URC Daily Devotion 16th April 2021

Friday 16th April

Exodus 20: 12 

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Reflection

A number of years ago I heard the story of a family who had to arrange for the burial of their abusive father. Understandably, they struggled to find words for the gravestone which could be described as honourable. 

How do we show honour to our parents in the modern era? Many of us do not live in honour cultures and, instead, might subscribe to the notion that honour and respect have to be earnt. Coming from a broken family myself, I would often describe today’s scripture as aspirational rather than the reality.

Or maybe we should regard this as a lost story. Once upon a time, for many, this was (and still is)  the reality. Parents can be honoured. But we are all too aware of the consequences of broken parental relationships, and families put under pressure through poverty, social policy and other such circumstances. Instead, this could be a story which we seek to re-discover and re-invest in. Hopefully, when family life is well, we, the children of those families are well too.

Prayer

Holy Trinity,  in whom the most honourable expression of parenthood and family is expressed,
We offer thanksgiving in unease and discomfort.
We thank you for those families which encompass the sentiment of todays’ reading.
We mourn with those families which have experienced distress;
We pray for healing, forgiveness where possible, and protection where necessary.
In all circumstances, may Your grace come alongside us,
Helping us to rediscover the lost story of the family.
Amen

URC Daily Devotion 15th April 2021

Thursday 15th April

Exodus 20: 12 

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Reflection

The 10 Commandments were offered to people in the Wilderness between escape from Egypt and being settled in the Promised Land. This sets the story in the Ancient Near East somewhere around 1200 BCE. The infrastructure of society at that time was based around tribal family. If people found themselves in need, it was to the broad tribal family they turned. It was the tribal family structure which protected the vulnerable and maintained order. It was the strength of the tribal family as a whole which enabled survival into “long days”. To honour the structure was to respect it, uphold it and enable everyone to survive. To honour the structure was to know where you came from and where you belonged. Of course, this will have worked well for some and less well so for others, and evolved and changed over time.

In UK society today, we often think of our mother and father in terms of the nuclear family and in relation to this commandment, either dismiss it or angst over it. If we understand honouring our parents to mean submitting to behaviors and perceptions which are destructive or diminishing of human worth, I believe we are entirely missing the purpose of this commandment which is about supporting a society which protects.

How does it affect us to think of honouring our mother and father not just as 2 individuals but representing the wider, longer and diverse heritages, cultures and communities to which we belong? What could it mean for our world if we respected our diverse heritage and through it sought to build communities in which everyone belonged and was protected? I believe doing this may draw us in the direction of why this commandment was given to people wandering in the wilderness nearly 3000 years ago.

Prayer

Holy One, Jesus showed us that each life is precious, valuable and interconnected.
May remembering our heritage deepen our humanity and lead us to build your Realm on earth through relationships which respect, include and protect all. In the name of Jesus.
Amen

URC Daily Devotion 14th April 2021 The Rev’d William Young

Wednesday 14th April

Exodus 20: 8-11

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  For six days you shall labour and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Reflection

This is the first of three major moments in the Torah where the law to keep Sabbath is asserted, and each time there is a different meaning attached to its importance. In Exodus, keeping Sabbath is a reminder of creation: God rested after the creation of the universe, likewise for us. In Deuteronomy, their liberation from Egyptian slavery is referenced. Between the two stands the detailed legal account in Leviticus 23, with the explanation that it is to be a holy occasion and a sign for the generations after them.
 
The late Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explained that these three moments explain the three major elements of religion: creation (God’s relationship to the world), revelation (God’s relationship to us), and redemption (the union of God’s will and ours).
 
So, keeping Sabbath is not supplementary. Yet, nearly two millennia later, Jesus places his own interpretation of Sabbath for a generation for which Sabbath keeping has lost meaning: Sabbath is made for us, we are not made for the Sabbath. Meaning, far from it being an ‘obligation’ or imposition, it is supposed to be a source of liberation, connection and transformation.
 
We hardly consider Sabbath in this way. We are caught up in what Walter Breuggemann calls “a culture of restlessness.” Before the pandemic, weekly worship was side-lined by football matches and sleeping in on Sunday. These days, in streaming worship, I must remind the virtual congregation of rules of etiquette; like keeping the audio on mute, etc. Surprisingly, it is more difficult for us to offer space to God in our own homes than it is in a sanctuary. We seek experiences of worship that allows us to stay just the way we are, and at our peril, that maintains predictability even as the world around us is changing.
 
To ‘keep Sabbath’ is to be mindful of the sacredness of time, that time itself belongs to God and is for our benefit.
 
Prayer/ Meditation
 
Neither a vacation or a heavy load;
Time with You is a joy and a treasure.
May the busyness and burden of life
Never separate us from the holiness of rest
and the wholeness of Divine kinship.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 13th April 2021

Tuesday 13th April

Exodus 20: 8-11

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  For six days you shall labour and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Reflection

Sometimes the most urgent and vital thing you can do is take a complete rest. Hard for some of us though.  Yet a regular time of rest is there in the opening chapters in Genesis.  After working for six ‘days’, God establishes a pattern of resting on the 7th building a rhythm into the DNA of creation.
 
All Ancient Near Eastern cultures held customs of keeping rest days.  But for the Israelites, sabbath rest took on special meaning not because of its regularity or various prohibitions, but in the fact that the day is made holy because of its relationship to God: God stopped, then he was able to make a covenant with his people.
 
In Exodus, God calls his people to observe not just remember the sabbath: a day for everyone and not just for one day a week: every seven years, land is rested … debts are forgiven… slaves go free…Sabbath, then, is about an entire way of life.  If you don’t learn how to rest well, you will never learn how to work well (and vice versa). Work and rest (not sleep) live in symbiotic relationship. 
 
Sabbath is not a day off to do housework or go to Ikea. Sabbath (shabbat) means ‘stop’, ‘cease’, ‘be complete’. It needs to be held alongside another word for rest (nuakh), a time to be restfully present in God’s presence. God calls us back into this rhythm of grace from the busyness of our digital lives, to reflect on the work of the last six days, and just enjoy. Jews have been practising Sabbath for millenia.  They talk about ‘menuha’ (another word for ‘rest’) often translated as happiness or delight. As you keep the Sabbath, delight in the life you have in partnership with God, delight in the world around you, and delight in God himself.  That is what the Sabbath is for. Such is the beauty of rest.
 
Prayer/Meditation
 
Be still and know that I am God…
 
Be still and know…
 
Be still…
 
Be…
 
Amen

URC Daily Devotion 12th April 2021

Monday 12th April

Exodus 20: 8-11

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  For six days you shall labour and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Reflection

In the Wilderness where this story is set, the Hebrew People were cut off from many of the habits, routines and opportunities which had shaped them in Egypt. The 10 Commandments were a covenant to forge a renewed society, a society unlike Egypt, which was built of healthy relationships between God and the Hebrew People, the People with each other, and the People with the world at large.

The Sabbath commandment in Exodus, implies a rhythm built into the very fabric of creation which includes a pattern to set aside time to focus on God. While I understand that every moment of life is an opportunity to encounter holiness, this commandment suggests a fundamental human need (like our need for exercise or healthy food) to make time to keep our perception of holiness ever growing and open. Moving with the Sabbath Rhythm enables us to be continually refreshed in maintaining those healthy relationships with the Holy One, each other, the world at large, and perhaps even with ourselves. For many people that fundamental need to keep our perception ever growing and open, includes being with others for worship, growth and support.

The period of the Covid 19 Pandemic has been a wilderness space where we have been cut off from habits, routines and opportunities which have shaped our lives and society. For many, setting aside time to come together to focus on God has been challenging and we have had to forge new habits, routines and opportunities which previously were laid out for us. Having now lived with these ever-adapting restrictions for over a year, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on the new patterns we have developed and to notice what in these new habits has been effective and what less so? Which of our new routines might we want to continue into a post Pandemic world? How have these new opportunities to focus on God refreshed us and equipped us to develop and sustain healthy relationships with God, each other, the world and ourselves? How has this Pandemic wilderness revealed to us new ways of moving with the Sabbath Rhythm to keep our perception ever growing and open to the God who holds us in a Covenant of love today?

Prayer

Holy One, Thank you for your Covenant of love which has held us through times of sorrow and joy.
Thank you for your Sabbath Rhythm beckoning us deeper into wholeness.
Grant us the wisdom and energy to seek regular refreshment, so that our relationships with you, with others, with ourselves and with the earth, may offer a taste of your Realm.

Amen

URC Daily Devotion 11th April 2021

Sunday 11th April

Psalm 38
1 Rebuke me not in anger, Lord:
restrain your wrath, I pray;
grant that your child be yet restored,
not judged and cast away.
I feel your arrows deep within,
I sink beneath your hand
and underneath a weight of sin
too great for me to stand.

2 For sinful folly now I pay:
I’m humbled to the ground,
as I go mourning all the day
and no relief is found.
I feel my body racked with pain,
diseased in every part,
so crushed that I cannot contain
the groanings of my heart.

3 My longings, Lord, to you are known,
you see my every tear;
my strength, my sight are almost gone,
my friends will not come near.
And others lay their deadly snares,
all day they plot and lie;
like one who neither speaks nor hears,
I offer no reply.

4 In you, O Lord, my hope I place:
Lord, answer when I call;
let those not jeer at my distress,
who long to see me fall.
My foothold is about to go,
my torment will not cease;
and my iniquity I know:
my sin permits no peace.

5 My foes are many and are strong,
their hatred has no cause;
my kindness they repay with wrong,
although I keep your laws.
O Lord, be with me to the last,
remain for ever near;
come to my rescue, come with haste:
O Lord, my Saviour, hear!

David G Preston (born 1939) from Psalm 38
This works well to Kingsfold which you can hear here
https://hymnary.org/media/fetch/199009

Reflection
The writer is recalling a time that they felt completely isolated, both from God and from other people. There is no assurance of, or thanksgiving for, healing. It doesn’t seem to fit in with a religious ceremony. It is a lament, a Psalm with an “alphabetic” structure (has the same number of verses as the number of letters in the alphabet) and was probably used for personal devotion.

Whilst I can understand the feelings that gave rise to the words, I cannot take them literally:

Holy God, I beg for mercy. I feel completely alone. I try to centre myself on you and all I sense is absence, and that leaves my heart and spirit broken. Feeling separated from you is like an arrow in my side, my strength has gone, and dark clouds fill my horizon.

Why? What have I done for this to be my fate? Reveal to me what I should do! Help me!

My circle of family, friends and neighbours, all those closest to me, step back lest they fall into the pit I am in. They fear saying the wrong thing, making matters worse, or risking the balance of their own fragile lives.

I imagine all kinds of traps being set for me as I sink deeper. I can hear no consolation. I can speak no words of kindness. O God I need your presence, and to hear your Word.

Why would anyone relish my discomfort? I feel the abyss before me. My sorrow is overwhelming. I believe I am worthless. Forgive me!

I think that everyone is against me. I see anger and hostility all around me. I try my best, but no-one considers me worth their effort.

Holy God, have mercy. Draw close to me. Hurry to my side. Save me, O God.

Prayer
Thank God for the NHS! Thank God for our forebears and peers who by trial and error, theory and experiment, modelling and recommendation, revealed, explored, and affected our health, well-being, and lives. Even though they at times faced ridicule, persecution or were overlooked, they continued in their endeavours trusting that Creation was comprehendible, consistent, and creative. Thank God for the invitation to be co-creators, custodians, and observers of Creation. Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 10th April 2021

Saturday 10th April

Can we take oaths in God’s name then?

Exodus 20: 7

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Reflection

In January President Biden and Vice-President Harris took oaths of office ending “so help me God”. Both also rested a hand on chosen Bibles to underscore the solemnity of their oaths. This is a tradition, despite the strict separation of State and Church in the USA.

In Exodus the people were warned against wrongful use of God’s name, not against using God’s name at all. So when could they call on God’s name and God’s power, for the name of God is powerful? Disclosed to Moses in Exodus 3.13-20 as “I AM” or alternatively interpreted as “I will be what I will be” the name shows that God’s freedom could not be constrained. God chooses to be present in the name and trusts fallible human beings to use it rightly. God’s name was to be used by Israel alone, for blessings, solemn undertakings and, sometimes, overcoming enemies. Improper use would be in lying, bearing false witness, or trying to bind God to human purposes. Breaking the duties of a promise taken under oath invoked divine punishment. “So help me God – you can punish me if I fail.” How many violent intentions have been carried out to their conclusion because of a promise made in fear of God?

The early Church was clear on the point of not using God’s name for oaths. Matthew 5. 33-37 and James 5.12 state “let your ‘Yes’ be yes and your ‘No’ be no”: integrity as a Christian and as a human being was enough, without bringing God overtly into the matter. The divine was already present in a life lived in reliance on God.

So when encountering systems of justice Christians should perhaps choose to “solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm” the truth of their testimony rather than swearing by Almighty God.

Prayer
God who is and will be,
source of truth,
expression of complete integrity,
give us the courage to face whatever must be endured
relying on you
so that your name will be known
whether we use it or not.

Amen

URC Daily Devotion 9th April 2021

Friday 9th April

Not misusing God’s name?

Exodus 20: 7
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Reflection

Ministering as a Pioneer, working mainly with young adults in cafes and bars in South Manchester I hear the words ‘Jesus Christ’ quite regularly … often followed by an apology! 

Exclaiming the name of Jesus as an expression of shock or surprise, disappointment or frustration, anger or ecstasy is a common thing in our society, and although I doubt any of those who apologise for the language used when in the company of a minister are directly concerned about Exodus Chapter 20 verse 7, it is from this verse where the idea of ‘using the Lord’s name in vain’ arises. 

Amongst those reading our Daily Devotions I suspect feelings will be diverse as to whether hearing the name of Jesus used in this way is offensive, uncomfortable, or of little concern. Whatever your personal feelings, I would suggest that in our engagement with others perhaps different from ourselves it is always better to listen carefully to what is being expressed, rather than the language used to express it.
 
All that said, to reduce this verse to concerns about swearing is to lose sight of much more troublesome behaviours which this commandment is much more likely to be warning us against, regarding swearing an oath, rather than swearing as bad language.
 
Reformed voices of the past have interpreted this verse to be a warning against several different ways of making commitments in God’s name, but failing to fulfil them, knowingly or not.

Whether we ourselves would ‘swear to God’ as if to guarantee our claims, perhaps this verse can serve as a reminder to all of us to avoid making promises to God and others with little sincerity; of making promises in haste with little regard for the difficulty of the task; of protesting our innocence when we know ourselves to be guilty, or swearing what we say is true, when we know it to be false.  

Prayer

God, whose name is holy
and can inspire the best in us,
we acknowledge the ways in which we can hide our frailty behind your name. 
When we speak the name of God, 
May it be to share our wonder of you and your love for us
in a world in little need of false promises, 
but yearning to know what is good and true. 

Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 8th April 2021

Thursday 8th April

Exodus 20: 7

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Reflection

What is your favourite name or title for the Triune God and why? Usually, names say something about who and how people are. There are about 80 different names for God in the Bible, mostly in the Old Testament. Each name depicts a specific attribute and essence of God. God appears to be more like a verb than a noun. God’s names often refer to what God has done and what God can do. So, God’s names can be strongly connected to the times, situations and settings, when they are used.

The prime name of God is YHWH, an expression of the eternal and unutterable character of God. Today, many people use God’s name in situations of shock, surprise and overwhelming:  somewhat calling God into their situation in a consumerist and irreverent manner.  Other people use God to make promises, many of which are not only lazy and cunning but also alien to God’s will. The biggest issue to me is when one uses God’s name for personal gain or fame. God’s name has been misused and misappropriated since the creation. In Acts 19.13, the seven sons of a Jewish High priest named Sceva, tried to use Jesus’ name to cast out evil spirits, like Paul did. Yet, they end up being mauled by those spirits. They did not know that Paul used Jesus’ powerful name out of an active relationship, intimacy, submission, reverence and cooperation.

More than just a noun, God’s name may be used like an incarnate verb in praise, selfless-service, prayer, petition and thanksgiving. We could do so, expecting God’s attributes to be embodied around us, for the expression and growth of the Kingdom. ‘God’ is like a relational, powerful and incarnate verb. If ever used, then to God alone be the glory.

Prayer

El Shaddai, You are almighty and sovereign
Adonai, at Your name every knee bow in heaven and on earth.
Elohim, thank you for making us wonderfully in Your image
El Roi, thank you for saving us
Jehovah Jireh, we lay our needs and longings at Your feet
Jehovah Rohi, be our shepherd in this pandemic wilderness
Jehovah Shalom, grant us peace, passing all understanding
Emmanuel, be in our waking, working and resting. 
Amen

URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 7th April 2021

Wednesday 7th April   Worship God alone

Exodus 20: 1 – 6

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;  you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Reflection

The last bit of this reading really doesn’t seem fair. Surely God doesn’t punish children for the sins of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents? As Christians surely we don’t believe in that kind of damning inherited karma?

Researching family history is a very popular occupation. It’s amazing just how far back a researcher can go using old censuses, newspapers, and other written material easily accessed online. And there’s the fascination of programmes like ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ Celebrities discover ancestors of varying types and react, some with tears, others with pride….

We each have a backstory and some of us will have a backstory of folk who were more sinners than saints, folk who may indeed have rejected God. But that does not force us to reject God in our own turn. Their influence down the ages might have been less than helpful, a punishment in itself, but we each have our choice of the way we will take – and as a result, the influence our lives and choices will have on the generations that come after us.

I cling to a belief in a God of new beginnings, the one who not only has an ever-open door but comes running out to embrace us at the first sight of a step back towards him. 

Prayer

Open our eyes to our responsibilities to the generations that will follow us – both physically in terms of our responsibility for the environment we hand on to them, but also spiritually, that they might enjoy the loving relationship with God that he so desires, through his son, Jesus Christ. Amen.