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URC Daily Devotion 9th December

URC Devotions - Sat, 09/12/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 9th December Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Micah 6:6-8:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before the Lord with burnt offerings
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,.
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Reflection Micah is often listed among the minor prophets. It’s time to give him a promotion. This little gem from Chapter six raises him immediately to the top of the podium. It is hard to find a more succinct summary of the meaning of the journey of faith than this. Micah cuts through the trivia of religious dogma and cultic ritual with gentle dynamic power.

First he asks the most basic human question: “OK. How do I put a smile on God’s face?”  And the answer?. “OK. human traveller. First stop trying to make it up to God. You can’t merit God’s smile. You can never bring enough gifts and offerings to God in order to merit his favour. Certainly the practice of child-sacrifice is the last thing God wants from you. You need to stop and think.  Let God be God. Now, get this into your head. God is already smiling in your direction.  All you have to do is get on with God’s agenda not yours.  

His agenda is threefold:  

First, because God is a God of justice, start rooting out injustice in the world where you live. Take the side of the marginalised and wounded ones. Challenge prejudice. Reach out to the stranger. That is the first thing God wants you to do.

Second, fall in love with love. God is a generous grace-filled loving God so allow your life to be wrapped in steadfast love. The Hebrew word here translated  “kindness” is a bit weak. “Chesed” in Hebrew embraces the richness of God’s covenant love. God is totally committed to love us, and that is the quality of love we are asked to embrace.  
 
Third,  start a journey of joy. Walk gently and humbly with God as your companion. Keep it simple. Treat God as a close friend not a distant dictator. Remember that worship is not a ritual to get through but a relationship of warmth and thankfulness. It is not duty, but delight.  And it is not static or rooted in one place. It involves “walking.”  Expect to go somewhere new!  Expect God’s surprises. Step out into December.

Thank you, Micah. Not a bad message for Advent from a country boy!
 

Prayer

Grace-filled God,
remind us once more
of the essentials of faith:
generosity of spirit,
sincerity in devotion,
wonder at the gift of life.

As Advent times open up
in dark December days,
prepare our hearts and lives
for new beginnings,
birth moments,
genesis happenings.

Then may the message of prophets
and the words of song writers
be fulfilled in us as we seek
to act justly
to delight in generous love,
and to travel with you
as our pilgrim friend. Amen,

Today's Writer

The Rev’d David Jenkins is a retired minister and member of  Marple URC in Cheshire.

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 © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotions 8th December

URC Devotions - Fri, 08/12/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotions 8th December Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Jonah 4:10-11

When God said to him,

“What right do you have to be angry about the plant?”

Jonah replied,

“I have every right to be angry—angry enough to die!”

The Lord said to him,

“This plant grew up in one night and disappeared the next; you didn't do anything for it and you didn't make it grow—yet you feel sorry for it! How much more, then, should I have pity on Nineveh, that great city. After all, it has more than 120,000 innocent children in it, as well as many animals!”
Reflection Stories have a heart and a point, and so it is with Jonah. The heart is a quiet, mournful song, the prophet’s grateful prayer that he did not die when sinking in the sea. It is almost a shame that the narrator interrupts to tell us that at God’s command prophet is vomited onto the seashore.

The point is treated just as abruptly. Jonah is furious about the death of a plant and complains to God about its death. Oh hard-hearted Jonah, you sat under that plant waiting for a catastrophe to kill thousands. Should you not care more about people than plant life? The book ends at this impasse, and we never find out whether he answered back, walked off sulking, or had a deep and lasting change of heart. How often do we change our minds in the middle of a confrontation?

We know our own struggles and our family's worries inside out. We share the worry of imminent redundancy, or life changed after a stroke; the high feelings around a divorce in the family, the impact of stress on a body and a family. Sometimes, as we find our way through troubles we are moved to a new understanding of ourselves and God which can grow our faith. Yet the softening of Jonah's heart to his own troubles does not softened his heart towards those he has previously despised. He fails to make the connection between knowing “how precious life is to me” and “how precious life is”.

If our task as followers of Jesus is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, perhaps we can take those moments in which we understand ourselves better and ask God to help us to use them to understand other people better too. To deepen our empathy, to recognise our common life, and desire good for one another.
 

Prayer

Sometimes, Lord,
I live the moments in which I know
that I depend utterly on you,
and more often
I remember them with gratitude.
Through your Holy Spirit,
let these moments
soften my heart to others,
and move me to action.
In Jesus's name. Amen.

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Dr ’frin Lewis-Smith is minister to the URCs in Darwen and Tockholes.

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 © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 7th December

URC Devotions - Thu, 07/12/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 7th December Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Obadiah 1: 15-18

For the day of the Lord is near against all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head. For as you have drunk on my holy mountain, all the nations around you shall drink; they shall drink and gulp down, and shall be as though they had never been.

But on Mount Zion there shall be those that escape, and it shall be holy; and the house of Jacob shall take possession of those who dispossessed them. The house of Jacob shall be a fire, the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau; for the Lord has spoken.
Reflection We hear a lot these days about late justice. Fraud, abuse, domestic violence, war crimes, ethnic cleansing – the perpetrators may get away with it for a while, but they are never really safe. Memories, clues, witnesses and records cannot be counted on to go away, and the slow, steady pace of justice catches up in the end. Hold this thought for a moment.

Now add in the motif of bad neighbours, of peoples and communities who know each other so well that all love has been lost. Judah and Edom, as the case in point. Shepherds and farmers of the Holy Land hill-country, and mountain people across the Jordan valley, whose high and rugged territory is visible on a clear day. You can see but never touch. So near yet so far. Out of reach, of good social contact, and perhaps even of justice too.

Put those two themes together, and you have Obadiah. The bad neighbour is Edom (a.k.a the children of Esau). And late justice comes from God. For Edom had treated Judah wretchedly, laughed at her misfortune, taken advantage of her suffering, and lived through the generations as a neighbour but rarely as a friend. Yet God would catch up with the situation. Edom would not freewheel for ever on the momentum of old contempt. Judah, victim and punch-bag as she had so often been, would rise in glory, triumph over her oppressor and be gathered in the love of God.

Which is where our text comes in. It’s the word of hope at the end of Obadiah. This smallest of Old Testament prophecies speaks for the victim. It turns bad history into renewing justice, and wretchedness into reckoning. It believes in a God who never gives up.

Justice – reaching out across the years, grounded in heaven, making a difference on earth. That’s Obadiah’s message. Take the victim seriously, it says. Take God seriously too.
 

Prayer

God of justice and judgment,
   of care and commitment,
        of memory and mercy,
teach us to listen to the victim
and hear the voiceless,
   to know when to remember
   and what to forget,
    to understand how to support
    and where to give space,
              to speak rightly about justice
              and truly about Jesus,
                 who speaks your judgment
                  and brings your mercy. Amen.

Today's Writer

The Rev’d John Proctor, is a member of Emmanuel Church, Cambridge, and works as General Secretary of the 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 © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 6th December 

URC Devotions - Wed, 06/12/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 6th December  Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 1:1-15:  

The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
Judgment on Israel’s Neighbors

And he said:
The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds wither,
    and the top of Carmel dries up.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Damascus,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they have threshed Gilead
    with threshing sledges of iron.
So I will send a fire on the house of Hazael,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.
I will break the gate bars of Damascus,
    and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and the one who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
    and the people of Aram shall go into exile to Kir,
says the Lord.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Gaza,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they carried into exile entire communities,
    to hand them over to Edom.
So I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza,
    fire that shall devour its strongholds.
I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod,
    and the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon;
I will turn my hand against Ekron,
    and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,
says the Lord God.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Tyre,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they delivered entire communities over to Edom,
    and did not remember the covenant of kinship.
So I will send a fire on the wall of Tyre,
    fire that shall devour its strongholds.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Edom,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because he pursued his brother with the sword
    and cast off all pity;
he maintained his anger perpetually,
    and kept his wrath[g] forever.
So I will send a fire on Teman,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of the Ammonites,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead
    in order to enlarge their territory.
So I will kindle a fire against the wall of Rabbah,
    fire that shall devour its strongholds,
with shouting on the day of battle,
    with a storm on the day of the whirlwind;
then their king shall go into exile,
    he and his officials together, says the Lord.
Reflection Amos comes with a message which reverberates from his days - around 755 BC - till now.  The date can be fixed because there is archeological evidence in Galilee of an earthquake from Amos’ time. The stunning nature of Amos’ calling and the explosive force of God’s message through him are like the reverberating roar of a lion.

Amos’ background is that of being a tough keeper of sheep and sycamore trees in Tekoa, a small town about six miles north of Jerusalem. He comes from the southern kingdom (normally called Judah) and prophecies to the northern kingdom (normally called Israel). The reason why this is important and why Amos is an unusual prophet is that he prophesies outside his home country. He crosses borders! Amos is the only one of the written prophets to have done this; all the others prophecy to their compatriots.

“The Lord roars from Zion”. Amos utters what he sees like a lion’s sudden roar. In the prophetic judgment speeches Amos talks about the different people, not to them. He criticizes both Israel’s neighbouring nations and then follows with judgments against Judah and Israel. Amos listens and then delivers difficult messages.

Pilgrims today come back from Israel/Palestine with challenging messages. Visiting Embrace the Middle East projects we were asked to do 4 things –to say thank you for coming, to tell stories, to pray for the projects and to encourage others to visit.
 

Prayer

Loving God
we give thanks for Amos
and for all people of faith
who had the courage to travel beyond their home territory
to deliver disturbing and difficult messages.
May we be still during this season of Advent
and listen as today’s prophets
challenge us to go beyond comfort zones
and to walk forward.
Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Mary Taylor is the minister of Selkirk URC in the Synod of Scotland and Crookham URC in the Northern 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 © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotions 5th December

URC Devotions - Tue, 05/12/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotions 5th December Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Joel 2:28-32 

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls. Reflection Whether the plague of locusts that form the storyline of the prophecy of Joel are symbolic or actual does not matter. What matters is that in times of communal or individual crisis we deepen our connection to God and orientate ourselves towards hope. The human experience encompasses tragedy and celebration, sadness and joy, pain and well-being. The challenge that Joel sets us is to choose the positive over the negative. Our 21 st century economic and political systems are predicated on scarcity. We have unconsciously adopted the same limitations in all our relationships while the Biblical injunction is to celebrate generous abundance. The advent journey is the anticipation of a new future, one in which darkness will give way to light and a birth will surprise and delight. We journey from fear to hope. Yes there are challenges and disappointments, life isn’t always fair but change is possible.

The catalyst for change is revealed in the promise of God to ‘pour out my spirit on all flesh’. A key passage in the Pentecost sermon this divine initiative is a startling indicator of a universal embrace.

The barriers of gender, age, slavery and freedom that were normative and almost impenetrable in the Jerusalem society of Joel are swept aside. We are no longer defined by the labels or limits others impose upon us. The gift of God is no longer restricted to the pious, or the religious, to priest or regular attender but even to those who only turn up once a year for the carol service. The Hebrew word ‘ruach’ is translated here as ‘spirit’ but elsewhere rendered as ‘wind’. We are to understand that what is promised is power, like a wind that can destroy or move the immovable. Now the truly radical insight of Joel and Pentecost is evident; power will no longer rest with the elite and the privileged but with the many and the ordinary. And isn’t that the lesson of incarnation? The storyline of Advent is the birth of a baby in whom rests the power to change the world and us with it. Given the power how will we use it?
 

Prayer

Generous God,
As you have empowered me,
so help me to choose hope over despair.

When life is hard and the way uncertain,
let me feel your strong embrace.

When injustice is denied to others,
give me courage to speak out.
When I doubt my own worth,
remind me that I am yours.
Amen.

Today's Writer

The Rev’d David Grosch-Miller is a  member of St. George’s Morpeth and Immediate Past Moderator 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 © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 4th December

URC Devotions - Mon, 04/12/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 4th December Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward Hosea 10:12-14 Ephraim was a trained heifer
   that loved to thresh,
   and I spared her fair neck;
but I will make Ephraim break the ground;
   Judah must plough;
   Jacob must harrow for himself
Sow for yourselves righteousness;
   reap steadfast love;
   break up your fallow ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
   that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.
You have plowed wickedness,
   you have reaped injustice,
   you have eaten the fruit of lies.
Because you have trusted in your power
   and in the multitude of your warriors,
therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people,
   and all your fortresses shall be destroyed,
as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle
   when mothers were dashed in pieces with their children.
Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel,
   because of your great wickedness.
At dawn the king of Israel
   shall be utterly cut off.
Reflection Even a cursory reading of Hosea – he of the wandering wife and the children with colourful names - may lead you to side with Private Fraser in proclaiming ‘we’re doomed’.

Hosea is very zealous for the Lord and he doesn’t hold back in his descriptions of his times. Iniquity, idolatry, immorality, all arising from dalliances with other religions’ fertility cults and ill - judged alliances with foreign powers. There will be wailing and trembling and desolation.

Hosea diagnoses the root of the problem: Israel’s unfaithfulness to the God of the covenant. Marriage is the vehicle used to illustrate the breakdown of this relationship. Israel is the adulterous partner and under serious judgement, but God will heal and love when / if the nation returns. For this reader, some of the language and threats meted out to the unfaithful one, make for uncomfortable reading. The overall message is believed to be one of healing and loving, but the book contains several of those images of God that we would rather were not in the Bible and one would have to perform exegetical gymnastics to make some verses look good.

We have, however, some light and hope today in agricultural images. Our verses speak of crops and rain and fruitfulness – properties much valued by the cult of Ba’al with whom Israel was flirting. ‘Our God goes further than mere rain and food’ says Hosea. ‘Our God rains righteousness’. Prepare yourself by sowing and breaking up your fallow ground so you may reap steadfast love.

In this Advent time, as we prepare to meet our God, we take heart that even the zealous Hosea, much troubled by sin, was able to understand that at the heart of all creation is a loving, forgiving, faithful God. A God whose righteousness wills the wellbeing of the world, right and loving relationship and the health of creation.

Our God rains righteousness and when his reign is fully established steadfast love, mercy, faithfulness and justice will be the order of the day.

Frère Roger of Taizé says ‘All God can do is love’. Strangely, we often feel more at home with a God of judgement, a God whose love is peppered with ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.

Maybe Advent will be the time when we will glimpse more of the loving God who comes to us again and again to make a home with us.

 
 

Prayer

Gracious God,
whose plans for creation
are healing and wholeness,
may we walk today
in the light of your love,
with gentle eyes and generous hearts,
so that our doings and dealings
may be in full harmony
with what you will for the world.
Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Ros Lyle is a retired minister and member of  Muswell Hill 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 © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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Daily Devotions in Advent

URC Devotions - Sun, 03/12/2017 - 18:00
96 Daily Devotions in Advent Advent Themes in the Daily Devotions View this email in your browser

Daily Devotions in Advent

Dear <<First Name>>

The Daily Devotions from the URC are now a year old!  Building on an initiative of the North Western and Northern Synods (itself building on an programme in one of our churches) we have seen the Daily Devotions grow from a subscriber base of 600 to almost 1,700.  Hundreds more read them on Facebook, on the URC Devotion Archive site or through local church websites.  From tomorrow you can also keep up with the Daily Devotions if you use Twitter.  Our identity is @URCDevotions.

Each day our team of writers help us all receive inspiration in our inboxes.

As we enter the Season of Advent we will look at the Major themes of the Minor Prophets.  Each day we will look at a key verse from the prophets selected to help unpick their wider message.

We hope this series will help us all as we reflect on the prophetic edge of this season.

with every good wish

Andy

Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project

 

  

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URC Daily Devotion 3rd December

URC Devotions - Sun, 03/12/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 3rd December Today's Daily Devotion from the URC Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser

Psalm 26

Declare me innocent, O LORD;
I’ve walked in blameless ways,
And I have trusted in the LORD,
not wav’ring all my days.

Test me, O LORD, and try my heart;
my inmost thoughts survey.
Your love surrounds me; from your truth
my feet will never stray.

I do not sit with worthless folk;
I shun the hypocrite.
I hate the wicked’s gatherings;
with them I will not sit.

I wash my hands in innocence,
and blameless is my heart;
I go about your altar, LORD—
the place you set apart.

I’ll tell of all your awesome deeds,
proclaiming loud your praise.
Your glory fills your dwelling-place;
I love your house always.

Sweep not away my soul, O LORD,
with those who hate your way;
Nor take away my life with those
who love to wound and slay.

For their right hands are full of bribes;
they plot iniquity.
But I will lead a blameless life—
in mercy set me free.

My feet will stand with confidence
upon a level place,
And in the people’s gathering
I’ll praise the LORD of grace.


You can hear this sung to the tune Ballerma here Reflection In hillwalking days I tended to prefer the short cut. My route would cut out the drudgery of following the well marked path. The family recall this with no sense of pleasure. One occasion, when out walking by myself, I ventured on to a scree slope - it seemed the quickest way to the top. Half way up I found myself not in control of my feet. Every time I moved, the loose stones above me moved in sympathy burying me up to the ankles. I was having difficulty keeping my balance. I stopped moving. With no way up, and the other option an uncontrolled descent, I simply stood there, rueing my foolishness.

The singer of Psalm 26, though finally anticipating standing upon a level place, does not start the song with an admission of guilt. He has done nothing to deserve his predicament, which seems to involve a life threatening situation (v9). He cries out   for justice, directing his plea to the one who is the guarantor of his life – the Lord in whom he has placed his whole trust - whose nature embodies love and truth (v3).  He begs for mercy (v9) appealing to the only one who knows his inner desire to serve God to the best of his ability. If the song is a plea for mercy, it is also a complaint.: not a resigned cry, but an act of hope which refuses to accept the way things are. Because of his faith, the singer lays bare his inmost feelings about ‘those who hate your way’(v9) , and refuses to be lumped with those who deserve God’s punishment.

It is easy for us to baulk at such open complaint and assertion of innocence. Few of us have such an unfettered faith in our own blamelessness, so we address God much more cautiously. Even though deep in our hearts we may want to be totally honest with God we hold back from complete frankness (even though we admit God knows us better than we know ourselves). Such is our foolishness, and such is the strength of the psalmist, unhindered by such sophistry.

As for my ‘short cut’, well, by dint of changing the way I climbed (crab wise) , eventually I did reach level ground, and I did thank God.
 

Prayer

Gracious God
thank you for the directness and honesty
of the psalmist of old,
who trusted you enough
to complain, and hope
in your love and truth.
May we be courageous in living,
trusting for future days in your Son,
who comes to us as a baby,
our Saviour, friend and brother. Amen

Today's Writer

The Revd John Young is a retired minister of the Synod of Scotland and a member of Giffnock URC.

Bible Version

 
Sing Psalms,
Psalmody and Praise Committee
Free Church of Scotland
15 North Bank Street
Edinburgh
EH1 2LS
Copyright © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 2nd December 2017

URC Devotions - Sat, 02/12/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 2nd December 2017 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser

John 20: 19-30 

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

But Thomas (who was called the Twin ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
Reflection In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene is the first of Jesus’ followers to meet the risen Jesus. He sends her back to the disciples with an Ascension message, and the astonishing news of her encounter with her living Lord. Do they believe her? We are not told: but we wouldn’t be surprised if they had their doubts about her testimony, or even sanity.

Jesus’ Easter evening appearance to his disciples is in a room with the door locked ‘for fear of the Jews’ ie the Jewish authorities. This beleaguered company already know that Jesus’ tomb is empty.  Do they also fear meeting up with their risen Lord will bring severe recriminations for their desertion? They seem traumatised and uncertain about the future. Mary Magdalene’s news hasn’t radically transformed the disciples’ outlook on life.
In the midst of their discomfort they find Jesus standing amongst them: recognisably the same as he has always been, but bearing the scars of his crucifixion. There are no recriminations, only a confrontation of the best and most reassuring kind. His familiar ‘shalom’ bids them relax and accept his presence is for their benefit. As his disciples gather round him looking at his wounded body, their pent up emotions burst out into unconfined joy. Their relationship with Jesus has been re-established.

But this is not just a social call Jesus is making, no matter how welcome. His second ‘shalom’ to them is a commissioning one.  He hands over the torch of his mission to his disciples. Earlier in John’s gospel there have been hints about this: but this is now happening.  In his ‘breathing’ on them the Spirit of God who gives life to human beings and all living things (cf Genesis creation passages)., they are given power to bear witness to Jesus by their lives and conduct. The meaning of Jesus’ saying ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ has been, and still is, a subject of debate. How are we to understand this? The context of the saying is the handing over and empowering of the disciples to undertake Jesus’ mission. Since John’s gospel treats ‘sin’ not as a moral category, but as ‘unbelief’, the saying is related to the disciples’ mission of bearing witness, not primarily a power vested in an individual or group. As people come to know and abide in Jesus, they will be “released” from their sins. If, however, those sent by Jesus fail to bear witness, people will remain stuck in their unbelief; their sins will be “retained” or “held on to” Seen in this light the stakes of mission are very high: for the disciples, and us.

We’re not told why Thomas was absent, missing this first Sunday evening encounter with the risen Jesus. We characterise him as “doubting Thomas,” though he asks for nothing more than the others have already received: to see Jesus with his wounds. Our faith is more akin to Thomas’ than we’re usually prepared to admit.

One week later Jesus’ visit provides exactly what Thomas needs, and he responds with the highest confession of anyone in the Gospel. This is not simply a doctrinal confession, but a statement of trust and relationship: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas reminds us of our need for our faith to be personal – creeds and statements of belief have their place, but the presence of Christ in our midst surpasses all of these, and all arguments.

Is Jesus’ response to Thomas a rebuke?  It can be read like that - but more positively as blessing on all those who will come to believe without the benefit of a flesh-and-blood encounter with Jesus. Indeed, John goes on to declare that this is the purpose of his gospel, speaking to all of us who have not seen, but have heard his testimony: “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”.
 

Prayer

Gracious God
you come to us in Jesus always,
sometimes when least expected.
When we are tired, frightened of life,
our setbacks overwhelming us,
let us hear your ‘shalom’
as you stand beside us.
May your life in us bring encouragement
fresh hope and joy,
as you journey with us
into our future. Amen

 

Today's Writer

The Rev’d John Young is a retired minister of the Synod of Scotland and a member of Giffnock URC

Bible Version

 
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URC Daily Devotion 1st December 2017

URC Devotions - Fri, 01/12/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 1st December 2017 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser

John 20 1: -18 

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them,

‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’

Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her,

‘Woman, why are you weeping?’

She said to them,

‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’

When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her,

‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him,

‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’

Jesus said to her,

‘Mary!’

She turned and said to him in Hebrew,

‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).

Jesus said to her,

‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them,

“I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,

‘I have seen the Lord’;

and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Reflection For some reason, it seems to be unsettling to read through the account of the resurrection of Jesus away from Easter. Like thinking of shepherds and the Magi in summertime, being reminded again of that first Easter morning separate from the sways of springtime flowers seems to create disorientation. But that comes from a resident of the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are flipped, Christmas is accompanied by beach BBQs and sun cream, while Easter comes with the browning leaves of autumn. It all depends on what you’re used to.

Perhaps any unsettling, then, comes because we encounter the account on a cool Friday morning in December – a perspective we’re not used to having on the text – rather than the warmth of Sunday in spring? Or perhaps we’re used to it speaking the mystery of the Resurrection as part of the whole narrative from the Triumphal entry through to the Ascension? Or maybe it unsettles not so much because of the date, but because it can actually speak to us of that mystery? – here it can speak anew where it is laid bare of the distractions of the season.

As Advent looms, maybe we need to be reminded of the mystery, majesty, and glory that the Resurrection encapsulates for Christians. The watching and waiting of the disciples was rewarded by the new life of a resurrected Christ – not just brought back from the dead but transformed by God into one who was unknown to even his most devout followers, yet instantly recognised in the calling of a name. God turned death, decay, and destruction into renewal, revival, and refreshment.

As we turn on Advent Sunday to start a new liturgical year, maybe we can aspire to think of every Sunday as a ‘little Easter Sunday’ – where hearing again the story of the glorious Resurrection of Christ, our Saviour and Lord, doesn’t disorientate but inspires. Perhaps we can become more used to hearing again the account of resurrection and appearance, trusting that through God’s grace, Christ’s presence will be known to us anew – a true renewal in the Church and in our lives.
 

Prayer

Speak to us anew, Lord;
unsettle us with
the mystery and majesty of your Resurrection,
and help us to hear your voice of renewal
as we seek to be your people,
not disorientated, but focused on your glory.

Today's Writer

The Rev'd Dr Matthew Prevett, Minister, St Andrew’s URC, Monkseaton and Northern Synod Minister

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
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URC Daily Devotion 30th November 2017

URC Devotions - Thu, 30/11/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 30th November 2017 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser

John 19: 16-42 

Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read,

“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate,

“Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ”

Pilate answered,

“What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another,

“Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.”

This was to fulfil what the scripture says,

“They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

And that is what the soldiers did.  Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother,

“Woman, here is your son.”

Then he said to the disciple,

“Here is your mother.”

And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture),

“I am thirsty.”

A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said,

“It is finished.”

Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath, especially because that Sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled,

“None of his bones shall be broken.”

And again another passage of scripture says,

“They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Reflection Our passage for today occurs in the Lectionary on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. This means that many of us rarely consider it in depth through preaching; Good Friday services being much more likely to be reflective.  John’s Gospel, especially in our passage, gives us particular details for specific reasons. Let’s have a look at some:

“ “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” … written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.”

Not just the ‘charge’ that took Jesus to the cross – but in this gospel a significant truth about him. Written not only in the local language, but in the two main world languages of the day. Therefore, John's Gospel points us to the importance of everyone being given the opportunity to know about Jesus as King in a language they understand.

“They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.”

It seems that mothers may have made and given to their sons seamless garments when they left home; so maybe Mary made this garment for Jesus. However, in Exodus we read that the Priest’s robe was woven with a reinforced neck opening – a seamless robe. Therefore, in John’s Gospel, the seamless garment points to Jesus as priest.

“When Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said … “I am thirsty" A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.”  

The hyssop points us to Jesus as the Passover Lamb.

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Jesus’ crucifixion took place on what we call Friday; the sixth day of the week. In the beginning – God completed the work of creation on the sixth day, and on the seventh/Sabbath He rested. In John’s Gospel “It is finished” points to Jesus completing the work of Salvation on the sixth day; and on the Sabbath – He rested.

“Nicodemus … came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.”

This was no ordinary quantity of oils and spices for a burial. This was enough for a royal burial. John’s Gospel again points to Jesus as the King.
 

Prayer

King Jesus,
At your birth the Magi brought you symbols in gifts :
  • gold for kingship;
  • frankincense for priesthood and
  • myrrh for death.
John’s gospel shows us in your death signs of your kingship, your priesthood and your sacrifice. Thank you that you are our King.

Help us, in our words and actions,
to proclaim that you are King,
so that everyone can hear in language they can understand.
Thank you that you are our Priest.

Help us to know that we don’t need anyone but you, Jesus, to offer our needs and worship to our Heavenly Father. Thank you that you are our Passover Lamb. Help us to remember that your death completed the work of salvation, setting us free to be your people. A gift for all people, of all times.

King Jesus – thank you.
Amen.

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Annette Haigh is a Minister within the Goyt and Etherow Pastorate in Derbyshire and Cheshire.

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URC Daily Devotion 29th November 2017

URC Devotions - Wed, 29/11/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 29th November 2017 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser

John 18: 28 - 19:16

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said,

“What accusation do you bring against this man?”  

They answered,

“If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”

Pilate said to them,

“Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.”

The Jews replied,
“We are not permitted to put anyone to death.”
(This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him,
 
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
 
Jesus answered,

“Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

Pilate replied,

“I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesus answered,

“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Pilate asked him,

“So you are a king?”

Jesus answered,

“You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate asked him,

“What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them,

“I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”

They shouted in reply,

“Not this man, but Barabbas!”
 
Now Barabbas was a bandit. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.  And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying,

“Hail, King of the Jews!”

and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to
them,
 
“Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.”
So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them,
“Here is the man!”
 
When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted,

“Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Pilate said to them,

“Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”

The Jews answered him,

“We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus,

“Where are you from?”

But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him,

“Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”

Jesus answered him,

“You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out,

“If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews,

“Here is your King!”

They cried out,

“Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!”

Pilate asked them,

“Shall I crucify your King?”

The chief priests answered,

“We have no king but the emperor.”

Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
Reflection Members of both the judiciaries that operate England, Wales and Scotland take an oath where they swear to “do right to all manner of people...without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”  It’s a very old oath and is at the cornerstone of our judicial system designed to ensure justice is done.  The oath represents the very opposite of Pilate’s understanding of his role.  Pilate is the epitome of the weak judge who goes with the flow rather than with what is right.  

Jesus seems to engage Pilate until the fateful words “what is truth?” after which He is much more curt.  The powerless speaks truth to power yet the powerful doesn’t understand, nor care, much for truth let alone right!

In our contemporary Western culture we also have a troubled relationship with truth. Since the Enlightenment we see something as true only if it can be scientifically proved.  Of course conceding that ground was bad news for religion where the truths we deal in are the truths of meaning, and myth which guide our lives.  Paradoxically, our culture sees many competing ideas as being equally true - your truth is as good as my truth. Despite Pilate’s weakness we may think his question was rather PostModern.  

So what do we make of truth?  Do we claim to have a higher or better understanding of truth than others?  Perhaps the only way to evaluate truth is to think of the Judicial Oath. Does the truth we live by do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill will?
 

Prayer

O Jesus,
you who are:

The Way;
The Truth;
and the Life;
grant us the will to live by your truth,
and do right to all manner of people,
without fear or favour,
affection or ill will.
Amen.

Today's Writer

The Rev'd Andy Braunston is a minister in the Synod of Scotland's Southside Cluster serving Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs.

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
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Devotions and Junk/Spam Mail

URC Devotions - Tue, 28/11/2017 - 18:58
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Junk/Spam Email

Dear <<First Name>>

For some time we've had a problem where some people find that the Daily Devotions end up in the Spam/Junk folder.  This can be an intermittent problem so people email me to ask if they have been removed from the list.

I have been working with the URC's email provider and think we've changed enough settings to reduce this problem.  I would also suggest you add DailyDevotions@urc.org.uk to your contacts and your Safe Sender list.  You may need to google to find out how your email programme manages Safe Sender lists.  

with every good wish

Andy

Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project

 

  

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URC Daily Devotion 28 November 2017

URC Devotions - Tue, 28/11/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 28 November 2017 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser

John 18: 12 - 27

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.  Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest,  but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in.  The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.  Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.  Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’  When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’  Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’  Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’  One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’  Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
Reflection Snakes and ladders is such a frustrating game. One moment the feeling of annoyance when suddenly we go down a snake. Such games are random and, while we can feel out of control, real life is also shaped by the decisions we take. The real life snakes are often more subtle; we start with something small and, before we know it, we are sliding faster and further than we wanted.

I picture Peter getting increasingly vexed as he replies to those who ask if he knew Jesus.  A combination of fear of the authorities and not wanting to go back on what he had said drives his denials. Judas is seen as the dangerous denier and Peter, we know, resolves things with the risen Christ. Jesus had warned Peter what was to happen because Jesus knew and understood what people are like.

Like Peter, it is the small steps that can catch us out. The small denials set us on a difficult path - whether that is in caring for ourselves or living the faith. We gradually slip from the path we hoped to take, sometimes, like Peter we lash out at those who point out our error or hypocrisy. Like Peter, the dawn can bring the realisation of how we have stepped away from the life Christ hopes for us. Like Peter, on another day, we have the chance to begin again. Walking with Christ helps us find the small steps which help live a life with more ladders than snakes.

Like Peter we do not set out to deny Christ either in word or action. Jesus knew what a struggle being human is. Christ is ready to journey with us throughout our lives. If even some days we can manage to be just a little more Christ-like, a little more able to hold to our devotion to the way he has set before us, we will, indeed, be on a right path.
 

Prayer

Creator God,
you know the struggles of being human.
Strengthen us.
Son of God,
you know how easily people turn away from you.
Strengthen us
Holy spirit,
you know how much help
each one of us needs
to follow the right path set before us
Strengthen and guide us
Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Martyn Coe is a minister in the South Lakes Group of Churches, Cumbria.

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URC Daily Devotion 27 November 2017

URC Devotions - Mon, 27/11/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 27 November 2017 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser

John 18: 1-11

After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them,
‘For whom are you looking?’
They answered,
‘Jesus of Nazareth.’
Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’
Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he’,  they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them,
‘For whom are you looking?’
And they said,
‘Jesus of Nazareth.’
Jesus answered,
‘I told you that I am he.  So if you are looking for me, let these men go.’
This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken,
‘I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.’
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter,
‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’
Reflection Who hasn’t been betrayed?

Betrayal is one of those circumstances, when we suffer disloyalty from another human being, but the deceit and hurt can lie embedded in our emotions for many years.

This scene of betrayal in John’s Gospel is the most tragic, yet the most powerful in the passion narrative. Here, centre stage are Jesus and Judas, both knowing why they were there, and for Jesus, the path to the cross is looming ever higher. The on lookers, of which they are many, the disciples, the soldiers, police and Pharisees take a back stage, and in the dim light of torches the scene unfolds.

The betrayer and betrayed facing each other.

What about the betrayed? Jesus accepts the betrayal of Judas, knowing that it will  bring glory to God, but the betrayal leaves him at a fork in the road, and to progress onwards to the Cross, Jesus needs to forgive Judas and give instructions to the onlookers and especially to Simon Peter ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me? His acute love for his disciples, and I would include Judas here, is clear as he accepts what is to come, with no arguments or defence.

What about the betrayer? Judas is often portrayed in a bad light, but are all people who betray ruthless people? We are all capable of betrayal, it is part of our humanity, for we are imperfect beings, yet for Judas and I expect for most people, the first act of moving onwards is to accept the consequences of our actions and then to seek forgiveness from the person we have wronged. Did Judas ever feel forgiveness and love from Jesus? I think he did, but Judas’ stumbling block was that he could not forgive himself.

This scenario is as real as any modern day situation, political or relational or even a Shakespearean play, a tragedy, a love story, a story of right and wrong, and story of truth and lies, betrayer and betrayed.


We will at some point all deal with betrayal, the secret is knowing how to love and forgive, then move on in God’s grace.
 

Prayer

‘Our job is to Love others,
without stopping to inquire
whether or not they are worthy’.

Thomas Merton

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Ruth Dillon is minister at Fleet URC and Beacon Hill , Hindhead URC.Wessex 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 © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 26th November 2017

URC Devotions - Sun, 26/11/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 26th November 2017 Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser

Psalm 25

To you, O LORD, I lift my soul;
I trust in you continually.
Do not let me be put to shame,
Nor let my foes gloat over me.

No one who sets his hope in you
Will ever suffer such disgrace,
But those who act with treachery
Humiliating shame will face.

O LORD, reveal to me your ways,
And all your paths help me to know.
Direct and guide me in your truth;
Instruct me in the way to go.

You are my Saviour and my God;
All day I hope in you alone.
Remember, LORD, your love and grace
Which from past ages you have shown.

Do not recall my sins of youth
Or my rebellious, evil ways;
Remember me in your great love,
For you, O LORD, are good always.

Because the LORD is just and good,
He shows his paths to all who stray.
He guides the meek in what is right
And teaches them his holy way.

To those who keep his covenant laws
He shows his love consistently.
For your name’s sake, O LORD my God,
Forgive my great iniquity.

Who, then, are those who fear the LORD?
He’ll teach to them the chosen way
That they may prosper all their life;
Their children in the land will stay.

God’s friends are those who fear his name;
With them his cov’nant he will share.
My eyes are always on the LORD;
He’ll free my feet from every snare.

Turn to me, LORD, show me your grace;
I suffer pain and loneliness.
The troubles of my heart have grown;
Deliver me from my distress.

Look on my pain and suffering;
Forgive all my iniquity.
See how my foes have multiplied,
How fierce their hatred is for me!

O guard my life and rescue me,
And let me not be put to shame;
For I take refuge in you, LORD,
From those who would destroy my name.

Because I hope in you alone,
Let uprightness protect me still.
From all their troubles, O my God,
Redeem your people Israel.

You can hear a Free Church congregation sing this to the tune Finnart
here (from the fourth stanza) Reflection The Psalm is a prayer of confidence in the activity of God in a person’s life. It is perhaps possible to imagine the Psalmist reflecting back over a period of time, thinking about the events of his life and his sense of the presence, and absence, of God during the passage of time. God as teacher and the One who forgives are prominent themes throughout the Psalm and although the Psalm narrates a deeply personal faith experience, the Psalmist concludes by looking outwards to his community and asks for salvation for Israel.  We get a sense that it is important to the Psalmist that he does not ‘let God down’ and the opening and closing of the Psalm reinforce the importance of trust and hope in God.

I suspect that many of us will have had similar faith experiences to the Psalmist.  If we stop to reflect there will have been times when we are keenly aware of God’s presence and times when we feel God is absent. We will have shared that sense of not wanting to ‘let God down’, but will also know there are many times when we have done just that and we have asked for forgiveness. Throughout our faith journeys have trust and hope been the dominant motifs?

As part of a recent sabbatical I did a mindfulness course. Although a secular course I found it to be an enriching part of my own spirituality and I am continuing to practise mindfulness as a spiritual discipline. Those who use it from a faith perspective often use the silence in a way similar to the Psalmist, to reflect upon life’s experiences and notice the dominant themes in life. An image which frequently comes in my experience is of being securely held by the love of God, just as a coracle holds a person safe while being buffeted by the wind and waves.

Whatever this day has in store for you, why not follow the example of the psalmist and take time to stop and reflect on your own faith experience, thanking God for God’s presence in your life and noticing the importance of trust and hope?
 

Prayer

O God in the quietness
of these few minutes
Help me to still my body,
mind and soul
and consciously turn to you.
May I be open to your presence in my life;
may I feel your love holding me
in this present moment;
and may trust and hope
guide me all my future days.

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Lindsey Sanderson is minister of the  East Kilbride and Hamilton Joint Pastorate in the National Synod of Scotland.

Bible Version

 
Psalmody and Praise Committee, Free Church of Scotland, 15 North Bank Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2LS.
Copyright © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 25th November

URC Devotions - Sat, 25/11/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 25th November Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser

Issac Watts
Hymn Writer, Theologian and Independent Pastor

Born in Southampton in 1674, Isaac Watts was educated at the local grammar school and had the opportunity to go on to university, but was unable to do so as he was a Dissenter - Oxford and Cambridge were only open to Anglicans.  Instead he attended the the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington. He received there an education of high academic standard and he went on to become a pastor to an Independent (later known as Congregational) Church. Because of his deteriorating health, he resigned this post in 1712 and retired to Stoke Newington.  Isaac wrote many collections of hymns, and his own faith showed clearly through them: When I survey the wondrous cross, Jesus shall reign where'er the sun, and many others still used in worship. He died at Stoke Newington on this day in 1748.

Matthew 13. 44–46, 52

Jesus said:

‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’
 
 
Reflection If you’ve ever visited Southampton city centre, you’ll have heard the clock chiming the tune St Anne, to which Our God, our help in ages past (not “O God”, as John Wesley famous edited it!) is sung.  This is because Isaac Watts was minister of the Above Bar Independent Chapel in the centre of Southampton (that building was destroyed by enemy action, and the congregation became a part of what is now known as Avenue St. Andrew’s URC).  It is said that Watts wrote There is a land of pure delight as he looked across the Solent to the Isle of Wight! However, Watts’s most famous must surely be When I survey the wondrous cross, which is best sung with all five verses.

In today’s reading we are given some snippets of signs of the kingdom from Matthew’s gospel: hidden treasure, which is worth everything that we have; a pearl so fine that it is worth everything we have. Matthew is suggesting these are signs of the kingdom of God, and these are what we can see in the hymns and poetry of Isaac Watts.  Our reading ends with the comment about the best of the old and the new, and this is surely what we find articulated in Watts’s writings.  Watts was clearly a Puritan, who lived and thought in the paradigm of the Reformed tradition, but he was a man of the eighteenth century, encountering the then new enlightenment ideas, and these two influences together make his work so profound, and so helpful in illuminating what it means to be a Christian.

Perhaps this is best summed up in words,


“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Prayer

God of truth and grace,
you gave Isaac Watts singular gifts to present your praise in verse,
that he might write psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for your Church.  
Give us grace joyfully to sing your praises now and in the life to come;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  
Amen.

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Michael Hopkins is the minister of Farnham and Elstead URCs, and Clerk of the General Assembly.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 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 © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion by Verena Walder

URC Devotions - Fri, 24/11/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion by Verena Walder Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser

John 17: 1-26

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Reflection I still remember when I first read through this truly awesome and inspiring prayer of our Saviour, nearly half-a-century ago. It awakened within me an amazing reaction that Jesus Himself should have prayed this prayer, for His followers and for all those who would respond to His call. This is so truly personal and insightful, and one’s heart can only bow in worship before a Saviour who is able to see ahead and anticipate some of the situations which his people were to get themselves into.

More than that is the desire of Jesus, for us - his followers -  to share the same intimacy with him as he does with His Heavenly Father. This is really precious and humbling, showing Jesus to place our welfare ahead of any of his own personal preferences or desires. It also gives us a glimpse into the mystery of the Godhead, and the Oneness which has been there since the beginning of the world.

In this we see the great love which Jesus has for all who faithfully own His name. He is aware of the pressures, temptations and even the forces which would seek to lure us away from walking with Him in close fellowship. This was the one true intimacy and unity which God intended for us all when back in the Garden of Eden, he would come down at evening-time, to walk and talk with Adam.

The very fact that he realised how much we would need his prayers and wholehearted support is again evidence, of his love and Fatherly longing for us all. Is this not all absolutely mind-blowing, immensely humbling, touching our hearts deeply? This is Almighty God, revealed through His son Jesus praying for us all, in the places where He has ordained that we should be planted, and bloom and grow for Him.
We all go through times of problems within Church life but Jesus had anticipated the fragility of our mutual  relationships  in the Church which he brought into existence. Such therefore is the comfort which He gives us, that not only as recorded in this wonderful chapter, but even now Jesus IS praying for us! How incredible is that!
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we stand in awe of you!
Your gracious presence, loving concern and prayerfulness.
Reveal to us your majesty, your love and your Fatherly heart toward us.
Keep us mindful of your longing to daily be a part of our lives,
And to know deep in our hearts that you are praying for us.
With thankful and deeply appreciative hearts, we ask this.
AMEN.

Today's Writer

Verena Walder is a  Lay Preacher and elder at Tabernacle URC,  Mumbles.

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 © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 23rd November

URC Devotions - Thu, 23/11/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 23rd November Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser

John 16: 16-33

Jesus said:

“A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.”    

Then some of his disciples said to one another,

“What does he mean by saying to us, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a
little while, and you will see me’; and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?”

They said,

“What does he mean by this ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”

Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them,

“Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’? Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
“I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.”

His disciples said,

“Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.”

Jesus answered them,

“Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
Reflection Years ago, the paddle-steamer Waverley used to leave its home on the Clyde to visit ports around England, and hence I found myself on board with a group of Primary age children for a trip down the River Tyne, out to sea, along the coast a little and back. The day before, as we talked about the trip, I warned them that when the ship turned at sea, it would cease to go up and down, and instead rock side to side for a little while as it faced a different thrust from the sea, and indeed it did, the starboard paddle (the side we were standing) rising dramatically out of the water to whirr wildly. Back in the classroom, one boy said, in heartfelt tones,
“I’m glad you told us what would happen when it turned, or I’d have been dead scared!”

Murmurs of agreement all round.

Warnings are useful, and a large part of this passage is advance warning, as Jesus prepares the disciples for the crucifixion; the time when others will be glad but they will mourn; the time they will not see him, will think he is gone but this is not a time without hope. In the resurrection, they will see him again. Is this also warning and hope for us; the hope that Jesus will return, a hope to hold to when we can’t ‘see’ him; the times we feel as if we are turning against the tide, our faith and emotions tossed about?

It seems to me that this thinking can have, and has had, two possible effects. We can concentrate only on the future hope and fail to connect fully with the present time; those who don’t worry about the earth because it will all, one day, go and they will be caught up to heaven, is the extreme form of this view. Or we can read the words as assurance that what we experience in our lives is a natural thing that is very hard, but that will have a great outcome – like a woman in labour.

He who assures us of this is one with the Father; we are connected wonderfully with God; we can ask; we can receive. We can receive peace even when the world is shaking us about something frightful! And sometimes – often, even – we won’t understand, and just have to hold to the knowledge that we have Jesus with us; that the Holy Spirit will ever guide us.
 

Prayer

Living, loving God,
we praise and bless you for this present moment
when, even though we feel tossed about
by our questions and fears,
even though people mock and say, “So where is this Jesus?”,
even then, we can know your peace and hope.
Bring to us, we ask, and to the world,
the courage to believe and
the peace Jesus brings,
a peace that nothing can take away.
Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Ruth Crofton is a retired minister living in Durham.

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 © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 22nd November

URC Devotions - Wed, 22/11/2017 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 22nd November Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser

John 16: 4 - 15

Jesus said:

“But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.  But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:  about sin, because they do not believe in me;  about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer;  about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Reflection When someone goes away it is sometimes good to have a reminder of them. If a friend goes on holiday, they may send a postcard. Distant family relations may send us cards for Christmas and birthdays. If a loved one dies, we hold onto the memories of that person and sometimes that is through the places or objects that were special to them. In our reading today Jesus is going away “to the one who sent me.” Some of the disciples didn’t understand what he was saying when he said he was going away (see John 16:17-18) and perhaps they thought he was going to be with them for their whole earthly lives. However, Jesus had a different life plan. He was to go to Jerusalem, surrender his life and rise again to fulfil what the prophets had written of the Messiah. Jesus wasn’t going to leave the disciples alone, then or today. He promised the Holy Spirit, to be a counsellor or advocate (paraclete) for us. Some of the Holy Spirit’s work is outlined by Jesus and is summed up as:

Conviction Helping people to see Jesus for who he is and our need of him
God’s Righteousness Pointing to the work of Jesus on the cross, freeing us from sin and death and making us right before God by his grace
Judgement Reminding us that one day Christ will come again and judge all
Truth We, who follow Jesus, will be guided by the Spirit in our lives and as we read God’s Word
Glory The Holy Spirit always points to Jesus and Jesus to the Father. A wonderful Trinitarian dance of love!

We are not left alone as we have the Holy Spirit with us in power. As disciples of Jesus we have to be open to the Spirit’s power to work in and through us in our daily lives and in our times of worship so that the glory and honour goes to our Trinitarian God.
 

Prayer

Lord I come to you
Let my heart be changed renewed
Flowing from the grace that
I have found in you
And lord I have come to know
The weakness I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of your love

Hold me close let your love surround me
Bring me near draw me to your side
And as I wait
I’ll rise up like an eagle
And I will soar with you
Your spirit leads me on
By the power of your love

Lord unveil my eyes
Let me see you face to face
The knowledge of your love
As you live in me
Lord renew my mind
As your will unfolds in my life
In living everyday
By the power of your love

Hold me close let your love surround me
Bring me near draw me to your side
And as I wait
I’ll rise up like an eagle
And I will soar with you
Your spirit leads me on
By the power of your love
Amen.

By Geoffrey Bullock for music go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ga6Qtxzd6vk

Today's Writer

The Revd Stuart Nixon is a Pioneer Minister serving at MediaCItyUk Church, Salford.

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 © 2017 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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