Psalm 351 LORD, plead my case when I am charged
by foes maliciously;
And fight for me, when they attack
and vent their spite on me.
2 Take up your shield! Come to my aid!
3 Speak to my soul and say,
“I’m your salvation.” With your spear
cut off my en’mies’ way.
4 May those who seek to take my life
endure disgrace and shame;
May those who plot my overthrow
turn back the way they came.
5 May they like chaff before the wind
be blown in disarray,
And by the angel of the LORD
be driven far away.
6 LORD, make their pathway insecure,
in darkness hard to find;
And let the angel of the LORD
attack them from behind.
7 Since they have spread a net for me
without a cause at all,
And for no reason dug a pit
that in it I might fall,
8 Let ruin seize them, and let them
in their own net be caught;
May they instead fall in their pit
and so to death be brought.
9 Then will my soul rejoice in God
and in his saving name.
10 “Who is a God like you, O LORD?”
my heart and soul exclaim.
“The poor you rescue from the hands
of those who are too strong;
You save the poor and weak from those
who rob and do them wrong.”
11 Malicious witnesses rise up
and falsely slander me;
I have no knowledge of the things
they ask accusingly.
12 They pay back evil for my good
and leave my soul forlorn.
13 Yet, at their illness, I would fast
and, clad in sackcloth, mourn.
And when my prayers were not heard,
14 I mourned as one bereaved
Of mother, brother, closest friend;
I bowed my head and grieved.
15 But when I slipped, they gathered round
and gloated with delight;
They came upon me unawares
to vent on me their spite.
Unceasingly they slandered me;
16 they mocked maliciously,
Like those who have no fear of God,
and gnashed their teeth at me.
17 O Lord, how long will you look on?
Defend me from their strife;
From these marauding lions’ teeth
protect my precious life.
18 Then where the great assembly meets
to you I will give praise;
Among the crowds of worshippers
in thanks my voice I’ll raise.
19 Let him not gloat who, without cause,
is my fierce enemy,
Nor those who hate me unprovoked
stare spitefully at me.
20 They do not speak in peaceful words,
but cunning schemes have planned,
Accusing those who live at peace
and quiet in the land.
21 Triumphantly they shout and say,
“His wickedness we see!”
22 LORD, you have seen; hold not your peace.
Lord, be not far from me.
23 Awake, and rise to my defence!
Contend for me, my God.
24 Do not let them gloat over me;
in justice judge, O LORD.
25 Let them not think within their hearts,
“At last! just what we want!”
Nor let them say, “We’ve swallowed him”—
let that not be their taunt.
26 May all who gloat at my distress
know shame and loss of face;
May all who triumph over me
be covered with disgrace.
27 May those who long to see me cleared
shout out with joy and sing:
“The LORD be praised, who loves to see
his servant prospering.”
28 I will extol your righteousness;
I’ll praise you with my tongue.
I will proclaim your greatness, LORD,
and praise you all day long.
Reflection Psalm 35 is a psalm of imprecation.
It originates from someone who feels deeply wronged. As a consequence, the Psalmists’ response is to enlist God’s help in destroying those who set out to destroy him. It is a sentiment that most of us are familiar with. To hurt others as we ourselves have been hurt.
This spirit of retaliation is one from which most Christians flinch, believing it not to be worthy of the One who died in agony with words of forgiveness on his lips for those whose actions had led him to a cruel execution by the Roman occupying power.
Five hundred years ago, the Archbishop of Glasgow issued a terrible curse against the Reiver families who burnt and stole from families living on either side of the English Scottish border. Some 300 words of the curse are carved into a granite stone which has been placed in the Millennium Gallery. The curse has provoked controversy in the city.
Yet the hounding of the innocent by the powerful inflames us still. Verses 11- 14 indicate that the Psalmist has shown goodness to those who now work for his downfall. In verses 15 16 we get a foretaste of the treatment Jesus experienced, whilst remaining like a sheep before its shearers. From this heartfelt cry, we are reminded that God is not impartial, impassive to the suffering of people. The praises the Church offers flow from God’s nature and purpose which to embody justice for the oppressed and the vulnerable, even if God’s ways of transforming brutality and injustice are not like ours.
PrayerThank you, God,
That you hear the cries of suffering people.
Lead us from curses to blessing.
Minister to the anger in our own hearts,
So that we may be instruments
of your peace,
In a world which scarcely recognises it,
Job 4:1-9; 5:8-9, 17-19Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:
‘If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?
But who can keep from speaking?
See, you have instructed many;
you have strengthened the weak hands.
Your words have supported those who were stumbling,
and you have made firm the feeble knees.
But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
it touches you, and you are dismayed.
Is not your fear of God your confidence,
and the integrity of your ways your hope?
‘Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plough iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.
‘As for me, I would seek God,
and to God I would commit my cause.
He does great things and unsearchable,
marvellous things without number.
‘How happy is the one whom God reproves;
therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For he wounds, but he binds up;
he strikes, but his hands heal.
He will deliver you from six troubles;
in seven no harm shall touch you. Reflection Eliphaz feels obliged to speak, to reprove Job for his lament and initially his words are a gentle rebuke to a friend. He then voices one of the doctrines of traditional wisdom, as though this will comfort Job: that an innocent person has never suffered a premature death.
It is hard to imagine that anyone today could believe this, let alone voice such ideas to a friend who is saying they want to die. But sometimes we fail to think about the impact our words will have and, more dangerously, fail to consider whether received wisdom, or long held beliefs, are actually true. As Eliphaz continues his speech he is obliged to concede that Job has never appeared to be a wicked person and deserving of his fate. However he still can’t bring himself to reject the idea that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked.
It might seem that if God exercised justice in such a neat binary way the world would be a better place; but it only takes a moment’s thought to realise that people are neither completely righteous nor totally wicked. It is also evident that corrupt practice can certainly bring material rewards, status and power, while good people are often downtrodden and living in poverty. Life is messy and we often discover unintended negative consequences follow an initial decision that seemed like a good idea.
If we claim to understand how God’s justice works we are deceiving ourselves. Personally I also find the idea of God’s justice being delayed until an ‘end time’ when some will be saved and others condemned equally unsatisfactory, because I believe that the incarnation demonstrates that God cares about this world and the importance of justice in the here and now. Exactly what justice means and how it is exercised demand serious, ongoing, consideration, because circumstances and context have a bearing on it.
Eliphaz rubs salt into Job’s wounds by suggesting that he should be happy to receive God’s discipline (5:17); and he simply doesn’t appreciate how his own blinkered dogmatism is adding to Job’s pain. Let’s take care that we don’t do the same.
preserve me from thinking
that I have the answer
to someone else’s problem.
Help me to listen,
to discern what the real needs
and questions are,
before saying anything.
Help me to be a conduit
through which someone
can draw nearer to God,
instead of claiming
to be God’s mouthpiece.
Grant me wisdom
and fill me with compassion
for all who are in turmoil
or any kind of pain.
Teach me what it means
to be a real friend
as I walk the way of Jesus.
Job 3After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. Job said:
‘Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
“A man-child is conceived.”
Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
or light shine on it.
Let gloom and deep darkness claim it.
Let clouds settle upon it;
let the blackness of the day terrify it.
That night—let thick darkness seize it!
let it not rejoice among the days of the year;
let it not come into the number of the months.
Yes, let that night be barren;
let no joyful cry be heard in it.
Let those curse it who curse the Sea,
those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan.
Let the stars of its dawn be dark;
let it hope for light, but have none;
may it not see the eyelids of the morning—
because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb,
and hide trouble from my eyes.
‘Why did I not die at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Why were there knees to receive me,
or breasts for me to suck?
Now I would be lying down and quiet;
I would be asleep; then I would be at rest
with kings and counsellors of the earth
who rebuild ruins for themselves,
or with princes who have gold,
who fill their houses with silver.
Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child,
like an infant that never sees the light?
There the wicked cease from troubling,
and there the weary are at rest.
There the prisoners are at ease together;
they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.
The small and the great are there,
and the slaves are free from their masters.
‘Why is light given to one in misery,
and life to the bitter in soul,
who long for death, but it does not come,
and dig for it more than for hidden treasures;
who rejoice exceedingly,
and are glad when they find the grave?
Why is light given to one who cannot see the way,
whom God has fenced in?
For my sighing comes like my bread,
and my groanings are poured out like water.
Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest; but trouble comes.’
The amazing thing is that Job’s tirade is directed at God; but he neither curses God, nor accuses God of causing his suffering. Instead he appeals to God to eradicate the day of his birth from history – to wipe away his life altogether. It is a cry born out of faith in God; but in a God who isn’t behaving justly, from Job’s perspective.
As he continues to unleash his emotions, Job’s words turn to lament and he wishes he was dead, for then he would be at rest with all the rich and poor, good and bad, alike who had gone before. (No-one believed in resurrection when this book was written.) As he cries out ‘Why?’ he starts to align himself with the weak and the oppressed in society, people for whom death comes as a merciful release.
It is easy to see why, at the darkest moments in life someone might imagine that everyone else would be better off if the sufferer hadn’t existed, if they hadn’t been around to cause pain and sorrow to others. Such feelings are understandable because pain can prevent us from seeing all the positive things that have also been part of life. It can be the same whenever we receive negative criticism, even if only one such point is made alongside much praise and affirmation. It gets out of proportion in our mind and we begin to undervalue ourself; or we wallow in a sense of guilt and become unwilling to do anything, in case we get it wrong.
It is healthy to lament before God in heartfelt ways and to permit anyone who is suffering to do the same. For to paraphrase some words of Peter in John 6, where else can we turn? We may not get the answers we want but we will discover that our cry has been heard by a God who cares about us.
there is so much suffering in this world
and many people live in despair.
Draw near to them
and let them know
that their cries are heard.
Help me to keep a proper perspective
when things go wrong in my life
and to trust in your good purposes
at all times. Amen
Job 2One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan,‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.’ Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.’
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Reflection For Job life gets even tougher as he contracts a nasty skin disease which covers him from head to toe. He has no idea where it’s come from and he’s certain he doesn’t deserve it. In the ancient world diseases and any kind of suffering were understood as divine punishment for sin; and this book wants to challenge that theology. Again, as readers, we are assured that God knows Job remains ‘blameless’.
Job feels like rubbish and goes to sit among the rubbish away from other people. But still Job doesn’t rail against God, or sin in any way, even when his wife encourages him to ‘curse God, and die’. He refuses to deny the sovereignty of God and God’s freedom to act in ways that we cannot understand. He refuses to let go of faith and to live as one alienated from God.
Personally I wish the text expressed Job’s reproof to his wife as the speech of ‘any foolish person’, rather than ‘any foolish woman’; but it stems from a community and a time where patriarchy prevailed. Gender is not the issue here but the folly of rejecting God whenever life doesn’t go the way we would wish. Job speaks truly when he declares that God is the source of everything, good and bad alike, a truth also expressed in Isaiah 45:7.
Then Job’s three friends come to offer him pastoral support for they have heard about his troubles. They are shocked at his appearance and consult together about how to respond and the amazing thing is that they don’t go away, fearful that they might catch the same disease. They don’t nominate one of them to be their spokesperson leaving the other two free to depart. They don’t offer words of comfort, or go straight in with questions to Job about his situation. They simply weep and sit alongside him in silence, sharing his misery for a whole week.
It can be so tempting to stay away from someone who is suffering when we feel inadequate and don’t know what to say or do. Often, though, our presence and readiness to share someone else’s grief is the best response we can make and exactly what is needed as a real expression of love.
you are the source of all that is
and I praise you
for all the experiences of life.
Help me to remain faithful,
whatever befalls me.
Thank you for my friends,
especially those who have stuck by me
in the tough times
and revealed your love to me.
Help me to be a loving friend to others,
willing to give of my time
and my presence
in response to their need.
Help me to know
when to keep my mouth shut
and to recognise
that I don’t have all the answers,
nor the wisdom to understand
what the real questions are.
Sustain me by your love
and let that love flow through me
to any who are in need today. Amen.
Job 1There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt-offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ This is what Job always did.
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.’ Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.’
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing. Reflection As Lent begins we think of Jesus, at the start of his ministry, being tempted in the wilderness by ‘the devil’ or ‘Satan’; the description depends upon which Gospel and which Bible translation we read. It is easy to think of such a figure as acting in opposition to God; but here at the start of Job we find the same character – the satan – clearly presented as one of the heavenly beings serving God, who does nothing without divine sanction. The Hebrew noun translates as ‘adversary’ or ‘accuser’ and should not be understood as a proper name in this book. The figure functions a bit like the prosecuting counsel in a law court, the one who presents the evidence in support of an accusation that has been made.
In this chapter, we as the readers, are being told that God believes Job to be a completely ‘blameless and upright man’. However the conversation with the satan raises the question as to whether Job’s integrity is sincere, or motivated solely by the prospect of further blessings from God being received for good behaviour. Is he truly selfless and altruistic, or would Job act differently if life turned sour on him, or disaster struck? So God instructs the satan to put Job to the test.
It is important to recognise that this chapter doesn’t describe actual events but is a literary device designed to get us thinking about our behaviour and motivations; and about the theological problem of evil. God is not capricious and I do not believe in a God who deliberately inflicts (or sanctions) any kind of suffering on a human being.
Job passes his first test with flying colours; but I’m left wondering how I would feel if I lost everything that was precious to me. Material possessions are one thing and perhaps I need to learn to value these less highly; but the sudden loss of loved ones would be a very different matter. I hope my response would be to turn towards God with honesty, in grief, anger, turmoil, trusting that in God alone would I ultimately find the answers and the loving support I needed – but would I respond like that?
Jesus was willing to embark on a period of self-examination in the wilderness; and as his disciples it is appropriate for us to grapple with some of these difficult questions as we journey through Lent.
may I be truly thankful
for all the blessings that are mine
and never expectant of receiving more.
Help me to surrender all that I have
to be used in your service.
Make me ready to engage in self-examination
as I follow Jesus on the road to the Cross. Amen.
Lent with Job
Dear <<First Name>>
Lent starts tomorrow - traditionally a six week period of preparation for Easter marked, before the Reformation, by fasting from meat and dairy products - Orthodox Christians still do this. Many of us try and give something up for Lent, others try and take something up as a positive outworking of spirituality.
During the first 28 days of Lent (not including Sundays) we will be looking at the Book of Job which is not a book many of us are familiar with. Very little of it appears in the Lectionary for Sunday readings which is shame as this Book tries to deal with the problem of reconciling God's justice with the suffering of humanity. Tennyson felt that the Book of Job was the greatest poem of ancient and modern times so we think it's well worth exploring over the next few weeks.
As a change to our normal pattern we have a guest writer for this series: the Rev'd Dr Janet Tollington who lectured, for many years, before her retirement, at our Westminster College in Cambridge. Her speciality is the Old Testament.
We hope that this change to our regular pattern will be refreshing as we look at this little known book in the first part of Lent.
with every good wish
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project
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Daily Devotions in Lent
Dear <<First Name>>
Today is Shrove Tuesday and tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, marks the start of Lent.
The way we mark Lent has changed since the Reformation - our Orthodox sisters and brothers still mark Lent by a vegan diet as a way of preparing for the celebrations of Easter and identifying with Jesus' days of fasting in the Wilderness. Shrove Tuesday, in pre-Reformation Europe was when all meat and dairy products were eaten up - a shadow of this is seen today in the consumption of Pancakes. In the Western Church we may give something up in Lent (as a contemporary form of fasting) or we may take something up. All these - from fasting to taking things up - are ways in which faithful Christians seek to live out their discipleship.
For Lent we continue our Daily Devotions but are doing so in a different way. Instead of a team of writers looking at a book we have invited the Rev'd Dr Janet Tollington to write 28 reflections on the Book of Job. Janet was, for many years, a lecturer in the Old Testament at our Westminster College and now, in retirement, continues to supervise undergraduate and PhD students for Cambridge University.. She is a member of Emmanuel Church in Cambridge and continues to serve widely in the URC. We hope these reflections help us understand Job better - it's not a book which is read very often these days though you may be surprised at how some of the words from Job have entered into common language and the Church's liturgy.
On Sundays we will continue to work though the Sing Psalms Psalter from the Free Church of Scotland and, in the final two weeks of Lent, we will be reflecting on Jesus' journey to Calvary using art as a focus.
Please do encourage folk you know - church folk or those who are exploring spiritually, to sign up to receive these Devotions. Often the message "they are good, I'm using them, you should give them a try" is all the encouragement someone needs. Simply direct people to our website - devotions.urc.org.uk and they can sign up from there.
with every good wish
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project
in this season of reflection,
help me to find the people
who are calling me to change my ways
and to search my heart.
As the Winter deepens,
may my heart be stripped bare,
so that when comes the Spring,
I can rise renewed
and flourish into life. Amen. --> Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.
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Micah 7:8 - 20Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
I must bear the indignation of the Lord,
because I have sinned against him,
until he takes my side
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall see his vindication.
Then my enemy will see,
and shame will cover her who said to me,
“Where is the Lord your God?”
My eyes will see her downfall;
now she will be trodden down
like the mire of the streets.
A day for the building of your walls!
In that day the boundary shall be far extended.
In that day they will come to you
from Assyria to Egypt,
and from Egypt to the River,
from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.
But the earth will be desolate
because of its inhabitants,
for the fruit of their doings.
Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock that belongs to you,
which lives alone in a forest
in the midst of a garden land;
let them feed in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
show us marvellous things.
The nations shall see and be ashamed
of all their might;
they shall lay their hands on their mouths;
their ears shall be deaf;
they shall lick dust like a snake,
like the crawling things of the earth;
they shall come trembling out of their fortresses;
they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God,
and they shall stand in fear of you.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your possession?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing clemency.
He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and unswerving loyalty to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our ancestors
from the days of old. Reflection Our devotional journey through Amos and Micah over the last five weeks has been something of a roller coaster, as is true of much of the prophetic writings. If today’s passage consisted only of the last thirteen lines, speaking confidently and movingly of God’s compassion and steadfast love, we could finish on a high note, breathe a sigh of relief and get on with Lent!
But no, we have verses 8 – 20 in the mix also. The prophet’s community is still in a hard situation, conscious of rightly being under the judgement of God, yet trusting God for restoration. The words of hope that are like salve to the wounds of humiliation, restricted freedom, exile and loss of home, are double-edged. A good future can only be articulated as a role-reversal. It will be the turn of the enemies to be covered in shame, trembling in dread and fear.
Jesus showed, lived and suffered a different way into the future: loving one’s enemies, and praying for them; forgiving as we wish to be forgiven. It’s demanding stuff, is it not? As people of the United Reformed Church we are ‘Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today’, so, tough or not, this is our calling.
Today is Shrove Tuesday, pancake day. In many of our churches people will be tossing and eating pancakes, a tradition that stems from needing to use up all the rich foods before Lent fasting begins. There is also a spiritual tradition of self-examination on Shrove Tuesday. Would you take time today to do a bit of self-examination? Are there enemies whom you do not love, do not pray for, and do not forgive? We need to recognise when this is so, and pray for grace to change.
For there is only hope for the future through the gateway of forgiveness.
PrayerCompassionate, Faithful God
known to us in Jesus Christ,
alive in us today through your Holy Spirit,
search our hearts, minds and lives
show us where and how to forgive
as individuals and as communities.
InformationThomas Hemerford was an English Reformation martyr. A native of Dorset, he was educated at Oxford and then studied for the priesthood at English College in Rome. He was ordained in Rome in 1583, and returned to England, where he was swiftly arrested. Condemned for being a priest, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn with four companions. He was beatified, the first significant stage to being declared a saint, in 1929.
Revelation 12. 10–12aI heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them!’ Reflection Recently in worship I asked two of my congregations what they had to be thankful for. In one the simple freedom to worship was mentioned and we reflected on parts of the world where this isn’t possible. An article in this week’s Tablet indicates that the Holy See and the Peoples’ Republic of China are edging towards signing an historic agreement to both establish diplomatic relations, after a 70 year break, and to end the conflict about the appointment of bishops (both Rome and the Chinese government wish to do this). In other parts of the world the Church is more severely persecuted and the State doesn’t seek to interfere with Church governance but to completely suppress it.
In the West we live in very tolerant, even indifferent, times and the idea of people being persecuted for their faith seems both horrific and distant. We have selective memories and don’t often think of Protestant Christians killed by Catholics nor Catholic Christians killed by Protestants in these isles in the Reformation era.
Hemerford had the misfortune to be called to ministry in the middle of Elizabeth I’s reign. In many ways Elizabeth was a religious moderate but the entwining of Catholicism and treason meant death for priests sent, after training, from the Continent to the “English Mission.” I always marvel at the bravery of those called to minister in the face of persecution and am thankful to live in a more tolerant age and work within a denomination which sees itself as both catholic and reformed. I pray that one day, soon, no one will be persecuted for their beliefs and that, one day, all will be reconciled in God’s all-powerful loving presence.
You were killed for your faith,
and many now suffer discrimination,
imprisonment, torture and death
for their faith in you.
Comfort those who live with persecution,
bring the persecutors to repentance,
that we may live in a world
where oppressed and former oppressor
can run free together.
Psalm 34At all times I will bless the LORD;
I’ll praise him with my voice.
Because I glory in the LORD,
let troubled souls rejoice.
Together let us praise the LORD;
exalt his name with me.
I sought the LORD; his answer came:
rom fears he set me free.
They look to him and shine with joy;
they are not put to shame.
This suffering man cried to the LORD;
from him deliverance came.
The angel of the LORD surrounds
and guards continually
All those who fear and honour him;
he sets his people free.
Come, taste and see—the LORD is good;
who trusts in him is blessed.
O fear the LORD, you saints;
with need you will not be oppressed.
Young lions may grow weak
and faint and hunger for their food,
But those who wait upon the LORD
will not lack any good.
Come here, my children!
Gather round and listen to my word;
And I will help you understand
how you may fear the LORD.
Does anyone delight in life
and long to see good days?
Then keep your tongue from evil speech,
your lips from lying ways.
Depart and turn from evil paths
and practise what is right.
Desire to know the way of peace;
pursue it with your might.
The LORD’s eyes are upon the just;
he listens to their plea.
The wicked he rejects, and blots
from earth their memory.
The righteous cry; the LORD responds
and frees them when distressed.
The LORD draws near the broken heart
and rescues the depressed.
From all the troubles of the just
the LORD will set him free.
The LORD protects his every bone;
and broken none will be.
The wicked are condemned to death,
all those who hate the just.
God saves his own; they’re not condemned,
for in the LORD they trust.
You can hear a slightly different translation (starting at v7) , but in the same metre, sung to the lovely American tune Land of Rest here. Reflection How often have we read this Psalm and marvelled at how the words really relate to us at the time? These words are attributed to David after a real life situation from which he had been delivered. The Lord was always looking after him, as he does each one of us. The incident is related in 1 Samuel 21:10-15, where David feigns madness and is, therefore, driven out, taking refuge in the Cave of Adullam. The words speak of a God who is good to know and experience, as well as the one to whom we can go whenever we are faced with fears which we can’t handle ourselves.
Not that these are the only key moments expressed here with which we can identify. Inspired many years ago but just as relevant to us in these diverse days in which we are living. How much we need the deliverance and surrounding protection which God alone is able to bring us when we trust in Him alone.
Probably never before have the words, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” been more appropriate, as they are in this day and age. All too often we see the Christian cause brought into disrepute, ridiculed and misquoted, and often contradicted in the press and on television. What comfort is to be found in the truth that God rescues all His people from situations in which they may find themselves, and not always of their own doing. In these words we find hope that when we take refuge in God, rather than trying to plead our own corner, God gives us His joy. No wonder the Psalm starts with such praise, blessing, boasting of the Lord, magnifying His name and shared excitement! May our spirits similarly rise as we “Exalt His name together!” knowing that He is the only one in whom we can find complete safety and security.
PrayerEver present God,
our strong defence and deliverer.
Help us in those moments
when we are overtaken by fears,
crippled by our phobias,
and trapped in our own caves of isolation,
to know that we are safe in your hands,
surrounded by a greater strength
and security than this world knows
or can supply.
In humility Lord, we come to you,
asking you to free us from the fears that shackle us,
from the situations which give us despair,
releasing us into the freedom of worshipping you
as you so richly deserve.
Micah 5: 7-15Then the remnant of Jacob,
surrounded by many peoples,
shall be like dew from the Lord,
like showers on the grass,
which do not depend upon people
or wait for any mortal.
And among the nations, the remnant of Jacob,
surrounded by many peoples,
shall be like a lion among the animals of the forest,
like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,
which, when it goes through, treads down
and tears in pieces, with no one to deliver.
Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries,
and all your enemies shall be cut off.
On that day, says the Lord,
I will cut off your horses from among you
and will destroy your chariots;
and I will cut off the cities of your land
and throw down all your strongholds;
and I will cut off sorceries from your hand,
and you shall have no more soothsayers;
and I will cut off your images
and your pillars from among you,
and you shall bow down no more
to the work of your hands;
and I will uproot your sacred poles from among you
and destroy your towns.
And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance
on the nations that did not obey. Reflection In an attempt to answer a question I am asked with surprising frequency, I recently typed into Google, what happens when The Queen dies? to find out whether the school I work in would be closed when HM’s death is announced. One news article gave extensive details of the ceremony and pageantry of the first ten days following her death. What I most remember from it, though, was a single sentence: ‘“The whole world is going to be doing this,” said one news executive, holding up his phone in front of his face.’ (Knight, 2017). Sadly, that strikes me as a very real possibility as we often view the world through a tiny screen measuring only a few square inches.
Like Israel, we have many calls on our time and most of them emanate from these magic little boxes we carry everywhere. Contained within my phone are my diary, bank, correspondence, photo album, television, address book, music collection, a few books, and every piece of work or sermon I have produced in the last few years. And, of course, I use my mobile for daily Bible study and devotions. It is quite common to find that large blocks of time have passed when the phone was only picked up to quickly check a fact on the internet or reply to a text. How did this come about when my original intention, back in 2001, had been to have a mobile to make emergency calls?
Sitting now, watching people walk past with their phones, it is easy to picture us as ancient Israelites bowing down to the work of our hands. Will we need to have our mobiles cut off from among us too?
Knight, S. 2017 ‘'London Bridge is down': the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death’, The Guardian, 17 March. Available here
like your children of Israel
nearly three thousand years ago,
we are enthralled by human works.
Help us to lower the barrier
formed by these idols
so that we can approach you
with a keener interest
in your wondrous creation,
your guiding Word
and your Holy Spirit.
Micah 4: 9 - 5:5Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pangs have seized you like a woman in labour?
Writhe and groan, O daughter Zion, like a woman in labour; for now you shall go forth from the city and camp in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued, there the LORD will redeem you from the hands of your enemies.
Now many nations are assembled against you, saying, "Let her be profaned, and let our eyes gaze upon Zion."
But they do not know the thoughts of the LORD; they do not understand his plan, that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor.
Arise and thresh, O daughter Zion, for I will make your horn iron and your hoofs bronze; you shall beat in pieces many peoples, and shall devote their gain to the LORD, their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth.
Now you are walled around with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the ruler of Israel upon the cheek.
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. If the Assyrians come into our land and tread upon our soil, we will raise against them seven shepherds and eight installed as rulers. Reflection It feels like I'm in a time-warp. As I write this reflection, we are only a few days away from the start of Advent and here I am reflecting on that 'little town of Bethlehem' - so no prizes for guessing which song has now taken residence in my brain!
Interestingly Bethlehem, small and insignificant though it was, pops up now and again in the history of God's people. Jacob's wife Rachel, having died giving birth to Benjamin, was buried just outside Bethlehem (Gen 35:19). The story of Ruth centres around Bethlehem - Elimolech, husband of Naomi, came from Bethlehem but moved to Moab to avoid the famine. When he died, Ruth accompanied Naomi back to Bethlehem and married Boaz there. (Book of Ruth). David was refreshed by water from the well at Bethlehem (2 Sam 23:14-16). And then Micah drops into his prophecy that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem - and he does this some 700 or so years before the birth of Jesus.
In the Advent story, Herod's chief priests and scribes were very aware of this prophecy - after all it may have been a tiny place but it was only a few miles from Jerusalem so they probably had it marked as a favourite on their SatNavs (Matt 2:3-6). But they were probably pretty focussed on when the promised Messiah will put in an appearance and they probably knew the scriptures inside out anyway. After all, God surely can't want his people, his chosen people, to continue to live under these heathen Romans with their Gods and idols and ruthless soldiers. He must surely be planning to sort this out pretty soon. There's been plenty of folk claiming to be 'the One', the Resistance, the Zealots have been making life difficult and lots of people have paid the price of these uprisings. Surely the Messiah can't be far away!
Little did they know just how close he was!
As we look back over the big story,
we may be surprised
to see how your plan unfolds,
step by step.
Our lives are filled with uncertainty,
disappointments and fear
as we look at the world in which we live.
Help us to move our attention
away from the fear-inducing elements
of our world to look instead
for signs of your handiwork,
your love in action through us -
your imperfect yet perfect creations.
Help us to look for the works of your Spirit
in our world and, having spotted them,
help us to rejoice and give thanks to you.
Then we will be ready to give reason
for the hope we hold.
Micah 4:1 - 8In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.
On that day, says the Lord, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away, and those whom I have afflicted. The lame I will make the remnant, and those who were cast off, a strong nation; and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion now and for evermore.
And you, O tower of the flock, hill of daughter Zion, to you it shall come, the former dominion shall come, the sovereignty of daughter Jerusalem. Reflection Last Sunday, we read Mark’s story of Jesus really getting going in his ministry, travelling at breakneck speed, teaching, healing, praying and driving out evil from people’s lives and communities – the disciples struggling to keep up, and when they do, they are hurried on. “Let us go somewhere else – so that I can preach there also!” Next Sunday we are taken much later in the story of Jesus’ ministry where the glory Jesus is will be shared. But we are ahead of ourselves – it is not Sunday yet – and we are between hearing the call of Jesus to follow him, and fully experiencing the glory of God on earth, when every knee shall bow at Jesus’ name.
So take a moment look around your world, listen to its cries and see Jesus for whom he is – God, today among the people for whom He died. On Sunday, when the disciples get to the top of the mountain, and see Jesus covered in heavenly glory, they will think they have seen Micah’s prophecy come true – surely this is a glimpse of heavenly glory. But it is then, that their journey of Faith really gets going – as they are led by Jesus to Jerusalem to his crucifixion. In that horrific, wasteful, underserved death of God, we see beautiful, all-giving, grace. It is from here, the highest mountain of all, that love will flow.
As you read Micah 6 see all that comes from Jesus’ death – drawing together all peoples to hear God’s Way of Life, “that we may walk in his paths”, with justice, peace, and healing for people and nations, by the building up of a community of Faith, the raising up of the weak and vulnerable, and calling home the rejected outcasts.
Come, we have rested well – our Risen Lord is waiting with other sisters and brothers, and “we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever!”
PrayerWhen we are on
one of life’s mountain-tops
Help us to treasure and appreciate
those moments of joyful celebration, achievement or deep spiritual experience.
Gently lead us safely down the
returning to the business and busyness
Lead us ever to the highest peak of all –
the cross where Jesus died.
Teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.
Help us be peacemakers
May your Holy Spirit
keep us going to
“walk in the name of the Lord our God
for ever and ever”.
Let us celebrate and rejoice
the true mountain-top experience
of the building up
of a community of Faith,
the raising up of the weak and vulnerable,
and the calling home
the rejected and outcasts,
Then true dominion shall come,
the sovereignty of daughter Jerusalem,
the kin-dom of God,
And at the name of Jesus
every knee shall bow
to recognise you as God of Love.
Micah 3: 9 - 12Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob
and chiefs of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice
and pervert all equity,
who build Zion with blood
and Jerusalem with wrong!
Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,
its priests teach for a price,
its prophets give oracles for money;
yet they lean upon the Lord and say,
“Surely the Lord is with us!
No harm shall come upon us.”
Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height. Reflection There is wisdom in the old saying: before you criticize someone walk a mile in their shoes. The real wisdom, of course, is that by the time you’ve finished criticizing them you’re a mile away and they don’t have any shoes…but the prophet isn’t mincing any words here, are they?
It doesn’t take much imagination to think about how relevant this prophecy is today. As relevant as it was when it was first delivered. The situation in the Holy Land doesn’t seem to have moved on much, does it?
Then again, let’s expand our geographical horizons a little more… let’s substitute Zion/Israel for any current country and leadership – there will be people who think this applies to their homeland, too.
And finally let’s go micro and think about our own lives. I’m not suggesting that we have built our lives on blood and that we abhor justice – but we’re so often seduced by the false prophets of advertising or the “I’m all right, Jack” mentality that lets others suffer because their situation doesn’t affect us.
Maybe we should spend some time sorting our own lives out before we start criticizing others.
Forgive us when we are angry
at injustices done by others
but in denial
of the wrongs that we have done.
Shine your light of love
onto our own lives
so that we can see more clearly
how we need to change
to more faithfully
walk the way of your son,
The Martyrs of JapanAlmost fifty years after Francis Xavier had arrived in Japan as its first Christian apostle, the presence of several thousand baptised Christians in the land became a subject of suspicion to the ruler Hideyoshi, who soon began a period of persecution. Twenty-six men and women, monastic and lay, were first mutilated then crucified near Nagasaki in 1597. After their martyrdom, their bloodéd- clothes were kept and held in reverence by their fellow Christians. The period of persecution continued for another thirty-five years, many new witness-martyrs being added to their number.
Romans 8. 35–39Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Reflection Shusaku Endo’s novel, Silence, set in mid-seventeenth century Japan, focuses on Jesuit priest, Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues, and his passion to help the local Christians in the face of brutal oppression. The novel is a powerful depiction of the challenge faced – both by the fragile Christian community and by Fr. Sebastian himself – against those determined to force them to abandon their faith in God.
Within every service of ordination, induction or commissioning for a minister or church related community worker these words are addressed to the candidate:
“Do you promise to live a holy life, and to maintain the truth of the gospel,
whatever trouble or persecution may arise?”
To which the minister is invited to respond,
“Relying on the strength of Christ, I do.”
The question certainly accompanied my reading of Silence … would I “maintain the truth of the gospel, whatever trouble or persecution may arise”? What is chilling in Endo’s novel is the apparent silence of God – in contrast to the stark reality of the suffering experienced by the Japanese Christians. Endo writes, “Beneath the light of the candle I am sitting with my hands on my knees, staring in front of me. And I keep turning over in my mind and thought that I am at the end of the earth, in a place which you do not know and which your whole lives through you will never visit.”
Some of our sisters and brothers – in places where the Church faces “trouble and persecution” – know the reality of Endo’s battleground. We do well to acknowledge that “trouble and persecution” in our context are as nothing compared to what is embraced by those who risk life and livelihood in other parts of the world Church. They and we can but respond, “Relying on the strength of Christ I will hold fast to faith and God.” Ultimately such strength comes from the conviction that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
PrayerGod, from whose love
in Christ Jesus our Lord,
nothing can separate us,
look with compassion
on those who endure
trouble and persecution
as a consequence
of their faithfulness to the gospel.
May those who are tempted,
in the face of suffering and hardship,
to feel engulfed by silence
know the peace that the world
can neither give nor take away.
Relying on your grace
may we remain steadfast
and faithful witnesses
to your Word
breathed into the world’s silence:
even Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Micah 3:5 - 8Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
when they have something to eat,
but declare war against those
who put nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
and darkness to you, without revelation.
The sun shall go down upon the prophets,
and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the spirit of the Lord,
and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
and to Israel his sin. Reflection Things had been going so well until now; decades of a sort of peace had been marked by dizzingly rising living standards for some and escalating celebrity status for a small number of well-known persons.
But now, external threats are darkening the horizon and the internal contradictions and complacencies of the society are being exposed as never before. The poor and vulnerable are being exploited and destroyed by the rich and powerful and many religious leaders are openly conniving with this state of affairs.
Are we talking about eight century BC Israel and Judah or twenty first century AD Western Europe and North America?
Micah demonstrates God’s especial anger at those religious leaders who misuse their position and vocation to pander to the self-interests of the rich and who also turn on those who raise inconvenient truths or refuse to fawn and flatter them.
I hear echoes of 1 Corinthians 13 v. 2 when Paul writes “,,,, if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
God will leave them literally and metaphorically in the dark as a punishment.
He contrasts these false and simpering prophets with his own confidence in channelling God’s love and power for His people. After all, Micah means ‘who is like God.’
Too often in our society, we Christians seek the comfort of being respectable first and the voices of the Kingdom second, if at all.
We row back from holding our society to God’s account and settle for being ‘nice’, when we should be lovingly outspoken.
A particularly memorable scene in the film Ryan’s Daughter is when the priest, played by Trevor Howard, lashes out at the hypocritical villagers who have just attacked the Sarah Miles character for transgressing their social norms.
One indignant citizen argues “You’re abusing your position, Father” to which the priest replies, growlingly, “that’s what it’s there for!”
PrayerLord of all peoples
Give those of us who have a voice
To witness to your Kingdom
Never let us favour
only the rich and powerful
Muttering soft words of comfort
Whilst the poor and the vulnerable suffer
Through our neglect or contempt.
Give us, Lord, instead the power with love
To look at ourselves and society
With a clear vision
and to speak on what we see
Because that’s what we’re here for!
Psalm 33Joyfully sing to the LORD, all you righteous;
for it is good that the upright give praise.
With harp and lyre praise the LORD and make music;
with shouts of joy, a new song to him raise.
Righteous and true is the word God has spoken;
all the LORD’s actions his faithfulness prove.
He loves true righteousness, judgment and justice;
all earth is full of his unfailing love.
By the LORD’s word were the heavens created,
their starry host by the breath from his lips.
All the sea’s waters he gathers together
and in his storehouses lays up the deeps.
Let all the world fear the LORD in his greatness;
rev’rence his name, all you peoples of earth!
For when he spoke, all things came into being;
when he commanded, then all things stood forth.
Foiled by the LORD are the plans of the nations;
thwarted by him are the peoples’ designs.
But the LORD’s purposes stand firm for ever;
his plans endure through all ages and times.
Favoured and blessed is the nation he’s chosen,
whose God the LORD is throughout every age;
Blessed are the people he called to be near him,
those whom he chose as his own heritage.
From heaven’s height the LORD looks down and watches;
he sees mankind from his own dwelling-place.
He who has moulded the hearts of all people
knows every deed of the whole human race.
No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior lives by the strength of his hand.
Vain is man’s trust in a horse for deliverance,
nor by its strength can it victory command.
But the LORD’s eyes are on those who revere him,
those who rely on his unfailing love;
So that from famine and death he may save them,
giving them life by his power from above.
We wait in hope for the LORD, our defender;
trusting his holy name, our hearts are blessed.
LORD, may your unfailing love rest upon us,
just as in you our sure hope has been placed.
This can be sung to the tune Springfield which you can hear here Reflection Working for Christian Aid, 25 years ago, took me to Sri Lanka to visit partner organisations, of all faiths, who were undertaking community development projects with peasants, fisher folk, trades unions, and tea pickers. One ran an organic farm in the centre of the country, advising families who had been given small plots of impoverished land through limited nationalisation of tea plantations in the 1970s. The lead activist rested rarely, constantly seeking ways forward which would bring about justice for the communities scraping a living from the land. One afternoon he suggested that we walk up the hill to a meditation centre, and as we went, we discussed the latest news of civil unrest in various regions of the country. For 30 minutes we said nothing – the longest I remember this companion sitting in peace and quiet, both wordless in the face of the sheer beauty of our surroundings.
This came to mind as I read Psalm 33, with its wonderment at creation, wisdom about nationhood, and reassurance in times of anxiety. I find it hard to agree that belief in God saves people from famine and death, or that the power of God comes from above. Too often the idea of an all-knowing divine being lets humanity off the hook when it comes to taking responsibility for our actions. And yet, like the leaders of the community organisations I used to visit I believe that all the earth is full of the unfailing love of God, who is recognised in true righteousness, judgement and justice.
who speaks the cosmos into existence
whose name is upright, faithful, steadfast
enlist us in your justice-ing.
Be the hope that is within us,
and the calm at the heart of the world’s turbulence
that we may have the courage
to join in your new song
rising from the world you are creating now.
Free Church of Scotland, 15 North Bank Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2LS
Micah 3: 1 - 4And I said:
Listen, you heads of Jacob
and rulers of the house of Israel!
Should you not know justice?—
you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin off my people,
and the flesh off their bones;
who eat the flesh of my people,
flay their skin off them,
break their bones in pieces,
and chop them up like meat in a kettle,
like flesh in a cauldron.
Then they will cry to the Lord, but he will not answer them;
he will hide his face from them at that time, because they have acted wickedly. Reflection Micah, really doesn’t pull any punches today as he tells the political and judicial leaders of the people exactly how it is. Talk about speaking truth to power! I say truth, but I really hope the idea of cannibalism was hyperbole rather than fact; and it probably was a way of the prophet dramatically describing the abuse of those less powerful, by those who should have defended the rights of those in their care.
But Micah also has a great sense of poetic justice for the powerful who fail to hear the cries of the needy will find their own cries for help ignored by God.
We live in a world which is often unjust; where leaders do not always govern in the best interest of all people. I have been writing this when the so-called ‘Paradise Papers’ have been released and we see just how the uber-rich can legally avoid paying their fair share of tax. At the same time, the introduction of Universal Credit has left many with no choice but to turn to foodbanks as they wait for their claims to be assessed; while MP’s can claim for televisions and furniture for a second home, not to mention £25 a day for food!
None of us like to hear words of condemnation or to think that we have done something wrong – the people of Israel were happy to hear criticism of their neighbours but not themselves. We are keen to criticise those in power, especially those we disagree with politically, yet if we were to honestly look at ourselves there are times when we do not do what is required of us which is, as Micah will go on to say, ‘to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God’.
ruler of heaven and earth,
you call us to act justly,
to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with you.
Help us to do just that,
to look out for the needs of others and,
when we see it,
challenge the abuses perpetrated
by those with power. Amen
Micah 2:12 - 13But I will gather you together, all you people of Israel that are left. I will bring you together like sheep returning to the fold. Like a pasture full of sheep, your land will once again be filled with many people.
God will open the way for them and lead them out of exile. They will break out of the city gates and go free. Their king, the Lord himself, will lead them out. Reflection When I was a younger Christian, the church I attended held a series of talks on the promises of God and it was very helpful, especially as I was new in the faith. Restoration was one of that series and so it was lovely to find it in these readings as well. I don’t hear so much about the promises of God any more, at least not as a unified theme, but the Bible and Jesus Himself teach us how important it is to hold God’s promises in our hearts as deeply as possible.
After all, it’s very easy to forget all the good things that God has planned for us in our lives, as there is just so much else to concentrate on and worry about. Not only that, but our lives are so very busy that God’s promises often take a back seat in our priorities. At least, they do for me.
However, that’s exactly when it becomes so important to ponder on this wonderful passage to remind ourselves that, no matter how terrible things are right now and even in cases where we might consider ourselves to be abandoned by God, this promise is as true for us today as it was for the Israelites all those years ago. Because, however scattered we feel mentally and physically, God will gather us together and make us whole, both as individuals and as a people for His glory. Because, however barren our lives may be, God will fill us with all good things once more. Because no matter how trapped or crushed we feel, God will open the way and lead us into freedom again. He has sealed this promise through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and this promise will never fail.
thank You that Your promise
of personal and social restoration
remains as true as it ever was.
Help us to hold that promise
at the centre of our lives and hearts
so that it may encourage us deeply
and also be a blessing for others.
Micah 2:1 - 11Alas for those who devise wickedness
and evil deeds on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
because it is in their power.
They covet fields, and seize them;
houses, and take them away;
they oppress householder and house,
people and their inheritance.
Therefore, thus says the Lord:
Now, I am devising against this family an evil
from which you cannot remove your necks;
and you shall not walk haughtily,
for it will be an evil time.
On that day they shall take up a taunt-song against you,
and wail with bitter lamentation,
and say, ‘We are utterly ruined;
the Lord alters the inheritance of my people;
how he removes it from me!
Among our captors he parcels out our fields.’
Therefore you will have no one to cast the line by lot
in the assembly of the Lord.
‘Do not preach’—thus they preach—
‘one should not preach of such things;
disgrace will not overtake us.’
Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
Is the Lord’s patience exhausted?
Are these his doings?
Do not my words do good
to one who walks uprightly?
But you rise up against my people as an enemy;
you strip the robe from the peaceful,
from those who pass by trustingly
with no thought of war.
The women of my people you drive out
from their pleasant houses;
from their young children you take away
my glory for ever.
Arise and go;
for this is no place to rest,
because of uncleanness that destroys
with a grievous destruction.
If someone were to go about uttering empty falsehoods,
saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink’,
such a one would be the preacher for this people! Reflection “For man proposes, but God disposes” (Thomas à Kempis) begins one commentary on this portion of Micah’s prophecies. The back and forward play in these verses between the the deeds of those who have power and use it against those who are weak, and the future response of God, indeed suggests some good old-fashioned preaching opportunities: “the wicked may seem to prosper, but God’s justice awaits!”
Of course, in such bouts of righteous loquacity, it would be tempting to draw parallels with the social situation in Britain today. For there are plenty. As I write this reflection, we are beginning to understand more and more of the implications of the roll-out of Universal Credit on the vulnerable, with the rocketing extent of rent arrears as one effect. We see a sharp upward trend in those being referred to Foodbanks. There has been a recent flood of reports revealing the huge extent of tax “planning” by the wealthy, apparently designed, in part, to allow them to avert their obligations to those who go without the necessities of life. We are experiencing an avalanche of allegations of improper sexual behaviour by “celebrities” and politicians.
However, are such targets too easy?
“‘Do not preach’– thus they preach – ‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’ If someone were to go about … saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink’, such a one would be the preacher for this people!”
Are we sometimes guilty of preaching what the people want to hear; are comfortable to hear; rather than being challenged about what it means to “live a holy life” as Ministers of the URC are challenged at their ordination?
Radio 4’s Thought for the Day has recently been accused of being trite. Pray God that our teaching and preaching never become trite.
PrayerGod, your prophets called the people to return to the ways of your law.
Jesus, you called the people to return to the ways of God’s life.
Spirit, you provide us with all that we need to live a holy life.
May the wine and strong drink we preach
be not befuddling, but sustaining
for the holy life
you call us to preach
and to live.