Sunday Worship 12 March 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 12 March 2023

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Dr Adam Scott

 

Introduction & Call to Worship
 
Welcome to worship on this the third Sunday of Lent.  My name is Adam Scott and I’m the Principal of Northern College.  We join together in the name of God:  Creator, Christ and Comforter.  
Amen.
 
Jesus said: “… Those who drink the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring which will provide them with life-giving water and give them eternal life.” 
Give us that water! That we will never be thirsty again.  
Amen

Hymn    Uyai mose, tinamate Mwari 
              © Alexander Gondo, World Council of Churches from the album Sing with the World by Pro Musica
 

 

Uyai mose,
tinamate Mwari;
uyai mose,
tinamate Mwari;
uyai mose,
tinamate Mwari;
uyai mose zvino.
 
Come all you people,
come and praise your Maker;
come all you people,
come and praise your Maker;
come all you people,
come and praise your Maker;
come now and worship the Lord.

 

Prayers of Approach
 
Come, let us praise God! Let us sing for joy to God, who protects us!Let us come before her with thanksgiving and sing joyful songs of praise.
For the Lord is a mighty God, a mighty ruler over all the gods.
She rules over the whole earth, from the deepest caves to the highest hills.
She rules over the sea, which she made; the land also, which she formed.
 
Come, let us bow down and worship God; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
She is our God; we are the people she cares for, the flock for which she provides.
 
Listen today to what she says:
“Don’t be stubborn, as your ancestors were at Meribah, as they were that day in the desert at Massah.
There they put me to the test and tried me, although they had seen what I did for them.
For forty years I was disgusted with those people. I said, ‘How disloyal they are! They refuse to obey my commands.’
I was angry and made a solemn promise: ‘You will never enter the landwhere I would have given you rest.’” 
Amen.
Prayers of Confession & an Assurance of Forgiveness
 
O God, our great shepherd, tenderly you gather us as lambs,
carrying us with your all-embracing love. 
 
Yet, like sheep, we wander from you; often following our own ways,  sometimes ignoring your voice, at times distrusting your provisions. Forgive our wrongdoing,  our hardened hearts, our lack of trust. Refresh us once again by your quiet waters of mercy and restore our souls by your redeeming love.
 
Guide our paths, that we might follow you more closely…
 
Time of silent confession
 
Through Jesus Christ, our good shepherd, we pray.
 
Receive the good news of the gospel: 
in Jesus Christ we are forgiven.  
Amen.
 
Hymn    Spirit of God, Unseen As The Wind
              Margaret V Old © Scripture Union BBC Songs of Praise
 
Spirit of God, unseen as the wind,
gentle as is the dove;
teach us the truth and help us believe,
show us the Saviour’s love!
 
You spoke to us 
long, long ago,
gave us the written word;
we read it still, 
needing its truth
through it God’s voice is heard.
 
Without your help 
we fail our Lord,
we cannot live His way;
we need Your power, 
we need Your strength,
following Christ each day.

 

Exodus 17: 1 – 7
The whole Israelite community left the desert of Sin, moving from one place to another at the command of the Lord. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water there to drink.  They complained to Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses answered, “Why are you complaining? Why are you putting the Lord to the test?” But the people were very thirsty and continued to complain to Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? To kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Moses prayed earnestly to the Lord and said, “What can I do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Take some of the leaders of Israel with you, and go on ahead of the people. Take along the stick with which you struck the Nile. I will stand before you on a rock at Mount Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” Moses did so in the presence of the leaders of Israel. The place was named Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites complained and put the Lord to the test when they asked, “Is the Lord with us or not?”

John 4: 5 – 15
In Samaria he came to a town named Sychar, which was not far from the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by the trip, sat down by the well. It was about noon.  A Samaritan woman came to draw some water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink of water.” ( His disciples had gone into town to buy food.) The woman answered, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan—so how can you ask me for a drink?” (Jews will not use the same cups and bowls that Samaritans use.) Jesus answered, “If you only knew what God gives and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you life-giving water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you don’t have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where would you get that life-giving water?  It was our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well; he and his children and his flocks all drank from it. You don’t claim to be greater than Jacob, do you?” Jesus answered, “Those who drink this water will get thirsty again,  but those who drink the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring which will provide them with life-giving water and give them eternal life.”  “Sir,” the woman said, “give me that water! Then I will never be thirsty again, nor will I have to come here to draw water.”
 
Sermon
 
Lent offers us the opportunity to reflect on our lives; particularly an honest reflection on the unhealthy attachments, behaviours, and practices that might hinder our flourishing. Lent is a kind of spiritual stocktake that leads us to reorder life. But this kind of reflection needs to come with a health warning, as there are times when religious discipline can cause spiritual harm, rather than bring wholeness. 
 
This danger has been highlighted by my study of spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse happens when any religion or spirituality is used to harm rather than heal, to manipulate, control or oppress people. One of the warning signs of spiritual abuse is when people experience guilt or shame for wanting their basic needs met – whether these be our physical needs, or need for safety, love, belonging, and personal flourishing. It is also often fed by a distorted view of God, as one who is punitive and vengeful. So, on first reading, the story in Exodus 17 makes me a little nervous. 
 
The story tells us that the people don’t have the water they need to survive; and when they ask for it, they are told they are quarrelsome and disloyal to God. Psalm 95 takes this further; the psalmist tells us that God was so angry and disgusted by their request, that the people are not permitted to enter the promised land. 
 
Is asking for water such a bad thing, surely it is just a basic need for survival?
 
The people in question are the Hebrew people who Moses led out of slavery in Egypt, and they had endured real hardship along the way. I know we tend to read the Exodus story like a Hollywood blockbuster, with Moses and Aaron wrestling with Pharoah to get the people free. Most of us know the story, God vanquishes Pharoah through visiting a series of horrific plagues on the Egyptians, culminating the in killing all their first-born sons. Then the people walk free. Free from slavery in Egypt to a new life. But the new life didn’t seem to be what they expected, and there were many times they people wanted to go back to Egypt, back to slavery because of the suffering they were experiencing.
 
Now we may wag our fingers and say how unfaithful to God they were, and that they should have just trusted God to meet their needs. 
 
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Imagine, if you can, that you come from a people oppressed for generations. That is all you know. Your liberation comes, but it requires you to leave the familiar, and journey into the wilderness, a place of real threat, where you may not get your basic needs for food, water and safety met. I wonder what that might have felt like? Would you be willing to follow Moses with no questions asked? 
 
I am not sure I would.
 
Remember, the wilderness required the people to rethink their whole life – reimagine their future, the future of their families, those most precious to them. It also meant the people needed to trust in a God who is, according to Exodus terrifying, mysterious and compassionate –  turning river water into blood, commanding pestilence, killing the children of his enemies, hidden in cloud and flame, hearing the cries of the people, providing liberation and food from heaven. A God who provides for his people but demands obedience. 
 
We may have not experienced the disorientation of wilderness the children of Israel experienced after their liberation. But many of us have had wilderness experiences in our own lives, situations that have required us to completely rethink our identities. Times when it felt that even God was against us, or have been told God was against us?
 
Wilderness experiences can accentuate our sense of vulnerability; and so, it makes sense that the people go to Moses asking for water when they have none. It even makes sense that they complain to Moses. God had put Moses in charge, so who else was going to help, and where else were they meant to go? The people had never spoken directly to God, it all went through Moses. 
 
Moses responds to their complaint about not having water by reminding them that a complaint against him, is a complaint against God. This worries me because I have met religious leaders and people of faith who have told me that to question them is to question God. These people see themselves as untouchable and above being questioned. My experience has also taught me that these kinds of people are in all theological camps, from liberal to conversative, and everything between.  They can be hard to spot as they can hid behind politeness, apparent decency and power. But the people do not accept Moses’ response and they press him, asking, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? To kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Again, this seems like a good question to me. They are scared, worried there is no water, and without water everybody and everything dies. 
 
My question is what did they expect Moses to do? Make water miraculously appear, or plead with God for help? Maybe they didn’t expect anything from him? Maybe he was just the focus of their fear and anger and disorientation. The Hebrew word used for ‘complaint’ in the passage actually suggests something much stronger. It suggests that the people are building a legal case against Moses. They want to put him on trial, maybe pin the blame on him. Moses was the problem. He was the reason they didn’t have water. Moses got scared, worried they are going to kill him. I think he has every right to be scared, because sometimes desperate people do desperate things. We look for a scapegoat, someone to blame our problems on. I am not sure about you, but I have seen this happen.
So, Moses goes to God.
 
The scripture doesn’t say that Moses goes to God because he is worried about the peoples’ wellbeing. It tells us that he is worried about his own wellbeing; that the people might stone him. The story is beginning to get messy, and multi-layered. There is a lot of need and fear and anger, all wrapped up together. The peoples’ need for water, Moses’ need for safety. 
 
Thankfully God does help. 
 
Moses is commanded take some leaders of the community with him, go to Mount Sinai, and once there God will indicate a rock for Moses to strike using the staff he stuck the Nile with. This time the staff won’t turn water to blood but bring water from a rock. Disaster averted. The people get water and Moses doesn’t get killed. The place is given the name Meribah and Massah, meaning something along the lines of Quarrel and Testing. If the story ended here, we could wrap this sermon up neatly. But, unfortunately it doesn’t, because this story is told in other places and from other perspectives, namely the psalm for today.
 
Listen again to what the psalmist says: 
 
God says:  “Don’t be stubborn, as your ancestors were at Meribah, as they were that day in the desert at Massah. There they put me to the test and tried me, although they had seen what I did for them. For forty years I was disgusted with those people. I said, ‘How disloyal they are! They refuse to obey my commands.’ I was angry and made a solemn promise: ‘You will never enter the land where I would have given you rest.’”
 
So, God was not happy with the people.
 
The psalmist claims that God was disgusted with them, this is a strong word, and that God will not allow them to enter a land of rest. So, these people will never get rest, always wandering and wondering if they would have been better off in Egypt rather than in the wilderness. This is difficult to hear. Difficult for us to fathom. Why would God do that, surely God is merciful? But restlessness is the reality of many peoples’ lives. There are many who will not know rest in this life, dogged by hunger and thirst, war and sickness, discrimination and oppression, self-hatred and self-loathing. Many who have been told or feel that God is against them, that the author of life is the author of their suffering.
 
This is why we need to be careful when we reflect on our lives and seek to rid ourselves of that which would hinder our flourishing. Lent is about compassionate self-reflection and loving transformation. My conviction is that Jesus teaches us God accepts us as we are, and transforms us through love, not vengeance. But this can be hard to believe, especially if you have been told that God is disgusted with you, or against you.
 
This leaves us with a problem – how can we faithfully read Exodus 17 and still hold to Jesus’ loving acceptance?
 
I would like to offer us a simple answer to this question, but I don’t think there is one. The Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests there is a developmental flow in scripture, that the Scripture attests to an unfolding revelation of the nature of God, which culminates in the person of Jesus. This could be uncomfortable for some who may want to see scripture as literal or static, and at no point am I suggesting the Hebrew Scriptures do not reveal the compassionate nature of God. But Brueggemann is saying that the psalmist and the writers of Exodus didn’t fully understand the nature of God, which makes sense to me, as who really understands the nature of God? Jesus constantly surprises his hearers with his insights into God’s character, which cause delight for some and horror for others.
 
So, we should be careful in our Lenten reflections on our lives in the light of these passages. While I do not believe they show us the fulness of God there is still much to learn and reflect on. What are our basic needs – whether these be our physical needs, or need for safety, love, belonging, and personal flourishing, and are we seeking to meet these in healthy or unhealthy ways? The people had a need for food, water and safety, but they sought to meet these through Moses, rather than taking responsibility for their own lives, they turn on him when he couldn’t meet them. Similarly, Moses rather than looking to the good of others, only seems to want his own needs met. Unacknowledged and unmet needs can lead us to make choices which can be harmful to ourselves and others, and I think the reverse is true. When we understand our needs, and what motivates us, we can make good choices. May our Lenten reflections help us uncover our deepest needs.
 
I think the passages also lead us to consider our view of God, and more importantly our experience of God. Lent is a time when we prepare to meet God in the Easter story, which is one of suffering and liberation, a full revelation of a Christian understanding of God. My experience as a minister has taught me there are many who have an underdeveloped understanding of God, some seeing God merely as loving and making no demands on us, whilst others see God as demanding much and with little love. Obviously, I am stereotyping here and I am suggesting these are on an continuum. There is something really important which e could miss in Psalm 95, and it is the verse that says:
 
‘There they put me to the test and tried me,
    although they had seen what I did for them.’
 
The psalmist is suggesting God is angry because the people did not trust, although they had seen the provision made for them in the wilderness. My Christian belief does not lead me to think that God is vengeful because we do not trust his goodness, but I do think trust is essential to a healthy faith, and all healthy relationships. 
 
Trust can be difficult for so many reasons, as trust in God requires some level of trust in ourselves and those around us and may require us to challenge long held beliefs. One of the things I have learned about spiritual abuse is that is requires people to stop trusting in their own experience, forming their own ideas and instead put their trust in a leader or leaders that claim to represent God. These people then interpret our reality. Scary stuff. But there are times when it is easier to accept what another person says about God or reality, rather than do the hard work ourselves. 
 
James Fowler wrote a slightly outdated but helpful book called ‘The stages of faith’ in it he explores how people’s faith can develop and transform, from a simple vision of God to an expansive understanding of God. I think this is mirrored in the Scriptures which provides us with an expanding view of God.
 
Maybe this Lent we can not only reflect on our own lives, but dedicate ourselves to exploring God anew, and in so flourish in new ways as we approach the Easter event?
 
Hymn    As Pants The Hart For Cooling Streams
              Nahum Tate Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band
 
As pants the hart 
for cooling streams
when heated in the chase,
so longs my soul, 
O God, for Thee,
and Thy refreshing grace.
 
For Thee, my God, 
the living God,
my thirsty soul doth pine;
oh, when shall I 
behold Thy face,
Thou Majesty Divine?
 
God of my strength, 
how long shall I,
like one forgotten, mourn,
forlorn, forsaken, 
and exposed
to my oppressor’s scorn?
 
Why restless, 
why cast down, my soul?
hope still, and thou shalt sing
the praise of Him 
who is thy God,
thy health’s eternal spring.

 
Affirmation of Faith  
 
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
 
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
 
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

The Apostles’ Creed
 
Offertory 
 
Each will bring their offerings in different ways for the work of God, and with that in mind we pray the following prayer: 
 
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, maker of all things. Through your goodness you have blessed us with these gifts. With them we offer ourselves to your service and dedicate our lives To the care of all that you have made, For the sake of him who gave himself for us –  Jesus Christ. Amen.
 
 
Hymn    Empty Broken Here I Stand
              Nick and Anita Haigh © 2000 Break of Day Music sung by Ruth and Joy Everingham and used with their kind permission.
 

 

Empty broken here I stand, 
Kyrie Eleison.
Touch me with Your healing hand, Kyrie Eleison.
Take my arrogance and pride, Kyrie Eleison.
Wash me in Your mercy’s tide, Kyrie Eleison.
 
Kyrie Eleison, 
Christe Eleison, 
Kyrie Eleison.
 
When my faith 
has all but gone, Kyrie Eleison.
Give me strength to carry on, Kyrie Eleison.
When my dreams have 
turned to dust, Kyrie Eleison.
In You, oh Lord, 
I put my trust, Kyrie Eleison.
 
When my heart 
is cold as ice, Kyrie Eleison.
Your love speaks of sacrifice, Kyrie Eleison.
Love that sets the captive free, Kyrie Eleison.
Oh pour compassion 
down on me. Kyrie Eleison.
 
You’re the voice that 
calms my fears, Kyrie Eleison.
You’re the laughter, 
dries my tears, Kyrie Eleison.
You’re my music, 
my refrain, Kyrie Eleison.
Help me sing 
Your song again. Kyrie Eleison.
 
Humble heart of holiness, Kyrie Eleison.
Kiss me with Your tenderness, Kyrie Eleison.
Jesus, faithful friend and true, Kyrie Eleison.
All I am I give to You. 
Kyrie Eleison.

 

Intercessions
 
Lord, as we journey towards Easter, refresh, renew, restore us in your service. We pray for churches where life has become dull and dry. We remember churches struggling for survival. We pray for Christians drained of energy and resources. We remember especially those who thirst for your presence and your saving power.
 
Good and gracious Lord, give us the water of life.
We pray for all who thirst after justice, all who are working hard to improve our world. We remember all who are suffering from weariness and exhaustion. We pray for all who live in place affected by drought.
 
Good and gracious Lord, give us the water of life.
 
We pray for all who are going through a period of testing and dryness, in their faith or their relationships. We pray for those whose ardour has cooled, for all who have lost their first zeal and zest for life. We pray for all who are suffering from a lack of love in their homes.
 
Good and gracious Lord, give us the water of life.
 
We remember all who feel wrung out or dried up, all who are wearied with the journey of life, all who feel they are near to perishing. We pray for all who cannot cope by themselves, for all who are in care, and for all carers. We remember all who are in hospices.
 
Good and gracious Lord, give us the water of life.
 
We give thanks for the fellowship of those whose journey is over,
those who hunger and thirst no more, all who have been refreshed and restored in your kingdom. We pray that we may share with them in the fullness of life that is eternal.
 
Good and gracious Lord, give us the water of life.
 
We gather our prayers and praises into one by praying as Jesus taught us: Our Father …
 
Hymn    Guide me O thou great Redeemer
              William Williams (1745); Translator: Peter Williams (1771) BBC Songs of Praises 
 
Guide me, O 
my great Redeemer,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, 
bread of heaven,
feed me til I want no more.
feed me til I want no more.
 
Open now 
the crystal fountain,
whence the healing waters flow.
Let the firey cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, 
strong Deliverer,
be thou still my strength &shield,
be thou still my strength & shield.


3 When I tread the verge of Jordan, 
bid my anxious fears subside.
Death of death, and Hell’s destruction, 
land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever sing to Thee,
I will ever sing to Thee.
 
Blessing
 
Let us claim the freedom Christ gives to us by his self-giving on the Cross. May He enable us to serve together in faith, hope and love.
 
And may the blessing of God, Creator, Christ, and Comforter,
 
go with you and all whom you love,  and even your enemies.
Now and forever,
Amen.
 
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