Sunday Worship 16 June 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
 

to listen to the service and sing along with the hymns.  This will open up a new screen, at the bottom of the screen you will see a play symbol.  Press that, then come back to this window so you can follow along with the service.

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 16 June 2024

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!
2 Corinthians 5.17

Today’s service is led by the Revd Dr Elizabeth Welch

 
Introduction

Hello. I am the Revd Dr Elizabeth Welch, a semi-retired URC minister. I still lead worship on average every other week and am involved in the wider life of the URC, including chairing the Pastoral Reference and Welfare Committee.  For some years I’ve been part of the URC Theology of Worship group.  Worship is central to our life in the church, drawing us closer to God, and helping us be sent out into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. Today we are reminded that God plants seeds in our lives, and that through these we can grow and be fruitful.  

Call to Worship

Let us come to worship God,
God who is the sower of the seed that gives life
God who brings fruitfulness and abundance
God who carries us through the challenges that life brings
God who enables us to serve fully and freely
Let us offer thankful hearts in praise.

Hymn     Come Ye Thankful People Come 
Henry Alford (1810-71) Public Domain 
Sung by the Fifth Avenue Virtual Church Choir, New York.
 
Come, ye thankful people, come,
raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in,
ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
for our wants to be supplied;
come to God’s own temple, come,
raise the song of harvest-home!

All the world is God’s own field,
fruit in thanfulk praise to yield;
wheat and tares together sown
unto joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear,
then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we
wholesome grain & pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home;
from each field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store
in the garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come,
to thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in 
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified,
in thy presence to abide
come with all thine angels come;
raise the glorious harvest home!
 
Prayer of Adoration

For your generous outpouring of creative love.
We praise your holy name

God the Creator, you brought all things into being and hold creation in life. We praise you for the sunshine and rain which lead to growth, and for your gifts of creativity in human life.  For your generous outpouring of creative love.  
We praise your holy name

God the Creative Word, made flesh in Jesus, you come among us with your new creation, re-born out of death, making all things new, freeing us from death and sin and guilt.  For your generous outpouring of creative love.  
We praise your holy name

God, your Spirit swept over the face of the waters and brought life out of chaos; your Holy Spirit comes with the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. For your generous outpouring of creative love.  
We praise your holy name

Loving God you offer more than we can imagine or dream.  You come with seeds that bear fruit in our hearts and minds and lives. For your generous outpouring of creative love.  
We praise your holy name

Prayer of Confession 

For the times when we have not let your seed of life be planted in us, when we’ve closed our hearts and minds to the receiving of your gifts flowing out of your love for us. Forgiving and freeing God.  
Forgive us and free us

When we’ve chosen to go our own way and not followed where you lead us.  Forgiving and freeing God.  
Forgive us and free us

When we’ve been put off by the challenges of this world, have neglected caring for your creation and felt too daunted to take the action that is needed.  Forgiving and freeing God.  
Forgive us and free us

When we’ve lacked courage and conviction to speak out about your love, feeling fearful about the way our words will be heard Forgiving and freeing God.  
Forgive us and free us

Words of Forgiveness

May God, the sower of good seeds,  free us from all that troubles and binds us. May Jesus, the giver of new life,  pour out his forgiveness upon us. May the Holy Spirit  lift us up and open us to new possibilities.  Be at peace, God forgives you. Thanks be to God.  Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

Prayer for Illumination

May the words that are spoken, and the thoughts of our hearts, offer us your seeds of hope and love, that your word of new creation may be planted in us, O God our loving creator.

Reading     Ezekiel 17.22-24 

Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain.  On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.  All the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken; I will accomplish it.

Hymn     For The Fruits of All Creation  
Fred Pratt Green  © 1970 Hope Publishing Co OneLicence # A-734713  
Sung by the choir of North Stoneham and Parish Church 
 
For the fruit of all creation, thanks be to God.
For the gifts to ev’ry nation, thanks be to God.
For the ploughing, sowing, reaping,
silent growth while we are sleeping,
future needs in earth’s safekeeping, thanks be to God.

In the just reward of labour, God’s will is done.
In the help we give our neighbour, God’s will is done.
In our worldwide task of caring
for the hungry and despairing,
in the harvests we are sharing, God’s will is done.

For the harvests of the Spirit, thanks be to God.
For the good we all inherit, thanks be to God.
For the wonders that astound us,
for the truths that still confound us,
most of all, that love has found us, thanks be to God.

Reading     Psalm 92.1-4, 12-15

It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
    to sing praises to your name, O Most High,
to declare your steadfast love in the morning
    and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
    to the melody of the lyre. 
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
    at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
 The righteous flourish like the palm tree
    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
    they flourish in the courts of our God.
 In old age they still produce fruit;
    they are always green and full of sap,
showing that the LORD is upright;
    he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him
Thanks be to God. Amen

Reading     2 Corinthians 5.6-10, 14-17

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord – for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil…For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Hymn     Eternal Spirit of the Living Christ  
F Von Christierson © 1974 The Hymn Society.  Sung by voices from the Lutheran Church 
of the Good Shepherd, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. One Licence # A-734713  

Eternal Spirit of the living Christ,
I know not how to ask or what to say;
I only know my need, as deep as life,
and only you can teach me how to pray.

Come, pray in me the prayer I need this day;
help me to see your purpose and your will
where I have failed, what I have done amiss;
held in forgiving love, let me be still.

Come with the vision and the strength I need
to serve my God and all humanity;
fulfilment of my life in love outpoured;
my life in you, O Christ; your love in me.  Amen

Reading     St Mark 4.26-34

Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Sermon    

For the last two and a half years I’ve lived in West London. In my study, in the attic of our house, I can look out of the window and see not only houses, but hills, on the horizon, hills which are covered with trees. And in between the houses and streets that are around us, many trees have popped up. 

My husband and I thought we were moving to a dense urban area, but were delighted to discover that there are several parks around us. We try each day to have at least a short walk at some point in one of these parks. It’s a joy to look at the trees, as they go through the different seasons of the year. Some are young and just beginning to grow and have been planted in memory of someone who has died. Others have been there for some years, and create a huge green covering in the summer, and interesting shapes of bare bark and branches in the winter.

London can seem like a primarily dense urban area, as can so many cities. There’s an ever-growing number of high rise buildings, and a battle between, on the one hand, the need to build more housing and, on the other hand, to conserve green spaces. 

The danger is that the urban denseness can lead us away from seeing the gift of God’s creation.

Our readings today point us to the created world, and to the new creation that God offers.

There is a dilemma of losing touch with the natural world, and, as a consequence, losing touch with the creator, with God. So much of what we see is of human construction. We can forget how creation speaks to us about both the otherness and presence of God.

There can also be a dilemma of seeing Christianity as just about personal salvation, rather than as celebrating God as creator, and honouring the gift of creation. When we see creation as a gift, we are encouraged to treat it like a gift, not something to be exploited for our own purposes.

In the time of Ezekiel and Jesus, creation would have been a different matter. The natural world was much closer to hand. People knew their dependence on the seasons and the rain coming in good time. 

In today’s readings from Ezekiel and Mark, we are offered two parables arising from reflecting on and seeing the gifts of creation. Each of these draw us to nature, and are a reminder this is God’s world and God will speak to us through the natural world.

Ezekiel takes the image of the tree and uses it to talk about the way in which God not only makes but re-makes the world. Intertwined with God’s creation is the sense of the need for God’s new creation. The natural world isn’t always all it might be. We aren’t always what we might be.

Ezekiel starts by referring to taking a small sprig from the top of a tree and replanting it on top of a high mountain. It then becomes a place where all kinds of birds can nest. Ezekiel refers to the trees knowing who God is. It’s as if he’s saying that the trees are a challenge to humanity. If the trees can know God, can’t humanity know God?
The image of the tree points to God and all that God makes possible, for both creation and humanity. 

In God’s purpose, all people find a home, just like the birds find a place to nest. It’s a reminder that not all people have a home, but that all people need a home.

In God’s purpose, the smallest snip of a plant becomes the largest tree. This points to the way in which the person of least honour finds most honour; it’s a reminder that not all people are given honour by other people, but that even the people of lowest regard are given honour by God.

In God’s purpose, there is a note of judgement – the proud are brought low, the humble are lifted up. It’s a reminder that we need to look to ourselves and how we are before God.

The reading brings home the challenge to care for the environment, and to see the way in which God speaks to us through this created world and all the gifts of creation.

The parable in Mark’s Gospel continues the imagery and develops it further.

Jesus’ teaching reflected his environment, his walking through the countryside and through the desert, through villages and towns. This chapter in Mark contains several parables about the earth. The ones we look at today focus on aspects relating to the sower and the seed.

Jesus picks up on the tree imagery from Ezekiel. The result of God’s work is a mighty tree in which all kinds of birds can find a home. It’s a wonderful parable of growth and of hope and of possibility.

But before we get there, Jesus begins by focussing on the small seed, the smallest of all of the seeds, and on the earth, the place in which the seed is planted, is buried, in order to bring growth.

The words speak of three aspects, the soil, the seed and the growth.

The first part of the parable is about the earth, the soil. This is the place in which the seed needs to be buried in order to come to life. It’s dark and heavy. It can feel lifeless and inert. Yet it’s also full of nutrients and all the good things which are needed for plants to grow.
 
The seed needs to be buried in the soil in order to come to life. 

It’s a reminder that on the way to growth, to fruitfulness, to great abundance, can involve death – the death of our old self-centred self, the death of self-seeking and a focus on physical and material gain.

The Corinthians reading reminds us of this, in pointing to the death of Jesus, and to the way in which we share in that death, in order that we might have life. Paul writes ‘He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves.’

Paul in this letter points to the contrast between the old life, in which we see things only from a human point of view, and the new life, in which we become Christ’s.

The old life is one in which we’re apart from God, in which we think we can live fully on our own, in which we’re afflicted by anger, guilt, shame, distrust, intolerance, hatred or despair.

The new life, the new creation, the life in which we see God’s universal values fulfilled, is one in which we’re clothed in love, trust, hope, patience and all the virtues.

But we can’t just achieve this new life on our own. We need to die with Christ to all that is negative and burdens and binds us, so that we can rise with Christ to freedom.

The soil can stand for the harder and more difficult side within ourselves, with which we wrestle as we seek to be God’s people. And yet, soil can also be the great gift giver, as it gives life to so many new plants, and holds trees firmly in place. 

It’s good to take time to imagine the soil of our lives in which God’s seed needs to be planted.

We can look at this from two angles:

1.    what needs to come to an end in my life, so that what God has in front of me can grow? 
2.    What’s buried in my life, and is just at that point of waiting for the new to emerge?

The soil is like our lives, the life of the church, the life of the world – a place of hiddenness waiting for God’s seed to be planted.

The second part of the parable is about the seed – the mustard seed which begins so tiny and grows to be so huge.

One of the commentators mentions that the mustard seed is both hardy and intrusive. It might be small, but it packs a huge punch.

When we’re tempted to feel that our faith is small and weak, that our church could be much bigger, that the problems of the world are intractable, the mustard seeds comes as a reminder of God’s power. God’s power can seem to tiny, almost to the point of not being seen. Yet God’s power has this huge impact, in all kinds of hidden and open ways. Even if we only have a very small seed of faith, God can transform our lives and the life of the world.

The third part of the parable is about growth, the growth that God brings about in our lives and in the life of the world.

In the first parable from Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus says that the seed takes root and grows, but we know not how. God’s reign is established in God’s time. We can’t speed it up or hurry it along.

There’s always the temptation to get impatient, to want change to come more quickly, whether within ourselves, or in the church or in the world around us.

But change comes in God’s good time. What we need to do is to be attentive to where we can see the new shoots emerging. For the promise is that there will be new life. 

It’s interesting that the Psalmist include the words about the trees ‘In old age they still bear fruit;’  In an era when we’re tempted to feel sorry for older people because they’ve passed the fulness of life, this psalm speaks of the way in which even older people can still bear the fruit that God offers and can indeed be ‘always green and full of sap’. 

The mustard seed grows into a tree which becomes a haven for birds.

The promise is that in our lives, in the church, in the world, God’s reign will enable us to be a haven for others.

The parable ends by pointing to the particular role of Jesus disciples – they are the ones to whom the mystery of the kingdom is explained. As Christians we have a privileged role, in that the good news of God’s grace and God’s mysterious growth is given to us. But it isn’t a privilege that leads to complacency. It’s a privilege that puts upon us the obligation of sharing this good news with others, so that others too can be participants in the kingdom.

May the seeds of God’s kingdom be planted within us and bear much fruit. Let us echo the words of the Psalmist and give thanks to God, in our words, in our playing of musical instruments, and in our singing, to God’s greater glory.   Amen.

Hymn     Come My Way, My Truth, My Life
George Herbert (1593-1633) Public Domain sung by the Notre Dame University Folk Choir

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
such a way as gives us breath;
such a truth as ends all strife;
such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
such a light as shows a feast;
such a feast as mends in length;
such a strength as makes a guest.
 
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart: 
such a joy as none can move:
such a love as none can part; 
such a heart as joys in love.

Offertory 

Let us come to make our offerings to the God who has poured out the offering of Jesus Christ for each one of us. Let us offer again our lives, and whatever small token we might have today, so that God’s creative work may be more fruitfully be carried out in this church and in God’s world.

O God, you offer us so much in our lives, even in the most difficult times. We offer ourselves again to your this day, praying for your blessing on us, in whatever we might be going through. We offer you this gift of money, as a sign of the offering of ourselves, praying that these offerings may be fruitful in the life of this church and this community

Prayers of Intercession

Creator God, Sower of the good seed, we give thanks for the seeds you sow in this your created world, and the way they speak to us of the seeds you have sown in our lives and in the life of the world. Seeds can be so small, and yet can have such a large impact, O God. Help us keep our eyes open to see your seeds and let them bear fruit, within us and around us.  In a moment’s silence we reflect on the seeds that we see, give thanks, and pray for them to keep on growing, in our lives and across the world.

silence

Creator God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In the face of war and conflict and hatred, we pray for your seeds of new life and peace, especially in Israel and Gaza, between Russia and Ukraine and amongst the countries across Africa where there is conflict. Help us day by day to scatter your seeds of love and peace in a troubled world and amongst troubled people.

silence

Creator God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

As we gave thanks for our homes, we pray for refugees, seeking a new home in this country, that we may offer them a warm welcome. We pray for the homeless and vulnerable people on our streets, that we may learn again to sow your seed of hospitality amongst them.

silence

Creator God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church. May the root of your Word deepen within us. May we not despair at the issues we see around us, but learn to sow your seeds of faith and hope in the communities in which we find ourselves.

silence

Creator God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for those who sow the seeds of healing, in particular all who work for the NHS, that they may be treated justly and strengthened in the valuable work which they offer. We pray for the people we know and love, we remember those we have known who have died, and those who are mourning their loss. We name before you, O God, in a moment’s silence the ones in particular need whom we carry on our hearts and minds today.

silence

Creator God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

As we go out to serve you in your world, give us courage and conviction to live whole-heartedly in your way. Accept our prayers O God our Creator who has brought the world into being.  Accept our prayers O Jesus, the Sower of the seed of fruitfulness.  Accept our prayers O Holy Spirit you who bring the gift of new life.  Amen.

Hymn     Praise and Thanksgiving 
A F Bayly (1901 – 84) © OUP One Licence A-734713 sung by Ben Durrett Smith

Praise and thanksgiving, God we would offer,
for all things living you have made good:
harvest of sown fields, fruits of the orchard,
hay from the mown fields, blossom and wood.

God bless the labour we bring to serve thee,
that with our neighbour we may be fed.
Sowing or tilling, we would work with you;
harvesting, milling for daily bread.

Blessing 

Go now, filled with the seeds of God’s word, 
to offer your lives to God through this church and in this community.
Go, filled with the life and hope and peace 
that are the blossoming of God’s seeds.
Go now, to be God’s new creation in Christ in God’s world.
And the blessing of God  the Father and Creator, 
God the Son and Redeemer,  and God the Holy Spirit and Empowerer,  
rest upon you now and always.

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

Copyright © 2024 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you have subscribed to the Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church. You can unsubscribe by clicking on the link below.

Our mailing address is:

United Reformed Church

86 Tavistock Place

London, WC1H 9RT

United Kingdom

Add us to your address book