URC Daily Devotion Saturday 16th January 2021

Saturday 16th January St Mark 3: 13 – 30

St Mark 3: 13 – 30

He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message,  and to have authority to cast out demons.  So he appointed the twelve:  Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter);  James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder);  and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean,  and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.  When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’  And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’  And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.  But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’—  for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

Reflection

Growing up I always thought that there were just three political parties in the UK: Conservatives, Labour and Liberal.
The first time I became aware that these parties were not particularly united within themselves was when the Liberal Party became the Liberal Democrats. Of course, as I have grown older, and considerably less wise, I have realised that political parties are themselves full of factions… the European Research Group, Momentum and so on. I’m sure that the Liberal Democrats probably have factions too – but there are so few of them that it seems likely that each individual MP is their own faction.
And they fight amongst themselves instead of working together, united as one party, to try and reform whatever unfair policies the other parties are suggesting.
“A kingdom that fights against itself will not survive.  And a family that is divided will not survive.  If Satan is against himself and is fighting against his own people, he will not survive. That would be the end of Satan”
So, that’s political parties warned, then, eh? Thank goodness we Christian denominations aren’t like that.

Prayer

Loving God,
You have told us what is good. You have told us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with you. We promise to try better.
Amen

URC Daily Devotion Friday 15th January 2021

Friday 15th January St Mark 3: 1 – 12

St Mark 3: 1 – 12

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.  And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’  Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent.  He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Jesus departed with his disciples to the lake, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him;  hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon.  He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him;  for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’  But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.

Reflection

Jesus is stirring things up again.  He’s cured a paralysed man, controversially telling him his sins were forgiven in the process, adding to controversy by then mixing with and, horror of horror, sharing meal fellowship with ‘sinners’ – folk considered to be beyond the pale!

Will he never learn to stop courting the displeasure of the powerful?  Well, obviously not, as he deliberately not only heals another person with a disability, but does so on a Sabbath.  Worse still, he rubs their faces in it by first challenging them with the ethical question of whether it is lawful to save life on the day of rest?  Their silent answer is a negative and Jesus’ ire is raised.

No ‘gentle, meek and mild’ Jesus here – his anger is evident at their lack of compassion and, instantly, and with passion, restores the man to full fitness, further offending his opponents and setting them on the road to put and end to this trouble-maker!  Meanwhile he sets off to continue his healing and teaching ministry elsewhere.
I write this still in the grip of a global pandemic restrictions, when there has been criticism of Church Leaders who have dared to enter the world of political controversy by questioning the government’s approach and the effectiveness of its Covid policies.

One Tweet suggested that the ‘Bishops’ [sic] should keep their noses out and stick to spiritual matters.  In the face of deaths and suffering that might be made worse by national policy, today’s reading would answer the question of WWJD?  After all as the URC Basis of Union says, ‘In the things that affect obedience to God, the Church is not subordinate to the state, but must serve the Lord Jesus Christ, its only Ruler and Head.’

Will we Christians never stop stirring things up?  I do hope not!

Prayer

Radical God who calls us to passion for life and the living, guide us and encourage us;
to speak up for those without a voice;
to stand alongside those who stand alone;
to share energy with those too weary or ground down to fight any longer;
and to have the wisdom to know when, where and how to stir things up when circumstances demand.  Amen

URC Daily Devotion Thursday 14th January 2021

Thursday 14th January St Mark 2: 18 – 27

St Mark 2: 18 – 27

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’  Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. ‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’ One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.  The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’  And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?  He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’  Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’

Reflection

People compared Jesus and his disciples to John the Baptist, the Pharisees and their followers, and they noticed big differences.  Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast, and they had no qualms about plucking the heads of grain on the Sabbath.
When people asked about fasting, Jesus responded with an apocalyptic image that runs throughout scripture – the heavenly wedding banquet that awaits God and God’s people.  However the way Jesus told it foreshadowed his death.  Jesus also pointed to God doing something new here – that’s what the talk about wineskins was about.  Today we might talk about mobile phones and software.  Jesus might have said, “You can’t download the new NHS app on a phone that has out of date software.  You need a new phone with the latest software, so the new app will download and work.”  Basically, Jesus’ operating system was love and grace, and it was incompatible with strict piety of the Pharisees. Throughout Mark’s gospel, we see that Jesus was not afraid to be unashamedly gracious towards the so-called unrighteous.
When people asked about Jesus and his followers plucking the heads of grain, Jesus told them a story of David.  Not only did David eat the bread for the priests, but so did the men travelling with him.  Jesus reminded them that the Sabbath was for our benefit as people.  The day of rest was to help us, not harm us.
Jesus put faith in context.  Traditions and religious practices should make sense in the context that we are in.  If they don’t, then we should take it back to scripture and find out why.  There is a good chance we humans have missed something.  And for Jesus, whatever scripture we read is to be read through the lens of God’s grace and abundant love for both the “righteous” and “unrighteous”.
 
Prayer

God, help us to be aware of how we practice our faith.  Do we love others?  Are we quick to condemn or quick to encourage and inspire?  Help us to follow the ways and teachings of Jesus.  Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 13th January 2021

Wednesday 13th January

St Mark 2: 13 – 17

Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them.  As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of  the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’  When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

Reflection

The Pharisees assumed that if a person ate with sinners, they were a sinner, too. Levi worked for the Roman government and was a tax collector. Tax collectors were renowned for their dishonesty. Naturally, since Jesus and his disciples ate with such people, they were classed as sinners too.

Assumptions prevented people from seeing what was really going on. God was not interested in appearances but hearts. Jesus was coming into contact with sinners. But instead of the sinners making him unclean, he made them clean. The grace of God ministered through Jesus Christ isn’t limited to righteous people. It extends to sinners, even to the kind of sinners that disturb righteous people.
Jesus found out what the Pharisees were asking and answered the question himself. He told them that healthy people have no need of a physician, but rather those who have an illness. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The Pharisees made a foolish assumption. They assumed that they were “healthy people,” having no need of a physician. They assumed that they were righteous so Jesus’ call to sinners did not apply to them. They had found righteousness in their diligent faithfulness to do everything they believed God had required of his people.

Jesus said  “Follow me,” and Levi got up and followed him. Levi found righteousness in the Son of God. He saw with his own eyes what the accusing Pharisees also saw but could not recognize. He saw what Paul described in his letter to the Romans: “In the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17).

Levi made no assumptions. He saw, he listened, and he believed. He trusted the One sent from God because he trusted God. May we, too, listen and believe and then live by faith, and not by assumptions?
 
Prayer

Dear God, create in us an awareness of our need matched only by an awareness of your acceptance. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 12th January 2021

Tuesday 12th January

St Mark 2: 1 – 12

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.  So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them.  And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’  Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,  ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”?   But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic—  ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’  And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’

Reflection: 

When I was a child I always thought it was easier to say “your sins are forgiven” because no one could see.  If you said “Stand up and walk” and the person didn’t – how embarrassing!   Since then, knowing as we do that much is in the mind I find the next questions don’t go away quite as easily: what did those at the back of the crowd think was happening and what did the occupier think of having the roof destroyed?  
Assuming those at the back could hear, but without seeing what had happened, they would have heard a debate about authority.  Imagine the whispers running round:  “what did he say?  No!  That’s blasphemy”  – only in a loose sense – but who will stand on the letter of the law when things get heated in a debate with no negotiation?
  
Mark ends this account saying everyone was amazed, and therein lies the problem.  Some would be amazed and full of wonder, eager to tell the story.  Others would be amazed and horrified, but rather than reflect and begin to understand, try to solve the problem of Jesus’  claim to authority by destroying what is not understood. 
We have seen this problem time and again in the last months of 2020: what to do about the second wave of Covid19; the apparently intractable Brexit negotiations; fake news; state sponsored cyber attacks and disputed elections?  Answer: attack the person not the problem.   I do get frustrated with the WWJD, (What would Jesus do) question.  Did he set to work repairing the roof of the house?  A good means to clear the mind while working.  Go for a walk along the shore.  A good way to find a different perspective.   Whatever happened, as we read on, we discover that Jesus found a way to balance the discord over forgiving of sins with human and godly conversation, while some of the scribes built an internal edifice of anger that could only be resolved with retribution. 

Prayer

Lord, when I am faced with opposing views help me to find balance and a way to understand.  Then, when I have understood, help me to decide on the value, for right or wrong, of this new viewpoint.  
Amen

URC Daily Devotion 11th January 2021

Monday 11th January

St Mark 1: 35 – 45

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’  He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’  Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’  But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Reflection

As I’m writing this daily devotion, the second lockdown has begun in England. Our churches have been told not to gather for worship. Many congregations feel frail and vulnerable. Some doors may never re-open. 
As you are reading this, 2021 is less than two weeks’ old, but it’s hard to imagine that the new year has yet brought great clarity about the future: life may still seem very dark.
In the midst of the uncertainties of world politics, climate emergency, and pandemic, local churches up and down the land are wondering how to be church, when so much of life feels to be built on shifting sand. 
So I’m grateful for this section of Mark’s gospel, which reminds us of so many different elements of Jesus’ life.
Jesus, our rock, is shown taking time away to pray, responding to those in need through preaching and healing, proclaiming love and grace to all, and in all this he does not seek fame, but serves the kingdom of God. That seems to me like a pretty good agenda for any Christian fellowship seeking to be Walking the Way and living the life of Jesus today. 
And did you notice that although the leper is told not to tell anyone about his healing, he can’t help himself  – he makes the whole story public. The Good News embodied in Jesus is unstoppable; people are drawn to Jesus from all quarters. Where there is prayer and preaching, proclamation of God’s love and grace, healing and service of those most in need, the world will notice. Where God’s love is known, fear and uncertainty can be conquered. Whatever 2021 holds in store, God the Father is with us, Jesus shows us the way, and the Spirit fills us with the ability to be servants of God’s kingdom.

Prayer

God whose love is greater than our fear,
help us to see your path,
to follow Jesus’ way
and to know your Spirit of grace.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Sunday Worship – The Revd. Memona Shahbaz

URC Daily Devotions Worship for Sunday 10th January 2021
 
The Rev’d Memona Shahbaz

 
Opening Music- Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland (“Now the Gentile saviour comes”) by Johann Sebastian Bach
 
Introduction
 
Good morning church, peace be with you. My name is Revd Memona
Shahbaz and I am serving Lord our God in Eastbourne, in East Team
which consists of five Local Ecumenical Partnership churches. We are
working in a team of three ministers.
 
Eastbourne is a beautiful place, full of eye-catching sceneries. I am
fortunate to have an amazing church family. I am originally from
Pakistan. This is my first ministry and I am very grateful to God that he
chose me and brought me here in Eastbourne to serve Him with
enthusiastic, dedicated and devoted labourers.
My dear brothers and sisters, this morning, t’s a great privilege to worship God together as a family with you all. Let us worship God with all
our heart, with all our soul and with all our strength and mind.
 
Call to Worship
 
Come and see the grace of God,
Christ our teacher and our friend.
Come and see the son of God,
Christ our healer and salvation.
God is moving in this place.
Come and see! Come and see.
 
 
Hymn                Summoned by the God who made us
Delores Dufner © 1991 Sisters of St. Benedict.

 

Summoned by the God who made us,
rich in our diversity,
gathered in the name of Jesus,
richer still in unity:
 
Let us bring the gifts that differ
And, in splendid, varied ways,
Sing a new Church into being,
one of faith and love and praise
 
2: Radiant risen from the water;
robed in holiness and light,
male and female in God’s image
male and female God’s delight:
 
3: Trust the goodness of creation;
Trust the Spirit strong within.
Dare to dream the vision promised
Sprung from seed of what has been.
 

4: Bring the hopes of every nation;
Bring the art of every race.
Weave a song of peace and justice:
Let it sound through time and space.

5: Draw together at one table
All the human family;
shape a circle ever wider
and a people ever free.

 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
 
Father, we come to you, as a family with Jesus, the son of your love, who confirmed himself our brother through his baptism, and took upon himself the burden of our guilt, so that we might know ourselves forgiven and come to you with confidence as children with a loving Father. We come holding our elder brother’s hand, like children who have been frightened, threatened, or lost in the dark, to the peace and security of our Father’s love, which we will share with Jesus Christ our Lord for ever.
 
Forgive us, great God, for all our self-righteousness, all our condemnation of others, all our selfish exploitation of each other for emotional or material gain. Out of your immense resources of grace and kindness, go on giving us the hope that we will at last be brought to the perfect obedience of Jesus and that you will receive us with him, and rejoice with us in eternal gladness. Lord we adore you and praise you; we bring our praises in the name of Jesus. He demonstrated your merciful love and your gentle touch upon our lives. We praise you for the way he identified himself with us. We praise you for accepting his sacrifice on the cross as the price of the healing of our relationship with you. By your grace and mercy, enable us and empower us, that we shall be with you and praise you for ever in Christ. Amen
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Let us pray together, “Almighty God we are thankful to you for your Word, which is alive and active, sweeter than honey and a lamp to guide our feet and a light for our path. Help us to lead our lives according to your word. Amen.
 
St Matthew 3:13-17
 
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
 
St Mark 1:9-11
 
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
 
Hymn       All to Jesus I surrender
Judson W. Van De Venter (1896)

 

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Thee I freely give;
I will ever love and trust You,
In Your presence daily live.
 
I surrender all,
I surrender all.
All to Thee, my blessed Saviour,
I surrender all.

2: All to Jesus I surrender,
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Your love and power,
Let Your blessing fall on me.
 
3: All to Jesus I surrender,
Now I feel the sacred flame.
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory to Your name!

 

Sermon
 
May the words of my mouth and meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord my God and my redeemer. Amen.
 
Today we will learn together about the baptism of Jesus Christ. It is mentioned in all four gospels. Mark starts his gospel with a scene where John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, with his proclamation of the greater one. He is a forerunner and road maker for Jesus and he urges people to repent. According to Mark while John was baptising people, Jesus came from Nazareth into Galilee and was baptised by John in the river Jordon. Interestingly Mark does not record any conversation between Jesus and John but he does mention of John confirming that, “after me will come one more powerful than I and he will baptised you with the Holy Spirit. Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordon. Mark does not give the reason for this act. It was not off course through any consciousness of sin, but according to Matthew 3:15 through a desire to “Fulfil all righteousness”
 
Dear friends, many people get into arguments why Jesus had to be baptised? And in response to the question different answers are given and I would not get into this debate now. For me the most important is what happened at the time of baptism. It is very clear in the all four gospels that Lord Jesus Christ was baptized by John the baptizer. John the Baptist was a remarkable man and Jesus himself said in, “There is no one greater than John the Baptist.” What a great statement from Lord Jesus? His message was brief, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” John was preaching in the valley of Jorden, so many people out of Judea and Jerusalem were coming to him. He was preaching repentance and the confession of sin. He was well known in the Israel. His ministry of baptizing the people was very unique. His ministry is as Isaiah’s, “Voice in
the wilderness.”
 
It is very strange for the people to know that why John baptised Jesus, as it was the baptism of repentance. It is in all four Gospels. Many scholars said differently, but surely John knew Jesus and according to Matthew 3:14, John said to Jesus, “I have need to be baptised by you and you come to me?” John knew Jesus very well. This is not the first time he sees Jesus. Earlier he was standing with some of his disciples and when he saw Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away sin of the whole world, “John 1:29.” He knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the saviour and he was actually proclaiming
 
Jesus. John’s attitude with Jesus is opposite of his attitude with the Pharisees and Sadducees. He said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come.” he told them to repent first and then he will baptize them. He refused to baptize them because of their sin and impenitence. He refused to baptized Jesus because he was sinless. He said, “I need to be baptised by you and you are coming to me?” But Jesus said, “permit it to be now, it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.”
 
John baptized Jesus, he understood Jesus so he also said, “You must increase and I must decrease.” According to the Synoptic gospels at the time of Jesus Baptism three things happened;
 
1. As Jesus was coming up out of the water he saw the heavens torn apart
 
2. The Holy Spirit descending like a dove on him. Isaiah 11:2, says about the coming Messiah, The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him.
 
3. A voice came from heaven, you are my son the beloved, with you I am well pleased.
 
Dear friends; this is one of the great Trinitarian passage of the New Testament. Here the Spirit and the father both bear witness of the son. At the baptism of Jesus all three persons of the Trinity are involved which makes it a very unique moment.
 
Notice that father speaking, Son being baptised and the Holy Spirit descending on the son. Dear brothers and sisters at the time of baptism of Jesus we see an affirmation by God that Jesus is his son. The voice from heaven does not interpret Jesus baptism; it was a voice of declaration, who was Jesus?
 
The baptism of Jesus shows the double attestation by the Spirit and heavenly voice that Jesus is son of God with whom the father is well pleased. Why Father was pleased at this stage when Jesus did not start his earthly ministry? Philippians 2:5-7 says, He left the heaven and became human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on the cross! So God has also highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name.”
 
He was baptized to identify himself with us. 2-Cor 5:21, “He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” 1-Peter 3:18, “Christ suffered and died for us, just for the unjust.” My dear brothers and sisters at the beginning of the Jesus’ earthly ministry, Father was pleased with Jesus and at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus took Peter, James and John and went to the mountain to pray and at the event of Transfiguration they saw Elijah and Moses with Jesus and a voice came from the cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son, hear Him.” My dear brothers and sisters, what we are doing to please Him or in other words what we can do to please him? In my opinion, Jesus Christ fulfilled His mission and before he was ascended into heaven he gave us, a great commission, “Therefore go 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 I have commanded you.” We have our mission to be completed. We need to be very brave and courageous to fulfil our commission, because Jesus promised with us that he is always with us to the very end of the age. We need to work hard and use our talents and gifts for the extension of his kingdom so we could hear from him, “Well done good and faithful servant.” May God give us his wisdom to work as His faithful servant or labourers. Amen
 
Hymn                Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty
 

Holy, holy, holy!
Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning
our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy!
Merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons,
blessed Trinity!
 
2 Holy, holy, holy!
All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and
evermore shalt be.
 
3 Holy, holy, holy!
Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful folk
thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy;
there is none beside thee
perfect in pow’r, in love,
and purity.
 
4 Holy, holy, holy!
Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy!
Merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons,
blessed Trinity!

 

Affirmation of Faith
 
In Jesus of Nazareth, true humanity was realized once for all.
Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, lived among his own people and shared their needs, temptations, joys, and sorrows.
He expressed the love of God in word and deed
and became a brother to all kinds of sinful men and women.
But his complete obedience led him into conflict with his people.
His life and teaching judged their goodness,
religious aspirations, and national hopes.
Many rejected him and demanded his death. In giving himself freely for them, he took upon himself the judgment under which everyone stands convicted.
God raised him from the dead, vindicating him as Messiah and Lord.
The victim of sin became victor, and won the victory over sin and death for all.
 
Intercessions
 
Father, we pray for all the people in the world who are despised, rejected or discriminated against, because of their race, creed or colour. We pray especially, for those against whom we bar the gates of love and acceptance; from whom we hold back the good news of your forgiveness. (pause) The Lord hears our prayers.
 
We pray for the whole Church, which you called into being though your Son. We ask you that by your Holy Spirit your church may be renewed and empowered for the task for which you gave it life.  (pause)  The Lord hears our prayers.
  
We pray Father, that we all Christians may be ready for any sacrifice, any action and declaration that will clearly demonstrate faith, hope and love to our neighbour, our family and friends and those we meet on the journey of life each day. (pause) The Lord hears our prayers.
 
We pray to you Father give justice to those who suffer for their belief and who are persecuted. We pray who are exploited or enslaved at work or in the home, that their cries may be heard. We pray for nations and societies across the world, and for our own, for national and local government, that those who rule may serve with wisdom and integrity for communities, that they may seek the common good. (pause) The Lord hears our prayers.
 
God of peace and comfort as this time is uncertain and stressful, many people are anxious and fearful, give us strength and lift us up that we may find comfort in you. Give hope to us all, especially who are ill and suffering with life threatening health issues. Be with them who are alone and in self-isolation and under any treatment. We pray for the World Health Organisation and all key workers, who are helping others. We also pray for the scientists who are working hard for making the vaccination, guide them and give them your wisdom. We also pray for all leaders and politicians around the globe, to give them wisdom to make good strategies and plans for the good of all. (pause) The Lord hears our prayers. 
 
We pray for the earth itself, polluted and despoiled, that the fragile balance of the natural order may be respected, it beauty and variety preserved, and greed and selfish gain be put aside, that harmony may be restored between ourselves and our environment. Help us to remember that you have appointed u as the steward of this earth. (pause) The Lord hears our prayers.
 
In this moment of silence we bring forth all the desires of our hearts……
 
We ask all this in Jesus precious name and pray as He taught us saying
 
Our Father….
 
Hymn:      What a friend we have in Jesus   
                  Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1855)
 

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
 
 
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
 
 
2 Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.    

Blessing
 
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on
you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give
you peace. Amen!
 

Sources and thanks
 
Summoned by the God who made us – Delores Dufner © 1991 Sisters of St. Benedict. Published by OCP Productions. performed by Gene Garcia, John Gardner, Kate Cuddy, Matt McKenzie arranged by Gary Daigle
All to Jesus I surrender – Judson W. Van De Venter (1896), performed by Robin Mark.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty – (Reginald Heber 1783 – 1826) Holy, Recorded by the Hymns Project/Parkway Worship Ministry
What a friend we have in Jesus – Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1855)
 
Organ Pieces
 
Ein Feste Burg (“A mighty fortress”) by Max Reger
(organ of Basilica Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy – 2016)
Songs of Praise Toccata by Robert Prizeman
(organ of St Andrew’s, Farnham – 2019)
 
Both pieces played by, and received with thanks from, Brian Cotterill: www.briancotterill.webs.com 
 
Thanks to: Christine and David Shimmin, Alison Jiggins, John Young, Marion Thomas, Anne Hewling, Christopher Whitehead, Ray Fraser, Carys and Lythan Nevard for reading various spoken parts of the service.
 
 

URC Daily Devotion

Saturday 9th January

St Mark 1: 21 – 34

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit,  and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’  And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.  That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Reflection

Mark’s Gospel plunges us straight into the active ministry of Jesus and today’s passage indicates the impression that Jesus had on those who witnessed and heard him. There was wonder at what happened and an enthusiastic expectation that further demonstrations of divine power would be revealed. They were exciting  and exhilarating times.

However, I want to focus on two aspects of this passage: places and people.

Nazareth and Capernaum are both noted here but neither is mentioned in the Old Testament, possibly because Nazareth was an unimportant backwater up in the hills and Capernaum was a trading and customs post which developed later.

We read elsewhere in Luke 4 of the rejection of Jesus in Nazareth and his response that “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.” In any case a hill town in Galilee would have been no place to base a nationwide ministry. Capernaum was so very different; it was a significant trading and customs post on the Via Maris, an important route from Egypt to Syria and beyond which would have attracted and served a diverse, multinational community, so giving Jesus access to a far wider audience than in his home town.

People: Jesus enabled the recovery of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. How much more we should like to know about the family life of the disciples and apostles. 1 Corinthians 9.5 implies that the apostles, the brothers of Jesus and Peter himself were accompanied by their wives in their work and witness. We should like to know how this fitted in with family and working life – but we can assume that it did. While over the centuries there have been those who have remained celibate to facilitate their ministry (and Paul may have been one such) it is clear that many early followers of Jesus were married.

Prayer

Loving God, we thank you for quiet places where we can find renewal and for busy places where we can witness to many people.

We thank you that some have freedom to serve you without family ties and we thank you that others have the support of family and friends as they Walk in the Way of our Lord.

We pray that, whatever our personal circumstances, we may always appreciate that we are never alone for you are always with us: Amen

URC Daily Devotion Friday 8th January 2021

Friday 8th January

St Mark 1: 14 – 20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;[k] repent, and believe in the good news.’  As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’  And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.  Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Reflection

Today we reflect on one of these very familiar passages that has perhaps influenced the route your life has taken.  It’s an appropriate text when decisions about a commitment to service are sought or after they have been made, as it creates the sense that a new chapter begins.   And it comes with many hymn accompaniments.  One that immediately comes to mind is Edith Agnew’s when Jesus saw the fishermen in boats upon the sea, he called to them, ‘come leave your nets and follow, follow me.’   Another is the popular hymn by John Bell and Graham Maule, ‘will you come and follow me if I but call your name?’  With familiarity and catchy hymn accompaniments, we can be easily distracted from the directness of the Gospel writer.  In all of the words spoken by Jesus there is a clarity and an impression of urgency.  There is no sense of ambiguity or a need to read between the lines in the hope that people will understand.  When it comes to the fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James and John; what they receive from Jesus is more of an instruction than an invitation.  There is no encouragement to follow or hope that they will follow.  It is much more direct, which results in an immediate response.

Sometimes we have to say it as it is.  We have to have the courage to use words that are clear and direct.  However, we have to make sure the time is right, choose them carefully and say them with integrity.  This is a passage about activity and action so what works best for you?  When you are asked to think about doing something or when you are asked to do something?  And what about the words we use as we address God in prayer?

Prayer

God of grace.
Give me the courage to use the words I want to say.
Show me how to say them.
And make them reflect all that you call me to be and do.
Amen

URC Daily Devotion Thursday 7th January 2021

Thursday 7th January 

St Mark 1: 1 – 13

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    “Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight”’,

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Reflection

I really like Mark’s gospel, it’s known by some as the Gospel of action – it doesn’t meander, its one jam-packed event after another, no waiting around, just “Pow! Pow! Pow!” and then on to the next event.
 
The beginning of the Gospel sets us up for how it is going to continue, and it is powerful – Mark starts with “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ”, it is just the start, and not just the start of the book, but the start of everything, the start of hope that has endured for over two millennia. 
 
In 13 short verses a lot happens, we get a declaration, a reference back to Hebrew scripture, we meet John the Baptist – who would win “I’m a Celebrity” without even trying, John prepares the way, we see Jesus, Jesus is baptised, the Spirit drives Jesus to the desert to be tempted for 40 days, and we break off as the angels are looking after him. 
 
I know that it might not carry the pomp and splendour of Matthew’s gospel or the creative imagery of John’s gospel, but it gives us everything that we need to know Jesus, to want Jesus in our lives, to become followers on the Jesus Way. We are inspired by this Jesus who shows us how to live. 
 
I encourage you to sit and read the whole of Mark’s gospel in one sitting, maybe do it on zoom with others, it will take 2-3 hours but could bring unexpected changes in your faith and mindset. It will at the very least inspire you and offer the light of hope in a world that continues to feel dark and uncertain. 
 
Let us embody the Hope of Mark’s gospel as we engage with the world.

Prayer

God of action, you sent Jesus to be our example of how we should live and move through the world.  Remind us of the Hope we have through Jesus when things feel impossible, and help us freely share it with those around us without judgement.  Amen.