URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 20th March 2022 – The Revd. Paul Whittle

Order of Service

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Daily Devotions from the URC
Service for Sunday 20th March 2022
The Third Sunday of Lent

Photo credit: Jamie Coupaud/Unsplash
 
The Rev’d Paul Whittle
 
Introduction
 
Welcome.  It’s good to be with you.  My name is Paul Whittle and I am the Moderator of the National Synod of Scotland.  I began preaching 49 years ago this month, in March 1973, and was ordained six years later, in March 1979.  I have served in Beith in North Ayrshire, in Islington in London, in the Republic of Panama, in two posts in Birmingham and as the Moderator of the Eastern Synod living in Cambridge.  Today, I am sharing worship from my home in Cambuslang, just south of Glasgow.
 
Call to Worship
 
One:         Almighty God, we pray for your blessing on the Church here in this place: Here may the faithful find salvation and the careless be awakened.
 
Many:      Here may the doubting find faith
and the anxious be encouraged.
 
One:         Here may the tempted find help,
and the sorrowful find comfort.
 
Many:      Here may the weary find rest, and the strong be renewed.
 
One:         Here may the aged find consolation
and the young be inspired.
 
Many:      Through Christ, our Lord, Amen. 
 
Hymn       Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation
                Joachim Neander (1650-1680) translated Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) (alt.)
 
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
the King of creation;
O my soul, praise him
for he is your health and salvation;
all you who hear,
now to his temple draw near,
join in profound adoration.
 
2 Praise to the Lord, above all things so mightily reigning,
keeping us safe at his side
and so gently sustaining.
Have you not seen, all you have needed has been
met by his gracious ordaining?

 

3   Praise to the Lord, who will prosper our work and defend us;
Surely his goodness and mercy here daily attend us;
ponder anew what the Almighty can do:
who with his love will befriend us.

4 Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before him!
Let the Amen sound from his people again:
now as we worship before him.
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession, and Forgiveness
 
Loving God, your greatness surrounds us.  Your blessings threaten to overwhelm us.  You are great, and greatly to be praised.  Accept now our offering of worship and praise.  Bless us in all that we seek to do in your Name.  And make us a blessing to others.
 
O God, you are our rock and our salvation.  You are our God, and we seek you.  Our souls thirst for you.  Our flesh faints for you.  Our souls cling to you. 
 
O God, you are our help.  Help us now, as we seek to live as your holy people.
 
And forgive us our failings, the things we have done that we shouldn’t, and those we have failed to do that we should.  Help us to live in the light of your love and forgiveness.
 
The Scriptures tell us: if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  Thanks be to God.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Living God, speak to us now through your living word.  In Jesus’ Name we ask it.  Amen.
Reading:   Isaiah 55:1-9
 
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
 
Hymn       How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds
John Newton (1725-1807)
 

How sweet the name
Jesus sounds
in a believer’s ear!
It soothes our sorrows,
heals our wounds,
and drives away our fear.
 
2  Dear name!
the rock on which I build,
my shield and hiding place,
my never-failing treasury, filled
with boundless stores of grace.
 
3: Jesus, my Shepherd,
Brother, Friend,
my Prophet, Priest, and King,
my Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
accept the praise I bring.
 
4  Weak is the effort of my heart,
and cold my warmest thought;
but, when I see thee as thou art,
I’ll praise thee as I ought.
 
5: Till then I would thy love proclaim with every fleeting breath;
and may the music of thy name refresh my soul in death.
 
Sermon
 
I remember once being on the receiving end of a q and a session when candidating for a new pastorate and, as always in such circumstances, wondering just what I was going to be asked.  The first question was a great one though, to be honest, not one I was expecting.  What’s your favourite Bible verse?  A momentary pause, and I responded: John 10:10.  I was thinking of the latter part of the verse, and that’s what I quoted.  Words of Jesus.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly
 
For me, in so many ways, that sums up the Gospel.  Sometimes, I fear, someone encountering the church would be likely to get entirely the wrong picture.  Too often the church gets a negative, and even a comic, press.  That is not how it should be, though, to be honest, that is sometimes the picture that we create.  We are not recognisable as the exciting, vibrant people that we should be.  But it’s not God’s fault.  It’s ours.  We serve a God who feeds thousands, who walks on water, who turns water into wine – we are just not good at reflecting the true picture.
 
Our passage from Isaiah 55 reflects my favourite Bible verse which, by the way, hasn’t changed – though I do have lots of other favourites!  It’s an invitation to abundant life.  It’s an invitation to the party that is God’s Kingdom.  Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  It’s quite an invitation – but then that is always what we can say about God’s engaging with us.  God’s invitations are always something very special.
 
But let’s put this into its context.  The people are in exile.  They have been carted off by their conquering captors to a foreign land.  They have been taken away from the familiar things.  That cannot have been a happy situation.  They are under Babylonian authority.  They must have longed for an end to this state of affairs.  Could things be any worse?  They wanted to be set free.  They wanted to go home.  And, when everything is going wrong, the last thing you want is some prophet coming along and cheerfully suggesting that all will be well.  The prophet, acting on God’s behalf, offers something that is pretty special.  But that is probably not how Isaiah’s first hearers will have seen it.  What they wanted was for their situation to change, not to be told that everything was really OK.  They didn’t want offers of free wine, free milk.  They wanted to go home. 
 
Monica Furlong begins her autobiography ‘Bird of Paradise’ by telling how, as a small child, carrying a large yellow balloon, she was wheeled along the sea-front at Margate in her pushchair.  Suddenly the balloon burst – and so she goes on to say: ‘just as I opened my mouth to cry, my mother whipped out a banana.  ‘See!  Look what it’s turned into,’ she said.’  ‘No wonder,’ comments Furlong, ‘the world has always seemed a magic place to me.’
 
That’s not quite what is going on here – but it is not too far off.  The prophet is offering something very unexpected, something that defies convention, something that transforms values.
 
In today’s world, even on a Sunday, even in Lent, people are desperate for their desires to be satisfied – and they expect that it will be so.  After all, that is what the advertisers promise.  Buy this product and all will be well.  This is just what you need.  Drive this car, use this beauty product, eat this food, go on this holiday – and you will be one of the beautiful people. 
 
This then raises the question of what it is that we are looking for, a question that we need to approach on every level from the personal to the global.  Probably my favourite U2 song is the one that reflects the struggle that we all often have with this question – I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.  I have climbed the highest mountains. I have run through the fields only to be with you.  I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls only to be with you – But I still haven’t found
what I’m looking for. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.  That recurrent phrase ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ just won’t go away.  People are looking, searching, wanting to discover.
 
Like the woman who lost her coin, like the shepherd who lost his sheep, like the father who lost his son, we all spend lots of time looking.  What are we looking for?  Do we know?  Do we heed the words of today’s prophets?  Or, like the people of Israel of old, are we sceptical and wondering why the prophet is so out of step?  What is that prophet on about?
 
Isaiah here exhorts the people to respond to God’s call as he challenges them with a series of invitations.  Come!  Buy!  Listen!  Seek!  Call!  Abandon!  Return!
 
Putting it another way. We might suggest that the prophet is asking the people: how thirsty are you?  And that’s a good question.  How thirsty are we?  How thirsty are we for the things of God?
 
The banquet is often used as a picture of the Kingdom.  We all enjoy a party.  At least most of us do most of the time, and certainly if it is the right kind of party.  Here, in what was undoubtedly the midst of the despair and struggles of exiles, is the promise of the good time to come.  Now again we need to note the reality of the promise.  We are all used to politicians promising things that don’t ever happen.  There can be a large gap between a promise and a reality.  But what God promises, God delivers. 
The people are called to turn to God’s way.  That is especially in verse 6 – seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near – but they are also reminded that God has a much bigger picture.  Verses 8 and 9 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways says the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
 
God is good, and God offers good things.  But God is not to be packaged as a kind of automated responder in the right way, sending blessings down for the good guys and brimstone for the bad ones. 
Essentially, despite the prophet’s exhortation to ‘seek’, God comes looking for us.  And, as for the woman at the well and the first hearers of these words from Isaiah, God offers to quench our thirst, but this word to an ancient community in exile is a word for a people made holy by their connection with God, and so called to spread God’s holy things around, things reflecting God’s higher ways, God’s higher thoughts, things reflecting the free wine and milk, things reflecting the glory of God.
 
We, in the mainline traditional denominations in the UK of God’s church in the 21st century may well feel somewhat beleaguered, something of the situation of exile.  But what are we doing to spread around God’s good and holy things?
 
Hymn:      As The Deer Pants For The Water
Martin J. Nystrom (b.1956)
 
As the deer
pants for the water,
so my soul longs after you.
You alone are my heart’s desire,
and I long to worship you.
 
You alone
are my strength, my shield,
to you alone may my spirit yield.
You alone are my heart’s desire,
and I long to worship you.
 
2  I want you
more than gold or silver;
only you can satisfy.
You alone are the real joy-giver,
and the apple of my eye.
 
3  You’re my friend
and you are my brother,
even though you are a King.
I love you more than any other,
so much more than anything.

 

Affirmation of Faith
 
One:         This is the good news that we have received, in which we stand, and by which we are saved, if we hold it fast:
Many:      that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day,
One:         and that he appeared first to the women, then to Peter, and to the Twelve, and then to many faithful witnesses.
Many:      We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  He is the first and last, the beginning and the end, He is our Lord and our God.  Amen
 
Intercessions
 
Loving God, Creator of the world, we pray for that world, a world created with so many possibilities, with so much beauty.  God, bless all those who work towards the sustainability of our planet.  Help us to care for, and about, our environment.
 
We pray for those parts of the world where people live in fear of famine, or of violence, for all who struggle in so many different ways.  May they be more than statistics, more than TV pictures.  Help us to care as we should, and bless those organisations and agencies that really try to make a difference.  Bless those most affected by the tragedies and traumas of these times.  We pray for those fighting coronavirus and other medical challenges, and especially in parts of the world where they have few resources with which to do so. 
 
We pray too for our own nations.  We pray for our leaders, for those in positions of authority and influence.  We pray for our politicians, for the media.  We pray for those in business and in education, those in the service and hospitality industries, those providing medical care.
 
We pray for the Church.  Help us to respond to your call.  Help us to really make a difference.  Direct us into effective mission.  Let us hear the call of discipleship, even when that call is uncomfortable and challenging.  Bless your church as we seek to be your effective people, united and yet diverse.
 
Lord, we pray for those we know, and those we don’t, who need our prayers.  Bless those who are sick, those who are lonely, those facing new challenges.  Bless those who mourn.  Bless those who have difficult decisions to take, at whatever level.  Bless our family and friends.  Hear us as we take a moment to, individually and silently or quietly, name before you those for whom we would especially pray …….
 
So, Lord, hear our prayers, the prayers spoken aloud, and the unspoken prayers of our hearts, which we bring now in the Name of Jesus, in whose Name we pray, and in whose words we further pray now:
 
Our Father…
 
Offertory
 
We come to our offertory.  These days we give in various ways.  As we think of all God’s gifts, we offer back what we can. Let us pray:
 
Lord, we pray for all work that is done in your name, and indeed all work that cares for others, offering gifts as we can.  We pray for the work of our own church, offering to you the gifts by which we support it, money, yes, but also time and talent, love and service.  Take us, and our gifts of all sorts, to do your work in the world.  Accept the praise we offer; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
 
Hymn:      The Love of God is Broad Like Beach and Meadow
The Rev’d Fred Kaan,
 
The love of God
is broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind,
and an eternal home.
God leaves us free
to seek him or reject him,
he gives us room
to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
    
The love of God
is broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind,
and an eternal home.
 
2: We long for freedom
where our truest being
is given hope and courage
to unfold.
We seek in freedom space
and scope for dreaming,
and look for ground where trees and plants can grow.
 
The love of God
is broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind,
and an eternal home.
 
3: But there are walls
that keep us all divided;
we fence each other
in with hate and war.
Fear is the bricks-and-mortar
of our prison,
our pride of self
the prison coat we wear.
 
4: O, judge us, Lord,
and in your judgment free us,
and set our feet
in freedom’s open space;
take us as far
as your compassion wanders
among the children
of the human race.


Blessing
 
Let us go as those whom God has called to bear witness to the love and justice of heaven, to be beacons of light and signs of transformation, for of such is the Kingdom of heaven.  And the blessing of God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, be with each one of you, now and always.  Amen. 
 
Sources
 
Call to Worship adapted from The Worship Source Book (p46) recorded at Barrhead URC.   Affirmation of Faith from St Matthew 16:16, St Mark 16.9, St John 20:28, I Corinthians 15: 106 & Revelation 23:13 (The Worship Source Book p153) and recorded at Barrhead URC.  All other liturgical material by Paul Whittle.
 
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation – Joachim Neander (1650-1680) translated Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) (alt.) – BBC Songs of Praise
How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds – John Newton (1725-1807) Sung by the NCrew, used with Permission.
As The Deer Pants For The Water – Martin J. Nystrom (b.1956) © 1983 Restoration Music Ltd / Sovereign Music UK – BBC Songs of Praise
The Love of God is Broad Like Beach and Meadow – The Rev’d Fred Kaan, © 1974 Hope Publishing Company – sung by the Rev’d Paul Robinson
 
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 PieceWir 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
 
Thanks to Sarah Wilmott, Alison Jiggins, David Shimmin, Hilary Eveleigh and Esther Watson 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

 

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