URC Daily Devotion 23rd July 2019

King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counsellors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.  So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counsellors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, the herald proclaimed aloud, ‘You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages,  that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.’ Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshipped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘O king, live for ever! You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’

Reflection
This scene reminds me of a song by Third Day called “Never Bow Down”.  The Empire demands allegiance. It sets up an image and a test. Will you dance to the Empire’s tune?  Or will you risk the Empire’s glare of disapproval? Will you instead seek God’s rhythm of life and move within God’s divine beats?

I’d like to think I’d be like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and stand up to the Empire – as I write this whilst lounging on my ‘Swedish branded’ sofa, sipping an ‘American brand’ coffee, having consulted a Biblical commentary bought from an ‘American marketplace’ on the web, and really looking forward to the next ‘superhero universe’ movie.  

Yes – I’d like to THINK I’d resist the Empire.

The Empire is quite persuasive as it uses rhetoric to play on our fears, our laziness, our busyness, our apathy, our lack of experience, etc.  The Empire’s rhythm drives us forward to who knows where, but at least we are moving, right? And whether we like it or not, we find ourselves marching to its beat.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to march to that beat.  The Empire (forgive me) struck back. A fourth figure appeared in the flames alongside them, playing a different tune.

Jesus is the “Lord of the Dance” as the song goes.  His song sounds different. It’s a gentler swaying rhythm, that whispers life.  Sometimes – if you stop moving to the Empire’s beat – if you google ‘Christ’ with your heart, you can hear Christ’s song.  And when you dance to Christ’s rhythms, people notice. Some won’t understand. Some however might find themselves also moving to the ancient heavenly beats of God. 

Love God, love neighbours,
love each other.
Go out, reach out,
love enemies.
Free captives and oppressed,
bless persecutors.
Open eyes, share the good news
of Jesus the Christ.
Holy God,
You created us to walk
and to dance with you.
Sometimes our steps get muddled.  
God, we are sorry.
Help us to keep in step with you
and to invite others into Your dance.
Amen

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Angela Rigby is the Minister at Christ Church URC Tonbridge and St Johns Hill URC Sevenoaks.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 22nd July 2019

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, worshipped Daniel, and commanded that a grain-offering and incense be offered to him.  The king said to Daniel, ‘Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery!’  Then the king promoted Daniel, gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.
Reflection
What happens when Church and State clash, when power and truth collide, when empires are confronted by the Living God?   What happens when service to country is at odds with conscience? The Book of Daniel speaks of these tensions and conflicts which echo down the centuries into our own times.

Though written centuries later, the Book’s setting is in the time of exile in Babylon, following the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem.  Daniel and his three companions are promoted in the king’s service and are trained in the Babylonian language, culture and customs. Yet for all the pressure to conform and to forget the faith of the exiles, they hold onto their Jewish faith and practice.   The time comes when Daniel, with all his old and new found wisdom, offers to interpret the dreams that have been troubling the king. He makes clear (like Joseph did before Pharaoh) that the interpretation belongs not to him, but to God.

With the troubling dream interpreted, the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar recognises that he stands before a power and reality greater than himself.  He bows before the Jewish exile – the tables are turned and God, ‘the revealer of mysteries’ is worshipped. The presence of the God who creates and saves is glimpsed.

We long for distorted power to be confronted in our world today.  We long for those who worship themselves to recognise the one who alone is worth worshipping.  How may this be happening in our times? How might we be part of that subversive movement?

God of gods,
Power over all power

be present in our world today
and give us eyes to glimpse you in unexpected places,
minds to grapple with your mysteries,
hearts to be lifted in worship
and lives turned upside down by your love and truth.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Terry Hinks, minister of Trinity, High Wycombe and Cores End URC.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Survey – Reminder

Dear friends,

Nearly a thousand of you have completed our survey – this is a huge response rate and we’re very pleased with the number of people who took five minutes to respond and to receive such positive comments.  When we’ve analysed all the responses we will give a summary of them.

In the meantime if you’ve not yet been able to complete the survey there is still time.  You can do it by clicking on the link below.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeZBFlxcH7ebzBEAYKt01yHuQEv0FI-__ZOh8V8PCRgh1N7Xw/viewform?usp=sf_link

with every good wish

Andy

Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project

  

URC Daily Devotion 18th July 2019

In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed such dreams that his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him. So the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, ‘I have had such a dream that my spirit is troubled by the desire to understand it.’  The Chaldeans said to the king (in Aramaic), ‘O king, live for ever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will reveal the interpretation.’ The king answered the Chaldeans, ‘This is a public decree: if you do not tell me both the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. But if you do tell me the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honour. Therefore tell me the dream and its interpretation.’  They answered a second time, ‘Let the king first tell his servants the dream, then we can give its interpretation.’ The king answered, ‘I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see I have firmly decreed: if you do not tell me the dream, there is but one verdict for you. You have agreed to speak lying and misleading words to me until things take a turn. Therefore, tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can give me its interpretation.’ The Chaldeans answered the king, ‘There is no one on earth who can reveal what the king demands! In fact no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean.  The thing that the king is asking is too difficult, and no one can reveal it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with mortals.’ Because of this the king flew into a violent rage and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. The decree was issued, and the wise men were about to be executed; and they looked for Daniel and his companions, to execute them. Then Daniel responded with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the king’s chief executioner, who had gone out to execute the wise men of Babylon; he asked Arioch, the royal official, ‘Why is the decree of the king so urgent?’ Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. So Daniel went in and requested that the king give him time and he would tell the king the interpretation.
Reflection
A clever thing happens in the book of Daniel, from 2:4 until 8:1: the language changes from Hebrew to Aramaic!

Hebrew is the mother tongue, the language of YHWH. Aramaic was the global language, the language of Empire and trade. Most of the enslaved Hebrews after a time would have been more fluent in Aramaic than their mother tongue.

At the moment the language shifts to acceptable language, one hears the other holy men say: “tell your servants to interpret the dream”. The king challenges the holy men to ‘guess’ what he is dreaming, then interpret it. There is a big difference between knowing what to say and knowing what needs to be said. Nebuchadnezzar already knows the representatives of popular religion are ill-equipped to see his anguish. He is set to put popular religion to death because it is not deep enough to see through him.

When religion reaches the zenith of its popularity at best and at worst is obvious to everyone, it loses public trust and its prophetic edge. Let’s be honest: sometimes our lament on the decline of the Church is really a lament on the loss of Christian superiority in public life: Victorian buildings no longer are easily filled; stadiums don’t overflow like the Billy Graham days; children can no longer recite the Lord’s Prayer from memory. We say, “The church is dead.”  We give up on faith. We tell folks things they want to hear. We water down worship. We stop preaching. We never liked doing it anyway, so why bother? We ask, “What are we doing wrong and how can WE fix it?” When religion is popular and obvious, we go into ‘survival’ mode.

This episode teaches that prophetic wisdom opens communication and saves lives. It is a language that sets captives free and even brings monarchs to their knees. It is a language that can see through the emperor’s dreams, yet speaks clearly in any language.

Tune our ears and defrost our hearts, Ground of our Being.
Tune our ears to your heartbeat,
Your music, Your song.
Cause compassion to burn
in deeply frozen hearts
made cold by the politics of survival.
Make out of us a people
who will hear, live, and feast
on Your Wisdom. Amen.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d William Young, Minister, Essenside URC Glasgow and Morison Memorial URC Clydebank.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

A Short Survey

Dear <<First Name>>

We now have over 3,000 people reading the Daily Devotions and consistently get good feedback.  A small group of us are working to understand our readers better and to find out what you like about the Devotions and what you might like to see changed.  

To help with this we have designed a short survey which you can go to here.  Please do have a look and complete the survey – it should take about 5 minutes.

with every good wish

Andy

Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project

  

URC Daily Devotion 15th July 2019

In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar,[a] and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods. Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court.  Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
Reflection
As we begin to look at the Book of Daniel, we are confronted with one of the symptoms of Empire – namely an attempt to eradicate the cultural, political, and religious identity of the colonised. Three of these observant Jews experienced a change of name. Hananiah – the Hebrew means ’Yahweh is gracious’ – became Shadrach ‘Command of Aku’ (Aku was the moon god).  Mishael (‘Who is like God’) becomes Meshach ‘Who is like Aku’ and Azariah (‘Yahweh has helped’) became Abednego (Slave of the god Nebo).

We are told that they were to be fed as members of the royal household and educated for three years so that they could ‘graduate’ into the king’s court, having been instructed in Babylonian customs and manners. In the coming days the narrative will focus on Daniel as the non conforming hero but for now let’s think a little further about the effect of Empire on the identity of those under its sway.

Empire has had a ‘grooming’ effect on those it seeks to subjugate.  The Council for World Mission (CWM) uses the terminology of Empire to indicate the ‘coming together of economic, cultural, political and military power in our world today which serves, protects and defends the interest of powerful corporations, elites and privileged people. The Babylonian Empire was not benign, hence the need to change the names and religion of these young Jewish leaders. CWM reminds us that we also are subject to a colonising influence.

When Bishop Lesslie Newbigin was asked what would it mean if the Gospel of Christ was allowed to critique western culture, he answered, ‘Suffering.’

Lord Jesus,
help me to preserve my identity in you,
deliver me from being a consumer, a service user, a customer.
You have given yourself to us all,
that we may bear your likeness.
Enable us to be transformed
by the renewing of our minds
so that we may discern
what is truly valuable,
what is good and acceptable
and perfect, Amen

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d  Richard Church, Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship), Member of Streatham URC.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

The Book of Daniel

Dear <<First Name>>

I hope you found Alan Spence’s reflects on the Holy Trinity helpful – it’s often good to look at what we believe and think about how we can better articulate those things.

For the next month or so we will be turning to the Book of Daniel.  This is an interesting yet, in places, difficult book comprising of two very different sections. The first 6 chapters, attributed to an anonymous narrator, are the ones we are most familiar with and comprise of court legends about Daniel and his friends who had to find ways to live with persecution and powerful (yet rather bumbling) monarchs.  The second section, written as visions of Daniel, dates from the second Century BC when the Greeks were threatening Israel. This section is rather more difficult as the style of writing is apocalyptic with mysterious visions portraying the End Times.  

Daniel is the first book to reflect on themes of resurrection and reward/punishment in the after life. Radical Christian groups – at the Reformation and during the Civil War used Daniel to push for a government of the saints as a precursor to Jesus’ return (Cromwell turned down this offer).  The passages are rather longer than when dealing with, say, an Epistle partly as the some are stories and partly as, apocalyptic parts don’t break down into smaller chunks easily.  They are, however, worth sticking with.

with every good wish

Andy

Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project

  

URC Daily Devotion 13th July 2019

The early Christians were confronted with a number of realities which were theologically perplexing but nevertheless integral elements of their shared faith. They were monotheists who believed that God was one. Yet they offered divine worship to Jesus Christ as Lord, risen from the dead. And in their communal worship they experienced personally the Holy Spirit as a sovereign, divine person lifting their hearts in praise, empowering them with spiritual gifts and transforming their lives.

Christians did not at this early stage seek to explain this set of paradoxes. They did, however, in their greetings and benedictions regularly refer to Father, Son and Spirit as the shared authors of human salvation. The pattern of the Trinitarian affirmation in the passage above is not unusual.

Chosen by the Father
Sanctified by the Spirit
Saved by the blood of Jesus

In expressions such as these the various elements of salvation are attributed to the three divine persons not as absolute distinctions but as appropriate ones. The Father through his love and eternal determination is recognised as the ground of our salvation, or as we might say, the formal cause. Jesus Christ by way of his redemptive life, death and resurrection, is often spoken of as the one who purchased us for God, the material cause of our salvation. The Holy Spirit as the agent of our new birth and spiritual transformation, protecting us for a salvation to be finally revealed is what we might describe as the efficient cause. In the post-apostolic period the Church developed a more compact Trinitarian master-narrative. It became common to speak of the believer coming to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Spirit. The formulations of later Trinitarian discussion were further abstracted from the story of salvation, but the intention was the same, that is, to speak of the one God in a way which affirms the divinity of Father, Son and Spirit and recognises a distinction between their persons:

We worship one God in trinity
and the Trinity in unity,
neither confusing the persons
nor dividing the divine being.

(Athanasian Creed)

URC Daily Devotion 12 July 2019

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
Reflection
The stories that John recounts in his Gospel are not randomly chosen. They all have deep theological significance. What then is the point of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus? At its heart lies the argument that the spiritual regeneration of the human heart is not a natural event. Rebirth is the work of the Spirit of God. Unless the Spirit opens our eyes we will never recognise the truth of the kingdom. Until the Spirit softens our hearts we remain emotionally closed to the love of God. Every event of spiritual worth in our lives is an outworking of the unseen Spirit of God empowering us. Jesus appears frustrated that certain Jewish theological teachers like Nicodemus don’t understand these things.

Further, the story indicates that the Spirit is not a power that can be manipulated or controlled by human words or actions. Simon the sorcerer wrongly thought he could buy the gift of the Spirit (Acts 8:18). The Spirit is rather an independent reality with the sort of freedom seen in a swirling breeze. ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.’

How did early Christians understand the Spirit in relation to God? Their experience of the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost and reality of the Spirit in their regular worship was for them the foretaste of the coming kingdom of God and clear evidence of the enthronement of Christ. They understood the Spirit both as the active power of God in the world and also the present reality of the risen Christ among them. What is particularly significant is that they began to view the Spirit in personal terms. It was possible to grieve the Spirit (Eph 4:30); certain things seemed good to the Spirit (Acts 14:28); the Spirit forbade Paul to speak the word of God in Asia (Acts 16:6). In short, the early Christians were wrestling with the idea of the Holy Spirit as a divine person, distinct but not separable from the Son and the Father.

Come Holy Spirit, come.
Come upon us in our sadness
and clothe us with a garland
instead of ashes.

Come promised Counsellor
and lead us gently to the deeper truth
about who you are and who we are.

Come mighty wind
upon the valley of dry bones
that is our church;
breathe on this fallen army
that we might again live.

Come also upon me holy Comforter
in my own hidden and secret need.
Come Holy Spirit, come.
Amen

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Dr Alan Spence is a retired minister and Convenor of the Faith and Order Committee.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 11th July 2019

Hebrews was written to a dispersed community of Jewish Christians who were apparently being tempted to downplay their recently professed Christian faith and return to the security of their religious past. To counter this tendency the author of the letter encourages his readers to reflect on the significance of the person and work of Jesus. In this section he or she asks them to consider the relation of Jesus to Moses, the revered prophet who had led the Hebrews out of Egypt and brought the law to Israel. It is acknowledged that both these men faithfully served God. But there is, according to the author, a striking difference between them – Moses was a servant of God, Jesus was a son.

The point of this distinction is that it places Jesus in a qualitatively distinct category from Moses and all other prophetic figures. Jesus’ unique status derives not from his particular ministry or the redemptive function he performs but from his origin and his being. This understanding of Christ gives rise to what is sometimes known as the scandal of peculiarity, the offence caused to many by the Christian affirmation that Jesus is essentially different from every other servant of God.

To speak of Jesus Christ as the only begotten son of God is, one might say, a metaphor. God does not beget sons as humans do. The value, however, of the idea of sonship for the early Church is that it provides a way of conceiving Jesus as one who came from God and shares in the divine being. As a participant in God’s essence it was appropriate for Jesus to be afforded divine honour in Christian worship. And so it was that the early Church’s conceptual model of the relation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit came to be shaped by the ideas of sonship and essence.

We believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.