URC Daily Devotion 27th November 2020

Friday 27th November Hebrews – Unfaithfulness is Punished

Hebrews 12: 14 – 29

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.  See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent,  even though he sought the blessing with tears.

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest,  and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them.  (For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.’  Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’)  But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  and to the assembly  of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.’  This phrase ‘Yet once more’ indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Reflection

How did the Jews who followed Christ as saviour navigate the implications of this new life? The persecution from Synagogue and State; the amalgamation of Gentiles in their ranks, and the challenges this brought to the practice of long held Jewish customs and rituals; the knowing that Christ is Saviour, but the not knowing of what comes next.
 
These issues are played out in this letter, and at the risk of sounding flippant, I can’t help but draw parallels with our midst-covid world. Thrown from a situation of relative certainty, where the Church simply ‘was’ and has always been; a physical place of sanctuary; a mark on the landscape; a familiarity and a comforting presence in our lives, we find ourselves nervous and exhausted, knee deep in risk assessments, faces covered, advising long standing members not to come to worship, for their own benefit. In this scary new world, it’s so easy to look back, to long for that old certainty of rhythm and ritual, the confidence of our forebears in God’s purpose for us, and to get back to how it was.
 
This section of the letter to the Hebrews, reminding them that Jesus, to put it crudely, ‘trumps all’ has much to say to us. Just as the Hebrews were forced to consider their own culture from a new Jesus shaped perspective, we too have an opportunity to re-assess, to re-centre Jesus, to remember that the church can be shaken, but the Kingdom cannot. With or without us, the Kingdom will continue to grow, as it always has. Jesus is ‘out there’, beyond the boundaries of our church walls, with the oppressed, the hurting, the maligned and the broken. Isn’t it about time that we got out there and joined him?  

Prayer

Oh God,
sometimes you feel far away.
The past looks rosier than the future.
It used to all make sense.
 
I seek you out, Jesus,
first born of God, made flesh,
now sat at the right hand of the Father,
yet, right here with me.
 
Send your Spirit,
to whisper new ways,
infuse in me faith,
hurry me on and into the world,
Where I might join
in the dance of your Heavenly Kingdom.
Amen

URC Daily Devotion 26th November 2020

Thursday 26th November  Hebrews – Jesus’ Example

Hebrews 12: 1 – 13

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,  and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—

‘My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    or lose heart when you are punished by him;
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves,
    and chastises every child whom he accepts.’

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Reflection

Many times I have heard people say, “I’ll be glad to see the back of that year.”  What promise a new year brings to those who are struggling, but what really is different with the turn of the calendar?  I never really understood.  Life is sometimes tough, and a new year offers hope.  As we approach the end of this year, I do understand.  This year I look forward to the promise of next year.

I’m not particularly athletic, but I, along with you and everyone else, have been running this year.  We have run to keep up with legislation, with technology, with the needs of our communities.  We have run to find appropriate ways to support each other while distancing.  We have been running for months.  Many of us are tired.

We have managed to keep running because we have that cloud of witnesses around us.  Our friends  have encouraged us, have offered ideas, have laughed and cried with us. Stil it has been a tough race. Our hands may be drooping.  Our knees may be weak, and we keep running.  People need us.  They need us to fight for justice, to work for the planet, to offer a caring presence.  In the midst of brokenness, they need us to create a community of healing.

In the midst of struggle the author of Hebrews wants us to remember who is our guide and why we are still running.  So whatever today holds Christ continues to guide us.  We are called to run–even the least athletic among us.   Listen to voices of encouragement and keep moving so that what is lame, broken in our world, may be healed.  

Prayer

God, thank you for the witnesses who encourage us, who guide us.  Give us courage to keep running.  Help us create communities of peace and justice.  Give us the gift of love in the face of pain.  God, grant us strength to be your people on the race for your kingdom.  Amen. 

URC Daily Devotion 25th November 2020

Wednesday 25th November – Hebrews

Hebrews 11

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.  By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and ‘he was not found, because God had taken him.’ For it was attested before he was taken away that ‘he had pleased God.’  And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going…

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac…  By faith Isaac invoked blessings for the future on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph…

By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.  By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered abuse suffered for the Christ  to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward.  By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though  he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land… By faith the walls of Jericho fell…By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient…

And what more should I say?… Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised,  since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.

Reflection

In September 2019, we moved back into our main church, beautifully remodelled to meet the needs of the 21st century and our wider community. We welcomed new faces, embarked on new ventures, provided a home for other groups to flourish, planned further development, then…coronavirus arrived and the doors shut.

It is said that the way to make God laugh is to tell him our plans! All our previous plans are on hold (in July), but the learning has not stopped. As in congregations across the country, we have found new ways to share our worship, support each other and deliver our message beyond the church walls.

When the doors re-open, there will be no familiar “normal” for the foreseeable future. We will have to adopt new practices and give extra thought to helping those who have lost so much this year.

What we might have lost – and gained – casts a light on this chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. Most of those Jews who had responded to the good news about Jesus still clung to the old ways, steeped in the rigid laws as prescribed by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paul’s encouragement to spread the gospel to “unclean” Gentiles was just one of many ways in which they felt embattled.

The letter-writer reminded them that their ancestors had one thing in common, and one vital gift to offer – the importance of holding high their faith in God.

Little did they know that in a few years their embryonic church would disappear from Jerusalem after the Roman siege, but that many who escaped would become torchbearers for the gospel to non-Jewish communities they barely knew of before.

We too need to hold on to our faith and promote it with all the tools in our armoury, becoming the torchbearers for Jesus in our time.

Prayer

When we face change and challenge, Lord,
help us to learn valuable lessons from the past;
live with confidence and courage in the present,
and plan as best we can for the future,
knowing you will guide and support us.   Amen

URC Daily Devotion 24th November 2020

Tuesday 24th November Hebrews – Motives for Perseverance

Hebrews 10: 32 – 39

But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings,  sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting.  Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.  For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.  For yet
‘in a very little while,
    the one who is coming will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one will live by faith.
    My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.’

But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.

Reflection

Remembering the bad old days – or were they good old days? It rather depends what exactly we dwell on when we remember. My father had lifelong memories of his ten years in the Army (1910 – 1920) when, having been badly wounded in 1916, he spent several years in a POW camp in dire conditions, and suffered for the rest of his life. World War I had been a terrible experience, yet one he would not have missed. He told its stories and sang its songs with humour and a sense of gratitude that he had survived, and was glad to be able to work and keep his family.

As I read this passage, my first thought was that the “bad old days” lived by the Hebrew Christians were not so different from my father’s experience. Nor indeed were they unlike the continuing experience of people today who suffer “public abuse and persecution” (and sometimes prosecution) because of the colour of their skin or their faith or their sexual orientation – or because of their determination to convince governments of the reality of climate change – or who campaign for prison reform, for safe working conditions, for a fair Benefits system or affordable housing … All these are long-term projects, part of the ongoing Christian commitment to the kingly rule of Christ. They need people of compassion and generosity, confidence and endurance … and, most of all, people of faith and hope and love. So that all will be able to say with the writer of Hebrews,

We are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.

Prayer

God of Love and Justice and Hope
give us clear vision to see the needs around us;
make us quick to hear the weeping of the world
and ready to offer your healing and comfort.
Let us never shrink back from your call to Love,
but keep us ever faithful to know and to share your salvation. Amen

URC Daily Devotion 23rd November 2020

Monday 23rd November  Hebrews – The Danger of Apostasy

Hebrews 10: 26 – 31

For if we wilfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy ‘on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?  For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Reflection

Did you ever stay out after curfew, or eat sweets before your dinner?  Did you then receive the punishment due for breaking the rules?  As we grow up, our parents teach us right from wrong, and teach us the rules we are to follow in life – whether laws of the land, or household instructions.  And we follow them – mostly – and, usually as teenagers – see how many of them we can at least bend!  But we know when we have bent or broken the rules, we will feel the disappointment or even wrath of our parents for our disobedience.

What we are warned in our reading is slightly more serious than whether we put our dirty clothes in the washing basket.  When we accept Christ into our lives, it is not just a commitment to an hour a week on a Sunday. It is a complete change of life.  It is a way of life that inspires us to do the right thing all the time, to put away our own desires and plans and to live for Christ.  If we choose to stray from that path we are doomed to judgement.  Of course, we are going to get it wrong sometimes, but this is more than that.  It’s a deliberate choice to turn our back on everything we believe and act as though we had never accepted Christ, making his sacrifice for nothing.  Then we will feel the full force of God’s judgement.

We spend so much time focussing on the security and love and hope we have in Christ, that we often forget that there are consequences to our actions if we deliberately choose to reject him.  Be warned.

Prayer

Lord God, we don’t want to be scared about following you, but sometimes we rely too much on your forgiving love that we take advantage and stray too far.  Remind us of your judgement that we might realise the consequences of our actions and so focus more on our commitment.  May we use the love you have shown to us to motivate all our actions that we may follow your true path.  Amen. 

URC Daily Devotion Sunday Worship – 22nd November 2020

worship for challenging times

Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today’s service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 
to listen to the service and sing along with the hymns.  This will open up a new screen, at the bottom of the screen you will see a play symbol.  Press that, then come back to this window so you can follow along with the service.

URC Daily Devotion Worship for Sunday 22nd November

Christ the King

The Rev’d Michael Hodgson
Introduction
 
Good morning, I’m Michael Hodgson and I’m the Minister of two churches in Surrey- St Andrew’s in Walton-on-Thames, and Weybridge URC.  St Andrew’s story begins in 1928 when a group of people, mainly Scots or people with Scottish roots, began to meet for services in the local theatre.  Weybridge’s story begins back in 1860 when a wealthy local resident began holding services in his own home to offer a service principally aimed for the domestic servants who lived and worked in the many big houses in the area then.  Things have changed a lot now.  We are just within the M25 circle and very much in the London commuter belt.  Both Walton and Weybridge are outwardly extremely affluent areas but within both towns there are areas of poverty and of social deprivation.  It’s therefore both a joy and a challenge to live and to minister here which is much more socially mixed than it may initially appear.
 
Call To Worship
 
The wisdom of God calls to us, from the heights, along the paths, and at the crossroads. Come into God’s presence to worship, sing, and pray.

From our scattered places we come. Let us worship God.

Hymn       Alleluia Sing to Jesus
                  W. Chatterton Dix, Tune: Hyfrodol

1 Alleluia! Sing to Jesus;
His the scepter, His the throne.
Alleluia! His the triumph,
His the victory alone.
Hark! The songs of peaceful Zion
thunder like a mighty flood;
“Jesus out of ev’ry nation
hath redeemed us by His blood.
 
2 Alleluia! Not as orphans
are we left in sorrow now.
Alleluia! He is near us;
faith believes, nor questions how.
Though the cloud from sight received Him
when the forty days were o’er,
shall our hearts forget His promise,
“I am with you evermore”?
 
3 Alleluia! Bread of Angels,
Here on earth our food, our stay!
Alleluia! here the sinful
Flee to thee from day to day:
Intercessor, friend of sinners,
Earth’s redeemer, plead for me,
Where the songs of all the sinless
Sweep across the crystal sea.
 
4 Alleluia! King eternal,
Ye the Lord of lords we own;
Alleluia! Born of Mary,
Earth thy footstool, heav’n thy throne:
Thou within the veil hast entered,
Robed in flesh, our great high priest;
Thou on earth both priest and victim
In thy Eucharistic feast.

Opening Prayer, Confession and Assurance and Pardon
 
God of Wonder and God of love, with the whole church on earth, and with the whole company of heaven, we praise your name.  You have brought us to this hour and to you belong the glory and the praise.  You made us in your image and, through Jesus, you save us.  You love us with a never-ending love and so we pray that you will cleanse us by your grace and guide us by your Holy Spirit.  May we honour your name and may we offer you to acceptable worship; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
 
Remember not, Lord, our offences,
Nor the offences of our forebears;
Neither take vengeance of our sins,
But spare us, good Lord.
Spare your people, whom you have redeemed
With your most precious blood,
And be not angry with us for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.
 
Grace to you and peace from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.   Your sins are forgiven- thanks be to God.
 
And as one family we say together the Lord’s Prayer…
 
Reading:  St Matthew 25: 31-46
 
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.  Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;  for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Hymn:      There Is A Land of Pure Delight
                  Isaac Watts


 

1 There is a land of pure delight
Where saints, immortal reign
Infinite day excludes the night
And pleasures banish pain.
 
2 There everlasting spring abides
And never withering flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heav’nly land from ours.



Could we but climb where Moses stood
And view the landscape o’er
Not Jordan’s streams nor death’s cold flood
Should fright us from this shore

3 O could we make our doubts remove
Those gloomy thoughts that rise
And see the Canaan that we love
With unbeclouded eyes!
 
Could we but climb where Moses stood
And view the landscape o’er
Not Jordan’s streams nor death’s cold flood
Should fright us from this shore (x2)

Sermon
 
The liturgical comes to an end this Sunday and today is known by a number of names.  It’s “The Sunday next before Advent”; it’s “Stir Up Sunday”;  it’s “Christ the King” Sunday to name but a few.  Today encourages us to look forward to the reign of Christ the King and, as a musician, my brain is already mentally singing, “Christ triumphant, ever reigning, Saviour, Master, King.”  My guess is that after the year we’ve been through many of us will find looking forward a rather more pleasurable prospect than looking back.  2020 is not a year that we’ll ever forget although I sense that during it a number of people have found great strength and comfort in their faith.  As I prepare this sermon I am reading that there has been a considerable increase in the number of people who say that they are praying regularly now. 
 
Our Gospel reading this morning is a well-known passage, unique to Matthew.  It speaks of the judgement of the Son of Man and it follows three parables which are all about preparing for the coming of the Son of Man.  The first of those is the “Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants”.  The second is the “Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids” or the “Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins”, as some of us may more readily know it.  And then, the third is the “Parable of the Talents.”  Those three parables are all about being prepared for the coming of the Son of Man.  In each of them everyone knows that the master will come, even if he doesn’t arrive as soon as was initially expected.    What is required in each of those parables, however, is watchfulness.  That is why the wicked servant, the foolish bridesmaids and the lazy steward fail:  and the faithful servant, the wise Bridesmaids and the enterprising stewards all succeed.  Everyone knew what to do but when push came to shove, some did it and some did not. 
 
The three parables then climax with the story of the judgement of the Son of Man which is our Gospel reading today. 
 
I always find it both a comforting and a disturbing passage.  I know that I can think of occasions when I’ve been both a sheep and a goat and being realistic, I suspect that I’ve fallen short of the mark far more frequently than I’ve reached it.  In my preaching since the middle of March, however, I’ve quite often looked at each Sunday’s Bible readings and explored them through the lens of lockdown and the COVID pandemic.  I’d like to try to do that this morning though you will all be aware that these sermons are prepared well in advance.
 
When I said the Blessing in church at the end of worship on 15th March I think I knew that it could well be a long time before I did that again.  The next few weeks were certainly a steep learning curve for a lot of us.  The church moved online and once my brain moved out of panic mode and rebooted in safe mode I realised that a significant change was taking place all around me.  I live in an area not necessarily known for being a close-knit community these days but suddenly people were coming together, looking out for each other, helping others and being aware of other people’s needs and situations, not just their own.  As  “Clap for the Carers” progressed I met neighbours I’d never even seen before, let alone spoken to.  A WhatsApp group was established.  People started smiling at the each other, saying, “Hello”.  Having moved here from mid Wales, where buying a pint of milk can easily take an hour, it was wonderful.  Suddenly there was human contact.  When the NHS asked for volunteers to help people get prescriptions etc they were overwhelmed by the response – and to me this all ties in directly with the first part of our Gospel reading this morning.  To pick up Matthew’s language, people were fed, given food, clothed and visited by phone or by Zoom or by keeping a 2 metre distance outside.  One of my own more unusual pastoral moments was a visit to a church member in the last weeks of a terminal illness.  He was in bed and I, since I couldn’t go in, I was standing in a flowerbed by an open window.  Weird – but a visit I’m so glad I did.  I think that I always knew it would be the last time I’d actually see him. 
 
A number of churches have also been heavily involved in community response and support, members and ministers alike being key workers in trying to mitigate some of the effects of the lockdown.  Our online churches have been out there meeting spiritual needs and it’s interesting that many suddenly found themselves with bigger congregations than they had pre-Covid days-  and covering much greater areas too.  So, when I read about the judgement of the Son of Man and about the sheep and goats this year, I dare to respond to it with a little more positivity.  That’s not to be complacent.  I don’t dismiss the times when we have failed.  I don’t dismiss the times when we didn’t welcome, we didn’t give food or a drink, didn’t clothe, or didn’t visit-  but if those three parables which precede our Gospel reading are all about knowing what to do and doing it then I dare to hope that we’ve done rather better this year.   Surely this year we should give thanks to God for all the appropriate responses as well as confess the times we failed.  We should give thanks that God has been with us through it all- our refuge and out strength, as the Psalmist writes.  Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear that when we are judged our faith should have been expressed through obedient and loving behaviour to all, not just to those we like.  After the year we’ve been through –  and after the way we’ve responded, a little more carrot and a little less stick is surely appropriate today.
 
So, having looked back a bit, I’d like finally to look forward and two hymns by Isaac Watts always seem to say so much at this point.  “There is a land of pure delight”, he writes and says the we need not fear that because, if we could just see it then nothing would “fright us from the shore”.  In the other hymn Watts imagines that he’s been given a special pair of wings to allow him to do precisely that.  He asks “the saints above” how they got there and tells us that, “they, with united breath, ascribe their conquest to the Lamb, their triumph to his death.”  I’ve long found those words both encouraging and reassuring.  They may have been written a little over 300 years ago but I believe them still to be at the heart of our faith and a joy upon which to meditate.
 
So, as the liturgical year comes to an end I find myself looking forward with hope and with optimism.  2020 has been a difficult year.  I have lost members of my congregations to the COVID-  but I do hope that we’ve risen to its challenges with faithfulness, resourcefulness and courage. 
 
Our Gospel reading is always a challenge.  There is always room for improvement but this year I read it knowing that in so many ways a lot of people have done their very, very best to deliver that standard.  And where we’ve failed to meet that standard, I also believe in a God who is merciful.

Hymn:      Christ, Of God Unseen, The Image
                  The Rev’d Leith Fisher, (b1941) based on Colossians 1: 15-20


 

1 Christ, of God unseen the image,
born before creation’s birth;
through whom all things were created,
all that live in heaven and earth –
realms and rulers, thrones, dominions,
powers great and forces small
through and for Him made and fashioned –
He is in and over all.
 
2 Christ the firstborn of creation,
Christ in whom all things cohere,
all things’ Maker, seen and unseen,
low and lofty, far and near,
Christ the head of His dear body,
of His Church the living core,
risen from the dead before us –
Him we gladly now adore.

 
3 Christ in whom the very fullness
of the living God is found,
Christ who reconciles creation
turning earth to holy ground,
Christ the home of God’s good pleasure
through whose blood is made our peace,
in whose Cross, beyond all measure,
is our freedom and release.

 

Affirmation of Faith
 
Do you believe in the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects, and cares for the Church through Word and Spirit. This God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end. We do
 
Do you believe that God is the One who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people. We do.
 
Do you believe that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged? We do.
 
This is the faith of the Church!  We are proud to confess it in Jesus Christ, our Lord.   Amen.
 
Prayers of Intercession
 
Loving, living God, today we as we think of the reign of Christ the King we give thanks and pray for all those who, in the terms of our Bible reading, have acted as sheep.  We pray for those who have given the hungry food, those who have given the thirsty a drink.  We pray for those who welcome strangers, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit those in prison.  We give thanks for the many acts of kindness and caring shown in these difficult and frightening times.
 
In our prayers we continue to pray for those involved in the caring professions.  We pray for those trying to improve the lot of their fellow human beings, particularly remembering those doing so in the face of uncaring or unjust leaders.  And we pray for the scientists working for a vaccine for Covid (and the other dreaded diseases) at the moment.
 
And we pray for those who are hungry and thirsty today.  We pray for the sick.  We pray for the dying and we pray for those who are mourning.  We pray for the stranger, the frightened, the homeless and we pray for those whom we know and who are finding life a struggle at this time.
 
And we pray for ourselves.  Open our eyes and open our hearts that we may respond as those Biblical sheep did. May we live our lives in a state of preparedness for your coming, setting our eyes on that “land of pure delight where saints immortal reign”  which we may glimpse through faith.  May we do everything in our power to share that glimpse with others through our lives and through our actions.
 
In a moment or two of quiet we bring our own, personal payers before God…
 
And the collect for this Sunday,- stir-up Sunday.
 
 “Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
 
Offertory Prayer
 
O God, from whom we receive both our gifts and our power to give; grant that our offerings, which we bring to you, may be used for in your service and for your glory;  through Jesus Christ our Lord.
 
Praise god from whom all blessings flow
Praise him all creatures here below
Praise hm above ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
 
Hymn       Christ triumphant, ever reigning



1 Christ triumphant, ever reigning,
Saviour, Master, King!
Lord of heaven, our lives sustaining,
hear us as we sing:
Yours the glory and the crown,
the high renown, the eternal name.
 
2 Word incarnate, truth revealing,
Son of Man on earth!
power and majesty concealing
by your humble birth:
Yours the glory…

3 Suffering servant, scorned, ill – treated,
victim crucified!
death is through the cross defeated,
sinners justified:
Yours the glory…
 
4 Priestly king, enthroned for ever
high in heaven above!
sin and death and hell shall never
stifle hymns of love:
Yours the glory…

 

5 So, our hearts and voices raising
through the ages long,
ceaselessly upon you gazing,
this shall be our song:
Yours the glory…

Blessing
 
Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honour all people; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you all now and always.
 
Amen.
 

Thanks to
 
Jonnie Hill and Adam Scott, Ruth and Kingsley Browning, Phil, Lythan and Carys Nevard for recording the Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith. Andy Braunston, Addie Redmond, Aaron Wood and Ray Fraser for other spoken parts of the service.
Alleluia Sing to Jesus- (W. Chatterton Dix, Tune: Hyfrodol), sung by the Choir of Kings College Cambridge
There Is A Land Of Pure Delight- (Isaac Watts), Red Mountain Music
Christ, of God Unseen, The Image- (The Rev’d Leith Fisher, (b1941) based on Colossians 1: 15-20), Edinburgh University Singers, Ian McCrorie (Conductor), John Kitchen (Organ)
Christ Triumphant, Ever Reigning– (Michael Saward), Jubilate Hymns
 
Organ Pieces
Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland (“Now the Gentile saviour comes”) by Johann Sebastian Bach, (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Nun Danket Alle Gott – Marche Triomphale (“Now thank we all our God”) by Sigfrid Karg-Elert, (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)
 
Both pieces played by Brian Cotterill

http://briancotterill.webs.com 

Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved.
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762

 

URC Daily Devotion  21st November 2020

Saturday 21st November  Hebrews -Confidence in Christ’s Blood

Hebrews 10: 19-25

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Reflection

Paul had confidence born of faith. Confidence built on Christ. That’s surely one of the reasons that his ministry was as wide ranging and impactful as it was. It’s no wonder that he urges others to have that same confidence. 

Nevertheless, confidence alone is no guarantee of the quality of anyone’s faith, or the quality of their message. After all, the false prophets, to whom Paul alludes elsewhere, probably also displayed a similar confidence. However, Paul reminds the Hebrews that the right sort of confidence and the right sort of message should provoke them to love and good deeds. They can see from the fruit growing within their community, or the lack of it, whether or not the confidence is warranted.

Paul also tells the Hebrews to meet together. One of the many good reasons for doing this is so that they can discern together the worth of any message. Whilst an individual can be led astray by a new and exciting preacher, the community as a whole will more easily discern a false apostle. In other words, when we get back to having coffee after worship, we should also return to the old, old ways of discussing the sermon over the biscuits. This will allow us to absorb all that has been said that is good and to discard anything not so good.

Paul then prompts the Hebrews to encourage one another. So often those with the strongest gifts do not recognise them for what they are. It is only when they are encouraged by others that they may have the confidence to step forward and to offer those gifts to God and to the community. So coffee time needs to become encouragement time too. That way, those with unrecognised gifts can discover both the gifts and the confidence to use them.

Prayer

Living and loving God,
We praise you that we can stand before you
in the confidence that through Christ we have been forgiven.
We ask you now to grant us the discernment to know what you would have us do
And the confidence to step forward in your name and to do it.
Thanks be to God
Amen.  

URC Daily Devotion Friday 20th November 2020

Friday 20th November  Hebrews – Christ’s Sacrifice

Hebrews 10: 11 – 18

And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’,  and since then has been waiting ‘until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,

‘This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds’,

he also adds,

‘I will remember  their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Reflection

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews compares and contrasts the daily sacrificial offerings in the Temple with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for the sins of the world.  In the Temple sin offerings were made each day – and the writer thinks they were ineffective despite being commanded in the Law – but Jesus’ offering of himself to the Father is effective and was offered just once.  

Many contemporary Christians struggle with these ideas of sacrifice for the atonement from sin – the images certainly come from a different world view and a different understanding of faith than is often the case now.  But then the URC believes that everytime we celebrate Holy Communion we “show forth Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross” making it present in the here and now (a variant of older ideas linking the Eucharist with sacrifice).

Many contemporary people struggle with ideas of sacrifice generally – not just about ideas of sacrifice in religious worship.  A culture which is based on credit means we can have what we want whenever we want it.  Gone are the days of our grandparents where they’d save up for things before buying them.  The idea of sacrificing something in our lives or in our interests for the good of another or the greater good of society is long gone.  But for 10 weeks we stood on our doorsteps and clapped appreciation for people who work in the NHS for little recognition and even less money.  Maybe the idea of sacrifice still resonates.

We are all called to participate in Jesus’ sacrifice to offer ourselves to the Creator along with Jesus.  We are all called to give sacrificially of our time, our talents, and our money – not as offerings for sin but as a way of changing both ourselves and our world.  We are called to point to a different understanding of how to live that, through sacrifice, the Kingdom will come.

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
you offered yourself on the wood of the Cross,
that we might find freedom – 
from sin,
destruction,
and alienation.
Help us to live sacrificially,
that we might point to a world of different values,
even your coming Kingdom.  Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 19th November 2020

Thursday 19th November Hebrews – The Old Sacrifices Ineffective

Hebrews 10: 1 – 10

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshippers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt-offerings and sin-offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, “See, God, I have come to do your will, O God”
    (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).’

When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt-offerings and sin-offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), then he added, ‘See, I have come to do your will.’ He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Reflection

It seems to me that the writer is telling all that the never-ending following of the Law as the years go by; approaching God, making offerings and seeking forgiveness, will not make them – or us perfect because if that were so – and perfection without sin is the ultimate goal – then having sins forgiven once for all, would negate the need to keep asking.  They and we would be left only with the memory of the first time that we were forgiven.  An echo of a past event only.  The result would be that there would be no further need to enter God’s presence and obey the Law for would they not be cleansed and perfect already? 
Now Christ has entered the world, and all is changed.  The Lord takes away the Old Testament to establish the New, “by the body of Jesus Christ”.  The incarnation had its foundation in the love of God.  It was the beginning of the Lord’s own self-sacrifice in fulfillment of the will of His Father, that leads all the way to the cross and there, if we accept His sacrifice and let Him into our hearts and lives, God will sanctify us and make us clean again for all time.

 Prayer

Lord Jesus,
Our hearts cry out to you today.
We acknowledge you as our Lord and our God.
And yet we know that today and on every other day
We have not listened to you or done your will.
Again and again we did not carry through what you asked of us.
Forgive us.
Help us to see clearly what you are asking us to do.
Help us to follow you, listening always to your voice in our lives.
We can then reflect your love
And become more perfect in your eyes.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 18th November 2020

Hebrews 9:23 – 28

Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgement, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Reflection

‘Once for all.’ There is such a wealth of hope in these words. In our human lives, we launch out on the really meaningful things in our lives once for all, and when we make these commitments we mean them. But we are human, and weak, and fail. Marriage entered into with such hope and shining eyes too often falls apart into unbearable unhappiness, and separation and divorce follow on from that once for all promise.

Sometimes the very words betray the fact that we do not believe in ‘once for all’. A mother at the end of her tether telling a wayward child that she’s telling him  for the last time, once for all… but in her heart she knows as she speaks the words that it won’t be the last time.

In our transient world, there seems to be no permanence, no ‘once for all’ that we can truly believe in. Which is why the Gospel is so wonderful. Counter-cultural. A God who says what he means and does what he says he’ll do. A God who does the amazing cosmos-transforming thing once for all and it really is once for all.

There is a sufficiency about Christ that marks him out from all the changing uncertainties of humanity. And how we need his unchangingness to cling onto. Not as something in past history but as something for the now, and something for the future. For if we can be confident in his once for all sacrifice, we can be equally confident that he will return again for those who wait for him. 

Prayer

Steady us, Lord Jesus, in the sureness of your love.
Forgive us for our frailty and fickleness, for our difficulty with the once for alls in our own lives.
And help us rejoice in your once for all sacrifice, and look forward to your return,
Amen.