URC Devotions

URC Daily Devotion Thursday 27th August 2020 Miriam’s Song and God’s Provision

Thu, 27/08/2020 - 06:00
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Thursday 27th August 2020 Miriam’s Song and God’s Provision 

Exodus 15: 20 - 27

Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them:

‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’

Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went for three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’  He cried out to the Lord; and the Lord showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.

There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test.  He said, ‘If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.’

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they camped there by the water.

Reflection

It’s been real Cecil B DeMille stuff. (For the younger set, big-screen blockbuster movie stuff!) And such a rollercoaster!  After the terrible years of slavery in Egypt, the plagues and miracles, suddenly the people are free and Miriam is leading the women in a celebratory dance, with tambourines and a song of praise to the God who has done these wonderful things for them. It’s a picture of overflowing joy!

And then three days later, walking through the desert and no water. We’re talking about townies here. Not nomads used to this sort of thing. So when they find water but it’s undrinkable, there’s understandable trouble. They turn on Moses, the visible leadership.

Moses hasn’t lost the plot. He goes straight to God who tells him what to do and the day is saved. Off they go again after a reminder from God that they need to keep looking to Him, relating to Him and obeying Him. And their next stop is Elim with its plentiful springs and fruitful palm trees.

Rollercoaster living is exhausting, but so is being stuck in slavery or the wilderness. Jesus offers us peace - whatever we’re going through.  This past year has given us plenty of opportunities to choose whether we’ll compain at our human leadership or God Himself, or whether we’ll accept the peace that passes understanding and plod through whatever wilderness or rollercoaster we found ourselves in. Whichever, we can be assured that God was with us, every step of the way.

Prayer

Thank You, Lord, that you have endless patience with us.
We so easily slip back into slavery, whinge when we encounter problems - especially limits to our privileged western lifestyles, and balk at any continuation of hard times.
Remind us that You are with us, a loving God who provides for all our needs with a generous hand.
Lift our hearts in praise and gratitude to You, for You are worthy.
Amen.
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Today's writer

Dorothy Courtis, Lay Preacher, Thurso 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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 26th August 2020 Moses’ Song of Triumph

Wed, 26/08/2020 - 18:00
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Wednesday 26th August 2020 Moses’ Song of Triumph

Exodus 15: 1 - 19

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
‘I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my might,[a]
    and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name.
‘Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;
    his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
    they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power—
    your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;
    you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,
    the floods stood up in a heap;
    the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, “I will pursue, I will overtake,
    I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
    I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.”
You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;
    they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
‘Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in splendour, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand,
    the earth swallowed them.
‘In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;
    you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
The peoples heard, they trembled;
    pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed;
    trembling seized the leaders of Moab;
    all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.
Terror and dread fell upon them;
    by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone
until your people, O Lord, passed by,
    until the people whom you acquired passed by.
You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,
    the place, O Lord, that you made your abode,
    the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.
The Lord will reign for ever and ever.’

When the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his chariot drivers went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them; but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground.

Reflection

At the time of writing, we are in lockdown – how that will be different come August we don’t yet know. Yet the news is beginning to be full of amazing recoveries – patients of all ages being clapped out of intensive care by those who have treated them.  The gratitude of all the patients to the NHS staff is wholehearted.  They cannot thank them enough for bringing them safely out of harm.  Yet the NHS has always been there, bringing people from the brink of death to full recovery.  It didn’t make the news before.  We often blame God for causing our misery, our unhappiness as if He makes it his business to make us miserable.  But how much of our praise for when He brings us out of a dark time is as wholehearted as that of the patients today, or even of Moses having brought the Israelites out of Egypt?  We complain when things go wrong – where is God, why has He allowed this to happen to me?  But forget when we come out of it to praise Him that He has been there all along and has enabled us to come through.  God is not just there for the good times and then to be a sounding board to let off steam when things go wrong.  God is there all the time, working tirelessly with us, within us, inspiring us to incredible acts.  So, whatever we face, may our praise be as uninhibited as His love is all encompassing.

Prayer

God of the incredible, you are an awesome God for whom nothing is impossible.  May we never forget in our humanity the wonderful nature of your divinity.  May our praise be from our heart and as loud as we can make it!  You can bring us out of the darkest moments into your glorious light. Praise be indeed to our awesome God!  Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Ruth Watson, Bolton and Salford Missional Partnership Minister Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 25th August 2020 Crossing the Sea

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 25th August 2020  Crossing the Sea 

Exodus  14

Then the Lord said to Moses:  ‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall camp opposite it, by the sea.  Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, ‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.’  I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord. And they did so.’

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed towards the people, and they said, ‘What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?’ 6 So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him;  he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them.  The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly.  The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord.  They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?  Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’  But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.  The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.  But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.  Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.  And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.’

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them.  It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.  The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers.  At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.’  So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea.  The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Reflection

This is the point in the story where Israel discovers for the first time that they have a fighting God, who can be trusted both to stay with them and see the Exodus through, and to overcome the massive powers ranged against God’s good purposes for the world – and therefore against them. 
 
The key is the exchange between Moses and the people (vv 10-14).  The people see the pursuing Egyptian army and are thrown into panic: have they been liberated, only to be slaughtered in the desert?  Moses’ response is crucial: “The Lord will fight for you; you have only to keep still!” (v14).  The whole Exodus narrative concludes with Israel gazing at the pursuing soldiers, now lying dead on the seashore (v50).
 
The story is framed as Israel’s testimony of faith in their liberator/warrior God.  God does everything – hardening Pharaoh’s heart, clogging the chariot wheels and drowning the soldiers.  It’s a narrative device to emphasize God’s sovereignty and power, not to say that Pharaoh is a pawn, manipulated by God into the disastrous destruction of his army.  Rather, the story emphasizes the massive and implacable powers of Empire ranged against God’s good purposes for the world (the Kingdom).  They cannot be reasoned with, or brought into line for anything longer than a day or two (as in this story).  Empire, with the social, political, theological and military powers at its disposal, cannot be defeated or reformed.  It is only by destroying it that God can bring the Kingdom to birth.
 
Exodus happens because God is driven by the cries of the slaves, who are helpless victims of these powers. This is a compassionate, outraged, loving God who will fight against anything that threatens the future of the world – even if it costs the life of God’s Son.

Prayer

Exodus God,
Forgive the deafness of my ears that do not hear the cries of the neediest. 
Forgive my apathy that is so slow to be stirred to anger and action.
Forgive the blindness of my eyes that refuses to see the deadliness of the way our world works.
Forgive the theological and practical reasons I find not to take up my cross and struggle for the Kingdom alongside you.

Call me to follow.
Call me to fight.
And give me your Spirit, that, by your grace, 
I am able to answer your call.

Amen.
 
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Today's writer

Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant, Worsley Road 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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Monday 24th August 2020 Cloud and Fire

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 06:00
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Monday 24th August 2020 Cloud and Fire 
Exodus 13: 17 - 22

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, ‘If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.’  So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness towards the Red Sea.  The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle.  And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, ‘God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.’  They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.  Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

Reflection

Writing this reflection I’ve had one of those moments when I suddenly appreciate an allusion that has probably been obvious to everyone else all along - in this case, that the ‘fiery, cloudy pillar’ of Guide me, O thou great Jehovah (R&S 345) is a reference to the pillar that guided the Israelites out of Egypt.  As Homer Simpson would say: “Doh!”.

If you’ve ever watched a documentary about tornados in the US, you’ll remember that while they might travel in a straight line for a while, they suddenly change direction, sending the watchers scrabbling for safety (or gunning their vehicles to follow the new track).  If the Israelites’ pillar behaved similarly, you can see why they might end up wandering in the desert for 40 years!

The writer of Exodus is clear that God had a plan, and that wasn’t going to be delivered by the Israelites marching in a straight line across Sinai to the promised land.  Rather, they would have many diversions and obstacles on the way.  Perhaps this should reassure us when we feel we don’t have a plan for our life, or that the unexpected diverts us away from the course we thought we would follow.  To be honest, I’m not sure that I know anyone whose life has actually unfolded as they might have planned when they were a child - events happen to us all!

The Israelites had the comfort of that fiery, cloudy pillar to guide them across the desert.  But what are the pillars in our lives?  Do we allow our faith to guide our choices?  Do we listen for God as we make those choices?  I’ve always found William Williams’ hymn of prayer for guidance and succour resonates with me, and I invite you to pray it too.

Prayer

Guide me, O my great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with your powerful hand:
Bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore.

Open now the crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fiery, cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through:
strong deliverer, 
be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death, and hell's destruction,
land me safe on Canaan's side:
songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee. 
Amen
  -->

Today's writer

Gordon Woods, Elder, St. Columba’s URC, Oxford Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Worship for 23rd August 2020

Sun, 23/08/2020 - 09:45
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Sunday Service from the URC

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Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today's service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 
to listen to the service and sing along with the hymns.  This will open up a new screen, at the bottom of the screen you will see a play symbol.  Press that, then come back to this window so you can follow along with the service.
Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for
Sunday 23rd August 2020
 
 
 
 
 The Rev’d Phil Nevard
 
Introduction
 
Welcome.  My name is Rev’d Phil Nevard and today’s service comes to you from my (tidier) half of the study that I share with Lythan.  In my heart I will be leading this worship with my lovely congregation at Kingsteignton URC in South Devon.  We are delighted that you are joining us today.
 
Call to Worship
 
One:         To all who are imprisoned,
Many:      God says, Come out.
 
One:         To all who are living in darkness,
Many:      God says, Show yourselves
 
One:         To all who hunger and thirst,
Many:      God gives food and springs of water.
 
One:         To all who are far away,
Many:      God makes smooth the way home.
               God will not forget us, we are inscribed
               on the palms of His hands.
 
Hymn:      I Lift My Eyes to the Quiet Hills
 
I lift my eyes
to the quiet hills
in the press of a busy day;
as green hills stand
in a dusty land
so God is my strength and stay.
 
2: I lift my eyes
to the quiet hills
to a calm that is mine to share;
secure and still
in the Father's will
and kept by the Father's care.
 
3: I lift my eyes
to the quiet hills
with a prayer as I turn to sleep;
by day, by night,
through the dark and light
my Shepherd will guard his sheep.
 
4: I lift my eyes
to the quiet hills
and my heart to the Father's throne;
in all my ways
to the end of days
the Lord will preserve his own.
 
Prayer of Approach
 
I lift my eyes to the quiet hills

There’s something solid and permanent about the hills
They have stood the test of time
They live to a different rhythm

So often my life is pressed around with busyness
So often my life is simply running to catch up
So often I feel overwhelmed by a thousand and one little things

Help me to lift my eyes as we worship today
That I might see you God, my strength and stay

I lift my eyes to the quiet hills

There’s something peaceful and restful about the hills
They offer me a new perspective
They inspire patience

So often I fill the silence with unnecessary words
So often I ruin the stillness with worthless activity
So often I shatter the calmness with worry about tomorrow

Help me to lift my eyes as we worship today
That I might share that calm as I am kept in my Father’s care.

I lift my eyes to the quiet hills

There’s something comforting and protective about the hills
They’re always there – rain or shine
They’re a constant presence – through the changing seasons

So often my life swings from hope to despair
So often I allow small setbacks to shatter my dreams
So often I allow fear of the unknown to limit my horizons

Help me to lift my eyes as we worship today
That I might see you God, the shepherd who will guard his sheep

I lift my eyes to the quiet hills

There’s something deep and mysterious about the hills
Beyond human understanding
Inspiring awe and wonder

So often my life is petty and shallow
So often I merely scratch the surface of what God has in store for me
So often I let moments of awe and mystery pass by unacknowledged

Help me to lift my eyes as we worship today
That I might see you God, enthroned in splendour.
 
Prayer of Confession
 
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive us our sins. Jesus says: have come to call not the righteous but sinners. Let us confess our sins together and seek God’s forgiveness:
 
Almighty God,
we confess before you our own sin,
the sin of the Church and the sin of the world,
in which we share.
We have not loved you with our whole being;
we have not loved our neighbour as ourselves.
In your mercy, forgive us when we turn from you;
release us from the burden of our past,
and remake us in your image and likeness
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
May the God of mercy who forgives you all your sins through Jesus Christ strengthen you in all goodness by the power of the Holy Spirit and keep you in eternal life.  Amen.
 
Our Father….

Prayer of Illumination
 
After our readings we will mark this in the words of a hymn.  In July 1620 John Robinson preached a farewell sermon to members of his congregation setting sail in the Speedwell, preparing to join the Mayflower and start new lives in what they called the “New World”. In that sermon he reassured them, “For I am very confident the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth out of His holy Word.”  May that be true for us today as we listen for God’s Word in Isaiah and Matthew.
 
Readings
 
Isaiah 51:1-6  (NRSV)
 
Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.  Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.   For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
 
Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope.  Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.
 
Matthew 16:13-20  (NRSV)
 
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
 
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
 
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
 
Hymn:      We Limit Not the Truth of God
 
We limit not the truth of God
to our poor reach of mind,
by notions of our day and sect,
crude, partial and confined.
Now let a new and better hope
within our hearts be stirred:
the Lord hath yet more light and truth
to break forth from His Word.

2: Darkling our great forefathers went
The first steps of the way;
'twas but the dawning yet to grow
into the perfect day;
and grow it shall, our glorious Sun
more fervid rays afford:
the Lord hath yet more light and truth
to break forth from His Word.

3: The valleys past, ascending still,
our souls would higher climb,
and look down from supernal heights,
on all the bygone times;
upward we press, the air is clear,
and the sphere-music heard!
the Lord hath yet more light and truth
to break forth from His Word.

4: O Father, Son and Spirit, send
us increase from above;
enlarge, expand all Christian hearts
to comprehend Thy love;
and make us all go on to know
with nobler powers conferred:
The Lord hath yet more light and truth
to break forth from His Word.
 
Sermon
 
As I said at the beginning of this service, I minister in Kinsteignton.  Since the mid eighteenth century and right into the present day, the Ball Clay industry has been a major source of employment for Newton Abbot and the surrounding area.  It is said that it has its origins in the sixteenth century when Sir Walter Raleigh introduced tobacco to Britain. Clay from Devon, was deemed suitable in the manufacture of smoking pipes.  I often wonder if I should take clay pipe-smoking as a tribute to my town…  Lythan says not!
 
Ball clay is quite rare and the deposits found in Devon are of worldwide importance. It is white, or close to it, and very pliable so that when fired at high temperature the end result is ceramic clay of the highest quality. The famous potteries of Spode, Wedgwood and Astbury all use ball clay from Devon.
 
Before I moved here, I pictured a bustling town of working miners rolling huge balls of clay down the lanes towards the docks, like human dung beetles.  Sadly, that’s not quite how it works!

Up above Kingsteignton you have a good view of Haytor – one of the more touristy tors of Dartmoor – largely so because it is so easily accessible from Bovey Tracey.  Around Haytor you can find clear traces of the old Granite Tramway where quarried granite began its journey across the world.  Quite a lot of it went on the building of the old London Bridge (which is now in the Arizona Desert!)  If you know where to look you can find a big stack of huge unused bridge corbels – shaped and carved and ready to go.  They miscalculated and ordered too many – they have rested there for over 100 years…
 
So, when both Isaiah and Matthew pen words about quarries and rock, my ears prick up!
 
Isaiah is speaking to the returned exiles – they are standing in the overgrown rubble of their formerly glorious temple wondering how on earth they could even BEGIN to rebuild their lives after the crushing years of exile and then return to such desolation.  And he says to them:
 
51:1 Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.

51:2 Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.

51:3 For the LORD will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
 
Look to the rock from which you were hewn and the quarry from which you were dug.
 
And then we heard that famous passage from Matthew’s gospel:
 
16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

16:14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

16:15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

16:16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

16:17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.

16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
 
Peter blurts it out – probably not really grasping or fully understanding what he is saying – but in a moment of epiphany: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
 
And Jesus says,  “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
 
Of course, in the centuries since, the Church has disagreed fairly fundamentally about what Jesus meant!  To put it crudely and bluntly, the Catholic Church has maintained that “this rock” on which Jesus will build his church is the actual person of Peter – and so we get the succession of popes.  Our tradition has maintained that “this rock” on which Jesus will build his church is the confession of faith that Peter made – the community of the church will be built and shaped by that confession: “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
 
Actually, it is quite an important disagreement!
 
There is potential for a similar disagreement in Isaiah’s words: “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.”
 
Returned exiles might have taken those words and assumed that Isaiah was telling them to find a new Abraham and a new Sarah.  If only you can find them, everything will be fine and this wilderness that you stand in will bloom again.
 
Yet, I believe Isaiah is saying something a whole lot more significant. He is saying to these bedraggled exiles, “YOU are hewn from the SAME quarry that Abraham and Sarah were hewn from. You are chips from the same block.  As God worked mightily through their faithfulness, so will God work mightily through your faithfulness. 
 
The source of the granite is not the old London Bridge, it’s Dartmoor. 
 
The source of the hope that will replenish this broken and downhearted people is not a new Abraham or a new Sarah, it is faithfulness in the God of all hope. 
 
“This rock” on which the Church will be built is not Peter or even a whole succession of Peters, but the confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
 
Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.
 
Not Abraham, not Sarah, not even Peter – but the same quarry they were dug from – the chosen and loved people of God leaning on the unfailing love of the same God, living lives of faithfulness in response to the confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
 
I wonder where the desolate rubble is in your life at the moment?  You don’t need me to make one of those annoying preachers’ lists of all the possibilities, do you!  As you stand in that rubble, where is your hope? 
 
I wonder if you feel like the people of Jesus’ day, hoping that one of your favourite prophets come back to life – the new John the Baptist, the new Elijah – that’s what we need.  For you it might not be those particular characters – but we all put our faith in all kinds of saviours…  if only we had a minister like the really good one we had in 1972…  if only we had a different government…  if only...
 
Jesus’ words might be the ones we need to hear:  “Who do you say that I am?”
 
and alongside them, Isaiah’s words: “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.”
 
Jesus is the rock of salvation from whom you are hewn.  You share in his life and he in yours.  Whatever rubble and desolation plagues your life, this is the only sure foundation for your hope, it is the very foundation on which the church is built.  Amen.
 
Hymn:      Rock of Ages Cleft for Me
 
Rock of ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee
Rock of ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee
 
2: Let the water and the blood
From Thy riven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure
Cleanse me from it's guilt and pow'r

3: Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling
Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling
 
4: Naked, come to Thee for dress
Helpless, look to Thee for grace
Vile, I to the fountain fly
Wash me, saviour, or I die

5: Rock of ages, cleft for me
let me hide myself in Thee
Rock of ages, cleft for me l
et me hide myself in Thee

Affirmation of Faith
 
We believe in God, creator of all,
whose word sustains the life of humanity,
and directs our history. God is our life.
 
We believe in God’s Son,
born amongst the poor, light in our night,
first-born from the dead. He is alive.
 
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
who gives birth to the new life of God,
who breathes life into the struggle for justice,
who leads us to hope. Who is a living force.
 
We believe in the holy universal Church,
herald of the Good News
which frees people and brings new life.
We believe in the coming of a new world
where Jesus Christ, our Lord, will be all in all. Amen.
 
Prayers of intercession
 
Circumstances have conspired to keep us in our homes for worship on Sundays, which brings us closer to our neighbours and our neighbourhoods as we pray.  Isaiah’s words about the God of hope bringing new life from the rubble of exile and new growth in the arid desert is for them as well as for you and for me.
 
Somewhere nearby, maybe in a house I pass when I go out to walk, someone is grieving.  She has been unable to travel and share her grief with friends and family, she is grieving alone and not coping well.
 
Somewhere nearby, maybe in a house I can see from my bedroom window, a couple is celebrating new life, grandparents for the first time.  Pictures and Skype will do for now, but they long for the day when they can hold her for the first time.
 
God of hope, you bring joy and gladness from the wilderness,
you bring thanksgiving and the voice of song from desert places.
Hear my neighbour’s cry; hear my neighbour’s delight.

Somewhere nearby, maybe in one of those houses that we moan about with the dog outside barking all the time, someone is at their wit’s end.  Life is too much, everything is too much.  He knows the bottle’s solution will not last, but it might numb things for now.

Somewhere nearby, maybe in one of those houses with a cheery rainbow in the window, someone is enjoying the space and the time that lockdown has given xem.  Xe has really flourished through new opportunities online and has benefited from the chance to renew and refresh xemself.
 
God of hope, you bring joy and gladness from the wilderness,
you bring thanksgiving and the voice of song from desert places.
Hear my neighbour’s cry; hear my neighbour’s delight.

Somewhere nearby, maybe in one of those really tired and unkempt houses, garden overgrown, weeds along the path, someone is fearful for her safety.  The bruises don’t always show but she dare not go out now.  She feels totally trapped, escape routes totally cut off.  Her partner still works but she will be home early today and she’ll be angry as usual.
 
Somewhere nearby, maybe in one of the new houses on the new-build bit, a family is excitedly planning a holiday.  It’s been touch and go, but they have been given the green light, they CAN go and the tensions of home-schooling seem already to be melting away.
 
God of hope, you bring joy and gladness from the wilderness,
you bring thanksgiving and the voice of song from desert places.
Hear my neighbour’s cry; hear my neighbour’s delight.
 
Somewhere nearby, maybe in one of those bigger, expensive houses I have often envied, someone is anxiously scouring the bank statements.  He has lost his job.  He was furloughed, but now he’s redundant.  It was like a long slow torture.  He knew it was coming, but hoped it wouldn’t, and now he has no idea how they will afford the mortgage.
 
Somewhere nearby, someone is celebrating.  They’ve weathered the storm and now life is opening up again.  She can open her business again, and rediscover some sense of normality.  During lockdown she’s had all sorts of new ideas and can’t wait to get started.
 
God of hope, you bring joy and gladness from the wilderness,
you bring thanksgiving and the voice of song from desert places.
Hear my neighbour’s cry; hear my neighbour’s delight.
 
Hymn:      O Lord All the World Belongs To You
©1965 Josef Weinberger
 
O Lord, all the world
belongs to You
and You are always
making all things new.
What is wrong, You forgive,
and the new life You give
is what’s turning
the world upside down.
 
2: The world’s only loving
to its friends,
but Your way of loving
never ends,
loving enemies too;
and this loving with You
is what’s turning
the world upside down.
 
3: The world lives divided and apart,
You draw folk together, and we start
in our friendship to see that in harmony we
can be turning  the world upside down.
 
 4: The world wants
the wealth to live in state,
but You show a new way
to be great:
like a servant You came,
and if we do the same,
we’ll be turning
the world upside down.
 
5: O Lord, all the world
belongs to You
and You are always making
all things new.
What is wrong, You forgive,
and the new life You give
is what’s turning
the world upside down.

Who do you say that I am?  (Meditation)
 
Who do you say that I am?
Do you say I am the one who redeems,
sanctifies, justifies, glorifies?
Have you jargonised me into obscurity?
Have you encased me in impenetrable dogma?
Have you codified me
and placed me in the filing cabinet of belief?
Have you serialised me into a 4-step program for salvation?
Try again…
 
Who do you say that I am?
Do you say I am fully God and fully human,
historical yet eternal, both beginning and end?
Have you wrapped me in a pea-soup fog of mystery?
Have you set me outside the bounds of possibility?
Have you left me at the mercy of arcane philosophers
debating the meaning of reality?
Have you declared me too big to be understood or known?
Try again…
 
Who do you say that I am?
Do you say I am Immanuel, God with us?
Have you noticed me with you today – have you looked?
Have you acknowledged me today, spoken to me, listened to me?
Have you turned to me today, for strength, guidance, wisdom?
Have you changed course today
because my presence has pointed you to the Christ-like?
Try again…
 
Who do you say that I am?
Do you say I am Lord?
Have you thought about what that means for your life today?
Have you given me your voice to speak out
against injustice and prejudice today?
Have you given me your hands for acts of selfless service today?
Have you given me your feet today that I might take you across boundaries to new places?
Try again…
 
Who do you say that I am?
 
Blessing
 
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13)  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, in the name of Christ. Amen.
 
Sources and Copyright
 
Call to Worship from Feasting on the Word Year A
Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France.
All prayers and meditations by Phil Nevard (except the Prayer of Confession which is from the URC Worship Book’s Service of the Word
 
'I lift my eyes' by Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926) © Timothy Dudley-Smith in Europe and Africa. © Hope Publishing Company in the United States of America and the rest of the world. Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
We limit not the truth of God:  George Rawson (1807-1889)
Recording:  Organist, Mr Rob Charles, All Saints Church, Oystermouth, Swansea  Singers: Phil & Lythan Nevard
 
Rock of Ages  The Rev’d Augustus Montague Toplady   recording: Amy Grant, UMPG Publishing, Music Services, Inc. (Publishing), BMI - Broadcast Music Inc., BMG Rights Management (US), LLC, AMRA, Kobalt Music Publishing, LatinAutor, and 5 music rights societies
 
Turning the World Upside Down  Patrick Appleford ©1965 Josef Weinberger performed by: Seraphim Choir, Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Singapore.  (The Seraphim Choir that sings at the 9.15am Sunday Mass was formed in February 2008 and its name was suggested by Fr Siew, to refer to the many angelic voices of its young members. The initial aim was to provide formation for the children, encouraging their commitment to the service of God in a church ministry. It has now evolved into a choir comprising families from many nationalities, where parents and children serve together.)
 
Thanks to Phil, Lythan & Carys Nevard for reading the spoken parts of the service, to the choir of Barrhead URC for recording the Our Father and to Kathleen & Callum Haynes, Elfreda Tealby-Watson & Greg Watson, David & Christine Shimmin, Elizabeth Kemp,  Marion Thomas, Tina Wheeler and Myra Rose for recording, virtually, the Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith.
 
  --> Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved.
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762

  Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Sunday 23rd August 2020 Psalm 11

Sun, 23/08/2020 - 06:00
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Sunday 23rd August 2020  Psalm 11
 
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
 
2 Fear not, He is with thee, O be not dismayed,
For He is thy God, and will still give thee aid;
He’’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by His righteous, omnipotent hand.
 
3 When through the deep waters He calls thee to go,
The rivers of grief shall thee overflow;
For He will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”
 
4 When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
His grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; His only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”
 
5 “The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake!”
 
from Rippon’s Selection of Hymns 1787
 
you can hear this sung by Maddy Prior and the Carnival band here
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G68FV4xPhrE
 
 
Reflection
 
This is a Psalm of trust. It begins with the greatest trust we can place in anyone, taking refuge. Trusting God to look after our lives. God offers us a firm foundation, through the promise and love.
 
There are a great many words of comfort to be taken from this Psalm. Particularly the words surrounding being able to find rest, and find comfort. It says repose, but I’ve never used that word in my life!
 
Though we may get battered and bruised, and be facing the storms of life. We know we can find rest and solace in God’s welcoming arms.
 
In the second stanza, we hear of being strengthened, helped, and caused to stand.
 
It reminds me of these words from the Rend Collective song ‘Resurrection Day’:
 
“Because You're risen I can rise
Because You're living I'm alive
Because Your cross is powerful
Because You rose invincible
I can get up off the floor”
 
This is about us getting off the floor, about us being empowered to do so. As the chorus continues “This is my resurrection day”. Easter seems like a long time ago, but I’d encourage you to have your own Easter now!
 
This is not something to expect God to do without upholding our side of the bargain! We have been enabled, and given blessing to get up off the floor, but it’s still us who need to get up.
 
Our relationship with God is a 2-way one, one we must partake in, not just receive. But if we give, then truly, freely, we shall receive.

Prayer
 
This is my resurrection day
Nothing's gonna hold me in the grave
This is my resurrection day
Nothing's gonna hold me down
Say goodbye to my yesterdays
Ever since I met You I am changed
This is my resurrection day
Nothing's gonna hold me down.
 
© Rend Collective
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Today's writer

Dan Morrell, Media for Ministry Consultant (Yorkshire Synod), member of St Andrew’s Roundhay, Leeds. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Saturday 22nd August 2020 From Ramases to Succoth

Sat, 22/08/2020 - 06:00
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Saturday 22nd August 2020 From Ramases to Succoth 

Exodus 12: 33 - 42

The Egyptians urged the people to hasten their departure from the land, for they said, ‘We shall all be dead.’  So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading-bowls wrapped up in their cloaks on their shoulders.  The Israelites had done as Moses told them; they had asked the Egyptians for jewellery of silver and gold, and for clothing, 36 and the Lord had given the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And so they plundered the Egyptians.

The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds. They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.  At the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the Lord by all the Israelites throughout their generations.

Reflection

One of the interesting things to emerge from our time indoors earlier this year was a renewed interest in baking bread at home.  Some people have been doing it for ages, others had dropped the habit out of busyness or simply the availability of good bread on the High Street and others had never even thought about it as a possibility.   But suddenly by the middle of April people were creating and nurturing ‘sourdough starters’ up and down the British Isles and publishing recipes for every variation of bread product  you could imagine using these feisty little bowls of bubbling life.   It even lead to a shortage of flour for some time.  For those unfamiliar with the process a ‘starter’ is a mixture of flour and water which catches naturally occurring yeast from the air and starts to ferment. This fermentation is what makes bread rise and the starters can be kept and fed for years, with care, and each one can give rise to a new generation of bread.  It was a process that Jesus was very familiar with judging by the number of times he uses bread and uses yeast as an illustration of his teaching. 

This rising and fermenting takes time and patience neither of which the people leaving Egypt had on that fateful Passover night. The bread had been prepared for the next days but there was no time to let the yeast work and so it was unleavened. As they travelled they baked what we would now call flatbread.  The utmost importance of this food is demonstrated by the list of things that were carried away including kneading troughs.  Kept only for that purpose it was where the dough was pummelled into submission before baking in a hot oven or over a hot fire.  Keeping 600,000 people (plus women and children and livestock) fed on the march would have been a challenge for anyone and it’s no wonder that there were often complaints and shortages  as the wandering years unfolded in the wilderness.  As I write this we are still wandering in our own wilderness not quite knowing where we are heading except that there is a promised land of a new normality out there somewhere.   One thing is for sure, we all need bread for survival and the bread of life to feed us.

Some of us have made incalculable sacrifices and all of us have had to learn to adapt and think in new ways and to make do.  By the time this is read no doubt we will have retrieved some golden moments and celebrated them but we will also be grieving the losses of people and the loss of the old ways.  As we travel where we are led may the leaven of love help us rise to the occasion what ever may befall .  

Prayer

Take my gifts and let me love you, 
God who first of all loved me, 
gave me light and food and shelter, 
gave me life and set me free. 
Now because your love has touched me, 
I have love to give away,
now the bread of love is rising,
loaves of love to multiply!

Shirley Erena Murray 1931-2020
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Carole Elphick, retired minister, worshipping at Muswell Hill URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Friday 21st August 2020 The Death of the First Born

Fri, 21/08/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 21st August 2020 The Death of the First Born

Exodus 12: 29-32

At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, ‘Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!’

Reflection

Have you noticed how prominent the theme of children under threat of death is in the Exodus story?  Firstly, Pharaoh’s attempt to control the Hebrew slave population by killing male children.  Then Moses, adrift on the Nile and rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter.  And now the slaughter of Egypt’s firstborn by God, which triggers Israel’s final liberation from slavery.
 
And have you noticed how crucial perspective is to how we read this story?  It’s Passover if you’re a Jew, but holocaust if you’re Egyptian.  Salvation or genocide – and both at the hand of God!
 
We can’t escape the really uncomfortable questions this raises about God and salvation – especially because of our direct line from Passover to the Cross via the Last Supper.
 
It’s important to note that we’re in the thick of the “God vs Pharaoh” battle for the future of the world.   Just as Pharaoh’s armies would slaughter the firstborn of their enemies to deny them any future, God’s final act will complete the destruction of the slave-Empire and result in liberation – salvation.
 
But there’s the problem: God may be saving the slaves and crushing the Empire in order ultimately to benefit the whole creation, but is playing by Pharaoh’s rules!  The slaves cannot be saved without the death of the (innocent) Egyptian children!
 
There is a mystery to salvation.  For whatever reason, God saves only by entering into the mess and destructiveness of our world and defeating the forces ranged against God’s intentions for life and flourishing.  Israel is saved at the expense of the Egyptians - explicitly to be a blessing to the whole world.  Pharaoh recognizes this and asks for a blessing from the departing Moses.
 
At Easter, we see God’s own firstborn slaughtered.  As a sacrifice.  God saving the world – by bearing the cost. 

Prayer

I pray fervently for the coming of your Kingdom, O God -
This world as you intended, full of Life and laughter and future!

I forget, though, that its coming is Bad News for those who will not welcome it
Because they refuse to let go of their advantage.

Help me to find no glee in their downfall
But mourn them as lost, beloved children of God,
As you do.

May we all find our salvation in the New World of your Kingdom.
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant, Worsley Road 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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Thursday 20th August 2020 Passover

Thu, 20/08/2020 - 06:00
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Thursday 20th August 2020 Passover

Exodus 12

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:  This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.  Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household.  If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.  Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.  You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight.  They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.  They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.  This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord.  For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord.  The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.  Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day shall be cut off from Israel.  On the first day you shall hold a solemn assembly, and on the seventh day a solemn assembly; no work shall be done on those days; only what everyone must eat, that alone may be prepared by you.  You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your companies out of the land of Egypt: you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a perpetual ordinance.  In the first month, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day, you shall eat unleavened bread. For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether an alien or a native of the land.  You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread.

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb.  Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning.  For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down.  You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children.  When you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance.  And when your children ask you, “What do you mean by this observance?”  you shall say, “It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.”’ And the people bowed down and worshipped.

The Israelites went and did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron.

Reflection

There have already been 9 plagues on the land of Egypt, but Pharaoh’s heart is hard, and he will not let the Israelites go. Moses, however, has told the Pharaoh that another plague is coming.

God had heard their cries for help and remembered the promise to the Israelites.  God was a covenant-keeping God. They were to kill a lamb and smear the blood on the doorpost.  The blood on the door post was evidence that the people in that household had been obedient to God’s instruction and because of their faith in acting on God’s instructions, they were going to be saved.  It was a late-night meal, eaten in their travelling clothes.  They were to eat it hurriedly and leave. 

As I write this, we have just celebrated VE Day, marking the end of the 2nd World War in Europe.  Many remembered evacuation with very quick decisions about whether they wanted to go or stay.  It was literally a matter of life or death. Remembering such dates is special because of their uniqueness and importance, whether good or otherwise.  Festivals are celebrated in religion to remind their followers that something special happened. The institution of the Passover was, and still is, very important to the Jews as it reminded them of a special night in their history. It was the starting point of their exodus from slavery in Egypt and a milestone in their learning journey of their knowledge of God. 

The Passover meal was to eaten by people ready to make a journey.  It was the start of an adventure of faith. The Israelites, now ready to leave Egypt, like present–day believers in Jesus, are a pilgrim people with a destination. We are part of that free, but holy, nation a people set apart for God. 

Prayer 

Blessed are You, Our God, Sovereign of the universe. In Your love, our God, you have given us feasts of gladness, and seasons of joy.  At this Festival of Pesach, season of our freedom, a sacred occasion, we remember the Exodus from Egypt and we celebrate all you have done for us in Jesus.

(Adapted from the Jewish Passover Kiddush)   -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Sue Henderson, retired URC minister, member of Bradford on Avon United Church. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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Sunday's Coming

Wed, 19/08/2020 - 11:15
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday's Coming

Dear Friends,

Sunday’s service is led by the Rev’d Phil Nevard, minister of Kingsteinton URC in Devon.  Hymns include: Timothy Dudley Smith’s I Lift My Eyes, George Rawson’s We Limit Not the Truth of God, Augustus Montague Toplady’s Rock of Ages, and Patrick Appleford’s Turning the World Upside Down.

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

with every good wish


Andy


The Rev'd Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC -->

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If, however, the email isn't in your Spam/Junk folder please go to devotions.urc.org.uk and read it there.  I am away for August and so won't be able to help if you email!

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URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 19th August 2020 Pharaoh Warned Again

Wed, 19/08/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 19th August 2020 Pharaoh Warned Again
 
Exodus 11 
 
The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will bring one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you away.  Tell the people that every man is to ask his neighbour and every woman is to ask her neighbour for objects of silver and gold.’  The Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials, and in the sight of the people.
 
Moses said, ‘Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt.  Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock.  Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been nor will ever be again.  But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites—not at people, not at animals—so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.  Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, “Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.” After that I will leave.’ And in hot anger he left Pharaoh.
 
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, in order that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’ Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.
 
Reflection
 
… And we find ourselves at the climax of the series of plagues to befall Egypt. This ominous account, which seems to completely invert the massacre of the innocents in Luke’s Gospel, is indeed hot to handle for many a theologian. Its content is enough to disturb anyone. How do we respond?
 
We could take shelter behind the narrative device that the text may be stylised rather than literal. (Did it really happen?) Or we could argue that the impending deaths of the first-born is the final act against the tyranny of Pharaoh. (Could Pharaoh's refusal to release the Hebrews force God’s hand?)  But both responses still leave us with the haunting conclusion that God, who is “slow to anger … and abounding in love” (Ps 103.8), is capable of such a terrible act.  
 
This account can leave us feeling that we may not recognise God. This shows a characteristic of God that is hard to get our heads around. The Creator of the Universe, who was willing to let his own Son die for our sins, is beyond our comprehension. God is, indeed,  alien to us.
 
Maybe we also need to consider our own cultural position. We often find ourselves believing that Western culture is the pinnacle of human civilisation. We often stand in judgement over the actions other societies, ancient or modern, while betraying our own claims to egalitarianism and equality. Maybe we are exporting a degree of our own imperialism onto God.
 
I cannot find an easy way to justify the last plague to befall Egypt. Maybe all we can do is recognise that God, who came to earth in the human form of Jesus Christ, is also alien to us: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55.9)
 
Prayer
 
Creator God, we struggle and wrestle with the realisation that you are alien to us.
And yet, you fight on behalf of the alien and foreigner among us
and stand against those who oppose the Kingdom of God.
Help us to understand your ways.
Give us peace to live with the knowledge
That you are also beyond our understanding. Amen.
-->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Daniel Harris, Minister with the North Manchester Mission Partnership 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 Tuesday 18th August 2020 The Plague of Darkness

Tue, 18/08/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 18th August 2020   The Plague of Darkness

Exodus 10: 21 - 29

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand towards heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand towards heaven, and there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days.  People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were; but all the Israelites had light where they lived.  Then Pharaoh summoned Moses, and said, ‘Go, worship the Lord. Only your flocks and your herds shall remain behind. Even your children may go with you.’  But Moses said, ‘You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt-offerings to sacrifice to the Lord our God.  Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must choose some of them for the worship of the Lord our God, and we will not know what to use to worship the Lord until we arrive there.’  But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was unwilling to let them go.  Then Pharaoh said to him, ‘Get away from me! Take care that you do not see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.’  Moses said, ‘Just as you say! I will never see your face again.’

Reflection

Read the description of the three days of darkness and try and imagine how terrifying it would be to experience.  CS Lewis captured something of that terror in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the ship sails into a cloud of utter darkness in which people’s worst nightmares become real.
 
The plagues are a story of struggle between two worlds: the brutal, anti-God slave-empire of Pharaoh and the world that God intended at creation (what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God).  The darkness is a reversal of creation: light is God’s first creative act that rolls back the primordial chaos.  The writer wants us to know that Pharaoh’s slave Empire is the great disruptor of creation.  It is a world that can deliver only misery, despair and death.  If Pharaoh is not willing to dismantle it voluntarily, it needs to die - it cannot be reformed or repaired.
 
We must not flinch from the picture of God in this story.  As with the stories of the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, God is presented as responding to challenges to divine sovereignty with “shock and awe” (remember Desert Storm?), which may be impressive and irresistible, but are brutal and bloodthirsty.  And partisan! 
 
But the story isn’t finished.  In Jesus, God enters into our darkness as companion and liberator of all humanity.  As Jesus hangs on Empire’s cross, darkness falls again for three hours.  We humans have chosen to be godforsaken rather than receive the gift of the Kingdom.  And Jesus cries out in bewildered terror, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” We discover on Easter Sunday that God has not abandoned Jesus, but is “in Christ, reconciling the world to himself”.  Jesus’ resurrection is nothing less than the death of Empire and the birth of the New Creation!

Prayer

You, O God, are Light,
And in you there is no darkness at all.
We are at home in darkness.
We expect it,
Are resigned to it,
Unsurprised when it eclipses light.
We befriend it, even as we fear it.

Yet there is nowhere your love will not go to be with us and save us.
Teach us to discover you in our darkness.
Show us how to live as Children of Light,
Because that is who you have made us to be.

Thank you!
Amen.
 
-->

Today's writer

Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant, Worsley Road URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion Monday 17th August 2020 The Plague of Locusts

Mon, 17/08/2020 - 06:00
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Monday 17th August 2020  The Plague of Locusts 
Exodus 10: 1-20
 
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I have made fools of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them—so that you may know that I am the Lord.’
 
So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh, and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me.  For if you refuse to let my people go, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country.  They shall cover the surface of the land, so that no one will be able to see the land. They shall devour the last remnant left you after the hail, and they shall devour every tree of yours that grows in the field.  They shall fill your houses, and the houses of all your officials and of all the Egyptians—something that neither your parents nor your grandparents have seen, from the day they came on earth to this day.”’ Then he turned and went out from Pharaoh.
 
Pharaoh’s officials said to him, ‘How long shall this fellow be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the Lord their God; do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?’  So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh, and he said to them, ‘Go, worship the Lord your God! But which ones are to go?’  Moses said, ‘We will go with our young and our old; we will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, because we have the Lord’s festival to celebrate.’  He said to them, ‘The Lord indeed will be with you, if ever I let your little ones go with you! Plainly you have some evil purpose in mind.  No, never! Your men may go and worship the Lord, for that is what you are asking.’ And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.
 
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt, so that the locusts may come upon it and eat every plant in the land, all that the hail has left.’  So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day and all that night; when morning came, the east wind had brought the locusts.  The locusts came upon all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever shall be again.  They covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was black; and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left; nothing green was left, no tree, no plant in the field, in all the land of Egypt.  Pharaoh hurriedly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you.  Do forgive my sin just this once, and pray to the Lord your God that at the least he remove this deadly thing from me.’  So he went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord.  The Lord changed the wind into a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea;  not a single locust was left in all the country of Egypt.  But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.
 
Reflection
 
This story brings to mind an African farmer I saw on television earlier this year. He was surrounded by a cloud of locusts: he was frantically beating the air with a cloth, desperately trying to protect his crops. His actions seemed a futile act of resistance but faced with the onslaught of millions of locusts he was unwilling to give in.
 
Pharaoh is facing the cumulative effects of the plagues but remains unwilling to give in. The crops already damaged by hail are being ravaged by locusts which will strip vegetation bare. The crops will disappear and food shortages may result if reserves become depleted - this latest plague is a challenge to the pride of a nation used being economically self sufficient in food and able to control its neighbours through exports (a bit like the OPEC countries control of oil).
 
Faced with wave after wave of disaster, surely Pharaoh’s resistance will be weakened and he would accede to the demands of the Hebrew leader? His spiritual authority is also being challenged and he remains unwilling to surrender fully in the face of this latest attack.
 
‘Natural’ disasters raise difficult questions - why is this happening? What is God saying? How can I stop this happening? What can I learn from this? Pharoah is probably the most stubborn character in the Old Testament in his refusal to really acknowledge the supremacy of the God of the Hebrews.
 
Hearing this story each year at Passover the Jews would be reminded of God’s sovereignty over the the natural world and all nations - they would be reminded of the folly and pride of Pharaoh and be encouraged not to repeat it but learn from it.
 
I wonder what God is saying to us today?
 
Prayer
 
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind;
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.
Rejoice  & Sing 492 J. G. WHITTIER (1807-92)
 
Forgive us Lord for laughing at others predicaments.
Reclothe us in our right minds.
Give us wisdom to depend on you, to hear your voice in the events unfolding around us
For you alone are worthy of our worship and enable us to dwell in safety. Amen
-->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Viv Henderson is Minister of Minehead URC & a mental health chaplain with Elysium Healthcare in Wellington 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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Worship for Sunday 16th August 2020

Sun, 16/08/2020 - 09:45
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Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today's service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 
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URC Daily Devotions Worship
for Sunday 16th August 2020
 
 
 
 
 The Syro-Phoenician Woman by Robert Lentz
 
 The Rev’d Lythan Nevard

Introduction
 
Welcome to worship for 16th August 2020. I’m Lythan Nevard, Minister for Cranbrook. I work for the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of England building church and community in the new town of Cranbrook, which is still being constructed on the edge of Exeter. I work from the untidy end of the study I share with Phil who is also a URC minister. Cornerstone Church does not have its own building so most Sundays outside of lockdown involve an early start creating a worshipping environment for Cornerstone Church in our wonderful Church of England primary school St Martins. But we might be doing Forest Church or sharing breakfast and reflections in a house after helping to marshal at the town’s Junior Park Run. Whether you are at home alone, in the garden with birds singing or on a carefully managed holiday – we are the gathered family of God, and can lift our voices together in worship.
 
Call to Worship
 
One:        To all who are imprisoned,
Many:      God says, “Come out.”
 
One:        To all who are living in darkness,
Many:      God says, “Show yourselves”
 
One:         To all who hunger and thirst,
Many:      God gives food and springs of water.
 
One:        To all who are far away,
Many:      God makes smooth the way home.
               God will not forget us,
               we are inscribed on the palms of His hands.

 
Hymn:      Praise to the Lord, the Almighty the King of Creation
Joachim Neander (1650 – 1680)
translated by Catherine Winkworth (1827-78)
 
 
Praise to the Lord,
the Almighty,
the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him,
for he is your
health and salvation!
Come all who hear! Now to his altar draw near,
joining in glad adoration!
 
2: Praise to the Lord,
who shall prosper our work
and defend us;
Surely His goodness
and mercy shall daily attend us.
Ponder anew
what the Almighty can do
when with His love
He befriends us.
 
3: Praise to the Lord!
O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that has life and breath,
come now with praises before Him!
Let the Amen sound from His people again,
Now as we worship before Him!
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
 
O God we praise you!
With body, mind and soul we praise your holy name
 
We thank you for all that you have given to us
For our health
For our ability to worship and adore you
O God we praise you!
With body, mind and soul we praise your holy name
 
We thank you that you are Lord of all
And yet are ready to gently shelter us under your wings
For the way that you give us everything that we need
O God we praise you!
With body, mind and soul we praise your holy name
 
We thank you that you work in all things for good.
You fill our lives with goodness and mercy
We spend a moment in quiet, with hearts overflowing with love
as we thank you for the blessings you have given us this week
our friend indeed
 
O God we praise you!
With body, mind and soul we praise your holy name
 
And yet, despite our declarations of love and praise we know
That we also need to come asking for forgiveness
For there are things we have done, things we have said, that we wish we had not
Ways in which we have let you down that weigh heavy on our hearts.
And so we bring them to you now
 
We are truly sorry and ask to be forgiven.
 
And the good news is that through Jesus Christ you offer us new life
Jesus says “you are forgiven” and calls us again to walk in his way.
O God your love overwhelms us may we live our days in thanks and praise. Amen! Amen! Amen!
 
The Lord’s Prayer

Prayer of Illumination
 
As we hear your Word Lord Jesus
May we enter into the story and walk with you
As we reflect on your Word Lord Jesus
May your Holy Spirit inspire and challenge us
As we act on your Word Lord Jesus
Enable us to manifest your love in our actions and our speech
So that we truly walk in your way. Amen

Reading   St Matthew 15:10-28

Jesus called the crowd together and said, “Pay attention and try to understand what I mean. The food that you put into your mouth doesn’t make you unclean and unfit to worship God. The bad words that come out of your mouth are what make you unclean.”  Then his disciples came over to him and asked, “Do you know that you insulted the Pharisees by what you said?”  Jesus answered, “Every plant that my Father in heaven did not plant will be pulled up by the roots.  Stay away from those Pharisees! They are like blind people leading other blind people, and all of them will fall into a ditch.” Peter replied, “What did you mean when you talked about the things that make people unclean?” Jesus then said:
 
Don’t any of you know what I am talking about by now?  Don’t you know that the food you put into your mouth goes into your stomach and then out of your body?  But the words that come out of your mouth come from your heart. And they are what make you unfit to worship God.  Out of your heart come evil thoughts, murder, unfaithfulness in marriage, vulgar deeds, stealing, telling lies, and insulting others.  These are what make you unclean. Eating without washing your hands will not make you unfit to worship God.
 
Jesus left and went to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon.  Suddenly a Canaanite woman from there came out shouting, “Lord and Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is full of demons.”  Jesus did not say a word. But the woman kept following along and shouting, so his disciples came up and asked him to send her away.  Jesus said, “I was sent only to the people of Israel! They are like a flock of lost sheep.” The woman came closer. Then she knelt down and begged, “Please help me, Lord!” Jesus replied, “It isn’t right to take food away from children and feed it to dogs.” “Lord, that’s true,” the woman said, “but even dogs get the crumbs that fall from their owner’s table.” Jesus answered, “Dear woman, you really do have a lot of faith, and you will be given what you want.”
 
At that moment her daughter was healed.

Hymn:      Send Down The Fire of Your Justice
                  Marty Haugen © 1989, GIA Publications, Inc
 
Send down the fire of your justice,
send down the rains of your love;
come, send down the Spirit,
breathe life in your people,

and we shall be people of God.
 
Call us to be your compassion,
teach us the song of your love;
give us hearts that sing,
give us deeds that ring,
make us ring
with the song of your love.

2: Call us to learn of your mercy,
teach us the way of your peace;
give us hearts that feel,
give us hands that heal,
make us walk
in the way of your peace.

3: Call us to answer oppression,
teach us the fire of your truth;
give us righteous souls,
'til your justice rolls,
make us burn
with the fire of your love.

4: Call us to witness your Kingdom,
give us the presence of Christ;
May your holy light
Keep us shining bright,
Ever shine
with the presence of Christ.
 
Sermon
 
Are you sitting comfortably?
That’s the way Listen with Mother would start on the radio.
Bliss for me as a child as I would snuggle in for a cosy story.
Bliss for my mother as she would get 10 minutes peace…
So are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Make sure you are comfortable now as you may not be later.
Because this isn’t a cosy story.
This may involve some wriggling, some niggling and some downright uncomfortable feelings. Not 10 minutes of peace at all.
But if you can, stay with me.
Here’s the thing. I had a plan for this sermon. It involved opening with a not really that funny joke about a baptism for a dog and a few mentions of what the Greek words used actually mean. And then two things happened. Followed by a third.
 
The first thing was the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis – a black man killed by a police officer in an horrific manner. In the outpouring of anger and outrage that followed I started to listen to what black people are dealing with. I thought I had listened before. I thought I was a good advocate. I now know I was wrong.
 
The second thing was learning about a method of Bible Study advocated by Fresh Expressions called “Discovery” where the first question you ask is “If the story happened today what would it look like?” And I sat and imagined what it would look like. I visualised a black woman facing up to Jesus and telling it to him straight. And the story became real and fresh in a different way. And I tore up my notes and realised I was going to have to have a rethink.
 
Which brings me to my third thing. I remembered that the last time I had to totally rewrite a sermon because current events broke into the Lectionary was in fact the last time I preached about this very same passage. It was August 2011 – when riots happened all across the UK following the death of Mark Duggan, a black man killed by police officers at Broadwater Farm.
 
I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that when things come together like this, the Holy Spirit is at work.
And yet I stilled cried out to God  “Lord, isn’t this passage hard enough without putting racism front and centre?”
 
And I sense a reply to my prayer: “What did you think it is about?”
 
What is it about?
 
A woman approaches Jesus. A non-Jewish woman.
 
She cries out for help, “have pity my daughter is tormented by spirits”.
 
Jesus ignores her.
 
She persists, following and calling out so much that the disciples ask Jesus to send that woman away. (Why couldn’t they have talked to her?)
 
Jesus dismisses her  "I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the people of Israel."
 
She falls at his feet. She pleads.
 
And then Jesus says the most difficult to figure out sentence of his ministry - "It isn't right to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
 
She gives a smart comeback ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ and Jesus says “you’ve got great faith” (the Greek is more like “MEGA faith” and her daughter is healed.
 
Why does Jesus react like this, this is poles apart from what happened with the centurion and his servant – which comes much earlier on in Matthew’s gospel
 
Is it because she is a woman?
Is it because she is not Jewish?
Is he making a joke?
Is he tired and irritable?
Is he trying to get the disciples to intervene?
Is he being sarcastic?
Is he wrong – and the woman changes his mind?
It’s even more of a puzzle when you look at the first part of today’s reading.
 
Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand! It is not what goes into your mouth that makes you ritually unclean; rather, what comes out of it makes you unclean." Which offends the Pharisees
 
Yet the very next thing you hear Jesus say is something that the Pharisees would approve of but surely would leave Jesus ritually unclean by his standards.
 
The way Jesus behaves here to start with leaves me cold.
 
This is not the Jesus I love.
 
But he – eventually – listens.
He allows himself to be challenged. He is changed.
 
And he acts. There is never such an encounter again.
 
You can- and I probably have in the past – explain this away with Jesus making a joke about dogs (not the one I was going to use but also not really funny).
 
I think that theory diminishes Jesus. If we believe in an incarnate Jesus, both fully human as well as divine then surely, he can sometimes be tripped up by his privilege.
 
Whether it was because it was a request from a woman or a non-Jew or both, just for a moment he acts in a very human way.
 
He doesn’t see a person, just a problem.
 
This woman filled with love for her daughter and desperately worried, persists.
 
And his eyes and heart are opened.
 
Are you sitting comfortably now?
No? Good.
Neither am I.
 
“If the story happened today what would it look like?”
 
I see a black woman making a lot of noise, running after Jesus, throwing herself at his feet.
I see myself like one of the disciples muttering about fuss and hoping she would go away.
I’m so glad she is not listening to me.
 
The Discovery Bible Story method also asks “what is the story showing me?”
That is a question for you to ask yourself later.
I think it is showing me that there is always capacity to change my mind and see things from a new perspective.
 
I think it is showing me that sometimes this feels very uncomfortable. Our ways of understanding how the world works are hard wired into us and it is all too easy to go back to a default position as Jesus does here.
But I think I need to sit in that discomfort. To think about whether I am feeling frailty.
 
I think the Holy Spirit is using this feeling to help me to really see. To open my eyes and heart and become aware of my own privilege and how that can cast a shadow over others.
 
I’ve approached this from the perspective of a white woman because that is what I am.
To those of you who are black, I say – I’m sorry you sometimes have to shout to be heard. I hear you and I am ready to listen more. Challenge me. To those of you of other ethnicities - I say the same.
 
I hope that for those who are white like me, you are ready to also think carefully about where we are in this story and be ready to listen. And to act. To find out more of what white privilege is all about and work for justice. It’s not comfortable. It’s not easy.  But it is kingdom work.
 
Stay with this story today if you can. Ask what is it showing me?
And one last question – could this story make a difference to my life?
 
This is a rare time when Jesus is not the hero. Instead it is the woman of mega faith. And how awesome it is that a foreign woman– can dare to approach, can dare to question, can dare to challenge and still be accepted in the kingdom – given a radical welcome.
 
Hymn:      Inspired by Love and Anger
                John L Bell and Graham Maule ©Wild Goose Resource Group
 
Inspired by love and anger, disturbed by need and pain,
informed of God's own bias, we ask Him once again:
"How long must some folk suffer? How long can few folk mind?
How long dare vain self-interest turn prayer and pity blind?"
 
2: From those forever victims of heartless human greed,
their cruel plight composes a litany of need:
"Where are the fruits of justice? Where are the signs of peace?
When is the day when prisoners and dreams find their release?"
 
3: From those forever shackled to what their wealth can buy,
the fear of lost advantage provokes the bitter cry:
"Don't query our position! Don't criticise our wealth!
Don't mention those exploited by politics and stealth!"
 
4: To God, who through the prophets proclaimed a different age,
we offer earth's indifference, its agony and rage:
"When will the wronged by righted? When will the Kingdom come?
When will the world be generous to all instead of some?"
 
5: God asks, "Who will go for me? Who will extend my reach?
And who, when few will listen, will prophesy and preach?
And who, when few bid welcome, will offer all they know?
And who, when few dare follow, will walk the road I show?"
 
6: Amused in someone's kitchen, asleep in someone's boat,
attuned to what the ancients exposed, proclaimed and wrote,
A saviour without safety, a tradesman without tools
has come to tip the balance with fishermen and fools.
 
Affirmation of Faith 
 
We believe in God, creator of all,
whose word sustains the life of humanity,
and directs our history.
God is our life.

 
We believe in God’s Son,
born amongst the poor, light in our night,
first-born from the dead. He is alive.

 
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
who gives birth to the new life of God,
who breathes life into the struggle for justice,
who leads us to hope, who is a living force.


We believe in the holy universal Church,
herald of the Good News
which frees people and brings new life.
We believe in the coming of a new world
where Jesus Christ, our Lord, will be all in all.  Amen.


Offertory
 
It is time to take up our offering. We give in different ways, through our actions as well as our money. This may at the moment mean being less active and staying at home. It may mean taking up new challenges or picking up the pieces of old ones to support your church and community. All are valued.
 
Offerings are also about sharing what we have in terms of our financial resources – to charity and to our local church
 
In whatever way we choose to give, it’s important to continue - to offer our money and ourselves to God
So, let us pray together
 
Lord Jesus,
Take my life, my voice, my whole self
Take my money, my mind and my love
All given whole heartedly to you.
Bless them, use them, enable us to be sharers of your good news
That all are welcome in your love. Amen
 
Intercessions
 
Welcoming God,
we bring our prayers for those who are the outsiders in our society.
We pray for those in poverty,
living on the crumbs and scraps of others’ riches.
We pray for those who are denied the basics of living,
food and water, shelter, housing or healthcare.
We pray for those who have no place of safety,
for refugees and asylum seekers who have no home to call their own.
God of the outsider,
we pray that you will bring healing and welcome to all.

Listening God, we bring our prayers for those who are denied a voice.
We pray for those whose voices are silenced
by the denial of human rights and freedom of speech.
We pray for all those who are prisoners of conscience,
suffering because they have taken a stand for justice and freedom.
We pray for those who are excluded and pushed aside,
mocked, insulted or abused for their race, gender or sexuality.
God of the voiceless,
we pray that you will give power and hope to all.

Faithful God, we bring our prayers for all those who struggle with faith.
We pray for those for whom faith is lifeless,
stifled by rules and regulations.
We pray for those for cry out in desperation,
feeling that their prayers are unanswered.
We pray for those who feel unwelcome at your table,
excluded by their own weakness or the prejudice of others.
God of the gospel,
we pray that you will give living, life-changing faith to all.
 
In the name of the Christ who brings welcome, hope and change, we pray. Amen
 
 Hymn       And can it be?
                 Charles Wesley
 
And can it be that I should gain
an int’rest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me,
who caused His pain —
for me, who Him
to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
that Thou, my God,
shouldst die for me?
 
2: ’Tis myst’ry all:
th’ Immortal dies:
who can explore
His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
to sound the depths of love divine.
’tis mercy all!
Let earth adore,
let angel minds
inquire no more.
 
3: He left His Father’s
throne above —
so free, so infinite His grace —
emptied Himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’tis mercy all,
immense and free,
for, O my God,
it found out me!
 
4: Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin
and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused
a quick’ning ray — I woke,
the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off,
my heart was free,
I rose, went forth,
and followed Thee.

5: No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
alive in Him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Blessing
 
We go now into whatever experiences the week will bring always prepared to hear the Word of God even when it challenges us from unexpected sources, ready to offer a welcome to all, and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore.
Amen
 
Sources
 
Call to Worship from Feasting on the Word Year A
Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France.
All other liturgical material by Lythan Nevard.
 
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation by Joachim Neander translated by Catherine Winkworth performed by the OCP Session choir.  Send Down the Fire of Your Justice by Marty Haugen © 1989 GIA Publications.  Unknown performer at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in St. Paul, MN.  Inspired by Love and Anger written by John L Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community © WGRWG performed by Stephanie Hollenberg and Luke Concannon. And Can It Be by Charles Wesley performed by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band.
 
Organ Pieces  Opening: Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland (“Now the Gentile saviour comes”) by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020). Closing Songs of Praise Toccata by Robert Prizeman (organ of St Andrew’s, Farnham – 2019)Both played by Brian Cotterill.  http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks To….
 
John Young, Carol Tubbs, Ruth Watson, Emma and Phil Nevard for recording various parts of the service.  Thanks to the choir of Barrhead URC for recording the Lord’s Prayer, to  Kathleen & Callum Haynes, Elfreda Tealby-Watson & Greg Watson, David & Christine Shimmin, Elizabeth Kemp,  Marion Thomas, Tina Wheeler and Myra Rose for recording, virtually, the Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith.
 
 
--> Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved.
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762

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URC Daily Devotion Sunday 16th August 2020 Psalm 10

Sun, 16/08/2020 - 06:00
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Sunday 16th August 2020 Psalm 10

When trouble looms on every side,
when conflict dominates the day,
when life presents no easy path,
Lord, why do you seem far away?

From every plan which harms the poor,
from schemes to victimise the weak,
from those who snare the innocent,
Lord, your defence, your help we seek.

The greed which never has enough,
the boasts of haughty insolence,
the words that threaten, lie or curse,
Lord keep us from such arrogance.

Some think that you are blind to sin;
some live as though you were not there;
some treat your justice with contempt;
Lord, surely you both see and care!

You call the wicket to account;
you champion the victim’s cause;
you silence mortal taunts and threats;
Lord, heaven’s eternal throne is yours.

Martin Leckebujsh © Kevin Mayhew Ltd 2006
You can hear v 4 sung here 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qovbmq51yvo

Reflection

For aeons now humans have asked the same ultimate question “Why does God allow suffering?” Covid-19 has proved itself to be a disease of nightmares; indiscriminate and evading thus far the efforts of brilliant medical and scientific minds in their search for a vaccine or treatment.

The first thirteen verses of Psalm10 pose the same questions that tantalise us today.  We ponder the plight of doctors and nurses in their relentless care of needy patients, the inability to visit loved ones in hospital or care homes, the loss of jobs and financial insecurity, and increased domestic abuse and crime. This is precisely why Richard Dawkins holds, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” 

As a Christian I believe that Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are historical facts. Death is not the end because Jesus rose from the dead.  Consequently, God will be utterly fair and those people who have had the wrong end of injustice in this life will be ultimately compensated.  Atheism has no such hope and its ideology flies against the basic human notion of justice.The Early Church was no stranger to pandemics, ultimately managing to weather the pandemic of Justinian 1st. (527-565 CE).  In the Old Testament the nation of Israel recorded their years of desperation in the beauty, prayers and hymns of the Psalms, an example of which is this Psalm - (vv 10.14-18) 

Our belief in resurrection and afterlife and the strength of our faith are tested again and again as was the faith of the Early Church which evangelised the world in a prophetic way.  Such love for others would surely matter little if we are just atoms to be discarded at death and the faith that we currently share makes sense of a situation in which Jesus suffers with us.

Prayer

Living God, we come in faith to worship you, yet we come conscious that our faith is so very weak, sinking without trace when trouble and danger threaten.  Forgive us, and speak again of your loving purpose and sovereign power. Teach us that even in times of turmoil you are there, nothing finally able to overcome your will; that we can confidently put our trust in you, now and always.
Amen
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Ian Gow, Minister, Eltham URC  Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion Saturday 15th August 2020 The Plague of Hail

Sat, 15/08/2020 - 06:00
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Saturday 15th August 2020  The Plague of Hail  
Exodus 9: 13 - 35

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, and say to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. For this time I will send all my plagues upon you yourself, and upon your officials, and upon your people, so that you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.  For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.  But this is why I have let you live: to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people, and will not let them go.  Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.  Send, therefore, and have your livestock and everything that you have in the open field brought to a secure place; every human or animal that is in the open field and is not brought under shelter will die when the hail comes down upon them.”’  Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried their slaves and livestock off to a secure place.  Those who did not regard the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the open field.

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand towards heaven so that hail may fall on the whole land of Egypt, on humans and animals and all the plants of the field in the land of Egypt.’  Then Moses stretched out his staff towards heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire came down on the earth. And the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt;  there was hail with fire flashing continually in the midst of it, such heavy hail as had never fallen in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.  The hail struck down everything that was in the open field throughout all the land of Egypt, both human and animal; the hail also struck down all the plants of the field, and shattered every tree in the field.  Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were, there was no hail.

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.  Pray to the Lord! Enough of God’s thunder and hail! I will let you go; you need stay no longer.’  Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.  But as for you and your officials, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.’  (Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud.  But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they are late in coming up.)  So Moses left Pharaoh, went out of the city, and stretched out his hands to the Lord; then the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured down on the earth.  But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned once more and hardened his heart, he and his officials. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.

Reflection

There is a traditional invitation to prayer, said often by Orthodox Christians, that goes thus;
‘For favourable weather, an abundance of the fruits of the earth and for temperate seasons, let us pray to the Lord.’ 

Many of us pray, or are asked to pray, for good weather. Even those who might think ourselves too sophisticated to pray like this often catch ourselves doing it, or being asked to do it, and sometimes by those for whom the weather really matters. 

It would be lovely if the sun shone for that day at the seaside or that afternoon set aside for gardening. It would be wonderful if the weather could be favourable for the wedding, garden party or graveside burial service. But sometimes what the weather is like is a matter of life and death, for whole communities. And in times when the earth’s weather seems to be changing, and when even the temperate UK is beset by storms, prayers for good weather become more serious and compelling. Before the forces of storm and drought, of flood or forest fire, we find our powerlessness, our defencelessness and vulnerability, even our dependence. To be battered by hail or wind, to have crops fail or houses flood, to find your skin burned and in danger, or the cliffs crumbling beneath your feet is to know that you are in need. 

To learn to pray this, very traditional, prayer well is to recognise that what the weather does is something vital to our lives, to the lives of all with whom we share the earth, our common home.  To pray it well is to pray for the good of all, and not just for ourselves. Prayed in common with all the people of God, it is not a selfish prayer for ‘a lovely day’, but a prayer for the thriving of all creation. It’s a prayer worth practising. 

Prayer

O God, 
we pray,
in all places,

for weather that sustains life,

that provides for a fruitful harvest

and creates a gentle world. 
Let sun shine,

rain fall, 
ice form

and wind blow,

as the earth needs

and your people pray,

Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Susan Durber is Minister of Taunton United Reformed Church  Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion Friday 14th August 2020 The Plague of Boils

Fri, 14/08/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 14th August 2020 The Plague of Boils 

Exodus 9: 8 - 12

Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw it in the air in the sight of Pharaoh.  It shall become fine dust all over the land of Egypt, and shall cause festering boils on humans and animals throughout the whole land of Egypt.’  So they took soot from the kiln, and stood before Pharaoh, and Moses threw it in the air, and it caused festering boils on humans and animals.  The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils afflicted the magicians as well as all the Egyptians.  But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses.

Reflection

‘The Lord’ really is relentless!

We are now at plague number six of ten. As if bloody water, frogs, lice, flies (or wild animals depending on source), and pestilence would not be enough for you or I to ‘let God’s people go’!

At the end of the passage, we discover why these afflictions were not enough and why Pharaoh was so cold - because the Lord had hardened his heart’.

I kind of feel sorry for ‘The Lord’ throughout the telling of the story of Moses. To my mind, God gets written in as the ultimate baddie; even beyond Pharaoh. Pharaoh had no control over his reactions, it would seem, with God hardening his heart in the face of such calamity.

How can we know how Pharaoh would have reacted without the Lord’s interference?

We have to ask ourselves, why is the story told in this way?

Might it be to show us that God can be relentless for us?

God is persistent through Moses' words, through every increasing calamity and even through the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. God just won’t let it go.

God seems like an angry dog with a bone, for the freedom, justice and release of the Israelite slaves. Without getting involved with the question of whether this is an historical event or an accurate retelling, or even if God was written-in by the history-teller doing things we find deplorable today, might we be being guided to learn that God is for us?
 
If we are brought low, on the edge of society or destroyed by it, in pain, crying for justice and hope – God is for us and will go above and beyond for us!

 I pray you will hear this truth today, in all that you face.

 Beware, however, if you are in the way of God’s justice and love.

‘The Lord’ really is relentless!

Prayer

Loving God,
may the truth of your persistence and devotion speak to us from years past.
May it give us hope and peace.
May it agitate us away from inequality and towards integrity.
May we know deep in our hearts that you are for us and for our freedom.
Amen
 
-->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Martin Knight is minister of St Paul’s URC, South Croydon and South Croydon United Church (Methodist/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 © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Thursday 13th August 2020 The Plague of Pestilence

Thu, 13/08/2020 - 06:00
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Thursday 13th August 2020  The Plague of Pestilence 
 
Exodus 9: 1-7
 
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, and say to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.  For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them,  the hand of the Lord will strike with a deadly pestilence your livestock in the field: the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks.  But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing shall die of all that belongs to the Israelites.”’  The Lord set a time, saying, ‘Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.’  And on the next day the Lord did so; all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but of the livestock of the Israelites not one died.  Pharaoh inquired and found that not one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the people go.
 
Reflection
 
Exodus is a dangerous book, it was deemed so dangerous by landowners during slavery in America and the West Indies that the whole of the arc of the Israelites journey out of slavery from Egypt was removed from the Slave Bible, along with 90% of the Old Testament and 50% of the New Testament. It is dangerous because it gives hope to people and shows how God is a God of liberation and preferential treatment of the oppressed. 
 
This passage finds us at the half-way point in the plague story. God clearly has a preferential option for the Israelites as the marginalised, oppressed and enslaved people, but what of the regular Egyptian citizens who aren’t in much better of a position? When I look at society today, I see that we have a social class of people who have been let down by a society that has seen them as not worth the effort, and this has left them under-educated, under-informed and ill-equipped to verbalise the injustices against them and has easily swayed them by a media that that is owned by people who know how to manipulate the truth. 
 
I wonder then how the regular Egyptians felt when they had now endured five plagues that are destroying their livelihood. I doubt they would have blamed Pharaoh, at least not publicly, but they would have levelled the blame at the Israelites, the people who are already seen as a problem. So, we see the poor help marginalise the already oppressed. Sound familiar? Can we learn from this? Can we change how we use media to set one class of people against a migrant population, or are we going to continue hardening our hearts like Pharaoh pretending that it isn’t our problem? 
 
Prayer
 
Liberating God
help us not only to acknowledge the injustice in the world, but to be bold enough to do everything we can to remove it. Enable us to see and hear clearly so we do not swallow lies that prop up the unjust systems in our world. Amen
-->

Today's writer

Kirsty-Ann Mabbott, Church Related Community Worker, St Columba’s & Ansty Road URC’s Coventry Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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Sunday's Coming

Wed, 12/08/2020 - 11:15
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Sunday's Coming

Dear Friends,

Sunday’s service is led by the Rev’d Lythan Nevard who serves Cranbook Church in Devon.  Hymns include Joachim Neander’s Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, Marty Haugen’s Send Down the Fire of Your Justice, John Bell and Graham Maule’s Inspired by Love and Anger, and Charles Wesley’s And Can It Be?

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

with every good wish


Andy


The Rev'd Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC -->

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If, however, the email isn't in your Spam/Junk folder please go to devotions.urc.org.uk and read it there.  I am away for August and so won't be able to help if you email!

Finally, a reminder if you need to change your email address please use the link, below, "update your preferences".   
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URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 12th August 2020 The Plague of Flies

Wed, 12/08/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 12th August 2020 The Plague of Flies
 
Exodus 8: 20 - 32
 
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Rise early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, as he goes out to the water, and say to him, “Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.  For if you will not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you, your officials, and your people, and into your houses; and the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies; so also the land where they live.  But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people live, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I the Lord am in this land. Thus I will make a distinction  between my people and your people. This sign shall appear tomorrow.”’   The Lord did so, and great swarms of flies came into the house of Pharaoh and into his officials’ houses; in all of Egypt the land was ruined because of the flies.
 
Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said, ‘Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.’  But Moses said, ‘It would not be right to do so; for the sacrifices that we offer to the Lord our God are offensive to the Egyptians. If we offer in the sight of the Egyptians sacrifices that are offensive to them, will they not stone us?  We must go a three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God as he commands us.’   So Pharaoh said, ‘I will let you go to sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness, provided you do not go very far away. Pray for me.’  Then Moses said, ‘As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the Lord that the swarms of flies may depart tomorrow from Pharaoh, from his officials, and from his people; only do not let Pharaoh again deal falsely by not letting the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.’
 
So Moses went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. And the Lord did as Moses asked: he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his officials, and from his people; not one remained. 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and would not let the people go.
 
Reflection
 
“Let my people go!” rings in our minds as we hear the baritone of Paul Robeson sign out these words in a hymn from enslaved African Americans.  Embedded in this Exodus story, the phrase resonates with the tirade for justice where justice has been denied.  It has rung out for centuries, moving hearts and changing minds.
 
I’m sad to find the words again where first written, amidst a series of threats and misuse of creation for Moses to dent Pharaoh’s control.  I’m sadder still that God is depicted as divine being misusing what had been made in love as a fly-filled weapon, damaging the crops of people God must also love.  We are asked to believe that God changed God’s mind because Moses pleaded.  In this story, Moses is the righteous one, God is the tyrant, and Pharaoh is merely another greedy human.
 
These epic tales have us severely testing our own notions of who God is.  We pick and choose from these tales to talk about the human heroes.  We’ve happily made musicals and movies about the bits we like.  We use some of the words to give Biblical force to the cry for justice.  Yet I see again and again that we don’t deal with the very confusing narrative of just who God is.  I believe strongly that we humans make God who we want God to be.  For the small Israel, fighting to have some control over itself, it looks like the preferred God would favour only this nation and to be as tyrannical as needed as long as tyranny was for their enemies.
 
This is not the God we see in Jesus.  Jesus would have sung those same words, yet for the Triune God’s reasons.  Justice is consequence of love, not the result of threat.
 
Prayer
 
Eternal God, whoever you are, fill us with Love so we can stop making you up. 
Fill us with Spirit, so that we can know you a little. 
Give us courage to let you be who you are, though you remain such a mystery to us.
Let us forgive ourselves for our need to re-create you,
With your forgiving power, may we engage in justice as you see fit, whether we like it or not.
Amen
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Today's writer

The Rev’d ELizabeth Gray-King, Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s Oxford Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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