URC Daily Devotion 28 October 2021

Thursday 28 October 2021
 

Proverbs 16: 8

Better is a little with righteousness
 than large income with injustice.

Reflection

Proverbs like this tend to carry some truth but little conviction, and hover on the edge of platitude. In gospel terms they are inadequate. Jesus was unequivocal: “Give it all away to the poor and look for treasure in heaven”. Amen to that; but we don’t, and we never have. It’s fashionable to conjure up the demons of empire and race these days, but that’s not where the real problem lies. Ancient societies had tribal loyalties, family ties, even feudal obligations to attempt to bring a little justice into the deal. Capitalism changed that. Our Protestant forebears wrestled with the problem of capital wealth and industrial poverty and tried to reconcile the two – and failed. Keynes, the economist, put it like this: “Modern capitalism is absolutely irreligious, without internal union, without much public spirit, often, though not always, a mere congeries of possessors and pursuers”. 

We now have a world where celebrities can whizz into space for 2 minutes and millions of pounds while below the earth burns and floods. A pair of sneakers can be invested in for a mere £100,000 while the children starve. The Church has always been part of the game –  when Pope Gregory saw the Angles in the market who looked like Angels, he was on a shopping expedition for slaves. The children and mothers who worked in the Manchester cotton mills were every bit as enslaved as their black and brown brothers and sisters who had picked the cotton on the other side of the world. It’s not the emperors and the kings or even the republics and the dictators who enslave us – “It’s the economy, stupid”. Until we learn to give up everything for love and believe that Jesus meant what he said, we will never know what righteousness means.
 
Prayer

O God, who has bound us together in this bundle of life, give us grace to understand how our lives depend upon the courage, industry, honesty and integrity of our fellows. May we be grateful for their faithfulness, and faithful in our responsibilities to then; through Christ our Lord. Amen

Oxford Cycle of Prayer
 

URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 27th October 2021

Wednesday October 27, 2021
Proverbs 15: 30 – 33

The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
    and good news refreshes the body.
The ear that heeds wholesome admonition
    will lodge among the wise.
Those who ignore instruction despise themselves,
    but those who heed admonition gain understanding.
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom,
    and humility goes before honour.

Reflection

I am not very good at reading and following instructions, especially for flat pack furniture – I tend to be a bit impatient.  I look at what’s in front of me – the bits of wood and the nuts and bolts and screws, have a quick look at the pictures and start putting it together.  Unsurprisingly I normally come a cropper, get incredibly frustrated with myself for being so foolish (again) to think I’m capable of doing this without following the instructions.  I may not quite despise myself but neither do I heed my admonition either.

Perhaps this passage from Proverbs should become my mantra!

Reading these few verses though, it would be easy just to say, ‘yep that’s right’, with no other explanation.  Yes, it is right but there is a bit more to it than that.

Not for the first time in Proverbs there is a contrast between the outer and the inner person.  It starts with two sense organs – the eyes and the ears which take in light and good news – they then influence the inner person of heart and mind. 

I have just been following the series of devotions on the book of Revelation where it often speaks, as our Proverb does, of those who have ears being open to understanding God, we need to be wise to what God has to say.  For if we fear God, if we respect God, we will listen, and then we will be open to what he has to say to us

Yet, as I keep finding out to my cost, the eyes and ears are free to accept or reject what is in front of them, whether that is the word of God or an instruction manual.

Prayer

Loving Lord, give us eyes to see what you are doing in the world. 
Give us ears to hear what you have to say to us.
Give us wisdom to recognise your presence.
Give us courage to admit when we are wrong.  Amen

URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 26th October 2021

Tuesday October 26, 2021 

Proverbs 15: 8-9

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
    but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
    but he loves the one who pursues righteousness.

Reflection

We get mixed messages about sacrifices from the Old Testament. The underlying message would seem to be that God really doesn’t want burnt offerings and he does want us to ‘do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God’ (Micah 6:8). Why then would the writer of Proverbs single out the sacrifices of the wicked as those which God particularly dislikes? Is it to enable the poetry of the contrasting phrases to work or is there something more going on here. Proverbs is not designated as ‘wisdom literature’ for nothing and I think we can be pretty sure there is more to discover from these words.

Is this something about honesty and integrity? Sacrifices, supposedly to honour God, made by those who live less than upright lives, are dishonest acts. They deceive those who make them and those who observe their making. We can be sure they do not deceive God.

And as for us, we may not be much given to burnt offerings (except occasionally by mistake in our kitchens!) but we do talk about sacrificial giving of time, talents and money. Giving which is costly and a personal response to God’s love. God delights in the prayers of the upright, who sacrifice with honesty and integrity and who truly pursue justice.

Prayer

God of justice,
we know how difficult it is
to act justly in all circumstances.
We pray for wisdom.
We know how easy it is
to kid ourselves that we are doing all we can.
We pray for integrity.
We believe that you desire our prayers
and so we pray that the prayers we bring
and the lives we live
may be your delight.  Amen

URC Daily Devotion Monday 25th October 2021

Monday October 25, 2021
Proverbs 15: 1-2

A soft answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge
    but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

Reflection

I recently completed the ‘Journey of Hope’ pilgrimage with St Ethleburga’s, the Iona Community, the Corrymeela Community and a few other organisations and my question going in was ‘how do I balance my passion for justice with humility to change hearts and minds?’ By the end of the 6 month course I realised that having a justice orientated mind-set towards peacebuilding was not necessarily a bad thing, and I am not sure that my ability to stand back in debates has increased, but I have a profound respect for those who can mediate and withhold sharing their own opinion when they know it is not helpful.

Another thing I have been learning however, is that peacemaking is bigger than the obvious people involved. It is structural and political. Attacking people for their views will most likely not change their views. A soft answer does not have to be an insubstantial answer.
On the contrary, this is telling us to be careful when we speak, to be grounded in knowledge, experience and understanding. Part of the peacebuilding course was to complete an action at home. I thought I might do something about reconciliation between generations but instead threw myself into something completely different, something I feel less confident about. I’m using a model of a reading group to hear voices that feel ignored to understand a conflict- Israel/Palestine. Liberal peacebuilding tends to see an outsider enter a conflict already believing that they have the answer. Instead, peacebuilding is a patient journey for all involved, and only by listening to all, listening even when it makes you angry, can we have the resources to be wise.

Prayer

Patient, Loving God of all, 
Help us to employ mercy, seek truth and work for justice for peace, 
Let us value and love all of your creation, 
Seeing ourselves as part of your story,
And learning to speak not for ourselves but for you.

 

URC Daily Devotion Sunday 24th October 2021

 

Every heart its tribute pays,
every tongue its song of praise;
sin and sorrow, guilt and care,
brought to Him who answers prayer;
there by grace may humankind
full and free forgiveness find;
called and chosen, loved and blest,
in His presence be at rest. 

Ever while His deeds endure
our salvation stands secure;
He whose fingers spun the earth,
gave the seas and mountains birth,
tamed the ocean, formed the land,
spread the skies with mighty hand:
far-off shores revere His name,
day and night His power proclaim. 

Year by year the seasons ‘round
sees the land with blessing crowned,
where caressed by sun and rain
barren earth gives life again;
sunlit valleys burn with gold,
nature smiles on field and fold,
gifts of God in plenty poured:
all things living, praise the Lord! 

Timothy Dudley Smith © 1984 Hope Publishing Company

You can hear this sung to St George’s Windsor, here

https://bit.ly/3xlGB0m

Reflection

This Psalm is full of praise for God’s promises which are constant, as is God’s love for Creation, for ourselves and all within it.  Set here to a well- known harvest hymn tune, I find myself reassured by this confident statement of faith.  Even our shortcomings can be brought to God, for God’s grace is overflowing with love, just as God provides for the Earth to be fertile.

As I write this reflection, the news is full of wildfires as temperatures soar in some areas, whilst others are flooded with too much rain falling too quickly.  The balance of nature which the psalmist praises is threatened and we are uneasily aware of how delicate this balance is and how easily it is upset.

Yet the Bible also has stories of flood and famine – times when many doubted that God either cared for God’s people or that God had power to bring rain to parched lands, or alternatively to cease the flood.

In times of uncertainty, singing God’s praises and reminding ourselves of the love God pours out on each one of us is a good thing to do. Even as we confess our failure to care for creation as God would have us do, yet with God’s help we can take action to address the challenges of climate change which benefits all creation, not just ourselves.

Yet the familiarity of a tune which we have heard at Harvest for many years should not lull us into a sense that we can carry on and things will get back to normal. We can indeed trust in God’s providence and God’s mercy – but we must trust whilst also working to heed the warning signs, for the good of the whole of creation and not just ourselves.

Prayer

Generous God of Creation
We praise you for scientists and innovators who have warned us of the danger of our greedy exploitation of your gift to us.
We confess our failure to act has affected others much more than ourselves.
We pray for your guidance as we find ways to alleviate the problems we have caused.
 We see your hand in the beauty of your creation and we praise you

Amen

URC Daily Devotion Saturday October 23, 2021

Saturday October 23, 2021

Proverbs 12: 25 – 26

Anxiety weighs down the human heart,
    but a good word cheers it up.
The righteous gives good advice to friends,
    but the way of the wicked leads astray.

Reflection

Most of us have experienced the familiar twinge of anxiety in our lives, whether it’s anxiously waiting for test results, worried about a loved one, or stressed about finances.  Some of us will also have experienced Anxiety as mental ill health.  The Church, at its best, ought to play a part in building up the support network of people experiencing distress.

Here are some things you could consider:
·       Find out if anxious people want to be invited to events.  It could come across as pressure if you bombard them with invitations.  Ask where the balance lies between encouragement and adding anxiety.
·       Send them an encouraging text from time to time, to let them know you’re thinking of them.
·       Ask them if they have anything particular that you could pray for.
·       Ask what they perceive as “too much support” that causes anxiety or feels over the top.
·       Invite people to a social catch-up, such as coffee and cake.
·       Remember Church is not just inside the walls of our chapels.
·       Talk to your church about how welcoming and inclusive your community actually is for those experiencing distress, things like language, beliefs, or practices that might inadvertently isolate people.  Make sure you include those who have real life experiences with distress to be part of your thinking.

Prayer

Nothing distress you,
nothing affright you,
everything passes,
God will abide.
Patient endeavour
accomplishes all things;
who God possesses needs naught beside.
 
Hell may assail you,
it cannot move you;
sorrows may grieve you,
faith may be tried.
Though you have nothing,
he is your treasure:
who God possesses
needs naught beside.
 
Colin P. Thompson (1945 – ), as at 548 in Rejoice and Sing
 

URC Daily Devotion Friday October 22, 2021

Friday October 22, 2021 

Proverbs 12: 22 – 23

Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
    but those who act faithfully are his delight.
One who is clever conceals knowledge,
    but the mind of a fool broadcasts folly.

Reflection

It might (or might not) have been Abraham Lincoln who said “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” I suspect that whoever it was, they were significantly influenced by the Book of Proverbs, where foolishness and the ability to talk rubbish are a common theme.

There are, of course, people who don’t speak until they are absolutely clear about what they want to express. They often have a great deal of wisdom to offer, but run the risk of not being heard, because by the time they are ready to speak, things have moved on. 

I’m the other sort of person – the sort that sometimes works out what they are thinking by talking. I always run the risk of broadcasting folly. In my early days in Wessex I remember being in various meetings, and explaining that it was best not to take what I first said as being my final opinion. Welcome to the society of fools!

Whilst I risk saying things that aren’t wise, and I’m sure that plenty of people would be glad if I said less, I hope that both you and I are able to follow the first part of this reading completely. There’s a difference between talking nonsense, and deliberately lying. I suspect that the collector of these proverbs would be tearing their hair out at the comments section on the average website news item. 

The contrast between God’s response to faithless talk and faithful action is the important thing here. So, in the words of the Elvis Presley song, perhaps God is calling us to “a little less conversation, a little more action please.”

Prayer

God,
You are described as both Word and Wisdom.
May we reflect your wisdom in our words
and in our silence.
And may our faithful actions be a sign to others
of your presence in our lives.
Amen
 

URC Daily Devotion Thursday October 21, 2021

Thursday October 21, 2021 
 

Proverbs 11:1

A false balance is an abomination to the Lord,
    but an accurate weight is his delight.

Reflection

In these days of pre packaged food and a move, during my lifetime, to metric weights and measures this verse seems a little odd.  We have laws, and local councils have trading standards departments, to check that shops and businesses treat us fairly.  Scales have to be regularly calibrated to ensure we get what we pay for.  This is quite a modern phenomenon and whilst many of us may still think in pounds and ounces – and get quite confused by grams and kilos – we can be reasonably confident that the weight on the pack is the weight of what is inside it.  

In the ancient world traders could be unscrupulous.  An illiterate population might find it hard to challenge the weights and measures used in a market place.  In a pre-scientific age how might one prove an assertion that one was being cheated?  Of course the rich could shop around, afford their own weights to check and punish those who sought to cheat them – but the poor, then as now, were at the mercy of the market.  

Intriguingly the writer strongly asserts that the Lord is concerned with simple things like weights and measures; the Lord is concerned with accurate calibration! Not because, I suspect, of a keen interest in physics but because the poor are cheated and oppressed.  Time and time again in Scripture the Lord’s especial concern for the poor is seen – this passage is but one example.

Laws can protect us, they can ensure we live in a society which is just and ordered well; disengagement and cynicism allows governments to pass unjust laws which oppress and wound.  As we see God’s concern for weights and measures we should also see His concern for justice and equity – and make that concern our own too!

Prayer

O God of weight and measures,
O God of justice and peace, 
O God of equality and fairness,
help us to so order our society
that all your people flourish.
Amen.
 

URC Daily Devotion Wednesday October 20, 2021

Wednesday October 20, 2021
 

Proverbs  9: 7 – 12

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

URC Daily Devotion 19th October 2021

Proverbs 8: 22 – 36

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

So what is this wisdom?

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

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

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

What is wisdom for you today?

Prayer

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