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URC Daily Devotion Friday 24th September 2021

URC Devotion - 7 hours 56 min ago
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Friday September 24, 2021

A process not an event

Luke 1: 26-45

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

Reflection

It is easy to assume that Mary’s commitment was signed and sealed with her ‘Yes’ to the angel back home in Nazareth, but that is not how Luke presents it.  It involved quite a journey (literally) and another powerful encounter before Mary’s faith was confirmed and, at last, we hear her singing ‘My soul magnifies the Lord!’

For most people, their coming to faith doesn’t happen in a moment; it involves a journey, with several encounters and conversations along the way.   I don’t expect Elizabeth ever dreamed she’d be partnering with Gabriel in helping Mary along, nor that her small input could be as important as an angelic message; but clearly it was.

Elizabeth’s contribution was a mixture of the mundane and supernatural – each just as important as the other.  To start with, it was the offer of simple hospitality – giving a welcome and a home to someone who may well have been feeling very vulnerable and alone.  Then she shared some very simple words which never-the-less were inspired by the Spirit and spoke to Mary in a way Elizabeth may never have imagined.  Thank God she had the courage to say them!  But most of all, what Elizabeth had to do was to be herself.  One look at her cousin’s large, protruding belly was all Mary needed to confirm that what the angel had promised was true.  Elizabeth was definitely, though impossibly, pregnant.  Mary would, also impossibly, be ‘the mother of the Lord’.  Sharing each other’s common experience, including their vulnerability, provided fertile ground for the seed of faith to grow.

Inspired by Biblical metaphors, we have assumed that evangelism is about the moment when the harvest is gathered.  Here we are reminded that it is more than that.  Other biblical metaphors reinforce that evangelism is a process that begins with sowing the seed, and includes a whole team in nurturing, watering, and not just harvesting.  If we can be ourselves, play our part, speak our faltering words, offer our love to encourage others along the way, then God will bring growth.  

Prayer

Lord, today I can
sow a seed,
open my heart and home in generous welcome,
be vulnerable with the vulnerable,
say something (if not everything I’d like, as clearly as I’d like),
and help someone take one more step nearer Christ.
Help me to be faithful as a link in the chain.
And God, give the growth, so that what is sown may yield a rich harvest in your time.

Amen.

  --> Today's writer

The Rev’d Nick Stanyon is Synod Evangelist for West Midlands Synod

Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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This Week's Pandemic Prayer

URC Devotion - Thu, 23/09/2021 - 12:45
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} } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnTextContent,.mcnBoxedTextContentColumn{ padding-right:18px !important; padding-left:18px !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnImageCardLeftImageContent,.mcnImageCardRightImageContent{ padding-right:18px !important; padding-bottom:0 !important; padding-left:18px !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcpreview-image-uploader{ display:none !important; width:100% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h1{ font-size:24px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h2{ font-size:20px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h3{ font-size:18px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h4{ font-size:16px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnBoxedTextContentContainer .mcnTextContent,.mcnBoxedTextContentContainer .mcnTextContent p{ font-size:18px !important; 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Dear Friends

Each week we continue to publish a prayer that can be used in private, or public, worship and which reflects on our journey through the pandemic.  This week's prayer was written by the the Rev’d Dr Elizabeth Welch, a retired minister and member St Andrews Ealing. You can find the prayer here.

with every good wish


Andy

The Rev'd Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC --> --> --> Follow on Facebook Follow on Twitter Podcast Share This on Facebook Tweet this Forward to a Friend --> 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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Thursday 23rd September 2021

URC Devotion - Thu, 23/09/2021 - 06:00
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Thursday September 23, 2021

Words and work belong together

Acts 4: 1-20

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.

The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem,  with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.  When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders,  if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed,  let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.  This Jesus is

“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;

    it has become the cornerstone.”

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus.  When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.  So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, ‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’  So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge;  for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’

Reflection

In 1 Peter 3:15 we find words that may guide our understanding of evangelism: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’, (NIV)

This verse indicates that we gain the right to speak when something in our lives has prompted the question.   Evangelism does not happen in a vacuum, and neither is it an optional add-on extra for those who are busy living good Christian lives.  Effective faith sharing is part of, and flows out of, genuine Christian living.  People see the Christian difference and become fascinated by it. They want to know ‘why?’

In Acts 4, we find this playing out for Peter and John.  They were brought before the authorities who had seen their good work and demanded an explanation.  In this case, someone who had been lame for many years had been healed.  Who knows what other acts of kindness, love and service may prompt the questions today? 

Authentic Christian living speaks loudly and clearly. But it also needs explaining - perhaps more so now than ever. Once upon a time, not so long ago, everyone who lived a good life was described as a ‘good Christian’ (at least at their funeral!).  Is it still the case that people closely connect goodness with godliness?  They might just as well see a difference in us and conclude that we have turned vegetarian! 

For his part, Peter was more than ready to give account of his actions, boldly naming the crucified and risen Jesus as the one behind it all.  Peter and John may have done great things in Jesus’ name, but in Peter’s own words; ‘we cannot stop speaking of what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4: 20)   Works and words belong together. 

Are we ready to give our answer when asked to explain the hope that is within us? 

Prayer

Lord forgive me if my life is not prompting questions.
Forgive us if our life and witness together as Church 
does not fascinate people enough to make them look again.
Forgive us if we are not ready to connect works and words together 
in a way that points to Christ, who was crucified and is risen – 
our Living Lord who lives and works in and through us.  
Ready us to give an answer and enable us to explain the hope that is in us.

Amen.

  --> Today's writer The Rev’d Nick Stanyon is Synod Evangelist for West Midlands Synod
  Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Sunday's coming

URC Devotion - Wed, 22/09/2021 - 16:45
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} } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnTextContent,.mcnBoxedTextContentColumn{ padding-right:18px !important; padding-left:18px !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnImageCardLeftImageContent,.mcnImageCardRightImageContent{ padding-right:18px !important; padding-bottom:0 !important; padding-left:18px !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcpreview-image-uploader{ display:none !important; width:100% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h1{ font-size:24px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h2{ font-size:20px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h3{ font-size:18px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h4{ font-size:16px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnBoxedTextContentContainer .mcnTextContent,.mcnBoxedTextContentContainer .mcnTextContent p{ font-size:18px !important; 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Dear Friends,

Sunday’s service is being led by the Revd. Lindsey Sanderson and elders of churches in her pastorate south of Glasgow in East Kilbride and Hamilton. Hymns include Kathryn Galloway's O the life of the world, James Montgomery's Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, and an adaptation of St Patrick's breastplate by James Quinn.

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 blessing,


Dan


Dan Morrell
Editor, Daily Devotion Sunday Services from the URC --> If you have a problem...   Sometimes the Daily Devotions emails go astray.  As we send out over 4,000 a day some internet service providers label them as Spam or Junk.  If an email doesn't arrive check your Spam/Junk Folder in the first instance.  If the email is there then add this email address to your contacts and, if you have one, a Safe Senders' List.  If you google your email programme and the words "safe senders list" you should find out how to do it. 

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URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 22nd September 2021

URC Devotion - Wed, 22/09/2021 - 06:00
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 Listen!

Acts 8:26-34

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south[g] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
  so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation
For his life is taken away from the earth.’

The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

Reflection

‘Evangelists’, it is sometimes said, ‘are people who go all out to tell you their opinion but never stop to listen to yours!’  If you believe that, then let me introduce you again to Philip the Evangelist. Learning from him, we see that all the best evangelists have two ears and one mouth and use them in that proportion.

Many training programmes on evangelism focus on teaching us what to say.  They give us an ABC or a 1,2,3 presentation to get through and then send us out to ‘go forth and tell’.  But the School of Acts 8 teaches the opposite.  It teaches that evangelism begins with listening.

Philip’s first ear was focused on listening to God. He clearly knew God’s word and was versed in the Apostle’s teaching.  He had also learned to be highly attuned to the Spirit’s prompting and was ready to act on it.   Bible reading and prayer, such as in these daily devotions, may put us in the right place of listening.  It’s our choice whether we act on what we hear.

What the Spirit told Philip to do was to walk closely to the man in the chariot.  Philip’s second ear, then, became focused on the Ethiopian official.  Because he drew close to the man, Philip could hear him clearly.  It was this that enabled the conversation to begin (not with a spiel, but with a question from Philip).  As the conversation continued, Philip followed the man’s interest and responded to his questions.  It seems like a very effective method, to me!

Of course, we do have a story to tell. We have a Gospel to proclaim.  But, maybe, this does not need to be the first thing in the conversation?  Maybe, it all begins with us drawing alongside and listening.  As the relationship grows, there may well come points where our story intersects with their story, and in sharing our story we also share God’s story, if indeed we live in him.  Evangelism could be as easy and natural as that.

Prayer

Lord I want to be able to share your Good News effectively, 
so please shut my mouth. 
Teach me to listen. To you and to others.
Lead me to walk more closely with people, 
to be genuinely interested in their lives, opinions, struggles and questions. 
And then let your Spirit prompt me, 
so my words may be received as genuine Good News.

  --> Today's writer The Rev’d Nick Stanyon is Synod Evangelist for West Midlands Synod Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 21st September 2021

URC Devotion - Tue, 21/09/2021 - 06:00
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 I just can’t help myself   Mark 2:40-45

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling] he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy] left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely...
  Reflection

It is quite surprising, but only one person named in the New Testament is referred to as an ‘Evangelist’.  Others clearly fulfil the role and evangelists are listed among the five-fold ministry of the Church in Ephesians 4, but only Philip gets to be called one (Acts 21:8).  And this is interesting, because, officially, Philip should not have been doing this!

Philip was one of ‘The Seven’ appointed as deacons in the Jerusalem Church.  As such he was set apart to take over the practical and caring ministry of the Church, precisely so that others could focus on proclaiming the word (Acts 6).   And yet, it seems that Philip just could not help himself!  Wherever he went, he was telling people about Jesus.  Eventually the nickname ‘The Evangelist’ stuck.

Time and time again in the Gospels, evangelism happens through ordinary people who could not help themselves. Quite spontaneously, they gossiped about what Jesus had done for them – even when, like the leper mentioned in our reading, they were specifically told not to!  They were bubbling with good news to share.

Looking at the Church of today, we may find ourselves asking what went wrong?  Why do we need reminding all the time (as Paul had to remind Timothy) not to forget to ‘do the work of an evangelist’? (2 Tim 4:5). Is it really that bad that we’d sooner forget about it?

Perhaps this is because of fixed (and not always favourable) ideas of what an Evangelist is and does?  Can we break away from these stereotypes and simply encourage a free and natural sharing of what God has done for us, personally and corporately, in Christ?

What excites you about Jesus?  Are you bubbling to tell of what he has done for you?

Prayer

“Don’t say anything to anyone!” you said, Lord,
but they could not help themselves and they rushed to tell everyone.
“Go into the world and proclaim the good news!” you say, Lord,
and we fight shy, find our excuses, and keep quiet.
Give us new hearts, enlivened by your Spirit, 
eager to share what you have done for us in Christ.


  --> Today's writer

The Rev’d Nick Stanyon is Synod Evangelist for West Midlands Synod

Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Monday September 20, 2021

URC Devotion - Mon, 20/09/2021 - 06:00
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Monday September 20, 2021  Evangelism - You’re on mute

 

Luke 1: 8 - 22

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty,  he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense.  Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak

 

Reflection

It may seem odd, beginning a series of devotions on evangelism with John the Baptist’s dad, Zechariah.  And yet it may be a true and honest place to start.

Zechariah, you see, is known for his silence.  For a long time, his lips were firmly sealed.  I would think that agony, because Zechariah had plenty to say; he just could not say it.  The frustration at not being able to speak about something so momentous and wonderful must have been torment to his soul.   He wanted so desperately to tell the good news, but he simply could not.  Whatever the reason for this, it certainly felt like punishment.

Is Zechariah someone we can relate to?  Many Christians readily admit that they find talking about their faith difficult.  For some reason, it does not come naturally.  We have wonderful Good News bubbling away inside us and yet, when we get the opportunity, we just can’t say a word! Afterwards we might kick ourselves, counting this another failure adding to the already way too long list of failures; another missed opportunity that reinforces our guilt-ridden opinion of ourselves that we are not very good witnesses at all. 

Some of us will go on struggling with the guilt as it rises and falls in intensity, depending on how recently we last heard a sermon on evangelism!   Others will become resigned to the silence and make excuses for it: ‘I can’t!’ or ‘It’s just not me!’    More complex characters may come up with convoluted arguments that are meant to show it’s not really necessary to talk about one’s faith, so long as you live it.  Anything to make our silence more palatable.

And you and me?  Are we silent when we know we should be shouting out God’s wonderful Good News?  Do we remain silent, no matter how much we long to speak?  If so, can we acknowledge this unpalatable truth together?  And will you join me on a journey in the hope of seeing things change?

 

Prayer

What’s that you’re saying, “You’re on mute!? …  No one can hear me speaking? …  I need to unmute myself?”

How do I do that, Lord?   Will you help me?

--> Today's writer The Rev’d Nick Stanyon is Synod Evangelist for West Midlands Synod Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 19th September 2021 - The Revd. Gethin Rhys

URC Devotion - Sun, 19/09/2021 - 09:45
96 URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 19th September 2021 - The Revd. 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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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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. United Reformed Church Daily Devotions Service
Sunday 19th September 2021
 
The Rev’d Gethin Rhys
  Introduction
 
Hello, my name is Gethin Rhys, and welcome to worship from my back garden in Cardiff.  This week, in the middle of the Season of Creation, is Great Big Green Week, and as I am lucky enough to have a back garden I thought it would be good to lead worship from this little green sliver of God’s creation. Wherever you may be today, you are welcome to join with me as we worship in and think about this wonderful world which God has made.
 
Call To Worship
 
Come before the Lord with joyful songs, because God is good and generous, because we lack nothing. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
Serve the Lord with gladness, because of God’s greatness and justice,
because God puts an end to war, and to all forms of violence. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
Come before the Lord with joy because God is a faithful promises keeper;
God’s Word is eternal. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
Know that the Lord is God, and we are God’s own people, a community, the family of God. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
It is God who has made us to the praise of the Holy Name, and therefore today, in the same spirit, we have a festival to celebrate God’s peace. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
Hymn       O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Carl Gustav Boberg; Translator: Stuart K. Hine (1949)   O Lord, my God,
when I in awesome wonder
consider all
the works thy hands hath made;
I see the stars,
I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy pow'r throughout
the universe displayed;
 
Then sings my soul,
my Saviour God, to thee:
how great thou art,
how great thou art!
Then sings my soul,
my Saviour God, to thee:
how great thou art,
how great thou art!
 
2 But when I think that God,
His Son not sparing,
sent him to die,
I scarce can take it in,
that on the Cross,
my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died
to take away my sin;
 
4 When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation,
and take me home,
what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow
in humble adoration
And there proclaim,
"My God, how great thou art!"   Prayers of Approach, Confession and Declaration of Forgiveness
 
We gather in the image of the Creator, who is a community of love.
We gather in the name of the Redeemer, who reconciles all of creation.
We gather in the presence of the Life Giver   who inspires new life and renews it.

Creator God, maker of heaven and earth,
We acknowledge our failure to live responsibly as part of your creation.
We have taken what we want, without considering the consequences;
we have wasted and discarded, without thought for the future.
Open our hearts and minds to the signs of our times, to the groaning of creation, so that we may turn from our greed and lack of vision
and see a world being made anew in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

May the Father of all mercies cleanse you from your sins, and restore you in his image to the praise and glory of his name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Praise be to the Holy Trinity!
God is sound and life, Creator of the Universe, Source of all life, whom the angels sing; wondrous Light of all mysteries known or unknown to humankind, and life that lives in all. 
 
Psalm 1
 
Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people,
who do not follow the example of sinners
or join those who have no use for God.
Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord,
and they study it day and night.
They are like trees that grow beside a stream,
that bear fruit at the right time,
and whose leaves do not dry up.
They succeed in everything they do.
 
But evil people are not like this at all;
they are like straw that the wind blows away.
Sinners will be condemned by God
and kept apart from God's own people.
The righteous are guided and protected by the Lord,
but the evil are on the way to their doom.
 
Reading: James 3.13-4.3
 
Are there any of you who are wise and understanding?  You are to prove it by your good life, by your good deeds performed with humility and wisdom.  But if in your heart you are jealous, bitter, and selfish, don't sin against the truth by boasting of your wisdom.  Such wisdom does not come down from heaven; it belongs to the world, it is unspiritual and demonic.  Where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is also disorder and every kind of evil.  But the wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy.  And goodness is the harvest that is produced from the seeds the peacemakers plant in peace.  Where do all the fights and quarrels among you come from? They come from your desires for pleasure, which are constantly fighting within you. You want things, but you cannot have them, so you are ready to kill; you strongly desire things, but you cannot get them, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have what you want because you do not ask God for it.  And when you ask, you do not receive it, because your motives are bad; you ask for things to use for your own pleasures.
 
Hymn:      All things bright and beautiful
                  Cecil Frances Alexander (née Humphreys) (1818-1895)
 
All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful
the Lord God made them all.
  Each little flower that opens,
each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings:

2 The cold wind in the winter,
the pleasant summer sun,
the ripe fruits in the garden,
he made them every one:
  3: He gave us eyes to see them,
and lips that we might tell
how great is God almighty,
who has made all things well:
 
Sermon
 
All things bright and beautiful is one of the best known hymns in the English speaking world (and there is a Welsh translation too!). When I ministered in the Rhondda in south Wales, it was sung at baptisms, weddings and funerals alike, so often that familiarity could easily breed contempt. I guess that’s why the editors of Rejoice & Sing left it out.
 
It’s also often regarded as old fashioned, especially perhaps because of the verse that runs:
 
The tall trees in the greenwood, the meadows where we play,
the rushes by the water we gather every day:


Now I don’t think that I have ever gathered rushes, and I have not often played in meadows. I only really renewed my acquaintance with the tall trees in the greenwood during lockdown. The hymnbook editors’ response has been to cut out the verse, if not the whole hymn. But the tragedy is not the loss of the verse, but the loss of the greenwoods, the meadows and the rushes. I think we should sing this verse much more often – and then commit to doing something to recreate that lost biodiverse world described so well by Cecil Frances Alexander in her hymn.
 
And why have these things been lost? Partly at least because we have failed to listen to the words of the letter of James – “You want things, but you cannot have them, so you are ready to kill; you strongly desire things, but you cannot get them, so you quarrel and fight.” So indeed we have killed – we have sprayed weedkiller over the meadows and turned them into green monocultures, or simply built houses and factories all over them; we have polluted the watercourses and drained the ponds where the rushes used to grow; we have chopped down many of the tall trees in the greenwood, and air pollution and climate change have caused ash dieback and other diseases. We have done this to get what we want, to store up riches for ourselves, and as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “your heart will always be where your riches are” – so we don’t sing that verse because it’s old fashioned, not talking about the riches we care about.
 
But without God’s riches our life is not really any richer – we are in fact much poorer. According to Genesis and evolutionary biology alike, homo sapiens was created last, not because we are the best, but because we need all the rest of creation in order for us to survive and thrive as God and nature intend. That is why James tells us to ask God for the things we need – the things we need, not just “things to use for your own pleasure”.
 
James knows that we are so poor at sharing because we are so good at taking for ourselves. “Where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is also disorder and every kind of evil.” He calls on us to seek “the wisdom from above” which “is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy. And goodness is the harvest that is produced from the seeds the peacemakers plant in peace.”
 
Now. if you have a garden but – like me – you don’t like gardening, I have some great news. Planting some peace in God’s creation and harvesting some good deeds is amazingly simple. Just stop cutting the grass, stop trying to make everything look neat and tidy and let nature clothe the wild flowers and the wild grasses and feed the birds in its own way. Here in our garden, we have stopped cutting our grass and we have our own meadow in which we and our cat can play – and in which the hedgehogs can find shelter and the birds can find insects and the bees can find pollen – and it’s all less work for us too! Often what we need to do is to stop doing things!
 
But there are things we can do. This is the right time of year to clear a bit of ground, or if you’re energetic to scarify your lawn and throw a bee bomb into it. These are balls of mixed wild flower seeds, which you can buy in many local eco shops or gardening stores, or you can go online. Make sure you buy one with only native wild flowers – and next year you should have your own meadow (as long as you remember not to keep tidying it all up!). And if what you’ve got is a window box or a planter, you can plant your bee bomb in that instead – the bees and pollinators will be so grateful.
 
You see, as James says, we weren’t made to try to improve on God’s handiwork. We were made to enjoy God’s creation, to be part of it, as the Psalmist says, like trees planted by the waters. If we stay rooted in God’s creation like a tree planted by a river, it will look after us – it will go on producing the food and medicines and everything else we need to sustain life.
As we sang earlier:
        
When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze;

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
 
It’s when we interfere and try to take over, when we exploit the earth for profit, that’s when things go wrong, and the evil find they are on the way to their doom, because our selfishness will destroy us all – because in our generation God’s creation can no longer pollinate our food or grow the material for our clothes as it should.
 
So don’t sow jealousy and selfishness, sow a bee bomb instead, be rooted in God’s creation like a tree planted by the waters. And remember:
 
Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings,
he made their glowing colours, he made their tiny wings:
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful the Lord God made them all.
 
Thanks be to God for his amazing creation and his endless generosity. May we look after it and share it with other people and with all things bright and beautiful. Amen.
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
We believe in the one and only God, Eternal Trinity, from whom, through whom and for whom all created things exist. God alone we worship;
in God we put our trust.
 
We worship God, source and sustainer of creation, whom Jesus called Father, whose sons and daughters we are.
 
We worship God revealed in Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh; who lived our human life, died for sinners on the cross; who was raised from the dead, and proclaimed by the apostles, Son of God; who lives eternally, as saviour and sovereign, coming in judgement and mercy,  to bring us to eternal life.
 
We worship God, ever present in the Holy Spirit; who brings this Gospel to fruition, assures us of forgiveness, strengthens us to do God’s will,
and makes us sisters and brothers of Jesus, sons and daughters of God.
 
We believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, united in heaven and on earth: on earth, the Body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit to glorify God and to serve humanity; in heaven, eternally one with the power, the wisdom and the love of God in Trinity.
 
We believe that, in the fullness of time, God will renew and gather in one all things in heaven and on earth through Christ, and be perfectly honoured and adored.
 
We rejoice in God who has given us being,  who shares our humanity to bring us to glory, our source of prayer and power of praise; to whom be glory, praise and adoration, now and evermore. Amen
 
Intercessions
 
In peace let us pray to the Father, through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit, who make, sustain and renew all things.
 
Heavenly Father,
we pray for your Church throughout the world
that we may be faithful to our baptism.
With the dawn of each day,
may we be awakened to the beauty of the earth
and rejoice in the wonder and diversity of creation in all its forms and colour.
 
Lord, hear us.  Lord, graciously hear us.
 
Lord of life, as all living things depend on the good quality of the air, the soil, and water, may your wisdom guide us as we care for the environment. Deliver us from selfishness and rapacious greed.
Help us to share the rich resources of this world gladly and justly,
in the cause of stability and peace between nations and peoples.
 
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.
 
Lord of mercy, we bring before you areas affected by chronic shortage of water, and pray for those suffering as a result of drought or the lack of safe water to drink. We pray for those suffering from the effects of extreme weather and whose environment has been damaged by cyclones, floods or destructive wildfires. May we better understand the effects of the changing patterns of weather on our planet.
 
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.
 
Lord of abundant life, we give thanks for the rich harvest of the seas;
may we cherish the good things you have created and be successful in reducing the pollution in our oceans, rivers and lakes that life may flourish.
 
May your wisdom help us to maintain the biodiversity of our fragile planet.
 
Strengthen our resolve and bless the efforts of all who seek to protect the marine, animal, insect and plant life that are threatened with extinction.
 
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.
 
Lord of creation, you have placed us on the earth to care for it,
and call us to be co-workers with Christ your Son. Bless our farmers, those who work in our nature reserves and National Parks,
in our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Scientific Interest and all who are custodians of our landscape.
 
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.
 
Lord of the universe, you have made us from the stuff of the earth, and to earth we shall return.  May we tread lightly upon this earth
and succeed in the innovation and development of sources of renewable energy and green technology.  By your grace, may we live our days wisely, live sustainably, and at the last come with all your saints into paradise and enjoy creation made new.
 
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
 
Offertory
 
God’s world needs our offerings of care, and for many of us that means sharing some of our money too.  So let us set aside our offering for the work of our church this week, as we dedicate ourselves anew to God’s work using James Ashdown’s prayer for this week from the Prayer Handbook - which links us back to Psalm 1 which we used earlier in the service.
 
May we be like trees planted by the river of God.
Our trunks straight, untwisted by envy or selfish ambition.
May we be like trees planted by the river of God.
Our leaves broad, giving shade to all who suffer chaos and evil.
May we be like trees planted by the river of God.
Our fruit sweet, bursting with mercy and Peace.
May we be like trees planted by the river of God.
Our roots deep in the ever-fertile love of God. Amen.
  Hymn     God Who Spoke In The Beginning
Fred Kaan
  God who spoke 
in the beginning,
forming rock and shaping spar,
set all life and growth in motion,
earthly world and distant star;
he who calls the earth to order
is the ground of what we are.
 
2 God who spoke 
through people, nations,
through events long past and gone,
showing still today his purpose,
speaks supremely through his Son;
he who calls the earth to order
gives his word, and it is done.
3 God whose speech becomes incarnate 
Christ is servant, Christ is Lord!
calls us to a life of service, 
heart and will to action stirred;
he who uses our obedience 
has the first and final word.
  Blessing
 
May God the Father, who clothes the lilies of the field and feeds the birds of the air, provide you with all we need for life in its fullness. Amen.
 
May God the Son, who fed the five thousand and turned water into wine,
feed you with his life and transform us in his love. Amen.
 
May God the Holy Spirit, who hovered over the waters of creation
and formed the world from chaos, form you in the likeness of Christ and renew the face of the earth. Amen.
 
Sources and Thanks
 
Call to Worship by Andy Braunston.  Prayers of Approach from (From Jubilee for the Earth – Season of Creation 2020 - https://23100d34-ff98-46f5-ad81-a296cc22d25b.filesusr.com/ugd/e828e0_cd8cf9ce255d4f288d1d39fa01bc61a3.pdf)  and (From Church of England Climate Sunday service – https://23100d34-ff98-46f5-ad81-a296cc22d25b.filesusr.com/ugd/e828e0_4a0730f562654dedaf1b6e38b58622e2.pdf )
 
Prayer of Illumination (Hildegard of Bingen, 13th Century – used in Jubilee for the Earth, as above)
 
Intercessions and Blessing from the Church of England, A Time for Creation - https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/time-creation#calibre_link-36)
 
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder - Carl Gustav Boberg; Translator: Stuart K. Hine (1949) - BBC Songs of Praise
All things bright and beautiful - Cecil Frances Alexander (née Humphreys) (1818-1895) - BBC Songs of Praise
God who spoke in the beginning © Fred Kaan 1968, Hope Publishing Co. All rights reserved. Played by the Revd. Paul Robinson
 
Opening Organ Piece - Fugue in G Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
(organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece - 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)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
  --> Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved.
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762
  Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Sunday September 19, 2021

URC Devotion - Sun, 19/09/2021 - 06:00
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Sunday September 19, 2021
 

Psalm 60

We are seething in our fury,
anger festers into flame.
We could kill! No judge or jury
would convict or even blame.
Shepherd hear our cries, our furor;
but before you cool and tame, 
share our pain, then, in your power 
lead us from our hateful aim.

Worthless adversaries hurt us,
with a wrath we did not earn.
Worthless partners all desert us;
God seems distant, silent, stern.
Spirit, hear our cries for vengeance!
Let our indignation burn!
Then come, heal our reckless nature,
lead us from the rash and stern.

You who set the earth’s foundations,
comprehending our distress:
reconstruct our accusations
and the violence we profess.
Mason, hear our cries; rebuild us.
Through your power to wash and bless,
lead a spring, a healing justice
from our dregs of bitterness.  

James Hart Brumm (b1962) © 2009 Wayne Leupold Editions Inc

This works well to the tune Ebenezer which you can hear here:
https://bit.ly/3wjC7Y8


Reflection

Sometimes when we pray, it flows in such a way that we sense our petitions are already in tune with God's purposes. Other times, though, the need to pray may be no less urgent but we're stuck with an underlying awkwardness: Should I really be saying this in prayer, should I be expressing these kinds of thought and emotion before God? 

And at the sharp end of life, we know that the things we need to say – and to pray – are liable to come across as angry and abrasive; but to bite our tongue and bottle them up would feel far from healthy.

So in today's Psalm setting, prayerful self-censorship isn't high on the agenda. Instead there's full-throated acknowledgement before God of the depth of disillusionment and rage being experienced. Remarkably though, the text holds in tension a recognition that thoughts which overstep the mark of God's justice must ultimately be tempered, with a forthright insistence that God should not rush to remove our anger before we've been allowed to let rip.

In truth, James Hart Brumm's verse is rather tangential to the Biblical text of Psalm 60 to which hymnals index it (the main points of contact are the voicing of complaint and the imagery of God as 'builder'). But Brumm's editors have written that these words “are not intended to represent any particular Psalm; rather, they reflect the tone of Pss. 58-60 (and many others like them), with honest expressions of hurt, anger, bitterness, and desires for vengeance."

Indeed, that's the beauty of the Book of Psalms as a whole: it encourages us not just to offer God the sentiments that we think are 'acceptable', but to pray our actual thoughts and feelings – however hurt or harsh they may be. Praying the Psalms gives us permission to identify ourselves with their expressions of lament, their cries for vindication; and emboldens us not to stop there, but to say it 'in our own words' too.


Prayer

Lord, you see me as I am.
Not just the idealized version of myself that I aspire to,
but the 'me' that sometimes lashes out.
Give me boldness to be honest with myself and with you,
confidence to know that you hear my prayer,
and grace to open myself and my circumstances to your healing.
In the name of Jesus,
who brings heaven's truth among us,
and who brings our humanity to heaven's throne.   Amen.

  --> Today's writer The Rev’d Dominic Grant, Minister, Barnet URC and St Andrew’s Chesterfield 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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Saturday September 18, 2021

URC Devotion - Sat, 18/09/2021 - 06:00
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1 Corinthians 14: 1 - 19

Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.  For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their building up and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church.  Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I speak to you in some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?  It is the same way with lifeless instruments that produce sound, such as the flute or the harp. If they do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is being played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?  So with yourselves; if in a tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different kinds of sounds in the world, and nothing is without sound.  If then I do not know the meaning of a sound, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.  So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church.

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying?  For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up.  I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you;  nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Reflection

The 1991 film, Sister Act, included Whoopi Goldberg playing the character of Delores, a nightclub singer in witness protection with an order of teaching nuns in New York.  Mother Superior set her to work in trying to teach the, perfectly dreadful, choir to sing in harmony.  Of course Delores not only enabled the sisters to sing the Salve Regina well, she taught them new styles of singing.  The most moving part of the film for me is when youngsters came into the church during mass as they heard the nuns sing in a style which related to them.  Worship and music became evangelistic tools. 

(You can see the clip here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctjG4MjJwEA)

Paul’s concern, in today’s passage, to only use some spiritual gifts when they’d make sense to the congregation  is part of this concern to make worship evangelistic.   If we’re honest much of our worship is often not at all evangelistic - or seeker friendly.  We assume that newcomers will know the words to our prayers, how to behave, and will respond to our music and style (and put up with dreadful coffee!).  Where this does happen it is, indeed, a miracle of God’s grace.  I think it was Neitsche who held that if Christians wanted others to believe in the Redemption they should at least try to look redeemed!  

I’m not suggesting we make radical changes to our worship turning into a concert.  I am suggesting we evaluate our worship with the eyes of a newcomer.  Why not ask a non-church friend to come along and give some honest feedback?  Could we ensure that we have rousing hymns to start and end the service with?  Could we offer better hospitality to those who wish to stay?  Could we ask visitors to sign a visitor’s book and then send them a welcome card?  Could we ensure our worship, our prayers, and our sermons give hope both to those who are seeking spirituality and to those who have been life-long Christians?

Prayer

Lord,
help us to use worship to 
glorify You,
spread the news of Your Gospel,
celebrate our redemption,
and to offer food to both babes in Christ
and long established saints,
that, through the Church
your Kingdom may come.  Amen.
    --> Today's writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four churches in and around Glasgow.

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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Friday September 17, 2021

URC Devotion - Fri, 17/09/2021 - 06:00
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Friday September 17, 2021   Worship as pastoral care


Habakkuk 3: 17 - 19

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
    and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
    and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
    and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    and makes me tread upon the heights.

Reflection

Habakkuk lived in an agricultural society in an age when the harvest was a matter of life and death.  Harvest festivals weren’t just nice traditional affairs where one sung favourite hymns and had lovely feelings of nostalgia, but a matter of deep concern.  If the harvest failed, the people would starve.  Given that brutal fact, today’s passage is audacious - no matter what calamity might befall the people the prophet would still praise God.  It reminds me of the rabbis in Auschwitz who put God on trial and found Him guilty for not intervening to help His chosen people.  After the trial concluded the rabbis lit a candle and said their evening prayers.  Despite the utter calamity of the Shoah, still they prayed.

There is a tendency for some people to stay away from church when life is hard.  It’s natural, we can’t face people with their chatter and concern.  When things are hard we are tempted to retreat into our shells, lick our wounds and hope for better days.  Yet the witness of Scripture is that, even in our deepest despair, to offer praise is good for us.  As we praise we lift ourselves out of our own despair (even for a few moments) and gain a different perspective.  

I have no idea if Habakkuk was ever tested by crops failing and famine ensuing.  I have no idea what happened to the faith of those rabbis in Auschwitz.  I do know that, in my darkest moments, worship has made a difference - even going somewhere where I can be anonymous.  The need to worship, to gain a different perspective, to unite myself with the Lord and His people in worship does me good.  It’s a form of pastoral care and often one we forget.  

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
even in the wilderness you praised the Lord,
even in Gethsemane you sung Psalms.
even on the Cross you managed to pray and give comfort to others.
Help us, when we are low, despondent or in despair,
to praise - even when we don’t feel like it.
Help our praise to change our feelings.
Let Your perspective change our view.  Amen.   --> Today's writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four churches in and around Glasgow.

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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 16th September 2021

URC Devotion - Thu, 16/09/2021 - 06:00
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Worship through time and space
St John 6: 35 - 59

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.  Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away;  for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’

Then the people began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’  They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’  Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.  It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.  Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

The people then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;  for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’  He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Reflection

In the URC, as in many other Reformed churches, we have a variety of patterns of Holy Communion.  Some of our churches celebrate each week, some each month, some each quarter.  However often we celebrate we recognise the centrality of this Sacrament where the Holy Spirit gathers us up into God’s presence, the sacrifice of Calvary is shown forth, and we are nourished by the Lord’s own self.  Through the simple things of bread and wine we are fed from God’s own table where all are welcome.  

This particular act of worship unites us with Christians through time and space.  In previous ages much ink, and blood, was spilt in trying to understand the nature of the meal we share.  Like Jesus’ first hearers, Christians would fight about the meaning of his words - does he really feed us His body and blood?  In our own generation these disputes lessened as we come to realise that mysteries must be experienced not explained.  

We are seated at God’s table with the apostles, prophets and martyrs of old, with believers through every stage of the Church’s development and with fellow Christians now - whether they worship in grand Cathedrals or in secret cell groups afraid of the authorities.  Here, at this table, Luther and Calvin make peace, Augustine and Aquinas chew the cud, Paul and Theresa of Liseaux discuss women’s ordination, Fanny Crosbie and Hildegard of Bingen find a song to sing, and Orthodox Patriarchs learn from Reformed women pastors.  Here we remind ourselves of our unity - not just with those we love and like, but with those we dislike intensely and have profound disagreements with.  

In an ever more fractured world, this simple meal, dating back to the Last Supper (somewhere else where a divided group were fed by the Lord’s own hand) is a sign to the world of the power of love to find a way through division and conflict. 

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
we thank You that, through bread and wine, 
we are drawn into Your presence,
fed by Your own hand
and sent for service.
Help us to welcome more to Your table,
to set aside our petty divisions
and model, in this meal, the type of world You dream of.  Amen.     --> Today's writer The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four churches in and around Glasgow. 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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Sunday's coming

URC Devotion - Wed, 15/09/2021 - 15:45
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} } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnTextContent,.mcnBoxedTextContentColumn{ padding-right:18px !important; padding-left:18px !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnImageCardLeftImageContent,.mcnImageCardRightImageContent{ padding-right:18px !important; padding-bottom:0 !important; padding-left:18px !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcpreview-image-uploader{ display:none !important; width:100% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h1{ font-size:24px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h2{ font-size:20px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h3{ font-size:18px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h4{ font-size:16px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnBoxedTextContentContainer .mcnTextContent,.mcnBoxedTextContentContainer .mcnTextContent p{ font-size:18px !important; 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Dear Friends,

Sunday’s service takes place Great Big Green Week. It is led by The Revd. Gethin Rhys from his garden, during which you can hear beautiful bird song and trees rustling in the wind. But please also pay attention to what Gethin has to say! Hymns include O Lord my God (How great thou art) and Christ, of God, unseen, the image.

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 blessing,


Dan


Dan Morrell
Editor, Daily Devotion Sunday Services from the URC --> If you have a problem...   Sometimes the Daily Devotions emails go astray.  As we send out over 4,000 a day some internet service providers label them as Spam or Junk.  If an email doesn't arrive check your Spam/Junk Folder in the first instance.  If the email is there then add this email address to your contacts and, if you have one, a Safe Senders' List.  If you google your email programme and the words "safe senders list" you should find out how to do it. 

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This Week's Pandemic Prayer

URC Devotion - Wed, 15/09/2021 - 11:55
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} } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnTextContent,.mcnBoxedTextContentColumn{ padding-right:18px !important; padding-left:18px !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnImageCardLeftImageContent,.mcnImageCardRightImageContent{ padding-right:18px !important; padding-bottom:0 !important; padding-left:18px !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcpreview-image-uploader{ display:none !important; width:100% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h1{ font-size:24px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h2{ font-size:20px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h3{ font-size:18px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h4{ font-size:16px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnBoxedTextContentContainer .mcnTextContent,.mcnBoxedTextContentContainer .mcnTextContent p{ font-size:18px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ #templatePreheader{ display:block !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .preheaderContainer .mcnTextContent,.preheaderContainer .mcnTextContent p{ font-size:14px !important; line-height:115% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .headerContainer .mcnTextContent,.headerContainer .mcnTextContent p{ font-size:18px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .bodyContainer .mcnTextContent,.bodyContainer .mcnTextContent p{ font-size:18px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .footerContainer .mcnTextContent,.footerContainer .mcnTextContent p{ font-size:14px !important; line-height:115% !important; } } View this email in your browser Daily Devotions from the URC --> inspiration in your inbox --> Follow on Facebook Follow on Twitter Podcast Share This on Facebook Tweet this Forward to a Friend This Week's Pandemic Prayer
Dear Friends

Each week we continue to publish a prayer that can be used in private, or public, worship and which reflects on our journey through the pandemic.  This week's prayer was written by the Rev'd John Matthews, a retired Baptist minister and member at Wellinborough URC. You can find the prayer here.

with every good wish


Andy

The Rev'd Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC --> --> --> Follow on Facebook Follow on Twitter Podcast Share This on Facebook Tweet this Forward to a Friend --> 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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 15th September 2021

URC Devotion - Wed, 15/09/2021 - 06:00
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} } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnTextContent,.mcnBoxedTextContentColumn{ padding-right:18px !important; padding-left:18px !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnImageCardLeftImageContent,.mcnImageCardRightImageContent{ padding-right:18px !important; padding-bottom:0 !important; padding-left:18px !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcpreview-image-uploader{ display:none !important; width:100% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h1{ font-size:24px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h2{ font-size:20px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h3{ font-size:18px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ h4{ font-size:16px !important; line-height:125% !important; } } @media only screen and (max-width: 480px){ .mcnBoxedTextContentContainer .mcnTextContent,.mcnBoxedTextContentContainer .mcnTextContent p{ font-size:18px !important; 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Worship: The Work of the People
Ephesians 5

But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints.  Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving.  Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.  Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

‘Sleeper, awake!
    Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.  So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,  as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,  giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection

We don’t often talk about liturgy in the URC yet every minister and worship leader follows a liturgy - the only issue is whether anyone else sees it!  From notes on the back of an envelope, through to skeleton orders of service, and to the suggested orders in Worship from the URC we have liturgies.  The word liturgy has its roots in Greek words which mean “the work of the people” or “public service”. 

As the people of God we, through song, word, and ritual, worship the Lord.  We may, of course, squabble over the songs and the prayers and we may insist we don’t have ritual (though bending a knee or raising an arm are as much rituals as crossing oneself).  Sometimes, as in the Daily Devotion services, we have responses allowing us to join in with aspects of the liturgy.  Regardless of the style of service, we work together to worship God.

“Work” might not be the word most of us use.  Yet work we do - we get up, we make time in our day, we take part.  It’s work which should lift our spirits.  If worship is done well then, regardless of style, we feel better about ourselves, the world and God afterwards.  An old Iona liturgy reminded folk that whilst the service had ended our work, and worship, begin at the benediction - as we take what we’ve learnt and experienced and put it into practice.  Maybe that’s another link with this word “work” - we have to work, puzzle, and ponder about how to link what we do on Sundays with how we live the rest of our lives.  If there is no discernable difference in us after worship we’ve not put the work in!  

Prayer

Help us in our work and worship, O God,
to link what we experience and learn
with how we act and live,
that what we do on Sundays
will change our lives through the week,
so that our witness, service and evangelism
will bear fruit.  Amen.     --> Today's writer The Rev’d Andy Braunston is minister of four churches in and around Glasgow. 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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion Tuesday September 14, 2021

URC Devotion - Tue, 14/09/2021 - 06:00
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Worship: Our Attitude
Colossians 3: 14-17

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ  dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Reflection

Worship is the principal activity of the Church.  Whatever else we do, we worship.  We may worship in grand buildings rivalling parish churches in size and beauty or in chapels modelled with Puritan simplicity.  We may worship with hundreds of others, or with a few faithful saints.  We may worship online with our post-pandemic technical confidence or at home alone.  We may use a variety of resources, or simply sit in silence.  Yet worship is at the core of what we do as Church - everything else we do springs up from it.  Since the earliest days when the believers gathered in the Temple and shared bread and wine in their homes, to the monasteries singing the Psalms in services which punctuated the day and night, to the Reformers’ rediscovery of music and plain exposition of the Scriptures, to the variety of ways in which we worship now, the heart of the Church’s work has been worship.  

No wonder then that the writer of the Epistle to the Colossians both encourages and warns this fledgling congregation.  They’d adapted elements of pagan worship -  no doubt to make pagan converts feel at home, to be better inculturated into their community, and to find a way of accommodating  the Roman imperial cult.  The writer reminds them that this is not what we are to do as followers of Christ and shows worship as being the primary means of both unity and order.  At worship we gather with love, harmony and in peace (or at least we should!).  At worship we teach and should be prepared to be admonished in wisdom (brave preachers might be roasted at later Church Meetings though!) whilst showing gratitude in all things to the Lord.   

When we gather to worship are we doing so with love, harmony and peace?  
Do we see worship as the principal act of the Church? 
How do we use it to inform our discipleship?

Prayer

Loving God,
since the start of the ages, 
Your people have met You in worship.

In grove and tent, home and temple,
synagogue and church, mosque and gurdwara,
humanity still seeks Your presence.

Let our experience of You in worship change us,
fill us with love and peace,
correct us when we err,
that, strengthened by You,
we will witness, evangelise and serve Your people.  Amen.     --> Today's writer The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four congregations in and around Glasgow. 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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 13th September 2021

URC Devotion - Mon, 13/09/2021 - 06:00
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  Worship: Why?
Psalm 95: 1 - 7

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
    the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.

Reflection

We worship for many different reasons but I believe we worship, primarily, because we need to.  St Augustine famously prayed “...our hearts are restless, O God, until they find their rest in you*.”  Humanity is created with a need to be in relationship with God and, even in our current secular age, there is still a yearning for spirituality, meaning, and connection with God. 

Some years ago a friend of mine told me he’d become a Buddhist.  It was, he said, very different from being a Christian.  He’d go, each week, to his Buddhist Temple (a former Methodist Chapel) and meditate.  He took his turn on the tea and coffee rota, there was a collection to defray expenses as well as welcome and gardening rotas.  Someone even produced a newsletter...  Clearly the difference he perceived wasn’t about organisation but about spiritual experience.  He went to the temple expecting to have an experience of spirituality mediated through meditation.  He is warm about the Church but never expected to encounter spirituality there.  

Our Psalm today enjoins us to make a joyful noise in worship and there is the expectation that in worship we experience the presence of God.  It’s hard sometimes to experience the Lord when we’re distracted - by the pews, the music, the preacher, and other people!  Yet our worship is a communal, not exclusively private,  experience and in the midst of the distractions, in the midst of other people, we allow ourselves to experience God, His love for, and challenge to, us which combine to strengthen our discipleship.

When we are distracted with others at church we should pray for them.  When we loathe a hymn, we should ask God what we can learn from it.  When we think the preacher is on a different planet we should ask the Lord to speak to us through her.  We experience God in the busyness and messiness of the world - that’s what Incarnation is all about after all.  

*St Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 1

Prayer

Remind us, O God,
that worship is all about You
  • Your love
  • Your peace
  • Your energy
not about us and our tastes.
Remind us too, O God,
of our need to worship,
that we might be strengthened for your Kingdom. Amen.     --> Today's writer The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four churches in and around Glasgow. 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 © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Transcending Mission

URC Devotion - Sun, 12/09/2021 - 18:00
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Dear <<First Name>>

I sometimes get a very funny look when I say that I have a bit of a problem with the word mission.  Don’t get me wrong – most of the things we do that we call ‘mission’ are great.  But we have rather come to use the term to cover absolutely everything.  We often ask: “what is the ‘mission’ of your local church?” We often say: “We should be more concerned about ‘mission’!”  We often resolve: “Let’s call it a ‘mission committee’ to help us focus…” and so on.
 
And yet, what are we doing when we take the Latin translation of a Greek word that, in the New Testament, only gets used for the sending of the Son and the Holy Spirit out into the world? Why do we use it to construct an entire edifice of Church life?  Following Jesus and the Spirit out into the world is, of course, a wonderful thing to do, but when a word begins to mean almost anything, it can mean nothing.
 
I have found myself in recent years talking, perhaps more cumbersomely, about the “Worship, Witness, Service and Evangelism” that make up the call of the Church.  There is nothing new or radical in doing that – these are words, and ideas, that folk have used for millennia.  I do find that they point us more directly and concretely to those elements of the life of the Church that are vital.
 
Everything we are and do is rooted in our worship, which, as Andy Braunston helps us see in his reflections on worship over the next week, shapes and forms us into the people God would have us be.
 
Evangelism is also utterly central to our call as a Church – if we are not proclaiming the good news and baptizing new Christians we are failing to offer a fullness of life and human flourishing to all we encounter. We would do well to reflect far more carefully on this as a tradition, which Nick Stanyon helps us do in his series of reflections.
 
We are nothing if we are not giving witness to the Good News in the midst of the world – seeking to ensure the values of the Kingdom shape life in the world today as much as possible.  Roo Stewart spends a week enabling us to ponder helpfully, with reference to some of the work of the Joint Public Issues Team what shape our call to witness might take.
 
Service is where the Gospel takes concrete form in the way in which we serve all those made in the image of God (ie everyone!) as we encounter them and their needs in the life of God’s world. Marie Trubic concludes this series and helps us reflect from the perspective of a Church Related Community Worker on how we might embody this.
 
It becomes so easy to subsume everything under that word ‘mission’, and actually hide away from our central call – or hide away from aspects of it that we are less comfortable with than others. Without any of these dimensions of the life of the Church we are not fully who we are called to be, and I pray that this series will focus our minds on these primary elements of the call to be the Church and individual disciples.

John
 
The Rev’d Dr John Bradbury,
General Secretary

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URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 12th September 2021 - The Revd. Jayne Taylor

URC Devotion - Sun, 12/09/2021 - 09:45
96 URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 12th September 2021 - The Revd. 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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
  click here
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
Worship for Sunday 12th Sept 2021

Photo Credit Mads Schmidt Rasmussen Unsplash   The Rev’d Jayne Taylor Introduction
Hello, my name is Jayne, a minister currently based in the Cotswolds. Before I was ordained, I spent many years as a Research Scientist in Cambridge. Today I’m speaking from my home in Tetbury, Gloucestershire.
 
Call to Worship
 
Come before the Lord with joyful songs, because God is good and generous, because we lack nothing. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
Serve the Lord with gladness, because of God’s greatness and justice,
because God puts an end to war, and to all forms of violence. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
Come before the Lord with joy because God is a faithful promises keeper; God’s Word is eternal. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
Know that the Lord is God, and we are God’s own people, a community, the family of God. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
It is God who has made us to the praise of the Holy Name, and therefore today, in the same spirit, we have a festival to celebrate God’s peace. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
Hymn:      Great God, Your Love Has Called Us
Brian A. Wren, b. 1936   Great God, your love has called us here
as we, by love, for love were made.
Your living likeness still we bear,
though marred, dishonoured, disobeyed.
We come, with all our heart and mind
your call to hear, your love to find.
 
2 We come with self-inflicted pains
of broken trust and chosen wrong,
half-free, half-bound by inner chains,
by social forces swept along,
by powers and systems close confined
yet seeking hope for humankind.
 
3 Great God, in Christ you call our name
and then receive us as your own
not through some merit, right, or claim,
but by your gracious love alone.
We strain to glimpse your mercy seat
and find you kneeling at our feet.
 
4 Then take the towel, and break the bread,
and humble us, and call us friends.
Suffer and serve till all are fed,
and show how grandly love intends
to work till all creation sings,
to fill all worlds, to crown all things.   5 Great God, in Christ you set us free
your life to live, your joy to share.
Give us your Spirit's liberty to turn from guilt and dull despair,
and offer all that faith can do
while love is making all things new.
 
Prayers of Confession and Forgiveness
 
Loving God, you are always calling people to spread your love and share your word with others.
 
You call ordinary people to do the most unexpected things. You need so many people to do your work here on earth.
 
Help us always to be ready to listen to your call, and to know that you will give us the gifts, courage, energy and enthusiasm to do the things you need us to do.
 
Help us to overcome worries, doubts and indeed anger, and to be ready to respond to your call like the disciples did when Jesus called them to follow him.
Loving God, forgive us when we turn our backs on you,  when we think we're in the right and others are wrong, when it's easier to be irate than to admit we may be wrong or say sorry.
Forgive us when we think only of ourselves, when we fail to see the sufferings of your world, when we are so caught up in our own troubles that we do not reach out to help others.
 
Forgiving God, you do forgive us. Help us to forgive others; indeed help us to forgive ourselves. As we ask in Jesus’ name, and following his example we pray…
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
Isaiah 50:4-9
 
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.  Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.  The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards.  I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;  I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me;  therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame;  he who vindicates me is near.  Who will contend with me?  Let us stand up together.  Who are my adversaries?  Let them confront me.  It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?  All of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
 
St Mark 8:27-38
        
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’  He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
 
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?  Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
            
Sermon
 
The question of identity is one of those big questions in life; ‘who am I?’ Am I simply a clone of my parents and grandparents, for example, or am I my own person? How do you perceive yourself, and is that how others perceive you? Or are you trying to live up to the person others see you as?
 
“Who do you say I am,” Jesus asks of his disciples? Our reading comes about halfway through Mark’s gospel and is the pivotal point in it.
 
The Gospel of Mark can be thought of as being in two halves, often called the light half and the dark half. In the first half Jesus, goes about his ministry of preaching, healing and teaching– the light half. But after chapter 8, the tone changes, and Jesus’ face is set on Jerusalem, his arrest and crucifixion – the dark half.
 
This passage is the turning point because it’s here that Jesus takes stock of the teaching that his disciples have been given. Have they got it yet?
 
Who do you believe I am?
 
Our Isaiah reading is one of the so-called suffering servant passages, which have long been associated with the person of Jesus Christ. In our reading, the passage points to the teaching ministry of that suffering servant, when God ‘wakens my ear to listen to those who are taught.’ This, essentially, is what Jesus is doing in Mark. Have they got it yet? Have they understood?
 
Who do you think I am?
 
And Mark sandwiches this event between two others:
 
Before this, a blind man partially recovers his sight before being fully healed (8:22-26) mirroring the disciples partial understanding of Jesus.
 
After this, a blind man, Bartimaeus, is healed fully and at once asks to follow Jesus (10:46-52) mirroring the disciples new understanding of Jesus.
So, Peter says that others believe he is John the Baptist, or Elijah or one of the prophets; in other words a figure from the past, come to bring back the good old days.
 
But its dawning on the disciples that the person before them is not a throwback to the past, but a new being who represents their future; God’s anointed one.
 
‘You are the Messiah’ Peter says. The penny has dropped. But don’t tell anyone, commands Jesus...not yet. They still haven’t got it. This is the first time that any ‘human voice’ has called Jesus the Messiah.
But now Jesus can reveal to his disciples just what his mission really is, and for the first time ‘he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. Still too much information for them to take in, and they will have to be reminded of it again soon, but now Jesus knows that the time is right for him to set his sights on Jerusalem, at last, and the cross.
Who do you say I am?
 
Jesus goes on to tell his followers that they must deny themselves. Is this some kind of attempt at brainwashing? Do we really have to deny ourselves, our pasts, the stuff that makes us who we are? I don’t think so.
 
I think that when Jesus tells us to deny ourselves he means for us to deny what society has made us. To deny the masks that we wear in order to please others. And to be the person that we were made to be.
 
This is a society which plays by different rules. A society in which too many people struggle with issues of self-esteem, a society where you are seemingly worth nothing unless you have wealth and power.
To deny yourself, I believe, means to find your true identity, your true self in Jesus, by Jesus’ rules and values.
 
God sees things very differently from us. From God’s vantage point, everyone is of equal worth, everyone has equal value.
 
We have to make a special effort in order to see the world that way, God’s way, to see someone, for example, who is very different to ourselves, as being of equal worth.
 
For Christians, it’s an acknowledgement that we are all created in the image of God. As a former scientist it strikes me that there are around 7 billion people in the world today, and yet everyone is unique. Even so-called identical twins, who share the same DNA, are different people with different personalities.  God has created us to be unique, to glory in divine diversity, yet too often we try to be like others, try to conform to stereotypes.
 
When Jesus asks; “Who do you say I am?” it is an invitation to us all to discover more about the person who we describe as The Christ. It is also a question inviting us to be true to ourselves, I believe, true be the people God wants us to be.
 
Hymn       Just As I Am Without One Plea
Charlotte Elliott   Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood
was shed for me,
and that thou bidd'st me
come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.
 
2 Just as I am,
though tossed about
with many a conflict,
many a doubt,
fightings and fears
within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come.   3: Just as I am poor,
wretched, blind,
sight, riches, healing of the mind
yea all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come.

4: Just as I am,
thy love unknown
has broken every barrier down;
now to be thine, yea thine alone
O Lamb of God, I come.  
5: Just as I am of that free love, the breadth, length depth
and height to prove here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God I come.
 
Affirmation of Faith                                                                               
We believe in the one and only God, Eternal Trinity, from whom, through whom and for whom all created things exist. God alone we worship; in God we put our trust.
We worship God, source and sustainer of creation, whom Jesus called Father, whose sons and daughters we are.
 We worship God revealed in Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh; who lived our human life, died for sinners on the cross; who was raised from the dead, and proclaimed by the apostles, Son of God; who lives eternally, as saviour and sovereign, coming in judgement and mercy,  to bring us to eternal life.
We worship God, ever present in the Holy Spirit; who brings this Gospel to fruition, assures us of forgiveness, strengthens us to do God’s will, and makes us sisters and brothers of Jesus, sons and daughters of God.
We believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, united in heaven and on earth: on earth, the Body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit to glorify God and to serve humanity; in heaven, eternally one with the power, the wisdom and the love of God in Trinity.
We believe that, in the fullness of time, God will renew and gather in one all things in heaven and on earth through Christ, and be perfectly honoured and adored.
We rejoice in God who has given us being,  who shares our humanity to bring us to glory, our source of prayer and power of praise; to whom be glory, praise and adoration, now and evermore. Amen
 
Offertory
 
Loving God, we thank you for the many blessings you give us. We owe you everything we have. Help us to in turn to give back a token of your love for us in the giving of our time, our efforts and also in our offering, as we seek to love our neighbour as we do ourselves. May our offering be used wisely, we ask, in Jesus’ name. Amen
 
Intercessory prayers
 
Gracious God,
as your Jesus reached out to those on the margins,
so now in our prayers we do likewise:
We pray for all who have little love in their lives
those who are lonely and isolated,
those who are addicted and feel trapped,
those who grieve and mourn,
those whose relationships have been shattered.
 
Loving God,
We pray for those who love things which are unhelpful
those who worship their wealth or possessions, and where greed has taken over,
those who find love only in the approval of others, in flattery, or in power,
those who can only love themselves
those for whom bitterness and hatred reign
 
Compassionate God,
We pray for those who give totally of themselves for the sake of others
those who are persecuted or outcast
those who face prejudice because of the colour of their skin,
those who face discrimination because of their gender
those who face harassment for their sexuality
 
Merciful God,
help us to strive to see others as you see us,
help us to reach out in love to our neighbour
help us to live as Christ would have us live
help us to walk the way of Jesus
As we ask these things in his name, Amen.
 
Hymn       Give To Me Lord A Thankful Heart
                  Caryl Micklem   Give to me, Lord,
a thankful heart
and a discerning mind;
give, as I play the Christian’s part,
the strength to finish what I start
and act on what I find.
 
2: When, in the rush
of days, my will
is habit-bound and slow,
help me to keep in vision, still,
what love & power & peace can fill.
A life that trusts in you.
 
3: By your divine & urgent claim,
and by your human face,
kindle our sinking hearts to flame,
and as you teach
the world your name
let it become your place.
 
4: Jesus, with all your
Church I long
to see your kingdom come:
show me your way
of righting wrong
and turning sorrow into song
until you bring me home.
Blessing
 
May God watch over you,
Christ walk with you,
and the Spirit give you peace.
And the blessing of God three in one,
one in community be with you this day,
and evermore, Amen.
Sources and thanks
 
Thanks to those who read spoken parts of the service.
 
Great God, Your Love Has Called Us Here - Brian A. Wren, b. 1936 © 1977, 1995 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved.  Orchard Enterprises Session Choir
Just As I Am Without One Plea - Charlotte Elliott – Taken from BBC Songs of Praise
Give To Me Lord A Thankful Heart - Caryl Micklem sung by the Christ Church Woodley Virtual Choir and used with their kind permission.
 
Opening Organ Piece - Liturgical Prelude by George Oldroyd
(organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece - Procession by Arthur Wills
(organ of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Venice, Italy – 2014)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com --> Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved.
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762
  Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion  September 12 2021

URC Devotion - Sun, 12/09/2021 - 06:00
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Psalm 59

Deliver me, O God, I pray Thee,
From ruthless foes who seek to slay me;
Protect me, rescue me again,
And save me from bloodthirsty men.
They lie in wait and will not spare me;
Fierce men are plotting to ensnare me.
For no trespass of mine, or fault,
They run to plan their dark assault.

Arouse Thyself and come to save me,
LORD God of hosts, lest they enslave me,
For Thou art God of Israel,
Our stronghold and our citadel.
Awake to punish all the nations
That taunt Thee with their provocations;
Spare none of those who treacherously
Plot evil and iniquity.

Like packs of savage dogs that howling
Through all the city’s streets are prowling,
My enemies each night return,
And for my life they lust and yearn.
Lo, there they are, their mouths are growling,
Their lips shriek hate, their mien is scowling,
For, “Who,” they think, “will hear and stay
Our hands stretched out to seize our prey?”

W. van der Kamp, 1972

You can hear this sung here to the Genevan tune here
https://bit.ly/3wmpknY

Reflection

The Biblical version of this Psalm attributes it to David. That being the case, the variation between the verses of the Psalter version would confirm David as the Psalmist. There appears to be an underlying theme of aggression in this Psalm. In the opening stanza of the Psalter version it suggests that the victim is the Psalmist himself. What is not stated is who the aggressor(s) might be, but clearly the victim is terrified by the prospect of meeting the aggressor. He considers the possibility of even being ambushed by this foe that he does not identify. When fearful, our minds can imagine all sorts of fantasies that may be far from reality.

In the second stanza the victim pleads with God to save him, or does he? Yes he pleads to God for salvation, but the theme changes to one where the victim is not so much an individual, but a nation – Israel, with David as King David. Surrounded by aggressive nations, each seeking the best land for their largely agricultural residents. A plea is made to God, not so much for guidance but rather for there to be some kind divine intervention much like the conflict between Elijah and the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18 vv 16-33)

In the third stanza, the focus returns to the individual who speculates on what might be the thoughts of the aggressor. What is not taken into account is the power of God in this situation. Clearly the aggressor does not share David’s beliefs in the power of God, much to his cost. Does our relationship with God reflect that of David or his opponents?


Prayer

At times, O Lord, we find ourselves in situations in which our self confidence is at its lowest ebb. Like David, there are moments when we become fearful because the future seems uncertain. Guide us in our daily experiences so that our faith in You might be restored, as we remember the magnitude of your love for humankind and all the creatures You have created. Thank you for your love.
Amen.     --> Today's writer The Rev’d Colin Hunt, retired minister, worshipping at Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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