Sunday Worship 30 April 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 30 April 

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Angela Rigby 

Call to Worship  

 
Hallelujah!  Sing to God a new song 
Praise God in the company of all who love God.
Let everyone celebrate their Creator 
Let us celebrate the One who leads us  
Let us celebrate with dancing: 
Let us play music and sing
Why do we celebrate? 
Because God delights in the people of Her Creation.
from Psalm 149:1-5 
Hymn       Teach me to Dance to the Beat of Your Heart
Graham Kendrick and Steve Thompson © 1993 Make Way Music
Performed by Graham Kendrick and used with his kind permission. 
 
Teach me to dance to the beat of your heart.
Teach me to move in the power of your Spirit.
Teach me to walk in the light of your presence.
Teach me to dance to the beat of your heart.
 
Teach me to love with your heart of compassion.
Teach me to trust in the word of your promise.
Teach me to hope in the day of your coming.
Teach me to dance to the beat of your heart.
 
You wrote the rhythm of life
Created heaven and earth
In You is joy without measure
So, like a child in your sight
I dance to see your delight
For I was made for your pleasure
Pleasure

Let all my movements express
A heart that loves to say ‘yes’
A will that leaps to obey you
Let all my energy blaze
To see the joy in your face
Let my whole being praise you
Praise you
 
Prayers of Approach and Confession 
 
Holy God, compassionate teacher, teach us your ways of living and loving.  Connect us Your steady heartbeat that vibrates throughout the whole of Creation.  As we move throughout your world, may our rhythms of dance, our ways of being, please You.  Help us not to simply mimic the movements of others, but help us to each draw closer to You, listening to You and being the person You have called us to be, as we live our lives to praise You.
 
God, sometimes we misstep.  We lose our balance.  We neglect to notice where we are placing our feet.  We are distracted by other sounds.  Or, the ground shakes, and we become frozen in fear.   God in those moments when we forget Your joy, Your dance – we are sorry. Amen.
 
Declaration of Forgiveness
 
”Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear Son!  For by the blood of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God, which he gave to us in such large measure!”  

Ephesians 1:6-8a GNT
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
Prayer for Inspiration 
 
God, we pray You would speak to us.  Through the hymns, the prayers, scripture, or even through the words shared in the talks, God, we pray we would hear from You today.  May the words we speak, pray and sing and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to You.  Amen
 
based on Psalm 19:14
Hearing God’s Word
 
Ezekiel 34:1-11
 
The word of the Lord came to me:  Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?  You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.  You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.  So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.
 
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord:  As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep;  therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them. For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.
 
Theme Introduction – What Makes A Good Shepherd?
 
Harmony Hill Farm Sanctuary is an organisation that rescues farm animals, and they came across this sheep that had been used as part of a high school project in the States.  For six years, the sheep had been penned up, given food and water, but had little contact with humans and no contact with other animals.  She was isolated, alone, and hadn’t even been sheared – her fleece just left to grow and grow, becoming tangled and matted.  The wool hung over her eyes, so she couldn’t even see.  
 
Anyone could see this sheep was miserable.  She was being kept alive by the food and water, but she wasn’t enjoying her life.
 
First thing the volunteers at the sanctuary did was name the sheep, because she didn’t even have a name.  Ellie Mae
 
They sheered her and bathed her – under the wool they discovered she had eyes.  Now Ellie Mae could see the world around her.
 
They introduced her to other animals at the sanctuary – llamas, other sheep – soon Ellie Mae had friends.
 
They discovered that Ellie Mae began to run to the volunteers who were caring for her, as she recognised their voice and recognised them as someone who looked after her and cared for her and wanted the best for her.
 
If you watch the video of Ellie Mae’s story, there is this wonderful moment where the volunteer tells Ellie Mae she can go run and jump and have fun, – she doesn’t have to stay in the pen – and off she goes – bounding out the pen and into the open fields where other animals are waiting.
 
Who was the better shepherd in the story?  
 
The animal sanctuary gave Ellie Mae a new beginning, a better way of living, an identity and a community.  Is this not what God wants for each and every person on this planet?
 
Hymn       The Lord’s My Shepherd (I will trust in You Alone) 
Stuart Townend Copyright © 1996 Thankyou Music Sung by Bessacarr Evangelical Church and used with their kind permission.
 
The Lord’s my shepherd, 
I’ll not want;
He makes me lie in pastures green.
He leads me by the still, still waters,
His goodness restores my soul.
 
And I will trust in You alone,
And I will trust in You alone,
For Your endless mercy follows me,
Your goodness will lead me home.
 
He guides my ways 
in righteousness,
and He anoints my head with oil,
and my cup, it overflows with joy,
I feast on His pure delights.
 
And though I walk the darkest path,
I will not fear the evil one,
For You are with me, 
and Your rod and staff
are the comfort I need to know.

St John 10:1-18
 
Jesus said: ‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’  Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
 
So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
 
‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
 
Talk
 
You may have heard it said that this story is about Jesus being the Good Shepherd and that we should want to be sheep in his flock.  He will look after us and protect us.  We should be wary of those who would want to “steal, kill and destroy” – insert your own personification of evil here. But I’m wondering if maybe there is more to this teaching than that?  Is Jesus saying more to us?  And that is what I am exploring today.
 
After being prompted by the lectionary reading in John’s gospel, I’ve decided to veer slightly off the lectionary.  I hope that is okay.  I wanted to talk about Jesus “the gate” and Jesus “the Good Shepherd”, as I’m not convinced dividing the readings in this instance would helpful.  I also added the reading from Ezekiel, which I struggled to shorten.  I would encourage you to go back and read the whole of Ezekiel 34 at some point.
 
In the Bible, especially in the Hebrew scriptures, leaders are referred to as shepherds, and the people as the sheep.  This may not be an image we are familiar with today, and some folks would not appreciate being referred to as a sheep.  However in the Bible, it was just a metaphor that made sense in their culture and context.  This is the imagery being used in Ezekiel 34, with God stepping up and caring for the people because the leaders had failed to do so.  
 
To help us explore what Jesus is saying here in the gospel of John, when he declares himself the Good Shepherd, we need to pay attention to what happened just before, in John 9, and what happens just after specifically John 10:22.    
 
In the New Revised Standard Version, John 10:22 says, “At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter…”   The Festival of the Dedication is what we commonly refer to today as Hanukkah.  I am not of Jewish heritage, so forgive me if I don’t have this exactly correct.  However my understanding is that in Jesus’ day, during the Festival of the Dedication, the people remembered how the Greek Empire had defiled the Temple around 200 BCE, but then how a Jewish army led by the Maccabees defeated the Greeks and won the Temple back.  The Temple was cleansed and rededicated for God’s purposes.  In the Temple there was an eternal flame which required oil to keep it lit.  They had enough for one night, but it would take several days for them to get more oil and bring it back.  During the time it took to get more oil, God kept the light shining.  During this festival, the priests focussed their prayer and meditation on texts around leadership – Ezekiel 34, Jeremiah 23:1-4, Jeremiah 25:32-38, and Zechariah 11.  These texts focussed on leaders as shepherds particularly God as the Shepherd of the people, but also as we read in Ezekiel 34, the texts focus on what makes a good shepherd and what makes a bad shepherd.
 
It is during this festival that Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”    Sometimes Christians can gloss over the Jewish festivals and forget that Jesus was a Jew and that the Gospels are embedded in Jewish culture.  When we read the “I am” statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John, look for a Jewish festival as chances are one is happening and understanding that festival will give you a deeper understanding of what Jesus is actually saying.
The next bit of context I want us to keep in mind is what happens just prior to our reading.  In John 9, we see Jesus healing a blind man.  Just a note here – there is something disability theology would say to us about this healing, and my colleague Alex covers that really well in the worship notes for 19th March as they speak of John 9.  However for our purposes today, the important thing is that healing is about bringing people back into community.  It’s about wholeness, belonging, and inclusion – all good things right?   Well – some (though not all) of the Pharisees got upset, partly because this happened on the Sabbath and partly because Jesus was involved.  The conversation between the man who was healed and some of the religious leaders would be quite absurd, if there weren’t similar situations happening today.  They question the validity of the man’s healing.  They question his faithfulness to God – “you are this fellow’s disciple?  We are disciples of Moses!” They shut down the conversation completely by telling the man that he was “steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” before throwing him out.  
 
Yikes.  These days we may call that spiritual abuse, and if we saw people within our fellowships acting this way, we would be encouraged to report the behaviour to the church’s safeguarding officer for further investigation.  Whether it happened to you, or you witnessed this happening to someone else.
 
Jesus hears what happened to the man and goes and finds him.  He finds and cares for this man – this sheep that had been harmed by the other shepherds. 
 
All of that context to say that It is during this celebration, after this disagreement between the blind man and the Pharisees, as religious leaders are reminding themselves what it means to be a good spiritual leader of the people  – this is when  Jesus says to the Pharisees, “I am the gate.  I am the Good Shepherd”, distinguishing himself as the good shepherd verses some of the current religious leaders who were acting as “bad shepherds.”    
 
Jesus says, “I am the gate.”  In his culture, the shepherd would lay across the gate: to protect the sheep in the pen, but also to help the sheep go out and find fresh water and pasture.  It wasn’t just about keeping the sheep under control, but it was about helping then to thrive, to enjoy and explore their freedom.  Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  Being saved was not just about going to heaven one day or even being protected from a wolf attack, but it was about protection, being restored and in general kept well.  Jesus continued, “They will come in and they will also go out and find good pasture.”  Jesus is saying that as the gate, he ensures people don’t just survive, but they thrive.  Rather than stealing or destroying their lives, he has come so that “they may have life and have it to the full.” 
 
Jesus also says I am the Good Shepherd.  He is clearly juxtaposing himself against those who would try to keep people penned in for their own sense of authority, their own sense of self-righteousness, and Jesus says, “No.  I’m different.”
 
This passage isn’t so much about “Hey isn’t Jesus great?  We should follow him.”  He is and we should, but really we could say that about most passages in the gospels.  This passage is actual saying something much deeper – it’s saying that people who are in religious authority should first and foremost be thinking about the welfare of the people they are serving.  That’s what a Good Shepherd does.    Good shepherd doesn’t seek to control or exploit people.  And in Jesus’ case, the Good Shepherd will do this at great cost, laying down his life.
 
It was the manipulation and boxing people in, penning them in, keeping people in their place, and excluding them from community that Jesus was speaking against.
 
Good leaders share scripture and invite people into a relationship with God and the church community.  Good shepherds should feed the sheep and look after them, but not prejudge what people would look like, what their relationship with God would look like, what their experiences of God would look like.  
 
I want to finish by telling another story about sheep.
 
Halfway between Leeds and Sheffield, there is a place called Cannon Hall Farm near the town of Barnsley.  This farm made the news in the autumn of 2022, because of what had happened to its Swiss Valais Blacknose sheep.  They normally had white wool bodies with black ears and faces.  However walkers passing by soon realised something was different about these sheep.  The wool on the tops of their heads had turned bright pink.  What was the farmer doing?  Was this a publicity stunt like at a recent music festival in the UK where they dyed an entire flock of sheep pink?  Did they need to phone the RSPCA?  After some investigation, it turns out that the farmer had recently bought a new feeder.  As the sheep ate from this new feeder, the nontoxic paint was dying the tops of their heads pink.  There was no harm being done to the sheep.  It was just as much as a surprise to the farmer as it was to those passing by the farm.
 
The shepherd fed the sheep.  The sheep were changed by the feeding.  The sheep were changed in an unpredictable way.
 
Our job as a church and as Christians – I’m not just talking ministers here, as in the URC we believe in the priesthood of all believers.  We all have people in our sphere of influence – our families and friends, people at church, school, work, and in the community.  We all know people who are like us and need God in their lives.  Our job as a Christian is not to judge them, not to manipulate them or coerce them.  
 
Our job is to feed the sheep.  They will be changed in the process.  Just as we were changed!   It’s not up to us to try and predetermine what their change will look like.   God does the changing, and we all need changing.  
We just feed the sheep.
 
Responding to God’s Word
 
Hymn       Good Shepherd of my Soul
Fionan de Barra, Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty & Stuart Townend © 2014 Townend Songs and Getty Music Publishing (BMI) sung on BBC’s Songs of Praise
 

Good Shepherd of my soul,
come dwell within me;
take all I am and mould
Your likeness in me.
Before the cross of Christ,
this is my sacrifice:
a life laid down 
and ready to follow.
 
The troubled find their peace
in true surrender;
the prisoners their release
from chains of anger.
In springs of living grace
I find a resting place
to rise refreshed 
and ready to follow.

 

And when my days are gone,
my strength is failing,
He’ll carry me along
through death’s unveiling.
Earth’s struggles overcome,
Heaven’s journey just begun
to search Christ’s depths
and ever to follow.

Prayers of Intercession
 
There is a response inspired by Psalm 5:8.  When I say, “Lead us, God, in Your ways of just living,” if you could please respond with, “Make plain Your paths before us.”
 
Holy and just God, we look to You for guidance.  We ask for Your wisdom for the leaders at work in our world.  Some may be inspired to serve You and the world You created, whilst others may seek to serve the gods of power, popularity and self.  God we lift up the leaders at work in our world.
Lead us, God, in Your ways of just living: 
Make plain Your paths before us.
 
God we pray for political leaders – those who lead countries, counties, cities, and local councils.  Whatever their political affiliation, we pray that they will work together to serve Your purposes, serving all the people within their area of influence.  We especially pray for the decisions they make in regards to how the oppressed and marginalised are treated.  We pray for politicians who are truth tellers, justice seekers, community caretakers, good neighbours, and leaders of compassion.  
Lead us, God, in Your ways of just living:
Make plain Your paths before us.
 
God we pray for leaders in the cultural sphere, those influencers in media (print, film, social media, canvas, fabric and sound) who both challenge and inspire us.  We pray for those who push boundaries that attempt to confine with their artistic passion, as well as those who call for restraint with their precision.  We pray for all those who lead in their cultural sphere of influence.  Help us to be critical consumers, aware of what we consume, but equally help us to celebrate diversity of thought and creativity in the people whom You created. 
Lead us, God, in Your ways of just living:
Make plain Your paths before us.
 
God we pray for the leaders in the Church.  We give thanks for people who will serve the global, national and local churches.  We pray for the URC General Secretary, General Assembly Moderator, the Moderator Elect, and Synod Moderators.  Guide them as they lead us through the Church Life Review and this period of transition for the URC.  
 
We pray for courage and inspiration for our Ministers, Church Related Community Workers, Local Church Leaders, Church Secretaries, elders and all those who lead local churches.  We pray for Junior Church and Youth group leaders.  
Lead us, God, in Your ways of just living:
Make plain Your paths before us.
 
God as you call all of us to “lead” people to a closer relationship with you, we pray for those around us – our “flock”.  People at work, school, in our families and in our community whine we meet and have conversations with.  God we pray that we are good shepherds, caring for the people we meet in the words we speak and the actions we take.
 
In this quiet, we lift up to you the concerns and those known to us.
 
Silence kept
 
Lead us, God, in Your ways of just living:
Make plain Your paths before us.
 
We lift all these prayers up in Jesus’ name.  Amen
 
Offering and Prayer
 
How do we respond to God’s love?  There are many ways – helping a neighbour, caring for a family member, volunteering in the community, donating to a charity, and giving to our local church.  For all these ways of responding to God’s love and care, let us pray and offer these to God. Loving God, we thank you for your care for us and for this world.  We offer you our time, our gifts, our hearts, our whole selves, and ask that you use them to share your kin-dom community of belonging and compassion to everyone.  Amen.
 
Hymn       Come with me, Come Wander  
John L. Bell, Graham Maule © 1987, Iona Community, GIA Publications, © 1989 Hope Publishing Company, 380 S Main Pl, Carol Stream, IL 60188 Sung by Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir accompanied by Andrew Ellams and produced by Andrew Eison and used with their kind permission.
 
Come with me, come wander, come welcome the world,

where strangers might smile or where stones may be hurled;
come leave what you cling to, lay down what you clutch
and find, with hands empty, that hearts can hold much.

Sing Hey for the carpenter
leaving his tools!
Sing Hey for the Pharisees
leaving their rules!
Sing Hey for the fishermen
leaving their nets!
Sing Hey for the people
who leave their regrets!
 
Come walk in my company, come sleep by my side,
come savour a lifestyle with nothing to hide;
come sit at my table and eat with my friends,
discovering that love which the world never ends.
 
Come share in my laughter, come close to my fears,
come find yourself washed with the kiss of my tears;
come stand close at hand while I suffer and die,
and find in three days how I never will lie.
 
Come leave your possessions, come share out your treasure,
come give and receive without method or measure;
come loose every bond that’s restraining the spirit,
enabling the earth to be yours to inherit.

Blessing
 
As we prepare to leave this time of worship together, remember that as we go, as we wander, Christ goes with us.  Christ walks beside us.  Christ goes before us.  Christ follows us.  Christ leads us as we wander.  Let us listen for His voice. Let us send each other out by singing a blessing together.
 
Closing Music:    May the Sending One Sing In You
© 1989 Hope Publishing Company, 380 S Main Pl, Carol Stream, IL 60188  
Sung by Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir accompanied by Andrew Ellams and produced by Andrew Eison and used with their kind permission.
 
May the Sending One sing in you,
May the Seeking One walk with you,
May the Greeting One stand by you,
in your gladness and in your grieving.

May the Gifted One relieve you,
May the Given One retrieve you,
May the Giving One receive you,
in your falling and your restoring.
 
May the Binding One unite you,
May the One Belov’d invite you,
May the Loving One delight you,
Three-in-One, joy in life unending.

 
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