URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 10th October 2021 – The Revd. Alex Clare-Young

Order of Service

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Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Service for Sunday 10th October
 
Photo Credit: Mick Haupt Unsplash
 
The Rev’d Alex Clare-Young
 
Intro: Topsy Turvy
 
Hello and welcome to today’s Daily Devotions service from the United Reformed Church. I’m Alex Clare-Young: I am in the final full-time year of my PhD, sponsored by the Council for World Mission, exploring the lived experiences, identities, and theological understandings of transgender and non-binary Christians. I am also a minister in the URC, currently scoped part-time to Churspacious: a 24/7 social media based church community which is centred around values of radical inclusion, affirmation, social justice, and diversity. In today’s service we will consider the topsy turvy nature of God’s Kin(g)dom.
Call To Worship
 
We lift up our eyes to the hills— from where will our help come?
 
Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
 
God will not let your foot be moved; God who keeps you will not slumber.
The One who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
 
Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
 
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
 
Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
 
The Lord will keep you from all evil; the Eternal One will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore.
 
Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
 
Hymn       Seek Ye First
Karen Lafferty Sung by the Worship band of Malibu Presbyterian Church, USA used with their kind permission.

 

Seek ye first
the Kingdom of God
and His righteousness.
And all these things
shall be added unto you
Allelu Alleluia
 
2: We shall not live
by bread alone
but by every word
that proceeds
from the mouth of God
Allelu Alleluia
 
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Assurance of Pardon: Your Grace
 
God, our Creator, your grace has called us here. We thank you that you create each and every human being in your image. We praise you for the intricate, liminal, creative beauty of your world and all of its inhabitants. We come to you to be created anew today.
 
God, our Redeemer, your grace has called us here. We thank you that you let go of power to turn unjust structures upside down. We praise you for the authentic, fleshy, scarred beauty of your incarnation. We come to you to be humbled with you today.
 
God, our Sustainer, your grace has called us here. We thank you that you weave rainbow threads of creative new life in and around and through us. We praise you for the exciting, loving, transformational beauty of your inspiration. We come to you to be inspired afresh today.
 
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer,
 
We confess that sometimes we simply want things to stay the same. Sometimes we want creation to slow down. Sometimes we want to hold on to our power. We admit that we are tempted to focus on the realm of ‘the possible’, and to ignore the radical impossibility of your grace. We acknowledge that sometimes we are convinced that we have kept all of the rules, and that we judge others unjustly. We recognise that we need your mercy.
 
Hear good news: for God, all things are possible. In God’s grace, we are forgiven, we are loved, we are enough. May it be so. Amen.
 
Prayer of Illumination: Open Us
 
Open our minds that we might hear your Word afresh in new voices and ideas, that we might listen to those we haven’t heard and consider those we have dismissed.
 
Open our hearts that we might care about all that we encounter and hear, that we might feel deeply and live fully.
 
Open our hands that we might let go of all that holds us captive in this world, that we might give away possessions and power, that we might care for the world and all of its people.
 
For God, this is possible. For us, this is possible. May it be so. Amen.
 
Reading: Mark 10: 17-31
 
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
 
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God, all things are possible.”
 
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
 
Hymn       There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
Frederick William Faber (1862)
 
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in His justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place
where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in Heaven;
there is no place
where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.
 
2: For the love of God is broader
than the measures of our mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make
His love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify
His strictness
with a zeal He will not own.

 

3: There is plentiful redemption in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members in the sorrows of the Head.
There is grace enough for thousands of new worlds as great as this,
there is room for fresh creations in that upper home of bliss.
 
If our love were but more simple, we should take Him at His word;
and our lives would be all gladness In the joy of Christ our Lord.
 
Sermon (Im)possible
 
Today’s Gospel reading is full of impossible possibilities.
 
It’s impossible that a maverick, itinerant rabbi is God. Or is it? Even Jesus seems to question his own goodness, asking, “Why do you call me good?”. It is often said that, in the incarnation, God became like us. I wonder whether it might be helpful to reflect on the fact that, in the incarnation, God became like them: like those who are different from you, whoever you are.
 
I have been saddened, in recent months, and for as long as I can remember, to read comments on social media channels and in print media, written by Christians, that suggest that some Christians are not Christians, and that some churches are not churches. In becoming incarnate, Jesus became a person who was judged as not following cultural and religious norms. Jesus became a person who was not seen as ‘good’ or as ‘living a holy life’ by all of those around him. Jesus became a person who was more often in conversation with those who were cast out of religious establishments than those who were valued within them.
 
The apostle Paul helps us to understand that the Holy Spirit knits us all together into the body of Christ. That means that I am a part of Christ. You are a part of Christ. The person who believes and lives differently from you is a part of Christ. When we judge each other as not good enough, not Christian enough, not holy enough, what we are really suggesting is that Christ is not good enough, not Christian enough, not holy enough.
 
It is possible that a maverick, itinerant rabbi is God. Hallelujah!
 
It’s impossible to give everything that we hold on to up for the sake of others. Or is it? When we explore this reading, we often consider whether we should give up all of our possessions for those living in material poverty. I wonder whether it might be helpful to reflect on the immaterial things that we might be called to let go of so that all might enter God’s new world of justice and peace.
 
Are we, the church, willing to let go of our security and power so that a new future might be imagined? It is not easy to give up on a vision of more bums on seats, more money in collection plates, more ministers in more church buildings. That is what many of us have been taught to see as church, as the will of God. But the church is bigger than that, God is bigger than that. Perhaps it is time to let go of Sunday mornings, of our money and buildings, of ‘the way that we have always done it’. Perhaps it’s time to give all that we have to the world outside of church doors. We are the church, not our buildings, our scopings or our balance sheets.
 
It is possible to give everything that we are determined to hold on to up for the sake of others. Hallelujah!
 
It’s impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Or is it? Some biblical scholars use thousands of words to debate whether or not this reading means a sewing needle, a knitting needle, or a gate, which might make it, in fact, slightly more possible that a camel could go through, were it unburdened of its owner’s possessions. I wonder whether it might be helpful to reflect on the narrow spaces that we inhabit, today.
 
I often find myself smiling, wryly, when singing the hymn ‘there’s a wideness in God’s mercy’, because I feel that sometimes we focus on the narrow path or gate and ignore the expansiveness of possibility in God. If God is alpha and omega, God’s knowledge, actions, emotions, and desires are so far beyond the narrow vision that each of us can imagine. Your understanding of God is but a narrow glimpse of what and whom God actually is. My understanding of God is but a narrow glimpse of what and whom God actually is. We are each peering through the eye of a needle. And what we glimpse matters. But it isn’t the full picture.
 
Like the blindfolded person who, feeling the leg of an elephant, might assume that it is a tree, we cannot understand the wholeness of God on our own. We need each-other. And, more than that, we need to accept our diversity. When I was training for ministry, I got marked down on an essay because I suggested that unity in diversity was a theological necessity. My marker felt that it was more of a wishy-washy liberal compromise. The thing is, though, that the Bible repeatedly shows us that we need to be in dialogue with people who are different than us in order to understand anything of God.
 
We need to look through each-others needles, not merely our own. Each of us has the ability, vision, and privilege to glimpse just a tiny bit of God in this world. But none of us have the ability, vision, or power to deny someone else’s view. As many parts of the one body; as many ha’adams – humans, in Hebrew – but one humankind; we need our many, diverse understandings of God to help us to see the bigger picture, and we need to stop judging and harming others based on our narrow slivers of understanding. 
 
It is possible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Hallelujah!
 
It’s impossible to be saved. Or is it? If for God all things are possible, it is sometimes easier to focus on what God does, and to let go of our own responsibilities. I wonder whether it might be helpful to reflect on the changes that we are called to make, in light of God’s grace.
 
If salvation is impossible for us, and only possible for God, that actually leaves us with quite a big task of undoing the blindfolds, breaking the chains, and unlocking the doors which, over many years, humanity has created. We have limited the goodness that we see in God and in other people with blindfolds of constructed righteousness. We have imprisoned people in chains of constructed hierarchies of sin. We have hidden people’s lived experiences behind doors of orthodoxy and uniformity. The good news is that we can change this. We can undo the blindfolds and allow people to see that God calls them righteous, just as they are. We can break the chains and free people to live fully in God’s grace. We can open the doors and listen as people speak of their experiences of salvation. 
 
It is possible to be saved. Hallelujah!
 
It’s impossible for us to be last and them to be first. Or is it? It’s sometimes tempting to focus on our own beliefs and understandings, and to judge others. I wonder whether it might be helpful to examine our human need to impose order, and to consider how we might deconstruct unjust structures and hierarchies.
 
Throughout this reflection, and the prayers that follow, I’ve been drawing some of my contextual inspiration from the Equality Act, which protects people who are at risk of harm, injustice, oppression, or marginalisation in the U.K. today. The problem with that act, though, is it assumes that everything is a hierarchy, or a binary, and ignores the subtle intersections and nuances of injustice. That’s a difficulty that can also impact our understanding of today’s Gospel message. We might agree that the last will be first and the first will be last, but how do we discern who is first and who is last?
 
I think that perhaps the problem is in the binary. Jesus’s words don’t necessitate simply turning the systems upside down. There is another possibility. If no-one is first, then no-one is last. It is possible for all people to be protected, safeguarded, prioritised, loved and heard. This is only possible, though, if we stop positioning people against each other. As a trans person, my need to be protected, safeguarded, prioritised, loved and heard is often positioned against the rights of women to be protected, safeguarded, prioritised, loved and heard. And this is just one of many topics on which false binaries are drawn. It’s not them or us. Me or you. God’s grace and love is enough for both and. For all of us. It is possible for everyone to be protected, safeguarded, prioritised, loved and heard. Is that a future that we can imagine, and create? I believe that it is.
It is possible for order to be disrupted by God’s transformative love. Hallelujah!
It’s impossible to change the world. Or is it? For God, this is possible. For us, this is possible. May it be so, Amen.
 
Hymn:      God of Justice
Tim Hughes

 

God of justice, Saviour to all;
came to rescue
the weak and the poor;
chose to serve and not be served
 
Jesus, You have called us.
Freely we’ve received now;
freely we will give.
 
We must go live to feed the hungry
Stand beside the broken.
We must go
stepping forward
keep us from just singing;
move us into action, we must go.
 
2: To act justly every day
Loving mercy in every way
Walking humbly before You, God
 
3: You have shown us,
what You require
Freely we’ve received
Now freely we will give
 
We must go live to feed the hungry
Stand beside the broken.
We must go
stepping forward
keep us from just singing;
move us into action, we must go.

 

Affirmation of Faith
 
The risen Christ is the Saviour of all people.
Those joined to him by faith
are set right with God
and commissioned to serve
as God’s reconciling community.
Christ is head of this community, the Church,
which began with the apostles
and continues through all generations.

Intercessions: Possibilities
 
Is it possible to live in communities where people of all generations communicate with one another as equals, each learning from the wisdom of the other? For God, this is possible. For us, this is possible. God, parent and child, enable us to work together as an intergenerational church. We pray for all who are discriminated against or harmed because of their age. We lift up all who protect children, young people, and elderly people from harm. We celebrate all elders, children, and young people before God.
 
Is it possible to embrace and support the individuality, gifts, needs and desires of all people, regardless of neurotype, ability, disability, or health? For God, this is possible. For us, this is possible. God, teacher and inspirer, enable us to see every person as fully human, and to listen well. We pray for all who are discriminated against or harmed because of their disability, illness, neurotype or learning style. We lift up all who curate genuinely accessible, equitable, safer spaces. We celebrate all neurodivergent, ill, and disabled people before God.
 
Is it possible to learn from, dialogue with, and create a safe world for individuals of all sexes, sexualities, and genders, where grace is the norm and love is the way? For God, this is possible. For us, this is possible. God, lover and beloved, individual and community, enable us to see every human being as a part of your body, beloved and valued just as they are. We pray for all who are discriminated against or harmed because of their sex, sexuality or gender. We lift up all who work for equity, affirmation, and justice. We celebrate all LGBTQIA+ people before God.
 
Is it possible to actively unravel the ties of colonialism and empire, to declare that Black and Brown lives matter, and to worship a brown rabbi from Palestine? For God, this is possible. For us, this is possible. God, crucified Christ and breath of life, enable us to acknowledge our experiences of privilege and oppression and to deconstruct the structures that support inequity. We pray for all who are discriminated against or harmed because of racism, colourism, colonialism and empire. We lift up all who are acting against racism, colourism, colonialism, and empire. We celebrate all Black and Brown people before God.  
 
Is it possible to worship, pray, and discern together with people of all faiths and none, dialoguing across diversity to glimpse aspects of God that are beyond our imagination? For God, this is possible. For us, this is possible. God, in whom we believe and in whose grace we are all held, enable us to learn from a diversity of understandings of you. We pray for all who are discriminated against or harmed because of their religious belonging, faith, or beliefs. We lift up all who are learning and enabling learning in interfaith and multi-faith contexts. We celebrate all people who yearn to glimpse and share something more of your love. 
 
Is it possible to walk on this earth lightly, tending creation and not harming it? For God, this is possible. For us, this is possible. God, creator and sustainer, enable us to live in ways that respect all of your wonderful creation. We pray for all environments, minerals, plants, animals, and people who have been harmed by ecological violence, misuse, overuse and greed. We lift up all who protect and restore your creation. We celebrate and marvel at this awesome, diverse, beautiful planet which we are blessed to call home.
 
We lift up all of our prayers, both spoken and unspoken, to God, who is love, Amen.
 
Offertory
 
Let’s offer up our time, our resources, and ourselves to God.
 
God, you let go of so much to be amongst us. In the spaciousness of your grace, we take time today to work on letting go of possessions and ideas and ways of being that you call us to offer up to you. Bless our time, our resources, and our very selves to your loving purposes, today and always. Amen.
 
Hymn: Jesus Christ is waiting
John L. Bell (b. 1949) and Graham Maule (b. 1958)
 

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:
where good conquers evil
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.
 .
Blessing: Commitment and Trust
 
We move from this time of worship and prayer into the rest of our lives, committed to catching, curating, and building up glimpses of your topsy-turvy kin(g)dom here and now. We go trusting in the expansive blessing of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, Amen.
 
Thanks and Sources
 
Call to Worship adapted from Psalm 121 by Andy Braunston.  Affirmation of Faith from the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America.  All other liturgical material by Alex Clare Young.
 
Thanks to Alison Jiggins, Dan Morrell, Hilary Eveleigh, Diana Cullum-Hall and Lorraine Webb for reading various spoken parts of the service.
 
Seek Ye First – Karen Lafferty. Sung by the Worship band of Malibu Presbyterian Church, USA used with their kind permission.
There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy – Frederick William Faber (1862). BBC Songs of Praise
God of Justice – Tim Hughes © 2007 ThankYou Music Performed by Tim Hughes


Jesus Christ is Waiting – John L. Bell (b. 1949) and Graham Maule (b. 1958) Words and Music: © WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH  Sung by the Reading Phoenix Choir
 
Opening Organ Piece: Ach Gott Von Himmel Sieh Darein (“O God from heaven see this”) by Johann Pachelbel
(organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece: Wir Glauben all’ an Einen Gott (“We all believe in one God”) by Johann Sebastian Bach
(organ of St Thomas-on-The Bourne, Farnham – 2001)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
 

Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
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