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URC Daily Devotion Service for Sunday 6th September 2020
The Rev’d Mike Shrubsole and the Rev’d David Coleman
Good morning, I’m Mike Shrubsole, minister of four churches in the Ringwood area, and also one of the Green Apostles working across the thirteen Synods of the United Reformed Church. Today is Climate Sunday and this Sunday Worship has been prepared by myself and by David Coleman, Les Parker and Alex Mabbs, representatives of the whole church network of Green Apostles. We offer you a creation celebration and environmentally concerned time of worship which was planned to help lead us towards COP26, the next United Nations climate conference originally due to be hosted in Glasgow in 2020. Now we begin a longer run-up towards a rescheduled COP26 now planned to be held in the year 2021. Our hope and prayer, shared with you in this Climate Sunday Service, is that these longer preparations might result in more ambitious carbon reduction targets being delivered at that COP26.
Call To Worship
One: To all who are imprisoned, Many: God says, “Come out.”
One: To all who are living in darkness, Many: God says, “Show yourselves”
One: To all who hunger and thirst, Many: God gives food and springs of water.
One: To all who are far away, Many: God makes smooth the way home. God will not forget us, we are inscribed on the palms of His hands.
Hymn:All Things Praise Thee, Lord Most High George William Conder (1821-1874)
All things praise Thee, Lord most high, Heav’n and earth and sea and sky, all were for Thy glory made, that Thy greatness thus displayed should all worship bring to Thee; all things praise Thee— Lord, may we!
2: All things praise Thee—night to night sings in silent hymns of light; all things praise Thee—day to day chants Thy power in burning ray; time and space are praising Thee, all things praise Thee—Lord, may we!
3: All things praise thee; round her zones earth, with her ten thousand tones, rolls a ceaseless choral strain; roaring wind and deep-voiced main, rustling leaf and humming bee, all things praise thee: Lord, may we.
4: All things praise Thee—high and low, rain and dew and sparkling snow, crimson sunset, fleecy cloud, rippling stream, and tempest loud; summer, winter, all to Thee Glory render— Lord, may we!
5: All things praise Thee—gracious Lord, Great Creator, powerful Word, Omnipresent Spirit, now at Thy feet we humbly bow; lift our hearts in praise to Thee; all things praise Thee—Lord, may we!
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
Creator God, You made an awesome world, stars beyond our imagination in size and distance infinitesimally small particles of immense power. You entrusted the care of the world and all it contains to us, Your human children. Through greed and over-consumption we have taken more than our share, abused and destroyed the animals, plants and land. And we have broken the trust that You gave us. We have ridden roughshod over the needs of our local and global neighbours, the wonderful wildlife which is all around us and which we see on our TVs, and future generations including our own children and grandchildren.
We want to say that we are sorry. Sorry for the bad decisions we have made, for the hurt we have caused, for the damage we have done. We ask for Your forgiveness and for Your help to change. Thank You that Your powerful Christ-life still flows in all Creation to heal and to make anew. Thank You that even in this time of a global pandemic we have rediscovered that healing power. We can now hear the birds and see the mountains and the stars. Help us to work with You to bring healing to Your world and to all our neighbours, those nearby and those in distant lands. Your world is a creative, abundant and beautiful home. Help us to work with You to be as creative and abundant and to produce the good fruit of Your Holy Spirit in our lives. As the trees share their resources for the benefit of all their neighbours, may we share all of the blessings we receive with gratitude. Amen
Prayer of Illumination
Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by your living Word. Through your Word open our eyes that we might see, and be thankful for all your gracious provisions. Amen
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
St Matthew 18.15–20
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
Hymn:For the Beauty of the Earth F S Pierpoint (1835 – 1917) arr by John Rutter
For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies. Over and around us lies. Lord of all, to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise
2: For the beauty of the hour, of the day and of the night, hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light. Sun and moon and stars of light Lord of all, to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise
3: For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth and friends above, for all gentle thoughts and mild for all gentle thoughts and mild: Lord of all, to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise
4: For each perfect gift of thine, to our race so freely given, graces human and divine, flow’rs of earth and buds of heav’n: Flow’rs of earth and buds of heav’n Lord of all, to thee we raise, this our joyful hymn, of praise.
It hasn’t taken long for me to become rather irritated by the notion of “the new normal”, which has crept in like a cuckoo to the nest of Christian environmental awareness this year.
“Normal” reassures, perhaps at a time when the most effectively reassuring pathway, for faith and all that follows from it, is that which allows that the road ahead will be bumpy, twisty, deceptive.
This year has been a crash course in the supreme value of faith, in the sense of the trust in God that sustains and accompanies us through the unexpected, the unpredictable, the inevitable, and even the end of life as we have known it. The stressful stop-start of city traffic, and the achingly long lead-in to turning an oil tanker are some of the metaphors of the fossil fuel era that help us grasp that any normal view of ‘normal’ gets us nowhere. The climate emergency continues apace, even if out culture has shown a lamentable disinclination to multi-task. It’s as if all we needed to be bothered with was the virus. Which, of course, did not come out of nowhere. The evidence is growing that our abuse of nature is ever more likely to unleash such things. And has done so in the recent past. Then we encounter, in our reading of Exodus, these regulations for the festival, the season, the Special Sunday of Passover: that most completely Hebrew, and therefore strangely all-inclusive feast (visiting foreigners must be invited to share it) which though it aims at the conservative momentum of a perpetual ordinance, is nonetheless a feast of urgency, responsiveness and alertness, which is incidentally, precisely the best we should hope for from Climate Sunday.
The times of the year – and festivals like harvest – vitally give shape to our lives as they are repeated year after year. The temptation is significant, to empty these things of contemporary relevance out of misguided loyalty to their enduring beauty. To set aside the emergencies for which they prepare and nourish us, as if the week-to-week conduct of our faith could happen in an alternative Creation. Yet “heaven and earth”, sky and soil, are one Creation. Both already wonderful, both to be cherished, healed, made new.
It is significant, though, that these ancient regulations are so clearly designed to mitigate against conservative complacency: the tradition is observed by the trappings of urgency, rather than or relaxed reassurance. There is no escape into deceptive stasis.
Early Christianity, born out of persecution and the experience of oppression, lost no time in reappropriating this life-sustaining aspect of identity: ‘Wake up sleeper, be alert….’ – and crucially not offering or anticipating that any sort of wider, global upheaval might be averted, but rather, tapping into the Passover experience: not only how to live through it, but how to be yourself through it.
Our situation is one of a human and natural world now obediently ‘filled’ [cf Genesis 1:20 & 1:28 ] to the point where even God’s people have nowhere else to go. Reconciliation and forgiveness, persuasion rather than annihilation, peace, rather than victory, become all the more life-giving.
Egypt and the Promised Land are close or identical. Blood on the door, even as a waste-free sign of faith, grants no immunity. Perhaps we live or die with Pharoah, and Moses, or his successors in communities of faith need not to let up on the dialogue, for the sake of all concerned. Matthew 18, which is offered in the first instance as a practical guide to transforming conflicts within church communities now gains additional meaning, where we have no room left for anything like the ‘blame game’.
The value of responsible witnesses, as well as of seeking to avoid the escalation of divisive situations is placed before us here.
Climate science offers a testimony which we can take note of or ignore. When we take notice, then our neighbours might still have to be convinced. There’s also a sting in the tail for the complacent here, in the instruction to treat offenders” as a Gentile and a tax-collector” – that is, as those in particular need of support to change their mind and ways. The aim is always reconciliation, not exclusion. Globally, we don’t have anywhere else to go; no to send our offenders away to. And might we be these offenders?
So what is to be vitally prioritised in the observances of faith, to the Christian heap of “Specials” to which Climate Sunday and the following weeks of Creation Time and the Season of Creation are adding? Faithfulness, obedience, devotionalism, piety, are now characterised in this:
Readiness to shift – and shift everything – the schooled decisiveness to cash in the chips of all that has been set aside for a rainy day, yes, the wisdom to be ready to blow your reserves and leave nothing behind, these are the defining virtues these ancient ritual instructions aim to inculcate, and by their repetition, indefinitely to refresh, rather than, tediously, to embed. It’s a feast and a fulsome one, and as good as you can make it, but a feast with no waste and no leftovers.
This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD.
For us, the time has come: never mind “normal”, new or old : the faith of our cultures in indefinite growth and a reliable future has become hollow, and our reliance on it – because that reliance holds back necessary change – deadly.
Not just for ourselves, but first and fastest, those people and places who have contributed least to the crises we may, perhaps, still mitigate, but not avert. The time is now. so, says God, let’s celebrate! Let’s feast, because that’s the hopeful alternative to creeping back into a hole and giving up.
And the concessionary trust in intermediates: that new fossil fuel investment approved because it is marginally more efficient than the previous one locks you in for a generation, when time has already run out. Without exception, the greatest impact of today, and of the weeks and months ahead that you might devote to deepening your spiritual awareness of Climate emergency and the place and purpose of your faith as we encounter it, will be in transforming yourself, your spirituality, your prayer life, and the ways in which, until now, that might have excluded the voice of the Earth, just as the voice of the poor has been so easy to sideline, though Jesus in Matthew 25, again most sternly makes clear that how they are treated is an absolute measure of faithfulness to him, to God, to goodness.
The Exodus story introduces the deeply relevant concept of “plague” as a catastrophe that need not have been so, and that might have been avoided through justice, compassion and wisdom, though one over which you may not have determinative power. Decisions are made elsewhere. The wildlife and the ecosystems suffer, because of the all-too-human injustice of the pharaoh. We are reminded, that all life shares the fate we choose. The sheer spiritual poverty of anthropocentric salvation – that is, the teaching that Christ is given for people alone, and that all other life, however lovely, is expendable – this makes no sense other than on some distant planet B other than our own, where no one need yet be confronted with the absolute facts of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life, be they predators or prey, fauna or flora.
Yet in addition to this fact of infinite mutual utility, Christianity has, in its saner moments, also added a value, an original goodness which goes beyond any visible usefulness to ourselves. That too, is a matter of faith. And one reinforced as we remember Jesus’ most stern rebuke of those who dismiss a sister or brother as ‘good for nothing’. [Matt 5:22, e.g. NAS]. For what is that but a dismissal of God, who made them…. and you!
Be awake, be alert, be ready, and remember, as a matter of faith, to celebrate, to nourish yourself, your faith, your community. The world needs your commitment now, more than ever. In prayer, in action, in being what God made you to be.
Creation sings the Father’s song; He calls the sun to wake the dawn and run the course of day, till evening comes in crimson rays. His fingerprints in flakes of snow, His breath upon this spinning globe, He charts the eagle’s flight, commands the new-born baby’s cry.
Hallelujah! Let all creation stand and sing: “Hallelujah!” Fill the earth with songs of worship, tell the wonders of creation’s King.
2: Creation gazed upon His face; the ageless One in time’s embrace, unveiled the Father’s plan of reconciling God and man. A second Adam walked the earth, whose blameless life would break the curse, whose death would set us free to live with Him eternally.
3: Creation longs for His return, when Christ shall reign upon the earth; the bitter wars that rage are birth pains of a coming age. When He renews the land and sky, all heaven will sing and earth reply with one resplendent theme: the glory of our God and King.
Affirmation of Faith
We believe in God, creator of all, whose word sustains the life of humanity, and directs our history. God is our life. We believe in God’s Son, born amongst the poor, light in our night, first-born from the dead. He is alive.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, who gives birth to the new life of God, who breathes life into the struggle for justice, who leads us to hope. Who is a living force.
We believe in the holy universal Church, herald of the Good News which frees people and brings new life. We believe in the coming of a new world where Jesus Christ, our Lord, will be all in all. Amen.
We invite and encourage you to remember churches and charities and all those in financial need at this difficult time. Let us not selfishly hold the blessings we receive, but lovingly share, so that blessings and thankfulness may abound. Amen.
Prayers of Intercession
Liberating God, your Spirit sighs as creation groans, you hear the cries of the poor and afflicted, you deliver those in distress and set captives free:
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Hear us as we cry to you, as earth heats, and weather changes, and habitats become inhospitable: for animals and plants struggling to survive, for refugees from drought, flood, and heat, for every soul seeking a home where they can flourish in peace: God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Hear us as we cry to you, as costs rise and prices fall and those who work the land are squeezed by injustice: for farmers and producers at the mercy of market forces, impoverished, but wanting to do their best for the land and the creatures in their care:
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Hear us as we cry to you, as changes in nature and society out-pace conventional wisdom: for leaders of Government and business, for buyers and voters, for justice and peace for the poor, the disregarded, and all the Little Ones of Creation:
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Hear us as we cry to you, as disciples of Jesus seek his path of faithfulness and loving service: for Churches and Christian agencies as we embody the love of Christ for all Creation:
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Hear us as we cry to you for those we carry in our hearts today (silence)
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Hear us, merciful God; hear the cries of every tribe and language and people and species, that all Creation might be set free, and all things made new in Christ. In that glorious hope, in the unity of the Spirit, and in his name we pray. Amen.
Sing of the Lord’s goodness, Father of all wisdom, come to him and bless his name. mercy He has shown us, His love is for ever, faithful to the end of days.
Come then all you nations, sing of your Lord’s goodness, melodies of praise & thanks to God. Ring out the Lord’s glory, praise Him with your music, worship Him and bless His name.
(repeat first verse and chorus)
2: Power He has wielded, honour is His garment, risen from the snares of death. His word He has spoken, one bread He has broken, new life He now gives to all.
3: Courage in our darkness, comfort in our sorrow, Spirit of our God most high; solace for the weary, pardon for the sinner, splendour of the living God.
4: Praise Him with your singing, praise Him with the trumpet, praise God with the lute and harp; praise Him with the cymbals, praise Him with your dancing, praise God till the end of days.
Now may you know God’s blessing: The Creator’s blessing on that that has been made, The Saviour’s blessing on all that is loved, The Spirit’s blessing active in and over all. As you have been blessed, so may you bless. Amen.
Sources and Thanks
Call to Worship from Feasting on the Word Year A Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France. Prayers of Approach written by Les Parker. Prayer of Illumination, Offertory, and Blessing written by Mike Shrubsole Prayers of Intercession written by Alex Mabbs.
All Things Praise Thee sung by the choir of Christ Apostolic Church, Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria. For the Beauty of the Earth arranged by John Rutter sung by the Vocal Arts Academy of Milwaulki directed by Emily Crocker Creation Sings the Father’s Song by Keith & Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend, from the album ‘Awaken The Dawn’ Sing of the Lord’s Goodness recorded by Jazz Church.
Organ Pieces: Liturgical Prelude by George Oldroyd (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020) Nun Danket Alle Gott – Marche Triomphale (“Now thank we all our God”) by Sigfrid Karg-Elert (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020) played by Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
Thanks to James Whately, John Young, Lorraine Webb, Karen Smith, for recording various parts of the service and to the choir of Barrhead URC for recording the Lord’s Prayer, to Kathleen & Callum Haynes, Elfreda Tealby-Watson & Greg Watson, David & Christine Shimmin, Elizabeth Kemp, Marion Thomas, Tina Wheeler and Myra Rose for recording, virtually, 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