URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 27th March 2022 – The Revd. Jenny Mills

Order of Service

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Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Worship for Sunday 27th March 2022

The Fourth Sunday of Lent
Photo credit Any Lane / pexel.com
 
The Rev’d Jenny Mills
 
Introduction
 
Hello, I am Jenny Mills and am currently serving the United Reformed Church as Secretary for Education and Learning and I am based at Church House. However, I travel quite widely as part of my role which means I get to meet, face to face, those whom I serve and, in this new world in which we live, I also work from home. My role is varied and interesting, challenging and full of unexpected joys. I believe wholeheartedly in lifelong learning and encouraging everyone to keep learning and growing, in all areas of our lives. My main focus is facilitating, enabling and inspiring learning for all, as disciples following Jesus. I do this as part of an amazing team, within Education and Learning, as well as being part of the Discipleship Team alongside Ministries, Children and Youth, Safeguarding, and the Minister for Digital Worship. I value our working together and supporting and encouraging one another.  It is good to be leading worship with you today and may we all find blessing and challenge in the words we share.

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, & 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:      Here In This Place
                  Marty Haugen (b. 1950) © 1982, GIA Publications Inc

 

Here in this place
new light is streaming,
now is the darkness vanished away,
see in this space
our fears and our dreamings,
brought here to you
in the light of this day.
Gather us in –
the lost and forsaken,
gather us in –
the blind & the lame;
call to us now,
and we shall awaken,
we shall arise
at the sound of our name.

2 We are the young –
our lives are a mystery,
we are the old
who yearn for your face,
we have been sung
throughout all of history,
called to be light
to the whole human race.
Gather us in – 
the rich and the haughty,
gather us in – 
the proud and the strong;
give us a heart so meek and so lowly,
give us the courage
to enter the song.

 

3 Not in the dark of buildings confining,
not in some heaven, light years away,
but here in this place the new light is shining,
now is the Kingdom, now is the day.
Gather us in and hold us for ever,
gather us in and make us your own;
gather us in – all peoples together,
fire of love in our flesh and our bone.
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession & Declaration of Forgiveness
 
God of all, who loves and treasures all of creation,
we worship and adore you.
We come, 
knowing we are loved,
knowing we are precious in your sight,
knowing that we are enough, just as we are.
You have shown us the height, depth, breadth and width of your love:
through time and tradition,
through people and places,
through words and witnesses,
through prophets and prayers,
through Scripture and sources.
You have shown us through Jesus,
through the power of your Holy Spirit
and through the life of the church universal
that you are the divine power,
the source of life, and the ongoing presence in this world.
 
We see all this
through the lives of faithful followers,
through the relationships we have with family and friends,
and through your transforming love that melts hearts and inspires change.
 
And yet, despite these constant reminders,
we still fail to truly live as your people in this world.
We allow injustice, abuse, persecution, unfair practices, poor behaviour and inequality to go unchallenged. We fall short as individuals, communities and as humanity. Forgive us, Lord.
 
Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven:
   Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
Blessed is the one whose sins are covered.
   Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them.
   Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
 
I acknowledge my sin to you,
   and you forgive the guilt of my sin.
I do not cover up my iniquity,
   and you forgive the guilt of my sin.
I confess my transgressions to the Lord.
   And you forgive the guilt of my sin.
 
Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous.
   for while I am still far off, you see me and run to me.
Sing, all you who are upright in heart,
   for you are filled with compassion for me.
Have a feast and celebrate,
   for I was dead and am alive again,
       I was lost and now I am found.
 
Let us give thanks that God finds us, accepts us and loves us, where we are and as we are.   Let us know we are forgiven and can turn from our sins and find peace.   By the power of the Holy Spirit may we challenge our ways and words and endeavour to be more Christlike in all we do.
This we commit to as we hear again the words: ‘Your sins are forgiven, go in peace’.   Forgive yourself, forgive others.
(Pause)
 
Jesus gave us the pattern for all prayer and so, using the words that you are most comfortable and familiar with, we say the Lord’s Prayer:
 
Our Father…
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Gracious God, open our hearts and ears as we come to hear Scripture read and your Word proclaimed. Silence our busy minds and help us to focus on your message to us. Let us listen and reflect and then take with us, into the coming days, your words of truth and grace. Amen.
 
Reading   St Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32
 
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:  “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.  He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.  But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!  I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’   So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.  Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’   But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
 
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.  He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.   He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’   Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.   But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’  Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
In this is the Word of the Lord.
 
Hymn       Brother, Sister, Let Me Serve You
Richard A. M. Gillard (b. 1953) © 1977 Scripture in Song

 

Brother, sister, let me serve you,
let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant too.
 
2 We are pilgrims on a journey,
and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

 

3 I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.
 
4 I will weep when you are weeping;
when you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we’ve seen this journey through.

 

5 When we sing to God in heaven
we shall find such harmony,
born of all we’ve known together
of Christ’s love and agony.
 
Sermon
 
The stories in the Bible still speak to us today because the people, places and situations in them echo the world we live in today. We read of love, conflict, journeying, rejection, hope, valiant outsiders, seekers, bullies, innocent victims and scheming rulers. We can identify with the people we read of. We can appreciate some of the struggles and challenges. We can commiserate with the downtrodden and celebrate with those who triumph. With that in mind, how often do we identify ourselves with the characters in the stories from the Bible? We read the stories and we hear the narratives, and we know what God desires of us, and we can regard ourselves in the place of the good Samaritan or the seed that grows in the fertile soil or the friend who lowers their mate down into the house. But how realistic is it? The more I reflect on these stories, the more I realise that despite my aspirations to be these people, faithful and true, the more I realise I am actually the priest or Levite, the weeds or the one that prevents the man from entering the house.
 
In the story we have today, who do we identify with? Because there are so many people involved in this story and the stories around it, as recorded in Luke.
 
Firstly, let us look at the context of this reading: the reading opens with Jesus being criticized for his actions- welcoming, and eating with, sinners. In this context it is tax collectors (for this read ‘those frowned upon by society’). The sense of contempt for those not ‘approved of’ or excluded because of who they are, opens this story. And who leads this exclusion? Those regarded as ‘worthy’ or ‘clean’ or ‘respectable’, those tasked with upholding the Law in the temple. They question Jesus. They challenge him on his behaviour and on his open acceptance of those they disapprove of. Fabulously, instead of addressing their accusations or justifying his actions, we have Jesus telling a series of parables and stories, followed by, as recorded in Luke, a request from his disciples about how to increase their faith and then he heals 10 lepers. Following on from that, the parables continue and Jesus challenges the status quo, including the radical welcome of children and an exhortation to be more like them. He then goes on to tell a parable of a tax collector and a pharisee (remember it was the scribes and pharisees expressing dissatisfaction at Jesus’ choice of people to hang out with) and invites himself to Zaccheus’ house. In the Gospel according to Luke he then enters Jerusalem on a colt. How much more counter cultural, radical and unsettling could this text portray him? No simple refutations of what they have said or reasons or excuses. What he does is leaves behind him a trail of challenges for those in authority. He refuses to bow to their pressure and, if anything, steps up the actions that cause their anger.

It is easy to forget that Jesus stood for those on the edges as we have Disney-fied his life as well as his relationships; we have domesticated his teachings and made them easy to read and hear; we have found ways to say that he was unsettling those in power and his words are words of challenge and change, but then ensured the application of these words do not apply to us. We live in a world where power is sought after, where money speaks, where status matters, where material wealth is important. As people of faith, as churches and as denominations, we do not wholeheartedly stand up against this. Look at our meetings- they speak of money and buildings and management more than they speak of our mission to those on the edges or our attention to Scripture and discipleship. We identify more with those in power than we do those on the edges. Because most of us find ourselves in places of power due to money, status, education, gender, nationality and geography.
The younger son in the story found himself in a place of power. He had everything, status, money, choice. And he determined to enjoy it. But, as for many, it did not last. And he found himself without any of these things. He was humiliated, alone and rejected, he had nothing. So, he went back home. And was welcomed. His father was delighted, and his brother annoyed. Who do we identify with? I would wish to be like the father, but I know if I am honest that I would respond more like the elder brother. He had remained consistent, faithful, diligent and committed to the family and yet he receives none of the good things that are lavished on his brother. Who can blame him for being irritated and jealous? As I said earlier, the stories in the Bible echo the stories we experience as we go through life.
 
I find myself understanding the actions of the younger son (being the youngest of 4!) and admiring him as he goes back home, possibly secretly hoping for acceptance, but knowing even being accepted back as a worker would be better than where he found himself.
 
In this text we have so many people: Jesus, the scribes and the Pharisees, the disciples, the crowd, then the characters- father and two sons. What this story reminds us is that life is messy. That relationships, whilst absolutely essential to our wellbeing as humans, can be messy. It reminds us that our reactions are not always as we would wish them to be, that being jealous or angry or feeling rejected are all valid and normal human responses. This story reminds us that God wills the best for each and every one of us, but especially for those who find themselves in positions of weakness, vulnerability, marginalised and hungry, thirsty and alone. That God doesn’t judge by human standards, that the love of God is totally radical and unsettling. And that God wills for us to be able to try to be more like that, too. To nurture, accept, love and care without condition, to cease judgement of others, to take control of our jealousy and anger and look out for those on the edges. To listen for the voices of those who often go unheard; to speak out for those with no voice or place in society; to give credence to those who are rejected, vilified or side-lined; to respond with kindness to those treated in cruel ways. God knows that is not easy, it is often easier to blame and judge than to welcome and include.

But, as we have seen in Luke’s portrayal of Jesus, he calls those around him to follow him, to listen to him and to learn from him. We are called to be disciples. Discipleship, specifically following Jesus, learning from what we know of his life, ministry, death and resurrection and seeking to live in the way he showed us is what we are all called to. Because his way is the way God wills us to live, in community, in relationship, in this world. And through growing as disciples, we can both be transformed and transform society, we can follow and lead, we can learn and seek justice. It won’t always be easy, we will fall short and get it wrong- we will be like Adam and David, Jonah and Jacob, Martha and Peter. But if we commit to follow Jesus, to keep learning and growing, we can still be powerful witnesses like Adam and David, Jonah and Jacob, Martha and Peter. Their stories and our stories will chime and intertwine, and God will be able to be seen, heard, felt and experienced.
 
When you next encounter a story from the Bible listen carefully who it is that you feel drawn to. And ask yourself why? And how can that person’s story speak into your own and help you to continue your walk with Jesus, enriching your life and the lives of those around you. Amen.
 
Hymn       I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
Horatius N. Bonar (1808-1889)
 

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Come unto me and rest;
lay down, thou weary one,
lay down thy head upon my breast’:
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting-place,
and he has made me glad.
 
2  I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live’:
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched,
my soul revived, and now I live in him.

 

3  I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto me, thy morn shall rise,
and all thy day be bright’:
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my Star, my Sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk,
till travelling days are done.
 
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
 
In this time of Lenten watching, waiting, reflecting and repenting, we come to God with our thanks and petitions. On this Sunday set aside to remember those relationships that have involved mothering, we come aware of those who have mothered us, those we have been fortunate to be mothers to, but equally the complexities of mothering. Those who will never be mothers and who mourn this, those whose children have died and those whose mother relationships are fraught with difficulties. Let us be both thankful and sensitive to this day, and its increasingly commercial celebration that can cause sadness, anxiety and pain.
 
Come, let us hold a time of quiet, as we stop and count our blessings, as we intentionally give thanks for who we are, what we have and the possibilities and opportunities that lie before us. Let us give thanks for those who, care, nurture, challenge, speak out, step up, love, work and encourage. For all who raise awareness of the need for good stewardship of this world we live in and for all who respond.
 
God of grace and mercy,
We come holding before you the people, places and situations that weigh heavily on our hearts and minds.
 
Those in the news, across your world and the ones close to home.
Those involving people we may never know and those involving people we love and care for.
 
In this time of quiet, Lord, hold our prayers.
 
We come holding before you the things that we see around us in our communities that trouble, anger, concern, worry and unsettle us. Give hope to the hopeless and inspire those who can make a difference. Help us to see what we can do and who we can approach to offer support, solidarity or love. Give us the insight needed to know when to act and when to walk away, but never let us stop caring and responding. Give us the words needed and the actions necessary to be a comforting presence and a helping hand.
 
In this time of quiet, Lord, hold our prayers.
 
We come holding before you those who have been rejected, who are lost, who feel full of sadness or fear, those who do not have a place to call home and those who have insufficient food, shelter, warmth or resources to safely live. As we give thanks for the agencies who offer help and support, may we also support those agencies who challenge the structures that allow for such suffering and despair. May change be wrought, and help be offered.
 
In this time of quiet, Lord, hold our prayers.
 
We come holding before you the relationships that we struggle with, the ones that give us concern and worry, the ones that we need to work on and the ones that we need to accept are over. Sometimes letting go is the only way forward. Give us wisdom and discernment, strength and determination, to know what is best for us and those we love.
 
In this time of quiet, Lord, hold our prayers.
 
For helpers and healers,
for carers and creative thinkers,
for peace-bringers and hope-holders,
for change-makers and those who unsettle the comfortable,
for all whose hands, feet, voices and votes speak of
the common good, of love, of you.
We pray.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 
Offertory Prayer
 
As disciples we commit to offer ourselves each day to share the Gospel message of love in our words, actions, thoughts and our very being. As members of worshipping communities we commit to offer our time, effort and money to support the life of the church. This we do in Standing Orders and regular giving, occasional donations and focused collections. So let us give our commitment and our thanks for these opportunities, in prayer:
 
Triune God,
As your people we commit to give of ourselves and all we have,
in thanks for all you have done, and given, for us.
We bring our lives, our hopes,
our offerings of money, time and commitment, to be used to your glory,
until your kingdom is fully realised here on earth,
and all creation sings in harmony and joy.
Accept our freely given offerings.
Bless us and bless all that is received in your name.
Today and every day. Amen.
 
Hymn:      Lord, Speak To Me, That I May Speak
Frances Ridley Havergal (1836 – 1879)
 
Lord, speak to me
that I may speak
in living echoes of your tone.
As you have sought,
so let me seek
Your erring children,
lost and lone.
 
2 Oh, teach me, Lord,
that I may teach
the precious truths
which you impart.
And wing my words
that they may reach
the hidden depths
of many a heart.

3 Oh, fill me with
your fullness, Lord,
until my very hearts o’erflows
in kindling thought
and glowing word,
Your love to tell,
your praise to show.
 
4 Oh, use me,
Lord, use even me,
just as you will,
and when, and where
until your blessèd face I see,
Your rest, your joy,
your glory share.

 
Blessing
 
Living Lord,
As Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem,
facing uncertainty and challenge,
speaking out and speaking truth,
He trusted in you to sustain and enable him.
Help us as we journey through this Lenten period,
to continue to trust in you and learn from you.
May we be brave enough to challenge that which needs challenging;
discerning enough to step back when necessary;
thought-full enough to step in when needed;
and care-full enough to reach out to those rejected.
And may God,
Creator, Child and Spirit,
bless us,
those we love
and those we struggle to love,
now and every day. 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.  Prayers of Approach includes work from Fay Rowland in the Prayer Handbook (p22)
All other liturgical material by Jenny Mills.
 
Here In This Place – Marty Haugen (b. 1950) © 1982, GIA Publications Inc performed by Marty Haugen.
Brother, Sister, Let Me Serve You – Richard A. M. Gillard (b. 1953) © 1977 Scripture in Song BBC Songs of Praise
I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say – Horatius N. Bonar (1808-1889) BBC Songs of Praise
Lord, Speak To Me, That I May Speak – Frances Ridley Havergal (1836 – 1879) performed by the Grosse Pointe Memorial Church (Michigan) Virtual Choir, used with their kind permission.
 
Opening Organ Piece – Prelude in E Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
(organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece – Toccata in Seven by John Rutter (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to John Young, Diana Cullum-Hall, Graham Handscomb, Pam Carpenter and Chris Watson for reading various speaking 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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