URC Devotions

URC Daily Devotion  27th March 2020

Fri, 27/03/2020 - 06:00
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Gordon Woods, Elder, St. Columba’s URC, Oxford

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Friday 27th March

My Song is Love Unknown (R&S) 207
Samuel Crossman (1624 - 84)

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour's love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But oh, my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then "Crucify!"
Is all their breath,
And for His death
They thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
he gave the blind their sight.
Sweet injuries!
Yet they, at these,
themselves displease and ‘gainst him rise.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful He
To suffering goes,
That He His foes
From thence might free.

In life, no house, no home,
my Lord on earth might have;
in death, no friendly tomb,
but what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heaven was his home;
but mind the tomb 
wherein he lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend

You can hear, and see, this hymn be sung here.

Isaiah 53

Who has believed what we have heard?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
    Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
    and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
    he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
     Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
    The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Reflection

It is hardly original to observe that a great poet can capture a thought in a few words that might take much longer to express in prose.  I’ve long thought that Crossman captured something simple and striking not only about Christ’s ministry on earth, but about our Christian calling in the phrase “Love to the loveless shown / That they might lovely be.”  But to turn great poetry into a great hymn (or even bad poetry into a good hymn - lots of scope for discussion there) you need a talented musician, and I suspect Crossman’s verses would have been unknown not only to me, but many readers of this Devotion, had it not been for the twentieth century composer John Ireland.  His tune ‘Love Unknown’ seems to me to capture the melancholy and loneliness of Christ’s passion so well, with the flexibility to respond to the changing mood of the poetry as it is sung.

I wonder what drew John Ireland to these verses.  Did the loneliness of the Passion had a particular resonance for him?  His brief marriage was annulled unconsummated, and his private papers and biographers suggest he was a gay man at a time it wasn’t possible for him to form a relationship with someone he loved. 

Our Scripture reading is the fourth ‘Servant Song’ from Isaiah, which is variously interpreted as a prophecy about Israel, or the Messiah.  It picks up key themes of the Passion, and is at once both familiar and troubling - do we agree with Isaiah that God would want to crush anyone with pain?  And I’m not happy with a ‘jam tomorrow’ theology that those who suffer in this world will be rewarded in the next. This is a reading to wrestle with, rather than gloss over due to its familiarity.

Prayer

Lord, 
we give thanks for the poets and musicians who help us explore, 
by looking at our faith through different eyes.  
We pray that they may be inspired by your Gospel 
to strengthen us in faith and service, 
and to challenge us to see familiar texts anew.  
Help us to step out of our comfort zones of familiar words and music, 
and open ourselves to new possibilities in our Christian lives.
Amen -->

Today's writer

Gordon Woods, Elder, St. Columba’s URC, Oxford. 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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Sunday's Coming

Thu, 26/03/2020 - 09:41
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Sunday's Coming

Dear <<First Name>>

Welcome to all our new subscribers.  Since last Thursday over a 1,000 of you have subscribed.  I hope you are finding the daily prayer and reflection helpful.

As you know each Sunday we are sending out the transcript and recording for a Sunday service.  This week the service is led by the Rev'd Phil Nevard and we hope his humour, thoughtful preaching and excellent hymn choices will help lift all our spirits.  After clicking on the link to listen you should be able to click back to the email to follow the transcript.  This might be easier on a laptop rather than a phone or tablet.  

There were a few teething problems last week...

first, please do add this address to your contact list and, if your email programme has one, a safe sender's list.

second, if you don't get a Devotion one morning please check your spam or junk folder before emailing to ask where it is!

thirdly, I am going to send out the service at 9.45 so that everyone has it ready for a 10am start.  Of course you can listen earlier or later if you wish, but there is something nice in all listening to it at the same time.  The earlier send out time is because the email programme we use sends it out in batches and some folk got it a little after 10 and emailed in to ask where it was!  You can also see the material, after 9.45 on Sunday at devotions.urg.org.uk as the material is also posted there but you will probably find it easier to read via your email.

Finally, two people commented that when trying to listen via a phone - one person on an iPhone and another on an Android, they were prompted to download Microsoft One Drive.  The recording is hosted on OneDrive.  Most people don't need to download the OneDrive App and we're not sure why some are asked to.  If this happened to you then go to the App Store (on iPhones) or the Play Store (on Android) and download the OneDrive App.  It's free.

I hope we continue to worship and pray together throughout this lockdown and the pandemic and that, by doing so, we continue to build up our community and give expression - in perhaps a new way - to that old idea of the Communion of the Saints bound together in worship and praise.

with every good wish

Andy

Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project

 

  

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URC Daily Devotion  26th March 2020

Thu, 26/03/2020 - 06:00
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The Rev’d Ian Gow, Minister, Eltham URC

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Thursday 26th March



We Turn to God When We Are Sorely Pressed CH4 393
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Tune, Eventide)

We turn to God when we are sorely pressed;
we pray for help, and ask for peace and bread;
we seek release from illness, guilt, and death:
all people do, in faith or unbelief.

We turn to God when he sorely pressed,
and find him poor, scorned, without roof and bread,
bowed under weight of weakness, sin, and death:
faith stands by God in his dark hour of grief.

God turns to us when we are sorely pressed,
and feeds our souls and bodies with his bread;
for one and all Christ gives himself in death:
through his forgiveness sin will find relief.

You can hear the tune, Eventide, here.

St Luke 9: 57 - 62

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’  To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’  Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

Reflection

The German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, paid the ultimate price for his faith and opposition to the ideologies of Hitler when hung at Flossenburg concentration camp on April 9th 1945.  Bonhoeffer held that the Church, "had to share in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world" if it were to be the true Church of Christ.  A similar price was paid by the Polish Catholic priest Maximilian Kolbe, put to death at Auschwitz in 1941.  Closer to home, my late Jewish mother’s father, who had received the military cross during the First World War fighting for Germany, perished at Auschwitz.  Her great grandmother was shot at Theresienstadt. The Holocaust enigma remains an insoluble mystery for Judaism.

Our passage today from Luke as to the cost of following Jesus needs to be understood in the context of the “black and white” tonality of first century Rabbinic Judaism.  Contrary to expectation, Jesus did not concentrate on the adventure of discipleship; its opportunities for personal growth, travel and evangelism; rather the tough, unconditional choices that would have to be made.

Any current organisation can only attract employees and promote company business by successful marketing strategies but candidates’ success remains complex; as seen in Lord Alan Sugar’s “The Apprentice!”

Travelling in obedience to God’s call is one of the central tenets of Luke’s Gospel; following Jesus is not easy - something the three “would be followers” in the text learned to their cost.

The lessons to be taken from this passage are that we should not base our security in material possessions alone but in our relationship with God; our priorities have to be assessed. Secondly that we should keep our earthly ties in perspective; continuing to respect our allegiances to our loved ones but prepared to live our lives in obedience to God. Finally, that in following Jesus we must be true to our word, refuse to be distracted and give our lives wholeheartedly to him.  

Prayer

Teach me your ways, O Lord;
make them known to me.
Teach me to live according to your truth,
for you are my God, who saves me.
I always trust in you. Amen

Psalm 25: 4-5: (GNB) -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Ian Gow, Minister, Eltham 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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion  25th March 2020

Wed, 25/03/2020 - 06:00
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The Rev'd Geoffrey Clarke.

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Wednesday 25th March

At The Cross Her Vigil Keeping CH4 387
13th Century

At the cross her vigil keeping
stood the mournful mother weeping
where he hung, the dying Lord.
for her soul, of joy bereaved,
bowed with sorrow, deeply grieved,
passed the sharp and piercing sword.

2. Who, on Christ’s dear mother gazing,
pierced with anguish so amazing,
born of woman, would not weep?
Who, on Christ's dear mother thinking
such a cup of sorrow drinking,
would not share her sorrows deep?

3. For his people's sins chastised,
she beheld her son despised,
scourged and crowned with thorns entwined,
saw him then from judgement taken,
and in death by all forsaken,
till his spirit he resigned.

4. Jesus may her deep devotion
stir in me the same emotion,
fount of love, Redeemer kind,
that my heart, fresh ardour gaining,
Near thy cross, O Christ, abiding,
and a purer love attaining,
may with thee acceptance find. 

There are many versions of this hymn - here is a good Plainsong version of it.  The words differ slightly from those above but it's the same meter.

St John 19: 25

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

Reflection

As a child we sang from The Methodist Hymn Book (1933) and I cannot recall an occasion when #185 (this hymn) was used.   There is a Free Church tendency to minimise (if not entirely omit) the place of Mary.   As we contemplate the manger, our eyes, hearts and minds are drawn to the One who is God incarnate.  Similarly, as we gaze upon the Cross it is the One crucified who is the focus of our devotion. Yet in both of these scenes Mary, his mother, is part of the ‘picture’. Her presence at the Cross prompts Jesus to commend her to “the disciple whom he loved” with the words, “Here is your mother” and “from that hour the disciple took her into his own home”.  (John 19: 26-27)

Here in this hymn – and the Gospel scene that inspired it – we see the ultimate heartache borne by Mary.  It captures the tragedy and sadness of the scene: Who, on Christ’s dear mother thinking such a cup of sorrow drinking, would not share her sorrows deep?  Whilst our gaze is, rightly, is drawn to the One crucified we might also ponder his mother as she represents the countless number of parents, children, partners and friends who keep vigil beside the suffering of their loved ones.   Helpless and powerless, we experience a pain akin to “a sharp and piercing sword”.  

Any consideration of Mary will ultimately point us to her Son.  Mary points us to Jesus. We keep vigil beside her and, gazing upon him, know both God’s sacrificial love and the cost of that love - both for the crucified One and his grieving mother.   As we gaze, let us pray for a measure of her faithfulness and willingness to keep vigil with those who suffer and, with her, direct the gaze of all towards the One crucified.

Prayer

O God,
help me to stand with Mary at the foot of the cross:
that I might appreciate
the breadth and depth of your love.
 
I hold before you today
all who keep vigil beside those who suffer or are dying:
may they know comfort and strength in their heartache.
 
May those who suffer for their faith
find courage and resilience.
 
Inspired by the example of Mary
may I enable others to see you.
Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Revd Geoffrey Clarke, Minister of The Crossing (Methodist/United Reformed Church), Worksop & Wales Kiveton Methodist Church. 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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion  24th March 2020

Tue, 24/03/2020 - 06:00
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The Rev’d William Young, Minister, Essenside URC Glasgow and Morison Memorial Clydebank

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Tuesday 24th March

Lifted High On Your Cross CH4 386
Ian Cowie (1923-2005)  Tune Pulling Bracken

Lifted high on your cross,
drawing all folk, drawing all folk;
lifted high on your cross,
drawing all folk to you.


Down you came to live among us
part of your creation,
knowing poverty and sorrow
sharing each temptation.

On the gallows there they nail you
God despised, rejected;
deep within your earth they hide you,
till your resurrected.

Light and love pour down upon us
healing, recreating;
you relive your life within us,
all life consecrating.  

The tune, Pulling Bracken is a Scottish folk tune which you can hear here.  The Iona Community set their hymn Dance and Sing All the Earth to the same tune.

St John 12:24

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Reflection

In charismatic circles, “lifting Jesus up” has a tradition of meaning ‘praising God with great vigour’.  Most times, that implies corporate praise within the safe walls of a tabernacle rather than where Jesus’ true “lifting up” occurs: outside.

The Greeks sought Jesus, thinking perhaps the best way would be to enquire within. Their answer was an affirmation that suffering and vulnerability brings reconciliation.

Nature’s best work seems to be in letting go of life in order to make room for life. In a time of climate emergency, a cracked open seed is a small sign that we have (maybe) a little time left to save the planet.  If the seed remains uncracked, insular in the ground, it is dead to the world, and the world is dies without it. So it must crack open to give life.

Insular spirituality, no matter how charismatic, does not draw us to the truth of Jesus’ passion. Jesus brings the world toward the cross in suffering akin to the most vulnerable on earth. We are brought toward Jesus to be his body on earth.

“Without your wound, where would your power be?” is an Angel’s question to a bruised physician in Thornton Wilder’s alternative play about the pool of Bethesda called The Angel that Troubled the Waters. “In Love’s Service, only the wounded soldiers can serve.”

Church members and ministers alike carry wounds and hurts.  Painfully too many recent stories in Christianity involve clergy who experience burnout.  Mental illness is rampant in the clergy community as it is in our world.

If the Church can cultivate a space where wounds and tears are welcome, those wounds may turn into stories and testimonies of God’s love and care. Those testimonies need time to grow. Many need time and space in the soil. They need a community without judgement so that healing can spring forth new life. This is the practice of resurrection.

As William Cullen Bryant wrote, “Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again.”
 
Prayer

Give us the courage to be unashamed:
of ourselves, of Your message, of You.
As You draw us to you in your suffering,
may our wounds call us to service, passion, and resurrection.
Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d William Young, Minister, Essenside URC Glasgow and Morison Memorial Clydebank. 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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 23rd March 2020

Mon, 23/03/2020 - 06:00
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The Rev’d Martin Knight is minister of St Paul’s URC, South Croydon and South Croydon United Church (Methodist/URC)

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Monday 23rd March


Here Hangs a Man Discarded CH4 385
Brian Wren 
Tune Shrub End  (Passion Chorale works well if verses are doubled)
© Stainer and Bell 1975

Here hangs a man discarded,
a scarecrow hoisted high,
a nonsense pointing nowhere
to all who hurry by.

Can such a clown of sorrows
still bring a useful word
when faith and hope seem phantoms
and every hope absurd?

Yet here is help and comfort
for lives by comfort bound,
when drums of dazzling progress
give strangely hollow sound:

Life, emptied of all meaning,
drained out in bleak distress,
can share in broken silence
our deepest emptiness;

And love that freely entered
the pit of life's despair,
can name our hidden darkness
and suffer with us there.

Christ, in our darkness risen,
help all who long for light
to hold the hand of promise,
till faith receives its sight.

There is only one version of this on line to Passion Chorale which you can hear here.  You can hear the first verse set to Shrub End here.

St Luke 23: 44 - 49

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land  until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts.  But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Reflection

Today we stand as his friends and ‘acquaintances’, at a distance, watching. With 2000 years of separation it can be hard to see the view Luke places before us, but we are, perhaps, brought close by our own experiences of loss.

Are faith and hope absurd phantoms in the face of death and pain?

Is life emptied of all meaning, drained out by times of bleak distress?

Is there hope to be found during national and global injustices?

Wren’s hymn asks us to consider how we view this discarded man; as scarecrow, a nonsense, a clown?

Standing and watching this scene, viewed through our own lives of complex human suffering, we can be forgiven for descending to our own hidden depths as we suffer with him. We can be forgiven for seeing a discarded, hopeless nonsense with no hopeful word to say in our time.

And yet.

We stand here as his friends, in the knowledge of what is to come.

From this place of darkness, the light of Christ burns still.

In this place, where we feel separated from God by our suffering, the curtain is torn in two.

He who seems like a clown, laughs in the face of hopeless death and dances with us in the potential of light-filled freedom.

Prayer

Loving Christ,
as we stand, watching,
dwell with us in our suffering,
hold us when we are overcome and find no hope,
inspire us to stand as friends, with all who suffer,
and fill us again, with the joy of your ever-shining light.
Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Martin Knight is minister of St Paul’s URC, South Croydon and South Croydon United Church (Methodist/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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Sunday Service from the URC for 22nd March 2020

Sun, 22/03/2020 - 10:00
96 Sunday Service from the URC for 22nd March 2020 View this email in your browser

Sunday Service from the URC

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Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today's service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 
to listen to the service and sing along with the hymns.  This will open up a new screen, at the bottom of the screen you will see a play symbol.  Press that, then come back to this window so you can follow along with the service if you wish.
Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 22nd March
 
Today’s service comes from the Spire Church, a Methodist and United Reformed Church local ecumenical partnership at Farnham in Surrey.  The service is led by the Rev’d Michael Hopkins.
 
Call to Worship
 
Come to the God who loves you.
Come to the God in whose presence you are welcome.
Come, for God is inviting you to worship.
Come, rejoicing, for God is faithful and just.
 
Let us worship God.
 
Hymn  Now Thank We All Our God
              Martin Rinkart (1586 – 1649)
 
Now thank we all our God
with heart, and hands, and voices,
who wondrous things hath done,
in whom His world rejoices;
who, from our mother's arms
hath blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
 
O may this gracious God
through all our life be near us!
With ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
preserve us in His grace,
and guide us in distress,
and free us from all sin,
till heaven we possess.
 
All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son, and Spirit blest,
who reigns in highest heaven,
Eternal, Triune God,
whom earth and heav’n adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be, evermore.
 
Prayers and the Lord’s Prayer
 
Let us pray
 
God our Parent,
we gather to open our hearts to you,
trusting that you will welcome us with open arms. 
We come to worship you.
 
You are the one who leads us through times of trial;
the one who supports us in sorrow and struggle;
the one who is beside us when all is bleak.
Holy One, we praise You.
 
God our Shepherd, we confess that we often lose our way.
Sometimes we follow like sheep
and end up in places that we should not be.
At other times we choose our own paths
and end up hitting a dead end.
 
In a moment of quiet,
we bring before you
those things we have done in our straying
and ask that, in your mercy,
you will bring us back on track.
 
Silence
 
Thank you, God, that you have forgiven us and set us free. 
May we come to walk your path once again.
We accept your loving forgiveness,
and we pray together as Jesus taught us:

Our Father..
 
Scripture Reading  St Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)
 
Jesus continued: 

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine

in that whole country, and he began to be in need.   So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.   ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
 
Hymn   Who Would True Valour See
            John Bunyan 1628 - 1688
 
Who would true valour see,
let him come hither;
one here will constant be,
come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
shall make him once relent
his first avowed intent
to be a pilgrim.
 
Whoso beset him round
with dismal stories
do but themselves confound;
his strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
he’ll with a giant fight,
he will have a right
to be a pilgrim.
 
Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
can daunt his spirit,
he knows he at the end
shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
he’ll fear not what men say,
he’ll labour night and day
to be a pilgrim.
 
Sermon
 
If the truth is told, I’ve always struggled with this story.  We often call it the prodigal son, and that choice of title sets off the problems for me.  So often, I’ve heard and read, we’re to rejoice at the younger son coming home.  My problem is that the younger son is such a nasty piece of work that human nature makes it almost impossible for me to feel much sympathy for him.
 
And then we move on to the older son, who displays loyalty, hard work, and sheer graft, and I think many of us feel some considerable sympathy for him.  After all, the kinds of people who work hard in churches are loyal and hard working.  However, the older brother is a bit too judgy and moralistic for me to have much sympathy for him either.
 
So, I find myself not really liking either of the main characters, which is why I’ve always struggled with this story, and found it hard to made much sense of it, until I thought about it a bit more.  In the book Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey listens to a number of different policemen all give their own theory of how a crime was committed in turn, and then he says, “You are all wrong, but one of you is less wrong than the rest.  Still none of you has got the right murderer, and none of you has got the whole of the method right, though some of you have got bits of it.”
 
That’s roughly how I feel about much of what I’ve read that tries to make sense of today’s story.  I dug a bit deeper, and now think the two sons are there to represent two different kinds of people, and I now think the idea is that they’re both wrong, for very different reasons. 
 
These two brothers each represent a different way to be alienated from God, and a different way to seek acceptance into the kingdom of heaven.  I think that what Jesus is doing here is trying to shatter our categories.  As well as the destructive self-centeredness of the younger brother, we also have the judgy older brother wanting to claim the moral high ground.  I think that Jesus is saying that both the irreligious and the religious can be spiritually lost, both life-paths can be dead ends, and that we humans need to think more carefully about how we connect with God. 
 
When Jesus was preaching to crowds of people, it’s important to remember that in general, religiously observant people of the time were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him.  But church isn’t quite like that now. 
 
The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones.  The licentious and liberated, or the broken and marginal, avoid church, which makes me fear that churches might be more like the older brother than most of find comfortable.
 
Jesus offered us two brothers, I think to demonstrate two different ways of missing the mark: one overly irreligious, and one overly religious.  Our Western society is so deeply divided between these two approaches that we can barely see any other way to live now.  If we criticize or distance ourselves from one, everyone assumes that we have chosen to follow the other, because each of these approaches tends to divide the whole world into two basic groups.  The moral conformists say: “the immoral people — the people who ‘do their own thing’ — are the problem with the world, and moral people are the solution.”  The advocates of self-discovery say: “the bigoted people — the people who say, ‘We have the Truth’ — are the problem with the world, and progressive people are the solution.”  Each side says: “our way is the way the world will be put to rights, and if you are not with us, you are against us.”  If we allow that kind of division to creep into our thinking then we’re falling into the two sons that Jesus showed us.
 
Jesus the storyteller deliberately leaves the elder brother in his alienated state.  The younger son enters his father’s feast, but the older son does not.  The lover of prostitutes is saved, but the man of moral rectitude is still lost.  Wow!  We can almost hear the Pharisees gasp as the story ends.  It was the complete reversal of everything they had ever been taught.
 
Did the older son want the same thing as his brother?  Was he just as resentful of his father as the younger son was?  Did either son love their father for himself, or for his goods and money?  Is not Jesus using these two sons to remind us that we can rebel against God by keeping all the rules diligently as much as by breaking them?
 
I think one of the points of this passage is about making it clear that sin isn’t about breaking a list of rules.  Jesus shows us that a man who has violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehaviours can be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person, because sin isn’t just breaking the rules, isn’t really about breaking the rules, it’s about putting yourself in the place of God, just as both brothers sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.
 
Both were wrong, but both were loved.  The good news is not religion or irreligion, morality or immorality, moralism or relativism, conservatism or liberalism.  Nor is it something halfway along a spectrum between two poles, it’s something else altogether: everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognise this and change.
 
The danger for the older brother is that he will be trapped by his own bitterness, anger eventually becoming a prison of his own making.  When we see the attitude of the older brother in the story, is it perhaps a sign of why the younger brother wanted to leave in the first place?  Everybody knows that the Christian gospel calls us away from the recklessness of the younger brother, but do we realise that it also condemns the judgy moralistic older brother?
 
So what might this parable be saying to us?  Don’t try to put ourselves in the place of God!  Forgiveness is free and unconditional to the perpetrator, but it’s costly to the forgiver.  Forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer, if the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn’t mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.
 
This story that Jesus tells is about the story of the whole human race, and Jesus was reminding us that God promises nothing less than hope for the world.  Our human race is a band of exiles trying to come home, and so this story is about every one of us.
 
Jesus holds out hope for ordinary human life, for each person.  Our future is not an ethereal, impersonal form of consciousness. 
 
We can come to God, and our loving heavenly Father will meet us and embrace us, and we will be brought into the feast.
 
The feast is the end of Jesus’s story, and I think this has four things to tell us about God’s love:
 
  1. God’s love is an experience – Jesus came to bring joy and celebration, a festival.
  2. God’s love is material - this material world matters.  God hates the suffering and oppression of this material world so much, that he was willing to get involved in it and to fight against it.  Properly understood, Christianity is by no means the opium of the people - it’s more like the smelling salts!
  3. God’s love is Individual.  God doesn’t love us because we are beautiful; we become beautiful through God’s love.  Through God’s love our stinginess can become a reorientation to generosity.
  4. God’s love is communal.  No reunion, no family gathering, no wedding, no other significant social event is complete without a meal. 
If we get trapped in the sensual way of the younger brother or the ethical way of the older brother, both only lead to spiritual dead ends.  Throughout life, most of us fall into these traps from time to time, but God’s love is bigger than that, calling us, challenging us, to recognise that at a deeper level we need to acknowledge God at the heart of our lives, calling us to take our part in a community of believers seeking to resemble, serve, and love Jesus, a place where we can try to grow ever more into his likeness.  This is God’s love which is broad like beach and meadow, wide as the wind.  This is God’s love enfolds the world in one embrace, which grasps every child of every race.  This is god’s love which gains final triumph, which reigns over all the universe.  
 
And a little shadow of this limitless love of God is what can see reflected in the very best of our human love, those from whom we have known the love of a mother.
 
Prayers
 
God, you are father and mother to us, an ever-loving parent, more faithful than we can even imagine.  Thank you for life and living, even when we are weary and worn-out.  Thank you for challenge and change, even when we seek safety and security. 
 
Thank you for playfulness and pain, even when we seek moderation and mild-living.  Thank you for companionship when we are lonely. 
 
Thank you for calling when we are settled.  Thank you for creativity when we are uninspired.
 
Bring us to newness of life as your people.  Bring us to wholeness of life from out of its fragments.

Bring us to fullness of life from your communion in and with us.
 
We lift to you our families, God:

our nearby ones with whom we share our homes and our lives, our loved ones whom we see rarely because they live away, and our disaffected ones whom we see rarely because they have disagreed with us.
 
Be with them when we cannot be there: give them wise guidance when they will not heed us, keep them safe when they are beyond our protection, and mend our attitudes if we become obstacles to your good plans.

We lift to you our church, God:

Each of us who seek to make sure we do everything we can to be welcoming and helpful, those who support us and are encouraged by us, and our building that serves as a witness to your presence among us.
 
Pour your Spirit of unity and peace on us:
help us discern your guidance and show us new ways of bringing your love and healing to our community.
 
We lift to you our nation, God:
the politicians who represent us,
those who maintain justice,
those who provide us with many services,
and all who work to keep us supplied
with all the good things we have.
 
Help us to express proper care and concern for everyone, that people of all sorts and conditions may have their fair share of the good things you give us.
 
We offer you these, and all our prayers, God, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.
 
 
Hymn  And Can It Be?
           Charles Wesley 1707 - 1788
 
And can it be that I should gain
an int’rest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! how can it be
that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
 
He left His Father’s throne above,
so free, so infinite His grace;
emptied Himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’tis mercy all, immense and free;
for, O my God, it found out me.
’tis mercy all, immense and free;
for, O my God, it found out me.
 
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
 
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness Divine,
bold I approach the eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
 
Dismissal and Blessing
 
The service has ended. 
Go in peace and joy,
and the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
is upon you and all God’s people,
near and far,
today, tonight and forever, Amen. 
 
We thank Michael for devising the service and Jonnie Hill and Fay Rowland for recording some of the spoken parts at very short notice. 

Hymn lyrics are public domain, the music in the podcast is delivered subject to the terms of the URC's various licences.
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URC Daily Devotion's Housekeeping

Sun, 22/03/2020 - 09:43
96 URC Daily Devotion's Housekeeping View this email in your browser

Our Resources

Dear <<First Name>>

Over the last week we've had around 1,000 people sign up to the Daily Devotions so I thought it would be helpful to cover a few housekeeping things.

Firstly, welcome to our new subscribers.  I hope you find the daily reflections and Sunday service a useful resource in trying times.  

From time to time the various email providers get more embracing in their spam filters.  You should add this email address to your contacts as that will help.  If your provider has a Safe Senders' List add this address to that too.  If you don't get a Devotion one morning do check your Spam folder before emailing me to ask about it.

If you change your email address you can do that by pressing the "update my preferences link" at the bottom of each email.  

Some of you have asked if it's ok to print off the Devotions to give to people who aren't on email - yes of course but you may prefer to print booklets which we prepare for just this purpose.  If you'd like this please sign up to the  booklet list here and drop me a note to say you've done it if you wish the next few booklets which have already been sent out.

I'm often asked if Devotions can be put in church newsletters - yes of course but please credit the writer and Daily Devotions from the URC.

Finally, some of you have asked if you can have the Sunday worship material ahead of time to distribute orders of service and the recording either on CD or memory sticks to those who don't have email.  I will be sending out, on Tuesday, material for 29th March, Palm Sunday and Good Friday and, thereafter, I hope to send just one email a month with the following month's material on.  This will create less work for local church contacts.  If you'd like to have that material you can sign up to the early bird list here.

with every good wish

Andy

Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC 

 

  

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URC Daily Devotion  22nd March 2020

Sun, 22/03/2020 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion  22nd March 2020 View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward
John Collings, Lay Preacher, Member of Rutherglen URC

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday 22nd March
Psalm 141

1 O LORD, I call to you.
Come quickly! I’m in need!
And, when I cry to you for help,
to my appeal give heed.

2 Like incense may my prayer
before your face arise—
The raising of my hands be like
the evening sacrifice.

3 Keep watch, LORD, on my mouth
and guard my lips, I pray;
4 Let not my heart to evil thoughts
be drawn and led astray.

Keep me from taking part
in what the evil do;
Let me not taste their choicest food,
lest I be false to you.

5 A righteous friend’s rebuke
will be a soothing balm;
Such blows, in kindness aimed at me,
will never do me harm.

Against the wicked’s deeds
I make my constant prayer;
6 Their rulers will be thrown from cliffs,
and they will perish there.

The wicked then will know
my words were spoken well.
7 Like ground that’s ploughed, their bones are strewn
before the mouth of hell.

8 But now, O Sovereign LORD,
on you I fix my gaze;
Do not deliver me to death—
you are my help always.

9 Protect me from the traps
the wicked set for me,
10 And let them be ensnared themselves,
while I instead go free.

Reflection

The Psalm starts with a cry to God in prayer.  David is asking God to stop him being drawn into false arguments. 

It can be easy to say something in the heat of the moment especially when, like David, we feel under pressure from our enemies.  David had experienced many adversities and in 1 Sam 24 we read how David did not take an opportunity to hurt Saul despite many people encouraging him to do so.  Instead, by not harming Saul, David gained respect from Saul. When we read the newspapers, or look at social media, we see people trading insults and virtual hatred of those with opposing views.  Rather than being drawn into this, as Christians, we should pray that we are free from evil thoughts.  

Sometimes we may see a friend doing or saying something that is wrong and we can rebuke them as long as we do it in love and let it be “a soothing balm” (v5).  As you read this we will probably still be in post Brexit negotiations. This has brought out so much division and we should be looking to be that soothing balm.  

How do we decide what to do and when?  I was given the list of Devotions and chose to write about this Psalm because today is my birthday.  Birthdays can be a time of excess and overindulgence, but the Psalmist reminds us to “Keep … from taking part in what the evil do” (v3).  We can celebrate and enjoy the good things of life, but we must not let anything come between us and God. 
 
If we trust God He will protect us from the wicked and we will instead go free to rejoice in Him.

Prayer

Loving God,
like David I Cry to you,
watch what I say and think,
correct me when my thoughts are wrong,
let me be a soothing balm amidst strife
guide me to speak and think the truth
despite what others say, think or do.
Let me be a beacon of truth for you
Amen -->

Today's writer

John Collings, Lay Preacher, 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.
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URC Daily Devotion  21st March 2020

Sat, 21/03/2020 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion  21st March 2020 View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward
Jonnie Hill, Ordinand at Northern College and member of Chorlton Central Church

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Saturday 21st March
 
The Servant King
Graham Kendrick (b1950) © 1983 Thank You Music

From heaven you came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served but to serve
And give Your life that we might live

This is our God, The Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King


There in the garden of tears
My heavy load he chose to bear
His heart with sorrow was torn
'Yet not My will but Yours, ' He said

Come see His hands and His feet
The scars that speak of sacrifice
Hands that flung stars into space
To cruel nails surrendered

So let us learn how to serve
And in our lives enthrone Him
Each other's needs to prefer
For it is Christ we're serving.

You can hear this hymn here.

St Luke 22: 39 - 46

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’  Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.  In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’

Reflection

The opening line of Graham Kendrick’s song The Servant King could almost locate us in the season of Advent or Christmas. Yet the song could hardly be called a modern carol given that the journey from ‘heavenly babe’ to death is a pretty swift one. 

Growing up in the evangelical tradition, I sang this song with gusto throughout much of my early worshipping life. As worship songs go, it is one I’m still happy to sing – not because of theology or anything so lofty, but because of the honesty of human emotions evoked by its words. 

Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, surely was a ‘garden of tears’ when the weight of what lay ahead for Jesus bore down heavily upon him. For me, I’m not sure there is a clearer picture of Jesus’ humanity elsewhere throughout the Gospels. Who of us in Jesus’ position would not have felt similar and asked that the cup be taken from us? 

Like Jesus’ contemporaries who expected the Messiah to overthrow Roman rule, I suspect many of us too crave the triumphant and powerful image of God found in many contemporary worship songs.  Who wouldn’t want a God who rescues and saves us from the suffering imposed by our enemies? And yet, the story of our God made flesh is not one of conquest and victory, but of sacrifice and service. 

I wonder if Jesus’ life of sacrifice and service would meet the criteria for the social media phenomenon of ‘living your best life’. I suspect not. Nevertheless, Jesus’ call to follow him in love, sacrifice and service is as true now as ever. How will we respond? 

Prayer

Servant God,
In humility you came to us as Word made flesh, 
You who created the heavens and earth
showed us the way of love and sacrifice. 
Help us to follow you, 
and to live our best life in service, 
and for the sake of the Good News.
Amen. -->

Today's writer

Jonnie Hill, Ordinand at Northern College and member of Chorlton Central Church. 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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Sunday's Service

Fri, 20/03/2020 - 09:09
96 Sunday's Service View this email in your browser

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday's Service

Dear Friends,

over the last few days we have prepared worship for Sunday morning.  We are grateful to the Rev'd Michael Hopkins, minister of the Spire Church in Farnham, for preparing and recording a service so quickly.  It will be sent out to you, via email, at 10am on Sunday morning.  When you get the email you will see a large "click here" text at the top.  If you click there a new screen should appear with a direct link to the recording of the service.  At the bottom of that screen is the forward arrow symbol which you need to press to hear the recording.  If you then leave that playing and go back to the first window you will see the text of the service.  Simply scroll down to keep up.  There are three hymns to join in with and we've chosen well known, and uplifting ones, as we think this week we could all do with a bit of joy!  Don't worry if you'd like to take part in the service a bit later - we chose 10am as that is when many churches meet - just listen to the recording whenever you wish.

Worship for Sunday 29th March is led by the Rev'd Phil Nevard and worship for Palm Sunday and Good Friday by myself.  The Rev'd Dr John Bradbury leads worship for Easter Sunday and this will include a chance to share bread and wine together - for that service it would be good if you have some bread and wine (or grape juice) ready before we start.    We have a team of people developing the services and will send these out every week in addition to the Daily Devotions which come every morning.  The services will continue until we can return to public worship again. 

This week we have also created a separate mailing list for people who would like advance copies of the service to print and burn to CD to give to people who don't have Internet Access.  It is too late now to get this material for Sunday but if you would like to distribute this to others in your church in future weeks please sign up here.

We hope you find these resources useful and, in this worrying time, find some peace.  Our General Secretary, John Proctor recently wrote this prayer which I found very useful.  I hope you do too.

Lord Jesus,
In the midst of a storm, You said, ‘Peace be still.’
Bid our anxious fears subside,
sustain your Church in faith, hope and love,
bring our nation through this tumult,
grant wisdom to those with heavy responsibilities,
and healing and hope to those who are infected. Amen



with every good wish


Andy

The Rev'd Andy Braunston
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URC Daily Devotion  20th March 2020

Fri, 20/03/2020 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion  20th March 2020 View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward
The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired minister in the Mersey Synod serving as Link Minister at Rock Chapel, Farndon. 

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Friday 20th March

Ride On, Ride on, The Time is Right
John Bell © Wild Goose Worship Resource Group
Tune: Winchester New or Ride On CH4 370 

Ride on, ride on, the time is right: 
the roadside crowds scream with delight;
Palm branches mark the pilgrim way
Where beggars squat and children play.

Ride on, ride on, your critics wait, 
intrigue and rumour circulate;
New lies abound in word and jest,
And trust becomes a suspect guest.

Ride on, ride on, while well aware 
that those who shout and wave and stare,
Are mortals who, with common breath,
Can crave for life and lust for death

Ride on, ride on, though blind with tears, 
though dumb to speak and deaf to jeers.
Your path is clear, though few can tell
Their garments pave the road to hell.

Ride on, ride on, the room is let, 
the wine matured, the saw is whet;
And dice your death-throes shall attend
Though faith, not fate, dictates your end.

Ride on, ride on, God’s love demands. 
Justice and peace lie in your hands.
Evil and angels’ voices rhyme:
This is the man and this the time.

You can hear the first verse of this to John Bell's tune Ride On here.  The more accessible tune, Winchester New, can be heard here

St Mark 11: 1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.  If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.”’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’  They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Reflection

The time is right

How often in our lives, and indeed in our Christian lives,  do we prevaricate? There is always an excuse to put things off; anything for an easy life; it will cost too much; someone else might do it; it might not work. I write just before Advent. God judged that the time was right to gift Jesus to the world.  Where would the world be today if, on that morning thirty or so years later, Jesus had turned over in bed?

Your critics wait

Always. Some people delight in saying “I told you so”. Occasionally that might be encouragement, but more usually it’s likely to be gloating. More than once over my life I have been guilty of this, so perhaps proving untrustworthy. The Gospel stories suggest that Jesus never gloated; only encouraged; displaying trustworthiness; looking his critics in the eye.

While well aware

I am aware that when you read this the political landscape may have changed. Or it may not. You will know. One thing to thank God for is growing awareness of the existence of food poverty on our doorsteps. Those who use foodbanks are mortals too. Jesus was acutely aware of what he was doing and of the humanity of those in need.

Though blind with tears

What am I blinded to today? In childhood were we told “It’s no use crying over spilt milk”? Sometimes tears are all we have. But vision clears and the path ahead emerges. There might be trip hazards. Jesus did not trip.

The room is let

Plans can fall into place. Outcomes may be clear to some, but not to all. The trick is discerning whether we actually see clearly or are being deluded. Jesus could see.

God’s love demands

All. Jesus saw and knew the time was right.
 
Prayer

Let the same mind be in us as in Christ Jesus -
as he rode past beggar and child,
critic and shouter, confident that
the time was right.
 
Let the same mind be in us as in Christ Jesus -
when God demands of us justice and peace
and integrity to his creation
the times will be right. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired minister in the Mersey Synod serving as Link Minister at Rock Chapel, Farndon.  He is a member at Upton-by-Chester URC. Copyright
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URC Daily Devotion  19th March 2020

Thu, 19/03/2020 - 06:00
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Thursday 19th March

God of Our Yesterdays
StF 241 © Matt Redman Thank You Music 2008

When we were in the darkest night
and wondered if our eyes would ever see the light
You were there Lord.
When we were in the stormy gale
and wondered if we'd ever live in peace again
You were there Lord.
You were there in the struggle.
You were there in the fight.
You were there all the time.

We praise You the God of our yesterdays.
We praise You the God who is here today.
We praise You our God as tomorrow comes

So whatever lies ahead,
whatever roads our grateful hearts
will come to tread, You'll be there Lord
And we will fix our eyes on You
and know that there is grace enough
to see us through You'll be there Lord.
You'll be there in the struggle;
You'll be there in the fight.
You'll be there all the time.
 
 Bridge
 You're always closer than we know
 Always more involved and in control
 We will trust our lives to You
 The One who was and is and is to come

You can hear this hymn here.

St Mark 5: 21 - 43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat  to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’  So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,  for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?”’  He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’  But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.  When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’  And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’  And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Reflection

Some would craft our story today around the amazing healings of a girl and a woman.  However, not everyone in need of physical healing can tell such an amazing story. I have recently spoken with a couple of people who have told me how God healed them.  I rejoice with them.
On the other hand, I have spoken with person after person who have not had physical healing. 

So instead of healing, I want to think about two encounters with Jesus in this story.  Jairus had clearly met Jesus before. In his desperation to save his daughter’s life, he turned to Jesus, hoping Jesus would do what no one else has been able to do—bring health to his daughter.  The woman with the flow of blood had probably also heard Jesus teaching or at least heard of his ministry of healing. In their need they turned to Jesus.   

Both were people of faith, Jarius as the leader of the synagogue, clearly a man of faith. Jesus said the faith of the unnamed woman had made her well. They both have life-changing encounters with the divine.  

Where have you encountered Jesus or the divine?  Have your prayers opened space in you to encounter God?  Have you seen God in a person who has gone out of their way to listen to you or help you with a task?  Have you heard God speaking through the voice of a mentor or even a stranger?

Jairus and the unnamed woman sought out Jesus.  The encounters with Jesus changed them. So whatever lies ahead, we too can seek God, and when we encounter God, in people and in Word, may we be open to deepening our faith, and to the healing and wholeness God brings.  

Prayer

Living God, 
in times of need and times of joy, 
open our eyes to encounters with you.  
Help us to see you in the ordinary 
and in the extraordinary moments.  
May our encounters help us grow in faith.  
May those encounters bring us healing.  
May our encounters bring us close to others who follow you.  Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Martha McInnes, Minister, Cardiff and Penarth Group. 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  18th March 2020

Wed, 18/03/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 18th March


Jesus Tempted in the Desert
(Ebenezer [Ton-Y-Botel]) 
Herman G Stuempfle © 1993 GIA Publications

Jesus, tempted in the desert,
lonely, hungry, filled with dread;
"Use the power," the tempter tells him;
"Turn these barren rocks to bread!"
"Not alone by bread," he answers,
"Can the human heart be filled.
Only by the Word that calls us
is our deepest hunger stilled!"

Jesus, tempted at the temple, 
high above its ancient wall;
“Throw yourself from lofty turret; 
angels wait to break your fall!”
Jesus shuns such empty marvels, 
feats that fickle crowds request;
“God, whose grace protects, preserves us, 
we must never vainly test.”

3. Jesus, tempted on the mountain, 
by the lure of vast domain;
“Fall before me! Be my servant! 
Glory, fame you're sure to gain!"
Jesus sees the dazzling vision, 
turns his eyes another way;
“God alone deserves our homage! 
God alone will I obey!”

4. When we face temptation's power, 
lonely, struggling, filled with dread,
Christ, who knew the tempter's hour, 
come and be our living bread.
By your grace, protect, preserve us, 
lest we fall, your trust betray.
Yours above all other voices, 
be the Word we hear, obey

You can hear the tune Ebeneezer here.

St John 6: 35

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Reflection

This hymn reminds us that in solitude Jesus wrestled with the world’s standards and shunned them for those of God’s kingdom. Jesus deliberately retired to this lonely place for a long time (which is what the term “40 days” means in Biblical terms).  

All around him in this wild place were little broken pieces of limestone.  They looked just like flat bread. The temptation came that he could feed not only himself, but he could win people over by giving them material things.  In other words, bribe people into the kingdom. Jesus asserted people will never find real life in material things.

At the Temple pinnacle - a drop of 450 feet Jesus is urged to jump to be a sensation.   Jesus declined knowing that you must not make senseless experiments with God’s power. Jesus saw quite clearly the danger of being a nine-day wonder;  sensationalism never lasts. 

Finally standing on a mountain, from which the whole of the civilised world could be seen, the Tempter said; ‘worship me and all this will be yours.  I’ve got people in my grasp, you know. Don’t set your standards so high. Just strike a bargain with me – just compromise a little and everyone will follow you.’  Jesus replied showing there can be no compromise in the war with evil.

In the wilderness, stripped of defences and security, God and community come close.  Wilderness is about struggle. It is in the choices made in the harshest times that we discover both who we are and the nature of the community to which we belong; it is where we wrestle with God.  It is a place where God and ourselves can be found. It’s the place where you discover your identity and vocation and God can meet us there.  
 
Prayer

There have been times, O God,  when we have given in to temptation. 

We have:

searched out the easy way;
longed for worldly things;
not followed your way and;
tried to live without you.
 
Help us to remember that:
people cannot live on bread alone;
we should worship You alone;
and not to put You to the test.
 
May we always guided by Your truth, 
remembering you forgive and sustain.  Amen.
 
-->

Today's writer

The Rev'd Sue Henderson retired URC Minister member of Bradford on Avon United Church. 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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Sunday Worship during the Pandemic

Tue, 17/03/2020 - 16:14
96 Sunday Worship during the Pandemic View this email in your browser

Daily Devotions from the URC

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We live in a difficult time with fast moving circumstances in the face of the Covid 19 epidemic.  Since the weekend it has been clear that restrictions were going to be placed on us and yesterday the Prime Minster announced that we should avoid all unnecessary social contact.  Older people,  and those with underlying health problems, have been asked to take even more precautions. The URC's General Secretary and Deputy General Secretaries have, therefore, written to ministers suggesting that every local congregation strongly consider suspending worship services as a a proper response to the Government’s guidance.  We have heard the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, the Church of England and the Muslim Council of Great Britain have all suspended  worship and it is likely that all other churches will too.

Over the weekend I started to plan to offer Sunday services via the Daily Devotions email list.  I'm pleased to say that I had lots of offers of help and from this Sunday we will send out, at 10am, a service in both written and audio format.  This will have the feel of a service on the radio in our style with well known URC people leading worship.  There will be prayers and hymns to join in with as we pray together.  There will also be, from time to time, a chance to share bread and wine together - the first such opportunity will be on Easter Sunday.

There are a number of things you can do now to help this project.
  1. please ask anyone in your church who has email and would like to avail themselves of this form of worship to sign up to receive the Devotions Emails.  They simply need to go to devotions.urg.org.uk
  2. if you would be willing to be a local contact for your church folk who would like these resources posted to them - either on paper or burnt to a CD and are willing to do this then please email me via dailydevotions@urc.org.uk with the subject line CD.  I will then compile a list of of people to email the material out to for you to print (or burn to CD) and distribute locally well before each Sunday service.  I am not able to do this centrally for the URC but we can share the load.  This facility will be available for worship on 29th March but not this week.
On Sunday Michael Hopkins, clerk of Assembly, will lead worship for us with a focus on Mothering Sunday.  On 29th March, Phil Nevard, a minister in the South Western Synod, will lead worship for us. I will lead worship for us on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Our General Secretary elect, John Bradbury, will lead Easter Sunday worship. Nicola Furley Smith, our new Secretary for ministries, will lead worship for us for Low Sunday. After that Fleur Houston, Nigel Uden, Sarah Moore, Richard Church, Janet Sutton Webb, Neil Thorogood and Ruth Browning will all prepare worship for us.  We will hear a variety of voices in each service and we will create opportunities for you to join in as well.

We hope that these are a useful resource for the church.

Jan Berry has written this prayer which, I think, is a useful one to pray at the moment:

God our refuge,
we seek your protection.
Protect the vulnerable from illness:
those who are old and frail,
weakened by years and struggle;
those who care for others,
expending energy and love;
those for whom inability to work
means hardship and poverty.

Protect us
from the greed and suspicion
which snatches at our own security
stock-piling and panic-buying
that deprives others of the necessities of life.

Protect us from the shortsightedness
which sees the germ in our own eyes
and ignores the plagues
of hunger, war and violence
that take so many lives each day.

Protect us from the isolation
that leads to loneliness and despair
denying the interconnectedness
that links us with one another.

God our refuge
in our panic and fear
may we not lose sight of our common humanity
that makes us one people in you. Amen.

I hope that these resources help us in our panic and fear and keep us connected to the wider Church.

with every good wish


Andy


The Rev'd Andy Braunston,
Daily Devotions from the URC
 
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URC Daily Devotion  17th March 2020

Tue, 17/03/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 17th March

Christ is our light! The bright and morning star
(Highlands Cathedral) CH4 336 © Leith Fisher

Christ is our light! The bright and morning star
covering with radiance all from near and far.
Christ be our light, shine on, shine on we pray
into our hearts, into our world today.

2. Christ is our love! Baptised that we may know
the love of God among us, swooping low.
Christ be our love, bring us to turn our face
and see in you the light of heaven’s embrace.

3. Christ is our joy! Transforming wedding guest!
Through water turned to wine the feast was blessed.
Christ be our joy; your glory let us see,
as your disciples did in Galilee.

You can hear the, stunning, tune here.

St John 2: 1 - 11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’  His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.  He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’  Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Reflection

How often in life do we settle for second best or are we asked to accept something offered as a solution more in hope than expectation?  Maybe we’re happy with things that way as we’re able to appreciate the eventual solution all the more when it comes. Maybe, on the other hand, if you’re like me, you’d prefer an effective solution in the first place, one that is expected to work without the wasted resources and opportunities, not to mention the possible unnecessary suffering along the way.

Jesus was aware there was a problem to solve.  People at a joyous occasion of a wedding were thirsty and the hosts will have been feeling embarrassed.  The previous wine offering had been perfectly acceptable as far as it went but what Jesus ‘brought to the party’ was in a different league.

As Christians, why do we let those around us go about their lives in their own way in the hope that they’ll be OK, whilst keeping to ourselves the real light, love and joy that relationship with Jesus brings?

Prayer

Gracious God,
help us to appreciate everything You have done for us, 
particularly Your gift of Light, Love and Joy that is Jesus Christ.  
Help us to share the Good News of Jesus at the earliest opportunity,
rather than as a last resort.
In Jesus’ name,
Amen! -->

Today's writer

Jeff Newall, Lay Preacher, Christ the Vine Community Church, Coffee Hall, Milton Keynes. 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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Our Next Series

Mon, 16/03/2020 - 10:18
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Lenten and Passiontide Hymns

Dear Friends,

I hope you enjoyed our two weeks' worth of reflections from David Thompson on Baptism and the Eucharist.  As you will have noticed we have now moved on to a new theme looking at Lenten and Passiontide hymns.  We hope these are useful to you as we journey through Lent.

The news about a possible quarantine situation for older people is worrying and we will be using the Devotions mailing list to send out Sunday services from 29th March in both written and audio format.  More details will follow but we hope this will be a useful resource to the church at this difficult time.

with every good wish


Andy --> Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion  16th March 2020

Mon, 16/03/2020 - 06:00
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Monday 16th March


Led by the Spirit of Our God
(Kingsfold) 
Bob Hurd © OCP Publications

Led by the Spirit of our God, 
we go to fast and pray
With Christ into the wilderness; 
we join His paschal way.
""Rend not your garments, rend your hearts.
Turn back your lives to me.""
Thus says our kind and gracious God, 
whose reign is liberty.

2. Led by the Spirit, 
we confront temptation face to face, 
And know full well we must 
rely on God's redeeming grace.
On bread alone we cannot live, 
but nourished by the Word.
We seek the will of God to do: 
this is our drink and food.

3  Led by the Spirit, 
now draw near the waters of rebirth
With hearts that long to worship God 
in spirit and in truth.
""Whoever drinks the drink 
I give shall never thirst again.""
Thus says the Lord who died for us, 
our Saviour, kin and friend.

4  Led by the Spirit, 
now sing praise to God the Trinity:
The Source of Life, 
the living Word made flesh to set us free, 
The Spirit blowing where it will 
to make us friends of God:
This mystery far beyond our reach, 
yet near in healing love.

You can hear this hymn here.

St Matthew 4: 1 - 11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’  But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you”,
    and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’

Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour;  and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.”’

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Reflection

Halfway through Lent, we come to the re-telling of the time that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.

Jesus wasn't on his own going into the wilderness. He was led by the Spirit, as the hymn reminds us. But this leading was not into a quiet and peaceful time away from all the challenges and rigours of daily life. It was into an even deeper time of testing, about Jesus’ own sense of calling, how he understood this and whether he had the courage to live it out.

The time of testing needed a time of preparation, a period in which all other concerns of daily living were set to one side, a space without the support of family and friends.

The time in the wilderness was counter cultural in terms of many of today’s norms and values. So much was set to one side - food, possessions, home, companions on the way. It pushes against the present drive to fill each moment with activity or the internet, and to feel that it’s a failure not to be busy.

In the wilderness Jesus finds himself, and the strength to resist the very real temptations offered to him, of food, of power, of worshipping a false God. From this base he receives the strength to live his life fully and courageously, even to the sacrificial end on the cross. 

As I travel through this Lent, I pray to be open to the Spirit's leading, even when taken to strange and uncomfortable places. May I then be faithful to God in the temptations that come my way, so that I may better offer my life sacrificially in service.

Prayer

Oh God, may I follow where your Spirit leads.
I give thanks for Jesus’ courage in facing up to, wrestling with and resisting temptation. 
Grant me the courage to find the space in which I can be ready to wrestle with temptation.
Give me the strength to resist the desires that lead me away from You.
Prepare me that I may offer my life again in service to You.
Amen.
 
-->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Elizabeth Welch, is a retired minster, past Moderator of URC General Assembly and member of St Andrew’s URC Ealing. 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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion  15th March 2020

Sun, 15/03/2020 - 06:00
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The Rev'd Fleur Houston, retired minister, member of Macclesfield and Bollington URC.

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday 15th March
Psalm 140

1 Save me, O LORD, from evil men;
From vi’lent men protect my way,
2 For evil schemes are in their hearts,
And war they stir up every day.
3 Like snakes, their tongues have sharpened tips
With vipers’ poison on their lips.

4 Keep me, O LORD, from wicked hands;
From men of vi’lence set me free,
For they conspire to trip my feet.
5 The proud have hidden snares for me;
They spread the meshes of their net,
And on my pathway traps are set.

6 O LORD, I say, “You are my God.”
LORD, listen to my cry for aid.
7 O Sovereign LORD, my Saviour strong,
In battle you protect my head.
8 Refuse the wicked their desire;
To shame them, make their plots misfire.

9 O LORD, let those who hem me in
Be overwhelmed by their own lies.
10 May they be thrown into the fire
Or miry pit, and never rise.
11 May liars find no place to stay,
The violent be swept away.

12 I know it is the LORD alone
Whose judgment vindicates the poor;
It is the LORD who will uphold
And make the needy’s cause secure.
13 To you the righteous praise will give;
The upright in your sight will live.

The Editors of Sing Psalms suggest either the tune Leicester which you can hear here or the tune Ryburn which you can hear here.

Reflection

This is a Psalm for a time of disorientation.

The Psalmist  is lamenting. He has been viciously stung by venomous slander.  He cries out to God to save him from the evil, violent folk who have campaigned against him with such malice, and who seek with callous determination to entrap him in situations of torment and harassment.  And then he states in faith: “You are my God”. And as he does so, the Psalmist remembers the ties of devotion that bind him to God, and turns in confidence to the divine warrior, his proven ally. His enemies are presumed to be God’s enemies as well.  He urges God to annul their plots and give the lying schemers their just deserts. 

The language is strong.  Imprecations such as here in verses 10 and 11, are often seen as an embarrassment to the Church and omitted from our lectionaries.   Surely we are called to love our enemies, not to curse them! But is there not still a place for these verses in our scheme of things?  After all, we too have to face up to fake news, abuse and calculated malice, both personal and public. We are indeed called to love our enemies but this calling must be exercised in the context of the claims of justice – if there is injustice, that must be made right. 

The Psalm ends on a note of confident affirmation   God alone vindicates the poor and needy. God liberates those who lack security and comfort; God saves them even when there is no immediate outward sign of this happening.  And so, this Psalm shifts the way things are. The opening list of complaints ends in the conviction that God will listen to the Psalmist and change his circumstances and those of his world for the better.
 
Prayer

God of all truth,  
in the circumstances of my life today, 
give me greater constancy in my love of you and of my neighbour.  
May I be patient in hope through Jesus Christ 
who for the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, 
despising the shame 
and is now seated at your right hand in glory.   
Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev'd Fleur Houston, retired minister, member of Macclesfield and Bollington 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 14th March 2020

Sat, 14/03/2020 - 06:00
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Saturday 14th March 

Reading:  Basis of Union of the United Reformed Church (1972) section 15

The United Reformed Church celebrates the gospel sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  When in obedience to the Lord’s command his people show forth his sacrifice on the cross by the bread broken and the wine outpoured for them to eat and drink, he himself, risen and ascended, is present and gives himself to them for their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.  United with him and with the whole Church on earth and in heaven, his people gathered at his table present their sacrifice of thanksgiving and renew themselves, and rejoice in the promise of his coming in glory.

Reflection

By including this paragraph on the Lord’s Supper from the Basis of Union, I do not in any way claim that this has for us the status of Holy Scripture.  But, since I do not suppose that this is the bedtime reading for many of us, it is useful to be reminded from time to time of what we regard as the authoritative statement in our tradition of the meaning and significance of the Lord’s Supper.  It deserves to be better known. Its structure most closely follows that of paragraph 10 of section 5 of the 1956 Statement of Faith of the Presbyterian Church of England; but some of the ideas (and wording) are drawn from the third paragraph of section 5.8 of the 1967 Declaration of Faith of the Congregational Church in England and Wales.  Note the balance between Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in the second sentence and the people’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in the last, the link between what the United Reformed Church does and what the whole Church on earth and in heaven does, and the way that the statement culminates in Christ’s coming in glory at the end.

A Challenge

When you reflect after Communion, ‘What have I done today?, say to yourself, ‘I have done more than on any day in the week.  I have yielded myself to take part with the Church in Christ’s finished Act of Redemption, which is greater than the making of the world.’ 
P.T.FORSYTH, The Church and the Sacraments.
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Professor David Thompson is a retired minister and a member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.

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