URC Devotions

URC Daily Devotion  23rd February 2020

Sun, 23/02/2020 - 06:00
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Sunday 23rd February

Psalm 137

By the streams of Babylon
We remembered Zion’s hill.
There we sat and wept in grief;
On the trees our harps lay still.

3 For our captors asked for songs;
Our tormentors called for mirth:
“Sing us one of Zion’s songs
From the land that gave you birth.”

4 How can we sing to the LORD,
Exiles in a foreign land?
5 If Jerus’lem I forget,
Skill depart from my right hand!

6 May my tongue cling to my mouth
If of Zion I lose sight,
If I prize Jerusalem
Less than my supreme delight.

7 LORD, remember Edom’s sin,
When Jerus’lem met its fate.
“Tear it down!” their voices cried,
“Tear down every wall and gate!”

8 Babylon, for all our pain
At your door destruction knocks.
Happy he who pays you back,
9 Throws your children on the rocks.

Reflection

Psalm 137 is not in the 3-year Sunday-lectionary cycle. We may never hear it in church, but many are familiar through Boney.M’s 1978 song, one of the top-10-selling singles of all time. (Click here to see and hear the video on You Tube)

Pain, loss, grief, humiliation, anger, rage, revenge are some emotions in this Psalm. The final verse shocks, even repulses us. What brokenness and experience leads anyone to write something like this? 

Most of us cannot truly imagine what it must be like to be forced to leave our homeland. Whatever the reason for leaving, it is a wrenching, emotional experience.

The theme of being a refugee runs through the whole Bible like the lettering through a stick of sea-side rock! Even Jesus’ and His own earthly parents were refugees when they fled to Egypt from King Herod.

The UN estimates 70million refugees worldwide: if we kept just one second silence for each, we would be in silence for 2¼ years.
Consider the fate of ancient Israel: the Northern Kingdom whose people disappeared into history (732BCE), and the exile of Judah (597-587BCE). Maybe we can understand, even if we cannot condone the Psalm’s call for violent revenge.

Human-beings can be cruel, and maybe one of the worst forms of cruelty is mocking and taunting, as the exiles experienced at the hands of their captors (vv.1-3).

The central part of the Psalm (vv.4-6) is a call to remembrance, never to forget their identity. Remembering is important. We do this so as not to lose sight of what made us who we are.

The Psalm ends with that shocking verse inciting revenge on innocent children. Just like the refugees of ancient Israel, when terrible things happen, there comes a point when we must make a choice: either to follow a dark path and allow that to become all-consuming, or to take the opportunity to create a new future.

Prayer

Loving God,
in the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset,
at a moment in my life when the night is due.
And the question I shall ask only I can answer:
was I brave and strong and true?
Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?
Amen.

(from the song by Petula Clark “To Fill The World With Love”, YouTube link) -->

Today's writer

Walt Johnson, NSM Ordinand at Northern College and Member at Wilbraham St Ninian’s URC (Chorlton, Manchester) 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 22nd February 2020

Sat, 22/02/2020 - 06:00
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Saturday 22nd February

1 Corinthians 14: 26 - 40

What should be done then, my friends?  When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.  If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God.  Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.  And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.

(As in all the churches of the saints,  women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.  If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)

Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized.  So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order.

Reflection

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing pottery using gold.  The idea is that it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of the object, rather than seeking to disguise it.  Similar things happened to ancient (and modern) texts, except that it’s much harder to see where this has been done with words.  Verses 34 and 35 of today’s reading are in many of the manuscripts of this letter, and only appear as an appendix. It seems that a later editor thought that Paul’s work needed “improving”.  Perhaps we might be best advised to discover the real Paul’s views in other verses where women take a full part in the leadership of the Church.

Paul probably wouldn’t recognise the worship in many United Reformed Churches today.  There is so much order and peace that one might be forgiven for thinking that everyone was asleep, when compared to the rowdy Early Church.  In Corinth, however, it was chaos, and the loudest voices were somewhat overbearing and bossy. Paul is reminding his readers that the point of worship is about meeting a living God, not about the ego or personality of the leaders of the church; and that it’s important to avoid extremes.  In the context of Corinth this probably meant that it was better to drink wine from a glass, rather than swigging from the bottle during worship.

Perhaps the United Reformed Church in 2020 doesn’t need as many warnings to avoid extremes in worship as the church in Corinth did all those centuries ago, but does our worship enable as many people as possible as often as possible to meet and have their lives changed by our living God?

Prayer

May we find you, God, wherever we find ourselves today.
Give us eyes to see your presence.
Give us ears to hear you speak.
Give us wisdom so we may understand you.
Give us courage to follow you.
May we find you, God, as you move us in us, through us, and around us. Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Revd Michael Hopkins, Minister of a group of Methodist and United Reformed Churches based around Farnham, Surrey, and Clerk of the URC General Assembly. 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  21st February 2020

Fri, 21/02/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 21st February

I Corinthians 14: 1 - 25

Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.  For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit.  On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their building up and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church.  Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I speak to you in some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?  It is the same way with lifeless instruments that produce sound, such as the flute or the harp. If they do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is being played?  And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves; if in a tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different kinds of sounds in the world, and nothing is without sound.  If then I do not know the meaning of a sound, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church.

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying?  For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you; nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.  In the law it is written,

‘By people of strange tongues

    and by the lips of foreigners

I will speak to this people;

    yet even then they will not listen to me,’

says the Lord.  Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers.  If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your mind?  But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all. After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, ‘God is really among you.’

 

Reflection

So often in churches we get into conversations about the ‘right’ worship or the ‘best’ translation of the Bible or the ‘most effective’ form of evangelism. We use words that carry our own interpretations and personal views and obsessions. It is clear, when reading such a text as we have in front of us today, that it was also happening in the Early Church.

Paul was writing to the people of Corinth hoping they would listen and respond. Paul was writing because he wasn’t happy with the behaviour of ‘church’ members. He was concerned that their worship had become very insular and was less about sharing the love of God with those beyond the worshipping community and more about holding themselves up as faithful people because they had all the external trimmings of faith (ie in this case, speaking in tongues). So he wrote to encourage them to do better: to look outwards. Paul was encouraging prophecy for the building up of the community. His encouragement was for them all to work for the good of the whole community - believers and non-believers.

Many people in churches today still consider the Sunday service to be ‘church’ and struggle with the idea that people coming into other worship opportunities are somehow not part of the ‘church’ (often because the Sunday congregation is the financial powerhouse too!). Others judge a church service as ‘good’ or not by their own needs being met as in ‘I got nothing from that service’.

God calls us beyond boundaries and limitations or traditions and expected behaviours, God calls us out of our self-absorption; God calls us to be bringers of the kingdom. That means going beyond the physical (and spiritual) walls of ‘church’ to see where God is already at work… and then God invites us to join in.

 

Prayer

Gracious God,
help us to ensure that our corporate acts of worship
speak more about your love
than about our preferences.
Inspire us so that we may be bold enough to go
beyond our comfort zones.
And, through the ways we live and love,
may we see you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
follow you more nearly,
day by day.
Amen. 

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Today's writer

The Rev’d Jenny Mills, Minister at Newport Pagnell URC and West End United Church, Wolverton and Convenor of the Children and Youth Work Committee. 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 20th February 2020

Thu, 20/02/2020 - 06:00
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Thursday 20th February 
 
I Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.  For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Reflection

Love, Love, Love ... All you need is Love, Love ... Love is all you need ...

In the summer of 1967, everyone was singing it – the Beatles' anthem to love. I rather doubt that [m]any enjoying the Summer of Love, made the connection with Paul's first Letter to the Church in Corinth...
Love was something the Church in Corinth hadn't quite got the hang of … in fact they had hardly got the hang of what it meant to be a church. It was all very new.

They were a very mixed group – Jews and pagans, women and men, slaves and free citizens, poor and wealthy people, often with little in common, and they argued about everything. Should women cover their heads? Who should share in the Lord's Supper (men and women, or just men …?) and how should it be ordered? Who was most important – someone with great knowledge? or someone who could heal others? or speak in tongues of ecstasy? or people of great faith? None of these.

Paul identifies the missing ingredient in their church life. There is a better way.


Love is all you need … well not quite, but it is what the Church in Corinth (and [y]our church, perhaps?) is missing, the key to living in God's way, the way Jesus lived, with patience, kindness, acceptance of others – not insisting on our own way, enduring whatever comes. I know local churches where people differ profoundly in their views about many things, from same-sex marriage to how Communion is served … but in caring for one another and working together and with others to meet the needs of vulnerable people, in charitable giving and volunteering, they are patient, kind, self-giving and are daily demonstrating faith and hope, motivated by the greatest of God's gifts: Love.

Love is all you need.

Prayer

When we think that it's all about organisation
or presentation or information
or even congregation,
forgive us
and remind us that your question is
Where is Love?
May it be our question too. Amen
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Heather Pencavel, Retired Minister, Thornbury 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  19th February 2020

Wed, 19/02/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 19th February

I Corinthians 12: 27 - 31

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?  But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
 
Reflection

Maybe it’s only when a church is in vacancy that the true shape of the Body of Christ in a congregation is revealed. Without a human leader/figurehead, however charismatic or inadequate, the people of God when left to their devices will often move up to the plate and do a very good job of ‘getting on with things’, growing - sometimes quite dramatically - in the faith, while they’re at it. And then, just as suddenly, when a new minister turns up, especially of the new broom type, the congregation return quietly to their pews to take a back seat and be invisible again. As if the minister alone was ordained to ministry or service in the Kingdom. 

The other side of the coin is the kind of congregation who expects their minister to be all things - apostle, prophet, teacher, able to do deeds of power, healing etc etc - and they are sure to be disappointed. Teamwork, Paul makes perfectly clear, is the name of the game. We’re parts of a body and need to fulfil whatever part God’s Spirit is gifting us for. And not one of us has a starring role because it is Christ alone who is the Head. It takes a funny mix of humility and … well, that greater gift. But I won’t spoil tomorrow’s devotion!

Prayer 

Some of our churches, Lord, are like teddy-bears with the stuffing knocked out of them. Some are china dolls with shiny heads too big for their bodies, hollow inside. We who should be bringing new life and love to the world in Your power need You to put us back into working order. Restore us and inspire us to gladly play the part You have chosen for us as members of Your Body.
 
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Today's writer

Dorothy Courtis, Lay Preacher and member, Thurso 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  18th February 2020

Tue, 18/02/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 18th February

1 Corinthians 12: 12 - 26

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?

As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’  On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect;  whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.


Reflection

You would be forgiven for thinking that this passage is all about team work. Using the image of the body, Paul tells us how important each part of it is and how no part of it can function without the other. It is a way of saying that all Christians have gifts to bring and all strengthen the life of the Church. And that is true, as far as it goes.

But what Paul is saying goes much deeper than that. Note the beginning of the passage: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ”. It does not say, “so it is with the church”. Paul is not talking about the Church as a sociological entity, he is talking about the new community of Christ. He is painting a picture of what a community that truly lives in Christ’s way looks like.

Orators in Paul’s day often used the image of the body as a metaphor for society, to denote the different roles its members played.  It was particularly used to preserve the social order and to urge people considered inferior to stay in their place. Paul takes the same image but turns it on its head. In the body of Christ the weaker members are indispensable, clothed with greater honour, treated with greater respect.  In the body of Christ new ways of relating are practised that challenge the power relationships of society. All members belong and stand equally before God. In the body of Christ God’s future is lived today.

It is a place where the vision of the heavenly banquet becomes reality: everyone is welcome and diversity is celebrated and valued and seen as a source of strength. The church in Corinth struggled to live out that vision, as do we. But it is only when living like this, that the church is true to its nature and calling.

Prayer

Loving God,
we thank you that you give us every day images
to teach us how we should live.
Help us to be the body of Christ today:
bringing light in darkness,
sharing hope in despair,
being love in deed.
May we use all our gifts to live today in faith
and to walk Christ’s way in peace.
Amen
 
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Today's writer

Francis Brienen, Deputy General Secretary (Mission), Muswell Hill 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  17th February 2020

Mon, 17/02/2020 - 06:00
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Monday 17th February 

I Corinthians 12: 1 - 11

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.  You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.  Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,  to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Reflection

I will never forget when during my ordination training many years ago, I had a visit from a very devout Christian I knew from the USA.  At that time, I had experiences of Holy Spirit who Paul details here, but I hadn’t yet had the experience of ‘various kinds of tongues’.  My visitor was convinced that if I didn’t speak in tongues, I wasn’t a Christian. We had a very interesting conversation where I managed to convince him that not only was I a committed Christian but that a woman could be a minister.  Imagine my annoyance when in a communion service in Chapel the next term, I started praying in tongues. Still do, every communion. It was a fun irony that having convinced both of us that it wasn’t a required activity of Holy Spirit, no more necessary than any other gift, I then received it. 

We can twist ourselves in knots about how to be a ‘proper’ Christian or what signs we think we need to see to be convinced of someone else’s legitimacy as a believer.  In this part of the letter to his beloved Corinthian community, Paul is confirming an enormous variety of faith expression, yet with a single common thread. The commonality is Holy Spirit, the internal presence of God, giving us wisdom to recognise the reality of Jesus.  Spirit gives us wisdom to recognise the power of our community of faith, and passion for the common good. Holy Spirit, the physical God energy moving amongst us, literally links us. But Spirit doesn’t always show up the same way! Thankfully, Spirit is bespoke for the occasion and for the common good. There are hundreds of millions of ways of being a Jesus person in the world, not just a few.  Thank God. 
 
Prayer

God of all time, known to us in Jesus, real in this time by Holy Spirit, thank you.  Difference is your gift to us and our gift to each other. Give us grace to welcome, to honour, and to notice deeply your grace in the differences of others.  Live in us with restless energy, making us courageous to love well.
In the name of Jesus and the power and presence of Holy Spirit, Amen. 

Editor’s Note:  The author requested the omission of the definite article as she feels this makes the language about the Holy Spirit more personal
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray-King, Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s 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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URC Daily Devotion  16th February 2020

Sun, 16/02/2020 - 06:00
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Sunday 16th February 
Psalm 136

1 O thank the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures for ever.
2 O thank the God of gods always;
his love will fail us never.

3 Give glory to the Lord of lords;
his love endures for ever.
4 Great wonders he alone performs;
his love will fail us never.

5 In wisdom he has made the heavens;
his love endures for ever.
6 He set the earth above the seas;
his love will fail us never.

7-8 He made the sun to rule the day—
his love endures for ever—
9 The moon and stars to rule the night;
his love will fail us never.

10 He struck down Egypt’s firstborn sons;
his love endures for ever.
11-12 By might he brought out Israel;
his love will fail us never.

13 He made a pathway through the Sea;
his love endures for ever.
14 And through it he brought Israel;
his love will fail us never.

15 King Pharaoh and his mighty host—
God’s love endures for ever—
He swept into the raging sea;
his love will fail us never.

16 He led his people on their way;
his love endures for ever.
He brought them through the wilderness;
his love will fail us never.

17 Thank him who struck down mighty kings—
his love endures for ever—
18 And slaughtered kings of great renown—
his love will fail us never—

19 King Sihon of the Amorites—
God’s love endures for ever—
20 And Og, the king of Bashan, too;
God’s love will fail us never.

21 He made their lands a heritage—
his love endures for ever—
22 For his own servant Israel;
his love will fail us never.

23 He thought upon us in our need;
his love endures for ever.
24 And freed us from our enemies;
his love will fail us never.

25 To every creature he gives food;
his love endures for ever.
26 Give thanks to God, the God of heaven;
his love will fail us never.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the lovely tune Dominus Regit Me here.

Reflection

Repeats are often a subject of discussion in our household.  That annoying person who walks into the room and says: ‘I know who did it’.  You sit watching thinking, ‘I haven’t seen this one,’ and an hour in, you have seen it and remember the ending.
 
My son occasionally prepares the church audio visual for a Sunday morning.  There is an assumption that he knows where the repeats are or even worse - somebody spontaneously repeats the last chorus: ‘How dare they!’  I’m not sure the congregation I serve think too much of responses in worship. They certainly would not say ‘Please sir, can we have more!’ 
 
It may seem a bit much to repeat ‘His love endures forever’ twenty six times, but the truth enshrined in these words is the explanation for everything else that can be said about the work of God: ‘For his steadfast love endures forever’ [RSV], ‘For his faithful love endures forever’[NJB].  Robert Alter in his ‘The Hebrew Bible Translation with Commentary’ changes the refrain to ‘For his kindness is forever’. He goes on to comment on verse 6 - Stamps firm on the earth. ‘There is then, a solid slab or firmament that is the sky, and another one below that is the earth. Beneath the earth is the deep- hence the earth is ‘On the Waters’.  As is evident in the flood story, there are waters above the heavens and waters below the earth.’
 
To quote Alter again: verse 25 Who gives bread to all flesh. ‘Bread indicates all kinds of food. In an apt gesture of closure, the celebration of God’s enduring kindness, having begun with his acts as creator, concludes by moving beyond the national perspective to God’s providence to all living creatures.’
 
As we repeat the Psalmist’s words over and over again, may they stick in our thoughts as we share God’s love with all we encounter today.
 
I’m all for repeats if they become for us part of the story in telling of God’s love.
 
Prayer
 
Gracious God
Your steadfast love endures forever.
Your faithful love endures forever.
Your kindness is forever.
 
As we repeat those ancient words from the Psalmist,
may we hold them and share them,
as we bring others into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
 
You remind us in amazing ways that we, too, are
‘Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love’.
 
Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Andrew Royal Minister Maidstone & Staplehurst URCs  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  15th February 2020

Sat, 15/02/2020 - 06:00
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Saturday 15th February
 
1 Corinthians 11: 27 - 34
 
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves.  For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.
 
Reflection
 
We can no longer be innocent about eating in our global village.  What I choose to eat, how much, how often, and where and how it is produced affects the daily lives and possibilities of people in the poorest sectors of our world.  It even determines whether they live or die. Eating itself – not just food banks – poses moral and theological questions.
 
That is what Paul wants the Corinthians to know about their Communion services.  Rich members are celebrating the Lord’s Supper privately instead of sharing, so that they could gorge on rich food and fine wine while the poorer members went hungry because they did not have enough to eat (11:21).  Paul told them that they were making a mockery of all that the Supper signifies.
 
Note his stress on the body of Jesus.  At the Last Supper, Jesus offers his own body and lifeblood as a sacrifice.  “It is for you,” he tells them. “Do it to remember me!” How do we “remember” Jesus in this way?  Firstly, it is an occasion to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”. It’s Gospel time!
 
Secondly, it’s about the Church – the kind of community it is, and the relationships among the members.  Paul calls the Church “the Body of Christ”. What happens to the Church and within it is “done” to Jesus, whose body it is.  If we inflict suffering or hunger on one another, we do it to Jesus. We wound and re-crucify his body. Instead of it being the means of healing for our brokenness and inequality, it becomes the whipping post for our greed and living at the expense of others.
 
Do we examine our own part in our Church’s relationships at Communion? Do we use it as a space to put things right? We need to!
 
Prayer
 
Lord,
Do your transforming work
until every aspect of our lives speak of you –
your salvation, your healing, your forgiveness!
Make that true of our relationships within our community,
our world,
our Church,
for Christ’s sake!
Amen.
-->

Today's writer

Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant, Worsley Road 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 February 2020

Fri, 14/02/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 14th February 

1 Corinthians 11: 17 - 26

Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it.  Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Reflection

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you …’

These words spoken by Paul the Apostle are amongst the most well known words in the New Testament, as the oldest account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Many Christians could probably finish the whole narrative by heart it is so often heard in our Communion services. 

Yet, how familiar are the half dozen verses which precede it?

Paul shares these words in the context of responding to reports of division in the Church at Corinth. Not only does Paul speak of factions, (as he does earlier in the letter), but he goes further to highlight the practice of the shared meal being anything but, as those without the means to bring their own food are in effect excluded from Communion, whilst others with greater means are over indulging, oblivious to the exclusion of some of their sisters and brothers in Christ. 

Paul’s rebuke is clear, ‘In this matter I do not commend you’. You can feel the thinly veiled anger in his writing. How dare the church behave this way, and at the Lord’s Table! 

In our neatly organised Communion services of individual portions of bread and wine, we cannot be accused of the same. That is unless we understand God’s invitation as reaching far wider than those who ordinarily come to ‘our’ table?


Prayer

And so, we prayerfully ask ourselves;
who in our community is living in food poverty?
What are we doing, or what could we be doing in our communities to address the scandal of food poverty? 
Paul’s challenge to us is just as double edged, to feed the hungry both physically and spiritually? Would he feel able to commend us? -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Mike Walsh, Pioneer minister, Chorlton, south Manchester 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 13th February 2020

Thu, 13/02/2020 - 06:00
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David Reynolds is a serving elder at Cores End URC, Bucks

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Thursday 13th February 

1 Corinthians 11: 1 - 16

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you.  But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil.  For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God.  Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone is disposed to be contentious—we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

Reflection

When at school, we expended a great deal of time imitating our teachers.  Most of our impressions were vocal, but at times, we imitated their mannerisms and behaviours.  Having left school, I happened to meet one of my teachers who said that he didn’t mind being imitated provided some of the good bits rubbed off. Paul is appealing to those who represented the hard core of the Corinthian church to imitate him as he imitates Christ.
 
This is no less true today when free speech, even in our own country is under attack. Life for believers is becoming and will become more difficult as the media seek to undermine the Church.  We must continue to show: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal-5:22-23).

If any of these rub off on us, we’re in a good place. Paul talks about the role of men and women in the Church, and over the years, these borders have softened not specifically because of progress, but because through the fruits, we have progressed. He also uses this passage to symbolize God’s relationship with the Church paralleling it with the relationship between man and woman.
 
I’m writing this at Christmas, one of our most important Christian festivals. We’ll sing carols, celebrate, spend quality time with friends and family, express our joy at the might changes wrought by Christ’s birth.  If we’re in for the long haul, striving to imitate Christ in all things will ensure that we can celebrate throughout the year.
 
Prayer
 
Father God, by the power of your love, help us to become imitators of you by expressing our love for you and for others through the fruits of the Spirit. Encourage us that when we grow closer to you, the good things will rub off. Amen.

-->

Today's writer

David Reynolds is a serving elder at Cores End URC, Bucks 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 12th February 2020

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 12th February

I Corinthians 10: 23 - 33
‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up.  Do not seek your own advantage, but that of others. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience,  for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’ If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice’, then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience —  I mean the other’s conscience, not your own. For why should my liberty be subject to the judgement of someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved.

Reflection

This passage appears fairly straight forward – don’t go around telling people you can’t do (x) because it’s against your religion if it is going to cause offense or make you morally superior because that takes away from the not doing it, but how often do we do or say things that do cause offense or make us feel morally superior? 
 
I have a friend who is vegan and a very proactive activist when it comes to issues around the use of fur or the treatment of animals for food, and another friend who is not vegan or a big activist, yet when the two go out for lunch they both eat vegan because my non-vegan friend does not want to make my vegan friend uncomfortable over lunch and recognises that vegan meals can actually be the tastiest thing on the menu. My non-vegan friend also takes a coffee to my vegan friend if they are on a picket line or information table in the city centre and will stay and chat, because she is not ashamed of my vegan friend or what they are doing. My vegan friend can be very blunt about the effect of eating meat, and how animals are treated and this winds some folk up, but I look at their writings on Facebook and think “do people think I sound like that about LGBT*+ rights, or Jesus, or Jesus and LGBT*+ rights?”  The truth is we all have things that fire us, yet we hear from Paul here that there are times we need to temper what or how we say something because otherwise the message of Jesus and the glorification of God is lost.
 
This isn’t about us, it’s about the world and God and if we aren’t honouring God then we might need to consider who we are honouring.  

Prayer

Gracious God, we remember that all the glory and honour are yours, when we forget this, remind us gently and help us remember we remain in your love and grace. Amen -->

Today's writer

Kirsty-Ann Mabbott, Church Related Community Worker, Ansty Road & St Columba’s URCs, Coventry 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 11th February 2020

Tue, 11/02/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 11th February 

I Corinthians 10: 14 - 22

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.  I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons.  You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Reflection

The Corinthian Christians must have found it a complete culture shock to worship just one God – as most of them were Gentiles, they would have been accustomed to worship many.  So it’s no real surprise that some of them continued to worship other gods and attend temple activities.  

Paul makes it clear that this is not possible. 

By joining in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, by breaking the bread and sharing in the body of Christ, they are part of the one body of Christ.

By attending a temple, they were taking part in the worship of an idol, and becoming one with the other worshippers.  Paul goes as far as to call them demon worshippers.

Just as Jesus had said that no one could serve two masters because we would love one and hate the other, (Matt 6:24), Paul explains that no one could sit at two tables – the table of the Lord and the table of demons.  They had to choose who to follow, as do we today.

Who are the demons that we could be accused of worshipping today?  We may not follow the gods of Canaan like the people of Israel in the Old Testament, or the gods of Greece and Rome as did many in Paul’s time, but there are plenty of idols vying for our attention today.  Paul writing to the Colossians (Col 3:5) particularly picks out greed as being idolatry. Greed, the pursuit of self-interest above others, the desire for consumer goods, valuing human approval rather than God’s love – these are all ways in which we can become distracted from walking the way of Jesus today.

As we continue our journey along that way, let us heed the dangers of today’s idols, and choose to follow the one true master.

Prayer

Help us Lord to follow you and walk in your way – not to be diverted onto other roads that may look superficially easier or more attractive. 
Keep us from the distraction of idols such as greed, wealth and self-interest, so that we serve you and spread the good news of your love for us.  Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Sue Cossey, NSM and Synod Pastoral Adviser, Bristol 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 10th February 2020

Mon, 10/02/2020 - 06:00
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Monday 10th February 

1 Corinthians 10: 1 - 13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,  and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.  We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Reflection

“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud…”  Ah! The good old days! Onward Hebrew soldiers, marching to the Promised Land, nourished with the bread of heaven, baptised by the celestial cloud and refreshed by the crystal fountain springing from the eternal rock! Moses at the front, Aaron bringing up the rear. Moses constantly urging them on, or telling them to pull their socks up (presumably to hide their golden calves). Those were the days!  But not for 23,000 of them (1 Cor 10.8), or was it 24,000 (Num 25.9)? They were the backsliders and they all perished. Like the rest, they had tasted water from the rock, eaten the heavenly manna, which Paul likened to the Sacraments, but they had gone wrong and they perished as a consequence. Paul warns his readers in Corinth, where they knew a thing or two about immorality, that the same could happen to them.  He uses the typology of Baptism and Communion to compare the experience of the desert to celebration of the Sacraments in order to show that mere observance of the forms is not enough. You have to be a true believer, with deeds that match the symbols, to be a valiant pilgrim. As Dodd puts it “No sacramental act achieves anything unless it is an outward symbol of what really happens inwardly in experience.” Bad news for the naughty Corinthians. But good news for the faithful, for there is an accompanying promise: “God is faithful. And he will not let you be tested beyond your strength”. When the testing hour comes, he is at our side. What more can we ask? 

Prayer:  

“Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow;
the same Everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day.
Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.”              

St Francis de Sales -->

Today's writer

The Rev'd Peter Moth, retired minister, St Andrew’s URC Kenton, Newcastle upon Tyne 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 9th February 2020

Sun, 09/02/2020 - 06:00
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Sunday 9th February
Psalm 135 


1 Praise the LORD, all you his servants!
Praise his name with glad accord,
2 You who serve God in his temple,
in the dwelling of the LORD.

3 Praise the LORD, for this is fitting.
He is good; his praise proclaim.
Praise the LORD, for it is pleasant
to sing praises to his name.

4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob
to belong to him alone,
Israèl to be his treasure,
set apart to be his own.

5 For I know the LORD is mighty;
greater than all gods is he.
6 He is sovereign in the heavens,
on the earth and in the sea.

7 He makes thunder-clouds to gather
from the earth’s remotest shores;
With the rain he sends forth lightning,
brings the wind out from his stores.

8 He struck down all Egypt’s firstborn;
man and beast alike were slain.
9 Mighty signs he showed in Egypt,
routing Pharaoh and his men.

10 Many nations he defeated;
kings he slew with mighty hand—
11 Og of Bashan and king Sihon,
all the kings of Canaan’s land.

12 All their lands he gave to Jacob,
to his people Israèl;
As a heritage he gave them
lands where they might safely dwell.

13 LORD, your name endures for ever;
your renown is ever great.
14 For the LORD sustains his servants
and his folk will vindicate.

15 But the idols of the nations,
made of silver and of gold,
Are by human hands created
with a hammer or a mould.

16 Mouths they have, but speak they cannot;
eyes they have, but cannot see.
17 Ears they have, but hear they cannot;
in their mouths no breath can be.

18 Those who make them will be like them;
those who trust them are the same.
19 Praise the LORD, O house of Israel,
Aaron’s house, exalt his name.

20 Praise the LORD, O house of Levi;
you who fear him, praise the LORD!
21 Praise the LORD who dwells in Zion

You can hear this sung, from v15, by a Free Church of Scotland congregation to the tune Stuttgart here.

Reflection

I wonder how many of our churches would recite this Psalm in its entirety? For brevity of time and for wanting to get straight to the point, we might be tempted to select only a few verses. Actually 135 and 136 belong together, and is known as the “Great Hallel”. These words are a regular feature of Jewish worship and holiday observances as well as Orthodox vigils. It’s one big praise that would disturb our one hour time limit for worship.
 
I find it interesting that the longest poetry in the ancient worship tradition are the songs of praise and the songs of lament.  Worship takes time and involves memory and energy.

It takes time to remind ourselves we didn’t arrive here by ourselves. When was the last time we were able to reflect jubilantly about the truth of our collective history?

It takes time to recognise our interconnectedness to all of nature. God “makes thunder-clouds to gather from the earth’s remotest shores; With the rain he sends forth lightning, brings the wind out from his stores.”

It takes time and space and energy to call out idolatry in every age for what it is: “Those who make them will be like them; those who trust them are the same.”

Today in Scotland is Racial Justice Sunday, during what is also Black History Month in the USA. As with the UK’s counterpart commemoration people are tempted to think it is an observance only for people of colour. To recognise blackness for a moment, if at all.  However, whenever it falls on our calendar, racial justice and the historical presence of black people are of crucial importance to our churches and our nations as we seek direction in the kind of human beings God is compelling us to become.

Martin Luther King challenged us to be maladjusted to injustice. “the SALVATION of our world lies in the hands of the maladjusted!” It remains as urgent and necessary to hear today as we call out the forms of idolatry of our time.

Prayer

As we meet you in the busyness of our lives,
let us take our time. The busyness isn’t going anywhere.
You are ever living, ever moving, ever changing our minds.
As we worship, let us welcome the space, the pause.
Beyond self, beyond anxiety and hate.
May the pause extract Love and Grace from us, to the world. Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d William Young, Minister, Essenside URC Glasgow and Morison Memorial Clydebank  Copyright
Sing Psalms!  The Worship and Psalmody Committee of the Free Church of Scotland
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URC Daily Devotion 8th February 2020

Sat, 08/02/2020 - 06:00
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Saturday 8th February

I Corinthians 9: 24 - 27

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.  Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

Reflection

It’s not only athletes and boxers who need to practise. As a child I learnt the piano – and making me practise each day must have been the bane of my parents’ lives!  And mine. When I retired, I thought I’d take up the saxophone – a long held aspiration. However, I’d forgotten that after the first year or so of quick returns, it got harder and I would need to put in more effort and hours if I was to improve at all.  It is the same with fell-walking. I loved to get out into the hills, but often it was too arduous and often painful and my misery and mood could spoil the day. However, with perseverance, determination and a change of attitude my fitness and everyone’s enjoyment improved!  There are no shortcuts to improving at anything we may want to do and sometimes it may seem particularly difficult and uncomfortable. It takes time, effort and self-discipline and the same is true if I want to become more Christ-like. It challenges me to realise that if I want to become as prayerful, compassionate, just, forgiving and unselfish as Jesus, then I need to train myself and practise.  When it gets more difficult, I need to give time to exercise more self-control and willpower. It’s a real challenge but the prize is worth it.

What is your challenge?
 
Prayer

Patient and loving God,
be with us as we just give up when the going gets tough….
be with us as we struggle with lack of confidence and self-discipline….
be with us as we find challenge and change difficult and uncomfortable….
be with us as we seek to be more and more like Jesus….
Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Lis Mullen is a retired minister and member of Kendal 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 7th February 2020

Fri, 07/02/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 7th February 

I Corinthians 9: 19-23

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Reflection

“I have become all things to all people” could be the slogan of certain spin doctors and politicians, prepared to turn their arguments on a sixpence in order to win support.

Paul, however, makes it clear that his sole aim was to fulfil his calling to bring Jesus to people whose customs and religions were far from those of his own homeland, To even enter into discussion, it was necessary to find common ground through flexibility on things that did not matter while adhering to those that did.

The Pharisee Saul would have balked at a warm relationship with an uncircumcised man or eating non-kosher food with a couple who cooked a meal on the Sabbath. But now Paul was a missionary for Jesus who ate with tax collectors, protected a woman caught in adultery from the obligatory stoning and joined his disciples picking corn for a snack on the Sabbath.

Paul had come to realise that it was necessary to forego strict and unforgiving tradition. He could behave “properly” in a Jewish gathering while talking about Jesus who had been crucified and eat meals he would never have imagined in a gentile household. He reached out to everyone while retaining the integrity of his Christian message.

We Christians now live where a host of faiths abide side by side. We share our daily lives with many who have no faith at all, and may treat with us with scorn and even abuse. Yet we too have a calling to share the message of love with our neighbours.

In doing so, we need to seek the common ground, listen respectfully before speaking, be kind to everyone we encounter, and avoid prejudice and judgement which can form a barrier to fruitful conversation – in other words “become all things to all people”.

Prayer

Lord of all,
Help us to reach out to everyone we encounter day by day. Teach us the value of friendly humility. Enable us to share our faith in ways we have never considered before.
Amen  -->

Today's writer

Pat Stannard, Elder, Muswell Hill 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 6th February 2020

Thu, 06/02/2020 - 06:00
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Thursday 6th February 

I Corinthians 9: 1 - 18

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?  If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defence to those who would examine me.  Do we not have the right to our food and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?  Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk?

Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law also say the same?  For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned?  Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever ploughs should plough in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop.  If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is sacrificed on the altar?  In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this so that they may be applied in my case. Indeed, I would rather die than that—no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting!  If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

Reflection

In 2017, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, reported that ‘recent research found people with a greater sense of entitlement are less likely to follow instructions than less entitled people are, because they view the instructions as an unfair imposition on them’.

It was once argued that when we are saved, we are sent. All of us, members of the body of Christ have a calling in the world and in the Church. It can be unrewarded, hard work, as Paul has sadly discovered.

Many Christian workers are unsung heroes, who get no credit and respect in their living.  A Baptist friend of mine, argued that there is too much reward/credit, given to God’s workers in many parts of Africa; and not enough credit given the UK. He then argued that this lower credit given in the West, can cause workers to be discouraged, disheartened, depressed, less holy, and ultimately less sacrificial in their service.

As a pioneer, Paul certainly did not get enough human credit for his hard work and sacrifices. People took his self-denials for granted, thus taking him for granted. Actually, churches he planted often mocked him and even rejected his authority. Yet Paul did not focus much on what he deserved: his rights. He rather emphasized his duties to people and to the Lord. In a countercultural move, he took pride in working without reward. Paul found it the greatest reward, to fulfil the trust and duties committed to him by the Lord.

Maybe today we feel that we have not always been treated well and rewarded well by those we serve. God is our main ‘employer’ and as long as God is happy with what we do, we ought to be encouraged.  May God’s grace help us being more committed and self-giving than entitled.
 
Prayer:

God of mission,
thank you for calling us to work with you and for you.
May your amazing love quicken us to serve without counting the cost.
Keep us focused on the proclamation of the Good News.
May our service be more and more enjoyable and fulfilling.
Give us oil in our lamps,
 that we may keep loving, serving and praising you with joy, passion and thanksgiving.
Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d  Bachelard Kaze Yemtsa is a minster in the East Midlands Synod. 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 5th February 2020

Wed, 05/02/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 5th February  
 
I Corinthians 8 

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge;  but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists’, and that ‘there is no God but one.’  Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.  ‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.  But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Reflection

This is a ’go to’ passage when confronting divisive issues.  We might have wrestled over a thorny matter and finally reached a conclusion after prayerful reflection.  But some of our brothers and sisters have a different view. It seems that our perspective threatens their peace of mind, that their faith is in danger of wavering.  How do we express our view without disturbing them further?

The life of faith isn’t static.  Our views will change as we grow as Jesus’s disciples.  Some of the early believers at Corinth were confused about what they should and shouldn’t be eating: having been used to eating food sacrificed to idols before converting, they thought this was now off limits, and were puzzled when they saw other believers eating it.  These others were secure in their knowledge that idols didn’t exist. They knew that they worshipped the only God (vs. 4-6). So it was irrelevant to them whether the food they ate had been offered to an idol or not. But for those with ‘weak’ consciences, the food was tainted by its association with idol worship.  The fragile foundations of their faith were shaken.

‘Knowledge puffs up but love builds up,’ Paul tells us bluntly.  Whenever we think we have reached a mature view on an issue, we must tread carefully.  Loving our sisters and brothers in Christ means that patience, listening and understanding will underpin our sharing of new knowledge and insights.

Prayer

Gracious God, 
thank you for opening to us new vistas of understanding and insight.
Help us to respond with humility,
and never to assume that our knowledge is superior.
May we listen to one another with patience and understanding,
seeking always to build on your foundation of love
in Christ, the cornerstone of our faith.  Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Gillian Poucher, Minister, Gainsborough United Reformed 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.
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URC Daily Devotion 4th February 2020

Tue, 04/02/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 4th February 
 
I Corinthians 7: 36 - 40

If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly towards his fiancée,  if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry.  But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancée, he will do well.  So then, he who marries his fiancée does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord.  But in my judgement she is more blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

Reflection

Eric C. Smith is an old Divinity School chum, now a Pauline scholar,  based in Denver. He warns us that “The Bible is troublesome, to say the least, when viewed as a handbook for modern living.”  

Indeed this text has been the source of debate in meaning for centuries. Much of the scrutiny involves the meaning of “fiancée”. The Greek word is parthenos (unmarried daughter), which has taken differing meanings in English interpretations, including “virgin” and “betrothed”, which is a different word in the New Testament (mnesteuo), specifically dealing with the Gospel accounts of Mary and Joseph’s relationship.
 
This all has a bearing on how the text is read and understood. It also makes it difficult for us to use this text as some sort of moral guideline for life. 

I would like to argue that Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation possesses a version worth meditating on. What sticks out in that translation is not an ethical query about marriage, but the mutual importance of singleness and marriage in the church. Peterson reveals not a dogmatist, but a pastor: “Marriage is spiritually and morally right and not inferior to singleness in any way, although… because of the times we live in, I do have pastoral reasons for encouraging singleness”.(verse 38)

In the ancient world it was a matter of economics, and singleness/childlessness was considered as much a curse as being widowed. If your genealogical line ended, your property would go to another and you would not be remembered.  Paul’s acceptance of single people represents his commitment to Christ’s Kingdom centred on love and equity.

Paul’s words about wives staying married to their husbands as long as he lives and the freedom to marry whomever they wish thereafter (v.39) represents a progressiveness in Paul that our interpretations have not appreciated.
If there is anything to take away from this apostolic advice, it is how surprisingly counter-cultural the Early Church and her leaders were. May we be of the same spirit for our time.

Prayer 

God, Your way of love is not always our greatest hope, but it is the only value that works. It changes minds, revolutionises relationships, sets individuals free to be and become. May we have courage for broadening minds and hearts for this new Kin-dom You are building. Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d William Young, Minister Essenside URC Glasgow and Morison Memorial URC 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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