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URC Daily Devotions Service for Sunday 7th March The Third Sunday of Lent
The Rev’d Helen Everard
Opening Organ Music – Ach Gott Von Himmel Sieh Darein (“O God from heaven see this”) by Johann Pachelbel
Hello and welcome to today’s worship for Sunday 7th March, the 3rd Sunday in Lent. My name is Helen Everard and I am an ordained minister serving in the Wessex Synod of the United Reformed Church. I am the chaplain to the present Moderators of General Assembly, Rev Clare Downing and Mr Peter Pay and I also minister at Wonersh URC in Surrey with particular responsibility for liaising with the youth & children’s organisations associated with the church. It is a privilege and a pleasure to be sharing worship with you today.
Call to Worship
People of God, on this wilderness journey, what will you eat? The word of the Lord is our daily bread. People of God, in this time of temptation, how will you live? Our faith is in the faithfulness of God. People of God, at this kingdom crossroad, whom will you serve? We worship the Lord our God alone.
Sing for God’s glory that colours the dawn of creation, racing across the sky, trailing bright clouds of elation; sun of delight succeeds the velvet of night, warming the earth’s exultation.
2: Sing for God’s power that shatters the chains that would bind us, searing the darkness of fear and despair that could blind us, touching our shame with love that will not lay blame, reaching out gently to find us.
3: Sing for God’s justice disturbing each easy illusion, tearing down tyrants and putting our pride to confusion; lifeblood of right, resisting evil and slight, offering freedom’s transfusion.
4: Sing for God’s saints who have travelled faith’s journey before us, who in our weariness give us their hope to restore us; in them we see the new creation to be, spirit of love made flesh for us.
Prayer of Approach
Creator God, Yare all around us and the Earth and the Heavens praise you! We gather to worship you, together with the sun in the sky, the birds of the air, the creatures of the sea and life in abundance. We gather as part of your family, the family of your Son Jesus Christ, which stretches around the world, uniting us with people of faith everywhere and in all time. So as we worship you, help us to be aware of your presence with us, by your Holy Spirit which prompts us to pray, knowing that we come to you through your love for each of us. Amen
Prayer of Confession
Loving God, as we worship, we are aware of our faults and failings, forgive us Lord: for the times we have not seen you as you truly are, for the times we have not heard your voice, for the times we have followed our own way, despite the promptings of your word. We need your cleansing touch on our lives So that we may leave behind our sins and follow you anew.
Declaration of forgiveness
The Lord Jesus says to all who come to him in repentance “Your sins are forgiven; come, follow me” Amen, thanks be to God
Prayer of Illumination
Living Word of God, you show us the way we should go. So come to us now. Enlighten our hearts and our understanding, so that your wisdom may overcome our foolishness and your love illuminate all we do in your name, Amen
Reading: St John 2:13-22
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
HymnLiving God, Your Joyful Spirit Jill Jenkins
Living God, your joyful Spirit breaks the bounds of time and space, rests in love upon your people, drawn together in this place Here we join in glad thanksgiving, here rejoice to pray and praise: Lord of all our past traditions, Lord of all our future days.
2. As your bread may we be broken, scattered in community; we who know your greatest blessings called to share Christ’s ministry. May we gently lead each other, share our hunger and our thirst; learn that only through our weakness shall we know the strength of Christ.
3. Lord, when we grow tired of giving, feel frustration, hurt and strain, by your Spirit’s quiet compulsion, draw us back to you again. Guide us through the bitter searching when our confidence is lost; give us hope from desolation, arms outstretched upon a cross.
4. Living God, your power surrounds us, as we face the way Christ trod, challenge us to fresh commitment to the purposes of God: called to share a new creation, called to preach a living word, promised all the joys of heaven, through the grace of Christ our Lord.
Let us pray, Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, my rock and my redeemer, Amen. This account of Jesus cleansing the Temple is a familiar story, occurring as it does in all 4 gospels. But in John’s account, which we read today, it is placed near the beginning whereas in the other 3 gospels, it comes directly after Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, so during the final week of Jesus’ ministry. It is unlikely that this event occurred twice. So is John trying to make a point about Jesus ministry by placing this story at the beginning of his gospel? John Marsh’s view in his commentary seems to me to make a lot of sense. He says that John places the Temple cleansing at the beginning of his gospel account so as to underline the fact that Jesus has come to replace the old temple worship with its insistence upon animal sacrifice with a new worship – and this is evidenced by the final verses in our reading today – that the disciples did not at first see the significance of what Jesus said – but later it made sense to them. I will return to this point later.
Is this Jesus, angry, armed with a whip, driving animals out of the Temple, turning tables over the kind of Jesus we are comfortable with? Is this the Saviour we would normally cling to? What happened to “come to me all who labour and I will give you rest?” What happened to Jesus welcoming little children? This can and should be a deeply shocking event – shocking for the Jews at the time and we should be taking note as well.
Because here we see Jesus taking action against wrongdoing and injustice which is taking place at the very heart of the worship of God. And it is action which shows us how Jesus was indeed human, with flesh and blood feelings and at the same time divine, seeing his Father’s house turned into a marketplace, a marketplace which was designed to limit access to the worship of God to those who came.
Remember, this was Passover time when groups of pilgrims came to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. They would have come, singing the psalms of ascent in praise of God and of the place where they believed God dwelt. Psalm 122 for example – “I was glad when they said to me, we will go into the House of the Lord”. And then, having arrived, they are greeted by the moneychangers who refuse to take corrupt coins some with the idolatrous Caesar’s head on. Instead they have to change any money they want to use to special temple money. All this with the supposed motive of purity and giving God the best but actually being open to corruption and blocking access for many who came.
Then the pilgrims have to use this temple money to buy the animals they want to sacrifice. The emphasis for the Temple authorities was all on the purity of the animals. They had not heeded the warnings of Amos, who rejected the rich sacrifices of those who oppressed the poor: or Micah, who said “Will the Lord be pleased with ten thousands of rams?…What the Lord requires is to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with your God” or Hosea saying “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God and not burnt offerings.”
So we should expect Jesus, God made human, to be angry at the abuses he saw in the place of worship and to take action.
I think we need to take this aspect of Jesus ministry very seriously – I mean the way that Jesus spoke out against injustice and welcomed all who came. The Jesus who contradicted his disciples to call the children to him is no different to the Jesus who called the Pharisees hypocrites. The Jesus who healed the sick and gave sight to the blind, who welcomed undesirables from his own society is the same Jesus who drove out the animals from the temple.
Why did he drive out the animals? In order to make way for a new kind of worship, where all are welcomed into God’s presence. The holy has come to the ordinary and showed what God has always shown – that love is at the heart of God and that God values each person for who they are not for the animal they can bring.
This love needs to be demonstrated in many ways and when anger on behalf of others is needed, then God in Jesus shows that. When were you last angry on behalf of someone who has suffered injustice? Angry enough to do something about it? That is what makes many of us give to food banks, and write to our MP protesting about the necessity for food banks. It is what makes us pray for refugees, and write again to our government to protest about the hostile environment. It is what makes us write to prisoners of conscience, raise money for charity, fast in various ways in Lent. Jesus shows us that it is not enough to merely disagree with injustice, we need to take action against it.
We need also to beware of the image of God in Jesus that we carry with us, which colours everything we do as people who make up the church. We need to take care that this image is rooted in the very real portrayal that the gospel writers give us. I feel that we are in danger of losing the dynamic, exciting Jesus who took on his critics and answered them in ways which we often lose as we read the Bible as a sacred story, in little chunks, not giving credit to Jesus for his wit and in danger too of not understanding his flesh and blood vitality, his authority as he taught the crowds. In this account of the story, the Jews asked Jesus for a sign to explain why he had driven out the animals. Jesus spoke of himself, saying “destroy this temple and in 3 days I will raise it up”, and they did not understand him. Yet the disciples remembered this and came to understand what he had meant. We would do well also to keep on reminding ourselves of everything Jesus said and did, not just the bits we agree with – so we can continue to make sense of who Jesus was and how we can convey his good news to all around us.
Our worship as the church centres itself on the death and resurrection of Jesus, not around a building, however much loved or beautiful and we forget this at our peril. The worship which the body of Christ, the church has been able to offer during the long months of lockdown has had to reach beyond the walls of our buildings and into the places where we live. We have come to a new understanding of how we have been excluding people from worship who have not been able or willing to either enter church buildings or prevented from attending at the times we have chosen. Our new understanding of worship which is not limited by a set time or place but is able to reach into our homes by means of old style paper and ink, or audio as well as new internet technology is a gift from God which we need to take on board just as the first disciples needed to move away from animal sacrifices to an understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, once for all.
This new understanding of how we can welcome many people who were excluded from our buildings by many different barriers must inform how we express ourselves as church going forward. We belong to a tradition which began when the gospel became accessible to ordinary people in a radically new way. Let us not return to old ways which worked for some but not for all. Let us follow Jesus in all his radical and transforming ways so that God can be flesh and blood reality for all not just for some and his sacrifice which is our way to salvation, be open to everyone in the way God means it to be. Amen
HymnJesus Christ is Waiting John Bell, Iona community
Jesus Christ is waiting, Waiting in the streets; No one is his neighbour, All alone he eats. Listen, Lord Jesus, I am lonely too. Make me, friend or stranger, Fit to wait on you
2: Jesus Christ is raging, Raging in the streets, Where injustice spirals And real hope retreats. Listen, Lord Jesus, I am angry too. In the Kingdom’s causes Let me rage with you.
3: Jesus Christ is healing, Healing in the streets; Curing those who suffer, Touching those he greets. Listen, Lord Jesus, I have pity too. Let my care be active, Healing just like you.
4: Jesus Christ is dancing, Dancing in the streets, Where each sign of hatred He, with love, defeats. Listen, Lord Jesus, I should triumph too. on suspicion’s graveyard Let me dance with you.
5: Jesus Christ is calling, calling in the streets, ”Who will join my journey? I will guide their feet.” Listen, Lord Jesus, Let my fears be few. Walk one step before me; I will follow you.
Affirmation of Faith
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world— which some seek to control, but which others view with despair— we declare with joy and trust: our world belongs to God!
From the beginning, through all the crises of our times, until His Kingdom fully comes, God keeps covenant forever. our world belongs to God!
We rejoice in the goodness of God, renounce the works of darkness, and dedicate ourselves to holy living, for our world belongs to God!
As committed disciples, called to faithful obedience, and set free for joyful praise, we offer our hearts and lives to do God’s work in his world, for our world belongs to God!
With tempered impatience, eager to see injustice ended, we expect the Day of the Lord. And we are confident that the light which shines in the present darkness will fill the earth when Christ appears for our World belongs to God!
Almighty God, we pray for our world We pray for all who work for peace and justice All who work to challenge injustice and change unjust structures That they may be empowered by your love and your righteousness Lord in your mercy hear our prayer
Lord Jesus, healer of many hurts We pray for all who are sick in body mind and spirit For all who work to care for them And for all who research and produce new medicines, vaccines and methods of healing. We pray especially for all who have been disadvantaged by the Covid 19 pandemic around the world. And for all who are working to overcome obstacles of hunger, thirst, access to education and employment So that we may all come together in love at your table Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
Holy Spirit, Comforter, Come to all who are lonely, who are separated from loved ones, who mourn the loss of family and friends Come to the discouraged, the downtrodden and those who feel they have been forgotten Reassure them of your great love for them In a moment of silence we pray for those particularly in our thoughts this day (pause) Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers
And we gather these and all our prayers as we say the words Jesus taught us, saying
As God has showered us with an abundance of gifts and blessings, so we pledge ourselves and all that we have to God: Generous God, Of your goodness you continually give us more than we can ask. So receive from each of us gifts of our time, our service, our money, ourselves and use them so that your Kingdom may come wherever we are Amen
You are salt for the earth, O people: salt for the Kingdom of God! Share the flavour of life, O people: life in the Kingdom of God!
2: You are a light on the hill, O people: light for the City of God! Shine so holy and bright, O people: shine for the Kingdom of God!
Bring forth the Kingdom of mercy, Bring forth the Kingdom of peace; Bring forth the Kingdom of justice, Bring forth the City of God!
3: You are a seed of the Word, O people: bring forth the Kingdom of God! Seeds of mercy and seeds of justice, grow in the Kingdom of God!
4: We are a blest and a pilgrim people: bound for the Kingdom of God! Love our journey and love our homeland: love is the Kingdom of God!
And now may the peace of God Which passes all understanding Keep our hearts and minds In the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Lord And may the Blessing of God Almighty The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Be upon us and remain with us always. Amen
Closing Organ Piece – Songs of Praise Toccata by Robert Prizeman
Sources and thanks
Ach Gott Von Himmel Sieh Darein (“O God from heaven see this”) by Johann Pachelbel (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020) Songs of Praise Toccata by Robert Prizeman (organ of St Andrew’s, Farnham – 2019)
Thanks to John Wilcox, Helen Sharpe, Sarah Wilmott, Mandy Hibbert, David Shimmin, Jean Stokes and Marion Thomas for reading various 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. PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762