URC Daily Devotion 27th February 2019

At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!  For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’
Reflection
Jesus’ response to the return of the Seventy, joyful with the success of their mission, is to offer thanks to his Father.  He expresses specific gratitude that revelation of the manifestation of the Kingdom has been given not to those who might be expected to receive it, ‘the wise and the intelligent’ but rather to the ‘infants.’  The language is reminiscent of the ‘wise’ and ‘foolish’ in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, where those who understand the message of the cross are not deemed wise by worldly standards.

Further, the Son, entrusted with all things, chooses with whom he will share his intimate knowledge of the Father.  As he turns to the disciples, telling them how blessed they are to have witnessed the dawn of salvation, their privileged status as recipients of revelation is emphasised by his comment that prophets and kings longed to have witnessed what they had seen and heard.  Again, as in the contrast between the ‘wise and intelligent’ and the ‘infants,’ we are reminded of the topsy-turvy upside-down world of the kingdom.

We welcome the revelation to the deeply ordinary.  We celebrate that it’s those who make no claim to be wise or qualified who have insight that the Kingdom has come.  But a cautionary note: let us take care if we think we understand the nature of the ‘infants’ that we don’t set boundaries around who might be included according to our own flawed knowledge.  

Heavenly Father,
may we be child-like
in opening ourselves
to the mysteries of your Kingdom,

in accepting that there is much
we can never understand,

in joyfully receiving
what you choose to reveal.

And, like children
may we delight in telling others
of your abundant gifts
and blessings to us.  
Amen.

Today’s Writer

The Revd. Dr. Gillian Poucher, Minister, Gainsborough 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

URC Daily Devotion 26th February 2019

The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’  He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’
Reflection
The joy of the Seventy is elsewhere translated ‘exhilaration’ and ‘elation’. How often do we see that in our churches – or ourselves? In many a revival, such ‘emotionalism’ has been frowned on and discouraged. Jesus here does not puncture the joy. First, he validates the experience. ‘Yes, I know!’ he says. ‘I saw the heavenly reality of the earthly work you were doing.’ In their teaching, preaching, healing, and driving out demons, the Kingdom of God had confronted Satan and won victories, a foretaste of the final victory Jesus would win on the Cross.

And lest the Seventy thought it was their achievement, in their strength, which surely would lead to many kinds of disaster, Jesus reminds them his is the authority for this work, and the protection. He lifts our eyes from what we can accomplish on our own to his enabling power.

And then he lifts our eyes higher, heavenwards to the heavenly reality of who we are in him and where our true home is, with our name-plate securely fixed. In this we can have hope and joy, whether we are triumphing over our circumstances – or not.

‘Saviour, if of Zion’s city
I, through grace, a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy name.’

John Newton (1725-1807)
Rejoice & Sing 560

Today’s Writer

Dorothy Stewart Courtis, writer and lay preacher, is a member of Wortwell URC, Norfolk

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 25th March 2019

Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?”  He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”’
 
Reflection
Manure (to use the polite term) is useful stuff. It increases the crop yield on poor soils. On barren soil, it enables fruitful growth where there was none before. And manure features prominently in this story, Jesus’s parable about a tree in need of help.

This parable about a barren fig tree follows hard on the heels of Jesus telling stories which feature sudden, fatal calamity. He warns of the urgent need to turn lives around (to repent) before death and destruction comes. The possibility of destruction remains: ‘Cut it down! Why should it be wasting soil?’ Yet, the threat of judgement, which brings this destruction, goes hand in hand with a stay of execution: give it another year and a load of manure and we’ll see what happens.

Is the negotiation between the landowner and the gardener indicative of the conversation that goes on within the mind of God concerning me? If so, that’s unsettling. I wouldn’t like to think that anyone regards me as a “waste of space”, especially not God. Jesus does not let me off the hook concerning the lack of fruitfulness in my life; judgement is still due next year. Yet, fruitfulness before then remains a real possibility, as long as sufficient manure is applied.

What’s the life-giving manure that enables me to grow and be fruitful? Reading, hearing, and discussing the scripture that tells the story of God’s dealing with this world? The practice of prayer, by myself and in the company of others?

Participating in worshipping God, as part of faithful, fruitful congregation? Putting into action loving my neighbour like I would want to be loved myself?

Whether it is one, some, all, or more than these, please, God, pile it higher and dig it deeper.

O God who creates the conditions for fruitful life,
and who through your Son, Jesus,
calls on us to turn our lives around,
be patient with our shortcomings,
and encourage us to grow.
Amen.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Trevor Jamison, Minister, St Columba’s URC, North Shields

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 24th February 2019

1 On Jerus’lem’s holy mountain
he has founded his abode.
2 More than all of Jacob’s dwellings
Zion’s gates are dear to God.

3 Glorious things of you are spoken,
Zion, city of the LORD:
4 “Many drawn from all the nations
as your people I record.

“I will name as those who know me
Egypt, Tyre and Babylon;
Philistine along with Cushite
I will count as Zion-born.”

5 Yes, it will be said of Zion,
“This and that one here belong;
And on her the Highest’s blessing
will descend, and make her strong.”

6 “Born in Zion,” God will enter
in the peoples’ register.
7 They will sing, as they make music,
“All my fountains are in her.”

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Sussex here.

URC Daily Devotion 23rd February 2019

We have already heard about the mission of the Twelve (Luke 9:1-6), now we have the mission of the Seventy (or is it 72?).

In all the Gospels it is an account that is only given by Luke although the charge referring to ‘the harvest being plenty and the labourers being few’ has its parallels . The commentaries make a number of useful points. Some texts give the number as seventy others seventy-two. The appointment of seventy elders is alluded to (Numbers 11:16,17). Then there is the list of the world’s nations, seventy in all (Genesis 10:2-31). So the mission of the seventy is thought by some to prefigure the mission to the Gentiles.

The mission to which the seventy are charged to go will be hard going. They will be facing hostility ‘like lambs in the midst of wolves’. They go without money, possessions and even without a decent pair of walking shoes. The way they are to live is much like the way Jesus and the twelve live dependant upon hospitality.

All that being said the story is a reminder that God’s mission is not only in the hands of the professionals (the twelve). It is about teamwork, the seventy go out in twos, so each is dependant on another, each are with the other sixty-nine, much like we are dependant upon each other in our churches today. we are disciples together. We are reminded that the success of the mission is dependant not only on the seventy that go out but also upon those who provide hospitality. As disciples today we have different tasks and responsibilities.

The mission is one of healing and service, churches remain healing and serving communities. We cannot however predict the outcome of our mission, that is dependant upon God alone.

URC Daily Devotion 22nd February 2019

I’m sure that many of you, like me, sometimes have trouble sleeping. Perhaps, like me, you’ve read up on ‘sleep hygiene’ and try to follow a set routine to help you sleep well, but still occasionally find yourself awake at 4am pondering the meaning of the Universe. Drawing on this passage, a question you could ponder is ‘how did Jesus sleep?’

In the Gospels Jesus is always travelling and rarely stays in the same place for very long, so he would never have known where he was going to be sleeping. He didn’t have a set routine. After a long day walking, teaching and healing did he sleep the sound sleep of the just, or did he often lie awake, uncomfortable in a borrowed bed in a strange house, thinking about what he, or those opposing him, would do next? Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but he had no place to rest his head, or at least no regular, known, safe place.

We often build routines for ourselves because they can help us. We like to feel safe, secure and in control. But routine can also lead to complacency. Can any of us honestly say we have never made an excuse when we think we hear God calling us to something new and risky? I certainly can’t, or I would have candidated for ministry earlier in my life. It was the same two thousand years ago. The excuses given in this passage for not immediately dropping everything to follow Jesus are pretty good and reasonable as excuses go. I have to bury my father – a requirement according to law and custom. I want to say goodbye to my family – who wouldn’t?

And yet sometimes to follow Jesus we need to be ready to break out of our routines, even if it risks losing sleep and pondering ineffable questions as we lie awake.

URC Daily Devotion 21st February 2019

I wonder how the conversation went between the disciples and the people in the Samaritan village? The Messiah is coming you say? Whose Messiah? Is he staying long? Oh – Jerusalem you say? – well he can’t be our Messiah, he’s going the wrong way.

For Samaritans, Jerusalem was not their sacred city – they believed the most important, holiest place, was Mount Gerizim.
The disciples, with their passion and faith in Jesus, had expected the Samaritans to welcome them with open arms perhaps?

It’s very easy when you are passionate about something, to expect others to feel the same – but unless it is relevant to them, they simply won’t. We spend long hours wondering how to take the message of Jesus to those who know nothing of Him, and, like the disciples, are we surprised at their indifference?

The disciples were hurt and angry that the village had been unwelcoming and perhaps sought to emulate Elijah in having it consumed by fire – but Jesus told them no. Indeed; what would that have said about the followers of Jesus that when they are not welcomed, they need to punish, to have their revenge?

Unless we live out our faith and help others to see the relevance of it to them, through the difference it makes to our lives, then the welcome we receive will be predictable!

URC Daily Devotion 20th February 2019

Jesus’ friends have come across someone “casting out demons in your name”.  It sounds as if they tried to stop him because they thought he was jumping on the bandwagon, or maybe giving himself a status that in their eyes he hasn’t earned? They had, after all, just had the conversation with Jesus about who was the greatest – perhaps they were trying to change Jesus’ mind? Status was important to the disciples and here was a man using Jesus’ name and casting out demons.

Last year the Gospel choir I sing with was asked to sing backing vocals for a Neil Diamond tribute show.  I told everyone, because I was excited, that I was singing at the theatre, but I stressed to everyone “it’s not the real Neil Diamond though,” not because I was disappointed, but because I didn’t want them to think it was the real one.  Possibly because I didn’t want them to think it was VERY important, just a little bit important. I don’t think the real Neil Diamond minds too much about tribute acts; after all, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, don’t they? The tribute actor isn’t trying to fool anyone, they know he is a tribute and it will become apparent that while he won’t be authentic, he will be almost as good, and the songs will still be the same.  

Perhaps that’s how Jesus felt – it isn’t about status, and those people casting out demons weren’t doing it in their own name, they weren’t pretending they were the Messiah – they were using Jesus’ name; and apparently it was working. False prophet – or tribute?

URC Daily Devotion 19th February 2019

We can be very sentimental about children, especially in churches that do not have any. We think we should treat them as if they are adults and tie ourselves up in knots about how much they understand about Communion.

There is no evidence Jesus was at all sentimental about children. He had younger brothers and sisters and no doubt remembered that children are just as capable of being unpleasant, selfish human beings as those of us in any other age group. But maybe he also remembered two characteristics of many small children that adults tend to honour less.

The first is a willingness to trust even when they do not understand, especially when a parent that loves them is involved. When we try to reduce God to what we can understand, claiming that this is what a scientific age requires, we downsize God until we have an idol of our own construction. We have decided greatness is ours not God’s.

The second characteristic is a sense of wonder that flows into what we would once have called reverence. We may not be good at nurturing this but many of us can remember moments when we felt it, long before we could have composed a theological essay. Worship is mechanical without a sense of wonder; but with it worshipping a mysterious and majestic God is possible for all, regardless of intellectual competence.

It should be no surprise that those close to truly great people frequently comment on their innate humility. Whatever hype surrounds them, they know that they are not the centre of the universe. Some of them know who is.

URC Daily Devotion 18th February 2019

While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples,  ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’  But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
Reflection
Bad news. Frightening news. Life-changing news. None of us like receiving the kind of news that Jesus is giving to his followers in this short passage. In fact, we’d probably much rather have fake news than the truth He is trying to tell them. Isn’t Christianity supposed to be about the Good News? And aren’t we supposed to put a positive spin on everything?

Well, perhaps not. Because there is always going to be both bad and good things in our lives. And sometimes we have to face up to and deal with the bad things honestly if we’re going to be the people God created us to be. Here, Jesus is telling His followers that His mission isn’t going to succeed and in fact He will be taken from them. How can this be true at the point when everything seems to be going so well? The disciples don’t want to understand it and are too afraid to ask. Wouldn’t we be the same? I know I certainly would.

However, there comes a point in everyone’s lives where we have to be brave enough and trusting enough to bring the negative issues out into the open and ask God for help with them. God is exactly the right Person to ask as He knows every single bad thing we have gone through and every single good thing too. With His help, we can deal with the bad things, and His grace alone can make good things come from them.

Dear God,
help us to trust You
with the pain and darkness
in our lives,
so that Your grace and power
can turn them into blessings.
Amen.

Today’s Writer

Anne Brooke, regular attender at URC Elstead

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