Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-10 (Click to read text)
I’m sort of excited for "Lunch and Learn" on the first Friday of staff training. The staff will be making a “rappish” kind of poem out today’s text. Then we’ll sing Dem Bones Gonna Rise Again using the chorus of the traditional camp song but singing the new Ezekiel poem as the verses. Sound like fun? I think so.
You remember the story. God drags Ezekiel out to this field covered with very dry bones. Like—DEAD. Then God asks the prophet, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel is rather astute. He probably knows God wanted him to say “yes” but deep in his experience he knows the answer had to be “no.” So, he hedges.
“O Lord God, you know.” And God proceeds to show him. There’s a rattling and the bones come together. (Hear, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians.) Then sinew and skin. But no breath.
Ezekiel may or may not be a believer about these bones yet. But God puts him to the test. Prophesy to the breath, Mortal. (Gulp) Whether he believes or not, Ezekiel does what he is asked to do. He calls the breath from the four winds, “and the breath came into (the bones), and they lived, and stood on their feet.”
It’s a good day for us to be reminded that God can and will do anything God wants, whether we think it is possible or not. And sometimes we are brought along not only to witness but to be partners in what the Lord is doing. --Jim Bricker, Chaplain to Camp Mount Luther’s Summer Staff
Reading: Luke 24: 44-53 (Click to read text)
Today is Ascension Day. It is an important day in the church year. It celebrates Jesus' finished work for our salvation. It also reminds us of our unfinished task as witnesses: to spread the Word of Jesus Christ.
Ascension Day may not be observed like in former days. The Amish and Mennonite sects of Christianity still see it as a holy day, taking off work. When I was a kid, my church always held a helium balloon launch on Ascension Sunday. It was to remind us of how Christ ascended into heaven. One year, my balloon flew all the way from Lewistown, PA, to the York area, where someone found it and returned the post card that was attached to the balloon.
I've noticed in several churches I've recently visited that they have pictures of Christ's Ascension at the front of their sanctuary. My home congregation is no different. I think that those paintings are to remind us of the importance of Christ finishing the work that He set out to do. The Ascension reminds us of that.
And, as I mentioned early, the Ascension should remind us that we have work to do. We need to spread God's love through Jesus Christ to others. On this Ascension Day, it my prayer that you recommit yourself to doing just that. And maybe take a little time to day to reflect on what Christ has done for you. --Chad Hershberger, Camp Mount Luther Director
Reading: I Peter 4:12 - 5:11 (Click to read text)
As we get set to celebrate Christ's ascension this week, I am reminded when reading this passage that we share all things with Christ. We are told that if we believe in Jesus, we will experience death and resurrection like Christ. We are also to consider suffering in light of how Jesus suffered for us.
And so, too, we will get to experience ascension, I believe. We will get to experience the "ride to the Father." And I bet it will be glorious! --Chad Hershberger, Camp Mount Luther Director
Reading: Acts 1:6-14 (Click to read text)
Moments before ascending to heaven, Jesus commissions his followers, saying, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Then as his disciples stare, Jesus is lifted up and vanishes from their sight.
And still they stare. Necks leaning backward, faces tilted toward the sky, eyes squinting in the sun, they stare, trying to see where Jesus went. Is that him, through the cloud? No, only a seagull drifting and circling. Over there? No, just a trick of the light.
While the disciples stare, two men slip among them and ask, "Why are you still staring upward?" The disciples -- not breaking their skyward gazes -- reply, "He told us we were his witnesses. So we're watching him, trying not to let him out of our sight." (I know, that part of the conversation isn't in the Bible.) The two strangers help them understand: "You cannot always gaze at Jesus; you must help others gaze at him too. You have been witnesses to Jesus' life and work; now you must bear witness into the world."
Who knows how long the disciples would have stood there, necks craned, eyes straining, had not the two men in white robes guided them toward their next steps in discipleship -- guided them to see that their personal experiences of Jesus were not the end, but only the beginning. --Rachel G. Hackenberg is a United Church of Christ minister, author, and former CML staff member.
Closing Prayer: Jesus, we long for you in our lives. We wait anxiously for an experience of you, for an "Aha!" moment of feeling your presence. Remind us, we pray, that we have been called not only into relationship with you but into relationship with all the world. Compel us into the work of witnessing. Amen.
Reading: John 17: 1-11 (Click to read text)
Working on this First Light digital devotions project this year has gotten me in a better habit of reading the Bible stories that we'll hear in church in the coming week. It has enriched my worship life, as I've taken more time to dwell on the scriptures and think about what God is saying to me.
This Sunday, we'll hear the story of the Ascension. On Thursday, we celebrate Ascension Day, and you'll get to read some of my reflections on this church festival then. Thursday, we'll read the story from the Gospel of Luke. Today and on Sunday, we read it from the Gospel of John.
In John's account, we read, "And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one." To me, that sentence help bridge the two church year seasons which we are about to cross. This Sunday, we close out our celebration of Easter. A week from Sunday, we switch gears to celebrate Pentecost. As always, Jesus gets us ready by reminding us what is coming. God will be coming to us not as a man, in the form of Jesus; but, now God will come to us as the Holy Spirit. We travel with Jesus through his birth, baptism, and ministry on earth. We experience the passion of Holy Week and the joy of the Easter resurrection. Jesus ascends to the Father and we look with anticipation for the coming down of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
As we celebrate and commemorate the Ascension this week, I am reminded that God keeps God's promises. Be on the lookout for the fulfillment of some of those promises in your life this week. --Chad Hershberger, Camp Mount Luther Director.
Reading: Psalm 104:24-34 (Click to read text)
Nobody did Psalm 104. We all knew it was coming by listening to older classmates. To pass our Old Testament final in seminary we would have to write a psalm from memory. Psalm 23 was excluded and, as I said, nobody chose Psalm 104. It is 35 verses long! Over the years it has become one of my favorites and today we have the opportunity to look at 11 verses which are an alternate text for Day 5 of Camp Mount Luther’s curriculum for this summer. It is a psalm that praises the creator, in fact, it reads very much like a creation tradition in addition to the two we have in Genesis. It is worth reading in its entirety sometime today. I’d like to share two translations of verse 26.
Ships plow those waters, and Leviathan, your pet dragon, romps in them. (MSG)
And there are the ships, as well as Leviathan, the monster you created to splash in the sea. (CEV)
That’s just so we can have at least one smile in our day. A harmless monster of some sort which God creates for fun. I’m glad my creator is like that. (Reminds me of a glorious day of whale watching off Cape Cod.) The reason the psalm is a text for the curriculum on the day we study Pentecost is verse 30:
When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
God’s constant creating, recreating and renewal of all existence is a recurring theme in scripture. What might you see, hear, smell, taste, touch today that makes you rejoice, smile and give God thanks for stirring among us renewing life? --Jim Bricker, Chaplain to Camp Mount Luther’s Summer Staff.
Closing: Don’t forget to read Psalm 104 before you go to bed tonight!
Reading: Psalm 66: 8-20 (Click to read passage)
Psalm 66 is a Psalm of Praise for God’s goodness to Israel. It starts out very joyful with singing the glory of God’s name and giving him glorious praise. Worship and more praise continues. Then it goes on to note a few awesome deeds of God including turning the sea to dry land and bringing his people to a spacious place. More rejoicing!
All these wondrous deeds and yet, when a tough time came along, the Psalmist did resort to promises. So, “I will pay (to God) my vows, those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.” (v. 13, 14) At least the Psalmist admits it and follows through. And God follows through, too. So, with that all out of the way, the Psalmist gets right back to telling all what God has done. Perhaps that is the important thing to remember and do, because…
…Truly God has listened: he has given heed to the words of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me. Psalm 66: 19, 20
Bottom line – Praise God for God's goodness! Through good times and bad, however you handled them, get back to the praising when you can. As God is steadfast to us; let us be steadfast also. --Ruth Gates, frequent Camp Mount Luther Family Camper
Closing Prayer: Help us to remember your awesome deeds, O Lord. Thank you for hearing our prayers. Amen.
Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
A new feature of the devotion: click the text above to read the Bible passage.
You've probably heard this passage before. It is reminding us that sometimes we will suffer for the sake of the gospel. It also reminds us that it is better to suffer for good than to suffer for evil.
The last part of the passage reminds us of the importance of our baptism. It also shows us that the story of Noah points to baptism. When I read this to write this devotion, I was particularly struck by this part of our text: "...when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark..." Wow! God waited patiently. I never really thought of God having to wait. After all, whatever God says, it happens. God can make things occur on God's time, so the idea of God waiting patiently really struck me.
And then I wondered how often God has waited patiently on me. If God did it for Noah, surely God has waited for me. Maybe I wasn't quite ready for whatever God had planned for me. Or, maybe I was too anxious and God felt I needed a "cooling off" period. God definitely knows me better than I know myself and my needs!
Going forward, I'll probably wonder more often about the times that God is patient with me. I guess patient really is a virtue! And if God can be patient on Noah and me, maybe I can learn to me a little more patient with others. --Chad Hershberger, Camp Mount Luther Director
Reading: Acts 17:22-31
As Paul travels in Athens, he observes that the people have many altars and statues to the gods, including an altar labeled, "To an unknown God." At the people's invitation, Paul stands before the Areopagus (the council) and tells a story about the unknown god: "The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands" (17:24) Paul talks about God and tells stories about God's relationship with humanity -- from Abraham to Jesus -- in order to make the unknown known.
We are often scared by what is unknown in our lives. When we don't know a person approaching us on the street, we can be quick to assume and fear that the person has bad intentions. When the future looms before us, full of unknowns, we can be tempted to retreat into the safety of everything familiar. We can even fear the unknown in a person we know; when we argue, for example, and we become frustrated because we cannot understand the other person's perspective.
So often we look at the unknown and we tell ourselves (often without thinking), "The unknown is bad, scary, worrisome." We tell ourselves a story of fear to fill in the blanks on what we don't know. The Athenians tell a different story about the unknown; they create an altar to it, a place to remind themselves that there is always more to learn. And when Paul comes to Athens, he tells yet another story about the unknown: he tells the story of God's activity, full of grace and love.
When faced with the unknown and inclined toward fear, we can imitate Paul and remind ourselves that the unknown holds God's story -- all that God has done, all that God is doing, and all that God will continue to do. --Rachel G. Hackenberg is a United Church of Christ minister, author, and former Camp Mount Luther staff.
Closing Prayer: Help me, O Eternal God, to find peace in the face of the unknown, remembering that you are active in the unknown ... even though I don't know it or see it yet. Help me, O Jesus, to find peace in knowing your presence. Amen.
Reading: John 14: 15-21
Love God. Follow Jesus. Feel the Spirit.
You are not an orphan. God’s a loving parent forever, even if not seen.
So love God. Love one another. Feel God’s love.
As I looked at this passage, these are the words that came to mind to summarize what Jesus was saying in this text. The words that really strike me are “abide” and “orphan.” What do these words mean to you? How will you abide today? Isn’t it good to know that you are never alone? --Chad Hershberger, Camp Mount Luther Director
Reading: Joel 2:28-29
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
St. Peter quotes Joel in Acts 2 to dispel the suspicion that the disciples are drunk rather than in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is empowering. We will have the opportunity this summer to explore the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit each Friday.
Being an intuitive type, I just love this passage. Prophesies, dreams, and visions—imagining what can be. Looking and exploring what is possible. Thinking outside the box. Allowing God to move us to the unexpected. Certainly the Spirit of God enables such things.
In all my readings of this passage over the years, whether in Joel or Acts, I’ve never noticed the three little words--on all people. God empowers and gifts people of all sorts. Orthodox and Reformed Jews. Main line Christians and Christians with whom we are at times uncomfortable. Is it possible that God’s Spirit also rests on Hindus, Moslems, and Buddhists? Well, I might as well push it further—how about agnostics?
The pouring out of the Spirit seems to be inclusive. Perhaps the Spirit today is encouraging us to be open to God’s power and gifts coming from whomever God chooses. --Jim Bricker, Chaplain to Camp Mount Luther’s Summer Staff
Reading: Psalm 31: 1-5, 15-16
If you were to read all of Psalm 31, yes, there would be verses about deliverance from enemies. I am the scorn of my adversaries, horror of my neighbors, object of dread to my acquaintances. (v. 11) Terror all around! (v. 13). Yes, a prayer for deliverance, definitely!
However, the verses from Psalm 31 we read today simply ask God to listen, to rescue and to be a rock of refuge and a strong fortress. Whatever may be troubling us from outside or from within, we commit ourselves to our faithful God who has redeemed us. Our times are in God’s hands and his steadfast love saves us. Let us stop running and, instead, dedicate our hours and days to God seeking His guidance. Then we can know our purpose and live it with strength in God’s grace. --Ruth Gates, frequent Camp Mount Luther Family Camper
Closing Prayer: Dear God, help me to walk in your course for me. Thank you for keeping me in relationship with you through your love. Wow, it is good to know that whatever the circumstances or consequences I find myself in, you are always faithful. Amen
Occasionally, we will reprint prior devotions that now reflect on the coming lectionary texts. This is a reprint from a devotion originally published on January 30, 2013.
Reading: I Peter 2: 7
When you are feeling rejected by others, remember this verse. Jesus was rejected by humans but he became the cornerstone of a whole new world. Jesus took the burden of sin and died for us, showing God's love for us. We must remember that we are protected by God's love and have been given the greatest gift of all. Everyday is a day to remember that! --Chad Hershberger, Camp Mount Luther Director
Closing: Listen to the words in this song, which we've sung at Mount Luther. It sums up our verse for today!
Reading: Acts 7:55-60
This is a delightful reading, isn't it? The stoning of Stephen. Verses 55-60 give us Stephen's final moments, but if we backtrack through chapter 7 and into chapter 6, we find the fuller story of Stephen's ministry and martyrdom.
Stephen and six other disciples were commissioned to minister among the people, feeding the widows and visiting the sick, and Stephen was known for doing "great wonders and signs among the people" (6:8). His power and popularity prompted the authorities to call him in for questioning, and Stephen was unreserved in his critique, likening the leaders to those who asked Aaron to build a golden calf at Mt. Sinai.
Imagine the reaction of the religious leaders, when Stephen called them (essentially) traitors of the faith and of the God they love. Now imagine your own reaction, when someone critiques your faith and your love of God. Consider how defensive you feel when someone challenges you to reconsider a particular belief.
Maybe you don't throw stones when your faith is challenged, but many of us certainly cover our ears and refuse to hear another perspective on God, another perspective on faith. We tell ourselves that God is offended by what other people are telling us ... but perhaps it's more honest to admit that we are unsettled by the possibility that our faith may need to change. Often we prefer to cover our ears rather than opening our hearts to listen.
Prayer: Eternal God, Holy Mystery, faith would be so much easier if we knew all of the answers and never had our beliefs challenged. But you continue to teach us, often through one another. Give us the courage to uncover our ears, we pray. Remind us that you are not undermined by our questions. Amen.
Rachel G. Hackenberg is a United Church of Christ minister, author, and former CML staff.
Reading: John 14:1-14
As Jesus prepares himself and His disciples for the crucifixion and His departure from them, He delivers what has been called The Farewell Discourse. It is, in many respects, a summary of Jesus’ work on earth and a description of His relationship with His followers after His resurrection and ascension. That, of course, will be in the time of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promises in the verse immediately following this reading. (We will consider that passage next Monday.)
The discourse begins with these words: Do not let your hearts be troubled. How often I turned to those words in the course of my ministry. Hospital visits in general often ended with those words. But especially as people prepared for heart surgery or were recovering from heart attacks, Do not let your heart be troubled.
Are you or someone you love facing a difficult time physically today? Surgery, chemo, rehab? Do not let your hearts be troubled. Pray those words for yourself and for them.
Those words often came to mind when folks came to me not with broken bodies but with broken hearts. Death of a loved one, hopes utterly crushed, betrayal, fear. Do not let your heart be troubled. But their hearts were troubled, but soon, I believed, their hearts would be healed. Just repeating the words helped me in my own angst and set the stage for healing to come to those whose hearts ached.
Is your heart broken today? Do you have a family member, friend or colleague whose heart is broken today? Pray Jesus’ words, Do not let your hearts be troubled.
--Jim Bricker, Chaplain to Camp Mount Luther’s Summer Staff
Reading: Genesis 1:1-2; 2:4b-7
Our devotions from Camp Mount Luther’s summer curriculum for Day 5 (Pentecost) continue. We come today to an alternate text: the first words in the scriptures and the beginning of the second creation story in Genesis.
We encounter a reality described in different English words: Spirit of God, Wind of God, God’s wind, God’s Spirit-Wind and breath of life. Somehow, I like the Hebrew Ruach Elohim. “Ruach” is a word I will introduce in one of our devotions during Camp Mount Luther’s staff training.
When we think about God the Holy Spirit our first image is usually one of tongues of fire resting on the Apostles. Today we are encouraged to imagine the Holy Spirit hovering before creation. And, assuming that the big bang theory is correct, WOW! I can’t imagine that moment, can you? But I can envision the Spirit of God in the middle of it. You, too? All that exists is a product of God’s life-giving breath.
Some words to carry with us today from the Nicene Creed:
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.
--Jim Bricker, Chaplain to Camp Mount Luther’s Summer Staff.
Reading: Psalm 23
Chances are you could skip that step above. Who needs to open their Bible to read Psalm 23? We know it by heart or at least can get through most of it by memory. Except here is my earliest memory of the 23rd Psalm: Kindergarten Sunday School and hearing over and over again, “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want”. All I could think was, “Why would I not want the Lord? That does not make any sense at all and why do all the grown-up churchy people think this so beautiful?” I am telling you, I was very baffled.
I don’t know exactly when I had an Ah-hah! moment of understanding but it may very well have been at church camp, youth group or whenever it was that I finally read or heard a translation other than the one in the RSV Bible or on flowery bookmarks. I just know, somewhere along the way I learned,
Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need! (The Way)
The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need. (Good News)
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want. (NIV)
The Lord is my constant companion. There is no need he cannot fulfill. (Psalms Now by Leslie Brandt)
Yes! Ah-hah! It made sense. Those dear Sunday School teachers were not so contradictory after all. I just did not understand punctuation and how “I shall not want” did not mean the same as the way I felt about spinach. Boy, did I ever need that clarification. Thank you, Lord, for shepherding me to it. --Ruth Gates, frequent Camp Mount Luther Family Camper
Closing Prayer: Dear God, open our hearts and our minds to your Word so we may understand the message of your love for us. Help us also to share that message with others so they may understand, too. Amen.
Reading: I Peter 2: 19-25
This Sunday is commonly called "Good Shepherd Sunday." Our texts that we will read in church all talk about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. And so, naturally, being a camp director, my mind wandered to the song we sing at camp, "I Just Wanna Be a Sheep."
But then I read the last verse of this reading. "For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls." So often, we think of sheep as the animals that follow their masters and are obedient. But this verse reminds us that sheep often go astray. And so do we. And in that case, do we really want to be sheep? Don't we want to lead lives of following our Good Shepherd?
It's human nature to go astray. And maybe that's a good thing, because as we wander aimlessly, we are reminded that we need the Shepherd to guide us. We need to listen to Jesus' voice and follow Him.
So, yeah, I just wanna be sheep. How about you? --Chad Hershberger, Camp Mount Luther Director
Reading: Acts 2:42-47
No offense to the Bible, but I think this reading is missing several verses. Someone forgot to record those times when the growing community of Christians argued over which needs warranted extra resources, those moments when the news of another miracle drew skepticism from a handful of disciples (who wondered why that person always saw miracles and whether not a need for attention had anything to do with it), those occasions when the community debated whether it was possible to grow too large because they couldn't crowd together any more tables for the shared meals.
It's possible that the one(s) who recorded this overview of the Early Church's experiences did so with rose-colored glasses -- that is, maybe the person who wrote down these stories willfully forgot the difficult times but remembered fondly the "good old days" of the Early Church.
It's a tendency we all have: an inclination to recall certain stories of our past (our personal histories, our churches' histories, even the span of human history) with fondness and longing. And maybe the stories are true, or maybe our memories have tampered with them to forget the complications and difficulties. In any case, we're more likely to remember a rose-colored history when our present is full of change and our future is feeling bleak. We more inclined to look back when we're scared to look forward.
Prayer: God of all time, You who have been from the beginning and will remain until the end: help us to learn from our history but not to linger there in longing. Give us the courage, we pray -- and more than courage, grant us joy -- to welcome the future, knowing that you meet us in every new day. Amen.
Rachel G. Hackenberg is a United Church of Christ minister, author, and former CML staff.
Occasionally, we will reprint prior devotions that now reflect on the coming lectionary texts. This is a reprint from a devotion originally published on October 8, 2013.
Reading: John 10: 1-6
One of the memories I have of my childhood days in the church is of a stained glass window that was in the nursery of our church. It was of Jesus, in a pasture, with sheep all around Him, one in His arms. Everyone who went into that room was reminded that Jesus was the Good Shepherd and through Jesus you will enter the kingdom of heaven.
There are so many times in the Bible that Jesus is compared to a shepherd. And there are so many times that we are compared to sheep. In these verses, Jesus tells us that sheep will not follow a stranger's voice. In the same way, we, as sheep, should not follow any other voice than Jesus'. We should be wary of those voices out there that preach things that are contrary to our Christian beliefs. Hopefully, unlike the people that Jesus told the story of the sheep to, we will understand what Jesus is talking about. --Chad Hershberger, Camp Mount Luther Director
Reading: Acts 2:1-21
This summer, when our campers study Living in God’s Time, we will look at Pentecost on Fridays and learn more about the Day of Pentecost as well as the season of “Ordinary Time.” While Pentecost might be a word some of our campers have heard before, they might not remember the story of Pentecost. But they do know about birthdays and birthday parties and this story is often called the birthday of the church!
A lot happens in this story: a violent wind. Tongues of fire. Speaking in different languages. But Peter calms the crowd and reminds them that God works in mysterious ways and that this is the time to call upon God. We know that this also signifies that the Holy Spirit is now among us and we have an advocate to guide and direct us.
Throughout the church year, we learn about Jesus’ life and times on earth. When we reach Pentecost, it is time for us to reflect on the third person of the Trinity and how the Spirit indwells in us and helps us to lead a Christian life. –Chad Hershberger, Camp Mount Luther Director
Closing: Pick a word or phrase such as “God loves you” and look up how to say it in several languages. Practice saying the words. Language is one tool to tell others about God. What are some others? Close in prayer asking for the tools to tell others about God.
Reading: Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19
Read the first verses again with me. "I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live."
The psalmist says he loves the Lord because God listened to his cries. This struck me as I read this psalm because you don't often hear someone say, "I love you because you are a good listener!" I'm sure you know people in your lives who listen well but have you ever thought that is the only reason you love them?
This Sunday, we again hear the story of the disciples who were walking along the road to Emmaus. Jesus is there with them. And what does he do? Listen!
In the coming days, try harder to listen more to those you love. Maybe they, too, will grow in their love for you because you are actively listening to their voice and supplications! --Chad Hershberger, Camp Mount Luther Director
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