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

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

Exodus 12: 33 - 42

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Shirley Erena Murray 1931-2020
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Carole Elphick, retired minister, worshipping at Muswell Hill URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion Friday 21st August 2020 The Death of the First Born

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

Exodus 12: 29-32

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

Reflection

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

Prayer

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

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

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

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

Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant, Worsley Road URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion Thursday 20th August 2020 Passover

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

Exodus 12

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

Prayer 

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

(Adapted from the Jewish Passover Kiddush)   -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Sue Henderson, retired URC minister, member of Bradford on Avon United Church. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Sunday's Coming

URC Devotions - Wed, 19/08/2020 - 11:15
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Sunday's Coming

Dear Friends,

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

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

with every good wish


Andy


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

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

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URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 19th August 2020 Pharaoh Warned Again

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

The Rev’d Daniel Harris, Minister with the North Manchester Mission Partnership Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 18th August 2020 The Plague of Darkness

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

Exodus 10: 21 - 29

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

Reflection

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

Prayer

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

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

Thank you!
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant, Worsley Road URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Monday 17th August 2020 The Plague of Locusts

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

The Rev’d Viv Henderson is Minister of Minehead URC & a mental health chaplain with Elysium Healthcare in Wellington Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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Worship for Sunday 16th August 2020

URC Devotions - Sun, 16/08/2020 - 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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URC Daily Devotions Worship
for Sunday 16th August 2020
 
 
 
 
 The Syro-Phoenician Woman by Robert Lentz
 
 The Rev’d Lythan Nevard

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

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

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

Reading   St Matthew 15:10-28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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URC Daily Devotion Sunday 16th August 2020 Psalm 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Today's writer

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


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URC Daily Devotion Saturday 15th August 2020 The Plague of Hail

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

Prayer

O God, 
we pray,
in all places,

for weather that sustains life,

that provides for a fruitful harvest

and creates a gentle world. 
Let sun shine,

rain fall, 
ice form

and wind blow,

as the earth needs

and your people pray,

Amen.
 
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Today's writer

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

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

Exodus 9: 8 - 12

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

Reflection

‘The Lord’ really is relentless!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Lord’ really is relentless!

Prayer

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

The Rev’d Martin Knight is minister of St Paul’s URC, South Croydon and South Croydon United Church (Methodist/URC) Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion Thursday 13th August 2020 The Plague of Pestilence

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

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

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

with every good wish


Andy


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

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

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URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 12th August 2020 The Plague of Flies

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

The Rev’d ELizabeth Gray-King, Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s Oxford Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 11th August 2020 The Plague of Gnats

URC Devotions - Tue, 11/08/2020 - 06:00
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Tuesday 11th August 2020 The Plague of Gnats    

Exodus 8 16 - 19

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, “Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats throughout the whole land of Egypt.”’  And they did so; Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and gnats came on humans and animals alike; all the dust of the earth turned into gnats throughout the whole land of Egypt.  The magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, but they could not. There were gnats on both humans and animals.  And the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God!’ But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.

Reflection
Anyone who has lived or holidayed in the West and Highlands of Scotland will understand the misery of the Egyptian people as the plague of gnats descended. One word says it all: MIDGES.

These blood-sucking cousins of gnats have ruined endless peaceful summer evenings in the garden, on picnics, camping, fishing or walking. They never arrive singly, but in battalions. No amount of flailing arms and slaps will keep them all from their banquet on exposed areas of flesh.

Away from the territories inhabited by the insects, we have metaphorical gnats and midges of our own. They are the worries and fears that get into our heads and multiply, swarming day and night until they bring us low, though too often reluctant to share our state of mind or seek help.

This is especially true at the time of writing (April) during the Covid-19 lockdown. Many are enduring “mind midges”. Dread of disease, loneliness, separation from those we love, burning anger when we feel others are behaving irresponsibly, bereavement without the release of full funerals - all play their part in causing us mental distress. Even the strongest have bad days.

Some peace of mind in any troubles of life can come from quiet prayer and reflection; not shouty demands of God, for that just drowns out “the still small voice” which restored Elijah (1 Kings: 19). Driven close to madness and desiring death, he travelled on to Mount Horeb and there he found God with him - not in turbulent storm, earthquake or fire, but in the “gentle whisper” (NIV).

When we are in mental distress, let us admit the comfort offered by God in quiet prayer. And we should also seek counsel from people we trust. Working together, they can help us to cope.

Prayer

Loving God, please grant us peace of mind and calm our troubled hearts; 
Imbue us with the courage to give voice to what is distressing us;
Walk beside us on the path to recovery. 
We know that even when we neglect your assistance, you are with us always.
Help us, Lord. Amen
 
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Today's writer

Pat Stannard is an Elder at Muswell Hill URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion Monday 10th August 2020 The Plague of Frogs

URC Devotions - Mon, 10/08/2020 - 06:00
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Monday 10th August 2020  The Plague of Frogs 

Exodus 8: 1 - 15

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh and say to him, “Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs.  The river shall swarm with frogs; they shall come up into your palace, into your bedchamber and your bed, and into the houses of your officials and of your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls. The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your officials.”’   And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, “Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, the canals, and the pools, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.”’ So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt.  But the magicians did the same by their secret arts, and brought frogs up on the land of Egypt.

Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron, and said, ‘Pray to the Lord to take away the frogs from me and my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.’  Moses said to Pharaoh, ‘Kindly tell me when I am to pray for you and for your officials and for your people, that the frogs may be removed from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.’ And he said, ‘Tomorrow.’ Moses said, ‘As you say! So that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God, the frogs shall leave you and your houses and your officials and your people; they shall be left only in the Nile.’ Then Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh; and Moses cried out to the Lord concerning the frogs that he had brought upon Pharaoh.  And the Lord did as Moses requested: the frogs died in the houses, the courtyards, and the fields.  And they gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank.  But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart, and would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.

Reflection

I LOVE frogs.  I find their shape, colours, movement, sound and feel beautiful.  I have had pet frogs (and kept live insects to feed them), and still have an amazing collection of frog sculptures. I have been enraptured by a host of tiny frogs singing their mating song in Monet’s garden one May and croaked to sleep by large Dutch dike-dwelling frogs whilst camping one April.  It takes, as they say, all sorts.  The scene in ET when all the dissection frogs are released in the science class is for me a glimpse of Exodus freedom.

Here millions of frogs emerge from the blood-polluted waterways and pools dug by thirsty Egyptians in their search for clean water.  They get everywhere – in people’s beds, in cooking pots, on people’s skin.  A by-product of environmental damage is often the displacement and distorted balance of species directly affected, which impacts us as co-inhabitants of the delicate balance that sustains life.  The subsequent destruction of the frogs, unsurprisingly, impacts down the food chain, and there follows infestations of gnats and flies.  Removing one symptom does not address the underlying problems.

This is part of the story of God’s actions to change the hearts and minds of the holders of political power to overthrow the very economic structure that gives them power and wealth: slavery.  The surprising tactic, unique to this plague, is to invite Pharaoh to choose when God should intervene via the timing of Moses’ prayers.  An all-powerful God waits to be invited to act so that we might know something of the One who acts.  This is the relational heart of salvation.

Moses prays, God responds, Pharaoh and Egypt enjoy immediate relief - but nothing else changes.  We are left with the stench of rotting frog carcasses to remind us that the underlying injustices remain.

Prayer

God of Moses,
move us to see beyond symptoms to structural problems,
give us awareness of who really pays for our lifestyles,
help us make the changes we can.
Give us courage to speak truth to power,
and whole-heartedly pray to see all people set free
and in loving relationship with you
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

Dr Sam Richards, serving as Head of Children’s and Youth work, member of mayBe community, Oxford.  Copyright
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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Daily Devotion Sunday Worship for 9th August 2020

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

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Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today's service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 
to listen to the service and sing along with the hymns.  This will open up a new screen, at the bottom of the screen you will see a play symbol.  Press that, then come back to this window so you can follow along with the service.
 
Daily Devotions from the
United Reformed Church
Sunday Worship for 9th August 2020
 



Holy Communion
The Rev’d Stewart Cutler
St Ninian’s Church, Stonehouse

 
Introduction
 
Good morning and welcome to worship.  My name is Stewart Cutler and it’s my privilege to get to be the minister of St Ninian’s Church in Stonehouse.  St Ninian’s is a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland so I’m in a slightly unusual situation in the URC now… I only have one church to minister to but it is the parish church and so has all the things that comes along with that.  Stonehouse is a somewhere between being a large village and a small town with around 6,000 residents.  Its history includes weaving and coal mining along with farming.  It’s still disconnected from the great Lanarkshire conurbation but these days it is very much a commuter town for Glasgow. Today we will be thinking about one of the most striking stories in Matthew’s Gospel, the time when Jesus walks on the water, and when Peter gets out of the boat.  We will also join together to celebrate Communion, so you might want to have some bread and some wine or a suitable alternative to hand for when we come to that part of our time together.
        
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:      Eternal Father, Strong To Save
                William Whiting 1825-1878
 
Eternal Father, strong to save,
whose arm doth bond the restless wave,
who bids the mighty ocean deep
its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
for those in peril on the sea.
 
2 O Trinity of love and pow'r,
thy children shield in danger's hour;
from rock and tempest, fire, and foe,
protect them where-so-e'er they go;
thus, evermore shall rise to Thee
glad hymns of praise from land and sea.
 
Prayers of Approach
 
Lord God, creator of the elements,  we come to you today, not because we are worthy, but because we are broken and helpless without you. 
 
Lord God, creator of fire, we thank you for the sun that brings us warmth, that nourishes life, that brings light to our world. 
 
You alone are the light of our lives.  You alone fight of the darkness that sometimes covers our hearts.   We ask you to forgive us when we have covered the light you have put in each one of us.  Forgive us for times when we have caused harm or hurt.
 
Lord God, creator of water, we thank you for rain.   We often complain that we have too much of it, but we realise that the bountiful water we enjoy  is not shared by those in other places.  We thank you for our green land and our plentiful crops  that exist because of the rain you send us. 
 
We ask your forgiveness for times when we have diluted your love,  for times when we have extinguished someones hopes or dreams  through our thoughtlessness or spitefulness.
 
Lord God, creator of the air we breathe, breathe new life into each one of us.   Renew our souls with your awesome spirit.  Breathe you healing spirit into those we name in the silence of our hearts before you now.
 
Lord God, creator of the earth, we give you thanks all that we have  and all that we take for granted.  We realise that we have much while others have little and we promise now before you to work to make sure that all those who are thirsty and hungry are fed, all those who are in need are sustained and all those who are lonely are comforted.   Lord God, creator of all, hear our prayers. Amen
 
Prayer of illumination
 
May the words of our mouths and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our God and our redeemer. Amen
 
Reading  St Matthew 14:22-33
 
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, It is a ghost!And they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.  Peter answered him, Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. He said, Come.So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.  But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord, save me!  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, You of little faith, why did you doubt?When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.
 
Sermon
 
Today, for just a short while, I want to talk to you about possibilities.   The things that we only dare to imagine,  the things we have always wanted to do, but for some reason or another have never quite got round to.  All our lives are full of If onlys and I wish I hads. There are many reasons we dont do things.  We have other priorities, commitments, fear and pride.  The thing is, If you want to walk on the water youve got to get out of the boat. That sounds like an obvious statement doesnt it?  If you want to walk on water youve got to get out of the boat.
 
The story of Jesus walking on the water has always fascinated me.  Or should I say the story of Peter walking on the water?   I mean which is the more unlikely?  Son of God walks on lake?or fisherman steps out of a perfectly good boat?
 
It’s a story that is perhaps harder to believe because it isnt just another one of Jesus miracles.  Its not about a healing or even turning water into wine.  Its a story in which an ordinary man does an extraordinary thing.
 
Jesus was having a bit of a day.  He had just heard that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded by Herod and some of the disciples had brought Johns body to Him.  Jesus understandably wanted some time to himself so the disciples took him out in the boat to the quiet of the lake.  When they got back to the shore there was a huge crowd and Jesus healed the sick, taught them for a while and fed them all with a few loaves of bread and some fish.  We are told that there were about 5,000 of them.
 
As Jesus was finishing up with the crowd He sent the disciples away in the boat to go ahead to the other side.  So, there they are in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, a place well known for its fierce and sudden storms. 
By the fourth watch of the night the disciples would be tired, cold, probably wet and hungry. 
 
They were all huddled together in the back of the boat when out of the storm a figure comes walking towards them.  They are terrified!  And no wonder.  They think it is a ghost. Then Jesus speaks to them.  Its me.  Dont be sacred.’ 
 
Im sure that Jesus’ words might have had a calming effect on at least some of the disciples but it has an extraordinary effect on Peter.  Bold as you like Peter calls out If its you Lord tell me to come out on the water to you.
 
Can you imagine the other disciples reaction? 
 
What? 
Tell you to come out on the water. 
Have you lost your mind? 
There is a storm blowing. 
Sit down! 
Youll rock the boat. 
Peter! 
For goodness sake. 
Dont be stupid.
 
But Jesusresponse is simple, come
So Peter gets out of a perfectly good boat in the middle of the lake in the middle of a storm.  And for a glorious few seconds Peter, the big, rough, never understands whats going on fisherman, is walking on the water towards Jesus.
 
I wonder what was going through Peters head when he saw Jesus? 
 
Did he know who it was out there on the lake?  Did he recognise Jesusvoice? If he did why on earth did he ask Jesus to tell him to get out of the boat and come water walking?  Why not just be glad that Jesus was out there looking after them? 
 
But Peter wasnt the kind to sit back and watch.  He wanted to follow Jesus wherever He went, and if that meant out onto the lake in the middle of a storm then thats where Peter was going.
 
Its unbelievable isnt it?  Peter was walking on the water. Unfortunately thats what Peter thought too.  He was suddenly very aware of what he was doing.  He realised that a minute ago he was in a boat and now he was out on the water in the middle of a storm. 
 
How did that happen? 
Wait a minute. 
Im not in the boat! 
Im in the middle of a storm. 
Look at the waves! 
What am I doing? 
Im sinking! 
Help!!!
 
As soon as he asked for help Jesus reached out to Peter, lifted him up and put him back in the boat.   As Jesus saves Peter from the storm Jesus whispered to him what might be the harshest thing Jesus ever says, You of little faith.  Why did you doubt?.   Ouch.
 
Peter got out the boat.  The rest of the disciples were huddled together in the boat, scared out of their minds, but Peter got out of the boat, asking only for the confirmation that it really was Jesus out there. 
 
You of little faith?  I wish I had a tenth of the faith Peter had at that moment.  I know where I would have been… I would have been with the other eleven, huddled in the back of the boat, not out there having a life changing experience.
 
Peter was getting out of that boat.  He had made up his mind already.  Jesus saying Comewas just the confirmation.  Whether he ended up swimming in the water or dancing on top of it Peter wanted to be where Jesus was, doing what Jesus did.
 
I bet that day lived with Peter forever. 
 
I wonder if the other disciples talked about it when they got together. 
Remember that day Peter got out of that boat in the middle of the storm? Fancied a wee swim did you Peter?   What were you thinking?
 
But Peter, just for a moment, a glorious, life-changing moment, walked on water towards his Lord and master. This story is a fascinating one for all kinds of reasons.  It is full of mystery and imagery we can relate to.
 
Firstly there is the storm.   Commentators often describe the society around us in terms of a storm.  It is fast, changing, sweeping us along on currents we seem powerless to swim against.   We have little or no control over it.  It can be frightening.  It can seem alien to us.  We dont understand where it comes from, how it is created or what drives it, but we can see all to clearly the power it has, and sometimes, like in our current times, the destruction it causes. We can feel overwhelmed.  We can feel tossed and thrown about.
 
So we retreat to the place that we can be safe from the storm.  Our boat. For many of us that boat is our church. What kind of boat is our church?
Is it a luxury liner sailing from port to port allowing people off for a brief visit to the nice parts of the world?  Is it a yacht that we can escape in at weekends, getting away from everything?  Or is our boat a lifeboat, braving all kinds of storms, crewed by willing volunteers, searching for lost souls out there in the ocean?
 
I know what kind of boat Id prefer to be in.  The big, comfortable, luxurious, safe kind.   The church has in many ways become that kind of boat.   From the inside we might not recognise it,  but those on the outside, out there in the storm, they can see it. 
 
The church is often criticised for being all talk and no action.   We can create our own safety here.   We mix with people like us,  take part in our own activities, speak our own language and listen to our own music.   We have created a safe haven from the storm.
 
Of course we all have our own personal boats too, our own little comfort zones.  The places we feel safe and secure.  We take refuge in the things we know we can do.  The places where no one will ask us to think too much about what we believe or why we believe it.  The places where we wont be asked to do anything new or hard or difficult.
 
Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, said  "Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, that is all that ever has."   Well, if a small group of committed people can change the world, imagine what a large group of committed people can do
in each of our communities.  All you have to do is step out of the boat.
 
And here is possibly the most important thing for you to remember
as you step out of your comfortable boat.  Sometime the experience of the journey is more important than arriving.
 
It’s there in those experiences you will find out things about yourself
and each other that you never knew. 
 
You will discover that God can use you in ways you never dreamed possible.  You will deepen friendships.  You will have a better understanding of your faith.  You will feel a sense of belonging stronger than anything you have felt before.  This journey wont all be plain sailing.   Stepping out of the boat is dangerous.  Its the unpredictable thing to do. 
 
It is safer in the boat.  Ok, you might get bounced about by the storm occasionally, but our boat is sound and it will survive, for a while at least.
 
But how much more did Peter gain from taking that one step of faith? 
How much more did he believe when he took those small faltering steps on the water?   How much more did he trust in Jesus when he felt his strong arms rescue him as he sank down into the storm?  And how much greater was his reward? Faith in Jesus demands that we take risks, that we step out of the boat. 
 
It is our choice to be risk takers for the sake of the Gospel.  To follow Peter’s example, asking only for the slightest confirmation that it is Jesus we are walking towards.
 
Jesus chose this man, this Peter, this fisherman who would deny even knowing Him not once, not twice, but three times in one night to found his church on.   That gives those of us like me who get it wrong,  who ask questions,  who never really fully understand,  great hope. And when Jesus got into the boat the wind died down and the storm stopped.


Hymn:      Will Your Anchor Hold?
                  Priscilla J Owens
 
 
Will your anchor hold
in the storms of life,
when the clouds unfold
their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift,
and the cables strain,
will your anchor drift,
or firm remain?
 
We have an anchor
that keeps the soul
steadfast and sure
while the billows roll;
fastened to the Rock
which cannot move,
grounded firm and deep
in the Saviour’s love!
 
2 Will your anchor hold
in the straits of fear,
when the breakers roar
and the reef is near?
While the surges rage,
and the wild winds blow,
shall the angry waves
then your bark o'erflow?
 
3 Will your eyes behold
through the morning light
the city of gold
and the harbour bright?
Will you anchor safe
by the heavenly shore,
when life's storms are past
for evermore?
 
Offertory
 
We ponder the many gifts that God has given us, deeply aware that we are also given the choice to put them to good us or not, to build us or tear down, to empower others or to hold onto power ourselves, to build the kingdom or to stand by in our indifference.
 
So, in this moment, we offer our gifts back to God, choosing to use them for their rightful purpose, to do justice and live mercifully, to bring peace and to foster love.  We bring our gifts and offer them back to God.
 
 
Prayer of Dedication
 
Loving God,
we offer ourselves, we offer our gifts, our dreams, our hopes;
we offer our talents, our skills, our generosity;
we offer our questions, our wonder, our doubts;
we offer our vision, our energy, our enthusiasm;
we offer our prayers, for the world and for each other;
we offer our longings for places of conflict and people with hunger
and those without homes;
we offer all we are and hope to be and we offer it all in the name of love.
So be it.  Amen
 
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 Gods 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.
 
Hymn:               I Come With Joy to Meet My Lord
                         Brian Wren © 1971, 1995 Hope Publishing Company,
                         380 S Main Pl, Carol Stream, IL 60188

I come with joy, to meet my Lord
forgiven, loved and free,
behold I wanted to recall,
His life laid down for me.
 
2: I come with Christians
far and near
to find, as all are fed,
the new community of love
in Christ's communion bread.
 
3: As Christ breaks bread, and bids us share,
each proud division ends.
The love that made us, makes us one,
and strangers now are friends.
 
4: And thus with joy we meet our Lord
His presence always near
in this is friendship better known,
we see and praise Him here.
 
5: Together met, together bound
we’ll go our different ways,
and as His people in the world
we’ll live and speak His praise.
 
Communion
 
Invitation
 
What table is this that bears the weight of sacrifice: heavens intent, broken in each morsel? What moment is this that spills with holy love restless in this the world, crushed in the taste of wine? What place is this where heaven shatters into a thousand crumbs in the hands of a vulnerable Saviour? What hour is this that calls the bread-maker to break body and spill blood in the name of love?

The Apostle Paul reminds us why we share this simple meal:
 
The tradition which I handed on to you came to me from the Lord himself:  that on the night of his arrest the Lord Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks to God broke it and said: This is my body, which is for you; do this in memory of me. In the same way, he took the cup after supper, and said: This cup is the new covenant sealed by my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this in memory of me.’ For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11: 23 - 26

Prayer of Thanksgiving
 
The Lord be with you.
We lift up our hearts to the Lord.
 
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God because it is right to give him thanks and praise.  God of abundance and mercy, we give joyful thanks for your eternal love and healing presence in our celebration of bread and wine. Bless us, the body of Christ, that we may attend faithfully to our call to be your servants with each other  and throughout the world.
 
Therefore, with your people  of all places and times,  and with the whole company of heaven,  we proclaim your greatness  and sing your praise in the angels’ song: 
Santo, Santo, Santo.
¡Mi corazón te adora!
Mi corazón te sabe decir
¡Santo eres Señor!
 
Holy, holy, holy.
My heart, my heart adores you!
My heart is glad to say, the words:
You are holy, Lord!
 
Send down your Holy Spirit to bless us and these your gifts of bread and wine,  that they might help us grow in grace, to the glory of your most holy name.  And here we offer and present to you our very selves, to be a living sacrifice, dedicated and fit for your acceptance; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,  all honour and glory are yours, almighty Father, now and forever.
 
God in community, Holy One hear us as we pray in the words of Jesus;
 
Our Father…
 
As we share this bread and wine together we symbolise our unity in Jesus, the one who calls us to follow him, who calls us from the safety of our traditions and our comfort zones, to journey with him. And so at this sacred moment we re-enact the events on the night before Jesus died, when,  sitting with his friends at the table,  he took the bread,  gave thanks,  blessed it and broke it. Jesus then shared it with them. We will do the same,  breaking the bread as the symbol of his body  broken by the sins of the world.   And after sharing the bread,  Jesus took the cup of wine, blessed it and then shared it with all his friends. We do the same,  we will drink it as the symbol of his lifeblood. Through the work of God the Divine Spirit,  and as we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, this simple bread and wine are reminders of the sacred.   By sharing this bread and wine together we remember Jesus, who he was, who he is, and who he will always be. So come, all of you, the table is ready. Come all of you who are burdened, and receive again these symbols  of our tradition,  our history  and our eternity.  We eat and drink together.
 
The Peace
 
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
  
Prayer
 
We believe the time is now, with the taste of bread fresh on our lips, to go into the world and face the darkness.  We believe the moment is right, with the bitterness of the wine sharp in our mouths, to face the powers of the world with the love of heaven.  We believe the place is here, with the sound of covenant echoing in our ears, to endure the suffering love calls us to.  We believe the path is before us (with the crumbs of heaven still scattered across the table) to side with truth in a deafened world.  We believe the hour is come, with the table conversation a turmoil in our minds, to conspire with Christ and move against injustice.  We believe the gospel is this, with bread lying broken and a goblet left empty, love was betrayed, but death shall not have the final word. Amen
 
Intercessions
 
Lord God, show us how to have trust. Lead us to know the full conviction
of our faith that whatever strife or storms we find ourselves in, you will come to us, extend your hand, and invite us to take hold of it.
 
Show us how to believe. Reveal the full breadth of your glory that we might lift the limits on what we are prepared to, and are able to, envisage as the possibilities of life and creation under the energy of your Holy Spirit.
 
Show us how to live. Teach us through the stories of the Bible and the example of others that we might understand The Wayof discipleship
and apply it in the way we set about living our own lives.
 
Compassionate God, many in our world live with fear, and many find it difficult to do anything other than cower away from the world as if beaten by the pressures, challenges, anxieties and the worries of day-today existence.

We pray today:
 
  • for those drowning in the sorrow of their grief, and the emptiness of their loneliness;
  • for those drowning in squalor, poverty and hunger, for those drowning
  • in the inadequate availability of basic resources;
  • for those drowning in a sea of violence and hatred as victims and as those embroiled in it;
  • and for those drowning in an ocean of despair as they see no way out and no prospect of change in their lifes circumstances.
God, your love for people is no illusion, it is no trick of clever rhetoric, it is no mere opiate created by the Church to ease peoples pain. Your love is real, it is living, and it is present.   Through your Church may this love be known in the world, and made available through us to all we come across.
 
May people come to believe in the constancy of your love by the words and actions of our own faith. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
 
Hymn:      Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult        
                Cecil Francis Alexander
 
Jesus calls us o'er the tumult
of our life's wild, restless sea;
day by day his sweet voice soundeth,
saying "Christian, follow me."
 
2 As, of old, apostles heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home & toil & kindred,
leaving all for His dear sake.

3 In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
"Christian, love me more than these."
 
4:  Jesus calls us; by thy mercies,
Saviour, may we hear Your call,
give our hearts to Your obedience,
serve and love You best of all.

Blessing
 
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you
and give you great peace,
this day and always.
Amen
 
 Sources and Thanks
 
Call to Worship from Feasting on the Word Year A  Prayer of Approach from Spill the Beans 35 Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France. Prayer of Dedication, Invitation to Communion & Post Communion Prayer by Roddy Hamilton - https://www.nkchurch.org.uk All other liturgical material by Stewart Cutler.
 
Eternal Father sung by the Military Wives’ Choir for Songs of Praise.
Will Your Anchor Hold? – Songs of Praise
I Come With Joy unknown artists.
Santo Santo, Santo Mi Corazon t’adora – Unknown author, unknown artists.
Jesus Calls Us O’er The Tumult – Songs of Praise
 
Organ Pieces played and recorded by Brian Cotterill.  Opening  Ach Gott Von Himmel Sieh Darein (“O God from heaven see this”) by Johann Pachelbel (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)  Closing: Komm Gott Schӧpfer Heiliger Geist (“Come God, creator Holy Ghost”) by Johann Sebastian Bach  (organ of Basilica Santa Maria Dei Assunta, Montecatini Terme, Italy – 2016)
 
Thanks to Anne Hewling, Ray Fraser, John Young, Kathleen Haynes, Carol Tubbs, 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

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URC Daily Devotion Sunday 9th August 2020 Psalm 9

URC Devotions - Sun, 09/08/2020 - 06:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Sunday 9th August 2020 Psalm 9     
 
Come sing to God with all your heart;
give thanks to God Most High,
who makes the ruthless fall from power
and rescues those who cry.
 
For, Holy One, you take our part;
your ways are always just.
You stop the tyrants in their tracks
and turn their names to dust.
 
You are a shelter for the poor,
a stronghold in distress.
You care for all who trust in You
and all who are oppressed.
 
The violent move in vicious stealth
to dig their victims’ grave.
Come, snare them in the nets they cast.
Come, Mighty God, and save!
 
Rise up, O God; our blood cries out,
bring justice! Raise your hand!
Then we will tell how you have saved
Your praise will fill the land.  
 
© Ruth Duck 2011 GIA Publications Ltd
You can hear the tune, Morning Song, here.
 
Reflection
 
Captain Tom Moore has been quoted on his 100th birthday: ‘Together we will beat this enemy’. This man who inspired the world walking 100 laps around his garden has raised 30+ million pounds for NHS charities.
 
Where we shall be in our fight against the ‘enemy’ Covid-19 on 9th August, I have no idea. Will church buildings be open? What will be the impact of on-line worship? How many will have recovered? How many families will have lost lives to the enemy? The impact that the enemy will have on the recovery, restoration of communities, businesses and churches is still unknown.
 
Psalm 9, according to commentators, may have been written at a time when Israel had just been delivered from powerful enemies, such as the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Assyrians or the Babylonians. The super- powers have released Israel, justice has been done and love has eventually prevailed. 
 
Robert Alter in his translation of the Hebrew says of verse 17: ‘The Lord is known for the justice (…) he did’.( It sounds a bit like Yoda speaking in a Star Wars film). The translation assumes an (…) ellipsis in the Hebrew. The literal sense of the four Hebrew words in sequence here is : ‘The Lord is known Justice(…) He Did’. Now I have been using three dots in the writing of emails for years ( some have questioned my Suffolk English). I never knew it was ‘a thing’ until I heard it discussed in an interview in lockdown. Don’t rush from ellipses!   
 
Justice and love go together. They lead us to praise God. In times of despair we are even more ready to turn to prayer backed up by practical care and support: ‘For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever’ (verse 18). Today the needy will bear the biggest losses at the end of this.
 
Words of Assurance  
 
from Captain Tom’s  No 1 hit song with Michael Ball and the Care Choir 

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm
There's a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
 
You'll never walk alone.
Oscar Hammerstein II / Richard Rodgers
You'll Never Walk Alone lyrics © Concord Music Publishing LLC
-->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Andrew Royal Minister: Maidstone & Staplehurst URC’s  Copyright © 2020 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Saturday 8th August 2020 The Plague of Blood

URC Devotions - Sat, 08/08/2020 - 06:00
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Saturday 8th August 2020  The Plague of Blood   
Exodus 7

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water; stand by at the river bank to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake. Say to him, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.’ But until now you have not listened. Thus says the Lord, ‘By this you shall know that I am the Lord.’ See, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall be turned to blood. The fish in the river shall die, the river itself shall stink, and the Egyptians shall be unable to drink water from the Nile.”’  The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, “Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over its rivers, its canals, and its ponds, and all its pools of water—so that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout the whole land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.”’

Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the river, and all the water in the river was turned into blood, and the fish in the river died. The river stank so that the Egyptians could not drink its water, and there was blood throughout the whole land of Egypt. But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart. And all the Egyptians had to dig along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the river.  Seven days passed after the Lord had struck the Nile.

Reflection

Perhaps the most convincing reason why Moses would find Pharoah at the river in the morning is that the story requires it.  The first challenge to Pharaoh's authority must take place at the Nile, the origin of Egypt.  The annual four-month inundation left behind rich silt, while rapids to the south, the delta to the North, and desert either side of the river defended the nation from attack.  Vast irrigation systems harnessed the water when the river receded, providing all year round agriculture, with excess produce traded with other lands by boat.  The organisation required to control the waters created a stratified society which valued order and stability, whose foundation was slavery: the hardly visible army of foreign workers without whom it would be difficult to keep the system running. 

The Egyptian word for “blood” and “red” were the same, and red was the colour of Apep, the serpent of chaos and synonym for evil.  When the highly learned priests, not served well by the translation “magicians”, performed rituals of execration they destroyed red pots or figurines as proxies for Egypt’s enemies.  Now in an ironic reversal they experienced this destruction for themselves.  All they could do in response was conjure more bloody water, bringing further misery to the people and helping Moses’ mission.  The Nile, source of fertility and life becomes the bringer of death, and the people have to dig into the sands to find clean water. 

This is still reality for millions of people. The World Health Organisation reported in 2017 that although 71% of the global population (5.3 billion people) used a safely managed drinking-water service, at least 2 billion people were using a contaminated drinking water source able to transmit diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio.

Prayer

Gracious God,
thank you for the technical wisdom and commitment to the common good which has brought clean water to more people than ever.
Where decisions must be made about allocating resources may leaders be guided to channel these to the people who have least.
Give us determination to build communities on fairness, questioning the ways that we have always done things, and bringing our practices into your sunlight. Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Fiona Thomas is the outgoing Secretary for Education and Learning for the United Reformed Church, and a member at Christ Church in Bellingham. 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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Back to Egypt

URC Devotions - Fri, 07/08/2020 - 16:30
96 Back to Egypt View this email in your browser

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Back to Egypt

over the last month we've taken a break from our meander through Genesis and Exodus with an excursion into Jonah and a wander through the Basis of Union.  Now we return to where we left off: the stories of a hard hearted Pharoah, Moses the liberator and now a plague or 10.  

When these Devotions were planned out the idea of writing about plagues didn't have the same resonance as they do now as we live through a modern day plague.

I hope the readings are fruitful for you.


with every good wish


Andy

The Rev'd Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC
 
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