URC Daily Devotion Wednesday November 17, 2021

James 1: 19 – 27

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;  for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.  Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror;  for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.  But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Reflection

“ … be doers of the word, and not merely hearers”, is a sobering and important challenge.    I once spotted this text on the back of a church’s noticeboard – visible only to those leaving via the lychgate beside it.   I was struck that on the back of a board bearing the times for worship and contact details for the church these words were the “small print” of what is entailed for those daring to worship.   I suspect that over time the familiarity of knowing the text was there resulted in it losing its impact but the temptation to limit our faith to hearing rather than action is real.   James uses the metaphor of looking at ourselves in a mirror as being a temporary way of seeing what we look like – forgotten as we look away.   There is always the danger that however inspirational or challenging the words of scripture or worship might be they can all too easily be forgotten as we return to the challenge of daily life.  

St Francis de Sales is credited with saying, “The test of a preacher is that [their] congregation goes away saying, not ‘What a lovely sermon!’ but ‘I will do something.’”   James is adamant that faith is more than mere words and must prompt doing something.   That said, he also recognises the importance of choosing the right words in highlighting the dangers of an unbridled tongue.   The words that drop from our tongue can make all the difference between others being helped and healed or hurt and harmed.    And as James could have had no idea about the impact of social media it is worth recognising the harm of unbridled Facebook posts and the like.   Or emails, for that matter.  Whether our words are spoken or written we do well to remember that they will in themselves demonstrate whether we are those who are doers as well as hearers when it comes to our faith.  

Prayer

We give thanks, O God, for your love and mercy
made known in Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh,
through Scripture read and interpreted
and for all whose words speak to our hearts and minds.
Bridle our tongues and keep us mindful
of the potential for good or harm of what we say or write.
Translate our careful hearing into Christ-like action.
This we ask in the name of Jesus, your Word to us.  Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Tuesday November 16, 2021

James 1: 12 – 18

Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.  No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.  But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it;  then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.  Do not be deceived, my beloved.

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

Reflection

Are there echoes of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ here?  We could speculate that it was Jesus who said ‘Blessed is anyone who endures temptation’ and James remembered and expanded on it in this letter to Jewish believers. James hardly mentions Jesus in his letter yet its teaching follows the gospel message perhaps more closely than Paul’s letters do: the whole letter is about practical ways to live as followers of Jesus.  James sets high standards for the new communities following the Way, and is trying to build them up in the face of trials and persecutions.

The idea of endurance suggests effort over a long period of time.   Being lured by human desire leads to sin and death, whereas endurance leads to life, wisdom and generosity.  James wants the early Christians to practise self-control and self-discipline in avoiding temptation, knowing that doing so will enable them to grow in their faith. The seeking of wisdom is a common theme in Old Testament literature.  Rather than simply following rules of what is right or wrong, we can develop maturity through living our faith and making decisions based on scriptural principles.

Practising generosity could be a good way of enduring temptation.  If we are tempted to spend money on things we don’t need or that are not helpful, can we instead choose to be generous to other people?  Can we be generous with our time to work for the kingdom, investing in activities that help others, build up love and fellowship, rather than in self-gratification? We can listen to the prompting of the Spirit to act generously, in the knowledge that this according to the purposes of our unchanging God.  And we can be thankful: counting your blessings each day has been shown to significantly increase both happiness and physical health. Practising gratitude can improve your sleep, boost your immunity and decrease your risk of disease – and brighten up someone else’s day too!

Prayer

All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above
So thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord
For all his love.  Amen
 

URC Daily Devotion Monday November 15, 2021

Monday November 15, 2021
 

James 1: 9 – 11

Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field.  For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

Reflection

In these verses James calls on Scripture passages that would be familiar to his readers.  We hear echoes of the songs of Hannah (1 Sam 2) (also sung by Mary in Luke 1), as they, humble though they are, are buoyed by promises of a child who would be dedicated to God.  They sing of being raised up, while the rich and powerful are brought down – the balance of power is shifted as God favours the poor.  But going further, James also wants the rich believers to boast of being brought low – to cast off the privileges of being rich in human terms.  We see the rich compared to flowers of the field in echoes of Isaiah 40 and Psalm 103, where the transient nature of a plant (and a person) is contrasted with the everlasting love of God.  The withering of the field also brings to mind the fate of the seed sown on rocky ground in the Parable of the Sower.  James thus grounds his letter, before demanding more from his readers, just as Jesus called for followers to go beyond the law.

But how do we keep ourselves from withering away in the midst of our busy lives?  Many of us feel the need to be busy, even as the pandemic led to a pause in activity for many.  We can turn back to Isaiah 40 – ‘the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.’

Long after the ‘to do’ list has faded, the word of our God will stand, and as in Psalm 103: 17, ‘the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.’

Many found comfort in lockdown through regular prayer at set times each day – building the rhythm of prayer and praise that will provide a firm foundation for our faith.  Let us not allow this to wither as life starts to get busy again, and make sure that walking the way of Jesus today is the most important and urgent thing on the to do list.

Prayer

Father, help us to put aside our busyness and to rest in your everlasting and steadfast love, knowing that you love us unconditionally, and that you are with us as we do our best to walk your way.  Amen
 

URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 14th November 2021 – The Revd. Fleur Houston

Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Service for Sunday 14 November 2021
 
The Rev’d Fleur Houston

 
Introduction
 
Good morning. My name is Fleur Houston and I’m joining with you in worship from Macclesfield. I am a member of Macclesfield and Bollington United Reformed Church and a retired minister. A little later on today, a church service will be held here to mark Remembrance Sunday, and a service and parade will be held at the Cenotaph to commemorate men and women who died in wars from 1914 to the present day. In our service today we will reflect on how being a follower of Jesus affects our attitude to disasters. So now let us worship God.
 
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:      God is Our Strength and Refuge
                  Richard Bewes after Psalm 46 © Richard Bewes/Jubilate Hymns
 

God is our strength and refuge,
our present help in trouble,
and therefore we will not fear,
though the earth should change!
Though mountains
shake and tremble,
though swirling floods are raging,
God the Lord of hosts
is with us evermore!

2 There is a flowing river
within God’s holy city;
God is in the midst of her-
she shall not be moved!
God’s help is swiftly given,
thrones vanish
at his presence-
God the Lord of hosts
is with us evermore!

 

3 Come, see the works of our maker, learn of his deeds all-powerful:
wars will cease across the world when he shatters the spear!
Be still and know your creator, uplift him in the nations-
God the Lord of hosts is with us evermore!
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession, Declaration of Forgiveness
 
Ever living and ever loving God,
You show me the path of life,
in your presence there is fullness of joy.
And yet we are slow to hear the cries of your world,
threatened by our greed and heedlessness;
we are slow to see our own share in the passions
and pride that lead to war.
We take for granted your gift of Jesus Christ your Son
and fail to remember that in him we have hope.
Spirit of God, search our hearts. Amen
 
Hear the good news:
God forgives you your sins,
strengthens you by his Spirit,
and keeps you in everlasting life.
through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Gracious God,
you utter a word of promise and hope;
open our eyes to see you,
open our ears to hear you,
open our minds to understand you
open our hearts to know you.
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Saviour, Amen
 
Reading:  Mark 13: 1-8
 
As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’  Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’  When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately,  ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’  Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray.  When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

Hymn       We lay our broken world

                            Anna Briggs (b. 1947) © Anna Briggs. Wild Goose Publications

 

We lay our broken world
in sorrow at your feet,
haunted by hunger, war, and fear,
oppressed by power and hate.
 
2 Here human life seems less
than profit, might, and pride,
though to unite us all in you,
you lived and loved and died.
 
3 We bring our broken towns,
our neighbours hurt and bruised;
you show us how old pain
and wounds
for new life can be used.
 
4 We bring our broken loves,
friends parted, families torn;
then in your life and death we see
that love must be reborn.
 
5 We bring our broken selves,
confused and closed and tired;
then through your gift
of healing grace
new purpose is inspired.
 
6 Come Spirit, on us breathe,
with life and strength anew;
find in us love, and hope, and trust,
and lift us up to you.

 

Sermon
 
The disciples of Jesus were like tourists the world over. As they visited the Jerusalem temple, they gasped at its beauty and grandeur. No cost had been spared in its construction. Herod the Great had the men and the means. It was spectacular. Faced with white stone, it dominated the city. One of the disciples exclaimed at the size of the mighty quarry stones. There was a sense of permanence in those great stones. A symbol of the power of civic and religious authorities.
 
Yet these magnificent buildings would, one dreadful day, be thrown down.
 
Jesus thinks the unthinkable, speaks the unspeakable, predicts that this great Temple will be destroyed. Just that. He doesn’t say why or when, but you don’t have to be a divinely inspired prophet to guess that Romans and Jews were set on a collision course. Jesus might well have seen that if his countrymen continued in their present mood they would bring down upon themselves the wrath of Rome. In fact if we move forward forty years to around the time Mark was writing, this is exactly what happened. Jerusalem was razed to the ground in retaliation for the ongoing Jewish revolt and the temple was destroyed.
 
For the Jews, it was grim, harrowing, horrific. Over a million people were slaughtered and thousands more driven into exile. Homes were reduced to rubble, Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, old people and babies, were killed. Those who survived were traumatised. All that linked them to the past, to their religion, to their national identity, was gone. All gone. The present was filled with grief, the future with terror.
 
The impact of Jesus’s prophecy on the Christians in Rome for whom Mark was writing would have been considerable. So what does Mark do? He applies the teaching of Jesus directly to the urgent needs of the early Church.
 
He describes Jesus engaging in serious conversation with his closest disciples. The disciples are excited and disturbed. They want more information about the destruction of the Temple, when will it be? what sign will they have? Jesus however, doesn’t give them a road map, or a time table, instead he talks with them about wars, earthquakes, famine, catastrophic situations which biblical prophets had seen as a prelude to the end of the world. But Mark’s readers would naturally identify them with the disasters of their own day.
 
The tone is sombre. War and rumours of war, nations rising up against nations, earthquakes, famine, social dislocation; it is so unnervingly realistic – if this is the disorder in which Mark’s community finds itself, surely this is our world too. Every day, or so it seems, we hear of another natural disaster even fiercer than the last, floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes; every day, or so it seems, we are haunted by the wide eyes of starving children, and every day, or so it seems, men, women and children flee with only the clothes they are  wearing, from countries devastated by war. So can we apply what Jesus says to ourselves ? it suddenly matters for us to relate his words to our own situation today. It matters very much.
 
So how should we react in the face of calamity? Jesus cautions us not to be gullible, not to be taken in by every pious voice we hear, any dynamic new pedlar of fake news that comes our way. There is no hard and fast rule for distinguishing false voices from true, fake news from fact, but if we weigh up the evidence carefully we will learn to be discriminating. Nowhere is this more important than with natural disasters. Thanks to climate change, these affect us all and time is running out, but it has not yet done so; the best scientific evidence suggests that we can still meet the challenge of climate change if we take urgent action now.
 
Then Jesus exhorts us not to get hyper-excited. If, when we are confronted by disasters on all sides, we find ourselves becoming alarmist, Jesus advises us to take a long look, to be patient, to be hopeful. For this is not yet the end. These calamities are like early labour pains. They are signs that deliverance is on the way. Jesus takes seriously the reality of present suffering, he doesn’t trivialise it or treat it as redemptive. But he makes it clear that such pain is the prelude to new life. He wants to strengthen and sustain our faith.
 
It is notable that even as Jesus was speaking with his disciples on the Mount of Olives, the net was drawing in – the authorities were waiting to pounce and when he spoke of the destruction of the Temple, he had sealed his own fate. He would shortly be arrested on a drummed up charge, given a mock trial, and executed. It might then have appeared to his disciples that this was the end, that the forces of evil had won the day – but in Jesus’s resurrection from the grave, those early Christians knew that the power of death was overcome and history changed course once and for all.
 
And so, as we experience calamity in our own day, buried hopes come alive, and our gaze, so easily distracted from our living Lord, is directed back to him. We will not panic, the end is not yet. In this frame of mind, we will encourage one another another even in the face of the severest of trials. You may have heard on the radio the other day an interview with Father Louis Merosne, priest at the cathedral of St Anne in Anse- à-Veau, Haiti. Haiti had been suffering from acute political instability and rising numbers of COVID cases when it was hit by an 7.2 magnitude earthquake. An estimated 53,000 homes were destroyed or unsafe. There was an urgent need for shelter, for water and for food; people were traumatized; it was still raining; the beautiful white cathedral of St Anne, which had surmounted the village for more than 200 years, was so damaged that it was dangerous, but people had built a hangar with galvanised pipes where children gather for a hot meal, mass is said, funerals and meetings are held.
 
Father Louis was asked how he was feeling; “tired, stressed, and happy to be with the people – to see their needs touches me deeply.” Most had lost everything, but he could still see a bright smile on many of their faces. “On Sunday, he said, “they get dressed, cleaned up, changed into fresh clothes – sometimes they pull these from under the rubble and they sing praises to God, knowing that he is with them –
and that,” Father Louis concluded, “brings me hope.”

Hymn       My Shepherd, You Supply My Need
Isaac Watts (1719)
 

My Shepherd, you supply my need,
Jehovah is your name;
in pastures fresh He makes me feed,
beside the living stream.
He brings my wand’ring spirit back.
when I forsake His ways;
and leads me,
for His mercy’s sake,
in paths of truth and grace.
2 When I walk through

the shades of death ,
thy presence is my stay;
one word of thine
supporting breath
drives all my fears away.
Thy hand in sight of all my foes,
does still my table spread;
my cup with blessings overflows,
thine oil anoints my head.

 

3 The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
oh, may thy house be mine abode, and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come;
no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home.
 

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 Intercession
 
Nurturing God we thank you for your gifts in creation;
for our world, in its exquisite beauty and variety; and so we pray:
 
for those who make decisions about the resources of the earth,
for the leaders of the nations as they end their summit in Glasgow
that they may find ways to use your gifts responsibly
and so curb the disasters we inflict upon ourselves.
Give us reverence for life in your world.
 
We pray for those who hold authority in the nations of the world.
that they may set aside pride and thirst for power and work for the common good. Guide them in the way of justice and peace.
 
Have compassion, we pray, on survivors of war;
on those who have been forced to flee in fear of their lives
from their homes and their countries to an uncertain future.
Look with kindness on the homeless and refugee and on those who mourn their dead.
 
We pray for the church, our own congregations and throughout the world. Strengthen us that we may continue to surmount with courage
the challenges of the pandemic, and proclaim your gospel as we minister in Christ’s name.
 
Merciful Father, to all who mourn grant faith and courage. that they may sorrow indeed but not without hope.
And now we remember before you with tenderness the lives of those dear to us who are now at rest. Bring us with them at the last to those inexpressible joys which you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. God in whom alone is our hope, we put our trust in you. May your blessing empower our praise through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

The Lord’s Prayer
 
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. Makes us know of your love, that we, too, may share love with others.
 
Hymn:      All my hope on God is founded
Robert Bridges (1844-1930) (alt.) based on Joachim Neander (1650-1680)
 

1 All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew.
Me through change and chance he guideth,
only good and only true.
God unknown, he alone
calls my heart to be his own.
 
2 Pride of man and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
what with care and toil he buildeth,
tower and temple, fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour
is my temple and my tower.
 
3 God’s great goodness aye endureth,
deep his wisdom, passing thought:
splendour, light, and life attend him,
beauty springeth out of naught.
Evermore, from his store
new-born worlds rise and adore.
 
4 Still from earth to God eternal
sacrifice of praise be done,
high above all praises praising
for the gift of Christ his Son.
Christ doth call one and all;
ye who follow shall not fall.

 
Blessing
 
May the God of peace fill you with all joy and hope in believing;
and the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Be with you and all those who are dear to you,
today and always. 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
 
God is Our Strength and Refuge – Richard Bewes after Psalm 46 © Richard Bewes/Jubilate Hymns. Sung by the All Souls Virtual Choir and Orchestra
We lay our broken world – Anna Briggs (b. 1947) © Anna Briggs, from This is the day, Wild Goose Publications. BBC Songs of Praise
My Shepherd, You Supply My Need – Isaac Watts 1719. Sung by the group Eclipse 6
All my hope on God is founded – Robert Bridges (1844-1930) (alt.) based on Joachim Neander (1650-1680). BBC Songs of Praise
 
Thanks to Sarah Wilmott, Kathleen Haynes, Mairi Macdonald and Graham Handscomb for reading various spoken parts of the service.
 
Organ Pieces
 
Opening: Liturgical Prelude by George Oldroyd (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing: Toccata from Suite Gothique by Leon Boëllman (organ of St Thomas-on-The Bourne, Farnham – 2016)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved.
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762
 
 

URC Daily Devotion 13th November 2021

James 1: 1 – 8

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Greetings.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance;  and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.  If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given  you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

Reflection

The writer, known to us as James, jumps straight in – no introduction, no warm up and just a cursory greetings  – at least in the manuscripts that have been handed down to us. James writes in difficult times – the Church was new, illegal, and born into hostility with both the Roman state and the Synagogue.  It had to contend with difficult times and a need to hold fast to its beliefs.  We may have a rather more relaxed attitude to doubting than James seems to have had – after all we like to say that we want people to sincerely seek truth rather than condemn those who struggle to believe.  Yet for James’ time people needed to firmly grasp the faith that had been given them; there was no room for people to be “driven and tossed by the sea.”

In our age we’re met, in the West at least, with indifference not persecution, ignorance not oppression.  In our post Enlightenment context we value doubts as a sign of an enquiring mind – in James’ age doubt seems to have been equated with disloyalty.  Since the 1960s the Church has wanted to be open to “those of goodwill” who seek to find the truth wherever it leads.  How might we balance James’ words with our own contexts?

Can we honour those who find faith difficult?  Can we honour ourselves when we doubt yet, at the same time, see the importance of not being blown around by every idea and ideology that comes along?  Maybe we need to rethink what faith is – there’s a debate in New Testament studies about whether St Paul meant we have to have faith in Jesus in order to be saved or whether it is Jesus’ own faithfulness which saves us.  I wonder, with a passage like today’s, if Jesus’ faithfulness is something we need to hold onto in the midst of the ideas and ideologies, doubts and debates that we have.

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
you held fast to your absolute trust in your Father
despite betrayal, desertion, torture and death.
Help us as we reflect, discuss, discern and even as we doubt,
to follow your example – to trust in you, and your love for us,
that, at the end, we and all your people might be saved.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 12th November 2021

Matthew 14:23-33

And after Jesus had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

Reflection

Have you ever seen something so unexpected that you thought it must be supernatural? What was your reaction? I’ve witnessed people immediately healed of illness in prayer meetings (and a great many more that weren’t, which makes it all the more surprising when it does happen!). The reaction was always the same: Joy! Excitement! Celebration! And a renewed energy to keep praying, hoping, and believing that it would happen again.

By contrast, the disciples in the boat are scared out of their wits when Jesus passes by. I don’t blame them: they hadn’t asked Jesus to do this. It was completely unexpected. Only Peter tried to join Jesus walking on the water. Yes, he got scared and distracted by the strong wind, but the others didn’t even try.

In ‘The Importance of Courage’, Maya Angelou says: “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

As we learn how to live with a changing climate, and appeal again for the entire world to take seriously the devastating impact of humanity’s inhumanity on our planet, we will need to be courageous. Courageous in the face of the unexpected, as well as the coming hardship that is almost inevitable. Courageous when confronting those who are slow to change their ways. Exercising courage will surely be a beautiful gift to our world.

Can we also be courageous in our prayers and beliefs? To expect God to do more than we ask or can even imagine? And to listen courageously for the Spirit of God who blows like the wind?

It’s time to step up and step out.

Prayer

Great giver of courage, fresh influx of love,
God’s presence intruding like wind from above,
you seek out those locked down, confused and unsure:
burst in to revive us with hope, joy and cure. 

Infect with your wisdom for what we must face.
Endow us with courage to help us keep pace.
Revive and restore us, so we may pull through,
work wonders together, empowered by you.

Amen

(From ‘Great giver of courage’ by the Revd John Campbell)

URC Daily Devotion Thursday November 11, 2021

Thursday November 11, 2021
The Twelve Days of COPmas: Day 11 – The gift of peace
 

Micah 4:1-5 

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

For all the peoples walk,
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
for ever and ever.

Reflection

Here is the great gift, as we mark Armistice Day and the penultimate day of COP26 – the gift of peace, SHALOM: a peace that is not simply an absence of war and conflict, but a renewing of life itself, with justice, harmony, wisdom and joy. It is the peace that was Jesus’ parting gift – a peace the world cannot give.

Here in the Book of Micah, the vision of peace and justice includes all peoples and creation itself. It seems that even the earth will move to raise up the mountain of the Lord’s house above all other hills and mountains. The geological consequences of a mountain higher than Everest at Jerusalem are difficult to get our minds around, but the prophet’s poetic words tell of a new creation, that includes not just one nation but all nations, and not just humanity but the whole natural world as well.

How might that vision translate into the messy realities of the end of a political conference, with all the back-room negotiations, political gaming and competitive games that will have been involved? We pray that new steps will have been made by now in responding to the climate emergency that faces all nations and the planet itself. Perhaps the vision of spears being beaten into pruning hooks could be a real inspiration to humanity today. It is a kind of glorious recycling – the stuff of warfare used in new creative ways to tend the earth and its plant-life.

We know that in wartime there have been major scientific breakthroughs to serve the cause or respond to its terrible consequences. Imagine that same energy, commitment and expertise harnessed globally to the work of saving the planet, combating climate change and protecting biodiversity. Imagine fear put to one side, as people in all their diversity work together, enabling all humanity to sit in peace and the natural world to breathe easy; fear cast out for ever.

Prayer

God of high mountains, fruitful vines and fig trees,
as we give thanks for the natural world in all its beauty,
renew your peace within us and your world:
peace with justice for all,
peace for people and planet alike.

Teach us to walk your way now and always
in the life-giving name of Jesus Christ.
Amen
 

URC Daily Devotion Wednesday November 10, 2021

Joel 2:18, 28-30 (NIV)

Then the Lord will be jealous for his land
and take pity on his people.

And afterwards,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.

Reflection

Like the human body, Earth has a huge innate capacity for healing. Doctors and ecologists may need to pin broken bones and try to eliminate pathogens, pollution and invasive species. Scientists can keep people and nature going with brilliantly designed chemicals, but the power of healing comes from the heart, soul, mind and strength within. Even plants have resilient personalities, from cheeky dandelions to serene oaks.

Seeing visions and dreaming dreams is a natural part of healing processes. Without a vision, the people perish. If seedlings and saplings do not have (in a plant-y sort of way) visions of future growth and if laden apple-trees and mighty sunflower seed-heads (not to mention dandelion-clocks) are not dreaming dreams of plenty, then I’m not a gardener!

But our imaginations themselves need healing. When Jesus came, many Jews were dreaming of freedom from the hated Roman occupiers: no wonder, for the Roman empire was ruthless and efficient. Jesus, however, shared the prophets’ vision of peace and harmony on God’s Holy Mountain and he wept over Jerusalem when his Way of redemptive love was rejected.

The good news is that Jesus’ vision and dream survived his humiliating death, and so the Church set out on this new Way, all of which is strong evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. When he quoted Joel on the day of Pentecost, however, Peter probably didn’t foresee that we would still be dreaming of a renewed Earth 2000 years later.

Humanity has been wrecking the biosphere’s vital systems and destroying the web of biodiversity. We would have continued along this broad path to destruction had not climate change shocked people wide awake.

At one minute to midnight, we’ve registered that we need to reverse direction (repent). We could even yet give Earth the gift of healing, but do we really, really want to change? Can we catch the vision of God’s dream for Creation?

Prayer

Creator God,
we dream of a healed world
where we live in harmony with the rest of Creation.
By your wild, free Spirit, grant us
an empowering vision of living simply,
allowing Nature space.
And help us to be a bit wild and free,
like Jesus, as befits your children.
Amen
 

URC Daily Devotion Tuesday November 9, 2021

Tuesday November 9, 2021
 The Twelve Days of COPmas: Day 9 – The gift of mutual support 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Reflection

In today’s society, especially this past year having to deal with a global pandemic, we have had to rely on each other to get us through life. Nurses, doctors, friends, and family members have had to come together because we have all been caught in the same storm.  If one falls in the family, another will pick them up; if somebody is sick then nurses will do their best to make them better.

If none of these people stood up to the plate to help one another, the world as we know it would crumble and fall, and nobody would be there to lift anybody up. Sadly, in life not everyone experiences enough mutual care and support.

Due to the lockdowns, many have felt forgotten about because of their self-isolation. Some have become anxious or are struggling because of job cuts. Because of these reasons and more, poor mental health is affecting many now and may continue to do so for a long time without help. ‘Pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.’

Our planet could probably do quite well without us. If humanity disappeared, the world would keep turning, the sun would keep shining, and the earth would be able to breathe again. Yet it seems that we are here for a reason: to support each other, to care for our wider family and the environment in which we have been placed.

We are called to co-exist, to find the delicate balance where each decision we make is mindful of the impact on other people, other creatures or the creation that we inhabit. We are far, so far from getting to this point. But still, we do what we can for a world that is otherwise being destroyed by selfishness and greed.

When our world is crushed and people fall, who will be there to lift them up? Will it be you?

Prayer

Creator of all there is,

This day give me eyes to see those who are falling,
ears to hear species in crisis,
a heart to feel a world that is burning,

and give me the wisdom and grace to lift them up,
today and every day you give me.

Amen
 

URC Daily Devotion Monday November 8, 2021

Monday November 8, 2021
The Twelve Days of COPmas: Day 8 – The gift of the testimony of a suffering creature

Job 12:1-10 (NRSV, with some amendments from the author)

Then Job answered:
‘No doubt you are the people,
and wisdom will die with you.
But I have understanding as well as you;
I am not inferior to you.
Who does not know such things as these?
I am a laughing-stock to my friends;
I, who called upon God and God answered me,
just and blameless, I am a laughing-stock.
Those at ease have contempt for misfortune,
but it is ready for those whose feet are unstable.
The tents of robbers are at peace,
and those who provoke God feel secure,
though all they have is from God.

‘But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
Speak to the Earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In whose hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being.’

Reflection
‘The War of Wisdom’

When every last ‘climate denier’ is laughed out of court – or exposed as a lackey of fossil fuel interests – there remains the War of Wisdom…

…in which we resist the painful empathy of the flesh (AKA DNA) we share. The war of “We Know Better because we’re doing better than you are!”

…where aggressors sincerely believe they are wise, compassionate, cautious, prudent… Trouble is, perhaps they are! But still, they’ve got it wrong.

Opening skirmishes were the arguments within so many churches taking so embarrassingly long to be stung by Jesus’ words:

 ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’…

…so long… to switch support from greenwashed corporations. From monsters, still content to factor into profit, the ravaging of ‘our common home’ into somewhere far less capable of healing.

“The tents of robbers are at peace,
and those who provoke God feel secure”.

Only when we acknowledge rights that go with the sentient dignity of the planet, and “all who dwell on Earth” (forget that deadly reservation “all people”) is such robbery going to cause outrage, as it did those unfortunate humans whose homes were declared void and available by European pioneers, armed with guns, planting flags rather than trees.

This is a war where those of us who prefer our superior stewardship of ‘things’ to a vulnerable, consultative partnership with fellow creatures, do so for the ‘best of reasons’.

Genteel, we fight, authenticated by the incremental approach that for so long looked so unassailably wise. For “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.

(Whoever thought up that one never read up about angels!)

Not that suffering automatically makes you right. But what of the voice of blood that cries from soil? What of shouting stones shaming silent saints? [Luke 19:40]

Science translates the ‘babble’ of the environmental crisis into the prophetic voice we hear.

And understanding, act.

Before twelve days are out.

Or perish.

It IS as bad as that.

Prayer
Parent of Soil and Sky,
free us from stubborn arrogance, and all it brings,
that we enable change for fellow creatures.
Save us in the midst of what our kind has brought about;
deliver Life from evil.
For the fragile seasons, cycles, and the power of Life are yours.
Hosanna!
God help us!
Let it be so!