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URC Daily Devotion 22nd November 2019

URC Devotion - Fri, 22/11/2019 - 06:00
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1 Kings 18:20-35

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

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

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

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

All the people answered, ‘Well spoken!’ 

Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, 

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

May my life point towards Jesus so that in Christ, through the activity of the Spirit, others come to trust you for themselves.  Amen.   --> Today's writer The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge. Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 21st November 2019

URC Devotion - Thu, 21/11/2019 - 06:00
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1 Kings 18:1-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Is it you, my lord Elijah?’ 

He answered him, 

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

And he said,

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

Elijah said, 

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

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

‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’ 

He answered, 

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Deepen our faith and grant us wisdom to discern the real issues that challenge your authority in the world today.  May we have the courage and grace to speak your truth to those who offer simplistic solutions and false hopes in response to human need.   Amen.
  --> Today's writer The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge. Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 20th November 2019

URC Devotion - Wed, 20/11/2019 - 06:00
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1 Kings 17:17-24

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

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

But he said to her,

‘Give me your son.’ 

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

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

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

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

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

So the woman said to Elijah,

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Grant that my life may proclaim your truth; and that all I say or do this day may be life affirming for this world and all peoples, offering hope wherever it is needed.  Amen  --> Today's writer The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge. Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 19th November 2019

URC Devotion - Tue, 19/11/2019 - 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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1 Kings 17:8-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

But she said, 

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

Elijah said to her, 

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

Bountiful God, we praise you for the fruitfulness of the earth and the abundance of water, sufficient for the needs of all.  We confess our misuse of these resources, gifts of your grace; and seek your forgiveness for the times when we have acted as though they are ours by right.
Grant that we may be thankful and generous as we tread lightly on this earth. 
In Jesus’ name, Amen. --> Today's writer The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge. Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 18th November 2019

URC Devotion - Mon, 18/11/2019 - 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; 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 Monday 18th November 1 Kings 17:1-7

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

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

The word of the Lord came to him, saying,  

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

Living God, may my trust in you fill me with the confidence to go wherever you send me.  May my faith shine through all that I say or do in my daily living. May I have the patience to wait in quiet rest as your purposes unfold in the world around me.  May my obedience bring glory to your holy name. Amen.   --> Today's writer The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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Next Devotion Series - Elijah and Elisha

URC Devotion - Sun, 17/11/2019 - 13:00
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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; 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 --> Elijah and Elisha
Dear Friends,

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

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

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

with every good wish


Andy

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URC Daily Devotion 17th November 2019

URC Devotion - Sun, 17/11/2019 - 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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Psalm 123

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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


Prayer

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

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune St Catherine here. --> Today's writer The Rev’d Ruth Browning, retired minister, member at Thornbury URC. Copyright Sing Psalms (C) The Psalmody Committee of the Free Church of Scotland Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 16th November 2019

URC Devotion - Sat, 16/11/2019 - 06:00
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Babylon Has Fallen!
Revelation 14: 6 – 8a

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

St Luke 10.1-5, 17-20

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

You may be interested in listening to this song, Babylon has Fallen, a song believed to date from the Civil War and sung, here, by the Merry Wives of Windsor.  The song is also popular in groups that use tSacred Harp hymnody - particularly in America. --> Today's writer The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 15th November 2019

URC Devotion - Fri, 15/11/2019 - 06:00
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Empire is Violent
Deuteronomy 20:16-18 

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


Reflection

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

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

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

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

Loving God,
we pray for those peoples and cultures
for whom the coming of the Gospel
has been very bad news indeed.
We remember with sorrow
the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites,
the Perizzites, the Hivites, the Jebusites,
the Maori and the Aborigine,
the Haida and the American First Nations,
the Inca, Lache, Picara and peoples of the Americas
and the peoples of the Amazon under threat today
and with you, loving God, we weep.  Amen.   --> Today's writer The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff Copyright Good News Bible © 1994 published by the Bible Societies/HarperCollins Publishers Ltd UK, Good News Bible© American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992. Used with permission) Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 14th November 2019

URC Devotion - Thu, 14/11/2019 - 06:00
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  The Magnificat Undermines Empire
St Luke 1: 26 – 33, 47 – 55

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Lord have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us. Amen.   --> Today's writer The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 13th November 2019

URC Devotion - Wed, 13/11/2019 - 06:00
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A Higher Law than Empire’s
Genesis 1:1 – 2:2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Look at the damage you see to that creation – light pollution, tarmacked roads, manicured gardens. Ask God for forgiveness and invite him to restore the order of his creation. --> Today's writer The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 12th November 2019

URC Devotion - Tue, 12/11/2019 - 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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Women Undermining Empire
Numbers 27: 1 – 11

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Slightly adapted from a prayer by the Mothers’ Union for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, November-December 2018.   --> Today's writer The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 11th November 2019

URC Devotion - Mon, 11/11/2019 - 06:00
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Psalm 146

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

Reflection

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

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

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

Prayer 

Loving God, who gives food to the hungry,
as we eat and drink today,
we pray for those serving and eating meals on wheels,
school breakfasts and lunches,
for our elderly and disabled neighbours
eating meals in day centres and residential homes,
and those at food banks throughout our area.
May we never forget our responsibility
to all those who today rely on public service and on private charity
for their food and drink.
Amen.   --> Today's writer The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff. Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 10th November 2019

URC Devotion - Sun, 10/11/2019 - 06:00
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Psalm 122

1 “To the LORD’s house!” they were calling,
and with joy I went with them.
2 Now at last our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

I was glad*, the Psalmist sings,
setting out for Jerusalem.
I was glad, the Psalmist sings,
arriving in the holy city.
I was glad, the Psalmist sings,
resting in a place of security.
I was glad, the Psalmist sings,
praying for peace and well-being for the house of God.
 
Today, across the nations,
people will gladly set out for sacred or spiritual places, 
Today, across the nations,
people will arrive, gathering in chapel, church and around civic memorial.
Today, across the nations,
people will remember the cost of war and sacrifices made,
confess the failure of nations to live in harmony, 
and give thanks where they experience security.
Today, across the nations,
people will pray for peace and well-being, wherever God dwells.
 
Psalm 122 celebrates the age-old practice of pilgrimage.  Setting out, motivated by faith or spiritual yearning, arriving in a sacred place,  encountering a sense of divine, and returning, with new resolve in heart.
 
Focusing on Jerusalem, a name which may mean city of shalom, or city of peace, Psalm 122 is as relevant for today as when first sung. For Jerusalem is one of the most fought over and disputed places on earth. Being an abode of peace remains a seemingly-distant hope,  that still needs peace-praying, peace-shaping, peace-making and peace-keeping.
 
Today, as people like you and me, return from a sacred or spiritual place,  mindful of fractures between and within nations,
we may sense God’s calling to pray and work for peace and well-being, 

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

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


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


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URC Daily Devotion 9th November 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“Let he, who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Amen.   --> Today's writer The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.   Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 8th November 2019

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

Standing up to the racism of Empire

Ruth 1: 16 – 22
Ruth said,

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“many will come from east and west
and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,
while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness”
Amen.
    --> Today's writer The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.   Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 7th November 2019

URC Devotion - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 06:00
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St Matthew 25: 14 – 30

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

Reflection

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

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

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

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“No one can serve two masters;
for a slave will either hate the one and love the other,
or be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and wealth” Amen.   --> Today's writer The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.   Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 6th November 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,
yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”
Amen --> Today's writer The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.   Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 5th November 2019

URC Devotion - Tue, 05/11/2019 - 06:00
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Standing up to Empire and the authority of men
Matthew 28:1-15 

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

Reflection

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

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

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

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and their great ones are tyrants over them. 
It will not be so among you;
but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant”
Amen       --> Today's writer The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.   Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 4th November 2019

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

Prayer

Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“Your Kingdom come, O Lord, Your will be done”
Amen     --> Today's writer The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.   Copyright New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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