URC Daily Devotion  28th July 2021

Wednesday 28th July
 

1 Kings 1:1-5, 11-18, 29-30 and 2:1-4, 10-11

King David was old and advanced in years; and although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm.  So his servants said to him, ‘Let a young virgin be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king, and be his attendant; let her lie in your bosom, so that my lord the king may be warm.’  So they searched for a beautiful girl throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king.  The girl was very beautiful. She became the king’s attendant and served him, but the king did not know her sexually. Now Adonijah son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, ‘I will be king’; he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him…

…Then Nathan said to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, ‘Have you not heard that Adonijah son of Haggith has become king and our lord David does not know it?  Now therefore come, let me give you advice, so that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon.  Go in at once to King David, and say to him, “Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne? Why then is Adonijah king?”  Then while you are still there speaking with the king, I will come in after you and confirm your words.’…

…So Bathsheba went to the king in his room. The king was very old; Abishag the Shunammite was attending the king.  Bathsheba bowed and did obeisance to the king, and the king said, ‘What do you wish?’  She said to him, ‘My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne.  But now suddenly Adonijah has become king, though you, my lord the king, do not know it…

…When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying:  ‘I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous,  and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.  Then the Lord will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: “If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.”…

…Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David.  The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned for seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem…

Reflection

This selection of verses tells of events leading up to David’s death and that Solomon succeeded him on the throne; but it wasn’t a smooth transition.  David’s frailty is emphasised: he accepts Abishag into his bed as a hot water bottle rather than as a new sexual partner!  Adonijah, David’s eldest surviving son, attempts to seize the throne before his father is dead.  Nathan and Bathsheba conspire together in support of Solomon and manipulate David into naming Solomon as the next king.  

After reassuring Solomon of God’s covenantal promises, David’s final words are less wholesome.  In 1 Kings 2:5-9 he instructs Solomon to put to death two people whom David had only spared to avoid blood guilt.  

In contrast the Chronicler’s David is in total control of everything.  He makes Solomon king, presents him with a detailed blueprint for the Temple and its systems – that spans 7 chapters! – blesses the people and dies. 

Few of us have any idea what our declining years will bring in terms of physical and mental faculties, or frailties, (which is a good thing) but the approach of death is something we all have to face, for ourselves and our loved ones.  Pretending it will never happen is unhelpful to everyone; and making a will and setting our affairs in order while we remain capable of doing so, is sensible whatever our circumstances are.  

We may aim to grow old gracefully and be no trouble to others; but we cannot guarantee that. The way the elderly are treated by society or family, however, is an issue where we all have an opportunity to make a positive difference.  We can enable someone nearing life’s end to retain their dignity; and love them with patience and compassion.  We can campaign for a just social care system that works!

Prayer 

Loving God we pray for people who struggle to cope with advancing years, their own or another’s.  We pray for any who suffer abuse at the hands of those with a responsibility to care.  We pray for all who provide long-term care and often lack the support they need to fulfil their role.

We pray that your love will meet the needs of those whom we fail.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 27th July 2021

Tuesday 27th July 2021

Chronicles 21:1-17, 28-22:1

Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel.  So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, ‘Go, number Israel, from Beer-sheba to Dan, and bring me a report, so that I may know their number.’  But Joab said, ‘May the Lord increase the number of his people a hundredfold! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?’  But the king’s word prevailed against Joab. So Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came back to Jerusalem.  Joab gave the total count of the people to David. In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and in Judah four hundred and seventy thousand who drew the sword. But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.

But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. 8 David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.’  The Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying,  ‘Go and say to David, “Thus says the Lord: Three things I offer you; choose one of them, so that I may do it to you.”’  So Gad came to David and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Take your choice:  either three years of famine; or three months of devastation by your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you; or three days of the sword of the Lord, pestilence on the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.” Now decide what answer I shall return to the one who sent me.’  Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress; let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but let me not fall into human hands.’

So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel; and seventy thousand persons fell in Israel. And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but when he was about to destroy it, the Lord took note and relented concerning the calamity; he said to the destroying angel, ‘Enough! Stay your hand.’ The angel of the Lord was then standing by the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite.  David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell on their faces.  And David said to God, ‘Was it not I who gave the command to count the people? It is I who have sinned and done very wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house; but do not let your people be plagued!’…

…At that time, when David saw that the Lord had answered him at the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he made his sacrifices there.  For the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt-offering were at that time in the high place at Gibeon;  but David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord.  1 Then David said, ‘Here shall be the house of the Lord God and here the altar of burnt-offering for Israel.’

Reflection

Today’s passage parallels the account of the census taken by David and its consequences in 2 Samuel 24; but there are significant differences.  In Samuel God, in anger against Israel, incites David to count the number in his army; whereas the Chronicler transfers this incitement to Satan (cf. Job 2:1-7; Zech.3:1f).  The Chronicler reports briefly Joab’s conduct of it and gives the results – which differ in Samuel – and indicates that the numbers in Levi and Benjamin were omitted (v.6).  The second section of our reading is only in Chronicles.

The Chronicler is rewriting material in Samuel/Kings after exile, when Israel as an independent nation and its monarchy no longer existed.  In this new era the rebuilt Jerusalem Temple and its priestly system is central to Israel’s identity and the locus for God’s ‘name’.  The divine will is made known and enacted through heavenly beings (‘angels’).

God’s promises to David of an unending dynasty of kings are recast in terms of a line of high priests mediating the covenant between God and people; and David is re-presented in a priestly guise as the instigator of this whole structure.

In our reading David’s realisation that the census was sinful, and his personal guilt, is given additional emphasis (vv.3, 16) and he explicitly intercedes on behalf of God’s people (v.17), a priestly function.  Because the tabernacle resides at Gibeon (Benjamin) and David fears to approach it (vv.29f), he purchases a Jebusite site (i.e. Jerusalem) where he builds an altar, offers sacrifices and calls on God to end the plague.   In 22:1 the Chronicler states that David decreed this precise location as the site for the high altar in the temple (to be built by Solomon).

Scripture offers more than one perspective on David to enrich our faith.  We can learn from both.

Prayer

Living God, we thank you for your word to us in scripture.  Forgive us when we fail to take seriously differing perspectives and reject one in favour of another that fits more easily with our preconceived ideas.  Help us to let go of anachronistic understandings of your promises of old; and to reinterpret them in ways that can inspire your people today and bring new life to your church. Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 26th July 2021

Monday 26th July
 

Psalm 18: 1-24, 46-50

To the leader. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
    so I shall be saved from my enemies.

The cords of death encompassed me;
    the torrents of perdition assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
    to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry to him reached his ears.

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
    the foundations also of the mountains trembled
    and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
    and devouring fire from his mouth;
    glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens, and came down;
    thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub, and flew;
    he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his covering around him,
    his canopy thick clouds dark with water.
Out of the brightness before him
    there broke through his clouds
    hailstones and coals of fire.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
    and the Most High uttered his voice.
And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them;
    he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen,
    and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
    at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.

He reached down from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of mighty waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
    and from those who hated me;
    for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity;
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
    he delivered me, because he delighted in me.

The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his ordinances were before me,
    and his statutes I did not put away from me.
I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from guilt.
Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
    according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight…

…The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock,
    and exalted be the God of my salvation,
the God who gave me vengeance
    and subdued peoples under me;
who delivered me from my enemies;
    indeed, you exalted me above my adversaries;
    you delivered me from the violent.

For this I will extol you, O Lord, among the nations,
    and sing praises to your name.
Great triumphs he gives to his king,
    and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
    to David and his descendants for ever.

Reflection

Although we are focusing on a Psalm today, we could equally have read 2 Samuel 22:1-25, 47-51 (and all the intervening verses in both texts), for both passages are virtually the same.  There are some small differences (e.g. Ps.18:1 isn’t in Samuel) and the Hebrew texts include subtle variations in spelling and syntax, plus the occasional changes in vocabulary that exist in the English translations.

The text hasn’t literally been ‘cut and pasted’ from one biblical book to the other; but both versions undoubtedly depend on a common source.  Some scholars suggest it originally derived from a Canaanite poem, part of an annual ritual celebrating Baal’s enthronement; but most identify it as a Royal Psalm of thanksgiving to God for use after a king’s victory over a foreign nation that has then been incorporated into Samuel.

Although the Psalm’s heading and Samuel 22:1 attribute it to David following his victory over the Philistines, its content lacks any precise details that warrant this.  The ‘enemies’ are unidentified, the metaphors used to describe God’s acts of deliverance don’t evoke the events of a human battle; and the reference to ‘temple’ (v.6) and the phrasing of the final verse suggest that it originated much later when the Judean monarchy was well established under David’s successors.

On this understanding the heading is early evidence for the history of interpretation of scripture during the development of the Bible.  Words that refer to deliverance from a very serious, but non-specific, threat have been put in a particular context by a compiler as David’s expression of thanks to God for his victory.

I find it hard to claim vv.20-24 for myself (and certainly not for David!) but this Psalm enables me to thank God for bringing me safely through very dark times.  How about you?

Prayer

God, you are a rock on which we can depend in every circumstance of life.  Thank you for holding us safe through the Covid pandemic and pour out your steadfast love on all who are still experiencing its devastating effect on their lives.

Give victory to the forces of goodness, justice, love, wherever they are at work in the world, that all your children may have fullness of life.  Through Christ our saviour, Amen.

URC Daily Devotions Sunday Worship for 25th July 2021 – The Revd. Simon Walkling

United Reformed Church Daily Devotions
Service for Sunday 25th July 2021
 
Photo Credit: Book of Love by Emmanuel Phaeton on Unsplash
 
The Rev’d Simon Walkling

 
Introduction
 
Welcome to worship. My name is Simon Walkling and I serve as the synod moderator for the national Synod of Wales. Croeso i Gymru. In our worship we are going to reflect on one of the prayers in the New Testament letters and receive it as a prayer for us, and as a prayer that God’s expansive and expanding love will work in us and through us.
 
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:      I Will Sing A Song of Love
                  John L Bell © GIA Publications 2004 unknown choir on Youtube
 
I will sing a song of love
to the One who first loved me,
and I’ll sing it as a child of God,
who is named, and known, and free.
For the love of God is good,
it is broad and deep and long;
and above all else that matters
God is worthy of my song.

 

1: And I will not sing alone,
but with earth and sky and sea,
for creation raised its voice
well in advance of me.
 
2: And I’ll sing with every soul,
every language, every race,
which proclaims this world is good
for God has blessed this place.
 
3: And I’ll sing for what is right
and against all that is wrong,
because God is never neutral
who inspires my song.

4: As I bring to God my joy,
so I’ll bring to God my pain
for there is no hurt which God
requires me to retain.
 
5: While my life on earth still runs,
may my song to God be given,
till through grace
I join the harmony
of all in heaven.
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Declaration of Forgiveness

 
Loving God,
we lift our hearts to you in praise and prayer,
thankful for the wonder of creation
and grateful for the good things in our lives.
As we open ourselves to the ways you love us,
we find the ways to love you in return.
We raise our eyes to look beyond our immediate circumstances
and to view the world with your compassion.
As we broaden our perspective, we see the needs beyond our own,
and hear your call to love others.
 
Living God,
we thank you for the promise of your Spirit
to live with us and within us,
connecting us with others following this pattern of worship:
even though we may be separated in time and space
your Spirit connects us as a gathering of faithful people.
So as well as giving worth to you and sensing your expansive love,
may we receive worth from you, and know that we are precious to you.
 
Forgiving God,
sometimes we shy away from growing into your great love.
We are aware of our thoughts and actions that are less than loving;
our comments and communications
that have unintended consequences;
our habitual patterns of reacting that disappoint us and leave us low.
We lament the state of our lives, but also the state of our world,
marred by inequality, violence and careless indifference.
We are sorry.
We long to know that we are forgiven
and experience renewal that will make a difference.
 
Listen and hear the good news:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in love.
He does not treat us according to our attitudes and behaviour,
for as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love for us;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our wrongdoing from us.
Jesus says, ‘You are forgiven,’ He also says, ‘Follow me.’
Thanks be to God. Amen
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
We turn to listen for God’s Word stirred by the Spirit within us
as we listen to words from the Bible.
God of revelation and inspiration,
as we listen, make the words alive for us today.
As we reflect, let the words take root in our hearts.
As we translate them for our situation,
may they be a foundation for our actions,
as we follow Jesus, your living Word. Amen
 
Reading:           Ephesians 3:14-21
 
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,  and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,  to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
 
Before we reflect on this reading together, we remember that Jesus love is so high you can’t get over it, so wide you can’t get round it. You may remember singing this at other times in other places, and even do some ‘chairobic’ stretches to recall those times and signify the height, breadth and depth of Jesus’ wonderful love.
 
Hymn       Jesus’ Love is Very Wonderful
H. W. Rattle © Scripture Union, unknown performers on Divine Hymns

 

Jesus’ love Is very wonderful,
Jesus’ love Is very wonderful,
Jesus’ love Is very wonderful,
Oh, Wonderful Love!
 
So high, you can’t get over It,
so low, you can’t get under it,
so wide, you can’t get around It,
oh, Wonderful Love!

 

Sermon
 
Thirty years ago, around this time of year, I was on holiday with friends, on a narrow boat. We were coming into Gloucester dock and were following the guidebook about where to tie up. I got on the roof of the boat with a rope but realised that I didn’t need to be up there after all, so walked along the roof to get down. The next thing I knew, I was on the deck, six foot below with a dislocated shoulder. I just hadn’t seen the edge of the roof and walked out into mid-air and fell to the deck. Part of the reason for telling you this is that when I arrived at Gloucester Royal Infirmary to get treatment, they asked me my religion. I said, ‘Christian, United Reformed Church.’ They said, ‘We don’t get that very often, I’ll have to look up the code to put on the form… here it is 3d.’ So, whilst I was sitting holding my arm in A&E I thought, ‘3d, I’ll take that: 3 dimensional. I have a three-dimensional faith, not a cartoon caricature of faith, or a flat faith, but a three-dimensional living, breathing, dynamic faith.’ And our reading today reminded me of this, as I thought about how to comprehend the breadth and length, the height and depth of God’s love revealed in Jesus, real for us through the Spirit: the three-dimensional expansive and expanding love of God.
 
The writer says, ‘I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’
 
Before we unpack the prayer a bit more, I want to point out that it is a prayer.  It’s a prayer from the writer to the churches, but I also want us to hear it as a prayer that comes down to us today. I find it helpful to see Ephesians as a circular letter to the churches that Paul planted, maybe from Paul or from those that followed on from him. Perhaps a circular letter, but one which resonated so much with the Christians in Ephesus that they kept it and cherished it and that made it worth including in the books of the Bible. So, I would like us to receive the prayer in our reading today as being for us, with the added blessing of the Ephesians and all those who have drawn on it since.  Many of the New Testament letters include prayers and I think it’s worth reading them as prayers for us now. Like this one, they often start small and
on a human scale, and expand to fill the universe, affirming God’s activity through space and time.
 
To hear this prayer for us, let’s consider the ideas within it. The reasons for it are in the paragraphs before our reading. The good news has been shared with Gentiles – including the Ephesians, including us. Everyone can have access to God through trusting God revealed in Jesus. The church is to make this wisdom known to rulers and authorities. So, we are prayed for.
 
‘I pray that … you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit.’ I guess we instinctively know what this means, but it gave me pause for thought. How we describe our inner being and its connection with our observable actions is coloured by spirituality and personality, psychology and biology. We can also tell from the descriptions in the New Testament that the Spirit has power to help people communicate their faith; to connect people in communion; to equip the church with gifts; and to grow spiritual fruit. So, I pray that we may strengthened in our inner being: to develop positive thought
patterns that give us confidence to live out our faith; to discern direction and renewed purpose for our shared life as a church; to draw on resilience to cope with the changes that we are going through; and to deepen our spirituality to let God influence our rhythm of action and reflection.
 
‘I pray that … Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.’ For me, ‘grounded’ has the sense of solid foundations. It reminds me of the temple imagery in Ephesians 2 and being a ‘temple of living stones’ in 1 Peter, and other places where the imagery about the church is of God building on foundations and the church being the people where God is encountered. For me, ‘rooted’ is a more organic image of growth.  It reminds me of the imagery of the Jesus being the vine and us the branches in John 15, where we read Jesus saying, ‘abide in my love’, ‘those who abide in
my love bear much fruit.’ There’s also an overlap with the description of the Spirit in John 14 who will abide with us and within us. Faith and love are both relationship words that make connections, and here I think Christ dwelling in our hearts is about a felt connection with God, but it is more than a feeling. It is about becoming so familiar with the stories of Jesus and the life of Jesus that they shape the way we relate to God and other people. It is about the patterns of prayer and reflection that keep a living relationship with God. It is about ‘seeking the mind of Christ’ in the corporate life of our church, which is more
than a label for our decision-making processes, but springs from Christ
dwelling in our hearts through faith because of love. So, I pray that Christ may dwell in our hearts, so that Walking the Way and living the life of Jesus today, continually grows from being a pattern we follow to a living relationship in which we share.
 
‘I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,’ Which brings us back to where we began to break open this prayer with the three-dimensional love of God. The wonderful love that’s so high you can’t get over it, so wide you can’t get round it. There is something here about the all-embracing, extravagant love of God, and the way
we see that in God coming as one of us, and Jesus emptying himself and giving himself for us, and the way we know that by the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is more than intellectual understanding of facts, or the kind of comprehension we did at school where we had to answer questions about a story. This is a deep appreciation of love vast as the ocean. The Greek word translated as ‘comprehend’ here has its roots in the verb ‘to catch’ which reminds me of my youth leader who took me through church membership classes who said, ‘love is caught, not taught.’ I think this is emphasised by this love surpassing knowledge, it is not just intellectual, it engages our emotions and our wills, it is not just something inside us, but overflows in our actions. It is not secret information for an inner circle of believers, but light and salt and
yeast that has an affect on the world around us. So, I pray that God’s
expansive and expanding love may work in us and through us.
 
Later, you might like to reflect on other ways our faith and expressions of love may be three-dimensional. How love could influence mind, body and spirit; thoughts, emotions and actions; our head, heart and hands; our relationship with God, others and how we talk to ourselves; or our church life, locally, with our synods, or as a denomination.
 
I said part of the reason that I shared the story about my trip to Gloucester Royal Infirmary was to introduce the 3d theme. The other part was the walking off the edge of the roof had lasting effects. Since then, my body hasn’t trusted my eyes to know where the edge of anything is, and I have a perfectly rational fear of heights. OK so the physical discomfort I get with heights when someone is on the edge of a precipice on the telly is not rational, but in the real world I am trying to get used to coping with heights by concentration and taking care.
 
My observation is that some of our churches are feeling similar. Lockdowns created a sudden drop, and the experience has had after-effects. Decline is giving a feeling that there may be a tipping point and we are in danger of falling over it. We aren’t clear about the best way of changing our mindset and behaviours as local churches or as a denomination to face the future.
 
But the prayer in Ephesians does not leave us with our present circumstances, or our limitations, or just our close circles of belonging. ‘I pray … that you may be filled with all the fullness of God’ and this power at work in us can do ‘more than all we can ask or imagine’ That’s awesome, in both the colloquial and literal sense of the word. I have the sense of the rollercoaster being ready to start: the safety bars are in place, so I know I can’t fall out, but I know that what’s coming will be a whole-body experience. So, I pray that whatever happens, we may be strengthened in our inner being, that Christ may dwell in our hearts,
that God’s expansive and expanding love may work in us and through us, that we may be filled with the fullness of God, and that in the church, in Christ, we will give the glory to God. Amen
 
Hymn:      Here is Love, Vast As The Ocean
William Rees sung by Nikki Rose

 

Dyma gariad fel y moroedd,
Tosturiaethau fel y lli:
Twysog Bywyd pur yn marw—
Marw i brynu’n bywyd ni.
Pwy all beidio â chofio amdano?
Pwy all beidio â thraethu’I glod?
Dyma gariad nad â’n angof
Tra fo nefoedd wen yn bod.
 
Ar Galfaria yr ymrwygodd
Holl ffynhonnau’r dyfnder mawr;
Torrodd holl argaeau’r nefoedd
Oedd yn gyfain hyd yn awr:
Gras â chariad megis dilyw
Yn ymdywallt ymâ ’nghyd,
A chyfiawnder pur â heddwch
Yn cusanu euog fyd.
 
Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Loving-kindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout heav’n’s
eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heav’n’s peace & perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

 

 
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.
 
Intercessions
 
God of nations and generations,
we come to align ourselves with your love,
to begin our response to what we have heard
by connecting with your concern for creation.
We remember how our circle of contacts
has been limited by regulations,
and we think of those who are closest to us,
who we speak with most often, who we see most regularly.
We picture their faces
and think of the ways our lives impact each other.
We pray that your love may be active between us.
We pray for people whose lives are shaped
by particular circumstances at this time:
Children leaving primary school.
Young people planning their next stage.
Patients coping with life limiting illness.
Families living with loss.
Those looking for a way to find mental wellbeing,
and those who need a holiday.

We pray that your love that makes all things new will be at work.
We think of the things that are shaping our national life at the moment. The things we hear about on the news, but also the cultural currents that are shaping and changing our shared values and sense of identity. We pray for those who witness to your love in corporations, institutions and the corridors of power.
 
We pray for our world, ravaged by COVID and climate change. A world where there is unequal impact of these effects and unequal access to the resources to cope with them. Where war displaces people, and the everyday violence of discrimination distorts lives. We think of issues and concerns and the people whose lives are affected. We let our circles of concern expand to include these people we may never know. We pray for your love to turn up as justice.
 
And we pray for the help that each of us needs in the coming week.
For the areas of our lives where we need inner strength, or challenge, or to imagine your world transformed by love.
 
So, God, let your love fill our lives, and overflow to change the world,
use us and your church to accomplish more than we can ask or imagine.

We pray for your coming Kingdom of justice and peace,
using the pattern of prayer which Jesus gave us:

Offertory
 
Offering is part of worship. It is an action which is a response of gratitude to what we have experienced and considered together. It is a symbol of giving our lives in gratitude to all that God has given us. It prepares us for all the ways we will put our faith into action in our daily living. Our gifts of money also keep the church going, supporting our ministry and mission, whatever the current context. So, let’s pray.
 
Giving God,
We give out of duty.
We give because we see the needs.
We give out of gratitude for your love beyond measure.
Accept our gifts and our lives that we offer to you
to be part of your work in the world. Amen
 
Hymn       O Love How Deep, How Broad, How High
from the Latin O Amor Quam Ecstaticus! attributed to Thomas à Kempis and translated by Benjamin Webb in 1851.  Sung by the choir of Sheffield Cathedral.

 

O love, how deep,
how broad, how high,
how passing thought and fantasy,
that God, the Son of God,
should take
our mortal form for mortals’ sake!
 
2: He sent no angel to our race
of higher or of lower place,
but wore the robe
of human frame,
and he himself to His world came.
 
3: For us baptized, for us He bore
His holy fast and hungered sore;
for us temptations sharp He knew;
for us the tempter overthrew.

4 For us to wicked hands betrayed,
scourged, mocked,
in crown of thorns arrayed,
for us he bore the cross’ death;
for us at length gave up his breath.
 
5 For us He rose from death again;
for us He went on high to reign;
for us He sent his Spirit here
to guide, to strengthen,
and to cheer.
 
6 All honour, laud and glory be,
O Jesu, virgin-born, to thee,
all glory, as is ever meet,
to Father and to Paraclete.  Amen.
 

Blessing
 
All that we have heard and hoped begins with God’s grace,
the free gift of love embodied in Jesus, and present through the Spirit.
Let’s pray God’s grace for each other:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all, evermore. 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 by Simon Walkling.
 
Opening Organ Voluntary: Ach Gott Von Himmel Sieh Darein (“O God from heaven see this”) by Johann Pachelbel (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020). Closing Voluntary: Toccata in Seven by John Rutter
(organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020) both played by Brian Cotterill.
 
Thanks to Claire Ette, John Marsh, Sarah Wilmott, George Faris, Andy Braunston and the choir of Barrhead URC for recording various spoken parts of the service.

URC Daily Devotion 24th July 2021

When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him.  When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord,  and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, ‘There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had very many flocks and herds;  but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meagre fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.  Now there came a traveller to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.’  Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die;  he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’

Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul;  I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.  Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.  Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.  Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.  For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.’  David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan said to David, ‘Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.  Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.’  Then Nathan went to his house.

The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill. David therefore pleaded with God for the child; David fasted, and went in and lay all night on the ground. The elders of his house stood beside him, urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead; for they said, ‘While the child was still alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us; how then can we tell him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.’  But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, he perceived that the child was dead; and David said to his servants, ‘Is the child dead?’ They said, ‘He is dead.’

Then David rose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He went into the house of the Lord, and worshipped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him and he ate.  Then his servants said to him, ‘What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you rose and ate food.’  He said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live.”  But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.’

Then David consoled his wife Bathsheba, and went to her, and lay with her; and she bore a son, and he named him Solomon. The Lord loved him.

Reflection

Bathsheba mourns her husband’s death, David takes her as another wife and their son is born; but God is displeased.  Nathan’s parable prompts David to recognize his sins.  His oracle drives home the truth that the wrongs David has inflicted on others also amount to a complete disregard of all that God has given him and done for him; and would have been willing to do for him in addition.  

David had left God out of the equation; but Nathan’s words make him realise that he is nothing by himself and totally dependent on God.  David’s sins will not be ignored by God.  The new-born child will die, not David; he will have to live with the consequences of the mistrust, deceit and family rivalry that his own behaviour set in motion.

The punishment decreed by Nathan foretells the chaotic events that will unfold within David’s family throughout the rest of his life as his sons mirror some of the worst aspects of David’s own behaviour as they vie with one another for supremacy in the hope of succeeding their father to the throne.

David’s immediate response to Nathan is contrition and he pleads with God that the child’s life be spared, fasting and prostrating himself; but God is resolute.  The story concludes with the birth of Solomon, Bathsheba’s second son to David; and this birth accords with God’s purposes and is blessed.
This whole story was probably written long after David’s reign to explain why the great king’s reign was so turbulent and to justify the succession of Solomon instead of any of his older brothers.  To us, however, the story reveals David remaining faithful to God and never turning to the gods of the nations.  He trusted that God’s covenant love would never end because God is faithful – and so can we.

Prayer (using Ps.51:1-2, 10-11)

Have mercy on me, O God, according to you steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Amen

URC Daily Devotion Friday 23rd July 2021

Friday 23rd July 2 Samuel 11:2-21

It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.  David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, ‘This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’  So David sent messengers to fetch her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house.  The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’

So David sent word to Joab, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’ And Joab sent Uriah to David.  When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going.  Then David said to Uriah, ‘Go down to your house, and wash your feet.’ Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king.  But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, ‘Uriah did not go down to his house’, David said to Uriah, ‘You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?’  Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.’  Then David said to Uriah, ‘Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.’ So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day,  David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.  In the letter he wrote, ‘Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.’  As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well.  Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting;  and he instructed the messenger, ‘When you have finished telling the king all the news about the fighting,  then, if the king’s anger rises, and if he says to you, “Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall?  Who killed Abimelech son of Jerubbaal?  Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?” then you shall say, “Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead too.”’

Reflection

Forget anything you’ve been told about David being seduced by a scheming, adulterous woman; this is a story about male lust, abuse of power and a whole catalogue of sins that can be levelled against David.  He breaks half the 10 commandments and violates other aspects of the Israelite law codes too. 

Bathsheba is engaging in ritual cleansing when David spies upon her from the elevated position of his palace and she has no power to resist the king’s sexual advance.  Her husband is part of Israel’s army and away fighting, (where David should have been as leader); and Uriah, a Hittite, isn’t bound by the covenant codes which David is supposed to exemplify.  Hearing that Bathsheba is pregnant, David summons Uriah home to make it appear that the child is Uriah’s; but Uriah complies with Israelite law in full and David’s plan fails.  When David tries to undermine his resolve, Uriah remains righteous, whereas David abuses his powers and makes Joab complicit in the killing of Uriah, along with the unnecessary deaths of other soldiers too.  This inevitability wasn’t considered when David devised his unholy scheme.

Every aspect of David’s behaviour is sinful down to his anger towards Joab for losing so many men in battle – and all in a futile attempt to hide what would now be described as his rape of another man’s wife.

Why does this story exist in the scriptures?  Because it portrays David, Israel’s greatest king, as a flawed human being, just like all of us.  It shows how easily one sinful act can lead to another; and how things can spiral out of control if we try to preserve our reputation and abuse our position.

The good news is: God remained faithful to David and achieved great things through him.  There is hope for me!

Prayer

Loving God we pray for women and men in our world who are victims of sinful behaviour directed against them, or caught up in the consequences of the abusive use of power by those in privileged positions.  Protect them from wrongful accusations of complicity and restore them to wholeness.
Help us discern truth when others try to keep it hidden; and save us from becoming complicit with perpetrators of wrongdoing.  Amen.

Pandemic Prayer

This Week’s Pandemic Prayer

Hi folks

this week’s pandemic prayer has been loaded up to the URC website and is suitable for both personal and public use.  You can read it here.

with every good wish

Andy

The Rev’d Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church

Sunday’s coming

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URC Daily Devotion 20th July 2021

Tuesday 20th July 2021
2 Samuel 6:1-5. 14-23

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.  David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim.  They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart  with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark.  David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals…

…David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.  So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord.  When David had finished offering the burnt-offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, ‘How the king of Israel honoured himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!’ David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord, that I have danced before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honour.’  And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

Reflection

The bringing of the ark of God to Jerusalem connects with the traditions that understand this as the place where God determined that God’s ‘name’ should dwell (Deut.12:5-7) and where the Temple would be built.  The story links back to 1 Samuel 4:1-7:2 which tells of the ark being captured by the Philistines and then returned to an Israelite city, although a different one to that named as its location in today’s passage.  

The ark symbolised God’s presence, power and protection; and the ceremony associated with its transfer portrays the polytheistic ideas of introducing a god to a new city.  Great celebrations are depicted and David is central to this joyous worship of God.  He is presented in a priestly role, conducting cultic sacrifices and his scant attire would do little to maintain his modesty (vv.14, 20) as he leapt about and danced.

Here we have a positive picture of David focused solely on worshipping God with his whole self, alongside the story of the ending of his relationship with Michal.  It is interesting to note the emphasis on her as the daughter of Saul (vv.16, 20, 23).  Her feisty reaction towards David mirrors her defiance of her father (1 Sam.19); but it is a reversal of her love (1 Sam.18:20) and loyalty towards David.  She is more concerned about royal status and public reputation than the worship of God (akin to the failings of her father?) and the final statement about her remaining childless marks the ultimate ending of the house of Saul.

I confess that exuberant worship is not my style; but God preserve me from allowing concerns for my own dignity to get in the way of joyful praise and thanksgiving offered to God.  However we worship God, may we do so sincerely, with our whole selves.

Prayer

Eternal God we rejoice that through Christ we know that you are ever present and not confined in artefacts or particular locations.  

Forgive us when we limit our worship of you to specific times and places as though these are the only occasions when we can meet with you.  Help us to be more spontaneous in praise and thanksgiving.  May every moment of our lives be an offering of worship to you.   Amen.

 

URC Daily Devotion Monday 19th July 2021

Monday 19th July 2021
2 Samuel 3:1-5 and 5:1-14

There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker. Sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam of Jezreel;  his second, Chileab, of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; the third, Absalom son of Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur;  the fourth, Adonijah son of Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah son of Abital;  and the sixth, Ithream, of David’s wife Eglah. These were born to David in Hebron…

…Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, ‘Look, we are your bone and flesh.  For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.’  So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.  David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for forty years.  At Hebron he reigned over Judah for seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah for thirty-three years.

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, ‘You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back’—thinking, ‘David cannot come in here.’  Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David.  David had said on that day, ‘Whoever wishes to strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.’ Therefore it is said, ‘The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.’  David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inwards.  And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.

 

King Hiram of Tyre sent messengers to David, along with cedar trees, and carpenters and masons who built David a house. David then perceived that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.

In Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, David took more concubines and wives; and more sons and daughters were born to David.  These are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon.

Reflection

Conflict between the remnant of Saul’s house and David’s supporters continues, with David gaining strength.  His family expands rapidly with six sons being born, each to a different wife!  Royal polygamy and marriages designed to cement political/tribal alliances were part of ancient custom.  We need to remember that the Bible emerged from a different age and culture to our own and its traditions have very little to contribute to modern debates about marriage.

Eventually the tribes of Israel realise that David is the one chosen by God to rule over all twelve of them and their elders make a covenant with David at Hebron, anointing him as their king as well as over Judah.  His reign will last another 33 years (40 in total); but he doesn’t rule over a truly united kingdom.  Israel and Judah may have the same king but each nation had different understandings of kingship and how succession would be determined.  Does this ring any bells with current issues in our United Kingdom?

It is so easy to overlook fundamental differences in the underlying presumptions of separate parties when we glimpse a possibility of reaching an agreement about anything; but such short-sightedness often ends in tears.

David’s capture of Jerusalem from the Jebusites, as the city  from where he would exercise his rule was very astute.  Not only was it physically a good place to defend (the implication on v.6) but its prior independence from both Israel’s and Judah’s territories minimised any accusations that he was favouring one tribal group over the other.

The construction of his palace pre-figures the source of materials and craftsmen that will be used for the temple by Solomon (1 Kgs 5-6); but here it illustrates another political alliance.  Verses 13-15 summarise how David’s family will increase as this complex story unfolds.

Prayer

Sovereign God we live in complex times and it is good to be reminded that throughout the ages people have experienced similar situations and discovered that your faithfulness never falters.  

We pray for children living in multiple homes that they may feel secure and loved.  We pray for political leaders facing challenging issues about national and international relationships on our behalf.  Grant them wisdom.  

Sustain us all through your faithful love.  Amen.