URC Devotions

URC Daily Devotion 14th January 2020

Tue, 14/01/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 14th January

1 Corinthians 2: 1 - 5

When I came to you, brothers and sisters,  I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Reflection

Some years ago in, I think, Australia, a group of church-going young people were asked to define some of the Christian jargon that is commonplace in churches. According to them, ‘Redemption’ is what you do with a voucher, ‘salvation’ is an ointment you put on a graze and ‘grace’ is what you say before a meal if you’re having the vicar over for tea.

One of the questions I am often asked as a Children and Youth Development Officer  is “Have you any tips on how to do a children’s address?” to which my answer is always “Keep it simple and avoid jargon”.

You see, whilst WE might think we know what a word or phrase means, we can’t be sure that the listener shares that same understanding. And this is true not just of children in the church but also the adults who are there, too. And the adults who maybe aren’t at church with whom we are tasked to share the Good News.

We can make our faith as difficult and wordy as we want, we can use jargon which actively excludes others, we can be a little clique with in-jokes and our own language… but how does that help us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

How refreshing that Paul in his letter to the emerging church in Corinth recognised this.

How disappointing that, some two thousand years later, we seem to have forgotten.

Jesus knew what to do – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Prayer

Loving God,
Help us to use language that builds bridges rather than walls
Help us to use language that opens You up, rather than closes You off
Help us to remember to keep it simple.
Amen
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Today's writer

Leo Roberts, Children and Youth Development Officer, North Western 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 13th January 2020

Mon, 13/01/2020 - 06:00
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Monday 13th January
1 Corinthians 1: 26 - 31

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters:  not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one  might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,  in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

Reflection

This is the first time I am writing a Devotion; therefore I feel no pressure to write something clever !?!

As I reflect on the words of this passage, I consider first how others see me (the reference to human standards) and how they may not see me as anything special or unique or powerful….as I don’t shout the loudest or strut! But how God uses us time and time again to show or demonstrate something to others.. It may be he that he enables us to be positive in dark times, or to smile and say nothing when we are tempted to say something negative or that he just encourages us to just ‘BE STILL’ (Psalm 46:10) and in that shows others what real patience looks like.  Whatever it is, God chose us; he CHOSE us…..How great is that we are called and chosen to be children of God…. This is a gift that keeps giving, as time and time again, God shows us that he is on our side, bringing us through challenges and difficulties; sometimes in a more triumphant way than we could ever have imagined.

However, the passage also reminds us to be humble and to recognize that we must not become boastful; not easy when things are going well or when you are being held up by others or when you get that job or that partner or win that prize. 

We are reminded that God is our centre and we are reminded that IF we are to boast, we must boast recognising who chose us; who made us whole; who continues to be faithful, who is  always kind, who works through us.. As the passage says ‘we must boast in the Lord’.

Prayer 

Father God, how awesome you are, and 
How Humble we should be; 
But sometimes that isn’t easy when things are going very well.
Lord, please remind us to focus on you; to keep you at the centre; to boast IN you;
Always remembering the gift of life and love that you have given us as HIS children; making us whole, joyful and secure.
And in this way we are able to bring more people to your Kingdom planting seeds of joy and goodness across the world.
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Today's writer

Alexandra Priddy (nee Bediako), Elder and Children's Church Leader, Trinity Mill 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 12th January 2020

Sun, 12/01/2020 - 06:00
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Sunday 12th January Psalm 131
 

1 My heart’s not proud, O LORD,
nor haughty is my eye;
I do not occupy myself
with things too great or high.

2 My spirit I have calmed;
my heart is pacified.
My soul is like a little child
close to its mother’s side.

Just like a little child
my soul is calmed in me.
3 O Isr’el, hope in God the LORD
now and eternally.

Reflection

This short Psalm, thought to have been written by David, has a wealth of meaning for all of us who lead busy full, lives. There is humility and gentleness of spirit, and a true sense of being at peace and rest in the one who is our hope, the Lord God Almighty.

There is a beautiful sense of simplicity and childlike trust rather than always trying to make life more complicated than it really is. Our society does seem to dictate the opposite and these observations consequently appear so refreshing and life-giving. Such is not taking on too many things that might cause confusion, or in fact make our faith in the Lord more complex than it should be. Rather than deepening our theological intensity, it is more importantly developing our own awareness of God himself. Perhaps it sounds too simplistic in this day and age?

But how is it that David, whose life was not what one could call uncomplicated, can write such words which convey such peace and rest? The secret seems to be in the calmed and quiet spirit to which he testifies, something which he has had to cultivate through his relationship with his God which brings such a wonderful contentment in life. There is a striving not to be tearing around like the proverbial, but instead being like the cosily, comfortably contented, peaceful and replete child, nestling in his Mother’s arms after a satisfying and adequate feed, not having a care in the world.

The question to us is how do we indeed achieve a similar close, restful feeling in our spirits, when life is anything but calm and collected? Maybe the secret is found in other psalms of inspiration from David, such as “He leads me beside still waters” (23:2) and “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him?” (37:7)

Prayer

Drop Thy still dews of quietness
till all our strivings cease.
Take from our lives the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess,
the beauty of Thy peace.
Lord, warm ours hearts to yours,
that resting in you,
peace, calm and contentment
may become the hallmarks of our lives in you.
 
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Today's writer

Verena  Walder Lay Preacher and Local Church Leader at Tabernacle URC,  Mumbles. Copyright
Sing Psalms, (C) Psalmody and Praise Committee, Free Church of Scotland, 15 North Bank Street, Edinburgh. EH1 2LS
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 11th January 2020

Sat, 11/01/2020 - 08:41
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Saturday 11th January

I Corinthians 1: 18 - 25

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Reflection

They liked playing mind games, those ancient Greeks – they called it philosophy, the love of wisdom: well, at any rate, the men in the leisured classes did as Paul had found on his visit to Athens. Paul seems to have tried to share their approach, offering them something new. It was quite interesting for an hour or two, but not life-changing. But it was life-changing that was Paul’s mission and his letter to the Christians in Corinth suggests that he had taken a very different approach when he had moved on to their city, seemingly targeting a very different set of people – “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”

In our tradition we have valued a “learned ministry” and understandably so because to grow in our Christian faith we need to move beyond bland baby food. But Paul’s experience, and the experience of Christian leaders of every generation, shows us that playing mind games may entertain and develop interest for a while, but will not change lives. Dr John Short (a former minister of Richmond Hill Church, Bournemouth) wrote, “True eloquence is not of the schools: it is the offspring of a spirit that is impassioned by some great message that has laid hold of it, possessed it, and made it the instrument through which the message is uttered …. Paul learned that it was hopeless to attempt to get in touch with the reality of God by philosophy as the Greeks of his day understood it.”

So, Paul could write, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles … For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Is this the Gospel we preach?
 
Prayer

When I survey the wondrous Cross,
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
 
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

Isaac Watts
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Julian Macro, Retired Minister, Member of Verwood 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.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 10th January 2020

Fri, 10/01/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 10th January

I Corinthians 1: 10 - 17

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose.  For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’  Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

Reflection

We are all different, we are individuals and often see things differently.  As Christians we need to be united in what really matters. As a lay preacher I go to many different churches and each has its own traditions and characteristics.  What matters is that they all should be following the truth in Scripture and worship the one true God. 

A new minister was surprised when during the first part of every service the congregation all sat on the left side of the church and during the second hymn, they all moved to the other side.  He asked a few elders about this and eventually it was explained that the only heating used to be a fire on the left side, so they sat near it but as it burned brighter it became too hot so they moved away.  Despite having a new central heating the tradition continued. 

This might be a slightly ridiculous story but sometimes we can cling to ideas that have no relevance today and no foundation in the truth in Scripture.  How many churches and members do things because it has always been done that way, rather than because It is the right way? By following such ideas we run the risk of following the modern equivalents of Apollos or Cephas rather than the simple truth from Jesus.

Paul was warning against anything becoming more important than the truth that the power lies in the cross of Christ.  We can follow the example of the early Scottish Congregationalists who held that every congregation is united in their faith, hope, and obedience to the gospel.  As the United Reformed Church we should all strive to be united in Jesus and to follow His teachings, as individuals and as a church.

Prayer

Loving God,
We thank you for the truth that we can find in scripture,
We thank you that we have your Holy Spirit with us to help us understand as we read your word.
We ask you to help us see what matters and lead us to the paths of truth,
Protect us from false ideas and doctrines but keep us on the path that Jesus shows us

Amen
 
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Today's writer

John Collings, Lay Preacher, member of Rutherglen URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 9th January 2020

Thu, 09/01/2020 - 06:00
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Thursday 9th January
1 Corinthians 1: 4 - 9

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,  for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.


Reflection

Who am I? How do I know who I am? The question of how we understand ourselves and our identity is hugely complex. Tomes of sociological and psychological theory have been written addressing this topic. Most basically, identity is tied up with what we believe about ourselves and about the world around us. 

Paul’s opening remarks to the Corinthians are interesting, because he is writing to a community wrought with division and in crisis about what they believed and as a result who they understood themselves to be. Anyone who’s ever experienced a crisis of identity will know it can be a pretty destabilising experience.

Rather than open with criticism and condemnation, Paul affirms the Corinthians’ worth by thanking God for them. But he does this by thanking God for who they find themselves to be in the light of God’s grace and in Christ Jesus, which sounds a bit like a backhanded compliment. In fact, what Paul seems to be doing is reminding them that their identity is rooted in God and in God’s provision to them. 

I’m reminded of some words attributed to Archbishop Justin Welby, when in 2016 he made the shock discovery that the man who he believed to be his father was not in fact his biological father. He said, “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes”. 

In contemporary life, there are umpteen voices that will seek to tell us who we are – advertisers, public policy decision makers, political propagandists dare I say it (as I write we are in the midst of the general election campaign). We also see the impact of social media on shaping our young peoples’ identities. 

Sometimes, we too face destabilising crises of identity just like the Corinthians. But I take comfort in Justin Welby’s words which seem to echo Paul’s 2,000-year-old sentiments, “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ… and my identity in him never changes.'' 

Prayer

Loving God,
Thank you for your love. 
A love that is rock-solid and unchanging. 
In times when we struggle with our beliefs,
Or knowing who we are,
Help us to remember the firm foundation
That you have offered us, 
In the love of Christ Jesus, our Lord and our brother. 
Amen.  -->

Today's writer

Jonnie Hill, Ordinand at Northern College and member of Chorlton Central Church in 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 8th January 2020

Wed, 08/01/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 8th January 

1 Corinthians 1: 1 - 3

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection

‘… and our brother Sosthenes.’

In my Bible they have given this letter a title. Apparently, it’s The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, but what about Sosthenes? His name is right there with Paul’s, at the letter’s beginning. Was he just the scribe, writing whatever Paul dictated? (At the end of the letter Paul announces that the last few words are in his own handwriting.) If so, it’s strange to give Sosthenes such a prominent mention.

Maybe he’s there to provide visible support for Paul, to validate his message. After all, Sosthenes is “one of their own”. He’s someone who knew from painful personal experience the challenges facing followers of Jesus in this bustling Greek city-port (Acts 18:17).

Just imagine being part of that group of Corinthian Christians, listening to the newly arrived letter.

“What do Sosthenes and Paul want to say to us? You know, I’ve never been entirely sure about Paul but if Sosthenes thinks he’s ok …”

“They say we’re the ‘Church of God’ in this place. This local group is God’s Church. We belong to God.”

“They say, we’re ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.’ Jesus has made / is making us into a holy people.”

“They say, we’re not the only saints. There are ‘saints in every place [who] call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.’ There’s little church and big Church, and we’re a part of all that.”

“Well, we seem to be on the same page there, so let’s hear what else they have to say. Yes, grace and peace to you too, Sosthenes (and to you, Paul), from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Prayer

Gracious God, I thank you,
For my local church which is your Church;
For the impact of Jesus Christ upon me and others;
For all your saints, past and present,
Not forgetting Sosthenes, Paul, and the Corinthian Christians,
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Trevor Jamison, Minister, St Columba’s URC, North Shields 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 7th January 2020

Tue, 07/01/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 7th January The Holy Family As Refugees 

St Matthew 2: 13 - 15

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’  Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

Reflection

In recent years it has become customary to state that if the 3 wise men had been 3 wise women they would have: arrived on time, brought a casserole and cleaned the stable.  This was in reaction to the old fashioned understanding of the gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold as grave goods.  

In fact these are gifts as practical as the casserole.  Frankincense is, among other uses, an air freshener. When our older daughter was a teething baby an active ingredient in the gel we rubbed on was myrrh.  (By the time our younger daughter arrived it was known that myrrh can cause liver disease.) Frankincense and myrrh are both practical gifts in the circumstances and maybe any surplus can be used for bargaining.  And gold?  

Something had to be used to pay the bills for a long term stay in Bethlehem.  Somehow this poor carpenter was having to work his socks off to afford it all.  

Then, the worrying news brought by the visitors, confirmed in a dream, of Herod’s interest.  Not much time to consider what to do, only a reason to go. Familiar images of terrified people walking dry, dusty roads surely form in our mind’s eye.  A gift of gold turned out to be better than a lottery win for it was an acceptable medium of exchange for displaced people about to be thrust across countries as refugees.  A gift at the right time, it turned out.  

Matthew simply states their refugee status as fulfilling a prophecy.  We recognise so many modern situations, for individuals, families and nations within it, the suffering, loss of place and livelihood.  There is a short prose poem, though too long to quote here, about the judgement at the end of world. You can search for “The Long Silence” here.

Prayer

Lord, when we wonder what gifts to give, give us understanding,
when we wonder about unexpected interest, give us insight,
when we are undecided about a course of action, give us direction.
Amen 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Ruth Browning, retired minister, member of 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 6th January 2020

Mon, 06/01/2020 - 06:00
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Monday 6th January  The Visit of the Magi 


St Matthew 2: 1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’  When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Reflection

Charles Causley’s poem ‘Innocents song’ ends with this warning:

 ‘Watch where he comes walking
out of the Christmas flame,
dancing, double-talking:
Herod is his name’.

I do not come as an innocent, or wise man to this story. My familiarity with it has a dream like quality, infused with long memories of presentations of the story dressed up for children in church.

But this is not a story for my entertainment. King Herod is a homicidal despot whose reign, sustained by violence, enforced compliance to his will. Perhaps he was a psychopath - by turns charming and threatening – depending on what was advantageous. Such leaders are still to be found today.

Nor are the diligent searchers from the east a vehicle for gorgeous costumes to be admired. They are travellers exhausted from a long search, which might, or might not, have a successful conclusion. They travel in faith, which is not the same as certainty. T.S. Eliot well captures this: “A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of the year for a journey, and such a journey…”

A report of foreign astrologers passing through Herod’s territory would be more than ordinarily interesting to the King. Gaining their confidence, he extracts their mission from them. Meantime, Herod’s further research fuels his mounting paranoia. He makes his visitors promise to tell him of their mission’s success. Herod too wants to pay his respects.

The royal court of the baby, very different from that of Herod’s palace; brings the magi ‘overwhelming joy’, and the giving of their symbolic gifts to the child. Reflecting on their promise to Herod – the magi decide not to keep it – discreetly making their way home.

May this Epiphany bring you joy and wisdom, gifts the Christ child gives us for our living.

Prayer

Gracious God
we have read and heard
the story of your Son’s coming
amongst us so often that
it is easy not to pause in
wonder and adoration.
Open our hearts and minds
to accept your gift to us:
the one whose coming
brings fresh hope and life
to our tired world,
and refreshment to our souls.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d John A Young, retired minister of the Synod of Scotland and member of Giffnock 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 5th January 2020

Sun, 05/01/2020 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday 5th January Psalm 130 

1 LORD, from the depths I call to you;
2 Lord, hear me from on high
And give attention to my voice
when I for mercy cry.

3 LORD, in your presence who can stand,
if you our sins record?
4 But yet forgiveness is with you,
that we may fear you, LORD.

5 I wait—my soul waits—for the LORD;
my hope is in his word.
6 More than the watchman waits for dawn
my soul waits for the Lord.

7 O Isr’el, put your hope in God,
for mercy is with him
8 And full redemption. From their sins
his people he’ll redeem.

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

Reflection

This is one of the Psalms of Ascent.  Having just returned from the URC’s visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I have a new understanding of ascent – who knew Jerusalem was so hilly!?

It speaks to the (mistaken) idea that God is waiting for us to trip up, to get things wrong and so to judge us.  Let’s face it, if that were the case, we’d probably all be in trouble. But that is not God; God’s default position is to forgive and to respond to our sin with grace.  Thank God!

In this Psalm we meet, not a God who imposes his will by force, but one who makes himself vulnerable by being in relationship with us imperfect humans.  For despite all our faults and failings, we wait on the Lord in the steadfast hope of his redeeming forgiveness and in that forgiveness, we receive freedom to live as children of God.

This Psalm could have been written for the Palestinian Christians living and working in the West Bank who are crying out for justice.  It speaks to their condition as humans who are ‘in the depths’, they are in distress and drowning in a situation not of their making, and over which they have no control; armed checkpoints and a 26ft wall dominate their lives.  They are in need of a liberating, rescuing, redemption – they are in need of God’s saving love. 

Yet despite their situation, many of those we met remain hopeful, they were welcoming, showed generous hospitality and all they asked in return was, ‘tell our story’.  Their stories need to be heard so if you’ve not already, please speak to your synod rep who went on the trip. And remember the psalmist’s words, ‘from the depths I call to you; Lord, hear me’.

Prayer:

Creator God,
You call to us in our dark places and invite us to new life.
When we feel lost and hopeless you surprise us with your saving love.
May we be signs of your love and life for all those we meet as we walk the way and live the life of Jesus today.  Amen  -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Branwen Rees, East Wales Regional Minister Copyright
Sing Psalms! Psalmody and Praise Committee, Free Church of Scotland, 15 North Bank Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2LS
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URC Daily Devotion 4th January 2020

Sat, 04/01/2020 - 06:15
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Saturday 4th January  Arise and Shine

Isaiah 60: 1 - 6

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
    they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
    and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
    your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
    the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
    the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
    all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
    and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Reflection

The liturgical season that Isaiah 60 inaugurates is a season of revelation.  Epiphany, in the Early Church, was not about the arrival of the Magi but the revelation of Jesus Christ at his baptism, to the whole world as God’s only and beloved child. Epiphany is God’s self-revelation to the world, the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. It was one of the three major feasts of the liturgical calendar around which faith communities organized the rhythms of their life: Easter, Epiphany, Pentecost (not Christmas or a Nativity scene or Magi!).

Current thinking is that this passage is situated in the sixth century BCE as the exiles returned to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, a major conflict had arisen between those who remained and those who returned. Living conditions were extremely difficult. Jerusalem was in ruins. The people were now divided again - not against some outside threat or enemy, but among themselves.

Chapters 58 and 59 are characterized by gloom, by despair, by a call to repentance.  They are also marked by a yearning for light and glory to come.

The opening line of Isaiah 60 is like a thunderbolt of glory.  What surprises is the abruptness of the shift from doom and gloom to light and glory. God erupts!  He arises and shines forth in glory! God’s glory in the Hebrew Scripture is always God’s presence. God’s presence, His very own face, is designated by glory. God does not possess glory -- God is glory.

Now this glory and light arises among the people.  It is the Lord who arises among them, giving what the Lord gives: life and salvation.  But this giving is not just for the remnant of Israel, it is not just for those who have returned from exile, but for all the nations.  Now, all the nations will come to the Lord. Just as in Isaiah 6, the Temple could not contain the glory now also here, the people of Israel cannot contain it.   The presence of God expands outwards toward the whole cosmos. Thanks be to God.

Prayer

Brilliant God, we frequently wander around in deep, dull darkness.  
Lord, we ask that we may be illuminated by your grace and love.  
Let us radiate and reflect the brilliance of your light.  
Shine through us, so that we may share you with others.   
In Jesus name we pray, Amen -->

Today's writer

Ann Barton, member at Whittlesford URC in the Eastern 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 3rd January 2020

Fri, 03/01/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 3rd January  Our real homeland
 
Hebrews 11: 13 - 22

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named after you.’  He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked blessings for the future on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, ‘bowing in worship over the top of his staff.’  By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions about his burial.

Reflection

If there is one hymn we are bound to sing at least once during the coming year, it is ‘Who would true valour see’ (Rejoice and Sing 557), or a translation on the theme. It is a hymn dear to many, and is frequently sung at funerals, or at Remembrance-tide. It affects our psyche as we think of our forebears who were also travelling on a journey, on a pilgrimage of their own. Written by an imprisoned John Bunyan, the poem/hymn forms part of Part II of Pilgrim’s Progress.

The inspiration for the hymn came from Hebrews 11:13, our reading today. In the Epistle, the writer gives examples of the faith of certain historical Biblical figures: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Moses. It is within Abraham’s section that we hear the immortal words of the Authorised Version ‘and they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth’.

This is important, because we must remember and give thanks that this world is not all there is. At the heart of Christianity is the beating belief that, regardless of the apparent finality of death, there is something beyond, something still to come. For us pilgrims to understand fully would be impossible: as with so much of theology, it is trying to put into human terms things understood only by God. 

However, we can take comfort from these lines of Scripture. It is these fellow pilgrims who built churches of which we are a part, it is they who inspired our forebears, and who inspired us. 

We, in turn, will one day become the saintly building blocks on which others can build their faith. 

In years and decades to come, when others look back on our lives, I hope and pray they will say:

They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth… they desired a better country, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. 

Prayer

Put thou thy trust in God,
so safe shalt thou go on,
walk in His strength with faith and hope,
so shall thy work be done.
Give to the winds thy fears,
hope, and be undismayed,
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head. 

Paul Gerhardt (1607 - 1676) tr. John Wesley (1703 - 1791) Rejoice and Sing #550 -->

Today's writer

Michael RJ Topple, Lay Pastoral Assistant of Long Melford URC, Lay Preacher and member of Chappel 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 2nd January 2020

Thu, 02/01/2020 - 06:00
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Thursday 2nd January  The Meaning of Faith 

Hebrews 11: 1-12

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable] sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and ‘he was not found, because God had taken him.’ For it was attested before he was taken away that ‘he had pleased God.’  And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’

Reflection

Another New Year begins. The past year with its yearnings, hopes, and fears is at an end. A new day is about to dawn. Or is it? Anticipation of what is to come still brings with it anxiety about some of the difficult things that have happened and might yet be repeated.

The passage from Hebrews brings with it a significant reminder of the role of faith in life’s journey. Faith is not a generalized or abstract concept but is embodied by reference to particular people for whom faith has been key to their life’s journey.

The start of a New Year is a helpful time to reflect back on all that has happened over the previous year and to make resolutions for what lies ahead in the coming year. But resolutions can be of the moment, lamented over in a week or two as being too difficult to implement, or forgotten in a month or two.

The stories of people of faith come as an encouraging reminder of the God who is with us for the long term, however much we might fail and falter on the way. This God sustains us through good times and bad.

When I’m tempted to look to the future and think that all is lost, that I can’t see where new light will come from, I remember the stories of the faithful people of God, from scriptural times to the present. These people have persevered against the odds, including Abraham and Sarah, who didn’t know what lay in front of them, but trusted in the one who called them, and in this trust bore fruit.

As I start this New Year, I pray for this kind of trust to be fruitful in my life in the year that lies ahead.
 
Prayer

Gracious God
as I start this New Year,
open my eyes to see you in all things.
Grant me the trust to live day by day in your way.
Gift me with the hope to see hidden possibilities that you hold in store.
When I feel I don’t know where I’m going,
remind me of those who have travelled faithfully in your way,
not knowing where you would lead them.
Thank you for the gift of faith.
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Elizabeth Welch, past Moderator of URC General Assembly, member of St Andrews 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 1st January 2020

Wed, 01/01/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 1st January  For Everything a Time 

Ecclesiastes 3: 1 - 13

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain have the workers from their toil?  I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.  I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

Reflection

This is a passage many people will recognise even if they don’t know where it comes from, partly because in the 1960s US folk-rock band The Byrds had a hit with a cover of Pete Seeger’s song ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ which sets these verses to music. The song sticks closely to the Biblical text, but does end pointedly with an addition of a line after ‘a time for peace’ - ‘I swear it’s not too late’ - making it into anti-war protest song. Back then, it was a time for war in Vietnam, whereas today bitter conflicts continue in Syria, Yemen, and many other places. We need to believe that they will not last for ever.

Yet is there really ever a right time for war, or to kill? Of course not, but the point isn’t that these things should happen, but that human life and experience is complex and many different things will occur in the course of a lifetime. The Book of Ecclesiastes often reads as a dialogue between different voices, holding conflicting ideas in tension. We will always have times of celebration and times of sadness, sometimes simultaneously, and it can be hard to remember in each that they will not last forever.

So what kind of time is it for you? New Year’s Day might be a time for looking ahead with either excitement or apprehension at what the year ahead might bring. (Alternatively, it might be a time for recovering from the rigours of the night before!) What time is it for us as individuals, for our nation, for the world? What can we do, as people and as God’s Church, to ensure it is a time for laughing and dancing rather than weeping and mourning, and a time for peace and not war?

Prayer

Gracious and eternal God,
we stand together in celebration
with people for whom it is a time for dancing and joy,
and we stand together in solidarity
with those for whom it is a time of sadness and mourning.
We give thanks that, whatever the time,
you will be with us and will love us.
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev'd Dr Nick Jones is minister of Heswall URC & St. George’s URC, Thornton Hough
 
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 31st December 2019

Tue, 31/12/2019 - 06:00
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Tuesday 31st December Light of the World
St John 8: 12 - 18

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ Then the Pharisees said to him, ‘You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.’ Jesus answered, ‘Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.  You judge by human standards; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgement is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.’

Reflection

What is the central message from these verses? Is it about light or legalism or even judgment?
 
Here is Jesus claiming to be the light of the world. Not a new concept but one rooted in ancient Judaism with the understanding that God was calling the Israelites to be “a light to the nations,” (Isaiah 49:6). The theme of light shining into darkness runs through both Old and New Testaments. Possibly nowhere more so than in John’s gospel which begins with words which include “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people”. (John 1:4)
 
If it is about the Pharisees and their legalism, this too is not a new story line, it is a thread which runs through the New Testament as they try to trip Jesus up.

Actually, I think the central message here is about none of those things but it is found in verse 14 when Jesus says “I know where I have come from and where I am going”. The central message is a reminder that it is God who is in charge.

Once we are clear about that, we can think about what it means for each one of us. The message of light becomes the key. Called as we are to Walk the Way of Jesus, is a call not just to follow the light of Jesus but also a challenge to be light and life wherever we go. It may be time to put away the Christmas lights but the dark corners of the world need that light, life and hope of Jesus throughout 2020.
 
Prayer

Jesus, light of the world,
we have heard your call to follow the light
and to dispel the darkness.
We pray for wisdom and courage
to go into those dark places
and bring your light to shine
that all may live in the light of your presence.
Amen
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Today's writer

Val Morrison, elder and former General Assembly Moderator, Hall Gate, Doncaster.,  Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 30th December 2019

Mon, 30/12/2019 - 06:00
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Monday 30th December Living by Faith
 
2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
 
Reflection

This reading recalls quotations from three minds greater than mine, so I can do little better than lay them before you.

The first is from Solomon, looking back on his life and concluding that all his fabulous wealth, power, learning and pleasure are meaningless, a mere “chasing after the wind”. Then, where is real meaning to be found? Solomon recognises an inner longing for what he cannot quite grasp, a longing so often masked by temporal shadows of eternal truths. God, he says, has “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecc 3:11).

Augustine describes that same heart-hunger: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” (Augustine, Confessions, Book 1) - the disquiet of perceiving a ‘beyond’, but being unable to reach it. Yet.

C. S. Lewis writes in ‘The Weight of Glory’ that our preoccupation with this world is “making mud pies in a slum because [we] cannot imagine … a holiday at the sea.” We catch hints occasionally, but that elusive pure beauty, joy, fulfilment is not in the sunset or music or friendship, but perceived though them. Our hearts are straining for “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

We are presently beyond the borders of our real country, on the wrong side of a door half open. Through the crack we may glimpse peace, honour, truth, and all other good things, but we cannot be those things we see. And yet, says Lewis, “all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

A Prayer

God of glory,
guide our eyes to see beyond what can be seen,
guide our hands to work as good and faithful servants,
guide our feet towards our eternal home,
that we may perceive, amid the present shadows,
our true home with you, in eternal light and glory.
Amen 
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Today's writer

Fay Rowland, graduate student of Wesley House, Cambridge, worshipping at Christ the King, Northants

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


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URC Daily Devotion 29th December 2019

Sun, 29/12/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 29th December

Psalm 129
The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray-King, Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s Oxford

1 They have oppressed me from my youth—
Let Israèl now make this known—
2 They have oppressed me from my youth;
Yet I have not been overthrown.

3 They drew their ploughs across my back;
The ploughmen made their furrows long.
4 The LORD is just; he cut me free
From cords of those who did me wrong.

5 May all who hate Jerusalem
Be put to shame and turned away.
6 May they, like grass upon the roof,
Not grow, but wither and decay.

7 Such grass can fill no reaper’s hands;
The gatherer has no reward.
8 May passers-by not say to them:
“We wish you blessing from the LORD!”

The Editors of Sing Psalms suggest the tune Soldau for this Psalm.

Reflection

What a curious poem for the height of incarnation celebrations!  Word made flesh in the incarnation of Jesus is high celebration. Flesh has become holy ground, loved with holy habitation.  Yet the fleshed body we meet in the first section of this poem is an oppressed furrowed thing. Celebration comes with release by the Lord, flesh cut free from oppressors. Sadly, the releasing celebration turns in on itself as this dear flesh moves to a different kind of oppression, weighed down by vengeance, calling others to refuse blessing to old perpetrators.  This poem is likely not about a person, but about a multitude – the state of Israel, a long story of oppressed people with particular preferenced relationship with God. Such a multitude is tasked with doing better than this, of moving beyond vengeance. But multitudes are made up of individuals. We humans, holy ground of God, often struggle with the holy task to forgive with no ill will called into action. 

It is hard work to believe that God has released us all from old oppression and will literally release us from present terrors. Jesus shows us profound connection with human flesh, connection with heart, mind, soul, strength.  That connection releases us from the need to turn old oppression into new vengeance. Our wonderful gnarled furrowed selves are free to welcome God to our own bodies, and in that physical connection, have the strength of God (truly) to let history be history, to put down the past and not carry it into our free and released futures. If we are still being oppressed – now, as we read this devotion - we can breathe to courage because of Jesus. We can find the deep strength from God inside us (inside the real bodies of you and me) to find a route to release. This is God’s work. God is with us.
 
Prayer

Holy God, this season always combines celebration and heartache. Oppression in families and communities moves in and out of familiar rituals. You know how hard it is to believe that you made a difference to the world as Jesus; that you continue to make that difference in us and others. Give us courage to believe, courage to receive, power to celebrate and freedom to forgive. In the name of Jesus and in the power and presence of Holy Spirit, Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray-King, Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s Oxford
 
Copyright
Sing Psalms (C) The Psalmody Committee, The Free Church of Scotland
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 28th December 2019

Sat, 28/12/2019 - 06:00
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Saturday 28th December  Holy Innocents
 
St Matthew 2: 16 - 18

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

Reflection

In wartime, everyone suffers. In times of conflict or oppression, those who suffer most are often those who are least able to fight back. Herod’s devastating decision wipes out a whole generation of young children who have no way to defend themselves. I can’t even begin to imagine the terrible agonies of their parents and families.

In some situations, all we can do is grieve with those who are grieving. In the face of such tragedy, there are no real answers and no easy words we can say. So often, as Christians, we want to offer hope and solutions, but sometimes such responses are simply inhumane. If it were not so, there would have been no need for the agonies of the Crucifixion and everything that entails. We are often too quick to seek the Resurrection before we have endured the dark night of Jesus’ death.

When tragedy occurs, sometimes the most prayerful response is tears cried before God and offered to Him in faith. Because God marks every tear and every sorrow of our hearts, and He is able to carry all our burdens through the sacrifice of our Lord on the cross.

Prayer

Dear God, give us compassion to stand alongside those who suffer. Help us to listen to the quiet voices of need in those around us and to respond to them with the help of Your gracious and ever-loving Spirit. Amen.
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Today's writer

Anne Brooke, Attender at Elstead 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 27th December 2019

Fri, 27/12/2019 - 06:00
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Friday 27th December  Wisdom Danced at Creation’s Birth
 
Proverbs 8: 22 - 31

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
    or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
     then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
 rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the human race.

Reflection

When you read this, I guess most of you will be in that post-Christmas period where time often seems to stand still. The festivities are (probably) over, the tree is (probably) looking a bit tired, the prospect of left-over festive food is (probably) not to be welcomed with rapturous joy. So maybe the attraction of dancing with Wisdom to celebrate the dawn of Creation is (probably) not at the forefront of your consciousness at this time.
Those who know me will (probably) be muttering that the prospect of me dancing at any time is not an attractive proposition. They would be right. Even on a beautiful sunny autumn morning like today as I write this piece.

Yet a paean like this one to the place of Wisdom in the creative work of God at the dawn of time, indeed before time itself exploded into being, cannot fail to stir the heart and lift the spirits.

Our Editor has placed this devotion between reflections on the martyrdom of Stephen and the Massacre of the Innocents, reminding us that God reflected on His Creation and saw that it was good, but humanity mars that essential goodness. God’s creation is good, because the creative act was shot through with Wisdom. Humanity mars creation by acting without wisdom. Perhaps Wisdom, the master worker, no longer finds the human race so delightful.

A footnote in the NRSV suggests that an alternative reading of the Hebrew for “master worker” is “little child”. Maybe that reading fits the picture better – a little child rejoicing, delighting, dancing. A little child, the first born of creation. And God will delight.

As I write, school children are on strike, demonstrating against the lack of urgency in tackling climate change. Children embodying Wisdom. Like the Christ-child we have just welcomed.

Prayer

Creative God, imbue us with wisdom.
Set us up so that we can truly appreciate your creation
and cause us to strive to ensure that we do not mar
that which is good.
 
Stir us in our lethargy
and help us to dance –
in our minds
if not with our bodies.  Amen
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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
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 26th December 2019

Thu, 26/12/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 26th December 2019 View this email in your browser

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Thursday 26th December On the Feast of Stephen

Acts 7: 59 - 8:8

While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’  Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.  And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.  Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralysed or lame were cured.  So there was great joy in that city.

Reflection

Would you give up your life for your faith? Perhaps it is not the kind of thing you’d like to think about on Boxing Day, when you may still be basking in the glow of family, friends, presents and fun. Yet this is also the Feast of Stephen, of whom we read in Acts 7 and who is seen as the first Christian martyr.  After the birth of Christ we are confronted with a story of martyrdom and persecution. It is as if to say: if you want to follow the Child of Bethlehem, the cost will be high.

Martyrdom and persecution are the reality of many people of faith around the world today. A government review earlier this year showed that one in three people suffer from religious persecution, and that Christians are the most persecuted religious group.

Around the world there are millions of people under pressure for their faith, yet they are holding on and continuing to witness in whatever way they can. I have had the privilege of meeting some of them: Christian community nurses in Bangladesh, Palestinian Christians in Nazareth and Bethlehem. Their stories witness to a deep encounter with the presence and love of God that is worth staking their life on. They witness to it in every way they can, sometimes at the expense of their own safety or well-being.

I am not sure I could do that and thank God that is not being asked of me. I am helped by the original meaning of the Greek word for martyr. It only later takes on the meaning of someone who dies for their faith. First and foremost, it means to point to a truth beyond oneself. And that is something to which we are all called (Acts 1, 8); that is something we can all do. We too can bear witness to how God is at work in our lives and in the world – we too can be people who bring grace, peace and joy to the world.

Prayer

We thank you, eternal God,
For the witnesses of all times and all places.
May the stories of their lives inspire us to look deep within our souls.
May they encourage us to take the risk of faith
and to serve you in new ways. 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 © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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