Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith towards the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.
Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow-workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Reflection If you’re like me you might be struggling to remember much about the letter to Philemon. Paul pleads for Philemon to accept the runaway slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ. I offer four suggestions on why this letter has something to say to us today:
Christian ethics still matter. Both Paul and Onesimus were convinced that the right thing to do was for Onesimus to return. In their time and place this was the right way to do things, and it’s a challenge to us now to make sure we try to do the right thing.
Courage is important. The letter to Philemon is a tremendous tribute to courage. Onesimus had no idea what his fate might be, but he went back anyway.
Persuasion is better than power. This beautiful letter to Philemon is a masterful example of the art of gentle persuasion, rather than brute force. It’s a psychological masterpiece: Paul doesn’t wish to flex his apostolic muscle, but he does intend to nudge Philemon in the right direction.
Take the long view. Paul isn’t interested in today or tomorrow, but in the long term, Onesimus’s long term welfare. We can so often find ourselves only seeing the short term, but God challenges us to look at the long term.
Those of us like Philemon might find ourselves challenged to make radical changes in or lives, while those of us like Onesimus might find ourselves challenged to go back and face our terrors, taking the risk that it might not turn out all right. There may be a bit of Philemon and Onesimus in most of us: it isn’t easy to apologise or to forgive, nor to face our own fears; but God enabled a damaged relationship to be restored. Following is tough – just like crucifixion – but the rewards are eternal – just like resurrection.
Good morning God. Please give us strength: strength to hold on, and strength to let go. Amen.
Revd Michael Hopkins, Minister of a group of Methodist and United Reformed Churches based around Farnham, Surrey, and Clerk of the URC General Assembly.
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URC Daily Devotion Worship for Sunday 29th November 2020 Advent 1: ‘Waiting and Longing’
Tomorrow – by U2 (abridged)
…Won’t you come back tomorrow? Won’t you be back tomorrow? Will you be back tomorrow? Can I sleep tonight? ‘Cause I want you, I, I want you I really, I, I want, I, I I want you to be back tomorrow I want you to be back tomorrow
Will you be back tomorrow? Won’t you be back tomorrow? Won’t you be back tomorrow? Will you be back tomorrow?
Open up, open up To the lamb of God To the love of he who made The blind to see He’s coming back He’s coming back Oh believe it Jesus’s coming I’m gonna be there I’m gonna be there mother I’m gonna be there mother I’m going out there, ooh
Hello. My name is Andy Braunston and alongside my work with four lovely churches in and around Glasgow I coordinate the Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church and have been helping to ensure we’ve had a Sunday service every week since mid-March. We have a special series of Daily Devotion services for Advent. We thought we would do something different for our Sunday Advent, Christmas and Epiphany services and use reflections written by Baptist writer, Nick Fawcett, who offers meditations based on the perspective of various people in the Biblical story. We’ve mixed these with music – sometimes secular like today – and a range of hymns. The reflections take the place of sermons and we hope that, for the next few weeks, you sit back and enjoy these, slightly different, services. If they aren’t quite to your taste, don’t worry, we have a more traditional Carol Service, Christmas Eve midnight service and Christmas Day morning service for you as well! I’m now going to hand over to my colleague Lesley Thomson who is an ordinand at the Scottish United Reformed and Congregational College. Lesley is undertaking a placement in my churches and has helped put these services together.
In our service today we think about waiting and longing through the eyes of two characters in the stories – a guest at a dinner party and Simon the Zealot as well as through the eyes of a nominal believer. Many Christians, when they celebrate Holy Communion announce: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. I wonder how many of us really believe that Christ will come again. It’s one of the great Advent themes and yet it’s not something we often dwell upon in our Christian lives. Christ’s coming again is bound up with the idea of justice and judgement – again ideas we don’t like very much in contemporary Christianity. These themes should make us wonder – wonder if we’ve used our gifts wisely, thought of others as well as ourselves, been honest in all our dealings, offered forgiveness just as God has forgiven us, and responded to Christ in the lives of the poor, the weak and the hungry. These are difficult things to ponder as we journey together through Advent.
Call to Worship
We wait for the Lord and in His word we hope. We wait for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning
This is no darkness in you, O Lord.
O people, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love. and with God is plenteous redemption.
There is no darkness in you, O Lord.
Glory be to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
There is no darkness in you, O Lord.
Come let us worship
Hymn Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending Charles Wesley 1707 – 1788
Lo! he comes with clouds descending, Once for favoured sinners slain; Thousand thousand saints attending Swell the triumph of his train: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! God appears, on earth to reign!
Those dear tokens of His passion, still his dazzling body bears; cause of endless exultation to His ransomed worshippers, with what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture, gaze we on those glorious scars!
Yea, Amen! let all adore thee, High on thine eternal throne; Saviour, take the power and glory: Claim the kingdom for thine own: O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly! Alleluia! Come, Lord, come!
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Assurance of Forgiveness
We come as guest invited to join in praise and worship, grant us this time of serenity and peace Allow us to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of life And Calm our minds from distracting thoughts So that we may share in the words prayers and praise of this service.
There have been times when we have ignored your invitation Lord, Displaced our graciousness with contempt and ignorance Please forgive us for these lapses in judgement and guide us in your way. Grant us the fulfillment of joining in your praise and worship.
Forgive us Lord, for those times when we allow our faith to be hidden from view Remind us of the work undertaken by Christ with the poor, outcast and estranged. Provide us with the grace to follow in his footsteps as we walk in the world today
Thank you for reminding us of our journey, open our eyes and keep us ever vigilant as we step along your pathway of love and understanding. And hear us now as we pray together in the words Jesus taught us, saying..
Our Father who art in heaven…
Prayer of Illumination
Lord as we listen to your word today we ask that you be in our hearts and in our minds, That you be in our mouths and in our speaking And that you be in our heads and in our understanding
St Luke 14: 16-24
Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you,[b] none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”
Meditation of a guest dining with Jesus and Simon the Pharisee
Turn down the chance of a feast! Can you see that happening? I can’t It’s possible, I suppose, that one or two wouldn’t be able to make it – A pressing engagement, perhaps, An unavoidable commitment – But the majority would move hell and high water to be there, Not just for the chance of a free meal, though that’s reason enough, But for the whole occasion, The fun, frivolity, friendship Everything an event of that sort symbolises. Would people really turn their backs on that, Let alone respond with open hostility? No, I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t ring true, The prospect not only ridiculous but, quite frankly, incredible. And yet, isn’t that precisely why Jesus told the story, To bring home how foolish it is To turn down the invitation he brings, To turn our backs on the joy, blessing and fulfilment He so longs for us to share in? It should be incredible, shouldn’t it? But sadly, it’s not, Time and again his love rejected, His offer of new life thrown back into his face. We all do it, if we’re honest, Even though we may think we’re committed. We’ve time enough for him when it’s convenient, When it suits us to make time, But we’re only too ready to thrust him aside When “more pressing” concerns raise their head, His call then relegated to second place. Not now, we say, Tomorrow will do, But, all too often, tomorrow never comes. Thank God he’s ready to make allowances – Only don’t push it too far And certainly don’t go counting any chickens, For the invitation may not hold for ever, Not even for us. If we’re too busy to respond, there are others ready, Others only too conscious of their need And the privilege extended to them. Delay too long, And you may find your place at table taken, Your seat occupied, The banquet God had in store for you consumed by another. Think about those words of his, That message he tried to put across. It’s not just about others; It’s about you – The response you’ve made, The response you continue to make. The guest list is made up, But it can easily be changed. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!
Wait for the Lord whose day is near, wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart.
St Matthew 25: 1-13
‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids[c] got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Meditation of a Typical Nominal Christian
Not ready! What’s he trying to say? Of course I’m ready, prepared for the coming of the kingdom whenever that might be – no way you’ll catch me on the hop! All right, so I’ve not done anything about it, not yet, anyway, but I will when I need to, you mark my words. What’s the hurry, though, that’s what I say – there’ll be time for change later – live a little first while you have the chance, let your hair down, push the boat out, enjoy today and let tomorrow take care of itself. Oh, you may tut and shake your heads, but there’ll be ample opportunity to make amends, you’ll see. Don’t think I’m stupid, I’Il be watching for the signs as well as any, and if it’s ever clear that my time’s up, the writing on the wall either for me or this world of ours, I’ll make my peace with God soon enough. But all that’s for later, no point worrying about it now. I’ve got years left in me yet, haven’t I? – haven’t I? Lord, what’s going on … help … I never thought … never imagined for a moment! Lord … are you there … are you listening? Oh Lord!
Hymn Give Me Oil in My Lamp Trad.
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Give me oil in my lamp, I pray. Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Keep me burning till the break of day.
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna, sing hosanna to the King of kings! Sing hosanna, sing hosanna, sing hosanna to the King!
St Luke 12: 35-48
‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’
Peter said, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?’ And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming”, and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
Meditation of Simon the Zealot
Meditation of Simon the Zealot, one of the twelve disciples We thought the waiting was over, After all those years looking forward to the dawn of the Messiah, we dared to hope the moment had arrived’ the day when God’s kingdom would at last be established and his servant would rule over all. But apparently not, for here he was, our friend Jesus, whom we had looked to with such confidence, such anticipation, telling us to be dressed for action, prepared once again for his coming. It left us bemused, bewildered, for why did he have to leave us? Why not simply stay and claim the kingdom now? Only it wasn’t that simple, unfortunately, a time apart needed before we could truly be together, and it came as a bitter blow. It had been hard enough for those of before us to keep faith, to hold on to the belief that the Messiah would come despite centuries of disappointment, and now here he was talking of another long delay in store, no telling how long it might be before his return; even, indeed, whether we might see it in our lifetime. It takes courage to go on trusting then; a special kind of faith to keep hope fresh and the flame burning as brightly as the day it was lit. We may think we’re ready and waiting, but it doesn’t take long for carelessness or complacency to set in. He will come, we tell ourselves. but not today, not tomorrow, And probably not the next day; so relax, take it easy, plenty of time for more serious discipleship. He will come, but there’s no sign of it yet, not even the slightest indication that the day is near; so, for the moment at least, let’s accommodate the way of the world, a little pragmatism to balance faith. Do you see what I’m getting at? We say we believe, that our faith is as vibrant as the day it was born, but it no longer makes any difference to our lives, its life – giving breath slowly anaesthetised by habit and familiarity. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t be caught short when the day finally dawns. I know his promise seems a long time ago and its fulfilment equally as far away, and I know how easy it is to feel like those who waited so long for the Messiah’s coming yet never saw it. The difference is that we’ve seen him for ourselves, we’ve watched as he dwelt among us, lived, breathed, suffered and died; and we know now, despite everything that may seem to deny it, that, as he came, so he shall come again.
HymnChrist is Coming! Let Creation from her Groans and Travails Cease John Ross Macduff (1818-1895)
Christ is coming! Let creation from her groans and travail cease; let the glorious proclamation hope restore and faith increase.
2 Earth can now but tell the story of Thy bitter Cross and pain; she shall yet behold Thy glory, when Thou comest back to reign.
Come on back home! Come on back home! Come on back home! Haste that joyous jubilee
3 Long Thy people have been pining, for Thy peace and rest in Thee. Soon in Heavenly glory shining, there restored shall they see.
4 With that blessed hope before us, let no harp remain unstrung; let the mighty Advent chorus onward roll on every tongue.
Affirmation of Faith
It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;
It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.
It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.
It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.
It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity, of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshippers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.
We join together in our prayer for others
Loving God, We pray for the oppressed and the forgotten, for the hungry, the lonely and the victimised. So many people throughout the world will go without food today, Without hope for the future, or the friendship of others to sustain them Give strength to the weak, the marginalised and the hungry Allow us to hold them in our prayers
We hold them in our hearts now…
Creator God, We pray for our world today, That we pay attention to the needs of the planet Let us not be blind to the damage we are causing to the environment and creatures we share this world with Remove the necessity of consumption from our lives Allowing us to remain the caretakers of your creation.
We hold creation within our hearts now…
Gracious God, We find ourselves living in a time of global pandemic With concerns for the health of all people Concerns over physical health and the damage caused by Covid 19 Concerns over the damage to mental health caused by the restrictions to our lives Wrap your arms around the world Lord, Remind all people that you are here for them
We hold the sick within our hearts now…
Lord, We now take this time to hold those dear to ourselves, Those who are struggling with health concerns or financial concerns Those who are lonely or grieving the loss of a loved one.
In this time of silence we hold those close to us within our hearts…
Loving Lord, Let us be ready and prepared to share your love with the world around us Amen
Offertory Introduction & Prayer
Week after week we are guests at the banquet Jesus throws open to all. Week after week we are invited to give – of our time by simply being here, of our talents, of our love and of our financial gifts. Our churches across these islands have been blessed by the generosity that our people continue to show even in these strange times as we’ve kept up with our envelopes, made our standing orders or made a special gift. Let us give thanks now for this generosity.
We come to your banquet, O servant King, as guests uninvited, ready to accept your generosity which we do not deserve, yet you raise use, feast with us, and pour your gifts upon us. Take our paltry gifts which we offer in return, that they may be used to further your coming Kingdom which is breaking into our world. Amen.
HymnComfort, Comfort Now My People based on Isaiah 40: 1-5, Johannes Olearius (1611-1684) translated by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)
Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak of peace, so says our God; comfort those who sit in darkness, mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load. Speak ye to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them; tell her that her sins I cover, and her warfare now is over.
2: For the herald’s voice is crying in the desert far and near, bidding all folk to repentance, since the kingdom now is here. O that warning cry obey! Now prepare for God a way; let the valleys rise to meet him, and the hills bow down to greet him.
3: Make ye straight what long was crooked, make the rougher places plain; let your hearts be true and humble, as befits God’s holy reign. For the glory of the Lord now o’er earth is shed abroad; and all flesh shall see the token that God’s word is never broken.
Be people of peace. Let peace live in your heart and share the peace of Christ with all you meet. Share peace by acting out of compassion and not fear. Share peace by listening to all sides of the story. Share peace by praying for our world. In this Advent season, we need to see, feel, and share peace. As you go out into the wonder of God’s creations, share peace and hope with those you meet. Amen.
Closing Music – Blinded By Your Grace by Stormzy (abridged)
I’m blinded by your grace I’m blinded by your grace, by your grace I’m blinded by your grace I’m blinded by your
Lord, I’ve been broken Although I’m not worthy You fixed me, I’m blinded By your grace You came and saved me (x2)
One time for the Lord And one time for the cause And one round of applause One time for Fraser T Smith on the chords (woo!) I feel we got one I stay prayed up, then I get the job done Yeah, I’m Abigail’s yout, but I’m God’s son But I’m up now, look at what God’s done Now I real talk, look at what God did On the main stage runnin’ ’round topless I phone Flipz, then I tell him that we got this This is God’s plan, they can never stop this Like, wait right there, could you stop my verse? You saved this kid and I’m not your first It’s not by blood and it’s not by birth But, oh my God, what a God I serve
Lord, I’ve been broken Although I’m not worthy You fixed me, I’m blinded By your grace You came and saved me (x2)
I said a prayer this morning I prayed I would find the way To another day, I was so afraid ‘Til you came and saved You came and saved me…
References Call to Worship from The Worship Source Book Meditations by Nick Fawcett Affirmation of Faith from Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in Testimony: The Word Made Flesh, Orbis Books, 2004.
Thanks to Lesley Thomson for preparing and reading the prayers.
Tina Wheeler, Alison Jiggins, John Young, Morag Donaldson, Pam Carpenter, David Shimmin and Andy Braunston for reading various spoken parts of the service.
Marion Thomas, David Shimmin, Christine Shimmin Carol Tubbs and Alison Jiggins for reading the Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith
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