Sunday Worship 9 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

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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 9 July 2023

Today’s service is led by the Revd Jonnie Hill 

Call to Worship

People of God: come, gather with all creation to praise God, 
our loving creator – the Eternal One 
in whom grace, mercy and love abounds. 
Come, let us give thanks to God, our Redeemer, 
who keeps our feet from stumbling,
and who raises us up when life’s hardships have us bowed low. 
Come, let us be inspired by God’s presence on earth,
Spirit of all Life, whose power is made known 
in acts of love, justice and peace
signs of God’s eternal reign. 
People of God: come, let us worship the Living God.  Amen. 
Hymn    For the Beauty of the Earth
Folliott Sandford Pierpoint (1864) sung by the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, virtual choir and used with their kind permission.
For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies.
Lord of all to thee we raise
this, our hymn of grateful praise.
For the wonder of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale and tree and flower,
sun and moon and stars of light, 
For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth, and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild, 
For Thyself, best gift divine,
to the world so freely given,
for that great, great love of thine,
peace on earth and joy in heaven. 

Prayers of Praise, Confession and Forgiveness 
God of all creation, with the hands of an artist,
you weave beauty and life throughout all you create;
from the splendour of the mountains, 
to the delicate flowers of the valley, 
from the fathomless depths of the seas,
to the soaring song of the birds of the skies
from the blessing of food reaped from the earth
to the embrace of a loved one’s arms – 
in all this that we see and hear, taste, smell and touch,
we can discover you, O God, 
for your persistently loving and creative presence infuses all reality, 
never further from our experience
than the next unfolding moment. 
Short pause 
Too often, we dull our senses to the beauty that surrounds us,
we deny your divine light, within and without,
we seek shortcuts to acquiring the things we believe will bring happiness, 
all the while riding roughshod over the earth, its creatures and people.  
Forgive us. 
Short pause 
God made flesh and blood, 
in the beauty, mystery and wonder of incarnation,
you have revealed yourself most fully – 
offering grace upon grace upon grace.  
May we, by the power of your Holy Spirit be enabled to live from your divine light within, and like Jesus, in union with you, reach the fullness of our humanity – people of love, justice and mercy,  Amen.  

Prayer of illumination
Spirit of God,
among us, and within us,
may the true living Word 
be made manifest in the sharing of words –
ancient, yet alive to us now –
through your power and presence, Amen. 
Reading       Song of Songs 2:8-13
‘Hark! My beloved! Here he comes, bounding over the mountains, leaping over the hills.  My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.  There he stands outside our wall, peering in at the windows,  gazing through the lattice. My beloved spoke, saying to me:  ‘Rise up, my darling; my fair one, come away.  For see, the winter is past! The rains are over and gone; the flowers appear in the countryside;  the season of birdsong is come, and the turtle-dove’s cooing is heard in our land; the green figs ripen on the fig trees  and the vine blossoms give forth their fragrance. Rise up my darling, my fair one, come away.’
Hymn  Love Is The Touch of Intangible Joy
© Alison M Robertson SCM Canterbury Press sung and performed by the group Siskeen Green BBC Songs of Praise.

Love is the touch 
of intangible joy; 
love is the force 
that no fear can destroy; 
love is the goodness 
we gladly applaud: 
God is where love is, 
for love is of God.  
Love is the lilt 
in a lingering voice; 
love is the hope 
that can make us rejoice; 
love is the cure 
for the frightened and flawed: 
God is where love is, 
for love is of God.  
Love is the light 
in the tunnel of pain; 
love is the will 
to be whole once again; 
love is the trust 
of a friend on the road: 
God is where love is, 
for love is of God.  
Love is the Maker, 
and Spirit, and Son; 
love is the kingdom 
their will has begun; 
love is the pathway 
the saints all have trod: 
God is where love is, 
for love is of God.
I wonder if you’ve ever heard a sermon preached on this passage from Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon as it’s sometimes known) or indeed from any other part of this unusual Old Testament book?
If the answer is no – as it was for me, perhaps we might wonder why that is. 
On a practical level for those churches that follow the lectionary, this is the one and only passage from Song of Songs that’s included in the three year cycle. 
But perhaps there are other reasons why we hear so little about Song of Songs. 
Perhaps because of the sensual nature of the poetry, some of which I think comes across in today’s reading. 
The woman, who is the one speaking in the passage, is speaking of her lover – she is speaking in a way we don’t tend to hear anywhere else in the Bible. 
And that’s not something we might always be comfortable hearing about from the pulpit. 
Another reason might be because nowhere in the book’s eight chapters is God mentioned. Now if you’re itching to tell me that Song of Songs is not the only book of the bible where God is not mentioned at all, then you’re absolutely right. This is also the case in the Book of Esther.
Another possible reason might be to do with the prominence it gives to the female voice. About ¾  of the book is written as if from the female lover’s perspective. 
Of course, we have other books about women –  Ruth and Esther and there are prominent women elsewhere in the Bible. 
But in those cases, the women are written about in the third person by the default male voice of biblical narrative – so this is something unique.
Whether originally authored by a women we do not know, but nevertheless, the Songs, the poems put the female voice centre stage. 
On the surface that may not seem odd, but let’s not forget that the equal role of women in our churches has a relatively short history… 
Any one of those reasons would have been a good enough reason to avoid the passage this morning – it’s not necessarily an easy one to speak on. 
But there is a simple reason I had to talk about it today – because of its beauty. 
Could it be that this book’s beauty is the reason it has survived as part of the canon of scripture for thousands of years? 
In spite of any discomfort we and our forebears may have felt at its sensuality, 
In spite of the fact that it doesn’t once mention God, 
In spite of the liberated voice of the female lover,
perhaps beauty is more powerful a force than all these discomforts… 
The poetry of Song of Songs draws heavily on images from creation, the woman likens her lover to a gazelle, a stag full of vital energy bounding down from the mountains. 
Human love and desire is symbolised in the growing flowers in the countryside, the season of birdsong, the cooing of the turtle dove, the ripening figs and the vine blossoms offering fragrance. 
These are beautiful images…
And even if God is not mentioned, surely we can still encounter and worship God through an appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation represented on these pages of this short book. 
A reminder to us that when God created, God said – this is good… 
I wonder whether beauty if something important to your faith? What role should beauty play in the expression of faith today? 
Matthew Fox a priest, theologian and writer on creation spirituality suggests in his book ‘Original Blessing’ that the Christian church in the West has lost something precious. 
That Christianity once celebrated beauty and mystery and wonder in a way it no longer does.  
Fox puts much of this down to our over-emphasis on original sin and a general mistrust of fallen creation – including ourselves. 
And on top of that, since the time of the enlightenment human attempts to categorise and systematise the world and all that is in it has often left little room for the role of beauty and we in the church are tied up in that same type of system, eager to believe the right things all the while squeezing out that which defies the rational mind. 
Brian Zahnd, a Christian theologian and author says that these things of a faith largely lost – beauty, mystery and wonder go together – that the primary human response to an encounter with overwhelming beauty is wonder and wonder being the uniquely human reaction to the sublime. 
And that these experiences defy rational categorising. 
Zahnd says a “life stripped of beauty and mystery is a life barren of wonder, and a life without wonder is a kind of deep poverty”. 
Valuing beauty such that we see in the Song of Songs insists that we acknowledge the work of the Spirit in the world – creating, birthing – just as we are invited to join in that same creating and birthing process. 
The survival of a book in the bible like the Song of Songs speaks to me of the deep value of beauty. Of the opportunity to affirm and celebrate the inherent God-created goodness evident in the whole of creation including in human love and desire. 
But what might a faith which values beauty look like?
Fox suggests that beauty is about seeing all of life as blessing, returning blessing for blessing, forging blessing out of pain and suffering, tragedy and loss. 
That great contemporary poet Bob Dylan says “Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain.”
Beauty is not just something that comes to us passively, it’s something we are actively involved in creating and giving birth to over and over again. It is the vital work of the Spirit as artist within and without us. 
The challenge for us is to become servants of that same Spirit, channels for all God’s creative beauty and grace.  And according to Matthew Fox, how is this best achieved? But to become co-creators with God, and by making a work of art with our very lives.  Beauty, mystery, wonder – I wonder how we might engage these aspects of the spiritual as we seek to live our Christian lives this week.  Amen.
Hymn    When Love Is Found and Hope Comes Home
The Revd Brian Wren Words © 1983 Hope Publishing Company, 380 S Main Pl, Carol Stream, IL 60188 Sung by Mary and Kevin Nelson on the CatholicTV Network September 2015
When love is found
and hope comes home,
sing and be glad
that two are one.
When love explodes
and fills the sky,
praise God, and share
our Maker’s joy.
When love has flowered
in trust and care,
build both each day,
that love may dare
to reach beyond
home’s warmth and light,
to serve and strive
for truth and right.
When love is tried
as loved-ones change,
hold still to hope,
though all seems strange,
till ease returns
and love grows wise
through listening ears
and opened eyes.
Praise God for love,
praise God for life,
in age or youth,
in calm or strife.
Lift up your hearts!
Let love be fed
through death and life
in broken bread.
Affirmation of faith
We believe in God
whose love is the source of all life
and the desire of our lives,
whose love was given a human face in Jesus of Nazareth,
whose love was crucified by the evil that awaits to enslave us all
and whose love, defeating even death,
is our glorious promise of freedom.
Therefore, though we are sometimes fearful and full of doubt, 
in God we trust;
and in the name of Jesus Christ,
we commit ourselves, in the service of others,
to seek justice and to live in peace,
to care for the earth 
and to share the commonwealth of God’s goodness,
to live in the freedom of forgiveness
and the power of the Spirit of Love,
and in the company of the faithful,
so to be the Church for the glory of God. Amen.

God has given us all we need for abundant life.  We need only share what we have been given so that all may enjoy God’s generous gifts. Let us pray:
Generous God,  
we thank you for the abundance we know in this part of the world,
which we confess, we struggle to share. 
May these gifts of money and the offering of our lives,
be used generously, for the good of all. Amen. 
Prayers of Intercession 
God of all, in this season of resurrection,
when your love is proven stronger than death,
may we, by our words and deeds
join with your Holy Spirit in the healing 
and making whole of all creation. 
We pray for our earth, confessing the many ways 
our actions bring about death and destruction. 
Wake us up to our toxic ways, 
that we might become agents for change – 
a community transformed and transforming,
driven by care for all that you created and called good. 
Short silence 
God who in Jesus, died and rose again,
you who knew suffering,
you who came to set the oppressed free, 
may we be moved to action and empathy 
by your shed blood and tears, 
to pursue justice and peace for all peoples. 
We pray for all who long for peace,
but instead live with tyranny and torture –  
for all in Afghanistan, Ukraine, 
Sudan and so many other places. 
We pray for freedom and peace – 
for an end to domination and oppression 
for there to be no more shed blood and tears. 
Short silence
God whose image rests within each person,
a divine spark of beauty and potential
in each human soul – may we be quick
to recognise one another’s inherent dignity and worth
and to answer Christ’s call to oneness    
welcoming without qualification or condition. 
We pray for ourselves, 
acknowledging that when we find others hard to love 
it’s rarely about them, but about us – 
our dislikes, our prejudices, our preconceptions. 
May we be freed of all that stands in the way 
of loving as you love.
May we be transformed ever more into Christ’s likeness
in whose name we pray,
Hymn    God Is Love Let Heaven Adore Him
Timothy Rees (1922)  BBC Songs of Praise

God is Love, let heav’n adore him;
God is Love, let earth rejoice;
let creation sing before him
and exalt him with one voice.
He who laid the earth’s foundation,
he who spread the heav’ns above,
he who breathes 
through all creation:
he is Love, eternal Love.

God is Love; and love enfolds us,
all the world in one embrace:
with unfailing grasp he hold us,
Ev’ry child of ev’ry race.
and when human hearts 
are breaking
under sorrow’s iron rod,
all the sorrow, all the aching
wrings with pain the heart of God.

God is Love; and though with blindness sin afflicts all human life,
God’s eternal loving kindness holds and guides them even then
Sin and death and hell shall never o’er us final triumph gain;
God is Love, so Love for ever o’er the universe must reign.
As we go from this place, 
let us be alive to God’s presence with us.  
May we be God’s agents 
God’s very hands and feet 
offering love and joining in 
with God’s beautiful story. 
May we be blessed by 
and offer in turn 
the blessing of the triune God, 
this day and always.  Amen.
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Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
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