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URC Daily Devotions Worship for Sunday 21 March 2021 The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Peter Pay Moderator of General Assembly
Good morning. My name is Peter Pay. I am one of the two current moderators of General Assembly, a lay preacher and a member of Salisbury United Reformed Church.
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.
Hymn O Praise Ye the Lord H W Baker 1821 – 1877
O praise ye the Lord! praise him in the height; rejoice in His word ye angels of light: ye heavens, adore Him by whom ye were made, and worship before Him in brightness arrayed.
2 O praise ye the Lord! sing praise upon earth in tuneful accord, all ye of new birth: praise him who hath brought you his grace from above, O praise him who taught you to sing of his love.
3 O praise ye the Lord! all things that give sound, each jubilant chord re-echo around: loud organs, his glory proclaim in deep tone, and sweet harp, the story of what He has done.
4 O praise ye the Lord! thanksgiving and song to him be outpoured all ages along: for love in creation, for heaven restored, for grace of salvation, sing praise to the Lord!
Prayers of Praise and Thanksgiving
Lord, we give you thanks for all you have given us, for the world you lovingly created, for showing us that we are welcome, that we are loved, that all are welcome, that all are loved all are included. We remember how our Lord Jesus gave himself for our salvation.
We are your people and you are our God. Help us to learn your ways, to love your creation and to show your love and inclusion to all. May your word be written in our hearts. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
Prayer of Illumination
Break open your word to us, O God, that we may listen, understand and obey, Amen.
Jeremiah 31. 31-34 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Jeremiah is chiefly known for doom and gloom prophesies. However our passage today is quite the opposite. A message of hope.
I personally have had rather too many operations on my heart in recent years. At the start, the defibrillator in my pacemaker was there to control when my heart rhythms went astray. I then had two Ablations which were focussed on ‘writing new ways in my heart’. Trying to make it operate, to beat in a different way so the defibrillator would not be needed. This causes me to reflect on Jeremiah’s words with new meaning.
Humans do, sadly have in-built hardness in their hearts. Anger, Selfishness, greed, judgement, punishment seem to be instinctive- the way our hearts seem naturally to beat. Changing that beat is not easy it is innate and unconscious. God’s law is clear and helpful.
I am a parent and am very aware of how my relationship with my offspring has changed over time. When they were young, we operated to a set of ‘house rules’. They understood what was expected of them and of us, I guess a sort of covenant’. We tried to instil a set of values and principles for their lives. As they grew up, we accepted that they were free to make their own choices and hoped that what we had ‘taught’ was still ‘written in their hearts’. And if they went astray, we continued to love and forgive.
In a similar way, our relationship with God has developed over time. We continue to need God’s word, need His Law to be written on our hearts so that they may automatically beat in a different way. A way of Love forgiveness generosity inclusion.
As our journey of faith continues, Gods ways will I trust, become more and more written in our hearts. In the meantime, we cling to those words ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more’ Thanks be to God
Prayer of Confession
Lord, we know there is hardness in our hearts. We find it hard to forgive Hard to love others especially those who need it most Hard to give freely Hard to live as you would wish. Write your ways on our hearts that we may serve you more fully. Amen
Assurance of pardon
Lord we give thanks that you will indeed forgive our iniquity and will remember our sin no more. Amen
Hymn: Now the green blade Rises John McCleod Campbell Crum
Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain, wheat that in dark earth many days has lain; Love lives again, that with the dead has been: Love has come again like wheat that springeth green.
2: In the grave they laid Him, Love who they had slain, thinking that never He would wake again, Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen: Love has come again like wheat that springeth green.
3 Forth He came at Easter, like the risen grain, He had for three days in the grave had lain; quick from the dead the risen Christ is seen: Love has come again like wheat that springeth green.
4 When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, where His touch can call us back to life again, fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love has come again like wheat that springeth green.
St John 12. 20-33 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
It is a powerful analogy in our passage today, it works at different levels I will explore this with you as we approach Holy week- which is, for me the most important week in the Christian calendar.
Any gardener will tell you (as my wife frequently does), choosing the right time and place to plant your seeds is a key decision. You prepare the soil, fertilise, till. You look for the right time. But once sown, you have less control. The germination process has started and cannot be reversed.
Timing is everything!
On other occasions, Jesus had said ‘my time is not yet come’ for example changing water into wine. Now He announces ‘My time is come’
Jesus planted himself deliberately. Jesus is in control of his career path
He could so easily have carried on being popular Healing & teaching into old age. But He would have been a footnote in history
By going to Jerusalem He choose the place and the time- Palm Sunday. He did not have to go but by going He started an inevitable process. For Jesus once He had launched the final process, there was also no going back. Jesus chose his path He was not the victim He initiated, He provoked, He challenged, He was willing to let it happen, He refused escape routes. Just look at His interactions with Judas and in the Garden of Gethsemane.
He knows this is the Key moment- His destiny It is a hard road. It is not a soft option. Seed must die to grow. Once germinated, it is no longer what it was.
Once risen He was no longer the same. He was Glorified So Jesus deliberately gave Himself to be sowed that the harvest might be our salvation.
The number of his followers multiplied after his death. Many others died in His service. His death marked the start of others in turn sowing the seeds of salvation in others and working to reap God’s harvest. As the ‘whole people of God’ we are also part of that same continuum. We too are like wheat seeds, we must plant and be planted to be transformed. We are the source of continuation and growth. We are called to take the chance by offering to serve, accepting His call, being willing to fail.We are called to bring Him further harvest through our lives and our witness. We sow the seed in our churches, in our families, amongst our friends, at our work. Wherever we are.
We sow by our example, teaching, preaching, serving, visiting, caring, giving, praying.
We all have the germ of His spirit in us. It is our choice whether we allow it to germinate and grow or stays dormant. To keep or to share the Good News.
Our choice- are we willing to offer ourselves? Amen
Hymn From Heaven You Came Helpless Babe Graham Kendrick (b. 1950
From heaven you came, helpless babe, Entered our world, your glory veiled; Not to be served but to serve, And gave your life that we might live.
This is our God, the Servant King, He calls us now to follow him, To bring our lives as a daily offering Of worship to the Servant King.
2: There in the garden of tears, My heavy load he chose to bear; His heart with sorrow was torn, ‘Yet not my will but yours,’ he said.
3: Come, see his hands and his feet, The scars that speak of sacrifice, Hands that flung stars into space To cruel nails surrendered.
4: So let us learn how to serve, And in our lives enthrone him; Each other’s needs to prefer, For it is Christ we’re serving.
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!
Prayers of Intercession
Lord, there is so much on our hearts that we wish to share with you, so much we would wish to bring before you.
Concerns of health, bereavement, economic struggles and social tensions.
We live in a world of greed of selfishness, a world of exploitation, repression, extremes of wealth and poverty. So many facing injustice, cruelty, exclusion. A world being destroyed by the emissions we create. Nations struggling to live in peace with one another.
May they all feel your presence in their times of need and Lord, Show us what we can do to sow the seeds of your love in these places.
Giving is a key part of our spiritual lives as Christians. For many of us it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to get to church – yet there are still bills to pay – the M and M contributions which pay for our church’s ministers and organisation, utility bills and all the regular outgoings that our churches have. Similarly, charities across these islands have struggled as Charity Shops have been closed and street collections have been difficult. It’s always the poor who struggle most when times are bad. So many of us have continued to give sacrificially through the last year knowing that it takes more than a pandemic to diminish our spiritual lives. And so we give thanks
Loving God, we thank you for the gifts you give us, and for the ability to return some of these gifts to you. Bless those who tend to our church’s money, renew us during this time of trial, that as we emerge, like the risen grain, we may attend more completely to worship and witness, evangelism and service, that your Kingdom may come. Amen.
Hymn God is working His purpose out Arthur Campbell Ainger (1894)
God is working His purpose out, as year succeeds to year; God is working His purpose out, and the time is drawing near; nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be: when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
2 From utmost east to utmost west, where human feet have trod, by the mouth of many messengers goes forth the voice of God: “Give ear to me, ye continents, ye isles, give ear to me, that the earth may be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.”
3 All we can do is nothing worth unless God blesses the deed. Vainly we hope for the harvest-tide till God gives life to the seed. Yet nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
May God’s word indeed be written in all our hearts and may we offer ourselves as seeds to be sown so that the harvest may continue and that our lives may indeed be fruitful. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us now and evermore. Amen
Sources and thanks
Lobt Gott Ihr Christen (“Praise God ye Christians”) by Johann Gottfried Walther (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020) Toccata in Seven by John Rutter (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)
Thanks to Gunhild Wilcock, Steve Lee, Sylvia Nutt, Kirsty Knott, Dan Morrell and Antony Denman 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