URC Daily Devotion 2nd December 2017

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

Reflection
In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene is the first of Jesus’ followers to meet the risen Jesus. He sends her back to the disciples with an Ascension message, and the astonishing news of her encounter with her living Lord. Do they believe her? We are not told: but we wouldn’t be surprised if they had their doubts about her testimony, or even sanity.

Jesus’ Easter evening appearance to his disciples is in a room with the door locked ‘for fear of the Jews’ ie the Jewish authorities. This beleaguered company already know that Jesus’ tomb is empty.  Do they also fear meeting up with their risen Lord will bring severe recriminations for their desertion? They seem traumatised and uncertain about the future. Mary Magdalene’s news hasn’t radically transformed the disciples’ outlook on life.
In the midst of their discomfort they find Jesus standing amongst them: recognisably the same as he has always been, but bearing the scars of his crucifixion. There are no recriminations, only a confrontation of the best and most reassuring kind. His familiar ‘shalom’ bids them relax and accept his presence is for their benefit. As his disciples gather round him looking at his wounded body, their pent up emotions burst out into unconfined joy. Their relationship with Jesus has been re-established.

But this is not just a social call Jesus is making, no matter how welcome. His second ‘shalom’ to them is a commissioning one.  He hands over the torch of his mission to his disciples. Earlier in John’s gospel there have been hints about this: but this is now happening.  In his ‘breathing’ on them the Spirit of God who gives life to human beings and all living things (cf Genesis creation passages)., they are given power to bear witness to Jesus by their lives and conduct. The meaning of Jesus’ saying ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ has been, and still is, a subject of debate. How are we to understand this? The context of the saying is the handing over and empowering of the disciples to undertake Jesus’ mission. Since John’s gospel treats ‘sin’ not as a moral category, but as ‘unbelief’, the saying is related to the disciples’ mission of bearing witness, not primarily a power vested in an individual or group. As people come to know and abide in Jesus, they will be “released” from their sins. If, however, those sent by Jesus fail to bear witness, people will remain stuck in their unbelief; their sins will be “retained” or “held on to” Seen in this light the stakes of mission are very high: for the disciples, and us.

We’re not told why Thomas was absent, missing this first Sunday evening encounter with the risen Jesus. We characterise him as “doubting Thomas,” though he asks for nothing more than the others have already received: to see Jesus with his wounds. Our faith is more akin to Thomas’ than we’re usually prepared to admit.

One week later Jesus’ visit provides exactly what Thomas needs, and he responds with the highest confession of anyone in the Gospel. This is not simply a doctrinal confession, but a statement of trust and relationship: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas reminds us of our need for our faith to be personal – creeds and statements of belief have their place, but the presence of Christ in our midst surpasses all of these, and all arguments.

Is Jesus’ response to Thomas a rebuke?  It can be read like that – but more positively as blessing on all those who will come to believe without the benefit of a flesh-and-blood encounter with Jesus. Indeed, John goes on to declare that this is the purpose of his gospel, speaking to all of us who have not seen, but have heard his testimony: “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”.

Gracious God
you come to us in Jesus always,
sometimes when least expected.
When we are tired, frightened of life,
our setbacks overwhelming us,
let us hear your ‘shalom’
as you stand beside us.
May your life in us bring encouragement
fresh hope and joy,
as you journey with us
into our future. Amen

 

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d John Young is a retired minister of the Synod of Scotland and a member of Giffnock 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 1st December 2017

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them,

‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’

Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her,

‘Woman, why are you weeping?’

She said to them,

‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’

When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her,

‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him,

‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’

Jesus said to her,

‘Mary!’

She turned and said to him in Hebrew,

‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).

Jesus said to her,

‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them,

“I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,

‘I have seen the Lord’;

and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Reflection
For some reason, it seems to be unsettling to read through the account of the resurrection of Jesus away from Easter. Like thinking of shepherds and the Magi in summertime, being reminded again of that first Easter morning separate from the sways of springtime flowers seems to create disorientation. But that comes from a resident of the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are flipped, Christmas is accompanied by beach BBQs and sun cream, while Easter comes with the browning leaves of autumn. It all depends on what you’re used to.

Perhaps any unsettling, then, comes because we encounter the account on a cool Friday morning in December – a perspective we’re not used to having on the text – rather than the warmth of Sunday in spring? Or perhaps we’re used to it speaking the mystery of the Resurrection as part of the whole narrative from the Triumphal entry through to the Ascension? Or maybe it unsettles not so much because of the date, but because it can actually speak to us of that mystery? – here it can speak anew where it is laid bare of the distractions of the season.

As Advent looms, maybe we need to be reminded of the mystery, majesty, and glory that the Resurrection encapsulates for Christians. The watching and waiting of the disciples was rewarded by the new life of a resurrected Christ – not just brought back from the dead but transformed by God into one who was unknown to even his most devout followers, yet instantly recognised in the calling of a name. God turned death, decay, and destruction into renewal, revival, and refreshment.

As we turn on Advent Sunday to start a new liturgical year, maybe we can aspire to think of every Sunday as a ‘little Easter Sunday’ – where hearing again the story of the glorious Resurrection of Christ, our Saviour and Lord, doesn’t disorientate but inspires. Perhaps we can become more used to hearing again the account of resurrection and appearance, trusting that through God’s grace, Christ’s presence will be known to us anew – a true renewal in the Church and in our lives.

Speak to us anew, Lord;
unsettle us with
the mystery and majesty of your Resurrection,
and help us to hear your voice of renewal
as we seek to be your people,
not disorientated, but focused on your glory.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Dr Matthew Prevett, Minister, St Andrew’s URC, Monkseaton and Northern Synod Minister

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 30th November 2017

Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read,

“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate,

“Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ”

Pilate answered,

“What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another,

“Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.”

This was to fulfil what the scripture says,

“They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

And that is what the soldiers did.  Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother,

“Woman, here is your son.”

Then he said to the disciple,

“Here is your mother.”

And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture),

“I am thirsty.”

A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said,

“It is finished.”

Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath, especially because that Sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled,

“None of his bones shall be broken.”

And again another passage of scripture says,

“They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

URC Daily Devotion 29th November 2017

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said,

“What accusation do you bring against this man?”  

They answered,

“If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”

Pilate said to them,

“Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.”

The Jews replied,
“We are not permitted to put anyone to death.”
(This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him,
 
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
 
Jesus answered,

“Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

Pilate replied,

“I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesus answered,

“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Pilate asked him,

“So you are a king?”

Jesus answered,

“You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate asked him,

“What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them,

“I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”

They shouted in reply,

“Not this man, but Barabbas!”
 
Now Barabbas was a bandit. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.  And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying,

“Hail, King of the Jews!”

and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to
them,
 
“Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.”
So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them,
“Here is the man!”
 
When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted,

“Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Pilate said to them,

“Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”

The Jews answered him,

“We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus,

“Where are you from?”

But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him,

“Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”

Jesus answered him,

“You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out,

“If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews,

“Here is your King!”

They cried out,

“Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!”

Pilate asked them,

“Shall I crucify your King?”

The chief priests answered,

“We have no king but the emperor.”

Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

Devotions and Junk/Spam Mail

Dear <<First Name>>

For some time we’ve had a problem where some people find that the Daily Devotions end up in the Spam/Junk folder.  This can be an intermittent problem so people email me to ask if they have been removed from the list.

I have been working with the URC’s email provider and think we’ve changed enough settings to reduce this problem.  I would also suggest you add [email protected] to your contacts and your Safe Sender list.  You may need to google to find out how your email programme manages Safe Sender lists.  

with every good wish

Andy

Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project

  

URC Daily Devotion 27 November 2017

After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them,
‘For whom are you looking?’
They answered,
‘Jesus of Nazareth.’
Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’
Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he’,  they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them,
‘For whom are you looking?’
And they said,
‘Jesus of Nazareth.’
Jesus answered,
‘I told you that I am he.  So if you are looking for me, let these men go.’
This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken,
‘I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.’
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter,
‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’
Reflection
Who hasn’t been betrayed?

Betrayal is one of those circumstances, when we suffer disloyalty from another human being, but the deceit and hurt can lie embedded in our emotions for many years.

This scene of betrayal in John’s Gospel is the most tragic, yet the most powerful in the passion narrative. Here, centre stage are Jesus and Judas, both knowing why they were there, and for Jesus, the path to the cross is looming ever higher. The on lookers, of which they are many, the disciples, the soldiers, police and Pharisees take a back stage, and in the dim light of torches the scene unfolds.

The betrayer and betrayed facing each other.

What about the betrayed? Jesus accepts the betrayal of Judas, knowing that it will  bring glory to God, but the betrayal leaves him at a fork in the road, and to progress onwards to the Cross, Jesus needs to forgive Judas and give instructions to the onlookers and especially to Simon Peter ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me? His acute love for his disciples, and I would include Judas here, is clear as he accepts what is to come, with no arguments or defence.

What about the betrayer? Judas is often portrayed in a bad light, but are all people who betray ruthless people? We are all capable of betrayal, it is part of our humanity, for we are imperfect beings, yet for Judas and I expect for most people, the first act of moving onwards is to accept the consequences of our actions and then to seek forgiveness from the person we have wronged. Did Judas ever feel forgiveness and love from Jesus? I think he did, but Judas’ stumbling block was that he could not forgive himself.

This scenario is as real as any modern day situation, political or relational or even a Shakespearean play, a tragedy, a love story, a story of right and wrong, and story of truth and lies, betrayer and betrayed.

We will at some point all deal with betrayal, the secret is knowing how to love and forgive, then move on in God’s grace.

‘Our job is to Love others,
without stopping to inquire
whether or not they are worthy’.

Thomas Merton

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Ruth Dillon is minister at Fleet URC and Beacon Hill , Hindhead URC.Wessex Synod

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

Sad to say ‘Goodbye’ to our Minister

We are sorry to have to say goodbye to our Minister, Revd. Anne Lewitt this month.  Anne has received and accepted a call from the West Sussex Pastorate of the United Reformed Church and will be inducted there on Saturday 16th September.  Anne has been with us for four years and came to us after our new building had been dedicated, so it was ‘New Building, New Minister’ for us.  We did share Anne with West Park Leeds United Reformed Church and she was half-time at each.  We do wish her well in her new Pastorate and value the time that she was with us.  Anne at our Strawberry Cream Tea on 12th August with Poppy Pearce trying to do the hopscotch!

Monthly Community Cafe

From our monthly Community Cafe when we had an enjoyable morning having our breakfast (or elevenses) catching up with each other and generally having a good chat.  Barry brought the usual FairTrade stall reminding us that we should be careful with our purchasing.