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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church for Sunday 22 October 2023
(Image: Thomas K | Pexels)
Today’s service is led by the Revd Fiona Bennett
Welcome & Call to Worship
Hello I am Fiona Bennett. I am the minister of Augustine United Church in Edinburgh and the Immediate Past Moderator of the URC GA. I am delighted to offer you worship this morning.
The Holy One is here amongst us; Source of all being, Guide of all hope, Spirit of all inspiration, Holy One we worship and adore you and raise our voices in praise.
Hymn All People That On Earth Do Dwell William Keeth’s version of Psalm 100 sung on BBC’s Songs of Praise
All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice; Him serve with fear, His praise forth-tell, come ye before Him and rejoice.
The Lord ye know is God indeed: without our aid He did us make; we are His folk, He doth us feed, and for His sheep He doth us take.
For why? The Lord our God is good, His mercy is forever sure; His truth at all times firmly stood, and shall from age to age endure.
4 To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the God whom heaven and earth adore, from earth and from the angel-host, be praise and glory evermore.
God our Creator, Source of all being, we celebrate this Life you have made, in all its wonder and interdependence, and we praise you.
Guide of all hope, we celebrate the Way you show us, in Jesus – our Saviour and Exemplar, and we praise you.
Spirit of all inspiration, we celebrate the goodness you grow and nurture in our lives and world, and we praise you.
Holy One, awed by your goodness we recognise our own smallness… We acknowledge the times when our selfishness has damaged this earth. We acknowledge the times when our prejudice or apathy has injured others. We acknowledge the times when our fear, isolation or self-loathing has injured ourselves.
With humility, grace and courage, we turn to you knowing your faithfulness and love have no limits, and ask you to transform our despair into new opportunity. Help us to turn away from our destructiveness and work with your Spirit to create new life.
We unite our prayers together in the Lord’s Prayer using the form or words which are most worshipful for us…
All Age Activity Family Resemblance
Often you can tell people belong to the same family because they look like each other. A similar nose, colour of hair… We call it a family resemblance. Can you think of any family members who resemble each other? Christian believe we can celebrate that we are all part of God’s family. The resemblance which shows we are part of God’s family is not how we look but how we act, more specifically how we love and allow love to shape everything we do and say and think. Being loving is our family resemblance to God and shows we are part of God’s family.
Given everyone a sticker and colouring pen. Invite everyone to draw and colour in a heart on their sticker. (The hearts do not have to be the same but each should be recognisable as a heart shape.) Invite everyone to stick the sticker in a visible place on their clothing. Now look around – everyone you see is part of God’s family, and the family resemblance is love.
Hymn We are one in the Spirit Fr Peter Scholtes (1938-2009) Words last verse by Royleane Otteson Sung by the Beyond the Walls Choir from Centre Place Community of Christ Congregation, Toronto and used with their kind permission.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord; we are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord; and we pray that all unity may one day be restored: And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand; we will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand; & together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land: And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
We will work with each other, we will work side by side; we will work with each other, we will work side by side; and we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride: And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
4 We are called to make choices, we respond with our Love. We are called to make choices, we respond with our Love. And together with Wisdom, she’ll connect us all as one. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
Reading Exodus 33:12-23
Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favour in my sight.’ Now if I have found favour in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.” The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”
Reading St Matthew 22:15-22
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
There’s a spirit in the air, telling Christians everywhere: “Praise the love that Christ revealed, living, working in our world!”
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!
When believers break the bread, when a hungry child is fed, praise the love that Christ revealed, living, working in our world.
Still the Spirit gives us light, seeing wrong and setting right: God in Christ has come to stay. Live tomorrow’s life today!
When a stranger’s not alone, where the homeless find a home, praise the love that Christ revealed, living, working in our world.
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!
There’s a Spirit in the air, calling people everywhere: Praise the love that Christ revealed, living, working in our world.
In the 7th Century when Oswald was king in Northumbria, he requested a bishop be sent from Iona to help him establish Christianity in its Celtic form in his kingdom. Corman was sent from Iona who found the people of Northumbria to be intractable, obstinate and uncivilized. Back on Iona, Aiden suggested that a more nurturing approach be taken, resulting in Aiden being consecrated as a bishop and sent to establish a monastic centre on Lindisfarne. The nurturing approach Aiden took had a memorable impact on the people he met. He became known as a leader who was committed to abstinence and care for others. Riches or luxuries which came into his possession were often gifted away to those in need. He used gifts of money to free people from slavery, many of whom he then brought to the monastery to work, offering them education and opportunity. There is a famous story of Aiden being gifted a fine horse with royal trappings by king Oswine, which he gave away (trappings and all) to a beggar he met on the road.
Bede (who wrote of Aiden’s life) noted that Aiden was respected even by those of the Roman Catholic persuasion (with whom the Celtic church was in conflict) and that Aiden ‘taught no other ways of life than that which he practiced himself.’
For Aiden the purpose of his life and the opportunities which fell his way, were to glorify God by living Jesus’ way of love. People who encountered Aiden saw his resemblance to Jesus and the God of Jesus, in the love which he showed; love which set aside his own status and ease, for the care and concern of people in greater need, and in doing so to brought glory to the God of Jesus. Even Aiden’s opponents recognised God’s family resemblance in him.
In the reading from Matthew today we heard a story of the pharisees trying to catch Jesus out, which he turned into a much bigger question, which catches us all out.
Jesus asked whose image was on the coin. The image on the coin was that of Caesar Augustus (originally named Gaius Octavius), with the inscriptions ‘Caesar Augustus’ and on the reverse ‘Divine Julius’. To give a bit of context, in 42 BCE the Roman Senate posthumously recognized Julius Caesar (Gaius’s adopted father) as a divinity of the Roman state. Gaius was able to further his cause by emphasizing that he was Son of the Divine. So, the image on the Roman coin was not just that of the ruler, but a ruler who was understood by the Roman system to be divine. This was blasphemy in the monotheistic eyes of Judaism. To use the coins and pay taxes was a way of joining in and bolstering the Roman system, and yet how could people have functioned in Jesus’ world without using Roman coins?
The pharisees were trying to catch Jesus out by getting him to express views which were anti-Rome, but Jesus drew their question from a petty somewhat pedantic trap to a much wider reality; Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s…
What is God’s? Perhaps easier to ask, what is not God’s?
As the coins were tools of a system which brought power and honour to the Roman Empire, do we today perceive our lives, our bodies, our resources, this world as tools to bring glory and honour to ourselves, or tools to bring glory to the One whose image we reflect and to whom we belong?
Aiden certainly did not perceive his life or material wealth as tools for his own glory but gifts to share the love of God in the world. Through Aiden’s loving actions, God was recognised and glorified by friends, strangers and opponents alike.
However, does that imply that so long as we are loving, we should simply ignore and collude with systems and empires which do not reflect God’s Kingdom? I think Jesus’ answer here reflects both a pragmatic and complex response to that question.
Throughout his life Jesus challenged the injustice of prejudice, exploitation and greed, but it seems he did so by pragmatically changing attitudes more than directly campaigning to change systems. I do not think this means as Jesus followers we are not to engage with building systems which are just and protect the vulnerable, but we need to recognise that systems will always be contextual and temporary, while the shaping values of love and justice come from the heart of God and are eternal.
Which takes me back to Moses, surrounded by miracles, seeking reassurance. Moses had walked through a parted ocean, had been fed on manna and quails in the desert, had followed a cloud of fire and smoke, but in light of the incident of the golden calf, he was now seeking reassurance that God would not abandon him and the people.
Empires, institutions, dreams, systems will come and go.
However good we have it, humanity will at some point collectively and individually mess up.
But the story told and re-told in Scripture is that God’s love never falters and God’s hope never fails. The heart of God is eternal. God never gives up on us and with astounding grace (undeserved love and mercy) works with us and around the messy situations we create to reach out to us, rescue us and set us back on the path of God’s Kingdom again.
Aiden reflects a time in the story of in Britain where there was much tension between Celtic and roman Christianity. He advised kings and build a monastic community which offered social transformation in his locality. He was a person who played his part in the political systems of his day. He was an imperfect human, but he is remembered not for the glory he built for himself, but for the grace and love he showed in his dealing with all people. He recognised that he and all things did not belong to him, but belonged to God; tools gifted to share God’s love and bring God’s glory. In living this out, Aiden showed us not a transitory fix of a situation, but the eternal truth of what it is to live out the family resemblance of God.
Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.
Kneels at the feet of his friends, silently washes their feet, Master who acts as a slave to them. Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.
These are the ones we should serve, these are the ones we should love, all these are neighbours to us and you. Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.
Prayers of Intercession
Holy One you are the Source and Creator of all life and you have made humanity in your image. We are awed by the wonder and intricacy of the planet you have woven. We rejoice in the beauty and interdependence you have wrought. We pray for the places where your earth is scarred with global warming and your carefully crafted species are becoming extinct. We pray for your creatures who are abused or misused. We seek to remember at all times that all that is, is yours.
Faithful One, help us to live out your love and hope, That through our lives and by our prayers, your kingdom may come.
Holy One, you are Christ our crucified and resurrected Saviour. You have shown us the truth of love and the way of faith. We pray for all who feel trapped by prejudice and poverty and for all who seek to build just systems in our world. We pray for all who live with the challenges of mental and physical ill health And for all who care for them professionally and personally. We seek to remember that every life is yours and beloved.
Loving One, help us to live out your love and hope, That through our lives and by our prayers, your kingdom may come.
Holy One, you are the Spirit of transformation and new life. You are the breathe of life in each body, mind and heart. We pray for all who hold leadership in faith communities, government, institutions, businesses, across the world. We pray for teachers and nurses, artists and inventors, managers and carers. May all who shape our lives and world be guided by your love and justice.
Gracious One, help us to live out your love and hope, That through our lives and by our prayers, your kingdom may come. Amen.
Offering & Dedication
Gracious God, all the we are and all that we have are gifts of love from yourself. We offer ourselves, our lives and our resources to you, praying that you would take and use us for the building of your Realm on earth. In the name of Jesus’ we pray. Amen.
Hymn Be Thou My Vision Irish Traditional sung by the group Celtic Worship: Steph Macleod – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Naomi Stirrat – Vocals, Mhairi Marwick – Fiddle, Rhodes, Scott Wood – Whistles, Bagpipes, Chris Amer – Electric Guitar, Gus Stirrat – Bass, Ifedade Thomas – Drums
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart. Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best Thought, by day or by night. Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word. I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord. Thou my great Father, and I Thy true child. Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight. Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight. Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower. Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor vain empty praise. Thou mine Inheritance, now and always. Thou and Thou only, first in my heart. High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won. May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun. Heart of my own heart, whatever befall. Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
May the blessing of God, Creator, Christ and Comforter, Be with you this day and always. Amen
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