Sunday Worship 25 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
 

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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 25 June 2023

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Ruth Whitehead

 
Call to Worship
 
We are always in the presence of God – but when we draw near to God, we find God draws near to us – in the name of Jesus Christ.

Hymn     How Firm A Foundation, Ye Saints of the Lord
K. (1787) Sung by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in God’s excellent Word!
What more can be said than to you God hath said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Fear not, He is with thee, O be not dismayed,
for He is thy God, and will still give thee aid;
He’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, 
upheld by His righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters He calls thee to go,
the rivers of grief shall not thee overflow;
for He will be with thee, in trouble to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
His grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; His only design 
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
He will not, He cannot desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,
He’ll never will leave, He’ll never forsake.

Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness

God of all love, all truth, all mercy
We come to give praise to you for your love – 
the love of creator for the creation; 
the love of saviour for the broken; 
the love of comforter for the overwhelmed.
We come to spend time in your presence and with your Word. 
The Word which is sharper than a two-edged sword – 
keen, testing, and trustworthy.
We come to confess to you our failings, our foibles, our faults.
Forgive us, we pray – in your mercy make us new, 
in your truth give us strength 
and in your love set us on your way once again.
God came to earth in Jesus Christ – 
to speak words of love, mercy and truth. 
He says to us ‘you are a beloved child of God – be made whole’. 
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayer for Illumination

Loving God we seek your face, 
your voice and your way as we turn to your word. 
Shine on us, speak to us and guide us we pray. Amen

Reading     Romans 6:1b-11

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Hymn    Draw Near (Psalm 69)
Written and performed by Wendell Kimbrough  http://wendellk.com
 
The flood around me is rising; 
the water’s up to my neck.
My voice is worn out from crying. 
O Lord, please send me your help!

Draw near to my soul, O Lord!
Draw near to my soul, O Lord!

My flesh and blood no more own me;
my family’s no more my home.
They hide their eyes from my grieving; 
they stop their ears from my groans.

Draw near to my soul, O Lord!
Draw near to my soul, O Lord!

I asked them all for some comfort; 
I begged, but there was no bread.
They gave me food that was poison; 
with wine, they left me for dead.

Draw near to my soul, O Lord!
Draw near to my soul, O Lord!

Gospel     St Matthew 10:24-39

Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” 

Hymn    All My Hope on God is Founded
Joachim Neander in 1680  BBC Songs of Praise
 
All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew.
Me through change and chance he guideth
only good and only true.
God unknown, 
he alone
calls my heart to be his own.

Human pride and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
what with care and toil he buildeth,
tower and temple, fall to dust.
But God’s power, 
hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.

God’s great goodness aye endureth,
deep his wisdom, passing thought:
splendour, light, and life attend him,
beauty springeth out of naught.
Evermore
from his store
new-born worlds rise and adore.

Still from earth to God eternal
sacrifice of praise be done,
high above all praises praising
for the gift of Christ his Son.
Christ doth call 
one and all:
ye who follow shall not fall.

Sermon

What makes life difficult?

Of all the surprising things we are told Jesus said, I think there’s nothing more puzzling than “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Jesus, known as the wise rabbi, and associated in the hearts of many with the Prince of Peace, has come to bring a sword- how can that be?

This same Jesus, 16 chapters later in the same gospel of Matthew, tells Peter “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword”.

Jesus surely cannot be talking about an actual physical sword – so this sword he brings must be a metaphorical sword.. what does he mean? 

Perhaps the nearest metaphor which we would commonly use is ‘knife-edge’. We might talk of a sports match being balanced on a knife-edge – meaning that it could go one way – for victory – or the other – for defeat.

Jesus is talking of the decision to be a disciple of his – an allegiance which is stronger even than the bonds of family that we know. Following Jesus must come first for us, and Jesus uses typical rabbinical exaggeration when he says ‘I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother. Jesus is clear that the decision to be his followers will not insulate us from difficulty, but will sometimes bring us to a time of testing, when those who give their life will gain it.

What helps us in our difficulties?

Where do we go for solace and strength when life is more difficult?

There can be Biblical phrases that can help to carry us through – and today’s readings provide some of those:

  • The Psalmist offers a cry to God “Draw near to me and redeem me”.
  • In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says “So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows”.
  • The letter to the Romans states “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him”.

These words can be comforting, and I do not wish to take comfort away from anyone who needs it this morning. But what if those words are not enough? What if we need something stronger, surer, or deeper?

Do not give up

Perhaps we need to look again.

If you do not know the Dylan Thomas poem “and Death shall have no dominion” I suggest you pause and go and listen to it right now: there are some fantastic renditions on YouTube by a series of performers which reads like “Who’s who”: Richard Burton, Derek Jacobi, Peter Capaldi, Philip Madoc, or Dylan Thomas himself.

The very words linking death and dominion are lifted from this portion of the letter to the Romans which we have heard today.

It is interesting that the words give Dylan Thomas hope in an eternity where all will be set right – expressed beautifully in his poem, with its repetition of the phrase which starts to feel like a rallying cry “and death shall have no dominion”.

That very use of the repeated phrase “and death shall have no dominion” implies, though, that we will have to wait to see that death is not the final victor. Dylan Thomas offers us a phrase to cling to when life is hard. Yet the letter to the Romans speaks more of a present hope, and links our fate inexorably with the life of Jesus Christ:

“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”

Death no longer has dominion – not death shall have no dominion.
Already we see in Christ what is possible.
Already the victory has been won.
Already death has no dominion.

And yet the rule of God is not yet perfect always and everywhere, and we know all too well that pain, suffering and conflict are real and sometimes feel to have the upper hand.

In the Jewish tradition there’s a collection of ethical teachings. In it one of the rabbis says this. “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to desist from it.” 
So do not give up.

Jesus gives us hope

I am so glad that Jesus acknowledges the reality of physical suffering. In his teaching to the twelve he is open about the threats that face his followers. If the authorities call their Lord, Jesus ‘the Lord of the house of demons – Beelzebul’ – that surely means the disciples are to be considered members of the house of demons and they will be treated just as badly. But instead of telling them to be careful, or even secretive, Jesus tells the twelve that the gospel should be declared openly, from the roof-tops, without fear.

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”, says Jesus  – pointing his disciples to the truth that the fate of their earthly, bodily life is not as important as the destiny of their souls. He later reinforces this point when he says  “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” 

Jesus promises that the life of his disciples matters to God the Father: “even the hairs of your head are all counted…you are worth many sparrows” – but he does not promise that God will prevent the fall, or preserve either the hairs, or the head on which they grow. Jesus promises that God cares, sees, loves – and ultimately will save the soul from perishing.

Returning for a moment to the letter to the Romans – the writer spells out that Christ died, that Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, and that Christ will never die again ‘death no longer has dominion over him’.

Jesus Christ does not evade death, but goes through it to be raised to eternal life. 

Jesus’ call of his disciples is the call to follow – even to the point of laying down their lives in service of Christ and his kingdom. Then the soul will be safe in God’s care –  for death, and the fear of death, no longer has dominion.

Whatever we face in life, Jesus faces it with us, God the Father sees and knows our pain, and the Spirit give us strength to endure. May it be so. To the glory of God. Amen.

Hymn     Do not be afraid
Gerard Markland (b 1953) Kevin Mayhew Ltd in 1978 Sung by Justin Stretch of St Lawrence Church, Chorley and used with their kind permission.

Do not be afraid,
For I have redeemed you.
I have called you by your name;
You are mine.

 
When you walk through the waters I’ll be with you, 
You will never sink beneath the waves. 

Do not be afraid,
For I have redeemed you.
I have called you by your name;
You are mine.

 
When the fire is burning all around you, 
You will never be consumed by the flames. 

Do not be afraid,
For I have redeemed you.
I have called you by your name;
You are mine.

When the fear of loneliness is looming, 
Then remember I am at your side. 

Do not be afraid,
For I have redeemed you.
I have called you by your name;
You are mine.

When you dwell in the exile of a stranger, 
Remember you are precious in my eyes. 

Do not be afraid,
For I have redeemed you.
I have called you by your name;
You are mine.

 
You are mine, O my child; I am your father, 
And I love you with a perfect love. 

Do not be afraid,
For I have redeemed you.
I have called you by your name;
You are mine.

Prayers of Intercession 

“In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help”.

God of all mercy, we bring our prayers to you. You alone can help and save us.

We pray for those who feels their life is lost in deep water and great darkness.

For victims of natural disaster.
For those trapped in debt or addiction.
We pray for all who love and serve those in this kind of need.

We pray for those who fear the deep will swallow them up.
For those facing bullying or oppression
For those undergoing medical tests or treatment. 
We pray for those who speak out for justice and kindness.

We pray for those whose distress leads them to feel that God’s face is turned against them.
For those struggling with lack of self-worth.
For those with poor mental health.
We pray for all who support and encourage vulnerable people.

We pray for those who need to know that you. Loving God, draw near to them.
For those whose lives have just begun, or whose lives have changed dramatically.
For those nearing death
We pray for all those who accompany others and bring deliverance.

Loving God, save us, lift us up, hear us, draw near to us.
That our prayers may be heard and answered, and we and all your children know your love more deeply. In Jesus name. Amen.

Offertory 

God who gives each good gift, 
receive now all that we would offer you with thankful hearts.
Loving God, take all our gifts, 
given to you today or kept for our use. 
Bless us with generous hearts 
so that your world may be enriched through our gifts. Amen.

Hymn    God’s Spirit Is In My Heart
Alan Daleb © 1982 Kevin Mayhew Ltd 

God’s spirit is in my heart;
He has called me and set me apart.
This is what I have to do, what I have to do

He sent me to give the good news to the poor,
tell prisoners that they are prisoners no more,
tell blind people that they can see,
and set the down trodden free,
and go tell everyone the news that the kingdom of God has come;
and go tell everyone the news that God’s kingdom has come.

Just as the Father sent me 
so I’m sending you out to be,
my witnesses throughout the world,
the whole of the world.

He sent me to give the good news to the poor,
tell prisoners that they are prisoners no more,
tell blind people that they can see,
and set the down trodden free,
and go tell everyone the news that the kingdom of God has come;
and go tell everyone the news that God’s kingdom has come.

Don’t worry what you have to say,
don’t worry because on that day,
God’s spirit will speak in your heart,
will speak in your heart.

He sent me to give the good news to the poor,
tell prisoners that they are prisoners no more,
tell blind people that they can see,
and set the down trodden free,
and go tell everyone the news that the kingdom of God has come;
and go tell everyone the news that God’s kingdom has come.

Blessing

May the peace of Christ go with you wherever He may send you
May He guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm
May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you
May He bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors

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