November 15 – November 21, 2016

WORD

1Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.  2Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them.  So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.  3Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.  4I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.  5The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.  And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Reading Scripture to Know:

  • What is happening/being said? (Observation)
  • Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
  • What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
  • What does it mean? (Understanding)
  • What does it mean for us? (Application)

Reading Scripture to Grow:

  • What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
  • Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
  • How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
  • How does this Scripture reveal God?
  • How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
  • How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
  • How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
  • What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?

Reflection: I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.

I love this imagery of gathering.  In fact, it was the very first imagery used in the Word and Spirit Guide back in February, that time in the context of a mother hen and her chicks.  This time, God uses shepherding imagery to remind the people through the prophet Jeremiah of the divine work of gathering.  Jesus uses the imagery of harvesting a crop, such as wheat, when speaking of the gathering work of God.  Regardless of the imagery used, God is the God of gathering.

We sing a song in our tradition called “Bringing in the Sheaves.”  This hymn employs the gathering imagery of bringing wheat in from the harvest.  This wheat symbolizes those who are lost, being bound up in God’s love and mercy and then brought into the storehouse of communion with the God of salvation.  I love this song and we have shared it as a family for many years.  In fact, we used to listen to a children’s hymns CD that included this track.  My youngest daughter, Caroline, would sing it a little differently though.  Unaware of what a sheaf was, she would sing loudly, “Bringing in the sheep.”  The gathering imagery works with this rendering as well!  Be it sheaves or sheep, there is great rejoicing when God gathers his beloved ones into the divine presence.

Look at the stunning image above of a shepherd and sheep cut from shrubbery.  Even though you cannot see his face, there is a tenderness evident in the shepherd’s mannerisms as he gently moves the sheep forward.  Assuming the shepherd and sheep are all on the same plane, then it appears that the shepherd has stooped down to the sheep’s level to offer them care.  Some of the sheep find rest, some find pasture, but all are safe in the presence and protection of the shepherd.  Might you be one of these sheep today?  We spoke in February of being gathered in by God.  How much progress toward being gathered in has been made in your life since then?  Will you allow God to stoop down toward you this week and usher you into the divine presence?  We are never so close that we cannot be gathered in a little bit more.

Daily Readings: 

  • Tuesday, November 15 – Ecclesiastes 3
  • Wednesday, November 16 – Ecclesiastes 4
  • Thursday, November 17 – Ecclesiastes 5
  • Friday, November 18 – Ecclesiastes 6
  • Saturday, November 19 – Ecclesiastes 7
  • Sunday, November 20 – Ecclesiastes 8
  • Monday, November 21 –  Ecclesiastes 9

 

SPIRIT

Prayer Focus: The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch…

Righteous means what is right and good in God’s judgment.  Just as Jesus was the righteous branch that connects us to the trunk of God’s righteous goodness, we are to be the fruit of that righteous goodness in the world.  Others are supposed to be able to sample our lives and taste the righteousness of God.  But often we do not embody what is good and right according to God.  Pray for those who consider themselves disciples of Jesus Christ and for the Church.  Pray that we might thirst after God’s righteousness.  Ask God for the strength to accept the wisdom and courage needed to live rightly.  Trust God to give you humility in righteousness and to take away the judgmental nature of self-righteousness.  The goodness and righteousness of God is being poured out upon you in faithfulness today.  Receive these blessed gifts today.

Meditation Focus: In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.

What does it mean to be safe?  God offers us the safety of love and compassionate mercy in a world of hate and vengeance; the safety of truth in a world of lies; and the safety of gracious provision in a world of greed and oppression.  In the Old Testament, God is referred to as a strong tower (Proverbs 18:10).  One of my favorite church songs from my childhood went like this:

The name of the Lord is
A strong tower
The righteous run into it
And they are saved
Singing, Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be the name of the Lord
The most high

Imagine a tall, strong tower in the middle of an open field.  The path that leads to it from the world becomes more and more tranquil and serene as you move closer to the tower.  Your heart becomes lighter with each step and you begin to feel a freedom of heart, mind, and soul.  As you enter the door, you are delighted to meet Jesus there.  The tower, wide and high, is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit in such a way that grace is palpable.  It is as if the arms of God are wrapped around you firmly but freely.  You are protected but not constrained.  Allow yourself to be held in this place of joy and grace.  Jesus is there to fellowship with you in this peaceful shelter.  Jesus wants to give you many gifts of love here.  What do you receive from Jesus?  Before you leave, hear the divine invitation to come back to this strong tower soon.  As you leave to go back out into the world, how do you feel?  How will you carry the safety of God with you and translate it to others that you meet?  How might you describe the experience of the loving safety of God?  How might you lead them to their own strong tower?

Journaling Focus: Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 

At the beginning of this encouraging passage is this warning to not scatter the sheep of God.  Unfortunately, sometimes Christians do not act like Christ.  This can drive the sheep – the children – of God away from God.  I once had a conversation with a woman who had been denied communion and never returned to a church after that.  The hateful actions of a supposed follower of Christ had contributed to her isolation from God.  How have you seen those who claim the name of Jesus Christ act in such ways?  How does it make you feel when you witness such hostility and hypocrisy?  Allow the Holy Spirit to examine your heart.  Do the ways in which you represent Christ ever scatter the sheep of God’s pasture?  How might you allow God to safeguard your heart and actions so that you become a gatherer and not one who scatters?

Breath Prayer: Father, gather us in to your love.

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