URC Devotions

URC Daily Devotion 10th November 2019

Sun, 10/11/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 10th November

Psalm 122

1 “To the LORD’s house!” they were calling,

and with joy I went with them.
2 Now at last our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.

3 See, Jerus’lem, like a city
built compactly, close and strong.
4 That is where the tribes assemble,
tribes which to the LORD belong.

To the LORD’s name praise they offer,
as for Israèl decreed.
5 There are set the thrones for judgment,
thrones of David’s royal seed.

6 Pray for Zion’s peace and safety:
“May your friends securely dwell;
7 Peace within your walls continue,
strength within your citadel.”

8 For the sake of friends and brothers,
“Peace be in you,” I will say.
9 For the sake of our God’s temple,
I seek your prosperity.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation to sing this to the lively tune Marching here

 

Reflection

I was glad*, the Psalmist sings,
setting out for Jerusalem.

I was glad, the Psalmist sings,
arriving in the holy city.

I was glad, the Psalmist sings,
resting in a place of security.

I was glad, the Psalmist sings,
praying for peace and well-being for the house of God.

 
Today, across the nations,
people will gladly set out for sacred or spiritual places, 

Today, across the nations,
people will arrive, gathering in chapel, church and around civic memorial.

Today, across the nations,
people will remember the cost of war and sacrifices made,

confess the failure of nations to live in harmony, 
and give thanks where they experience security.
Today, across the nations,
people will pray for peace and well-being, wherever God dwells.

 
Psalm 122 celebrates the age-old practice of pilgrimage.  Setting out, motivated by faith or spiritual yearning, arriving in a sacred place,  encountering a sense of divine, and returning, with new resolve in heart.
 
Focusing on Jerusalem, a name which may mean city of shalom, or city of peace, Psalm 122 is as relevant for today as when first sung. For Jerusalem is one of the most fought over and disputed places on earth. Being an abode of peace remains a seemingly-distant hope,  that still needs peace-praying, peace-shaping, peace-making and peace-keeping.
 
Today, as people like you and me, return from a sacred or spiritual place,  mindful of fractures between and within nations,
we may sense God’s calling to pray and work for peace and well-being, 

in Jerusalem, 
in your nation and my nation, 
in your hometown and my hometown.
 
In living out the Psalm, we may make God glad too. 
 
*I was glad, are the opening words of Psalm 122 in several translations and were embraced by Hubert Parry in his well-known anthem of the same name which you can hear here.
 
Pilgrim Peace Prayer  (in Haiku form)

Setting out today,
may I pray peace and make peace,
and do so gladly.


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Today's writer

The Revd Dr David Pickering, Moderator National Synod of Scotland, member Rutherglen URC. Copyright
Sing Psalms!  (C) The Psalmody Committee of the Free Church of Scotland
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 9th November 2019

Sat, 09/11/2019 - 06:00
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Saturday 9th November
Standing up to Empire’s claims to say what love looks like
 
1 Sam 18: 1 – 5, 20: 30 – 42, 2 Sam 1: 23 – 27

When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.  Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.  Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armour, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved.

Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan. He said to him, ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?  For as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.’ Then Jonathan answered his father Saul, ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’  But Saul threw his spear at him to strike him; so Jonathan knew that it was the decision of his father to put David to death. Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food on the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, and because his father had disgraced him.

In the morning Jonathan went out into the field to the appointment with David, and with him was a little boy.  He said to the boy, ‘Run and find the arrows that I shoot.’ As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called after the boy and said, ‘Is the arrow not beyond you?’  Jonathan called after the boy, ‘Hurry, be quick, do not linger.’ So Jonathan’s boy gathered up the arrows and came to his master. But the boy knew nothing; only Jonathan and David knew the arrangement. Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said to him, ‘Go and carry them to the city.’  As soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He bowed three times, and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more. Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, for ever.”’ He got up and left; and Jonathan went into the city.

Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.  O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!

Reflection

Empire makes its claims not only on ‘land’ but also on ‘being’. It occupies the personal as well as the public space, and demonises minorities it sees as ‘abnormal’ or subversive of its power and norms. It also co-opts the majority to its values and attitudes. The Church has become deeply complicit in occupying bodies and souls. There can be nothing more Imperial than denying the realities, complexities and relationships of other: My theology says you cannot be gay so you must not be gay etc.  These supposed faith affirmations tie up with and feed into repressive and violent policies, like those in Tanzania and elsewhere around the world.

Religious powers are organising against LGBTQ people and their human rights. Sacred texts are marshalled to terrorise and to justify oppression while other texts are silenced.  This is to use the text in Imperial ways, because we do not own the text or its many meanings. It is easy to dehumanise our opponents in the midst of this issue in churches at the moment, yet this will always result in sin and separation, and especially the sin and separation of homophobia.

The way of Jesus is subversive and counter-imperial, and so is queer. David and Jonathan’s love is queer because it is homoerotic and subversive. It is queer because those like Saul, Jonathan’s father and Israel’s king, saw this relationship as a threat and wanted David dead. Saul was the very embodiment of Imperial and patriarchal power and intolerance, so any reading of this text has to be in opposition to this. Thus, Jonathan and David, in their love for each other, embody the counter loving alternative to the repression, control and order of Empire and Patriarchy. This counter love is queer, and it deeply and powerfully resembles God’s counter love, which is queerest of all.

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“Let he, who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the 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 8th November 2019

Fri, 08/11/2019 - 06:00
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Friday 8th November

Standing up to the racism of Empire

Ruth 1: 16 – 22

Ruth said,

‘Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die — there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!’

When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?’ She said to them,

‘Call me no longer Naomi,
call me Mara,
for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.
I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty;
why call me Naomi when the Lord has dealt harshly with me,
and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?’

So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with
her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Reflection

Migrants have become easy targets for politicians and the media; the manipulation of tension and suspicion is a smoke screen to prevent the racism of privileged people and systems being unmasked.

“Africa will have ten times as many young people as Europe. If Europe doesn’t do anything, they are going to kick in our door.” Viktor Orban Hungarian Prime Minister—March 15, 2018,

Let’s not forget, the Syrian who comes to us has still his Syria, the Afghan who comes to us has still his Afghanistan […] But if we lose our Germany, then we have no more home!”  Björn Höcke, head of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AFD)

“Vile discourses of explicit hate and ideologies of racial supremacy have moved from the fringe to the mainstream. Racial, ethnic and religious bigotry fuels human rights violations, including extreme violence against minorities, and against refugees, migrants, stateless persons, and internally displaced, including people of African descent, with a particularly acute effect on women, and sexual and gender diverse populations. This bigotry is unashamed,” said a statement issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in March 2018.

The migrations at the heart of the Book of Ruth hinge on the same injustices and tragedies as today.  Naomi and her family leave Bethlehem because of famine and leave Israel for Moab as climate refugees. They then return as economic migrants after the deaths of Naomi’s husband and sons. Ruth has to risk prostituting herself for her mother in law. They risk all for their families and become a test of the generosity and justice of their neighbours - like all migrants. But Ruth’s arrival as a migrant into Bethlehem becomes a vital link for the coming of Jesus, not just as his great-great-great grandmother, but because it gives him an ironic claim on a home town which the ‘heavenly migrant’ then escapes because of political violence.

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“many will come from east and west
and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,
while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness”
Amen.
 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the 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 7th November 2019

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 06:00
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Thursday 7th November
Subverting Empire’s claims to say wealth should be rewarded

St Matthew 25: 14 – 30

‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents,  to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.  In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.”  His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”  Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Reflection

The economy of Empire privileges capital over the needs of people. Current economic wisdom is austerity: cutting taxes, benefits and regulation will result in profit. In such a system account only needs to be made to the shareholder, all of whom are equally invested in a model which believes only in capital profit.

This is a parable about the profit incentive and the prioritising of capital. It is a disturbing parable about Capitalism in our times, which has resulted in the most astonishing wealth inequalities, an economy in which the poor are forcibly exploited and discarded. Resist the temptation to read the text in an Imperial way, in which God must be the master. The Master is one of the Robber Barons of an economic system which places 50% of the world’s wealth in the hands of 1% of the world’s population. Read Jesus as the servant who was of no use to this Master, the one who exposes the master’s ethics who gathers where he does not sow, (sounds like thievery to me). Matthew places this text on the eve of Holy Week, when Jesus will indeed be found to useless to Empire and will be thrown out of the city and wail while he is crucified.

Jesus, our rather useless servant, does not cooperate with the economic system dictated to him. He is not afraid to speak truth to power. The rather useless servant is not useful to the Master unlike his more compliant colleagues who are well socialised to this meritocratic system of achievement and profit. It is clear that Jesus was not useful to Pilate or to Caiaphas, both systems would have worked with him if he had worked with them. But Jesus’s contrary attitudes to economy, wealth, tax and power and to worship, discipleship, God and power could not be co-opted to an Imperial model until it was domesticated by a more compliant Church.

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“No one can serve two masters;
for a slave will either hate the one and love the other,
or be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and wealth” Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the 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 6th November 2019

Wed, 06/11/2019 - 06:00
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Wednesday 6th November
Standing up to Empire’s claim that humanity is the centre of the Universe
 
verses from Job 39

‘Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the deer? 

Can you number the months that they fulfil, and do you know the time when they give birth, when they crouch to give birth to their offspring, and are delivered of their young?

 ‘Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will it spend the night at your crib? Can you tie it in the furrow with ropes, or will it harrow the valleys after you? Will you depend on it because its strength is great, and will you hand over your labour to it? Do you have faith in it that it will return, and bring your grain to your threshing-floor?

Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads its wings towards the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes its nest on high? It lives on the rock and makes its home in the fastness of the rocky crag. From there it spies the prey; its eyes see it from far away.  Its young ones suck up blood; and where the slain are, there it is.

Reflection

“There is no indigenous territory where there aren’t minerals. Gold, tin and magnesium are in these lands, especially in the Amazon, the richest area in the world. I’m not getting into this nonsense of defending land for Indians. [indigenous reserves] are an obstacle to agri-business. You can’t reduce indigenous land by even a square meter in Brazil” 

So said Jair Bolsonaro, now President of Brasil, in Campo Grande News, April 22, 2015

This is the attitude at the heart of Empire when it comes to creation. Creation is a resource to be endlessly exploited. The impact of humanity on our environment has been latterly catastrophic and coincides with industrialisation and the emergence especially of consumerist hyper-capitalist economies. Humanity thinks it is at the centre and top of Creation, that it’s resources and life are destined and designated only to service humankind’s needs and desires. We live as if we are outside Creation, observing it, othering it, limiting its own agency and unique given-ness.

The argument between Job and God hinges in part on the self-reverence of Job, not only because his suffering has made him self-centred, so has his gender, privilege and mind set. As a wealthy, educated land owning male, he had become accustomed to being at the comfortable pinnacle of his society and community.

The Bible describes a state of mutuality between the Creator and the Creation, and the joy Creation takes in the Creator, (Ps. 9:1-4; 66:1; 96:11-13; 98:4; 100:1; 150:6). Do you think Creation takes joy in you? Is it glad when you awake and go about your life? Is it relieved when you go to sleep? Will it miss you when you are gone?

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,
yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”
Amen
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the 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 5th November 2019

Tue, 05/11/2019 - 06:00
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Tuesday 5th November

Standing up to Empire and the authority of men

Matthew 28:1-15 

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”  So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

Reflection

The discovery of the empty tomb by Mary Magdalene and Mary reminds us, that from the early Christian beginnings, the Church is  a movement of the disinherited. This text places women as the only witnesses to the empty tomb of Jesus. They made history by becoming the first apostles whose proclamation of good news humiliates and threatens the male authority of religious and political Empire;  Caiaphas and Pilate were both implicated in this extrajudicial murder of Jesus.

The earth shook that morning. It shook because women stepped forth as witnesses, as the first apostles to announce God rises up and breaks the power of Empire. The women’s testimony challenged male authority, privilege, and status quo. Matthew records the Chief Priests bribing the guards to create strife and hostile rumours around Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is done to reinstate their legitimacy to power and undermine the women’s testimonies – an effort to discredit and cast doubt against the women. The male disciples are also quick to provide their own witness to confirm what, otherwise, from the women alone would be unbelievable.

But of course the women should be first, this is a further stressing of Jesus’s counter-cultural and subversive teachings and ministry. The community he sought to build through his disciples was meant to be the first fruit of this, thus it is called to be a community of all genders, races and classes. Yet, in this passage, we find that it is the women who followed in his ways. They were rebelling against patriarchy. They were proclaiming that women can have power, access and control. They were flipping the script of what women ought to be – submissive, silent and insignificant. And with them in this rebellion is Jesus, instigating this new order through the first witnesses he chose.

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and their great ones are tyrants over them. 
It will not be so among you;
but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant”
Amen
 
 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the 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 4th November 2019

Mon, 04/11/2019 - 06:00
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Monday 4th November
 
Standing up to the ‘all powerful’ presence of Empire
Revelation 14: 6 - 8

Then I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgement has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ Then another angel, a second, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’

Reflection

Babylon has fallen! The author of Revelation makes this claim twice. And yet the writer lived in the midst of the unrivalled pomp and power of Empire and its persecution of any and all who resisted her. Yet within years of this prophetic pronouncement Rome, (Babylon), had indeed fallen. Empire was humbled by the resistant spirit of movements within its colonised lands, movements like the one stirred up by Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe we think Empire has passed and we live in a democratic era. But, the dominating powers of today, present in all dimensions of systems of politics, society, economics and Church, exercise power over us unjustly, like Empire.

So, we hear the text in an era of a different form of Empire announce the good news to a hurting world that Empire has fallen! How can we say Babylon is fallen? We do so because in the face of dominant powers we believe in the ultimate power of God, who is counter-creating in our midst a new heaven and earth, who in the company of peasant girls is working to bring the powerful down from their thrones, (Luke 1: 52)

We have the witness of the Biblical text to remind and inspire us that Empire has fallen. The claims, powers and blandishments of Empire are empty and bring not blessing but curse. We cannot approach the text other than to realise Empire is behind the text, in the text and in front of the text. The dynamic of God’s people in the midst of Empire shapes the drama of both testaments and our interpretations of the text.

How can we say Babylon is fallen? By being part of what subverts it, and reveals its shame and charade.

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“Your Kingdom come, O Lord, Your will be done”
Amen
 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the 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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Living under Empire's dark shadow

Sun, 03/11/2019 - 18:00
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Dear <<First Name>>

I hope you've found the reflections from Scotland on The State We're In both interesting and helpful.  I realise they may have been a bit more challenging than you were expecting but we live in difficult times.  Our next series is also rather challenging but, again, I hope you find it useful.

In recent years many theologians have started to look at how the world views of people who live in, and under, Empires have affected how the Bible has been interpreted. 

The Bible was formed, written and edited in imperial ages - the mighty empires of Assyria, Babylon, Greece and Rome were the background to all the stories, teaching, poetry, hopes and despair of the Biblical writers.  When the Psalmist sat down and wept by the Rivers of Babylon, the Jewish people were formed anew in the crucible of imperial oppression; when Jesus was nailed to the Cross he was executed in the way the Romans dealt with those it held in utter contempt. 

Biblical writers struggled with the advantages of Empire - good roads and communications meaning the Gospel could be spread, and unimaginable oppression.

We still live in empires, but our empires now are harder to see - just as, it is believed, goldfish don’t perceive the water in which they live.  We have world powers who seek to rule as ruthlessly as their imperial forebears, we have economic systems at least as cruel as the ancient institution of slavery and most Daily Devotion readers live in lands which once ruled much of the globe.

The Biblical writers’ experience and critique of Empire has much to each us now.  Over the next 14 days two URC ministers, Peter Cruchley (the Mission Secretary for Mission Development of the Council for World Mission) and Gethin Rhys (Policy Officer for Cytun - Churches Together in Wales) will help us reflect on the interaction between the ancient Biblical witness in the context of Empire and our own contemporary situation.  Their reflections are insightful, challenging, at times controversial but, I hope, rewarding as we look at familiar passages in unfamiliar ways.


I hope you find the Devotions thought provoking.  Remember you can always use the link, above, to forward a Devotion to a friend you may think would like to subscribe.

with every good wish


Andy


The Rev'd Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC
 
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URC Daily Devotion 3rd November 2019

Sun, 03/11/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 3rd November
Psalm 121

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
Where am I to look for my aid?
2 My help comes to me from the LORD
By whom earth and heaven were made.

3 Your foot he will not leave to slide—
His watch over you he will keep.
4 The LORD over Isr’el keeps watch,
And he will not slumber or sleep.

5 The LORD will keep watch over you—
Your shade from the heat and the light.
6 The sun will not harm you by day;
The moon will not harm you by night.

7 The LORD will protect you from harm—
Your life he will ever defend.
8 He’ll guard every step that you take
Both now and for days without end.

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


Reflection

Our work in ‘Praying the Psalms’ is somehow to bring the stylised disciplined speech of the Psalms together with the raw, ragged, mostly formless experience in our lives.”  So writes Walter Brueggeman in his eponymous book. Unless we can do that we are left with a beautiful poem of hope and expectation, an assurance of being surrounded and caught up and held in the love of God whatever may happen which may or may not stand up to the test of raw experience when it hits us between the eyes.  

This Psalm is often chosen for funerals and we can see why. My help will come from the Lord when I journey through the thickly wooded mountains full of predators and unknown horrors is a comfort and encouragement at our times of deepest sorrow and regret.  Pilgrims singing this song on their way to Jerusalem will have found the courage to put one foot in front of the other as we can in our own time. But this is not a charm nor a talisman to guarantee safety or protection and it is not a blithe reassurance that with God all things shall be well - for what happens when things do not turn out as this seems to promise?

Instead it is a confident hope based on hard-won experience over rough terrain and many hidden ravines that when we travel onwards and upwards God will be alongside in the journey and in the destination.  Security does not lie in a location or a person or an institution. Our help comes ultimately from the maker of heaven and earth.

So let us lift our eyes rather than bowing our heads and know that we stand on good firm holy ground. 

Prayer

“As we look towards the mountains we have yet to climb grant us that confidence and hope that keeps us going and assurance that all shall be well for you are with us each step of the way” 

Dr David Livingstone, missionary, abolitionist and explorer, read this prayer on the quayside before he left for Africa.  



 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d  Carole Elphick is a retired Transitional minister worshipping at Muswell Hill in London.  
 
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URC Daily Devotion 2nd November 2019

Sat, 02/11/2019 - 06:00
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Saturday 2nd November
The State We’re in...Despise not the Small
  
Zechariah 4:6-10

He said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’ Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel. ‘These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.’
 
Reflection
 
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ – a question generally aimed at eliciting a child’s vocational aspirations and ambitions – sometimes gets the answer ‘Big’, which was indeed the response of Tom Hanks in the comedy film of that name. Whether we are talking about nations or persons, the attractions of largeness are apparent – status, agency, resources, rewards, power. Bigness can be imagined as beautiful (as President Trump is reported as saying of the Oval Office and his presidential responsibilities), inverting the thinking of a significant 1970s book, Small is Beautiful. Is smallness now to be viewed with disdain?
 
My kindly PhD examiner, the late Canon Donald Allchin, suggested that ‘a small nation is not the same as a large nation’, not least in terms of power (over). Of course, small nations can be petty and mediocre and delusional and sometimes even rogue. Smallness does not inevitably save any from perpetrating wrong (and my nation of Scotland historically has embraced enthusiastically the imperial aspirations of larger neighbours). Yet, in their relative weakness and vulnerability, small nations may (at their best) have an orientation towards creative dynamics, awareness of interdependence, avoidance of a desire for dominance, a sense of community inside and outwith, an alignment with others’ vulnerability, and the seeking a world role rooted in other than economic, political or indeed military power.

To suggest this is neither to be blind where history tells another story, nor to claim some moral high ground. The best instincts of small nations come in part from the realisation that they are denied the possibilities of a large nation. For many in the smaller nations, however, there is perhaps a sense that some talk of recovering greatness feels alien, not least because we are trying to explore what smallness, weakness and vulnerability mean for us in
the world today.
 
Prayer
 
God, your power is exercised in enabling humanity to reflect your love and peace and justice for the world you have made.

Saviour, your power is expressed most fully in the vulnerability of the Cross for the sake of the world to whom you came. 

Holy Spirit, your power is at work when we humbly embrace the potential of the weak in power to challenge and to change how we live together. Amen.
 
 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Jack Dyce is a retired URC minister, a former Principal of the Scottish United Reformed & Congregational College, and now its Emeritus Professor of Nordic Theology. 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 1st November 2019

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 06:00
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Friday 1st November
The State We're In....The End of Empire

1 Kings 12: 1 - 15
 
Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt.  And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.’  He said to them, ‘Go away for three days, then come again to me.’ So the people went away.
 
Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, ‘How do you advise me to answer this people?’  They answered him, ‘If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants for ever.’  But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. He said to them, ‘What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, “Lighten the yoke that your father put on us”?’ The young men who had grown up with him said to him, ‘Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, “Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us”; thus you should say to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.”’
 
So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had said, ‘Come to me again on the third day.’ The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him  and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, ‘My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’ So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfil his word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.

Reflection

People all over the country are feeling the strain.  Work is crippling with long hours and low pay. Housing is poor.  Food is scarce for many. People are barely getting by and they are being made to work ever harder by a leader who wants only to increase his own power and influence and the wealth of his followers.  The leader is presented with legitimate demands by representatives of the people to improve their working conditions in return for greater productivity and loyalty and he takes advice from the wise old men who have seen it all before.  They council mercy, but the bullish new leader, keen to show just how tough he is, listens to his younger advisors who are keen to get more as quickly as they can, and at any cost. They even countenance further enslaving their own people as well as the foreigners they have already forced into punishing jobs that the locals don’t want to do.  And they say the Bible has nothing to say about current affairs!

Empire is attractive.  At least for those who are in charge and those who benefit from the exploitation of others.  But what happens when those who are at the sharp end decide that enough is enough?

What happens when a different story about who we are and what is important begins to take hold?  A story that says that everyone belongs, that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. That the resources of the country should be for the benefit of all the people, not just some of them.  It’s no surprise that when two groups of people see themselves in very different ways that separation would be on the agenda.

In Rehoboam’s time that’s exactly what happened.  The Northern and Southern parts of the Kingdom split because people eventually decide that enough is enough.

As Burns wrote: 

O wad some Power the giftie gie us 
To see oursels as ithers see us! 
It wad frae mony a blunder free us, 
An' foolish notion: 
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us, 
An' ev'n devotion!

Prayer

God of all,
not just me,
not just people like me,
not even of just the people I like,
you have given us the power
to see ourselves as others see us.
 
When we look hard enough
our differences fall away
and we see that we are all made in your image,
precious and loved by you.
 
Open our eyes to each other
and our hearts.
Amen
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Stewart Cutler is minister of St Ninian’s Church in Stonehouse - a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the Church of Scotland and the 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 31st October 2019

Thu, 31/10/2019 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 31st October 2019 View this email in your browser

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Thursday 31st October
The State We're In....Fake News

Genesis 9: 20 - 29
 
Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.  He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent.   And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backwards and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.  When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
 
‘Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.’
 
He also said,
 
‘Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem;  and let Canaan be his slave.
May God make space for  Japheth,
    and let him live in the tents of Shem;
    and let Canaan be his slave.’
 
After the flood Noah lived for three hundred and fifty years.  All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.
 
Reflection
 
We live in an era when we can no longer trust the news.  The plurality of TV channels - some owned by other countries - means it’s hard to know what’s accurate; social media intersperses cute images of puppies with political campaigning and messaging (well it does in my Facebook feed!).  During the EU referendum Michael Gove famously decried the input of experts (1) and Mr Trump has made famous the slogan “fake news”. It is hard to know if what we read, or view, is trustworthy. This isn’t new. 
 
Today’s, little known, story from Genesis is ignored these days.   Noah’s curse was against Canaan yet generations of Christians suggested this was the “curse of Ham” who, despite no evidence, was depicted as black.  Ham’s supposed curse became part of a complex Biblical justification of the enslavement of black people. Slavery per se didn’t need much justification as the Bible, generally, condones it.  Some justification was needed, however, as to why pagan Africans could be enslaved but Christian Europeans couldn’t. It took abolitionists several generations to persuade people that this was a misuse of the Bible.  
 
Our nations are weary of Brexit - at the time of writing it’s not clear what Brexit may look like.  Experts are derided, news sources are treated with suspicion and we live in an age where our institutions are distrusted.  Many in Scotland believe the media to be partisan. Many in the Labour party believe the mainstream news is biased against their political vision for the future.  Many in European institutions believe the British press lied in its coverage of European affairs. This distrust, and the reasons for it, harms both our democracy and our civic institutions.  
 
As Christians one thing of value that we can add to the current state we’re in is to be trustworthy ourselves, to check our facts and to be accurate in our words and actions.  We can also play our part in calling out “fake news” and helping folk to, again, respect experts.
 
1.  https://www.ft.com/content/3be49734-29cb-11e6-83e4-abc22d5d108c  


Prayer

O God,

through your Word of truth all things came to be;
we live, move and have our being in your gentle embrace.
Help our words to be true,
our critiques to be fair,
and our politics to be just.
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston ministers with four churches in and around Glasgow.  He is the Editor of the Daily Devotions. 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 30th October 2019

Wed, 30/10/2019 - 06:00
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Wednesday 30th October
The State We’re In...A Blessed Empire?

 2 Samuel 7: 1-2, 18-28
 
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’...Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, ‘Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God; you have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come. May this be instruction for the people, O Lord God!  And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have wrought all this greatness, so that your servant may know it. Therefore you are great, O Lord God; for there is no one like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. Who is like your people, like Israel? Is there another nation on earth whose God went to redeem it as a people, and to make a name for himself, doing great and awesome things for them, by driving out[g] before his people nations and their gods?  And you established your people Israel for yourself to be your people for ever; and you, O Lord, became their God. And now, O Lord God, as for the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, confirm it for ever; do as you have promised. Thus your name will be magnified for ever in the saying, “The Lord of hosts is God over Israel”; and the house of your servant David will be established before you. For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, “I will build you a house”; therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you.   And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant; now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue for ever before you; for you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed for ever.’

Reflection

Writing this in August means that I have no idea what will happen tomorrow; will we leave, or will we stay?  I can be sure that there will be a legacy of our time in the European Union.  

In the passage from Samuel we read of King David settling into his house and, most significantly, enjoying a rest from his enemies and this rest was a gift from God.  David did not claim that he was responsible for his house, for the peace he enjoyed or for anything else. He thanked the Lord for providing it all.

It is 400 years since the first slaves arrived in America which was part of the English (later British) Empire and those slaves worked and died to make many men rich.  The attitude of the slave owners was that some people were inferior and could be used however their masters wished. Has this changed or is modern day trafficking and slavery part of a legacy from those times?  Over the past couple of years, I have spoken to many people who say that they want out of Europe because they don’t want immigrants coming to Britain. Is their attitude another legacy of the time of the British Empire?

We can’t change everyone’s attitude, but we can follow the example of David and thank God for all that we have.  We can lead by example and welcome immigrants and show how much they contribute to the United Kingdom. We can also follow the instruction of Paul in 1 Timothy 2 “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Prayer

Loving God,
I thank you for all that you are.
I ask you to give wisdom and strength to our leaders at this time.
Lead them in a way that will bring peace and unity across this land.
I pray for the all leaders and citizens across Europe 
and the whole of your world that they will work together for peace.
I pray that these leaders, and citizens will work towards a solution to climate chaos that threatens your creation.
Thank you for hearing my prayer
In the name of Jesus your son

Amen
 
 
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Today's writer

John Collings, Lay Preacher, member of Rutherglen 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 29th October 2019

Tue, 29/10/2019 - 06:00
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Tuesday 29th October
The State We’re In...A Global Britain?

Jonah 3: 1-10, 4: 1-5
 
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying,  ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’  So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.  Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.  When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water.  Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’ When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
 
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.  But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.  And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
 
Reflection
 
Jesus talks in the Gospels of ‘the sign of Jonah’, and how the three days in the whale might be compared to the three in the tomb. The other aspect of the ‘sign’ concerns the Ninevans - seemingly oblivious of Jonah’s  intra-cetacean transportation.  For me, the “Sign of Jonah” is, therefore, that Nineveh took notice and embraced change without first having to experience disaster. Indeed, without any need for religious conversion, or a detailed fact-check.
 
Would that my ministry as environmental chaplain could be blessed with such an impact: change, from top to bottom, forestalling disaster. Not excluding animal life!
 
The strong prospect of the elimination of environmental regulations following Brexit has always been sufficient in itself for me to oppose the severing of ties which, perhaps, embarrass those who speak of a ‘global’ Britain, because they involve obligations to neighbours.  Neighbours who might, in the lifetime of my grandparents, have been seen as enemies, or pathetic recipients of aid.
 
The prospect of global climate catastrophe makes a brutal mockery of any, and every, form of isolationism. In Christ, as throughout the Earth in which He has become incarnate, there is neither Scot nor English, Welsh nor French, Irish nor Hungarian. Neither European, nor African, neither American nor Asian…
 
The flip-side of the life-enriching variety of human culture is also, always, the tragedy of providing an excuse to disregard the voice of those thus rendered ‘foreign’.  What is more foreign than the prophetic call for an end to the complacent status quo of endless exploitative growth or an end to our fossil fuel addiction?
 
Compared with the global damage already done, and the harm yet ‘in the pipeline’, the haggling over our relations with European neighbours is a triviality. And yet this smokescreen of identity politics has rendered us more alien to our own interests than were the Ninevites to the contemptuous mystical prophet, as presented with sharply biting humour in this satirically spiritual story.
 
Prayer
 
Dear God!
Dear God!
Help us to love ourselves enough
to love our neighbour that much,
and the Earth we’re both made of
to finally take some notice
of the voice of the Earth
through the signs of our times.
(And your love in the fact of the warning.)
We pray for the sign of Jonah
here, now,
right now
in us
Dear God!
Dear God!
Amen! -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d David Coleman is chaplain to Eco-Congregations, Scotland 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 28th October 2019

Mon, 28/10/2019 - 06:00
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Monday 28th October
The State We’re In...Imperial Nostalgia

Deuteronomy 7: 1-5
 
When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you —  and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But this is how you must deal with them: break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire.
 
Reflection

It can be dangerous to step out of the present and go in to the past when looking to the future. The risk is that in doing so we apply the filter of nostalgia, which distorts our remembering and subtlety leads us to a sentimental connection to and longing for all that was good and better but is no more.

Much of the debate prior to the European Referendum applied this filter when concerns about potential adverse implications on trade relations with our European partners were raised. Claims were made that there were other trade opportunities with reference given to the Commonwealth, old colonies and past dominions.

As a filter of imperial nostalgia was applied, the power abuse, destruction, injustice, killing and evil of the past failed to register. Indeed, it was such trade relations that built the grandeur of some of our cities and in particular busy thoroughfares in Glasgow such as Jamaica Street and Virginia Street. Imperial nostalgia is dangerous because is prevents us from seeing Empire for what it is, the costs it brought and the people, groups and organisations involved, including the Church.

Ancient Israel had imperial ambitions and believed they had authority from God to do all it took in order to dominate and control the people and land around them for their own gain. Such passages from Deuteronomy have been used as justification for many horrific experiences at many times and in many places. Yet we know that God always shows a preference for the weak, the poor and the oppressed, even when sadly, God’s people are the oppressors.

Applying a filter of imperial nostalgia carries many dangers as we look from the present to the future, and discern God’s guidance and will.

Prayer

God of all time,
forgive our past actions.
Forgive our past understanding.
Make us learn from what was;
recognise what is;
and discern your will for what is to be.
Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d David Scott is the Minister of Duke Street in Leith and Saughtonhall in Edinburgh. 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 27th October 2019

Sun, 27/10/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 27th October

Psalm 120

1 I call upon the LORD in my distress;
He listens to my prayer and answers me.
2 Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips
And from all tongues that speak deceitfully.

3 What will he do to you, deceitful tongue?
What more besides will be your fitting doom?
4 With warriors’ arrows he will pierce you through,
And punish you with burning coals of broom.

5 What misery to live in Meshech’s land,
In Kedar’s tents, among my enemies!
6 With people loving strife I’ve lived too long;
7 They are for war, but I’m a man of peace.

Reflection
 
My personal spiritual journey is currently taking me on a year-long prayerful stroll through the New Testament.  My focus is on what it teaches us about prayer. As well as the various questions of prayer - the who, what, where, when, why and how from which we can all learn and apply for ourselves -  I’m finding many prompts for prayer, even when the subject of prayer itself isn’t being discussed.
 
In this short Psalm of just seven verses, thought to have been written by Jeremiah, we are given the same opportunity.  It begins with a reminder that whenever we turn to the Lord, He will answer us. This assurance should encourage us to pray.  Verse 2 asks specifically that we be protected from people speaking falsely about us. 
 
A recurring theme in both Scripture and prayer is that of peace, considered here in verses 6 & 7.  It prompts me to think about parts of the world which currently don’t know what peace feels like. It leads me to pray for those who are working hard to bring peace to our troubled world.  Most of all, though, it challenges me to think about what I’m doing to bring about a peaceful world and to pray for God’s guidance in achieving what I can. How might this Psalm lead you in prayer?

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
thank you that we can turn to You in Prayer, 
knowing that You are always being there for us.
As we serve You, may we be protected from those who may speak ill of us and of You.
We pray for peace in our world and for all those working for it.  
Help us to do whatever we can.
In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Amen!
 
-->

Today's writer

Jeff Newall, Lay Preacher, Christ the Vine Community Church, Coffee Hall, Milton Keynes Copyright
Sing Psalms (C) The Psalmody Committee, the Free Church of Scotland
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The State We're In

Sat, 26/10/2019 - 07:55
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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The State We're In

We hope you enjoyed our journey through the Letter to the Philippians and found it useful in both increasing your understanding of this letter and in inspiring you in your daily discipleship. Our next series, which started this morning, is from Scotland and is a little different but we hope you will find it useful at this time of great uncertainty for our country.  

The United Kingdom finds itself in what might, euphemistically, be called “interesting times”.  For the last three years two governments have tried, so far without success, to both negotiate an agreement to leave the European Union and persuade the House of Commons to legislate to give legal effect to that deal.   We have had extensions to Brexit, threats of leaving without a deal - and much speculation about what leaving that way would mean - promises of General Elections, cases heard in the highest courts of our land, and, as I write we don't know if the EU will grant Parliament's latest request for an extension until 31st January next year or if we're leaving next Thursday.  It's quite a state we're in!

Across the UK there was a narrow majority of 52% to leave the EU but Scotland voted by 62% to remain (and Northern Ireland by 56% to remain) and now finds itself having to leave without its consent.  Believing that our Devotions should inform, and be informed by, our context, various writers who live and work in Scotland have crafted seven Devotions which, we hope,  will stimulate discussion, thought, and prayer in this pivotal week. We want to be able to speak about the State We’re In as our context rapidly changes.  

Our Devotions this week are not partisan but use the backdrop of Brexit to help us reflect on the State We're In.  Craig Jesson, who serves as a minster to three churches in Lanarkshire, reflected on repentance in the Bible and the need for it over our imperial past.  David Scott, who serves two churches in Edinburgh, thinks about how imperial nostalgia influenced both the people of Israel and how we think now.  David Coleman, the Synod of Scotland's Eco-Chaplain ponders the signs of the times in Jonah and the possibility of a change in environmental regulations that protect us.  John Collings, a member of Rutherglen URC and a lay preacher, makes links between slavery in Biblical times, at the time of the Union, and modern day slavery.  I work in four churches in Glasgow, East Renfrewshire and East Ayrshire, and reflect on fake news looking at a passage in Genesis which was misused for generations to justify the enslavement of black people.  Stewart Cutler, minister of St Ninian's Stonehouse, ponders the end of Empire and the division of the Kingdom of Israel. Jack Dyce, the Emeritus Professor of Nordic Theology at the Scottish College, concludes this short series pondering Zechariah's admonition to despise not the small.

We hope these reflections from Scotland help us all to think about our current political debates and dilemmas with a different perspective as we seek to unite our discipleship with our rôle as active citizens.

with every good wish



Andy


Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC
 
 
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URC Daily Devotion 26th October 2019

Sat, 26/10/2019 - 06:00
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Saturday 26th October
The State We’re In - Repentance

St Luke 19: 1 - 10
 
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed a Sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’  Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

Reflection
 
At the heart of Brexit is a desire, primarily by the more southerly residents of the United Kingdom, to "take back control" and not to be an equal partner in a family of European nations.  This is fed by the, erroneous, myth of British  exceptionalism and a looking back to the false glory of Empire.  

All parts of Britain gained and profited from the Empire. As a result of a failed overseas project, brought about by Westminster in its desire to persuade Scotland to unite and benefit from joint empire building, the Scottish Lairds and noblemen voted for the Union of the Parliaments in 1707.  In the aftermath of that Union, Scotland and the other countries of the Union profited excessively from the exploitation of other nations and, thence,  the slave trade. A traveller on a journey down the Firth of Clyde today, may visit communities such as Kilcreggan, Cove, Blairmore, Rothesay, Tighnabruaich, or Largs, and marvel at the numerous very large country houses and castles;  many of these were built directly or indirectly by the profits of Scottish Caribbean or American plantations and the capture, trade and exploitation of African people as slave labour.

Other imperial powers have had to repent - Japan and Germany in particular – and, as a result of coming to terms with their past, have flourished.  Britain, like Russia and America hasn't come to terms with our imperial designs - nor, in our case, a loss of Empire.  What might repentance look like in the context of empire given that our Union was an imperialist project?  

For Zacchaeus repentance meant putting things right not just expressing sorrow. Making financial reparations would bankrupt the United Kingdom, but, perhaps, eradicating racism in our country by channelling vast amounts of money into predominantly black or Asian communities for social, educational, medical and mental welfare improvements might be a good start. If we were to improve the quality and availability of social housing, remove the postcode lottery from good NHS healthcare, improve schools and make universities more accessible, then we might begin to make right some of the wrongs that still haunt our own land. 

If we were to clamber up that Sycamore tree to better see Jesus, I wonder…would he walk right past us, or would he see promise in us as he saw in Zacchaeus.

Prayer

Loving God, 
help us to reform our thinking. 
May we seek to become a people of potential, like Zacchaeus. 
May we work together to eradicate individual and community inequality. 
May we become a nation, 
renown for the way we share our wealth 
so that poverty and inequality 
have no place in any of our communities. 
We can do this, gracious God, 
with your help and by your grace. Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev'd Craig Jesson is Minister of Park URC, Airdrie; Coatbridge URC and Cumbernauld URC in Lanarkshire. 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 October 2019

Fri, 25/10/2019 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Friday 25th October

Philippians 4: 14 - 23

You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once.  Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The friends[i] who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Reflection

Seemingly, Philippi had a reputation from the earliest days for their generation. Their generosity was seen by Paul as a sacrifice to God that Paul describes as “an odour of sweet savour”, a description often used in the Old Testament to describe a sacrifice that was acceptable to God. (Genesis 8 v 21 and Leviticus 1v 9, 13, 17). Paul was pleased with the gift because their generosity was an expression of their love for others. It was not as if Paul either requested their help or even needed it.

It seems that in the 20th Century that the  spirit of generosity had been lost. My wife tells the story of an experience she had as a teenager in the 1950’s. The church she attended at that time had arranged an outing for the children as a reward for regular attendance at Sunday school. The only issue being that the adults organising the event felt the children should pay towards the cost. My wife Beryl, being Beryl, argued that as a reward the children should enjoy the treat free of charge as earlier treats for which a charge had been made had made a profit for the church, but the adults attending might pay a contribution to the costs. Her argument went down like a lead balloon. The attitude was one of protecting the financial status of the church rather than reach out in generosity to encourage the children to  come to learn more about the love of Jesus.

Returning to Philippi, Paul concludes with greetings to members of that congregation. Especially, he greets Christians who were members of “Caesar’s household”, not his family, but members of the civil service. Clearly, Christians had infiltrated the highest authority in the land.

Prayer

Generous God, willing to even sacrifice Your Son at Calvary for the forgiveness of our weaknesses and sin. Help us to be generous to those who are both near and far away. May our actions be a reflection of your generosity to us, even though we don’t deserve it.    Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Colin Hunt, retired minister, worshipping at Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex 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 October 2019

Thu, 24/10/2019 - 06:00
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Thursday 24th October

Philippians 4: 10 - 13

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.  Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
 
Reflection

We learn in these verses how pleased Paul was to receive the Philippians’ gift and he reassures them that he knew he was in their thoughts and prayers even though they were not able to support him in other ways.  He explains that he has learnt the gift of content in all situations. He no longer has earthly desires, but seeks only to serve God.

These words of Paul reminded me of the introduction to the Spiritual Exercises of the 16th Century Spanish priest and theologian, Ignatius of Loyola. These are a set of meditations and prayers written to help people discern the will of God in their lives. Here Ignatius said that all things in this world are gifts from God, given so that we may know God more and be more able to return the love that God has showered on us.

We know that everything we have comes from God – my tablet computer, my bank account, my job, my friends and family.  So we appreciate and use all these gifts from God as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts becomes the centre of our lives, then we hinder our growth towards our goal of loving God more and more.  We need to sit lightly with worldly gifts, not allowing our desire for them to overwhelm our desire for God.

There are similar thoughts too in the Methodist Covenant service.  All these words – of Paul, Ignatius and John Wesley are about a commitment to being disciples and putting God first in our lives and in everything about our lives – what we do, what we say and who we are. If we have found true love, then we love no matter what happens and always choose the better option for our love to thrive.  It’s all about trusting God who loves us to the uttermost.
 
Prayer

(One version of the Methodist Covenant prayer)

Lord my God, when your love spilled over into creation you thought of me.
I am from love, of love, for love.
Let my heart, O God, always recognise and cherish
and enjoy your goodness in all creation.
Direct all that is in me toward your praise.
Teach me reverence for every person, all things.
Energize me in your service.
May nothing ever distract me from your love,
neither health nor sickness, wealth or poverty,
honour or dishonour, long life or short life.
Give me only your love and your grace – that is enough for me. Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Sue Henderson, retired URC minister, member of Central Bath 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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