Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Lost or Found

Luke 15:31-32 New International Version (NIV)

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

In 1988, Dave and I took our daughters on a trip to Scotland.  While there, we visited St. Giles Cathedral where I bought crosses for my daughters, my mother and me.  I thought it would be very symbolic that the five of us had identical crosses from St. Giles Cathedral because Scotland is our ancestral home.  And St. Giles is like the mother church for Presbyterians.

I treasured that necklace but worried that I might lose it some day, so I took it to a jeweler to have him solder the sliding loop which attached the cross to the chain.  While walking across the parking lot with the necklace in the little brown envelope, the cross slipped out.  I didn't notice it was missing from the envelope for several days.  When I went back to the jeweler and the parking lot, it wasn't there.

I have mourned the loss of that symbolic tie that bound me, my mother and my daughters to our ancestral home until I taught a class last fall on crosses.  We were to bring in a cross that meant a lot to us.  Again I thought back to my missing cross.  In the class, Debbie related a similar story of a cross that had been her mother's that she had lost.  I started thinking about the missing crosses and the hymn Amazing Grace kept going through my head.  "I once was lost but now am found"  The flip side of losing something so precious, is someone else may have found it.  And, it may have come to them at a low point in their lives.  Hopefully the warm feelings and love that were attached to that cross were passed on to them.  Now, I am at peace and don't think of it as being lost, but rather found.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Marion Medical Mission

Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kills more people annually than all forms of violence, including war. In the world, 663 million people do not have access to clean water. About half of the world’s population who lack clean water live in Africa.

Marion Medical Mission has played an active role in the fight against dirty water. Since 1990, they have built over 31,000 wells in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia providing over four million people with a sustainable source of safe drinking water. Without Christ, that would not have been impossible! With Him, all is possible. And by His power, we believe that countless millions of others will receive life-giving water.

It's not too late to give up coffee, soda, wine for Lent.  By drinking just water during Lent, you can help in two ways.  First, you can appreciate having clean water to drink anytime you want.  But also the money you save by drinking water can be donated to Marion Medical Mission so others can share in the luxury of clean water.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Worship Prayers for March 17


God of Love, God of Peace, this fractured word cries out in pain, burns deep into my soul, and challenges me to make a difference.
God of Love, God of Peace, God of this world, scarred by grief and tears ignorance and  fear, soften hearts of stone and begin with mine.
God of Love, God of Peace, create within me a heart for people, a desire for change, for new beginnings to start this day.


The LORD is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord all my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
Come! Let us worship our saving LORD together.


Merciful God, you made us citizens of heaven, but we confess we have set our minds on earthly things. We let our desire for security restrain our commitment to serve the poor. We let our fear of danger curb our obligation to love our enemies. We let our love of things dull our generosity to the needy. We let our craving for public status prevent our honesty about hidden sins. Yet, you know the desires of our heart and nothing is hidden from you. By the power of the Holy Spirit, conform our sin-weakened bodies to the glory of Christ, that we may be the body of Christ for the world. (Silent Confession)

For the sermon,"Catching Stones", Click Here.

*J. Birch, faithandworship.com

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Scripture for March 24

Luke 13:1-9 New International Version (NIV)

Repent or Perish
Photo by Kawin Harasai on Unsplash

13 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Daily Prayer March 22

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

Jesus, Good Shepherd of the sheep, by whom the lost are sought and guided into the fold: Feed us and we shall be satisfied, heal us and we shall be whole, and lead us that we may be with you, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Almighty God, by grace alone you call us and accept us in your service. Strengthen us by your Spirit, and make us worthy of your call. Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation. In the beginning you separated light from darkness and placed all your works in our hands. You have given us the light of day that we might see your wonders in all we say and do; you give us the gentle darkness of the night that we might rest from our burdens and be refreshed in body and spirit. Break through the darkness of our sins with the splendor of your mercy and love. Send your light to dispel our fears and anxieties and fill us with hope and joy. Glory, praise, and honor are yours, O God. (Add your prayers.) Amen.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

(Opening sentences, prayers, and blessings are from the Book of Common Worship. Readings are from the daily lectionary in Daily Prayer. Both are published by Westminster/John Knox Press.)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Presbyterian Women's Retreat 2019

Deuteronomy 14:2 New International Version (NIV)

for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.
Twenty-eight women gathered at Toddhall in Columbia, IL, for the 22nd Annual St. Mark Women’s retreat on March 8-9, 2019.  This year’s theme was Treasured—You are a Gem
Our Bible study led by Marie Holt, Stacey Caplinger, Christy Brewer, and Laurie Dolson focused on how from coal to diamonds, we are continually being transformed in Christ and reflecting his glory and light into the world.  In Deuteronomy 14:2 it is written, “For you are holy to the Lord your God; it is you the Lord has chosen to be his treasured possession.”  The women committed to keeping their lights shining in word, deed and song.  Right on cue, the sun even came out after the gloomy rain!

The women enjoyed fellowship time as they put together informational packets about Newborns in Need, PW’s newest mission project.  Thanks to Shirley Boeker and Louise Grothe for organizing this activity.  Packets will be distributed to the congregation as a collection of needed items begins in April.  In a “show and tell” session we shared gems and treasures from our lives with one another.  The jewel theme carried on in a most enjoyable retreat game night.  The real sparkle at the retreat came from the creation of necklaces following the direction of Lynn Laux, our own jeweler-in-residence.  

Before leaving retreat, the women again gathered in prayers of thanksgiving, reflection on how God’s love shines through us and a community meal. 

The retreat was a product of love, dedication, time and talents.  Thanks to everyone who helped make this truly a treasured time.  Mark your calendars now for the 2020 retreat February 28-29!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Reflections on Ragamuffin Gospel

Grace Again?

Why do we keep coming back to the message: God loves us, though we do not deserve it,  the essential meaning of grace? We enter the kingdom of God by this door, but keep going out and coming in again. It is like a recurrent dream that we can not escape. We are only asked to believe it, as if we didn't believe it the first time, as if believing needs to be practiced, because it is so easily unlearned.

If you think believing once in your life  is complete redemption, just listen to the bitter voice of a KKK clansman or the rage of  a sniper, his faith broken by PTSD. Grace may be offered to all, but all do not accept it.

Even when we accept the message of grace, we easily give it away. It is no less than human nature to believe that "Discipleship will be an untarnished success story; life will be an unbroken spiral toward holiness," as Brennan Manning says (30). The church itself has devised an upward spiral toward holiness: baptism, confirmation, wedding, funeral. How many  people stand before Godonly on these occasions? Only then to remind themselves of the grace of God, because they do not want to be reminded of it every day. The church is complicit in this myth that we are always on the upward way because we entered the right door once.

We can hardly blame the church for our hard hearing, our stony hearts. We do not want to live our lives at the mercy of God by our very nature. We have a merit badge mentality, that we gain God's favor only by the faithfulness of the Elder Brother, not the fickleness of the Prodigal Son.  If we are members of a church, we inevitably want to consider our faithfulness as a secure investment in a heavenly enterprise. How often are church people offended if they are passed over for a position, if they are not publicly recognized for their service, or if a newcomer gets most of the attention.  We are always checking our status in the kingdom of God, because we assume we have earned it. 

Jesus is  hard on the Pharisees, the most religious people in the Gospels, because, like church members today, they easily succumb to self-righteousness. What does this mean--"self-righteousness"? Merriam-Webster says: "convinced of one's own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others narrow-mindedly moralistic."  Look how the definition becomes more offensive with each clarification:
  1.  Convinced of righteousness
  2. In contrast with  . . . others
  3. Narrow-mindedly moralistic
Self-righteousness is a degenerative condition. First we are convinced of being right, then we feel superior to others, and then we develop a code that proves how right we are.  None of this is conscious or intentional.  We develop a shell and feel its protection against need, against vulnerability.

The shell of self-righteousness is what Jesus has to knock against to get through to us. We are saved, but have become water-resistant to the streams of mercy. We are among God's hard cases, because we believe we are righteous.
So insidious this shell,  it can secrete from merely writing or speaking about self-righteousness (as I am doing now). Writers and speakers have the severe obligation to live what they communicate or the shell of self-righteousness encases them. Preachers and teachers have to be the first audience for their language or it loses its power and freshness. It is hard to preach vulnerably, much easier to write or speak from a pedestal, claiming superiority. It happens by losing the touch of grace, hiding under the shell of self-righteousness, which Jesus has to bang against to get our attention.

"Prone to wander, Lord I feel it."  To experience grace again and again is to be eternally vulnerable and open to God's mercy. Not a place we will easily gravitate to, a place we are more likely to run from, a dangerous place.  So we are called back to grace again and again. We are reminded again and again that we have earned nothing in the Kingdom of God. We are saved by grace day by day.  Every day a child, seeing the newness of life and the joy of forgiveness.

Bill Tucker

Discussions of the book will continue at noon on Facebook Live or at 6 PM in room 102.
Click here for last week's discussion.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Principle of Redemption

Photo by ZSun Fu on Unsplash
“Is there some law forbidding me to do with my money as I please? Or is your eye filled with envy because I am generous?”
The Parable of the Vineyard Laborers rankles our sense of fairness and entitlement. Why would God, the vineyard proprietor, reward his workers equally when they had not worked equivalent hours? Shouldn’t they be rewarded in proportion to their service?
Most parents and teachers can respond to this question, because they have played the role of the vineyard owner.  They may have also played the role of the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  In desperate love for those who have reneged their responsibilities, they make concessions or rewards to restore their place in the family or in the class.  Their heartfelt wish is for that son or daughter to succeed and be reunited with the faithful ones.
But when we are the early laborer or the elder son, we are stung by the generosity of the proprietor or the father.  We can only interpret this generosity as a slight of our faithfulness.  It is not the principle of equality that we feel has been offended, it is more personal.  It is our own status in the eyes of the proprietor or the father that has been threatened.
This is the real reason that the wealthy and the gifted struggle at the doors of the Kingdom of God. The wealthy and the gifted have reason to resent the extravagant generosity of the proprietor. They feel they have earned their place in the kingdom, whereas the late-comers, the pretenders, have been given a free ride.  The loyal employees want to be acknowledged for their success, their faithfulness.
The proprietor, in his apparent capriciousness and disdain for equality, has set an example for us. He has indiscriminately shared his wealth with anyone who “showed up.”  He has substituted the principle of redemption for the principle of equality: we should redeem whomever we can at the expense of equality. That degree of love makes no sense outside the vineyard, but in the vineyard it turns every malingering soul into a faithful laborer. God’s uninhibited generosity: that is the principle of redemption.
Bill Tucker
Reprinted with permission of the author:  https://lentenblog.wordpress.com/page/2/March 11, 2010 by ypsilantibill

Monday, March 18, 2019

Lenten Challenge

Jesus said in John 7:37-38, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said,‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

For the past 18 years, St. Mark has supported Marion Medical Mission through our Christmas Alternatives Gift Fair. During the past two years, St. Mark member donations have funded the construction of 15 wells. We are beginning our second annual Lenten Challenge on Ash Wednesday.

Pastor Dave has encouraged his congregations for the past 10 years to drink only clean tap water for the 40 days of Lent. Giving up the morning trip to Starbucks or the evening glass of wine might be a tall task for some, but it will help us comprehend how much money we spend on beverages. Moreover, we can use the money we save to support more wells in Africa.

We are blessed to have clean water in our community, and this challenge helps us to understand the needs of those who have less, and support groups who are working to provide living water for all God’s children.

Christine Polak, Mission Committee

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Worship Prayers for March 10

CENTERING PRAYER  [*J. Birch, faithandworship.com]

For each step that we might take, be our guide, O Lord of life.
For each load that we might bear, be our strength, O Lord of life.
For each mountain we might face, be our power, O Lord of life.
For each river that might impede, be our safety, O Lord of life.
For each place where we might rest, be our peace, O Lord of life.
For each sunrise and sunset, be our joy, O Lord of life


The season of Lent sets us on a journey.
The journey begins in the wilderness.
We follow the way of Jesus, who faced trials, trouble, temptation, and testing.
Like Jesus, we are not alone. The Holy Spirit is with us. God’s Word is on our lips.
Our call is to trust in God alone and to do God’s will in all things.
For God leads us not only into the wilderness but also through the wilderness.
Come! Let us worship the Lord together.


O God, our refuge and fortress, forgive us when we fail to trust in you. We fall to temptation; we are swayed by false words, and we speak untruths of our own. We choose our ease and comfort over your demanding claims upon us and upon the world. In turning from you, we settle for less than the abundant generosity you intend. Forgive us, we pray. Do not let us be put to shame, O God. Hear us as we call to you and show your salvation. We continue to pray in Christ’s name. (Silent Confession)

For the Sermon "Two Steps Forward. . .",  Click here.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Scripture for March 17

Luke 13:31-35 New International Version (NIV)
Photo by K Kannan on Unsplash

Jesus’ Sorrow for Jerusalem

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophetcan die outside Jerusalem!
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[a]


  1. Luke 13:35 Psalm 118:26
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Daily Prayer March 15

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise: I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness.

  • Morning Psalms 22; 148
  • First Reading Deuteronomy 10:12-22
  • Second Reading Hebrews 4:11-16
  • Gospel Reading John 3:22-36
  • Evening Psalms 105; 130

  • Faithful God, your promises stand unshaken through all generations. Renew us in hope, that we may be awake and alert watching for the coming of Jesus Christ, our judge and savior. May we boldly proclaim the good news of his coming, by the words of our mouths and the deeds of our lives, rejoicing always in your powerful presence. We thank you, Lord God, for brave and believing people who brought your message to this place, may we follow as they followed, in the way, truth, and life of Jesus Christ, the head of the church. Loving God, you want us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing except losing you, and to lay all our cares on you, knowing that you care for us. Protect us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds in this mortal life may hide from us the light of your immortal love shown to us in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Add your prayers.) Amen.
    Go in peace to love and serve the Lord in the power of his resurrection. Alleluia!

    (Opening sentences, prayers, and blessings are from the Book of Common Worship. Readings are from the daily lectionary in Daily Prayer. Both are published by Westminster/John Knox Press.)