The First Reading: Mark 7:1-15

The First Reading is a weekly vlog that looks at the scripture and themes coming up in our worship together at Franklin United Methodist Church.

The reading for Sunday, January 24, 2021, comes from Mark 7:1-15.

We hope you’ll consider joining our worship together on Sunday, January 24, 2021, at 10am ET as we continue reflecting upon this text. To join the service using Google Meet, click here.

The First Reading: Mark 4:35-41

The First Reading is a five-minute (or less!) vlog that looks at the scripture and themes coming up in our worship together at Franklin United Methodist Church.

The reading for Sunday, January 17, 2021, comes from Mark 4:35-41.

We hope you’ll consider joining our worship together on Sunday, January 17, 2021, at 10am ET as we continue reflecting upon this text. To join the service using Google Meet, click here.

A Communal Lament in COVID-times

This lament was written as part of our Life Together small group discussion on October 1. We had spent three weeks discussing the Book of Lamentations and were modeling our final lament after the final lament in the book. Lamentations 5 is the only lament spoken by the community and the community’s cry is addressed solely to God (unlike the other laments which seem to be addressed to God and anyone who will listen). The community is relentless in their protest–their description of what is wrong in God’s world–and they issue a series of challenging questions, near the end, to God. With Lamentations 5 as our model, the group gathered on October 1 humbly offers their lament. It is unedited (language alert).

A Communal Lament in COVID-times

Life is not normal, Lord,
and we don’t know why.
A sickness is spreading
faster than we can keep up.
We are afraid:
a cough may not be just a cough,
allergies may be more than the sniffles.
Our heads ache.
Is it the plague?
Our loved ones are getting sick.
people are dying alone.
Family cannot visit.
Even those who recover
are not well.

And we’re pissed.
You gave us scientists and physicians
to help care for us
and people are not listening.
It is getting worse.
People are out of work.
There are food shortages.
Our young people think they are invincible,
others are in denial
and all are getting sick
some are dying.
Our elders and persons of color
are disproportionately effected:
they are seen as expendable casualties.
Our leaders have failed us.
Our healthcare system is overwhelmed–
understaffed and short supplied.

Where are you, O God, in the midst of all this?
Did you create this plague?
Why does this devastate some and not others? Are you choosing who dies?
Have you, O God, forsaken us? Have we forsaken you?
How could you allow us to suffer? What have we done to deserve this?
How can you allow your children to put others at risk?
When will you comfort us?
When will rest come?

Devotional || Psalm 29

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

You, divine beings! Give to the Lord—
    give to the Lord glory and power!
Give to the Lord the glory due his name!
    Bow down to the Lord in holy splendor!

The Lord’s voice is over the waters;
    the glorious God thunders;
        the Lord is over the mighty waters.
The Lord’s voice is strong;
    the Lord’s voice is majestic.
The Lord’s voice breaks cedar trees—
    yes, the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon jump around like a young bull,
    makes Sirion jump around like a young wild ox.
The Lord’s voice unleashes fiery flames;
    the Lord’s voice shakes the wilderness—
        yes, the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The Lord’s voice convulses the oaks,
    strips the forests bare,
        but in his temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the floodwaters;
    the Lord sits enthroned—king forever!

11 Let the Lord give strength to his people!
    Let the Lord bless his people with peace!

Psalm 29, Common English Bible

Psalm 29 speaks to the glory of God. It is the heart of the Psalms and the gospel. We believe in the greatness of God. In the Lord’s prayer we pray, “for thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever”. The Psalm reminds us that God is in charge, not humans. As humans we want to believe that we are in control of our lives. We want to believe that we are providing for ourselves. The self-made man is an ideal for many. The Psalm reminds us that though we may have had success in our lives, that God had a hand in it. God gives us gifts of knowledge and science to help us understand what God has created.

It is easy for me to say, I had a great career. I was respected throughout my work life. I made a difference in the lives of my co-workers and patients. Yet I know that I could not have managed to do my job, without time in worship every week. I was recharged with prayer, scripture, read and interpreted and singing.  I spent time with the scriptures and prayer every morning before work, even though it meant getting up earlier, because I knew that God was by my side and would get me through my day.

I thought that I would work much longer, but then was struck with ALS. I continue to begin each day with prayer and scripture reading, because God provides me with the strength to keep going even as my body fails me, bit by bit. I can enjoy my life and continue with a positive attitude, because I know that God is helping me deal with this. I can pray for a treatment to slow the disease and for a cure, but realistically, I know that isn’t likely. My choice is to just sit around and bemoan my fate, or to trust that God is in charge and will help me along my path; and that in the end, I will be leaving my failing body behind and entering into life eternal with God. I choose the latter.

In this time of COVID-19 which has disrupted all our lives; in this time of severe political division in our nation and the world; in this time of protests and concerns about police actions against African-Americans and against protesters, all of us can choose to live with God’s glory and God’s promises to be with us and to be in control, or we can choose to think we are in control and forget God.

“Shalom – peace, well-being, security – does not begin with out efforts, but with our openness to God’s claim upon us and the ways God has gifted us.” (From the New Interpreter’s Bible)

Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. Erica Robinson-Johnson, Assistant to the Bishop/Director of Connectional Ministries

God, you made everything … beautiful and good
We praise you today for creating 
    day and night
    the earth, sky, and seas
    the sun, moon, and stars
    the plants and animals of every kind
God, you made everything … beautiful and good
And you invited us into all of that goodness
You created us, your beloved community, in your very own image and likeness
And you called it all good … very good
All of your creation is beautiful and good

Forgive us for trying to create you in our image and likeness…
For it is the other way around
We can look into a mirror and see only part of you
To fully embrace the beauty and goodness that you are and that you created,
We shall recognize the fullness of your creation
And only when we truly see all that you have made and called good
Will we see the fullness of who you are.


Devotional || Psalm 8

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic
    is your name throughout the earth!
    You made your glory higher than heaven![b]
From the mouths of nursing babies
    you have laid a strong foundation
    because of your foes,
    in order to stop vengeful enemies.
When I look up at your skies,
    at what your fingers made—
    the moon and the stars
    that you set firmly in place—
        what are human beings
            that you think about them;
        what are human beings
            that you pay attention to them?
You’ve made them only slightly less than divine,
    crowning them with glory and grandeur.
You’ve let them rule over your handiwork,
    putting everything under their feet—
        all sheep and all cattle,
        the wild animals too,
        the birds in the sky,
        the fish of the ocean,
        everything that travels the pathways of the sea.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!

Psalm 8, Common English Bible

Today, we have another Psalm of praise for God’s creation. David, the Psalmist speaks of the amazing universe, the stars and the moon and the beauty of the earth itself. He wonders at the place of humans among all of God’s glory. He is amazed that God considers us at all among all that is. He is in awe of our place in creation, that we can control all of the other creatures of the land and the sea. In this Psalm, David is feeling insignificant as he studies the awesome beauty around him.

I was just reading in my National Wildlife magazine that if the humans disappeared, the earth would barely notice, though I’m sure that it would heal itself. However, if the insects and other invertebrates disappeared nothing would survive for very long. They are the basis of life, food for birds, and other creatures. They clean up the dead carcasses; they pollinate the plants; earthworms move the earth around and keep the soil aerated. As we plant our gardens and look at our lawns, we use a lot of pesticides which kill the helpful insects, while killing the annoying and harmful ones. As we plant beautiful flowers in our gardens, native plants provide food for native birds, while exotic plants look pretty, but native birds can’t eat them.

Humans are only one type of creature in God’s universe. Regardless of the color of our skin, we are all human beings, and all have the same 22 chromosomes. Our genes give us different eye color and hair color and facial features, and different color skin, but we have the same DNA. Somehow, we forget that, and see only the outside appearance. Help us to remember that the Lord, God created us all and loves us all equally.

God has created an amazing world for us to live in, but we are only caretakers for a little while in the history of the earth and in the universe. As we look at the stars and the moon, we wonder at what is out there in the rest of the universe. Has God created life on other planets? We send spaceships out to try to find out about other planets in our own galaxy- what an amazing brain that God has given us to be able to do that.

Yet, we are just a small part of the universe. We can only sit back in awe at the sunrises and sunsets. When we get out of the cities, we can see the millions of stars in the sky, and wonder, like David did, “what are human beings, that you pay attention to them.”

“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!”

Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. Taesung-Kang, New Hampshire District Superintendent (based on Psalm 8 & Genesis 1:2-4a)

Holy Trinity, who creates, redeems, and sustains us.
You who are filled with wonder and splendor,
You who made us in your image and call us your children,
You who brought us out of the darkness into your light,
You who dwells among us and guides us to the fullness of life.

As we begin this day with heavy hearts for what’s happening around us,
We turn to you in a desperation and with righteous anger,
Without your presence and peace, we lose our way. 

God of mercy and grace,
Forgive us for our silence and ignorance about systematic racism and injustice,
Humble us so we may repent our sin against you and our siblings, 
Open our eyes, O God, so that we may see your own image in all of whom you have made,
Give us your prophetic words and courage to speak out against injustice, 
Strengthen us to confront unjust systems so we may dismantle racial prejudice,
Help us to embrace one another with love as we work towards equality for all races,
Impart your peace and comfort unto those who have deeply been hurt by the sin of racism,
Heal us all, your precious children, and bind us together by the power of the Holy Spirit,

So that …
In our generation, 
We may truly celebrate one another for all that we are,
We may live out more fully your kin-dom here on earth,
We ask it in your Triune Name — the name above all names, now and forevermore. Amen. 

Devotional || Psalm 104:24-34

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

24 Lord, you have done so many things!
    You made them all so wisely!
The earth is full of your creations!
25 And then there’s the sea, wide and deep,
    with its countless creatures—
    living things both small and large.
26 There go the ships on it,
    and Leviathan, which you made, plays in it!
27 All your creations wait for you
    to give them their food on time.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up;
    when you open your hand, they are filled completely full!
29 But when you hide your face, they are terrified;
    when you take away their breath,
    they die and return to dust.
30 When you let loose your breath, they are created,
    and you make the surface of the ground brand-new again.

31 Let the Lord’s glory last forever!
    Let the Lord rejoice in all he has made!
32 He has only to look at the earth, and it shakes.
    God just touches the mountains, and they erupt in smoke.

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I’m still alive.
34 Let my praise be pleasing to him;
    I’m rejoicing in the Lord!

Psalm 104:24-34, Common English Bible

This is a beautiful Psalm of praise to God for all of creation. The earlier verses, not included in the reading for today, detailed the wonders of creation, and how the ecology of creation cares for itself, providing food for all God’s creatures. Verse 24 speaks to the wisdom of God’s creation.

We are to care for creation, because God gave us that instruction in Genesis 1. We are to care for creation because the Lord God made it all. We have seen the effects of what happens to the earth when we abuse it as we see the effects of climate change. We see areas with droughts as grass requiring water is planted in deserts, floods as fossil fuels raise the temperature of the earth and melt the glaciers. We have seen polluted water where fish cannot survive. We have seen decreases in pollinating insects, especially bees, which will decrease the food we have to eat. Populations of the smallest creatures are decreasing as we try to keep them out of our environment.

And yet, as the pandemic continues and we sit at home, rather than in our cars, we are watching the earth come back to life, polluted waters clear, animals come back to the streets. God had great wisdom in creating the earth, and God made it so that it could recover. As anyone who has plowed a field, then left it fallow for a year has seen, the wildness will quickly return. My parents visited Mount St. Helens 2 years after the volcano erupted. They expected a black mass of lava, but were amazed to see how much plant life had already recovered and was growing and healthy.

God is good. We need to care for God’s good earth because we love God and love all that God has created. Bless the Lord, Oh my soul! Praise the Lord!

Devotional || Psalm 33:12-22

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

12 The nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people whom God has chosen as his possession,
    is truly happy!
13 The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees every human being.
14 From his dwelling place God observes
    all who live on earth.
15 God is the one who made all their hearts,
    the one who knows everything they do.

16 Kings aren’t saved by the strength of their armies;
    warriors aren’t rescued by how much power they have.
17 A warhorse is a bad bet for victory;
    it can’t save despite its great strength.
18 But look here: the Lord’s eyes watch all who honor him,
    all who wait for his faithful love,
19     to deliver their lives[a] from death
    and keep them alive during a famine.

20 We put our hope in the Lord.
    He is our help and our shield.
21 Our heart rejoices in God
    because we trust his holy name.
22 Lord, let your faithful love surround us
    because we wait for you.

Psalm 33:12-22, Common English Bible

This Psalm reminds us that God is Lord of all. God has given each of us gifts to use, but we did not choose what gift we would receive. God has provided for each of us according to God’s plan. Our strength, our intelligence, our musical abilities, our sports prowess  are all gifts from God. Yes, we are called to use the gifts we have received, and we are to develop and improve them, but we have received our gifts from above.

Our strength comes from God, we are not in charge. All the power of world leaders comes from God. Our armies and navies have power from God. As we recognize this and look to God for strength, inspiration and creativity, we receive more bountiful gifts. We are fearful in this time of the pandemic, but God loves us and is watching over us. If we can put our trust in God, he will help us with fear and loneliness. If our leaders look to God for guidance, we will get through this.

When we think we are in charge, we ignore God and are filled with pride at our own accomplishments. We believe that because we can determine the human genome, or the genome of the Coronavirus, that science is in charge, and we forget that God created all, God gave us the intelligence to understand it scientifically.

As religion and belief in God become less important in our modern society, we lose something. We don’t see humility as a strength. Jesus’s power was most evident when the world saw him as weak, as he hung on the cross. Leave your pride behind, and open yourself to God’s power and love.

God’s steadfast love is there for us each and every day. We find our joy in trusting in God’s steadfast love.

A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. Nancy C. Townley (selected by Willaim V. Burnside II, Conference Treasurer)

Lord God, you know us too well. You know that we would be like the disciples following the crucifixion and even the resurrection. We would rather hide and mutter and weep, than proclaim the power of your love. 

The world is a difficult place. We fear so much. We want people to like us, and so we hold back on our proclamation of our faith. We don’t want to offend anyone. But your love and presence are not offensive. They are empowering and healing. 

Bring your holy fire upon us this day to ignite a spark of joy in our hearts and our voices. Bring the power of your rushing wind through our spirits that we may be turned in new directions for service and witness. 

We pray this in Jesus’ Name. AMEN.

Devotional || Psalm 99

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

The Lord rules—
    the nations shake!
    He sits enthroned on the winged heavenly creatures—
    the earth quakes!
The Lord is great in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them thank your great and awesome name.
    He is holy!

Strong king[a] who loves justice,
    you are the one who established what is fair.
    You worked justice and righteousness in Jacob.
Magnify the Lord, our God!
    Bow low at his footstool!
    He is holy!
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
    Samuel too among those who called on his name.
They cried out to the Lord, and he himself answered them—
    he spoke to them from a pillar of cloud.
They kept the laws and the rules God gave to them.
Lord our God, you answered them.
    To them you were a God who forgives
    but also the one who avenged their wrong deeds.
Magnify the Lord our God!
    Bow low at his holy mountain
    because the Lord our God is holy!

Psalm 99, Common English Bible

God is Holy, God rules. God has been with us from the beginning of human existence. God was with Moses and Aaron before there was a temple, even before the Ten Commandments had been handed down. God ruled over the Israelites and over all the nations, and God still rules today.

When Jesus was born as a human baby, and grew to be the Messiah, when he gave his life for our sins, and was resurrected to bring us salvation, he showed us a better way to live.  Jesus taught us to bring his kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. Jesus loves justice as God does. Jesus showed us the way to care for the poor and needy, to love our enemies and  to love our neighbors as ourselves. He taught us who our neighbors are.

In this Psalm, God loves justice, God forgives our sins, but also punishes them. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross does not give us carte blanche to do whatever we want, Jesus expects us to repent and become like him, recognizing that as humans we will all have our bad moments.

In this time of pandemic COVID-19, we are seeing where healthcare disparities exist, as we see the socio-economic differences in who dies from the virus, not just the aged, but those with diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Nearly ¾ of those who have died have been African-American or Hispanic. As people become unemployed, they are losing their employer based health insurance. COBRA is expensive and how do you pay it when you’re unemployed? We are called to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Where are we called to be advocates and make a real difference in the lives of others? Remember, God is holy;God calls us to justice; and, God loves us and all the nations; God loves the poor and doesn’t care about the color of your skin.

Bow low before God’s majesty, because the Lord our God is Holy.

A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. Dr. David V. Calhoun, Superintendent of the Connecticut/Western Massachusetts District (based on John 17:1-11 & Acts 1:6-14)

O God, we open our collective souls to your presence, and we bow before the mystery of your creative power. We lift our hearts to you as the source of our creation, and our help in every time of need. As we find ourselves at the dawning of a new day, we ask for your continued strength as we reach for greater knowledge. Impart upon us the spiritual gifts that we need for this day; and for all of our tomorrows. 

Though we encounter the trials of life, you, O God, remain our constant companion. Be with those undergoing difficulties in coping with the challenges of life today. You know our fears when life seems unfair and when we feel faint of heart. You know the angst that obstructs us, the temptations we resist, and the limitations we must overcome. Help us to release our resentments, and fill us with your peace.

We live in the assurance that you free us from that which is destructive. Preserve our lives according to your will, and for the sake of your realm. Help us to seek your good for the world, and to serve one another in the fellowship of our Christ like spirits. Give us courage in the midst of this pandemic, and grant us peace as we are walk through uncharted valleys. Make us valiant in our service to you and the world. Grant us with a sense of your presence, and fill us with courage as we come again to a greater certainty. 

We thank you for the qualities of goodness, mercy, wisdom and love that you have blessed us with; and may we be a witness to these things.   Amen and Amen

Devotional || Psalm 47

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

Clap your hands, all you people!
    Shout joyfully to God with a joyous shout!
Because the Lord Most High is awesome,
    he is the great king of the whole world.
He subdues the nations under us,
    subdues all people beneath our feet.
He chooses our inheritance for us:
    the heights of Jacob, which he loves. Selah

God has gone up with a joyous shout—
    the Lord with the blast of the ram’s horn.
Sing praises to God! Sing praises!
    Sing praises to our king! Sing praises
    because God is king of the whole world!
    Sing praises with a song of instruction![a]

God is king over the nations.
    God sits on his holy throne.
The leaders of all people are gathered
    with the people of Abraham’s God
    because the earth’s guardians belong to God;
        God is exalted beyond all.

Psalm 47, Common English Bible

God is in control, not just of our corner of the world, not just of Christians, but of the whole world. God is creator and redeemer and God’s grace welcomes everyone.

Jesus came to the earth to live among us and show us a better way, a way to love God and one another. Jesus taught and prayed and preached as he healed and cared for all he met. He told the disciples: “19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age” (Matt:28:19-20).

Then he ascended into heaven. This Psalm refers to God going up, other versions say God ascended, and there was a joyous shout. After the ascension of Jesus, the disciples waited and worried about the promise that Jesus had made to send them an advocate until on Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they were energized to preach the gospel and bring thousands to Christ. We still can shout with joy, for we, too, have the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us and bring us hope.

We long for the day when the leaders of all nations can sit together singing praises to God because God is the king of the whole earth.

A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. Jill Colley-Robinson, Vermont District Superintendent

Rising Christ,
Couldn’t you stay just a bit longer?
Couldn’t you teach us more about the scriptures?
There is so much in this life that we still do not understand.
Couldn’t you sit down to one more meal with us,
keeping us company while we keep our distance from others?
Couldn’t you tell us one more time about forgiveness —
how it changes everything and sets us free?
Couldn’t you hold off on sending the promised power?
We want you here with us.
We know you.
We need you.
Are you sure you want us, with all of our inadequacies,
to be your witnesses?
If indeed we must be your witnesses
stay, and show us more of what you intend.
Please stay.
Why does it always feel like there is not enough time —
like we should have known then what we know now and made different choices?
….. These are yesterday’s questions — even last night’s desperate requests.
But in the light of today, in the most graceful way imaginable,
you lift our doubts and longings and uncertainties
and take them with you.
We are unburdened and ready, just as you hoped.

If in the future the old ache creeps back in, as it invariably does,
help us to once again embrace today’s final, miraculous gesture
as we lift our faces to the stunning spring sky —
blessing us.

Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift.


Devotional || Psalm 93

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

The Lord rules!
    He is robed in majesty—
    the Lord is robed,
    clothed with strength.
Yes, he set the world firmly in place;[a]
    it won’t be shaken.
Your throne is set firm for a very long time.
    You are eternal!

Lord, the floods have raised up—
    the floods have raised up their voices;
    the floods raise up a roar!
But mightier than the sound of much water,
    mightier than the sea’s waves,
    mighty on high is the Lord!
Your laws are so faithful.
    Holiness decorates your house, Lord, for all time.

Psalm 93, Common English Bible

God is in charge! From the beginning of time and on into the future. God is in charge. God rules. God is and has always been–Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer. The waters of the earth are powerful; floods and hurricanes with all their power are not more powerful than God, though they may seem to be stronger in the midst of the storm.

The coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic are not stronger than God. God stands among us to carry us through and God will be with us as we begin to move out of our homes and back into the world.  In the midst of suffering and death, in the midst of economic collapse, we believe that God is there. Jesus came to call us to the kingdom of God, and invited his disciples to enter the kingdom. “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:14-15). We are called to decide- are we kingdom people or not.

The Hebrew people complained repeatedly through their time in the wilderness and God always provided for them. So, if today is one of those days when you are miserable and can’t think of anything except your complaints, raise them up to God.  Just as God provided for the Hebrew wanderers, God will provide for you and find a way to lift your spirits. We are seeing improvement in our situation now, but we don’t know when it will be brought to a new normal. Yet we have the promise of the kingdom, the promise of God’s rule in the world, which brings us comfort, peace and strength despite the reality of the troubles the world faces.

Claim the Kingdom!  Praise the Lord!

A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. Ted Crass, President of The United Methodist Foundation of New England

Loving God,
Thank you for these Spring days that explode with new life.
For the flowering crab apple, cherry, dogwood, redbud, and plum
For the buds that pop with leaves that unfurl
For warblers, phoebes, grosbeaks, and indigo bunting
For the blue skies and warm sun.
I thank you that this same Spring comes in the diversity of other plants, trees, birds and signs in other lands, too.
And that the warmth of your sheltering love can be felt all over creation.
This morning, I bring to mind the faces of friends in Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceana, South America, the Middle East, and also here in my little corner of the world.
Whether welcoming the same Spring or facing the same pandemic,
They are my sisters and brothers.
Today, I pray a prayer of peace for these my siblings, for their land and for mine.
Help me never to forget 
That their joy is my joy and that mine is theirs,
That their suffering is my suffering and that mine is theirs,
That we cannot fully realize our own being without each other.
O God, help me never to forget our shared oneness in Christ 
As I enter this blessed Spring morning.