Daniel 1: 1-7In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar,[a] and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods. Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. Reflection As we begin to look at the Book of Daniel, we are confronted with one of the symptoms of Empire - namely an attempt to eradicate the cultural, political, and religious identity of the colonised. Three of these observant Jews experienced a change of name. Hananiah - the Hebrew means ’Yahweh is gracious’ - became Shadrach ‘Command of Aku’ (Aku was the moon god). Mishael (‘Who is like God’) becomes Meshach ‘Who is like Aku’ and Azariah (‘Yahweh has helped’) became Abednego (Slave of the god Nebo).
We are told that they were to be fed as members of the royal household and educated for three years so that they could ‘graduate’ into the king’s court, having been instructed in Babylonian customs and manners. In the coming days the narrative will focus on Daniel as the non conforming hero but for now let’s think a little further about the effect of Empire on the identity of those under its sway.
Empire has had a ‘grooming’ effect on those it seeks to subjugate. The Council for World Mission (CWM) uses the terminology of Empire to indicate the ‘coming together of economic, cultural, political and military power in our world today which serves, protects and defends the interest of powerful corporations, elites and privileged people. The Babylonian Empire was not benign, hence the need to change the names and religion of these young Jewish leaders. CWM reminds us that we also are subject to a colonising influence.
When Bishop Lesslie Newbigin was asked what would it mean if the Gospel of Christ was allowed to critique western culture, he answered, ‘Suffering.’
help me to preserve my identity in you,
deliver me from being a consumer, a service user, a customer.
You have given yourself to us all,
that we may bear your likeness.
Enable us to be transformed
by the renewing of our minds
so that we may discern
what is truly valuable,
what is good and acceptable
and perfect, Amen
The Book of Daniel
Dear <<First Name>>
I hope you found Alan Spence's reflects on the Holy Trinity helpful - it's often good to look at what we believe and think about how we can better articulate those things.
For the next month or so we will be turning to the Book of Daniel. This is an interesting yet, in places, difficult book comprising of two very different sections. The first 6 chapters, attributed to an anonymous narrator, are the ones we are most familiar with and comprise of court legends about Daniel and his friends who had to find ways to live with persecution and powerful (yet rather bumbling) monarchs. The second section, written as visions of Daniel, dates from the second Century BC when the Greeks were threatening Israel. This section is rather more difficult as the style of writing is apocalyptic with mysterious visions portraying the End Times.
Daniel is the first book to reflect on themes of resurrection and reward/punishment in the after life. Radical Christian groups - at the Reformation and during the Civil War used Daniel to push for a government of the saints as a precursor to Jesus’ return (Cromwell turned down this offer). The passages are rather longer than when dealing with, say, an Epistle partly as the some are stories and partly as, apocalyptic parts don’t break down into smaller chunks easily. They are, however, worth sticking with.
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 © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.
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Psalm 105: 1-91 Give thanks to the LORD God and call on his name;
His wonderful deeds to the nations proclaim.
2 Sing praises to him, and his exploits record;
3 Let all those who seek him rejoice in the LORD.
4 You chosen ones, look to the LORD and his might;
5 Seek ever his face, and his wonders recite,
His miracles too, and his judgments divine—
6 You children of Abraham, Jacob’s own line.
7 The LORD is our God, and he rules all the earth.
8 Rememb’ring his cov’nant—the word he set forth—
He vowed, for the ages to come, to make good
9 His promise to Abr’ham, to Isaac renewed.
10 To Jacob his sov’reign decree was made sure;
With Isr’el his cov’nant would always endure:
11 “To you I will give, as your portion to stand,
The country of Canaan, the beautiful land.”
12 When they were no more than a wandering few,
In number restricted, and foreigners too,
13 From nation to nation they travelled around;
Wherever they wandered, no rest could be found.
14 He would not permit that his folk be oppressed;
For his chosen ones’ sake mighty kings he addressed:
15 “Touch not my anointed—to me they belong;
Respect my own prophets and do them no wrong.”
16 The LORD called down famine upon the whole land;
Their food was destroyed at his sovereign command.
17 But he sent beforehand, his people to save,
His chosen one, Joseph, sold off as a slave.
18 His feet within shackles of bronze were confined,
His neck put in irons; for freedom he pined.
19 The word of the LORD was a test to be passed
Till what he foretold was accomplished at last.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the tune Foundation (How Firm a Foundation Ye Saints of the Lord) here.
It is telling the people to remember their story. It started with promises to Abraham, and ended (in this Psalm) when they came to their own country.
It is a Psalm reminding us that God promises, protects and provides. It begins with the call to give thanks which some scholars think was added later.
These opening five verses remind me of an old chorus:
O give thanks to the Lord for He is good, all you His people,
O give thanks to the Lord for He is good.
Let us praise, let us thank,
Let us celebrate and dance,
O give thanks to the Lord for He is good.
We are reminded to keep searching for God, even if life is less than wonderful at the moment. We are encouraged to keep thanking him for what He has already done and later in verse 45 to keep following God's principles and obey his laws.
Lively worship will keep our spirits up and help to look expectantly for the fulfilment of God's promises and the blessings of his goodness wherever we find ourselves on our journey with God.
PrayerHelp us to count your blessings to us Lord
and offer grateful thanks
for your mercy in times of trouble
and your abundant provision
in times of plenty.
Keep us in step with you Lord
and help us to remember
your grace and tell our story
faithful and ever loving God.
I Peter 1:1-5Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood:
May grace and peace be yours in abundance.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Reflection The early Christians were confronted with a number of realities which were theologically perplexing but nevertheless integral elements of their shared faith. They were monotheists who believed that God was one. Yet they offered divine worship to Jesus Christ as Lord, risen from the dead. And in their communal worship they experienced personally the Holy Spirit as a sovereign, divine person lifting their hearts in praise, empowering them with spiritual gifts and transforming their lives.
Christians did not at this early stage seek to explain this set of paradoxes. They did, however, in their greetings and benedictions regularly refer to Father, Son and Spirit as the shared authors of human salvation. The pattern of the Trinitarian affirmation in the passage above is not unusual.
Chosen by the Father
Sanctified by the Spirit
Saved by the blood of Jesus
In expressions such as these the various elements of salvation are attributed to the three divine persons not as absolute distinctions but as appropriate ones. The Father through his love and eternal determination is recognised as the ground of our salvation, or as we might say, the formal cause. Jesus Christ by way of his redemptive life, death and resurrection, is often spoken of as the one who purchased us for God, the material cause of our salvation. The Holy Spirit as the agent of our new birth and spiritual transformation, protecting us for a salvation to be finally revealed is what we might describe as the efficient cause. In the post-apostolic period the Church developed a more compact Trinitarian master-narrative. It became common to speak of the believer coming to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Spirit. The formulations of later Trinitarian discussion were further abstracted from the story of salvation, but the intention was the same, that is, to speak of the one God in a way which affirms the divinity of Father, Son and Spirit and recognises a distinction between their persons:
We worship one God in trinity
and the Trinity in unity,
neither confusing the persons
nor dividing the divine being.
PrayerOpen my eyes
to the Father’s love
that settled on me
before the start of time.
Open my heart
to the Father’s Son
who gave himself
that I might be his friend.
Open my being
to the heavenly dove
that she might hover over me
and make me whole again.
Open up O my soul
to the triune God,
eternal love divine.
St John 3:1-10Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Reflection The stories that John recounts in his Gospel are not randomly chosen. They all have deep theological significance. What then is the point of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus? At its heart lies the argument that the spiritual regeneration of the human heart is not a natural event. Rebirth is the work of the Spirit of God. Unless the Spirit opens our eyes we will never recognise the truth of the kingdom. Until the Spirit softens our hearts we remain emotionally closed to the love of God. Every event of spiritual worth in our lives is an outworking of the unseen Spirit of God empowering us. Jesus appears frustrated that certain Jewish theological teachers like Nicodemus don’t understand these things.
Further, the story indicates that the Spirit is not a power that can be manipulated or controlled by human words or actions. Simon the sorcerer wrongly thought he could buy the gift of the Spirit (Acts 8:18). The Spirit is rather an independent reality with the sort of freedom seen in a swirling breeze. ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.’
How did early Christians understand the Spirit in relation to God? Their experience of the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost and reality of the Spirit in their regular worship was for them the foretaste of the coming kingdom of God and clear evidence of the enthronement of Christ. They understood the Spirit both as the active power of God in the world and also the present reality of the risen Christ among them. What is particularly significant is that they began to view the Spirit in personal terms. It was possible to grieve the Spirit (Eph 4:30); certain things seemed good to the Spirit (Acts 14:28); the Spirit forbade Paul to speak the word of God in Asia (Acts 16:6). In short, the early Christians were wrestling with the idea of the Holy Spirit as a divine person, distinct but not separable from the Son and the Father.
PrayerCome Holy Spirit, come.
Come upon us in our sadness
and clothe us with a garland
instead of ashes.
Come promised Counsellor
and lead us gently to the deeper truth
about who you are and who we are.
Come mighty wind
upon the valley of dry bones
that is our church;
breathe on this fallen army
that we might again live.
Come also upon me holy Comforter
in my own hidden and secret need.
Come Holy Spirit, come.
Hebrews 3:1-6Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also ‘was faithful in all God’s house.’ Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honour than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope. Reflection Hebrews was written to a dispersed community of Jewish Christians who were apparently being tempted to downplay their recently professed Christian faith and return to the security of their religious past. To counter this tendency the author of the letter encourages his readers to reflect on the significance of the person and work of Jesus. In this section he or she asks them to consider the relation of Jesus to Moses, the revered prophet who had led the Hebrews out of Egypt and brought the law to Israel. It is acknowledged that both these men faithfully served God. But there is, according to the author, a striking difference between them – Moses was a servant of God, Jesus was a son.
The point of this distinction is that it places Jesus in a qualitatively distinct category from Moses and all other prophetic figures. Jesus’ unique status derives not from his particular ministry or the redemptive function he performs but from his origin and his being. This understanding of Christ gives rise to what is sometimes known as the scandal of peculiarity, the offence caused to many by the Christian affirmation that Jesus is essentially different from every other servant of God.
To speak of Jesus Christ as the only begotten son of God is, one might say, a metaphor. God does not beget sons as humans do. The value, however, of the idea of sonship for the early Church is that it provides a way of conceiving Jesus as one who came from God and shares in the divine being. As a participant in God’s essence it was appropriate for Jesus to be afforded divine honour in Christian worship. And so it was that the early Church’s conceptual model of the relation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit came to be shaped by the ideas of sonship and essence.
We believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
PrayerWe are aware of pressures on us
from every side
to downplay the high status of Jesus
or distance ourselves from him.
Give me the strength, I pray,
through the trials and temptations
of this world,
to hold firm to my first confidence
so that he might stand for me
on that momentous day.
St John 1:1-14In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of [the] father’s only son, full of grace and truth. Reflection How is the Church to speak coherently of the relation of Jesus Christ to the one true God? Yesterday’s reading in Philippians 2 indicates that from the beginning Christian communities, somewhat paradoxically, offered divine worship to a young rabbi who grew up in Nazareth and was crucified outside Jerusalem. Written some forty years later the prologue of John’s Gospel presents us with a rich conceptual narrative of that relation. It dramatically declares that at the very beginning there was one existing alongside God, who was the active agent of creation and the source of all spiritual life and light. John describes this divine being simply as the ‘Word’. And it was the ‘Word’ who in the fullness of time assumed human flesh (was incarnated) and lived among us as an itinerant Galilean preacher and healer.
The power of the prologue is not that it explains the relation of the ‘Word’ to God but rather that it offers a way of conceiving God as one being, who is distinguishable but not separable from his own voice. And this voice is personified by John as he who freely takes to himself human form. The prologue does in poetic narrative what later Trinitarian language seeks to do in more abstract formulae, that is, to offer a conceptual account that recognises both the unity of the God of Jewish faith and the legitimacy of the Christian practice of worshipping Jesus Christ as divine.
The sad irony suggested in the prologue is that when the divine Word, agent of creation and source of all life, humbled himself and came among us in human form, he was not recognised. We, his own people, chose to close our hearts and exclude him from our lives. But to the curious, to those open to his truth, who believed who he was and what he said, he graciously gave the power to become children of God. And this power is not that of human strength or human ingenuity or human diligence. It is, as we shall later see in this Gospel, the divine power of the Holy Spirit.
PrayerBatter my heart,
three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine,
and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand,
o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn,
and make me new...
Yet dearly I love you,
and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie
or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me,
never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
(John Donne 1572-1631, Holy Sonnets)
Philippians 2:5-11Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Reflection Paul encourages his Philippian readers to allow the story of Jesus’ humiliation to serve as a pattern for the way they should treat one another. The poetic shape of the passage suggests that it was a popular Christian hymn that Paul had incorporated into his message just as preachers sometimes do today. The historical significance of this particular hymn cannot be overestimated.
In it, one of the earliest pieces of Christian writing in our possession, there is evidence that the first generation of Christians believed Jesus of Nazareth to have had some sort of pre-history. They understood him to have possessed ‘the form of God,’ but this was not something he held on to or exploited. Rather, he freely chose to empty himself, to take on human form, and to walk the way of servanthood, suffering and death.
How on earth had Christians come to hold such a remarkable view of this young rabbi from Nazareth? Perhaps it was because they had been caught up in the latter part of the hymn, the exaltation of Jesus. They heard of course the stories of his suffering and crucifixion, but they now also knew of his resurrection. Through their dramatic experience of the outpouring of his Spirit they had come to believe that Jesus’ had been exalted to the right hand of God. Salvation and forgiveness were part of their personal experience. Week by week as they bowed their knees together in worship they joyfully acknowledged that ‘Jesus is Lord.’
No wonder those early Christians felt that the world had been turned upside down. The rules of life had been transformed. The last would be first. The meek would inherit the earth. Death had been defeated. In humility Christians were now to regard others as better than ourselves. All had become new. Jesus had changed everything, even the way they were to think about God. These committed monotheists found themselves offering divine praise to a recently crucified Galilean. How they were to make theological sense of all this was a question that they and Christians after them were left to reflect on.
PrayerHaving drunk from the wells of salvation
we worship our risen saviour.
Set free from the chains of death
we acknowledge our liberator
to be the Lord of life,
His name is for us above all other names.
Transform us we pray into his likeness
so that we too might walk the way
that he chose of humility and service.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9Hear O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Reflection As Jewish children are tucked into bed at night many are taught to recite the words above. Jews call these verses ‘the Shema’ and it remains a central feature of their daily devotions. The prayer affirms the essential unity of God, so important an idea for the faith of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It is also a public declaration of the name of God as the ‘LORD’ or ‘Yahweh’– ‘I am who I am’. This enigmatic expression, which played a key part in the call of Moses’, suggests that God is the foundation of all being, the one whose existence is not dependent on another. So awesome is this name of God that many Jews prefer not to say it out loud.
God is, however, not a philosophical concept for our intellectual contemplation, but the living one who invites us into a deep personal relationship. It is not to be a fleeting acquaintance that is soon forgotten, or a superficial friendship where we keep back much of who we really are. Rather, we are called to love God with our whole being.
When one of the scribes asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment he instinctively began with the words of the ‘Shema’. ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” He added: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
We are not to forget these words. They are to be on our minds when we go to sleep and when we wake up, when we are at home or when we are abroad. We should carry them with us wherever we go. They are to be a part of our conversation, our everyday talk. The Shema summarises who God is and what God requires of us. Wholehearted love is the appropriate response for us to make to the gracious God who leads us from a world of slavery to the land of promise and peace.
maker of heaven and earth,
ground of our being
and source of our lives,
You alone are worthy of our praise.
Loving us long before we loved you,
giving your Son for us
while we were still enemies.
Through the transforming power
of your Spirit
enable us to love you freely
And to love those we meet
just as we love ourselves.
Psalm 104: 1-231 Praise the LORD, my soul, O praise him!
LORD my God, you are so great!
2 Wrapped in light as with a garment,
clothed in majesty and state.
Like a tent he spreads the heavens,
3 and above the waters there
Sets the framework of his dwelling,
making it an upper layer.
He makes clouds of heav’n his chariot;
on the wings of wind he rides.
4 He makes flames of fire his servants;
winds obey what he decides.
5 He set earth on its foundations,
so that it should never move;
6 Then the deep submerged the mountains
till the waters stood above.
7 But when you rebuked the waters,
at your thunder they took flight;
8 They receded to the valleys,
flowing down the mountains’ height
To the place that you appointed.
9 You set bounds to their domain,
So that never will the waters
overwhelm the land again.
10 God makes springs pour down the valleys.
Streams that flow from every hill
11 Quench the thirst of all his creatures,
and wild donkeys drink their fill.
12 Birds sing sweetly in the branches,
nesting by the riverside.
13 From above, the earth is watered,
by God’s bounty satisfied.
14 He makes grass grow for the cattle,
plants for man to cultivate—
Bringing from the earth its produce,
food for all mankind to eat:
15 Wine that to man’s constitution
joy and gladness will impart,
Oil that makes the face resplendent,
bread that fortifies the heart.
16 Blessed with water are the forests—
trees which to the LORD belong,
Mighty cedars that he planted
on the heights of Lebanon.
17 Birds reside among the cedars;
storks upon the pine trees nest.
18 Wild goats live among high mountains;
conies in the crags find rest.
19 See the moon that marks the seasons;
to its setting moves the sun.
20 You send darkness, night approaches;
foraging has now begun.
21 Lions roar throughout the forest,
while from God they seek their prey;
22 Comes the sun, they slink back homewards.
23 Man goes out to toil all day.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to Hyfrydol (Alleluia Sing to Jesus) here or to the tune All that Thrills here.
This Psalm is a poem of praise to God as Creator and a celebration of the goodness of God’s Creation. First, the Psalmist praises God for his character and attributes. God’s greatness, honour and majesty are evoked as poetic images drawn from the natural world: God wears light as a garment, the heavens are his tent, the clouds are his chariot, and the winds are his messengers. These natural forces and energies serve God’s good purposes and reveal his character as a generous Creator.
Second, the Psalmist celebrates the wondrous variety of God’s created works: mountains, valleys, life-giving water, donkeys, birds, cattle, grass, plants, grain, wine, oil, trees, goats, lions, and humans. Karl Barth comments that this Psalm reveals a God who preserves all living things ‘within their limits’. The challenge of a changing climate begs the question: will humans learn to live within sustainable limits and in harmony with God’s Creation? Let us resolve to live in partnership with our Creator, and ‘Touch the earth lightly, use the earth gently, nourish the life of the world in our care’ (Shirley Erena Murray).
PrayerO God our great and generous Creator,
clothed in glorious light,
you have spoken Creation into being
and call all created energies
to serve your good purposes.
As you preserve all life
in its wondrous variety,
help us to respect our environment
by living within sustainable limits.
Inspire us to treat the Earth
not as a resource to be exploited
but as a gift to be cherished,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Six Reflections on theTrinity
Dear <<First Name>>
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project
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3 John 1: 9 - 15I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Everyone has testified favourably about Demetrius, and so has the truth itself. We also testify for him, and you know that our testimony is true. I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face. Peace to you. The friends send you their greetings. Greet the friends there, each by name. Reflection
Short letter, long division?
This short letter highlights some painful tensions in church life. There are two names in today’s verses, who never surface elsewhere in the Bible. All that we know about them is here, in and (to some extent hypothetically) between the lines.
Diotrephes (9) appears to be a local church leader, who does not want John, or anyone else, telling him what to do. He has stopped his congregation giving hospitality to travelling preachers whom John sent out. This has upset John, and he means to challenge Diotrephes – when he can get there to do so (10).
Demetrius (12), by contrast, is clearly someone John trusts. He may be one of the missionaries mentioned above. He may even be the person carrying the letter.
And the point of the letter? To persuade its recipient, Gaius, to give Demetrius and his team a friendly welcome and strong support. If Diotrephes has blocked their coming, John wants to make sure that this attitude won’t spread. He feels he can depend on Gaius, and the letter is an attempt to make sure.
Behind the personalities are important issues. Mission is one: people who take the faith to new places do need support from the rest of us. Disagreement is another: conflict can be a growth point, but some church conflict damages people and blocks the spread of the faith; we need to be careful when we disagree. Tension between local congregation and wider church can be healthy too, if it helps us to listen to each other. But the attitude of Diotrephes, “who likes to put himself first” (9), will generally cause problems wherever it crops up.
Behind all of this is what the letter calls “the truth” (12). This is a theme in all three of John’s letters. It centres on ‘confessing Jesus’, believing that his human life embodied the personal involvement and love of God. This belief shapes and sustains Christian fellowship. It holds us together, and motivates us to believe that difficulties and misunderstandings in church life are worth trying to overcome.
PrayerGod whose love is known in crucifixion,
teach us that truth matters
more than ego,
fellowship more than pride,
your purpose more than our position.
God whose power is seen in resurrection,
teach us hope when we meet trouble,
wisdom when we disagree,
and persistence in love.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
3 John 1: 1 - 8The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. I was overjoyed when some of the friends arrived and testified to your faithfulness to the truth, namely, how you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth. Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth. Reflection With the advent of the email have we lost the art of letter writing? In 3 John we have the briefest of openings to an Epistle typical of a secular letter of its time: first the greeting, next the prayer for good health, after that the main body of the letter with its news, and then final greetings. Early Christian letters were the kind of letters which people wrote to each other every day.
Some Christians from Gaius' region have reported to the author of Gaius' ‘faithfulness to the truth’. We know nothing of Gaius except he was a lay person, a convert of the author’s perhaps, (later tradition makes him bishop of Pergamum). Gaius is praised for his extraordinary hospitality offered to some itinerant Christians.
In our modern world we wouldn’t claim hospitality as a mark of ‘faithfulness to the truth’. But in the ancient world it was much more than offering an occasional meal. Here truth is integrated with love. This would include financial assistance as well as other support so that these missionaries might fulfil the vocation to which God has called them. The ancient practice of a local stipend as a living allowance to enable ministers to live does sound familiar!
The author's response to this situation is to rejoice and to urge Gaius to continue offering such hospitality. But the author is doing more than merely requesting Gaius show the same hospitality to the missionaries when they return. He is appealing to a broader principle: all people should be supported in this way. By giving such support, Christians like Gaius become ‘co-workers in the truth’ loyally living in Christian obedience. Can we make the same claim? To fulfil this responsibility is to play our part in ‘spreading the truth’ for it is both our Christian duty and an act of Christian love.
whose love is boundless
and whose compassion
makes no distinction
between friend and stranger,
grant us generosity of Spirit
that we may faithfully walk in the truth.
Turn our indifference into hospitality
and our hard-heartedness into care
that we may participate
as true co-workers in your kingdom. Amen.
2 John 1: 7 - 13Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person. Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. The children of your elect sister send you their greetings. Reflection It’s hardly surprising that the early Christians were victims of false and confused messages spread by the ‘many deceivers’ whom John mentions here. After all Christianity was new and the message of love, and a Kingdom where everyone looked after everyone else, was utterly counter-cultural. It was fertile ground for the heretics who spread inaccurate stories about the new religion. Maybe I’m being generous by suggesting the heretics thought what they said was indeed true Christianity.
Perhaps more surprising is that little has changed. In the 21st Century there are people who speak as Christians and claim that their faith prevents them from engaging with sections of society, that it means they condemn other people and lifestyles, or makes them behave in certain ways. They often preface their views by stating that they speak on behalf of Christianity. The difficult bit for me, is that they believe what they say.
John is very clear in this passage; we must not let these people into the house, which seems quite harsh to us today. However, in the 1st Century missionaries relied hand-to-mouth for a living, on the hospitality of Christians; and if as a Christian you hosted a missionary, it indicated that you shared that missionary’s views. Hence in a culture where hospitality was crucial, John said don’t offer anything!
John was urging the early Christians to speak out and act against people who preached anything other than God’s love. He encouraged people to love and care for one another as Christ did before.
For 21st Century disciples, the message of John’s second letter is still spot-on: we must speak out against those who say Jesus’s love is exclusive of any sections of society, and most of all, we must share that message of a Kingdom of love - with everyone. No exceptions.
we know your love is all-encompassing
and we pray that you will walk with us
sharing the times when we struggle
to stand up for what we know to be right.
Help us Lord, to spread the message
of your love for everyone
2 John 1: 4 - 6I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it. Reflection I don’t know about you, but I would have loved to have met this lady who is obviously highly respected by John, and entrusted to deliver his words of life and hope to her and her household. It might be possible that she was an older, more maternal character who had responsibility for lots of children. Perhaps she was a widow, but her life had been influential through her Christian faith which had touched the lives of at least some of her wards. On the other hand perhaps she was the host, or even one of the leaders of one of the churches which met in her house, something which happened much during the early days of the Church. Whoever she was she had made her mark in such a way that John feels it is worth mentioning here. He feels however, the need to endorse the new commandment of love which Jesus gave to them, by not just knowing the words themselves, but in walking in them. This is very needful for us all and easy though it is to say, or listen to in a sermon, the proof of our commitment as well as the truth in which we are believing, has to be seen to be evidenced by action. This is not an attitude that can be suddenly exhibited but one needs to walk in love which is genuine, deep in ones’ spirit, working out not only on a Sunday when everyone else can see it, but day by day, even when life is not being loving towards us. As my Mother used to say to me, “It’s not enough to say you will do something, but you must live it, and be it.”
who taught us the way of love,
touch our hearts in a new
and transforming way,
that we may not just speak
the truth of such love,
but walk in it, work from it and share it
from our lives and hearts
witnessing to the reality of that love
every day of every year
that you grant us life.
Through the Name of Jesus,
who is our example. Amen.
2 John 1: 1 - 3The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us for ever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love. Reflection Since I first came across the short - only thirteen verses long - and curious second letter of John, I have been intrigued about the identity of ‘the elect (or chosen) lady and her children’!
While some commentators do think that this does refer to an individual family, more consider that this is a code where ‘the lady’ represents a Church community, and ‘the children’ denotes its individual members on the grounds that it seems unlikely at this stage in Christian history that one family would have been so prominently known.
I wonder what provoked the writer of 2 John to need to write in code? Reading the letter as a whole it would seem that this was written in a time when the Church was being persecuted and perhaps the ‘false teachers’ were not false in the sense that they were attempting to lead the faithful astray through suspect teaching but rather that they were spies from those persecuting the community posing as visiting teachers and preachers!
Codes have a long pedigree as a method of hiding messages. Arguably the last thing that today’s Church needs or ought to be doing is working in code. If ever there was a need to speak plainly that is today. But different parts of the Church do use a certain code. I am aware in my ministry developing an ecumenical county with friends in other denominations that we each have our own shorthand and ways of speaking that seem normal to each but strange or even impenetrable to our friends. Different parts of the theological spectrum have different ways of speaking too. Perhaps we need to check ourselves to see if we are actually talking in code when really we need to speaking plainly? Do we think we are talking plainly - without jargon - but actually might as well be speaking in a different language as far as those outside the Church - the people we are yearning to reach - are concerned?
PrayerGod of the elect lady and her children,
teach us how to speak plainly.
Plainly of you.
Plainly of the Good News
taught by Jesus.
Plainly of the Good News of the Kingdom.
So that we might help others
see the way to be your disciples.
Help us to repent of our jargon
and to let go of the codes we use.
In the name of Jesus,
1 John 5: 18 - 21We know that those who are born of God do not sin, but the one who was born of God protects them, and the evil one does not touch them. We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Reflection A difficult passage to conclude this letter. It is perhaps no wonder that one commentator suggests that it is unclear and that there is little agreement as to what it means, or even why the last sentence is there at all.
Yet certainty is there in the three-fold statement of knowledge. We know that the Christian is freed from the power of sin; that the Christian lives in a world where there is sin; and that the Christian is given understanding and discernment. Hence a Christian is able to differentiate between a life which is dominated by sin and by idols and a life lived in the truth of God as exemplified in Jesus Christ.
That of course is easy to say, but a lot less easy for the Christian to acknowledge and to put into practice. However, William Barclay commenting on this passage in the Daily Study Bible  suggests that “we live in a civilisation permeated by Christian principles … [where people] accept the ideals of chastity, mercy, service, love.” Even if that were true when Barclay was writing, I doubt if many people would be so sure that it reflected 2019 Britain.
Recent events, especially as portrayed in the media, suggest that Britons might be more likely to be unfaithful, ruthless, selfish and self-centred. This might be exemplified in the bitter debate regarding Brexit, unresolved as I write. Little charity has been displayed between the protagonists, although, mercifully, demonstrations and events have been relatively peaceful. Entrenched positions on all sides have been raised to the status of idols.
John’s charge to us as Christians is to use the freedom given to us in Christ to strive to keep ourselves and the world from idolatry. Have we so striven? Or have we just acquiesced?
 Daily Study Bible, William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, Revised Edition 1976, Westminster Press
PrayerBefore God, with the people of God,
we confess to our brokenness:
to the ways we wound our lives,
the lives of others and the life of the world
May God forgive you, Christ renew you,
And the spirit enable you to grow in love.
Daily Office of the Iona Community
Psalm 1031 Praise God, my soul! With all my heart
Let me exalt his holy name.
2 Forget not all his benefits;
His praise, my soul, in song proclaim.
3 The LORD forgives you all your sins,
And heals your sickness and distress;
4 Your life he rescues from the grave,
And crowns you in his tenderness.
5 He satisfies your deep desires
From his unending stores of good,
So that, just like the eagle’s strength,
Your youthful vigour is renewed.
6 The LORD is known for righteous acts
And justice to downtrodden ones.
7 To Moses he made known his ways,
His mighty deeds to Israel’s sons.
8 The LORD is merciful and kind,
To anger slow, and full of grace.
9 He will not constantly reprove,
Or in his anger hide his face.
10 He does not punish our misdeeds,
Or give our sins their just reward.
11 How great his love—as high as heaven—
Towards all those who fear the LORD!
12 As far as east is from the west,
So far his love has borne away
Our many sins and trespasses
And all the guilt that on us lay.
13 Just as a father loves his child,
So God loves those who fear his name.
14 For he remembers we are dust,
And well he knows our feeble frame.
15 Each human life is like the grass,
And like a meadow flower it grows.
16 Its place will never be recalled
Once over it the tempest blows.
17 But everlasting is God’s love
For those who fear him, and their seed—
18 For those who keep his covenant,
And carefully his precepts heed.
19 God’s kingly rule is over all;
In heavèn he has set his throne.
20 O you his angels, praise the LORD,
Strong ones by whom his will is done.
21 O praise the LORD, you heavenly hosts,
His servants who perform his word.
22 Praise God, his works throughout his realm,
And you, my soul, O praise the LORD!
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the, stunning, tune Before the Throne of God Above here.
The practice of mindfulness – bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment – is not new. Whilst increased prominence has come through popular authors and popular apps alike, its roots go back centuries.
Over the last forty years, mindfulness has played a part also in therapeutic approaches to a range of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and even psychosis. Studies have indicated it can significantly reduce the kinds of rumination and worry that too often lead to poor mental health. A focus upon the present can be powerful indeed.
Today's Psalm is in the form of a “note to self”, but the invitation is to all of us to identify with the Psalmist in a kind of holy mindfulness. Here is a litany of praise and thankfulness in which our attention is drawn above all to the “now” of God's gracious disposition towards us. “The LORD forgives... heals... rescues...” - therefore our response of worship is likewise brought forth right now, not assigned to some arcane schedule.
Not that the Psalmist is oblivious to the place of past and future in God's dealings with us. The LORD who is perceived today in acts of righteousness and justice (v6) is the same LORD who ministered to Moses and the Israelites in deeds of power (v7); and just as this God remembers the dust of our creation (v14), so we do well not to forget God's presence and power (v2). Meanwhile, even if we can't perceive precisely what lies in store, the Psalmist affirms that it is simply not in God's nature to consign us to everlasting reproach (v9).
Above all, though, it seems that mindfulness of the present is the order of the day. Perhaps we find its echo in the summons of Jesus – who told a parable of a great banquet for which the invitation said “Come, for everything is ready NOW” (Luke 14:17). A banquet for which the host accepts no delays or deferral.
PrayerThis day, Sovereign God,
open my eyes to your wonder,
open my ears to your voice,
open my whole being to your presence.
Draw forth from me, O Lord,
thankfulness for all that has been,
confidence for all that is to come,
but above all,
for this present moment.
And may my praise be joined
with the worship that all creation offers.
1 John 5: 13 - 17I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him. If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one—to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal. Reflection Our reading today starts with what sounds like a conclusion to 1 John, telling us why it was written. Then we have the postscript urging us to have the confidence to be bold in prayer. It reminds us that we know that God hears our prayers and so we have obtained the requests that we have made, so long as they are in accordance with God’s will.
That is a very powerful claim. We don’t need to spend time looking for the answer to prayer, because our prayer will be answered. That doesn’t mean that our prayer will be answered at the time we expect, or in the ways that we might anticipate, or even in ways that we can recognise. Nevertheless, we can pray in the confidence that God will hear us.
Perhaps, then, we need to concentrate on discerning God’s will, so that we can get our prayers ‘right’. On the other hand, God clearly knows God’s will and it’s God who will be answering our prayers. Surely, then, what we need to be identifying are the people, places and situations that God wants us to pray about and leaving the details up to God. Yet how often do we ask God for guidance on what we should be praying about?
The other aspect of this is how our prayers will change us and the way in which we respond to people and situations. Is this why we are urged to pray for forgiveness for others? Will that help us to forgive them ourselves and to include them fully in our fellowship? If our first prayer is to ask God what we should be praying about, then our second prayer needs to be to ask God how we can begin to answer our own prayers.
PrayerLiving and Loving God,
help me to know deep within myself
that you hear my prayers.
Give me the confidence
to be bold in prayer.
Show me the people, places and situations
that you want me to pray about.
Open me to your will for them.
Guide me in how I can begin
to answer my own prayers.
Thanks be to God!
1 John 5: 6 - 12This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree. If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. Reflection This single, strong powerful testimony. That is all we need written on our hearts.
Many of us, I’m sure, will find the concept of ‘testimony’ daunting. But that’s on the assumption that a testimony is simply standing up in front of lots of people saying how they came to know Jesus. Not an easy task. Particularly if, like me, you grew up in the Church anyway, and/or you struggle to pinpoint an exact time at which you first came to know Jesus. But this delivery is the most common association with the word. Testimony as a word is actually far simpler than this. Deriving from the Latin word ‘testis’ (yes, I chuckled too!), but meaning ‘witness’. Best to leave that there... But that’s really all it is, a witness!
The testimony of God is manifested through Jesus Christ. The life Jesus lived was a witness to God’s power, glory and love for the world. The ‘ultimate witness’ was seen at Eastertide. The biggest sacrifice that could have been made, was made by God, giving his only Son. This is the very testimony we must tell. We must be witness to the living God. It’s important that the life we live out, the life others see, is a testimony. Others need to see the Jesus in us, see us living a Christ-like life, imitating him closely.
We don’t need to be confident at public speaking to ‘do’ testimony. We are all testimonies through our everyday life. Some may find that daunting and pressurising, perhaps feeling watched, or judged? But rest assured, similar to my encounters in the gym, people will actually only pay attention to the bits that you do well! So make those good bits shine, make your Christ-like characteristics shine!
help us to be
the confident person in the gym,
help us to let our actions be visible,
and be known
actions inspired by you,
by the life your Son led on this earth.
So that all may see the witness
we have to offer
the witness of your love for us,
and your saving grace