URC Devotions

URC Daily Devotion 10th May 2020

Sun, 10/05/2020 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday 10th May 2020  Psalm 146 

1 Praise the LORD, my soul! O praise him!
2 I’ll extol him all my days.
While I live, to God my Saviour
from my heart I will sing praise.

3 Do not put your trust in princes,
mortal men who cannot save.
4 All their plans will come to nothing
when they perish in the grave.

5 Blessèd is the one who truly
looks for help to Jacob’s God;
Blessèd is the one who places
all his hope upon the LORD—

6 He who made the earth and heaven
and the seas, with all their store;
He who keeps his every promise,
who is faithful evermore.

7 He delivers from oppression
and relieves the hungry’s plight.
He releases those in prison;
8 to the blind the LORD gives sight.

Those who are bowed down he raises.
God delights in righteousness.
9 He protects and cares for strangers,
widows and the fatherless.

He frustrates the wicked’s purpose.
10 So the LORD through endless days
Reigns to every generation.
Praise your God, O Zion, praise!

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Stuttgart (from v5) here.

Reflection

Sometimes an abundance of praising gets a bit wearing in the Psalms. Coming from a cold start, all that exuberance can get you down. But what we have here in the first of five final songs in the Psalter is an encouragement to acknowledge what God has done and realistically that can only lead to praise. By contrast, princes’ and mortals’ actions and plans are fundamentally flawed whether they be good or bad leaders, for their time will pass. In a nifty bit of wordplay I read somewhere, echoing the Hebrew, humans will return to the humus. God’s time endures forever - a thought worth clinging onto as we pass through our own turbulent 2020 events.

Jacob raises his head again in verse 5 reminding us that this giant of the faith was as damaged as we are and yet God worked in and through him to reveal God’s love and faithfulness to all generations. The God of Jacob and Israel keeps promises and frustrates the wicked’s purpose.

We praise God because God is the source of all that is good, enduring and hopeful and heaven knows we need those eternal values in our lives. But words alone - even the most beautifully crafted poetry, music and art are empty praise unless they go on to reflect the character and action of God in practical ways. Thoughts and prayers alone do not cut it.. God does not sit on a throne receiving adulation and praise but God gets down and dirty with humanity and sets about feeding the hungry, releasing the prisoner and raising the fallen. We still have much to learn about protecting and caring for strangers and widows and the fatherless as agents of God’s love and faithfulness but this is the deepest praise we can offer.

We put our trust in God who delights, protect, cares, releases, raises, and delivers us. In God we trust. Praise the Lord!

Prayer

Praise to the holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise
In all his words most wonderful
Most sure in all his ways.

John Henry Newman (1801-90)
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Carole Elphick, Retired Minister, 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 9th May 2020 The Creation

Sat, 09/05/2020 - 06:00
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Saturday 9th May 2020 The Creation 

Genesis 1:1 - 2:3

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”  So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day. And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day. And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”  So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day. And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Reflection


No, this isn’t a contemporary debate about the origins of our universe: it’s an underground, anti-Babylonian poem, encouraging the exiles to keep trusting that the good purposes of God who created the world as a place of Life and flourishing will ultimately prevail – and include them!
 
The ancient world was clear about two things: firstly, the god who created the world got to say how the world ought to be and life ought to be lived.  Secondly, who this god is was decided in battle – the people of the strongest god won. The Exile therefore threatened the heart of faith in The Lord – the God of the exiles.
 
The Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish) is an epic poem, describing the creation of the world by Marduk in eight days. They had an eight-day week.  The exiles adapt it into a poem of their own (our text). Read it aloud and you’ll hear the poetic formula clearly: “God said, ‘Let there be …’/and there was/ And God saw that it was good/ There was evening and morning, the nth day/Then God said ..”.
 
Now look at days three and six.  They’re different: God creates two things on each day instead of one!  It interrupts the poetic formula. The eight-day Babylonian creation poem has become a six-day Jewish poem, followed by a Sabbath.  This is God’s order for human living and flourishing, and a dangerous denial of Babylon’s god! God, not Empire, with all its power, will prevail.  Life, not suffering and death, will have the Last Word!
 
That is vital Good News for our world.  Jesus promised that this world will become the Kingdom of God – all God intended at creation.  We need to commit ourselves as partners in God’s mission to make this a reality.  It may be in mustard-sized pieces, but it gives truth to the Good News of Jesus we proclaim.
 
Prayer

Let us live in our homes, churches, communities and world
What we proclaim with our lips:
“Light is stronger than darkness;
Good is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Hope is stronger than despair;
God’s Kingdom is stronger than Empire;
Life is stronger than death!”
Amen. -->

Today's writer

Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship Consultant, Worsley Road URC, Salford 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 May 2020

Fri, 08/05/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 8th May 2020

2 Corinthians 13: 11 - 13

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.  Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Reflection – Future Proof!

So Paul signs off his letter. Soon I will be signing-off my ministry.  It was 18 months ago, I clearly heard God warn me not to start any new plans or projects my successor would have to follow through – instead strengthen the team, and ensure this is a safe place for new things to happen once I have gone.  I hope to heed Paul’s advice and put everything in good order. With all the diversity of views and opinions, we cannot agree with everyone, and may profoundly disagree, but we are bound in unity by Jesus.

Whenever we say our goodbyes, leave school or college, move house, change job, come out of hospital, we pray those we leave behind, or go separate ways, will be safe and well. This is summed up in the Hebrew word “Mizpah”, said as Jacob and Laban say goodbye, “May God watch over you!” Paul doesn’t just pray this is so, but knows it in his very being, that whatever happens, we will be safe in God’s hands! He knows it because he has received into his life “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.” I too know that all will be well as my life, and the life of the Church I leave behind changes again. This is why at every change of ministry I have asked to be sung “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, the prayer of the saint, as a hymn written by Cecil Alexander. Receive these words and know your life is ‘future proof’.

Prayer

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
 
I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation, eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Amen
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Kevin Watson, Moderator of the Yorkshire 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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Sunday's Coming

Thu, 07/05/2020 - 11:34
96 Sunday's Coming View this email in your browser

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday's Service
Dear Friends,

On Sunday our service is led by the Rev'd Janet Sutton Webb - a URC minister who works for the Church of England's Diocese of Ely as an evangelism coach.  Janet will lead us in a service of Holy Communion so you may wish to have some bread and wine at hand so we can share together.

As ever the service is sent out for a 10am start but people listen at any point over the Sunday or days that follow - just join in when you can.

with every good wish


Andy

The Rev'd Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC
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URC Daily Devotion 7th May 2020

Thu, 07/05/2020 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 7th May 2020 View this email in your browser

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Thursday 7th May 2020

2 Corinthians 13: 5 - 10

Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to pass the test!  I hope you will find out that we have not failed. But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have passed the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed.  For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong. This is what we pray for, that you may become perfect. So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come, I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

Reflection – Present and Correct!

As a Synod moderator, I miss day to day living with a community of faith, responding to the Spirit’s prompting to speak the Word of Life people need to hear week by week, and the thrill of seeing Jesus Christ transforming individuals, families, even communities. I’ve sometimes felt cut off from where God’s mission is happening. Until I think of Paul. He went from church to church, for some only a fleeting visit, yet here he is in a deep, meaningful relationship with people he has only previously visited twice. Yet, what an impact he had on their lives. All Paul brought and shared with them was God’s love. In all their difficulties he keeps reminding them of this. So, never underestimate the influence we may have with everyone we encounter, even for a brief conversation, and never waste the opportunity to share some of this God-power, of which Paul speaks.

Do you really believe you can make a difference, as one of God’s builders of the Kingdom of Love? Don’t worry what others are doing, but as Paul says, look only at yourself, then compare with only one – Jesus Christ, boast of only one, Jesus Christ. This is what it is to be a disciple, a learner of Jesus. Look to what you are doing well, what you are good at. To encourage the Corinthians, Paul chooses a special word, only used once in Scripture. Where it says “you may become perfect” and can be translated “fully-qualified”  I pray that you too receive it, written especially for you, that you too can be fully-qualified to be a disciple of Christ. You have heard the call to follow Jesus, you are on the apprenticeship, but now you are ready to let Jesus take full control and share with him the transforming of the world. Reporting for duty – present and correct! Since a teenager, I’ve been inspired, encouraged and challenged by Theodore Monod’s hymn, I offer now:

Prayer

O the bitter shame and sorrow, that a time could ever be,
When I let the Saviour’s pity plead in vain, and proudly answered,
“None of you, and all of me!”
 
Yet you found me; there I saw you, dying and in agony,
Heard you pray, ‘Forgive them, Father!’ and my wistful heart said faintly,
“Some of you, and some of me!”
 
Day by day your tender mercy, healing, helping, full and free,
Firm and strong, with endless patience, brought me lower, while I whispered,
“More of you, and less of me!”
 
Higher than the highest heaven, deeper than the deepest sea,
Lord, your love at last hath conquered: grant me now my spirit’s longing,
“All of you and none of me!”
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Kevin Watson, Moderator of the Yorkshire 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 6th May 2020

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

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Wednesday 6th May 2020

2 Corinthians 13: 1 - 4

This is the third time I am coming to you. ‘Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses.’ I warned those who sinned previously and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again, I will not be lenient— since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you.  For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

Reflection – Past Caring!

Do you ever feel people are past caring for you? Maybe even God has given up on you. Despite continued bad behaviour by his friends in Corinth, Paul hadn’t given up on them, and nor had God. Paul is remembering his times with them, living with them, teaching, correcting their ways. Yes, he knows how the church has grown in faith and loving ways, but also that problems continue. He cares so much, and so stresses that he will need to show the tough and challenging love of God to ensure they don’t fall back into bad habits, and need instead ‘discipline’ to build strong their community of faith.

Leaving a job, moving house, both of which we shall be doing soon; writing letters as Paul did, or meeting up with old friends are times to reflect on the past we’ve had together, and since we’ve been apart. This can hurt, as we are reminded of the shame of failures, regret of wrong choices, guilt of bad behaviour, fallings out, disappointments, and even if the past was wonderful, then feeling ‘where has it all gone’? In all this brokenness and weakness – and there was plenty in Corinth, Paul shows how God helps us deal with our past, if only we can look further back in the past to what God has already done for us in Jesus crucified. The power of God’s love that took Jesus to the cross, faced and conquered death is now at work in us to deal with all these things. This is God-power, the toughest of Love that knows no boundaries, nor limitations, and so can heal and restore all people and relationships.  God isn’t past caring for you. God cares for your past so much and offers now God-power to heal you and restore your life.

Prayer

Dear Lord
I am weak but Thou art strong
keep me from all wrong
I'll be satisfied as long
As I walk close to Thee
 
Thru this world of toils and snares
If I falter who cares?
Who with me the burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord.   
 
Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it, Jesus, if you please
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be
(Adapted)
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Kevin Watson, Moderator of the Yorkshire 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 May 2020

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 5th May 2020 

2 Corinthians 12: 11 - 21

I have been a fool! You forced me to it. Indeed you should have been the ones commending me, for I am not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, signs and wonders and mighty works. How have you been worse off than the other churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

Here I am, ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, because I do not want what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for you. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? Let it be assumed that I did not burden you. Nevertheless (you say) since I was crafty, I took you in by deceit. Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you?  I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Titus did not take advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves with the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?

Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up.  For I fear that when I come, I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; I fear that there may perhaps be quarrelling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again, my God may humble me before you, and that I may have to mourn over many who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practised.

Refection

What is Paul promising the Corinthians?  Is his offer too good to be true after everything that has happened?  Words from my Granddad come flooding back: ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch’ what should the community of Corinth expect from this offer?  The answer is Jesus Christ!
Paul tries to return to the place where he has been before and to turn things around as the cook would turn out my favourite pudding from Boys’ Brigade Camp - pineapple upside down cake. The pineapple sits on the sponge and the syrup runs down.  Paul doesn’t expect anything (he is weak and this whole experience is making him feel like nothing). It’s definitely time for the intake of the sugar and calories from the pudding. Paul wants to turn the community of believers ‘upside down’ - away from wrong teaching, and tell them the truth about the person of Jesus.

If I (or you) were with Paul I would tell him, ‘Don’t do it’, because they haven’t got it. You founded the Church on your first visit and on the second visit you reflected on it and said: ‘For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained’ 2 Corinthians 2:2.

Why would  you? ‘I have been a fool! You forced me to it’. There is a boldness and confidence from Paul:  ‘I was not at all inferior to the super apostles’. (verses 5&6)

There are times in ministry when we might well say: ‘You make me feel like nothing and I am the fool who returns to work with you.’

Paul wants them to know that in coming to them, the only thing he is seeking, the only reason he wants to come at all, is so that he can be their servant.

Time for Paul to serve. The proof will be in the pudding!  ‘For what we are about to receive may we be truly thankful’.

 Prayer:

Gracious God
when we feel weak,
helpless, like nothing,
and those around us
don’t get the truth
that Christ brings,
strengthen our hearts for your work.
 
 When we are challenged
 to go to places we do not want to go,
 give us courage to follow
 where you are leading us.
 Work in us and through us
 to bring about the transforming love
 of Jesus Christ.
 Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Revd Andrew Royal Minister Maidstone & Staplehurst URC’s  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   Monday 4th May 2020

Mon, 04/05/2020 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion   Monday 4th May 2020 View this email in your browser

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Monday 4th May 2020

2 Corinthians 12: 1 - 10

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.  I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.  And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.  On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me,  even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,  but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Reflection

Would that Christian faith were a magic wand – such that merely to wave it over difficult and unwanted circumstances resulted in them being transformed as we would wish or, in some cases, disappear altogether. On a more virtuous day we might be prepared to limit their use to the improvement of other people’s lives rather than our own; more often than not, however, it would be tempting to use them for ourselves.

Would that life were a bed of roses – idyllic, sweet-smelling and beautiful – with no weeds or thorns. In our least self-centred moments we might be able to claim we wish it were such for other people; more often than not we long for our own lives to be such.

Faith is, of course, nowhere near being like a wand or a perfect bed of roses so it is refreshing and reassuring to learn, in today’s passage, that even St Paul was given “a thorn” rather than a wand. He speaks of appealing three times for the removal of the thorn but to no avail. Rather than the removal of the thorn he speaks of all-sufficient grace – enabling him to hold on rather than give up: an inner strength in the face of weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities.

In his book, “There Are No Strong People” (*), Jeff Lewis suggests, “There’s no such thing as a strong person. Only a person with strengths, who is strong in some areas. We all know that we all have weaknesses. But we are also weak because we are strong, because our strengths can become components in our weaknesses.” Similarly, St Paul writes that it is in his weakness that he finds strength – God’s strength rather than his own. Thorns remain but God’s grace can enable us to live with them.

(*) There Are No Strong People, Jeff Lewis, CWR 2012.

Prayer

God we pray for those afflicted by thorns:
grant them grace sufficient
that in tough times they may be given the strength they need.
We pray for ourselves – calling to mind the thorns that cause us pain:
grant us grace sufficient and in our weakness strengthen us
that we may remain faithful and hopeful.

We offer our prayer in the name of the One whose head was pierced by the crown of thorns.
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev'd Geoffrey Clarke Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Sunday Worship 3rd May The Rev'd Nigel Uden

Sun, 03/05/2020 - 09:45
96 Sunday Worship 3rd May The Rev'd Nigel Uden View this email in your browser

Sunday Service from the URC

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Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today's service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 
to listen to the service and sing along with the hymns.  This will open up a new screen, at the bottom of the screen you will see a play symbol.  Press that, then come back to this window so you can follow along with the service.
Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 3rd May


 
Today’s service is led by the Rev'd Nigel Uden, the Moderator of General Assembly and minister of Downing Place and Fulbourn churches in Cambridge.
 
Welcome
 
Hello. The Lord be with you. My name is Nigel Uden. I am a United Reformed Church minister  serving both the Downing Place and Fulbourn churches in Cambridge. For the past twenty months it has also been my privilege  to join Derek Estill from Blackburn,  as Moderator of the URC General Assembly.  Welcome to this act of worship for the fourth Sunday of Easter, known in some traditions as Good Shepherd Sunday. The liturgy follows a familiar pattern  of hymns and prayers,  of readings and a sermon.  A copy of the words is available via the Daily Devotions' email and also on the website, Facebook and Twitter.  Although like exiled Daniel we are having to worship where we live –  he opened his Babylonian window to face Jerusalem -  in fact, we are embracing an ancient tradition of making our homes places of prayer, and at the same time the internet enables us to be virtually one, wherever we are and whenever we connect.  May grace and peace be yours in abundance.
 
Call to Worship
 
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!      He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
 
Rejoice, heavenly powers!   Sing, choirs of angels!  Exult, all creation around God’s throne!  Jesus, our King, is risen!  Sound the trumpet of salvation!
 
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
 
Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
 
Rejoice, heavenly powers!  Sing, choirs of angels!
 
Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,  as we sing, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!
 
Angel voices, Ever Singing       RS 405
Francis Pot (1832-1909)
 
Angel voices, ever singing,
round thy throne of light,
angel harps, for ever ringing,
rest not day or night;
thousands only live to bless Thee,
and confess Thee
Lord of might.
 
2: For, we know that thou rejoicest
o'er each work of thine;
thou didst ears & hands & voices
for thy praise design;
craftsman's art & music's measure
for thy pleasure
all combine.
 
3: Honour, glory, might and merit,
Thine shall ever be,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
blessèd Trinity!
Of the best that thou hast given
earth and heaven
render thee.
 
4: In thy house, great God, we offer
of thine own to thee;
and for thine acceptance proffer,
all unworthily,
hearts and minds
and hands and voices,
in our choicest Psalmody.
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Assurance of Pardon
 
Christ, who stood among the disciples, showing them your hands and feet to take away their doubts, we welcome you.
 
Christ, who met with the disciples, eating in their presence
to make them see, we welcome you.
 
Christ, who spoke to the disciples, opening their minds to reveal God’s promise, we welcome you.
 
You, who stand among us, meet with us, speak to us,
 have mercy upon us.
 
If we are ruled by doubt,  have mercy upon us.
If we live in fear, as if you are still dead, have mercy upon us.
If we fail to be your hands and feet, have mercy upon us.
If we read scripture, but do not grasp the Gospel, have mercy upon us.
If we do not forgive, as we are forgiven, have mercy upon us.
 
We receive the gift of grace, from Him who promised grace.
We receive the gift of peace, from Him who promised peace.
We receive the gift of life, from Him who died and lives again.
Thanks be to God.
 
Introduction to the Readings
 
Shepherds feature a lot in the Bible. It’s not really surprising;  sheep farming was many people’s way of life in those days.  If you are a younger listener, you may like to see if you have a cuddly sheep or lamb amongst your toys. Actually, it doesn’t matter how old you are; I keep one on the bookshelf beside my desk - it’s with a teddy bear. Sometimes the lamb comes to church with me, to help when I am speaking about God as a shepherd.
 
As you hold your soft toy in your hands you could imagine how God thinks of us as God’s sheep. Of course, when we’ve finished with a toy, we put it down and look for another one. God is not like that. God’s care for each of goes on and on – and as if were the only sheep needing to be held.
 
In a moment, as we listen to today’s readings from the Bible you will be able to hear how New Testament writers sustain  the Old Testament’s shepherd and sheep language. In the first epistle of Peter we hear of Christ as shepherd; later in the letter church elders are urged to tend the flock of God.  And then from the Fourth Gospel, in the verses that immediately precede Jesus  describing himself as the good shepherd,  the writer has him using sheep farming language  to sum up his own work.  But in the Fourth Gospel the imagery is ‘complex and mobile’; as we will hear, Jesus is both the shepherd and the gate of the sheepfold.  The two ideas perhaps lead us into exploring how Jesus offers  both new life and security.  So, preparing to listen for the Word of God, let us pray.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Eloquent God, as these written words are recited, and we ponder them through proclamation and prayer, by your Holy Spirit may they be for us living words  that take us into the Word made flesh,  even Jesus Christ,  the good shepherd and our risen Lord, Amen.
 
Readings
 
I Peter 2.19-25
 
For it is to your credit if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.  If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that?  But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.  For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
 
St John 10.1-10
 
‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
 
Introduction to Psalm 23
 
Walter Brueggemann said that ‘at its best, the Church sings rather than disputes or reasons.’  I find that so true in these Covid-shaped days. Dispute and reason will change little. But for many of us, Sunday by Sunday it’s singing that takes us beyond ourselves. Singing also enables the Church to point others beyond themselves, in a way that disputing and reasoning never will –  whether they are people of religious faith or of other convictions. And few texts have enabled that more than Psalm 23, which now is sung in the Stuart Townend version.
 
The Lord’s my Shepherd 
Stuart Townend Copyright © 1996 Thankyou Music          
                 
 
The Lord’s my shepherd,
I’ll not want;
He makes me lie in pastures green.
He leads me by the still, still waters,
His goodness restores my soul.
 
And I will trust in You alone,
and I will trust in You alone,
for Your endless mercy follows me,
Your goodness will lead me home.
 
2: He guides my ways in righteousness,
and He anoints my head with oil,
and my cup, it overflows with joy,
I feast on His pure delights.
 
4: And though I walk
the darkest path,
I will not fear the evil one,
for You are with me,
and Your rod and staff
are the comfort I need to know.

Sermon
 
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19.14)
 
So what is a good shepherd like?
 
Shepherds are hardy souls. For many of them, the quad bike may have changed what it means to traverse the hillsides, but still their lives are shaped by long periods of isolation from others, and by serious risk as they go in search of new-born lambs lost in late snowfall. It can also be an intensely physical task.
 
Now, I am not a farmer, though I did used to do some vacation jobs for an uncle who was. I remember doing lots of ploughing – until his favourite cherrywood pipe slid off the dashboard as I too rapidly negotiated a corner, and ploughed it into the field. As I read about them, though, it seems to me that shepherds’ tasks include saving the sheep when they fall into danger, and setting the parameters of their movements and behaviour, often aided by a highly skilled sheep dog.
 
That’s what a good shepherd is like – guardian and guide.
 
As I  have journeyed though life, I have been aware of people shepherding me like that.
 
I recall my parents, who loved us profoundly. They expressed it in all sorts of ways, which included being quite clear what they expected of my siblings and me. There were standards and boundaries, and until the day they died, I knew when I had over-stepped their marks. But they were always there, unobtrusively, as the safety net, when cars crashed, jobs failed, relationships ended or I simply messed up.
 
Thinking of other shepherds, I recall mentors in the church, accompanying me as I cut my ministerial teeth. They taught me what it’s all about, modelling ministry for me as I walked beside them. How I treasure the colleague who said to me, ‘Remember, Nigel, we live by grace, not law.’ And then, when my ministry went wrong, they were on the doorstep, bowl of fruit in hand, to soothe the bruised ego and set me back on the Way.
 
That’s what a good shepherd is like – guardian and guide.
 
As we read the first letter of Peter, there seems to be a similar shepherding going on. Even within the few verses we heard, the writer both proclaims the good news – ‘by his wounds you have been healed’  – and urges a renewed way of life – ‘so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness’.
 
The letter seems to have gone to the embryonic church in Asia Minor at the end of the first century. Clearly it’s to people for whom the Christian life is a struggle; in fact, they’re described as ‘ suffering’.
 
  • In this distant outpost of the Roman Empire, which also had a strong Jewish community, they suffer persecution for their commitment to Christ,
  • Being in Asia Minor, the Christians suffer separation from the majority of the church far away,
  • And they are new to the faith – the big questions we have were likely to be the big questions they had, and there were not mature Christian mentors to bring them bowls of nourishing fruit.

The letter comes, therefore, as an encouragement. There’s the assurance of being free from sin – and let’s not miss the significance of how the letter puts that. Their sins are not just forgiven; they are freed from them. That’s big! Both guilt and bondage gone. And the encouragement goes on. It also emphasises how those Christian hallmarks, faith and hope, are not things we conjure from within ourselves, but Easter’s gifts – faith and hope are the response stirred by the awesome victory of God’s love that we see in the resurrection. It’s as if they are being urged in the strength of Christ to bear up in times of trial and to cheer up in times of tragedy.
 
But, echoing a good shepherd, the author of I Peter is always ready to exhort as well. Alongside that encouragement, I Peter expects the response of renewed living that being released from guilt and bondage justifiably require. The Christian vocation is to serve society, however separated from society’s priorities, values and zeitgeist Jesus’s followers might feel. This service to society – sacrificial, if it is like Jesus’s - might even add to their suffering – ‘drained in making others full’. But, we read, ‘if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.’
 
That’s what a good shepherd is like – guardian and guide.
 
Now it is obvious that the church in western Europe today is not suffering as these people in Asia Minor were. We may know apathy and even antipathy but not persecution, such as some 200, 000 of our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world do.
 
And yet suffering is a word with which we feel more familiar today than perhaps we did even three months ago. The immediate and the longer-term impact of Covid-19 is bringing what feels like unprecedented difficulty – from the inconvenience of physical distancing and shortages in the supermarket to the loss of job, of equilibrium, and even of a loved-one’s life. All of a sudden, the world, which belongs to God, is united in this very particular suffering.
 
How we need I Peter today, with its potent mix of good news and challenge. Even as it offers us the promise that we are free from sins, so it stirs us to live for righteousness. In part, this righteousness could be that living which carefully works for the well-being of all, confident that others are committed to our own well-being, too. That living which seeks not personal gain but the common good, assured that the common good does not exclude our own good. Yet such a call to good works is nothing new. It’s what makes the world go round. So I cannot help but ask, might there be more in the ‘life of righteousness’ to which I Peter calls us?
 
The last verse we heard from the epistle was this: ‘you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.’ In wondering how Covid-19 might result in us returning to the shepherd and guardian of our souls, I looked again at an email I received when Italy was experiencing the virus’s most awful consequences. It was from a Waldensian colleague, serving churches in the far north eastern province of Udine. He was musing on a nineteenth century novel, I Promessi Sposi, by Alessandro Manzoni. My friend recalled how the main character lived through a ‘natural calamity’. It was the Great Plague of Milan in 1630, which is thought to have claimed up to a million lives – some 25% of the population. The novel tells of how that bubonic plague led to a ‘catharsis process’, in which ‘the essential’ is finally rediscovered. As so much of the world endures Covid-19, might we allow it to take us back to the essential, where truth is preferred to expedience, where mercy is preferred to vengefulness, where beauty is preferred to vulgarity, where compassion is preferred to where God is enjoyed and glorified?
 
We cannot dignify our present natural calamity with having come for such a purpose, but we can use it to reverse our sheep-like straying through the gate left open by thieves and bandits, and return to the shepherd and guardian of our souls. For such, Christ ‘bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you[we] been healed. And that’s what a good shepherd is like.
 
Thanks be to God,  and to God alone be the glory, Amen
 
Music:  Psalm 23 to Brother James’ Air
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world—which some seek to control, but which others view with despair—we declare with joy and trust: our world belongs to God!
 
From the beginning, through all the crises of our times, until His Kingdom fully comes, God keeps covenant forever. Our world belongs to God!
 
We rejoice in the goodness of God, renounce the works of darkness, and dedicate ourselves to holy living, for our world belongs to God!
 
As committed disciples, called to faithful obedience, and set free for joyful praise,  we offer our hearts and lives to do God's work in his world, for our world belongs to God!

With tempered impatience,  eager to see injustice ended, we expect the Day of the Lord. And we are confident that the light which shines in the present darkness  will fill the earth when Christ appears for our world belongs to God!
 
Offertory
 
Although we are meeting in many separate places, we are still the Church. Our serving God’s mission is still happening, albeit in different ways. And we are invited to express our membership of the church through our financial giving, amongst other things. So it is that we are all invited to sustain our giving, and perhaps where it is at all possible to do so by Standing Order, so that throughout the pandemic the gifts continue to maintain the church’s life and work.  And now an offertory prayer.
 
Living God, the good shepherd made the ultimate gift, laying down his life for the sheep. We answer that with the gifts we bring; not to reciprocate, less still to reward, but rather to give thanks and to dedicate all we have and are in pursuit of your mission that all may have life, and have it abundantly, through Jesus Christ, Amen
 
Prayers of Intercession
 
We offer now our intercessions. After the biddings there will be brief pauses. When I say “God of love” I invite you to say,  wherever you are,
“hear our prayer.”
 
Grateful for the good shepherd, who guards and guides us,  we pray through him to God, in the power of the Spirit. Pause God of love hear our prayer.
 
Let us pray with people suffering because of Covid-19: those unwell and those stressed by caring for them; people bereaved and those providing funerals; people without a job and those with too much work; people loosing financial stability and people with fragile mental health. God of love hear our prayer.
 
Let us pray with people in leadership roles: in governments and local councils; in third sector organisations and faith communities;  in industry and commerce. God of love hear our prayer.
 
Let us pray with people who work the land: growing crops and rearing cattle and shepherding sheep. God of love hear our prayer.
 
Let us pray with people persecuted for their Christian faith, especially in North Korea, Afghanistan and Somalia,  Sudan, Pakistan and Eritrea,  Libya and Iraq, Yemen and Iran but also anywhere else where it’s dangerous  to walk the way of Jesus or of any other religion.  God of love hear our prayer.
 
Let us offer our own prayers…God of love hear our prayer.
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
Father, hear the prayer we offer              RS 495
Love Marie Willis (1824-1908)
 
 
Father, hear the prayer we offer:
not for ease that prayer shall be,
but for strength that we may ever
live our lives courageously.
 
2: Not for ever in green pastures
do we ask our way to be;
but the steep and rugged pathway
may we tread rejoicingly.
 
3: Not for ever by still waters
would we idly rest and stay;
but would smite the living fountains
from the rocks along our way.
 
4: Be our strength
in hours of weakness,
in our wanderings be our guide;
through endeavour, failure, danger,
Father, be thou at our side.

 
Blessing
 
May the Lord bless you, not with easy roads but with strong steps,
May the Spirit bless you,  not with certainties and proofs, but with the leap of faith.
May the eternal God bless you,  not with happiness for an hour,  but with peace and joy for ever.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always. Amen
 
 
Sources
 
Allusions in the Welcome from  Statement by Church Leaders Holy Week 2020 Churches Together in Britain and Ireland & I Peter 1.2
 
Opening Responses from the Exultset adapted by Andy Braunston.
 
Prayer of Approach written by Francis Brienen,  Deputy General Secretary for Mission.
 
Prayer of Confession in Edwards, Maureen ed 1997 More Living Prayers for Today Birmingham: International Bible Reading Association page 86
Allusion in introduction to the readings from Newbigin, Lesslie 1982 The light has come: an exposition of the Fourth Gospel Edinburgh: Handsel Press page 126
 
Affirmation of Faith from the Christian Reformed Church of America.
 
Allusions in the blessing from Thorogood, Bernard 2017 A Basket of Prayer: resources for worship Gordon, New South Wales: Xlibris page 153

Angel Voices by the BBC’s Songs of Praise
Stewart Townend sung his Psalm 23
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge sang Psalm 23 to Brother’ James Air for Songs of Praise.
Father Hear by the BBC’s Songs of Praise
 
Thanks To
 
The Rev’d Ruth Watson, members of Barrhead URC, the Rev'ds Phil and Lythan Nevard, Carys Nevard, and members of Barrhead URC’s choir for the recording many of the spoken parts of the service.

Copyright

Where words are in copyright they are reproduced in accordance with Barrhead URC's CCLI Licence and its OneLicence.
Recorded music reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC's PRS Limited Online Music Licence number LE-0019762.

Thanks to Phil Nevard for mixing the recording together. --> Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Sunday 3rd May 2020

Sun, 03/05/2020 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion Sunday 3rd May 2020 View this email in your browser

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Sunday 3rd May 2020 Psalm 145


1 I will exalt you, O my God and King;
For ever I will praise your holy name.
2 I will extol your name for evermore;
Day after day your praise I will proclaim.

3 Great is the LORD, most worthy of all praise;
His greatness none can search or comprehend.
4 Each generation will recount your deeds
And to the next your mighty acts commend.

5-6 They praise the splendour of your majesty,
The power of the works that you have done.
I too will meditate upon your deeds,
And your majestic acts I will make known.

7 They will rejoice in your benevolence,
And your abundant grace they’ll celebrate;
The righteousness that you have shown to them
In praise and joyful song they will relate.

8 The LORD is gracious and compassionate;
He’s slow to anger, rich in steadfast love.
9 The LORD is good to all that he has made,
And merciful to all on earth that move.

10 All you have made will give you praise, O LORD;
Your saints will all unite to bless your name.
11 The glory of your reign they will declare,
And your surpassing might they will proclaim.

12 Thus all will hear about your mighty acts
And know the glorious splendour of your reign.
13 Your kingdom will endure for evermore;
For all time your dominion will remain.

The LORD is faithful to his promises;
To all that he has made his love is shown.
14 The LORD himself upholds all those who fall
And lifts up everyone who is bowed down.

15 All eyes are raised expectantly to you,
And in due season you supply their food.
16 You open wide your hand to all that live
And satisfy their needs with what is good.

17 The LORD is just and good in all his ways;
He shows his love to all that he has made.
18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
To all who call in truth to him for aid.

19 The hopes of those who fear him he fulfils;
He hears their cry and saves them from distress.
20 The LORD protects all those who love his name,
But slays all those who practise wickedness.

21 My lips will frame a psalm of thanks to God;
My mouth will speak for ever in his praise.
Let every creature magnify the LORD,
And praise his holy name now and always.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Dunblane Cathedral here.

Reflection

Praise is the theme of this passage; the verses express the importance of praise and rejoicing in all that the Lord has done for us. The verses describe basking in the Lord’s goodness; appreciating His power; enjoying His abundant grace; benefitting from His mighty acts and receiving His love and protection.. all good stuff.

I am familiar with the first few verses of the passage and have been repeatedly drawn to them as they remind me of the importance of ensuring we verbalise how appreciative we are of all that God is.  In reality, I find it easier to express my joy and gratitude (ie praise) to fellow Christians; but increasingly I am challenging myself to verbalise praise to others outside of church eg by mentioning that I am a church goer, referencing Jesus or God or by recounting the latest ‘hot’ topics that the talented children at my church are debating, including: Trump, Brexit, and Climate Change. I am very aware that this gets a reaction from those who do not know what part faith plays in my life and I like to think of it as my way of offering praise. 

I really believe that we should all try to express praise in whatever way fits our personality and circumstances, but the key thing is that we do do it and by doing this, we are offering a  personal ‘Thank you’ to the Almighty and also touching lives in the process.

It makes me smile to think that even my little niece in Ghana (as a result of absorbing all the faith-speak around her) responds to a “How are you?” by saying,  “By HIS grace, I’m fine”; now if a 5 year old can express praise in this way, I have no excuse not to try harder.

Prayer 

I will try harder to praise you my God and King,
Every week I will challenge myself
to mention your name to my friends and colleagues,

For you are worthy of praise because of who you are and what you give to us,
Give us courage and confidence to praise you in our own way, in order to reflect the mark you make in our lives  and seek to make in this world.
Amen
 
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Today's writer

Alexandra Priddy (nee Bediako), Elder and Children's Church Leader, Trinity Mill Hill URC Copyright
Sing Psalms! The Psalmody and Worship Committee of the Free Church of Scotland
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Saturday 2nd May 2020

Sat, 02/05/2020 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion Saturday 2nd May 2020 View this email in your browser

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Saturday 2nd May 2020

2 Corinthians 11: 16 - 33

I repeat, let no one think that I am a fool; but if you do, then accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying in regard to this boastful confidence, I am saying not with the Lord’s authority, but as a fool; since many boast according to human standards, I will also boast. For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves! For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.  Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he for ever!) knows that I do not lie.  In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas set a guard on the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall,[h] and escaped from his hands.

Reflection

By this stage of the letter Paul is deeply involved in defending himself. His legitimacy is questioned. Legitimacy matters, especially if someone is representing a wider cause. Paul has brought the Gospel. Now he has to defend his right and worthiness and calling to have done so.

Can Paul truly defend his position as a follower of Jesus worthy of respect and attention? It seems that Paul’s opponents are questioning his Hebrew credentials. Scattered across a wide area, many of Paul’s contemporary Jews may well have spoken Greek and been far less adept with Hebrew in its Aramaic form. Perhaps Paul’s origins are equally diluted? No, he counters. Again, accusations of being neither an Israelite nor a descendant of Abraham seem to have been made. Both, again, might tend to demote Paul in the eyes of some and challenge his status as one from the heart and home of the people of God. Again, Paul claims his true status as Israelite and Abraham’s descendant. His status is as secure as any other apostle’s. His teaching, therefore, deserves equal attention.

But there is more. Another mark of the truth of Paul’s position is the strength and ferocity of the attacks he has endured for the sake of the Gospel. It is quite a list: five times he has received the Jewish punishment of being flogged 39 times (see Deuteronomy 25: 1-3); three times he has been beaten with rods, a Roman punishment; once he was stoned; three times shipwrecked. The writing becomes a cascade of “danger”; a crescendo of risks endured. Hanging over it all is Paul’s unspoken challenge: If I am not truly a faithful apostle, why would I face all of this?

What of us? Few of us are likely to have many of Paul’s credentials ticked. We live in different times. We face different challenges. But this passage is worth lingering over. What are my credentials as a follower of Jesus Christ? How does my life carry evidence of my discipleship? What proof could I offer of my devotion? What does faith cost me?

Prayer

God,
you who called Paul and took his life into strange and dangerous turns,
who encouraged and sustained him in the hardest and harshest of times,
work your way with us.
Take our lives today.
Encourage and sustain us in the good and the dangerous moments.
In our broken world and hurting communities,
make us missionaries of good news and gospel grace.
In the name of he whom Paul served,
only Jesus Christ our Lord,
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Neil Thorogood, Principal of Westminster College, Cambridge 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 Friday 1st May 2020

Fri, 01/05/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 1st May 2020

2 Corinthians 11: 1 - 15

I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!  I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.  But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough.  I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge; certainly in every way and in all things we have made this evident to you.

Did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I proclaimed God’s good news to you free of charge?  I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for my needs were supplied by the friends  who came from Macedonia. So I refrained and will continue to refrain from burdening you in any way. As the truth of Christ is in me, this boast of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

And what I do I will also continue to do, in order to deny an opportunity to those who want an opportunity to be recognized as our equals in what they boast about. For such boasters are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds.

Reflection

It can be very frustrating to hear one side of a conversation, especially if all you can hear is, ‘oh, no!’ or ‘great!’ My husband and I often put family phone calls on speakerphone to solve that problem, but we can’t do that with Paul. We only have one side of the conversation, and we may not even have all of that.

We can never know exactly what the false apostles were preaching. Some commentators think that they may have been knocking a few of the rough edges off the Gospel, making it more palatable for refined appetites and something worth paying for. Perhaps the ugliness, shame and pain of the Cross were being downplayed, and consequently the love and grace of God were also being downplayed, together, possibly, with the need for that grace.

It’s a tendency that has continued down the years. We like to advertise what we see as the positives of our faith, but sometimes without reference to the costs. Or we emphasise the cost to Christ, but fail to mention that Christ’s love calls for a costly response. It’s the gospel of the softly lit Christmas scene, with Mary serene, Jesus clean and smiling and Joseph unruffled, moments after an unplanned birth, in a dark and dirty stable, surrounded by smelly animals.

That’s not a gospel fit for the dirty, smelly, too often unpalatable world in which we live. We need God with us in the worst of times and circumstances, as well as the best. So, let’s listen to Paul and welcome the Gospel he preached in its entirety, despite the horror of the Cross at its centre, the seeming impossibility of the resurrection, and the response that such love demands of us.

Prayer

Living and Loving God,
from birth to death,
Jesus knew the reality of our humanity.
As we live that reality,
may we know him by our sides.
As our world and its people struggle with the totality of that reality,
may the gospel in all its starkness and love be both support and salvation.
Thanks be to God.
Amen
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Jacky Embrey, Moderator of Mersey 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 Thursday 30th April 2020

Thu, 30/04/2020 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Thursday 30th April 2020

2 Corinthians 10: 

I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold towards you when I am away!—  I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards. Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments  and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. We are ready to punish every disobedience when your obedience is complete.

Look at what is before your eyes. If you are confident that you belong to Christ, remind yourself of this, that just as you belong to Christ, so also do we.  Now, even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters. For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.’ Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you. For we were not overstepping our limits when we reached you; we were the first to come all the way to you with the good news of Christ. We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labours of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may proclaim the good news in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else’s sphere of action.  ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.

Reflection

The Corinthians were not entirely happy with Paul. They felt that he was writing things from a distance that perhaps he was reluctant to say to them face to face. Unlike today’s social media, there was not the opportunity to instantly reply, corresponding with someone some distance away could take weeks if not months to arrive. In response to their criticism, Paul highlights two thoughts with a view to clarifying what his message is really about. His message emphasises two qualities, that of gentleness and the reasonableness of God.

By gentleness, Paul meant the difference between extreme anger being never ever angry at all. I was once described by a member of a congregation as being never angry and so laid back that if I were ever more laid back then I would probably fall over. Clearly they did not really know me. Paul is emphasising the difference between never being angry at a personal wrong, but expressing righteous anger against wrongs that affect the lives of others. In today’s world that anger might be against political leaders or large companies who think they have the right to ride roughshod over the weakest and poorest.

Paul further develops his message by emphasizing another quality, that of distinguishing between justice and true love. I am surprised that he did not remind them of chapter thirteen of his first letter to them where he defines such true love. How often is it that each of us fall short of that quality of love?

Prayer

Forgiving God, we think we have all the answers when in reality we don’t. We think that our ways are the only correct ways when more often than not we are completely wrong. Give us, we pray, open hearts and minds, open to your will rather than ours. Make us more sensitive to the needs and views of others so that our attentiveness to their situations reflect the qualities of your love to all, in Jesus name.  Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Colin Hunt, retired minister, worshipping at Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Sunday's Coming

Wed, 29/04/2020 - 10:20
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday's Coming

Dear Friends,

As press speculation builds about whether the lockdown will ease, questions about the government's handling of the crisis build, and as we adapt to this strange new normal I hope you are all coping in your different ways with these strange times.  Many people have emailed to say how much they appreciate the Sunday Worship we have put together and it's been moving to hear how people listen with loved ones, how local churches print and distribute the CDs ahead of time and how we're all feeing a bit more connected.

This Sunday our worship is led by the Rev'd Nigel Uden, Moderator of General Assembly and minister of Downing Place and Fulbourne URCs in Cambridge.  Nigel will look at the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd as we continue to journey through Eastertide.

I hope you will be able to join us for worship - the email goes out between 9.45 and 9.50 so that those who wish can start to listen at 10am.  People listen at different times throughout Sunday and into the following week so please just tune in whenever you can.  

If you know of others who might appreciate the service please encourage them to sign up to receive it, and the Daily Devotions, by going to this link and completing the form.

with every good wish

Andy

The Rev'd Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC. --> Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 29th April 2020

Wed, 29/04/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 29th April 2020

2 Corinthians 9: 

Now it is not necessary for me to write to you about the ministry to the saints,  for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you may not prove to have been empty in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be;  otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—in this undertaking. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,

‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
    his righteousness endures for ever.’

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Reflection
 
‘God loves a cheerful giver!’  But a basis of these two chapters (8 and 9) is that cheerfulness in giving comes through deep appreciation that God is the most cheerfully generous giver.  And a core message of these two letters (1 and 2 Corinthians) is that God’s overflowing love is for all peoples, through the grace of Jesus Christ and the sharing of the Holy Spirit – so we are invited and expected to join in.
 
Useful as these verses and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 may have been for our churches to encourage weekly offerings, regular tithing or donations, Paul’s scheme was not designed to cover routine church expenses or new development projects.
 
Paul calls it ‘ministry (diakonia) to the saints’.  In today’s verses 9:11-14 and Romans 15:25-27 he explains that, through their generosity enabled by God, and in company with people from other regions, they will meet financial needs of poor Christians in Jerusalem; they will cause the recipients to give thanks (eucharistia) to God which will mingle with the gratitude that motivated the givers and the bearers of the gifts; and they will lead these Jewish Christians to give glory to God because Gentile (other ethnic) Christians have proved their commitment by confessing the gospel of Christ and generously sharing (koinonia) with them and all others.
 
What would be equivalent schemes today? 
 
One might be: the kind of work boosted by URC General Assembly in 2016 to enable local churches, individuals and synods to respond to issues of the Israel/Palestine situation with informed prayer, grace and solidarity.  Another: to share in the growth of understanding about persistent white privilege and black suffering in society and in church life, and work to achieve fairness and equity, mutual respect and dignity for all. The URC’s programme officer for global justice and partnerships can guide your interest or involvement in a range of existing and potential schemes.
  
Prayer
 
Bountiful God, we join in thanks for the blessings of your grace in Jesus Christ reaching out through all strands of humanity and every aspect of creation.  Please inspire our participation in partnerships, to share the life of Christ in fullness for all, and to you be the glory. Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Bernie Collins, retired minister, member of Avenue St Andrews URC, Southampton, and convenor of the Assembly Mission 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 Tuesday 28th April 2020

Tue, 28/04/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 28th April 2020

2 Corinthians 8: 16 - 24

But thanks be to God who put in the heart of Titus the same eagerness for you that I myself have. For he not only accepted our appeal, but since he is more eager than ever, he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his proclaiming of the good news; and not only that, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us while we are administering this generous undertaking] for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our goodwill.  We intend that no one should blame us about this generous gift that we are administering, for we intend to do what is right not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of others. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found eager in many matters, but who is now more eager than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker in your service; as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. Therefore, openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.

Reflection

Paul says that he is confident of the Corinthians’ generosity, but he also spends two whole chapters of this letter making sure that they keep to their avowed intention to join in with the gift to the churches in Judea. He sees this ‘generous undertaking’ as being for the glory of God and to show off the goodwill of the more gentile churches towards Jerusalem. Paul and the other churches are even sending valued representatives to encourage the Corinthians in their giving. It’s clear that Paul knows what he considers to be ‘right’ and  equally that he’s determined that his proteges, the Corinthians, will do what is right not only in God’s sight, but in the sight of everyone.  

Does it matter what our motivation is for doing the right thing, or even for preaching the right thing? If we do something because we think that we will look good in the sight of others, is that less valuable, than if we do it to honour God? After all, as Christians, if we do the right thing, for whatever reason, others will see what we do as the Christian path and that can only be positive. 

Why, then, do I feel uncomfortable about doing the right thing, in order to get the approval of others? Is it because I owe so much to God, that I should be doing what God wants with no further reward? Or is it because we should aspire to having not only the mind of Christ to know what is right, but also the character of Christ to do what is right, even when that’s not what we want, for whatever reason.  Maybe this is splitting hairs. If we can discern the right thing to do and do it, then we will be honouring Christ, for that is what he did. (Matthew 26: 39). 

Prayer

Gracious God,
we ask for the gift of discernment.
Give us the mind of Christ to know what is right
and the character of Christ to do what is right, however reluctantly.
May the doing of what is right become a holy habit.
as we learn to walk your way
and aspire to live the life of Jesus today.
Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Jacky Embrey, Moderator of Mersey 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  Monday 27th April 2020

Mon, 27/04/2020 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Monday 27th April 2020
 

2 Corinthians 8: 1 - 15

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia;  for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints —  and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you.  Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you — so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.  For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.  And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.  For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.  As it is written,

‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’

Reflection

Paul has set himself a tough task: fund-raising from a church that feels it is not rich for a project from which they will see no benefit. As so often with fund-raising, it has turned into a long term project (see 1 Corinthians 16.1-4 for its history). Paul’s slight exasperation that the initial enthusiasm seems to have waned does not sound at all out of date.

The task is doubly difficult because the fund is not for the Corinthians’ exceptional organ or their roof or even their Messy Church but for some congregation in another country. Lacking television and Skype, the potential givers will never see pictures of the country concerned or ever meet, even electronically, any of the church members there. And given all the other topics he is arguing about with the Corinthians, why would Paul judge it a good idea to bring up the sensitive topic of giving?

If you receive a charity fund-raising appeal in the post today, you might like to compare it with Paul’s pitch. At least one of them will be deeply theological. Paul’s collection from his Gentile churches for the church in Jerusalem matters hugely to him as a demonstration that, amazingly, Jews and Gentiles are partners in the Church of Jesus Christ who can both give and receive from each other.

Even more remarkably, Paul’s appeal brochure does not once mention money. He fails to attach a copy of the church accounts. He frames the whole argument in terms of God’s grace to us and the echoes of that grace in the hearts of Christians.

Thank the Lord for hard-working Church Treasurers and especially for those who are shaped by grace.

Prayer

Lord Jesus
Thank you for all the gifts you have given me.
Help me to use them generously today, without growing proud of doing so.
Show me where I am still miserly.
Give wisdom, grown from grace, to those entrusted to deploy the gifts of others.
Make me think more like you, who gave everything for me.
Amen  

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Today's writer

John Ellis, former Moderator of the General Assembly and Secretary of Capel United Church in Kent Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Sunday Worship for 26th April

Sun, 26/04/2020 - 09:45
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Sunday Service from the URC

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Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today's service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 
to listen to the service and sing along with the hymns.  This will open up a new screen, at the bottom of the screen you will see a play symbol.  Press that, then come back to this window so you can follow along with the service.
Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 26th April, Easter 3
 

               
 
 
Today’s service comes from the Manse of the Rev’d Martin Knight, minister of St Paul’s URC in South Croydon and South Croydon United Church (Methodist/URC).
 

Call to worship
 
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!           He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
 
Rejoice, heavenly powers!  Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!
 
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
 
Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour,
radiant in the brightness of our King!
Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!
 
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!

Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy, as we rise and sing,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!
 
Hymn       The Day of Resurrection
                St John of Damascus 675-750
                translated by  John Mason Neale 1818 -1866
 
The day of resurrection!
Earth, tell it out abroad;
the Passover of gladness,
the Passover of God.
From death to life eternal,
from earth unto the sky,
our Christ hath brought us over,
with hymns of victory.

2 Our hearts be pure from evil,
that we may see aright
the Lord in rays eternal
of resurrection light;
and listening to his accents,
may hear, so calm and plain,
his own "All hail!" and, hearing,
may raise the victor strain.
 
3 Now let the heavens be joyful!  
Let earth the song begin!
Let the round world keep triumph,
and all that is therein!
Let all things seen and unseen
their notes of gladness blend,
for Christ the Lord hath risen,
our joy that hath no end.
 
Prayers and the Lord’s Prayer
 
Loving God, in this time of prayer, we rest in your presence, giving thanks for all that speaks to us of you: for the blossoming of Spring - a sign of creation and re-creation; for the contact of friends and family – a reminder that you desire for us to relate for volunteers, health workers, actions of love - all clues that point to hope and light in the darkness.
 
Your love is steadfast and faithful. Your hope and belief in us give us strength. Your Kingdom inspires us to live the way of Jesus.
 
Living God, who moulds us and shapes us, we confess when we fail to serve your purposes. Remake us we pray.
(silence)
 
Merciful God, you make us new and set us free, you use our dents and cracks and breaks to your glory. We are resurrection people and cannot remain the same,  therefore, we accept your forgiveness and ask that you will fill us with courage to be all that you make us in these changed and challenging times.
 
Our Father...
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Holy Spirit, again and again you open the Scriptures to us, allowing us to hear your voice, bless us now as we listen for the Word read and proclaimed, that through it, our lives may be forever changed.  Amen
 
Acts 2: 14, 36-41 (NRSV)
 
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘People of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
 
Sermon
 
Living God, may we make that vital connection between your word and our lives. Amen
 
It’s not often that ministers and anyone who preaches, gets interrupted during a sermon – at least not in the URC or other mainstream denominations.
 
The Church of Pentecost that normally shares our buildings at St Paul’s is a very different experience with lots of affirmations and ‘Amens’.
 
Whilst on placement at college with a New Testament Church of God, my sermons were openly challenged, which was terrifying and refreshing in equal measure.
 
Chatting away to my laptop as I record this, there is no possibility for one of you to throw rotten tomatoes or interrogate what I’m saying.
 
Taking a look at Acts, we can see that Peter was frequently questioned. Addressing the crowds was much more of a discussion, with individuals responding to what was said – experiencing the words – arguing – seeking the truth - deciding whether to accept what was said or not.
 
This makes me wonder if my preaching is any good.
Am I truly getting the message across if no one shouts out or questions me, having been so enthralled or challenged by the story of Jesus?
 
Is the silent shuffling and daydreaming of the listener just because we’ve been trained to behave appropriately, or am I not exciting enough, challenging enough, brave enough in my preaching of the gospel?
 
Surely the Gospel should elicit a response.
Surely the story is surprising enough to require questioning.
The gift of love so unfathomable, that we should cry out.
Or maybe I need to chill, because I don’t know how God works through a preacher’s words, to challenge and change us.
 
At the heart of today’s reading, is the truth that having heard and experienced the story of Jesus, we cannot remain the same. This is the 3rd week of Easter, and having heard and experienced the resurrection, surely, we are led to questions, to action, to a new way of understanding the world.
 
In vs.37 the crowd listening to Peter and the disciples (now including Matthias), ‘were cut to the heart and said to them, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’
 
‘Repent’ says Peter ‘and be forgiven’.
 
What should we do as a response to the story of resurrection;
to the stories of resurrection around us?
 
So often, it is the hardest experiences that prompt us to see life in a new way.
 
In 2015, Alan Kurdi was washed ashore in Turkey. He and his family were Syrian refugees trying to reach Europe amid the refugee crisis. His lifeless, 3 year old frame made headlines and changed those who saw the photograph. The crisis was brought home to us, allowing us to find empathy and to change.
 
Jade Goody’s willingness to be so public as she suffered with and ultimately died from Cervical Cancer, prompted tens of thousands of women to face the fear of a smear test.
 
What other life changing experiences have you known that have changed your world?
 
We are invited to view and experience the Easter story each year, so that we might live differently. Each year we are ourselves different and the story of life when all seems dead, speaks to us afresh, encouraging us ever closer to God’s Kingdom.
 
Peter is sharing this story with the crowds as an invitation to live in God’s way.
 
Might we view the Coronavirus Pandemic as an invitation to live differently?
 
Not that I believe God created it for that purpose, but that we can hear God calling to us from our human experiences, to live in a new way. To see the world afresh, to repent and change where necessary.
 
Photographs from space have shown pollution levels dropping during national shut-downs. Water-ways and rivers are cleaner, with fish and dolphins returning to Venice. Timely reminders of the earth’s greater beauty when we care for it.
 
Our distancing from each other is reminding us just how connected we are.
 
A tiny virus  reminding us of our human fragility.
A tiny virus prompting us to value the self-giving action of NHS staff, key workers and volunteers; those called low-skilled: the cleaners and carers.
A tiny virus helping us to see that the unchangeable global economic structures can, actually, be made more humane if there is the will to do so.
 
The homeless can be housed. Benefits can be increased.
 
Our churches have seen our buildings close and we have been forced to work in new, creative ways that we might have resisted before.
 
We have seen the best to emulate and the worst to repent.
Might this be a game-changer, when things cannot go back to how they were before?
 
When I preside at Communion, I particularly value the words from the Iona Community – ‘take us out to live as changed people, because we have shared the living bread and cannot remain the same.’
 
We are people who are experiencing a Pandemic, and we cannot remain the same. We are seeing with fresh eyes, the brilliance and struggle of the world, and we cannot remain the same.
 
The words and acts of the disciples call to us now as they did then;
Christ’s life and death and new life, interrupts all that we hold as normal, with the possibility of change.
 
This is good news my friends. This is hope. That God interrupts the injustice and pain of our world, with the promise of renewal. This promise, we are told, is ‘for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone the Lord calls to him.’
 
I pray that we may be interrupted; be confronted by the possibility of resurrection and make a decision to commit ourselves to living the way of Jesus today. Amen
 
Hymn         The Sorrow
                 John Bell & Graham Maule
                 © The Wild Goose Resource Worship Group
 
Don’t tell me of a faith that fears to face the world around.
Don’t dull my mind with fickle thoughts
of grace without a ground.
 
I need to know that God is real!
I need to know that Christ can feel
the need to touch and love and heal
the world, including me!

 
2: Don’t speak of piety and prayers divorced from human need;
don’t talk of spirit without flesh
like harvest without seed.
 
3: Don’t sate my soul with common sense
distilled from ages past
inept for those who fear the world’s about to breathe its last.
 
4: Don’t set the Cross before my eyes
unless you tell the truth
of how the Lord, who finds the lost, was often found uncouth.
 
5: So let the Gospel come alive in actions plain to see
in imitation of the one
whose love extends to me.

Affirmation of Faith
 
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world— which some seek to control, but which others view with despair— we declare with joy and trust: our world belongs to God!
 
From the beginning, through all the crises of our times, until His Kingdom fully comes, God keeps covenant forever. Our world belongs to God!
 
We rejoice in the goodness of God, renounce the works of darkness,
and dedicate ourselves to holy living, for our world belongs to God!
 
As committed disciples, called to faithful obedience, and set free for joyful praise, we offer our hearts and lives to do God's work in his world, for our world belongs to God!
With tempered impatience,  eager to see injustice ended, we expect the Day of the Lord. And we are confident that the light which shines in the present darkness will fill the earth when Christ appears for our World belongs to God!
 
Prayers of Intercession
 
God of new possibilities, we give thanks for your constant reminder that you have a vision for our world that far exceeds our present realities. 
 
Faithful God, You wait and rage and heal and dance and call in our streets. Give us ears to hear.
 
You call us up out of our blindness, apathy and fear to keep our eyes on the life you would have us live.  We are grateful for the courage and determination you make available to us  to sustain our efforts to work for better relationships, justice and peace. 
 
Loving God, we pray for our world and those nations where violence and tyranny cause so much suffering…
 
We pray for people driven out of their homes and their homelands, who struggle to survive in refugee camps…
 
We pray for those who do not have enough food to sustain them or water to quench their thirst… 
 
We pray for those who are victims of slavery, even in this 21st century…
 
In the midst of this global pandemic,  we pray for all who care and clean and comfort, for those who are able to work and those still in isolation. We bring those who have lost loved ones and are trying to grieve, to your  love. We pray for the governments of the world and those who manage our economies, that they may align their priorities to your kingdom.
 
God who is always re-creating,  we pray that we may hear you calling to us through these times,  to embrace the good and repent all that harms and limits us.
 
We celebrate the victory of your kingdom. We dance with you in every sign of hatred defeated and every hope restored. In faith and trust we pray. Amen.
 
Offering
 
Worship always involves giving – of our time, our talents and also of our treasure.  In these days where we can’t get to church – indeed where some of us can’t even get out of the house – it’s important still to give.  Resolve, this week, to give something to a charity and something, as normal, to your church.  You may have already made a standing order out or you may be putting your money away in the weekly envelopes to donate when things get back to normal.  Either way, let’s pause and give thanks.
 
Almighty God,
who with great generosity created this world and all that is in it,
showing your love for all things;
help us also to be generous,
to show with our resources,
our love for You. Amen
 
Hymn       God Is Love Let Heaven Adore Him
                Timothy Rees 1874-1939
                © Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
 

God is Love: let heaven adore him;
God is Love: let earth rejoice;
let creation sing before him,
and exalt him with one voice.
He who laid the earth's foundation,
he who spread the heav'ns above,
he who breathes
through all creation,
he is love, eternal love.
 
2 God is Love: and he enfoldeth
all the world in one embrace;
with unfailing grasp he holdeth
every child of every race.
And when human
hearts are breaking
under sorrow's iron rod,
all the sorrow, all the aching
wrings with pain the heart of God.

3 God is love: and though with blindness
sin afflicts the souls of all,
God's eternal loving-kindness
holds and guides us when we fall.
Sin and death and hell shall never
o'er us final triumph gain;
God is love, so love for ever
o'er the universe must reign.
 
Blessing
 
Creating God,
May we acknowledge your presence
in all human goodness we will see today.
 
May we hear you in all that interrupts
the normal patterns of our lives
and calls us back to you.
 
May we walk your way with joy
knowing that the blessing of God,
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,
goes with us. Amen.
 
 
 
Sources and Thanks
 
Call to Worship adapted from the Exultset by Andy Braunston
Prayer of Illumination and Offertory by Andy Braunston
Sermon, Intercessions and Blessing by Martin Knight
Statement of Faith from the Christian Reformed Church in North America
 
The Day of Resurrection sung by Gloucester Cathedral Choir
The Sorrow sung by members of the Wild Goose Worship Resource Group
God is Love recorded by BBC’s Songs of Praise
 
Thanks To
 
Members of Barrhead URC, Kathleen Haynes, Karen Smith, Walt Johnson, Jonnie Hill, and John Young for recording various aspects of the service and to Phil Nevard to mixed the recordings into one podcast.
 
Words of hymns, where in copyright, reproduced under the terms of the URC’s various licences.  Musical material recorded under the terms of Barrhead URC’s OneLicence.
 
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URC Daily Devotion Sunday 26th April 2020

Sun, 26/04/2020 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion Sunday 26th April 2020 View this email in your browser

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday 26th April  Psalm 144 

1 All praise be given to the LORD,
Because he is a rock to me;
He trains my hands to fight in war,
To battle with the enemy.

2 My fortress and my loving God,
My saviour and defence is he;
He is my refuge and my shield,
Subduing peoples under me.

3 LORD, why should you take note of man?
Why should you hold mankind so dear?
4 For they are like a fleeting breath;
Their days like shadows disappear.

5 LORD, part your heavens and come down;
So touch the mountains that they smoke!
6 Send lightning, rout your enemies;
Shoot arrows, scatter all their folk.

7 Reach down your hand from heaven on high;
From mighty waters rescue me.
8 Deliver me from foreign foes
Who speak and act deceitfully.

9 To God a new song I will sing;
I’ll play on lyre a pleasing chord.
10 For you give victory to kings;
David you save from deadly sword.

11 Deliver me from hostile hands;
From foreign forces rescue me.
Their mouths are full of lying words;
Their right hands work deceitfully.

12 Then will our sons, like nurtured plants,
From early youth grow strong and tall;
Our daughters fair as pillars carved
To beautify a palace wall.

13 Our barns and stores will then be filled
With harvests which our land will yield;
Our sheep will multiply and grow
By tens of thousands in the field.

14 Our oxen will draw heavy loads;
Our walls will not be broken down.
We’ll not be led away as slaves—
No cry of anguish in our town.

15 How bless’d are all the folk of whom
This is a true and faithful word!
How bless’d the people who can say,
“We have no God besides the LORD!”

Reflection

Throughout the aeons wars have been fought by nations with some preconception that their “god” was on their side and throughout my life’s ministry the pros and cons of war - exclusively those of World Wars I & II have been contested. “Churchill was a despotic dictator” (imprisoned Christian pacifist) and “the bombing of Hiroshima was both inevitable and necessary” (Christian elder).

In the Old Testament war was regarded as a holy conflict initiated and sanctified by God although glory in victory was later tempered by His judgement on His people for their sinful rejection of the covenant.  This is reinforced in the New Testament where Jesus’ condemnation of war and his stress on peaceful love and reconciliation is only too apparent. However, Jesus also spoke of the inevitability and continuation of wars until His return and did not deny the right of earthly governments to maintain armies; hence the Christian adoption of the theories of Augustine and Aquinas on “Just War”.

Scholars remain divided both on the authorship of Psalm 144 and indeed, on David’s true historical status - i.e. an insignificant tribal chieftain, victorious in local skirmishes or the powerful biblical king who established the Israelite kingdom.  

Psalm 144, traditionally ascribed to King David of the biblical House of David, is of fragmentary composition. However, the psalm’s poetic excellence and beauty of imagery are comparable to any other Davidic Psalm.  The opening verses (1-2) extol God as the warrior’s supreme protector (cf. Psalm 18.1-50) although His regard for mankind (cf. Psalm 8) - is held in awe. In verses 5 - 8 and 9 -11 supplications are made to the Lord for courage, strength and victory in battle in return for the humble and worshipful adoration of God’s Chosen Nation.

There never will be a consensus on the evils of war and without God, the present sight of wars, division and destruction are all there is to shape our belief and hope. But if, instead, we accept the fact and presence of God, Immanuel, with us, then we are led towards the future that God is bringing, just as he did in the past.

Prayer

“Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.”
 
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) altd.
Based on Psalm 90.1-6
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Ian Gow, Minister, Eltham URC.  Copyright
Sing Psalms! The Psalmody and Worship Committee of the Free Church of Scotland
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 25th April 2020

Sat, 25/04/2020 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 25th April 2020 View this email in your browser

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Saturday 25th April 2020

2 Corinthians 7: 

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.

Make room in your hearts for us; we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.  I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction.

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way—disputes without and fears within. But God, who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the arrival of Titus,  and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was consoled about you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it (though I did regret it, for I see that I grieved you with that letter, though only briefly).  Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves guiltless in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong, nor on account of the one who was wronged, but in order that your zeal for us might be made known to you before God.  In this we find comfort.

In addition to our own consolation, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his mind has been set at rest by all of you.  For if I have been somewhat boastful about you to him, I was not disgraced; but just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting to Titus has proved true as well. And his heart goes out all the more to you, as he remembers the obedience of all of you, and how you welcomed him with fear and trembling.  I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.

Reflection

Phew!  Relief floods through the mind.  There’s been a substantial disagreement between a leader and a church, maybe even threatening a breakdown in their relationship.  And now the person sent to help heal the rift has returned with an encouraging report.

Deep feelings of attachment on both sides are evident in today’s reading.  Paul for whom the Corinthian church is beloved. He often boasts about them.  He has great pride in them. Whilst they, on their part, have spoken to Titus of their longing, their mourning and their zeal for Paul.  It all speaks of passionate people within an emotionally expressive culture. 

It is Titus, though, who grabs my attention as I read this passage.  I would like to be like Titus. Someone whose mere arrival alongside a troubled and downcast friend is a channel for God’s consolation.  Someone whose conversation then deepens that consolation, as balm to a wounded soul. Someone who knows joy in a job of reconciliation, and whose heart goes out to the aggrieved community as it extends a nervous and anxious welcome to this mediator.

We are in the season of Easter, with stories of the resurrection of the Lord fresh in our minds. 

So it is right that we should be quietly yet boldly confident in God’s power at work in us too to bring consolation, reconciliation and joy into painful situations.  We cannot guarantee success. Such work also depends for its outcome on the attitudes of the others involved. God’s power at work in us is not a magic wand. It does not ride roughshod over other people’s sovereignty.

But, inspired by Titus’ example, let’s be on the lookout for God’s call to console, encourage and build bridges between fractured communities and individuals.
 
Prayer

Thank you Lord that in your resurrection life
you are present to our race for healing and repair. 
Summon us to attend to this work, which is Yours.
 
And if, today, we ourselves need help
to heal a rift or forgive a hurt,
send us a ‘Titus’, we pray.
 
Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Gwen Collins, retired minister, member of Avenue St Andrews 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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