URC Devotions

URC Daily Devotion 15th November 2019

4 hours 29 min ago
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Friday 15th November

Empire is Violent

Deuteronomy 20:16-18 

“But when you capture cities in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, kill everyone. Completely destroy all the people: the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, as the Lord ordered you to do. Kill them, so that they will not make you sin against the Lord by teaching you to do all the disgusting things that they do in the worship of their gods.”


Reflection

This series of devotions has quarried the Bible for texts which speak of justice and the undermining of empire by the values and purposes of God. Today, however, we come to acknowledge that the seeds of the worst cruelties of empire, and the writing of its history by the victors, are also to be found in our sacred texts.

When the British Empire reached the westernmost parts of what is now British Columbia in Canada, the 19th century was already two thirds past. The imperialists were well versed in how to conquer territory and establish their power, economically, politically and culturally.

The claims of the First Nations of Canada to the land were clearly an impediment to exploiting its natural resources and establishing colonies. The British empire had by now largely outgrown massacres of the kind advocated in Deuteronomy – although European diseases did an effective job of decimating the native population. Those who remained needed to be ‘civilised’.

In Wales, the ‘Welsh Not’ had already developed a way of beating a native language out of children. But it had not been as effective as the UK Government commission which recommended it in 1843 had hoped. The people had resisted and the language was refusing to die. So in Canada the children were not only beaten, they were taken from their families and forced into residential schools, run by Christian missionaries (many of them Welsh), to be completely cleansed of their native culture. Many of those languages did die. But some clung on – for example the language in Haida Gwaii (briefly the Princess Charlotte Islands), partially protected by its geography, is now taught in schools and universities. This teaching is inspired – like the oppression – by educational practice in Wales. Even the greatest empires find complete destruction of a people difficult.

Loving God,
we pray for those peoples and cultures
for whom the coming of the Gospel
has been very bad news indeed.
We remember with sorrow
the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites,
the Perizzites, the Hivites, the Jebusites,
the Maori and the Aborigine,
the Haida and the American First Nations,
the Inca, Lache, Picara and peoples of the Americas
and the peoples of the Amazon under threat today
and with you, loving God, we weep.  Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff Copyright
Good News Bible © 1994 published by the Bible Societies/HarperCollins Publishers Ltd UK, Good News Bible© American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992. Used with permission)
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 14th November 2019

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 06:00
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Thursday 14th November
 
The Magnificat Undermines Empire

St Luke 1: 26 – 33, 47 – 55

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Reflection

When at New College, Oxford, I came to love choral evensong in the chapel. The excellent choir sang the Song of Mary each evening in a huge variety of settings.  As the melodies floated around the beautiful chapel, they spoke of 600 years of choral tradition, the sound of an English empire whose growth, flourishing and decline had all been planned in this institution more than most. 

Very few of the musical settings chosen convey the empire-shaking import of Mary’s words. Choral evensong has generally served to bolster the thrones of the powerful, strengthen the imaginations of their hearts and enable them to kick the lowly while they are down. It has been the musical accompaniment to the rape of all parts of the earth once coloured pink on the map – starting with my own country of Wales. Even ‘Woodlands’, to which many of us in the URC sing the Magnificat, bounces along in a jolly sort of way.

But these words are hardly jolly for most of us readers of the Daily Devotions. They sound out the doom of all of us privileged by birth, education, or wealth. The hungry will be fed and the lowly will be lifted up. In order for that to happen, the proud must be scattered and the powerful ejected from their thrones. And that means us.

Even the URC used to have an Oxford college and we still have a Cambridge one. We have an ethical investment policy – but only rich institutions need one. We employ people ecumenically (including the author of this devotion) to influence government – but only powerful people can do that.

When we say or sing the Song of Mary we are proclaiming God’s own word of judgement and revolution against ourselves. Dare we listen to the true cadences of the Magnificat?

Prayer

His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Lord have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 13th November 2019

Wed, 13/11/2019 - 06:00
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Wednesday 13th November
A Higher Law than Empire’s

Genesis 1:1 – 2:2:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. 

And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.

Reflection

Yesterday, law. Today, order. In modern imperial politics, law and order go together like love and marriage or horse and carriage. That coupling makes us think of the order that is imposed by courts, police, army, “the forces of law and order”.

It’s an insidious assumption, which is why the Hebrew Scriptures challenge it. Law, they say, is a gift from God, not the device of clever human beings. True order is the divine order in creation. Imperial, urbanised societies see nature as inherently disorderly. Grasses are controlled into lawns, flowers into gardens, forests into parks. Creatures who inconvenience us (insects who eat our prize vegetables) need to be massacred. An orderly empire keeps nature under its thumb.

Missionaries who went throughout the British Empire discovered peoples who respected the natural order and lived in harmony with it. The missionaries regarded them as primitive people, savages. They needed some imperial order to get a grip on nature – and allow the empire to despoil their earth of its natural resources as quickly and as profitably as possible.

Our generation is discovering that Genesis is right. It is creation which is orderly. The result of exploitation of the earth is climate chaos. The result of our determination to kill greenfly on our roses is that pollination of plants and life itself is endangered. Global warming means that the orderly appearance of predators and prey, the harmony of food and foragers, is disrupted and order is breaking down. We have discovered the limits of imperial power and face chaos instead.

Thank God that those missionaries also took the Bible and translated it into the languages of the people they met, so that they could rediscover in the words of the ancient Hebrews their own heritage of living peacefully with the order of creation. We need those subjugated peoples to come to our disorderly uncivilisation as missionaries of divine order.

Prayer

Look out of the window at whatever part of creation you can see – moon and stars if it is night, mountains or rivers, trees or flowers, animals or birds, if it is day. Remember that God saw that it was all good.

Look at the damage you see to that creation – light pollution, tarmacked roads, manicured gardens. Ask God for forgiveness and invite him to restore the order of his creation. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 12th November 2019

Tue, 12/11/2019 - 06:00
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Tuesday 12th November
Women Undermining Empire

Numbers 27: 1 – 11

Then the daughters of Zelophehad came forward. Zelophehad was son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Joseph, a member of the Manassite clans. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.

They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and they said, ‘Our father died in the wilderness; he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.’

Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father’s brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them. You shall also say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. It shall be for the Israelites a statute and ordinance, as the Lord commanded Moses.’

Reflection

The Israelites learned that the rule of law matters. This fascinating case, however, also shows that law cannot be too rigid. Even the best lawmaker (God Himself) cannot foresee all eventualities.

Judges need to have the wisdom to interpret the law and adapt it to new circumstances. This is what Moses does. The reinterpretation is radical, giving women inheritance rights (in some circumstances). This case law needed to be retold because it goes against the way that men have thought through the ages. It is within living memory in the UK that the man was the head of the household, expected to fill in the tax return and so on. As an Inland Revenue employee said to my aunt, “Why don’t you ask your husband to help you?” As she said to him, “It’s no use asking him. He can’t count.”

Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah stand up for their rights against the male dominated empire (and even in the wilderness the men of Israel were empire-building). The women’s protest is assertive, clear – yet respectful. Although some suffragettes did turn to violence after a generation of frustration, other female protestors are notable for their peaceful yet forceful methods. Women tend not to riot, but to stage vigils and witness silently to oppression. The Women in Black (http://womeninblack.org/vigils-arround-the-world/) show the force of women against empires.

One of the greatest signs of hope today is that so many of the leaders of Extinction Rebellion are women. The crisis we face and the indifference of the political and business empires run by the men in power are so great that we men might well be tempted to violent protest. We need to allow women to take the lead – they are far more likely to save us all from the apparently irresistible power of fossil fuelled empire.

Prayer

We link hands with each other
as a sign of our solidarity with all who
are affected by gender-based violence, prejudice and discrimination.
We reach out our hands
as a sign of our unity with all who
campaign for justice across the world.
We stretch up our hands
as a sign of our prayers for an end
to all forms of violence and abuse.
Amen

Slightly adapted from a prayer by the Mothers’ Union for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, November-December 2018.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 11th November 2019

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 06:00
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Monday 11th November
Reminding Empire of Suffering

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

Reflection

My Old Testament tutor in Birmingham University, John Eaton, believed that many of the Psalms were written for liturgical use in the Temple in Jerusalem. These were services where the King of Israel would be present, most especially a kind of annual rededication ceremony.

This interpretation of the Psalms has not found universal favour, but it is interesting to read this Psalm as if it were true. Just imagine the king sitting there in all his pomp and glory and hearing – or perhaps even himself chanting – “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” I wonder how many contemporary world leaders would be willing to subject themselves to such a ceremony even once, never mind annually?

I have been once in my ministry a Mayor’s Chaplain in a local authority. Part of the duty of such a chaplain is to attend a banquet put on by the mayor to which the mayors and leaders of neighbouring authorities, the High Sheriff and Lord Lieutenant and other such dignitaries are invited. I was put on the top table and asked to say grace. The prayer, which we shall use today ourselves, was for all those employed by the local authority who provided food and drink for those citizens who really needed it. I said the prayer and after the Amen there was a deathly silence. These powerful people, being treated to free food and wine at the taxpayers’ expense, did not wish to be reminded of such people at that moment. It took a while – and the consumption of the first bottle or two of wine - for anyone on my table to speak to me. I have not been asked to be Mayor’s Chaplain since.

Prayer 

Loving God, who gives food to the hungry,
as we eat and drink today,
we pray for those serving and eating meals on wheels,
school breakfasts and lunches,
for our elderly and disabled neighbours
eating meals in day centres and residential homes,
and those at food banks throughout our area.
May we never forget our responsibility
to all those who today rely on public service and on private charity
for their food and drink.
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 10th November 2019

Sun, 10/11/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 10th November

Psalm 122

1 “To the LORD’s house!” they were calling,

and with joy I went with them.
2 Now at last our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.

3 See, Jerus’lem, like a city
built compactly, close and strong.
4 That is where the tribes assemble,
tribes which to the LORD belong.

To the LORD’s name praise they offer,
as for Israèl decreed.
5 There are set the thrones for judgment,
thrones of David’s royal seed.

6 Pray for Zion’s peace and safety:
“May your friends securely dwell;
7 Peace within your walls continue,
strength within your citadel.”

8 For the sake of friends and brothers,
“Peace be in you,” I will say.
9 For the sake of our God’s temple,
I seek your prosperity.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation to sing this to the lively tune Marching here

 

Reflection

I was glad*, the Psalmist sings,
setting out for Jerusalem.

I was glad, the Psalmist sings,
arriving in the holy city.

I was glad, the Psalmist sings,
resting in a place of security.

I was glad, the Psalmist sings,
praying for peace and well-being for the house of God.

 
Today, across the nations,
people will gladly set out for sacred or spiritual places, 

Today, across the nations,
people will arrive, gathering in chapel, church and around civic memorial.

Today, across the nations,
people will remember the cost of war and sacrifices made,

confess the failure of nations to live in harmony, 
and give thanks where they experience security.
Today, across the nations,
people will pray for peace and well-being, wherever God dwells.

 
Psalm 122 celebrates the age-old practice of pilgrimage.  Setting out, motivated by faith or spiritual yearning, arriving in a sacred place,  encountering a sense of divine, and returning, with new resolve in heart.
 
Focusing on Jerusalem, a name which may mean city of shalom, or city of peace, Psalm 122 is as relevant for today as when first sung. For Jerusalem is one of the most fought over and disputed places on earth. Being an abode of peace remains a seemingly-distant hope,  that still needs peace-praying, peace-shaping, peace-making and peace-keeping.
 
Today, as people like you and me, return from a sacred or spiritual place,  mindful of fractures between and within nations,
we may sense God’s calling to pray and work for peace and well-being, 

in Jerusalem, 
in your nation and my nation, 
in your hometown and my hometown.
 
In living out the Psalm, we may make God glad too. 
 
*I was glad, are the opening words of Psalm 122 in several translations and were embraced by Hubert Parry in his well-known anthem of the same name which you can hear here.
 
Pilgrim Peace Prayer  (in Haiku form)

Setting out today,
may I pray peace and make peace,
and do so gladly.


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Today's writer

The Revd Dr David Pickering, Moderator National Synod of Scotland, member Rutherglen URC. Copyright
Sing Psalms!  (C) The Psalmody Committee of the Free Church of Scotland
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 9th November 2019

Sat, 09/11/2019 - 06:00
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Saturday 9th November
Standing up to Empire’s claims to say what love looks like
 
1 Sam 18: 1 – 5, 20: 30 – 42, 2 Sam 1: 23 – 27

When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.  Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.  Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armour, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved.

Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan. He said to him, ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?  For as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.’ Then Jonathan answered his father Saul, ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’  But Saul threw his spear at him to strike him; so Jonathan knew that it was the decision of his father to put David to death. Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food on the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, and because his father had disgraced him.

In the morning Jonathan went out into the field to the appointment with David, and with him was a little boy.  He said to the boy, ‘Run and find the arrows that I shoot.’ As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called after the boy and said, ‘Is the arrow not beyond you?’  Jonathan called after the boy, ‘Hurry, be quick, do not linger.’ So Jonathan’s boy gathered up the arrows and came to his master. But the boy knew nothing; only Jonathan and David knew the arrangement. Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said to him, ‘Go and carry them to the city.’  As soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He bowed three times, and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more. Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, for ever.”’ He got up and left; and Jonathan went into the city.

Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.  O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!

Reflection

Empire makes its claims not only on ‘land’ but also on ‘being’. It occupies the personal as well as the public space, and demonises minorities it sees as ‘abnormal’ or subversive of its power and norms. It also co-opts the majority to its values and attitudes. The Church has become deeply complicit in occupying bodies and souls. There can be nothing more Imperial than denying the realities, complexities and relationships of other: My theology says you cannot be gay so you must not be gay etc.  These supposed faith affirmations tie up with and feed into repressive and violent policies, like those in Tanzania and elsewhere around the world.

Religious powers are organising against LGBTQ people and their human rights. Sacred texts are marshalled to terrorise and to justify oppression while other texts are silenced.  This is to use the text in Imperial ways, because we do not own the text or its many meanings. It is easy to dehumanise our opponents in the midst of this issue in churches at the moment, yet this will always result in sin and separation, and especially the sin and separation of homophobia.

The way of Jesus is subversive and counter-imperial, and so is queer. David and Jonathan’s love is queer because it is homoerotic and subversive. It is queer because those like Saul, Jonathan’s father and Israel’s king, saw this relationship as a threat and wanted David dead. Saul was the very embodiment of Imperial and patriarchal power and intolerance, so any reading of this text has to be in opposition to this. Thus, Jonathan and David, in their love for each other, embody the counter loving alternative to the repression, control and order of Empire and Patriarchy. This counter love is queer, and it deeply and powerfully resembles God’s counter love, which is queerest of all.

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“Let he, who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.
 
Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion 8th November 2019

Fri, 08/11/2019 - 06:00
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Friday 8th November

Standing up to the racism of Empire

Ruth 1: 16 – 22

Ruth said,

‘Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die — there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!’

When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?’ She said to them,

‘Call me no longer Naomi,
call me Mara,
for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.
I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty;
why call me Naomi when the Lord has dealt harshly with me,
and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?’

So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with
her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Reflection

Migrants have become easy targets for politicians and the media; the manipulation of tension and suspicion is a smoke screen to prevent the racism of privileged people and systems being unmasked.

“Africa will have ten times as many young people as Europe. If Europe doesn’t do anything, they are going to kick in our door.” Viktor Orban Hungarian Prime Minister—March 15, 2018,

Let’s not forget, the Syrian who comes to us has still his Syria, the Afghan who comes to us has still his Afghanistan […] But if we lose our Germany, then we have no more home!”  Björn Höcke, head of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AFD)

“Vile discourses of explicit hate and ideologies of racial supremacy have moved from the fringe to the mainstream. Racial, ethnic and religious bigotry fuels human rights violations, including extreme violence against minorities, and against refugees, migrants, stateless persons, and internally displaced, including people of African descent, with a particularly acute effect on women, and sexual and gender diverse populations. This bigotry is unashamed,” said a statement issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in March 2018.

The migrations at the heart of the Book of Ruth hinge on the same injustices and tragedies as today.  Naomi and her family leave Bethlehem because of famine and leave Israel for Moab as climate refugees. They then return as economic migrants after the deaths of Naomi’s husband and sons. Ruth has to risk prostituting herself for her mother in law. They risk all for their families and become a test of the generosity and justice of their neighbours - like all migrants. But Ruth’s arrival as a migrant into Bethlehem becomes a vital link for the coming of Jesus, not just as his great-great-great grandmother, but because it gives him an ironic claim on a home town which the ‘heavenly migrant’ then escapes because of political violence.

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“many will come from east and west
and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,
while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness”
Amen.
 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.
 
Copyright
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URC Daily Devotion 7th November 2019

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 06:00
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Thursday 7th November
Subverting Empire’s claims to say wealth should be rewarded

St Matthew 25: 14 – 30

‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents,  to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.  In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.”  His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”  Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Reflection

The economy of Empire privileges capital over the needs of people. Current economic wisdom is austerity: cutting taxes, benefits and regulation will result in profit. In such a system account only needs to be made to the shareholder, all of whom are equally invested in a model which believes only in capital profit.

This is a parable about the profit incentive and the prioritising of capital. It is a disturbing parable about Capitalism in our times, which has resulted in the most astonishing wealth inequalities, an economy in which the poor are forcibly exploited and discarded. Resist the temptation to read the text in an Imperial way, in which God must be the master. The Master is one of the Robber Barons of an economic system which places 50% of the world’s wealth in the hands of 1% of the world’s population. Read Jesus as the servant who was of no use to this Master, the one who exposes the master’s ethics who gathers where he does not sow, (sounds like thievery to me). Matthew places this text on the eve of Holy Week, when Jesus will indeed be found to useless to Empire and will be thrown out of the city and wail while he is crucified.

Jesus, our rather useless servant, does not cooperate with the economic system dictated to him. He is not afraid to speak truth to power. The rather useless servant is not useful to the Master unlike his more compliant colleagues who are well socialised to this meritocratic system of achievement and profit. It is clear that Jesus was not useful to Pilate or to Caiaphas, both systems would have worked with him if he had worked with them. But Jesus’s contrary attitudes to economy, wealth, tax and power and to worship, discipleship, God and power could not be co-opted to an Imperial model until it was domesticated by a more compliant Church.

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“No one can serve two masters;
for a slave will either hate the one and love the other,
or be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and wealth” Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.
 
Copyright
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URC Daily Devotion 6th November 2019

Wed, 06/11/2019 - 06:00
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Wednesday 6th November
Standing up to Empire’s claim that humanity is the centre of the Universe
 
verses from Job 39

‘Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the deer? 

Can you number the months that they fulfil, and do you know the time when they give birth, when they crouch to give birth to their offspring, and are delivered of their young?

 ‘Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will it spend the night at your crib? Can you tie it in the furrow with ropes, or will it harrow the valleys after you? Will you depend on it because its strength is great, and will you hand over your labour to it? Do you have faith in it that it will return, and bring your grain to your threshing-floor?

Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads its wings towards the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes its nest on high? It lives on the rock and makes its home in the fastness of the rocky crag. From there it spies the prey; its eyes see it from far away.  Its young ones suck up blood; and where the slain are, there it is.

Reflection

“There is no indigenous territory where there aren’t minerals. Gold, tin and magnesium are in these lands, especially in the Amazon, the richest area in the world. I’m not getting into this nonsense of defending land for Indians. [indigenous reserves] are an obstacle to agri-business. You can’t reduce indigenous land by even a square meter in Brazil” 

So said Jair Bolsonaro, now President of Brasil, in Campo Grande News, April 22, 2015

This is the attitude at the heart of Empire when it comes to creation. Creation is a resource to be endlessly exploited. The impact of humanity on our environment has been latterly catastrophic and coincides with industrialisation and the emergence especially of consumerist hyper-capitalist economies. Humanity thinks it is at the centre and top of Creation, that it’s resources and life are destined and designated only to service humankind’s needs and desires. We live as if we are outside Creation, observing it, othering it, limiting its own agency and unique given-ness.

The argument between Job and God hinges in part on the self-reverence of Job, not only because his suffering has made him self-centred, so has his gender, privilege and mind set. As a wealthy, educated land owning male, he had become accustomed to being at the comfortable pinnacle of his society and community.

The Bible describes a state of mutuality between the Creator and the Creation, and the joy Creation takes in the Creator, (Ps. 9:1-4; 66:1; 96:11-13; 98:4; 100:1; 150:6). Do you think Creation takes joy in you? Is it glad when you awake and go about your life? Is it relieved when you go to sleep? Will it miss you when you are gone?

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,
yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”
Amen
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.
 
Copyright
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URC Daily Devotion 5th November 2019

Tue, 05/11/2019 - 06:00
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Tuesday 5th November

Standing up to Empire and the authority of men

Matthew 28:1-15 

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”  So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

Reflection

The discovery of the empty tomb by Mary Magdalene and Mary reminds us, that from the early Christian beginnings, the Church is  a movement of the disinherited. This text places women as the only witnesses to the empty tomb of Jesus. They made history by becoming the first apostles whose proclamation of good news humiliates and threatens the male authority of religious and political Empire;  Caiaphas and Pilate were both implicated in this extrajudicial murder of Jesus.

The earth shook that morning. It shook because women stepped forth as witnesses, as the first apostles to announce God rises up and breaks the power of Empire. The women’s testimony challenged male authority, privilege, and status quo. Matthew records the Chief Priests bribing the guards to create strife and hostile rumours around Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is done to reinstate their legitimacy to power and undermine the women’s testimonies – an effort to discredit and cast doubt against the women. The male disciples are also quick to provide their own witness to confirm what, otherwise, from the women alone would be unbelievable.

But of course the women should be first, this is a further stressing of Jesus’s counter-cultural and subversive teachings and ministry. The community he sought to build through his disciples was meant to be the first fruit of this, thus it is called to be a community of all genders, races and classes. Yet, in this passage, we find that it is the women who followed in his ways. They were rebelling against patriarchy. They were proclaiming that women can have power, access and control. They were flipping the script of what women ought to be – submissive, silent and insignificant. And with them in this rebellion is Jesus, instigating this new order through the first witnesses he chose.

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and their great ones are tyrants over them. 
It will not be so among you;
but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant”
Amen
 
 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.
 
Copyright
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URC Daily Devotion 4th November 2019

Mon, 04/11/2019 - 06:00
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Monday 4th November
 
Standing up to the ‘all powerful’ presence of Empire
Revelation 14: 6 - 8

Then I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgement has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ Then another angel, a second, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’

Reflection

Babylon has fallen! The author of Revelation makes this claim twice. And yet the writer lived in the midst of the unrivalled pomp and power of Empire and its persecution of any and all who resisted her. Yet within years of this prophetic pronouncement Rome, (Babylon), had indeed fallen. Empire was humbled by the resistant spirit of movements within its colonised lands, movements like the one stirred up by Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe we think Empire has passed and we live in a democratic era. But, the dominating powers of today, present in all dimensions of systems of politics, society, economics and Church, exercise power over us unjustly, like Empire.

So, we hear the text in an era of a different form of Empire announce the good news to a hurting world that Empire has fallen! How can we say Babylon is fallen? We do so because in the face of dominant powers we believe in the ultimate power of God, who is counter-creating in our midst a new heaven and earth, who in the company of peasant girls is working to bring the powerful down from their thrones, (Luke 1: 52)

We have the witness of the Biblical text to remind and inspire us that Empire has fallen. The claims, powers and blandishments of Empire are empty and bring not blessing but curse. We cannot approach the text other than to realise Empire is behind the text, in the text and in front of the text. The dynamic of God’s people in the midst of Empire shapes the drama of both testaments and our interpretations of the text.

How can we say Babylon is fallen? By being part of what subverts it, and reveals its shame and charade.

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“Your Kingdom come, O Lord, Your will be done”
Amen
 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.
 
Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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Living under Empire's dark shadow

Sun, 03/11/2019 - 18:00
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Dear <<First Name>>

I hope you've found the reflections from Scotland on The State We're In both interesting and helpful.  I realise they may have been a bit more challenging than you were expecting but we live in difficult times.  Our next series is also rather challenging but, again, I hope you find it useful.

In recent years many theologians have started to look at how the world views of people who live in, and under, Empires have affected how the Bible has been interpreted. 

The Bible was formed, written and edited in imperial ages - the mighty empires of Assyria, Babylon, Greece and Rome were the background to all the stories, teaching, poetry, hopes and despair of the Biblical writers.  When the Psalmist sat down and wept by the Rivers of Babylon, the Jewish people were formed anew in the crucible of imperial oppression; when Jesus was nailed to the Cross he was executed in the way the Romans dealt with those it held in utter contempt. 

Biblical writers struggled with the advantages of Empire - good roads and communications meaning the Gospel could be spread, and unimaginable oppression.

We still live in empires, but our empires now are harder to see - just as, it is believed, goldfish don’t perceive the water in which they live.  We have world powers who seek to rule as ruthlessly as their imperial forebears, we have economic systems at least as cruel as the ancient institution of slavery and most Daily Devotion readers live in lands which once ruled much of the globe.

The Biblical writers’ experience and critique of Empire has much to each us now.  Over the next 14 days two URC ministers, Peter Cruchley (the Mission Secretary for Mission Development of the Council for World Mission) and Gethin Rhys (Policy Officer for Cytun - Churches Together in Wales) will help us reflect on the interaction between the ancient Biblical witness in the context of Empire and our own contemporary situation.  Their reflections are insightful, challenging, at times controversial but, I hope, rewarding as we look at familiar passages in unfamiliar ways.


I hope you find the Devotions thought provoking.  Remember you can always use the link, above, to forward a Devotion to a friend you may think would like to subscribe.

with every good wish


Andy


The Rev'd Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC
 
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URC Daily Devotion 3rd November 2019

Sun, 03/11/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 3rd November
Psalm 121

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
Where am I to look for my aid?
2 My help comes to me from the LORD
By whom earth and heaven were made.

3 Your foot he will not leave to slide—
His watch over you he will keep.
4 The LORD over Isr’el keeps watch,
And he will not slumber or sleep.

5 The LORD will keep watch over you—
Your shade from the heat and the light.
6 The sun will not harm you by day;
The moon will not harm you by night.

7 The LORD will protect you from harm—
Your life he will ever defend.
8 He’ll guard every step that you take
Both now and for days without end.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the tune Solihull here


Reflection

Our work in ‘Praying the Psalms’ is somehow to bring the stylised disciplined speech of the Psalms together with the raw, ragged, mostly formless experience in our lives.”  So writes Walter Brueggeman in his eponymous book. Unless we can do that we are left with a beautiful poem of hope and expectation, an assurance of being surrounded and caught up and held in the love of God whatever may happen which may or may not stand up to the test of raw experience when it hits us between the eyes.  

This Psalm is often chosen for funerals and we can see why. My help will come from the Lord when I journey through the thickly wooded mountains full of predators and unknown horrors is a comfort and encouragement at our times of deepest sorrow and regret.  Pilgrims singing this song on their way to Jerusalem will have found the courage to put one foot in front of the other as we can in our own time. But this is not a charm nor a talisman to guarantee safety or protection and it is not a blithe reassurance that with God all things shall be well - for what happens when things do not turn out as this seems to promise?

Instead it is a confident hope based on hard-won experience over rough terrain and many hidden ravines that when we travel onwards and upwards God will be alongside in the journey and in the destination.  Security does not lie in a location or a person or an institution. Our help comes ultimately from the maker of heaven and earth.

So let us lift our eyes rather than bowing our heads and know that we stand on good firm holy ground. 

Prayer

“As we look towards the mountains we have yet to climb grant us that confidence and hope that keeps us going and assurance that all shall be well for you are with us each step of the way” 

Dr David Livingstone, missionary, abolitionist and explorer, read this prayer on the quayside before he left for Africa.  



 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d  Carole Elphick is a retired Transitional minister worshipping at Muswell Hill in London.  
 
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URC Daily Devotion 2nd November 2019

Sat, 02/11/2019 - 06:00
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Saturday 2nd November
The State We’re in...Despise not the Small
  
Zechariah 4:6-10

He said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’ Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel. ‘These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.’
 
Reflection
 
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ – a question generally aimed at eliciting a child’s vocational aspirations and ambitions – sometimes gets the answer ‘Big’, which was indeed the response of Tom Hanks in the comedy film of that name. Whether we are talking about nations or persons, the attractions of largeness are apparent – status, agency, resources, rewards, power. Bigness can be imagined as beautiful (as President Trump is reported as saying of the Oval Office and his presidential responsibilities), inverting the thinking of a significant 1970s book, Small is Beautiful. Is smallness now to be viewed with disdain?
 
My kindly PhD examiner, the late Canon Donald Allchin, suggested that ‘a small nation is not the same as a large nation’, not least in terms of power (over). Of course, small nations can be petty and mediocre and delusional and sometimes even rogue. Smallness does not inevitably save any from perpetrating wrong (and my nation of Scotland historically has embraced enthusiastically the imperial aspirations of larger neighbours). Yet, in their relative weakness and vulnerability, small nations may (at their best) have an orientation towards creative dynamics, awareness of interdependence, avoidance of a desire for dominance, a sense of community inside and outwith, an alignment with others’ vulnerability, and the seeking a world role rooted in other than economic, political or indeed military power.

To suggest this is neither to be blind where history tells another story, nor to claim some moral high ground. The best instincts of small nations come in part from the realisation that they are denied the possibilities of a large nation. For many in the smaller nations, however, there is perhaps a sense that some talk of recovering greatness feels alien, not least because we are trying to explore what smallness, weakness and vulnerability mean for us in
the world today.
 
Prayer
 
God, your power is exercised in enabling humanity to reflect your love and peace and justice for the world you have made.

Saviour, your power is expressed most fully in the vulnerability of the Cross for the sake of the world to whom you came. 

Holy Spirit, your power is at work when we humbly embrace the potential of the weak in power to challenge and to change how we live together. Amen.
 
 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Jack Dyce is a retired URC minister, a former Principal of the Scottish United Reformed & Congregational College, and now its Emeritus Professor of Nordic Theology. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion 1st November 2019

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 06:00
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Friday 1st November
The State We're In....The End of Empire

1 Kings 12: 1 - 15
 
Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt.  And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.’  He said to them, ‘Go away for three days, then come again to me.’ So the people went away.
 
Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, ‘How do you advise me to answer this people?’  They answered him, ‘If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants for ever.’  But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. He said to them, ‘What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, “Lighten the yoke that your father put on us”?’ The young men who had grown up with him said to him, ‘Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, “Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us”; thus you should say to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.”’
 
So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had said, ‘Come to me again on the third day.’ The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him  and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, ‘My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’ So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfil his word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.

Reflection

People all over the country are feeling the strain.  Work is crippling with long hours and low pay. Housing is poor.  Food is scarce for many. People are barely getting by and they are being made to work ever harder by a leader who wants only to increase his own power and influence and the wealth of his followers.  The leader is presented with legitimate demands by representatives of the people to improve their working conditions in return for greater productivity and loyalty and he takes advice from the wise old men who have seen it all before.  They council mercy, but the bullish new leader, keen to show just how tough he is, listens to his younger advisors who are keen to get more as quickly as they can, and at any cost. They even countenance further enslaving their own people as well as the foreigners they have already forced into punishing jobs that the locals don’t want to do.  And they say the Bible has nothing to say about current affairs!

Empire is attractive.  At least for those who are in charge and those who benefit from the exploitation of others.  But what happens when those who are at the sharp end decide that enough is enough?

What happens when a different story about who we are and what is important begins to take hold?  A story that says that everyone belongs, that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. That the resources of the country should be for the benefit of all the people, not just some of them.  It’s no surprise that when two groups of people see themselves in very different ways that separation would be on the agenda.

In Rehoboam’s time that’s exactly what happened.  The Northern and Southern parts of the Kingdom split because people eventually decide that enough is enough.

As Burns wrote: 

O wad some Power the giftie gie us 
To see oursels as ithers see us! 
It wad frae mony a blunder free us, 
An' foolish notion: 
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us, 
An' ev'n devotion!

Prayer

God of all,
not just me,
not just people like me,
not even of just the people I like,
you have given us the power
to see ourselves as others see us.
 
When we look hard enough
our differences fall away
and we see that we are all made in your image,
precious and loved by you.
 
Open our eyes to each other
and our hearts.
Amen
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Stewart Cutler is minister of St Ninian’s Church in Stonehouse - a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the Church of Scotland and the URC. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 31st October 2019

Thu, 31/10/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 31st October 2019 View this email in your browser

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Thursday 31st October
The State We're In....Fake News

Genesis 9: 20 - 29
 
Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.  He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent.   And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backwards and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.  When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
 
‘Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.’
 
He also said,
 
‘Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem;  and let Canaan be his slave.
May God make space for  Japheth,
    and let him live in the tents of Shem;
    and let Canaan be his slave.’
 
After the flood Noah lived for three hundred and fifty years.  All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.
 
Reflection
 
We live in an era when we can no longer trust the news.  The plurality of TV channels - some owned by other countries - means it’s hard to know what’s accurate; social media intersperses cute images of puppies with political campaigning and messaging (well it does in my Facebook feed!).  During the EU referendum Michael Gove famously decried the input of experts (1) and Mr Trump has made famous the slogan “fake news”. It is hard to know if what we read, or view, is trustworthy. This isn’t new. 
 
Today’s, little known, story from Genesis is ignored these days.   Noah’s curse was against Canaan yet generations of Christians suggested this was the “curse of Ham” who, despite no evidence, was depicted as black.  Ham’s supposed curse became part of a complex Biblical justification of the enslavement of black people. Slavery per se didn’t need much justification as the Bible, generally, condones it.  Some justification was needed, however, as to why pagan Africans could be enslaved but Christian Europeans couldn’t. It took abolitionists several generations to persuade people that this was a misuse of the Bible.  
 
Our nations are weary of Brexit - at the time of writing it’s not clear what Brexit may look like.  Experts are derided, news sources are treated with suspicion and we live in an age where our institutions are distrusted.  Many in Scotland believe the media to be partisan. Many in the Labour party believe the mainstream news is biased against their political vision for the future.  Many in European institutions believe the British press lied in its coverage of European affairs. This distrust, and the reasons for it, harms both our democracy and our civic institutions.  
 
As Christians one thing of value that we can add to the current state we’re in is to be trustworthy ourselves, to check our facts and to be accurate in our words and actions.  We can also play our part in calling out “fake news” and helping folk to, again, respect experts.
 
1.  https://www.ft.com/content/3be49734-29cb-11e6-83e4-abc22d5d108c  


Prayer

O God,

through your Word of truth all things came to be;
we live, move and have our being in your gentle embrace.
Help our words to be true,
our critiques to be fair,
and our politics to be just.
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston ministers with four churches in and around Glasgow.  He is the Editor of the Daily Devotions. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 30th October 2019

Wed, 30/10/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 30th October 2019 View this email in your browser

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Wednesday 30th October
The State We’re In...A Blessed Empire?

 2 Samuel 7: 1-2, 18-28
 
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’...Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, ‘Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God; you have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come. May this be instruction for the people, O Lord God!  And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have wrought all this greatness, so that your servant may know it. Therefore you are great, O Lord God; for there is no one like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. Who is like your people, like Israel? Is there another nation on earth whose God went to redeem it as a people, and to make a name for himself, doing great and awesome things for them, by driving out[g] before his people nations and their gods?  And you established your people Israel for yourself to be your people for ever; and you, O Lord, became their God. And now, O Lord God, as for the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, confirm it for ever; do as you have promised. Thus your name will be magnified for ever in the saying, “The Lord of hosts is God over Israel”; and the house of your servant David will be established before you. For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, “I will build you a house”; therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you.   And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant; now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue for ever before you; for you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed for ever.’

Reflection

Writing this in August means that I have no idea what will happen tomorrow; will we leave, or will we stay?  I can be sure that there will be a legacy of our time in the European Union.  

In the passage from Samuel we read of King David settling into his house and, most significantly, enjoying a rest from his enemies and this rest was a gift from God.  David did not claim that he was responsible for his house, for the peace he enjoyed or for anything else. He thanked the Lord for providing it all.

It is 400 years since the first slaves arrived in America which was part of the English (later British) Empire and those slaves worked and died to make many men rich.  The attitude of the slave owners was that some people were inferior and could be used however their masters wished. Has this changed or is modern day trafficking and slavery part of a legacy from those times?  Over the past couple of years, I have spoken to many people who say that they want out of Europe because they don’t want immigrants coming to Britain. Is their attitude another legacy of the time of the British Empire?

We can’t change everyone’s attitude, but we can follow the example of David and thank God for all that we have.  We can lead by example and welcome immigrants and show how much they contribute to the United Kingdom. We can also follow the instruction of Paul in 1 Timothy 2 “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Prayer

Loving God,
I thank you for all that you are.
I ask you to give wisdom and strength to our leaders at this time.
Lead them in a way that will bring peace and unity across this land.
I pray for the all leaders and citizens across Europe 
and the whole of your world that they will work together for peace.
I pray that these leaders, and citizens will work towards a solution to climate chaos that threatens your creation.
Thank you for hearing my prayer
In the name of Jesus your son

Amen
 
 
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Today's writer

John Collings, Lay Preacher, member of Rutherglen URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 29th October 2019

Tue, 29/10/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 29th October 2019 View this email in your browser

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Tuesday 29th October
The State We’re In...A Global Britain?

Jonah 3: 1-10, 4: 1-5
 
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying,  ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’  So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.  Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.  When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water.  Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’ When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
 
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.  But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.  And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
 
Reflection
 
Jesus talks in the Gospels of ‘the sign of Jonah’, and how the three days in the whale might be compared to the three in the tomb. The other aspect of the ‘sign’ concerns the Ninevans - seemingly oblivious of Jonah’s  intra-cetacean transportation.  For me, the “Sign of Jonah” is, therefore, that Nineveh took notice and embraced change without first having to experience disaster. Indeed, without any need for religious conversion, or a detailed fact-check.
 
Would that my ministry as environmental chaplain could be blessed with such an impact: change, from top to bottom, forestalling disaster. Not excluding animal life!
 
The strong prospect of the elimination of environmental regulations following Brexit has always been sufficient in itself for me to oppose the severing of ties which, perhaps, embarrass those who speak of a ‘global’ Britain, because they involve obligations to neighbours.  Neighbours who might, in the lifetime of my grandparents, have been seen as enemies, or pathetic recipients of aid.
 
The prospect of global climate catastrophe makes a brutal mockery of any, and every, form of isolationism. In Christ, as throughout the Earth in which He has become incarnate, there is neither Scot nor English, Welsh nor French, Irish nor Hungarian. Neither European, nor African, neither American nor Asian…
 
The flip-side of the life-enriching variety of human culture is also, always, the tragedy of providing an excuse to disregard the voice of those thus rendered ‘foreign’.  What is more foreign than the prophetic call for an end to the complacent status quo of endless exploitative growth or an end to our fossil fuel addiction?
 
Compared with the global damage already done, and the harm yet ‘in the pipeline’, the haggling over our relations with European neighbours is a triviality. And yet this smokescreen of identity politics has rendered us more alien to our own interests than were the Ninevites to the contemptuous mystical prophet, as presented with sharply biting humour in this satirically spiritual story.
 
Prayer
 
Dear God!
Dear God!
Help us to love ourselves enough
to love our neighbour that much,
and the Earth we’re both made of
to finally take some notice
of the voice of the Earth
through the signs of our times.
(And your love in the fact of the warning.)
We pray for the sign of Jonah
here, now,
right now
in us
Dear God!
Dear God!
Amen! -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d David Coleman is chaplain to Eco-Congregations, Scotland Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 28th October 2019

Mon, 28/10/2019 - 06:00
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Monday 28th October
The State We’re In...Imperial Nostalgia

Deuteronomy 7: 1-5
 
When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you —  and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But this is how you must deal with them: break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire.
 
Reflection

It can be dangerous to step out of the present and go in to the past when looking to the future. The risk is that in doing so we apply the filter of nostalgia, which distorts our remembering and subtlety leads us to a sentimental connection to and longing for all that was good and better but is no more.

Much of the debate prior to the European Referendum applied this filter when concerns about potential adverse implications on trade relations with our European partners were raised. Claims were made that there were other trade opportunities with reference given to the Commonwealth, old colonies and past dominions.

As a filter of imperial nostalgia was applied, the power abuse, destruction, injustice, killing and evil of the past failed to register. Indeed, it was such trade relations that built the grandeur of some of our cities and in particular busy thoroughfares in Glasgow such as Jamaica Street and Virginia Street. Imperial nostalgia is dangerous because is prevents us from seeing Empire for what it is, the costs it brought and the people, groups and organisations involved, including the Church.

Ancient Israel had imperial ambitions and believed they had authority from God to do all it took in order to dominate and control the people and land around them for their own gain. Such passages from Deuteronomy have been used as justification for many horrific experiences at many times and in many places. Yet we know that God always shows a preference for the weak, the poor and the oppressed, even when sadly, God’s people are the oppressors.

Applying a filter of imperial nostalgia carries many dangers as we look from the present to the future, and discern God’s guidance and will.

Prayer

God of all time,
forgive our past actions.
Forgive our past understanding.
Make us learn from what was;
recognise what is;
and discern your will for what is to be.
Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d David Scott is the Minister of Duke Street in Leith and Saughtonhall in Edinburgh. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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