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Trinity Sunday

Wed, 03/06/2020 - 09:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Trinity Sunday

Dear Friends,

Sunday's service will reflect on the Trinity and is led by the Rev'd Neil Thorogood who is finishing his ministry at Westminster College and preparing to move to Gloucestershire.  Our worship is aided by lovely music including part of St Patrick's Breastplate, John Bell and Graham Maule's Today I Awake, the Native American hymn Many and Great, John Marriot's Thou Whose Almighty Word, and Charles Wesley's great Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.

As ever, the service is sent out between 9.45 and 9.50 on Sunday morning with a notional start at 10am - although the service can be heard at any point.  The Call To Worship includes some words for lighting a candle and you may wish to light a candle at home.

I hope you can join us on Sunday as we worship and praise the Three-in-One.

with every good wish



Andy --> Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 3rd June 2020

Wed, 03/06/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 3rd June - Like father, like son…
Genesis 26 1 - 16

Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar, to King Abimelech of the Philistines. The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I shall show you. Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfil the oath that I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring,  because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.’

So Isaac settled in Gerar. When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, ‘She is my sister’; for he was afraid to say, ‘My wife,’ thinking, ‘or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.’  When Isaac had been there a long time, King Abimelech of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw him fondling his wife Rebekah.  So Abimelech called for Isaac, and said, ‘So she is your wife! Why then did you say, “She is my sister”?’ Isaac said to him, ‘Because I thought I might die because of her.’ Abimelech said, ‘What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.’ So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, ‘Whoever touches this man or his wife shall be put to death.’

Isaac sowed seed in that land, and in the same year reaped a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him,  and the man became rich; he prospered more and more until he became very wealthy.  He had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him.  (Now the Philistines had stopped up and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham.)  And Abimelech said to Isaac, ‘Go away from us; you have become too powerful for us.’

Reflection

I am sure that, like me, many of you have heard many times people say to you “ohhh, you must be x’s son/daughter!”. Having read today’s passage, I am sure Isaac also experienced this as there are so many comparisons between his life and his father Abraham’s life.
 
Following on from a famine in Isaac’s time, he wanted to go down to Egypt just as his father had done. God did not want this and so similarly to what he did with Abraham, appeared to Isaac and told him to stay in the land of which God had told him.  God then told Isaac about the oath that was given to his father which includes the promise of a land, a nation and a blessing that he has now inherited. Even though Abraham’s obedience to this covenant wasn’t always 100%, God still kept it to bestow onto Isaac.
 
Isaac also fell for the same evil as his father. Both Isaac and Abraham had a beautiful wife and feared for their own safety that someone may kill them for their wife which is why they both said their wife was their sister. Had someone  slept with Isaac’s wife then God would have punished them severely. Isaac though he could hide the obvious to others which is often the case with sin among God’s people.  

In this passage we learn how similar Isaac is to his father Abraham they both made mistakes but they ultimately followed their heavenly father and God blessed them. In the same was we will make the same mistakes as our dads but God our heavenly Father has still promised to bless us too
 
Prayer
 
Dear Lord,
Give us the strength and courage to know right from wrong,
In times of need may we remember your blessing over us
Help us to remember how you died on the cross to save us from our sins,
In Jesus’ name,

Amen
 

 
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Today's writer

Reuben Watt, Youth Assembly Moderator and Elder, Reigate Park Church  Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 2nd June 2020

Tue, 02/06/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 2nd June 2020 - Esau and Jacob 2

Genesis 25: 29-34

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’  Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Reflection

Neither Esau nor Jacob come out well from this story - and both behave in ways that they repeat later on in Genesis.  Esau, the impulsive, impatient one, throws away his birthright for the sake of a bowl of lentils, while Jacob, the deceitful one, sets a trap for his brother that he knows he is likely to fall into, in order to get the birthright that isn’t by rights his.  The writer of Genesis seems to have more sympathy with Jacob, than with Esau, who is said to have ‘despised’ his birthright, but turns the tables on Jacob later on when he himself is tricked by Laban.

I suspect that the idea of a birthright - the privilege of the first born - will feel alien to many of us, and the fact that Esau and Jacob are twins makes such an inequality starker.  These men are so different in character and habits, but tradition would make Esau the more important one, whether or not his talents and preferences made him better suited to continuing the family firm than his brother - and the writer of Genesis is pretty clear that whether or not Jacob got his position legitimately, he was better suited to the task of carrying on the family name.

In this first of a series of bad choices Esau begins to carve out a path through life that bucks expectations - and doesn’t always go well.  If I was Esau’s boss I’d be working with him on giving himself enough time to make considered decisions, rather than going with his gut on partial information!  But there is also something powerful about the way that he doesn’t just follow a path laid out for him by others, that may resonate for the way we have to discern our callings.  We should avoid selling our souls for lentils, however!

Prayer

Lord,
We give thanks for the freedom to make our own choices in life.  We remember the mentors and advisors, the family and friends, the ministers and elders who have helped us discern our choices at key moments in our lives.  We pray that we may support others, helping them listen for your call and see how they should use their gifts and talents.  And when we make bad choices, help us remember that you are still with us, and that that there is always hope for the future.

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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Monday 1st June 2020

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 06:00
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Monday 1st June -  Esau and Jacob 1

Genesis 25: 19 - 28

These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her,

‘Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
one shall be stronger than the other,
    the elder shall serve the younger.’

When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb.  The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau.  Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.  Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Reflection

Born of a virgin priestess, visited by a god, abandoned in a river, saved and raised by a wolf, the founders of the city of Rome, Romulus and Remus, is another story of miraculously conceived, empire founding, fighting twins. Told as the founding story of Rome, it characterizes the wonder, the survivor instinct and the brutal determination of the city and subsequent empire.

Genesis shows that in the nations who came from the Children of Abraham, there was family conflict from the foundation. Isaac was not Abraham’s first born son (Ishmael was) but Isaac inherited everything from his father. Then at the testing age of 40, Isaac married Rebekah who could not conceive (was God’s promise in jeopardy?).  After Isaac prayed she became pregnant with Esau & Jacob who fought from the womb (be careful what you pray for?).  If we look forward, Jacob’s family life is equally loaded with tension and power struggles.

Just as Romulus & Remus offer a character for the Roman Empire, I think these early stories in Genesis offer us a sense of the character of the nation/s Abraham & Sarah’s children became; full of diversity, often in conflict, riddled with favouritism, and yet bonded as family in which God makes uncanny choices to rule and lead with the younger, weaker and unexpected ones. This family will eventually spend 40 years wandering through the wilderness for God to try and forge them to be the family and the people God hopes for, but even then…

However, through all their messiness and power struggles, with bad choices and moments of brilliance, God never abandons them, never stops hoping for them, never stops shaping their diversity nor seeing their potential. If this is a characterisation of today’s broad family of the children of Abraham and Sarah, then perhaps we can find courage and hope in our faithstory to keep on trying to be the global family God can see in us, because God will never give up on us. 

Prayer

God of Abraham and Sarah
Families can be our greatest gift and sorest trial.
May our families of kin, of choice and of faith, 
be spaces where we can safely grow through conflict and calm
to become fully alive, fully accepted & accepting, fully loved & loving,
In the deep knowledge that you will never leave us or give up on us.
Holy family of Three-in-One, in you we trust.
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

Fiona Bennett.  Minister of Augustine United Church, Edinburgh 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 Pentecost

Sun, 31/05/2020 - 09:45
96 Sunday Worship for Pentecost 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 31st May
 
Today’s service is led by the Rev'd Andy Braunston who works with Barrhead, Priesthill, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs in and around Glasgow in Scotland's central belt.  You may wish to light a candle during the Call to Worship


 
You may wish to sing along with the invocation and make it a prayer or simply listen and pray the words quietly.
 
Come Holy Ghost Our Souls Inspire
attributed to Rabanus Maurus (c. 776-856), translated by John Cosin 1594-1672)
 
 
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
and lighten with celestial fire;
thou the anointing Spirit art,
who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.
 
2 Thy blessed unction from above
is comfort, life, and fire of love;
enable with perpetual light
the dullness of our mortal sight.

3 Teach us to know the Father, Son,
and thee, of both, to be but one;
that through the ages all along
this may be our endless song:
 
4 Praise to thine eternal merit,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 

Call To Worship
 
We meet in the name of God, the Holy Trinity of Love
 
who knows our needs, hears our cries, feels our pain, and heals our wounds.
 
God is our light and our salvation. In God’s name we light this candle and are reminded of Jesus, the Light of the World, God’s own Voice who came to live with us.
 
May our hearts be open to you, O God, now and always. Amen
 
Prayer of Approach
 
Holy God, like a rushing wind your Spirit moved upon the first disciples, on this day long ago, and like a purifying fire your Spirit seared their hearts and minds, with the message of your salvation. Send your Spirit on your Church anew, in this time and place, in our scattered lives and homes, stir up our courage, and rouse us for prophetic witness, that we may join with the apostles of old to proclaim your mighty deeds of power.  Amen.
 
Confession
 
As we come to God in worship the Spirit reminds us of our failures to love, to love God, to love others and to love ourselves.  We bring those times to God now in a moment of silence.
 
O God,
You have searched us out and known us,
and all that we are is open to You.
We confess that we have sinned:
we have used our power to dominate
and our weakness to manipulate;
we have evaded responsibility
and failed to confront evil;
we have denied dignity to ourselves and to each other
and have fallen into despair.
We turn to You O God; we renounce evil; we claim Your love;
we choose to be made whole.
 
Words of Assurance
 
Like a mother eagle who tends her young; like a father who runs to welcome home the estranged; like a rock upon which we stand,  God is loving and faithful, and forgives all our sins.  God loves and forgives you, so have the strength to love and forgive yourself. Amen
 
Come Down O Love Divine
Bianca di Sienna c1350 – c1434
 
Come down, O Love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
 
2 O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
 
3 Let holy charity,
mine outward vesture be
and lowliness become mine inner clothing
true lowliness of heart,
which takes the humbler part
and o’er its shortcomings weeps with loathing.
 
4: And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
shall far out pass the power of human telling;
for none can guess His grace, till we become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Send forth your Spirit, O Lord,
that we may hear your word coming to us
in Scripture, song and sermon,
that we might hear, understand and obey. 
Amen. 
 
Acts 2: 1-8, 14-21 (NRSV)
 
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
 
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’  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.  Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

verses from Psalm 104
 
(join in with the words in bold if you can pick up the tune)
 
Send forth your spirit O Lord and renew the face of the earth! (repeat)
 
Send forth your spirit O Lord and renew the face of the earth! (repeat)
 
Bless the Lord O my soul,  Lord God how great you are.  
Wrapped in a garment of glory and might.  Clothed in light as in a robe.
 
Send forth your spirit O Lord and renew the face of the earth! (repeat)
 
Lord my God great are your works in wisdom you made them all.
Rich is the earth and filled with your life. Bless the Lord, O bless my soul.
 
Send forth your spirit O Lord and renew the face of the earth! (repeat)
 
All of your creatures look up to you to give them their food in time.
You give with abundance they gather it up. By your hands they have their fill.
 
Send forth your spirit O Lord and renew the face of the earth! (repeat)
 
Sermon
 
We live in strange times; we’re getting used to a new way of living, working and being the Church.  We may not like it very much but it’s time to think what the Holy Spirit might be teaching us through all this.
 
Today as we celebrate Pentecost we do it in ways which are unusual in the West.  Instead of meeting in church for grand services we’re gathered at home around a computer, laptop, CD player, phone or tablet to listen.  Some of you are simply reading the transcript which someone has printed off and posted to you.  Instead of being in larger groups we’re either by ourselves or with one or two others.  The birthday party of the Church today is rather fragmented.  In worshipping like this we’re transported to both the earliest days of the Church, to some recent history and to the situation of many of our sisters and brothers around the world now. 
 
Not so long after Peter’s speech on the Day of Pentecost the Church had to go underground.  Seen as an illicit religion in the Roman Empire Christianity had to learn to adapt to a situation of persecution – sometimes severe, sometimes merely inconvenient.  The earliest Christians met in people’s homes and had to take care with coming and going so as not to disturb the neighbours and attract unwelcome attention.  They met early in the day, before the hours of work.  Heaven only knows how they managed to sing and not attract attention. 
 

At different points in history the Church has faced persecution and has had to go back underground and find ways to cope.  Ludmilla Javarová had a vocation to be a nun but this was not possible in Communist Czechoslovakia and so she worked for the Church in a variety of ways until her friend Felix Davidék, an underground bishop, ordained her a priest.  He ordained at least four other women as they could travel around freely to celebrate Mass and hear confessions; the authorities, after all,  knew the Catholics didn’t ordain women.  The women could also minister to other women in prison where male priests couldn’t.  Most priests had to get secular jobs and appear as every day workers.  Of course, after the fall of the regime the Vatican repudiated any such ordinations.  A lesson learned in persecution wasn’t welcomed afterwards. 
 

Today persecution is the normal situation for many of our sisters and brothers around the world.  My friend Ali fled Iran after his house church was discovered.  Christians in Pakistan live with the fear of being denounced as blasphemers and stuck for years in a court system unable, and perhaps unwilling, to uphold human rights.  Most Christians in the Gulf have to worship in secret.  In these places, despite severe persecution, the Church is growing.  The old adage of martyrs’ blood being the seed of the Church seems true. 
 
So today, as we’re still living in various forms of social isolation we can join in spirit with those who have to worship in stealth all the time and we can start to think about what we can learn from this for the next steps in our journey together or we can decide we’ve nothing to learn from this pandemic.
 
Our nations need to think about how to live in the future.  If we can fully fund the NHS and social care, if we can house the homeless and direct the economy to social utility in an emergency, we might want to think about doing this as a matter of course.  If we can value the underpaid nurses, junior doctors, NHS ancillary staff, supermarket workers, pharmacists and delivery drivers during a national crisis, why not all the time?
 
Of course it’s easier to think about what the government could do (especially if we think our lot could do better than the other lot) but it’s much harder to think about what the Holy Spirit might be saying to the Church on our birthday.
 
Of course, the restrictions will be lifted, we will go back to a form of normality, we can gather again week by week in our churches.  We CAN let the life and work of our Synods and national church can find their former patterns, or…
 
We might want to reflect on how we managed without all our Committees and structures instead of simply going back to normal; 
 
We might want to think about the ways we’ve been one church over the last few months instead of going back to the happy division between of being one church in 13 different silos. 
 
We might want to continue locally to call each other regularly, to find innovative ways to support the housebound instead of going back to normal and resuming the grumbling that the minister or Elders don’t call by enough. 
 
We can embrace the opportunities that are being shown us, or we can ignore them.
 
Our second reading, from Psalm 104, sung in that striking way by the Folk Choir of the University of Notre Dame in America, has the powerful refrain “send forth your Spirit O Lord and renew the face of the earth.”  A striking prayer for us today.
 
Over the last few months we’ve seen tantalising signs of renewal.  Pollution in our cities has dropped as most vehicles have been off the road.  Wild life has ventured onto our streets no longer deterred by traffic and people; even in cities we’re hearing birdsong  - this all might make people listening on the islands or in the countryside smile as this is, after all, more normal for them.  It’s been acceptable to pump money into the NHS and other public services, to see the government start to direct our economy and we’ve learnt to rely on friends and neighbours, proving the Prime Minister’s adage that there is, after all, such a thing as society.  As much of our world has been forced to live differently, the planet has had a brief respite from the harm we do it every day, the Holy Spirit is given a chance to bring about some renewal. It remains to be seen if we listen to the Spirit’s voice in the weeks ahead or go back to normal.
 
We’ve seen new ways of being the Church – services have been live streamed from manses, recorded on phones, mixed together at computers, emailed, burnt to CDs and printed on paper and then posted out.  We’ve been caught up with calling each other, checking that we’re ok, ensuring that the most vulnerable in our communities are cared for and we’ve done all this with very little travel and minimal financial cost.  We’ve grieved those who have died and supported those who have been ill.  We’ve grown closer to each other through our isolation and our pain. 
 
The Holy Spirit continues to renew both the Church and the Earth. 

In the stillness occasioned by the lockdown nature has reasserted itself, our Earth has had a welcome respite from damaging human activity. 

In the stillness occasioned by the lockdown we’ve learnt to be Church in a different way – the challenge for us is to work out if we keep these changes as a viable way to live, worship and serve or go back to normal.
 
Will you pray with me?
 
God our deliverer,
whose presence still shakes the foundations of our world:
may we so wait for your coming with eagerness and hope
that we embrace without terror,
the labour pangs of the new age,
through Jesus Christ, Amen.
 
Spirit of God Unseen as the Wind
Margaret V Old (1932-2001) © Scripture Union
 
Spirit of God, unseen as the wind,
gentle as is the dove;
teach us the truth,
and help us believe,
show us the Saviour’s love.
 
You spoke to us, long, long ago,
gave us the written word;
we read it still, needing its truth,
through it God’s voice is heard.
 
2: Without your help,
we fail our Lord,
we cannot live His way;
we need your power, we need your strength, following Christ each day.
 
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
We believe in God.
Despite His silence and His secrets we believe that He lives.
Despite evil and suffering we believe that He made the world
so that all would be happy in life.
Despite the limitations of our reason and the revolts of our hearts,
we believe in God.
 
We believe in Jesus Christ.
Despite the centuries which separate us
from the time when he came to earth, we believe in His word.
Despite our incomprehension and our doubt,
we believe in His resurrection.
Despite his weakness and poverty, we believe in His reign.
 
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
Despite appearances we believe He guides the Church;
despite death we believe in eternal life;
despite ignorance and disbelief,
we believe that the Kingdom of God is promised to all. Amen.
 
Prayers of Intercession
 
At the end of each prayer I will say “Lord in your mercy” please respond with “hear our prayer
 
Holy Spirit, you gave birth to the Church as a gift to humanity, we pray the Church today.  Give strength where we are persecuted, bring to justice those who oppress, and increase the witness of those who suffer in your name.    Lord, in your mercy….hear our prayer.
 
Holy Spirit, you care for the poor,  inspire the hearts of the leaders of our world, and of our nations here in the United Kingdom, to learn from this pandemic, to find ways to allow You to renew creation, to work in harmony with nature, and to value those often treated with derision.  Lead us, O God, to change our world to better reflect the values of your coming Kingdom.   Lord, in your mercy….hear our prayer.
 
Holy Spirit, light in our darkness, bless those known to us who are ill in mind, body or spirit whom we name now in the silence of our hearts …bring comfort to those who grieve, especially for those who have not been able to attend funerals…and bless with your love those who have died and now rest in your presence until that day when they, with us, will rise to sing praise anew.
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
Enemy of Apathy
John L Bell & Graham Maule
 
She sits like a bird,
brooding on the waters,
hovering on the chaos
of the world's first day;
She sighs and she sings,
mothering creation,
waiting to give birth
to all the Word will say.
 
2: She wings over earth,
resting where she wishes,
lighting close at hand
or soaring through the skies;
She nests in the womb,
welcoming each wonder,
nourishing potential
hidden to our eyes.

3: She dances in fire,
startling her spectators,
waking tongues of ecstasy
where dumbness reigned;
She weans and inspires
all whose hearts are open,
nor can she be captured,
silenced or restrained.
 
4: For she is the Spirit,
one with God in essence,
gifted by the Saviour
in eternal love;
She is the key
opening the Scriptures,
enemy of apathy
and heavenly dove.
 
Offertory
 
Giving is part of worship – we give of our time, our talents and our treasure.  Week after week we’ve been keeping our envelopes to get to the treasurer when we can, we’ve been making direct payments to the church and other charities, we’ve moved over to standing orders knowing that our churches need our support and that one measure of our discipleship is our generosity.  So let’s give thanks for the offering. 
 
Come Holy Spirit, renew the face of the earth re-energise your Church that we may reflect your generosity in our live, in our church, and in our world, that we may not perish, but live for you. Amen.
 
Holy Communion
 
Our celebrations of Holy Communion are always imperfect – we are, after all, imperfect people.  Yet despite this imperfection through the sharing of Holy Communion we are gathered into Christ’s presence where He feeds us with his very self.  And so, in obedience to the Lord's command we are gathered, separately but together, to show forth Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross by breaking bread and sharing wine.  As we eat and drink, Jesus himself, risen and ascended, is present and gives himself to us for our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.  United with Jesus and with the whole Church on earth and in heaven, we, His people, gather at His table to present our sacrifice of thanksgiving.  We renew the offering of ourselves, and rejoice in the promise of His coming in glory.  As we prepare for Communion we listen to Issac Watts’ paraphrase of the Words of Institution, sung for us by Jamie Stewart from Barrhead URC.
 
 
Twas on that dark, that doleful night
when pow’rs of earth and hell arose
against the Son, our God’s delight,
and friends betrayed him to his foes.
 
2: Before the mournful scene began,
He took the bread & blessed & broke.
What love through all his actions ran!
What wondrous words of grace he spoke.
 
3: “This is my body, slain for sin;
receive and eat the living food.”
Then took the cup and blessed the wine:
“’Tis the new cov’nant in my blood.”

4: “Do this,” he said, “till time shall end,
in memory of your dying friend;
meet at my table and record
the love of your departed Lord.”
 
5: Jesus, your feast we celebrate;
we show your death; we sing your name
till you return and we shall eat
the marriage supper of the Lamb.
 
We give Thanks
 
We have shared bread and wine many times in our lives, in many places, for many different reasons.  The bread that we now break and the wine that we now share, are a sharing in the life of Christ. May our acceptance of it today be a sign of our faith:
 
•       in the ongoing goodness of a God who journeys with us
•       in the power of love to remove any barrier within or between us
•       in the mystery of the call given to each of us to make bread and life and beauty available to all
 
For it is the bread of heaven, the bread of the poor and the bread of our own lives. We pray, O God, that we may recognise You:
 
•       every time we join someone on a journey
•       every time we share a meal
•       every time we take bread in our hands
 
And may this recognition of You call forth such joy in us  that we might never lose sight of Your goodness.
 
We pray, Loving One, that Your Holy Spirit  will come upon these gifts of bread and wine which Mother Earth has given  and human hands have made,  so that they might be, for us,  the Body and Blood of Jesus,  our saviour and brother: who, before dying, took some bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to the others and said,
 
"Take this all of you and eat it. This is my body which will be broken for you, do this and make me real in your lives."
 
Later on he took a cup filled with wine, said the blessing, gave it to the others and said:
 
"Take this all of you and drink from it, for this is the cup of my blood,
the blood of the new and everlasting promise of God  which shall be shed for you and for all, do this and make me real in your lives."
 
Loving One, we pray that this bread and wine  will inspire such love in our hearts  that we may continually keep alive Your memory and promise. May this meal provoke such a longing for truth in us that we may never be satisfied until the whole Earth experiences Your justice and Your peace.  Amen
 
So let us eat and drink as Jesus taught, longing to invite the stranger to our table, and yearning to welcome the poor.  May their absence here serve to remind us of the divisions this meal seeks to heal. May their presence here truly transform us into being the Body of Christ which we share. Let us share this bread and wine as Jesus taught, knowing that our lives are forever changed by this and every  breaking of bread  and sharing of wine.
 
Music as we take Communion Sanctus from Missa Luba
 
Post Communion Prayer
 
O God for whom we wait,
you have fed us with the bread of eternal life:
keep us ever watchful
that we may be ready to stand before the Son of Man,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
 
O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing
Charles Wesley 1707 - 1788

the lines in italic are repeated
 
O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of His grace.
 
2: Jesus! The name that charms our fears,
that bids our sorrows cease;
’tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’tis life, and health, and peace.
 
3: He speaks and listening to His voice,
new life the dead receive.
The mournful broken hearts rejoice,
the humble poor believe.
 
4: My gracious master and my God
assist me to proclaim,
to spread through the earth abroad
the honours of thy name.

Blessing
 
May God, the Father of lights,
who was pleased to enlighten the disciples
by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit,
grant you gladness  
and make you always abound with the gifts of the Spirit.

May the wondrous flame that appeared above the disciples,
cleanse your hearts from evil and pervade you with purifying light.

And may God, who has been pleased to unite many tongues
in the profession of one faith,
give you perseverance as you walk Jesus’ way
that, through faith you may journey from hope to clear vision.

And may the blessing of Almighty God,
Father,  Son and Holy Spirit,
come down on you
and all whom you love, now and always,
Amen. 

 
Sources 
 
Call to Worship from the Church of England’s New Patterns of Worship.
Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France (translated by Andy Braunston)
Prayer after Sermon and Communion by Janet Morely
Blessing adapted from the Roman Missal
 
Come Holy Ghost Our Souls Inspire sung by the Choir of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral Glasgow.
Come Down O Love Divine sung by the Collegium Regale Network
verses from Psalm 104 sung by the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir
Spirit of God from BBC’s Songs of Praise
Enemy of Apathy sung by the Arundel and Brighton Diocesan Choir
Sanctus from Missa Luba (1965) sung by the Tim Keyes consort
O For a Thousand Tongues by the BBC’s Songs of Praise
 
Thanks to…

Jamie Stewart for singing Isaac Watt’s hymn,
the choir of Barrhead URC for recording the Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith,
Myra Rose for recording the Prayer of Approach, Prayer of Illumination and reading,
Addie Redmond for recording the Prayers of Intercession
Liane Todd for recording the Offertory.
 
Where in copyright hymns are reproduced according to the terms of Barrhead URC's CCLI licence. 
Music recorded and podcasted according to the terms of Barrhead URC’s OneLicence and its PRS Limited On Line Music Licence no LE-0019762.
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URC Daily Devotion Sunday 31st May

Sun, 31/05/2020 - 06:00
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Sunday 31st May  Psalm 149
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
1 Praise the LORD! Give him glory and sing a new song.
Praise the LORD with his saints in the worshipping throng.
2 To their Maker let Israèl joyfully sing;
Let the people of Zion be glad in their King.

3 Let his people with dancing give praise to his name,
As with harp and with timbrel their God they acclaim.
4 For the LORD in his people takes special delight,
And he crowns with salvation the meek in his sight.

5 Let the saints shout for joy at the grace he bestows;
Let them sing and rejoice while they take their repose.
6 May their mouths be employed in the praise of the LORD,
And their hands be equipped with a double-edged sword.

7 They will punish the nations and captive will bring
8 All the peoples of earth, every noble and king.
9 They will execute judgment commanded by God.
Thus his saints will be glorified. Worship the LORD!

Reflection

Can you imagine the sight?  All the congregation up on their feet singing and dancing and playing their instruments in praise of God?  What an image that would be, what a joyful vision it would portray to be totally uninhibited in our celebration of worship?  When was the last time that such an image was a reality?  When was the last time we were so inspired by our worship and our faith that we couldn’t help but express it physically and in song?
Traditionally we are a nation of more staid convention.  We sing our familiar hymns to tunes that are fitting with not a tambourine or guitar in sight.
Yet all we need do is attend a large rock concert or pop concert or musical evening to see the way that music can capture the heart, the soul, the feet.  It is virtually impossible to remain seated at a rock concert and even less possible to avoid joining in the song and the dance that are taking place.
So why should church be so limited.  Why should our praise, of a God who encompasses every aspect of our lives be so sedate?  Why do we find it so hard to “let go” and let every part of our being praise God?

Prayer

Give me joy in my heart keep me praising – give me joy in my heart keep me singing.  Give me joy in my heart keep me dancing.  Lord when we praise you, may our worship be joyful, thankful, inspirational but most of all honest.  May we offer our worship with our whole being and let us dance as if no-one is watching.  Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d  Ruth Watson Minister in Bolton and Salford Missional Partnership Copyright
Sing Psalms! (C) The Worship and Psalmody Committee of the Free Church of Scotland
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Saturday 30th May

Sat, 30/05/2020 - 06:00
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Saturday 30th May - Abraham and Issac

Genesis 22: 1 - 19

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.  On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.  “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and  sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,  and through your offspring  all nations on earth will be blessed,  because you have obeyed me.” Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

Reflection

Today’s reading the final, the tenth, and the greatest of the trials of Abraham.  It is one of the most brilliantly told narratives in Genesis, and has generated much comment and many works of art.  It’s a work of psychological sensitivity and stylistic skill in portraying Abraham’s distress.  We have read eleven chapters of “fall” at the beginning of Genesis, and then Abraham has what might best be described as a mixed experience with his family and with God.  It’s an appalling story, but I can see why God felt the need to test Abraham again.

No-one interpretation can capture all the aspects of this story.  Perhaps there’s something about human firstborn sacrifice, but that was forbidden in Israel and rightly regarded with horror, so that seems unlikely.  God had no intention that the killing of Isaac should ever be carried out, but Abraham had no way of knowing that.  On a different level it reminds us that although God’s promise of an heir has been fulfilled, the fulfilment is fragile and endangered.  Our story ends with Abraham on right terms with God, and his child is safe. 

Abraham got a great many things wrong, but even when he was very old he was still able to make things right with God, and that was a blessing for him and his family.  Perhaps that hope can be a blessing for us, too?

Prayer:

Loving heavenly Father, we thank you for your promises to us.
May we journey through life gracefully, fruitfully, and strongly,
always encouraged by your Spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
 
-->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Michael Hopkins, Minister of a group of Methodist and United Reformed Churches based around Farnham, Surrey, and Clerk of the URC General Assembly Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Friday 29th May

Fri, 29/05/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 29th May - Jealousy within the Family

Genesis 21: 1 - 21

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”  And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast.  But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking,  and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”  Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.  While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

Reflection

How convenient for God’s chosen family, eh?  Yes they treated Hagar badly.  But it all worked out, right?  Ishmael gets married and will get his own nation too.  No worries!

Ugh…

This story serves the patriarchy really well and aches with the cries of the oppressed.  This story teaches men that they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions that harm women.  God will fix their messes.

The sins of patriarchy, racism, slavery and colonialism (which still plague our world today) infect the relationships of Hagar, Abraham, and Sarah.  Hagar had no power, but we have power to decide how we teach her story.

This story should not comfort relatively privileged folk like me.  It should remind us that we cannot just do what we want to whomever we want and call it “God’s will”.  Real people means real pain, real suffering.  The pain of Christ on the cross was caused in part by people doing what they wanted to an innocent man and calling it “God’s will.”  The Trail of Tears in America and Apartheid in South Africa were caused in part by people doing what they wanted and calling it “God’s will.”  Political discourses today – in many nations around the world – centre on a dialogue of nationalism and oppressing people.  Some leaders have the audacity to imprison asylum-seeking children, persecute people of different faith, and murder LGBT people and call it “God’s will.”  

Ugh…

Teach the people that God sees Hagar!  Teach that our just and righteous God sees the people who are oppressed by our unjust and unloving actions!  Teach that God sees the oppressed and the oppressors!  We’ve got to stop doing whatever we want, expecting God to clean up our messes.  For Christ’s sake (and for the sake of all the Hagars).
 

Prayer

God who sees the oppressed and the oppressors,
We pray that your just ways of doing stuff be reality in our nations and in our communities.
Help us to walk the Way that Jesus taught, together. 
Set us free.
Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Angela Rigby, Minister of Christ Church URC Tonbridge and St Johns Hill URC Sevenoaks Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Thursday 28th May

Thu, 28/05/2020 - 09:13
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Thursday 28th May - Lot and His Daughters

Genesis 19: 30-38

Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave.  One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth.  Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.” That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.

Reflection

When you read Genesis end-to-end, rather than in the polite chunks the lectionary gives us to read in worship each week, you notice quite how much sex and deceit come into the story!  This isn’t one of those polite chunks, and you can see why the lectionary compilers didn’t strive to include it - it’s a story of sexual assault and incest, and the writer offers no comment on the morality of Lot’s daughters’ actions, leaving us to puzzle through our reactions ourselves.

Some might argue that the daughters, who don’t even get the courtesy of names, are taking rational steps to protect themselves in a world where single women without relatives are the economic and sexual victims of others.  Perhaps.  But we are likely to be asking questions about the mental, social and physical health effects of such incestuous relationships - not to mention the impact of unconsensual sex.  If this story was about members of our own family or circle of friends we would be horrified.

But perhaps this isn’t the focus the writer is hoping for.  Rather, should we be noting the closing point?  Here the babies become the fathers of the Moabites and Ammonites, two of the neighbouring peoples of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, occupying northern and southern areas of the modern Kingdom of Jordan respectively, and with whom Israel and Judah fought frequently over territory.  By pointing to a common ancestry, is the writer challenging those who hold prejudices or discriminate against those who are different to the intended audience of Genesis?

And, of course, had Moab and Judah not been able to have friendly relations later on, we wouldn’t have had the story of Ruth, the Moabite woman who is one of my favourite characters in the Hebrew scriptures.

Prayer

Lord,
When we are tempted to dismiss those who are different to us, or who hold different views, remind us we are all your children;
When we are tempted to take short-cuts to achieve our ambitions, keep us faithful and respectful of your word; and
When we are tempted to read the bible partially, and avoid challenges to our world view, open our hearts and minds to the power of your word.
Amen
 
-->

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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Pentecost's Coming

Wed, 27/05/2020 - 15:00
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Pentecost's Coming

Dear Friends,

On Sunday we mark Pentecost - the culmination of the Easter season, the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. 

This year the 50 joyful days of Easter have felt more like a never ending Lent.  As restrictions are starting, slowly, to be lifted and we dare to think the possibility of a slow return to something approaching normal we are invited to join in together as we sing, pray, listen and share Holy Communion together.  You may like to have bread and wine (or suitable substitutes) at hand.

We reflect on the Early Church having to worship in secret in their homes, we think about the persecuted Church making striking innovations in Communist era Czechoslovakia and the plight of many Christians around the world living with persecution.  We think of how persecution and isolation make the Church stronger allowing the Holy Spirit to renew us and we think of the lessons learned, and opportunities missed, in these times as we think about the renewal the Spirit brings now and the lessons we could learn or miss from recent months.  

I will be leading this 50 minute Communion service and have arranged a feast of music to enjoy and join in with including:  the haunting plainsong Come Holy Ghost Our Souls Inspire, John Bell and Graham Maule's beautiful Enemy of Apathy; Charles Wesley's joyful O For A Thousand Tongues; the Sanctus from first sung Mass setting from Africa, Missa Luba; a soloist performing a little known Isaac Watts hymn Twas on that Dark and Doleful Night, a spirited rendition of Psalm 104 from the Notre Dame Folk Choir; the lovely Spirit of God Unseen as the Wind and the ever popular Come Down O Love Divine.

I hope you can join us on Sunday, as like the Early Church meeting in the homes of the faithful, we join in praying for the Holy Spirit to come and renew us.

with every good wish



Andy



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


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URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 27th May

Wed, 27/05/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 27th May - Sodom Destroyed

Genesis 19: 1 - 25

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.  “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.” “No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.” But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him  and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing.  Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”  “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door.  Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door. The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here,  because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry  his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking. With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them.  As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die.  Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.” He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of.  But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.) By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land.  Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens.  Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

Reflection

This is a shocking story and we’re appalled at the behaviour of the crowd and of Lot, Abraham’s brother.  Clearly what God had heard about the city being a sinful place wasn’t wrong.  For generations, however, commentators have assumed the sin of Sodom was homosexuality - after all the crowds wanted to have sex with the male visitors - older translations have the rather more coy “to know them”.  However, things aren’t that simple.  

In the ancient world there was an absolute obligation to show hospitality to travellers.  This ill treatment of strangers would have been shocking.  Then we have the threat of gang rape - and, though the crowds didn’t recongise them as such, threatening to gang rape angels is unlikely to be pleasing unto the Lord.  Finally, we have Lot who offers his daughters to the crowds to appease them (the effect of this on their loyalty will be seen tomorrow).  What type of father offers his daughters to a crowd intent on rape and sexual humiliation?  Of course it’s hard to reason with a crowd mid riot and the angels’ supernatural powers save the day.

We have to be careful with how we interpret Scripture.  The generations who assumed this passage was about loving relationships between men missed the rape narrative and the horrific attitudes of Lot.  The story does teach us how we can get it wrong and makes us ask how we’d react in Lot’s situation.

Prayer

Loving God,
we are a strange mixture of hero and coward,
saint and sinner,
strong and weak.
Help us as we change from glory into glory,
to see our blind spots,
strengthen our weaknesses,
and follow you more closely.
Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four churches in and around Glasgow. 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 26th May

Tue, 26/05/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 26th May - Pleading for Sodom
 
Genesis 18:20-33
 
Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous  that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes,  what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?” “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.” Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?” He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
 
Reflection
 
We all struggle with prayer - the discipline to find a regular routine, to resist the temptation to think we’re simply talking to ourselves and the logical paradox that we often seek to change the mind of the All-Powerful.  These days we’re inclined to see prayer as an attempt to change our minds and attitudes rather than God’s.  In this passage, however, we see Abraham bargaining God down; Abraham’s cheek changes God’s mind.
 
God had decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  We don’t know why but the die is cast.  We know their sin is grievous and the author of this story has God deciding to pop into the cities and see if things are as bad as they seem.  Whatever happens in the next chapter, it’s clear that God had, in the author’s mind at least, decided to do away with these detestable cities.  
 
Abraham is then cast in the role of haggler  - what if there were 50 righteous folk in the city?  What if there were 45?  Or 40? Or 30? Or 10?  Abraham bargains with God and the writer doesn’t suggest that God minds.  We’ll turn back to Sodom tomorrow but I wonder if this is an early attempt to understand prayer.  I wonder if this is how we often pray ourselves - bargaining, hoping to get a better deal or change God’s mind.
 
For me prayer is attuning myself to God, taking time to reflect and change my mind and attitudes.  Of course in moments of desperation we all ask for things - recently one of my dogs was very ill and I found myself asking God to make him comfortable and ease his sufferings (Ben got better).  We should, I think, resist Abraham’s example of bargaining with God but, instead, seek to find out God’s will rather than seek to change it!
 
Prayer
 
Teach us, Good Lord, to pray and to trust in You;
help us to learn your Will 
and give us grace to accept it.
Amen
-->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four churches in and around Glasgow 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 25th May

Mon, 25/05/2020 - 06:00
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Monday 25th May - The Three Visitors


Genesis 18: 1 - 15

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,[a] do not pass your servant by.  Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree.  Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.” So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs  of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it.  He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree. “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’  Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

Reflection  

From Genesis to Jesus, from Jesus to Paul, the theme of hospitality runs through the Bible. Generous, cheerful, unsparing hospitality is the mark of the people of God and this is extended especially to strangers, foreigners, refugees. The story of Abraham by the oaks of Mamre makes this clear. In the heat of the day Abraham is having a siesta in front of his tent; while he is dozing, suddenly he becomes aware of three men standing near-by. At least he thinks they are men, we know better! This is the LORD! He rushes to meet them, greets them warmly and with respect, and in a rather long-winded speech, invites them to stop, rest, have a foot-wash and a bite to eat. 

Sarah his wife, is pressed into action immediately to bake bread with the finest flour; Abraham selects a tender calf and gives it to the servant to cook. A lavish feast, scarcely a snack, is prepared and Abraham waits upon the strangers as they sit in the shade and eat. Then the unexpected happens. One of the men speaks to Abraham, and promises that Sarah will bear a son. It’s too ridiculous! Sarah is well past child-bearing age. But miracle of miracles, she will bear a son and through Abraham’s descendants, all nations of the earth shall be blessed.

Hospitality brings blessing to the recipient and to the donor. As we welcome the stranger to our homes, our churches, our communities, our nation, we glimpse the possibility of good beyond the bleakness of our current situation. As individuals and churches, we are nourished by God’s word and called to respond with thanksgiving to our Lord’s abundant hospitality. As we share the feast he has prepared; so we strangers are welcomed with dignity and respect.

Prayer

Gracious God,
You have blessed us so lavishly,
with the gift of life and the gift of new life in Christ Jesus;
and your Spirit is at work among us,
continually transforming us and our world
according to your purposes of love.
May we in our turn honour you by the welcome
we extend to the stranger and the refugee.
Through Jesus Christ we ask it, Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Fleur Houston, retired minister, Park Green and Bollington URC, Macclesfield 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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Sunday Worship for 24th May - The Rev'd Michael Hopkins

Sun, 24/05/2020 - 09:45
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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
 
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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 24th May
 





Today’s service comes from the Spire Church, a Methodist and United Reformed Church local ecumenical partnership at Farnham in Surrey.  The service is led by the Rev’d Michael Hopkins.  
You may wish to light a candle during the Call to Worship.
 
Welcome
 
Good morning.  My name is Michael Hopkins, and I am minister of a group of United Reformed and Methodist churches, based around Farnham in Surrey.  Our service today uses the readings for Ascension Day, which was last Thursday, and which is the theme for today’s service.
 
Call To Worship
 
We meet in the name of God, the Holy Trinity of Love
 
who knows our needs, hears our cries, feels our pain, and heals our wounds.
 
God is our light and our salvation. In God’s name we light this candle and are reminded of Jesus, the Light of the World, God’s own Voice who came to live with us.
 
May our hearts be open to you, O God, now and always. Amen
 
Hail the day that sees him rise
Charles Wesley 1739
 
Alleluia is sung after each line
                 
Hail the day that sees him rise,
to his throne beyond the skies;
Christ, the lamb for sinners giv'n,
enters now the highest heav'n!
 
2: There for Him high triumph waits:
lift your heads, eternal gates,
He has conquered death and sin;
take the King of glory in
 
3: See now heav'n its Lord receives;
yet He loves the earth He leaves,
though returning to His throne,
still He calls the world His own.
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession, Assurance of Pardon
 
Loving heavenly Father, you are glory and love, power and possibility.  We celebrate with you the work of your son Jesus, his humility and care, his love for the truth, his commitment to love and service, his reconciling the world to you by his life death resurrection and ascension.  We celebrate his homecoming with you, and we lift up our hearts in praise and worship.
 
As we praise your greatness, we see in the reflection our own frailty and brokenness.  Forgive any lack of worship in our lives, any grumpiness or selfishness, any frustration with the situations in which we find ourselves.

Thank you, God, that you are mercy and love, and that you have forgiven us.  Help us to accept that, and also to forgive ourselves and other people. Open our ears to hear your good news; draw us to yourself; accept and heal and empower us, so that we may draw others, too, to love and praise and live for you.   As our Saviour taught us, so we pray  Our Father
 
Introduction to the Service
 
My daughter, who’s seven, loves jokes and riddles, and I’ve got a riddle for you this morning: What has a sole but no body? A tongue but no mouth? Needs 'heeling' but there's no wound? Can be any length but is always a foot? And what is it that must always accept de-feet! The answer is a pair of shoes, of course.  There are millions of shoes in the world, from ballet shoes to walking shoes; from high-heeled shoes to Wellington boots; from trainers to babies' bootees. Think back to the last time that you bought a pair of new shoes.  Was it to find the right size, style, and colour, despite there being so many to choose from?  Or was it even more of a challenge? How many pairs of shoes do you own?  How many of them are empty just at the moment?  Perhaps empty shoes may bring memories for you?  Perhaps you might think of the last time you wore your school shoes or your work boots? When Jesus ascended into heaven, I don’t know if we he was still wearing his sandals, or whether he left them empty on the ground, but it did make me think that he when he left his disciples at the Ascension he certainly left an empty place – an emptiness after three years of being together; after the three days of death and resurrection; and after the 40 days of his re-appearings.  Perhaps some imaginary empty shoes of Jesus can help us to understand what had happened? Think a pair of football boots – perhaps they’re well worn, and have scored many goals.  They might remind us of the winning team.  At his ascension Jesus goes up to collect the cup from the Easter victory and if we're in his team we too can say 'we've won'.  Think of a pair of slippers.  Perhaps you’re wearing some just now.  At his ascension Jesus went home - to be with his daddy - where he could be relaxed and comfortable, and he’s showing us that we also have a home there. Think of a pair of sandals, perhaps like Jesus may have worn as he lived his earthly life like you and me.  At his ascension Jesus took all this experience with him, so that he can pray with us and for us. The letters of shoe – S H O E – remind us that in the ascension Jesus is Seated High Over Everything.
 
Christ triumphant ever reigning
Michael Saward (b 1932) © Jubilate Hymns
 
Christ triumphant, ever reigning,
Saviour, Master, King!
Lord of heaven, our lives sustaining,
hear us as we sing:

Yours the glory and the crown,
the high renown, the eternal name.

2 Word incarnate, truth revealing,
Son of Man on earth!
power and majesty concealing
by your humble birth.
 
3 Suffering servant, scorned, ill-treated,
victim crucified!
death is through the Cross defeated,
sinners justified:
 
4 Priestly king, enthroned for ever
high in heaven above!
sin and death and hell shall never
stifle hymns of love:
 
5 So, our hearts and voices raising
through the ages long,
ceaselessly upon you gazing,
this shall be our song:
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
In a moment we’re going to hear two Bible readings, the first from the very end of Luke’s Gospel and the second from the very start of the Acts of the Apostles, which is often described as the second volume of Luke’s Gospel.  Before we read them, let us pray that god will help us to understand them.
 
Lord, break open the bread of your Word among us, and nourish us with your truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
 
St Luke 24:44-53
 
Then Jesus said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
 
Acts 1:1-11
 
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’
 
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
 
Sermon
 
Is the ascension of Jesus a fictional story of something that couldn’t have happened, written by people in an age when they still thought the earth was flat, and so of no relevance to us today?  Or is it – although impossible to explain in modern rational and scientific terms – a literal truth? 
 
The trouble with both those positions – whilst validly held by many – is that it all seems irrelevant to most people’s lives, and the ordinary, and yet also difficult, situations and problems affecting us, our hopes, our fears; and our concerns don’t even feature, let alone find an answer or a response.
 
I’d like to suggest an alternative somewhere between those two extreme points of view, which doesn’t deny either the event or the developments of our intellect over many centuries, and so suggest that perhaps the ascension is relevant to thinking Christians with the concerns of the 21st century on their shoulders.
 
At the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk (not one of my regular hang outs) there's a side chapel dedicated to the ascension, which features a large plaster pair of feet dangling from the ceiling.  A little closer to my home territory, there’s an ancient window in the chapel of The Queen's College, Oxford, which depicts a group of disconsolate disciples gazing up at a cloud from which a pair of bare feet are protruding.
 
Strange as this may seem to us, the early followers of Jesus were rooted in the traditions of the Hebrew Bible, where Elijah and Enoch ascended to heaven, and although Jesus was risen, there was no longer a physical Jesus walking around.  With their pre-scientific understanding of the world the ascension was the only way to understand - they weren’t idiots, they were making sense within the world view in which they lived.
 
The author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts vividly describes the ascension of Jesus.  The story of the ascension is a faith narrative.  What I mean by that is that the story cannot just be a literal history, because heaven is not physically up in the sky.  Ever since Copernicus and Galileo revolutionised our understanding of the cosmos, it’s been impossible to think of heaven as up in the sky and hell underground.  Perhaps some of you remember Yuri Gagarin, who made the first manned space flight in 1961?  I’m told by people who were around then that some were concerned that the godless Russian might use his craft to break physically into heaven.  In 1999, the then Pope, John Paul II, said, “In the context of Revelation, we know that the ‘heaven’ or ‘happiness’ in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity”.  This is what I mean when I say that the story of the ascension is a faith narrative: it’s been skilfully crafted to convey a theological message.  That message is simple, it’s the lifting up of Jesus into the Being of God, into the consciousness of God, into the Godhead.
 
George Macleod, the founder of the Iona Community, talked about the island of Iona as a thin place, meaning earth and heaven feel closer than normal.  Ascension reminds us that there are things we cannot quite touch, but sometimes we can see they’re closer than we might think.
 
Ascension also says something about value.  In our world, height is a symbol of value.  We speak of a football team going up to a higher division.  We talk of the upper House of Parliament, and of “climbing career ladders”.  The ascension of Jesus carries the idea not just of a transfer from a physical to a spiritu­al existence, but of a move by Jesus from human status to his real place of authority within creation.  There's something aspirational for us as human beings - we are perhaps more important to God than we sometimes think.  Our physical existence has spiritual significance as well.
 
Although some of us may not completely share the view of those who designed the Chapel of the Ascension at Walsingham, or the window in The Queen's College, Oxford, Jesus' ascension can still speak to us because it helps us to take a God-like view of things, to try to rise above our usual limitations, to see the glory of a life set free from fear.
 
The key to making sense of the ascension doesn’t lie in seeking a complete explanation of the practicalities, nor in debating whether and how it actually happened or not, but it may lie in finding ourselves with the group of disciples gazing up like spectators at the launch of a hot-air balloon.  The disciples surely didn't understand what was hap­pening in detail.  They were aware of loss, the final departure of Jesus, but it was with the warm glow of his blessing.  Their call to ministry hadn’t ended.  So they returned to Jerusalem and got on with their lives with a new sense of spiritual worth and physical purpose.  I think that might be the message of the ascension for us.
 
Next week we will be celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Our choice is whether to remain on the sidelines or to live as Jesus lived, but there is really only one choice for us to make.  At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ, God with us.  At Easter, we celebrate the Risen Christ in our midst.  It is right for us to do that.  But the ascension affords us the opportunity not to wallow in the presence of God, the presence of Jesus, but to reflect on his absence.  We live between the beginning and the end, when the prophecy of Jesus has not yet come true but can do so.  Jesus’ absence is a call to decision, to action and away from the sidelines.  Do we stand idly looking up to heaven or do we set about the work of Jesus?  In Matthew’s gospel – the parable of the sheep and the goats – Jesus asks each one of us if we have fed the hungry, visited the sick and welcomed the strangers.  Now is our chance.
 
 
Music for Reflection by Leslie Schram
 
Ascension, by Malcolm Guite: 
 
We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we ourselves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed.
 
Music for Reflection by Leslie Schram
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
We believe in God.
Despite His silence and His secrets we believe that He lives.
Despite evil and suffering we believe that He made the world so that all would be happy in life.
Despite the limitations of our reason and the revolts of our hearts,
we believe in God.
 
We believe in Jesus Christ.
Despite the centuries which separate us from the time when he came to earth, we believe in His word.
Despite our incomprehension and our doubt, we believe in His resurrection.
Despite his weakness and poverty, we believe in His reign.
 
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
Despite appearances we believe He guides the Church;
despite death we believe in eternal life; despite ignorance and disbelief,
we believe that the Kingdom of God is promised to all. Amen.
 
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
 
Loving heavenly Father, God of eternity, today we look both back and forward: back to the ministry and passion of your Son Jesus, fulfilling the words of ancient scriptures, back to his glorious resurrection, his assurance of life's triumph over death; and forward to the Church's earliest years, to challenges made and lives turned round.
 
As we thank you for the Gospel of hope, and for your offering of forgiveness, give us the wisdom and courage we need to be your witnesses in today's world.  Through the gift of your Holy Spirit grant us the insight to be true to Jesus' life and teaching, and the compassion to offer good news to people near and far.
 
God, we bring you the needs of the world around us, near and far.  Help us to show the good news of your love to everyone.  Fill us and all your Church with your Holy Spirit, so that we may serve you and others, working with you in building your kingdom, and building up your body on earth.
 
Amid the challenges of our current situation, help us to live your peace.  Grant us the will to use the gifts we have to how and to share your coming kingdom.  Equip us to work in your service, and build up your body on earth.
 
God, we bring you our prayers for those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, especially those with Covid19, and those who have lost loved ones may they know your hope.  Be with all who work in the medical profession: medics, support staff, and chaplains; be with those in the emergency services, those keep our post and parcels arriving, and those who deliver and sell our food. 
 
Lead us, God, in humility, gentleness, and patience.  Help us to be forbearing with one another, equip us to serve you and others, build up your body on earth, and guide our footsteps and the footsteps of those for whom we pray as we try to follow you.
 
We ask these and all our prayers, spoken and silent, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
 
Offering and Prayer of Dedication
 
God has been very generous to so many of us in so many ways.  If you’re lucky enough still to have your income coming in each week or each month, our churches and other charities still need our support, whether through our banks and by putting cash aside, so I’m going to offer a prayer for this: Generous God, as thank you for all that you give to us, and we ask you to bless our time, our skills, and our money, as we use them to serve you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
 
Crown him with many crowns
Matthew Bridges 1800 - 1894
 
Crown Him with many crowns,
the Lamb upon His throne;
Hark! how the heav’nly anthem drowns
all music but its own!
Awake, my soul, and sing
of Him who died for thee,
and hail Him as thy matchless King
through all eternity.
 
2: Crown Him the Lord of Love:
behold His hands and side;
rich wounds yet visible above
in beauty glorified:
no angel in the sky
can fully bear that sight,
but downward bends his burning eye
at mysteries so bright.
  
3: Crown Him the Lord of peace,
whose power a sceptre sways
from pole to pole, that wars may cease,
and all be prayer and praise.
His reign shall know no end,
and round His piercéd feet
fair flowers of glory now extend
their fragrance ever sweet.
 
4: Crown Him the Lord of years,
the Potentate of time.
Creator of the rolling spheres,
ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail!
for Thou hast died for me;
Thy praise shall never, never fail
throughout eternity.

Blessing
 
Our service has ended. As you return to other matters, the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is upon you, and all God’s people, today, tonight, and forever.  Amen.
 
 
Sources 
 
Call to worship adapted from New Patterns of Worship and The Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada. Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France. Other liturgical material written by Michael Hopkins. Ascension Day Sonnet by Malcom Guite used with his permission and from Sounding the Seasons, Canterbury Press.  His blog is worth a look at https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/blog/
 
Hail the Day sung by the OCP Session Choir. Christ Triumphant by Hyperion Records. Crown Him With Many Crowns recorded at Westminster Abbey by the BBC.  Music for reflection by Leslie Schramm of Stewarton URC.
Thanks
Thanks to members of Barrhead URC for recording the Call to Worship and Affirmation of faith and to Kathleen Haynes, Carol Tubbs, and Barbara Redmond for reading various spoken parts of the service.
Copyright

Where in copyright words are produced in line with Barrhead URC's CCLI LIcence.
Recordings are shared in line with Barrhead URC's PRC Limited Online Music Licence no LE-0019762 and its OneLicence
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URC Daily Devotion 24th May 2020

Sun, 24/05/2020 - 06:00
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Sunday 24th May Psalm 148 


1 O praise, O praise the LORD!
Praise him from heavens’ height!
2 All angels, give him praise;
Praise him, you hosts of light.
3 Praise him, sun, moon and stars on high,
4 You highest heavens and cloudy sky.

5 O let them praise his name,
The name of God the LORD,
For he created them
By his almighty word.
6 He set their place eternally;
For ever fixed is his decree.

7 The LORD praise from the earth,
You creatures of the deep,
8 Fire, hail, snow, clouds and winds,
Which his commandments keep.
9 You hills and trees, beasts wild and tame,
10 Small creatures, birds, exalt his name.

11 All nations and earth’s kings,
Princes and all who reign;
12 Young men and maidens too,
Both children and old men:
13 The LORD’s great name by them be praised;
His name alone on high is raised.

His glory shines abroad
Above the earth and heaven;
14 And he to his own folk
A mighty king has given.
Let Israèl give praise to God;
They are his people. Praise the LORD!

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing the last two verses here

Reflection

In January 2004 Patrick Moore introduced an episode of The Sky At Night called “The Music of the Spheres”.   Now, to my 20th / 21st century understanding that seemed entirely sensible.   We know the solar system, with its large and small planets swinging round the sun, is blown by the wind from the sun, battered by stray rocks.   It makes sense to us that an object hit by another goes “boing”.   It is said that to Pythagoras the sight of a working blacksmith provided a new revelation of the way the vibrations of music are produced.   Pliny the elder [77AD pp. 277–8, (II.xviii.xx)]  wrote: "…occasionally Pythagoras draws on the theory of music, and designates the distance between the Earth and the Moon as a whole tone, that between the Moon and Mercury as a semitone, .... the seven tones thus producing the so-called diapason, i.e.. a universal harmony".  

The idea that all things can and should praise the Lord may be based not only on poetic imagination but also on the musical theories of the time.  With more science and the use of his xylophone Patrick demonstrated the musicality of the solar system.  

Similarly, the Psalmist’s use of “sun” “moon”, which might contain an idea based on the mythology of Greece or Babylon, allows a progressive structure to the Psalm in praise of the Lord who creates all.  This takes us from angels (greater than other gods), down through the spheres (lesser gods), through the inanimate, to the flora and fauna. The order is similar to that of Genesis ch. 1 reflecting the understanding that all things owe their existence to God.  Praise is the proper response, due even from inanimate objects.  The voice of each is acknowledged and all are commanded to praise the Lord.  Finally, all people are also commanded to give praise.   

Prayer:

All things praise thee, Lord Most High.
Heaven and earth and sea and sky,
all were for thy glory made,
that thy greatness, thus displayed,
should all worship bring to thee;
all things praise thee: Lord, may we.  Amen
(George William Conder, 1821-1874. CMP 24) -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Ruth Browning, Retired Minister worshipping at Thornbury URC Copyright
Sing Psalms! (C) The Worship and Psalmody Committee of the Free Church of Scotland
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URC Daily Devotion Saturday 23rd May

Sat, 23/05/2020 - 06:15
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Saturday 23rd May - The Covenant with Abraham
Genesis 17

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him,  “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.  I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.  The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”  And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”  When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him. On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day.  And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.

Reflection

After thirteen years of silence, Abram must have been greatly encouraged by this encounter with the Lord. This narrative is a tête-à-tête between Abram and the Lord; a conversation full of surprises, instruction, change of names, consequences of covenant and blessing. During the questions and answer session about covenant, God blesses Sarai, the woman who is not directly involved in this discussion yet is central to it. It is through the blessing of Sarai, that she becomes the mother of nations; and what does Abram do? Only bend his head low and chuckle! He is laughing at the absurdity of it all or exasperation of an image of the elderly pregnant Sarai?

Personally, I do not view this as the laugh of delight, but of disbelief. The impossibility of such a thing taking place was the cause of Abraham’s outburst. But let not be too pious about this matter, I suspect Abraham’s response is just about what we would have done. The promise was an incredible one—too much to take in one dose, however laughter is often the response to things which catch us off guard.

How often have laughed at the absurd, only to find that over time, our laughter was tuned into amazement?

In Genesis 17 we learn, that from something impossible, through God’s covenant, becomes a possibility, something that seems hopeless becomes hopeful and a blessing, not just for Abraham and Sarah, but for all generations, and that includes us.  

This story is about growth, and we cannot have a static relationship with God, through Jesus, God will break into our lethargic lives and draw us closer to Godself. Surely that is what the Christian life is all about.

Prayer
 
O God, 
the One who brings blessing and Covenant, 
through your grace
ee are transformed and forgiven,
changed into the people you want us to be.
Through your grace,
we are healed and loved,
made whole by the touch of your calling.
 
Through your grace,
we are blessed and restored, 
never to excluded, but included in Your family of humanity.
Amen
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Ruth Dillon Minister serving Fleet URC and Beacon Hill Hindhead URC, Wessex 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.
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URC Daily Devotion Friday 22nd May 2020

Fri, 22/05/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 22nd May - Hagar and Ishmael

Reading - Genesis 16

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.” “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” The angel of the Lord also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Reflection

Today’s reading is a rare passage in the Bible where the focus of the narration is women. It’s not found in the three-year Lectionary cycle, so we may be unfamiliar with it.

Sarai’s infertility is the one piece of additional information we learn at the start of Abram’s story (Gen. 11:30). Ten years have passed since God’s promise to create a great nation (Gen. 12:2, 15:4). Even their great wealth (Gen. 13:2) has not brought them fulfilment.

How did Sarai feel? Infertility was then considered a divine curse. Did God’s promise feel like a cruel joke? She grew impatient and contrived a human solution.

This passage does not paint Sarai in a good light. Despite the good intention, feelings turn sour, Sarai blames Abram for the mess, the women’s relationship becomes abusive and Hagar flees. The angel’s words to Hagar are a very poor example of pastoral care: we would never advise the return to an abusive relationship!

The angel repeats to Hagar God’s covenant promise to Abraham: Ishmael would have numerous descendants. In Islam, Ishmael is considered be a prophet and an ancestor of Muhammad. 

Hagar’s conversations with the angel (here and Gen. 21) are unique experiences for a woman in the Hebrew Scriptures.

One thing I treasure about Genesis in the accounts of Abraham-Sarah, Jacob and Joseph is that God had long-term plans for them which spanned decades. These Biblical characters had to endure and be patient. 

Even though aged 48, I am still called “young man” at URC gatherings, I recognise the decades God has been forming my call to the ministry. We live in a very fast-paced world, where a week can seem a long time. Indeed, in Galatians 5:22, we are reminded that “patience” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer

Wait for the Lord, whose day is near.
Wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart.

(Source: Jacques Berthier, Taizé Community)
 
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Today's writer

Walt Johnson, Ordinand at Northern College and Member at Wilbraham St Ninian’s URC (Chorlton, Manchester) Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion Thursday 21st May

Thu, 21/05/2020 - 06:00
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Thursday 21st May - Abram the Pimp

Genesis 12: 10-20

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.  When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?  Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!”  Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

Reflection

No two ways about it, this is a repellent story.

Having learned that he, and Sarai of course (we mustn’t forget her role), will found a nation, Abram displays lack of faith in God’s protection by taking his family to Egypt to escape famine. He persuades his wife to pose as his sister - a half-truth, since she is his half-sister, but a lie for all that. She ends up as a cherished companion, mistress, or wife of Pharaoh himself. Meanwhile Abram, as Sarai’s ‘brother’, willingly accepts substantial gifts from the grateful ruler.  The truth, however,  catches up with Abram.  God afflicts Pharaoh and his household with ailments which somehow brings the matter to light. 
We have the strange situation that Abram the patriarch is portrayed as a liar, willing to sell the services of his wife, while the duped Pharaoh is the one who cares about Sarai’s plight.  When he sends the family away, Pharoah allows them to take all the acquired wealth with them, perhaps as a mark of respect for Sarai.  

What she thought of it all is never articulated.

It would be comforting to believe that the exploitation of those in weaker positions remains buried in this ancient story, but nothing could be further from the truth. Think of the pimps who prostitute powerless adults and even children  for profit or self-gratification. Think of the traffickers who bring adults from poorer countries to work for no reward, often in illegal trades. Think of those in positions of power, including in our churches, who use and abuse children and vulnerable adults.

We can close our eyes, but none of this will go away unless we as a society, and as Christians, make the protection of our most defenceless brothers and sisters a priority.

Prayer

In God’s name,
Pray for increased awareness;
Pray for the protection of the most vulnerable;
Pray for the restoration of victims;
Pray for justice to be done.
 
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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.
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URC Daily Devotion

Wed, 20/05/2020 - 15:00
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Celebrate Ascension with us on Sunday

Dear Friends,

As know Ascension day is  tomorrow but, in common with most churches, we mark it on Sunday. 

Ascension marks the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the commissioning of the Church to act in His place. 

Our preacher this week will be the Rev'd Michael Hopkins who serves as minister of the Spire Church in Farnham (a newer union of Methodist and URC congregations) and Elstead URC.  Alongside his pastoral work Michael serves as the Clerk of General Assembly. 

We have a good selection of  hymns and music which include Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise, Crown Him with Many Crowns and Christ Triumphant Ever Reigning.  





I hope you'll be able to join us on Sunday

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 20th May 2020

Wed, 20/05/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 20th May - Abram

Genesis 12: 1 - 9

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring  I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.


Reflection

We are used to stories of people going travelling these days. Taking a gap year and travelling around the world before going to university or taking a year out before settling down. It is also more common to hear of people taking career breaks or making the once in a lifetime trips in early retirement. However Abram and his family are doing this at a time when their lives were closer to the end than the beginning.

At such times when we might be downsizing and moving closer to our families, Abram is doing the opposite. His journey involved him and his household in leaving everyone and everything they had ever known, except each other.  Even his father's household is left behind. This seems an irresponsible act given the expectation that a family would care for the elderly.

Abram is also exchanging the settled existence of town life for that of a nomad, dependent on wells and grazing to support the herds, trading goods to feed the household in areas he has never visited before.

The distance he travels is huge - it's worth looking at an atlas to see this first stage of his journey and then comparing it with the distance you have moved in your lifetime.  Then consider that this would be travelled on foot or camel. The blessing offered to the childless elderly couple, their nephew and their households is worth the step of faith they are making.

God promises that this new life will be blessed and that he will be a blessing to others. God promises a land, descendants, a name that will be remembered and a purpose. These promises would not be fully realised in his lifetime. However God is calling and Abram responds.

Prayer

Father God we are amazed at the way Abram trusted you as you called him to leave all that he knew. Help us to hear what you are asking of us and give us the courage to respond. May we be a blessing to others too. Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Viv Henderson, Minister of Minehead 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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