URC Daily Devotion Wednesday October 20, 2021

Wednesday October 20, 2021
 

Proverbs  9: 7 – 12

Whoever corrects a scoffer wins abuse;
    whoever rebukes the wicked gets hurt.
A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you;
    the wise, when rebuked, will love you.
Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still;
    teach the righteous and they will gain in learning.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
For by me your days will be multiplied,
    and years will be added to your life.
If you are wise, you are wise for yourself;
    if you scoff, you alone will bear it.

Reflection

Correcting someone; criticising their behaviour when they are being unpleasant, unreasonable and even boorish can be perilous and often counter-productive.  It can result in a defensive and even aggressive response from the person being taken to task. When someone reacts negatively and even violently to such criticism it may mean that it has struck a nerve, that deep down its accuracy has been recognised. 

In this Proverbs passage we are exhorted to beware of correcting a “scoffer”. A scoffer is one who jeers and treats something with contempt. In this context it is someone who is treating God’s word or wisdom in this way.  It is contrasted with “the wise” who welcome critique, who accept that fear (or respect) of the Lord is the bedrock of true knowledge, a place where you are open to correction and guidance, providing fertile conditions for growth. 

Perhaps one of the great exemplars in the Old Testament of such wisdom is that of David. Lauded by subsequent generations as the king of the Golden Age, David actually did some pretty disreputable things!  This included sending Uriah into the front line of battle where he would be killed, leaving David free to move in on Uriah’s wife.  But David is so beloved because when confronted with his awful behaviour by the prophet Nathan he didn’t scoff and deny but recognised the enormity of his crime with full contrition. 

Although this Proverbs passage appears to place the wise & God-fearing and the scoffers & wicked in opposing camps, I wonder if the powerful message for each of us is that in our lives we are like David – flawed beings, a complex mixture of all these behaviours – at times reactive and defensive when faced with our failings; and at other times humbly accepting and wisely repentant.  As walkers of the Way we are reliant on God’s grace to keep us on track. 

Prayer

God, you see 
what lies beneath and within 
each of our hearts. 
When we would want to 
hide, deny and cover up,
your shining light 
reveals, burnishes and redeems.
Teach us to be God-fearing
and to grow in wisdom.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Amen.
 

URC Daily Devotion 19th October 2021

Proverbs 8: 22 – 36

The Lord created me [Wisdom] at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,[d]
    or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
    then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the human race.

‘And now, my children, listen to me:
    happy are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
    and do not neglect it.
Happy is the one who listens to me,
    watching daily at my gates,
    waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
    and obtains favour from the Lord;
but those who miss me injure themselves;
    all who hate me love death.’

Reflection

I wonder if the writer of today’s passage had been reading the ancient creation story of Genesis 1. There are many parallels between the two passages: establishing the heavens, dividing water and land, filling the earth, delighting in its inhabitants.

This ancient Hebrew character of personified Wisdom carries through into the New Testament and becomes Sophia when translated into Greek. It’s where we get our word ‘philosophy’ – the love of wisdom.

I wonder also if John was musing on this passage in Proverbs when he wrote the opening of his gospel. There are many parallels there too: God’s acting word of creation, with God in the beginning, through whom all was made.

Back in 538, the Emperor Justinian dedicated a church to Holy Wisdom who, in Orthodox theology, is identified with the Logos (Word) of John 1 and incarnated as Jesus Christ. We know this church as Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya in Istanbul.

So what is this wisdom?

Perhaps easier to say what it is not. We’re not talking head-knowledge here. Wisdom is more about application. I’m sure you’ve heard that knowledge is being aware that tomatoes are technically fruit. Wisdom is not putting them in the fruit basket.

Paul names Christ as the power and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). In the apparent foolishness of his death, Christ outstripped the much valued ‘wisdom’ of classical Greeks. True wisdom here is trusting that God knows what he’s doing, even when we cannot see how.

Matthew records Jesus saying that “Wisdom is vindicated by her children” or, as The Message puts it, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” (Matt 11:19) In other words, wisdom is about putting your faith into action, walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

What is wisdom for you today?

Prayer

Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, Eternal Word,
May we be those who listen to you,
    who watch daily at your gates,
      who wait beside your doors.
May we be those who find you,
  and in finding you, find life
      and favour from our Lord.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 18th October 2021

Proverbs 8:  1 – 13

Does not wisdom call,
    and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
    at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
    at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
‘To you, O people, I call,
    and my cry is to all that live.
 O simple ones, learn prudence;
    acquire intelligence, you who lack it.
Hear, for I will speak noble things,
    and from my lips will come what is right;
 for my mouth will utter truth;
    wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
All the words of my mouth are righteous;
    there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
They are all straight to one who understands
    and right to those who find knowledge.
 Take my instruction instead of silver,
    and knowledge rather than choice gold;
for wisdom is better than jewels,
    and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.
 I, wisdom, live with prudence,
    and I attain knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.

Reflection

Once again “Lady Wisdom” calls and commands our attention. Here, as in chapter 1:20-21 (last Tuesday’s Devotion), she’s chosen to take her stand right in the prominent places where people are most likely to pass or pause. There’s nothing shrouded or secretive about what’s on offer: this is “Speaker’s Corner” Wisdom, and she’s brought her megaphone.

Do prudence and good judgment always seem quite so readily available and easy to discern? If we were to pay heed to all the pundits dispensing free advice, we’d soon find ourselves being pulled in entirely opposite directions!  Meanwhile within the wider Biblical collection of “Wisdom Literature” there’s a tension between passages like today’s, and others which speak of the hiddenness and inaccessibility of Wisdom (e.g. Job chapter 28).

Nevertheless, there are two particular circumstances cited here in which I find it especially helpful to remember that God’s Wisdom is close-at-hand and calling to us.

The first is the “crossroads”. All of us face moments when our lives could go in radically different directions, depending upon what choice we make. The enormity of it might overwhelm and leave us feeling isolated; at such times we need to pray, and listen for Wisdom’s prompting!

And the second circumstance is the “gate” or doorway – because this affirms that it’s not just about ourselves, it’s about our public life. In the Ancient Near East the city gate became a place where deals were struck and justice was administered. Because doors and gates are places for deciding and enforcing who’s “in” and who’s “out”.

Perhaps, then, this is a word for churches which profess to be welcoming but still bristle if newcomers challenge the accepted order. Perhaps it’s a word for those who monitor our borders, navigating their way through the politics of dinghies and deportations. Perhaps it’s a word for communities and nations grappling with hard questions about social boundaries and belonging.

Perhaps it’s a word for all of us. Pray, and listen for Wisdom’s prompting!

Prayer

Sovereign God:
at the crossroads of our lives,
and at the places where doors may open or be slammed shut,
your Wisdom calls to us.
Therefore we pray:
give us discernment to recognise your Spirit’s prompting;
give us courage to walk the way of Jesus;
give us grace to welcome others as you have welcomed us.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 17th October 2021

Hear us, O Lord, as 
we voice our laments;
help the oppressed and
be their sure defense;
Guard them from plots of
scheming enemies;
be a strong refuge for all refugees.

Heal those who have been
pierced by wicked lies;
shield them from evil
lurking in disguise,
And from oppressors
thinking “No one sees.
”be a strong refuge for all refugees.

Undo the plans that
wicked one devise;
let all their scheming
bring their own demise;
Then with great fear
all peoples will agree:
God is a refuge for all refugees.

David Landegent © 2010
You can hear the tune suggested, Langran, here
https://bit.ly/3xh8AOX

Reflection

Refugees are those in need of refuge.  This paraphrase of the ancient Psalm has been turned into a prayer for refugees, with powerful contemporary resonances for us.  The reasons people flee from their own country and seek safety elsewhere are many. Economic, political, and religious factors along with war, drought and famine compound peoples’ distress.  When vulnerable people are deceived into handing over large sums of money to criminal gangs for transport to safety, their situation becomes desperate.  The refugee’s plight today presents a huge practical and moral challenge for governments, NGOs and organised religion. 

The Psalmist gives voice to those who are oppressed by ‘plots of scheming enemies’.  For refugees this can include criminals who exploit them, those who try to evade moral responsibility for the outcomes of war, failures to live up to promises of assistance, and the reduction of aid programmes by the rich, well developed countries. This lament is poured out to God, in the expectation that in their defence  plots which harm will be exposed and nullified. 

The intense stress of uprooting has a damaging effect, and the Psalmist is aware of the need of oppressed people for healing; for ‘pierced by wicked lies’ and enemies.  who think that ‘no one sees’, they need shielding. We, in these pandemic days, have learned about the need for shielding vulnerable people for their survival.

The final verse reminds me of the advice of Proverbs 22 ‘Do not rob the poor because they are poor… for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them’. That’s the plea of the Psalmist here, that God ensures that justice prevails. Those who scheme profit at the expense of the refugee will be hoist with their own petard. Thus all shall understand God as the refugee’s protector.

Prayer

Gracious God
when we are tempted to do nothing
in the face of crisis after crisis
in the lives of refugee people, 
remind us that Jesus himself 
became a refugee from oppression.
Let us hear your call to help refugees
in ways available to us, campaigning, 
giving money, providing shelter 
for our brothers and sisters
made in your image. Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 16th October 2021

Saturday October 16, 2021
 

Proverbs 6: 16 – 19

There are six things that the Lord hates,
    seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
    and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
    feet that hurry to run to evil,
 a lying witness who testifies falsely,
    and one who sows discord in a family.

Reflection
We may be tempted to think that this passage only applies to criminals.  However, it sounds like an average day on social media to me.

“My opinion matters the most.” 
“I’m going to share this article without fact checking it or checking the source.” 
“People may die from misinformation shared, but that is not my problem.” 
“I’m going to really upset this person with my version of facts.” 
“I’m going to be quick to respond, because they need to know how wrong they are.” 
“Truth is irrelevant anyway.” 
“We are already divided.” 

shrug emoji – Welcome to UserVoice!

Not just for criminals, these words serve as a warning to you and me too.  Typed words can lead to as many deaths as a weapon.  Don’t believe me?  In a recent White House Press Conference (July 2021), people were warned about misinformation on the internet being initiated by just a handful of people and then subsequently “shared” many times – leading to thousands not taking up the vaccine in the States and to many more hospitalisations and deaths.
So those articles and memes we share matter.  
 

What if…
          we humbled ourselves and considered what others think or have to say?
          we fact checked things and carefully read articles before “liking” or         sharing?
          we work to help stop the spread of false information(and gossip)?
          we had conversations, rather than fought to “win” an argument?
          we waited 24 hours before responding to something?
          we celebrated truth?
          we acknowledged our divisions and sought to build bridges?
          we applied this not just to social media but to church, family and community?
 
Prayer
God, we seek your wisdom.  In this quiet space, speak to us your truth.  Guide our interactions with others.  May they be grace-filled conversations that celebrate truth.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Thursday October 14, 2021

Thursday October 14, 2021 
 

Proverbs 3: 13 – 18

Happy are those who find wisdom,
    and those who get understanding,
for her income is better than silver,
    and her revenue better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
    and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honour.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
    and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
    those who hold her fast are called happy.

Reflection

In these Covid times there has been a big debate about the need to get the economy going again, and how, for some, this is the biggest priority. Money becomes the main driving force, and is put above other aspects which lead to life in all its fullness. Wisdom can seem to be intangible, and is, therefore, put to one side when considering the practical aspects with regard to daily living.
Today’s passage contrasts people’s desire for the physical things of silver and gold and jewels, with the benefits gained by discovering wisdom.
Wisdom offers a holistic approach to life, in which it is possible to weigh up the whole of life and discern the underlying values which offer life in all its fullness. For us as Christians, wisdom is a gift of God, which is continually renewed by our dependence on God. This dependence calls for humility and the openness to receive new insights, from God, from one another, and from the whole of creation. This wisdom brings peace – both for the individual and for the nations.
Wisdom takes time to develop, and flows out of knowledge, experience and understanding. This development is both inner and outer – as I look within myself and see who I really am, and as I look to others and see what they have to offer. It’s not just about ‘my bright idea’, it’s about how I learn relationally from God, those around me, and God’s created world.
There are no easy answers or quick fixes. Gaining a sense of underlying values and knowing when to say yes and when to say no, each takes time. This opens up a new sense of perspective on what it means to live in God’s world, including the way in which money is no longer seen as a first order issue, but as a second order issue.

Prayer:

Loving God, grant me your gift of wisdom.
May I look within and see where I need to grow in understanding.
May I look without and see what I can learn from others and from your world.
May I see your world as a whole, in which people and creation are held together.
Grant me humility, openness and patience to receive and act on the bigger picture that you offer.  Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 13th October 2021

Wednesday October 13, 2021
 

Proverbs 3: 5 – 8

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be a healing for your flesh
    and a refreshment for your body.

Reflection

Since taking on the role of Synod Moderator I have had to do a lot of travelling around the Synod. I only had the vaguest of understanding of the geography north of the Thames and so I have been heavily reliant on my satnav. Even for straight forward trips it has been helpful to estimate times of arrival and being offered detours when there have been problems – I just need to say M25 and you will understand!  There have been times in the past when I have confidently said to my wife ‘Don’t worry, I know where to go!’ You can imagine the result.  I have always prided myself in my sense of direction but, for instance, when I was walking the Pilgrim Way during my last sabbatical, on one leg I found myself back where I had started. I had gone full circle. So in physical travel I have had to learn not to lean on my own understanding and why should my spiritual life be any different?
 
When I left for university one of my youth leaders presented me with a Bible inscribed with verses 5-6 from this reading. It was a powerful reminder to me to keep focussed on God despite all the changes I was going through. It didn’t stop me from enjoying university, but it did mean that my faith remained central throughout. It enabled me to take a leadership role in the Christian Union but also to engage with student politics and remain authentically Christian.
 
Unfortunately the Bible isn’t always the clear cut handbook we might want it to be. Travelling on public transport in London an app that I have found really useful is Citymapper (other transport apps available). It will often tell me to walk in a certain direction. It took me a while to realise that the app comes complete with a compass. For me the Bible is as much about providing direction of travel with Jesus as the goal rather than going my own way.
 
Prayer

Dear Lord,
thank you that we don’t need to wander aimlessly through life.
But you are able to give our lives direction.
Remind us that when we do get lost or go astray,
with the help of the Holy Spirit,
you can re-route us to get us back on track. Amen
 

URC Daily Devotion October 12, 2021

Proverbs 1: 20 – 33

Wisdom cries out in the street;
    in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused,
    have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
and because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when panic strikes you,
when panic strikes you like a storm,
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
would have none of my counsel,
    and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
    and be sated with their own devices.
For waywardness kills the simple,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but those who listen to me will be secure
    and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.’

Reflection

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred. … Observed increases in well-mixed greenhouse gas concentrations … are unequivocally caused by human activities.”

The Sixth IPCC Report: The Physical Science Basis has just been published with these stark words. 3,949 pages in the online version spell out the evidence. The time for dispute is over.

How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?

The “simple ones” in Proverbs may not be the ordinary folk whose wisdom comes at a high price wrought from real-life experience, but those who consider themselves elite, knowing what’s best; the educated whose understanding remains rooted in the past, closed to new understandings; those who know how to operate the system to their own benefit; those whose exploitation of natural resources impacts climate change; those who dismiss evidence in previous IPCC reports.

You have ignored all my counsel. Because they hated knowledge, they shall eat the fruit of their way.
Who are “they”? Not just politicians, captains of industry or bankers. It’s you. It’s me.

It’s not necessarily that we want to destroy God’s creation, but our way of life is expensive in terms of world resources and it’s hard to ameliorate that. But it does not mean that we should not try.

Those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.

It’s a bit like our worship and prayer life. We can’t all be saints, great worship leaders, learned theologians, write inspirational poetry or make terrific music. But we can do our bit to worship God and show others love for Jesus and Creation.

Words and deeds can affirm what is right, bringing the sure knowledge that every reduction to greenhouse gases will combine to fulfil that great theological statement “All small contributions gratefully received!”

Prayer
Gracious God
As we contemplate the wonders of Creation
and agonise over the increases in fire, flood and wind
we humbly offer what we can to reduce
our own impact.
Accept our offering and answer
for we seek you diligently, and trust that we will find you.

Amen

URC Daily Devotion Monday October 11, 2021

Proverbs 1: 1 – 7

For learning about wisdom and instruction,
    for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
    righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
    knowledge and prudence to the young—
let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
    and the discerning acquire skill,
to understand a proverb and a figure,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Reflection

Proverbs can be a difficult read, and is perhaps one of the less familiar books in the Bible for many of us.  The biblical index of Rejoice and Sing, for example, offers no hymns referring to verses in Proverbs!  You might be feeling uneasy that it is a text open to abuse – for example, the temptation to read Proverbs 3:9-10 as a promise of earthly rewards for honouring God.

However, this prologue to the book, and particularly verse 7, tells us something about how we should read the book.  Not as a potential source of arguments supporting our own previously arrived-at views, but as a prompt to let God work on our hearts, and perhaps change our minds.

Although Proverbs could be seen as a series of instructions for a father to teach a son, there is a hint in verse 5 that perhaps the truly wise will take instruction whatever their age, identity or previous experience.  One of the things I love to see in church life is that people in their 80s and 90s are still exploring the faith, testing ideas, and interested in how younger people might prompt them to see something differently.  If any of us think we have all the answers, and are living perfectly faithful lives, I suspect we are deluding ourselves, and could benefit from reflecting further on this passage!

Having said that, what are my own blind spots about this passage?  I live in a city with two universities, where learning and the quest for knowledge are esteemed – even more so since Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert and her colleagues developed the Covid vaccine!  May I be tempted to focus so much on reading and reflecting that living out the faith can take a back seat?

Prayer

As we begin our study of Proverbs, inspire us to set aside our prejudices and fears about the text.
May we be open to the questions that might make us see the faith differently.
Save us from the temptation to think we have all the answers
and from despair that we don’t have the answers.
So that we may take instruction from our study
and live out our faith in our lives.
Amen

Proverbs

Proverbs

Dear <<First Name>>

I hope you have found the reflections on Transcending Mission over the last four weeks thoughtful – and possibly a more helpful way to think of the Church’s ministry than the rather nebulous word “mission”.  Over the year ahead we will come back to the four aspects of our work – worship, evangelism, witness, and service, again.

Now we are going to spend some time looking at a selection of passages from the Book of Proverbs.  Traditionally attributed to Solomon, Proverbs is a collection of various sources – sayings addressed to a child from a teacher, poems in praise of Lady Wisdom, sections on the rich and the poor, and sections on creation, divine power and human ignorance.  Some of the material may have been written down in the 10th Century before Christ, some of it as late as the 7th.  The style is similar to other types of wisdom literature from the ancient near East.  As a collection of sayings the book is not an easy read; some sayings have made their way, for good or ill, into the English language – perhaps most infamously “spare the rod, spoil the child” (13:24) and much of Chapter 7 is very uncomfortable to read as it is concerned with protecting innocent young men from the wiles of seductive women! 

Over the next three weeks we will be looking at selected verses from Proverbs – some famous, some less so as we consider how much of this ancient wisdom can still speak to us today.

with every good wish

Andy

The Rev’d Andy Braunston,
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC