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URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service 16th January 2022
Welcome to this online worship, whoever you are and wherever you are accessing it. Using a Lectionary reading for Sunday 16th January, this material aims to help you feel in the presence of God today even if you are not able to be physically in the presence of God’s people. I am John Ellis and have prepared much of this material but you will hear other voices too. I have had the privilege of serving the United Reformed Church as Moderator of General Assembly and now lead the West Kent and East Sussex Synod Area within the Southern Synod.
Call to Worship
Come, let us ring out our joy to the Lord; hail the rock who saves us. Let us come into God’s presence, giving thanks; let us hail the Eternal One with a song of praise. A mighty God is the Lord, a great king above all gods. In God’s hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains belong to God. To the Eternal One belongs the sea, for God made it and shaped the dry land. O come; let us bow and bend low. Let us kneel before the One who made us, for the Eternal One is our God and we the people who belong to the royal pasture, the flock that is led by hand.
Hymn O God of Bethel, by whose hand Scottish Paraphrases 1781 (alt.) from Genesis 28: 20-22
O God of Bethel! by whose hand thy people still are fed, who through this earthly pilgrimage hast all our forebears led:
2 Our vows, our prayers, we now present before thy throne of grace: God of our fathers! be the God of their succeeding race.
3 Through each perplexing path of life our wandering footsteps guide; give us each day our daily bread, and raiment fit provide.
4 O spread thy covering wings around, till all our wanderings cease, and at our Father’s loved abode our souls arrive in peace.
5 Such blessings from thy gracious hand our humble prayers implore; and thou shalt be our chosen God, and portion evermore.
Prayer of Approach and Confession
Father God, we come to you not to parade our goodness or asking you to reward our service. We come that we might know ourselves forgiven and come with heads held high as children with a loving Father.
We are not as confident as we might be because our love is imperfect and our faith is assaulted by evil; and yet we come like children who have been frightened by the dark to the security of our Father’s embrace.
Forgive us the narrowness of vision that makes us misers of the Gospel, hugging its gifts to ourselves. Forgive us for resisting your Spirit’s grand purposes; for not following where she leads; for keeping love in a box. Forgive us, and help us to see the richness and wholeness of your purpose for everyone made in your image.
Show us your Spirit moving on ahead of us and give us the courage to join the dance. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Prayer of Illumination
Break open your word to us, O God, that in hearing ancient words and modern sermon you may speak to us and we may truly hear. Amen
Reading 1 Corinthians 12.1-11
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
Hymn Come down, O Love Divine Bianco da Siena (d.1434) tr. Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890) (alt.)
Come down, O Love Divine, seek out this soul of mine, and visit it with thine own ardour glowing; O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear, and kindle it, your holy flame bestowing.
2 O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn to dust and ashes, in its heat consuming; and let thy glorious light shine ever on my sight, and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
3 And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long, shall far outpass the power of human telling; we cannot guess its grace, till we become the place wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.
Sermon: Being Spiritual
In Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth he is answering several of their burning questions. At the start of our Chapter 12, the question is how does the Holy Spirit work.
The question seems to have arisen because of non-Christian “spiritual” practices, hinted at in verses 2-4. Venerating dumb heathen gods or calling down curses on Jesus may not sound like our issues. But the word Paul uses in verse 1 really refers to spiritual matters generally rather than the Holy Spirit’s gifts specifically, about which he will be talking in detail later. We might reframe the question around the popular idea in our culture that sensible, sophisticated people seek to be spiritual but not religious. What should a Christian think about that?
People who seek to be spiritual sense, like the pagans of Corinth, that there is something more than the material about our lives. There are powers beyond ourselves at work. There is peace to be found from connecting with the Other. But none of that needs to suffer the suffocating influence of religion, with its structures and rules and arguments and wars, and general love of being out of date. A peaceful country church in a beautiful setting on a sunny afternoon might be spiritual but let’s keep clear of the rows about who is allowed to put what where in the churchyard. And if your last Church Meeting was a bad one, perhaps you felt a slightly guilty, sneaking sympathy with the “let’s avoid religion” brigade.
Paul won’t have this. He had brought individuals to a living faith in Jesus and might agree that a sense of the spiritual might be an important step on that journey. However, he is clear we have to distinguish between popular spiritual practices and living Christian faith. The test is can you say “Jesus is Lord” and mean it? Without that the supposedly spiritual exercises are ultimately empty and unsatisfying; with that you are a Christian. The contrast that matters is not between being spiritual and being religious but between being merely spiritual and being Christian.
Another contrast matters too. Those who seek to be “spiritual” hope for a calming influence to give them their peace and personal comfort. Withdrawing to an inspiring place away from the pressures of life is an ideal. Paul’s Christian may enjoy that too but his or her eye is on something quite different.
Remember Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth, a key city in the Roman Empire. To say “Jesus is Lord” is not just a way of clarifying your personal beliefs. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not. If in Corinth you want to call someone the Son of God, you better make sure it is the Emperor: he has the same idea himself. If your ambition is an untroubled life marked by a warm glow of spirituality, calling Jesus Lord is stupid and dangerous. Paul is fully aware of the risk and the dilemma. He explains that the Holy Spirit is able to equip us with a whole catalogue of different gifts to equip us for the challenges of following Jesus. Unlike the people who think “being spiritual” is a solitary quest, he assumes Christians will work on this together because not all the gifts are given to everyone. He offers no hierarchy of gifts but stresses several times in the passage their variety. In verses 4-6, gifts, service and activity are all interwoven like the three Persons of the Trinity. We are equipped “for some useful purpose” (v7). Engaging with Caesar is one such.
The Holy Spirit is also the answer to the problem with “religion”. Church structures are created by imperfect human beings and run by equally imperfect human beings. If the framework and expression of religion are not to be embarrassing, the Church crucially needs these gifts of the Spirit to be recognised and allowed to work.
In short, it turns out that being spiritual, in Paul’s eyes, is remarkably practical. Far from being a retreat from the world and its woes, the Holy Spirit is the energy and guidance for living with Jesus as Lord. Paul invites us, as much as the believers in Corinth, to get on with being spiritual.
Hymn Spirit Divine, Attend Our Prayers Andrew Reed (1787-1862)
Spirit divine, attend our prayers, and make this house your home; descend with all your gracious power, O come, great Spirit, come!
2: Come as the light; to us reveal our emptiness and woe, and lead us in those paths of life whereon the righteous go.
3: Come as the fire and purge our hearts like sacrificial flame; let our whole soul an offering be to our Redeemer’s Name.
4: Come as the dew & sweetly bless this consecrated hour; may barrenness rejoice to own thy fertilizing power.
5: Come as the dove, and spread your wings, the wings of peaceful love; & let your Church on earth become blest as the Church above.
6: Come as the wind with rushing sound, and Pentecostal grace, that all of woman born may see the glory of thy face.
7: Spirit divine, attend our prayers, make a lost world your home; descend with all your gracious powers; O come, great Spirit, come!
Affirmation of Faith
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world – which some seek to control, and others view with despair – we declare with joy and trust; our world belongs to God!
From the beginning, through all the crises of our times, until the Kingdom fully comes, God keeps covenant forever our world belongs to God!
We rejoice in the goodness of God, renounce the works of darkness, and dedicate ourselves to holy living, for: our world belongs to God! As committed disciples, called to faithful obedience and set free for joyful praise, we offer our hearts and lives to do God’s work in His world, for our world belongs to God!
With tempered impatience, eager to see injustice ended, we expect the Day of the Lord and we are confident that the light that shines in the present darkness will fill the earth when Christ appears, for Our world belongs to God!
Prayers of Intercession
Lord God, I pray for your Spirit’s gifts to flow extravagantly around the Church bringing wisdom and discernment, healing and faith. Especially guide the thoughts of those who lead in the church that feels like home to me.
I pray for your Spirit to flow outside the Church, where it may not be recognised, so people are surprised by unexpected generosity and unnatural kindness. Especially guide the thoughts of those who shape my local community.
Remembering today’s news bulletins, I pray for
The victims of crime
The sports stars
I pray for those who never make the headlines but on whose faithful, unglamorous work I know I depend.
I pray for myself whatever limitations or opportunities will shape my week whoever will cross my path whatever emotions I find in myself whoever your Holy Spirit wants to create from me. And I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
In times of enforced separation, we can still find ways of expressing our gratitude to God by the giving of money. You may wish at this point to set aside some money or you may have already done so. You may like to use this prayer.
Generous God, who gives us many gifts even in the hard times, give us one more gift: hearts that are always grateful. Amen.
Hymn There’s A Spirit In The Air The Rev’d Brian Wren
There’s a spirit in the air, telling Christians everywhere: “Praise the love that Christ revealed, living, working in our world!”
2: Lose your shyness, find your tongue, tell the world what God has done: God in Christ has come to stay. Live tomorrow’s life today!
3: When believers break the bread, when a hungry child is fed, praise the love that Christ revealed, living, working in our world.
4: Still the Spirit gives us light, seeing wrong and setting right: God in Christ has come to stay. Live tomorrow’s life today!
5: When a stranger’s not alone, where the homeless find a home, praise the love that Christ revealed, living, working in our world.
6: May the Spirit fill our praise, guide our thoughts and change our ways. God in Christ has come to stay. Live tomorrow’s life today!
7: There’s a Spirit in the air, calling people everywhere: Praise the love that Christ revealed, living, working in our world.
May the love of the Lord Jesus draw you to Himself May the power of the Lord Jesus strengthen you in His service May the joy of the Lord Jesus fill your heart.
And the blessing of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you and those whom you love and those whom you ought to love today and always. Amen.
Sources and Thanks
Call to Worship adapted from the Revised Grail Version of Psalm 95 by Andy Braunston. Affirmation of Faith adapted by Andy Braunston from the Christian Reformed Church’s affirmation Our World Belongs To God. Prayer of Illumination by Andy Braunston. All other liturgical material by John Ellis.
Organ Pieces Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland (“Now the Gentile saviour comes”) by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020) Songs of Praise Toccata by Robert Prizeman (organ of St Andrew’s, Farnham – 2019)
Thanks to Mairi Macdonald, Anne Hewling, Pam Carpenter, Christopher Whitehead and Alison Jiggins for reading the other spoken parts of the service.
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