URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 3rd April 2022 – The Revd. Dr Janet Tollington

Order of Service

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Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
 Service for Sunday 3rd April 2022
The Fifth Sunday of Lent
 
Photo credit Christina Deravedisian/unsplash
 
Introduction
 
Good morning.  I am the Revd Dr Janet Tollington.  Until 2016 I taught Old Testament and Hebrew at Westminster College; and I now continue to serve the church in diverse ways in retirement. I’m a member of Downing Place United Reformed Church in Cambridge; and I am recording this at home, a few miles outside the city.
 
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       Great Is Thy Faithfulness
T. O. Chisholm 1866-1960
 

Great is thy faithfulness,

O God my Father,
there is no shadow of
turning with thee;
thou changest not,
thy compassions they fail not,
as thou hast been
thou for ever wilt be.
 
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning
new mercies I see;
all I have needed
thy hand hath provided –
great is thy faithfulness,
Lord, unto me.
 
2  Summer and winter,
and seed-time and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars
in their courses above,
join with all nature
in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness,
mercy, and love.
 
3  Pardon for sin and
a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence
to cheer and to guide;
strength for today
and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

 

Prayers of Approach, Confession and Assurance
 
Gracious God, we come to you as scattered individuals with joys and sorrows, hopes and fears occupying our thoughts, wanting to be drawn into your presence and united as your people.  We come to worship you, to sing your praise, to discern your voice in prayer.  Turn towards us, we pray and show us your glory.
 
We come before you confessing our unworthiness to be called your servants.  Too often we have been angry or impatient with others and failed to recognise our own faults.  Too often we have been selfish and lazy, unwilling to respond to the needs of others.  Too often we have failed to put our trust in you, relying on our own strength and understanding.  Forgive us, we pray and set us free from the burden of guilt.
 
God of mercy, you have promised to forgive anyone who truly repents.  In humility, we believe your word and receive your grace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Eternal God, you have revealed your nature and purposes through the scriptures and in Christ, the living Word.  Open our hearts and minds by the activity of your Spirit, that we may grow in knowledge and faith; and be encouraged as disciples of Jesus.  Amen.
 
Reading   Isaiah 43:14-21
 
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation. I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
 
Hymn       Psalm 126
rendered by Carl P Draw Jr (b1944)
 
When God first brought
us back from exile,
we were as dazed
as those who dream.
Then were our mouths
brimming with laughter;
joy from our lips
gushed like a stream.
The godless cried
in envious wonder,
“Look what the Lord
has done for them!”
Indeed our God
has greatly blessed us;
rejoice and sing, Jerusalem!
 
2 Once more, O lord,
restore your people;
come with your saving
help again,
as to the brookbeds
in the desert
you bring the sweet,
reviving rain.
Let those who sow
with tears and sighing
sing as they reap and joy proclaim:
may those who weep
when seed is scattered
gather their sheaves
and praise your name.   

 

Reading   Philippians 3:4b-14
 
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.  More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,  if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own;  but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,   I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
 
Hymn       Thanks to God Whose Word Was Spoken
R T Brooks (1918-1985)  Reginald Thomas Brooks (1918-1985)
 
Thanks to God
whose word was spoken
in the making of the earth.
His the voice that called a nation,
fired her vision, tried her worth.
God has spoken! God has spoken:
praise him for his open word.
 
2  Thanks to God
whose word incarnate
came to save our human race.
Deeds & words & death & rising
testify to heaven’s grace.
God has spoken!  God has spoken:
praise him for his open word.
 
3 Thanks to God
whose word was written
in the Bible’s sacred page,
record of the revelation
showing God to every age.
God has spoken! God has spoken:
praise him for his open word.
 
4 Thanks to God
whose word is published
in the tongues of every race.
See its glory undiminished
by the change of time or place.
God has spoken! God has spoken:
praise him for his open word.

 

5  Thanks to God whose word is answered by the Spirit’s voice within.
Here we drink of joy unmeasured, life redeemed from death and sin.
God is speaking!  God is speaking: praise him for his open word.
 
Sermon
 
May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, Amen.
 
Paul writes of ‘forgetting what lies behind’ and in Isaiah we read, ‘Do not remember the former things’ – and yet in both passages the writers have been focussing on what has gone beforehand.  For Paul the emphasis is on his devout Jewish background and also on what he has suffered and lost because of his allegiance to Christ; whereas the prophet speaks of God and of God’s activity and alludes to the story of Israel’s coming into being as a nation through their redemption from slavery and exodus from Egypt.  Both writers knew that the past is always significant – because what has gone before makes us the people we are today.  Our own heritage and family background, all the experiences we have had – both good and bad ones – have shaped us an individuals.  Likewise our understanding of God, of who God is, of what God has done in the grand scheme of creation’s history, as well as our own personal encounters with God, have shaped our faith and spirituality.  We are each the product of everything that has been part of our past.
 
So why are our writers telling us to forget, to turn our backs on the past?
I’m reminded of the small print warnings that often accompany financial advice about savings products, investment opportunities, schemes that promise high returns to anyone who commits to making regular payments.  They say something like: ‘be aware that investments can go down as well as up’, or, ‘the figures quoted are illustrations and cannot be guaranteed’.  The truth is that past performance never offers assurance that the same will happen in the future.
 
This is what the prophet was saying to the community of God’s people exiled in Babylon – we cannot assume that God will save us by simply repeating what occurred in the past – that a new Moses will be raised up to lead you through another wilderness, back, this time, to the promised land.  So don’t remember the former things hoping for a repeat performance!  But the prophet isn’t trying to dampen their hopes – quite the opposite! – for he continues by proclaiming that God is about to do something new; something that will result in new life: the water of life to a dried up land, to sustain life for all the wild creatures of the earth, and to bring life in all its fullness to God’s own people too, who will respond by rejoicing and praising God.
 
The prophet continues to use the imagery of the Exodus narratives, prompting the exiles to recall how their ancestors were rescued from slavery, brought safely through the reed sea and led through the Sinai wilderness, to remind them of the power, the faithfulness, the love of God towards them as a people – of the covenant relationship with God which they still enjoy.  But just as their current situation in Babylon is not the same as when Israel was in slavery in Egypt; they need to be expectant that God will respond to their needs differently.  To be open to what God is doing now in their midst: a new thing on a grander scale, with positive implications for all creation, not just the community being addressed, as God leads them forward into a new future as yet unknown.  The only thing that is certain is that it won’t be a return to the past.
 
This, I’m sure, is a message we, too, should heed as we move on from all the restrictions imposed during the covid pandemic – whatever is God’s future plan for us, for the church, we can be certain that it won’t simply be a return to how things were in the past!
 
Paul declares that he is forgetting what lay in his past, because since he has come to know Christ, he now realises that what he thought he knew about God was flawed, too limited, too focused on a narrow understanding of God’s people and of the depth and breadth of God’s love for all creation.  Paul writes that now he sees things differently and has been inspired to keep pressing forward, to discover what lies ahead.  He is ready to let go of everything from his past – whatever he once regarded as his security – confident that nothing can separate him from the love of God.  He is ready to endure suffering, if this is what God requires of him as he engages in God’s mission to the world, as he moves towards his ultimate goal of resurrection, of life eternal, united with Christ.
 
For us, in Lent, as we approach Holy Week and Easter, it is important that we recall all that happened in Jesus’ life as he trod the path to his death on the cross at Calvary: his life affirming teaching; his compassion and love towards the needy; his challenges of corrupt structures and authorities; his forgiveness towards those who betrayed him, denied him, mocked him, abused and tortured him, and tried to silence him.  We recall too Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  All this is what assures us of God’s faithfulness and enduring love towards us.
 
But today the risen Christ calls us to look forward in hope, to keep pressing forwards, looking to see what new things God is doing in our world through the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit; asking where God might be leading us, what God requires of us.  We can do this confident in our status as beloved children of God, encouraged on our journey of discovery as disciples of Christ by the Spirit, ready to keep going forward whatever life and the world might throw at us, until we too attain eternal life with Christ.
 
The living God is already doing new things to transform this world into what it was created to be, a world of life, of love, of joy, of peace.  Let’s not get left behind, looking backwards, in the wilderness.  Amen.
 
Hymn       Look Forward in Faith
© Andrew J. Scobie (b.1935) Sung at Cardross Parish Church
 
Look forward in faith,
all time is in God’s hand.
Walk humbly with him
and trust his future plan.
God has wisely led
his people by his power.
Look forward in hope,
he gives us each new hour.

2 Look forward in faith,
the world is in God’s care.
His purpose of love
he calls on us to share.
In our neighbour’s need
the Lord is present still.
He blesses the meek!
The earth will know God’s will.

 

3 Look forward in faith,
God gives us life each day.
Go onward with Christ,
his Spirit guides our way.
Now God lets us live
within the sphere of grace.
Trust ever in him,
he rules o’er earth and space!
 
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
 
Prayers of Intercession
 
God of new beginnings, our world is fragile, its people are hurting and we are uncertain of the steps we should take; and so we turn to you with our prayers.
 
We come to share with you the concerns that lie heavy on our hearts; concerns about the absence of peace between nations and peoples, about the injustices that oppress the poor and vulnerable, about the prejudices that regard some people as less worthy than others; about the specific needs of those we know and love the most.
 
We each offer our personal prayers; and in silence we listen for your voice, guiding us by your Spirit to discern the ways forward that accord with your loving purposes.
(Silence)
 
God of new beginnings, hear our prayers, for we bring them in hope, confident of your faithfulness towards all that exists.  Open up the path to your eternal kingdom for all creation and bring it into being through Jesus Christ our Saviour.  Amen.
 
Offering
 
Generous God, you have given so much to us and we are truly thankful.  All that we have is ours through your grace alone; so we respond by dedicating our offerings to you.
 
We bring before you our gifts of money for the work of your church, together with the offering of our lives, our time, our talents, our intellects.
 
Accept and bless what we offer that all may be used in the new things you are doing to bring in Christ’s kingdom.  Amen.
 
Hymn       This is a day of new beginnings
Brian Wren b. 1936
 
This is a day of new beginnings,
time to remember, and move on,
time to believe
what love is bringing,
laying to rest the pain that’s gone.
 
2  For by the life and death of Jesus,
love’s mighty Spirit, now as then,
can make for us
a world of difference
as faith and hope are born again.
 
3  Then let us,
with the Spirit’s daring,
step from the past and leave behind
our disappointment,
guilt and grieving,
seeking new paths, and sure to find.
 
4  Christ is alive, and goes before us
to show and share
what love can do.
This is a day of new beginnings –
our God is making all things new.
 

Blessing
 
May the blessing of God Almighty,
God the creator,
Christ the redeemer
and the Holy Spirit the encourager,
be with you all, now and forever, Amen.
 
Sources and thanks
 
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 material by Janet Tollington.
 
Great Is Thy Faithfulness  – T. O. Chisholm 1866-1960 ©  1923, renewed 1951, Hope Publishing Company. Taken from BBC Songs of Praise.
Psalm 126 – rendered by Carl P Draw Jr (b1944) © Hope Publishing Company sung by the St Cecilia Choir of Trinity Lutheran Church, Reading, Pennsylvania, USA.
Thanks to God Whose Word Was Spoken – R T Brooks (1918-1985)  Reginald Thomas Brooks (1918-1985) (alt.) © 1954, renewed 1982, Hope Publishing Company Sung by the St Magnus Festival Chorus
Look Forward in Faith – © Andrew J. Scobie (b.1935) Sung at Cardross Parish Church
This is a day of new beginnings – Brian Wren b. 1936 © 1983, 1987, Stainer & Bell Ltd. Sung by the Aldersgate Chorale.
 
Opening Organ Piece: Lobt Gott Ihr Christen (“Praise God ye Christians”) by Johann Gottfried Walther (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece: Trumpet Voluntary in D by John Baston (organ of Basilica Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy – 2016)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to Mandy Hibbert, Lorraine Webb, John Wilcox, John Young, Anne Hewling and Sue Cresswell 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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