Sunday Worship 12 May 2024

Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today’s service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 

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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 12 May 2024

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Jenny Mills

The Ascension: before and after
 

Introduction 

Hello. I am the Revd Jenny Mills, and I serve the URC in my role as Secretary for Education and Learning and am a member of Church Without Walls in Milton Keynes. I am pleased to be able to join with you in worship today, following the week where we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus, returning to heaven as his work on earth had finished. It is a story that challenges me, and I look forward to sharing my thinking and reflecting in this worship as we share together. Come, let us worship God. 

Call to Worship 

We come to worship the source of love,
the ground of our being, the creator of all that is. 
Let us join together in worship,
listening and learning,
supporting and encouraging one another,
focusing on love, life, community and blessings,
coming before God who lifts us up, holds us close 
and enables us to be more than we can ever imagine. 
Let us do this together, now, here in this place. 

Hymn     Lord For The Years 
Timothy Dudley-Smith  © 1969 Hope Publishing Company OneLicence # A-734713  
Performed by Joy and Ruth Everingham and used with their kind permission.

Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided,
urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided:
Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.

Lord, for that word, the word of life which fires us,
speaks to our hearts and sets our souls ablaze,
teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us:
Lord of the word, receive Your people’s praise.

Lord, for our land in this our generation,
spirits oppressed by pleasure, wealth and care:
for young and old, for commonwealth and nation,
Lord of our land, be pleased to hear our prayer.

Lord, for our world when we disown and doubt him,
loveless in strength, and comfortless in pain,
hungry and helpless, lost indeed without him:
Lord of the world, we pray that Christ may reign.
 
Lord for ourselves; in living power remake us –
self on the cross and Christ upon the throne,
past put behind us, for the future take us:
Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.

Prayers of Adoration, Confession and Forgiveness

Gracious God,
Your world is breathtaking, amazing and beautiful. 
Your world is challenging, dangerous and chaotic. 
In it, and all around us, we hear, see, touch, taste and smell so much.

We experience people, places, relationships, the beauty of creation, things that inspire and enthuse us 
and things that sadden and disappoint us. 

Through all of these encounters and more, we find you. 
You are within, behind, in front and alongside us, 
even when we fail to acknowledge or notice you. 
We praise you for your consistency and love. 
And we are in awe of all you have made,
all you continue to renew and revive,
and all the changes and challenges that are around us. 

Yet still,  with so much understanding we are ignorant and unwise. 
We fail to really live as you have called us to. 
We fall short and we mess up, we get it wrong, 
and we fail, often despite our best attempts and efforts. 

We come with our prayers that give us time 
to consider where we have got things wrong, 
where we have abused our positions of power, 
where we have failed to speak out for those on the margins, 
where we have not lived your way, as Jesus showed us. 

In a moment of quiet, I invite us all to hold before God 
the things for which we are sorry. 
The personal, relational, community and worldwide situations 
that we have not challenged or questioned or not responded to 
in a more loving, just and compassionate way. 

Silence

God of all times and all places, 
as we hold our shortcomings before you, 
soften our hearts, inspire our thoughts, and help us turn again to you. 
We know that Jesus came to live on earth, 
to show us that your love is for all, 
and he taught that we can be forgiven. 
His words set us free. 
Let us know ourselves loved and blessed. 
May we forgive ourselves, forgive others, and go in peace. Amen.

A Prayer for Illumination

Open our eyes, ears, hearts and minds to your Word 
through these words and through our thoughts. 
May we take what we have heard 
and find space to ruminate on it 
even after we have left this place. Amen.

Reading     John 17:6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you,  for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.  I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them.  And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.  While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.  But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.  I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.  They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Music for Reflection     Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates
Public Domain,  The choir and people of First Plymouth Church, Nebraska, USA

Reading     Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers and sisters (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said,  “Brothers and sisters, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus,  for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”  So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.  Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”  And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Hymn     We Sing A Love That Sets All People Free
June Tillman © 1993 Stainer & Bell Ltd. (Admin. Hope Publishing Co.) OneLicence # A-734713  
Sung by members of Dalgety Church of Scotland and used with their kind permission
 
We sing a love that sets all people free,
that blows like wind, that burns like scorching flame,
enfolds the earth, springs up like water clear:
come, living love, live in our hearts today.

We sing a love that seeks another’s good,
that longs to serve and not to count the cost,
a love that, yielding, finds itself made new:
come, caring love, live in our hearts today.

We sing a love, unflinching, unafraid
to be itself, despite another’s wrath,
a love that stands alone and undismayed:
come, strengthening love, live in our hearts today.

We sing a love that, wandering, will not rest
until it finds its way, its home, its source,
through joy and sadness pressing on refreshed:
come, pilgrim love, live in our hearts today.

We sing the Holy Spirit, full of love,
who seeks out scars of ancient bitterness,
brings to our wounds the healing grace of Christ:
come, radiant love, live in our hearts today.

Sermon

This Thursday just gone was the feast of the Ascension. The day, celebrated by Christians, when it is said that Jesus ascended to heaven. It comes 40 days after Easter. As the narrative is told, Jesus lived on earth, his ministry that was around 3 years long with his disciples, upset, challenged, irritated and enraged those in power and the Roman authorities and temple leaders found him too disruptive and radical, so he needed to be got rid of. In the end he was arrested and tried and condemned to death like a common criminal. Before his death, and as his ministry developed, people had a hope that he would be the Messiah that the prophets had spoken of. But when he was crucified, the dreams, aspirations and hopes were shattered. 43 days ago we celebrated Easter, the day when we remember how God in Jesus showed the world that even death could not limit God. Jesus’ followers, starting with the women, experienced him anew. The disappointment and despair that was felt following his death was swept away as they learned that the words Jesus had spoken to them and others whilst travelling, preaching and teaching, had come true. Hope for all humanity. There was a different way to be, a different way to live, a hope that even the separation of death could not dash. And for a period of time a variety of people had experiences of Jesus that were wondrous and life changing and confusing and these stories were told, retold, told again and orally shared through the years. And then they were written down. 

As we know, just looking at the Gospel accounts, the story varied depending on who you were, where you found yourself, who you were speaking to and your community. We have four different versions, varied and yet with the same message: God came to earth to live like you and me, to show us how to live. It is told with simplicity and speed in the Gospel according to Mark; it is told as the fulfilment of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Gospel according to Matthew; it is told with an inclusivity and acceptance of the outcast and stranger in the Gospel according to Luke; and it is told through signs and often quite differently in the Gospel according to John. And yet, the story of love and hope, of joy and blessing, of God incarnate speaks loudly and clearly through all 4 Gospels. Some of us find particular blessing in a specific Gospel account, some are more complex than others, some of us find ourselves asking ‘did it happen like that’? However we approach the Word of God contained in these Gospel accounts, for me the question is: what does it mean? For them then, for people since and for us today. 

So, do we understand what happened when Jesus ascended? I cannot believe he was magically transformed, like a Star Trek episode, up to heaven. I cannot see why that would happen to Jesus. I do not understand it. I cannot make sense of it. I suppose my question is: Do I have to understand it? Like the water in the cup upside down, I don’t get it, but it says something. 

Whether we believe that God opened the clouds and beckoned Jesus up physically or whether something else happened, the thing that unites us is: What does it mean? What is God trying to tell us through this event? Why is it here? 

Partly, I believe that the story of Jesus’ life on earth needed to end. As every Primary school child and teacher knows, the best bit of a story is being able to write, in capital letters: THE END. Because if the story did not end, the next bit could not happen. 

Jesus left so his disciples could do what they were called to do. Jesus taught his followers so they could carry on his work. It was important he went so they could get on with it. He could not stick around. It needed to be action built on faith. And faith means sometimes not really understanding, not really ‘getting it’, doesn’t it? 

Let us look at the two texts we shared. Listen for what comes in the space between both readings: John’s text is before Jesus died and is a warning of what is to come. The Acts reading is reporting afterwards and is a message about the disciples getting on with the task ahead. 

What comes in the middle of these? 

Jesus’ death.
His resurrection. 
Many appearances and experiences of Jesus in unexpected ways. 
Then the Ascension. 
And onto a time to get used to the new way of being. 
What can we learn from this? 
Prayer features highly. 
It is important having the people to do the work. 
Both Jesus and the disciples are ensuring that the work is both God focused and world focused. 
God gave of himself to the world. Jesus gave of himself to the world. 
We are called to give of ourselves to the world. And it may not be easy. 

So what does all this mean for us? Firstly, that it is up to us! That we are God’s people, we are the hands and feet and the voices that are called to witness to the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.  We are the ones called to tell the stories and let people make their own responses. We are the ones that are following in the footsteps of pilgrims past, faithful people whose lives were also touched, transformed and inspired by the love of God who created all that is and loves it amazingly. 

We could spend time discussing the detail of all I have raised and we have read and could spend time telling each other we have it wrong or that’s not what God meant or arguing over who understands the texts better. I am sure that greater people than me have deeper understanding and insights and we need them to help us work out what we think God is trying to say to us through biblical texts. But, what Jesus told his disciples was follow me, go out and share my message, love your neighbour, these are all outward focused doing words. These are not words that tell us to look inwards, to build mini kingdoms on who is more faithful or spend time debating who is right and who is wrong. We are called to be bringers of God’s kingdom, where all are united by love, where difference unites not divides, where equality and equity, acceptance and diversity, humility and radical welcome all flourish. We live in a world that is calling out for meaning, for hope, for purpose, and we spend far too long internally focusing on semantics and discussions around what God wants. What if we were able to spend as much energy reaching out, walking alongside others, living the love we know, sharing the peace Jesus promised and being God’s people where we find ourselves? 

I have heard the Ascension described as the ultimate working from home. Jesus went to heaven (however we understand this) and said: ‘over to you’. At the time that was the responsibility of the disciples. But now it is our responsibility, as disciples. We are to be the ones who share the love of God, who risk living and loving in a counter cultural way and are called to be God’s people being set apart for how we treat others, how we behave and how we are. I is this way of living and loving that will speak more loudly than words or proving we are correct in our interpretations of Scripture. Let us sit with the struggles and the tough stuff that we learn as disciples of Jesus but let us seek to be the people Jesus has called us to be here and now. 

And finally, as we heard in the two readings, Jesus prayed as he knew his time was up and he would not be with them any longer. As the disciples try to make sense of what is to come next, they pray. Prayer was a key feature of his ministry and needs to be a key feature of our lives, as individuals and as communities. Let us pray, live and believe: Your Kingdom Come. Amen. 

Hymn     Take This Moment, Sign and Space 
John L Bell © 1989, Iona Community, GIA Publications performed by Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir accompanied by Andrew Ellams and used with their kind permission.  OneLicence  # A-734713  

Take this moment, sign and space; take my friends around; 
here among us make the place where Your love is found. 

Take the time to call my name, take the time to mend 
who I am and what I’ve been, and I’ve failed to tend. 

Take the tiredness of my days, take my past regret, 
letting Your forgiveness touch all I can’t forget. 

Take the little child in me, scared of growing old; 
help me here to find my worth made in Christ’s own mould. 
 
Take my talents, take my skills, take what’s yet to be;
let my life be Yours,  and yet, let it still be me.

Affirmation of Faith 

We believe in God the community – 
three in one and one in three. 

We believe in the Creator of all that is,
who made heaven and earth as home for all.

We believe in the Son, 
who was born, grew up, ministered, 
was arrested and tried, condemned to death and rose again. 
Who lived on earth to show us how to live 
and who ascended to heaven to prepare a place for us. 

We believe in the Spirit,
who directs, inspires, enables, encourages 
and creates the dance for the whole of humanity to join in with. 
Whose power radiates within, beyond, around, and despite us,
bringing possibilities and opportunities 
we could never have experienced without her. 

We believe in God the community – 
modelled for us and calling us daily to participate. 
We believe in love – creator, redeemer and life source. 

We believe. 

Offertory 

Loving God, all we have and all we are we offer to you now. As we bring our gifts of money, as they are transferred from our banks or given in donations, we pray that they will be used to further your kingdom here on earth. We trust that they will make a difference, but we know that our lives, our time and our faithfulness are even more important to you. May we find ways to live and love that honour and glorify you and make your presence seen where we find ourselves in your world. Today and on into the future. Amen. 

Prayers of Intercession

God of grace and God of glory, hear our words and pleas we pray. 
As this world is in such turmoil there’s so much we need to say.

People’s words and people’s actions speak of power, hurt and pain. 
War, destruction, senseless killings, things may never be the same.

We lament at what we witness, all too often selfish ways
cause great damage and such sadness – desolation every day. 

When we look at things around us – isolation and despair,
hunger, struggles, not enough-ness, will it ever be repaired? 

It feels heavy and depressing, here at home and far and wide,
anger, hate and domination, nowhere safe to run and hide. 

And it isn’t just the people that are hurting and need care,
all creation groans and suffers, help is needed everywhere. 

So today we come before you, God of love and God of all,
knowing you will hear our pleading as upon you we now call. 

Bless the people, places, countries that need respite, help or food.
Open eyes and hearts and minds to see that things can be renewed. 

May all those who are in power govern wisely with good heart,
seek to serve with honest actions try to play their chosen part.

And may we, as people seeking to walk in the Jesus way
know that all our words and actions have a role and part to play. 

In this silence we now offer prayers for those we know and don’t. 
Hear our prayers dear God we pray now 
fill our hearts with love and hope. 

Silence

God of grace and God of glory take these prayers and shed your light. 
Bring new hope and offer solace, touching all things in your sight. 

As we move on from our worship, going home and living life.
May our lives reflect your presence,  may our actions show your might. 

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen. 

Hymn     Go Forth and Tell 
James Seddon (1915 – 1983) © The Representatives of the late James Edward Seddon / admin The Jubilate Group One Licence  Sung by Jubilate Singers.  One Licence # A-734713  

Go forth and tell! O church of God, awake!
God’s saving news to all the nations take;
proclaim Christ Jesus, saviour, Lord, and king,
that all the world his worthy praise may sing.

Go forth and tell! God’s love embraces all;
he will in grace respond to all who call:
how shall they call if they have never heard
the gracious invitation of his word?

Go forth and tell! The doors are open wide:
share God’s good gifts let no one be denied;
live out your life as Christ your Lord shall choose,
your ransomed powers for his sole glory use.

Go forth and tell! O church of God, arise!
go in the strength which Christ your Lord supplies;
go till all nations his great name adore and serve him, 
Lord and king for evermore

Blessing

May we be faithful in prayer 
Faithful in living, 
Faithful in following Jesus.
May all we do speak of love, joy, peace and hope. 
And may God: Creator, Son and Sustainer,
bless us, those we love and those we struggle to love. 
Now and forever. Amen.  
 
 

Where words are copyright reproduced and streamed under the terms of  ONE LICENSE A-734713
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762
 

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