URC Devotions

URC Daily Devotion 29th November 2019

Fri, 29/11/2019 - 06:00
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Friday 29th November

2 Kings 1:1-8

After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel. Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay injured; so he sent messengers, telling them, 

‘Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury.’ 

But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, 

‘Get up, go to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?” Now therefore, thus says the Lord, “You shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but you shall surely die.”’ 

So Elijah went. The messengers returned to the king, who said to them, 

‘Why have you returned?’ 

They answered him, 

‘There came a man to meet us, who said to us, “Go back to the king who sent you, and say to him: Thus says the Lord: Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but shall surely die.”’ 

He said to them, 

‘What sort of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?’ 

They answered him, 

‘A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.’ 

He said, 

‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’

Reflection

Ahab has died and been succeeded by his son Ahaziah who apparently puts his trust in the gods of his mother. Having suffered serious injury in a fall, Ahaziah seeks an oracle from Baal-zebub, the patron god of Ekron (a Philistine city), about his chance of recovery.

So Elijah is summoned into action once more, to go and intercept the king’s messengers. The text implies that no sooner was Elijah summoned than he instantly appears before the messengers. He suggests that their mission indicates that the God of Israel has been rejected by the king; and then declares in the name of Israel’s God that Ahaziah will not recover but will die. Exit Elijah.

The messengers go home and are questioned about their unexpectedly rapid return by the king. They report having met a man and convey exactly to Ahaziah what the prophet had said to them. The king demands to know who it was and a description is given, whereby the king knows it was Elijah.

‘A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist’ isn’t much of a description. This is the only time it occurs and it is surprising that no mention is made of Elijah’s hallmark mantle. However it is the picture of Elijah that tradition has remembered and it is used in the Gospels to establish the prophetic credentials of John the Baptist (Matt.3:4; 11:13-14; Mk.1:6).

What kind of figure does it evoke? I imagine someone of stature, who is resilient, who sits lightly to possessions of all kinds. Someone who embodies faith in God; and dependence on God for daily needs. Someone who is unencumbered by everyday responsibilities and ready to go in the service of God, whenever and wherever.

I wish I was more like this as a disciple of Christ!

Prayer

Almighty God, you call us to trust in you and to serve you alone. Human status and achievement has no bearing on your love for us. We rejoice in this truth and offer you our worship and our praise as we seek to model our daily living on the pattern of your son, Jesus Christ. Sustain us as your servants and use us as your messengers to the world. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

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


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URC Daily Devotion 28th November 2019

Thu, 28/11/2019 - 06:00
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Thursday 28th November

1 Kings 21:15-29

As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, 

‘Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.’ 

As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: 

“Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?’ You shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”

Ahab said to Elijah,

‘Have you found me, O my enemy?’ 

He answered, 

‘I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin. Also concerning Jezebel the Lord said, “The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel.”  Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat.’ (Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.)”

When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly.  Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 

‘Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.’

Reflection

This passage concludes the story of how Jezebel brought about the death of Naboth, a righteous Israelite, in order to satisfy Ahab’s desire for a new vegetable garden beside the palace. Ahab had reluctantly accepted Naboth’s right to retain his family’s inheritance – the king had no authority to insist on compulsory purchase – but Jezebel thought this made Ahab look weak. She displayed a total abuse of power, persuaded others to carry out her corrupt scheming and Ahab’s true weakness is demonstrated as he goes to take possession of the vineyard with no questions asked.

Elijah is commissioned again as the conveyor of God’s judgment on Ahab, making clear that he is equally guilty of killing Naboth by association, and because he has done nothing as king to prevent such corrupt practices.

Ahab describes Elijah as an enemy. In response Elijah prophesies the downfall of Ahab, his dynasty and a particularly gruesome end for Jezebel, because Ahab has sinned and caused Israel to sin. Ethics have been cast aside and evil at the top level of Israel’s society has poisoned the whole. The severity of the punishment reflects the need to remove all the corrupting forces and make a fresh start.

Ahab’s repentance brings a stay of execution until the next generation; but he makes no attempt to eradicate the insidious evil or restore justice. He is presented as dejected and powerless while Israel drifts further from the ways of God.

As Christians we believe that God is able to redeem the worst imaginable situation and forgives anyone who is truly repentant; but this story challenges us to realise that societal corruption and acts of blatant injustice are an affront to God. We become complicit if we fail to name as evil oppressive structures and corrupt practices that undermine a just society.

Prayer

Gracious God, you demand high standards of righteousness and justice and we confess that often we fail to live up to your expectations. We are sorry for trying to lay the blame elsewhere for societal sin. Draw us back to the example of Jesus, who has shown us how to live as your children, that with renewed zeal we might work with Christ for the coming of your kingdom. Amen.

 
 
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Today's writer

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


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URC Daily Devotion 27th November 2019

Wed, 27/11/2019 - 06:00
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Wednesday 27th November

1 Kings 19:19-21

So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was ploughing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, 

‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’ 

Then Elijah said to him, 

‘Go back again; for what have I done to you?’ 

He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Reflection

Here we find Elijah fulfilling the instruction to identify his successor; but why Elisha is chosen is unclear. Elisha is presented as a wealthy farmer with family responsibilities, quite unlike Elijah, an itinerant man of God. Interestingly there is no mention of God at all in this passage; and we are left to surmise about the significance of Elijah’s mantle. In 2 Kings 2 we will discover that it is the hallmark of Elijah’s power and here it seems to be interpreted by Elisha as an invitation to join Elijah on his mission.

The dialogue between the two may prompt us to recall Jesus chastising the disciple called to follow who wanted to attend to family matters first (Matt.818-22). Scholars differ as to whether Elijah’s words are a rejection of Elisha because he wanted to delay, or should be interpreted as a warning to him – do you realise what you will be letting yourself in for, if you follow me?

Either way, Elisha is determined that his future will be in Elijah’s service. He closes down his farming enterprise in a spectacular way and uses the ‘proceeds’ to provide a farewell feast for the community; there can be no going back.

Bringing one venture to a proper conclusion, and celebrating this with others, before embarking on another, is a good model to follow. Too often loose ends from the past get in the way of new endeavours; and we do well to heed Elisha’s decisiveness.

This story is symbolic of absolute commitment. It is symbolic of a willingness to follow a man of God without knowing all the implications that will follow, or where the journey will lead. It is symbolic of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Prayer

Loving God, help me to know when it’s time to hand over my responsibilities to someone else; and give me the grace to realise that such a person needs to be quite different from me.

Help me, if called to undertake a new venture, to ensure that I conclude current work properly before changing direction.

Help me to be fully committed in my discipleship, ready to go wherever Christ leads. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

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


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URC Daily Devotion 26th November 2019

Tue, 26/11/2019 - 06:00
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Tuesday 26th November

1 Kings 19:9b-18

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying,

‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 

He answered, 

‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’

He said, 

‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ 

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, 

‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 

He answered,

‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ 

Then the Lord said to him,

‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’

Reflection

Elijah’s encounter with God begins with a question. Why has Elijah travelled to Horeb, the mountain of God? What does he want? The prophet declares his faith in Yahweh and, almost petulantly, tells God about Israel’s sins, how he’s the only faithful prophet left and that his life is in danger. The irony is that the last time Elijah spoke to God he wanted to die; and the rest of what he says is somewhat out of kilter with the previous narratives. What about the prophets of Yahweh protected by Obadiah; Israel’s recommitment to Yahweh at Carmel; and that Jezebel (not Israel) is seeking his life?

Elijah is told to stand on the mountain because Yahweh is about to pass by – just as happened on Sinai when Moses asked to see God’s glory (Exod.33:19-23). Before Elijah leaves the cave there is a violent storm (symbolic of weather gods such as Baal), an earthquake followed by fire, all the natural phenomena associated with the theophany at Sinai (Exod.19:16ff) but Yahweh doesn’t appear in any of these. Then a sound of silence.

It is the silence that prompts Elijah to venture outside where he hears the initial question to him repeated. He makes exactly the same reply. Then Yahweh speaks to him (there is no ‘appearance’) and commissions Elijah to travel through the whole territory of Judah and Israel into the land of Aram (Syria). He is to anoint the next generation of kings in Aram and Israel and identify his own successor. God is looking to the future and Elijah is called to prepare people for what lies ahead, not to worry about the present.

Regime change is coming – and, by the way, God will preserve thousands of faithful people in Israel when this takes place; Elijah is not alone!

Prayer

Eternal God, there are times when we fail to see the bigger picture and even allow our anxieties to distort our understanding of the present. Forgive us, we pray.


Still our hearts and minds. Grant that we might rediscover your gift of silence; and in the silence be expectant that your call might come. Give us a glimpse of your future and of our role in preparing for it. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

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


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URC Daily Devotion 25th November 2019

Mon, 25/11/2019 - 09:29
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Monday 25th November

1 Kings 19:1-9a

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.  Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, 

‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ 

Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die:

‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’

Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, 

‘Get up and eat.’ 

He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.  The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, 

‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ 

He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Reflection

Step forward Jezebel, Israel’s legendary villainous queen, who makes an oath in the name of her native gods threatening Elijah’s life. He runs away in fear. Despite the tremendous faith Elijah had demonstrated at Carmel he flees to Beersheba, the most southerly town in Judah and goes into the wilderness, alone. Bizarrely he calls on Yahweh to end his life – what Jezebel was threatening – in words that imply a sense of failure and lies down to sleep.

How often is a sense of euphoria arising from a great ‘success’ followed quickly by a sense of despair? Most of us encounter something of this emotional rollercoaster in the spiritual and mundane aspects of our lives. God’s prophet is only human!

In a scene reminiscent of God’s appearance to Hagar in the same location, as she anticipated death, pointing her to life-renewing water (Gen.21), Elijah is prompted by a divine messenger to wake up and eat and drink. Food and water, the essentials for life, are provided for him. It appears that God’s answer to Elijah’s prayer is ‘No’; there is yet more work for him to do and Yahweh can still be trusted to sustain his life.

Elijah needs to be nudged, and fed, a second time before he is refreshed sufficiently to realise that God is calling him to move on from the wilderness; but note the direction of travel. Elijah doesn’t go straight back into the fray. Instead he goes further south, forty days and nights to Horeb, an alternative name for Sinai. We are reminded of another great biblical narrative, for this is where Moses met Yahweh face to face and the covenant with Israel was established (Exod.24:18; 34:27-35). At the lowest point in his life Elijah is called to follow in the footsteps of Israel’s great saviour.

Prayer

Gracious God, we recognise that our faith in you ebbs and flows as we go through the journey of life.
Forgive us when we forget the constancy of your faithfulness and love; and restore us by your Spirit for the work that lies ahead.
Remind us, even as we falter, of your call to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the saviour of the world, who leads us into life. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

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


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URC Daily Devotion 24th November 2019

Sun, 24/11/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 24th November
Psalm 124

1 If God the LORD had not been on our side—
2 Let Isr’el say—had not the LORD been near
3 When foes attacked us, filling us with fear,
And when their wrath against us reached its height,
Alive we had been swallowed in their spite.

4 We would have been enveloped by the flood;
Over our heads the torrent would have gone;
5 The waters would have carried us along.
6 But praise the LORD, for he has set us free
And has not left us to their cruelty.

7 We have escaped—just as a captured bird
Out of the fowler’s net has been set free;
The snare is cut, we are at liberty.
8 Our help is in the name of God the LORD
Who made the earth and heavens by his word.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Old 124th here

Reflection

As a young person (some time ago!) brought up in the Church of Scotland, I recall attending Remembrance Sunday Parades with the Boys’ Brigade. Invariably the metrical version of Psalm 124 was sung –

“Now Israel may say, and that truly,
“If that the Lord had not our cause maintained ….”

Memories of world wars were alive and often raw. For some, there was real comfort and thankfulness in their knowledge that their God had been alongside them. For others, God had been nowhere to be seen, seemingly absent.

Troops on each side had been assured by their religious powers-that-be that God was on their side. Combatants were commended and blessed, and, just to make sure, God’s blessing was enjoined on weapons of war from guns to battleships. From there, it could be but a small step to assume that God was not present with the enemy, so their defeat was sure and certain.

Yet on all sides, ordinary soldiers, sailors or airforces prayed and in many ways, prayer was answered.

We have just moved from centenaries of the first World War  to the 80th anniversaries of the second, so we will, no doubt, see more archive newsreels including ceremonial blessing of weaponry. In an era where God may go unrecognised in everyday life, such practices will no doubt seem quaint, from another age, not worth worrying about. Christians believe that God is present in the everyday, calling us to work for justice and for peace, so such images are worth worrying about. Blessing the individual and honouring sacrifice is right and proper: weaponry is a necessary evil, to be kept to a minimum. Hence when the national church holds a service in which weapons of mass destruction are a focus, we are right to ask if God has set us free from the fowler’s net.

Prayer

Our help is in the Lord’s great name
who heaven and earth by his great power did frame.
Therefore God, when we assume that you are automatically on our side: forgive us.
When we pollute the earth by what we do and by what we have: forgive us.
When we assume that we have the right to destroy that which you have created: forgive us.
When we delight you by creating justice and joy: embrace us. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired minister in the Mersey Synod serving as Link Minister at Rock Chapel, Farndon.  He is a member at Upton-by-Chester URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion

Sat, 23/11/2019 - 06:00
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Saturday 23rd November

1 Kings 18:36-46 

At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, 

‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding.  Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ 

Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.’  Elijah said to them, 

‘Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.’ 

Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there. Elijah said to Ahab, 

‘Go up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of rushing rain.’ 

So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; there he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees.  He said to his servant, 

‘Go up now, look towards the sea.’ 

He went up and looked, and said, 

‘There is nothing.’ 

Then he said, 

‘Go again seven times.’ 

At the seventh time he said, 
‘Look, a little cloud no bigger than a person’s hand is rising out of the sea.’ 

Then he said, 

‘Go and say to Ahab, “Harness your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.”’ 

In a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind; there was heavy rain. Ahab rode off and went to Jezreel. But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; he girded up his loins and ran in front of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

Reflection

Elijah prays to Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. He prays for a revelation of God’s power to Israel, to affirm Elijah as a true prophet and to draw the people back to undivided commitment and faith in Yahweh; but notice that Elijah doesn’t tell God how this power should be demonstrated.  He trusts God to determine the mode of revelation; and fire descends to consume the saturated offering and the surrounding water. Instantaneous, supernatural power is displayed by Israel’s God and the offering is accepted. Israel’s immediate response is to confess Elijah’s faith in Yahweh as their own.

The assassination of the prophets of Baal that follows offends our Christian sensibilities but in the context of the narrative it represents a complete rejection of the Baal cult.  Israel – including Ahab? – has turned towards Yahweh.

So Elijah proclaims the end of the drought.  The sequence of verses 41-45 seems strange; the sound of pouring rain is announced (v.41) and the adverse effect it will have on transport (v.44), before the clouds gather and the rains fall (v.45).  Once again we are reminded of the truth and the efficacy of the prophetic word that originates from Yahweh. Whatever the true God declares will come to pass; but God remains in control of when it happens, not the prophet.

Further evidence of Yahweh’s supreme power is expressed through God’s ‘hand’ on Elijah enabling him to outrun Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel.

Ancient stories remind us that God isn’t limited by our human understanding of how things work; but they should not encourage us to pray for specific signs and wonders.  God’s power over evil and injustice was revealed, not through the exercise of might, but through love, forgiveness and the cross of Christ. God’s power confounds our expectations.

Prayer

Almighty God, nothing is beyond your capability and I marvel at the diverse ways in which you reveal yourself in human experience.

Be to each of us today according to our need, so that we may know your presence and recognize again that we can always trust you whatever befalls.

In the name of Christ, Amen.
 
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Today's writer

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


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URC Daily Devotion 22nd November 2019

Fri, 22/11/2019 - 06:00
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Friday 22nd November

1 Kings 18:20-35

So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said,

‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ 

The people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, 

‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it.  Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.’ 

All the people answered, ‘Well spoken!’ 

Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, 

‘Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.’ 

So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. 

At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.

Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come closer to me’; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down;  Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, ‘Israel shall be your name’; with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed.  Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, ‘Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt-offering and on the wood.’ Then he said, ‘Do it a second time’; and they did it a second time. Again he said, ‘Do it a third time’; and they did it a third time, so that the water ran all round the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

Reflection

It is decision time for Israel, gathered at Mount Carmel.  Will they trust Yahweh, or follow Baal? These narratives are set at a time before monotheism had developed and the gods of the nations were understood to exercise real, if limited, power; but Israel’s identity was based on the idea that they have no other god than Yahweh.  So they cannot sit on the fence, nor can they trust in different gods to exercise power in different spheres of human life.   

Elijah calls for a competition to demonstrate whether Yahweh or Baal truly has power in and over Israel; and sets himself against 450 prophets of Baal as divine agents.  He lets his opponents choose their sacrificial offering; but he proposes the rules. The people agree and the prophets of Baal accept the challenge. The narrative presents Elijah mocking their invocation of Baal to send down fire and consume the offering; and also mocking Baal when there is no response.

Then it is Elijah’s turn.  He begins by repairing an altar to Yahweh which had been torn down.  The 12 stones symbolise the tribes of Israel: this altar is to the God who brought Israel into being in the land.  Elijah prepares an offering in the same manner as his opponents but then asks for water to be poured over the offering and the wood, three times.  Only a supernatural power could set fire to such a soggy pile – but that’s tomorrow’s reading.

How can we convince people about God’s truth?  Do large numbers supporting any particular claims add credibility?  Can complex rituals influence decisions, or do they seem like magic tricks to onlookers?  Should we ever put God to the test? Does this encourage the fallacy that faith requires evidential proof?

Thankfully, our Christian calling is to point to Jesus and trust that God’s self-revelation in Christ is all sufficient.

Prayer

Eternal God, your truth is revealed in Jesus Christ and I trust in you.  Help me in my unbelief when other options dazzle. Forgive me when I foolishly behave as though my words or deeds have power to convince others that you are the true God.

May my life point towards Jesus so that in Christ, through the activity of the Spirit, others come to trust you for themselves.  Amen.
 
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Today's writer

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


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URC Daily Devotion 21st November 2019

Thu, 21/11/2019 - 06:00
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Thursday 21st November

1 Kings 18:1-19

After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year of the drought, saying,

‘Go, present yourself to Ahab; I will send rain on the earth.’ 

So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. The famine was severe in Samaria. Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. (Now Obadiah revered the Lord greatly; when Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets, hid them fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water.) Then Ahab said to Obadiah,

‘Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the wadis; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.’ 

So they divided the land between them to pass through it; Ahab went in one direction by himself, and Obadiah went in another direction by himself.

As Obadiah was on the way, Elijah met him; Obadiah recognized him, fell on his face, and said, 

‘Is it you, my lord Elijah?’ 

He answered him, 

‘It is I. Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.’ 

And he said,

‘How have I sinned, that you would hand your servant over to Ahab, to kill me? As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom to which my lord has not sent to seek you; and when they would say, “He is not here”, he would require an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you. But now you say, “Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.”  As soon as I have gone from you, the spirit of the Lord will carry you I know not where; so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have revered the Lord from my youth. Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water?  Yet now you say, “Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here”; he will surely kill me.’ 

Elijah said, 

‘As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.’ 

So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah. When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, 

‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’ 

He answered, 

‘I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.  Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.’

Reflection

A confrontation between Elijah and Ahab, between Yahweh’s faithful prophets and the prophets of Baal, is being set up, to determine where power ultimately resides.  Yahweh has decided to act and will send rain; but only when the false gods have been revealed as powerless.

In this passage we learn that Ahab has been searching high and low for Elijah, while Jezebel has been killing as many faithful prophets as she could lay her hands on.  Instead of focusing on the needs of their suffering people in a time of drought, they have been trying to secure their own power base.  

Meanwhile God has been keeping Elijah safe – and on the move – and another ‘servant of Yahweh’ (the meaning of Obadiah) has been thwarting Jezebel’s efforts alongside the fulfilment of his responsibilities to Ahab.

Obadiah’s faith has already led him to take many risks but when Elijah suddenly appears and tells him to go and announce his presence to Ahab, Obadiah’s courage fails.  He fears that Ahab will kill him as a scapegoat if Elijah again eludes capture; but Elijah reassures him, on oath, that he won’t flee and that he intends to meet with Ahab.  

Obadiah does what is asked; and we hear no more about him.  He has played his part in God’s purposes. When they meet Ahab accuses Elijah of being the cause of Israel’s suffering (remember it was Elijah who proclaimed the drought).  Elijah rebuts the accusation; and instead lays the blame on Ahab and the faithless policies of his royal dynasty.

The presenting problems may be drought, poor harvests and famine; but Elijah proclaims God’s judgment on corrupt leaders and false religion.  A failure to discern the underlying cause of a problem renders any human solution inadequate. God’s wisdom and God’s ways lead to lasting resolutions.

Prayer

Living God, we praise you for people like Obadiah who live and work in hostile environments yet serve you faithfully in courageous ways.

Deepen our faith and grant us wisdom to discern the real issues that challenge your authority in the world today.  May we have the courage and grace to speak your truth to those who offer simplistic solutions and false hopes in response to human need.   Amen.
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Today's writer

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


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URC Daily Devotion 20th November 2019

Wed, 20/11/2019 - 06:00
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Wednesday 20th November

1 Kings 17:17-24

After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, 

‘What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!’ 

But he said to her,

‘Give me your son.’ 

He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, 

‘O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?’ 

Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, 

‘O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.’ 

The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, ‘See, your son is alive.’ 

So the woman said to Elijah,

‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.’

Reflection

Many ancient oriental societies regarded death as a deity to be feared; but the Hebrew scriptures proclaim a belief that all matters relating to life and death are determined by the will and power of Yahweh.  This passage makes the traditional link between sin and death; and Elijah’s words acknowledge Yahweh as the bringer of death. As God’s representative Elijah accepts the legitimacy of the widow’s challenge and his need to mediate God’s response.

He withdraws to a private place to pray and perform a ritual over the dead child; and only returns to the mother when the child has revived and can be restored to her.  It is clear that what Elijah said or did is immaterial to the story. What matters is the outcome, which demonstrates that Elijah is a man of God, a prophet, and that he speaks the truth.  The boy’s revival also affirms that God’s ultimate purposes are to bring life and hope into a situation of guilt and despair.

Similar stories of apparently dead children being restored to life and returned to a distraught parent are also recorded in the New Testament (Mark 5; Luke 8; and Acts 20).  In these Jesus and Paul, like Elijah here, enact God’s life giving word in a dramatic form rather than speaking it.

In today’s world God’s restorative power is often enacted through the work of medical practitioners and the application of scientific advances; and we should remember to give thanks for these modern day prophets.  As Christians, though, let us never shirk our personal responsibility to engage with God in prayer about the life and death issues that challenge us, trusting that God will make clear to us how we should respond in prophetic word and action to those who are seeking answers.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you came into our world to show us the meaning of life in all its fullness and to open up the way to eternal life.

Grant that my life may proclaim your truth; and that all I say or do this day may be life affirming for this world and all peoples, offering hope wherever it is needed.  Amen  -->

Today's writer

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


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URC Daily Devotion 19th November 2019

Tue, 19/11/2019 - 06:00
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Thursday 14th November

1 Kings 17:8-16

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 

‘Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ 

So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, 

‘Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.’ 

As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, 

‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ 

But she said, 

‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’ 

Elijah said to her, 

‘Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ 

She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

Reflection

Elijah has to live through the drought that he prophesied, like everyone else.  God instructs him to journey from east of the Jordan, across Israel, to the western coastal area of Sidon, the home of Jezebel.  There, needing water, he asks a widow to provide some for him and she complies. He also asks for food and her desperate poverty is revealed through her reply; but Elijah insists that he is fed first, with promises that if she obeys, then Israel’s God will provide for her until the drought ends.

In the context of the narrative this story demonstrates the truth of Elijah’s prophecy and the power of Israel’s God over all things, including the natural world, since everything happens as predicted.  Elijah, the widow, and all her household are able to eat for many days.

However, as I read this passage, I am challenged less to reflect on what I believe about prophecy or miracles and more by the idea of asking the poor to meet the needs of others out of their meagre resources, before satisfying their own.   Surely God’s prophet should demonstrate divine compassion, rather than putting this woman’s generosity and obedience to the test?

Sadly our capitalist society frequently expects those who are economically poor to grow and sell produce to satisfy our palates, while they barely subsist.  It is also a reality that those in our world with little are frequently more sensitive to the needs of others with even less; and they also show generous hospitality to guests. 

I am reminded of words attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: ‘Live simply so that others may simply live’ and pray that I may be inspired by the selfless behaviour of the widow in this story to ‘give and not to count the cost’ (St Ignatius of Loyola).

Prayer

Bountiful God, we praise you for the fruitfulness of the earth and the abundance of water, sufficient for the needs of all.  We confess our misuse of these resources, gifts of your grace; and seek your forgiveness for the times when we have acted as though they are ours by right.
Grant that we may be thankful and generous as we tread lightly on this earth. 
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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Today's writer

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


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URC Daily Devotion 18th November 2019

Mon, 18/11/2019 - 06:00
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Monday 18th November
1 Kings 17:1-7

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, 

‘As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’  

The word of the Lord came to him, saying,  

‘Go from here and turn eastwards, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’ 

So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.  The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

Reflection

The sudden introduction of Elijah, proclaiming a drought, into the story of Israel’s kings comes as a surprise to everyone, not just King Ahab.  He has just finished erecting an altar to Baal, the Canaanite god of rain and fertility, in honour of his new wife, Jezebel.

Elijah’s name, meaning ‘My God is Yahweh’, declares his exclusive worship of the God of Israel; and in the name of Israel’s covenant God he pronounces, on oath, the ineffectiveness of Baal.  This uninvited prophet challenges the political alliances and religious syncretism of Ahab and all that his regime represents. Then, in obedience to God’s command, Elijah departs to hide away in the wild, being fed according to God’s promise, until the consequences of the drought come into effect across the whole land.

Elijah’s faithfulness to God brings him into direct confrontation with the leaders of his society; but then also requires him to step completely out of the limelight to wait until God calls again to set him on his mission.

Knowing when to speak out and when to take a back seat is never easy.  Having the courage to challenge the ‘powers that be’ in any organisation or society is always daunting.  Acting or speaking publicly in the name of Christ may be regarded as nothing more than delusion in a world where many put their trust in false gods of their own making.  Living in accordance with what we proclaim as God’s truth is demanding; and like Elijah we may have to wait to see the fulfilment of our words.

Christian discipleship is a prophetic calling that may lead us into unexpected encounters and unknown territory; but we are never left reliant on our own resources if we put our trust, as did Elijah, in the one true, living, God.

Prayer

Living God, may my trust in you fill me with the confidence to go wherever you send me.  May my faith shine through all that I say or do in my daily living. May I have the patience to wait in quiet rest as your purposes unfold in the world around me.  May my obedience bring glory to your holy name. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

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


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Next Devotion Series - Elijah and Elisha

Sun, 17/11/2019 - 13:00
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Elijah and Elisha

Dear Friends,

I hope you have found the devotions over the last two weeks looking at themes arising from Empire useful and stimulating.  We now move on to four weeks' worth of Devotions from the Rev'd Dr Janet Tollington.  Janet is now a retired minister worshipping in Downing Place URC in Cambridge but was, for many years, Old Testament Tutor at our Westminster College.  She has crafted 24 devotions looking at the Elijah and Elisha cycle of stories and we hope they stimulate your interest and discipleship  - especially as some aspects of the stories are rather unsavoury.  Whenever we look at narratives the readings are rather longer than they would be than for an Epistle or other teaching material.  Don't let that put you off.

As ever, each morning you can read the Devotion via email or listen to it via a podcast - just follow the link above.  If you need to change your email address please use the link, below, "update my mailing preferences" 

Finally, we've designed a new poster to advertise the devotions.  It's a PDF file which could be printed out for church noticeboards or put into a church newsletter.  As people think about New Year's resolutions encouraging them to take up the Devotions might be a nice idea!  You can download it here.  I've reproduced it below so you can see what  it looks like.

with every good wish


Andy

 
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URC Daily Devotion 17th November 2019

Sun, 17/11/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 17th November

Psalm 123

1 To you, O LORD, I lift my eyes,
The God enthroned above the skies.
2 As servants watch their master’s hand
Or maids before their mistress stand,
So to the LORD our eyes we raise
Until his mercy he displays.

3 O LORD our God, your mercy show;
Take pity, LORD, on us below.
For scorn your people all have known;
4 Our foes’ contempt has made us groan.
The proud have covered us with shame;
With insolence they mock our name.

Reflection

This short Psalm has always had me turning the page, looking for another stanza; as a hymn I wonder where the final verse is.   Commentaries make statements such as: “despite the title and its position within the Psalter, this is probably not a pilgrim psalm”. (OBC accessed 1st August 2019.)  Meaning the rhythm and sentiments do not lend themselves to marching triumphantly to the Temple Mount. Yet the change from first person singular to first person plural suggest a person singing out at the head of a line, with the following group response.   Unfortunately, the response is a lament, with eyes rolling upward, asking for mercy and reflecting on the attitude of onlookers.  

Then I remember how, during Christian Aid week in the 1960s, our youth group would do a sponsored overnight walk from Bristol to Street, Somerset.  The first year the Lord Mayor received us then sent us off with his good wishes; breakfast and the press were waiting when we arrived home. The final year that I was involved lacked any outside interest and I have a memory of one of the leaders plodding the last mile or so, singing, all on one note and lament-like, Blessed Assurance.  

Oh yes, this Psalm of lament could well be a “song of ascents”, starting with God enthroned to whom we, his people, lift our eyes.  We keep going, even when our foes treat us with scorn and contempt. We have faith to keep going, plodding on, even when our name as God’s people is insolently mocked.   (Please see the second paragraph of the Rev’d Lindsey Sanderson’s reflection on Ps 108, here. 


Prayer

Sometimes, God, we wonder if keeping on keeping on is worthwhile.
We lift our eyes for help 
and are met with scorn for calling ourselves Christian.
Looking back, we have faith -
when we raise our eyes to you 
there is your assurance that you are with us 
and that keeps us walking forward.  
Amen

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune St Catherine here. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Ruth Browning, retired minister, member at Thornbury URC. Copyright
Sing Psalms (C) The Psalmody Committee of the Free Church of Scotland
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URC Daily Devotion 16th November 2019

Sat, 16/11/2019 - 06:00
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Saturday 16th November

Babylon Has Fallen!

Revelation 14: 6 – 8a

Then I saw another angel flying high in the air, with an eternal message of Good News to announce to the peoples of the earth, to every race, tribe, language, and nation. He said in a loud voice, “Honour God and praise his greatness! For the time has come for him to judge all people. Worship him who made heaven, earth, sea, and the springs of water!” A second angel followed the first one, saying, “She has fallen! Great Babylon has fallen!

St Luke 10.1-5, 17-20

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”

The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

Reflection

The Book of Revelation is not popular in the URC. We find it sadly lacking in middle class religiosity, with little to offer our aspirational Christianity.

It’s our loss, because this book finds in the midst of the horrors of judgement the ultimate hope for the world – “Great Babylon has fallen!” When God announces that all peoples, tribes, languages and nations are to be judged, the angel knows what that means – the empire is over. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

It was always a mistake to disregard Revelation. In the midst of climate crisis it is fatal. We need to know that God judges the world. He judges those who use up the resources He provided in creation for their own profit. He judges those who even as the earth burns believe that imperial life can carry on regardless. Without that judgement, there is no hope; life on earth will be extinct. But if we open ourselves up to that judgement, it is possible that we might yet be saved.

Contrary to many interpretations of Revelation, we don’t have to wait for the end of the world. Jesus saw the signs of judgement and hope all around him. Each time the self-denying disciples of Jesus were greeted with peace, each time they found the courage to do things they thought they could never do – such as challenge demons in the name of Jesus – Satan fell from heaven.

The fall of Great Babylon, the ultimate defeat of empire, has not yet come. But the diabolical forces which sustain empire can be defeated, in the name of Jesus, one by one. Greed, genocide, misogyny, hatred do not have the last word. They will fall. Then peace will come to this house and this world.

Prayer

Pray today with the TV, radio or internet news turned on
or with the newspaper open in front of you.
Look for the signs of demons submitting to the disciples of Jesus,
for signs of nations, peoples, languages and races facing judgement.
Do you see Satan falling from heaven like a flash of lightning?
Pray for the day when Great Babylon will fall.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Amen.


You may be interested in listening to this song, Babylon has Fallen, a song believed to date from the Civil War and sung, here, by the Merry Wives of Windsor.  The song is also popular in groups that use tSacred Harp hymnody - particularly in America.
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 15th November 2019

Fri, 15/11/2019 - 06:00
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Friday 15th November

Empire is Violent

Deuteronomy 20:16-18 

“But when you capture cities in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, kill everyone. Completely destroy all the people: the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, as the Lord ordered you to do. Kill them, so that they will not make you sin against the Lord by teaching you to do all the disgusting things that they do in the worship of their gods.”


Reflection

This series of devotions has quarried the Bible for texts which speak of justice and the undermining of empire by the values and purposes of God. Today, however, we come to acknowledge that the seeds of the worst cruelties of empire, and the writing of its history by the victors, are also to be found in our sacred texts.

When the British Empire reached the westernmost parts of what is now British Columbia in Canada, the 19th century was already two thirds past. The imperialists were well versed in how to conquer territory and establish their power, economically, politically and culturally.

The claims of the First Nations of Canada to the land were clearly an impediment to exploiting its natural resources and establishing colonies. The British empire had by now largely outgrown massacres of the kind advocated in Deuteronomy – although European diseases did an effective job of decimating the native population. Those who remained needed to be ‘civilised’.

In Wales, the ‘Welsh Not’ had already developed a way of beating a native language out of children. But it had not been as effective as the UK Government commission which recommended it in 1843 had hoped. The people had resisted and the language was refusing to die. So in Canada the children were not only beaten, they were taken from their families and forced into residential schools, run by Christian missionaries (many of them Welsh), to be completely cleansed of their native culture. Many of those languages did die. But some clung on – for example the language in Haida Gwaii (briefly the Princess Charlotte Islands), partially protected by its geography, is now taught in schools and universities. This teaching is inspired – like the oppression – by educational practice in Wales. Even the greatest empires find complete destruction of a people difficult.

Loving God,
we pray for those peoples and cultures
for whom the coming of the Gospel
has been very bad news indeed.
We remember with sorrow
the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites,
the Perizzites, the Hivites, the Jebusites,
the Maori and the Aborigine,
the Haida and the American First Nations,
the Inca, Lache, Picara and peoples of the Americas
and the peoples of the Amazon under threat today
and with you, loving God, we weep.  Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff Copyright
Good News Bible © 1994 published by the Bible Societies/HarperCollins Publishers Ltd UK, Good News Bible© American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992. Used with permission)
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 14th November 2019

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 06:00
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Thursday 14th November
 
The Magnificat Undermines Empire

St Luke 1: 26 – 33, 47 – 55

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Reflection

When at New College, Oxford, I came to love choral evensong in the chapel. The excellent choir sang the Song of Mary each evening in a huge variety of settings.  As the melodies floated around the beautiful chapel, they spoke of 600 years of choral tradition, the sound of an English empire whose growth, flourishing and decline had all been planned in this institution more than most. 

Very few of the musical settings chosen convey the empire-shaking import of Mary’s words. Choral evensong has generally served to bolster the thrones of the powerful, strengthen the imaginations of their hearts and enable them to kick the lowly while they are down. It has been the musical accompaniment to the rape of all parts of the earth once coloured pink on the map – starting with my own country of Wales. Even ‘Woodlands’, to which many of us in the URC sing the Magnificat, bounces along in a jolly sort of way.

But these words are hardly jolly for most of us readers of the Daily Devotions. They sound out the doom of all of us privileged by birth, education, or wealth. The hungry will be fed and the lowly will be lifted up. In order for that to happen, the proud must be scattered and the powerful ejected from their thrones. And that means us.

Even the URC used to have an Oxford college and we still have a Cambridge one. We have an ethical investment policy – but only rich institutions need one. We employ people ecumenically (including the author of this devotion) to influence government – but only powerful people can do that.

When we say or sing the Song of Mary we are proclaiming God’s own word of judgement and revolution against ourselves. Dare we listen to the true cadences of the Magnificat?

Prayer

His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Lord have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 13th November 2019

Wed, 13/11/2019 - 06:00
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Wednesday 13th November
A Higher Law than Empire’s

Genesis 1:1 – 2:2:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. 

And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.

Reflection

Yesterday, law. Today, order. In modern imperial politics, law and order go together like love and marriage or horse and carriage. That coupling makes us think of the order that is imposed by courts, police, army, “the forces of law and order”.

It’s an insidious assumption, which is why the Hebrew Scriptures challenge it. Law, they say, is a gift from God, not the device of clever human beings. True order is the divine order in creation. Imperial, urbanised societies see nature as inherently disorderly. Grasses are controlled into lawns, flowers into gardens, forests into parks. Creatures who inconvenience us (insects who eat our prize vegetables) need to be massacred. An orderly empire keeps nature under its thumb.

Missionaries who went throughout the British Empire discovered peoples who respected the natural order and lived in harmony with it. The missionaries regarded them as primitive people, savages. They needed some imperial order to get a grip on nature – and allow the empire to despoil their earth of its natural resources as quickly and as profitably as possible.

Our generation is discovering that Genesis is right. It is creation which is orderly. The result of exploitation of the earth is climate chaos. The result of our determination to kill greenfly on our roses is that pollination of plants and life itself is endangered. Global warming means that the orderly appearance of predators and prey, the harmony of food and foragers, is disrupted and order is breaking down. We have discovered the limits of imperial power and face chaos instead.

Thank God that those missionaries also took the Bible and translated it into the languages of the people they met, so that they could rediscover in the words of the ancient Hebrews their own heritage of living peacefully with the order of creation. We need those subjugated peoples to come to our disorderly uncivilisation as missionaries of divine order.

Prayer

Look out of the window at whatever part of creation you can see – moon and stars if it is night, mountains or rivers, trees or flowers, animals or birds, if it is day. Remember that God saw that it was all good.

Look at the damage you see to that creation – light pollution, tarmacked roads, manicured gardens. Ask God for forgiveness and invite him to restore the order of his creation. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 12th November 2019

Tue, 12/11/2019 - 06:00
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Tuesday 12th November
Women Undermining Empire

Numbers 27: 1 – 11

Then the daughters of Zelophehad came forward. Zelophehad was son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Joseph, a member of the Manassite clans. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.

They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and they said, ‘Our father died in the wilderness; he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.’

Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father’s brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them. You shall also say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. It shall be for the Israelites a statute and ordinance, as the Lord commanded Moses.’

Reflection

The Israelites learned that the rule of law matters. This fascinating case, however, also shows that law cannot be too rigid. Even the best lawmaker (God Himself) cannot foresee all eventualities.

Judges need to have the wisdom to interpret the law and adapt it to new circumstances. This is what Moses does. The reinterpretation is radical, giving women inheritance rights (in some circumstances). This case law needed to be retold because it goes against the way that men have thought through the ages. It is within living memory in the UK that the man was the head of the household, expected to fill in the tax return and so on. As an Inland Revenue employee said to my aunt, “Why don’t you ask your husband to help you?” As she said to him, “It’s no use asking him. He can’t count.”

Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah stand up for their rights against the male dominated empire (and even in the wilderness the men of Israel were empire-building). The women’s protest is assertive, clear – yet respectful. Although some suffragettes did turn to violence after a generation of frustration, other female protestors are notable for their peaceful yet forceful methods. Women tend not to riot, but to stage vigils and witness silently to oppression. The Women in Black (http://womeninblack.org/vigils-arround-the-world/) show the force of women against empires.

One of the greatest signs of hope today is that so many of the leaders of Extinction Rebellion are women. The crisis we face and the indifference of the political and business empires run by the men in power are so great that we men might well be tempted to violent protest. We need to allow women to take the lead – they are far more likely to save us all from the apparently irresistible power of fossil fuelled empire.

Prayer

We link hands with each other
as a sign of our solidarity with all who
are affected by gender-based violence, prejudice and discrimination.
We reach out our hands
as a sign of our unity with all who
campaign for justice across the world.
We stretch up our hands
as a sign of our prayers for an end
to all forms of violence and abuse.
Amen

Slightly adapted from a prayer by the Mothers’ Union for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, November-December 2018.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 11th November 2019

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 06:00
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Monday 11th November
Reminding Empire of Suffering

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

Reflection

My Old Testament tutor in Birmingham University, John Eaton, believed that many of the Psalms were written for liturgical use in the Temple in Jerusalem. These were services where the King of Israel would be present, most especially a kind of annual rededication ceremony.

This interpretation of the Psalms has not found universal favour, but it is interesting to read this Psalm as if it were true. Just imagine the king sitting there in all his pomp and glory and hearing – or perhaps even himself chanting – “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” I wonder how many contemporary world leaders would be willing to subject themselves to such a ceremony even once, never mind annually?

I have been once in my ministry a Mayor’s Chaplain in a local authority. Part of the duty of such a chaplain is to attend a banquet put on by the mayor to which the mayors and leaders of neighbouring authorities, the High Sheriff and Lord Lieutenant and other such dignitaries are invited. I was put on the top table and asked to say grace. The prayer, which we shall use today ourselves, was for all those employed by the local authority who provided food and drink for those citizens who really needed it. I said the prayer and after the Amen there was a deathly silence. These powerful people, being treated to free food and wine at the taxpayers’ expense, did not wish to be reminded of such people at that moment. It took a while – and the consumption of the first bottle or two of wine - for anyone on my table to speak to me. I have not been asked to be Mayor’s Chaplain since.

Prayer 

Loving God, who gives food to the hungry,
as we eat and drink today,
we pray for those serving and eating meals on wheels,
school breakfasts and lunches,
for our elderly and disabled neighbours
eating meals in day centres and residential homes,
and those at food banks throughout our area.
May we never forget our responsibility
to all those who today rely on public service and on private charity
for their food and drink.
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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