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Pandemic Prayers

6 hours 41 min ago
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Pandemic Prayer

Dear Friends,

this week's Pandemic Prayer was written by Dorothy Courtis a lay preacher who was a member of our church in Thurso when the prayer was commissioned but has now moved down to Somerset.

You can see the prayer here.


with every good wish


Andy --> --> --> Follow on Facebook Follow on Twitter Podcast Share This on Facebook Tweet this Forward to a Friend -->
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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 7th May 2021

11 hours 12 min ago
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Friday 7th May

2 Thessalonians 2: 1 - 12

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters,  not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.  Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.  Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?  And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes.  For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed.  And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming.  The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders,  and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false,  so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.

Reflection

These first Christians lived with an overpowering sense that a new age was about to dawn. Someone once compared it with how we feel as we wait for the taxi that is coming to take us to the airport: the anxiety builds up, and you can’t settle to do anything. You’re just longing for things to get going.

In his first letter Paul had addressed some of the anxieties that were around in Thessalonica, by assuring his readers that when that day arrived their loved ones who had already died would be at no disadvantage. All would be caught up to meet with one another and with their Lord, and be with him for ever. But now it seems that people were asking if perhaps that great day had already come, and they hadn’t recognised it. Could Paul spell out what they should be expecting?

One of the things that we’ve learned through the Pandemic is that it is risky to say too much about how the future is going to be. What’s going to happen next? and How do we get out of this mess? are tricky questions for anyone to answer; and when Paul tries to map out a timetable for the great day we, if not his first readers, are left puzzling over what it all means. Did the Thessalonians, I wonder, remember those things “I told you when I was still with you”? If they did, then they were much better informed than we are now: maybe they knew the identity of the “lawless one” to be revealed. But the truth is that we don’t.

But what we do know, by contrast with Paul and his generation, is that God’s plan is taking far longer than they had ever dreamed. But the taxi is still on its way!

Prayer

Take from us, we pray
the fears and anxieties that lead to delusions
that we may trust in the love
that has held us through the past
and will surely bring us into your future.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d John Durell, retired minister, member of Waddington Street URC, Durham.  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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 6th May 2021

Thu, 06/05/2021 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Thursday 6th May

2 Thessalonians 1: 5 - 12

This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering.  For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you,  and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels  in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,  when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marvelled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.  To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfil by his power every good resolve and work of faith,  so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection

These verses, together with verses 3 and 4, form a long thanksgiving section at the beginning of this second letter to the group of Christians in Thessalonica. Thanksgiving quickly turns to the subject of God’s judgment, a subject dealt with in the light of the expected second coming of Jesus.

Clearly for Christians in 1st-Century Thessalonica life was not easy. They suffered ‘persecution and affliction’ and we can easily imagine the complaints and questions about why those who make them suffer should not suffer themselves. Paul’s response is to reflect on what will happen when Jesus returns and God judges those who choose not to know or obey him. The punishment will be complete and eternal.

As 21st-Century Christians such words give us pause for thought. We do not find them easy to read and we want to ask ‘what about forgiveness?’. However, we cannot pick and choose which bits of the Bible we like and there are sufficient references to God’s judgment for us to need to take it seriously. Many of us would say that trying to live without God in our lives would be punishment enough.

And that is a thought answered by Paul when he indicates that, how they deal with the suffering which they are enduring, will also be judged. That suffering has the potential to make them worthy of the kingdom of God.

Paul’s promise is to pray for his Christian friends that God may indeed make them worthy according to his grace. And in those few words we have an important reminder that it is by grace that we are made worthy, forgiven and judged.

Prayer

Gracious God, your judgment is reliable and trustworthy.
Not in my own strength can I make myself worthy of your kingdom
but only by your grace
Not in my own strength can I make myself worthy of being forgiven
but only by your grace.
I pray – may your grace be with me day by day.
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

Val Morrison, Elder, Doncaster.  Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Sunday's coming

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 17:15
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday's Coming

Dear Friends,

Sunday's service will be led by The Revd. Tony Addy. Hymns include Brian Wren's There's a spirit in the air, Christ the Lord is risen again, and Anders Frostenson's The love of God is broad like beach and meadow.

The service will be sent out, as normal, at 9.45 on Sunday morning for a 10am start.  If you have any problems receiving it please read on for advice.

with every blessing,


Dan


Dan Morrell
Editor, Daily Devotion Sunday Services from the URC -->

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URC Daily Devotion 5th May 2021

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Wednesday 5th May

2 Thessalonians 1: 1  - 4

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.

Reflection

What would it be like to receive a letter that starts like this? Maybe you have read an opening paragraph that salutes you in similar terms, or perhaps you’re more used to one that begins brusquely and then goes downhill as the writer complains, accuses or even worse?

Paul is to continue with themes of God’s judgement, the need for endurance through suffering and accusations of idleness for at least some of his readers, but he begins by offering God’s grace and peace, and assures his readers that he thanks God for them, their faith, their mutual love and their steadfastness. This is no cheap attempt to sweeten a bitter pill, but rather an honest appreciation for these believers, encouraging them, that through their faith in Christ, they have the resources to cope with what life throws at them.

During this pandemic, it seems, from time to time, that people let their anxiety affect the way they address one another. The tone of messages can quickly become unjustly accusatory and hostile. The way Paul begins his letter can serve as an example for us all as we write; a reminder to give credit where it is due and to remember also to encourage those with whom we may have an issue. In this age of instant written communication it is easy to slip into focussing on negativity whilst forgetting to appreciate the other. 

I was once advised by a wise priest to keep any little thank you notes or encouraging messages in a drawer and, when feeling down or unappreciated, to get them out and re-read them as a way of redressing the balance. We are often reminded to leave room for self care - maybe this is another method we should employ?

Prayer

Loving God,
We give thanks for
all who remembered, composed, collected, 
edited, translated and printed our Scriptures;
and all who have interpreted their words for us. 
We give thanks for all the “Daily Devotions” writers.
We acknowledge the commitment of the team
who bring their reflections to us day by day.
Remind us that, even when we disagree with what we read,
you will be able to teach us something new.
In Christ’s name,
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d David Miller, Minister, The URCs of North Staffordshire.  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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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2 Thessalonians

Tue, 04/05/2021 - 18:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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2 Thessalonians

Dear <<First Name>>,

I hope you found our reflections on the 10 Commandments useful.  

Last year we looked at 1 Thessalonians and now it’s time to catch up with the sequel.  The letter is traditionally attributed to Paul the Apostle, with Timothy as a co-author. Modern biblical scholarship is divided on whether the epistle was written by Paul; most New Testament scholars believe Paul wrote it but some modern scholars reject its authenticity based on what they see as differences in style and theology between this and the First Epistle to the Thessalonians.   Scholars who support its authenticity view it as having been written around 51–52 AD, shortly after the First Epistle.  Those who see it as a later composition assign a date of around 80–115 AD.  The letter deals with themes of the Second Coming.

Thessalonica was the second city in Europe where Paul helped to create an organized Christian community.  Members of the fledgling church wondered if those who had died would share in the Second Coming. This letter was written in response.   If this letter was not written by Paul then it would have been written in the latter part of the first Century when the  "man of sin" in the second chapter of the letter might be identified with the Antichrist of 1 John and Revelation, or with a historical person like Caligula.

I hope you find the reflections on this short letter as we read and pray through it together.

with every good wish


Andy


The Rev'd Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC
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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 Tuesday 4th May 2021 The Rev’d Trevor Jamison

Tue, 04/05/2021 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 4th May 2021 The Rev’d Trevor Jamison View this email in your browser

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Tuesday 4th May Dealing with Greed
 
Exodus 20: 17

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Reflection

Have you ever shared a fridge with others who are not family members? It can be a nightmare. No edible item is safe, no owner’s initials on a milk carton prevents its contents reducing, or disappearing when your back is turned. And as for they who blithely appropriate your allocated shelf to store their food…

No one’s to be trusted, not even yourself.  I’ll defend what’s mine to the last drop of my orange juice, but your yoghurt is meant for sharing, especially when you’re not around to do so. That’s coveting for you. It’s not just that you like what someone else possesses, but your uncontrolled desire leads you to take it for yourself.

Covetousness gets everywhere, not just inside fridges. It’s about ‘anything that belongs to your neighbour.’ Covetousness even gets into the other commandments. King Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard, which led to false witness and judicial murder, which enabled theft. And when Adam and Eve coveted divine status, just as with shared fridges, no fruit was safe.

This tenth commandment, with its talk of neighbours, takes us back to the first one, with its focus on God. Having other gods declares that God alone will not provide all you need. Being driven by the covetous desire to take what your neighbours possess, suggests the same. Summing up the law, Jesus declared that we should love God and our neighbour, and how we do one affects how we do the other.

In fact, his positive approach shows the way to fully living out this anti-covetousness commandment. Initials on milk cartons, or rules stuck on a fridge door, have limited deterrent effect on covetous desire. Fridge users who first put their trust in God, and try to love their neighbour, however, might be readier to share, not steal.
 
Prayer

Gracious God,
remind me of all the good things you’ve given me,
so that I spend less time coveting the things you’ve given others.
And make us all readier to share than to take.
Amen.
 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Trevor Jamison, Minister, Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields
 
Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Monday 3rd May 2021

Mon, 03/05/2021 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Monday 3rd May  Dealing with Sexual Desire
 
Exodus 20: 17

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Reflection

Sex. Sex. Sex. It’s still a taboo in many situations, yet at the same time it’s one of the most talked about subjects! Particularly amongst folk of my generation. In a world where women are sexualised on a regular basis, newspapers making millions from wardrobe malfunctions, short dresses, makeup-less celebrities, it’s no wonder that sexual desire exists. From an earlier and earlier age too.

As I write this devotion, I’ve just come across a new TV show called ‘Teen First Dates’. Which is the teenage version of the popular ‘First Dates’. You may well have your own opinion on ‘First Dates’ as a TV show. But the teen version appears to be an exact replica. Rather than, like most youth versions of TV shows, simplified and/or adapted. A first date is a first date, yes, but implying that teenagers must be dating during those years is not helpful. Children and young people are being brought up in a more sexualised world, I include myself in this upbringing.

How should we deal with this? Talking about it goes a long way to dealing with it. Hiding the issue as if it doesn’t exist will only exacerbate things. Perhaps if, from an earlier age, people were able to be open and honest, express their feelings? Then the feelings would not be locked up and turned into something worse, such as ‘coveting a neighbour’s wife’, literally or figuratively.

We need to break down the barriers put up around these subjects. It would help us all personally. But it would also have a positive effect on our outward image too. The Church is not anti-sex, in fact, sex is regularly mentioned in the Bible!  It’s time to talk about it ourselves.

Prayer

Lord,
life gives us an abundance of feelings,
positive, negative, and somewhere in between.
Help us not to keep them locked up,
but to talk, to each other, to you, and seek help where needed.
We thrive from sharing our lives and our good news with others.
Loving God
You give us the ability to love one another.
Help us to continue to do this, just as You love us.
Amen
 
 
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Today's writer

Dan Morrell, Media for Ministry Consultant and Children’s and Youth Outreach Worker, Emmanuel Church Waterthorpe, Sheffield
 
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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotions Sunday Worship for 2nd May 2021 - The Revd. Andy Braunston

Sun, 02/05/2021 - 09:45
96 URC Daily Devotions Sunday Worship for 2nd May 2021 - The Revd. Andy Braunston View this email in your browser

Sunday Service from the URC

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worship for challenging times
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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.
Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Service for Sunday 2nd May
The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Picture credit © June 9, 2019, by Steve Mickelson

Revd. Andy Braunston
 
Call to Worship
 
One:         Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
 
Many:      He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
 
One:         Rejoice, heavenly powers!   Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
 
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
 
One:         Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour,
radiant in the brightness of our King!
Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!
 
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers!  Sing, choirs of angels!
 One:         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!
 
Hymn       The Day of Resurrection
                  St John of Damascus 749, translated J M Neale 1862
 
The day of resurrection!
Earth, spread the news abroad;
The Paschal Feast of gladness,
The Paschal Feast of God.
From death to life eternal,
From earth to heaven’s height,
Our Savour Christ has brought us;
the  glorious Prince of life.
 
2: Our hearts be free from evil,
that we may see aright.
The Savour resurrected
in His eternal Light.
And hear his message plainly,
delivered calm and clear;
“rejoice with me in triumph,
be glad and do not fear.”
 
3: Now let the heav’ns be joyful,
and earth her song begin!
The whole world keep high triumph,
and all that is therein!
Let all things in creation
their notes of gladness blend,
For Christ the Lord is risen,
our joy that hath no end.
 
Introduction
 
Hello.  My name is Andy Braunston and I work with four lovely United Reformed Church congregations in and around Glasgow.  I also manage the Daily Devotions project for the URC working with a team of over 100 writers who create the daily reflections and prayers which are emailed out early each morning to well over 4,000 people.  The Daily Devotions network was also used to ensure that we were able to get recorded services, like this one, produced each week so that those at home due to frailty, illness or shielding can take part in URC worship alongside those who can’t meet in person due to legal, safety, or moral restrictions.  We’ve seen a remarkable growth in church attendance since lockdown – which is something of a paradox.  The availability of worship on the Internet has let all sorts of people dip in and see something of what we’re about.  In our service today we think about how one of the earliest evangelists helped someone on the edge of Jewish life and faith find his place in the Kingdom.
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession, and Forgiveness
 
Holy One, long ago you called a people to yourself,
choosing them to be holy as you are holy,
giving them your Law and Commandments,
that they might rise to be a light to the nations.
 
Holy One, in due season you sent to your people,
Jesus, your Word made flesh.
To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation,
to outsiders he gave the grace of your presence,
he lifted up the lowly, treated women as equals,
and taught His followers to love others as themselves.
Yet for his pains he was brought low,
betrayed by one who loved him,
handed over to torture, ridicule, shame and death,
and was laid in a borrowed tomb.
Yet you defeated the powers, even the powers of death,
and raised Jesus on high, to be the first fruits of our faith,
opening the way to grace for all.
 
Holy One, you send your Church power from above
that we might worship you in spirit and in truth,
witness to your saving works,
tell others of your love and serve in your name.
 
Forgive us when we fail:
fail to acknowledge the Jewish people as the apple of your eye;
fail to follow the teachings of Jesus,
fail to worship, witness, evangelise or serve as we should.
Forgive us, Lord, and give us time to change. Amen.
 
Here is Good News!
God is the Source of all mercy, and,  through the birth, life, death and new life of Jesus, His Son, is reconciling the world to Himself and has sent the Holy Spirit amongst us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church may we all receive pardon and peace, in the knowledge that we are forgiven,  in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
 
Hymn:      Let Us Build A House
Marty Haugen (b.1950)
 
Let us build a house
where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive;
built of hopes & dreams & visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
 
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

2 Let us build a house
where prophets speak,
and words are strong and true,
where all God's children dare to seek to dream God's reign anew.
Here the Cross shall stand as witness
and as symbol of God's grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:

3 Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:

Prayer of Illumination
 
Speak to us, O God,
as you spoke of old,
through your Word, Jesus Christ,
broken open for us in Scripture and Sermon,
life and faith. Amen. 
 
Acts 8: 26-40
 
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.)  So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’  So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’  He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.  Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
 
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
    and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
        so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
        For his life is taken away from the earth.’
 
The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’  Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’  He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.  When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.  But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
 
Psalm 22: 1-5
from the Psalter of the Free Church of Scotland, Sing Psalms, sung by members of Rosskeen Free Church, 2014 
 
My God, my God, O why have you
Forsaken and abandoned me?
Why are you far from giving help,
From listening to
my anguished plea?
 
2 My God, I cry to you by day;
You do not hear when I complain.
I call to you
throughout the night;
In silence I cannot remain.
 
3 Yet you are holy: on the praise
Of Israèl you are enthroned.
4 In you our fathers put their trust;
They trusted, and were not disowned.
 
Sermon
 
Today we hear the much loved story of Philip and the nameless Ethiopian Eunuch.  A favourite with Sunday School teachers who’d enjoy showing drawings of an exotically dressed foreign official to peak children’s interest – before they’d get distracted and ask any difficult questions about what a eunuch was. 
 
We hear the story and we link it, as I suspect we’re intended to, as part of the story of the Church expanding its boundaries.  The Church wasn’t just for those in Jerusalem, it wasn’t just for those in Israel, and, as the Book of Acts continues, it’s clear that the Church wasn’t just for Jewish people. There’s shades of that message of inclusion here but there’s more going on.
 
At first reading we might think the story is about race and ethnicity as these are concerns of the modern world.  Yet the fact this man was Ethiopian shouldn’t be read that he wasn’t Jewish (we’ve not yet really got into the mission to the Gentiles by this point of Acts after all).  The Jewish people consisted of many different ethnic and racial groups so the fact this official was an Ethiopian probably wouldn’t have struck Philip, or any other Jew of that time, as odd.  Jewish teaching had been known to Ethiopians since the time of Solomon after all with his diplomatic alliance with the Queen of Sheba.  The text shows that this man had been on a visit to Jerusalem to worship.  In his chariot he’s reading aloud from the Scroll of the Prophet Isaiah – he clearly had money as scrolls didn’t, and don’t, come cheap.  The reading aloud, incidentally, was a common practice in the ancient world until the time of Augustine when it seems the demands of monastic life meant that reading in silence was taken up.  Our Ethiopian friend is puzzled with and engaged by the passage he’s reading – he knows his stuff.  It seems that this man was either Jewish through birth a convert to Judaism.  Clearly his queen had no issues giving him time off to make his pilgrimage – maybe she was Jewish too.   So we meet this guy in the context of a pilgrimage where he’d been to Jerusalem to worship. 
 
Philip would not have been struck by the man’s ethnicity - the sin of racism is, after all,  primarily a sin of modernity, and post modernity.  Slaves, for example, in the ancient world were drawn primarily from defeated peoples or from people sentenced to slavery by the courts for their crimes rather than a blanket enslavement of a particular race.  Ancient slavery had a different basis, still a dreadful basis, than the slavery based on racism that the English, and then the later British state, pioneered from the 16th Century onwards.   There is, however, a crucial issue of difference and inclusion in this story that we miss – it’s back to those embarrassing questions that rather more knowing Sunday School children might have asked – the issue of this man being a eunuch.  We usually see eunuchs in the ancient world (and in the not so ancient early modern world) as castrated males who usually worked in the palace.  Ideally they were castrated before puberty and so were deemed safe servants to attend to women in the palace – no issues then of affaires and mixed blood lines.  Eunuchs might have been the most personal servants for royalty and so ensured their trust; their inability to have children meant, supposedly, they had no families to promote or advocate for.  Often they came from humble origins and gained high rank.  The term might also have been used to mean any male who was not able to procreate.  An early Church handbook on worship and discipline, the Canons of Hippolytus, rejected eunuchs for baptism associating them with male prostitutes.  So simply naming a man as a eunuch was making a statement about his social and sexual standing.  He had great importance as a trusted palace official, but he would have always been see as less of a man by his contemporaries and he would have had no children to remember him or mention his name in the genealogies.  He was, therefore something of an outsider.   Philip was then sent to help this outsider who may have been Jewish but who, if he was, would have been troubled by the Bible. He would have known that there was a debate within Judaism about the place of Eunuchs.  No doubt the opening words of Psalm 22, which we sung a few moments ago, about being forsaken by God spoke to this Ethiopian man so long ago as they still speak to many who are excluded from the Church now. 
 
The book of Deuteronomy excludes eunuchs from the Lord’s people; they could neither be part of the priesthood nor the assembly of the people.  Yet the passage from Isaiah that our friend is reading is followed by a rather different theology:
 
and do not let the eunuch say,
   ‘I am just a dry tree.’
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
   who choose the things that please me
   and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
   a monument and a name
   better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
   that shall not be cut off.
 
which shows the writer of Isaiah took a rather different view to the writer of Deuteronomy.  However, the passage the official was reading is also instructive.  It is part of the long poem about God’s suffering servant who will redeem His people.  The passage speaks of one who like a sheep is lead to slaughter; the passage, once Philip helped him understand it, showed the official that God knew and understood the experience of being humiliated and rejected as Jesus himself took on that outcast state.  Jesus, explained Philip, like the eunuch was denied justice.  Jesus, like the eunuch was rejected by the people.  Jesus, on the Cross, was, like the eunuch in life, humiliated and belittled.  But in Jesus, and for those who follow him, this suffering, rejection and humiliation is transformed into exultation at his own side.
 
So with Philip’s help, the eunuch sees the Isaiah passage as speaking to him of the Jesus who died for him that he might no longer be cut off from the people and might be made whole.  He might not have children to remember him but, like the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus for his death, this guy is remembered now 2,000 years later as an example of radical inclusion. 
 
So what can we learn from this difficult tale now?  After all we don’t use castrated males for royal service but we still fall into the habit of stigmatizing and excluding people we’re not fully comfortable with – and we might even try and use bits of the Bible to support us. 
The Book of Acts, as a whole, is a record of the whirlwind power of the Holy Spirit pushing boundaries.
 
Not just those in Jerusalem. 
Not just those in Israel. 
Not just Jews and God-fearers but gentiles too. 
Not just those who fell into the sexual norms of society but those outwith those norms. 
 
All are included, all are invited, all can be baptised.   
 
The Holy Spirit continues to push our boundaries, to make us uncomfortable with the status quo, in Reformed speak the Holy Spirit always seeks to reform the Church to make us more faithful to God’s Word, Jesus. 
 
Over the Centuries the Holy Spirit has moved us on from being the Church of any one people, and helped us understand the Church is truly Catholic. 
 
The Holy Spirit has helped us understand that slavery is abhorrent, that women must play a full and equal part in the Church with men.
 
In more recent years the Holy Spirit has helped us recover more of a sense of the responsibility of all the People of God to respond to the vocations we are given and, over the last 30 years ago, the Holy Spirit has stirred us to think more deeply about how to include gender and sexual minorities in our life and witness. 
 
Just as the Ethiopian eunuch would have had to contend with different Biblical passages giving different perspectives so the Holy Spirit has helped us, over the years deal with Biblical passages that seem to make God partial to one people, to leave behind Biblical passages that seem to support slavery or oppress women.  We’ve learned different perspectives about those Biblical passages which were often used to stigmatise lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. 
 
These debates continue and people of good will have different perspectives but the Holy Spirit continues to catch us in the whirlwind power that swept Philip to our Ethiopian friend and away again once his work was done.  The Spirit continues to blow through the Church seeking to stretch and reform us, to inspire us to include more folk as we worship, witness, evangelise and serve our world. 
 
Will you pray with me?
 
O Holy Spirit, You move where You will,
blowing away our dusty certainties and outworth truths,
always reforming us in the light of Jesus, God’s own Word.
Help us when we cling to what You are blowing aside,
change us when we use the Bible to oppress, wound and exclude,
and drive us, like you drove Philip, to bring Your people home. Amen.
 
Hymn:      The Love Burning Deep
© The Rev’d Kathy Galloway music by Fr Ernie Sands,
 
Come out of the darkness, come out of the shadow
come out of the endless night, all you who are poor now,
all you who are broken all you who are bowed by fight.
Come into the light of God’s sacred intention
come under the shelter of Her hand,
here you may find riches, here you may find healing,
here now you may rise and stand.

2: Come out from your prisons, come out from your ghettos,
come out from behind your walls, leave all your distinctions,
leave all your derisions, and answer Her when she calls.
For She is your end as She was your beginning
She is the desire of all your days, in Her love is fullness,
in Her love is wholeness, holy will be all Her ways.
 
3: No more will you rest now, no more take your ease now,
no more let your life go by, always you will seek Her,
forever desire Her, until the day that you die.
Her love will consume you, blazing deep within you
burning away all that is not true, until you embrace Her,
in flesh and in spirit, holy you and wholly you.
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery 
which the Scriptures describe in various ways.
 
It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd’s life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of evil. These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory in the depths of God’s love for humankind.
 
They reveal the gravity, cost,
and sure achievement of God’s reconciling work in which we trust.
 
Intercessions
 
We bring our prayers to God for our world, the Church and those we love and worry about…
 
God of creation, we lift our world to you.  We thank you for its beauty, for new life in our gardens, for trees in full leaf, for flowers and new growth to brighten our days.  We praise you for nature busy at work with birdsong and the sounds of young animals dancing and playing in fields.  Help us to be wise stewards of all you give us, O God.
 
God of all nations, we lift to you places of conflict and division, bitterness and distrust.  Bless those who make peace, who reach out across social and ethnic divisions to make things better.  Bless with your love and wisdom those who lead our nations in elected or appointed office, that they may work for the good of all.
 
God of the Church, help us as we navigate these times.  Help us to reach out to those who wish to explore spirituality and help us to love and care for each other as we process so much loss and change over the last year.  Be gentle with us, O God, as we are blown by Your Spirit.
 
God of mercy, we remember before you those we love and worry about (pause) and we remember our own needs before you O God (pause).
 
We join all our prayers together as we pray….
 
Our Father…. 
 
Offertory
 
We practice our faith in a range of different ways – worship is the one we always think of, but we practice our faith in the ways we treat others, in how we vote, in how we use our money and resources.  Our faith isn’t just something we practice on a Sunday but with our entire lives.  Over the last year despite not being able to get to church, or not being able to get to church very much, we’ve still been giving – giving to charities, giving of ourselves and our love, giving to the Church knowing that it’s ministry continues despite pandemic and lockdown.  And so we give thanks:
 
All things come from You, Loving God,
and of Your own do we give You.
Help us to use our resources well,
that our worship and witness,
our evangelism and service,
will bring glory to You,
now and forever, Amen.
 
Hymn:               It is the Cry of My Heart
Terry Butler
 
It is the cry of my heart to follow You.
It is the cry of my heart to be close to You.
It is the cry of my heart to follow
All of the days of my life.
 
Teach me Your holy ways, O Lord,
So I can walk in Your truth.
Teach me Your holy ways, O Lord,
& make me wholly devoted to You.
Open my eyes so I can see
The wonderful things that You do.
Open my heart up more and more
And make it wholly devoted to You.

Blessing
 
May the One who drove Philip out to the edge,
the One who called the Ethiopian man
giving him a legacy he never dreamt of,
the One who reforms the Church again and again,
drive you to evangelise,
call you to His Service,
and reform you in His image,
that the cry of your heart,
will join the cry of all Creation
in giving praise to God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
 
Sources and thanks
 
The day of resurrection - St John of Damascus 749, translated J M Neale 1862. Sung by the OCP Session choir ℗ 2012 OCP. All rights reserved.
Let Us Build A House - Marty Haugen (b.1950) - Sung at St Mary’s Warwick for BBC’s Songs of Praise
Psalm 22: 1-5 - from the Psalter of the Free Church of Scotland, Sing Psalms, sung by members of Rosskeen Free Church, 2014 
The Love Burning Deep - © The Rev’d Kathy Galloway, music by Fr Ernie Sands, sung and played by the Rev’d Paul Robinson.
It is the Cry of My Heart - © 1991 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing  written and performed by Terry Butler
 
Organ Pieces
 
Ach Gott Von Himmel Sieh Darein (“O God from heaven see this”) by Johann Pachelbel (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Songs of Praise Toccata by Robert Prizeman (organ of St Andrew’s, Farnham – 2019)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to Derek McDonald, Dan Morrell, Myra Rose, Jamie Stewart and Reuben Watt for reading various spoken parts of the service.
  --> Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved.
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762

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URC Daily Devotion 2nd May 2021 The Rev’d David Coaker

Sun, 02/05/2021 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday 2nd May Psalm 41
 
How blest is he who will regard the poor: 
He shall forever stand.
In troubled days the LORD makes him endure: 
Blest is he in the land.
His enemies demand his life in vain, 
Though he be near death’s door.
The LORD sustains him on his bed of pain:
His health Thou shalt restore.

I said, “O LORD, be gracious unto me,
Heal me, my sins are great.”
In malice speak my enemies of me,
And for my death they wait.
My visitor says empty words, O God,
With mischief in his heart.
When he goes out, he tells it all abroad,
Rejoicing when I smart.

My enemies, with hatred fierce and grim,
All whisper in disdain,
“A deadly thing has gotten hold of him,
He will not rise again.”
See how my bosom friend, whom I did trust,
With whom I shared my bread,
Has turned against me, showing his disgust,
And slanderous tales has spread.

But Thou, O LORD, be gracious unto me;
Let me their ill requite.
By this I know that Thou art pleased with me:
My foes are put to flight.
Forever in Thy presence I shall dwell,
Upheld by Thee again.
Blest be the LORD, the God of Israel,
From age to age! Amen.

W. van der Kamp, 1972, 
You can hear this, to the Genevan tune here
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1l7STjFRltGO3Zqs-o2kfdE9tlhp5V5zl/view?usp=sharing

Reflection

There are many interpretations of Psalm 41 seeing it as a lament, thanksgiving, or a healing liturgy. We also have an echo of verse 9 in John’s telling of the Last Supper: ‘Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.’ Psalm 41:9 (NRSV)

It weaves together God’s care, and the desperation of the person who is ill. The assurance of God’s concern for the poor and the defenceless, and the fear the ill person has of other people’s intentions but also their trust in God. All of these conflicting emotions bound together by the psalm: confidence and fear, peace and desperation, innocence and guilt.

It is more than likely that similar waves of emotions have been experienced by many, if not all, of us. The uncertainties, restrictions, sickness, and bereavements we have faced and the times of happiness, liberation, health, and comfort we have enjoyed. All woven together in our overall experience of this pandemic.

These past months have not been easy for anyone. There are obvious examples of those that have gone above and beyond, but we should not minimise our, or others, hardships by making the extreme the baseline for our sympathy.

We are incredibly grateful for the sacrifices made, know that we can never truly repay them, and accept that there will need to be actions taken to heal the wounds that leave no visible marks and to rebalance the priorities of our national and personal finances.

Even in ‘normal’ times we only ever see a glimpse of another person’s life, and so we especially need to be patient, gentle and compassionate to others, and to ourselves.
 
Prayer

Living God, we may not feel poor, troubled, defenceless, sad, attacked, or ill, but we still pray for your healing. We know we have fallen short, and ask for your grace and mercy.

May patience, gentleness and compassion surround us, our relationships and our communities. May your presence be forever near.

Blessed be God, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen. 
 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d David Coaker serves with Grays URC in 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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Saturday 1st May 2021

Sat, 01/05/2021 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Saturday 1st May   Tell nothing but the truth!

Exodus 20: 18

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

Reflection

“The truth…and nothing but the truth.” Anyone who has stood in the witness box in court will know that this part of the oath can prove challenging. In our adversarial legal system, faced with an eager barrister keen to devalue statements delivered, we may grapple with the temptation to embellish our evidence in order to strengthen it.

This inclination to add or manipulate details is evident in public life at large, especially when there are so many outlets for information and disinformation. Material that is genuine can be abused until its original intent is altered beyond recognition. Hardly a day passes when we are not exposed to “selected truths” bound up in parcels of opinion and malice and used in ways that diminish any value.

Certain politicians regularly tell us only the part of the truth we need to hear, thus failing the “nothing but the truth” test and causing potential long-term damage.

Some campaigners take serious scientific reports about, for example, coronavirus then extrapolate a single part to issue statements that mislead the gullible and may even cost lives.

People in the public eye have their reputations trashed when newspapers and social media take honest and harmless things they have said and twist them beyond recognition.

I suggest we have two responsibilities as Christians in relation to the ninth commandment.

The first is to say or write nothing but the unadorned truth at all times, with the obvious caveat that we do not upset others by telling them frankly what we really think about their horrible - sorry, treasured - new furniture!

The second is to do everything in our power to sift fact from fiction; disseminate only that which we know or have good cause to believe is true; and resist any temptation to pass on gossip and hearsay.

Prayer

Dear Lord,
in a world filled with lies and half-truths,
may we stand out as people who can be trusted
in the words we say,
in the words we share,
and in the actions we carry out.    
Amen
 
 
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Today's writer

Pat Stannard, Elder, Muswell Hill URC
 
Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion

Fri, 30/04/2021 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Friday 30th April
 
Exodus 20: 18

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

Reflection

Today we reflect on what the ‘whole truth’ might mean.  There are a number of times in daily life where the ‘whole truth’ might be positively unhelpful - if you ask your partner what they did during the day, you don’t actually want a blow-by-blow account of their every movement since they opened their eyes - you want the highlights that gave them joy or concern.  And if you are minuting a meeting, you don’t usually want a verbatim account that includes the digression about how excellent the biscuits are, you want a record of the key decisions and rationale.  I would also suggest that there are times when a simple model can be more helpful for understanding the world than a highly sophisticated description - much as psychologists and others rail against Myers-Briggs type indicators as being little better science than astrology, I’ve seen them enable groups to talk helpfully about the differences between individuals, and how members of the group can communicate better.

The challenge of giving a precis, or developing a model, is to make it true to the complicated whole it is describing.  You wouldn’t sum up your day without mentioning that you crashed the car, or fail to record the decision to spend £1m in your note of a meeting.  Readers of these Devotions don’t need me to point out that failing to pass on exculpatory evidence would be a form of bearing false witness - but what are the other omissions that we might be more tempted to make?  For example, churches can be poor at facing up to child sexual abuse, while the efforts of the National Trust to be honest about the way some British people benefited from slavery have been derided by some as ‘wokeness’.  What are the things that we find it difficult to be honest about ourselves?

Prayer

Lord,
You know us inside and out
Help us to be honest about our failings
The times we are weak
The flaws we would rather ignore in ourselves and the things we hold dear
The complexity that we would like to gloss over for a quiet life
Help us find the path of truth that brings healing.

Amen.
 
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Today's writer

Gordon Woods, Elder, St. Columba’s URC, Oxford
 
Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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This Week's Pandemic Prayer

Thu, 29/04/2021 - 10:31
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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This Week's Pandemic Prayer

Dear Friends,

this week's Pandemic Prayer was written by John Collings, a lay preacher and member of Rutherglen URC.  You can see it on the URC website here.

with every good wish


Andy --> --> --> Follow on Facebook Follow on Twitter Podcast Share This on Facebook Tweet this Forward to a Friend -->
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 29th April 2021

Thu, 29/04/2021 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Thursday 29th April 2021
 
Exodus 20: 18

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.


Reflection

We live in a world in which ‘fake news’ has become a mantra, and in which social media are increasingly being held to account for what they allow to be posted. There’s a dilemma as to who monitors and makes a judgement on what people say. Is it government or big corporations? But then, who does the average person in the street trust?

The commandment in Exodus about not bearing false witness comes from another world, a world in which people would have known each other personally in local communities and in which it would have been clear what is false and what is true about the neighbour. To say something that is false would have gone against the sense of visible truth.

The visibility of truth in the twenty-first century has become a different matter. Not only are neighbours not necessarily known as they once were, there is a continuing questioning about what is reported in the wider media.

The Ten Commandments have their starting point in a common origin, that of the one God. Truth is not just a matter of what I on my own might think or believe, or even, make up. Truth is discovered in coming closer to God and to one another. This relational journey involves uncertainty and discovery along the way, as well as a better understanding of how to relate well to my neighbour. It means speaking the words that are gifts of God, not words arising out of my desire to put down the other person.

It is out of this relationship with God that I receive the strength I need to hold back on words that are untrue or hateful, and speak the words of truth that are loving and generous.

Prayer:

Thanks be to you, O God, for truth that is loving.
Take from me any desire to speak falsely.
Before I speak, may I examine my heart in the light of your love.
Grant me the patience I need to grow in knowledge of your truth, rather than leaping to my own conclusions.
May my words be generous and kind, to neighbour and to stranger.
May I witness to your truth in this troubled and doubting world. Amen
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Elizabeth Welch, retired minister, active theologically and ecumenically, member at St Andrews Ealing. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Sunday's coming

Wed, 28/04/2021 - 15:30
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday's Coming

Dear Friends,

Sunday's service is led by our very own the Revd. Andy Braunston. We will be thinking about one of the earliest evangelists who helped someone on the edge of Jewish life and faith find his place in the Kingdom. hymns include Marty Haugen's Let us build a house, a sung Psalm of Psalm 22: 1-5, The love burning deep, and Terry Butler's It is the cry of my heart.

The service will be sent out, as normal, at 9.45 on Sunday morning for a 10am start.  If you have any problems receiving it please read on for advice.

with every blessing,


Dan


Dan Morrell
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URC Daily Devotion 28th April 2021

Wed, 28/04/2021 - 06:00
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Wednesday 28th April
 
Exodus 20: 15

You shall not steal.

Reflection

I don’t possess an ox, a donkey, or a sheep, though I have a car, a computer, and a phone.

This commandment against stealing is worded briefly, but applies widely. There is no object to the word, ‘steal’ in the statement. So when you read, ‘you shall not steal …’, you should add the word(s) appropriate to your situation.

Early attempts to work out what this commandment meant in practice featured oxen, donkeys and sheep (Exodus 21-23 has examples) because they were central to human economic life and flourishing. I don’t need livestock to do my job today, but my car, computer and phone are very important.

This commandment links to others. Previous ones say you must not steal another’s life, or their relationships. Subsequent ones are about the lying that accompanies stealing, and the covetous attitudes that can underpin it.
‘You shall not steal … actively.’ I depend on others not to take things away from me by stealth, and others depend on me for the same. ‘You shall not steal … passively.’ If my neighbour mislays their phone, computer, car, or whatever else they need for economic survival and flourishing, and I know where it is, I must not withhold that information. And yes, the above includes the neighbour I don’t like and/or who does not like me.

Leave me with the things that let me flourish. Bring them to me when I mislay them. I’ll do the same for you, and our society will hold together. It sounds simple, and it’s beneficial, but so wide ranging in application that I won’t measure up every time.

So, I give thanks for all the benefits that flow from keeping God’s gift of a commandment against stealing, and seek God’s forgiveness for the times I fail to keep it.
 
Prayer

God of grace and justice,
Protect me from those who would steal from me;
Protect me from the temptation to steal from others;
Whether through things done, or things undone;
And forgive me for the times I fall short.
Amen.
 
 
 
 
 
-->



Today's writer

The Rev’d Trevor Jamison, Minister, Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields Copyright
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URC Daily Devotion 27th April 2021

Tue, 27/04/2021 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Tuesday 27th April 2021
The Rich Stealing from the Poor 

Exodus 20: 15

You shall not steal.

Proverbs 22: 22-23

Do not rob the poor because they are poor or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them. 

Reflection

It’s sad to reflect that little has changed since God spoke the 10 Commandments. Old and New testament alike warn us against exploiting poor people and the prophets predicted dire consequences if the rich didn’t mend their ways… Think of Amos ranting at the wealthy classes, calling them names, and predicting horrendous consequences from God if they didn’t start to look after their servants who were paid little or nothing; or James as he too warns: “The wages of the labourers … which you kept back by fraud, cry out against you” (James 6 :4)

That theme of social justice crops up again and again, Jesus himself makes it clear that everyone has a responsibility to look after people less well-off than themselves.

Yet still the exploitation goes on.

As I write we are heading towards Fairtrade Fortnight, once again raising awareness of the predicament of farmers who provide some of our food and luxuries. I’ve just been reading about women and men who provide chocolate for our delight. I knew their situation was bad but didn’t realise the scale and am horrified to read that ‘despite the UK chocolate industry being £4 billion each year most cocoa farmers [are] living in abject poverty, typically earning just 74p a day’.  SEVENTY-FOUR PENCE a day! That’s an awful example of ‘rich’ stealing from ‘poor’. If you’re a chocolate fan like me (there are more of us since lockdown began), does it cross your mind that chocolate is too cheap?

It’s easy to look the other way - maybe you don’t like chocolate, maybe we don’t think of ourselves as ‘rich’ - but who made those cheap clothes? And who harvested those vegetables?

If I’m buying cheap, I am almost certainly stealing from someone who’s living in poverty. If it seems too good to be true – it is!
  
Prayer

Lord
We pray for people trapped by poverty
as they provide luxuries
for those of us who don’t think we’re ‘rich’.
Help us to buy with care
and to look for labels that show fair trade.
Lord we pray for the day when the whole world
lives your Kingdom values -
when we all care about and look after each other.
We pray for the day when exploitation is no more
Amen 

 
--> Linda Rayner, non-serving elder at Bramhall URC and URC coordinator for fresh expressions. 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 Monday 26th April 2021

Mon, 26/04/2021 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Monday 26th April 2021
Stewards or Owners of Private Property?

Exodus 20: 15

You shall not steal.

Reflection

It’s simple enough – just a few words – don’t take what you don’t own.

But when you think a bit harder, the question of ownership is not so simple. Early saints and French anarchists don’t always see eye to eye, but there’s not too much between Proudhon’s “property is theft” and St Ambrose’s “the superfluous property which you hold you have stolen”. 

From the Enclosure Acts to the selling of council houses, the question of who owns what has brought about policies that are the harbingers of huge social change, for better or worse. Often such changes bring greater inequality. There are winners and losers. Inequality has been rising for years, and has been exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic. And when the way in which people are valued is so often defined by what they own, the results are divisive and potentially dehumanising. 

“The earth is the Lord’s – and everything in it” says the Psalmist. Only take what you need for the journey is Jesus’ message for the disciples as they head out to share the good news. Members of the early Church “had all things in common”.

The concept of stealing is so much wider than breaking and entering. The prophets remind us that not paying the right wages, giving short measure, false dealings in business are all about taking what is not rightfully ours; exploiting others. And Jesus didn’t support tax avoidance either. Go one step further and we need to recognise that the supply chain for goods can involve exploitation. Our cheap goods might mean that we are stealing.

If we truly believe that all things belong to God, and act in the knowledge that we are simply stewards, perhaps we would be people who stand out in the world for all the right reasons. 

Prayer

Generous God,
forgive our addiction to ownership.
Remind us that all things belong to you.
Help us to act justly, love mercy 
and walk humbly with you,
so that we will be good stewards
of all that you have entrusted to us.
Amen

-->


The Reverend Clare Downing,
Moderator of Wessex Synod and General Assembly Moderator

 

 

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URC Daily Devotions Sunday Worship for 25th April 2021 - The Revd. Cath Atkinson

Sun, 25/04/2021 - 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.
URC Daily Devotions
Sunday Service for 25th April

The Fourth Sunday of Easter
The Rev’d Cath Atkinson
 
Call to Worship
 
One:         Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
 
Many:      He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
 
One:         Rejoice, heavenly powers!   Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!
 
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
 
One:         Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour,
radiant in the brightness of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
 Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers!  Sing, choirs of angels!
 
One:         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!
 
Hymn       From the Very Depths of Darkness
                  The Rev’d Michael Forster
 
From the very depths of darkness
springs a bright and living light,
out of falsehood and deceit
a greater truth is brought to sight,
in the halls of death, defiant,
life is dancing with delight!
The Lord is risen indeed!
 
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
The Lord is risen indeed!
 
2. In the light of resurrection,
Jesus calls us all by name,
‘Do not cling to what is past,
for things can never be the same;
to the trembling and the fearful,
we’ve a gospel to proclaim:
The Lord is risen indeed!
 
3. So proclaim it in the high rise,
in the hostel let it ring,
make it known in Cardboard City.
Let the homeless rise and sing:
‘He is Lord of life abundant,
and he changes everything,
the Lord is risen indeed!’
 
4. In the heartlands of oppression,
sound the cry of liberty,
where the poor are crucified,
behold the Lord of Calvary!
From the fear of death and dying,
Christ has set his people free!
The Lord is risen indeed!
 
5. Tell the despots and dictators
of a love that can’t be known
in a guarded palace-tomb,
condemned to live and die alone:
‘Take the risk of love & freedom;
Christ has rolled away the stone!
The Lord is risen indeed!’
 
6. When our spirits are entombed
in mortal prejudice and pride,
when the gates of hell itself
are firmly bolted from inside,
at the bidding of his Spirit,
we may fling them open wide!
The Lord is risen indeed
 
Introduction
 
Hello everyone and welcome to worship. My name is Cath Atkinson and I’m the minister of three churches in the area around St Helens, Merseyside, all with very different contexts, Rainford is a village church, Ormskirk Street is a large town centre church and Haresfinch sits within housing near to a local primary school.  Having only been here just under two years I am learning that St Helens has a strongly industrial past which includes coal mining, glass making and the cotton industry. But there are also softly rolling hills around us making it good for arable farming and for walking. I am recording this in my study looking out on the front garden, with my trusty companion Bella the dog lying on my feet. Wherever you are, let’s come and worship together.
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
 
Loving God, from our scattered places we gather together to worship you.
 
We praise you: for all the wonders of your creation; for the changing seasons and the evidence of new life; for birds emerging from the egg
flowers pushing up from the bulb and blades of grass from the dark soil.
 
Spring lambs on green grass remind us that we too are your flock.
One flock with one shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.
 
Forgive us Lord when we want to stay in the comfort of the sheepfold unwilling to hear your voice calling us out. 
 
Forgive us Lord when we try to return to the old pastures relying on past certainties.
 
Forgive us Lord when we wander, or step out on our own paths down selfish lanes that lead nowhere.
 
Shepherding God, forgive us, help us to listen…
 
Pause
 
Hear the voice of the good shepherd, the voice of love and forgiveness
‘I know my own and my own know me,’ ‘I lay down my life for the sheep’
 
Thank you for your love that Leads us on through changing landscapes
down fresh paths and into new and verdant pastures. Amen.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Lord God, as we listen to the bible reading for today, may we hear your word for us. By your Spirit, may we take it to our hearts and live it in our lives for your glory. Amen.
 
Reading:  St John 10:11-18
 
Jesus said: ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
 
Hymn       The Lord’s my Shepherd 
                  Stuart Townend
 
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.
 
3: 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
 
I wonder if any of you have been fortunate enough to have seen Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa? Created in 1503, It hangs in the Louvre gallery in Paris. People speak of her enigmatic smile and the qualities of the painting’s composition. Up until recent times hundreds of people each day would visit the museum just to view this one painting. Such is its renown.
 
It does have a little-known connection with another painting by Leonardo da Vinci – ‘the last supper’ which is found on a wall of a monastery in Milan.
 
It has been claimed that Mona Lisa is the most reproduced painting of all time – the last supper comes a close second as the most reproduced religious painting of all time. Thousands of copies of the Mona Lisa have been produced over the years, all coming from that one masterpiece.
Some copies closely resemble the original, some are poor imitations, some are out and out parodies but there’s really only the one genuine painting.
 
Our reading this morning starts half way through the chapter, as Jesus identifies himself as the one who is also the real deal. Jesus uses this image of the shepherd, so familiar to those people around him, to show us something of who he is when he says – I am the good shepherd – the real deal - the one good, true and perfect shepherd.
 
And as Jesus says ‘I am the good shepherd’- there are echoes of something else - an encounter between God and Moses long before, when God reveals Gods name ‘I am who I am’. So, Jesus the good shepherd is an expression of who God is – the one good, true and perfect shepherd, one who comes to shepherd his people, one who will fulfil Gods purposes.
 
But what makes Jesus a good shepherd?
 
Jesus tells us that the good shepherd knows his sheep and his sheep know him – it begins with relationship.
 
One of the early lockdown TV hits was ‘Our Yorkshire farm’ – the story of the Owens family – Amanda and Clive and their brood of nine children on their 2000-acre hill farm in upper Swaledale. Filmed around the year, we learn that shepherding is not quaint, cute or cuddly. We see them looking after their sheep in all weathers, feeding them in driving wind and rain, on snow covered hillsides, and in sunshine - knowing the life and death of lambing season, wrestling and holding sheep for shearing, and all the other messy, muddy and backbreaking tasks in between.
 
At cattle auctions, we see stock bought and paid for and back at the farm, they are marked with an ear tag or stamp to show whose they are. 
It is interesting to think that Jesus could be this kind of shepherd to each one of us… finding and feeding us in rain, snow or sunshine, with us in the life and death moments, holding us, sometimes having to wrestle us into place, and with us in all the messy, muddy and backbreaking places we find ourselves.
 
And For our good shepherd, there’s something more – we belong to his flock not through any ear tag, but through relationship. Jesus says I know my own and my own know me.
 
Nowadays many flocks on moors and hills know their ‘heft’- they know their patch and mostly don’t stray too far from it, but in Jesus day, shepherds would move their flock around, leading them to food and water sources, finding shade in the heat of the day and settling them safely in the evenings. So, there was plenty of time for the shepherd to get to know his sheep and as the sheep spent day after day with the shepherd, they would come to know his presence and his voice.  AS we spend time with the shepherd, listening, loving and being loved, we too learn to hear his voice. Jesus says I know my own and my own know me.
 
Then there are the hired workers - those engaged to watch the sheep but when trouble comes, they scatter. As the sheep aren’t theirs, they are less invested, less committed and so at the first sign of threat or danger, they save themselves.
 
Who are these hired workers? Well the previous chapter might offer a clue – it tells of how Jesus heals a blind man and the Jewish authorities aren’t pleased, being more concerned that it happened on the sabbath, so they question the man and then his parents, and when they don’t get a satisfactory answer from him, they drive the newly sighted man out of the synagogue.
 
Like a good shepherd, Jesus goes to find him and the encounter ends with the man worshipping Jesus while the Pharisees seem blind to who Jesus is and his purposes, Could it be that, like hired workers, they were more concerned with the threat to their own interests, than genuinely caring for God’s people?
 
Today, we only need look around to see organisations, leaderships, and even nations that care more for their own interests than for their citizens, who function with closed minds acting more like the hired hands.  But before we point the finger too much, I guess the truth is there’s a bit of the hireling in all of us - times when we act more for ourselves than others - yet for Jesus the good shepherd, the measure is love.
 
What makes a good shepherd? Our reading says ‘one who lays down his life’.
 
Three times in our reading Jesus speaks of laying down his life.
First, he says ‘the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’. But as the reading progresses it becomes more direct, ‘I lay down my life for the sheep. No one takes it from me…’ it is an intentional laying down of his life.
 
In Jesus day, a sheep-herder would settle his flock in the sheepfold at night, lying down at the entrance, putting himself between the sheep and any danger, so too, the good shepherd will give himself for the sake of the sheep.  We remember Christ’s journey to the cross – the Good shepherd who became the lamb who was slain.
 
Well as I read our passage today, it strikes me that the sheep here don’t do very much- we read that they are easily scared, easily scattered, but they do know their shepherd, they listen to his voice and they follow his lead.
 
As we think of Jesus laying down his life for the sake of others, we too are called to follow his lead in our own acts of loving service for others.
 
Over these months we have certainly seen many examples of costly love – of people laying down their own lives in costly giving– facing their own anxieties and fears, and caring for others despite the dangers. We think of medical staff, carers, bus drivers, retail workers, teachers and volunteers, and all the other key workers. And Like Jesus the good shepherd, the measure is self-giving love – love for colleagues or patients, love for families or children, love for residents, love for their communities.
 
We too, in acts of self-giving love can follow the way of Jesus and self-giving love.
 
But just as Jesus has the power to lay down his life, he also has the power to take it up again – here is the good news we celebrate this Easter season- we have a good shepherd who cares enough to put himself in the place of death in order that his sheep may know life. The one who rose again on the third day, who leads us beyond death to eternal life. A shepherd we can trust and follow.
 
So at this time of year when we look around and see young lambs skipping around among the green grass, we give thanks for the Shepherd who knows his sheep, the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, the shepherd who leads us on, from death to life…
 
And to him be the glory, now and forever, Amen.
 
Hymn       For the Beauty of the earth
Folliott Sandford Pierpoint (1864) altd
 
For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies:
 
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise.
 
2: For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light:
 
3: For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, & friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild:
 
4: For each perfect gift of thine
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and divine,
Flowers of earth & buds of heaven
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery 
which the Scriptures describe in various ways.
 
It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd’s life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of evil. These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory in the depths of God’s love for humankind.
 
They reveal the gravity, cost,
and sure achievement of God’s reconciling work in which we trust.
 
Offertory
 
We have received so much from God’s hand, let us respond by bringing our offerings.  Let us pray together…
 
Gracious God
As we bring to mind the events of Easter-
the depths of your self-giving love
And the joy of your resurrection,
We bring you our gifts
Our money, our talents, our time 
And with them our grateful hearts.
Take them and bless them
That all may be used to further your Kingdom
To the glory of your name Amen.
 
Intercessions
 
We pray for our world, our communities, and for each other
 
Loving God
We pray for your creation – for places and peoples facing the impact of our changing climate, for the abuse on the natural world, and the pollution that threatens wildlife and spoils your planet. Be with those who seek to restore…
 
Loving Shepherd hear our prayer.
 
We pray for our world – for tension between nations or peoples, for places of conflict, violence and war. For the most vulnerable and those who suffer when we forget our connectedness. Be with those who work to bring peace..
 
Loving Shepherd, hear our prayer
We pray for our communities – for those affected by unemployment, for families facing uncertain futures, for helping agencies and foodbanks. Be with all who support and help…
 
Loving Shepherd, Hear our prayer
 
We pray for those around us who bear the scars of these past months – for medical staff and key workers, for all who have been bereaved, and those who carry the burden of caring, Be with those who listen and offer healing space…
 
Loving Shepherd, hear our prayer.
 
Finally in a time of quiet we pray for those people and situations we carry with us… (pause)
 
Loving Shepherd who knows us and loves us
Who brings us together and guides us as one flock
Hear these our prayers,
In the name of the one who taught us to pray together saying… 
 
Our Father…
 
Hymn       Thy Hand O God Has Guided
                  Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821-1891)
 
Thy hand, O God, has guided
thy flock, from age to age;
the wondrous tale is written,
full clear on every page;
our fathers owned thy goodness,
and we their deeds record;
and both of this bear witness:
one Church, one Faith, one Lord.

2: Thy heralds brought glad tidings
to greatest as to least;
they bade folk rise and hasten
to share the great King’s feast;
and this was all their teaching
in every deed and word;
to all alike proclaiming:
one Church, one Faith, one Lord.

3: Thy mercy will not fail us, nor leave thy work undone;
with thy right hand to help us, the victory shall be won;
and then, by all creation thy name shall be adored,
and this shall be their anthem: one Church, one Faith, one Lord.
 
Blessing
 
Now may the God of peace,
who… brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus,
that great Shepherd of the sheep,
equip you with everything good for doing his will…
 (Heb 13:20)

And the blessing of God – Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer
Be with you and all those you are given to love
Now and always, Amen.
 
Sources and Thanks
 
Call to Worship adapted by Andy Braunston from the Exultset.
All other prayers and liturgy by Cath Atkinson.
 
From the Very Depths of Darkness © The Rev’d Michael Forster, sung by Phil and Lythan Nevard, Susan Durber and Ruth Whitehead
The Lord’s my Shepherd  - Stuart Townend Copyright © 1996 Thankyou Music sung by Stuart Townend
For the Beauty of the earth - Folliott Sandford Pierpoint (1864) altd - sung by the Cambridge Singers with the City of London Sinfonia
Thy Hand O God Has Guided - Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821-1891) - Sung on BBC’s Songs of Praise
 
Organ Pieces
Ein Feste Burg (“A mighty fortress”) by Max Reger
(organ of Basilica Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy – 2016)
Nun Danket Alle Gott – Marche Triomphale (“Now thank we all our God”) by Sigfrid Karg-Elert
(organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to Marion Thomas, Mary McFarlane, Graham Handscomb and Ruth Tompsett for reading various spoken parts of the service.
  --> Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved.
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762

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URC Daily Devotion Sunday 25th April 2021

Sun, 25/04/2021 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion Sunday 25th April 2021 View this email in your browser

Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday 25th April 2021 Psalm 40

I waited patiently for God,
for God to hear my prayer;
and God bent down to where I sank
and listened to me there. 

God raised me from a miry pit,
from mud and sinking sand,
and set my feet upon a rock
where I can firmly stand.

And on my lips a song was put,
a new song to the Lord.
Many will marvel, open-eyed,
and put their trust in God.

Great wonders you have done, O Lord,
all purposed for our good.
Unable every one to name,
I bow in gratitude.

©1998  WGRG, Iona Community, Govan, Glasgow G51 3UU, Scotland
This works well to New Britain (Amazing Grace) which you can hear here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tq1qMwpvzZM

Reflection

There is a lovely double arc of movement in this interpretation of Psalm 40. As we join our voices to those of ancient worshippers we describe our own journey from the depths of despair, from that “miry pit”, upwards to the safety of solid ground.

As someone who loves walking I can think of times when we have waded through mud that seemed to treble the size of our boots and cling with dripping weightiness whilst we struggled through seeking the solid ground and hard rock.

The Psalmist has us sing of the truth of this momentum of salvation; from depth to height, from despair to hope, from lostness to being found. Here is an arc we travel again and again. Here is history’s arc of movement as disaster and despair give way to rejoicing.

2020 becoming 2021 has given us a global longing for salvation more starkly than any most of us have known outside war. Of course, for many the salvation comes from the skills of science and the liberating injection of vaccine. But, in the mix for us, and heading the list, comes our knowledge that God is at work in saving and renewing.

Which brings me to that other arc the Psalmist lets us sing. Our predicament moves God. God, far from hiding safely aloof in the infinite mystery of the cosmos, “bent down to where I sank and listened to me there.” Isn’t that just the most glorious phrase? Doesn’t that capture so much of our theology in but a few words? I love it!

Reading it through the lens of Christmas and Easter it speaks of Incarnation; of God’s willingness to limit God’s very self by taking on the robe and risk of human flesh. Here is God revealed as rescuer supreme; coming close enough to kneel in the dust where life has left us crushed. Here is God, reaching out a hand to take our own and lift us up even if the disaster we are facing is one we have helped to create for ourselves. Is it any wonder, then, that we cannot help but sing and bow in gratitude? Today, where might we discover God crouching with us? When will we be prompted to sing of God’s wonders revealed?

Prayer

You listen!
What a wonder it is to me,
that my troubles and triumphs
might be whispered or shouted
and heard.
With you, dear God,
we never are alone, bereft, cut adrift, forsaken.
Sometimes we think we are.
Then, especially then,
help us discover you
in the mud where we are stuck.
As Jesus promised.
Amen. 

-->

The Reverend Neil Thorogood, Minister, Thornbury URC & Trinity-Henleaze URC (Bristol) Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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