URC Daily Devotion Thursday 17th September 2020 Creation 4

Thursday 17th September 2020

Creation 4

Job 12: 7 – 10

‘But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
    and the breath of every human being.

Reflection

Such are the vagaries of composing Devotions that as I write this, England seems to be on the cusp of either slithering tentatively towards something which might possibly resemble life as it was before the pandemic or, alternatively, sliding back to more lonely and mind-bending social isolation. Hopefully when you read this, the sun will be shining again.

Things were not clarifying for Job nearing the end of the first cycle of debate with his three friends. Why had God visited such trials upon him, a righteous man? Why was he a laughing stock while those who provoked God were secure? Seeking an answer, he turns to the world of nature which seems to suggest that the animals, birds, plants and fish know the answer: “’twas ever thus”. In God’s Creation, it’s just the way of things.

The debaters chew this over for the next thirty chapters.
In the problems facing us in the year of our Lord 2020, some suggest that we should indeed listen to the teaching of the animals, birds, plants and fish. With the enforced reduction in human activity, is not the birdsong louder? Have fish not returned to the canals of Venice and other places? Is the air not cleaner? Are we not able to enjoy more exercise, more time for reading, for music?

All true. But others point out that humans are social animals and without societal interaction, without human touch, without intimacy, mental ill-health increases. In any case such improvements might be merely ephemeral.

Our God is a relational God interacting with our lives in a two-way social and covenantal process. If we pull the balance towards ourselves, the relationship suffers and we suffer. Job perceived the balance to be wrong, so he suffered. For us, the balance between humanity and nature has swung. Resilience is reduced and we suffer.

Prayer

Covenantal God, help us to repair the balance, to listen to what nature and the world is telling us.

Lead us to work for a better world which reflects more nearly our relationship with you.

URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 16th September 2020 Creation 3

Wednesday 16th September 2020

Creation 3

Psalm 96: 10 – 13

Say among the nations, ‘The Lord is king!
    The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
    He will judge the peoples with equity.’
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
 let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
 before the Lord; for he is coming,
    for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with his truth.

Reflection

I was brought up in a liberal Christianity which shied away from judgement and what appeared to us to be a vindictive God.  The climate crisis has made me reassess this tradition.  This Psalm should make us all reassess it.

The Psalmist weaves together the joyful song of the created order with God’s judgement on the peoples. They are not two different aspects of God’s nature, they are one and the same. This may seem odd to those of us who have lived comfortably through this recent, very short, period of human history, in which our minority of the world’s human population has lived a luxurious life with only the occasional reminder of our creatureliness. The vast majority of the human population through history, the majority of the world in 2021, and perhaps all of us in the light of COVID-19, we can no longer forget that we also are mere creatures of our Creator.

To cope with that change we need to hear this Psalm and the judgement on humanity in it. David Attenborough’s series ‘A Life on our Planet’ on Netflix concludes that the havoc wreaked by us comfortable people, in our excessive consumption of the earth’s resources, does not imperil the planet itself. But it certainly imperils humanity.

The Psalmist is right – the forests shall go on singing with joy, the seas will roar, the fields exult and the planet will spin for millions more years. But humanity is bringing God’s judgement on itself by disregarding our place in creation and trying to be like God (rather like Adam and Eve in Genesis 3).

We need to hear this truth – our desire to be gods is a vain pretence. If we don’t realise that very soon indeed, then we will surely reap the whirlwind of God’s judgement.

Prayer

Loving Creator God,
we are sorry that we have tried to keep for ourselves
the song of the trees, the roaring of the sea,
the exaltation of the fields and the rejoicing of the earth
without seeking also your judgement in equity on the peoples.

Turn our hearts,
that like the Psalmist we may rejoice in your righteous judgement
and turn from our evil ways
so that creation’s song may continue as you intended.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 15th September 2020 Creation 2

Tuesday 15th September 2020

Creation 2

Isaiah 42: 1 – 7

Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
    I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
    a light to the nations,
  to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.

Reflection

This is the first of four passages in Isaiah which are known as The Servant Songs.  We exist only because God created us.  We breath because we have been given air by God.  As we have read of tens of thousands dying unable to breath because of Covid-19 we must appreciate our breath even more. More than just air to breath we are told by Isaiah that we have the Spirit as well.  

Matthew quotes the first few verses and makes it clear that the servant is Jesus.  It is Jesus who came as a light to the nations.  Writing this during the lockdown when many people feel like prisoners in their own homes it is interesting that many churches have noticed a marked increase in the number attending online during this time.  Are these people looking to be rescued from the dungeon of despair that they are in?  How should we react as Christians as things return to some sort of normality?  We should make sure that Jesus is seen as the light who can brighten the darkness of those who ask for help.  

This light is not just for those who are new to the Church, but it is also for those who have been members for many years.  We all need the same spirit to open our eyes and free us from whatever prison we feel we are in. 

Times will still be different when you read this and the new normal may not be fully clear but what is clear is that the spirit Isaiah wrote about is timeless and unchanging.  No matter what the situation is we should continue to live inhaling God’s grace and exhaling God’s love. 

Prayer

Loving God 
I thank you for all that you are
I thank you for the air I breathe
for the ground beneath my feet
Thank you for your Spirit who is with me today
Thank you for opening my eyes
Thank you for setting me free
Help me to enjoy the life you have given me
Help me to tell others how great You are
Let me praise and thank you in the name of Jesus
Amen

URC Daily Devotion Monday 14th September 2020 Creation 1

Monday 14th September 2020 

Creation 1

St John 1: 1 – 5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Reflection

Now is the season to make a step change.
Now is the moment to invent a new humanity.
Now is the hour to grasp the hand of God and move forward courageously on a different path.

Quantum mechanics has opened up our understanding of the material world being shaped through probabilities.  Theologically this is tremendously exciting and empowering.  The future does not yet exist.  Let me repeat that.  The future does not yet exist.  God’s call to Life, in Christ, is a call to discern together what actions now would be life-giving for the future.  Then to commit 100% to that Way.

Limiting the rise in global temperature and securing a level of biodiversity which can sustain the earth’s ecological systems are key amongst those life-giving actions.

In the beginning – the Word was with God. 
In Jesus – the Word was with those who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago. 
In the Spirit – the Word was, is and will be, with humanity.
In the 21st century – the Word is with us as dependably, as surely, as truly, as creatively and as radically as it ever was.  And as demandingly!

In our Kairos moment let us not be found wanting.

Prayer
 
God who is the Word,
praise, glory and wonder be yours for bringing life into being.
You are our light.
Shine in the gloom and murk of our earth-damaging practices.
Illuminate our possible futures.
Raise us up to choose the life-giving path.
So may we honour your great gift to humanity in Jesus, the Life Giver.
Amen

A Week on Creation

A Week of Creation

Dear <<First Name>>

I hope you’ve found our, long, journey through Exodus has been fruitful.  Like Genesis, it is a book we think we know but are always surprised by.  We leave that book now and spend a week thinking about Creation.

In response to a call from the Ecumenical Patriarch many communions observe a month of Creationtime between September and October.  The Covid 19 pandemic showed us the dangers of abusing animals,  how the planet can start to recover when human activity is scaled down and, despite the postponement of the Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, we are still facing a climate emergency. 

For the week ahead we will be thinking of the earth, our fragile home, as part of the majesty of God’s creation and challenge ourselves to embrace, protect, and conserve it and the life which teems here.

with every good wish

Andy

The Rev’d Andy Braunston,
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC

URC Daily Devotion Saturday 12th September 2020 Moses’ Death

Saturday 12th September 2020

Moses’ Death

Deuteronomy 34: 1 – 12

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan,  all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea,  the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar.  The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants”; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.’  Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command.  He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day.  Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigour had not abated.  The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.  He was unequalled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Reflection

So, after 40 years wandering in the desert Moses gets to see the promised land, but dies before he can reach it.  Amazingly, at the age of 120 he has impaired sight and unabated vigour – I imagine plenty of us wish we had those at 30/50/70 let alone 120!  Despite this, you might think he has failed in his life’s work – he hasn’t managed to lead the Israelites into Canaan – but there’s no sense of that in the text.  Rather, it’s seen as a fulfilment of the promise made earlier in Numbers 27, where God said that Moses would not reach the promised land himself, because of his rebellion in the wilderness.

Moses has, however, identified Joshua as his successor, who will lead the people into the promised land.  He’s recognised that the task of leadership is something bigger than he can accomplish in his own life.  How often do we manage to do the same?  Do we encourage other people to grow as leaders and take more responsibility, or do we feel we can’t trust anyone else to do something properly?  People who care for vulnerable relatives are often very careful to make sure there are proper arrangements for looking after their spouse or child after they die – but others of us can sometimes seem to behave as if we are immortal and irreplaceable, which doesn’t do us, others, or the causes we care for any good.

In churches we are often very aware of the saints who have gone before us – even commemorating them in the names of our buildings, for example.  But we should also think of those who will remain after we have gone, and make sure that we are encouraging their gifts of prophecy and leadership, just as Moses encouraged Joshua.

Prayer

Lord, you call each of us to our own form of service.
May we help each other discern our callings, and encourage each other in our journeys of faith.
We pray for those called to be leaders, that they may serve with honour, and know that leadership is a team game, rather than a virtuoso performance.
And may we know how to be followers, as we seek to follow your way.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Friday 11th September 2020 Joshua Commissioned

Friday 11th September 2020
 

Joshua Commissioned

Deuteronomy 31: 1 – 8

When Moses had finished speaking all[a] these words to all Israel, he said to them: ‘I am now a hundred and twenty years old. I am no longer able to get about, and the Lord has told me, “You shall not cross over this Jordan.” The Lord your God himself will cross over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua also will cross over before you, as the Lord promised. The Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. The Lord will give them over to you and you shall deal with them in full accord with the command that I have given to you. Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.’

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: ‘Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’

Reflection

This reading caught my eye as I was looking through the choices as I’m a great fan of Joshua and his story.  It then struck me that today (11th September) is our 27th wedding anniversary so I was reminded once more how God does indeed move in mysterious ways. And the passage today is certainly mysterious.  First of all, Moses doesn’t get the ’happy ending’ he must have hoped for to his long and exhausting journey – he will never get to enter the Promised Land he has spent so long leading the Israelites towards.  Instead, Moses must hand over that responsibility to his younger colleague Joshua.
 
It’s challenging enough not to be able to fulfil our dreams, no matter how God-given they might appear to be, and surely it’s even worse to commission someone else to fulfil that dream instead. I think if I’d been Moses all those years ago, I certainly wouldn’t have been so gracious or so compassionate in word or action.  But Moses understands that God is always generous in love and deed, and he commissions Joshua in the same way that God originally commissioned him – that is, with love and confidence and the knowledge that God will always be with him.  Because it is God Himself who chooses and directs our path and works out what is best for us and not we ourselves. In this way, the imposing of limitation is as much a blessing as liberation.  Both can be gifts.
 
Prayer
 
Dear God, help us to trust in You and Your plans for us. Help us to understand and accept Your divine will, no matter where it leads us or where it does not. Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Thursday 10th September 2020 Choose Life

Thursday 10th September 2020

Choose Life

Deuteronomy 30: 11 – 20

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God  that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,  I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,  loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Reflection

Choices – every day we make choices: some of us are blessed with so many options that we get confused: what to wear, what to do, what to eat and drink; others long for such an opportunity of choice and feel their lives confined by unavoidable restrictions – but his experiences in Nazi concentration camps led Victor Frankl to write, “Everything can be taken from a person but one thing, the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way!” Man’s Search for Meaning.

Our writer today presents the most vital of choices with characteristically Semitic starkness; the issues are clear and the consequences of choice are made clear.  Later understanding of God’s ways moved on from presenting those consequences in materialistic terms, though it is easy to be tempted to want virtue to be rewarded in material ways.  Choose life and live on God’s terms, or reject God and go your own way; there are no intermediaries, each person needs to choose. God does not punish the wrong-doer but such people bring the consequences on themselves.

Although this passage in Deuteronomy is set within the context of God’s covenant with the people we should recognise, as Frankl wrote, that each individual has to make her or his own choice. The consequences of that choice will affect others, perhaps the whole community, but each person has an individual responsibility to live, “loving the Lord your God, obeying him and holding fast to him” so finding fullness of life which is developed when Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” John, 10.10. Jesus also said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself” Luke 10.27. 

Prayer 

Gracious God, give us the insight to know what choices we should make and give us the strength we need to make those choices, Walking the Way of Jesus, in whose power we pray: Amen

URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 9th September Shine Moses Shine

Wednesday 9th September

Shine Moses Shine

Exodus 34:  29 – 35

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterwards all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Reflection

Moses had been on the mountain and having a conversation with God.  This changed his physical appearance so much that his face shone.  This might remind us of the time when Jesus met Moses and Elijah.  Matthew 17:2 tells us that Jesus’s face shone like the sun.  Moses was unaware of this change to his appearance, but the people were afraid of him.  He had to summon them to approach him and Moses told them what God had said to him on Mount Sinai.

Do we all reflect the glory of God in our day to day lives or do we leave it for Sundays?  Perhaps more importantly does our relationship with God change every part of our lives?  Moses’s face shone to show that he had been in God’s presence and he wore a veil to hide it from other people but removed the veil when with God.  

Do we do something similar; do we hide our faith when with non-churchgoers?  We should let others see that we have this.  We live in times when many people are unsure about the existence of God, a time when they doubt many things.  We need to let the love of God shine through us into the dark places that many people inhabit.  We can do it in so many ways, supporting organisations such as Commitment for Life or Christian Aid are examples.  Kind words to strangers and simply telling friends how our personal faith helps us every day can show God’s glory shining from us.  There is much being said about a “new normal” will we as Christians all make sure that our new normal includes God in every part of it?

Prayer

Loving God, 
shine through me,
make me a beacon for you
where there is darkness let me bring light
where there are feelings of hopelessness or despair, let me bring joy
in Jesus name, Amen

URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 8th September 2020 Covenant Renewed

Tuesday 8th September 2020
 

Covenant Renewed

Exodus 34:  10 – 28

He said: I hereby make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform marvels, such as have not been performed in all the earth or in any nation; and all the people among whom you live shall see the work of the Lord; for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

Observe what I command you today. See, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, or it will become a snare among you. You shall tear down their altars, break their pillars, and cut down their sacred poles  (for you shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God). You shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, someone among them will invite you, and you will eat of the sacrifice.  And you will take wives from among their daughters for your sons, and their daughters who prostitute themselves to their gods will make your sons also prostitute themselves to their gods.

You shall not make cast idols.

You shall keep the festival of unleavened bread. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt.

All that first opens the womb is mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem.

No one shall appear before me empty-handed.

For six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even in ploughing time and in harvest time you shall rest. You shall observe the festival of weeks, the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the festival of ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out nations before you, and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.

You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven, and the sacrifice of the festival of the passover shall not be left until the morning.

The best of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God.

You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

The Lord said to Moses: Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. He was there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

Reflection

The God who had made Himself known to Abraham delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, sustained them through the wilderness years and guided them to the land He had promised their forebears.   The covenant theme binds together promises made and the fulfilment of those promises in the life and death of Jesus Christ. In so doing Exodus becomes the catalyst upon which Biblical history is assured and fundamental truth is based.  At the heart of the Exodus narrative is the focus on the divine name, the nature of His presence and the significance of the sacrificial Passover lamb.

September, of course, for the Methodist Church marks the beginning of a new year; a time when new ministers and church treasurers take up their appointments and when the regular cycle of committee meetings at church, circuit and district level begins again, the occasion very often being celebrated on the first Sunday with the annual Covenant Service, in memory of the first covenant with God.

September, for us too, heralds a new beginning in our thoughts and plans for the future. One of the most important things for any believer is to be able to discern where God is leading and, having discerned, to respond and follow.

When someone asked the British photographer and pioneering director William Friese-Green, what was the most creative aspect of making films, he answered, “The frame”. Not the fabulous locations, the scripts or working with great actors – but the frame. When we are surrounded by so many opportunities and able to see so much potential for what lies ahead, it is vital that we discern where our own path lies. Discerning, and accepting, what we believe we are called to do gives us clarity and freedom and allows us to focus our energies.  We all need to listen for that “still, small voice.”  That goes for us all, you and me.

Prayer

Do not give up…When you first begin, you find only darkness and as if it were a cloud of unknowing. You don’t know what this means except that in your will you feel a simple, steadfast intention reaching out towards God…reconcile yourself to wait in this darkness as long as necessary, but still go on longing after him who you love. (The Cloud of Unknowing – 14th. Century)