URC Daily Devotion 27th November 2021

James 4: 13 – 17

Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’  Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’  As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.  Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Reflection

Is James’ logic really that planning ahead is tantamount to sin? If so, those of us who want to take all of the Bible seriously have a problem. You are only reading these words because a sequence of people set or met deadlines, some of them months ago. If December church magazines cannot say when the carol services are this year, there will be grumbles. Elsewhere the New Testament praises good administrators.

The point that really links James’ sentences is that we cannot control the future. It is not only in his time that business plans almost invariably claim that after a year or two a new enterprise will break into profit. Then the entrepreneur finds that no amount of energy, skill and enthusiasm on his or her part can control enough of the variables.

As Advent starts tomorrow, many churches and church people enter their busiest month. Has our essential planning left space for the possibility that God will want to say something new to us and change our perspectives? Or does God have to wait now until after Christmas?

The arrogance is not the planning but assuming that what we can control is all that really matters. That is as close to idolatry as assuming that only what we can count really matters. Those who come to our well-planned carol services will hear how God has a track record of breaking into our lives in ways more wonderful than we could possibly imagine or organise. It is more promise than threat. The question is whether we live as if we believe it.  

The old chapel noticeboards said Divine Worship on Sunday would be at “11am DV”. Deo volente is “God willing”. They silently made the crucial point that it is not our plans that control the universe.

Prayer

Creator God,
Responsible for the precision chemistry of my liver and the spontaneity of the butterfly,
thank you for the orderliness that allows us to plan;
for those good at converting wonderful dreams into realistic plans that actually happen;
for those who patiently carry out necessary but unexciting plans.
Help us to live aware we never know the whole of your plans –
so keep us humbly alert for what you are about to do.     
Amen.    

URC Daily Devotion 26th November 2021

Friday 26th November 2021
 

James 4: 11 – 12
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbour?

Reflection
 “Everyone’s a critic.” That’s a response we often hear from those whose work or words have been panned by someone who can’t do what they do.

It’s easy to abuse the footballer who misses the penalty shot; it’s simple to describe a song as “terrible” because we don’t like that form of music; it’s tempting to write off an opinion as “rubbish” without engaging in respectful debate.

Comments like that can be hurtful to the recipients, and in our age of social media may be amplified to the point that they are tormented by commentators. 

Add judgement to the mix and the combination becomes toxic. That’s the stage when casual criticism (sometimes in the heat of the moment) turns to gossip, slander, bullying and eventually exclusion.

No doubt we would like to think that such behaviour is never found in church life. Yet it is. We may not like another person’s moral choices. We may choose to interpret the scriptures in a way that persuades us to reject someone’s sexuality as an aberration. We may find the practice of other Christian groups distasteful. But the letter-writer tells us it is not our place to shun others or pass sentence.

Instead he reminds us to leave judgement to God. Our task is to be what Jesus urged us to be – good neighbours to all, regardless of our opinions or prejudices.

How can we do that? We are kind (but not patronising). We think before we speak. We are ready to help when invited to do so. We build up our brothers and sisters in Christ and in life at large instead of tearing them down. We are humble (conscious of our own sins), not high and mighty.
 
It may prove a challenge, but better than driving fellow humans to despair.

Prayer
Lord,
Keep me humble and help me become an encouragement to others, and not their accuser.
Keep me from being wise in my own eyes or making arbitrary assumptions about the motives of others.
Above all, teach me to love others as Christ loved me.
Amen

URC Daily Devotion 25th November 2021

James 4: 7 – 9
 ‘God opposes the proud,
    but gives grace to the humble.’

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Reflection
I will remember the funeral of my friend Bob for many reasons.  Bob had died in his 20s,  from AIDS related illnesses, the crematorium chapel was full (and the buttons on the lectern weren’t labelled) and back in 1991 it was the first ever funeral I’d taken.  However, this funeral is seared into my memory as Bob’s mum cried “oh my son” repeatedly as Bob’s coffin was brought in.  None of us had a dry eye as the service continued.  This type of lamentation is common in many other cultures but rather rare in our own.

The Bible has many examples of laments – from poetry, song and protest.   The Biblical material often encourages us to express our emotions when we are at our lowest.  In today’s passage we are urged to “lament, mourn and weep” for our sins; it’s not very British really!  

Yet our ecological crisis, the injustices of the world, and the plight of the refugees whom our government wishes to turn away on the open seas, all inspire in us the need to lament.  Through lamentation we give voice to our deepest emotions and we can start to articulate how the world really is.  Through that lamentation we can find the strength to turn things around – to repent.  It might not be British but it is very Biblical.

Prayer
My life flows on in endless song,
above earth’s lamentation.
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Love is lord of heav’n and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

.

URC Daily Devotion 24th November 2021

Wednesday 24th November 2021
 

James 4: 1 – 6
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?  You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.  Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God  yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’?  But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’

Reflection
On November 14th 2021 we recalled that it was 105 years since one of the grimmest battles of all, the battle of the Somme ended. It lasted for 141 Days and the cost was over 1 million lives on both Allied and German sides. Both my grandfathers were active in that war; my father’s father serving in the Royal Flying Corps; my mother’s father probably also involved but in what capacity I shall never know because he was exterminated in Auschwitz during the Second World War. The only grandfather whom I did know never talked about his wartime experiences; like so many, he saw and experienced hell on earth and it was far too painful for him to do so.

Since 1945, British servicemen and women have been engaged in 80 odd mini-wars, but sadly war and conflict is not confined to the history books.

Yes, violence is not only on the fields of war; it’s everywhere. In a house not too far away there is an abused child; further down the street a battered woman; round the corner a mugger waiting to pounce on the old man shuffling home. In a place not too far away, in these days of instant news, there’s  a persecuted minority; in this place its women; in that place it’s Jews or Muslims, somewhere else it’s Christians; and elsewhere again it’s gay people.

The author writes, “Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” and by inference that this is at the heart of war.  Then, as now, society may appear open and generous, provided that cherished assumptions are not challenged. The letter appeals to the inner human spirit to tame the impulses that lead to pride, selfish arrogant gain and violence and to replace them instead with humility and a relationship with God who longs only for reconciliation with those who are made in his image. 

Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, thank you that you understand the challenges of life. 
Help us to stand strongly for you, however great the temptations. 
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 23rd November 2021

Tuesday 23rd November 2021
 

James 3: 13 – 18
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.  But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.  For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.   And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Reflection
There is a running joke in my family that I have more letters after my name than I have in it as I have been fortunate enough to go to 4 different universities to study.  Does that make me wise?  No.

They say that wisdom comes with age – as the URC approaches a milestone birthday next year and can look back on half a century – does that make us wise?  No.

Wisdom does not come from intelligence or necessarily age.  Wisdom comes from experience and empathy and listening.  We are wise when we allow ourselves to experience life and learn from our mistakes.  We are wise when we listen to people who know more than we do and take on board their advice.  We are wise when we do not brag about our achievements but use them to serve others and to challenge the world.  James talks about a wisdom that is pure and gentle, willing to yield and not selfish or boastful or envious.  A wisdom that comes from love, not ego, a wisdom of listening to others and valuing their story.  A wisdom of sharing, caring, and acting for the benefit of all, not just ourselves.

Such wisdom does not come from intelligence, nor from age but comes from above, from a God of love who enables us to gain wisdom through prayer, service, and our living of a good life.

Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference, living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; taking this world as it is and not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Monday November 22, 2021

James 3: 6 – 12

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.  For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species,  but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?  Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters,  yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

Reflection

When James was writing, the tongue – the human voice spoken face to face – was the major means of communication. I wonder what James would have thought of Facebook and all the other social media that so influence young and old these days? I reckon ‘a restless evil, full of deadly poison’ fairly sums up quite a lot of the content especially from the keyboards of the myriad trolls out there. And then on the internet itself, as well as the excellent sources of useful information on how to do just about anything, there’s the deadly dark web with its unmentionable evils.

How we use the media at our fingertips is an extension of our other communications, including our tongues. But as, perhaps, the sting of spoken words may fade, what’s on the net is on the net forever – spoken in haste, repented at length.

And so we need to take care. We’ve seen the wildfires destroying huge areas of California, Greece and other places so we have a pretty vivid picture of what can happen when something unkind, untrue or worse drops into social media and spreads. And how often is it spread by unthinking folk sharing it or encouraging it with ‘Likes’?

With so many more communication media than simply our voices, we have even greater responsibility to ensure that what we speak and share is ‘true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy’ (Philippians 4:8) and consistent with our calling as Christians.

Prayer

Purify our hearts so that what emerges from our lips and on our social media honours you, Lord Jesus.
Amen

URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 21st November 2021 – The Revd. Dr Matthew Prevett

Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Service for Sunday 21st November 2021
Christ the King

Photo Credit: Daniel Gutko, Unsplash
The Rev’d Dr Matthew Prevett
 
Introduction
Hello – I am Matthew Prevett, and I am based in Northern Synod. I welcome you to this worship to celebrate Christ the King, as we reflect on the coming of God’s Kingdom. We come now to worship. 

Call To Worship
 
We are the Church – the people who pray for and live in the kingdom of God.  A Church united across time and space
 
We are the Church – a people of many races, languages, races and ways of life. A Church united across time and space
 
We are the Church – we respond with love to the One who makes all things new.  A Church United across time and space.
 
Hymn         Great God Your Love Has Called Us Here
                  The Rev’d Brian Wren
 

Great God,
your love has called us here
as we, by love,
for love were made.
Your living likeness still we bear,
though marred,
dishonoured, disobeyed.
We come,
with all our heart and mind
your call to hear,
your love to find.
 
2: We come with
self-inflicted pains
of broken trust
and chosen wrong,
half-free, half-bound
by inner chains,
by social forces swept along,
by powers and systems
close confined,
yet seeking hope for humankind.
 

3: Great God, in Christ
you call our name
and then receive us as your own,
not through some merit, right or claim,
but by your gracious love alone.
We strain to glimpse
your mercy seat

and find you kneeling at our feet.

 

4: Then take the towel,
and break the bread,
and humble us,
and call us friends.
Suffer and serve till all are fed,
and show how
grandly love intends
to work till all creation sings,
to fill all worlds,
to crown all things.

5: Great God, in Christ
you set us free
your life to live,
your joy to share.
Give us your Spirit’s liberty
to turn from guilt
and dull despair
and offer all that faith can do
while love is making
all things new.

 

Prayer of Approach and Illumination
 
Ancient One, we approach you in worship.
Whether we join with people known to us,
or whether we share with others we do not know,
we gather to worship you.
The world carries on around us,
yet in this time and this place we are focused on you.
As the seasons turn, we can see your hand around us,
as dark mornings are illuminated by fresh sunshine,
and the subdued colours of nature offer glimpses of brightness.
Where the festive season appears to have begun,
we see the joy the coming weeks will bring, and we give you thanks.
God who is the Alpha and the Omega – beginning and end –
we ask for our ears to be open to your Word this day,
as we seek to know you more fully through your Word,
as your worshipping people. Amen.
 
Readings:  Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
 
As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; is throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousand served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.  The court sat in judgement, and the books were opened.  As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven.  And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship,  that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
 
St John 18: 33-37
 
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’
 
Hymn         Christ is coming! Let creation
                    John R MacDuff (1853)

 

Christ is coming! Let creation
from her groans and travail cease;
let the glorious proclamation
hope restore and faith increase:
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Come, thou blessed
Prince of Peace.
 
2 Earth can now but tell the story
of thy bitter cross and pain;
she shall yet behold thy glory,
when thou comest back to reign:
Come on down! Come on down!
Haste the joyous jubilee

3 Long thine people
have been pining,
for thy peace, and rest in thee:
soon, in heav’nly glory shining,
their restorer shall they see:
Come on down! Come on down!
Haste the joyous jubilee.
 
4 With that blessed hope before us,
let no harp remain unstrung;
let the mighty advent chorus
onward roll from every tongue!
Come on down! Come on down!
Haste the joyous jubilee!

 

Sermon
 
Let us pray: Alpha and Omega God – the beginning and the end – open our ears to your Word and our hearts to respond to your call. Amen.
 
“So you are a king?” Pilate asks Jesus.  The King of a Kingdom that makes no sense, at least to Pilate. Not one of this world, Jesus is clear to state. Not a Kingdom where there will be battles fighting for the release of their leader. In fact, the kingship of Jesus is not one of force, but of truth. Not one understood within the authority structures of the age, but one that finds its source beyond the world.
 
In the book of Daniel, we read of Daniel’s vision of the kingship given to one like a human being. Such a kingdom is given by the Ancient One, with a universal dominion which will never pass away, served by all people, nations and languages. This is a vision of the encompassing nature of a kingdom not of this world; a kingdom that has no end, that extends across all languages and peoples and cannot be destroyed. This is not a kingdom subject to human political authority, but subject to the gift of the Ancient One sat upon the throne.
 
To understand what is distinctive about the Kingdom spoken of by these passages, we need to consider what lies central to the Christian Gospel. Central to the whole story of incarnation and redemption is love. Wine at a feast: love. Raising a child from death: love. Speaking to the outsider at the well: love. Breaking bread when already betrayed: love. Opening arms upon the Cross: love. Appearing to friends together in a locked room: love.
 
The distinctiveness of a Christian kingdom rests not with military might or with palaces, but with love. Love that has no boundaries. Love that knows no wrongs. Love that stretches across languages, peoples and nations. God’s Kingdom, Christ’s Kingship, is not one where we need to fight for the leader, but is demonstrated by the acts of kindness, compassion, solidarity and love that testify to the truth of God. And this truth became incarnate in Jesus: “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory… full of grace and truth.” (John 1.14 abridged). In Christina Rossetti’s words: “Love came down at Christmas” (RS 614).
 
“Your kingdom come… on earth as in heaven” The hope of those words from the Lord’s Prayer are so easily said, and perhaps just as easily ignored. In the familiarity of the prayer, maybe they come and go without us even noticing. Or maybe we just don’t think about how Jesus’s assertion to Pilate, together with Daniel’s vision, speaks of the shape of the kingdom that needs to come, one full of the truth of God’s unending love.
“Your kingdom come… on earth as in heaven” Looking at the latest news will leave us under little doubt that the world needs unending love. Over the summer, we’ve been faced with numerous humanitarian crises in need of attention. Afghanistan and the plight of its people have been prominent in our news. So too have the refugees who have continued to travel across the Channel. We have seen places subjected to extremes in weather – caused by humanity’s greed for natural resources – resulting in droughts and floods. While rich Western countries have been able to offer vaccine boosters for Covid alongside seasonal flu, developing nations have been left behind without the support to care for their citizens. Additionally, we have been reminded of the lack of love shown by some as we remember the attacks in New York twenty years ago alongside other attacks closer to home including Manchester Arena, London’s Fishmongers’ Hall, and in Plymouth.
 
“Your kingdom come… on earth as in heaven” Of course, we rarely find ourselves in those positions where we can directly affect the outcome of such activities. The global challenges facing the world seem to be too much for us to change ourselves. We can find ourselves weighed down with the task that awaits us.
 
But the Kingdom we pray for is one of love. It is one of compassion. It is one of solidarity. We do not pray for a Kingdom that cannot be achieved – for it is led by the Kingship of Christ – but we pray for a kingdom that can have a dominion across all peoples, nations and languages. We seek the truth in love of love. We seek what it means to be followers of Christ by standing up for what love can mean in the world, holding up a mirror to what is going on around us, and reflecting back where love is not being lived and the kingdom is not being realised. Making God’s kingdom come on earth means calling out where our friends, family, employer, Church and Government fail to be living with compassion, love and solidarity for people of all nations and languages. Testifying to the truth needs us to advocate in our own way, using our own means, platform and voice, to ensure the kingdom may be brought about.
 
Yet at the centre of what we can do is us. We are the strongest weapon the Kingdom of God has available. We are the hands and feet of the Kingship of Christ. We are the ones who need to be assured, re-assured, formed and transformed for the Kingdom to come. For when we live as those who live the truth of the gospel of Christ, the voice we hear is Jesus the King, standing up for the lonely, the poor, the downtrodden, the sick, the dying and the bereaved, the homeless, the Stateless, the lost and the weary. When we hear and we listen, Jesus assures us of the kingdom that love makes new: restoring, inspiring and transforming.
 
“Your kingdom come… on earth as in heaven” Christ the King leads a kingdom not from this world but for all peoples, nations and languages, grounded in love, compassion and solidarity for all. May we, as Christ’s hands and feet, do what we can to transform the world in love, that all may know and experience the coming of God’s kingdom.
 
Prayer of Confession
 
God whose kingdom is not of this world, we ask for your forgiveness for the times we have glorified kingdoms of the world rather than looked to your kingdom of love and compassion. We know that we do not always place love as our motivations, but we ask for you to convict us of our wrong, and guide us into your way.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
 
God whose kingdom is not of this world, we ask for your transforming love to fill our hearts and minds with your kingdom
reassuring us of the way you would have us live and serve. We listen for your truth as you speak to us, and pray for your kingdom:

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Amen.
 
Hymn         Christ is alive! Let Christians sing
                    The Rev’d Brian Wren
 

Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
The cross stands
empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes
with praises ring.
Love, drowned in death,
shall never die.
 
2: Christ is alive!
No longer bound to distant
years in Palestine,
but saving, healing,
here and now,
and touching every
place and time.
 
3: In every insult, rift and war,
where colour, scorn
or wealth divide,
Christ suffers still,
yet loves the more,
and lives, where even
hope has died.
 
4: Women and men,
in age and youth,
can feel the Spirit,
hear the call,
and find the way,
the life, the truth,
revealed in Jesus, freed for all.

 

5: Christ is alive, and comes to bring
good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring
with joy, with justice, love and praise.
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
We sing to our Lord a new song;
we sing in our world a sure hope:
 
Our God loves this world,
God called it into being,
God renews it through Jesus Christ,
God governs it by the Spirit.
God is the world’s true hope!
Come Lord Jesus:
We are open to your Spirit,
We await your full presence.
 
Our world finds rest in you alone.
 
Prayers of Concern
 
As we bring our prayers of concern for all peoples, nations and languages, let us pray: Your kingdom come: on earth as in heaven
 
We pray for all peoples of the world:  for those like us and known to us and those who are unknown to us or from different backgrounds.

Your world is a diverse and exciting place,  full of cultures and peoples with some many backgrounds and traditions,  a kaleidoscope of people with whom we share much or little.

Yet we are called to love and share together in your kingdom.
 
We pray for those peoples who are treated as outsiders,  refugees and asylum seekers, who come looking for love.

We keep in mind all those who continue to battle with the effects of pandemic, the developing nations where vaccine rollout is still to take effect.

We continue to pray not for uniformity but unity in our communities,
where people can know love irrespective of race, gender, sexuality and sexual identity, age, disability, religion or belief.

We pray that those who fail to show love by attacking and abusing others because of their difference, may transform into people of love,  and know the kingdom God is calling us into.  Your kingdom come: on earth as in heaven
 
We pray for all nations of the world:  for those in our closest relationships and those furthest away.  In a global society, we are interlinked across the world with governments making decisions that affect all nations.  We pray for those in leadership, that they will live by principles of love.  We keep in mind those who have been part of the UN Climate Conference this month, and the commitments and challenges they face as a result.  We pray for those in leadership of all types,  those who lead Churches and faith groups,  that the coming kingdom of God may be shared with all.  Your kingdom come: on earth as in heaven
 
We pray for all languages of the world: for those who speak the same language as us and those whose language is completely different.  We are aware of all those whose communication methods are different to ours and the fast pace of media today. We pray for those who feel lonely in a world of communication.  We keep in mind those who have been cut out of communities or families,  those who will spend tonight on the streets, and those who are unable to talk about their mental, physical or spiritual concerns. We pray for all who reach out in love, as families and friends,  and all those who work in wellbeing and support services,  for the love, dedication and words they use to break down barriers.  In a moment of quiet, we remember all those known to us whose concerns rest heavy on our hearts today.

Silence
 
Your kingdom come: on earth as in heaven
 
Ancient One,
as we pray for the coming of an everlasting kingdom of love,
we ask for your strength and support in our own lives.
Help us know of your true love for ourselves,
and the truth to which we are called.
May we be inspired by the love of your kingdom
and be your hands and your feet in the world.
For the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are yours,
for ever and ever. Amen.
 
Offertory
 
As we seek to bring about the kingdom through love that makes all things new, we dedicate ourselves and our resources to the Ancient One:
 
Generous God, we ask that you use the means we have at our disposal, the resources of money, time and voice, to transform the world and bring about your kingdom.  Make us know of your love, that we too may share love with others.  We join together now in the prayer Jesus taught us, using the words or language that is most familiar to us
 
Hymn         How shall I sing that majesty
                    John Mason
 

How shall I sing that majesty
which angels do admire?
Let dust in dust and silence lie;
sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.
Thousands of thousands
stand around
thy throne, O God most high;
ten thousand times
ten thousand sound
thy praise; but who am I?
 
2 Thy brightness unto them appears,
whilst I thy footsteps trace;
a sound of God comes to my ears,
but they behold thy face.
They sing, because thou art their Sun;
Lord, send a beam on me;
for where heaven
is but once begun
there alleluias be.

3 How great a being, Lord, is thine, which doth all beings keep!
Thy knowledge is the only line to sound so vast a deep.
Thou art a sea without a shore, a sun without a sphere;
thy time is now and evermore, thy place is everywhere.

Blessing
 
May the Ancient One who sits upon the throne
    ground you in the kingdom to come.
May the King whose kingdom is not from this world
    lead you into the truth of the Gospel.
May the Spirit that testifies to the truth
    help you bring about God’s coming kingdom. 
And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be with you, and all those for whom we have prayed,
this day, and forevermore. Amen.
 
Sources and thanks
 
Call to Worship adapted by Andy Braunston from the Mennonite Church in Canada.
Affirmation of Faith from the Worship Source Book p168
 
Great God Your Love Has Called Us Here – The Rev’d Brian Wren © 1975, 1995 Hope Publishing Company sung by Michael Joncas
Christ is coming! Let creation – John R MacDuff (1853) sung by Matthew Scott Poets and Saints
Christ is alive! Let Christians sing – The Rev’d Brian Wren © 1995 Hope Publishing Company – Sung by Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir
How shall I sing that majesty – John Mason, BBC Songs of Praise
 
Thanks to Jacqueline Kwawu, Sarah Wilmott, Kathleen Haynes, Pam Carpenter, Anne Hewling and Graham Handscomb for reading various spoken parts of the service.
 
Opening Organ Piece: Fugue in G Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece: Procession by Arthur Wills (organ of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Venice, Italy – 2014)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks from Brian Cotterill.

URC Daily Devotion Saturday November 20, 2021

Saturday November 20, 2021

James 3: 1 – 5

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters,  for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.  If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies.  Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

Reflection

This is church life not as we know it. Where we find ourselves desperately trying to persuade a fellow member that maybe they have a calling, or at least a responsibility, to fulfil a particular role or office in the congregation, here we find James warning off those who are eagerly enrolling for the next vocations conference. “Not many of you should become teachers!”

Presumably the young church has taken up the synagogue tradition of showing a particular respect to teachers. Its members recall how Jesus himself was addressed as “teacher”, and gathered crowds who hung on to his every word. It’s easy to see how keen believers, sincerely wanting to follow in his steps, persuade themselves that they too have a calling to teach – and it’s also easy to imagine that some, attracted by its prestige, aspire to the post for the wrong reasons.

James, it seems, is a teacher himself – which is just about the only thing we know about him. He knows the challenges and understands the frightening responsibilities – which today are as great as ever. Following the collapse of Sunday Schools, and in a time of general religious illiteracy, any new would-be followers of Jesus desperately need good sound teaching. The contents of our faith are not simply going to rub off on them.

The verses that follow are perhaps a little confusing, but make the point that those of us who have something to say always need to be on our guard. It’s so easy to say the wrong thing – whether in haste, or out of ignorance. With James we know that we all get things wrong: we’re none of us perfect. Usually we look for the right words to encourage people in their calling: how strange to think that a discouraging word might sometimes be better!

Prayer

Teach us to say the right words
that help us and help others
to discern where you are leading us
that we may build up the church
and further your purposes of good
revealed in Jesus
our teacher and our friend.

Amen

URC Daily Devotion November 19, 2021

James 2: 14 – 26

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?   Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.   If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?   In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless.  Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”  and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Reflection

This passage, famously, enraged Luther who felt that it undermined his insistence that faith is all that is required for our salvation.  Calling the letter an “Epistle of Straw” he considered removing it from the Bible!  Of course this was something of an own goal as it allowed the Catholics to point out he was hypocritical given his insistence on the primacy of Scripture as a source for theology!

The debates of the 16th Century seem to still be with us as Christians continue to argue about if we cooperate in our own salvation by working with God’s Spirit or if our salvation is completely a matter for God’s sovereign will.  

Strangely, people in our wider culture are really not at all interested in this dichotomy – nor, it seems, is James who sees faith and works as being two sides of the same coin.  It’s all too easy to be smug and announce that we don’t need to do anything good as we can’t earn our salvation and then to give an appalling witness to others as our lives continue to be as selfish and self-centred as before we became Christians.  It is also all too easy to act as if we have to earn our salvation in a culture where we are fed the poisonous lie that we can have anything we want if we work hard enough.  

Systems and forces shape our culture, our lives, and our futures.  We can’t break free from these systems and forces until the world is turned around.  Proclaiming that we can be set free by One greater than those systems and forces is  counter cultural – especially when we say we cannot earn such freedom.  Yet, our response, once set free, is not to be smug but to act as free people who live and act in loving free ways.

Prayer

Eternal God,
before the ages you chose us to bear fruit that will last.
In your good time you created us in your image
and, despite our flaws and imperfections, you work your purpose out through us.
Help us to trust in you
and show, through our lives, that our faith in you is justified.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Thursday November 18, 2021

James 2: 1- 13

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?  For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in,  and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’,  have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?  Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?  Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’  But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.  For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.

Reflection

Did you have a favourite teacher? What about your least favourite teacher? What was the difference between them? If you are a parent of multiple children, did your children accuse you of favouring one of them at some point? We have favourite foods, colours, clothes, bags, shoes, books etc, but those things are inanimate items, not people.

It might feel good if you are the favourite but being the one who isn’t the favourite can be an unhappy or difficult place. I am pretty sure that we have all been guilty of favouring people at some time or other in church and life but what about in community projects/mission projects? Having favourites can lead to forgetting that everyone we worship with, reach out to, support and come alongside is a child of God just like us, no more or less.
 
We are reminded time and again throughout the Bible that we need to love God and love one another, and I am sure that you have heard countless sermons on that very subject, but are we really practicing it? During the height of the pandemic, the news was full of stories of how kind and caring people were. I heard it being referred to as Blitz spirit, but what I hear a lot now is how mean, selfish, unkind and rude people have become. Have we forgotten how to love? Maybe it’s because people are tired, worn down or fed-up, but it isn’t an excuse, Jesus would have felt all those things, but here we are told clearly that favouring some over others is not living the spirit of God’s law. 
 
So I encourage you to practice real loving kindness with every person you interact with this week and see if it changes how you move through the world living out your faith.
 
Prayer

Loving God, you don’t have favourites,
Help us as we strive to live and love by your example.
As we meet people who aren’t our “favourite” people,
Remind us that we are all loved equally by you, and we are called to do the same.
Help us make every person we interact with feel like they are our favourite.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.