Sunday Worship 8 January 2023

Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today’s service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 

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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 8 January 2023 

 
Today’s service is led by The Revd Sue McCoan
 
Call to Worship
 

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, 

ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; 
worship the Lord in holy splendour.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters; 
the God of glory thunders, 
the Lord, over mighty waters.  
(Psalm 29:1-3)
 
Hymn    Light of the world (Here I am to worship)
Tim Hughes © 2000 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Integrity Music Ltd) CCLI Licence No. 1064776 Recorded by Integrity Music
 
Light of the world
You stepped down into darkness,
opened my eyes let me see.
Beauty that made
this heart adore You –
hope of a life spent with You.
 
So here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say
that You’re my God
And You’re altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me
 
King of all days
oh so highly exalted –
Glorious in heaven above.
Humbly You came
to the earth You created;
all for love’s sake became poor
 
Bridge
 
And I’ll never know 
how much it cost
to see my sin upon that cross.
And I’ll never know 
how much it cost
to see my sin upon that cross.

 

Prayers of Approach
 
God of earth and heaven, you reign in glory and holy splendour,
Yet you come amongst us in humility and share our humanity.
We praise you for all that you are, all the wonders of your creation,
  and all that you continue to create in our lives.
We praise you for Jesus, stooping to be baptised, 
  identifying with sinners and calling all people to saving grace.
We praise you for the Holy Spirit, alighting on Jesus, present with us today, guiding, affirming and giving us strength.
God of earth and heaven, accept our prayer and praise today.  Amen.
 
Prayer of Confession
 
Loving God, you come all the way to meet us in Jesus,
and sometimes we pretend not to be in,
hiding behind closed doors,
hoping you won’t notice the mess.
Forgive us for not trusting in your mercy;
forgive us for trying to look respectable in your eyes, fooling nobody.
Give us the courage to open our lives to you, to let in your compassion,
to allow you to heal and renew.
 
(silent reflection)
 
Assurance of Pardon 
 
Hear the words of assurance:
For all who come in hope and faith.
I have formed you and call you
I will take you by the hand.
Behold, I am making all things new.
Thanks be to God.
  
Prayer of Illumination
 
God, whose word spoke creation into being, 
Open our ears to hear your word in scripture,
Open our minds to new understanding,
And open our hearts to the new life it brings. Amen.
 
Reading        St Matthew 3:13-17  
 
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented.  And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
 
Reading       Acts 10:34-43
 
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every people anyone who fears him and practices righteousness is acceptable to him.  You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all.  That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:  how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree,  but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,  not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
 
Hymn    I Am Not Ashamed to Own My Lord
Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748) Tune Pisgah, from the Kentucky Harmony sung by Nathan C George and Family and used with their kind permission.
 
I’m not ashamed 
to own my Lord,
or to defend his cause;
maintain the honour of his word,
the glory of his Cross.
 
Jesus, my God! 
I know his name,
His name is all my trust;
nor will he put my soul to shame,
nor let my hope be lost.
 
Firm as His throne 
His promise stands,
and he can well secure
what I’ve committed to His hands
till the decisive hour.
 
Then will he own 
my worthless name
before His Father’s face,
and in the new Jerusalem
appoint my soul a place.

 

Sermon
 
Through God’s grace, may I speak in God’s name, Creator, Redeemer and Spirit. Amen.
 
In the film ‘Cry Freedom’, the journalist Donald Woods is trying to escape from South Africa in fear for his life. He has challenged the apartheid regime, including reporting on the death in custody of Steve Biko, and is effectively under house arrest and facing increasingly serious death threats. Disguised as a priest, he hitchhikes out of town, meets up with friends and drives 300 miles to the Telle river. The river marks the boundary between South Africa and Lesotho. If he can get across, he gets to safety and freedom. If he’s caught… And the rains have come, the river has risen, so it’s too dangerous to cross by boat at night as planned.
 
I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that he does eventually make it. But this is not his story. I want to stay with the idea of the river as both boundary and barrier. 
 
It’s an image that crops up time and again in dramatic stories through the ages, and not surprisingly we also find it in the bible. Perhaps most famously in Moses and the Red Sea – not strictly a river, but the same situation. Moses and the people, escaping from Egypt with the army in hot pursuit, meet the Red Sea as a barrier – they seem to be trapped. Through God’s intervention, they are able to get across, while the Egyptian army, with their horses and heavy chariots, get stuck in the mud. The water flows back and becomes then a boundary – the Egyptians can’t pursue them any further, and the people can’t go back. A physical boundary, and a boundary between their old life and the new.   
 
At the other end of the wilderness wanderings, 40 or so years later, Joshua is about to lead the people into the Promised Land. To get there, they have to cross the river Jordan, which marks the eastern boundary of that land. It’s the final barrier before they can claim the promise. Once again, God intervenes to make the crossing possible. The priests are to carry the ark of the covenant, the special box holding the ten commandments, and stand in the river. As soon as they do, the river stops flowing and the people can walk across the dry riverbed; when they’re all across, the waters flow back. The river then becomes a boundary between Jewish and Gentile territory, and between God’s people’s life of wandering and their life settled in God’s promise.
 
Both these events show God suspending a barrier for long enough to allow people to make an important transition in their lives. The barrier is then reinstated as boundary to mark the transition made.
 
When we come to look at the baptism of Jesus, it is no coincidence that Jesus comes from Galilee to be baptized in the river Jordan. Yes, it might be that John was doing baptisms there because that’s where there was plenty of water. But this is still the river that divides Jewish from Gentile territory. As the priests of Joshua stepped into the Jordan carrying the Law of Moses, so Jesus steps into the same river carrying within him the gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God. As God held back the barrier of water for the people of old, so now in Jesus God breaks the boundary between Jew and Gentile. Jesus is about to begin a ministry that will bring all people to God as equals so that there is no longer Jew or Gentile, man or woman, slave or free. And this is not a temporary suspension; through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus those boundaries are broken for all time. 
 
John was reluctant to baptise Jesus, knowing that Jesus was not in need of repentance. But Jesus wanted to show solidarity, and knew that this baptism was significant and symbolic.
 
Jesus is immersed in the water of baptism and as he comes up again, wonderful things happen. The heavens open and the Spirit of God is over the water and the voice of God speaks, not ‘let there be light’ but ‘You are my Beloved Son’. Jesus, the Son of God, the new Light of the World: it’s a new beginning, for Jesus starting out on his public ministry, and for the whole of creation. 
 
The baptism of Jesus marks a breaking of boundaries: the physical bounds of the landscape; the human boundaries of race and religion; and the invisible boundary between the earthly and the heavenly realms. In this one event we see all the possibilities of the incarnation opening up. We have seen God’s love, made real, standing in a muddy river with a crowd in the middle of nowhere.
The theme of challenging and breaking boundaries continues through the early church and we have a snapshot of it in our reading from Acts. Peter is speaking in the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Three days before, Peter had had a vision of God telling him to eat unclean meat, which at the time was just baffling. Then another strange thing – he was asked to visit Cornelius at home. Cornelius worshipped God but wasn’t Jewish, and Peter would never normally have gone to a gentile house. What’s going on? Why is God wanting Peter to do things that are so much against everything he had been brought up to believe?
 
It’s only when Peter gets to the house, and meets Cornelius, and finds out what God has already been doing in Cornelius’s life, that it all fits together and makes sense. Peter makes a huge leap of understanding, letting go of the way he had always thought. And now here he is, in our reading, recognising and admitting that he has just learnt something new. ‘Now I understand’, he says, ‘now I truly understand, that God shows no partiality, that God treats everyone on the same basis’. It doesn’t matter that Cornelius is a gentile; everyone who believes in God receives forgiveness.
 
Seeing Peter’s breakthrough shows up something of an issue here: that while God has broken boundaries through Jesus, it’s not always easy for us as humans to put that into practice. Mostly, people in churches want to be welcoming, and mostly we are. But we have our blind spots too. There are still people who feel like outsiders. There are still people who feel God would not want to know them, who feel the church has no place for them, that they would not be made welcome – or that they would be made welcome ‘if …’, which is the same as not really being welcome at all. 
In order for some people to feel truly welcome, we who are on the inside of the barrier may need to confront our own prejudices, as Peter did. There are almost certainly barriers within ourselves that stop us seeing certain people as our equals. And sometimes, as with Peter, those barriers come from our religious background, from what we have always believed is right and good and godly.
 
It’s hard. It requires a good deal of often painful soul-searching. For many of us it will take a lot longer than the three days it took Peter. And we may have to do it more than once, as our understanding deepens and unfolds. But it’s not as hard as it is for the people on the outside of the barriers we unwittingly uphold. 
 
As we think of the baptism of Jesus, and the boundaries he challenged and broke, may we invite Jesus to break down the barriers in our lives and in our hearts, so that all might receive the love and forgiveness he offers.  Amen.
 
Hymn    In Christ there is no East or West
John Oxenham (1908) Public Domain Sung on BBC’s Songs of Praise
In Christ there is no east or west,
in him no south or north,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.
 
In Christ shall true hearts ev’rywhere
their high communion find.
His service is the golden cord
close binding humankind.
 
Join hands, then, people of the faith,
whate’er your race may be.
Who serves my Father as his child
are surely kin to me.
 
In Christ now meet both east and west,
in him meet south and north.
All Christlike souls are one in him
throughout the whole wide earth

 

Intercessions
 
Holy God, thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus,
for his humanity and his humility,
His willingness to accept a baptism he hardly needed
to stand alongside people like us,
His courage in accepting a ministry that would lead one day to the Cross.
 
As we bring our prayers for others, 
we remember that we pray in his name; that we too are children of God,
empowered and guided by the same Spirit.
So we pray with confidence.  
Help us to see how we can play our part 
in answering the prayers we make.
 
We have thought of water that divides;
we think too of the water that destroys,
through storm and flood and rising sea levels. 
We think of places where the rains don’t come,  where crops and livestock die, where rights to water are the subject of increasing conflict.
We hold before you everyone suffering from the effects of climate change.
 
We have thought of divisions and barriers,
and we think of divided communities and places of conflict.
We pray for wisdom among leaders and a desire for peace.
We pray for people who feel excluded or unwanted, 
especially for those who they are not welcome in the church.
 
We have thought of the peace and healing Jesus brings,
and we think of people we know who are in need of peace and healing.
We remember those who are ill, in hospital or awaiting treatment; 
we give thanks for those who are recovering. 
We pray for the medical teams and all those caring for them. 
 
We lift these prayers to you, in love and trust, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 
 
Offertory Prayer
 
Generous God, giver of all things, we bring our gifts to you – as a token of our thanks and a sign of our love.  Accept and bless all that we bring, and all that we are, and use us and our gifts to serve and honour you. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
 
Hymn    At the name of Jesus
Caroline Maria Noel | Michael Brierley © Words: Public Domain Sung on BBC’s Songs of Praise
 
At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.
Every tongue confess Him King of glory now.
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call Him Lord,
who from the beginning was the mighty Word.
 
Humbled for a season to receive a name
from the lips of sinners unto whom He came.
Faithfully He bore it spotless to the last
brought it back victorious when from death He passed.


Christians, this Lord Jesus shall return again
with His Father’s glory, with His angel-train.
For all wreaths of empire, meet upon His brow,
and our hearts confess Him King of glory now.
 
Blessing
 
May you live in the love of God,
In the friendship of Jesus,
And in the inspiration of the Spirit,
May you hear the voice from heaven that says,
 ‘You are my beloved child’,
And may that blessing dwell in you, now and always. Amen.
 
 
This material is only for use in local churches not for posting to websites or any other use.  Local churches must have copyright licences to allow the printing and projection of words for hymns.

 

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.
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