URC Devotions

URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 28th April 2020

Tue, 28/04/2020 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 28th April 2020 View this email in your browser

Daily Devotions from the URC

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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
96 URC Daily Devotion  Monday 27th April 2020 View this email in your browser

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
96 Sunday Worship for 26th April 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 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.
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URC Daily Devotion 24th April 2020

Fri, 24/04/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 24th April 2020

2 Corinthians 6: 14 - 18

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we  are the temple of the living God; as God said,

‘I will live in them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
Therefore come out from them,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch nothing unclean;
    then I will welcome you,
and I will be your father,
    and you shall be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.’

Reflection

‘I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’ This is a beautiful verse, guaranteed to makes us feel warm and fuzzy, because naturally we read it as being about us. We are God’s people, and God is our God; God loves us all and we love God. All of which is wonderful good news that we should never forget. You might, however, sense that there is a ‘but’ coming.

Paul quotes these words to support an argument which, at the very least, we might find problematic today. ‘Do not be mismatched with unbelievers.’ Does that mean those of us in the Church should separate ourselves from everyone else? Paul asks ‘what does an unbeliever share with a believer?’ Well, there are plenty of things they might have in common, and to suggest that a Christian shares nothing with their non-Christian neighbours doesn’t ring true. You may, like me, have neighbours, friends and family members who either follow other faith traditions or have no religion. I certainly know many wise, kind, and compassionate people not motivated by faith, who show more evidence of loving their neighbour than many Christians.

We as Christians are not cut off from the world, but part of it, and our churches are embedded in diverse local communities. Sometimes we may want to oppose the values of our society and challenge injustice, while on other issues (such as around sexuality and gender) the Church is behind and needs to catch up. To quote the song ‘French Disko’ by the band Stereolab, ‘Though this world’s essentially an absurd place to be living in, it doesn’t call for total withdrawal.’ Rather we’re called to be in the world with all its complexities, joys and problems. As Paul reminds us elsewhere, God’s people are not us, or people like us, but everyone, even the ones who disagree.

Prayer

Gracious God,
we give thanks that you have called us
to be among your people,
and to be in the world.
Help us to remember
that your love is for everyone,
and guide us to spread
your values of peace and compassion,
and to care for everyone in our community,
whatever they believe.

Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Nick Jones is minister of Heswall URC & St. George’s URC, Thornton Hough Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Worship on Sunday...

Thu, 23/04/2020 - 09:39
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Worship on Sunday, Booklets and Early Bird List

Dear Friends,

On Sunday our worship is led by the Rev'd Martin Knight, minister of St Paul's URC in Croydon and the South Croydon United Church which is a URC and Methodist congregation.  As ever the email will be sent out between 9.45am and 9.50am.  People listen at different points throughout the day with most "tuning in" at 10am.  

Many of you are new to the Daily Devotions and I hope that they, along with the Sunday worship, are sources of inspiration, challenge and comfort during these strange times.  A few people have asked why the daily reflections aren't directly addressing the health crisis.  The Devotions are written by our volunteer writers at least 3 months before they are sent out to allow time for editing, formatting into Booklets, recording as Podcasts and transfer to the email templates you receive each morning.  Our writers are currently working on material going out in July, August and September.  Sadly that means the immediacy of our current situation can't be addressed in the Devotions in the same way as they are in the services - which are recorded with a tighter deadline.  Those who record the podcasts and those who print and distribute locally are volunteers too.  It's a remarkable team of people who do this.

If you'd like to receive the Devotions as booklets which you can print off locally and give to people without access to the internet please join this mailing list.  If you'd like May and June's material please drop me an email and I will send on to you - the next mailing from the list will contain July's material.  

Finally, if you know people who might like to receive the Daily Devotions and weekly worship please do encourage them to sign up for them  here.

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 Thursday 23rd April 2020

Thu, 23/04/2020 - 06:00
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Thursday 23rd April 2020

2 Corinthians 6: 1 - 12

As we work together with him,  we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.  For he says,

‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
    and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!  We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,  but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,  beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,  truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;  as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours.  In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

Reflection

Now is the acceptable time!

It is hard to mistake the sense of urgency in Paul’s appeal. The earlier emphasis in 5.20 on the ‘go between’ function of Christians as agents of reconciliation is a call to action for followers of the Prince of Peace. The Cross of Christ challenges this world’s values to its very core .This is no time for Christian lives to be all about ease and comfort and self-focus or for that matter the life of our local churches. There is evidence all around us of a lostness. A celebrity culture that gives struggling people hope only to dash them down. An incipient violence fuelled by the way we speak about and to one another. 
 
To be effective in this urgent work of proclaiming Christ, we need to have a regard to the obstacles in our own lives which might prevent work colleagues, friends and family members from themselves responding to God’s call in Christ. We may not have as dramatic a set of circumstances as Paul detailed in verse 5 but with the daily inspiration of the Holy Spirit we can try to manifest authentic Christian living in our daily encounters. Those who choose Christ’s way are ‘resident aliens’ to use Stanley Hauerwas’s memorable phrase. At rock bottom we don’t belong however much part of us longs to belong. We are seeking a homeland but equally importantly encouraging others to journey on with us.

It is an urgent task to give people back the dignity with which God has endowed each one of us, to share a hope that extends beyond life on earth, and to have the joy of seeing people lay hold of this deeper life  in the strength of the Jesus who has laid hold of us.

Prayer

Lord,
We hear the urgency of the task to proclaim your saving message.
Forgive our lethargy.
Deliver from despair those who are struggling with life either because of not having enough or having too much.
Create in us a pure heart, truthful speech and genuine love.
Today help us to open our hearts to those whom we encounter,
So that others may experience your presence, your promise and your purpose for their lives,
Amen
 

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Today's writer

The Rev’d Richard Church is a member of Streatham URC, and Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship)  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 Wednesday 22nd April 2020

Wed, 22/04/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 22nd April 2020

2 Corinthians 5: 11 - 21

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Reflection

Paul’s Corinthian converts do not seem to have been particularly loyal to him or his message.  A groundswell of opposition has been fomented by individuals who challenge his authority and introduce a rival teaching.  Theirs is a theology of glory. They emphasise showy externals, they draw attention to their own power and authority rather than God’s.  All is not well. This is a critical juncture in Paul’s missionary career; the spiritual well-being of the Corinthian Christians is on the line. 
 
So in a passionate outburst of lyrical fervour, Paul pours out what he believes, and exhorts these converts to hear God’s message of reconciliation.  This is not, they must see, an exercise in self-promotion on his part, as if he were setting out his stand in a leadership contest, but an illustration  for them of what it means to be an ambassador for Christ. They are to recognise that at all times Paul stands in conscience before God. His motives are pure.  He needs no other credentials. With that in mind, they must realise for themselves the truth of what Paul is proclaiming to them. This is the good news of God’s love, revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Because Jesus died for all his people, they in faith must die to self and live for God.  
 
And so a new world is born and a new age, where men and women, their hearts renewed, are reconciled with God and with one another. 
 
Is Paul’s exhortation timely?  As we consider the church’s life and mission in the world today,
are we also tempted to be self-focussed, absorbed in our own concerns, carried away by showy externals?  If so Paul reminds us of the need to lay ourselves before God and align ourselves with God’s work of reconciliation in Christ.
 
Prayer:
 
All holy God,
Create in me a pure heart that I might know the joy of your salvation.
Give me grace to proclaim your reconciling power
In Jesus Christ, your son, our Lord.  Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Fleur Houston, retired minister, member of Macclesfield and Bollington URC. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 21st April 2020

Tue, 21/04/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 21st April 2020
 
2 Corinthians 5: 1-9

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—  if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord —  for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

Reflection

There’s something great about going on holiday. After a busy period like Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, I know that a number of ministerial colleagues will have taken the opportunity to ‘take a break’ and get away from the desk for a few days, going ‘away’ somewhere different – maybe somewhere warm and dry. 

We may really enjoy our breaks: our time away on holiday with loved ones or exploring on our own. But for many of us there reaches a point where we are ready for home. However much we enjoy our time away, there’s a stage where we hanker for some of the pleasures of home: our comfortable chair looking into the garden; the companionship of neighbours and family (or a pet); or the just the home comforts of routine. We remember these things while we are away, but we cannot see or feel them – that’s what being away means. Being away is great, but it’s nothing great about it if we can’t then – in our time – experience home. 

The Second Letter to the Corinthians today reminds us that the Church is not itself God. The Church – the Body – is an away fixture for what God offers us (and which supporter doesn’t want a celebratory home fixture?). The comfort of home – the resting places, the companionship, the safety and security – is what God offers to us. God is the centre of who we are, and is the centre for all we aim to be. If we focus on what God means to us and what a home in God means for our worship, our fellowship, our community, and our world, then our passion is to make The Body into a greater reflection of God’s goodness and love. We may never make it ‘home’ but we can certainly do more to make it a home for many. 
 
Prayer

Loving God,
who is home to us,
help us to shape our world
into a home for many.
Inspire our leaders –
in Church and State –
to fight for a home that is loving and kind
and that reflects all that you call us to be. Amen
  -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Matthew Prevett, Chaplaincy Coordinator at Newcastle University 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 20th April 2020

Mon, 20/04/2020 - 06:00
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2 Corinthians 4: 16 - 18

2 Corinthians 4: 16 - 18
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

Reflection

There are times, looking in the mirror, when the grey hairs and wrinkles can make us wonder what happened to the young ‘real’ us.  Paul clearly isn’t into the struggle for eternal youth ‘on the outside’. He assures us that inside we’re being renewed. And there is comfort in this, despite it being completely counter-cultural. Even the males amongst us are being bombarded with ads for age-defying moisturisers, pills and potions.

But as the illnesses of later years begin to bite, it can be hard to accept them as ‘slight momentary afflictions’. Those of us who have cared for a loved one struck down with dementia can bear witness to the outer nature wasting away and may query Paul’s assertion about the renewal of the inner nature.

But we cannot know what goes on in someone else’s head, and even someone apparently lost deep within dementia can surprise us with a moment’s deep wisdom, faith, love and joy. It just takes more trust that our Lord is indeed love and knows what he’s doing - so we do not lose heart.

Because losing heart is the easy thing to do. Hanging on, looking beyond the real pain of our however-long affliction to ‘glory beyond measure’ may sometimes - often! - seem more than we are capable of. But this too will pass. For as long as we are alive on this earth, it is all temporary and sometimes that’s the only comfort there is.

This too will pass.

Prayer

For those afflicted, and those afflicted by having to watch a loved one suffering, we ask for courage and strength and human beings with big hearts of love to support them as best they can. Be very real and present to your afflicted people. Shine Your light into their darkness and give them a glimpse of the glory that awaits them. Amen
 
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Today's writer

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


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Worship for Low Sunday

Sun, 19/04/2020 - 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
19th April 2020 - Easter 2
Behind closed Doors
 
Today's service was devised by the Rev'd Nicola Furley Smith, Secretary for Ministries.  She lives in Purley in South London. 

 
 
 
 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:      At the Name of Jesus
                Caroline M Noel (1817 - 1877)

At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him king of glory now;
this the Father's pleasure, we shall call him Lord,
who from the beginning was the mighty Word.
 
2 Humbled for a season, to receive a name
from the lips of sinners unto whom he came;
faithfully he bore it spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious when from death he passed.
 
3: Christians this Lord Jesus shall return again
with the Father's glory with his angels’ train,
for all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him king of glory now.
 
Prayer of approach
 
Risen Lord, you came to the disciples in that Upper Room, in spite of those locked doors of doubt. You brought them peace and wholeness in the darkest of times with the light of your resurrection putting their frightened minds at rest and making them ready for the task you had for them. We pray that you may make us ready in our worship and in our lives, to allow you to walk through the closed doors and walls of stone  that we so often have and the barriers that we create.

Take away our fears.
 
Open our hearts that your Holy Spirit may come again to rest within us, that we, your people, may be ready to hear your words and respond to your call to bring the light of your resurrection in the darkest places of our world. Amen.
 
Prayer of Confession
 
God who loves us we seek forgiveness.
You call us to trust that Jesus lives.
Forgive our doubting.  Help us to trust you.
 
You call us to trust what we have not heard;
Forgive our doubting.  Help us to trust you.
 
You call us to trust what we have not seen.
Forgive our doubting.  Help us to trust you.
 
You call us to trust what we have not touched.
Forgive our doubting. Help us to trust you.
 
You call us to trust each other.
Help us to believe despite our doubts and fears.
Help us to receive your peace.
and to be at peace with you and each other. Amen.
 
Assurance of Pardon

Jesus said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here and see my hands. Do not doubt but believe.'
People of God, be assured that you are loved by God, who offers grace, comfort and hope. In his strength you are made new. Receive peace and live in resurrection joy. Amen.
 
A Prayer of Illumination
 
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
 
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
 
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:  “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:
 
“‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life;  you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
 
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.  But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.  Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.  God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.
 
Hymn:      Before the Throne of God Above
                Charitie L De Chenez 1841 – 1923
 
 
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea:
a great High Priest whose name is love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands;
my name is written on His heart.
I know that while in heav'n He stands
no tongue can bid me thence depart;
no tongue can bid me thence depart
 
2: When Satan tempts me to despair
and tells me of the guilt within,
upward I look and see Him there
who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died
my sinful soul is counted free;
for God the Just is satisfied
to look on Him and pardon me;
to look on Him and pardon me.
 
3: Behold Him there, the risen Lamb,
my perfect, spotless Righteousness;
the great unchangeable I AM:
the King of glory and of grace.
One with Himself, I cannot die!
My soul is purchased by His blood!
My life is hid with Christ on high;
with Christ my Saviour and my God
 
John 20: 19-31
 
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
 
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
 
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’  Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’  Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’  Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
 
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
 
Sermon
 
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said ‘Peace be with you’. (John 20v.19 NRSV)
 
It has been a long, bewildering, exhausting day.
Amidst all the devastation caused to their hopes and dreams
by the events of Good Friday,
the disciples begin this day discovering that the body of Jesus
their teacher
their friend
has been removed,
-      by whom they don’t know.
Disturbed and blinkered by grief,
they have forgotten what Jesus has spent three years trying to show them.
And, as a result, his death on the cross is a loss to them.
The world around them is dark.
 
So they do what human beings tend to do in such circumstances
-      they lock themselves away
-      they pull the covers up and bury their heads under the bedclothes
Hidden behind doors of wood and walls of stone
they seek that feeling of safety amidst a hostile world
hiding not just from the Jewish authorities
but from overwhelming feelings of loss
as they attempt to make sense of it all.
When all the world around them is dark.
they are still unsure they can live in the light of the resurrection.
 
John, however, has the answer.
We need to have faith.
 
But as this gospel story shows us
faith can be complicated by fear and doubt.
 
Behind locked doors
all the disciples except Thomas (and Judas) gather.
They have heard from Peter and John about the empty tomb
and they have heard from Mary Magdalene who has not only seen the risen Jesus
but spoken with him also.
Yet still they are unsure.
Still they are afraid.
When all the world around them is dark.
they are still unsure they can live in the light of the resurrection.
 
Then Jesus appears
and they rejoice.
Jesus says to them ‘As the Father sent me so I send you.  Receive the Holy Spirit’.
We sometimes tell the Easter story as if the joy of new life and resurrection
dawns on the disciples all at once.
apart from Thomas that is,
who is, of course, absent.
 
In the story of Thomas, doubt is given as the opposite of faith.
So, John reports Jesus coming back the same time the following week
seemingly to put Thomas right.
And, despite what Jesus tells Thomas
‘do not doubt but believe’
 and ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’,
Thomas comes to faith 
precisely because he has the courage to voice his doubt!
 
John, of course, has a purpose in focusing on doubt.
He writes in the last verses of the chapter
that his recording of these events is
simply a snapshot of many events which have not been recorded.
He records these events
so that successive generations may believe in Jesus Christ
as the Son of God
and so have the life that comes from faith.
This is his reason for the story about Thomas:
to doubt is to be human.
 
For Christians doubt might be the opposite of faith
but it is not its enemy.
As with Thomas,
doubt is not a stumbling block
it is a stepping-stone
on the road to faith
as we go in search of what is true
in order that we may find it.
In these days of panic buying
as someone said to me recently
faith is not a packet to be lifted from the spiritual shelf.
Coming to faith is a process.
Coming to faith will take as long as it needs to take.
Thomas simply had yet known the transforming power and presence,
joy and confidence,
direction and purpose,
guidance and inspiration
of the risen Christ.
But I wonder if there is something more going on here.
Because there is not only doubt but fear as well.
For me the enemy of faith is not doubt but fear.
 
We know a lot about fear at the moment.
-      fear of catching the virus
-      fear of not getting a supermarket delivery
-      fear of losing my job as businesses shut down albeit temporarily
-      fear of being on my own
-      fear of not knowing how long this new way living will last or if things will ever going back to ‘normal’ what normal may be for you
 
Fear is real.
It’s not just in the mind;
it brings physical symptoms,
trembling,
physical sickness. 
Fear is not just an individual trait.
Fear can grip groups of people or whole communities.
What we would term mass hysteria
can make a group of people behave irrationally
as we have seen as people fight over toilet rolls and pasta.
It is the disciples fear that has enclosed them
behind locked doors made of wood and walls of cold stone.
they have no idea of their next move.
But Jesus moves through the locked doors and walls
and stands among them and says peace be with you.
He gives them direction,
direction in the task they have to do
to bring new life and hope
to a confused and hurting world.
 
Many of us are behind closed doors at this time
but these are not doors of wood and walls of stone
which keep us inward looking.
What many of us are learning afresh during this season
is that the Jesus who asks Thomas to look and see
is the same Jesus who asks you
to look and see the gift of God
that is alive and present in those who call themselves the people of the resurrection.
The challenge of God is that you should take this transforming presence so seriously
that not only you believe in it,
but that a whole world of hurting and confused people
recognise new life and hope,
new direction and guidance.
 
This was the appeal of the Church in our Acts reading.
When Peter delivers his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost
he does so almost immediately after the Holy Spirit
has burst through the closed doors of the upper room.
Peter tells his congregation in Jerusalem
that the ministry of the resurrected Jesus continues through his followers
all in the power of the Holy Spirit
for the resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit
are inextricably intertwined
 
The result is
a church which lay in its ability to hold together the proclamation of a stunning new message,
a church which nurtured its people by explaining what that message means
a church that expressed itself in service and care
to those living inside and outside its community.
 
I’ve been humbled by the acts of kindness shown to me over the past few weeks
-      virtual flowers
-      e-cards
-      phone calls and Facetime
-      offers of shopping for essentials
-      as well as conversations with those ministers and congregation who are getting to grips with technology needed to keep in touch with their communities
all practical ways in which the Spirit is helping us to break out
to share the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
 
As we journey on through these disturbing and dark times
let God’s Spirit release us from the fears and doubts
that keep us behind our closed doors
to continue to share the message of the Resurrection that through Jesus
God promises us new life and new life casts our fear.
Scarred and wounded we may be
but we will be no longer afraid.

Jesus is saying to us Peace be with you! My peace I give to you!
As one Facebook post says:
Churches are not being closed.
buildings are being closed.
you are the Church!
You are to remain open!
Let the light of the resurrection
shine through us now and always. Amen.

Hymn:      Here is Love Vast As The Ocean  (sing through twice)
                William Rees 1802 - 1883
 
Here is love, vast as the ocean,
loving kindness as the flood -
when the Prince of Life, our Ransom
shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten
throughout Heaven's eternal days.
 
2: On the mount of crucifixion
fountains opened deep and wide.
Through the floodgates of God's mercy
flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers
poured incessant from above,
and Heaven's peace and perfect justice
kissed a guilty world in love.
 
An 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
 
Risen Lord, no door is closed to you, no heart is barred to you, no mind is shut off from you. Come lead us out of darkness into light, out of doubt into faith, out of death into life in all its fullness:
 
We pray for all who witness to your resurrection, for those who speak of your presence, for preachers and ministers of the Word, for those who minister in community; for those who reveal your presence by the way they live, for all who live simply that others may simply live. We pray for all who are in doubt and for all who are seeking you. We pray for unity in the Church and in the world.
 
Lead us out of darkness into light, out of doubt into faith,  out of death into life in all its fullness:
 
We come today as we shelter behind closed doors with all who have lost their freedom, all who have lost hope. We pray for all who have been imprisoned because of their beliefs; that in the darkness they may find your love.
 
Lead us out of darkness into light, out of doubt into faith, out of death into life in all its fullness:
 
We pray for any fellowship to which we belong, for communities and clubs, for social groups, for our church. We give thanks for your appearing in the Upper Room, and pray for our homes and those we love.
 
Lead us out of darkness into light, out of doubt into faith,  out of death into life in all its fullness:
 
We remember all who are despairing,  all who lack confidence, those afraid to trust themselves or others. We remember all who are lonely, all who are fearful.
We pray for those in sickness, looking to you in hope. Come lead us out of darkness into light, out of doubt into faith,  out of death into life in all its fullness. These prayers, and the unspoken prayers of our hearts we ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
 
Offertory
 
Lord, in these complicated times, we offer ourselves to serve you.  Take the money that we give to our churches, through Standing orders and through cash saved up, and all that we do and give in loving service to others, and bless  everything in your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
 
Hymn:      Come Ye Faithful Raise the Strain
                 St John of Damascus (675-750) tr. John Mason Neale 1818 - 1866
 
Come, ye faithful, raise the strain
of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought his Israel
into joy from sadness;
loosed from Pharaoh's bitter yoke
Jacob's sons and daughters;
led them with unmoistened foot
through the Red Sea waters.
 
2 'Tis the spring of souls today;
Christ hath burst his prison,
and from three days' sleep in death,
as a sun hath risen;
all the winter of our sins,
long and dark, is flying
from his light, to whom we give
laud and praise undying.
 
3 Now the queen of seasons, bright
with the day of splendour,
with the royal feast of feasts,
comes its joy to render;
comes to glad Jerusalem,
who with true affection
welcomes in unwearied strains
Jesus' resurrection.
 
4 Neither might the gates of death,
nor the tomb's dark portal,
nor the watchers, nor the seal
hold thee as a mortal:
but today amidst thine own
thou didst stand, bestowing
thine own peace, which evermore
passeth human knowing.

Closing Blessing
 
May you find in the risen Lord
the way to fullness of life,
the way to joy and peace
 
And the blessing of God Almighty
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Be amongst us and remain with us
This day and for evermore. Amen.
 

 
Sources and Thanks

Call To Worship adapted from the Exultset by Andy  Braunston, Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Christian Church of North America.
Sermon, prayers and blessing by Nicola Furley Smith Offertory by Michael Hopkins.
 
At the Name of Jesus recorded by the BBC’s Songs of Praise
Before the Throne of God Above a capella version by Michael Lining Music
Here is Love sung by Robin Mark
Come Ye Faithful sung by Sandra Anderson, Lincoln Briney, Mary Beth Cecil, Greg Clark, Brett Gilbert, Tracy Laas, and Roger Treece
 
Thanks to members of Barrhead URC, Anne Hewling, Kathleen Haynes, Karen Smith, Patrick Henderson, Pam Carpenter, Phil Nevard and James Whately for reading the spoken parts. and to Phil Nevard for mixing the recordings into one podcast.
 
 
 
  
 
 
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URC Daily Devotion Sunday 19th April Psalm 143

Sun, 19/04/2020 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday 19th April Psalm 143 
 

1 O hear my prayer, LORD;
My cry for mercy heed.
In truth and righteousness
Draw near to meet my need.
2 And do not judge me in your sight
For in your presence none is right.

3 The foe has hounded me
And crushed me to the ground,
In darkness made me dwell,
Like those in death long bound.
4 And so my spirit is afraid;
My heart within me is dismayed.

5 Therefore I call to mind
The days and years long gone;
I ponder all your works
And what your hands have done.
6 To you in prayer I spread my hands;
For you I thirst, like arid lands.

7 My spirit fails, O LORD;
Come quickly to my side.
Hide not your face from me,
Lest to the pit I slide.
8 Let morning bring your love anew,
For I have put my trust in you.

To you I lift my soul;
Show me the way to go.
9 I hide myself in you;
LORD, save me from my foe.
10 My God, teach me to do your will;
May your good Spirit lead me still.

11 For your great mercy’s sake,
O LORD, preserve my life;
And in your righteousness
Deliver me from strife.
12 In love, put all my foes to shame;
Destroy them, for I bear your name.

The editors of Sing Psalms suggest the tune Love Unknown for this Psalm which you can hear here.

Reflection

Even in this Easter season it is possible to feel devitalised, drained, and overwhelmed by the seeming victory of wrongdoing in the world. In other words, one week later, it is possible to live more in Good Friday than in the hope and joy of Easter Day.

The singer here reflects on a cut throat society in which (s)he feels persecuted. So strong is the sense of psychological shock and humiliation that (s)he compares it to being close to death. Through the agency of Amnesty International today, one hears of situations in which even the judiciary cannot be relied on to administer justice. To whom then can a prisoner of conscience turn?

The response of the Psalmist is, with trepidation, to address his/her situation to the God who is defined by covenant grace. I remember God’s saving acts. I ponder the signs of God’s grace in the past and present. It emboldens me to cry out to God on behalf of myself, my family, my society, my suffering earth for relief. 

My appeal cannot be based on anything other than that the judge of all the earth will act justly. Under pressure of circumstances, I take refuge in the possibilities that God will bring to light, unpredictable mercies. 

In the blindness of my fear, I often want destruction. I want an end to the humiliation of the vulnerable, but more than that I want the perpetrators to suffer. That part of the singer’s prayer will not be answered. What they do to me, they do to you. So even though I am helpless, you are not, vindicate yourself. 

Yet the prayer for vengeance rebounds with redeeming love, as we celebrated last week. God’s truest nature
absorbs hatred and violence. We cannot linger forever on Good Friday feelings, we are called to exercise hope in God’s justice. New life flows, even in the bitterest of situations. Halleljuah!  

Prayer

You know our hearts,
You understand our powerlessness,
In the face of injustice,
Our desire for retribution
Is familiar to you.

Hear our cries for those in extreme situations,
Grant us hope to trust in your strange victory,
In the name of Jesus, Amen    -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Richard Church member of Streatham URC, Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship) 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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