URC Daily Devotion 26th September 2019

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Reflection
With Jesus, people wondered which elements of the Law through which Israel lived in covenant together with God were the most important. Jesus drew out two essentials; love God and love your neighbour (St Matthew 22:35-40). Now Paul takes the second of those and uses it to sum up all of the commandments. Love takes priority and acts as the ultimate proof of holy and righteous living. In love all else is fulfilled. It’s a theme he echoes so powerfully in 1 Corinthians 13. Discipleship finds its deepest demonstration in pure love. Of all the Holy Spirit’s gifts, love reigns supreme.

There is so much beauty here, so much demand, so much possibility. Paul follows Jesus in letting the Law become small enough to sum up in a few words, and simultaneously so big that it embraces everything and everyone. We discover our true vocation as the children of God to be love. Paul begins this little passage speaking of what we ‘owe’. We should owe nothing and yet, because our obligation becomes love, we will live with an unpayable debt. For love embraces everyone and means giving to everyone everything they might need to flourish, doing no wrong to others, living gently with all.

Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018 caused the stir it did, perhaps, because he took the world’s hand and dove into the depths of love. He invited us to delight in love’s power. We can. We can let love define us, our churches and our impact upon creation. We must. We must let love transform us, from the inside out, daily. No bold initiative, no project, no scheme, no programme, can top what God will do when we let love define and reveal our discipleship
 

In love’s name you came amongst us, God who gives us all.
In love’s name you claimed us as your own;
revealed your will,
caught us up into your way. 
Now you give us another day.
Let love be our gift to receive and give;
love of ourselves,
love of all we meet,
love of creation’s fragile glory.
In Jesus’ name,
who loved beyond limit.
Amen.
 

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Neil Thorogood, Principal, Westminster College, Cambridge.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 25th September 2019

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval;  for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.  For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due.
Reflection
Civil law affects every aspect of our daily lives: the height of our neighbour’s hedge, the Highway Code, tax obligations, knife-crime, domestic abuse… Civil law and punishments for infractions have been, and are, part of every society.

For the most part, we are probably glad of the civil order we have in the UK. Elsewhere, good people suffer the injustices of corrupt officials and discriminatory laws. 

This passage from Romans does not occur in the three-year Sunday Lectionary cycle; nevertheless, throughout history, these verses have been abused to coerce people into obedience to unjust regimes. Ironically, in this letter, Paul was most likely writing about the Roman authorities, the very same by whose laws he was executed around 10 years later.

The Statement of the Nature, Faith and Order of the URC makes clear the distinction of government of Christ’s Church and the government of the state, and it goes on to say: “Civil authorities are called to serve God’s will of justice and peace for all humankind, and to respect the rights of conscience and belief.”

How can we respond to this? Jesus says to us: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” His call to us is to get involved!

Those involved in law and order are required to swear an oath upon enrolment. As a magistrate, our Judicial Oath includes these words: “I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.”

What else can we do? We can pray. Pray for the police who bravely put themselves in harm’s way. Pray for the judicial office holders who sit in judgement: judges, magistrates, jurors and tribunals’ judiciary. Pray for probation and prison officers who work to rehabilitate and reform offenders. Pray for victim support workers.
 

Lord God, Your Word alone lights the paths of justice.
We pray for all who administer justice…
For all whose profession or expertise is the law…
For the police and all who sustain order in our land…
May they fulfil their duties to the good of all people.
Grant them Your Spirit of discernment and of love.
We hold before You the victims of crime and injustice.

O Lord, hear our prayer: and let our cry go unto You. Amen
 

Today’s Writer

Walt Johnson, Elder, Wilbraham St Ninian’s URC, Chorlton, Manchester.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 24th September 2019

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Reflection
Most of us have learned how to ‘pretend’ to love others, how to speak kindly, to avoid hurting other people’s feelings and appear to take an interest in conversations. We maybe even skilled in pretending to ourselves to be moved with compassion, when we hear of other people’s needs, or become indignant when we hear of injustice. But God calls us to real love and real compassion, and that takes hard work.

Today’s verses summarize the real core of Christian living. The rhythm and verses are an echo of the Old Testament words written in Proverbs, together with the Sermon on the Mount; a list of do’s and don’ts for the early Christian convert.

Christians are not exempt from the pressures and stresses of daily living; however, Paul reminds us of the qualities that sets us apart as Christians.. These qualities more than ever, still hold true for us today in the 21st century. We live in an age of litigation, lawsuits, incessant demands for legal rights, political unrest, broken promises, and broken relationships and Paul’s demands seem impossible for us to live by. A sceptic would say they are!

However what holds this portion of Romans together is the commitment to Love. We often pride ourselves in recognising the person that is not genuine, who utters eloquent words, yet are empty and shallow. The context can vary, but the reflection of true love and honesty can shine from the heart and eyes of the hearer and the speaker.  We cannot fool God! 

We think that the letter of Romans is all about doctrine, or justification by faith. Here, though, as Paul is beginning to head toward the conclusion of the letter, we see once again that the Christian life for him is all about faith working through love.

Let love be genuine!
 

Lord, who said it is easy being a Christian?

It takes a lot of hard work and determination,

and yes we often fail at the first hurdle.

However….Rejoice !

For your love for us never falters,

is always steadfast;

Your faithfulness for us never diminishes,

is always strong;

Your compassion for us, never wanes,

is always constant;. 

 

In each sacred moment,

May the prism of God’s love illuminate our lives.

Now and always

Shalom

 

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Ruth Dillon, Minister, 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

URC Daily Devotion 23rd September 2019

This is such a rich passage with so many life-giving truths for our age:
–   Not thinking of ourselves too highly.
–     Remembering that we are one body; one humanity.
–   Rejoicing in our diversity.
 
Driving around Croydon today, I will encounter drivers who believe they are the most important people in the world, with the most urgent tasks to fulfil and a divine right to get ahead of me. I, of course, never fall into this trap of thinking of myself so highly(!?). We all know that driving under the influence is illegal, but how about driving without sober judgement?
 
We can be fooled into thinking that some of us are lesser than others: migrants described as ‘rats’ in a tunnel, the disabled as ‘invalid’ (and on and on). Once we’ve judged and dehumanised our brothers and sisters, it is an easy step to blaming them, to hating them, to treating them terribly. Before we know where we are, we have rejected God’s love for all. Our ‘one body’ is destroyed by ‘my’ body.
 
The image of the body with its many parts, is really helpful. The tiny homogeneous boxes of what society considers to be attractive, valuable and successful, are a lie. They suit the advertisers bottom-line, but they reduce us to a grey shadow of our colourful God-given selves.
 
God creates us as one people with unique gifts that can be used for good or ill.
As we go about our lives today, consider:
How often are we inflated by our reduction of others?
How often are we deflated by society’s raising of others?
 

URC Daily Devotion 22nd September

1 Not unto us, LORD, not to us,
but do thou glory take
Unto thy name, ev’n for thy truth,
and for thy mercy’s sake.

2 O wherefore should the heathen say,
Where is their God now gone?
3 But our God in the heavens is,
what pleased him he hath done.

4 Their idols silver are and gold,
work of men’s hands they be.
5 Mouths have they, but they do not speak;
and eyes, but do not see;

6 Ears have they, but they do not hear;
noses, but savour not;
7 Hands, feet, but handle not, nor walk;
nor speak they through their throat.

8 Like them their makers are, and all
on them their trust that build.
9 O Isr’el, trust thou in the LORD,
he is their help and shield.

10 O Aaron’s house, trust in the LORD,
their help and shield is he.
11 Ye that fear God, trust in the LORD,
their help and shield he’ll be.

12 The LORD of us hath mindful been,
and he will bless us still:
He will the house of Isr’el bless,
bless Aaron’s house he will.

13 Both small and great, that fear the LORD,
he will them surely bless.
14 The LORD will you, you and your seed,
aye more and more increase.

15 O blessèd are ye of the LORD,
who made the earth and heav’n.
16 The heav’n, ev’n heav’ns, are GOD’s, but he
earth to men’s sons hath giv’n.

17 The dead, nor who to silence go,
GOD’s praise do not record.
18 But henceforth we for ever will
bless GOD. Praise ye the LORD.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland Congregation some of this to the lovely tune Land of Rest here.

URC Daily Devotion 21st September

Sacrificial living and non-conformist outlook.  Both are counter-cultural, costly, demanding, and do not necessarily come easily or naturally to us. 
 
The word “sacrifice” can all too readily be used when, in fact, at best we are referring to “inconvenience” rather than any significant costly gift.   Being challenged to present our bodies as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” underlines the fact that in every decision and choice we make we are willing to place our commitment to Christ and neighbour before our own comfort or desire.   Inevitably we may want to place limits on our generosity and to negotiate deals that leave us with some measure of comfort but those who respond to the call to sacrificial living must be ready – inspired and energised by the One who gave his all – to forget limits and conditions.   In the words of Horatius Bonar: Fill thou my life, O Lord my God, in every part with praise, that my whole being may proclaim thy being and thy ways.  Praise in the common things of life, its goings out and in; praise in each duty and each deed, however small and mean.  (Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889)  
 
Non-conformity – being wise and strong enough to risk standing out from the crowd and against the tide as and when we discern that it is right to do so.   We risk making ourselves unpopular. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one example of faithful non-conformity – standing up against the sinister forces of Nazism (and paying the ultimate price for doing so).   In his book, Costly Discipleship, he writes, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate …  Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a [person] will gladly go and sell all that [they have].”  
 

URC Daily Devotion 20th September 2019

So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.  And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,

‘Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’
 ‘And this is my covenant with them,
    when I take away their sins.’

As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors;  for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.  For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!

‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counsellor?’
 ‘Or who has given a gift to him,
    to receive a gift in return?’

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 19th September 2019

So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry  in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!  If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree,  do not vaunt yourselves over the branches. If you do vaunt yourselves, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you.  You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.  And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Reflection

Have you ever watched a tree grow?  Apart from the fact you would need a very long time, it is fascinating to see how trees develop from a fragile sapling into mighty trees.  They provide shelter from the elements, food for animals, oxygen for the planet. They protect properties, provide a playground for children and playthings with conkers, yet still stand with a certain elegance – made more pronounced when viewed in winter in silhouette.  But they can move with the wind so they do not break.
Yet trees remember every year (the deciduous ones anyway) to shed their leaves and grow new ones.  Dying branches are discarded and new shoots grow. Roots spread out in all directions and break through the human-made restrictions around them in roads and pathways.
How much of this is true of our faith?  Do we provide shelter to those who feel exposed?  Do we provide food for those who are hungry? Do we provide a safe place for people to pray (and play) and learn?  Do we conduct ourselves with a certain elegance while being flexible enough to allow ourselves to be accessible? And all of this while discarding old ideas and being open to new ones?  We can learn a lot from trees – take a moment to just look and see…
 

Lord Jesus, help me to be a tree in my faith:
with firm roots, spreading out to my community;
with strong branches to provide help for others
and take away my pride that I might allow the wind to blow through me to inspire me to movement.
Amen

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Ruth Watson, minister of Patricroft and Worsley Road URCs in Salford.

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 18th September 2019

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?  ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’ But what is the divine reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

‘God gave them a sluggish spirit,
    eyes that would not see
    and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.’

And David says,

‘Let their table become a snare and a trap,
    a stumbling-block and a retribution for them;
let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
    and keep their backs for ever bent.’

Reflection
In this passage Paul struggled with two ideas.  As a faithful Jew he believed that God hadn’t rejected the Jewish people – the Covenant still stands.  As a Christian, who had come to realise that trust in Jesus’ faithfulness is what mattered, Paul realised that simply being part of a chosen people wasn’t enough for salvation.  Paul asserted that the Jewish people are still the people of God but, at the same time, held that simply being part of the Chosen People wasn’t enough. 

Paul used the idea of the Remnant;  after commiting genocide against pagan priests, Elijah had to flee the wrath of Queen Jezebel.  Believing he was the only one left who truly worshipped God, Elijah had to be reminded that there were 7,000 others who had also held firm.  From this a remnant theology grew as the prophets realised there would never be a time when the whole nation was faithful to God. Paul used this dividing the wheat from the chaff to differentiate between those, in God’s chosen people, who held firm and those who succumbed to a sluggish spirit.

Of course Paul’s insight applies to us too.  Christians can have a sluggish spirit believing that church membership, even regular attendance is enough for salvation.  We can serve as members, elders or ministers and believe that all will be well – but if we fail to trust in Jesus’ own faithfulness we can act as if we are, what a friend of mine calls, functional atheists.  When I did my theology degree, back in the 1980s, the Church growth people forecast that the URC would die by the year 2,000 simply by plotting our decline on a graph and extrapolating. Sociologists will tell us that increased longevity has saved the URC, I hope it’s a radical trust in Jesus believing he hasn’t finished with us yet!
 

Lord Jesus,
you were faithful,
travelling to the Cross and beyond,
waiting for vindication, exultation and glorification.
Help us to be full of faith,
faith that you haven’t finished with us,
faith that our lives, words, and actions touch others with your love,
that we may continue to be part of your  chosen and faithful people. Amen. 

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston ministers in the Synod of Scotland’s Southside Cluster and co-ordinates the Daily Devotions project.

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 17th September 2019

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?  And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’  So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for

‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
    and their words to the ends of the world.’

Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,

‘I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
    with a foolish nation I will make you angry.’

Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

‘I have been found by those who did not seek me;
    I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’

But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’