URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service 31st January – The Revd. Nicola Furley-Smith

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URC Daily Devotions Sunday Worship for 31st January 2021

Welcome to God’s new world!
The Rev’d Nicola Furley Smith – Secretary for Ministries
 
Introduction
 
Good morning. My name is Nicola Furley-Smith, Secretary for Ministries, and today’s service comes from Purley.
 
Call to Worship
 
Come and see the grace of God,
Christ our teacher and our friend.
Come and see the son of God,
Christ our healer and salvation.
God is moving in this place.
Come and see! Come and see.
 
Hymn       At the name of Jesus
Caroline M Noel (1870)
 
At the name of Jesus
ev’ry knee shall bow,
ev’ry tongue confess Him
King of glory now.
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.
 
2:  Humbled for a season
to receive a name
from the lips of sinners
unto whom he came,
faithfully he bore it
spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious,
when from death he passed.

 

3 Since then, this Lord Jesus
shall return again,
with his Father’s glory,
with his angel train;
for all wreaths of empire
meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him
King of glory now.
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
 
O God, holy and majestic,
you are the source of all authority in heaven and earth.
Your glory shines throughout the universe: 
from the highest heaven to the deepest sea; 
in all the creatures you have made; 
in the seasons that shape our living.
Your glory shines through who you are 
and through what you do.
The power of your glory 
touches your creation and exalts it.
To you we offer our worship; 
to you we offer our praise; 
before you we come in adoration.  Amen.
 
O God, holy and majestic
we confess that so often we have been fearful in our witness for Christ.
By our silence we have denied that we are his friends and followers.
We have been afraid to make new friendships or to offer a helping hand.
Forgive us for our cowardice
and fill us again with the power of your Spirit;
for Christ’s sake. Amen
 
Jesus Christ came to heal and to save.
In him we have forgiveness of our sins. Amen
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
God of light
Your searching spirit reveals and illumines
Your healing presence in our broken world
shine your radiance into our lives
that we may offer our hearts and our hands to your glory. Amen.
 
St Mark 1 vv.21-28
 
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.  They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit,  and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’  And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.  They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’  At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
 
Hymn       Teach me, my God and King
                  George Herbert (1633)
 
Teach me, my God and King,
in all things Thee to see,
and what I do in anything,
to do it as for Thee.
 
2 To scorn the senses’ sway,
while still to Thee I tend;
in all I do be Thou the Way,
in all be Thou the End.
 
3 All may of Thee partake;
nothing so small can be,
but draws, when acted for Thy sake,
greatness and worth from Thee.
 
4 If done t’obey Thy laws,
e’en servile labours shine;
hallowed is toil, if this the cause,
the meanest work divine.

 

Sermon
 
Mark’s Gospel is incendiary! It’s full of underground messaging written in code! Because it tells of the alternative rule of God that he has already set in train. Jesus has come to transform the earth, not to replace it! This story of the man with the unclean spirit is another of Mark’s ‘who is this? questions’ For the Jesus in Mark’s gospel as we heard today, teaches ‘as one having authority, and not as the scribes/  (Mark 1.22).
 
This gospel reminds us of the ways in which Jesus is revealed for who he really is. At Epiphany, the newborn child is revealed as king and priest and saviour, and as the light to lighten the Gentiles. At his baptism, he is revealed as God’s beloved son, the one to whom God’s people should listen.  Under the fig tree, he is revealed as the charismatic master who will attract a group of loyal disciples who will leave absolutely everything at the drop of a hat to follow him. At Cana, he is revealed as the worker of signs and miracles, able to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. And today he is revealed as the teacher and healer whom even the unclean spirits obey.
 
Who is this Jesus of Nazareth,
The holy One of God?
The society into which Jesus came was controlled by the calling of names, and many of the significant actions in the Bible were about the making or changing of names: Abram – Abraham, Simon – Peter – the Rock, Saul becomes Paul. But the issue of naming went far deeper than that. In the culture of the Ancient Near East a name signified the essence of a thing:
to name it was to know it, and, consequently, to have power over it. In Genesis humankind is given power to name all living creatures. And to know the name of a person was to be able to hurt them or to be able to do them good.
 
Every person, every place, and even every food had its place that ranged from holy to unclean. The system was written into the very heart of their world. The holy of holies was the holiest place of all, and the high priest, who was the only person who could go in there was the holiest person of all. Then there was the inner court of the temple and the priests who could go in there, and then the outer courts and the people who could go in there. Then there was the city of Jerusalem. Then the rest of Judea. And then there was the lands of the gentiles, the unclean places from which nothing good could come.
 
Everything and everyone had its name and its place – A sort of pecking order. If you were one of the holy ones you stood to benefit from the system. If you were named as one of the unclean, your movements and your opportunities were forcefully limited.  Your name revealed your destiny.
 
This story from Mark is the first recorded scene of Jesus’ public ministry.
Perhaps it’s no accident that Mark starts the story with the cleansing of this man with an unclean spirit in a synagogue – a ‘holy’ place. And he ends that ministry with Jesus ‘cleansing’ the temple, the most ‘holy’ of places, which Jesus declares has become corrupt, unclean.
 
Each time, and in several similar incidents in between, his actions raise questions about his authority. What authority do you have to challenge the system? to make holy what we call unclean and to declare unclean what we call holy? What authority do you have?
When the demonic spirit goes on the attack to challenge his authority:
‘What have you got to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?’
‘What gives you the right to come in here and upset the established order of things. Don’t go setting yourself up as some kind of alternative authority… the naming begins.
 
Not Jesus son of Joseph as you would expect, but Jesus of Nazareth.
‘I can name you. I can put you in your place. I can tell you who you are! You are the Holy One of God!’ Jesus demands the spirit is quiet. He does not want to be named because if Jesus accepts this name, he buys into the system it comes from. If he is willing to wear the title ‘the holy one of God’ then he endorses a system which puts him above others, and who colludes in naming others as outcasts and misfits and unacceptable This authority question is partially answered by the people in this opening story.
 
Jesus is teaching in the synagogue, and what the people comment on is that he teaches with authority, not like the scribes, the religious experts they’re used to. Immediately (Mark’s favourite word!), immediately the man with the unclean spirit leaps up, and when Jesus silences the spirit and frees the man, the people’ response is again to comment with awe and wonder on the authority of his teaching. They are astounded. Whatever Jesus has said, he has said with an authority that people did not expect. And, he has said it with an authority that was different than that of the scribes.  
 
Was it the message or the presentation, or both? If the rest of the Gospel is anything to go by, Jesus has a sense of urgency about the kingdom which comes across immediately. After all Mark’s Gospel begins with the words ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’
The Greek word euangelion means (the announcement of) good news.
We tend to think of euangelion as being a very religious term. Evangelical implies an enthusiastic desire to encourage people to adopt Jesus as their saviour. But the word euangelion is secular, indeed political in its origin.
It was the word used by the Romans to describe a general’s triumph
or the birthday of an emperor.
 
So, as Rowan Williams has pointed out, the very opening verse tells us that this is going to be a book about regime change.   This is a new regime with a new kind of ruler and a new word from God. So what was this new word?  Well, having an unclean spirit pushed you to the margins of the community. It made you socially, medically, and spiritually an outsider.  Few people had the authority to restore you back into the fullness of community. Once isolated, it was difficult to return to sense of wholeness.   That’s why the people who witnessed it were amazed. That’s why they understood this act as a confirmation that Jesus’ new teaching came with authority, – it was not simply a re-examination of tradition, but it was a new word from God a word that extended and built upon what they already knew. Jesus speaks and an outsider is restored to wholeness and made new.
 
The Good News offers new beginnings with life in all its fullness in the kingdom. It brings the people face to face with a God who is both immediate and accessible.
 
In a worldly sense, Jesus didn’t have any power at all. He wasn’t a worldly king with political or military power. He wasn’t of the priests, who had the power in Roman Judaea. He was not even a scribe with the authority of Jewish tradition. The only authority he had was the supreme confidence that what he did and said was God’s will, God’s Word and God’s truth. His authority lay in the sheer power of his words and in the example of his deeds. His authority lay in his living as God’s servant. Jesus used his authority not to obtain power for himself but to serve humanity.
For what Jesus is telling us is that it is not what anybody else says we are
that defines who we are in God’s eyes. It is being known by God and named by God as God’s beloved child.

If you come to know yourself not through the eyes of this world but through the eyes of God, and through the name that God gives you,
you will be set free by it and given life beyond measure. Jesus’ acting in authority brings blessings to his people. It brings health and healing.
Jesus’ authority and kingdom ministry invite us to imagine a different world — and to live towards it. Welcome to God’s new world.
 
Hymn       The love of God comes close
John Bell & Graham Maule

 

The love of God comes close
where stands an open door,
to let the stranger in,
to mingle rich and poor.
The love of God is here to stay,
embracing those
who walk the Way;
the love of God is here to stay.
 
2. The peace of God comes close
to those caught in the storm,
forgoing lives of ease
to ease the lives forlorn.
The peace of God is here to stay,
embracing those
who walk the Way;
the peace of God is here to stay.
 
3. The joy of God comes close
where faith encounters fears,
where heights and depths of life
are found through
smiles and tears.
The joy of God is here to stay,
embracing those
who walk the Way;
the joy of God is here to stay.
 
4. The grace of God comes close
to those whose grace is spent,
when hearts are tired or sore
and hope is bruised and bent.
The grace of God is here to stay,
embracing those
who walk the Way;
the grace of God is here to stay


5. The Son of God comes close
where people praise his name,
where bread and wine are blest
and shared as when he came.
The Son of God is here to stay,
embracing those who walk the Way;
the Son of God is here to stay.

Affirmation of Faith
 
In Jesus of Nazareth, true humanity was realized once for all.
Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, lived among his own people and shared their needs, temptations, joys, and sorrows.
He expressed the love of God in word and deed
and became a brother to all kinds of sinful men and women.
But his complete obedience led him into conflict with his people.
His life and teaching judged their goodness,
religious aspirations, and national hopes.
Many rejected him and demanded his death. In giving himself freely for them, he took upon himself the judgment under which everyone stands convicted.
God raised him from the dead, vindicating him as Messiah and Lord.
The victim of sin became victor, and won the victory over sin and death for all.
 
Prayers of intercession
 
God of wisdom,
we long for a world of love and understanding,
where peoples in the richness of diversity
live together peacefully,
respect one another,
care for one another.
We long for your kingdom
where love has full authority.
Your kingdom come: your will be done.
 
God of wisdom,
we long for a church that is truly the body of Christ,
where members with different beliefs, traditions and ideals
worship together joyfully,
build one another up,
unite in serving those in need.
We long for your kingdom
where love has full authority.
Your kingdom come: your will be done.
 
God of wisdom,
we long for a society that is just and compassionate,
where men, women and children, wealthy and poor
work together for a good future,
value one another
provide for one another.
We long for your kingdom
where love has full authority.
Your kingdom come: your will be done.
 
God of wisdom,
may human authority be exercised with love;
may human knowledge be illumined by love;
may human lives be inspired by love for you.
Your kingdom come: your will be done.
 
In the name of him who speaks to us with authority, Jesus Christ our
Teacher and our Lord.  Amen.
 
Offertory
 
We give you thanks and praise, O God, that you have built us up in faith and bound us together in love.  By your grace, may all that we do and all that we have show the glory of your name and serve the good of your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
Hymn       Go Forth and Tell! O Church of God Awake
James Seddon (1915 – 1983)
 
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.
 
2 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?
 
3 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
 
Go out in the power of the Holy Spirit
to proclaim the good news with boldness
that we may be faithful and true
in following the example and pattern
given to us by Jesus Christ.
And the blessing of God Almighty
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Be amongst us and remain with us
This day and for evermore. Amen.
 
 
 
 
 
Sources and thanks
At the name of Jesus – Caroline M Noel (1870)  Sung on the BBC’s Songs of Praise
Teach me, my God and King – George Herbert (1633) Sung by Cardiff Festival Choir
The love of God comes close – John Bell & Graham Maule recorded by GIA Publications Ltd
Go Forth and Tell! O Church of God Awake – James Seddon (1915 – 1983) © The Representatives of the late James Edward Seddon / admin The Jubilate Group. Sung on BBC’s Songs of Praise
 
Organ Pieces
Lobt Gott Ihr Christen (“Praise God ye Christians”) by Johann Gottfried Walther. (Organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Trumpet Voluntary in D by John Baston. (Organ of Basilica Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy – 2016)
 
Both pieces played by, and received with thanks from, Brian Cotterill. www.briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to John Young, Mairi Macdonald, Adrian Bulley, Wendy Smith and Christopher Whitehead, Alison Jiggins, Marion Thomas, Christine and David Shimmins, Kath Haynes, Ray Fraser, Phil, Carys and Lythan Nevard for reading 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.
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