URC Daily Devotion Monday 18th May

Monday 18th May The Curse on Canaan

Genesis 9: 18 – 28

The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.)  These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth. Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard.  When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.  Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him,  he said, “Cursed be Canaan!  The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!  May Canaan be the slave of Shem.  May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.” After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died.


The recent production of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale has been an international success.  Atwood posits a fascist regime only valuing women for their fertility.  LGBT people are referred to as “gender traitors” and black people referred to as “Children of Ham”.  That reference comes from this confusing passage.

The story is an attempt to explain Canaanites origins and was written to justify their subjugation by Israel.  

We’re not sure what is meant by Ham seeing his father naked especially as when Noah comes round he is appalled at what Ham has done to him.  It might be as simple as the shame in seeing one’s father naked but it might also be Biblical code for some form of sexual assault (see Leviticus 20:17).  

Then we have the horror of how the story has been used over time.  Noah condemns Canaan, not Ham, to slavery.  Ancient commentators began to depict Ham as black.  Linking the curse on Canaan to slavery became a Biblical proof text to justify slavery.  

Sadly there are many Biblical texts that support slavery – that shouldn’t surprise us given the prevalance of slavery in the ancient world.  As late as the 19th Century, however,  Christians were using this text to justify the enslavement of black people.  Other Christians, including many Congregationalists, were involved in the abolition movement.  At same time as the Congregational Union of Scotland was opposing slavery one of its ministers founded the Congregational Church in Stewarton; he was a man made wealthy from the slave trade.  

We have to be careful when using the Bible in our ethical decision making and be aware of how texts have been used to oppress and condemn as well liberate and enliven.  We need to confront our own mixed history around slavery and racism; the recent exposure of Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, as a sexual predator makes us realise we can all be capable of heroic sanctity and dreadful sin.


help us to understand the Scriptures,
to see how they’ve been used,
and to commit ourselves to always taking the side of the oppressed,
using your words to liberate,

Sunday Worship for 17th May The Rev’d Fleur Houston

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 17th May 

Today’s service is led by the Rev’d Fleur Houston, a retired URC minister living in Macclesfield.



Good morning, and welcome! My name is Fleur Houston and I am speaking to you from Macclesfield.  Not from Macclesfield and Bollington United Reformed Church where I am a member, but from the study that I share with Walter on the top floor of a silk weaver’s garret, with a large picture window overlooking the hills. Wherever we are, in living room or study, in bedroom, kitchen, or breakfast room, we meet today in the presence of God. And we do not meet alone. For we are part of the great company of the Church, past, present and yet to come.  In a moment of silence, let us now set aside the business of the morning, still our hearts and our minds, and prepare to worship God.
Call to Worship 
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!      He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
Rejoice, heavenly powers!   Sing, choirs of angels!  Exult, all creation around God’s throne!  Jesus, our King, is risen!  Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
Rejoice, heavenly powers!  Sing, choirs of angels!
Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines upon you! Let this place resound with joy,  as we sing, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!
All people that on earth do dwell
Psalm 100, metrical version by William Kethe (publ. 1560-1561) altd.


All people that on earth do dwell,
sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with fear, His praise forthtell,
come we before Him and rejoice!
2: The LORD ye know is God indeed;
without out aid He did us make.
We are His folk he doth us feed,
and for His sheep He doth us take.
3:  O enter then His gates with praise!
Approach with joy his courts unto
praise, laud and bless His name always
for it is seemly so to do.
4 (choir only) For why? The Lord our God is good,
His mercy is forever sure.
His truth at all times firmly stood
and shall from age to age endure.


4: To Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
the God whom Heaven and earth adore,
from earth and from the angel host
be praise and glory evermore.
Prayers of approach, confession and pardon
All-holy God, Light of the hearts that see you, Life of the souls that love you, Strength of the thoughts that seek you, to abide in you is to stand fast forever. Grant us this morning your grace and blessing for the sake of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. As we turn to you this morning, we know that  we have fallen short of our high calling. And we are ashamed.   We have focussed too much on ourselves and on our own wants and needs. We have not loved you with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, We have not loved our neighbour as ourselves.
Remind us, Lord, of your constant love, for we put our trust in you; show us the way we should go. Release us from the burden of our sins, that we may turn to you again and be renewed through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
In repentance and in faith, receive the promise of grace and the assurance of pardon. Here are words you may trust, words that merit full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” To all who turn to him he says: “Your sins are forgiven.” He also says: “Follow me.” Thanks be to God. The LORD is my light and my salvation, Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?
Prayer of illumination
As we listen to the Bible readings we allow God’s word to speak to us,
And so we pray:
Lord, your word is a lamp for my feet,
and a light upon my path.
May the Scriptures come alive to us this morning
that our hearts may be warmed our faith stirred
and all things be made new. Amen.
Psalm 66: 8-20
Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;
you let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.
I will come into your house with burnt-offerings; I will pay you my vows,
those that my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
I will offer to you burnt-offerings of fatlings,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats.
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for me.
I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened;
he has given heed to the words of my prayer.
Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.
St John 14: 15-21
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever.  This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’
I sometimes think that the gospel of John is like a great diamond, shaped and polished, and scattering light and fire. It has many different facets. As you look at it from one angle it might seem dark and deep, but hold it up to the light, and it is a glorious blaze of colour.
Take these verses which we have just heard. They are as good an example as any. There are different ways of looking at them, different facets, if you like. Now that’s interesting. Let’s examine them more closely.
First of all, we see what is happening in real time. The disciples and Jesus are self-isolating. They sense something is about to happen. They have just finished their supper. As it turns out, this is the last meal they will all eat together. Judas has already gone out into the night. Indeed, there is not much time left. The net is closing in and Jesus knows it. He is being betrayed even as he speaks. His companions are feeling anxious and confused. Death is staring them in the face, Jesus’s death. The grief is beginning to sink in. If Jesus dies, what about them? They are suddenly feeling all too human, all too vulnerable, all too mortal. They have a dread of something fatal looming large, lurking round the corner. It’s only natural.
Jesus acknowledges their confusion. He speaks to them personally, and his voice is calm and authoritative. He is taking charge of the situation. Here, and in the next two chapters of the gospel, we have Jesus’s last words, his final teaching. They are certainly important for the disciples. But don’t they apply every bit as much to us today? We simply can’t exaggerate their importance. What then is he saying to us in these times of crisis? What is he saying to us in the teeth of COVID-19?
Like the disciples, we are feeling threatened. In common with Peter, Thomas, Philip, and presumably all the others, our everyday life is dislocated, our norms are crumbling, There is clearly a need for some plain speaking. So Jesus spells it out. “If you love me”, he says, “you will keep my commandments”. “If you love me”: this is clearly not a love “like a red, red rose, that’s newly sprung in June.” Jesus is not evoking gushing emotion or touchy-feely sentimentality, however beautiful that may be. No, nothing like that. The love Jesus is talking about is ethical. If we love Jesus we will automatically do the right thing. We just can’t do anything else. And so we will keep his commandments. Our love for Jesus is expressed in love of God and love of our neighbour.
But how do we love our neighbour now, at the present moment, in this time of pandemic? To obey Jesus’s commandments is second nature for us, they are in our DNA, they give us a sense of authenticity as his followers, a sense of identity as church congregations. But the virus raises searching ethical questions about our social life and our Christian practice.
Have we not conscientiously preached the gospel, celebrated the sacraments, been welcoming and hospitable, opened our doors to friend and stranger? But what now? now we are forced to make unpalatable decisions, to close our doors, suspend services of worship, and distance ourselves from one another. In times like these, how can we preach the gospel? how can we accompany people? How can we share their celebrations? Or support them in their sadness and grief? How can we comfort them?
And what of our service to the wider community – our night shelters, our toddler groups, our coffee mornings, our youth groups? Where spreading the gospel goes hand in hand with spreading the virus, these too must be closed down at least for the time being. It is the responsible thing to do. It’s only right. We have to accept that we present risks to one another and to the people we serve. That, if anything, brings us back to reality with a jolt. Loving our neighbour at the present moment means we have to be socially distanced from them. None of us is immune to mortality. Faced with COVID-19 we all are in the same boat. We none of us live Teflon-coated lives. Every single one of us– young or not so young, prince or pauper, citizen or non-citizen, whether we live in Congleton or Cameroon, we are all of us mortal. We all belong together. And we also belong to God. The whole world, its people and everything else belongs to God.
Has COVID-19 taught us a sobering lesson? Has it taken this awful virus to make us realise that we are not self-sufficient, that we followers of Jesus simply cannot rely on our own resources? Have we perhaps been taking so much pride in our obedience that we have allowed the love of God in Jesus Christ to take second place? Do we need to be reminded that our love for one another is grounded, not in our own achievements, but in God’s love?
Perhaps it’s time we looked at another facet of our diamond. It’s time we considered what Jesus says next. Now this is unexpected. This really is a revelation. We don’t have to rely on our own resources!
Jesus will ask the Father to give his followers “another Advocate,” a Paraclete, as the Greek text would have it, a person called alongside us to assist us, to intercede on our behalf, to comfort us in times of need. A person who will bolster our spirits and give us strength and courage. Some of you may be familiar with the Bayeux tapestry. This medieval strip cartoon tells the story of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror. In one panel, a bishop is thumping a group of reluctant soldiers from behind with the flat of his sword. The caption reads: “Bishop Odo comforts the troops”. Some comfort we might say! The analogy cannot be pressed too far, but in comforting the troops, Odo is actively fostering strength and courage for the fray.
The Advocate then is a person who will give us sustained, all-round support. For ever.
Now I’m sure you will agree that that is a wonderful gift. But wait a moment! Does Jesus not say that this is another Advocate? Who is this
person? Another who? Another what?” This is another of the same sort as before. Rather as when we ask some-one: “would you like another cup of coffee?” or “would you like another helping of trifle?” It’s more of the same, and yes please! The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is another of the same, another Jesus. As Jesus goes away, the Holy Spirit will come to his disciples to replace him. And in this way, Jesus will be closer to his followers than ever.
Just as it was for the disciples, so it was for the first hearers of the gospel, and so too it is with us: Jesus abides with us. Today and for ever. We who follow are not left abandoned, orphaned and alone. In the face of a pandemic, we are caught up and sustained by God’s love. Today and every day. For God is not confined by our human limitations. God is not self-isolating. God is alive and at work, the living God, who through his love for us revealed in Jesus Christ, illuminates our life in community and sustains us in faith, love and hope.
Our doors may be closed but we are open to the world. We are part of a great world-wide web of followers of Jesus, past, present and yet to come. We are part of a network of believers that transcends borders and boundaries. We have a unity in all our diversity, a unity that sustains community, a unity that is expressed not only through telephone conversations or through those helpful apps which enable many of us to stay in touch with friends, family and work colleagues, but also through a lived togetherness in common prayer. As we pray together we know that we are all of us caught up in the love of God in Jesus Christ. A love that never comes to an end.
This brings me to my final point. As we hold the diamond up to the light, it comes to life. It is full of fire, it scatters light in all directions, it is glorious.
In May 2020, we are in a different position from the disciples on the eve of Golgotha. They have to take Jesus at his word, they can’t understand what he is saying and they won’t until after his earthly ministry has come to an end. But we live on the other side of Easter. We are an Easter people. We know that the Jesus who addresses his terrified followers is also the risen Christ. That makes a whole world of difference. For at times like the present when we are only too conscious of our own mortality, we can proclaim with assurance that Jesus has triumphed over death. And triumphed over death once and for all. In the light of the Resurrection we are given strength and courage to face the future. For we have an advocate who guides us, comforts us, strengthens us and calls us on in hope. And it’s a never-ending story.
Five years ago this month, Pope Francis published an encyclical letter called Laudato si – “Praise be to you, my Lord!” The reference is to the lovely canticle attributed to his namesake, St Francis of Assisi. The letter concludes with these words: “Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope. God, who calls us to generous commitment and to give him our all, offers us the light and the strength needed to continue on our way. In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present. He  does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone, for he has united himself definitively to our earth, and his love constantly impels us to find new ways forward. Praise be to him!”
And all God’s people say Amen!
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
Frances Jane Crosby (1820-1915)

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Saviour all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Saviour all the day long.
2: Perfect submission, perfect delight,
visions of rapture burst on my sight;
angels descending, bring from above
echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
3: Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Saviour am happy and blest;
watching and waiting, looking above,
filled with His goodness, lost in His love.


Affirmation of Faith
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world—which some seek to control, but which others view with despair—we declare with joy and trust: our world belongs to God!
From the beginning, through all the crises of our times, until His Kingdom fully comes, God keeps covenant forever. Our world belongs to God!
We rejoice in the goodness of God, renounce the works of darkness, and dedicate ourselves to holy living, for our world belongs to God!
As committed disciples, called to faithful obedience, and set free for joyful praise,  we offer our hearts and lives to do God’s work in his world, for our world belongs to God!
With tempered impatience,  eager to see injustice ended, we expect the Day of the Lord. And we are confident that the light which shines in the present darkness  will fill the earth when Christ appears for our world belongs to God!
Ever-living and ever-loving God, You make the wilderness bloom like the rose, we bless you for the gift of life and for the love of family and friends.
You redeem your people as they wander in the desert and bring them home. We bless you for the gift of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Saviour.
You are creating a new heaven and a new earth we bless you for the gift of your Spirit, to strengthen us to serve you in the world
And so we pray for the world. We pray for the leaders of the nations that they might exercise good governance and show concern for those who live in poverty and despair.  May they be blessed with discernment and wisdom in these troubled times, that our broken and sinful world might find healing.
We remember before you those who have fled their homes because of war and face an uncertain future.  May they come to know the power of human kindness to transform their living.
In this time of pandemic, we give thanks for all those who volunteer so generously and cheerfully to help their neighbours.  We remember especially at this time doctors and nurses and all who are at the front-line of medical care.   Bless all those who bring healing and hope to those who are ill or anxious about what the future may bring.
Kyrie eleison   Lord have mercy
Living God, you created life out of love, as Christians celebrate with joy the resurrection of Jesus, we give thanks for the fellowship of the Church,
as it witnesses to the Lord of life.
And as we do, we remember especially our brothers and sisters in situations where to confess the Christian faith is to risk harassment, persecution, even death itself.
May they find peace in the knowledge that they are following the footsteps of their risen Lord.
We pray for our own churches and our own congregations. As we face up to present challenges, may we find that strength and courage which you give to all who know your love, that we may manifest that love and worship you in faith and truth.
Kyrie eleison   Lord have mercy
We pray for our families and friends. Watch over them and protect them.
We pray for those we love who are far away surround them with your loving care.
In a moment of silence we now remember those known to ourselves who are in any sort of trouble whether of body, mind or spirit.
May they know that there is nothing in heaven or earth that  can ever separate them from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Kyrie eleison  Lord have mercy.
Eternal God, You hold all souls in life. We praise you for those who have shared this earthly life with us and entered into eternal life with you.
Yours is the love that will never die. In our weakness, you are our strength; in our darkness, light; in our sorrows, comfort and peace;
from everlasting to everlasting, You are our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God, for ever.
All these prayers we ask through your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
It is time to take up our offering. We give in different ways, through our actions as well as our money. For many, staying at home and being less active is a gift given to your community.  For others it may be taking up a new commitment. You may be giving to local charities, or directly to those in need, in terms of your stewardship to your local church, it maybe you are filling and keeping your offering envelopes each week, or are giving via standing order or paying directly in the church bank account. However we choose to give, it’s important to continue – to offer our money and ourselves to God.  So let us pray together:
O God as your people we praise you
and we bring our offerings –
not as for the Psalmist, of sheep or goats –
but our money and our lives,
given freely and in grateful thanks
for all that you have done for us,
God bless them and use them
for the building up of your Kingdom
and the sharing of your love
God in unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Guide me, O thou great Redeemer  
v.1 tr. Peter Williams (1722-1796) altd; vv.2-3 tr. William Williams (1717-1791) altd.


Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand:
bread of heaven, bread of heaven
feed me till I want no more.
Feed me till I want no more.
2: Open now the crystal fountain
whence the healing stream shall flow;
let the fiery, cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through:
strong deliverer, strong deliverer
be thou still my strength and shield.
Be thou still my strength and shield.

3: When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death, and hell’s destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side:
songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to thee.
I will ever give to thee.
May the peace of God which is greater than anything we can ever understand keep your hearts and your thoughts in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Lord, and may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you and those whom you love from this time on and for evermore.  Amen.


Opening Responses adapted from the Exultset by Andy Braunston
Affirmation of Faith from the Christian Reformed Church of North America.
Offertory written by the Rev’d Lythan Nevard
Other liturgical material by Fleur Houston.
All People That On Earth Do Dwell recorded at Westminster Abbey.
Blessed Assurance by Chelmsford Citadel, Salvation Army
Cwm Rhonda the BBC’s Songs of Praise
Thanks to the Rev’d John Young, Liane Todd, Kathleen Haynes, Linda Richards, Lorraine Webb, the Rev’d Lythan Nevard and the choir of Barrhed URC for recording various parts of the service.
Hymns, where in copyright, reproduced in line with Barrhead URC’s CCLI Licence and Barrhead URC’s OneLicence.  Material podcasted in line with Barrhead URC’s PRS Limited Online Music Licence number LOE-0019762.

Thanks to Phil Nevard who mixed the recordings into one podcast.

URC Daily Devotion Saturday 16th May

Saturday 16th May  The Rainbow Covenant

Genesis 9: 1-17

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.  And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. “Whoever sheds human blood,  by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God  has God made mankind. As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds,  I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”


‘So long, and thanks for all the fish’ is the message left by the dolphins when they departed Earth just before it was demolished for a hyperspace bypass. In ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, Douglas Adams flips assumptions about the hierarchy of species, but the re-teller of this story in Genesis has humanity firmly at the top.

So, in Noah’s flood, were the dolphins and fish unduly affected? We could travel down that rabbit-hole and ponder the effect of 40 days of rainwater on ocean and sea salinity, but it’s in the same category as why dinosaurs aren’t listed on the Ark manifest!

Taking this literally is ‘mostly harmless’ apart from when the rainbow covenant is rolled out as an excuse to not engage with the reality of Climate Change. Rising sea levels is an effect of Climate Change, and unfortunately that has given a section of humanity (who have reaped short-term benefits by causing long-term damage) a religious justification for denying or ignoring it.

Human hands wrote the words in the Bible and their worldviews would have affected how they interpreted divine inspiration. If you had complete certainty that humanity was the reason for ‘life, the universe and everything’ then the thought that the dolphins were right all along just wouldn’t occur to you.
But Climate Change is also a matter of self-interest. The evolution of life on this planet shows us that life will continue. The question is whether human life will make it to ‘the restaurant at the end of the universe’? We are seeking to mitigate the effects of Climate Change to minimise the effect it has on humanity, and for that we all need to contribute to an Ark full of solutions and not just leave it to a few Noah’s. ‘And another thing…’


Living God, broaden our perceptions to our neighbour, peoples across the world, and all life that calls this planet home.
In the beauty of a rainbow we see a spectrum as sunlight passes through raindrops, and we can feel the presence of you within it. Let that inspire us to play our part in minimising our impact on our planet home, our fellow creatures, and to truly act as stewards of Creation. Amen

URC Daily Devotion 15th May 2020

Friday 15th May After the Deluge

Genesis 8 1 – 17

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky.  The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark  and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth.  Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark.  When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

Then God said to Noah,  “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”


One of the strange things about writing these reflections is the timing.  I’m writing this on 1st March just after Britain has been hammered by successive storms which caused a lot of flooding.  You will be reading this on my wedding anniversary, and I’ll be on holiday in our caravan hoping that the weather is as good as it was 16 years ago.  How very British to talk about the weather. 

Imagine how Noah felt.  He had not suffered one month of heavy rainfall but month after month of rain with the whole world flooded.  People are describing on the news how hard it is to spend 14 days in self-isolation, if they have been to areas with Corvid-19 virus.  Noah and his family spent about a year in the Ark.

We might expect Noah to complain, to rail against God, but he doesn’t.  God remembers him and after the flood had receded the earth was once more dry so God told Noah and his sons and daughters-in-law to leave the arc so they could inhabit the earth again.  Many churches remember the eight people who were in the ark by having a font with eight sides.

Do we shout at God when the place we live is flooded or do we decide to make changes so the climate chaos is not fueled by our actions?  We all need to remember God, just as God remembered Noah in the Ark. No matter what seems to be going wrong in the world we can hang on the constant that is the love of God, as shown in his remembering Noah and all that followed including sending His son to die for us.  We can rejoice in the resurrected Jesus.


Loving God thank you for looking after Noah and his family.
Thank you that you  look after me.
As you protected Noah, 
protect me by showing me how to survive all the things that worry me.

Move the hearts and minds of our leaders 
that they see the damage done to your creation 
and reduce pollution, flooding and damage.

Show me what I can do to help your fragile world. Amen

URC Daily Devotion 14th May

Thursday 14th May Noah and the Flood

Genesis 6: 9 – 7:6

This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.  Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.  This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.  You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

Noah did everything just as God commanded him. The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.  Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.  Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood.  Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.


Here is a grand myth, shared between tribes and peoples of faith in Mesopotamia.  Woven together from two threads, there are inconsistencies for the fact conscious amongst us.  How many animals? Were they clean, unclean, or a mixture of both? Does it matter? Not really, especially as the story has fuelled so many plays, books, songs and toys, dear to the hearts of many.

Some see this myth is a reversal of the creation myths.  Instead of bringing life from the waters of the earth, the earth is to be returned to those very waters, drowned in its own birth fluids. Yet, this myth doesn’t end with complete creation reversal.  Noah, his family and some animals are set aside to be saved. The murderer Cain has built a violent society which God declares corrupt. Noah, descended from Seth, is seen to be righteous. This isn’t a flood story. It’s an ancient tale of humanity’s usual battle: Good v Evil.  What shocks me is that the tale is woven to suggest that our God is a God of vengeance, willing to kill a significant majority of those God created and loved – to prove a point. God prefers good to evil. Well yes, so do we. Yet, God shown to us in Jesus is not that God of vengeance.  God who Jesus called Father didn’t destroy all those who sent Jesus to his death. God shown to us in Holy Spirit, giving people a passion for justice, is not a God who would, with great detailed plans and forethought, destroy one set of people in favour of another.

We are often tempted to imagine (and use) God as the angry One. Jesus shows us that no matter how much we want that God to be true, we have made an idol.  God is love, utterly, for the evil and the good.    


Oh God, forgive us.  We often make you into what we hope or want you to be.  Then we confuse one another with difficult images and stories.  The hardest news for us to bear is that you love without stop. Give us deep grace to accept your love for us.  Give us even deeper grace and immense courage to love those who we think (surely) you would never love.

URC Daily Devotion 13th May 2020

Wednesday 13th May The First Murder

Genesis 4: 1-16

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering,  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”  Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.


“Am I my brother’s keeper?” –
The muttered cry was drowned
By Abel’s life-blood shouting
In silence from the ground
For no man is an island
Divided from the main,
The bell which tolled for Abel
Tolled equally for Cain.

John Ferguson (R&S 609)

I have often said that the Old Testament legends are not to be treated as history but to tell us about God, our relationship with God and with each other.  However the story of Cain and Abel, in the form we have it, does not fit in with this interpretation as we are not told why God had no regard for Cain’s offering but seems to be capricious in a way that does not complement other records of God’s actions. Perhaps Cain’s offering was not from the best of his crops but what our local supermarket labels as “wonky” – we do not know.

But it is clear that Cain was incensed and picked a fight with his brother; Abel’s death may not have been intended but was the unintended consequence of impetuous and ill-considered sibling rivalry.  This story certainly tells us about our relationships with others, and not just those in our immediate family. Helpfully and pertinently John Ferguson melds John Donne’s verse with his own.

It is all too easy to react rashly when we feel aggrieved or provoked and say or do something which makes a difficult situation worse, sometimes with dreadful consequences. 

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

Oscar Wilde (The Ballad of Reading Gaol)


Gracious God: we pray for protection and strength so that when we are upset, angry or provoked we may be able to think clearly, speak wisely and act in ways that build up and repair rather than break down and shatter our relationships with others.

Seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit we pray in the name of Jesus: Amen

URC Daily Devotion 12th May 2020

Tuesday 12th May 2020 Paradise Lost

Genesis 3

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,  but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”  Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock  and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust  all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity  between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush  your head, and you will strike his heel.”

To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.


Developmental psychology is concerned with the study of how we become the people we are.  In many ways, Genesis 3 has served as an account of the origins of our ‘flawed’ human nature.  We have many understandings of this ‘flaw’, but at the heart of Genesis 3 it is the rupture in relationship that takes place between God and Adam and Eve.

At the beginning of the chapter, Adam and Eve seem quite child-like.  As any parent would, God has set the boundaries and expectations for the children and forbids them to eat of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. 

But ‘adolescence’ sets in and Adam and Eve seem ready to think for themselves. With the prompting of the serpent (perhaps an older peer in everyday life), Adam and Eve seek to test the limits of their autonomy, they break out from their parent’s boundaries and make their own decisions. 

The consequence of this?  Well they too, like God, come to know of good and evil. Their child-like innocence is lost and they are exposed to the harsh reality of adulthood – actions result in consequences.

My work as a counsellor has shown me that as we mature, thinking and deciding for oneself almost inevitably brings us into conflict with those who brought us up, those who would ‘keep us safe’ from the knowledge of evil.

But God created human beings to grow, to develop and mature, to think for ourselves. Were Adam and Eve’s actions not inevitable sooner or later? 

Many parents can bear witness to hellish years with their children as teenagers, wondering where they went wrong, only years later to have reconciled, mutual and respectful relationships with their children.  

A short reflection is hardly the place to reimagine such a foundational passage of Scripture. But maybe we can give some weight to our own experience of human development as we read this passage afresh. 


Loving God, parent to all,
You have created us
to grow, develop and mature. 
Though we may assert our independence
and make our own decisions,
continue to draw us to you,
that our will may be reconciled to yours, 
and your kingdom come 
on earth as in heaven.

URC Daily Devotion 11th May 2020

Monday 11th May 

Genesis 2: 4 – 25

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.  Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh she shall be called ‘woman,’  for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.


A second account of the creation of humanity? Or is it the first? Scholarship seems to concur that this creation story in Genesis 2 derives from source material in currency half a millennium before the more familiar version. Those with a wider horizon (temporal and geographical) may well describe both as but pebbles in a mosaic of Ancient Near Eastern creation myths best viewed from above to obtain a true perspective on their significance.

Such an overview suggests that it is not too surprising if the accounts are somewhat contradictory – simply that no rigorous editorial process was applied (or presumably felt necessary) by the collectors/compilers of the material into Jewish Scripture. It was their desire neither to compile a scientific treatise on creation nor to imply that every word was set by direct divine composition.

Therefore neither scientific literalists nor young earth creationists need worry overmuch about (or minimise) the discrepancies.

As Saturday’s writer comments, the first story is a poem. It’s a description of how God ordained and ordered the cosmos and the world, envisioning a God acting by speaking in and to a chaotic situation through an ordered series of commands.

The prosaic narrative In Chapter 2 is in a sense much more down to earth. From the dirt of the garden God made man and plants and animals, but it was from the man that the woman was created to be a companion. Creation as relationship.

The sweep of the entire piece moves from a cosmocentric commanding God to an anthropocentric partnership in full relationship with a God who wanted what was good for humanity.

Thus is mirrored an understanding of two sides of our God – one who expects us to obey the commands of worship, doing justice and seeking peace who in return will fulfil the covenant with us by leading us to eternal life.


God who made the earth
the air, the sky, the sea,
who gave the light its birth –
God cares for me.
(Sarah B Rhodes (Rejoice and Sing 62))
Creator God, in your mercy, care for me

Sunday Worship 10th May The Rev’d Janet Sutton Webb

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 10th May

Today’s service is led by the Rev’d Janet Sutton Webb a URC minister working for the Church of England’s Ely Diocese as an evangelism coach.

Hello everyone, and welcome to our service for today. I am the Rev’d Janet Sutton Webb, and I am speaking to you from Littleport near Ely in Cambridgeshire. I am a United Reformed Church minister, but I also work for Ely Diocese of the Church of England as an Evangelism Coach.  It is an absolute delight to be able to share in worship with you today, and I want you to know that you are all most welcome. So let us join together as we worship God.
Call To Worship
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!      He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
Rejoice, heavenly powers!   Sing, choirs of angels!  Exult, all creation around God’s throne!  Jesus, our King, is risen!  Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
Rejoice, heavenly powers!  Sing, choirs of angels!
Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,  as we sing, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!
Praise to the Lord, the almighty, the King of creation
Joachim Neander (1650-1680)


Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him,
for He is thy health and salvation!
Come ye who hear,
brothers and sisters draw near;
praise Him in glad adoration!
2: Praise to the Lord, who o’er all
things so wondrously reigneth,
shelters thee under his wings,
and so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen
all that is needful has been
granted in what he ordaineth
3: Praise to the Lord,  
who doth prosper
thy work and defend thee!
Surely his goodness and mercy
here daily attend thee;
ponder anew
what the Almighty can do,
He who with love doth befriend thee!
4: Praise to the Lord! Oh, let all that
is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come
now with praises before Him!
Let the Amen
Sound from His people again;
Gladly for aye we adore Him.

Prayers of Approach, Confession and Assurance of Pardon
Almighty and ever-loving God, we come before you in adoration and in worship. We come, as members of your Body, the Body of Christ, numbered as many, yet brought together, in faith and action, as one.
We come, O God, as we are, still with our hopes and our dreams, but at this dark time, particularly aware of our frailties and our fears.
We come, God of grace and God of comfort, knowing that you are with us and for us; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our redeemer and friend. We praise and thank you for that great gift, God-made-human, come to us as one of us; and who stands alongside us today, our strength and help in this time of trouble.
We come before you, forgiving God, fully aware of your hand which holds us, yet knowing that, in our weakness, sometimes we fail you. For those occasions on which we have been less than gracious, when our frustrations have led us to harsh words or cruel thoughts, when our despair of the current situation has caused us to lose hope, we say sorry.
I invite you in a moment of silence to confess your sins, and hear the words of Jesus’ promise, offered to you, as he says: “Your sins are forgiven.”

Loving and gracious God, we ask that you will remould us once again, O God, into your likeness, and make us vessels of your goodness, that we might, in our own small way, show your love in the world. As we enter into this time of prayer, cleanse and make us new, may we sense your Holy Spirit with us, firing and inspiring us to be all that you have created us to be.
The Lord’s Prayer
Prayer of Illumination
As we come to a time of exploration of God’s Word, I am reminded of the text of the hymn-writer George Currie Martin. He writes this: Your words to me are life and health; put strength into my soul; enable, guide and teach my heart to reach its perfect goal. So with those words in mind, we pray;-
O God, may the words of our mouths, and the meditations of all hearts, be acceptable to you, O God, our strength and our redeemer.
St John 14.1-14
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going.’  Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’  Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
1 Peter 2.2-10
Like new born infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—  if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and  like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  For it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner’, and ‘A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
It is now five weeks since Easter Sunday, and eight weeks – can you believe it? – since we were first asked to ‘stay at home’.  I would like to say it seems like yesterday – but no, it doesn’t.  Whether you have been confined to barracks alone with only your thoughts for company, or surrounded by screaming kids tearing their hair out due to a lack of fresh air and exercise, or anything in between, I would suggest it has not been the easiest of times.
Since the beginning of the lockdown it has felt, for me, a bit like entering a cocoon. I imagine myself to be a caterpillar, compelled into a period of darkness and confinement, almost against my will, yet knowing I must.  And despite having no clue what is actually going to happen when my period of confinement is over, I must trust that it will come to an end. And on that day I will be able to lift my face to the sunshine, unfurl my wings, and fly.  I imagine that on that day I will be transformed; because the possibility of considering anything less, in the position I am today, is just so terribly heart breaking.
Both of our New Testament readings for today beg comparisons with what I might call ‘cocoon times’.  The words of Jesus we hear in the gospel reading are spoken to the disciples just before they head out to the Garden of Gethsemane. And the recipients, both those named and those unnamed, are facing a time darker than they could ever have imagined.  And despite having the Son of God himself standing before them, many of them are doubtful.
A few years later, Peter addresses a group of Jesus-followers as they struggle to live out their faith in the face of danger and persecution. And Peter challenges them to keep the faith, to come out of their cocoon, and to live as people transformed by the knowledge and power of Christ Jesus.  He names them as  a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, called that they might proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called them out of the darkness into his marvellous light.
I can imagine that for them, afraid for their very lives, this was quite a challenge. I would like to suggest that, for us today, it might feel very similar.
In our Gospel reading Jesus is speaking words of comfort to disciples who are afraid. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he tells them. “Believe in God, believe also in me.”  He knows what is to come. He sees the cross casting its shadow across their assembled company, and his heart is moved with love and compassion for them.  These followers cannot know what comes next. They do not foresee what Jesus does, although there is little doubt from what he tells them: it is not going to be easy.

Jesus’ words in John 14 might be familiar, particularly to those of us who have been to many funerals.  They are familiar words, meant to comfort those who mourn, but one of the drawbacks is that, perhaps they are associated with darkness and death.  But they are, in fact, words Jesus addresses to the living, yes, to those who are living in darkness, those who mourn, those whose cocoon is yet to split apart so that its inhabitant can fly into the daylight. But they are words of promise, addressed to the disciples so that they may take them onwards with them through life.  They are words, not just of consolation; they are words with real power.
With those words Jesus seals a bond with his followers. It is a bond extended, only 24 hours later, to Mary and the beloved disciple as they stand at the foot of the cross. It a bond which existed among the earliest followers, through generations of Jesus-believers, and holds true with we who follow him today.  For they are words of eternal promise:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself.

The bond which Christ seals with those words are words that can give us confidence today: whoever we are, however we are feeling, whatever our fears of the future: they are words Christ speaks to us: we are his. And he is ours. Now and for ever.
That bond, the bond initiated on the night of the Last Supper, and sealed at the foot of the cross, is our bond: an eternal, unbreakable bond of the kind experienced by people of faith. It is a bond which calls us to draw together in the shadow of the cross, during those times when we enter into darkness, into the wilderness, with our experiences of tragedy, loss and deep, deep grief.  It is bond which calls us into solidarity with each other and with Christ, regardless of our gender, age or identity. It is a bond which unites people, even if they don’t have anything in common or even particularly like each other very much. And it is bond which promises, even in the darkest times, a future fuelled by faith, hope and love, and yes, the light of transformation.
So whether you are currently feeling enveloped in darkness, or you are beginning to sense the light; whether you feel close to the end of our wilderness experience or on a relentless path; whether your faith has been strengthened by this period or seriously challenged by it, know this:
through the words of scripture, the evidence of history, and the very beat of your heart, that you are loved. You are loved by a God who knew you before you were born, who has accompanied you this far, and who comes to you now, in the person of Christ, so that you may feed on the faith, hope and love that as offered.
One day, when the cocoon is no longer needed, and life begins again, we will shed our old skin, unfurl our wings, and head towards a future filled with light.
For now, hear the words of Jesus, for he spoke them for you: Do not be afraid. Believe in God; believe also in me.
Be thou my vision
Irish Traditional

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
be all else but naught to me, save that Thou art
be Thou my best thought, in the day and the night;
both waking and sleeping, Thy presence my light.
2: Be Thou my wisdom, be Thou my true word;
Be Thou ever with thee and I with thee, Lord.
be Thou my great Father; and I Thy true child,
be Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one.
3: Be Thou my breastplate my sword for the fight
be Thou my whole armour be Thou my true might
be Thou my storm’s shelter be Thou my strong tower.
O raise thou me heavenward great Power of my power.

4: High king of heaven, thou Heaven’s bright sun!
O grant me its joys after victory is won
great Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.


Affirmation of Faith
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world—which some seek to control, but which others view with despair—we declare with joy and trust: our world belongs to God!
From the beginning, through all the crises of our times, until His Kingdom fully comes, God keeps covenant forever. Our world belongs to God!
We rejoice in the goodness of God, renounce the works of darkness, and dedicate ourselves to holy living, for our world belongs to God!
As committed disciples, called to faithful obedience, and set free for joyful praise,  we offer our hearts and lives to do God’s work in his world, for our world belongs to God!
With tempered impatience,  eager to see injustice ended, we expect the Day of the Lord. And we are confident that the light which shines in the present darkness  will fill the earth when Christ appears for our world belongs to God!
Prayers of Intercession
Awesome God, we come before you now, aware more than ever of the overwhelming power of your creation. For so long we have misinterpreted your call to us to care for all that you have made, exploiting and wasting your good gifts and taking them for granted. Now, in this time of indefinable difficulty, we plead for you to help us experience a transformation in ourselves, that we may discover your planet anew,  and value all that we have experienced  in the solidarity of those around us during these difficult weeks and months.
May we know that no suffering or pain  are beyond your loving, healing, touch; may we hear your still, small voice of calm  in the deafening silence of solitude; may we experience your power to give us patience, peace and hope, knowing that this time of wilderness is temporary, and that you are here alongside us.
Strengthen and bless, we pray,  those who work to protect and to care for us. Make us truly thankful that we have food to eat and people to deliver it; medication to take and skilled professionals to administer it;
help us to play our part in bringing about renewal in our society, that the weak may be made strong, the lonely find company in others, and the weak in body find strength in the promise of your eternal life.
Heal us, we pray, of all our weakness. Heal those we love, in body, mind and soul, and remake us all: that we might be more loving, more giving  and more ready to see beyond ourselves.
In a time of quiet I invite you to lay before God those people and situations whose burdens lay heavy on your heart. Let us be still, and know that in the quietness, God hears you…
All these prayers we gather together and offer to you, O God,
in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Holy Communion
Year by year, in United Reformed Churches up and down the country, we normally share in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper at least once a month. It is a special time, and for me, the moment at which we share the bread and wine is one of holiest of all.  It is one of our favourite words in the URC – normally. It is word that conveys grace – a God-given grace which allows us to step outside the mundane, the routine of what we would normally practice. I would like to suggest that today is one of those days. And so I invite you, should you wish, to pause, and collect for yourself a piece of bread and slug of wine, or grape juice, or whatever you have to hand that will suffice. I invite you to make what you wish of what we do, but to know that you are doing it alongside thousands of others, who come to their God, forgiven and free,  to remember what Jesus has done for them – and for us. And so, I invite you to come, just as you are, wherever you are, to imagine yourself at the Lord’s table, one of his own, surrounded by those with whom you normally celebrate this time. Hear the gracious words of our Lord Jesus Christ:
The Invitation and the Gracious Words
Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will  never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Anyone who comes to me, I will never turn away.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Peace be with you
The Narrative of the Institution of the Lord’s Supper
Hear the narrative of the institution of the Lord’s Supper as it was recorded by the apostle Paul.
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The Taking of the Bread and Wine
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and following his example, we take this bread and this cup, and give thanks to God.
The Thanksgiving
Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. 
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
With joy we give you thanks and praise,  Almighty God, Source of all life and love, that we live in your world, that you are always creating and sustaining it by your power, and that you have so made us that we can know and love you,  trust and serve you.
We give you thanks that you loved the world so much  that you gave your only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him  may not die but have eternal life.
We thank you that Jesus was born among us  that he lived our common life on earth; that he suffered and died for us; that he rose again; and that he is always present through the Holy Spirit.
We thank you that we can live in the faith that your kingdom will come,
and that in life, in death and beyond death you are with us.
Therefore with all the company of heaven, and with all your people,
of all places and times, we proclaim your greatness and sing your praise.

(to the tune of Scarborough Fair)

Holy, holy holy the Lord,
God of endless power and might;
the earth, the heav’ns
are full of your love.

Sing Hosanna!  Glory to God.
Blest is he, the one who is sent,
in the name of God the Most High.
O holy, holy, holy our Lord!
Sing hosanna! Glory to God.


Holy Lord God, by what we do here in remembrance of Christ we celebrate his perfect sacrifice on the Cross and his glorious resurrection and ascension; we declare that he is Lord of all; and we prepare for his coming in his kingdom.
We pray that through your Holy Spirit this bread may be for us the body of Christ and this wine the blood of Christ.
Accept our sacrifice of praise; and as we eat and drink at his command unite us to Christ as one body in him, and give us strength to serve you in the world. And to you, one holy and eternal God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we give praise and glory, now and for ever. Amen
The Breaking and Partaking of the Bread and Wine
The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread  and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. The bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ. Take, and eat of it. In the same way also the cup saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ The cup of blessing which we bless is the communion of the blood of Christ. Take, and drink of it.
The Acclamation
Let us praise the Lord.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Blessing and honour and glory and power be to our God for ever and ever. Amen
Music as we Take Communion
NigHtingaleS by Jo Baird of Nairn URC.
Prayer After Communion
Most gracious God, we praise you for what you have given and for what you have promised us here.  You have made us one with all your people in heaven and on earth.  You have fed us with the bread of life, and renewed us for your service.  Now we give ourselves to you; and we ask that our daily living may be part of the life of your kingdom,  and that our love may be your love  reaching out into the life of the world;  through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Love Divine, all loves excelling
Charles Wesley (1747)


Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heav’n to earth come down:
fix in us thy humble dwelling,
all thy faithful mercies crown:
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation,
enter ev’ry trembling heart.
2 Come, Almighty to deliver,
let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return, and never,
nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
serve thee as thy hosts above,
pray & praise thee without ceasing,
glory in thy perfect love.

3: Finish, then, thy new creation;
pure and spotless let us be:
let us see thy great salvation
perfectly restored in thee;
changed from glory into glory,
’til in heav’n we take our place,
’til we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.
May the God who forms and transforms us,
bless us and keep us,
surround us and hold us
and may the blessing of God Almighty,
Source, Guide, and Goal of all that is
strengthen and sustain you and all those whom you love,
now and forever. Amen


Opening Responses adapted from the Exultset by  Andy  Braunston
Affirmation of Faith from the Christian Reformed Church of America
All other prayers and liturgy by the Rev’d Janet Sutton Webb.
Praise to the Lord The Almighty Sung in Westminster Abbey
Be Thou My Vision from BBC’s Songs of Praise
Scarborough Fair Sanctus recorded by Kevin Mayhew Ltd
Love Divine from the BBC’s Songs of Praise
NigtHingaleS sung by Jo Baird of Nairn URC.
Thanks to John Wilcox, the Rev’d John Young, Liane Todd, Carol Tubbs, and Anne Hewling for reading the spoken parts of the service and to Barrhead URC for the recording of the opening responses, Affirmation of Faith and the Lord’s Prayer.  Thanks to Phil Nevard for mixing the material into one recording.
Hymns, where in copyright covered by the Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence.
Music podcasted in terms with Barrhead URC’s OneLicence and its PRS Limited OnLine Music Licence number L:-0019762

URC Daily Devotion 9th May 2020 The Creation

Saturday 9th May 2020 The Creation 

Genesis 1:1 – 2:3

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”  So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day. And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day. And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”  So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day. And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.


No, this isn’t a contemporary debate about the origins of our universe: it’s an underground, anti-Babylonian poem, encouraging the exiles to keep trusting that the good purposes of God who created the world as a place of Life and flourishing will ultimately prevail – and include them!
The ancient world was clear about two things: firstly, the god who created the world got to say how the world ought to be and life ought to be lived.  Secondly, who this god is was decided in battle – the people of the strongest god won. The Exile therefore threatened the heart of faith in The Lord – the God of the exiles.
The Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish) is an epic poem, describing the creation of the world by Marduk in eight days. They had an eight-day week.  The exiles adapt it into a poem of their own (our text). Read it aloud and you’ll hear the poetic formula clearly: “God said, ‘Let there be …’/and there was/ And God saw that it was good/ There was evening and morning, the nth day/Then God said ..”.
Now look at days three and six.  They’re different: God creates two things on each day instead of one!  It interrupts the poetic formula. The eight-day Babylonian creation poem has become a six-day Jewish poem, followed by a Sabbath.  This is God’s order for human living and flourishing, and a dangerous denial of Babylon’s god! God, not Empire, with all its power, will prevail.  Life, not suffering and death, will have the Last Word!
That is vital Good News for our world.  Jesus promised that this world will become the Kingdom of God – all God intended at creation.  We need to commit ourselves as partners in God’s mission to make this a reality.  It may be in mustard-sized pieces, but it gives truth to the Good News of Jesus we proclaim.

Let us live in our homes, churches, communities and world
What we proclaim with our lips:
“Light is stronger than darkness;
Good is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Hope is stronger than despair;
God’s Kingdom is stronger than Empire;
Life is stronger than death!”