URC Daily Devotion Monday 15th June 2020

Monday 15th June 2020 – Birth and Death

Genesis 35: 16 – 26

Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had a difficult labour. When she was in her difficult labour, the midwife said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; for now you will have another son.’ As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben-oni;  but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem),  and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day.  Israel journeyed on, and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard of it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve.  The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin.  The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.

Reflection

The loss of life during childbirth is a situation that families would prefer not to happen. This is reflected in Rachel’s choice for her son’s name before she dies. The name she chooses is ben-ori that means “son of my sorrow” reflecting her awareness of her own condition. But Jacob changes the baby’s name to Benjamin, that C T Fritsch describes in his commentary, published by the Student Christian Movement, as meaning either “son of the right hand” or “child of good luck”. Clearly the birth of a son was an important tradition in the Jewish society, hence Jacob’s more positive response to the birth.

One of two interesting TV programmes that reflects on the background to families is entitled “Who do you think you are?” The other being “Long lost families” In both programmes, the highs and lows of family histories are the main focus. Children being separated from their mothers soon after birth because their mother was unmarried. The programmes reflect particularly the mother’s anguish as she wonders sometimes for decades what kind of childhood their offspring were experiencing in adoptive homes.

Perhaps our own family histories also reflect times of either great sorrow, perhaps the sudden loss of a loved one, for example, we lost our eldest son to epilepsy the day the 2012 Olympics opened, thus we missed the whole of the sporting events of that year. Or alternatively the joy felt in a family at the news of a new birth, or the joy when those children that were separated from their birth mother are eventually reunited. Our 2012 loss turned to joy when through an offering taken at his funeral we could finance the rebuild of a war damaged school in East Africa.

Prayer

Father God, too often we only come to you at times of crisis, forgive us. Help us to acknowledge that we rarely have all of the answers and are often wrong. Forgive us for relying too much on ourselves and not on You. Make us more sensitive to what is going on around us, at home, at work, in church and the local communities both near and afar, Amen.

URC Worship for Sunday 14th June The Rev’d Sarah Moore

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 14th June

 

The Rev’d Sarah Moore

 

Introduction  
 
Hello.  My name is Sarah Moore, and I am currently serving as Transition Champion within the National Synod of Scotland.  This is a special category ministry post that aims to work with congregations, and those who lead them, to discern appropriate patterns of mission and ministry for the future.  I also serve the United Reformed Church as Assistant Clerk to the General Assembly. 
 
This service was prepared and recorded from my home in Dunblane, central Scotland.  A place known for being the hometown of tennis star Andy Murray and remembered for the 1996 Tragedy when, on the 13th March, 16 children and their teacher were murdered in their classroom at Dunblane Primary School.  This event forms a lasting scar on the local community. 
 
Call To Worship
 
We meet in the name of God, the Holy Trinity of Love
 
who knows our needs, hears our cries, feels our pain,  and heals our wounds.
 
God is our light and our salvation. In God’s name we light this candle and are reminded of Jesus, the Light of the World, God’s own Voice who came to live with us.
 
May our hearts be open to you, O God, now and always. Amen
 
Hymn:      Gather Us In   (Marty Haugen 1982)
 
Here in this place, new light is streaming,
now is the darkness vanished away.
See, in this space, our fears and our dreamings,
brought here to you in the light of this day.
Gather us in the lost and forsaken,
gather us in the blind and the lame.
Call to us now, and we shall awaken,
we shall arise at the sound of our name.
 
2: We are the young our lives are a mystery,
we are the old who yearn for your face.
We have been sung throughout all of history,
called to be light to the whole human race.
Gather us in the rich and the haughty,
gather us in the proud and the strong.
Give us a heart so meek and so lowly,
give us the courage to enter the song.
 
3: Here we will take the wine and the water,
here we will take the bread of new birth.
Here you shall call your sons and your daughters,
call us anew to be salt for the earth.
Give us to drink the wine of compassion,
give us to eat the bread that is you.
Nourish us well, and teach us to fashion
lives that are holy and hearts that are true.
 
4: Not in the dark of buildings confining,
not in some heaven, light years away,
but here in this place, the new light is shining;
now is the Kingdom, now is the day.
Gather us in and hold us forever,
gather us in and make us your own.
Gather us in all peoples together,
fire of love in our flesh and our bone.
 
Prayers of Approach and Confession
 
Holy One,  the Psalmist calls us to worship you with gladness and singing,
and so, Creator of the universe we do just that.   Our first call is to glorify you and to rest in your presence  so in these summer days we do just that. 
 
We gather to offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving  remembering that we are your people and you are our God and that your faithfulness extends to all generations. 

[pause]
 
St. Paul wrote to Christians in Rome that through their faith and ours we have peace with God and have access to God’s grace. 
 
Creating One,  we hold our lives in your presence recognising that there are times  you feel closer to us than life itself,  when we feel that we are soaring  on the wings of an eagle. 
 
We hold our lives in your presence  recognising that there are times too  when your presence feels far from us  and we roll our eyes at your promises  questioning if we are indeed your people.  Lord have mercy.  
 
Redeeming One,  there are times when loving you and loving neighbour is easy,  and there are times too when it is impossible.   Christ have mercy. 
 
Comforting One,  you who know what it is to be human,  heal us and make us whole.   Show us how to be the best creation of ourselves,  teach us how we can grow beyond our worst selves.  Lord have mercy. 
 
Silence
 
‘For while we were still weak, at the right time  Christ died for the ungodly.  Indeed while, rarely  will anyone die for a righteous person … But God  shows love for us that while we were still sinners  Christ died for us’. 
 
We are a forgiven people.  We are a renewed people.   We are a called people. 
 
As our Saviour taught us, so we pray: Our Father…
 
Prayer for illumination
 
‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’ Gracious God, we thank you for your Word  that comforts us, that challenges us,  that inspires us and calls us.   We ask that we may have  open hearts, open minds, and open lives  as we listen again and anew to your word,  a word for us, for churches and for our communities.  Pour your Spirit upon us  as we listen today.  Amen
 
Reading                     St Matthew 9.35-10.8
 
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’
 
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
 
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Hymn:      Be Still and Know That I am God  (Anonymous)
 
Be still and know that I am God…
 
I am the Lord that healeth thee…
 
In thee, O Lord, I put my trust…
 
Sermon
 
Nearly three months ago our communities received word from the UK Government, and from the devolved governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast that due to Covid-19, a novel Coronavirus, the nations of the United Kingdom would be going into lockdown.  As I write this sermon on the last day of April, these lands, like many countries around the world, remain in lockdown.  
 
The impact on church life, in all parts of the United Reformed Church, was immediate.  Straight away worship services in our chapel buildings ceased.  Social events and study groups stopped.  People stopped travelling to meetings.  Those whose jobs and lives entail significant amounts of time living out of suitcases and who yearn for a settled period at home suddenly found that life was just that with a bit more added for good measure.  I was one of them.  Be careful what you wish for might indeed be an appropriate response. 
 
We were sent home with a ‘Stay home; protect the NHS; save lives’ mantra ringing in our ears.  And for the most part that is what we all did.  What happened next was that many in our churches adapted.  We turned to our internet connections and telephone lines and built church and community online instead.  Paradoxically as we went home we were sent out into a new space.  That new space, new for many church folk but far from new for all, was to the lands of Facebook Live, Lifesize, YouTube, and Zoom. 
 
For those unfamiliar with these names, they refer to the various online sites that have come to the fore in these days to enable folk to participate in worship, meetings and other social activities online.  I have used Zoom to go to Church, attend meetings, catch up with family and friends, and to participate in dance and exercise classes.  What I used to do pre-virus in person I now do via an internet connection.  These virtual spaces have their own risks.  Concern has been raised with some justification about privacy and security.  Enter a number wrong and you might find yourself in a place different to where you sought to go.  Forget the security safeguards and a disruptive visitor might find their way to your gathering.  There are those who are very nervous of using these programmes; and we shouldn’t forget, those who for whatever reason are not able to use them.  The ‘what if I break it?’ or ‘what if it breaks me?’ instinct can be strong.  For others what we have experienced was less new but still a huge jump up to another level.  Attending meetings online was already starting to happen.  Some friends were already dabbling with virtual worship and pondering what digital Church might look like.  I was watching with interest, and let’s be honest, a little trepidation.  How could I do that. 
 
I wonder if the apostles named in our reading: Simon, Andrew, James, John, Philip, and the others, who were with Jesus as he went around all the cities and villages, teaching, proclaiming, and curing, felt rather like that.  I wonder if they had any clue that they were going to be sent out themselves to do this work in Jesus’ name with his authority?  I wonder to what extent they shared the compassion that Jesus had for the crowds who Matthew tells us were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Jesus calls his disciples to prayer.  He connects these people who were struggling with the image of the harvest.  We might imagine that a harvest of people called to be a part of Christ’s kingdom would be those who were strong and sorted.  No, we get a glimmer of the thread running through the gospels that prioritises the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who yearn for righteousness, the merciful, the pure-hearted, the peacemakers and the persecuted, and the helpless and harassed are the ones that the kingdom of God is for first and foremost.  The way of the world is not to consider that good soil might be found in such a place as this. 
 
The mission is Christ’s, so the mission is God’s, and the disciples become the answer to their own prayer.  They pray asking the Lord to send out labourers into the harvest and then immediately learn that they are the ones who will be sent out.  The disciples are given authority over unclean spirits, and the ability to cure every disease and every sickness.  They are sent not among the Gentiles or the Samaritans to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.  The disciples are mandated to proclaim the good news.  “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  The work includes curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out the demons.  What’s more the fruits of this mission are to be free at the point of delivery.  No money making exercise is this.  
 
It is likely that just as we know about the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, so did the early readers and hearers of this part of the story.  The Church has read and received the stories and teachings of Jesus as part of the whole story of Jesus from its earliest days.  We know, like they knew, that being sent out is part of the deal that is Christian discipleship.  The disciples were sent out to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, and in some ways this list reminds us that they themselves were part of this flock.  Matthew’s roll call includes a tax collector, one who collaborated with the occupying power; a Zealot, one who was at least a political enthusiast and at most a domestic terrorist; and a betrayer, perhaps Judas ends up as one of the most infamous of the group, and one who’s name lives on in the chants of football supporters called out at turncoat players. 

We know that Jesus’ mission would be fraught with apparent difficulty even though the opening verses of the passage we heard made it sound so easy.  Easy it was not, and easy it is not.  We are not called to share in this mission in an ideal world.  We wonder how can we speak about our faith in our own lives and situations.  We know that as the disciples were sent out among their own people that sharing the good news of the kingdom of heaven among our own people can feel out and out impossible.  We have no clue how to do it.  Going to other people, gentiles and Samaritans and their equivalents of our day, though hard enough, might actually be the easier ask. 
 
We are commissioned with Jesus’ authority as well.  We are commissioned to go out, to proclaim, to cure, to raise, to cleanse, and to cast out too.  In our age of science and of Covid-19 we can be tempted to say that much of that at face value is impossible so we can’t do it.  We can’t do it so we won’t bother discerning onwards.  Discerning what that means is an urgent task before everyone called to be a disciple of Jesus today, and for the church communities to which we belong. 
 
As I reflect from a place of lockdown I wonder what this means for us in this age of Covid-19 that for myself I have come to think of as Coronatide.  As we were sent home we were and are sent out.  As one whose ministry is grounded in the theme of transition, I have long been aware that how we as disciples of Jesus today live out this call, this vocation, is changing.  One common question that I get asked in Scotland is what is the Church transitioning from and to what.  It would seem that the online is a part of this.  The digital, the online, the virtual can be and is real.  Real people, engaging with each other.  Real people, forging community.  Real people, hearing Christ’s call to follow him.  Real people, being sent out. 
 
In all sorts of ways the world during and after the Covid-19 crisis is not the same as it was before.  Our church life is going to be changed no doubt.  It seems likely that the online and engaging with Sunday worship through means such as this is here to stay, perhaps in time in parallel with worship in person.  Christ is challenging us to discern what the being sent out will look like.  There are no easy answers other than that we are confident that we are commissioned by Christ, in his name, to do his work of proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven has come near in world that includes the online.  Our world is changing before our eyes and where we find community is changing too.  Our task as followers of Jesus Christ is the same to go where he sends us and calls to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven has come near.    Amen.   
 
Hymn:      Sing of the Lord’s Goodness  (1981, Fr Ernest Sands)
 

Sing of the Lord’s goodness,
Father of all wisdom,
come to Him and bless His name.
mercy He has shown us,
His love is for ever,        
faithful to the end of days
 
Come then all you nations,
sing of your Lord’s goodness,      
melodies of praise and
thanks to God.
Ring out the Lord’s glory,
praise Him with your music,
worship Him and bless His name.
 
2: Power He has wielded,
honour is His garment,
risen from the snares of death.
His word He has spoken,
one bread He has broken,
new life He now gives to all.
 
3: Courage in our darkness,
comfort in our sorrow,
Spirit of our God most high;
solace for the weary,
pardon for the sinner,
splendour of the living God.
 
4: Praise Him with your singing,
praise Him with the trumpet,
praise God with the lute and harp;
praise Him with the cymbals,
praise Him with your dancing,
praise God till the end of days.

Affirmation of Faith
 
We believe in God.
Despite His silence and His secrets we believe that He lives.
Despite evil and suffering we believe that He made the world
so that all would be happy in life.
Despite the limitations of our reason and the revolts of our hearts,
we believe in God.
 
We believe in Jesus Christ.
Despite the centuries which separate us
from the time when he came to earth, we believe in His word.
Despite our incomprehension and our doubt,
we believe in His resurrection.
Despite his weakness and poverty, we believe in His reign.
 
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
Despite appearances we believe He guides the Church;
despite death we believe in eternal life;
despite ignorance and disbelief,
we believe that the Kingdom of God is promised to all. Amen.
 
Offertory
 
Christ calls and we respond.  Discipleship is a whole life enterprise  but we wonder what we have to offer. We give our money for the work of the Church in our communities, in our nations and in the world.   We offer too ourselves, our time, our energy, our interests, our work. 
 
Let us pray. 
 
Lord of the harvest, accept the offering we set before you, enable us to be your hands, feet, and voice in the world.  Send labourers into the harvest, help us to remember that we are those workers and that we labour in your name.  Amen. 
 
Prayers for the World
 
Compassionate God as your Son had compassion on the crowds  because they were harassed and helpless, hear our prayers as we try to look with your compassion on your world. 
 
We ask for your gift and grace of compassion in our lives and relationships. 
 
We pray for the gift of compassion to and from your Church.   Show every local church how they might compassionately serve their community, and respond to the need in that place. 
 
We pray for the United Reformed Church and for those who lead it,  in its expressions at the General Assembly, in the Synods, and in our local churches. 
 
We pray for the justice work done in our name through  the Joint Public Issues Team, ecumenical and other agencies where thoughtful compassion informs and underpins our engagement. 
 
Compassionate God we pray for our communities, online, local, national, and global. 
 
We pray that our governments at Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast may be compassionate, in their debate and decision making and remember particularly the needs of the weakest and most vulnerable. 
 
Compassionate God, we pray for your compassion in our online, digital  and virtual engagement.  We pray particularly for those leading online  expressions of Church that they may be encouraged. 
 
We remember too all who work in information technology, computer design, software designers, including those who design the games loved by many people. 
 
We pray for people who work in social media and communication provision, for those at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,  TikTok and Google to name just a few.  We pray for those at Lifesize and Zoom and the professionals behind the app this service is provided through.  Give them hearts of compassion and enable them to do their work well. 
 
Compassionate God, we pray for our families and friends, and for any who have asked us for our prayers or who we know to be in particular need.  We pray for our own needs and concerns.  
 
Be with us as we engage with the online world either in person or indirectly.   As our hands, feet, and voices  are strengthened for service,  use our keyboards and microphones,  computers, tablets, and smartphones too.   Show us where you need us to go and give us compassion when we get there. 
 
In Jesus’ name we pray,  in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 
 
Hymn       O Worship the King   (Robert Grant 1779-1838)
 

O worship the King
all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing
His power and His love:
our shield and defender,
the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendour
and girded with praise.
 
2 O tell of His might,
O sing of His grace,
whose robe is the light,
whose canopy space.
His chariots of wrath
the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is His path
on the wings of the storm.
 
3: The earth with its store
of wonders untold,
Almighty, Thy power
hath founded of old;
Established it fast
by a changeless decree,
And round it hath cast,
like a mantle, the sea.
 
4:  Thy bountiful care,
what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air,
it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills,
it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distills
in the dew and the rain.
 
5: Frail children of dust,
and feeble as frail,
in Thee do we trust,
nor find Thee to fail.
Your mercies, how tender,
how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender,
Redeemer, and Friend!
 
6: O measureless Might,
ineffable Love,
whom angels delight
to hymn thee above!
The humbler creation,
though feeble their lays,
in true adoration
shall sing to thy praise!

Closing Words and Blessing
 
Some words from Ruth Wells, an Anglican priest and poet,
 
God snuck home.
No longer bound by the expectations of a ‘consecrated’ building
She’s concentrated her efforts on breaking out.
 
Now in the comfort of a well-worn dining table She shares some bread, with some friends. And She laughs. And She weeps.  In the sacred space of home.

(@Ruthmw)

 
And may the blessing of God
who we know as Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit,
be and remain with each one of us,
with the people who we love,
and with the people we are called to love.  Amen. 
 
  

Sources and Thanks

 
Call to Worship from the Church of England’s New Patterns of Worship.
Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France (translated by Andy Braunston)
 
All other liturgical material from Sarah Moore.
 
Organ Pieces: 

Opening Ach Gott Von Himmel Sieh Darein (“O God from heaven see this”) by Johann Pachelbel (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020). 
Closing: Toccata in Seven by John Rutter (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)

both played by Brian Cotterill.  http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
 
Thanks to
 
Ray Fraser, Liane Todd, Addie Redmond, John Young, Barbara Redmond and the choir of Barrhead URC for recording spoken parts of the service and to Richard Ash for mixing the different parts into one recording.
 
Copyright and Performance
 
Here in This Place by Marty Haugen (b1950) © 1982 GIA Publications sung by the composer

Be Still and Know that I am God  unknown recording on YouTube.
 
Sing of the Lord’s Goodness © 1981, Ernest Sands, OCP Publications
Administered in the UK by Calamus, 30 North Terrace, Mildenhall, Suffolk IP28 7AB  Performer unknown at Jazz Church
 
O Worship the King sung by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band.

URC Daily Devotion Saturday 13th June 2020

Saturday 13th June 2020 – The Rape of Dinah 

from Genesis 34

Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the region.  When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her, he seized her and lay with her by force. And his soul was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl, and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, ‘Get me this girl to be my wife.’ Now Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter Dinah; but his sons were with his cattle in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him, just as the sons of Jacob came in from the field. When they heard of it, the men were indignant and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.

But Hamor spoke with them, saying, ‘The heart of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall live with us; and the land shall be open to you; live and trade in it, and get property in it.’ Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, ‘Let me find favour with you, and whatever you say to me I will give.  Put the marriage present and gift as high as you like, and I will give whatever you ask me; only give me the girl to be my wife.’

The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, ‘We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: that you will become as we are and every male among you be circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live among you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and be gone.’

Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem. And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter…  On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. And the other sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled…Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.’ But they said, ‘Should our sister be treated like a whore?

Reflection

According to the proverb, “All power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.  Rape is never about sex.  It is about power.

In this passage we see the shift of power from the prince’s son; to the brothers; to Jacob; and potentially to the tribes around them.  Power often gives its holder the opinion that they have the right to do what they want.  Nobody in this story is necessarily right – Shechem was wrong to take Dinah by force then try to take her as his wife.  The brothers were wrong to deceive the prince into having all his menfolk circumcised and to deceive Jacob as to what they were planning to do.  It would be wrong then for the surrounding tribes to take vengeance on Jacob.  But the only person in this story who appears to have no power, yet underpins everything that happened is Dinah.  In the times of “#metoo” where women are standing up to abusers and speaking out about inequality we can often be fooled into thinking that feminism and women’s rights are a new thing.  While Dinah is a silent character in this story, still she is at the root of this story.  She is treated as an object of passion by Shechem and then as a damsel to be defended by her brothers.  We do not hear her side of the story.  Abuse is never acceptable but by the same token vengeance is never the answer. May we speak up about abuse and injustice without taking matters into our own hands. 

Prayer

Lord may all power be given to you.  Inspire us to stand up against injustice and speak out about abuse that those who are victims may know their voice is heard.  Remind us that “vengeance is yours” so that we are never tempted to take matters into our own hands to avenge a loved one who has been hurt by others.  For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours – now and forever.  Amen

URC Daily Devotion Friday 12th June 2020

Friday 12th June 2020 –  Esau and Jacob 6

Genesis 33: 1-17

Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.

But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, ‘Who are these with you?’ Jacob said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down; Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, ‘What do you mean by all this company that I met?’ Jacob answered, ‘To find favour with my lord.’ But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.’  Jacob said, ‘No, please; if I find favour with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favour.  Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.’ So he urged him, and he took it.

Then Esau said, ‘Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.’ But Jacob said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds, which are nursing, are a care to me; and if they are overdriven for one day, all the flocks will die.  Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.’

So Esau said, ‘Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.’ But he said, ‘Why should my lord be so kind to me?’ So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house, and made booths for his cattle; therefore the place is called Succoth.

Reflection

What might forgiveness look like?

A man has his birthright stolen.  His brother, the thief, sneaks off in the night, leaving the other behind, hurt, angry and bereft.  Years later the victim receives news his brother is returning, with his family in tow.  What will his response be?  Have the years hardened his heart against his brother?  Does he need to confront him about the theft?  Will anger shaped their reunion?  Will he punish his brother for the crime?  As the thief makes his way toward his family home, these may be the questions chasing around in his head. 

What might forgiveness look like?

A man running to embrace his brother, to welcome him home without a need for restitution or explanation;  a man running to the brother who wronged him,  looking into his eyes and seeing the love they once shared as twins;  a man who embraces his brother again and invites him into the family he has been missing,  completing the family circle once more.  

What might forgiveness look like?

Perhaps examining our own hearts.  Taking out that hurt that still lodges there and seeing if we can let it go.  Is it appropriate to hold onto the hurt or to forgive?  Asking God whether God can remove the hurt from us and create an openness in our hearts which can take the place of the pain.  

Perhaps forgiveness looks like Esau, the one deeply wronged, who moves willing toward the one who wronged him, demanding nothing in return.  Perhaps forgiveness looks like the “Stranger” who catches hold of us in the middle of the night, who challenges us, wrestles with us and leaves us changed.  Perhaps forgiveness looks like each of us, finding a way to live open-heartedly and loving with those around us.

Prayer

God, you move toward us with warmth and welcome.  You look us in the eye knowing the pain we have caused and the hurt we carry.  You embrace us with love.  Give us the courage to wrestle with our hurt, allowing your grace to shape our move toward forgiveness.  As we are welcomed and known, help us welcome and know others.  Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Thursday 11th June 2020

Thursday 11th June 2020 – Wrestling with God 

Genesis 32: 22 – 32

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’  So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him.  So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’  The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.

Reflection

When I was a child, wrestling on TV on Sunday afternoon was a big deal. Strongmen with names like Giant Haystacks  threw each other around a boxing ring and scored points by pinning down their opponent so they could not move.

When I first met theology as a teenager it seemed to contain some of the same elements: throwing ideas and doctrines around and wrestling with them in the “wee small hours of the morning” wanting to pin them down and emerge with understanding.  Knowledge, as they say, is power so understanding gives us a foothold when thinking and speaking about God. 

Jacob however had as little success as we do. His unnamed partner strives and struggles and does not give in. Jacob usually gets his own way by fair means or foul but now it seems he has met his match. This is not toying with a knotty problem but entering into the full horror and exertion of thinking ideas through, reading around and listening intently to other opinions and then acting on it. 

We have some outstanding wrestlers in the URC.  There are historians, linguists, ethicists, doctrinal specialists and all shades of talented and inspired theologians. But if they have one thing in common it is that they, like Jacob, come away from their encounter with text and faith radically changed. If we wrestle with the text and do not allow it to change us we might as well not bother. As we wrestle with the big questions we can recall that Jacob gains understanding and a new name but not on his own terms. The outcome as Brueggemann writes,  “acknowledges the crippling victory and the magnificent defeat of that night”. In Phyllis Trible’s infamous words “as we leave the land of terror, we limp.”

Prayer

God give us grace to wrestle with your Word and be open to the change it will make in our lives. 
Amen. 

‘Jesus confirm my heart’s desire 
to work and speak and think for thee 
Still let me guard the holy fire 
and still stir up thy gift in me’

Charles Wesley (1707-88)

URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 10th June 2020

Wednesday 10th June 2020 –  Esau and Jacob 5 

from Genesis 32

Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him; and when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’ So he called that place Mahanaim. Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom,  instructing them, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now;  and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favour in your sight.”’

The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.’  Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies,  thinking, ‘If Esau comes to one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.’

And Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, “Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good”,  I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. Yet you have said, “I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.”’

So he spent that night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau…These he delivered into the hand of his servants, each drove by itself, and said to his servants, ‘Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.’ He instructed the foremost, ‘When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, “To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?”  then you shall say, “They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau; and moreover he is behind us.”’  He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, ‘You shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him,  and you shall say, “Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.”’ For he thought, ‘I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.’ So the present passed on ahead of him; and he himself spent that night in the camp.

Reflection

Two brothers who have not spoken for years, who last met at a funeral, have never met each other’s children. Tensions were high when they parted and as God brings them back together there is no trust between them. Jacob fears that his brother will attack. And what will Esau think when he sees these giant herds and flocks being driven towards his lands, not knowing whose they are or why they are coming his way?

Esau readies himself for trouble, riding out with four hundred men to face Jacob’s company. We knew little until now of Esau’s fortunes, but he too must have done alright for himself to command this little warband. 

We know much of Jacob’s fortunes, and that he is still tricking his way through life. Jacob’s stealing and cheating has just caused a dangerous row with father-in-law Laban who pursued Jacob and his daughters for seven days and threatened their lives for stealing the household gods as they ran. 

Can anything good come from Jacob returning home? His sense of walking with his father’s God is growing as he ages. He is hearing and seeing angels (messengers of God) increasingly often. He has heard God call him home. His prayers have some humility now, a sense of vulnerability now. Could there be hope for Jacob yet?

First, he must face that warband. Peace offerings are sent ahead. Jacob plans to let half his herds and servants be captured if things come to a head. Another trickster move. But there is no way Jacob can avoid facing his brother or the consequences of his past behaviour. We don’t often end our daily devotion on a cliffhanger, but this is one. A confrontation is coming. Can the trickster or his God find any way out?

Prayer

If you are keeping a score sheet of our sins, God,
then not one of us will be able to stand before you.
But with you there is forgiveness and so we dare to praise you.

We are grateful that with you we can face this day,
Mindful of all the love and kindness we have known from you,
Bringing all that is to come, and all that shall be done to you.

– Responding to Psalm 130

URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 9th June 2020

Tuesday 9th June 2020 The rest of the tribe

from Genesis 30

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I shall die!’ Jacob became very angry with Rachel and said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’ Then she said, ‘Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.’ So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her.  And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, ‘God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son’; therefore she named him Dan.  Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed’; so she named him Naphtali.

When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, ‘Good fortune!’ so she named him Gad. Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. And Leah said, ‘Happy am I! For the women will call me happy’; so she named him Asher.

…When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, ‘You must come in to me; …So he lay with her that night. And God heeded Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, ‘God has given me my hire because I gave my maid to my husband’; so she named him Issachar. And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, ‘God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will honour me, because I have borne him six sons’; so she named him Zebulun. Afterwards she bore a daughter, and named her Dinah. 

Then God remembered Rachel, and God heeded her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach’; and she named him Joseph, saying, ‘May the Lord add to me another son!’

Reflection

More babies than an episode of Call the Midwife in this collection of birth announcements of Jacob’s children!  What can we learn from this story of heartfelt emotions over many years within difficult relationships, the experiences of the sisters, and their voiceless servants acting as surrogate mothers?

Leah and Rachel are forced into a toxic situation and conflict is inevitable. There is always potential for harm in multiple relationships.  Polygamy might be seen as putting the man in charge of female sexuality: however in this passage we see the sisters manipulating the situation, directing Jacob in order to further their own aims of bearing sons, and in competition for his affection and their individual status and happiness.

Although there are many stories of polygamy in the Old Testament, culminating in Solomon with his hundreds of wives and concubines, it seem clear from Genesis that monogamy is God’s intent: ‘a man shall leave his parents and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh’.  By the end of Old Testament history this is being emphasised again as in Malachi 2 the idea of covenantal monogamy becomes the norm.  Paul sees the relationship between Christ and the Church as a marriage: a lifelong loving commitment between two individuals.

We could compare Rachel’s story with other examples of infertility in the Bible and their resolution: this is not the only story in which deception and guile plays a part.  Rachel eventually is blessed with bearing sons fathered by her husband, as ‘God remembered Rachel’. Both Leah and Rachel clearly believed that children were a gift from the Lord who said ‘Go forth and multiply’.  We too can identify with seeing children as a blessing from the Lord, even if in today’s crowded world smaller families are preferable.

Prayer

God of compassion,
God of loving relationships,
strengthen us in our daily living
that in joy and in sorrow
we may know the power of your presence
to bind together and to heal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

Based on a prayer at
https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship

URC Daily Devotion Monday 8th June 2020

Monday 8th June 2020 –  Jacob, Rachel and Leah

from Genesis 29

Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. As he looked, he saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there beside it; for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.

Jacob said to them, ‘My brothers, where do you come from?’ They said, ‘We are from Haran.’  He said to them, ‘Do you know Laban son of Nahor?’ They said, ‘We do.’  He said to them, ‘Is it well with him?’ ‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.’ … While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them. Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.

When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house…And he stayed with him for a month. Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’ Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.’ So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.’ So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her…When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?’  Laban said, ‘This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me for another seven years.’ Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife…30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. He served Laban for another seven years.

When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.  Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, ‘Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.’ She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also’; and she named him Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons’; therefore he was named Levi.  She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord’; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing.

Reflection

Jacob is yet another of those Biblical characters who is, how shall I say it, less than perfect?  He’s a trickster who has deviously obtained both his brother’s birthright and the father’s blessing due to Esau.  Not that it has done him enormous good but nevertheless he’s got them.  He finds himself having to work for his kinsman, who, it turns out is just as dishonest and tricksy, fooling Jacob into working for the wrong wife and having to work a further 7 years for the woman he does actually fancy!  

Setting aside, temporarily, the appalling patriarchy of fathers ‘owning’ their daughters, it’s quite satisfying to read of Jacob getting his comeuppance, even if ultimately it does set him up for a final revenge on his father-in-law (spoiler alert!).  I do hope, however, that this led to a period of reflection by Jacob and perhaps helped to make him less devious and dishonest in the future?

And in our present, I find the continuing dishonesty of humanity distressing in the extreme.  Consumer programmes and social media alike report and warn of scams aplenty that prey on people’s greed, ignorance and/or naiveté in heartless ways.  I write this in the first weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak hitting the UK, during which new scams have already appeared, playing upon fears engendered by the pandemic.  As if we didn’t have enough to worry about!

I do, though, remain of the opinion that our belief system is based upon fairness, justice and kindness.  A part of our calling to spread the gospel, is also one to share that ethical nature.  Persuading and encouraging folks to be unlike Jacob and more like the giving, helping, supporting, loving Jesus at the core of our faith?  Now there is a biblical character who is never anything less than perfect!

Prayer

Lord God we pray in the face of tricksters and fraudsters for the wisdom to see past their deceit

We pray for comfort and restitution for those who have been the victims of such fraud.

And, hard as it is to do, we pray for the perpetrators of such scams, frauds and thefts, that, like Jacob, they reflect on the harm and hurt they inflict, and that they will cease their evil acts.  Amen  

Sunday Worship 7th June The Rev’d Neil Thorogood

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 7th June

Today’s Service is led by the Rev’d Neil Thorogood
 

                                 

Introduction

Introit      I Bind Unto Myself This Day (St Patrick)
 
I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity;
by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.
 
2 I bind this day to me for ever, by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
his baptism in the Jordan river, his death on cross for my salvation.
His bursting from the spicèd tomb, his riding up the heavenly way,
his coming at the day of doom, I bind unto myself today.  Amen
 
Call To Worship
 
We meet in the name of God, the Holy Trinity of Love
who knows our needs, hears our cries, feels our pain,  and heals our wounds.

God is our light and our salvation. In God’s name we light this candle and are reminded of Jesus, the Light of the World, God’s own Voice who came to live with us.
May our hearts be open to you, O God, now and always. Amen
 
Hymn:      Today I Awake (John Bell_
 

Today I awake
and God is before me.
At night, as I dreamt,
God summoned the day;
for God never sleeps
but patterns the morning
with slithers of gold
or glory in grey.
 
2: Today I arise
and Christ is beside me.
He walked through the dark
to scatter new light.
Yes, Christ is alive,
and beckons His people
to hope and to heal,
resist and invite.
 
3: Today I affirm
the Spirit within me
at worship and work,
in struggle and rest.
The Spirit inspires
all life which is changing
from fearing to faith,
from broken to blest.
 
4: Today I enjoy
the Trinity round me,
above and beneath,
before and behind;
the Maker, the Son,
the Spirit together
they called me to life
and call me their friend.

Prayer of Approach, Confession and Assurance of Forgiveness
 
Almighty and eternal God, from the depths of mystery you reveal yourself  through the wonders of your creation. As the generations have sung, we too look to the stars and listen to the ocean’s roar,  we too relish the greening of creation and the intricacy of the butterfly’s wing.

We too wonder at the works you have made  and the life you have given.
Creating God, we worship you. We give you thanks.
 
As the generations have sung, we too look to Jesus and discover you walking amongst us, your word alive to heal and teach, to challenge and to bless. We too wonder at his sacrifice for us upon the Cross and his rising from the tomb. Risen and ascended Lord, we worship you. We give you thanks.
 
As the generations have sung, we too come in confession, owning and admitting all within us that draws us away from you and from your purposes.  You long for creation’s restoration and humanity’s safety  where we destroy and demean.  You teach us ways to be and we,  so often, prefer our own ways and ignore the havoc that we shape. Forgive us.
 
As the generations have sung, we too discover the power of your Holy Spirit’s presence even as we falter. You have redeemed and healed us through the love of Jesus Christ.  You assure us that we are forgiven and made new. In the power of your Spirit we find our hope and rest and restoration. To you be the thanks and the praise, for ever and ever. Amen.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Open your holy Word to us, God of comfort and challenge. Let it be a word of life and hope, a word that inspires us and guides us, a word that dances in our hearts and lifts our minds.

Bless us with your Spirit, that what we read now from scripture might become food for our souls and rations for our pilgrimage. Bless us with new courage and renewed hope, that as we read our Bibles, we might know again that Jesus listens with us and all creation is hushed to hear its maker’s word. Amen.
 
Readings
 
Psalm 8: 1-9
 
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
 
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
    to silence the enemy and the avenger.
 
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?
 
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
    and crowned them with glory and honour.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
 
O Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
 
 
St Matthew 28: 16-20
 
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
 

Pause for ReflectionMany and Great – The Dakota Hymn
 

Many and great,
O God, are your works,
Maker of earth and sky;
Your hands have set
the heavens with stars;
Your fingers spread
the mountains and plains.
Your merely spoke
and waters were formed;
deep seas obey Your voice.
 
2: Grant us communion
with You our God,
though you transcend the stars;
Come close to us
and stay by our side;
with You are found
the true gifts that last.
Bless us with life
that never shall end,
eternal life with You.

 

Sermon
 
Let us pray:
 
God of mystery and wonder, giver of life and giver of the Word, open our hearts and minds to receive your word to us today, in the name of Jesus Christ and through the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
Over these past weeks in which the world has locked so much of itself away from an invisible threat, we have heard much about science and
scientists. Thank God for those who have the skill, experience and intuition to help us grope towards a time when COVID-19 will be but one more infection added to the list of those that we have learnt to control and even eradicate, just as, eventually, smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980.
        
With all our might, and with the depth of our longing, we surely pray for something equally magnificent to be achieved by those working so hard across the world, and down our streets, to help us and heal us and protect us from this new infection. And we fervently pray that, this time, human skill and science will make haste to help us.
        
How right it is that we listen so attentively to what the science says, even as we try to understand where the scientist disagree and do not have answers. Layered onto that come all the twists and turns of our politics and economics, our personal fears and our shared uncertainties.  We live in the risky turbulence of history that has not yet been written.
 
But we need to set another story alongside the familiar one of science. Humanity has encountered wider wisdom. Put it a better way: greater wisdom has encountered us.
        
The Bible makes a claim upon all our stories. It weaves a thread of faithfulness through the tapestry of human history. It gifts us with perspectives through which we can better see the truth.
        
The Church has cherished the Bible in many ways. One of them is through letting the biblical story play out across the unfolding seasons of the Christian year. Today, we reach one of the great culmination Sundays of that story. For today is Trinity Sunday. Today, we are urged to dwell deeply upon the very nature of God. We do so in the company of a Psalm and with the concluding words in Matthew’s gospel.
        
Why even try to have such a special moment in the Church’s year? Surely God is so utterly beyond us, so hidden in mystery, so outside our feeble theories and the capacity of our language that there is too little we can say and too little we can know? Isn’t it presumptuous and foolish to contemplate such things? And besides, in the face of global pandemic, personal tragedies and locked-down torments, redundancies and economic collapse, fear and isolation, loneliness and mourning, who cares about the nature of God?
        
Why might it matter what we know about God and how we say something about what we know? I suggest it matters because, alongside all of the world’s science, all of the world’s political and economic theories, all of the world’s ideologies and movements, all of the world’s religions, all of the world’s hopes and all of the world’s fears, the Church has something to say, something to offer, something to share and something to demonstrate in the daily acts of every Christian. We have something to share not because of our greatness but because of God’s great goodness and mercy. We dare to say and believe that we know something amazing and wonderful about God because of what God has revealed to us.
        
We find it ringing in the ancient praises of the Psalms, and Psalm 8 especially. We are rooted in this tradition as are the Jews to this day. The psalmist looks around, takes in the sweeping grandeur of creation, and believes that this is not the random outworking of unknown forces but the beautiful work of a creator who delights in creating:
 
“O Lord, our Sovereign, How majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
        
Here is God as both intimately connected to creation and yet utterly unlimited by anything in creation. The Hebrew we translate as “Lord” and “Sovereign” speak of God’s greatness, reign and rule. God is our leader beyond all leaders. God is the one to whom all loyalty is owed, all allegiance, all devotion. Yet God is the one whose creative touch is seen around us as the stars circle and the Earth breathes.
        
Boldly, with a beauty that lingers and a poignancy that haunts, the psalmist dares to suggest this God to be the one who shapes humanity, draws close to us, and gifts us with immense power and responsibility:
 
“…what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet…”
 
Psalm 8’s word is that God revels in relationships; God chooses to be involved, to participate. God is not aloof, not some divine watch-maker setting creation’s intricate machinery of life ticking and then sitting back to play no further part; a creator divorced from creation. God chooses to give us a vocation and then join us as we live our vocation. So God also takes the most staggering risks with you and with me and with everyone ever born.
        
We can, and do, reject our vocation. Part of what our current crisis reveals is both the scope of human ingenuity and the scale of human mistake. We are reminded constantly that the virus is bringing some of its greatest harm to those left most vulnerable by the choices and forces we have unleashed across generations and around the globe. Many are highlighting things they had not noticed before: a view of distant mountains across the city when the lack of traffic clears the smog from the air; birdsong which before was drowned out by our noise. When we get back to whatever our new “normal” will be, it is urgent that Christians are loud in proclaiming and demonstrating that God wants us to steward creation, and care for all humanity, far, far better than we ever did before COVID-19. We now appreciate a host of servants in healthcare, care homes, in supermarkets, in fields, in our neighbourhoods, in refugee camps with renewed intensity. We must not let that learning go. It must linger across the generations as driving force for justice and renewal of our common life.
        
Trinity Sunday lets us acknowledge these gifts of God as creator, sustainer and companion through Psalm 8. But, of course, there is even more that Christians can bring thanks to a text like Matthew 28.
        
We are in resurrection territory. Matthew concludes the gospel with a final encounter between the risen Christ and his friends. They are back in Galilee. And we hear more of the very nature of God in the great commission that Jesus gives:
 
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
        
To this day some of our widest ecumenical agreement is that, for a baptism to be recognised across the traditions of the Church, it must involve water and a Trinitarian blessing. What Jesus says here is what makes the Church and welcomes everyone in to the Church as the children of God.
        
This is one of the very few notes in the Bible that hints at the reality of God as one in three and three in one. Psalm 8 alerts us to the profound readiness of God as creator to enter in to relationships with creation and with us. Now, on the lips of Jesus, we hear that relationship between the three is of the very essence of God. God is the creator. But God is also the Son who has been born as one of us, has lived and taught and shown the love of God and gone to the cross to die for sin and risen to defeat sin and death for ever. And God is also the Spirit alive and active and at work in us and through us and in creation and through creation tirelessly building and blessing and shaping the will of God into tangible things. And this knowledge of God is no neat theological conjuring trick. It is the truth that sets us free to understand who we are and what it is for us, now, in our ways, to go into all the world and share good news. For now we may be doing that in ways more constrained than ever. The time will come when we can do it afresh, having been tried and tested and taught by this time of crisis and loss. But we will do it. And God will be with us, creating, saving, empowering.
        
It is Trinity Sunday. So to God be the glory, for ever. Amen. 
 
Hymn:      Thou Whose Almighty Word  (John Marriott, 1813)
 

Thou, whose almighty Word
chaos and darkness heard,
and took their flight;
hear us, we humbly pray,
and, where the Gospel day
sheds not its glorious ray,
let there be light!
 
2: Thou, who didst come to bring
on Thy redeeming wing
healing and sight,
health to the sick in mind,
sight to the inly blind,
O now, to humankind,
let there be light!
 
3: Spirit of truth and love,
life giving, holy Dove,
speed forth Thy flight;
move on the water’s face
bearing the lamp of grace,
and, in earth’s darkest place,
let there be light!
 
4: Blessèd and holy Three,
glorious Trinity,
Wisdom, Love, Might!
Boundless as ocean’s tide,
rolling in fullest pride,
through the world far and wide,
let there be light!

 

Affirmation of Faith
 
We believe in God.
Despite His silence and His secrets we believe that He lives.
Despite evil and suffering we believe that He made the world
so that all would be happy in life.
Despite the limitations of our reason and the revolts of our hearts,
we believe in God.
 
We believe in Jesus Christ.
Despite the centuries which separate us
from the time when he came to earth, we believe in His word.
Despite our incomprehension and our doubt,
we believe in His resurrection.
Despite his weakness and poverty, we believe in His reign.
 
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
Despite appearances we believe He guides the Church;
despite death we believe in eternal life;
despite ignorance and disbelief,
we believe that the Kingdom of God is promised to all. Amen.
 
Prayers of Intercession
 
In your intimate care, living God, hear our prayers for your creation.
 
Hear us as we bring to you the wounds and hurts of your world.
We pray for ecosystems in peril and habitats facing destruction, for species driven to extinction and the loss of nature that we have not even yet discovered.
 
We pray for those who research and shape policy, for all with power as law-makers and as consumers.
 
Create in us a deeper sense of your creation’s wonders, and our calling to protect and nurture them all that all might flourish.
 
Hear us as we bring to you the longings and the needs of humanity.
 
We pray for individuals, communities and nations still living amidst coronavirus and its aftermath.
 
We remember those caring for the sick and dying, those seeking cures, those filling shelves and clearing rubbish.
 
We remember those who have lost loved ones and those who are afraid.
 
We pray for those making hard choices and those whose livelihoods have vanished.
 
Create in us a deeper sense of solidarity and community, that we might emerge into a future that is transformed for the better rather than more of the same.
 
Hear us as we pray for the Church across the world and the congregations that are dear to us.
 
We remember all who have guided us in faith and all whose faith might be touched by our goodness.
 
We pray for sisters and brothers in Christ who are struggling, for those whose resources are at an end, for those whose gatherings are fearful.
We pray for the familiar churches of our own journeys and the people we treasure as friends in the family of Christ.
 
Create in us a greater thankfulness for the Church and all of its traditions, and a greater longing to share good news across the world and where we are.
 
Hear us as we pray for those people, places and circumstances most upon our hearts today.
In silence, we remember them:
 
[silence is kept for personal prayer]
 
Create in us a renewal of hope, a deepening of trust, a strengthening of faith as we seek to follow you, our Sovereign, Saviour and Sustainer, to whom be glory now and for ever.  Amen.
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
Offertory
 
Giving is part of our faith – as much as prayer, reading the Bible, singing hymns or the various other things we do to show our Christianity.  In these days of lockdown we can’t get along to church to give in the collection – some of us have changed to standing orders, some have sent a cheque or made a direct bank transfer to church and other charities we support.  Some of us are storing our envelopes until they can be safely collected.  However, we’re doing it, we’re still giving.  Let us pray.
 
You, O God, give us everything that is good, and out of gratitude we give: we give of our time, our love, our presence, we give of our talents, our tears and our treasure, bless our gifts that, through them, You may change our world. Amen.
 
Hymn:      Love Divine, All Loves Excelling  (Charles Wesley 1747)
 

Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven to earth come down:
fix in us thy humble dwelling,
all thy faithful mercies crown:
Jesu, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation,
enter every 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 heaven we take our place,
’til we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.
 
Blessing
 
Father and Mother to us,
Son and Saviour to us,
Spirit and Encourager to us;
bless us this day and in the days to come,
with bright hopes and deep joy,
with willing hearts and open minds,
to glimpse you at work,
and to follow where you take us.
May we know you and rejoice. Amen.
 
 
 

Sources and Thanks

 
Liturgy

Call to Worship from the Church of England’s New Patterns of Worship.
Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France (translated by Andy Braunston)
Offertory introduction and prayer written by Andy Braunston.
All other liturgical material from Neil Thorogood.
 
Thanks to the choir of Barrhead URC, Myra Rose, Kathleen Hayes and Carol Tubbs for spoken parts of the service.
 
Organ Pieces 

Opening: Ein Feste Burg (“A mighty fortress”) by Max Reger (organ of Basilica Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy – 2016),
Closing: Wir Glauben all’ an Einen Gott (“We all believe in one God”) by Johann Sebastian Bach  (organ of St Thomas-on-The Bourne, Farnham – 2001).  Both played by Brian Cotterill.  http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Music
 
I Bind Unto Myself This Day – Down Cathedral Choir recorded for Songs of Praise
Today I Awake by John Bell © Wild Goose Resource Worship Group, The Iona Community sung by the Cathedral Singers.
Many and Great, a traditional Native American chant, sung by the Wild Goose Worship Resource Group of the Iona Community.
Thou Whose Almighty Word  sung by the Scottish Festival Singers
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, recorded for Songs of Praise.
 

 

URC Daily Devotion Saturday 6th June 2020

Saturday 6th June 2020 –Jacob’s Dream

Genesis 28: 10 – 22

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’  And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel;[e] but the name of the city was Luz at the first.  Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,  so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.’

Reflection

Jacob is caught in a self inflicted crisis. The ‘supplanter’ is on the run from vengeful brother Esau, whose birthright he has stolen from his blind father Isaac (with his mother’s connivance).  Family problems are nothing new.

Jacob’s night resting place turns out to be restless, but propitious, for his dream reveals the previously unseen coming and going of God’s messengers from heaven to earth (and vice versa). Then God comes close to him.  Jacob hears the offer of much needed reassurance and promise as to his future. It turns out that Jacob is the inheritor of God’s promise to Abraham ‘…all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and your offspring’. What?  Dreadful behaviour, rewarded?  A definite ‘no, no’ in our eyes; but Jacob’s name may mean not just ‘supplanter’, but also, ‘may God protect’.  God alone seems to know Jacob’s full potential. That’s true of us too – God alone knows our true potential.

As for Jacob’s vow at Bethel, was Jacob striking a bargain with God?  We know we attempt to strike quid pro quos with God, so our interpretation of Jacob’s words may tell us more about ourselves than we admit. It’s possible to understand Jacob’s Bethel vow in a much less suspicious way.  As a consequence of God’s promise to Jacob, Jacob promises to be faithful to God.

So what have we made of our God given potential? indeed what shall we make of it?

Prayer

‘O God you search me and you know me’,
is the witness of those who seek you.
In your loving kindness accept me
for who I am; and come close
even when I want to distance myself
from you, and remind me that
even I am an inheritor of your promises
for good.
Amen