URC Devotions

URC Daily Devotion 19th December 2019

Thu, 19/12/2019 - 06:00
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Thursday 19th December  Now Christ has come we are all one


Galatians 3: 23-29
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.  Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,  for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Reflection
A few years ago, a local URC Minister came to our Elders’ Meeting to ask us to help with some academic research she was doing into inclusion and the Church.  She asked us each to think about Bible verses that might be relevant. I can’t remember what I suggested, but I remember our Minister suggesting this passage from Galatians.  When even Paul is stressing that we are all one in Christ, then who are we to exclude people on the basis of sexuality, gender, race or any other characteristic?
But the truth is that we quite like having divisions.  We like having churches that feel comfortable to us, and for other people to do things their way somewhere else.  The history of the Christian Church is full of splits and separations, and before we get too complacent that we represent an example of splits coming together, anyone who flicked through the reports from General Assembly over the years would readily see that we can find it easier to focus on what divides us than unites us.
At this time in our national life, when the 2014 and 2016 referendums have exposed key fault lines in our society, and given people new banners to brandish at each other (whether for or against Scottish independence, Leave or Remain), what are we doing to remember Paul’s challenge?  How are we building bridges with people who are different from us? How are we seeking to make the lives of our churches role model the respect and common identity we pray we should enjoy in the nation and the world more widely? And how are we living out the challenge ourselves in our personal relationships?

Prayer

Lord, we confess that we can find it easy to forget that we are all one in Christ.
Forgive us for the times we exclude or diminish people who aren’t like us.
Be with us when we feel that we ourselves are made to feel less than your children.
And help us build your Kingdom on earth, that all your people should know they are one in Christ Jesus.
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

Gordon Woods, Elder, St. Columba’s URC, Oxford
  Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 18th December 2019

Wed, 18/12/2019 - 06:00
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Wednesday 18th December  Judgement Day


Matthew 12: 33-42
‘Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.  You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. 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! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!

Reflection

Judging by the shelves in many book shops, I’m not alone in enjoying detective stories.  What makes a good detective remains the same: someone who can spot the one or two relevant pieces of information among a sea of irrelevance and confusion.  Looking back from the end of the novel, hindsight can enable most of us to see the obvious thing that we missed because it was hidden in plain sight.
In today’s story, Jesus’s opponents are asking for a clue, so that they can know the truth of what’s going on, but he doesn’t provide one because they are expected to figure it out for themselves.  Of course, there will be a time when more than a clue is provided, when Jesus will spend three days and nights in the heart of earth, buried in the tomb. That’s to say even Jesus’s opponents won’t miss this clue!
Jesus used the old stories of Jonah and the Queen of Sheba, who responded to God through a prophet and a king respectively, to remind his contemporaries that he is greater than both Jonah and Solomon.  The first century detective would have been able to pick up the clue that Jesus was the messiah. From looking at what he was doing, healing all manner of people, God was indeed at work in Jesus. But Jesus turns this around (vv.35-37), and says that if they can’t see anything in him, they should at least be warned about their own behaviour: what they say will reveal what is in their hearts. 
Jesus suggests that his opponents can’t see the clues because they are too busy with their own agendas.  Can we see the clues today? Are we too busy with our own agendas? Can we see the heart of what’s going on in the church and the world?  Do we see the smaller clues, but miss the big and obvious ones?

A prayer adapted from Fred Kaan’s hymn:

Judge us, merciful God, and in your judgement free us.
Set our feet in freedom’s open space;
take us as far as your compassion wanders
among the children of the human race=.
Amen
 
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Today's writer

The Revd Michael Hopkins, Minister of a group of Methodist and United Reformed Churches based around Farnham, Surrey, and Clerk of the URC General Assembly

  Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 17th December 2019

Tue, 17/12/2019 - 06:00
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Tuesday 17th December Longing for God
Psalm 42

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
    the face of God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me continually,
    ‘Where is your God?’

These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
    and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
    a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock,
    ‘Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
    because the enemy oppresses me?’
As with a deadly wound in my body,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
    ‘Where is your God?’

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.

Reflection

Longing for God – it’s all faintly uncomfortable, isn’t it?  Sometimes, we tend to be a bit wary about emotions and prefer to take the cynical view. After all, isn’t it enough to try to obey God’s commands (as best we can …) and leave the rest up to Him?  Didn’t we leave all that early Christian enthusiasm behind us in our youth, and aren’t we now all far more reasonable folk?
 
Well, perhaps God doesn’t particularly want us to be reasonable. Perhaps, having a desperately yearning heart for God is the kind of worship He really wants, and He isn’t terribly worried about how many church services we attend or how many good works we do.
 
Very soon in this Psalm, we see that this yearning for God stems from despair and the memory of how things used to be. Despair is the trigger that allows the psalmist to pour out his heart to God, even though he has very little confidence that God is listening to him. But God longs for our honest emotions, however rollercoaster they might be, and always meets us at the level of our deepest need, whether or not we can comprehend it.
 
Somehow, the psalmist’s honest emotional outpouring brings him to a fragile place of hope where God can meet him. May it be so for us.

Prayer:

Dear God, give us hearts to long for You and to seek Your presence throughout all our lives and in all our circumstances. Amen.
 

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Today's writer

Anne Brooke, Attender at Elstead URC

Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotions 16th December 2019

Mon, 16/12/2019 - 06:00
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Monday 16th December
 
Reading: Isaiah 29: 17-24

Shall not Lebanon in a very little while
    become a fruitful field,
    and the fruitful field be regarded as a forest?
On that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a scroll,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
For the tyrant shall be no more,
    and the scoffer shall cease to be;
    all those alert to do evil shall be cut off—
those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit,
    who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate,
    and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right.

Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

No longer shall Jacob be ashamed,
    no longer shall his face grow pale.
For when he sees his children,
    the work of my hands, in his midst,
    they will sanctify my name;
they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob,
    and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
And those who err in spirit will come to understanding,
    and those who grumble will accept instruction.

Devotion

Last week in our Daily Devotions, we walked with the great prophets Elijah and Elisha who confronted the people of their time with the living word of God.  Today we reflect on words associated with and inspired by the great prophet Isaiah. As the book has unfurled, Isaiah has condemned the corruption and injustices in his nation and spoken of destruction and disaster to come – Jerusalem will fall, the nation will be invaded.  The earth itself stands under God’s judgement. Yet in the midst of all this comes these words of hope and new life, a picture of humanity and the natural world saved and redeemed. It is a hope beyond this world and yet one made incarnate in it.
 
This Advent, as we move towards the great Christmas celebration, we will remember that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son’, that Jesus came that we might have ‘life and life in abundance’.  Isaiah reminds us that we need to hear that word not for ourselves alone. 
 
Isaiah’s vision of God’s salvation involves a transforming and healing of the natural world.  It turns the tables and raises the oppressed, the blinded and the deafened. It brings justice in the law courts and beyond.  It humbles of the tyrants and the scoffers. And it requires a change of heart and mind for those who ‘err in spirit’ or ‘grumble’.  Might that latter challenge be today’s word for us? In what sense have we joined ‘the grumblers’ and those who ‘err in spirit’? In what ways have we shared in society’s injustices?   In what sense have we closed ourselves to the challenging yet hopeful word of the Living God? 
 
Today may we learn from our compassionate, awesome and holy God and may we become part of this God’s work of transforming life for all.

Let us pray
Holy, Awesome One,
turn us to yourself.
Stop our grumbling
and renew our hearts and minds.
 
Compassionate One,
give joy to those weighed down by life.
Confront all who oppress or destroy
And save your creation,
The work of your gracious hands.  Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Terry Hinks, minister of Trinity, High Wycombe and Cores End URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 15th December 2019

Sun, 15/12/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 15th December

1 Unless the LORD builds up the house,
its builders toil in vain;
Unless he keeps the city safe,
they vainly watch maintain.

2 In vain you rise before the dawn
and late hours vainly keep
That you may toil for food to eat—
he gives his loved ones sleep.

3 Sons are a precious heritage,
a blessing from the LORD;
The children that are born to us
are truly his reward.

4 Like arrows in a warrior’s hand
are children of one’s youth.
5 The man whose quiver’s full of them
is blessed by God in truth.

Such men will not be put to shame—
that will not be their fate—
When they contend against their foes
who face them in the gate.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the tune McKee (with a wee introduction first) here or the tune Wiltshire here or the tune Evan here.

Reflection

As I read this Psalm, I think of Downton Abbey. Who else but His Lordship would have the luxury of sleeping in or enough food to feed a “quiver full” of children?  Truth is – living is hard work. And yes, life is more difficult for some than others. Is the farmer, milkman, or commuter who gets up before sunrise less loved by God?  And what of person who is quite happy not to have children? Is that person less loved by God? Certainly not! Seems to me that this Psalm was written for the benefit of a monarch or an aristocrat.  This Psalm celebrates the continuation of His Lordship’s manor and His Lordship’s legacy as a gift from God. In that light, the first verse is very pertinent.

Today’s leaders in politics, commerce, influencers , etc – they can build what they like – deep political divisions, walls, “us vs them” thinking, a national liking for the cutting remarks of the Dowager Duchess…  But unless the leaders are following God’s lead and playing their part in what God is building – their works are in vain. 

Next Sunday is the 4th Sunday in Advent – a season of reaffirming that Christ will come again.  As we reread the story of Jesus’ birth, let us remember that God’s Kingdom’s King didn’t end up with lots of children in the usual sense, and we don’t know much about his sleeping habits.  We do know that at least one night, he fretted so much for His Lord’s estate (creation) and heirs (that’s us) that he sweated drops of blood. Our comfort is in the discomfort of God’s King - His Lordship who has “no place to lay His head” (Luke 9:58) and whose family is not always genetically related (Luke 8:21).
 
Prayer

God of the 1% and God of the 99%,
God of the “big house” and God of tarpaulin sheet,
Emmanuel, dwell among us
and lead us to a better way of living together. 
Build your community here, we pray.
Amen
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Angela Rigby, Minister, Christ Church URC Tonbridge and St Johns Hill URC Sevenoaks Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion 14th December 2019

Sat, 14/12/2019 - 06:00
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Saturday 14th December 


2 Kings 13:14-21

Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, King Joash of Israel went down to him, and wept before him, crying, ‘My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ Elisha said to him, ‘Take a bow and arrows’; so he took a bow and arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, ‘Draw the bow’; and he drew it. Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. Then he said, ‘Open the window to the east’; and he opened it. Elisha said, ‘Shoot’; and he shot. Then he said, ‘The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram! For you shall fight the Arameans in Aphek until you have made an end of them.’ He continued, ‘Take the arrows’; and he took them. He said to the king of Israel, ‘Strike the ground with them’; he struck three times, and stopped. Then the man of God was angry with him, and said, ‘You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Aram until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Aram only three times.’ 

So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. As a man was being buried, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha; as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he came to life and stood on his feet.

Reflection

This passage records Elisha’s death and ends the Elijah/Elisha narratives. They have been crafted to demonstrate the power of God over life and death, political and military realms, and all other gods. The final verses illustrate this well. Presumably Elisha’s tomb was a cave since his bones were uncovered. The text implies that such was the divine power mediated through Elisha that even his relics were able to restore life (cf. 2Kgs 4:32-37).

On his deathbed Elisha still represented God’s involvement in Israel’s conflicts with Aram. Joash’s words of address depict him as controller of the divine ‘army’ (cf. 2Kgs2:12; Elisha utters the same phrase as Elijah departs). In his weakness Elisha asks Joash to enact the signs that express God’s word.

The arrow shot to the east indicates the southernmost point that Aram’s incursion would reach before Israel was victorious. Elisha’s angry rebuff when Joash only fires another three arrows instead of five or six, modifies the previous sign – Aram would be subdued but not destroyed. This may reflect hindsight; but perhaps it suggests that Joash failed to use all the resources in his quiver, was half- hearted towards the prophetic instructions. Without total commitment from God’s servants, God may determine to fulfil the divine purposes in a different way.

As I write this reflection conflict continues to overwhelm Syria (modern day Aram) and a just peace between Israel and her neighbours in the Middle East seems a distant dream. As Christians we no longer believe that God takes nationalistic sides but is grieved by humanity’s inability to live in harmony and wills peace on earth.

The Old Testament ends with the hope that Elijah would return to herald the Day of the LORD (Malachi 4:5), a hope continued in New Testament times. This Advent let us proclaim our hope in God’s promised kingdom as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s living word, the Prince of peace.

Prayer

Eternal God, you have journeyed with your people through the ages revealing more of your nature and purposes to each generation through your prophets.

Forgive us when the complexities of this age cloud our vision and block our ears, so that we fail to discern your word today.

Stir us to heed your living word, to work for peace between the nations and to proclaim your kingdom come, in Christ. Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 13th December 2019

Fri, 13/12/2019 - 06:00
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Friday 13th December 

2 Kings 9:1-13 and 10:15-17, 28

Then the prophet Elisha called a member of the company of prophets and said to him, ‘Gird up your loins; take this flask of oil in your hand, and go to Ramoth-gilead. When you arrive, look there for Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi; go in and get him to leave his companions, and take him into an inner chamber. Then take the flask of oil, pour it on his head, and say, “Thus says the Lord: I anoint you king over Israel.” Then open the door and flee; do not linger.’

So the young man, the young prophet, went to Ramoth-gilead. He arrived while the commanders of the army were in council, and he announced, ‘I have a message for you, commander.’ ‘For which one of us?’ asked Jehu. ‘For you, commander.’ So Jehu got up and went inside; the young man poured the oil on his head, saying to him, ‘Thus says the Lord the God of Israel: I anoint you king over the people of the Lord, over Israel. You shall strike down the house of your master Ahab, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord. For the whole house of Ahab shall perish; I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah. The dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and no one shall bury her.’ Then he opened the door and fled.

When Jehu came back to his master’s officers, they said to him, ‘Is everything all right? Why did that madman come to you?’ He answered them, ‘You know the sort and how they babble.’ They said, ‘Liar! Come on, tell us!’ So he said, ‘This is just what he said to me: “Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel.”’ Then hurriedly they all took their cloaks and spread them for him on the bare steps; and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, ‘Jehu is king.’
_____
When he left there, he met Jehonadab son of Rechab coming to meet him; he greeted him, and said to him, ‘Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?’ Jehonadab answered, ‘It is.’ Jehu said, ‘If it is, give me your hand.’ So he gave him his hand. Jehu took him up with him into the chariot. He said, ‘Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord.’ So he had him ride in his chariot. When he came to Samaria, he killed all who were left to Ahab in Samaria, until he had wiped them out, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke to Elijah.
_____
Thus Jehu wiped out Baal from Israel.

Reflection

Here we find Elisha instigating regime change in Israel. Prophets were traditionally the ones who anointed divinely chosen kings; but we note that Elisha sends a young prophet on his behalf and advises him to flee as soon as the task is accomplished. Is this to escape the bloodbath that he realises will ensue? Or to avoid being ridiculed (or worse), as a madman? This anointing will fulfil God’s commission to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:16, albeit through his prophetic successors.

The young prophet expands Elisha’s words to Jehu, spelling out that his role will be to bring Ahab’s dynasty to an end. Again this relates back to Elijah and his prophecy in 1 Kings 21:21-23, which God had deferred (v.29); and Jezebel gets special mention. Once Jehu realises that he has the support of the army he embarks on his coup. The verses at the end of our passage from chapter 10 depict Jehu carrying out his mission and bringing Baal worship in Israel to an end - the problem that Elijah began to address has now been resolved.

The message the young prophet had to convey to Jehu probably did sound ridiculous; and the responsibility conferred on Jehu was not to be taken lightly. Both men accepted the risks connected with what they were asked to do and carried out their tasks faithfully.

Are you ever reluctant to share the gospel for fear of being ridiculed for your faith? Are you ever unwilling to take on a big responsibility, before even finding out what support others would give you?

It’s also worth noting that delegating a task to someone else in the team is quite acceptable to God – none of us need do everything ourself. O, there may be a delay before all is accomplished – that’s OK too!

Prayer

Holy God, Jesus proclaimed good news for the world.

Remind us of our responsibility to pass it on, even to those who think us ‘mad’. May we trust that our words will touch the hearts of others through the Spirit’s activity.

Remind us that we belong to a long line of your servants and that your purposes extend into a future we cannot see. May we trust your promised kingdom will come. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 12th December 2019

Thu, 12/12/2019 - 06:00
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Thursday 12th December

2 Kings 8:1-15

Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, ‘Get up and go with your household, and settle wherever you can; for the Lord has called for a famine, and it will come on the land for seven years.’  So the woman got up and did according to the word of the man of God; she went with her household and settled in the land of the Philistines for seven years. At the end of the seven years, when the woman returned from the land of the Philistines, she set out to appeal to the king for her house and her land. Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, ‘Tell me all the great things that Elisha has done.’  While he was telling the king how Elisha had restored a dead person to life, the woman whose son he had restored to life appealed to the king for her house and her land. Gehazi said, ‘My lord king, here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life.’ When the king questioned the woman, she told him. So the king appointed an official for her, saying, ‘Restore all that was hers, together with all the revenue of the fields from the day that she left the land until now.’

Elisha went to Damascus while King Ben-hadad of Aram was ill. When it was told him, ‘The man of God has come here’, the king said to Hazael, ‘Take a present with you and go to meet the man of God. Inquire of the Lord through him, whether I shall recover from this illness.’  So Hazael went to meet him, taking a present with him, all kinds of goods of Damascus, forty camel loads. When he entered and stood before him, he said, ‘Your son King Ben-hadad of Aram has sent me to you, saying, “Shall I recover from this illness?”’ Elisha said to him, ‘Go, say to him, “You shall certainly recover”; but the Lord has shown me that he shall certainly die.’ He fixed his gaze and stared at him, until he was ashamed. Then the man of God wept. Hazael asked, ‘Why does my lord weep?’ He answered, ‘Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel; you will set their fortresses on fire, you will kill their young men with the sword, dash in pieces their little ones, and rip up their pregnant women.’  Hazael said, ‘What is your servant, who is a mere dog, that he should do this great thing?’ Elisha answered, ‘The Lord has shown me that you are to be king over Aram.’ Then he left Elisha, and went to his master Ben-hadad, who said to him, ‘What did Elisha say to you?’ And he answered, ‘He told me that you would certainly recover.’ But the next day he took the bed-cover and dipped it in water and spread it over the king’s face, until he died. And Hazael succeeded him.

Reflection

Vv.1-6 refer back to 2 Kings 4:8-37, focussing on the woman whose son was restored and her property.  Gehazi still serves Elisha (see 5:25-27). It’s the prophet’s reputation that prompts the king to act in the woman’s favour when she returns home after fleeing her land for seven years due to famine.  The family inheritance is rightfully returned to her, plus the income it has earned during her absence. Her future is secured.

Elisha, meanwhile, is involved in issues surrounding regime change in Aram, which will subsequently bring about the same in Israel.  The prophet has travelled into Aram. Hearing this, the king sends Hazael, his general, to Elisha to purchase an oracle from Israel’s God about his illness – will he recover?  Elisha’s reply is ambiguously both ‘yes’ and ‘no’; and he gives Hazael a penetrating stare before weeping, because he has discerned the evil that Hazael will inflict on Israel in the future.  Hazael rebuts this suggestion initially; then Elisha proclaims God’s word – Hazael will become Aram’s king. Hazael only reported back that the king would recover; but then he murdered him! Had Elisha foreseen this evil too?

This whole text is written with hindsight and it may exaggerate the extent of Elisha’s influence over kings and the politics of the time; but it expresses a belief that God’s concern encompasses all such matters.  

It is important to note what the text doesn’t say: God neither instigates, nor condones, the predicted evil and murder.  But nor does God intervene to prevent them. God has created us with freewill and we all have to choose how to use any position or power we have.

Are we prepared to speak out against our leaders, in the name of Christ, naming the evils that will follow if certain policies are pursued?   We may not be able to prevent them; but let’s not remain silent.

Prayer

Eternal God, in you past, present and future are held together, and your love encompasses all creation.

Enlarge our vision of your purposes and help us to interpret the signs of our own time accordingly.

Reveal to us the activity of the Spirit, working for good in the world.

Grant us the wisdom to discern potential evils; and the courage to do everything possible to prevent them, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 11th December 2019

Wed, 11/12/2019 - 06:00
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Wednesday 11th November


2 Kings 6:32b-7:2, 16-20

Now Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. Before the messenger arrived, Elisha said to the elders, ‘Are you aware that this murderer has sent someone to take off my head? When the messenger comes, see that you shut the door and hold it closed against him. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?’ While he was still speaking with them, the king came down to him and said, ‘This trouble is from the Lord! Why should I hope in the Lord any longer?’  But Elisha said, ‘Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a measure of choice meal shall be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.’ Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, ‘Even if the Lord were to make windows in the sky, could such a thing happen?’ But he said, ‘You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat from it.’...

...Then the people went out, and plundered the camp of the Arameans. So a measure of choice meal was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord. Now the king had appointed the captain on whose hand he leaned to have charge of the gate; the people trampled him to death in the gate, just as the man of God had said when the king came down to him. For when the man of God had said to the king, ‘Two measures of barley shall be sold for a shekel, and a measure of choice meal for a shekel, about this time tomorrow in the gate of Samaria’, the captain had answered the man of God, ‘Even if the Lord were to make windows in the sky, could such a thing happen?’ And he had answered, ‘You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat from it.’  It did indeed happen to him; the people trampled him to death in the gate.

Reflection

Here we pick up the story of Samaria under siege by Aram to such a severe extent that basic commodities are selling at extortionate prices and the population has turned to cannibalism.  Israel’s king attributes the situation to God and issues a death sentence against Elisha.

Confronted by the king and his attendant Elisha prophesies that God will make food available at normal prices the next day.  The attendant isn’t convinced but the king apparently gives Elisha a stay of execution. Elisha declares that the attendant will witness the prophecy’s fulfilment but not eat the food.

The story digresses to tell of some lepers who discover that the Arameans have abandoned their camp and thus the siege (apparently because they imagined they were under attack from some allies of Israel); and they return to Samaria to report this.  The king thinks it is a trap to lure them out of the city to their death; but is persuaded that there is nothing to lose by sending out a couple of scouts. They return with news that it is true and the population of Samaria rush out to plunder everything the Arameans left behind.

There is food available for sale again; and the attendant is trampled to death as the starving Israelites stampede to obtain it – Elisha’s words are fulfilled.

This story isn’t very edifying even though it basically tells of God’s power to save Israel and to satisfy hunger.  It reveals some of humanity’s baser inclinations and even Elisha only seems to be spurred into action by a desire for self-preservation.  It should remind us that war brings terrible consequences on populations; and of the horrible things we become capable of when a situation becomes desperate.

May we do all in our power to prevent such horrors from being inaugurated.

Prayer

Gracious God, you provide food sufficient to sustain all peoples and yet we have learned to withhold it as a way of exerting power over others.  Forgive us.

We pray for all who will go hungry today, because of poor harvests, as a consequence of disaster, conflict or poverty, or through the inhumanity of others.

May we strive to satisfy their need and to alleviate its causes, in Christ’s name, Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion  10th December 2019

Tue, 10/12/2019 - 06:00
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Tuesday 10th December

2 Kings 6: 1-23

Now the company of prophets said to Elisha, ‘As you see, the place where we live under your charge is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, and let us collect logs there, one for each of us, and build a place there for us to live.’ He answered, ‘Do so.’  Then one of them said, ‘Please come with your servants.’ And he answered, ‘I will.’ So he went with them. When they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was felling a log, his axehead fell into the water; he cried out, ‘Alas, master! It was borrowed.’  Then the man of God said, ‘Where did it fall?’ When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick, and threw it in there, and made the iron float. He said, ‘Pick it up.’ So he reached out his hand and took it.

Once when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, he took counsel with his officers. He said, ‘At such and such a place shall be my camp.’ But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, ‘Take care not to pass this place, because the Arameans are going down there.’ The king of Israel sent word to the place of which the man of God spoke. More than once or twice he warned such a place so that it was on the alert.

The mind of the king of Aram was greatly perturbed because of this; he called his officers and said to them, ‘Now tell me who among us sides with the king of Israel?’ Then one of his officers said, ‘No one, my lord king. It is Elisha, the prophet in Israel, who tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.’ He said, ‘Go and find where he is; I will send and seize him.’ He was told, ‘He is in Dothan.’  So he sent horses and chariots there and a great army; they came by night, and surrounded the city.

When an attendant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. His servant said, ‘Alas, master! What shall we do?’ He replied, ‘Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed: ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. When the Arameans came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Strike this people, please, with blindness.’ So he struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked.  Elisha said to them, ‘This is not the way, and this is not the city; follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.’ And he led them to Samaria.

As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, ‘O Lord, open the eyes of these men so that they may see.’ The Lord opened their eyes, and they saw that they were inside Samaria. When the king of Israel saw them he said to Elisha, ‘Father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?’  He answered, ‘No! Did you capture with your sword and your bow those whom you want to kill? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink; and let them go to their master.’ So he prepared for them a great feast; after they ate and drank, he sent them on their way, and they went to their master. And the Arameans no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.

Reflection

The miracle of the axe reminds us of the importance of returning anything borrowed in good order to its owner.  As with many tools, a replacement simply wouldn’t have the same ‘feel’. 

The main story in this section concerns an Aramean invasion of Israel.  Through Elisha’s advice Israel’s king evades capture several times. Aram’s king assumes he is being betrayed until he hears of Elisha’s God given insight.  A plan is prepared to seize Elisha and Aram’s forces surround the city. The natural fear of Elisha’s servant is dispelled when the prophet’s prayer is answered.  God’s power, depicted as a vast heavenly army, is on the side of Elisha.

The blindness that falls on the Arameans may be literal or metaphorical.  Either way Elisha isn’t recognised and is able to trick his would-be captors into following him into Samaria, Israel’s stronghold, where they suddenly realise that they are trapped.

Elisha doesn’t allow Israel’s king to execute the prisoners who were given into his hand; but instructs that they are fed and watered and released.  Their humiliation and capture is sufficient to convince Aram’s king that he is no match against Israel; there is temporary peace.

Attitudes towards prisoners captured during conflicts nowadays raise many political and theological questions.  It is naïve to imagine that releasing all captives would be viewed as an act of strength by the leaders of the nations to which they returned.  Where there is no shared understanding of God between the parties involved in conflict, stories such as this must be interpreted with caution.

However prisoners should be treated in humanitarian ways, given food and adequate shelter.  As Christians we should campaign for high standards and speak out against all abuses.

It is the leaders of nations, though, whom we need to dissuade from waging war, in the name of Christ.

Prayer

Holy God, your Son came amongst us as the Prince of Peace; 

Forgive our warmongering and guide us in ways of reconciliation that lead to peace.

You have taught us to have compassion on captives and revealed yourself as a God who delivers us from the forces that hold us captive into freedom;

May we learn from you and work to establish justice and freedom for all.  Amen
 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion  9th December 2019

Mon, 09/12/2019 - 06:00
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Monday 9th December   


2 Kings 5:1, 8-19a, 25-27

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.
___
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’ So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!  Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.’  But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!’ He urged him to accept, but he refused. Then Naaman said, ‘If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt-offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord. But may the Lord pardon your servant on one count: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon, when I do bow down in the house of Rimmon, may the Lord pardon your servant on this one count.’ He said to him, ‘Go in peace.’
___
But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance...He went in and stood before his master; and Elisha said to him, ‘Where have you been, Gehazi?’ He answered, ‘Your servant has not gone anywhere at all.’ But he said to him, ‘Did I not go with you in spirit when someone left his chariot to meet you? Is this a time to accept money and to accept clothing, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves? Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you, and to your descendants for ever.’ So he left his presence leprous, as white as snow.

Reflection

These verses focus on Elisha’s role in the story of Naaman, a high ranking Aramean army officer. Once again God’s healing power is demonstrated; but here it is mediated through the prophet to a foreigner, one whose nation worshipped a different god (v.18).

As the story unfolds we are reminded that the ancient world linked Yahweh explicitly to the land of Israel, hence Naaman’s request for a substantial quantity of Israelite soil to become a site in Aram where he could worship in future. We also see the reality of a polytheistic world – Naaman will need to respect Aram’s religious traditions as he serves his king, despite his own conversion.

Issues of status, expectation, reward and truth are central to this story. Naaman expects VIP treatment from Elisha and is angry that a messenger is sent to him. He expects Elisha to perform a public ritual to effect his healing – his sense of self-importance demands signs and wonders; he is affronted when told to go and wash in the Jordan. It’s too easy!

Having complied, through the good sense of his servants, Naaman returns to Elisha wanting to pay for his service, presuming that prophetic power is a commodity that can be bought. Elisha robustly rejects the offer – God’s gifts are freely offered. However, his servant, Gehazi, sees an opportunity for personal gain and deceives Naaman into believing that Elisha has changed his mind.

When confronted by Elisha, Gehazi lies; but the prophet reveals that he knows what he has done – truth will out! The harsh punishment inflicted on Gehazi makes sense in a world that understood justice in terms of ‘an eye for an eye’; and reminds us that blatant wrongdoing is not condoned by God.

Through Christ, we know more about God’s forgiveness; but this doesn’t give us licence to sin!

Prayer

Gracious God,

Sometimes I regard myself as more important than I am – forgive me.

Sometimes I foolishly imagine that you require ‘payback’ for your love – forgive me.

Sometimes I knowingly offend against your ways – bring me to repentance through the activity of
your Spirit and forgive me.

At all times help me to accept your generosity with thanksgiving and to live to your praise and glory.

In Christ’s name, Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 8th December 2019

Sun, 08/12/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 8th December

Psalm 126
 
1 When Zion’s fortunes God restored,
it was a dream come true.
2 Our mouths were then with laughter filled,
our tongues with songs anew.

The nations said, “The LORD has done
great things for Israel.”
3 The LORD did mighty things for us,
and joy our hearts knew well.

4 Restore our fortunes, gracious LORD,
like streams in desert soil.
5 A joyful harvest will reward
the weeping sower’s toil.

6 The man who, bearing seed to sow,
goes out with tears of grief,
Will come again with songs of joy,
bearing his harvest sheaf.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the lovely tune Brother James' Air here or the tune Abbey here.


Reflection

I cannot read this Psalm (post-Greenbelt, challenged afresh in my desire to be a true follower of the Way of Jesus) outside the context of our current global environmental emergency.

 If we pray ‘restore our fortunes, gracious LORD, like streams in the desert soil’ it has to be for ALL our fortunes, especially the poor, vulnerable and needy (rather than ‘wanty’).  Restoration for the whole planet, as well as human community. 

How we live NOW is sowing the seeds of the future (just as we are reaping the harvest of how we and others have lived over-consuming lives up to this point).  It is not my generation that will reap the full harvest, but those born after me and those yet to be born. We have so little time to literally repent: to turn around, to radically reorientate. 

So we must sow in tears of repentance: make changes to how we eat, shop, travel, use energy and all the other materials we rely on.  We must replace ‘personal convenience’ with ‘whole planet impact’ as our method of valuing and evaluating all our choices - and accept the relative ‘pain’ this might cause us.  Above all we have to actively choose how we sow rather than passively continue with business as usual.

I am humbled by those willing to protest, to be sufficiently obstructive to risk arrest and imprisonment, or worse in other parts of the world where confronting authorities with uncomfortable truths is ‘treason’.  I weep with them, but lack the courage to do more than stand with them in prayer, and I am ashamed.

If I claim to love God and my neighbour, I owe it to the young adults, young people, children, infants, and generations yet to be born to be willing to lay down my life, or at the very least my comfort and convenience, in love for them.  After all, God so loved the world....

Prayer

Restore our fortunes, gracious LORD
Like streams in desert soil.
 
Move our hearts to grief and repentance;
Give us kingdom seed to sow.
 
May we hear the laughter, songs and joy
Of the generations after us.
 
May we bless the world you have blessed us with.  Amen
 
 
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Today's writer

Dr Sam Richards, serving as Head of Children’s and Youth Work, member of mayBe Community, Oxford
 
Copyright
Sing Psalms! (C) The Psalmody Committee, the Free Church of Scotland
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 7th December 2019

Sat, 07/12/2019 - 06:00
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Saturday 7th December
 
2 Kings 4:38-44

When Elisha returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land. As the company of prophets was sitting before him, he said to his servant,  ‘Put the large pot on, and make some stew for the company of prophets.’

One of them went out into the field to gather herbs; he found a wild vine and gathered from it a lapful of wild gourds, and came and cut them up into the pot of stew, not knowing what they were.  They served some for the men to eat. But while they were eating the stew, they cried out,  ‘O man of God, there is death in the pot!’  They could not eat it. 

He said, ‘Then bring some flour.’  He threw it into the pot, and said,  ‘Serve the people and let them eat.’  And there was nothing harmful in the pot.

A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, ‘Give it to the people and let them eat.’  But his servant said,  ‘How can I set this before a hundred people?’  So he repeated,  ‘Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.”’  He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.

Reflection

Here we have two short miracle stories. In both of them Elisha takes the initiative to provide food for  people around him. He recognises their unspoken need and responds through using whatever resources are available.

The first miracle is similar to Elisha purifying the water supply (2 Kgs.2:19-22); but this time it is a pot of stew prepared with wild vegetables that prove to be very unpalatable. The story probably doesn’t indicate that they were poisonous; and it certainly doesn’t suggest that a handful of flour is an antidote to poison mushrooms etc! In the context of a time of famine it demonstrates God providing food through the prophetic action of Elisha, whereby he and his fellow prophets are all sustained.

In the second story it appears the famine is ended and harvest-time has come. The crops brought to Elisha are a thank-offering for divine blessing; but Elisha doesn’t keep them for himself, nor set them aside for ritual use. He instructs that they be used to nourish the people and the miracle occurs through the multiplication of a small quantity of food into an abundant supply. God provides more than enough for all the people to be fed; and overcomes the doubts of the one who offered the little he had in the first place.

The story is part of a tradition that affirms God’s provision for our daily needs; and it underlies the various feeding miracles that we read Jesus performing in the Gospels.

Whenever human need is recognised and the available resources, however meagre, are offered for use in meeting it, a situation is created in which God can work a miracle. It is indeed wondrous when life is sustained against the odds, when selfless generosity is witnessed; and when blessings are shared in thanksgiving to God.

Prayer

God of love, help us to be alert to the needs that are around us every day.

Help us to be aware of the resources we have that could be used to meet such needs.

Give us generous hearts; and the faith to believe that you can transform anything we offer to achieve your loving purposes in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 6th December 2019

Fri, 06/12/2019 - 06:00
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Friday 6th December

2 Kings 4:8-37

One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. She said to her husband,  ‘Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.’

One day when he came there, he went up to the chamber and lay down there.  He said to his servant Gehazi, ‘Call the Shunammite woman.’ When he had called her, she stood before him.  He said to him, ‘Say to her, Since you have taken all this trouble for us, what may be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’  She answered, ‘I live among my own people.’ He said, ‘What then may be done for her?’ Gehazi answered, ‘Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.’ He said, ‘Call her.’ When he had called her, she stood at the door.  He said, ‘At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son.’ She replied, ‘No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant.’

The woman conceived and bore a son at that season, in due time, as Elisha had declared to her. 

When the child was older, he went out one day to his father among the reapers.  He complained to his father, ‘Oh, my head, my head!’ The father said to his servant,  ‘Carry him to his mother.’ He carried him and brought him to his mother; the child sat on her lap until noon, and he died.  She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, closed the door on him, and left. Then she called to her husband, and said,  ‘Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, so that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.’ He said, ‘Why go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.’  She said, ‘It will be all right.’ Then she saddled the donkey and said to her servant, ‘Urge the animal on; do not hold back for me unless I tell you.’ So she set out, and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. 

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant,  ‘Look, there is the Shunammite woman; run at once to meet her, and say to her, Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is the child all right?’  She answered, ‘It is all right.’ When she came to the man of God at the mountain, she caught hold of his feet. Gehazi approached to push her away. But the man of God said,  ‘Let her alone, for she is in bitter distress; the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.’ Then she said, ‘Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, Do not mislead me?’  He said to Gehazi, ‘Gird up your loins, and take my staff in your hand, and go. If you meet anyone, give no greeting, and if anyone greets you, do not answer; and lay my staff on the face of the child.’  Then the mother of the child said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave without you.’ So he rose up and followed her. Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. He came back to meet him and told him, ‘The child has not awakened.’

When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and closed the door on the two of them, and prayed to the Lord.  Then he got up on the bed and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and while he lay bent over him, the flesh of the child became warm. He got down, walked once to and fro in the room, then got up again and bent over him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Elisha summoned Gehazi and said,  ‘Call the Shunammite woman.’ So he called her. When she came to him, he said, ‘Take your son.’ She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground; then she took her son and left.
 
Reflection

This complicated story (cf. Elijah in 1Kgs.17:17-24) involves much movement and spans many years. Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, acts as an intermediary between the itinerant prophet and the Shunammite woman, to maintain propriety. She is wealthy and hospitable towards Elisha, providing meals and a place for him to stay whenever he chose. Elisha wants to show his gratitude but she declines his offer of patronage; her people are proud of their independence.

Gehazi draws attention to her childlessness; and Elisha immediately promises that in due season she and her elderly husband will have a son, a sign of divine blessing. She fears he may be prophesying the impossible but a son is born; and the story leaps forward to when the child is working in the fields. He takes ill, is carried to his mother and dies in her lap.

In distress she lays the child on Elisha’s bed and travels to him at Mount Carmel seeking help. She by-passes Gehazi and Elisha asks what the problem is. Having heard her story he sends Gehazi with instructions to lay Elisha’s staff on the child, implying that this will be sufficient to ‘wake’ the child; but the woman insists that Elisha must come himself.

As she expected Elisha’s staff cannot work the magic. Elisha’s physical presence, his touch, his prayer, his breath, his repeated ritual, carried out in private, restores the child to life; and he is returned to his grateful mother.

It is futile trying to explain what happened, how divine power is mediated through a prophet. Nor should we leap to suggest that faith always results in healing. This story reflects a different world view from ours but it reveals much about ancient Israelite society and its beliefs.

When and how God chooses to act is mystery; but God’s word is trustworthy.

Prayer

God of life, you know our deepest desires and you bless us according to your purposes. We give you thanks for all that we receive through your goodness.

Speak to us through Christ, your living word, that we might comprehend you more fully.

Help us to trust you always even if we cannot understand what is happening in our lives. Lead us in your ways and show us your love. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge
 
Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 5th December 2019

Thu, 05/12/2019 - 06:00
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Thursday 5th December

2 Kings 4:1-7

Now the wife of a member of the company of prophets cried to Elisha,  ‘Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but a creditor has come to take my two children as slaves.’  Elisha said to her,  ‘What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?’  She answered,  ‘Your servant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.’  He said,  ‘Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbours, empty vessels and not just a few.  Then go in, and shut the door behind you and your children, and start pouring into all these vessels; when each is full, set it aside.’  So she left him and shut the door behind her and her children; they kept bringing vessels to her, and she kept pouring.  When the vessels were full, she said to her son,  ‘Bring me another vessel.’  But he said to her,  ‘There are no more.’  Then the oil stopped flowing.  She came and told the man of God, and he said,  ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.’

Reflection

The widow in this story (which mirrors much in 1Kgs.17:7-16) belongs to a prophetic group faithful to the same God as Elisha. This time the problem is debt, not drought. If her sons are forced to work for her creditor to pay off the debts the widow becomes destitute, without anyone to support her.

This practice of time limited debt-slavery (Exod.21:2-4) was intended to ensure that creditors received what was due to them, without debtors being deprived of the land that was their inheritance. However, as with the Victorian practice of debtor prisons, the system failed the weakest in society and was frequently denounced by later prophets (e.g. Mic.2:2).

The widow turns to Elisha expecting him to provide a solution. Once more we see the prophet mediating God’s compassion on the poor in a way that sustains life and offers hope for the future.

The widow and her sons are enlisted to work together to bring about the transformation, reliant upon the cooperation of neighbours to supply empty jars. Elisha’s instructions sound ridiculous but the widow trusts that he represents God and she demonstrates her faith by contributing her last jar of oil as required. When all the available vessels have been miraculously filled Elisha reminds her to pay her debts first and then get on with life. God has used the little she had to save her and to provide sufficient for her on-going needs.

Slavery persists as a modern evil. Children are often sold by parents as a consequence of poverty; and traffickers entrap vulnerable people into forms of debt-slavery. Many caught in such life-denying cycles do not know where to turn for help. May we be willing to come alongside them in the name of Christ, to reveal new possibilities and to demonstrate God’s power to bring release.

Prayer

God of life, we rejoice in the freedoms that are ours and thank you for all that you provide to satisfy our needs. Forgive us when we take any of this for granted. Whatever our resources, may we recognise them as blessings, to be used as you command to sustain us in your service. Responding to your goodness, may we work to bring freedom and hope to all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge
 
Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 4th December 2019

Wed, 04/12/2019 - 06:00
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Wednesday 4th December

2 Kings 3:11-20

But Jehoshaphat said,  ‘Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?’  Then one of the servants of the king of Israel answered,  ‘Elisha son of Shaphat, who used to pour water on the hands of Elijah, is here.’  Jehoshaphat said,  ‘The word of the Lord is with him.’  So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.

Elisha said to the king of Israel,  
‘What have I to do with you? Go to your father’s prophets or to your mother’s.’  But the king of Israel said to him,  ‘No; it is the Lord who has summoned us, three kings, only to be handed over to Moab.’  Elisha said,  ‘As the Lord of hosts lives, whom I serve, were it not that I have regard for King Jehoshaphat of Judah, I would give you neither a look nor a glance. But get me a musician.’  And then, while the musician was playing, the power of the Lord came on him.  And he said,  ‘Thus says the Lord, “I will make this wadi full of pools.”  For thus says the Lord, “You shall see neither wind nor rain, but the wadi shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your cattle, and your animals.” This is only a trifle in the sight of the Lord, for he will also hand Moab over to you.  You shall conquer every fortified city and every choice city; every good tree you shall fell, all springs of water you shall stop up, and every good piece of land you shall ruin with stones.’  The next day, about the time of the morning offering, suddenly water began to flow from the direction of Edom, until the country was filled with water.

Reflection

This is an extract from a longer story about a rebellion by Moab against the combined forces of Israel, Judah and Edom. The allies are marching on Moab but they run out of water in the desert and Israel’s king interprets this as divine judgment on them. Judah’s king calls for a prophet who can consult Yahweh on their behalf and Elisha, described as a servant of Elijah, is suggested.

Initially Elisha rejects the approach by his own king, the son of Ahab and Jezebel, and only agrees to help because Judah’s king remains faithful to Yahweh. Elisha uses music to evoke a trance during which he prophesies that the wadi will miraculously fill with water, to resolve the immediate problem; but more than that, God will give them victory over Moab. Both prophecies are quickly fulfilled.

We are forced to recognise that Elisha is presented as God’s mouthpiece in Israel’s wartime success; but we no longer hold a polytheistic worldview and reject the idea that God acts solely on the side of one nation. Nor can we ignore Elisha’s instructions to the allies that they destroy Moab’s cities, cut down its trees, cut off its water supply and ruin its arable land. This implies total devastation; but there is no evidence that such policies were practised by the small states of the Ancient Near East. So perhaps we should read this as an ancient narrator’s exaggerated account of how to crush a rebellion.

However in today’s world such devastation is being inflicted. Mass destruction, genocide, ecological carnage, the redirection of water supplies, cutting down rain forests; such actions are taking place, all in the name of economic growth, national security, political goals, etc.

Woe betide anyone who takes Biblical stories like this out of context to justify human sin!

Prayer

Holy God, we proclaim you as God of all creation. We rejoice that your love extends to people of all nations and that you care for us in good times and in bad. We trust in your eternal purposes. Forgive our failure to speak out against the destructive forces that are at work on earth. Forgive the ways in which we are complicit in the devastation of your wonderful world. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge
 
Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion  3rd December 2019

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion  3rd December 2019 View this email in your browser

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Tuesday 3rd December

2 Kings 2:13-25

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.  He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’  When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared,  ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’ They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. They said to him, ‘See now, we have fifty strong men among your servants; please let them go and seek your master; it may be that the spirit of the Lord has caught him up and thrown him down on some mountain or into some valley.’  He responded, ‘No, do not send them.’ But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, ‘Send them.’ So they sent fifty men who searched for three days but did not find him. When they came back to him (he had remained at Jericho), he said to them, ‘‘Did I not say to you, Do not go?’

Now the people of the city said to Elisha,  ‘The location of this city is good, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.’ He said, ‘Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.’ So they brought it to him. Then he went to the spring of water and threw the salt into it, and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, I have made this water wholesome; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.’  So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.

He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’ When he turned round and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.


Reflection

Elisha takes up Elijah’s mantle, strikes the water and calls on God to confirm that Elijah’s power has been transferred to him.  The river parts and he crosses back towards Jericho. Other prophets recognise Elisha’s new status but they’re not quite ready to accept that Elijah has truly gone.  They persuade Elisha, against his better judgment, to let them make a search just in case Elijah can still be found.

Do we sometimes make it difficult for a new minister, or a new leader in any context, to exercise their role, assured of our full support, because we’re looking back to the previous incumbent and what they did?  At best this causes a delay in fruitful work being undertaken; at worst it can undermine a ministry before it really begins.

Once Elisha has been fully accepted he is called upon to use his powers to bring life to the community by purifying the water source on which they depended.  People became ill if they drank it; and it was insufficient, or harmful, for their crops. There is still a spring of abundant fresh water in Jericho named after Elisha, a reminder of this ancient tradition and the importance of water in this desert region.

Elisha’s second miracle is less wholesome as he calls for the death of some boys who were teasing him about his distinctive appearance.  Some see this incident as prefiguring the massacre of 42 princes by Jehu (2 Kgs.10:12-14), one aspect of the fulfilment of Elijah’s prophecy about the final end of Ahab’s dynasty (1 Kgs.21:29).  

In today’s passage it illustrates that Elisha, as God’s prophet, can exercise divine power over life and death; but it also challenges me to appreciate that even God given powers can be abused.  This should be a warning to us all!

Prayer

Merciful God, help me to respond graciously whenever I am ridiculed for being a Christian or for witnessing to the gospel in a public way.

If I am tempted to use the gifts bestowed on me through your Spirit in self-serving ways, remind me of your purposes and lead me in the footsteps of Christ on the path that brings life to the world.  Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge
 
Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 2nd December 2019

Mon, 02/12/2019 - 06:00
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 2 Kings 2:1-12

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.  Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’  So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’  And he said, ‘Yes, I know; keep silent.’

Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’  But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’  So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I know; be silent.’
Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But he said,  ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’  Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’ As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

Reflection

I wonder how Elijah, Elisha and the prophets knew that Elijah’s life was about to end?  Sometimes it is possible to discern that a time of transition is approaching if we’re truly open to the movement of God’s spirit in the world.

Elijah wants to be alone; but Elisha insists on accompanying him as he travels to Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan.  All are places of significance in Israel’s story, where God has appeared or acted in a decisive way on their behalf, so we are being prepared as readers to expect another mighty act of God in this story.

Elijah rolls up his mantle and uses it just as Moses used his staff at God’s command to part the waters of the sea (Exod.14:16, 21).  Here God parts the Jordan as Elijah strikes the water (cf Joshua 3) and the two men cross over to the east, which is where Elijah’s story began.

Elisha’s request for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit as his inheritance is that due to the eldest son on a father’s death (Deut.21:17).  Elijah responds that it is not his to give; but indicates the sign by which Elisha will know if God has granted his request.

The miracle of Elijah’s ascent into heaven explains why New Testament traditions expected Elijah to return to herald God’s Messiah – he isn’t recorded as dying.  Elijah departs into the realm of God rather than descending into Sheol, the destination of everyone else; and so the hope develops that he might come again.

God’s presence and power has been revealed to Elisha.  Initially he mourns the passing of his spiritual ‘father’ – will he live up to all that has been entrusted to him?

What about me and my spiritual inheritance through Christ?  Am I living up to expectations?

Prayer

Amazing God, you have entrusted the ongoing mission of Christ to us as disciples of Jesus; and you are present with us through the Holy Spirit.

May we have the enthusiasm of Elisha as we step forward to serve you, ever mindful of what Christ has already accomplished through his life, death and resurrection. 

Lead us onwards for the sake of the world.  In the name of Christ, Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge
 
Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 1st December 2019

Sun, 01/12/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 1st December

Psalm 125

1 All those who trust the LORD

Like Zion are secure,
Which never can be moved
But always will endure.

2 Just as the mountains stand
Around Jerusalem,
The LORD surrounds his own,
For ever guarding them.

3 The wicked’s evil rule
Will not oppress for long
The righteous and their land,
Lest righteous folk do wrong.

4 On all those who are good
Bestow your goodness, LORD—
To those of upright heart
Who reverence your word.

5 But God will banish those
Who choose a crooked way;
They’ll share the sinner’s fate.
Let peace on Israel stay!

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the tune Quam Dilecta here

Reflection

I write amongst the 22 URC pilgrims who journeyed to the Holy Land in September and am struck at the poignancy of this Psalm; a song that pilgrims sung on the way to Jerusalem.  

The text is clear, there is no distinction between “chosen” and “no good” people, but between those who trust in God and those who seek to do fellow pilgrims harm.

Passing pristine Jerusalem, we entered a checkpoint for nearby Bethlehem. We saw segregation personified.  The difference between the two cities is obvious; rubbish compacted in every corner, unfinished buildings tell the story of government restrictions and years of violence. Near accidents are the result of few street lights or signs—certainly not as many as you see in Israeli territory. In the evening the sound of the Islamic call to prayer reminds me, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” 

Palestinians speak of the difficulties visiting families, celebrating feast days, and tending to emergencies due to restrictions placed upon them. The Palestinian government cannot protect the people from being treated like second-class citizens in their own land. Yet, their own theological understanding is not that they are a “chosen” people here, but that God is the owner of the land which is to be shared with ALL people.

The parallels to race relations in South Africa and the USA, are very evident.  What is necessary is a revolution of values, as one Palestinian said to me, we need “people moved by beautiful values...for once we start speaking only politics and interests, there is no hope.”

On the Mount of Olives, a cacophony of human sounds can be heard: of Lawrence Moore teaching over the voices of pilgrims from other nations singing and speaking the Lord’s prayer, the distant the Muslim call to afternoon prayer, and birds chirping.  It is an extraordinary experience. Not even a wall can partition us from God’s presence. “As the mountains stand around Jerusalem, the Lord surrounds his own, for ever guarding them.”

Prayer

Living God, 
You dwell in the messiness of our circumstances. 
walking with us, turning us from pilgrims to children. 
Your lot is be amongst, not those who are right, but those who suffer.
May we follow you,
never forgetting the most vulnerable.
May our understanding of you never be complicit 
in the suffering of our siblings in Palestine 
nor wherever segregation and indifference reign, 
but lead us to sympathy, solidarity and action. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d William Young Minister, Morison Memorial URC Clydebank and Drumchapel Essenside URC Glasgow Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion 30th November 2019

Sat, 30/11/2019 - 06:00
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Saturday 30th November

2 Kings 1:9-17

Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty men. He went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him,

‘O man of God, the king says, “Come down.”’ 

But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, 

‘If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.’ 

Then fire came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty. Again the king sent to him another captain of fifty with his fifty. He went up  and said to him, 

‘O man of God, this is the king’s order: Come down quickly!’

But Elijah answered them, 

‘If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.’ 

Then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. Again the king sent the captain of a third fifty with his fifty. So the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and entreated him, 

‘O man of God, please let my life, and the life of these fifty servants of yours, be precious in your sight. Look, fire came down from heaven and consumed the two former captains of fifty men with their fifties; but now let my life be precious in your sight.’ 

Then the angel of the Lord said to Elijah, 

‘Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.’ 

So he set out and went down with him to the king, and said to him, 

‘Thus says the Lord: Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron,—is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of his word?—therefore you shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but you shall surely die.’

So he died according to the word of the Lord that Elijah had spoken. His brother Jehoram succeeded him as king in the second year of King Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat of Judah, because Ahaziah had no son.

Reflection

The king wasn’t satisfied and instructed the prophet to be summoned.  

This story reminds us of the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 with divine fire coming down from heaven; but there are some significant differences.  Here, the issue of authority is to the forefront: should Elijah obey the king, or be answerable only to God?  

The first two emissaries from the king assume the former and discover, to their cost, that they are wrong.  The third adopts a different approach and goes up the hill to Elijah, in humility, appealing on behalf of himself and his attendants.  He doesn’t actually ask the prophet to accompany him but the text suggests that all the parties understood this as his mission.

Elijah receives assurance from the ‘angel of the Lord’ that he need not fear; God has authority over life and death issues.  In response to God’s word, he goes to deliver his uncompromising message of judgment on the king again, this time personally.  The prophecy is fulfilled; Ahaziah doesn’t recover from his accident.

Stories like this do not imply that God goes around killing people who set themselves above divine authority.  Rather, they serve as warnings against treating God as a power to be evoked at our behest; all authority is God’s.  They also remind us that no-one is immune from accidents; and a misplaced sense of our own importance may simply add to the negativity of a situation when our expectation of favourable treatment is not met.

God is able to take a longer view, of a bigger picture, in which we play a tiny part.  We are called to trust God’s eternal purposes and like Jesus in Gethsemane to say to God, ‘not what I want, but what you want’.

Prayer

Sovereign God, in Jesus you have revealed yourself as a God of love and mercy who desires that all your children might have life in all its fullness.  

Help me to believe your promises and to entrust all my days into your hands, without fear, ready to embrace all the uncertainties that may confront me.

For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.  Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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