Sunday Worship 19 February 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 19 February 2023 

 
Today’s service is led by The Revd Andy Braunston

 
Call to Worship
 

Come as eyewitnesses of God’s majesty!  
We come and worship.
 
Come and give honour and glory to God in your praise and song.
We come and worship.
 
Come into God’s light like a lamp shining in the dark.
We come and worship.
 
Come and praise the one who rises in our hearts like a morning star.
We come and worship.
 
Hymn    Immortal Invisible God Only Wise
Walter C. Smith (1867) Public Domain Sung on BBC Songs of Praise
 
Immortal, invisible, 
God only wise,
in light inaccessible 
hid from our eyes,
most blessèd, most glorious, 
the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, 
thy great name we praise.
 
Unresting, unhasting, 
and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, 
thou rulest in might;
thy justice like mountains 
high soaring above
thy clouds, which are fountains 
of goodness and love.
 
To all life thou givest,  
to both great and small;
in all life thou livest, 
the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish 
as leaves on the tree,
and wither and perish 
but naught changeth thee.
 
Great Father of glory, 
pure Father of light,
thine angels adore thee, 
all veiling their sight;
all laud we would render, 
O help us to see
’tis only the splendour 
of light hideth thee.

 

Prayers of Approach, Confession & Forgiveness
 
Source of light and glory, 
we worship You.
As angels adore You, 
veiling their eyes to Your presence,
we bring You our praise.
We yearn for Your justice to come,
Your glory to fill the earth,
and Your light to shine upon us.
You cause the planets to spin around the sun,
and the moon to spin around the earth.
Time and seasons are marked by you,
our rock and redeemer.
 
Yet as we worship we are afraid.
As we praise Your holiness 
we are aware of our sin.
As we yearn for justice, 
we become conscious of the injustice we mete out to others.
We long for the light 
but prefer the dark.
You call us to see justice
but we are afraid of your judgement.
God, the true life of all,
give to us, who both blossom and flourish, yet wither and decay,
your love, grace, and peace; 
forgive us our love of the darkness and hatred of the light,
our cravings for pleasure coming with the pain of the poor.
Give us time, Ancient of Days, to repent.
Give us time, Timeless One, to turn our lives around.
Give us grace, Fountain of Love, to live in Your light.  Amen
  
God is slow to anger and full of compassion.
The Most High forgives all who humbly repent 
and trust in Christ’s faithfulness.
There is, therefore, now no condemnation 
for those who are in Christ Jesus. 
You are forgiven!  Forgive others!   Forgive yourselves!  Amen. 
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
You are a light in the gloom, Eternal One, a guide to our feet.
Despite dwelling in inaccessible light 
You make yourself known to the lost and the least.
Enlighten us now as Your word is read and proclaimed,
that we may see the power of heaven break into our world.  Amen.
 
Reading 2 Peter 1:16-21
 
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
 
Hymn    There’s a Light Upon the Mountains
Henry Burton (12840 – 1930) Public Domain sung by the Walking Roots Band – 
https://www.thewalkingrootsband.com/ and used with their kind permission.
 
There’s a light upon the mountains,
and the day is at the spring,
when our eyes shall see the beauty
and the glory of the King;
weary was our heart with waiting, 
and the night-watch seemed so long,
but His triumph-day is breaking, 
and we hail it with a song.
 
In the fading of the starlight 
we may see the coming morn;
and the lights of all are paling 
in the splendours of the dawn;
for the eastern skies are glowing 
as with light of hidden fire,
and the hearts of all are stirring
with the throbs of deep desire.
 
He is breaking down the barriers,
He is gathering up the way;
He is calling for His angels 
to build up the gates of day;
but His angels here are human, 
not the shining hosts above,
for the drum-beats of His army 
are the heart-beats of our love.
 
Hark! we hear a distant music, 
and it comes with fuller swell;
’tis the triumph song of Jesus, 
of our King Emmanuel;
Go ye forth with joy to meet Him,
and my soul, be swift to bring
all thy sweetest and thy dearest 
for the glory of our King.

 

Reading St Matthew 17:1-9
 
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
 
Sermon
 
We live a mile or so away from Maeshowe – a neolithic chambered tomb.  From the outside it looks like a small hill in the middle of a rather flat field.  Yet it’s the finest Neolithic building to survive in Europe and built around 5,000 years ago – long before our readings today were written.  It is a masterpiece of planning, design, and construction.  I can’t conceive of how people, 3,000 years before Jesus, could design such a structure and move such stones – we’ve no idea if they had developed writing or maths.  They didn’t, as far as we know, have metal tools; they certainly didn’t have the machinery we have now.  Yet they created this building, accessed by a 10 metre long passage through which one has to crawl, where each wall is made up of a single huge slab weighing up to 3 tonnes in weight.  There are massive upright standing stones at each corner in the chamber and the walls are also made of single stones.  However, the most interesting thing, to me at least, about Maeshowe is that its builders lined it up so that the mid-winter sun shines in and illuminates the internal chamber.  For the three weeks either side of the winter solstice light streams in and illuminates the darkness of the interior.  
 
We know very little of the people who designed, built and used this structure.  It is thought be a tomb.  We know the people who built it also created grooved pottery as much has been excavated in the surrounding area – which has many more examples of Neolithic buildings and structures.  We don’t know how or why they built it.  We don’t know how or how long it was used.  We know the Vikings broke in – there are some runes in side showing the Vikings liked their graffiti.  The Victorian man who excavated it didn’t do so with much care so we don’t know what was lost.  We do know that in the deepest days of winter the light breaks through and illuminates the tomb.  
 
Our reading from the Second Letter of Peter is another puzzle where there are key things we don’t really know.  The letter is named so because it was believed for much of Church history that it was written by the Apostle Peter  – indeed the passage we read today has the author claiming to be an eye witness of the transfiguration.  Yet for much of the Church’s history scholars have debated whether a simple fisherman from Galilee could have written this.  Some think another wrote it in Peter’s name – as was common in the ancient world.  Others think Peter used a secretary who tidied up his Greek.  Others think he wrote it himself.  Of course, we’ll never know – just like there’s much about Maeshowe we’ll never know.  
 
We do know the context of 2 Peter.  A culture which denied the idea that God, or a god, created the world and all that is in it.  All that was important was this life – life after death was denied.  People were to enjoy life and avoid pain as much as possible  – of course our own enjoyment often leads to pain for others.  This cultural context is similar to our own –  a functional atheism and the meaning of life as being down to what one can get out of it rather than what one puts in.  
 
Against the atheism we read that prophecy and Scripture isn’t just a matter of human interpretation but ways in which God breaks through into our culture, like light in the darkness of Maeshowe’s inner chamber.  In the face of atheism the writer asserts that Jesus not only existed but was transfigured in glory.  Not only does he assert the fact of the transfiguration he says he was there!   His preaching about Jesus coming as judge isn’t based on clever myth or philosophical argument but on his experience of seeing the transfigured, gloried Christ. 
 
However, the writer does more than simply assert that Jesus had this strange experience on the mountain.  The writer doesn’t do what many preachers do with this story and say it’s about revealing who Jesus is to the disciples.  Nor does he think it’s about anticipating the resurrection.  Instead, the writer believes the transfiguration is about Jesus coming as judge.  Later in the letter the writer devotes a lot of writing to assure his readers that the Lord will return – that phrase that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day comes from chapter 3.   The writer wanted to reassure people living in a hostile culture that the Lord would return in the glory, in his own good time.  The glory had been first seen on that mountain top and would be seen again.
 
For some the idea of Jesus coming again is worrying, frightening even as it is magnificent, but Jesus comes again and again to us, his love and light break through into the dark chambers of our world.  The love of heaven pierces the fog of doubt, despondency and desolation in our world.  
 
Of course this is all, from our modern perspective,  rather ironic.  The writer lambasts the cleverly conceived myths and philosophies of his age whilst, at the same time, saying we should rely on good old fashioned eye witness testimony.  Except, most modern scholars don’t think this is first hand testimony.   So on the one hand we read an ancient writer asserting eye witness testimony yet, at the same time, we’ve no idea if he really was an eye witness.  Did the author witness the event or does he pass on what he learned from another – possibly from Peter?
 
Maybe it doesn’t matter.  We too pass on these stories to our friends and family.  We weren’t up the mountain with Jesus and the disciples yet each year we listen again to the story – just as we weren’t in the inn’s stable or the empty tomb on Easter morning.  Yet we pass on that which has been handed to us.  Why?
 
It’s not to promote clever philosophy or to try and win people by argument.  It’s because these stories, like the sun in the mid-winter, lighten the dark places of our world.  
 
We know these stories and teachings are true not because, with apologies to our writer, they were written by eye witnesses but because they speak to us in our hearts and our experience.  Calvin taught that “we have no great certainty of the word itself, until it be confirmed by the testimony of the Spirit.  For God has so knit together the certainty of the word and the Spirit that our minds are duly imbued with reverence for the word when the Spirit shining upon it enables us to behold the face of God.”  In other words we know these stories are true because they speak to us; the Holy Spirit working within us helps us to understand, believe, and apply what we know to be true.
 
So if the writer is correct and his experience of the transfiguration is to help him assert the truth of Christ’s coming what might we do with that?  It’s Lent next week, not the time of year when we think about Christ’s coming – that’s an Advent theme always fitting uncomfortably with the run up to Christmas.  What might Christ’s coming in glory mean for us as we think about the mixture of things we believe and know to be true along with the things we doubt and wonder about?
 
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that at the Last Judgement we shall be judged for how we’ve behaved – Matthew mentions feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked and visiting the imprisoned.  He doesn’t mention believing the right things, being a member of the right church, or knowing one’s Bible well.  Instead, it’s the simple things of life that we’ll be judged on.  
 
Interestingly, given the Gentile culture of seeing life only as a place to gain pleasure and avoid pain, all the things Jesus seemed interested in according to Matthew are practical and focused on us giving up some time and comfort to bring relief, pleasure, to others.  If our culture is similar to that in Jesus’ time – people not giving much thought to God, a sense of my pleasure being more important than your pain etc – then Jesus’ judgement about ignoring the needs of the poor and outcast are rather poignant. 
 
Our culture has a very acute sense of justice.  We know when something isn’t fair – whether that’s dictators getting away with their crimes or energy companies making excessive profits.  The idea of judgement is one that brings comfort, that justice levels the field again, restores what has been lost, gives a voice to those who aren’t usually heard.  
 
We shy away from judgement in our faith yet are rather keen on it in our society.  If we’re burgled we probably want very strict sanctions imposed on the burglar.  If we’ve been subject to violence we want a punishment that fits the crime as well as works on rehabilitation for the offender. Maybe due to an over emphasis on judgement in previous generations we’re reluctant to think of it now.  The writer of 2 Peter saw in Jesus’ coming a judgement that would put things right, a way in which the glory he saw at the transfiguration broke into his society putting all things right.
 
Here in Orkney, in the darkest winter days light breaks into that 5,000 year old structure.  We have no idea how the ancients managed to construct Maeshowe, we’ve no idea why they did it, how they lined it up with the winter sun, moved the huge stones, or got them all to fit when they had, we think, no metal instruments.  Yet the light streams in.  
 
We’ve no idea who wrote 2 Peter; we’ve only the sketchiest ideas about his culture and the challenges he faced looking after a baby church with believers still trying to work out how to be faithful in faithless times; yet the light of the Spirit pours in and confirms to us the truth of the passage.  Our experience in wanting to see justice administered makes us realise that only in Jesus’ eventual coming – whether that’s a day or a thousand years coming – will we see the glory of judgement.  A glory brighter than the sun at the back of Maeshowe; a glory as bright as Peter, James and John saw that day long ago on the mountain top.  Will you pray with me?
 
Source of radiance and glory, bathe us in Your light,
streaming in through the darkness of our lives.
 
Light of the world, come again amongst us,
that Your glory will expose the injustice in our world,
and bring to judgement our evil systems and structures.
 
Flame of our desire,  burn from us all that is not true, all that is not holy,
that we may share Your love and grace, 
and all that we know to be true.  Amen.
 
Hymn    Christus Paradox
Sylvia Dunstan (1955-1993)  © 1991, GIA Publications, Inc  One Licence Song No 90705
Sung by Adam and Gillian Earle and used with their kind permission
 
You, Lord, are both 
Lamb and Shepherd.
You, Lord, are both 
prince and slave.
You, peacemaker 
and swordbringer
of the way you took and gave.
You the everlasting instant;
You, whom we both scorn and crave.
 
Clothed in light 
upon the mountain,
stripped of might 
upon the cross,
shining in eternal glory,
beggar’d by a soldier’s toss,
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are both gift and cost.
 
You, who walk 
each day beside us,
Sit in power 
at God’s side.
You, who preach 
a way that’s narrow,
Have a love that reaches wide.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are our pilgrim guide.
 
Worthy is our earthly Jesus!
Worthy is our cosmic Christ!
Worthy your defeat and vict’ry.
Worthy still your peace and strife.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are our death and life.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
You, who are our death and our life.

 

Affirmation of Faith
 
Despite the despondency and dark of our world we welcome the light.
 
Despite a culture which doubts we believe in the light.
 
Despite the injustice of despot and dictator, of systems and ideologies 
we yearn for the light to come again.
 
Despite all that drags us down, 
we bathe in the transfigured light of Christ which makes us whole. Amen
 
Intercessions
 
Source of all Radiance, we bring our prayers to You, 
remembering the places where Heaven’s light breaks into earth.
We praise You for the beauty and majesty of creation,
for our fragile earth which teems with life and diversity,
giving us all we need to sustain ourselves and flourish.
Yet we are aware of how we misuse the earth,
exploit and not sustain the resources you give us,
unfairly distribute food, minerals, wealth,
pursue policies which lead to great inequality and injustice,
and occlude heaven’s light.  
Teach us, O Most High, how to live sustainably,
to use the resources You give us in ways which reflect Your glory.
 
Lord hear us…Lord graciously hear us.
 
Light of the World, you shine in the dark places of our world,
bringing to light injustice, oppression and poverty.
Your light brings comfort and justice and shows us the path,
as a lamp shines in the night.
You call us to live in ways which are fairer 
and which reflect the values You teach,
but we prefer the dark and gloom.  
We prefer the injustice to having to make changes in how we live.
We prefer to have more and be 
comfortable rather than share our resources.
We prefer to close the borders of our hearts
rather than let those in need in.
Teach us, O Most High, how to live fairly,
to let Your light not only expose injustice but expose our own cruelty.
 
Lord hear us…Lord graciously hear us.
  
Holy Spirit, Flame of Love in our hearts,
You help us understand our faith,
You call us to continually serve the Light,
enabling us to discern where You are at work in our world,
often beyond the boundaries we erect, in the people we don’t like,
and the places we’d rather not see.
Keep us focused on the light You offer,
keep our hearts in tune with You,
that we may see, hear, understand and obey,
that as we work in the service of the light,
we may reflect light and love to the world.
 
Lord hear us…Lord graciously hear us.
 
In a moment’s silence we bring into the light of Your presence, 
O Most High, all those people and places we worry about…
 
Lord hear us…Lord graciously hear us.
 
We join all our prayers together as, with Jesus we pray: Our Father…
 
Offertory
 
Life is not so much about the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of our own pain but about loving service of others which doesn’t seek to count the cost.  We don’t seek out pain but know that, sometimes, the common good requires us to sacrifice some of our own comfort and security – whether that’s eating less meat to reduce greenhouse gasses, travelling in greener ways, or paying more tax so that the poor are lifted up.  So here in Church we seek the common good by giving away some of our time, some of our talents and some of our treasure that we learn to give, to put the needs of others above our own.  Let’s pray:
 
Light of the world,
You give a foretaste of heaven where all shall be well.
Through Your light, glory breaks into earth,
showing us again and again how to live, how to love, and how to give.
Bless our gifts of time, talent and treasure,
that we use them in Heaven’s service.
Amen.
 
Holy Communion
 
The Lord be with you!                And also with you!
Lift up your hearts!                     We lift them up to God!
Let us give thanks to 
the Eternal One, Our God!         It is right to offer our thanks and praise!
 
It is indeed right to give You our thanks and praise,
Eternal One and Source of all Radiance, 
hidden in light inaccessible, 
yet made known in Jesus, Light of the World.
 
You have taught us in these long weeks of winter
of the ways in which You revealed Yourself to us.
From the manger to the mountain,
Jesus, Light of the world, You have shone on us with love.
Teaching us to be salt and light,
calling us to be reconciled with You and each other,
yearning for us to love, even our enemies,
You have urged us to set aside our anxieties and trust in You.
 
Holy Spirit, Flame of our deepest desires,
you fill us with Your energy and vision,
and show us how our world could be different,
as the power of heaven breaks into the gloom of this age.
 
And so we bring You our pain and our praise as we sing of your glory:
 
Santo Santo Santo
author unknown, sung at the Jubilate Big Sing and used with their kind permission

 

Holy, holy, holy,
my heart, my heart adores you!
My heart is glad to say the words:
You are holy, Lord!
 
Santo, santo, santo,
mi corazón te adora!
Mi corazón te sabe decir:
santo eres Señor!

 

You are holy, Lord Jesus, 
and in You we find our holiness.
Let now Your Holy Spirit come upon us,
to fill us with Your light and love,
that we may be Your angels in our world.
Let that same Spirit make holy this bread and wine,
which we set aside from all common use,
that as we eat and drink in Your presence,
You may feed us with Your very self.
 
For we remember that night long ago,
when in the shadows You were betrayed with a kiss, 
but before Your agony,  
You shared in the simplicity of a meal with Your friends.
Praying the ancient blessings you took and broke bread saying:
 
Take this all of you and eat it,
for this is my body which will be broken for you.
Do this in memory of me.
 
After Supper was finished, praying the ancient blessings
You took the cup and shared wine saying:
 
Take this, all of you and drink from it,
for this is the cup of my blood,
the blood of the new and everlasting promise of God,
for you and for all, for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this and remember me.  
Let us proclaim the central mystery of our faith:
 
The Acclamation
© Lyle Stutzman Shenandoah Christian Music Camp and used with their kind permission
 
Christ had died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
 
Bathe us in Your Light, O Most High,
that as we eat and drink these gifts,
we may be drawn into Your Presence,
where we lay aside all our burdens,
all our stress, all our anxiety,
and where You strengthen us to serve.
Give us the grace to take Your light
and spread it in the gloom of our world
so that the glory of Your presence
shines out, exposing injustice and suffering,
bringing healing and peace,
allowing the power of heaven 
to break into our lives and our world again and again,
so that through Jesus, with Jesus and in Jesus,
in the power of the Holy Spirit,
we may shine with you for ever and ever, Amen.
 
As we prepare to meet the Lord in Holy Communion we sing:
 
The Lamb of God
Lamb of God” from Josh Blakesley’s Mass of Restoration © OCP Publications performed by Josh Blakesley
 
Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world; have mercy on us.
Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world; have mercy on us.
Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world; grant us peace.
 
Music During Communion: 
Graham Kendrick’s Shine Jesus Shine sung at the Royal Albert Hall for Songs of Praise.

Post Communion Prayer
 
O Most High, You have gathered us into your presence,
filling us with good things.
Lord Jesus, You have fed us with your very self,
as a mother feeds her child.
Flame of Heaven above, You have given us a vision
of how your light can shine in our world.
Send us out now, filled, fed, and aflame,
to love and change our world,
in your most holy name.
Amen.
 
Hymn    Lord Enthroned in Heavenly Splendour
George Hugh Bourne (1874) Public Domain 
Sung by member of the Croydon Minster Choral Foundation and the Whitgift School Choristers.

 

Lord, enthroned in heav’nly splendour, first-begotten from the dead,
Thou alone, our strong Defender, liftest up Thy people’s head.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus, true and living Bread!
 
Here our humblest homage pay we, here in loving reverence bow;
here for faith’s discernment pray we,lest we fail to know thee now.
Alleluia! Alleluia!Thou art here, we ask not how.
 
Though the lowliest form doth veil thee as of old in Bethlehem,
here as there thine angels hail thee, branch and flower of Jesse’s stem.
Alleluia! Alleluia! We in worship join with them.
 
Paschal Lamb! Thine off’ring finished once for all when Thou wast slain,
in its fullness undiminished shall forevermore remain.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Cleansing souls from ev’ry stain.


 Life-imparting heav’nly Manna, stricken Rock, with streaming side,
heav’n and earth with loud hosanna worship Thee, the Lamb who died.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Ris’n, ascended, glorified!
 
Blessing
 
All you who have tasted the kindness of the Most High, love God!
For the Eternal One keeps the upright.
Be of good cheer, and doubt not;
for the Ancient of Days will strengthen your souls,
all you who patiently wait for His coming.
Our God reigns, let the people tremble;
the Eternal One is seated between the cherubim – let the earth be moved!
And the blessing of the Most High,
Source of all Radiance,
Light of the World
Flame of our Desire
be with you, and all whom you love, now and always, Amen.

 
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