us in humble and eternal ways. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 18 – John 12:16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. There is a very important Greek word in this verse, anamnesis. We translate it ‘remembered.’ It is the word Jesus uses in the institution of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, “do this in remembrance.” It means to bring something to life and flesh again. The early believers saw death and resurrection as the lens through which all of life and faith are understood. Not just Jesus’ literal crucifixion and resurrection, but the spiritual principle of it as well. For them, to ‘remember’ was to make something currently and palpably real in the present moment.

Dear God, sometimes it is only in looking back that we see your presence and work in our lives, churches and communities. Help us today to pause and ‘remember’ all of your faithfulness to us and to bring that strength and power into the present moment. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 19 – John 12:17 So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. The word ‘testify’, martyrion, means to declare a story, to bear witness, to take the witness stand and affirm that something is true from personal experience.

Dear God, give us a new passion to tell our stories of faith. Open the perfect doors. Give us the winsome words. Through our witness, may your kingdom expand, and the hope of your people be full. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 20 – John 12:18-19 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!’ The people want what Jesus can do for them. They want to be raised from the dead in both literal and metaphorical ways. The Pharisees’ lament is touching. They realize that they have lost control. There is nothing they can do now to stop this thing. This feeling of desperation will lead them to more and more aggressive measures and ultimately execution.

Dear God, sometimes it feels like the opposite of this verse is our reality. The whole world does not seem to go after you. But that is not the case. People still long for all that you offer. It is the driving force of their lives. It is their restlessness and their craving. They simply do not know that it is you they seek, and they have failed to find you winsomely offered by us, your church. Help us to hear how you want us to proceed, so that we can both recognize the spiritual need of people, and help to point them to the true source of aid. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 21 – John 12:20-21 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ The inclusion of ‘the Greeks’ in the account reinforces that what
Jesus is initiating is bigger than anyone thought possible. The word ‘see’ here comes from the root to identify and it means to see/believe/understand and deeply know something.

Dear God, your outreach is so vast. In you, none are excluded. None are beyond the sound of your voice, the touch of your healing, the sweetness of your grace. Help us to see your presence all around us, wild and poured out for all. Use us as you will to expand your table and embrace all of your children. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 22 – John 12:22-23 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. The disciples must be flummoxed at all that has and is happening. They go to each other for support and then take what they are hearing to Jesus. The ‘hour’ refers both to the present moment. It is a word often used as shorthand for the crucifixion. Notice that when he is told that people long to see him, Jesus answers with a declaration of his ‘hour.’ If people really want to see him, it is the cross that will display him. If people really want to come to him it is through the cross that they will find him.

Dear God, we thank you that you give us colleagues and friends in faith with whom we can talk things over. We thank you that we can come to you together, that we can pray and worship together. What comfort we find in each other! Thank you! Please help us to nurture our connections and make them deeper. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 23 – John 12:24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Here again we see Jesus remind us of a universal spiritual reality…we die to live. In dying, whether physically or to self, or ego, or sin, or destructive habit, or whatever, incredible and unstoppable spiritual forces are unleashed that make everything better and more whole. Biological life comes and goes. Zoe, eternal life force, persists. John’s community saw themselves as the fruit that had come to life from the falling grain of wheat that was Jesus’ life.

Dear God, how hard it is for us to see the healing grace of letting go! Help us today to ponder what you need for us to release so that we can live fully in this moment of our lives.In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 24 – John 12:25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. This needs a bit of unpacking. The word ‘love’ here (philios) refers to an emotional fondness. The first word ‘life’ here is psyche and refers to the personality or the soul. It sometimes refers to natural life, a bit like bios, but is bigger. The psyche is personal, that part of us that we think of as us. The word ‘hate’ has a variety of meanings from malicious to unjust. Here though, it is used in the sense of not regarding too highly. The final ‘life’ word is zoe, the eternal life force. So, Jesus is saying that if we try too hard to cling to our psyche, we will inevitably lose that to which we are trying to cling. When we hold it with an open hand, we will keep the true essence of what we were clinging to for eternity.

Dear God, help us today to release our frightened games and pretenses. Help us to release all fear and insecurity. Help us to open our hearts wide to our true selves, our deep souls, and live into eternal life right now. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 25 – John 12:26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. The word ‘serves’ is diakonia, humble sacrificial service. ‘Follow’ in this context means in and through death. In other words, following Jesus is a life of letting go and receiving. The word ‘honor’ is used directed toward human beings only here in scripture. It is usually used of what people give to God. Here we see that God, when we follow the pattern of Christ, honors us just as we honor God. Wow!

Dear God, the thought of your love being so vast that you honor us is mind blowing. And yet we see the fruit of your honoring us all the time. You give us a ‘well done’ just when we need it. You offer a glimpse of stars or the gifts of nature, always right on time. Thank you so much and help us to honor you in all we do today. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 26 – John 12:27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.‘Soul’ again here is psyche. ‘Troubled’ is a big word that means agony. It is so touching that Jesus experiences both darkness of soul and agony of heart. No internal struggle will stop him from his mission.

Dear God, we are grateful that you chose to live life with us as a human being in Jesus. It helps so much to know that you understand how we feel, that you recognize our struggles as your own. Help us today to find strength in you and do not allow us to let fear or grief prevent us from serving you. We are so grateful for all of your gifts to us, for the amazing good land and all of its inhabitants. We give you praise today! In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 27 – John 12:28 Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’Here Jesus asks that God be glorified in what he is going through. He recognizes that behind all physical reality is a magnificent spiritual reality that is manifesting even if unseen in the moment.

Dear God, we thank you that you are at work in and through all things. We thank you that even that which is overwhelming and seems so destructive can be turned to the good in the flow of your power and grace. We commit today to glorify you in everything. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 28 – John 12:29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ In the Old Testament particularly, thunder is a symbol for God’s presence. The crowd misses the point. They recognize God in the thunder but not in Jesus.

Dear God, sometimes we miss what you are doing. Sometimes we don’t recognize your presence in our lives. Sometimes we just get it all wrong. Forgive us when we falter and help us to see more clearly today, so that we may act for you in all we do. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 29 – John 12:30-31 Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.31Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. The word ‘judgment’, krisis, refers to a sentence of responsibility, a sorting. It is often used in
John of moments of decision when people choose, or are sorted into, the life of the light (consciousness, illumination, enlightenment) or darkness (ignorance, moral obtuseness, selfishness.) ‘The ruler of this world’ is a phrase used only here. It seems to refer to the embodiment of the opposition to all that is good. It is a kind of spiritual ruling power that we often, for the sake of simplicity, refer to as the devil.

Dear God, as we start a new church year today, looking forward to the celebration of your incarnation, it does often feel like ‘the devil is having his day.’ Still, we know that, while powerfully destructive, evil is ultimately destroyed. It has no power that we do not give it. Defeated things are often vicious, though. So this day help us to withstand all assaults of evil and live joyfully in the light. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

November 30 – John 12:32-33 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. These are BIG verses. The word ‘lifted up’ hypsoo, is usually used to refer to the crucifixion. ‘Draw’, helko, is the word for hoisting a sale, drinking a long draw of wine or drawing like a magnet. The word ‘all’ is a male and female plural inclusive word. It means everybody, or as we say in the south ‘all y’all’, no one left out. So here, Jesus pictures the cross as a giant magnet that draws all of humanity to Jesus. It is humbling to see that in this verse Jesus makes clear that he sets no limits or conditions on salvation. He is doing it on the cross and we will be drawn like a magnet to him.

Dear God, Wow! All will be drawn to you! We don’t see it. We sometimes even worry about it. But here you make clear the unfathomable saving power of the cross. You will draw all people to yourself. Help us to play the role that you have for us in bringing this miracle to fullness! In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.