Sunday Worship 18 June 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
 

to listen to the service and sing along with the hymns.  This will open up a new screen, at the bottom of the screen you will see a play symbol.  Press that, then come back to this window so you can follow along with the service.

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 18 June 2023

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Neil Thorogood

 
Call to Worship
 
As we come together in worship,
we give thanks for this day that you have made.
As we share in scripture and silence, 
song and stillness, prayer and preaching,
be present with us wherever we find ourselves.
Receive all that we offer. Renew all that we are.
Unite us in this time of sharing, that we might travel on with you.
 
Hymn    Hail To The Lord’s Anointed
James Montgomery (1821) Sung by Lythan and Phil Nevard and used with their kind permission.

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed, his reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free;
to take away transgression, and rule in equity.

He comes with succour speedy to those who suffer wrong;
to help the poor and needy, and bid the weak be strong;
to give them songs for sighing, their darkness turn to light,
whose souls, condemned & dying, were precious in his sight.

He shall come down like showers upon the fruitful earth;
and love, joy, hope, like flowers, spring in his path to birth.
Before him on the mountains, shall peace, the herald, go,
and righteousness, in fountains, from hill to valley flow.

Kings shall bow down before him and gold and incense bring;
and nations shall adore Him his praise all people sing;
for he shall have dominion o’er river, sea, and shore,
far as the eagle’s pinion or dove’s light wing can soar.
 
O’er ever foe victorious, he on his throne shall rest;
from age to age more glorious all-blessing and all-blest:
the tide of time shall never his covenant remove;
his name shall stand forever that name to us is Love.

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

We let Psalm 100 become the voice for our opening prayers:

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

In your faithfulness, God of life and hope, 
hear our confession we pray.
We confess the words spoken and things done 
which have harmed us and hurt others this week; 
hasty words perhaps, unkind thoughts, acts of frustration.
We confess words never spoken and things never done 
which have laid guilt upon us and left possibility incomplete; 
words of kindness or challenge left unsaid, 
acts of justice or generosity 
thought about but never acted upon.
We look beyond ourselves, 
and confess that your good creation 
and your beautiful human family 
all too often are broken by sin and wrecked by evil.

Lord, forgive us.
Forgive the things we know 
and the things we haven’t noticed.
Lift from us the guilt we carry.
Set us free to serve you with joy and passion.
Renew, restore, begin again your good news within us. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Jesus, you have come to save us.
Help us to hold, deep within our hearts, 
the truth that all can be saved, 
the most lost can be found, 
the most broken can be mended.
We lay hold of this wonder, 
and let the wonder of your forgiveness renew us now.
Through the power of your Spirit 
at work within each one of us. Amen.

Our Father…

All Age Introduction

To introduce our theme I’ve got to be a little bit busy, just for a moment, writing a card because one of the things we sometimes do with each other is to invite each other to things.  Sometimes it’s nice to write an invitation card saying what the event is and how we’d like to see someone, maybe going for a meal or inviting someone to a great celebration of some sort.  Of course writing cards might not be the way we do it so perhaps also I need to send you a text and invite you along or email to make sure you know that I want you to come.  Invitations really matter.  There are invitations we receive as well.  To come along to something.  To share in something.  That can be a really special thing for us.  Today, as we turn to our readings from the Scriptures we’re going to think about the ways in which Jesus invites us.  How, indeed, in Scripture God is always inviting and how often God makes use of others that we might hear the invitation to come, and to do, and to be who God wants us to be.  

Prayer for Illumination

Holy Spirit, come to us as we open the Bible.
Take these ancient words and let them live.
Take each of us as we read and as we listen.
Inspire, encourage and equip us to follow Christ. Amen.

Reading     Genesis 18: 1-15

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’

Hymn    To Abraham and Sarah The Call of God Was Clear
Judy Fetter (1984) sung by Seraphim Music Studio  and used with their kind permission.

To Abraham and Sarah the call of God was clear:
‘Go forth and I will show you a country rich and fair.
You need not fear the journey for I have pledged my word:
that you shall be my people and I will be your God.’

From Abraham and Sarah arose a pilgrim race,
dependent for their journey on God’s abundant grace.
and in their heart was written by God this saving word:
that you shall be my people and I will be your God.’
 
We of this generation on whom God’s hand is laid,
can journey to the future secure and un afraid!
rejoicing in God’s goodness and trusting in this word:
that you shall be my people and I will be your God.’

Reading     St Matthew 9: 35-10: 8

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Sermon

Both of our readings from scripture today involve visitors. In Genesis, Abraham and Sarah and their retinue are camped by the oaks of Mamre when three visitors appear. There is this flurry of intense activity as everything is made ready to offer the proper sort of wilderness welcome to travellers. Hospitality towards strangers demands that food and drink are offered and that they be invited to rest a while. 

In our reading from Matthew, a whole succession of visitors cross the page for us. We find Jesus as the constant traveller and visitor, going about the neighbourhood, stopping off in the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues. There are crowds who pay their visits to be near Jesus, to listen to him teach, to hope that his miracles might touch them and those they’ve brought with them. And then there are the twelve disciples who get commissioned and sent out to become their own band of visiting preachers and healers and miracle-workers.
In all of these visits and visitors, what might we notice? How might their stories touch our stories today? 

A first thing might be that all these stories speak of people on the move, encountering new situations and meeting new people as they go. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, which we adopt in our Bibles as the Old Testament, people are on the move. Whilst there are great moments of being settled and whilst the mighty cities like Jerusalem rise and flourish for a while, much of the Jewish experience from Genesis onwards involves travellers and journeys, arriving in new and unfamiliar places, meeting strangers. Sometimes it is the journey of just one person like the lonely prophet Elijah heading for a cave on the mountain. Sometimes the whole nation pack their belongings and move out as they escape slavery in Egypt and wander the wilderness. Sometimes the journeys are chosen and become pilgrimages. 

Sometimes they are enforced as people of God become refugees and asylum-seekers, as they are carted off into exile and displaced by war and famine. Journeys and visits, offering hospitality and depending upon the kindness of others are a constant biblical theme. It’s a theme woven across the New Testament as well, and Matthew gives us more people on the move, paying visits, becoming visitors.

Some of us will have lived in the same place for a very long time. Some of us will have travelled a great deal. But I suspect all of us can think of times when we, like those we meet in the Bible today, encountered new people, fresh situations, found the stability of our lives suddenly upended, undone or reworked. Perhaps change came due to own choices. Perhaps it was the actions of others. Maybe sickness undid everything for us that we thought was safely settled, or the suffering of someone else. Maybe some enormous gift and blessing or glorious opportunity overtook us and transformed things for us. The new came upon us, change visited us and we become visitors in an unfolding future.

A second thing our readings might be inviting us to notice is where God is to be found and what God is doing. Amidst all of our wanderings and wonderings, amidst the joys and challenges, the encounters and possibilities, the times we become visitors and the times we show hospitality to others, what is God up to? 

We find that God is also a visitor in our readings. For Sarah and Abraham, the three strangers turn out to be messengers from God, coming into their lives unexpectedly and telling them of a future they never imagined; a child they never thought they would have. This is a beautifully evocative story of how God visits us in surprising ways, often incognito and at first unnoticed, delivering a blessing that surprises us beyond our wildest imagining. Perhaps we’ve had experiences of hindsight; that it is only afterwards and looking back that we glimpse ways in which an encounter and a moment have been venues for a visit from the God who creates and saves and recreates.

This visiting God becomes all the more real as Jesus arrives on the scene. Now God becomes the ultimate visitor; the creator of all things entering fully in to the limits and risks of human life.

God visits as Jesus enters every synagogue, steps across the threshold of every home that offers him hospitality, walks into each and every market place, walks the dusty roads, hikes the rocky hillsides, dangles tired feet in the river and plays with the sand on the sea shore. God visits as things get taught, as sickness gets healed, as hope is begun where once only despair hung heavy. Jesus is God in the flesh, blessing and challenging, calling and cajoling, noticing and loving. He ushers in God’s new way of being with us and drawing us into communion with God. He shows us, by living them out, how God longs for us to live and love and believe. Jesus spends time in a small part of the world for just a few years. But the limits of time and space are undone at his death, resurrection and ascension. Set free from all limits, Jesus can be the visitor who makes his home for ever with us all, wherever we are and wherever we go.

And, in Jesus, we discover that God visits us with a particular perspective and a powerful point of view. As Jesus walks his way from village to city, as he watches the crowds jostling to get near enough to hear and, maybe, to be healed, we are told: “…he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Jesus sees the needs and his heart goes out to all. This is what God is up to; divine compassion, walking into our lives to meet us and to save us.

It may be that, today, all is going really well for us and for those we know and share our lives with. But I suspect not everything may be simple and easy for us. And even the tiniest glimpse of our communities and of the nations tells us that all is not easy and often things are far from peaceful and happy. Suffering and need are endemic across God’s world. War and violence, poverty and exploitation are the backdrop to life for many millions. 

Neighbourhoods suffer from fear and deprivation. Jobs become less secure. Affordable homes harder to find and hold on to. Many services we depend upon struggle to provide us with the care and resources we hope to find. Sickness can visit us unexpectedly and everything is overturned. The life of a congregation we love can suffer hardship and loss.

Into all of this reality come these stories of Abraham and Sarah receiving unexpected hope, of the Son of God coming not to demand and to crush but to join creation in its need and longing and brokenness and embrace it with undying compassion and love.

Which brings us to a third and final word from the words of the Bible today for us.

As God’s compassion unfolds and works with and within creation, God calls and invites people to join in.

Abraham and Sarah are visited at their camp because their story is part of the unfolding story of God’s calling of a nation to be his chosen people; a light to shine in the world as a nation in love with holiness.

Jesus sees the endless need around him, and prays for help and for helpers. He gathers the twelve and they are sent out with his authority and instruction. They are not faceless numbers, they are unique and complicated individuals. Matthew wants to make sure that we know their names, that they become real characters in a real life story: Simon known as Peter; his brother Andrew; James and John, sons of Zebedee; Philip; Bartholomew; Thomas; Matthew the tax collector; James, son of Alphaeus; Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean; and Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. Real people, really called and commissioned and sent out in the name of the Son of God.

Here is the wonder. Here is the amazing truth. To that list, we add other names. They will include the names of those whose faithfulness shaped something about us. Women and men across the generations who, somehow, showed us something of God; friends of Jesus who helped us become his friends too. 

Even more wonderfully, to that list we add our own names. Of course, we’ll be able to highlight our mistakes and our weaknesses, our failures and our faltering steps. But still, our names are part of the story of how God is saving and renewing all creation. In our own way we too are sent. Each of us will have some particular calling that is for us to do. Each of us will have unique opportunities and gifts. As we read today’s texts in the Bible, they beckon us onwards into today and tomorrow. We can be answers to prayer as much as we offer the prayers. Jesus reveals the heart of God that is filled with compassion for all the world’s needs. And he calls us to see, to feel, to love, to rage for justice and to act. The labourers are few. We feel that often, I suspect. But even a few labourers can do things.

And, as we do, let us give God the glory. Amen.

Hymn    God of Freedom, God of Justice
Shirley Erena Murray © 1992 Hope Publishing Company sung by the Shrewsbury URC Virtual Choir and Orchestra.
 
God of freedom, God of justice,
you whose love is strong as death,
you who saw the dark of prison,
you who knew the price of faith –
touch our world of sad oppression
with your Spirit’s healing breath.

Rid the earth of torture’s terror,
you whose hands were nailed to wood;
hear the cries of pain and protest,
you who shed the tears and blood –  
move in us the power of pity
restless for the common good.
 
Make in us a captive conscience
quick to hear, to act, to plead;
make us truly sisters, brothers
of whatever race or creed –
teach us to be fully human,
open to each other’s needs.

Affirmation of Faith 

We believe in God,
who shapes and creates all that is,
whose touch is traced in creation’s wonders.

We believe in Jesus Christ,
Son of God and risen Saviour,
whose heart welcomes all,
in whose life we find all that life can be.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
evocative and inspiring, 
troubling and challenging,
our teacher and guide.

We believe in the Church,
the Body of Christ,
fallible and faltering,
wise and welcoming,
our home,
sign of God’s love made real in community.

We believe in callings,
ours and our neighbours,
to be and to become the children of God,
to be witnesses to God’s love,
to be carers and workers,
to be allies in all that lets life flourish upon God’s good Earth.

Prayers for the World, the Church and Ourselves

We read, Jesus, of your compassion.
The world unfolded its sadness as much as its joy as you walked your way with us.
You saw and felt the need.
You cared.
In our prayers, we join with you in your unending compassion and care.
We pray for all those trapped in situations that destroy them:
those caught up in war and the violence of abuse;
those trapped in addiction and cursed by poverty;
those lost in depression and crushed by sadness;
those broken by anger and torn by loneliness.

[silence for our own prayers]

We pray for those burdened by situations that snatch at life:
those who are sick and those who care for them;
those who are dying and those who mourn;
those who face unemployment and those without homes;
those facing hard choices and those longing for guidance.

[silence for our own prayers]

We pray for the Church and all of its witness:
for the congregations we know that have been home to us;
for those in leadership across denominations and for their wisdom;
for those whose work is often unnoticed but who build the Church;
for those sharing faith and those seeking it.

[silence for our own prayers]

We pray for ourselves:
for the gifts and joys that bless us;
for the longings and hopes that beckon us;
for the sadness and pain that touch us;
for the calling and gifting that inspire us.

[silence for our own prayers]

Jesus, in your compassion, hear us. Amen.

Offertory Prayer

God the giver of gifts, the one whose blessing gives life and hope,
receive all that we now offer; take and use what we can give, that your will be done, in Christ’s name. Amen.

Hymn    I The Lord of Sea and Sky
© 1981, Daniel L Schutte, New Dawn Music Administered in the UK by Calamus, 30 North Terrace, Mildenhall, Suffolk IP28 7AB  BBC Songs of Praise
 
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin
my hand will save.
I, who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord.  Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my words to them.
Whom shall I send?
 
Here I am, Lord.  Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

Blessing

Lord, in your compassion and mercy, bless us this day.
Lord, in your authority and power, send us this day.
Lord, in your love and strength, sustain us this day.
Amen.

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