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URC Daily Devotion Sunday Service 6th September 2020

URC Devotions - Sun, 06/09/2020 - 09:45
96 URC Daily Devotion Sunday Service 6th September 2020 View this email in your browser

Sunday Service from the URC

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Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today's service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 
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URC Daily Devotion Service
for

Sunday 6th September 2020






The Rev’d Mike Shrubsole and the Rev’d David Coleman
 
Introduction
 
Good morning, I’m Mike Shrubsole, minister of four churches in the Ringwood area, and also one of the Green Apostles working across the thirteen Synods of the United Reformed Church.  Today is Climate Sunday and this Sunday Worship has been prepared by myself and
by David Coleman, Les Parker and Alex Mabbs, representatives of the whole church network of Green Apostles. We offer you a creation celebration and environmentally concerned time of worship which was planned to help lead us towards COP26, the next United Nations climate conference originally due to be hosted in Glasgow in 2020. Now we begin a longer run-up towards a rescheduled COP26 now planned to be held in the year 2021. Our hope and prayer, shared with you in this Climate
Sunday Service, is that these longer preparations might result in more ambitious carbon reduction targets being delivered at that COP26.
 
Call To Worship
 
One:         To all who are imprisoned,
Many:       God says, “Come out.”
 
One:         To all who are living in darkness,
Many:       God says, “Show yourselves”
 
One:         To all who hunger and thirst,
Many:      God gives food and springs of water.
 
One:         To all who are far away,
Many:       God makes smooth the way home.
                God will not forget us, we are inscribed
                on the palms of His hands.
 
Hymn:      All Things Praise Thee, Lord Most High
                George William Conder (1821-1874)
 
All things praise Thee, Lord most high,
Heav’n and earth and sea and sky,
all were for Thy glory made,
that Thy greatness thus displayed
should all worship bring to Thee;
all things praise Thee— Lord, may we!
 
2: All things praise Thee—night to night
sings in silent hymns of light;
all things praise Thee—day to day
chants Thy power in burning ray;
time and space are praising Thee,
all things praise Thee—Lord, may we!
 
3:  All things praise thee; round her zones
earth, with her ten thousand tones,
rolls a ceaseless choral strain;
roaring wind and deep-voiced main,
rustling leaf and humming bee,
all things praise thee: Lord, may we.
 
4: All things praise Thee—high and low,
rain and dew and sparkling snow,
crimson sunset, fleecy cloud,
rippling stream, and tempest loud;
summer, winter, all to Thee
Glory render— Lord, may we!
 
5: All things praise Thee—gracious Lord,
Great Creator, powerful Word,
Omnipresent Spirit,
now at Thy feet we humbly bow;
lift our hearts in praise to Thee;
all things praise Thee—Lord, may we!
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
 
Creator God, You made an awesome world, stars beyond our imagination in size and distance infinitesimally small particles of immense power. You entrusted the care of the world and all it contains to us,  Your human children.  Through greed and over-consumption we have taken more than our share, abused and destroyed the animals, plants and land. And we have broken the trust that You gave us. We have ridden roughshod over the needs of  our local and global neighbours, the wonderful wildlife which is all around us and which we see on our TVs, and future generations including our own children and grandchildren.
 
We want to say that we are sorry. Sorry for the bad decisions we have made, for the hurt we have caused, for the damage we have done. We ask for Your forgiveness and for Your help to change. Thank You that Your powerful Christ-life still flows in all Creation to heal and to make anew. Thank You that even in this time of a global pandemic  we have rediscovered that healing power. We can now hear the birds and see the mountains and the stars. Help us to work with You to bring healing to Your world and to all our neighbours, those nearby and those in distant lands. Your world is a creative, abundant and beautiful home. Help us to work with You to be as creative and abundant and to produce the good fruit of Your Holy Spirit in our lives. As the trees share their resources for the benefit of all their neighbours, may we share all of the blessings we receive with gratitude. Amen
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by your living Word.
Through your Word open our eyes that we might see, and be thankful
for all your gracious provisions. Amen
 
Readings
 
Exodus 12.1–14
 
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:  This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.  Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household.   If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.  Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.   You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight.   They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.   They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs.   You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.  This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD.   For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the LORD.   The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.  This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
 
St Matthew 18.15–20
 
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.   Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
 
 Hymn:      For the Beauty of the Earth
                 F S Pierpoint (1835 – 1917)  arr by John Rutter
 
For the beauty of the earth,
for the beauty of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies.
Over and around us lies.
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our joyful hymn of praise
 
2: For the beauty of the hour,
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon and stars of light.
Sun and moon and stars of light
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our joyful hymn of praise
 
3: For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild
for all gentle thoughts and mild:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our joyful hymn of praise
 
4: For each perfect gift of thine,
to our race so freely given,
graces human and divine,
flow'rs of earth and buds of heav'n:
Flow'rs of earth and buds of heav'n
Lord of all, to thee we raise,
this our joyful hymn, of praise.
 
Sermon
 
It hasn’t taken long for me to become rather  irritated by the notion of “the new normal”, which has crept in like a cuckoo to the nest of Christian environmental awareness this year. 
 
“Normal” reassures, perhaps at a time when the most  effectively reassuring pathway, for faith and all that follows from it, is that which allows that the road ahead will be bumpy, twisty, deceptive. 
 
This  year has been a crash course in the supreme value of faith, in the sense of the trust in God that sustains and accompanies us through the unexpected, the unpredictable, the inevitable, and even the end of life as we have known it. 
The stressful stop-start of city traffic, and the achingly long lead-in to turning an oil tanker are some of the metaphors of the fossil fuel era that help us grasp that any normal view of  ‘normal’  gets us nowhere.  The climate emergency continues apace, even if out culture has shown a lamentable disinclination to multi-task. It’s  as if all we needed to be bothered with was the virus. Which, of course, did not come out of nowhere. The evidence is growing that  our abuse of nature is ever more likely to unleash such things. And has done so in the recent past.
Then we encounter, in our reading of Exodus, these regulations for the festival, the season, the Special Sunday of  Passover:  that most completely Hebrew, and therefore  strangely all-inclusive feast (visiting foreigners must be invited to share it) which though it aims at the conservative momentum of a perpetual ordinance, is nonetheless a feast of urgency, responsiveness  and alertness, which  is incidentally,  precisely the best we should hope for from Climate Sunday.
 
The times of the year - and festivals like harvest - vitally give shape to our lives as they are repeated year after year.  The temptation is significant, to empty these things of contemporary relevance out of  misguided  loyalty to their enduring beauty.  To set aside the emergencies for which they prepare and nourish us, as if the week-to-week conduct of our faith could happen in an alternative Creation.  Yet “heaven and earth”, sky and soil, are one Creation. Both already  wonderful, both  to be  cherished, healed, made new.
 
It is significant, though, that these  ancient regulations are so clearly designed to mitigate against conservative complacency: the tradition is observed by the trappings of urgency, rather than or relaxed reassurance.  There is no escape into deceptive stasis.
 
Early Christianity, born out of persecution and  the experience of oppression, lost no time in reappropriating this life-sustaining aspect of identity: ‘Wake up sleeper, be alert....’ - and crucially not offering or anticipating  that any sort of  wider, global  upheaval might be averted, but rather, tapping into  the Passover experience: not only how to live through it, but how to be yourself through it. 
 
Our situation is one of a human and natural world now obediently ‘filled’  [cf Genesis 1:20 & 1:28 ] to the point where even God’s people have nowhere else to go.  Reconciliation and forgiveness,  persuasion rather than annihilation,  peace, rather than victory, become all the more life-giving.
 
Egypt and the Promised Land are close or identical. Blood on the door, even as a waste-free sign of faith, grants no immunity. Perhaps we live or die with Pharoah, and Moses, or his successors in communities of faith need not to let up on the dialogue, for the sake of all concerned.
Matthew 18, which is offered in the first instance as a practical guide to transforming conflicts within church communities  now gains additional meaning, where we have no room left for anything like  the ‘blame game'.
 
The value of responsible witnesses, as well as of seeking to avoid the escalation of divisive situations is placed before us here.
 
Climate science offers a testimony which we can take note of or ignore.   When we take notice,  then  our neighbours might still have to be convinced. There’s also a sting in the tail  for the complacent here, in the instruction to treat offenders" as a Gentile and a tax-collector” - that is, as those in particular need of support to change their mind and ways. The aim is always reconciliation, not exclusion. Globally, we don’t have anywhere else to go; no to send  our offenders away to. And might we be these offenders?
 
So what is to be vitally prioritised  in the observances of faith,  to the Christian heap of “Specials”  to which Climate Sunday and the following weeks of Creation Time and the Season of Creation are adding?
Faithfulness, obedience, devotionalism, piety, are now characterised in this:
 
Readiness to shift -  and shift everything -  the schooled decisiveness to cash in the chips of all that has been  set aside for a rainy day, yes, the wisdom to be ready  to blow your reserves and leave nothing behind, these are the defining virtues these ancient ritual instructions aim to inculcate, and by their repetition, indefinitely to refresh, rather than, tediously, to embed.  It’s a feast and a fulsome one, and as good as you can make it, but a feast with no waste and no leftovers.
 
This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD.
 
For us, the time has come: never mind “normal”, new or old : the faith of our cultures in indefinite growth and a reliable future has become hollow, and our reliance on it - because that reliance  holds back necessary change - deadly. 
 
Not just for ourselves, but first and fastest, those people and places who have contributed least to the crises we may, perhaps, still mitigate, but not avert. The time is now. so, says God, let’s celebrate! Let’s feast, because that’s the hopeful alternative to creeping back into a hole and giving up. 
 
And  the  concessionary trust in intermediates: that new fossil fuel investment approved because it is marginally more efficient than the previous one locks you in for a generation, when time has already run out.
Without exception, the greatest impact of today, and of the weeks and months ahead that you might devote to deepening your spiritual awareness of Climate emergency and the place and purpose of your faith as we encounter it, will be in transforming yourself, your spirituality, your prayer life, and the ways in which, until now, that might have excluded the voice of the Earth, just as the voice of the poor has been so easy to sideline, though  Jesus in Matthew 25, again most sternly makes clear that how they are treated is an absolute measure of faithfulness to him, to God, to goodness.
 
The Exodus story introduces the deeply relevant concept of “plague” as a catastrophe that need not have been so, and that might have been avoided through justice, compassion and wisdom, though one  over which you may not have determinative power.  Decisions are made elsewhere.  The wildlife and the ecosystems suffer, because of the all-too-human injustice of the pharaoh.  We are reminded, that all life shares the fate we choose. The sheer spiritual poverty of anthropocentric salvation - that is, the teaching that Christ is given for people alone, and that all other life, however lovely,  is expendable - this makes  no sense other than on some distant planet B other than our own, where no one need yet be confronted with the absolute facts of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life,  be they predators or prey, fauna or flora.
 
Yet in addition to this fact of  infinite mutual utility, Christianity has, in its saner moments, also added a value, an original goodness which goes beyond any visible usefulness to ourselves. That too, is a matter of faith. And one reinforced as we remember Jesus’ most stern rebuke of those who dismiss a sister or brother as ‘good for nothing’. [Matt 5:22, e.g. NAS]. For what is that but a dismissal of God, who made them.... and you!
 
Be awake, be alert, be ready, and remember, as a matter of faith, to celebrate, to nourish yourself, your faith, your community.  The world needs your commitment  now, more than ever. In prayer, in action, in being what God made you to be.
 
Hymn:      Creation Sings the Father’s Song
                Keith & Kristyn Getty & Stuart Townend © 2008 Thankyou Music
 
Creation sings the Father’s song;
He calls the sun to wake the dawn
and run the course of day,
till evening comes in crimson rays.
His fingerprints in flakes of snow,
His breath upon this spinning globe,
He charts the eagle’s flight,
commands the
new-born baby’s cry.

Hallelujah! Let all creation stand and sing:
“Hallelujah!” Fill the earth with songs of worship,
tell the wonders of creation’s King.

2: Creation gazed upon His face;
the ageless One in time’s embrace,
unveiled the Father’s plan
of reconciling God and man.
A second Adam walked the earth,
whose blameless life
would break the curse,
whose death would set us free
to live with Him eternally.
 

3: Creation longs for His return,
when Christ shall reign upon the earth;
the bitter wars that rage
are birth pains of a coming age.
When He renews the land and sky,
all heaven will sing and earth reply
with one resplendent theme:
the glory of our God and King.
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
We believe in God, creator of all,
whose word sustains the life of humanity,
and directs our history. God is our life.
We believe in God’s Son,
born amongst the poor, light in our night,
first-born from the dead. He is alive.
 
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
who gives birth to the new life of God,
who breathes life into the struggle for justice,
who leads us to hope. Who is a living force.
 
We believe in the holy universal Church,
herald of the Good News
which frees people and brings new life.
We believe in the coming of a new world
where Jesus Christ, our Lord, will be all in all. Amen.
 
Offertory
 
We invite and encourage you to remember churches and charities and all those in financial need at this difficult time. Let us not selfishly hold the blessings we receive, but lovingly share, so that blessings and thankfulness may abound. Amen.
 
Prayers of Intercession
 
Liberating God, your Spirit sighs as creation groans, you hear the cries of the poor and afflicted, you deliver those in distress and set captives free:
 
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
 
Hear us as we cry to you, as earth heats, and weather changes, and habitats become inhospitable: for animals and plants struggling to survive, for refugees from drought, flood, and heat, for every soul seeking a home where they can flourish in peace:
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
 
Hear us as we cry to you, as costs rise and prices fall and those who work the land are squeezed by injustice: for farmers and producers at the mercy of market forces, impoverished, but wanting to do their best
for the land and the creatures in their care:
 
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
 
Hear us as we cry to you, as changes in nature and society out-pace conventional wisdom: for leaders of Government and business, for buyers and voters, for justice and peace for the poor, the disregarded, and all the Little Ones of Creation:
 
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
 
Hear us as we cry to you, as disciples of Jesus seek his path of faithfulness and loving service: for Churches and Christian agencies as we embody the love of Christ for all Creation:
 
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
 
Hear us as we cry to you for those we carry in our hearts today (silence)
 
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
 
Hear us, merciful God; hear the cries of every tribe and language and people and species, that all Creation might be set free, and all things made new in Christ. In that glorious hope, in the unity of the Spirit, and in his name we pray. Amen.
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
Hymn:      Sing of the Lord’s Goodness
                Fr Ernest Sands © 1981 Ernest Sands. Published by OCP Pubs
 
Sing of the Lord’s goodness,
Father of all wisdom,
come to him and bless his name.
mercy He has shown us,
His love is for ever,        
faithful to the end of days.
 
Come then all you nations,
sing of your Lord’s goodness,      
melodies of praise & thanks to God.
Ring out the Lord’s glory,
praise Him with your music,
worship Him and bless His name.
 
 (repeat first verse and chorus)

2: Power He has wielded,
honour is His garment,
risen from the snares of death.
His word He has spoken,
one bread He has broken,
new life He now gives to all.
 
3: Courage in our darkness,
comfort in our sorrow,
Spirit of our God most high;
solace for the weary,
pardon for the sinner,
splendour of the living God.
 
4: Praise Him with your singing,
praise Him with the trumpet,
praise God with the lute and harp;
praise Him with the cymbals,
praise Him with your dancing,
praise God till the end of days.
 
Blessing
 
Now may you know God’s blessing:
The Creator’s blessing on that that has been made,
The Saviour’s blessing on all that is loved,
The Spirit’s blessing active in and over all.
As you have been blessed, so may you bless. Amen.
 
 Sources and Thanks
 
Call to Worship from Feasting on the Word Year A
Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France.
Prayers of Approach written by Les Parker.
Prayer of Illumination, Offertory, and Blessing written by Mike Shrubsole
Prayers of Intercession written by Alex Mabbs.
 
All Things Praise Thee sung by the choir of Christ Apostolic Church, Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria.
For the Beauty of the Earth arranged by John Rutter sung by the Vocal Arts Academy of Milwaulki directed by Emily Crocker
Creation Sings the Father’s Song by Keith & Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend, from the album 'Awaken The Dawn'
Sing of the Lord’s Goodness recorded by Jazz Church.

Organ Pieces: Liturgical Prelude by George Oldroyd (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020) Nun Danket Alle Gott – Marche Triomphale (“Now thank we all our God”) by Sigfrid Karg-Elert (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020) played by Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com

 
Thanks to James Whately, John Young, Lorraine Webb, Karen Smith, for recording various parts of the service and to the choir of Barrhead URC for recording the Lord’s Prayer, to  Kathleen & Callum Haynes, Elfreda Tealby-Watson & Greg Watson, David & Christine Shimmin, Elizabeth Kemp,  Marion Thomas, Tina Wheeler and Myra Rose for recording, virtually, the Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith.
 
  --> Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved.
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762

  Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Sunday 6th September 2020 Psalm 13

URC Devotions - Sun, 06/09/2020 - 06:00
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Sunday 6th September 2020 Psalm 13

How long will you forget me, Lord,
and hide your face away?
How long shall evils tear my heart
and troubles fill my day?

2 Look on my need, O Lord my God
who grants my every breath;
give light that I may see your light,
not sleep the sleep of death.

3 Look on their threats and hear my cry,
and answer when I call:
or they will claim the victory
who long to see me fall.

4 Lord, in your mercy is my trust;
I shall be glad and free;
Then shall I sing with all my heart
how you have dealt with me.

Christopher Idle from Psalm 13
© Christopher Idle/Jubilate Hymns Ltd

you can hear verse 1 sung here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubu15UGvQl8

Reflection

“How long?” cries the Psalmist,
facing seeming abandonment in the face of affliction.
“How long?” cries the Psalmist,
expressing sorrow as enemies assail.
 
3000 years on we too may cry,
“How long, will the shadow of illness surround me, or a loved one?”
“How long, shall lockdown separate me from my loved ones?”
 
Today, Climate Sunday, we may hear other cries:
“How long”, cries Greta, on behalf of the world’s youth, 
“will we ignore the house on fire?”
“How long?” speaks Sir David on behalf of the scientific community,
“will policy fall short of evidence?”
“How long”, Extinction Rebellion prophetically protest,
“must we wait for a zero-carbon, just and green new normal?”
 
By articulating their concern, 
the Psalmist starts the transforming journey from their hurting, hungry heart.
Their next cry “give light that I may see your light” 
opens a way to renewed faith and trust in God.
 
The Psalmist’s journey from problem stated, to solution identified
to action taken, is one of engagement and hope.
It is so in our lives; for the way of healing,
is lined with care of body, mind and soul,
and the loneliness of lockdown
may be overcome with phone call, post and social media messaging.
 
Likewise, the Greta, Sir David and rebellious prophet within us all,
being concerned for the wellbeing of life on earth, know:
-       of the imperative that policy follows science,
-       that personal rights shouldn’t trump community well-being
-       today’s choices should be mindful of tomorrow’s generations. 
 
We stand as Moses once did, overlooking the river
to the Promised Land beyond.
In a post-lockdown world, 
do we just gaze over a fictitious land of hope and dreams?
or do we ‘choose life’, 
intentionally setting off to a just and green new normal,
to which we’re called, and ultimately were born to run? 
 
Prayer 

As heart cries, “how long”?
may eye’s light see through darkness,
and hope lead the way.
 
-->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr David Pickering, Moderator, National Synod of Scotland, 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.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Saturday 5th September 2020 Divine Anger

URC Devotions - Sat, 05/09/2020 - 06:00
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Saturday 5th September 2020
Divine Anger

Exodus 32:  30 - 35

On the next day Moses said to the people, ‘You have sinned a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’ So Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Alas, this people has sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, blot me out of the book that you have written.’ But the Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; see, my angel shall go in front of you. Nevertheless, when the day comes for punishment, I will punish them for their sin.’  Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf—the one that Aaron made.

Reflection

What surprised me was the idea of being ‘blotted out of the book’.  I wondered where else in the Bible we might find reference to this book, what it meant to the people of Israel and for the early Church.
In Psalm 69 David is in deep trouble and wants God to blot his enemies out of the book of life.  In Daniel 7, it’s part of divine judgement: ‘the books were opened’.  Luke 10 has the story of the 70 going out to proclaim Jesus’ message of the Kingdom, and on return are told ‘Rejoice as your names are written in heaven’. There are various references in Revelation, particularly 20:15, again in the context of judgement ‘Your name is written in the book of life’.

My childhood understanding was that God has a book and your name needs to be in it: a vast list of good people who will go to heaven, but one that you can easily be deleted from if you do something wrong.  Clearly the Israelites were doing something very wrong with their idol, limiting God and reducing him to a human-made image, and Moses had to plead with God to keep them in the book, even offering himself in their place.

I wonder now if it’s more about keeping faithful to God, working with him not against him, doing the work allocated to you, participating as a forgiven human in God’s unfolding story here on earth.  In this sense, our names in the book of life would not be entries in a directory, but part of an interactive story that we are involved in both as individuals and communally.  Faith alive and active: gift of an eternal source, renewed for every generation (The Nature, Faith and Order of the URC).

 Prayer

 Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee;
take my moments and my days,
let them flow in ceaseless praise.
 
Take my hands, and let them move
at the impulse of thy love;
take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.
  -->

Today's writer

Ruth Tompsett is an Elder at Newport Pagnell URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Friday 4th September 2020 Anger and Murder

URC Devotions - Fri, 04/09/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 4th September 2020
Anger and Murder

Exodus 31: 15 - 29

Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, written on the front and on the back.  The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets. When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, ‘There is a noise of war in the camp.’ But he said,

‘It is not the sound made by victors,
or the sound made by losers;
it is the sound of revellers that I hear.’

As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

Moses said to Aaron, ‘What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?’ And Aaron said, ‘Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. They said to me, “Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So I said to them, “Whoever has gold, take it off”; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!’

When Moses saw that the people were running wild (for Aaron had let them run wild, to the derision of their enemies), hen Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, ‘Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me!’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. He said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbour.”’ The sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand of the people fell on that day. Moses said, ‘Today you have ordained yourselves  for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of a son or a brother, and so have brought a blessing on yourselves this day.’

Reflection
 
This graphic story describes the breaking of the covenant between God and His people.  It starts with Moses coming down the mountain  with precious hand baggage, two stone tablets inscribed by God.  Suddenly he hears an infernal racket.   His companion wonders if it might be war but Moses quotes a snatch of an old poem-it is the sound of partying.  We quail.  We already know what is going on. The Israelites in the camp had forgotten the solemn promise they had so recently made to God.  They no longer trust God’s leadership, they have made a statue of gold, a bull-calf, symbol of vitality and power, and they are engaging in a wild orgy of idol worship.  Now when Moses sees this for himself, he reacts in blind fury, and smashes the tablets.  God’s covenant with Israel is broken.  Faced with abhorrent evil, Moses then annihilates the idol.
 
Moses asks Aaron to explain himself.  He had after all, been left in charge.  Aaron makes excuses – it was, he said, all the people’s fault.  Exit Aaron.  Moses realises that tough measures are called for.  Having destroyed the idol, now he has to root out the devotees.  And so, in God’s name, he summons the Levites, who alone remain loyal to God, to slaughter the renegades.  
 
Horrifying as this story may be, we are left in no doubt that sin is to be taken seriously.  The people experience the full weight of God’s righteous anger.  There is no appeal here to ‘cheap grace’.  Grace is costly.  And yet God will renew the covenant; and through grace the gap will ultimately be bridged between a holy God and his sinful people.    
 
Prayer
 
Dear God,                                                                                                          
give me today a strong sense that you are by my side.
Remember me in your mercy, and keep me in your grace.
Be my guide through all that is dark and doubtful;
be my strength in times of testing;
gladden my heart with your peace,
Through the grace of Christ my saviour.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Today's writer

The Rev’d Fleur Houston, retired minister, member of Macclesfield and Bollington URC Copyright
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URC Daily Devotion

URC Devotions - Thu, 03/09/2020 - 06:00
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Thursday 3rd September 2020
 
The Golden Calf

Exodus 32: 1 - 14

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron.  He took the gold from them, formed it in a mould  and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’  When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’  They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely;  they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”’  The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.”’  And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Reflection

“And the Lord changed his mind …….”. Following a tough conversation between God and Moses, and not for the first time, God changed his mind.  No longer full of wrath, burning hot against his people, ready to consume them but prepared to find a different way through the difficulty.

This is our God, almighty, omnipotent, creator of the universe who changed his mind following a conversation with one of his creatures.

The relationship between Moses and God was clearly a good one and God continued to respect Moses whom he suggested he would entrust with the making of a great nation.  Moses knew well enough how to challenge God’s decision, pleading with him to think about the reasons for the exodus from Egypt and the promises he had made to Abraham, Isaac and Israel.  It was the reminder of the promises which proved to be the deciding factor.

However often I read the stories which tell of God changing his mind I remain surprised by the concept of a God who can be influenced in this way and I ask myself, what does this tell me about God and perhaps more importantly, about my relationship with him?

I think it tells us that here is a God who is open to change, who respects and is responsive to the views of his creatures. One who will move from the charted courses as a result of ongoing interaction with his people but who nevertheless remains steadfast in his love for his creatures and faithful to his promises of salvation for all. And it reminds each one of us that our prayers (those conversations we have with God) are honoured by him as a contribution to an ongoing debate about the direction of the world.

Prayer

Faithful God,
may we learn to listen for your purposes for the world.
Loving God,
may we be open to change in response to the needs of this world.
Listening God,
may our prayers reflect our listening and experience of the context in which we find ourselves.
Amen -->

Today's writer

Val Morrison is a member of the URC in Doncaster. Copyright
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Sunday's Coming

URC Devotions - Wed, 02/09/2020 - 11:30
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Sunday's Coming

Dear Friends,

Sunday’s service explores the theme of Climate Sunday and is led by the Rev'ds Mike Shrubsole and David Coleman. Hymns include George Condor’s All Things Praise Thee Lord Most High, F S Pierpoint’s For the Beauty of the Earth, Keith and Kirstyn Getty’s Creation Sings the Father’s Song, and Fr Ernest Sand’s Sing of the Lord’s Goodness

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

with every good wish


Andy


The Rev'd Andy Braunston
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URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 2nd September 2020 On the Mountain

URC Devotions - Wed, 02/09/2020 - 06:00
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Wednesday 2nd September 2020
 
On the Mountain 

Exodus 24: 9 - 18

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’ So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, ‘Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.’

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Reflection

God manifests Himself within human history as Creator and Lord of all; acting in the realm of natural order but also in its upheaval as seen in the nature miracles of the Exodus plagues, the manna and quails and Sinai engulfed in a cloud.  Mount Sinai is believed to be the mountain in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt which tourists can ascend today to watch the sunrise.

In ancient times people believed that going to the top of a mountain was a way of being closer to God.  Many years ago we journeyed to the summit of Vesuvius in Campania, Italy and found ourselves engulfed in the volcano’s cloud and smoke; akin perhaps to the experience of Moses as he received the tablets of stone. Mountain top experiences often give panoramic views of the expanse beneath; seeing the vastness of God’s creation and our humbleness before Him. We live in an age which remains sceptical of supernatural incursions by God into His universe, but in Biblical times as now, we have to accept that such phenomena are invested with a significance intended by God as revelation. Today’s world is one in which trust and faith in God is waning. How can we move closer to and rebuild our trust in Him?  What mountains do we need to climb; to ascend to recapture the glory of a loving God?  I believe that ultimately we must accept that God - not us - is in control; that to create a closer relationship with Him we must accept in faith that patience is a virtue; there is much that we can never see or comprehend - like Moses in that relentless cloud. We should find time and space to focus on God through Christ’s example - as Moses did on the mountaintop - in solitude and personal prayer; free of life’s distractions so that we can build that relationship in true humility.

Prayer

“Lord, teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me as I look for you. For I cannot seek you unless first you teach me, nor find you unless first you reveal yourself to me.” (St. Ambrose (340-97)  -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Ian Gow Minister, Eltham URC  Copyright
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URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 1st September 2020 The 10 Commandments

URC Devotions - Tue, 01/09/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 1st September 2020

The 10 Commandments

Exodus 20

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance,  and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.’  Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.’  Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Reflection

Surveys tell us that most people in the UK cannot name the Ten Commandments. The same surveys show that most UK Christians can’t either.  So, if you can’t recall them today without peeking at Exodus 20, you’re in good company.  Not to worry, though, because you can look them up any time.

But are they worth looking up?  Many people think not.  Some are put off by the number of ‘nots’ that are mentioned.  Others note that these commandments come from a different time, place, and culture.  In our time and place, fewer and fewer of us have livestock, and hopefully none of us own male or female slaves, never mind coveting those that belong to others.

Like all potentially life-giving rules, these commandments only come alive when they are interpreted. Simply reciting the words is of limited use.  So, we need to ask questions.  What is each commandment about?  What does it forbid?  Even if it contains the word, ‘not’, what does it encourage?  How and where does it apply in my life and that of others?

What happens, for example, if we ponder God’s “word” (see 20:1) that ‘you shall not murder’?  We might discover that, ‘God forbids anything that harms my neighbour unfairly.  Murder or injury can be done not only by direct violence but also by an angry word or a clever plan, and not only by an individual but also by unjust social institutions.  I should honour every human being, including my enemy, as a person made in God’s image.’*

Why not take some time to consider what one, some, or all of these commandments might be saying to you and to your situation today:

What is this commandment about?
What does it forbid?
What does it encourage?
Where might it be applied?
-----------------------------------------
* Presbyterian Church (USA) The Study Catechism. Geneva Press, 1998.
 
Prayer

O God, your word is our command.
Teach us how to live rightly with you and with others.
Guide us, so that we might avoid what’s wrong, do what’s right,
And live abundant lives. Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Trevor Jamison is minister of St Columba’s URC in North Shields Copyright
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URC Daily Devotion Monday 31st August 2020 Moses Learns to Delegate

URC Devotions - Mon, 31/08/2020 - 06:00
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Monday 31st August 2020 Moses Learns to Delegate 

Exodus 18

Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro took her back, along with her two sons. The name of one was Gershom (for he said, ‘I have been an alien in a foreign land’),  and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, ‘The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh’).  Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came into the wilderness where Moses was encamped at the mountain of God, bringing Moses’ sons and wife to him.  He sent word to Moses, ‘I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.’  Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed down and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent.  Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had beset them on the way, and how the Lord had delivered them.  Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the Egyptians.

Jethro said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because he delivered the people from the Egyptians, when they dealt arrogantly with them.’  And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt-offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.

The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?’ Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.’  Moses” father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good.  You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.  Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.’

So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves.  Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went off to his own country.

Reflection

I worked in an office for many years, as a team member, team leader and later as a manager.  Learning to delegate was difficult for me – a details person.  I needed a mentor to help me to work out what I still needed to get involved in, and what to leave in the capable hands of my team.  Later, as a technician, I came to value the opinions of those who joined our area from outside – who could both ask critical questions and offer advice from their experience elsewhere.  Fresh eyes can offer valuable insights.
Moses was working as the only judge for the people – dealing with every dispute from the petty to the serious – and the work was too much.

Jethro, coming from outside, was able to offer the detached insight that saw the problem and suggested a solution – Moses needed assistance, and a structured process to make sure that everyone could get a satisfactory outcome to their disputes.  And so the system was set up, with officers at various levels making judgements, and an escalation process for the serious issues.

Jethro was one in a long line of ‘outsiders’ used by God, illustrating that although the people of Israel were God’s chosen race, God still knew and valued people of all nations.  Time and time again, such people add to the story of God’s people – people like Melchizedek, the priest who blessed Abraham (Gen 14), Rahab, who helped the spies (Joshua 2), Ruth the Moabite, Naaman the leper (2 Kings 5).  There are many others.

God often sends help from unexpected sources.  It may be a neighbour, a colleague, or a stranger in the street who offers us an insight into our needs – sent from God to help us. We should keep ourselves open to that help when it is offered, and thank God for the assistance that we receive.

A Prayer of St Benedict

O Gracious and Holy Father give us
wisdom to perceive You,
diligence to seek You,
patience to wait for You,
eyes to behold You,
a heart to meditate upon You,
and a life to proclaim You;
through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Sue Cossey is a Synod Pastoral Advisor for Bristol and a member of Zion United Church, Frampton Cotterell Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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Sunday's Coming

URC Devotions - Sun, 30/08/2020 - 11:15
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Sunday's Coming

Dear Friends,

Sunday’s service of Holy Communion is led by the Rev’d David Coleman, chaplain to Eco Congregations, Scotland.  Hymns include Shirley Erena Murray’s Touch the Earth Lightly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s By Gracious Powers, Ian Fraser’s Lord Bring the Day to Pass a Sanctus by Catholic composer Paul Inwood and Kathy Galloway’s Oh the Life of the World. 

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

with every good wish


Andy


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

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

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Sunday Service from the URC Daily Devotions 30th August 2020

URC Devotions - Sun, 30/08/2020 - 09:45
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Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today's service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 
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Worship from the URC’s Daily Devotions
for

Sunday 30th August 2020


 
  
The Rev’d David Coleman
 
Introduction
 
Welcome to this Service including Holy Communion, the first of two services I’ll be involved in, today led  by myself, the Rev’d David Coleman, EcoChaplain with EcoCongregation Scotland. This is a special category ministry of the United Reformed Church,  working ecumenically to encourage 500 Christian fellowships as they discover the concern for the care of Creation which is integral to Christianity, and which can take many forms, aspects and tones.
 
This is not a movement aimed at reinventing a shiny new green religion, but rather looking at what it means to be the church in an age of urgency and deepening awareness of crisis, where forgiveness, hope, love for the neighbour and trust in God are the most environmental gifts we can receive,  to be people of hope against hope, and find joy in it all too!
 
Call To Worship
 
One:         To all who are imprisoned,
Many:      God says, “Come out.”
 
One:         To all who are living in darkness,
Many:      God says, “Show yourselves”
 
One:         To all who hunger and thirst,
Many:      God gives food and springs of water.
 
One:         To all who are far away,
Many:       God makes smooth the way home.
                 God will not forget us, we are inscribed
                 on the palms of His hands.
 
Hymn:      Touch The Earth Lightly
                  Shirley Erena Murray © 1992, 2005 Hope Pub. Co,
 
Touch the earth lightly,
use the earth gently,
nourish the life
of the world in our care:
gift of great wonder,
ours to surrender,
trust for the children
tomorrow will bear.
 
2: We who endanger,
who create hunger,
agents of death
for all creatures that live,
we who would foster
clouds of disaster -
God of our planet,
forestall and forgive!
 
3: Let there be greening,
birth from the burning,
water that blesses
and air that is sweet,
health in God's garden,
hope in God's children,
regeneration
that peace will complete.
 
4: God of all living,
God of all loving,
God of the seedling,
the snow and the sun,
teach us, deflect us,
Christ reconnect us,
using us gently,
and making us one.
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
 
God, Christ and Spirit, Partnership of Creation: Bringer of beauty from chaos welcoming all who are lost.   Alone and together we bring life to transform.
 
Earth cries out against us; so: pardon our species: forgive! Forgive each,  forgive all!
 
And where damage is done by my choice or neglect to what you have made and you love: so open a window of healing that, mindful of the magnitude of change, we be not bound by despair but empowered by hope encouraged by mercy enlivened by grace beyond earning.
 
Silence
 
Declaration of Forgiveness
 
God of Good Earth, who offers forgiveness in advance of completed action. Show us our place and purpose as creatures of dust and love through the friendship of Christ  sharing flesh with all life. Amen, Amen, as you call.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
God who inspired the writers of Scripture to interpret the joys and crises though which they came to know you; bless the words we read and wrestle with today; the thoughts they provoke the anger they arouse the impatience they encourage for these our days.  Sustain our hope and our readiness to forgive as well as to “get on with it” living to your glory and the good of the Earth, telling your story,  speaking your Word.  Amen
 
Readings
 
Romans 12:9-21
 
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
 
Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
 
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them renounce self  and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
 
For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
 
“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
 
Musical Reflection: By Gracious Powers  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
 
By gracious powers
so wonderfully sheltered
and confidently waiting,
come what may,
we know that God
is with us night and morning,
and never fails
to meet us each new day.

2: Yet are our hearts
by their old foe tormented;
still evil days
bring burdens hard to bear;
O give our frightened
souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord,
you taught us to prepare.
 
3: And when the cup you give
is filled to brimming
with bitter suffering,
hard to understand,
we take it gladly,
trusting though with trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.

4: If once again,
in this mixed world, you give us
the joy we had,
the brightness of your sun,
we shall recall
what we have learned through sorrow,
and dedicate our lives to you alone.
 
Sermon Beyond Apple Pie
 
Paul’s advice to churches is generally on-the-hoof, but considered.
 
He likes to send lists of things that they ought to see as good as a way of getting across that from the identity of Christian community follows as a matter of course, that you care for the social and created environment where you have ended up. 
 
Paul’s lists have their faults, and granting them word-for word authority can be counter-productive, though using them as a springboard  for reflecting on the many dimensions of what it means to be church here and now is seriously challenging.
 
For instance: for churches in western cultures, having suffered from a winner-takes-all view of competition, where prizes are allocated for trampling the weakest underfoot, thus  perhaps embracing as a knee-jerk response, a view of Christian character as non-competitive, ...do we miss the chance to use the gift of a competitive spirit for the benefit and encouragement of all: “outdoing one another in showing honour”? 
 
Do we recycle, rather than just reject?
 
And can we repurpose the deep and powerful feelings  - that should  surely  explode into revenge - instead into burning-coals actions of love and justice?
 
Can we accept that  the satisfaction, closure and healing  that nations who maintain the death-penalty believe is offered when victims’ families witness an execution, can be equalled or exceeded by the defiance of rising in goodwill above the evil we have experienced? 
 
Here, having already got across the uncontroversially apple-pie message that “it’s good to be good”,  as well as a version of  Jesus’ more wholesome reassurance, that we shouldn’t worry, but welcome it, if we find a good life rewarding, .....after all that, Paul is sticking his neck even further out, meddling in matters of honour and shame, and those things of importance, from which we might prefer to exclude some ‘wimpish’ religious influence.
 
In the controversies this year about the statues of slavers, Paul’s notorious cultural accommodation of slavery -on closer inspection ( especially in the letter to Philemon) turns out to be a first step in  subverting the fabric of an unjust society by appeal to better nature.
 
With hindsight, this does fail to impress, though hindsight can be smug and merciless, as well as defensively  keen to demonstrate the moral superiority of our own day.
 
But in any time and place: How far can we push the change that is needed? How many noses can be put out of joint?
 
When is it right to blow our irrevocable scope for martyrdom, and when right, to keep our powder dry as our Scottish moderator, the late John Humphreys so frequently advised as our synod piloted the sensitive waters of the reconsideration of the inclusiveness of Christian marriage, just a few years ago.
 
Plenty of what we will do as the church today will amount to the planting of seeds  to be trees for others and future generations. That’s a holy calling.
 
If as a prayerful offering, you want to plant  real  trees, though, take advice: take the same care with the effectiveness of environmental actions as you would with the maintenance of an organ, or of the church boiler.
 
Act for the care of Creation as if your life as a church depended on it, because, in so many ways, that is true.
 
Not least the mission bonus of being seen by wider society to care for what society wishes it had time to care for,  thus our life together does depend on it.  No one who is concerned for mission and its effectiveness, can afford to ignore the deeply environmental context of the Gospel.
 
Christians do rock boats.  Sometimes despite themselves.   It goes with being bearers of Good News.  The least diplomatic hymn of the Bible is that of Mary, looking to God tearing down tyrants from their thrones.  Is that part of your Christmas?
 
Christians rock boats.  Sometimes half-heartedly,  though when the boats they travel in are rocking due to stormy waters, as Paul found in the storm that led to his shipwreck, we have the chance to shed inhibitions and come into our own as the bearers of healing, hope,  and transformation. The ship may be wrecked, but there will be survivors.
 
But hindsight or no hindsight, we should be in awe at Paul’s  rattling the cage of a culture of  honour satisfied through revenge which, to this day is perpetuated in song, film and story; daring to comment on the sort of thing where even in churches, people prefer to leave well alone.
 
Just  as, apart from bringing a tree into the church at Christmas, many of our local congregations will set aside care for creation, feeling that some things are too holy to be green, so too, once the lived and practical implications of Christ’s  teaching and example begin to be risky or contradictory of the iron fist of common sense, then a voice in our head says ‘hold on’, ‘be sensible’. You don’t want to do THAT do you”. That is when we follow that other scriptural advice to 'test the spirits; [ 1 John 4:1] as to whether this is the voice of love and wisdom, or, as Jesus identified it even in his close friend Peter, the outright opposition to God: Satan, the contradictor of shocking but ultimately life-giving decisions.
 
Jesus, as we meet him in Matthew 16 has already wrestled with the limits of his perceived mission “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, as well as facing and accepting the possibility that a project of change and transformation is not rendered invalid merely because its completion is uncertain or distant. 
 
His lifetime,  and that of the disciples, will not round off the transformation of the world.
 
For us, the ethic of success is not clear-cut, but it can also be oppressive.
 
Is a self-evidently good direction of travel, a good aspiration, worthwhile only if it will run clearly and precisely to plan and completion?
 
Again, the voice of Satan is heard  when climate science cannot offer precision, but only a range of possibilities, though it’s abundantly clear that we know enough about enough to make some serious changes of direction.
 
That’s when we can look to  some of the distinctive resources and treasures of our faith.
 
As in the practise of  prayer. Praying  we offer with no guarantee of cause and effect, but trusting in the wisdom and goodness of God, and frequently reconciled to effort and sacrifice without guarantees. 
 
A prayer is worthwhile, and may change our own outlook, whether or not any firm causal link might ever be established between the conversations that arise out of our relationship with God and  how things eventually turn out.
 
What then, is the voice of Satan for us today:  the reasonable, sensible, “slow us down Lord”  prayer, passed off as wisdom and maturity, which might earn the rebuke of the  reckless determination of Jesus to  continue to Jerusalem?
 
For what will it profit us if to keep on growing GDP but forfeit all else that makes life worthwhile?
 
Well, right now, it has  seemed sufficient to see the acute  coronavirus crisis, which may have been more disruptive than any other factor in recent memory, as a time to put things on hold, on ice, in mothballs, rather than a chance to finish off, to write off, to let go.   Cherish memories, but recognise that what is past is past.
 
It’s  been easier  and seemed kinder to see these months  as an irritation than a gift, especially given the casualties,  the farewells which have been forced on us, to loved ones and ways of life.
 
There is a reluctance to acknowledge that some changes really have happened.  Amidst much crying,  the milk is spilled.
 
It takes courage to grasp that the pain of the death of friends has accompanied the release which is the end of some things that needed  to end.  Or at least, that chance is offered.
It takes courage, if  we are looking forward  to  getting back to an old, or even a new “normal”  to hear the news that  the greater many layered crises of climate and extreme weather, rising sea-levels and the acidification of the oceans, biodiversity, soil degradation, plastic overload, and of course, the terrifying toll of the sixth mass extinction on earth.... all these things have carried on apace, even if we have been granted the encouragement of cleaner air and coastal waters, of cities quiet enough to hear the birds praise God in their singing. 
 
We have been shown how things still might be.  God is never saying nothing. Let those with eyes to see and ears to hear read, and continue to read the signs; to take note of the voice of the Earth, interpreted through the honesty of science. We have learned that some of the changes we didn’t expect we could make can be made.
 
The global theme of the Season of Creation, in which churches from around the world make the effort to highlight the environmental responsibility which is inherent to our faith... the theme this year is a ‘jubilee for Creation’.
 
Jubilee, which Jesus also referred to in his preaching, is a deeply  holy  and profoundly practical theme,  related also to Sabbath: a reset of and reboot of our relationship with the soil and the land, where injustice and abuse may have crept in. Slaves (formally or de facto) are to be liberated.
 
Perhaps Satan would prefer us to just go back to the deadly status quo we set aside this year.  Or to its close  and much more attractive relative gradualism:  which is doing nothing at all by doing the sensible minimum.  Not to learn. Not to repurpose reuse and recycle.
 
The other change, which sensible Satanists would rather we kept on one side, is that the wilder passages of scripture,  even those verses with which our Gospel reading concludes; poetic and apocalyptic speech which is both a response and a resource for times of crisis, begins to come into its own.
 
“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done”
 
...should not keep us calm, but should equip us for the struggle of love and justice,  zealous and ardent in spirit.
 
Remember that the church on the day of Pentecost attracted the (malicious) suspicion of intoxication. What grounds do you offer for a similar accusation?
 
Our faith is no longer boring. That too was a lie, long upheld as a way of evading the transformative implications of following Jesus.
 
Tragedy remains tragedy.  Never let it be said, even that the Cross was "worthwhile”. Though what followed from, it is joy and sustaining hope; the offer of a world different from what might have been, and the solidarity of God in the flesh, by the power of the Breath of Life,  come what may.
 
Hymn:      Lord, Bring The Day to Pass
                 Ian Fraser (1964)
 
Lord, bring the day to pass
when forest, rock and hill,
the beasts, the birds, the grass,
will know your finished will:
when we attain our destiny
and nature lives in harmony.
 
2 Forgive our careless use
of water, ore and soil —
the plenty we abuse
supplied by others' toil:
save us from making self our creed,
turn us towards each other's need.
 
3 Help us, when we release
creation's secret powers,
to harness them for peace —
our children's peace and ours:
teach us the art of mastering
in servant form,
like Christ our King.

4 Creation groans, travails,
futile its present plight,
bound — till the hour it hails
God's children born of light
that we may gain our true estate.
Come, Lord: new heavens
and earth create.
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
We believe in God, creator of all,
whose word sustains the life of humanity,
and directs our history. God is our life.
 
We believe in God’s Son,
born amongst the poor, light in our night,
first-born from the dead. He is alive.
 
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
who gives birth to the new life of God,
who breathes life into the struggle for justice,
who leads us to hope. Who is a living force.
 
We believe in the holy universal Church,
herald of the Good News
which frees people and brings new life.
We believe in the coming of a new world
where Jesus Christ, our Lord, will be all in all. Amen.
 
Invitation to the Table
 
If you are blessed by the attempt, if not by completion  of the healing of the Earth, as which Christ is incarnate, as are we, then gather round his table to be a work of God in progress finding friends in the friends of Jesus and nourishment in bread and wine in food and drink made available through human hands, from  Earth itself, on which we feed; holy hitherto, for Jesus, by God’s choice, is made of such. 
 
Jesus said: when you celebrate,  invite those who can’t finish what you begin: for completion’s in God’s hands alone. celebrate now with whoever who will join you: make time now, whilst you can, for the feast.
 
Offertory
 
What you’re listening to  just now is provided by people like you. Some years ago, I was asked to leave out of a sermon the idea from 2 Corinthians that there’s no point in giving if you don’t enjoy it.  The organisers were worried  that people would give less in freedom than in duty.  So pause just now, and think about the good things that are part of the life we share.  The things of the church, locally and nationally  that give joy and pleasure, comfort and fulfilment. Then see where your heart leads you.  Our reading from Romans today offer some responses in terms of sustaining what it is to live as friends of Christ, offering what we are and what we have:
 
Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
 
Our response, in support of our local church, yes, in money, as well as in our kindness, and our impatience, at this time when so much is hidden, allows that good things continue to be visible, and thus that those around us turn to God in praise:
 
So here’s a  wee prayer for when we get round to it, as well as what you’re sharing right now.

Dear God
give us joy in our giving
wisdom in our spending
and your peace in our hearts
now, and until next time.
 
We pray in the way Jesus teaches us....Our Father
 
Thanksgiving
 
Thank-you God for our place and purpose  as creatures of soil and partners with Earth’s creatures. Through all the ages, as mountains dance and trees applaud we hear the call to join your praise. From our beginning, Earth cried out at the spilling of blood bearing the burden of human harm. Your People sought a land of milk and honey but injustice brought decay. Your prophets: priests and farmers, called them to account. Yet then, as now, your countless warning signs (and words and actions) fell often by the wayside.

Then: Christ Jesus, friend of wildlife, speaking to the seas teaching through trees, showing God’s generous wildness  in  wildness of wind and eloquence in weather. In Jesus  you spoke of sharing; of justice as acknowledgement of need. You showed the  cost of healing and the price of  the truth unwelcomed by the Powerful. Now risen, Christ is with us in the care of a damaged world. And he feeds, invites, inspires us friends and siblings, with Christself  through food and faith.

At the Last Supper shared with friends  before his murder Jesus gave them food and drink, flesh and blood, bread and wine. Celebrating past and present Church, throughout the earth, where God is, here and now:
 
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of pow’r and God of might,
heav’n and earth are full,
heav’n and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest,
hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is He who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest,
hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna in the highest,
in the highest!
 
Intercessions
 
Dear Christ, as we bring to your table what we are and what we have you call on us to pray, (if necessary, using words) to carry and focus the thoughts and feelings which might heal, disturb and enable us as your hands, feet, heart, in the midst of Creation  rooted in soil, sheltered by sky.
 
The World
 
We pray as part of it all, responsible, and yet carried along victims and collaborators, unclean of speech and action, yet on the spot to heal and tend and catalysts of change beyond our seeing.
 
We pray for and with the life of the Earth; giving thanks for the great healing and balancing power of nature acknowledging the injustice which distorts even that;
 
In the midst of all the disruption which we have experienced from the virus and the measures we have taken to mitigate its spread; with the trajectory of climate catastrophe neither shelved  nor yet diverted; in the midst of suffering and perhaps, of premature hope that “all will soon be normal again” teach us respect for life; even for dangerous life: seeking to befriend rather than dominate to manage, rather than eradicate, to sustain and transform, rather than “solve” what it means to share breath and be part of the cycles of the living planet.

Open to us the significance of our place and purpose to till and keep your garden; the family business of life sustained that we may look our fellow creatures in the eye and see you staring back.
 
The Church
 
Dear Spirit, Wind of Change, and Breath of justice we pray as your Body, the Church; a people, not just an idea, far from perfect, yet subject to your wayward gusts  of kindness, vision, prophecy and truthful speech;
 
Risen, Christ commissioned us, believers and doubters to bring good news to every creature; teaching your way of care, with justice; confident to converse with trees and seas: and in our praise, to join Earth’s lovely chorus.
 
Claiming the unity, your given gift, whatever barriers we still cherish and botch in the midst of the times and seasons you called us into being for:
 
Show forth in us the power of the powerless the strength of the weak, the joy of those who do not aspire to control, yet carry love’s authority, content to get hands dirty as Christ reached out where all withdrew.
 
Recall us too, to that privilege of care at the ending of lives; for hope and healing even through the painful times holding hands even as ours are held because, when we’re together, trust in you lives here.
 
Ourselves
 
We’ve prayed the world, the Church to you: and all we offer overlaps.  So now, beyond the words we hear we hand hearts over, silent, fragile. we share a space of quiet without spoken words for what you need to say and hear.
 
Silence  (with water and birdsong)
 
God, you have heard. Amen.
 
Prayer of Consecration
 
Blow, breath of life on flesh and blood, on bread and wine.  Make us, in sharing these good things more fully creatures of your Earth.
 
Breaking of Bread
 
Taking into our own hands what Earth has given and other hands have made we break and share
 
Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us
Jesus, bearer of our sins,  have  mercy on us
Jesus, redeemer of the world, grant us peace
 
Communion
 
Dear God, by faith, beyond mere symbol by the reality of food and drink your blood flows in our veins,  carrying goodness to sustain justice your flesh walks and works as we do receiving and reaching out. As we eat, feed the world  Pause
 
As we drink, quench life’s thirst Pause
 
The Peace
 
Christ, your peace is offered by grace may we be worthy
that peace rests and remains on our house. Peace be with you, and with all those with whom we share today.
 
Christ our Saviour, so live within us that we  continue this day  with the light of hope in our eyes, your Word on our lips, and your love in our hearts. Amen.
 
Hymn       O the Life of the World
                 © Kathy Galloway (b 1952)  
 
Oh the life of the world
is a joy and a treasure,
unfolding in beauty
the green growing tree,
the changing of seasons
in mountain and valley, the stars
and the bright restless sea.
 
2: Oh the life of the world
is a promise of blessing,
in the rain that renews,
in the heat of the sun;
in the heart that confesses
and the act that expresses
all things and all people are one.

3: Oh the life of the world
is the breath of our being,
it is fragile and precious
and offers a choice;
shall we share the earth wisely,
can we touch the earth gently,
will we listen to
earth’s silenced voice?
 
4: So give thanks for the life
and give love to the Maker,
and rejoice in the gift
of the bright risen Son,
and walk in the peace
and the power of the Spirit,
till the days of our living are done.

Blessing
 
May the blessing of God who is always sustaining as Parent, Beloved, and Breath of All Life - surprise you, connect you as friends of Creation, hands, feet, hearts at the ready alert and awake! Amen.
 
 
 Sources and Thanks
 
Call to Worship from Feasting on the Word Year A
Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France.
All other liturgical material by David Coleman.
 
Touch the Earth Lightly recorded by various artists: from a compilation of songs distributed free of charge to congregations by Dr Alison Elliot CBE. By Gracious Powers sung by Roberta Ritson, Lord Bring the Day to Pass sung by Lythan, Carys and Phil Nevard Meditation piece by Leslie Schram. Sanctus by Paul Inwood © Magnificat Music sung by Portmouth Diocesan Choir Oh The Life of the World sung by Lythan Nevard.  Opening Organ piece: Prelude in D Major; Closing: Fugue in F major both played by Brian Cotterill.  http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to Carol Tubbs, Anne Hewling, Kathleen Haynes, John Young and David Shimmin for recording various parts of the service, to the choir of Barrhead URC for recording the Lord’s Prayer, to  Kathleen & Callum Haynes, Elfreda Tealby-Watson & Greg Watson, David & Christine Shimmin, Elizabeth Kemp,  Marion Thomas, Tina Wheeler and Myra Rose for recording, virtually, the Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith.
--> Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved.
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762

  Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Sunday 30th August 2020 Psalm 12

URC Devotions - Sun, 30/08/2020 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday 30th August 2020 Psalm 12 

Lying lips that falsely faltter
keep the truth far out of reach.
Come, O God and still the chatter;
end their boats and twisted speech.

With these Babel sounds oppressing,
who but God can tame the tongue?
When the faithful seek God’s blessing,
honest words are shared and sung.

Rise, O God, and save the needy;
come to heal the worn and weak.
Foil the schemes that fuel the greedy;
lift the fortunes of the meek.

Save us from the wicked lawless -
 leave their blemished words behind,
every word you speak is flawless - 
pure like sliver, fire refined.

Adam M L Tice © 2011 GIA Publications Ltd

you can hear the tune here
https://hymnary.org/media/fetch/157583

Reflection

This paraphrase of Psalm 12 was written before the current political and ecological atmosphere.  Read it as you would have seen the world in 2011…Now read it as you do today.

A decade ago, many might have critiqued this as depressingly modern with no glory or images of God as a monarch.  Instead of the desired pomp, we sing of “lying lips that… keep the truth out of reach” and the image of God as a tongue-tamer who saves us from our Babel sounds.

Perhaps these days we can grasp the sense of poignant prophetic petition which is so necessary for the Church in this Covid-shaped generation.  I dare not rehearse the Babel sounds we hear in 2020.

The legend is that David wrote this whilst he was the rock star soldier in the jealous Saul’s court. Even he could not escape the cold war of gossip, complaints and backbiting.  David despised destructive tongues due to the words themselves and the underlying pride.

The taming of our words is more than a personal habit-forming tool or a secret to success.  It is an ethical crisis which relates to how we cultivate community.  The taming of what we say also challenges us to tame our resources of knowledge—who we listen to.

Hymn lyrics like these reclaim and retain what was such a sacred part of the biblical tradition: the lament.  There are times when the Church must celebrate life together, and when the Church must lead the way in offering up tears, not for hate but for healing. The lament defends no political sides, offers no bandage for pain, and lays out no medals of honour.  It presents the wound in the open, claiming no winners, ultimately pleading for the one true Healer to see and step in.

The best thing the Church can do for the salvation of the world is in singing the blues, threading together the poetry of pain with the shifting of hearts towards purposes higher than our desires.

 Prayer

Tongue-Tamer,
I am amazed at the yeastiness of a word uttered: bringing life and death, sacrifice and success.
I am astounded at the flawlessness of Your word: transforming, transfixing, loving without limit.
Deliver us from the cacophony of voices seeking our attention, and may our ears be drawn ever closer to Your voice, “pure like silver, fire refined”.
Amen.
  -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d William Young, Pastor, Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, Washington DC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Saturday 29th August 2020 Water from the Rock

URC Devotions - Sat, 29/08/2020 - 06:00
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Saturday 29th August 2020 Water from the Rock 
Exodus 17: 1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’  But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’  The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.  I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.  He called the place Massah  and Meribah,  because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

Reflection

Some of us might liken the last few months to a time of wandering in the wilderness.  We have felt adrift, unsure of our direction, lost without our routines, challenged by how we related to each other with newish technology and changing definitions of “community.”  We might even feel this a time of testing-”massah.”  “Where is God?” Some of us might have even been quarrelling-”meribah.” “Why God?”

A way through the wilderness may be before us, but we don’t trust the way.  How can this be God’s way for us?  We continue to question, to quarrel, to wander.  

But this is a story of God’s faithfulness. Despite the blindness of the people of God, God is among them.  God is not a long way ahead, waiting for them to catch up.  God is not behind them pushing them forward.  God is among them.  God is among us.  We may question, quarrel, and wander, but God is still here.  We may self-isolate.  We may work in a demanding environment.  We may worship in different ways, but God is among us.  Our struggles may cause us to lose sight of God’s presence.  

And not only is God present.  God is providing.  How has God sustained you over the past few months?  What gifts might you have overlooked due to the stress of living through a pandemic?  Where is God with you as you walk through the valley of loss? Maybe even now we cannot see God’s presence.  Maybe it is hard to identify God’s provision, but this story confirms God is present and providing for us.  

We pause to catch a glimpse of that provision and presence today.

Prayer

Life-giving God, we are still.  Forgive us for forgetting to look for your presence among us.  Help us be quiet enough to see you. Help us let go of our panic and remember that you provide us what we need for this day.  Help us trust your provision for tomorrow.  Life-giving God, you reveal yourself as love.  Help us rest in love and act in love this day.  Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Martha McInnes, Minister, Cardiff and Penarth Churches Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion Friday 28th August 2020 Bread from Heaven

URC Devotions - Fri, 28/08/2020 - 06:00
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Friday 28th August 2020 Bread from Heaven 
Exodus 16

The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.  The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.’

Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.”’  And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.  The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”’

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.  This is what the Lord has commanded: “Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.”’  The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, ‘Let no one leave any of it over until morning.’   But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them.  Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses,  he said to them, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: “Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.”’  So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, ‘Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field.  For six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.’

On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. The Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions?  See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.’  So the people rested on the seventh day.

The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.  Moses said, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: “Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.”’  And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.’  As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant,  for safe-keeping. The Israelites ate manna for forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.  An omer is a tenth of an ephah.

Reflection

None of us could have imagined a year ago the ways in which our lives have changed this year. The same could be said of the Israelites, as they came to the wilderness of Sin. God, through the agency of Moses and Aaron, had defeated Pharaoh and his army and released the Israelites from slavery. No wonder Miriam danced.

But soon it began to feel like they had gone out of the frying pan into the fire. The Israelites had left slavery behind only to find themselves hungry. Instead of trying to tackle the problem or turning to God for help, or even turning reasonably to Moses and asking for guidance, their first reaction seems to have been to round on their leaders.

Nevertheless, God sent bread from heaven and meat as well. God’s provision went on right through the journey in the wilderness, only stopping as they entered the promised land, where they would be able to fend for themselves.

Looking from the outside, we can see that the Israelites were probably scared, anxious to feed their children and unused to freedom and to fending for themselves, having been slaves for so long. We too are probably scared, anxious to be able to provide for ourselves and our families, and unused to the changed world in which we find ourselves.

Having seen God provide for us through our lives so far and knowing how God provided for the Israelites during their time in the wilderness, we now face our time of trial. Can we find the faith to trust in God’s provision and to be open to God’s guidance for the future, even though we can’t know all that is in store?

Prayer

Living and loving God,
Our situation today is as new to us, 
as the Israelites’ situation was to them.
Send your Spirit to guide us in this new country in which we find ourselves.
Open our eyes that we might see your path for today,
Open our hearts that we might perceive your ways, for each of us and for all of us.
Thanks be to God,
Amen
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Jacky Embrey is moderator of the Mersey Synod Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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

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

Exodus 15: 20 - 27

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Dorothy Courtis, Lay Preacher, Thurso URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 26th August 2020 Moses’ Song of Triumph

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

Exodus 15: 1 - 19

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

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

Reflection

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

Prayer

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

Today's writer

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


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URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 25th August 2020 Crossing the Sea

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

Exodus  14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

Prayer

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

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

Amen.
 
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Today's writer

Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant, Worsley Road URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion Monday 24th August 2020 Cloud and Fire

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

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

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

Today's writer

Gordon Woods, Elder, St. Columba’s URC, Oxford Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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Worship for 23rd August 2020

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

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Order of Service

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

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

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

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

I lift my eyes to the quiet hills

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

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

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

I lift my eyes to the quiet hills

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

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

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

I lift my eyes to the quiet hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Sunday 23rd August 2020 Psalm 11

URC Devotions - Sun, 23/08/2020 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion Sunday 23rd August 2020 Psalm 11 View this email in your browser

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

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

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


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