Sunday Worship 2 July 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 2 July 2023

 


 

Today’s service is led by the Revd Andy Braunston

 
Call to Worship

At times, O Maker, it’s like You have forgotten us or that You have hidden Your face from us;
but we trust in Your steadfast love.

At times, O Christ, it’s like you have let us bear the pain in our hearts and sorrow in our souls all day long;
but we trust in Your steadfast love.

At times, O Spirit, it’s like You have hidden the light from us and we are sleepwalking towards oblivion;
but we trust in Your steadfast love.

At this time, Holy Trinity of Love, assure us of your love, remind us You are there, help us bear our pain and sorrow, and awaken us to Your presence amongst us as we worship as we trust in Your steadfast love. 

Hymn    God is Love: His the Care
Percy Dearmer 1925, BBC Songs of Praise 

God is love: His the care,
tending each, everywhere,
God is love, all is there!
Jesus came to show him,
that we all might know Him!

Sing aloud, loud, loud!
sing aloud, loud, loud!
God is good! God is truth!
God is beauty! Praise Him!

None can see God above;
Jesus shows how to love;
thus may we Godward move,
joined as sisters, brothers,
finding Him in others.

Sing aloud, loud, loud!
sing aloud, loud, loud!
God is good! God is truth!
God is beauty! Praise Him!

To our Lord praise we sing, 
light and life, friend and King,
coming down, love to bring, 
pattern for our duty,
showing God in beauty.

Sing aloud, loud, loud!
sing aloud, loud, loud!
God is good! God is truth!
God is beauty! Praise Him!

 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness

Ancient One,
we trust You, we adore You, and we worship You,
for You have been ever faithful.
When we doubt You, turn away from You, or mishear You,
Your arms are always wide open in welcome as we turn back to You.

Lord Jesus,
You call us to follow You,
just as Abraham of old was called 
to leave everything to find new life and faith.
Help us, as we follow, to listen for your voice,
spoken in ancient words, and contemporary interpretation,
heard in song and silence,
held in discernment and discussion,
reverberating deep in our consciences, 
filling us with awe and joy.

Abiding Spirit,
inspire us to turn around as we hear Your voice,
to change our preconceptions,
to leave behind bitterness, anger, and self-righteousness,
that in humility we may hear anew and respond with love – 
Your love which echoes throughout all eternity. Amen.

Friends, here is good news,
the Most High, the Eternal One, aches with love for us,
and forgives us when we get it wrong.
Turn back to God,  allow yourselves to be loved completely,
and to respond by showing love in all we do.  Amen.

Prayer for Illumination

Open our souls Eternal Majesty,
that as we hear the Word read and proclaimed,
it may resonate in our hearts.
Open our hearts, Lord Jesus,
to hear and interpret Your Word for us this day.
Open our minds, Abiding Spirit,
that as we hear Your disturbing Word,
You might provoke an inextinguishable longing for truth in us
Amen.

Reading      Genesis 22:1-14

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’  So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’

Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.  Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’  Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.  When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.  

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’  He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’  And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’

Psalm      13 1 – 6
This version W Van Der Kamp 1972 sung by Michael E Owens, tune from the Genevan Psalter.

How long, O LORD, wilt Thou forget?
Far from Thy face I wait and fret.
How long yet must I bear my sorrow?
My heart longs for Thy mercy’s morrow.
Why am I still with foes beset?

Look, Lord my God, & answer me;
grant that my eyes Thy light may see, 
lest, when the light of life shall fail me, 
when foes with joy and pride assail me,
my fall delight my enemy.

Thy steadfast love has been my stay;
my heart shall praise Thee night and day
and shall rejoice in Thy salvation,
and I will praise with jubilation
Thy bounty, LORD Most High, for aye!

Sermon

I’ve been thinking a bit about women recently.  I saw an article in my paper about a new women’s cooperative in Somaliland to sort and grade incense grains.  Instead of working in a male run cooperative earning $1.50 a day these women now earn $5 – still $10 a day short of a truly fair wage but better.  Pressure from customers has meant the company that buys the incense wants to ensure fairer wages are paid.  The bushes that produce the resin tend to be owned by men and that barrier has still to be broken but a group of silenced women now have a measure of control over their own lives.  Similarly, I found a brand of coffee I like called Equal Exchange; not only is it fairly traded but they buy the coffee from women farmers meaning the women have control over their own finances, destinies and voices; no longer silenced but treated with dignity and equity.    Silencing women, of course, is often a concern of male religious traditions and it’s seen most troublingly in our passage from Genesis.  Where is Sarah? She’s not only silent but unseen. What did she think of Abraham’s attempt to murder her son?  

Our Genesis passage is horrific.  It’s a story we are familiar with and is one which terrifies, mystifies, enthrals, and appals us in equal measure.  How do we deal with a passage that is so far removed from who we understand God to be?  Do we change our view of God or our view of the passage?  It’s hard, we’ve been taught it’s about unquestioning faith but are we really comfortable with the type of faith prepared to kill a child?

So let’s start with the story and the questions it raises.  The first thing that strikes me is that this passage attends to many details – Abraham’s belief he’s heard God, the wood, the servants, the donkey, the taking care not to give Isaac the knife or the fire, and the innocent questions of Isaac but no sign of Sarah.  Did Abraham tell Sarah of his plans?  Did she object or collude?  Maybe Sarah was grieved as she had a different view of God to Abraham – maybe she knew God would not command such abuse; what Abraham felt was transcendence she saw as horror.  So maybe Abraham had her kept away.    The rabbis of old looked at this passage with some discomfort.  They thought that this episode caused Sarah grief and led to her death – she died at the start of the next chapter.  Did she die of grief when Abraham went or in shock if he told her after the event?  Other rabbis felt that Sarah was left out as she didn’t understand God’s purposes as well as Abraham did – of course the rabbis were men.  

Then we have to wonder about Abraham who offers no objection to what he thinks is God’s command.   He doesn’t question it.  He doesn’t object.  Unlike with the city of Sodom he doesn’t try to bargain with God.  Abraham doesn’t remember that God is love.  Again the ancient rabbis in commenting on this text were unsettled.  They thought it was rather like the story of Job – Satan was allowed to test Abraham but God knew Abraham would pass the test; Abraham knew God would save the day.  Yet, as comforting as it would be to believe that there’s no evidence of it in what we’ve heard.  

Instead let’s think about what we know of Abraham.  He moved away, and moved Sarah away, from his homeland and people.  When they arrived in Egypt he pimped Sarah to Pharoah.   Abraham did rather well out of that deal – Pharoah and Sarah rather less so.   Abraham’s desire for a son meant he used Sarah’s maid Hagar to get another child, only to turn on her when the domestic stress became too much for everyone.  The text mentions Isaac as Abraham’s only son yet there was also Ishmael whom the editor leaves out.   

Abraham was a problematic figure – a patriarch, in every sense of the word, believing in God’s call but seeming only to suit himself.  We’ve no idea what Isaac’s relationship with Abraham after this was, but it seems that after this Sarah lived out her last days in Hebron away from Abraham.  If she did leave him who on earth could blame her after how she’d been treated? Biblical editors often head today’s passage as “Abraham is tested” with no mention of Sarah or Isaac’s testing times.  Men again silencing women.

I wonder if Sarah understood that God really wouldn’t ask something so barbarous?  Was she more in touch with the idea that God is love than Abraham who clearly believed God was asking him to kill his son?  Was Sarah able to do anything about this or was she silenced in life as well as in the text?  

We’re not, of course, the first people to wonder about this passage.  In times of persecution Jewish people used the story for comfort and inspiration.  Abraham’s experience was seen as a trial where God proved faithful but the lived experience of Jews throughout millennia has involved real sacrifice with millions being killed.  Despite this Jews believe, doggedly, that God’s faithfulness prevails.  When forced to convert to Christianity in medieval Europe, Jews might kill each other as a sacrifice instead of submitting to imposed baptism.  They’d inspect the knife for blemishes – so they’d not be blemished – before saying a prayer of sacrifice reminiscent of Abraham and Isaac.

Christian interpretation of this passage has, unsurprisingly, focused on Jesus’ Passion.  Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane are reminiscent of Isaac asking his father why this must happen.  Yet there are differences – in Gethsemane the victim pushes himself forward, he’s betrayed by a friend not a relative, he’s killed by enemies not his father.   Despite these contradictions, Isaac became for some of our ancestors a type of Christ – a willing sacrifice.  

Other interpretations focused on God having an angel stop Abraham’s actions; God protects the weak – though the rabbis struggled with this interpretation due to their experience of God not stopping their persecution.  

Danish theologian Kierkegaard saw this story as one where faith trumped ethics.  Abraham’s great faith overcame the normal ethical standards. Kierkegaard, therefore, saw Abraham’s greatness as trusting in God despite being asked to do something deeply wrong.  Of course Isaac might have wished for a rather more morally upright father and we struggle with expressions of faith which leave behind ethical behaviour as that’s the way to cults and abuse. 

So what might we do with this?  We live in an age which is all too aware of the evils of child abuse; of how the Church has silenced those who speak out just as it has silenced women.  We’re all too aware of the dangers of people believing they can hear God – without their understanding of what they are hearing being checked out in the wider community of the Church.  

Years ago comedian Richard Stilgoe joked that if one claims to talk to God it’s called prayer but if one claims God answers us back it’s called a mental illness. He’s half right and half wrong.  We listen for God’s voice but we always want to hear it in dialogue with our community, our understanding of God’s nature, our ways of seeing God at work in our world, in our hearts, in our tradition, and in the Bible.  It’s not as simple as saying, as Abraham did, “O God wants me to kill my son.”  It’s about listening and recognising that God speaks to us through others in community, through discernment, through careful reading of the Bible, through the Church, as well as through nature and conscience.  

So might we say that Abraham misunderstood God and only at the last minute realised his near fatal mistake?  Might we think that if he’d listened to Sarah he might have come to his senses earlier?  If that’s where we go with this difficult passage we’re in good company.  

Perhaps whoever chose the Psalm to follow on from this reading chose well; the Psalms are chosen to reflect and respond to the Old Testament reading.  We used verses from the Psalm in our Call to Worship.  The Psalmist cried to God wondering how long God would hide his face.  How long would the Psalmist have to bear pain in the soul and sorrow in the heart?  The Psalmist begged for light and understanding and, despite everything decided to trust in God.  I wonder if these would be words Sarah could have prayed in her despair with a sly murderous pimp of a husband.  I wonder if these words could have been prayed by Isaac trying to understand God’s purposes in the midst of life with an abusive father.  Perhaps they are words we can pray when life is hard, when we feel God is far away, when we don’t understand what God is saying, or when we can’t hear God’s voice.  

Perhaps that prayer is one that might inform us when we think of how the Church has protected fathers who abuse, maim, and wound children but silenced women and children from telling their stories just as Sarah has been silenced.   The questions we have about Sarah’s silence are, of course, ones we will never know the answers to.  

The ancient stories stimulate, horrify, enthral and anger as much as they inspire.  We marvel at how men often convince ourselves know what God wants.  We wonder what differences there might have been over the ages if women had been listened to God’s will was discerned.  

How differently might Abraham have behaved if he’d truly loved and listened to Sarah?  He’d not have pimped her.  He’d not have taken Hagar.  He’d not have tried to sacrifice Isaac.  Hopefully, we might read these ancient stories and wonder about the silenced ones, usually women and children, and question our own assumptions about what God wants of us – knowing, of course, that God requires love not sacrifice.   Let’s pray:

God of word and silence,
when we believe we’ve heard You – help us to check it out,
to question and seek greater light,
that our faith might allow the voiceless to be heard,
the silenced to speak, and the abuser to be mute before your justice.  Amen.

Hymn      When Abraham Went Up
© 2015 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved and used with her kind permission.   www.carolynshymns.com/  Sung by Adam and Gillian Earle

When Abraham went up to offer you his son
O God, we grieve to think of what he might have done.
And yet we know it’s true: to follow has a price.
To do what we are called to do means sacrifice.

The sacrifice that day was not a father’s boy,
but being willing to obey and bring you joy.
O Lord, what you desire won’t rise to you above
in violent act or smoke or fire; it’s found in love. 

The way to worship you is with an open hand —
with willingness to gladly do what you have planned.
You call us to let go, to let you be our guide,
for when we do we’ll surely know that You provide.

Affirmation of Faith

We believe, O Most High, that you speak to us in song and silence, in word and witness, in worship and work.  Help us to discern Your voice.

We believe, O Lord Jesus, that You call us to listen and follow, to turn around and change direction, leaving behind all that drags us down.  Help us to discern Your voice.

We believe, O Holy Spirit, that You speak to us as we discern and discuss together, always calling us to love and justice.  Help us to discern Your voice.

We believe, O God, that You are always heard best in community.  Help us to discern Your voice.

Intercessions

We bring our prayers to God, the Eternal Trinity who knows our needs, soothes our pain, and inspires us to act.

We pray, Majestic One, for those who suffer at the hands of those who believe they have heard Your voice but use Your words to wound and maim.   We pray for women silenced in many faith traditions, told how to dress, denied education and agency at the hands of religious leaders who claim to know You.  We pray for those who are persecuted by those who think they know You and Your ways.   We pray for those abused and harmed by the Church. (pause) 

Give comfort, sustain faith, and through us, bring justice.

We pray, Crucified One, for those who torment and torture in the name of faith.  We pray for those who abuse and use others, who find the Church a safe place to wound and bully, and for the hierarchs who deny and hide the truth, that they may all hear Your voice,  and see your blinding light which will both terrify and change them.  (pause)

Give comfort, sustain faith and through us, bring justice.

We pray, Abiding Spirit, that we may know Your love, a love that speaks into our souls, disturbs us, makes us see the world as it is, and to question what we read – even what we read in the Bible.  May You speak to us as we discern and discuss in community, that we understand, and follow, Your will for us – Your will for love and liberation.  (pause)

Give comfort, sustain faith and through us, bring justice.

We pray, Eternal Trinity, for those we know and love who are in any kind of need….(longer pause)

Give comfort, sustain faith, and, through us, bring justice.

We join all our prayers together as we pray as Jesus taught saying,

Our Father…

Offertory

Our Biblical story today is often seen as being about sacrifice and giving; instead many think it’s about not fully discerning God’s will.  Giving is part of our faith, thoughtful giving which looks at how to alleviate need, fulfil our responsibilities and change our world.  Our giving, whether that’s loose change or notes in the collection, planned giving through envelopes or the bank or one off gifts to church or charity all help change our world and ourselves.  We are changed by giving, our giving changes things.  Let’s pray.
Eternal God,
all good things come from you 
and, in our giving, 
we allow more good to come.
Bless these gifts,
and enable us to be blessed as we give,
that Your Kingdom will come.
Amen.

Hymn      Let us Break Bread Together On Our Knees
Traditional Spiritual  Sung by Charles E Szabo and used with his kind permission

Let us break bread together on our knees.
Let us break bread together on our knees.
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord have mercy on me.

Let us drink wine together on our knees.
Let us drink wine together on our knees. 
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord have mercy on me.

Let us praise God together on our knees.
Let us praise God together on our knees.
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord have mercy on me.

Holy Communion

The Lord be with you!  And also with you!

Lift up your hearts.  We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.  It is right for us to give thanks.

It is right, always and everywhere, to give You thanks, Eternal Majesty;
since before the ages began You yearned to love and care for Creation
and, in the fullness of time, You called a people to be Your own.
From the Jewish people You raise up women and men 
to hear and respond to You.
In due course You became one with humanity through Jesus, 
Your enfleshed word.
He taught us to live for you,
welcomed the poor and the outcast,
preached good news and overturned the tables,
proclaiming Your coming kingdom.
He was struck down yet You raised him on high,
and called all people to Your side,
loving us even when we mishear or misuse Your words of love.

And so, with angels and archangels, we join with all creation
to sing your praise:

The Ash Grove Sanctus
The Rev’d Michael Forster © 1995, 1999 Kevin Mayhew Ltd sung by Lucy Bunce

O holy, most holy, the God of creation, 
for ever exalted in pow’r and great might.
The earth and the heavens are full of your glory.
Hosanna, hosanna and praise in the height!

How blessed is He who is sent to redeem us,
who puts ev’ry fear and injustice to flight;
who comes in the name of the Lord as our Saviour.
Hosanna, hosanna and praise in the height.

Eternal One, we give You thanks and praise for all Your many gifts to us,
we remember how, throughout the ages, 
You have called us to be Your people.

As Your people, we have, in many ways,
allowed You to change and challenge us.
We have learnt of Your care for all people,
of Your nurturing, mothering love,
we have learnt of the way You take power from the powerful
and lift up the poor and oppressed.
We have learnt, despite the silence, 
of the many women You have used 
to spread Your Kingdom of love, peace, and joy.

And now we remember one man who gave up power,
and who became like us in all things but sin.
We remember Jesus, who washed his servants’ feet,
and who, before dying, took some bread,
said the blessing, broke it, gave it to the others and said,

“Take this all of you and eat it.
This is my body which will be broken for you, do this and remember me.”

Later on he took a cup filled with wine,
said the blessing, gave it to the others and said:

“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
which shall be shed for you and for all, do this and remember me.”

As the people of God, let us proclaim the mystery of our faith…..

Christ has died!  Christ is Risen!  Christ will come again!

Eternal One, 
we ask You to send Your healing and wise Spirit
upon these gifts of bread and wine;  
bless them and make them holy.
We ask that You transform them into the Body and Blood of Jesus,
and to continue to transform us into truly being Your people.
With the entire company of Your people throughout the ages,
we join with those who are oppressed and excluded
to proclaim Your love and liberty for all.

Through Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus,
all glory and honour belongs to You,
Eternal Majesty, with Your Abiding Spirit,
for ever and ever. Amen.

To prepare ourselves to meet the Lord in Holy Communion let us sing the Lamb of God.

Lamb of God (Ar Hyd Y Nos)
Nick Fawcett © 2008 Kevin Mayhew Ltd sung by Lucy Bunce

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.
In your mercy, come and heal us, Lord hear our prayer.
Take away our sins, forgive us,
Lamb of God, restore, redeem us,
grant us peace, Lord, in your mercy, Lord hear our prayer.

Music for Communion      In Bread We Bring You Lord
Fr Kevin Nichols, sung by Daniel O’Donnell

Post Communion Prayer

Lord God, in deep gratitude for this moment, this meal, these people,
we give ourselves to You.
Take us out to live as changed people,
because we have shared the living bread
and cannot remain the same.
Ask much of us, expect much from us,
enable much by us, encourage many through us.
So, Lord, may we live to Your glory,
both as inhabitants of earth,
and citizens of heaven.  Amen

Hymn      God With Us: Creator Father
Alan Gaunt (b 1935) sung by Paul Coleman

God with us: Creator, Father,  
bringing everything to birth;  
Mother of the whole creation,  
fire of stars and life of earth:  
down the countless years composing,  
from the earth’s evolving night,  
love’s response to love, and forming  
mind and soul to seek your light.  

God with us: Redeemer, Brother,  
Friend for ever at our side,  
here, in flesh, you walked among us,  
taking up your cross, you died.  
Crucified, despised, rejected,  
Perfect Love, who shared our shame,  
streaming from the cross, your judgement,  
full of mercy, clears our name.  

God with us: Unwearied Spirit,  
from the birth of time and space,  
surging through unconscious being,  
joyful, Life-Creating Grace:  
through the centuries you find us;   
you, as God, inspire our prayer;  
Life and Power at work within us,  
Love for ever, everywhere!  

God, Transcendent, far beyond us,  
closest Friend, unfailing Guide:  
through the ages, wronged, affronted,  
in your poor, still crucified!  
God with us: condemn, forgive us;  
by your holy love destroy  
all that hinders peace and justice:  
fill this aching world with joy!

Blessing

May the One who calls us in the day and the night,
allow you to hear and understand.
May the One who let the silenced speak and the downcast rise,
enable you to speak and be heard.
May the One who inspires love and justice, bless you with passion,
and the blessing of Almighty God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
rest upon you now and always, Amen.
 

This material is only for use in local churches not for posting to websites or any other use.  Local churches must have copyright licences to allow the printing and projection of words for hymns.

 

 

Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved.
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762

 

Copyright © 2023 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you have subscribed to the Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church. You can unsubscribe by clicking on the link below.

Our mailing address is:

United Reformed Church

86 Tavistock Place

London, WC1H 9RT

United Kingdom

Add us to your address book