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URC Daily Devotion 13th March 2019

Wed, 13/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 13th March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 12: 4 - 12

‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight.  But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

‘And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say;  for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’
Reflection “Even the hairs of your head are all counted.”  I’ve reached an age when I’ve made it relatively easy for God to count the hairs on my almost bald head.  This statement both amazes and encourages me. It tells me that God knows every detail about me and cares enough to bother about every detail.  To me it means that the God who created everything does not ignore insignificant me.

What is significant in this world that can sometimes seem to be dominated and controlled by social media?  One person’s thoughts can be passed on and shared time and time again until the reasons it was said are no longer clear and it can easily become false news.

It is good to remind ourselves that God knows us and knows what matters.  When we wonder what is true or what is false, we can be sure that we have the Holy Spirit to guide us.

“Do not be afraid.”  Those words must reassure us.  You will be reading this in mid-March and I am writing it in November, so I can only guess that Brexit will still be a big issue as you read.  As I write many people are afraid of losing their jobs or losing power, afraid of the uncertainty that looms. No matter what is decided in Westminster and Europe we need to hang onto the certainty that we should not be afraid if we put our whole trust in God.  The one certainty is God who says, “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6) and the writer to the Hebrews confirms that Jesus is unchanging in 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

We can rejoice that no matter what is happening, our God knows us and cares about us and will never change.

Prayer

Loving God
Take away my fears and uncertainties;
give me the peace  of knowing you.
Remind me of your power
and unchanging love.
Remind me that you know
and care about me.
When I worry or fear,
help me to rely on, and trust in, you,
the unchanging God.
Thank you for sending your Jesus,
your son, who was willing to come;
I pray in His name. Amen

Today's Writer

John Collings is a Lay Preacher and member of Rutherglen URC in Scotland.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 12th March 2019

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 12th March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 12: 1 - 3

Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered in thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. Reflection There was a time when people in the public eye, on being caught out as having lied, deceived, cheated or having done something disastrous, were instantly pilloried, often losing their post in the process.  Some, subsequently, made their way back up the political or celebrity greasy pole, but it was usually a struggle and their reputations tended to remain somewhat tarnished.

However, it seems less of a given these days, where instead of denying or explaining, they cry ‘Fake News!’ and hope it will just go away.  An alternative approach seems to simply ignore the hoo-ha on the grounds that your supporters actually don’t care if you are a racist (perhaps they are too?) or if you slept with a porn actor (perhaps they wish they had?)  

Nevertheless there is a general first reaction to such accusations of people and institutions to ‘cover-up’ or at least to seek damage limitation.  Which at least indicates a recognition that the actions were in some way wrong in the first place? Then again, maybe the instinct to ‘go defensive’ is so strong that, regardless of whether they believe themselves wrong, they will seek to hide any evidence, simply because the consequences of being found out are so severe?
I do wonder how Jesus, so critical of the Pharisees, would describe the hypocrisy of those in positions of authority, influence and power today?  Then I wonder what he’d say about all mistakes that I have made that nobody ever found out about? Then I wonder if you wonder likewise?
 

Prayer

God of light, who sees all, even in the dark,
Lead us to acknowledge our faults, fears and, yes, our own hypocrisies.
Shine that cleansing light upon us and upon all those whose actions, errors and inactions that have led to pain, hurt and damage.
Heal those hurts, we pray and leave us cleansed, renewed and ready to try again.
Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Peter Clark is a Minister in the Bridport & Dorchester Joint Pastorate (Methodist & URC)

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 11th March 2019

Mon, 11/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 11th March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 11: 37 - 54

While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table.  The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. ‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the market-places.  Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.’

One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.’ And he said, ‘Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed.  So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute”, so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world,  from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.’ When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile towards him and to cross-examine him about many things,  lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
Reflection Luke is like/loathe with Pharisees.   In this scene, Luke paints Jesus in the way Luke might want; anything but meek and mild.  This is a critical Jesus, no kindliness on show, an angry Jesus. This is the kind of Jesus we don't see in Victorian blue-eyed blond images.

Then the lawyers - the scribes - have a go.  Jesus comes right back even stronger. "…this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world" is a bit harsh to say the least. For those who want to see Jesus as the critical prophet, naming what is wrong and detailing the consequences, it feels like a breath of fresh air to read this passage.  To those who want to interpret a loving Jesus as a nice Jesus, this is a very difficult read.

Jesus was a Jew.  He was speaking to his own as a critical insider, not an outsider.  It's not unusual for rabbis to be blunt, and those gathered at this table, who called Jesus teacher, might very well have expected no less.  What Jesus the critic is saying to us all is simply to match our actions with our words. If we say we love God, what does that look like in our lives?  The Pharisee who asked Jesus over for a meal had been listening to Jesus talk about being a light – about not hiding the light which floods our bodies. This hearty dinner conversation is a significantly more blunt and graphic version of the same.  How can we say we love God if there is faint sign of it in our lives? We may as well be that unmarked grave (v44) in early Jewish tradition, whitewashed to keep the corpse clean, but noticed by no-one.
 

Prayer

Dear God,
how many times do we hear the message to join our faith with our lived lives?  That everything we do should show your love?
But I do!  Or do I?
Give us deep grace
to know our lives and motivations.
Forgive us again for hiding your light
for our own reasons.
Allow us to hear clearly:  
what I do is who I am.
Give me courage to see if it shares you.

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray-King, URC Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s URC (Oxford).

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 10th March 2019

Sun, 10/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 10th March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Psalm 89 : 1-19

1 I will extol the LORD’s great love for ever;
your faithfulness to all I will proclaim.
2 I will declare your love stands firm for ever;
your faithfulness in heaven you maintain.

3 You said, “I made a cov’nant with my chosen,
and to my servant David I have sworn:
4 ‘I will ensure your line shall last for ever,
your throne to generations yet unborn’.”

5 O LORD, the heavens praise your mighty wonders
and to your saints your faithfulness declare.
6 For who is like the LORD among the angels,
or who in heaven can with him compare?

7 For God is feared within his holy council,
more awesome than the angels all around.
8 O God, the LORD Almighty, who is like you
whom such great might and faithfulness surround?

9 O LORD, your rule controls the surging ocean;
you still the raging waves upon the seas.
10 You crushed to death the great sea monster Rahab;
with your strong arm you rout your enemies.

11 The earth is yours, to you belong the heavens;
you made the world and everything therein.
12 By you the north and south were both created;
Tabor and Hermon praise your name and sing.

13 Your arm, O LORD, is filled with mighty power;
your hand is strong, exalted high above.
14 Your throne is built on righteousness and justice;
in front of you go faithfulness and love.

15 How blessed are those who learn to sing your praises,
who walk before you in your light, O LORD!
16 All day in your great name they are rejoicing;
they praise your righteousness with one accord.

17 For you, LORD, are your people’s strength and glory,
and honour to our sovereign you bring.
18 Indeed, from God the LORD comes our protection;
to Israel’s Holy One belongs our king.

19 There was a time you told us in a vision;
this to your faithful people you made known:
“I have bestowed my strength upon a warrior,
a young man whom I raised up to the throne.


This Psalm works rather well to the tune normally used for Lord for the Years.
 
Reflection Nations pass through political upheaval. Even well-ordered countries know periods of flux and uncertainty – leaders die, other nations’ crises have knock-on effects, the electorate votes for a change which some long for and others abhor. ‘Twas ever thus, and certainly for Israel and Judah. When King David ruled, all was relatively well. But then he died, and, in due course, the people were taken off into exile, robbed of religious and political identity.

At such a time perhaps Psalm 89 speaks for more than its authors. Might it even say something pertinent in this ‘Brexit month’?

In its opening verses, two of the key words of all Jewish and Christian theology appear: God’s ‘great love’ (chesed) and ‘covenant’ (berit). Chesed tells us about God’s inward nature, God’s disposition towards us, and berit speaks of God’s outward actions, keeping faith with the promises God makes.

For Israel, these qualities of God were given particular expression in King David, whom no enemy will outwit (89.22). When David dies, therefore, their national equilibrium feels vulnerable. Later in the Psalm we would even hear them wonder if God had repudiated the covenant: ‘what [now] of those pledges of faithful love?’ (89.49)

The Psalm doesn’t really hold out an answer. It’s a frank expression of the paradox of faith and doubt so many of us know. Yet we live within the new covenant. For us, Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s chesed and berit and the resurrection represents the reliability of God’s pledges of faithful love. So as 29th March beckons, we are invited to complement our political opinion with our religious faith; to trust God’s covenant, of which the Psalmist enables us to sing: ‘your throne is built on righteousness and justice; in front of you go faithfulness and love.’ (89.14)

That being so, maybe we should meet Brexit with berit, saying with Psalmist ‘Blessed be God for ever, Amen, amen.’ (89.52)   
 

Prayer

Eternal God,
whose covenant love
is resilient and trustworthy,
we pray for the qualities of your Kingdom
to be the hallmarks of our nations,
that all may live in peace,
prosperity and hope,
because of Jesus Christ, Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Nigel Uden, Fulbourn and Downing Place United Reformed Churches, Cambridge; Moderator of  the General Assembly

Bible Version

 
Sing Psalms! © Psalmody and Praise Committee, Free Church of Scotland, 15 North Bank St, Edinburgh, EH1 2LS
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 9th March 2019

Sat, 09/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 9th March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 11: 33 - 36

‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar,[h] but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness.  If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.’ Reflection There are in South Wales disused coal mines that have become museums. Visitors are kitted out with overalls and hard hats fitted with a light. In one such mine visitors are taken in 'the cage' below ground and after walking along the tramways away from the shaft they have just descended they are asked to turn their lamps off. The experience of that total darkness has been described as velvet black. Most visitors are relieved when they are told to turn their lights back on, even though the darkness was only for less than a minute.

Luke uses the domestic scene of lighting the home of his day. The oil lamps used at that time were not known for the brilliance of the light they provided. In this respect, Luke's recording of Jesus' teaching would probably be dismissed as common sense. Yet the message is still relevant today despite the wonders of modern technology. For the believer needs to ask him/herself what is it that darkens their heart, what extinguishes the light of Jesus, the Light of the World? There are some elements of our lives that we know are wrong, yet we continue to be attracted to them. This hardening of our hearts and minds is similar to turning the light off. In that condition the distraction from the light, if it becomes frequent, normalises the situation. The conscience takes a back seat or is even confined to the refuse bin. We know that our nature is to be rebellious, and that is at the heart of the problem. We may know the right way to live but still choose the exact opposite. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, 'Why?' Many years ago the Children's Special Service Mission published a hymnal called “Golden Bells”. In it Susan Warner wrote a hymn for younger children the first verse of which is our prayer.

 
 

Prayer

Jesus bids us shine With a pure clear light;
Like a little candle burning in the night,
In this world of darkness,
So we must shine -
You in your small corner, And I in mine.

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Colin Hunt, worshiping at Hutton & Shenfield Union Church. Essex.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 8th March 2019

Fri, 08/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 8th March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 11: 29-32

When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.  For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgement with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! Reflection Why it is ‘evil’ to ask for a sign? The Gospels show us Jesus responding to pleas for a miracle: Have mercy!  Make me clean! and so on. There’s something more here. Scholars haven’t agreed what ‘the sign of Jonah’ is; many say it’s his miraculous escape from death which might be compared with Jesus’ resurrection; others add that Jonah was in the ‘tomb’ of the body of the fish before that escape just as Jesus’ was in the tomb. But then comparing Jonah to the queen doesn’t make sense. What those stories DO have in common is the people (Ninevites, the queen) who are open to hearing and seeing the things of God.

Is the problem with sign-seeking then, the refusal to be open to what God is already offering through Jesus and demanding proof ON OUR TERMS? Questioners came from John the Baptist asking, ‘ARE YOU the Messiah?’ and Jesus replies ‘go and tell John what you see and hear …’. God is already working around us, in our communities and in the world; do we make the same efforts as the queen to go and find out what that is?

I don’t doubt prayer is hugely important, but I sometimes wonder if we use ‘taking time for prayer’ as an excuse for not joining in where God is already acting. Let’s pay attention outside our normal expectations and not, as Jonah did, have expectations of how others should engage with God. Maybe we shouldn’t fall into the trap of ignoring the good things of the Kingdom happening NOW outside the Church’s influence.
 

Prayer

Surprising God,
open our eyes
to see where you are
already present and active,
and humble us
if we need to acknowledge
the Church does not have
all the answers. Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Dr Rosalind Selby is Principal of Northern College and a member of Didsbury URC.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 7th March 2019

Thu, 07/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 7th March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 11: 27 - 28

While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’ Reflection ‘While he was saying this’ refers to a rebuke Jesus is giving to people who try to spin and twist the story of his healing a man (who could not speak), by suggesting that Jesus casts out demons by the power of stronger demons. At the end of this rebuke, a woman tries to offer Jesus and his family praise by blessing his mother. Jesus’ response is that it would be a greater blessing all round, if folk simply got on with obeying God’s word.

I hear his words as frustration spoken through gritted teeth to everyone present. Frustration that through him God has just freely transformed the life of a man who could not speak, (they should be glorifying God!)…yet some take this as an opportunity to twist and pervert Jesus’ intention and ability, while another focuses honour on Jesus’ family. Jesus is not interested in the spins of shame or glory about himself, he just wants folk to get on with obeying the word of God; in this instance to get on with healing and setting people free.

I am reminded of the story of the temptation in the wilderness where Jesus is offered all authority and glory of the Kingdoms of the earth if only he will bow down and worship the devil, but Jesus recognises that his life is not about glorifying his own image and prestige, it is about glorifying God. God is glorified and the earth is blessed when humans are less concerned with how they are perceived and more active in obeying God’s word and enabling God’s freedom and wholeness for all life.
 

Prayer

Holy One,
in each encounter and action I face today
may I hear and obey your Word
to find freedom and wholeness for all life.
Help me not to be persuaded or distracted by notions of shame or self glory
but to focus on, and celebrate,
the abundant life you bring. Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Fiona Bennett minister at Augustine United Church Edinburgh

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 6th March 2019

Wed, 06/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 6th March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 11: 24 - 26

‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but not finding any, it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order.  Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.’ Reflection Today marks the start of Lent, the season of penitential fasting which leads through a time of self-denial and self-discipline as we walk on our way towards the Cross. Some mark today with a ritual of ‘Ashing’, when the sign of the Cross is marked on our foreheads with ash, representing that which is burnt out and wasted. This ancient emblem of grief and mourning has been adopted by the Church as both a symbol of sin and to warn of the coming dark days for Jesus.

Whilst I love the ritual and symbolism of Ashing, I am rather conflicted about some of the self-debasement and self-advertisement that goes with it. I don’t think penitence is really about that, hence the mark of the ashes is easily hidden or rubbed off. But what is it about?

Lent has become a time to adopt some ‘penitent fasting’. We can, for example, ‘sweep ourselves clean’ of the impurities of sugar or alcohol. If we effectively cleanse our bodies, does this mean it is just a temporary state of ‘putting in order’?  Many of us welcome the end of our deprivation on Easter Sunday with a return to our old ways of over-indulgence; it has merely been a 6 week exercise to lose weight and give our livers a rest!

Perhaps this is a flippant interpretation of Jesus’ words but maybe it gives us notice that unless we fast in a way that will help us act permanently in a state of repentance of greed, repentance of injustice and the unfairness of having too much when so many have too little, repentance for not living simply so that others might simply live - then are we leaving ourselves vulnerable to returning to our ‘old ways’ and more?

Penitence is about sweeping our own house clean but surely it shouldn’t be temporary and must include the world too?

Lent is as good a time as any to begin, but it doesn’t end at Easter.
 

Prayer

As we walk with Jesus,
we remember all those in our world who are crucified today…….
As we deny ourselves,
we remember those who go without all the time…..
As we repent our wrongdoing,
we remember those who are unable to forgive….
As we walk towards the Cross
on the path of discipleship through Lent,
we pray for ourselves, and others...
 Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Lis Mullen is a retired Minister and member of Kendal URC.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 5th March 2019

Tue, 05/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 5th March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 11: 14 - 23-26 

Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.’ Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe.  But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Reflection Demons come in all shapes and sizes. Most of us assign the word ‘demon’ to those things, or those parts of our lives, over which we have no control.  The same might be said of what we see in this passage with opposition to Jesus at its best. As some respond in faithful discipleship, others challenge Jesus pointing towards his final rejection.

The event that leads to the discussion is an exorcism of a demon that had caused a man to be struck dumb. The man is able to speak again. The crowd is amazed and start speculating about what kind of power Jesus possesses.  But they don’t understand. Some call Jesus out for being controlled by Beelzebub, others suggest waiting for a sign from heaven.

Jesus, knowing their thoughts, responds. He argues that it is foolish to think that Satan has sent one of his minions to undo his own work of destruction. So, he offers them an alternative thought: If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you." In other words, this miracle is evidence of the arrival of God's promised, redemptive rule.   He goes on to teach them a parable about a strong man being defeated by an even stronger man. Here is the ultimate cosmic civil war, then, and we must decide: do we follow Jesus or follow Satan?  One will be the agent of God’s deliverance, the other will not.

Jesus gives us a clue as to what we should do. The exorcised man is compared to a house that is swept clean and is ready to be inhabited, this time by seven other spirits so that the man’s situation is now worse than it was before. Jesus' point is simple: do not leave your inner "house" empty but take control of the things of the kingdom.

Prayer

When I lack control over my demons
and all around me rages, O God,
let me trust in your protecting love
and strengthening power,
that I may be wholly filled
with the things of the kingdom:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, gentleness, self-control
and faithfulness,
giving thanks that your grace is sufficient
for all I need. Amen.

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Nicola Furley-Smith, Moderator of Southern Synod.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 4th March 2019

Mon, 04/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 4th March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 11: 5 - 13

And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;  for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.”  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ Reflection In Luke’s telling this passage follows on from Jesus teaching the disciples how to pray by offering them the words we call the Lord’s prayer. In this way we have a contrast between how God relates to us, and how we relate to each other. We are reminded that God provides ‘our daily bread’ but it takes real persistence for us to share our bread with each other. We are blessed by God’s willingness to forgive but we need to be challenged to forgive others.

God’s relationship to us is paralleled with that of good parents who respond to the simple and reasonable request for a fish and an egg by doing so, and not giving a snake and a scorpion. The basic needs are fulfilled, not arbitrary punishment. A good parent strives for the wholeness of their child and requests that build towards that are affirmed. We are reminded that this is even more true when it comes to God.

Ask, search and knock – be open to Christ in the world around you.
Give, find, and open – be open to Christ acting through you.
In all things, place yourself before God in prayer.

Prayer

Living God,
we live pressured with demands
on our time, energy, resources,
and attention.
We try to prioritise,
but are pressed by the loudest voices,
the strongest obligations;
often all we can do is deal
with what is before us.
We crave an all-embracing vision
to inspire, direct, and empower us,
yet your ‘still small voice’
is often heard in the request for help,
the search for meaning,
and the knock at the door.
Amen

Today's Writer

TThe Rev’d David Coaker, Minister of Grays URC and a chaplain to the Moderators of General Assembly

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 3rd March 2019

Sun, 03/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 3rd March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Psalm 88

1 LORD, you are the God who saves me;
I entreat you night and day.
2 May my pleading come before you;
turn your ear to me, I pray.

3 For my soul is full of trouble
and my life draws near to death.
4 Counted with the ones who perish,
I have neither strength nor breath.

5 To the grave I am abandoned,
like the bodies lying there.
You remember them no longer;
they are cut off from your care.

6 In the lowest pit you cast me;
in the darkest depths am I.
7 For your wrath is heavy on me,
and beneath your waves I lie.

8 Closest friends you’ve taken from me;
loathsome to them is my plight.
I am trapped—escape I cannot;
9 misery has dimmed my sight.

Daily, LORD, I call upon you;
in your sight my hands I spread.
10 In the grave do you show wonders?
Are you worshipped by the dead?

11 Is your love shown in Destruction—
in the grave your faithfulness?
12 Are your wonders known in darkness,
or in death your righteousness?

13 But I cry to you for help, LORD;
at the dawn to you I pray.
14 Why, O LORD, do you reject me,
and why turn your face away?

15 From my youth I’ve been afflicted;
death to me is always near.
I have undergone your terrors,
and I am in deep despair.

16 Your fierce anger has engulfed me;
by your terrors I am crushed.
17 All day long they overwhelm me;
over me the flood has rushed.

18 You have taken my companions
and my loved ones far from me.
Now my closest friend is darkness;
not a ray of light I see.

This can be sung to any tune with an 8787 metre.
 
Reflection Francis Bacon,
Head VI,
Arts Council Collection,
Hayward Gallery, London

Francis Bacon’s art is not pretty or soothing, expressing the pain and cruelty of the human condition in works such as “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” or “Head VI” which started his series of “screaming popes”. Yet there is something searingly honest in this art, speaking to people who know the depths of despair. This is art which speaks the truth about the bottom of the pit. As does Psalm 88, with none of the happy ending that is found in many of the other Psalms where anger with God is resolved in defiant faith. Here instead there is the bewilderment of someone in solitary confinement, whether by the hand of others, or because they have isolated themselves. They are totally cut off from any encouraging presence, and feel hemmed in. Even God has deserted them, and they argue with God “What good is it if I die? Will that bring you any glory? I want to live and to know your love and wonders.” Their plea is met with apparent silence.

Walter Breuggeman identifies this as one of the Psalms of disorientation, pointing out that life is “savagely marked by disequilibrium, incoherence, and unrelieved asymmetry” yet observing the “curious fact that the church has, by and large, continued to sing songs of orientation in a world increasingly experienced as disoriented.”

This Psalm speaks of experiencing the world when it is at its most painful, and refusing to give up entirely on a relationship with God. For only the God who can stand our screamed out questions and demands for answers is worth believing in.
 

Prayer

God who is beyond knowing,
deeper than pain,
holder of desolation,
when the way meets a prison wall
stay with us.

Today's Writer

The Revd Fiona Thomas is a member of Christ Church, Bellingham and serves as the Secretary for Education & Learning of the URC.

Bible Version

 
Sing Psalms! © Psalmody and Praise Committee, Free Church of Scotland, 15 North Bank St, Edinburgh, EH1 2LS
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 2nd March 2019

Sat, 02/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 2nd March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 11: 1 - 4

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.  And do not bring us to the time of trial.’ Reflection One of my roles in my local church is to organise pulpit supply.   In Oxford we are lucky to be able to draw on not only the talents of our congregation and the wider URC, but also a range of ecumenical friends.  Working with people from other denominations can highlight ways we are different - for example, Baptist and Methodist colleagues are completely unfazed by our order of service (even though it differs in some details from their usual practice), but some Anglican and Roman Catholic preachers find the thought of the worship leader choosing or writing prayers week by week entirely alien!  I often find myself suggesting hymns and songs for such visitors - and one chaplain did remark to me that leading worship for us had taught him the importance of hymns as a vital part of the service in our tradition, rather than just being a filler between the important bits of the service (as he caricatured the Anglican approach).
However, just as we learn about our differences when we have these encounters, we reinforce the things we have in common - and the Lord’s Prayer must be one of the most fundamental.  The version above from Luke is a little shorter than the prayer we usually say in church - no mention of the Kingdom coming on earth as is in Heaven, for example - and you’ll find a longer version in Matthew 6.  But the three key ideas of praying for the Kingdom to come, for daily needs, and for forgiveness are all there. In preparing this reflection I was struck by the modesty of the ask (daily bread rather than wealth and material success), allied to the personal commitment to forgive others, and the desire for the Kingdom to come.  Does this reflect our own priorities and practice, or are we tempted to ask God for more, and to commit less?
 

Prayer


Lord, you taught your disciples to pray;
using simple words,
asking your disciples
to commit themselves,
praying for the Kingdom to come.
If we are tempted
to hide behind complicated language,
if we ask for more
than we are prepared to give,
or tempted to focus on personal glory,
speak to us
through the prayer you gave us.
Help us hear your call
and inspire us to serve you faithfully
and make the Kingdom come. Amen.

Today's Writer

Gordon Woods is an Elder at St Columba’s URC, Oxford

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 1st March 2019

Fri, 01/03/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 1st March 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 10: 38-42 

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;  there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ Reflection I’ve often felt for Martha in this story and my sermons on the passage have reflected that.  However, let’s take a different tack today. It was Eugene Peterson, once described as Reformed Christianity’s nearest thing to a saint, who said, in commenting on the work of full time ministry, that an unwillingness or inability to take time off is a lack of discipline.  Work is something we can hide behind, and idolise. Hard for us Protestants to swallow, I know. Work is good, right? Not always it seems. Tony Burnham once wrote of his worries about “activist ministers” not spending enough time studying Scripture. He said “ I fear ministers are selling their birthright for a potted message”. Great word play, but I worry too about all of our people who don’t give up enough busy-ness to spend time “with the Lord” in prayer and shared Bible study.
 

Prayer

Almighty God who is uniquely made known in Jesus the Christ,
forgive us for making an idol of our busyness and indispensability.   
Forgive us for starving ourselves,
and remind us that
“Human beings do not live by bread alone,
but by every word
that comes from your mouth”.  
Renew in us a desire for you,
your ways and your Word,
because you love us and your world.  
In Jesus’ precious name. Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Peter Meek, Moderator, East Midlands Synod

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 28th February 2019

Thu, 28/02/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 28th February 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 10: 25 - 37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’  He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’  And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”  Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ Reflection
We only feel the force of Jesus’ parable when we understand that his hearers expected the priest and Levite to “pass by on the other side”!  That was how the two great commandments – the heart of the Law – were interpreted under the Purity System.  If push came to shove, loving God (by remaining uncontaminated) took precedence over loving neighbour. And that meant that the priest and the Levite needed to keep clear of a man who was probably dead: they couldn’t come near enough to investigate if they were to be fit to do temple service.  Tough for the mugging victim, but that’s what God demanded, and everyone understood that.
 
It’s all in the questions.  The lawyer thought he knew what loving God meant; the only question was, “Who is my neighbour?”  It’s a “statute of limitations” question: “how far does my love have to extend?” Jesus asks the lawyer, “Who was a neighbour to the man who fell among robbers?”  “The one who had compassion on him!” was the reply.  “Go and do likewise”, said Jesus.

Compassion is a visceral word.  It means, “to be twisted up in the guts with empathy, so that we can’t rest until our neighbour’s suffering is alleviated”.  Jesus wants us to understand that compassion mirrors God’s own heart. It is compassion, not purity, that shapes God’s own actions towards us.  If holiness is “being like God”, then we are “holy” when we look at the world through compassionate eyes, and “love” when we respond to human need and suffering.

Jesus’ point is that we love God by meeting our neighbour’s need.  The only question is, “How far does your compassion extend?” And that, according to Jesus, is the same question as, “What kind of God do you believe in and claim to love?”

Prayer

Forgive my compassion fatigue,
loving God.
Help me to see the world
through your eyes,
hear its cries with your ears,
and not rest until
I have made a difference,
for Christ’s sake. Amen.

Today's Writer

Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant, Worsley Road URC

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 27th February 2019

Wed, 27/02/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 27th February 2019 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

St Luke 10: 21 - 24

At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!  For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’ Reflection Jesus’ response to the return of the Seventy, joyful with the success of their mission, is to offer thanks to his Father.  He expresses specific gratitude that revelation of the manifestation of the Kingdom has been given not to those who might be expected to receive it, ‘the wise and the intelligent’ but rather to the ‘infants.’  The language is reminiscent of the ‘wise’ and ‘foolish’ in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, where those who understand the message of the cross are not deemed wise by worldly standards.

Further, the Son, entrusted with all things, chooses with whom he will share his intimate knowledge of the Father.  As he turns to the disciples, telling them how blessed they are to have witnessed the dawn of salvation, their privileged status as recipients of revelation is emphasised by his comment that prophets and kings longed to have witnessed what they had seen and heard.  Again, as in the contrast between the ‘wise and intelligent’ and the ‘infants,’ we are reminded of the topsy-turvy upside-down world of the kingdom.

We welcome the revelation to the deeply ordinary.  We celebrate that it’s those who make no claim to be wise or qualified who have insight that the Kingdom has come.  But a cautionary note: let us take care if we think we understand the nature of the ‘infants’ that we don’t set boundaries around who might be included according to our own flawed knowledge.  

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
may we be child-like
in opening ourselves
to the mysteries of your Kingdom,

in accepting that there is much
we can never understand,

in joyfully receiving
what you choose to reveal.

And, like children
may we delight in telling others
of your abundant gifts
and blessings to us.  
Amen.
 

Today's Writer

The Revd. Dr. Gillian Poucher, Minister, Gainsborough URC

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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