URC Daily Devotion Sunday 7th November 2021

Sunday November 7, 2021
The Twelve Days of COPmas: Day 7 – The gift of biodiversity 

Psalm 104:10-18; 24-30*

God makes springs pour down the valleys. Streams that flow from every hill
Quench the thirst of all his creatures, and wild donkeys drink their fill.
Birds sing sweetly in the branches, nesting by the riverside.
From above, the earth is watered, by God’s bounty satisfied.

He makes grass grow for the cattle, plants for man to cultivate—
Bringing from the earth its produce, food for all mankind to eat:
Wine that to man’s constitution joy and gladness will impart,
Oil that makes the face resplendent, bread that fortifies the heart.

Blessed with water are the forests— trees which to the LORD belong,
Mighty cedars that he planted on the heights of Lebanon.
Birds reside among the cedars; storks upon the pine trees nest.
Wild goats live among high mountains; conies in the crags find rest.

LORD, how many are your wonders! Wisely you have made them all.
Earth is full of all your creatures, living things, both great and small.
And the sea, so vast and spacious, brings forth life abundantly.
There leviathan is playing; to and fro the ships go by.

All your creatures look towards you for their food to be supplied.
What you give to them they gather, with your goodness satisfied.
When you hide your face, they’re troubled; lifeless, they return to earth.
When new life comes from your Spirit, to earth’s face you give rebirth.

 *This metrical version of Psalm 104 is from ‘Sing Psalms’ (2003), published by the Free Church of Scotland. It can be sung to the hymn tune Hyfrydol (I will sing the wondrous story), which can be heard here.

Reflection

The diversity of life is staggering at 8.7 million species. Psalm 104 enjoys how they have not just spilled out of God’s mind randomly but fit the Earth in the interdependence called ecology. And how humanity is part of this beautiful system. The oxygen you are breathing comes to you from plants as microscopic as algae and as big as trees. Biodiversity is magnificent, intriguing and essential to fighting climate change. We are sustained by it, we belong to it, but it is not ours. Nor have we borrowed it from future generations. It belongs to God.

My gift to the Earth, beloved by all who love its Creator, would be forests full of calling birds. Huge forests, each different and varied within. “By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches… in them the birds build their nests…” (verses 12 and 17). We need to increase forests (not just stop reducing them), and my gift would go a little way towards replacing what has been destroyed. The carbon captured would build wild beauty and reduce global warming.When I was born there was about twice as much visible wildlife than now. My gift to the Earth of forests would be a gift to Jesus and to all creatures. It’s a would-be act of worship in the form of practical, down-to-earth basic ecology. It would also help humanity to relate to other, non-human, beings; a well-established introduction to relating to God. But maybe it should be the gift of clean oceans instead? Or wild rivers. Or vast wetlands. Anything to counter the short-sighted plundering lunacy. “Oh Lord, how diverse are your works! In wisdom you made them all.” (verse 24)

Prayer

O Lord my God, you are very great.
How biodiverse are your works!
Earth’s creatures reflect your wild wisdom
and untamed character.
Stir us to respect you
and your whole creation.
Heal the soul-sickness
in which we destroy the web of life.
Raise us from the grave of indifference
to act together.  Amen.
 

URC Daily Devotion Saturday 6th November 2021

Saturday November 6, 2021
The Twelve Days of COPmas: Day 6 – The gift of good towns and cities 

Isaiah 65:17-25 

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,
says the LORD.

Reflection

It’s not so easy to find hymns that are positive about contemporary town or city life. There are any number that extol the beauties of the countryside, but cities, it seems, are ‘where the bruised and lonely dwell’ (Rejoice & Sing 579: Lord, thy Church on Earth is Seeking).

Yet towns and cities are where most people live, many of them/us quite happily. They are as much a part of ‘the environment’ as are villages and fields, rivers and forests.

Caring for creation, then, involves caring for the urban and suburban parts of the world’s ecological system, having towns and cities that benefit their inhabitants, and the countryside around them. In Isaiah’s vision concerning the environs of a renewed Jerusalem, distress is removed (verse 19), infant mortality reduced, life expectancy increased (verse 20), and good homes, along with decent food, are an integral part of city life (verses 21-22).

What is the God-inspired vision for towns and cities in our era? Surely it includes our green spaces and our housing estates; our allotments and our superstores; our gardens and our office blocks; our council flower beds and our church buildings; and all those associated with them. What a privilege and calling, to make the towns and cities of God’s creation (even) better for those who live there, and for the wider world as well.

Saviour, if of Zion’s city
I, through grace, a member am,
let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy name.

(R&S 560: Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken)

Prayer

God of our towns and cities, our villages and countryside,
thank you for all that is good about the places where we live.
Give us the vision and the strength to make them better yet,
in ways that enable all to flourish together.
Amen

URC Daily Devotion Friday 5th November 2021

Friday November 5, 2021
The Twelve Days of COPmas: Day 5 – The gift of community 

Ephesians 4:4-16 

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;    he gave gifts to his people.’

(When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Reflection

For some of us, the past couple of years almost felt like the Apocalypse. The pandemic, unjust access to vaccinations and healthcare, a heightened awareness of racism, and climate disruption worldwide has brought with it a feeling of the end times. Understanding the etymology of the word ‘apocalypse’, however, gives us a different perspective: kaluptein is the Greek word for ‘to cover’ and apo means ‘un-’, so apokaluptein means to uncover or unveil. While we primarily use the word to mean to destroy or threaten, originally, apocalypse simply meant to reveal something new. The key is that in order to reveal something new, we have to get the old out of the way.

The goal of apocalyptic imagery is to shake people out of their reliance on conventional wisdom and undercut where we often operate on cruise control. Apocalyptic writing deconstructs the “taken-for-granted world” by presenting a completely different universe.

Looking back over all that happened over the past year has unveiled a longing to keep our global community safe. No longer can we think of countries or continents as stand-alone entities but as a community of the Body of Christ. If one part of the body suffers, the other parts suffer too (1 Cor 12:26).

The Body of Christ always reminds me of the Sotho word ‘Ubuntu’, which means ‘I am because we are’. It prompts us to bring our God-given gifts to this global body of Christ and to the earth we love.

Extinction Rebellion and Christian Climate Action have boldly campaigned for us to truly love our planet. We can express our gifts through direct action like this or in other ways, such as craftivism, perhaps making prayer flags for the campaigners. Many of us talk with local politicians or sign petitions. Other parts of the body offer their gifts as educators, prophets or practitioners in their daily life.

What gift can you bring to God’s global community?

Prayer

Lord of all of creation,
unveil your truth,
reveal your love for your global community.
Take us, shake us and remake us.
Until thy kingdom come, thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 4 November 2021

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’

Reflection

Simon’s mother-in-law was not the only person to be made well that day. Jesus had been in the synagogue in Capernaum, teaching. While there, he commanded an unclean spirit to leave the one it had afflicted. Later, he took Simon’s mother-in-law’s hand and lifted her up, and she was healed, renewed. Such action demonstrated Jesus’ active involvement in the process of healing and renewal. Now, he himself needed to be renewed. Getting up early, he went to a deserted place where, through time alone in prayer, he could be renewed in both physical and mental strength.

Jesus was renewed through prayer. We can do likewise, though we may simultaneously be sorting recycling, turning compost or doing other tasks. Everyone needs to recharge. It is not always easy to recognise when we need to recharge to be renewed.

Like us, the earth is a finite resource. We need to ask ourselves, if we take fish from the sea, mine minerals and only replace loss with pollution and profit, where is the renewal? Renewal of the earth is not new to this century: Hildegard of Bingen in the twelfth century coined the term ‘viriditas’, the greening power of the Divine, connecting it closely with creativity. Isaiah, too, recognised the renewing power of hoping in God (Isaiah 40:31). 

Our churches need renewal. Agricultural land is renewed by leaving it fallow. There’s renewal when we use renewable energy sources. ‘The Task of Renewal is a responsibility for us all, encompassing all aspects of our lives, family, race, economy, politics, education, equality [and health], including the whole planet and everything in it, on it and surrounding it.’¹

More than that, prayer leads to us better understanding our role in the world. At the COP in 2015, we got commitments. 2021 needs positive, prayerful action. Jesus renewed through healing and prayer. He is renewing the Earth by his resurrection. Let us fulfil his mission of renewal.

¹ ‘The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review’, February 2021

Prayer

Renewing Jesus,
Renew us to the task here and now.

We have polluted the earth; 
harming, starving, exploiting, exterminating;
concurring with systems where few gain and most lose.

Renew us to a just equilibrium for all your Creation.

Forgiving Lord, guide us.
Renew us to the task we must face.

Amen

URC Daily Devotion 2 November 2021

Proverbs 16 selected verses

When the ways of people please the LORD,
he causes even their enemies to be at peace with them.
Better is a little with righteousness
than large income with injustice.
The human mind plans the way,
but the LORD directs the steps.
Inspired decisions are on the lips of a king;
his mouth does not sin in judgement.
Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
and he loves those who speak what is right.
How much better to get wisdom than gold!
To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Those who are attentive to a matter will prosper,
and happy are those who trust in the LORD.
The wise of heart is called perceptive,
and pleasant speech increases persuasiveness.
Wisdom is a fountain of life to one who has it,
but folly is the punishment of fools.
The mind of the wise makes their speech judicious,
and adds persuasiveness to their lips.

Reflection

Long before I moved to Cardiff, I had heard Wales described as the ‘Land of Song’. The melodies of the great Welsh anthem and majestic hymn, Calon Lan, testify to the power of the human voice and our need to express ourselves through words and music. The ability to communicate with one another, an immeasurable gift from God, brings with it joy, danger, responsibility and opportunity.

In Christian Aid’s Song of the Prophets, we hear that ‘Prophetic voices, whether from the Scriptures, from climate science, or from people living in poverty today, sing a powerful song. We must set aside our fear and listen.’

Most climate scientists predict that global warming could reach 1.5 degrees by 2030. Today, already at 1 degree of warming, the cycle of climate chaos robs the poorest communities of their means of survival. The Dasgupta Report warns that one in four species are at risk of extinction. Addressing the UK Parliament, the young activist, Greta Thunberg, asked if her microphone was really on and if she could be heard, because she was beginning to wonder.

If we have listened to the scientists, to nature, to the most vulnerable and to the young, how should we respond? Today’s reading reminds us that the ‘mouth should not betray justice’ (Proverbs 16:10, NIV). The Climate Sunday initiative was a chance for local churches and their members to find their voices, to commit to long-term action and to sign the Climate Coalition’s Declaration. Hope for the Future encouraged churches to speak to their MPs ahead of COP 26, while Climate Cymru gathered thousands of diverse voices from throughout Wales to take to the summit. There are always opportunities to use our voices as we work for climate justice. The challenge now is to ensure that our lives speak louder than our words as we continue to listen to those ‘who help us to reimagine the world… and inspire us with the hope to keep on singing’ (‘Song of the Prophets’, Christian Aid).

Prayer

Creator God,
You have spoken and we hear your words:
Do not be afraid;
keep on speaking,
do not be silent.
Give us courage to challenge ourselves and our lifestyles,
strength in our continued calls for climate justice,
and hope that the power of our voices may create change.
Amen

Gremlins and Apologies

Apologies

Dear Friends,

Just a note to thank you all for your patience over the last couple of weeks and to apologise for the technical problems we have been having.  For reasons far too technical for me to understand the bit of the website where we store the Devotions and the Podcasts became inaccessible.  This meant that those of you who listen to the Podcasts were unable to hear them as the various providers look to the, then defunct, website to get them.  It also meant that local churches who kindly put each devotion on their own website were unable to do so. 

I am pleased to say that normal service has been resumed and that if you wish to catch up on, some at least, of October’s podcasts they are available via devotions.urc.org.uk   The website has also been inaccessible to Walt Johnson, who kindly loads up the Podcasts for us, so there may be a few gaps until he’s able to get them loaded up.

In a totally separate mess we were late sending out Michael Hopkins’ excellent service for Reformation Day yesterday and what we did send out linked to the wrong recording.  I have already apologised to Michael and extend my apologies to you all.  Michael’s service can be heard here and is well worth a listen at any time of the week.

We hope that we have now exorcised the various gremlins which had plagued us – once again please accept my apologies for these mistakes.

with every good wish

Andy

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

URC Daily Devotion 1 November 2021

Romans 8:18-25 

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Reflection

As we witness the impacts resulting from the climate crisis, it can be easy to despair at a lack of action. With most countries having failed to be near achieving their climate commitments, it is easy to question whether COP26 will have any serious effect. I often wonder if the changes we make in our individual lifestyles are pointless if governments and the biggest polluters continue to resist action. If we are not to give in to the despair that stops us from making positive choices about the way we live, then first and foremost we need hope. This can be the catalyst for change and turn the sacrifices we make into joyful and willing acts. 

We can draw on this hope from the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour. His resurrection is what confirms our Christian faith, and it is our faith in him that enables us to have hope for the future of the planet. While we await Christ’s return, we are part of a creation groaning in labour pains for the new creation on its way. Our crucial hope is in God’s promise to the world, and the one who will, in the fulness of eternity, restore creation.

This does not remove the need to act now. Our hope must not lead to complacency about the scale of the challenge, but truly requires and encourages us to act. This hope extends to events like COP26, that they will find a place in God’s purpose for the redeeming of the world. We can hold onto the hope that our efforts for the safeguarding of creation and the serving of those most affected will not be in vain. Hope is a reason for bold action both at COP26 but also in our own everyday lifestyles, in accordance with God’s will for creation. Hope applied to our lives frees us from despair and leads us from inaction to action.

Are you feeling hopeful today?

Prayer

Creator God,
Help us to not fall into despair when we witness the neglect of your wonderful creation,
but fill us with the hope and desire that each one of us can put things right
and make a difference in caring for the world you love.
Amen

URC Daily Devotion 31 October 2021

Praise our God with shouts of joy,
sing the glory of his name;
join to lift his praises high,
through the world his love proclaim.

2 Come and see what God has done
by the power of his right hand;
see the battles he has won
by his word of swift command.

3 God has tamed the raging seas,
carved a highway through the tide,
paid the cost of our release,
come himself to be our guide.

4 God has put us to the test,
bringing us through flood and fire,
into freedom, peace and rest,
for our good is his desire.

5 He has not despised my prayer
nor kept back his love from me;
he has raised me from despair
to our God all glory be!

Christopher Idle from Psalm 66
© Christopher Idle/Jubilate Hymns
You can hear the tune here
https://www.jubilate.co.uk/songs/praise_our_god_with_shouts_of_joy

Reflection

Thankfulness turns into song. Just as Christopher Idle has caught the power and the passion into this sung version, so the original Psalmist caught the power and passion into words to be sung and cherished across Israel’s generations and into holy scripture. The opening rehearses a great moment of salvation when waters were held back and crossing could be safely made. Clearly, we are looking back to the escape from Egypt or the arrival at the promised land as the Jordan is crossed. Then the Psalm continues into thanksgiving for trials survived and attacks overcome.

Our version builds upon the Psalm’s opening verses. We remember salvation from danger, from enemies and from the raging power of creation itself. We remember being put to the test. God is revealed as agent of our escape and source of our safety. God it is who acts to bring us to the time and place in which we can sing of salvation because salvation has become real to us. The final verse makes things personal. It is not just our salvation, but mine. Mine have been the prayers longing for answers. Mine have been the faltering hopes. Mine has been despair. But no longer! 

I find it staggering to be writing this, having read this, thinking of you reading this, as we travel onwards in the company of Covid-19. Could there be a more poignant and powerful biblical word into our pandemic-ravaged world? The peaks of fear and loss, the nightmare of it all, may be passing for many across the world, but certainly not for everyone. We have been hurt and humbled. And, in these ancient words sung afresh, salvation is still named. God is honoured and worshipped as the one who saves us. No enemy, no force, no power, can defeat the God who works to bring us safely through. Amidst all we will have lost, there is another song worth singing. 

Prayer

We are saved!
Thank you, Lord.
You have heard our deepest cries.
You have shared our greatest sorrows.
You have known our sharpest fears.
Even when we could not see or understand,
You were at work.
Even as we fell, exhausted,
Your hands held us.
Let praise be our theme today.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 30 October 2021

Proverbs 18:11

The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
    the righteous run into it and are safe.
The wealth of the rich is their strong city;
    in their imagination it is like a high wall.

Reflection

Much of what we do in life is about finding safety.  We find safety in our work, our wages, our homes, our relationships, our pensions, and our families.  In the West we have been taught to think of security as owning our own homes, having good jobs, getting a good education, doing well within the system.  As a nation we place our faith in strong alliances and nuclear weapons to keep us safe.  In many parts of our world these things, and safety itself, could only be dreamt of.  The poor can’t find security in wealth.  The oppressed can’t hide behind home and family when the despots are after them.  Poorer nations look for aid and have to ally with powerful countries who want their resources.  

The Psalmist wrote in a difficult age.  Israel was never really secure – the promised land was plundered from other races and tribes who wanted it back.  The superpowers of the age saw Israel as being a buffer state between them.  Invasion was all too common, after the tragedy of the Exile, the Greeks and then the Romans invaded.  Kings were tempted to put their trust in foreign alliances – sealed with marriage to pagan wives – only to find that these alliances were fickle and easily broken.  Of course the rich, then as now, would seek security in their wealth – a strong city, a high wall yet these offered little security in the end.  

Instead the Psalmist, like the prophets who came later, asked the people to put their trust in God – not foriegn policy, not wealth, not even high walls.  How might we trust in God for our safety?  How might our nations?

Prayer

O God you are our high tower,
help us to put our trust in you,
not in borders, armies or alliances.
O God you are our refuge,
help us to put our trust in you,
not in wealth, buildings or qualifications.
O God, help us to run to you
and rely on your saving presence.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 29 October 2021

Friday October 29, 2021 

Proverbs 16: 31 – 32

Grey hair is a crown of glory;
    it is gained in a righteous life.
One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
    and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city.

Reflection

‘Your daughters could help you do something about ageing,’ was the unsolicited advice proffered.  The girls were listening.

Grey hair is beautiful.’

I was startled. Mostly teenagers are brutally blunt. 

Feminists and animal rights activists do warn against colourings.  Yet I like to think that deeper insights underpinned our daughters’ verdict.

God sees what’s good.

God knows us inside out.

The first proverb shows the beauty of a life well lived: a wrinkled, imperfect, hoar-framed face radiates grace.  Such a person has long been able to express trust and praise, through bad times as in good ones.

Yet could such a man or woman ever have lost their temper? 

Yes, and they’d have found that most disquieting. 

Sometimes mounting anger feels as though a match is about to ignite a bonfire.

Time out prevents flames from fanning. Breathing deeply, feeling air move through every pore of skin as mind and body settle – these are wholesome strategies.  Yet feelings may toss around, giving the illusion that God is absent.

Rage might be the response to absurdity or injustice. 

Being real is vital for well-being.  No-one wants to end up crushed and despairing, nor to withdraw into a cold silence, barely covering pain and contempt.  Before inhibition sets in, infants know how to let rip.  How great it is, to see a creative parent allowing, containing and understanding those ear-splitting currents of emotion.  There’s time to reflect once the storm passes.

Throughout life, finding that safe place and seeking wise counsel matter greatly.  Prayer is not about ‘being a good boy (or girl)’.   Self-control requires honesty, not compliance.

Learning how to handle ourselves skilfully is very different from ‘keeping the lid on’. 

God loves us at the core, even in our troubled state. Our choices, courage and genuine resilience expand as we face our vulnerabilities squarely. 

Prayer

Dear Jesus, 
You met hypocrisy with shrewd wit and went after corrupt people with a whip. 
You also tell us that we must forgive not seventy times, but seventy times seven.
We ask for deep awareness that you accompany us through all life’s scenes and stages.  
Give us the humour and serenity we need, and humble discernment whenever we are ready to call out whatever is outrageous.  Amen