Sunday Worship 6 August 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 6 August 2023

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Andy Braunston.

 
Call to Worship
 

Come and wrestle with the Ancient of Days; feel God’s presence in your minds and bodies, knowing that you will be forever changed by the struggle.  
We long to see God, face to face.
 
Come and struggle with the Risen Lord, who will heal your wounds, and never let you – go even when we struggle with Him throughout the night.  
We long to see God, face to face.
 
Come and grapple with the Holy Spirit who marks us His own, who blesses us with all good gifts and whose presence lights our way even in the dark of night.  
We long to see God, face to face.
 
Hymn    Who Would True Valour See
              John Bunyan (1628-1688) BBC Songs of Praise
 
Who would true valour see,
let them come hither;
one here will constant be,
come wind, come weather;
there’s no discouragement
shall make them once relent
their first avowed intent
to be good pilgrims.
 
Whoso beset her round
with dismal stories,
do but themselves confound,
her strength the more is.
No lion can her fright:
she’ll with a giant fight,
but she will have the right
to be a pilgrim.

 

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
can daunt his spirit;
he knows he at the end
shall life inherit.
Then, fancies, fly away;
he’ll not fear what men say;
he’ll labour night and day
to be a pilgrim.
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession, and Forgiveness
 
O Most High,
we bring You our praise this day,
we see You face to face:
in the world around us; in flower and tree;
in wind and wave; in sunshine and rain;
in those we know and love, in friend and stranger.
 
Jesus, Enfleshed Word,
we bring You ourselves this day,
longing to see You face to face,
we cling to You knowing You hold us fast.
Yet we know, that all too often, we try to let go of You,
we struggle against what is good for us,
turning our back on You, and looking away from Your face.
But Your arms are always held wide open in welcome.
 
Holy Spirit, Abiding Presence,
we feel You amongst us this day,
helping us to see Your face,
enabling us to love even when love is a struggle,
helping us to love ourselves when we’d prefer to hate,
inspire us, Holy One, to return to You,
to hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for You,
even as we struggle.  Amen.
 
Words of Assurance
 
Like a mother eagle who tends her young;
like a father who runs to welcome home the estranged;
like a rock upon which we stand,
God is loving and faithful, and forgives all our sins.
God loves and forgives you,
so have the strength to love and forgive yourself. Amen
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Dear Lord, 
often we struggle to hear Your voice 
in the competing sounds of our world.
Speak to us now as we hear Your word read and proclaimed,
that as we listen You will inspire us,
that as we struggle You will strengthen us,
and as we respond You will lead us.  Amen.
 
Reading       Genesis 32: 22-31
 
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
 
Hymn    Come O Thou Traveller Unknown
Charles Wesley 1742  sung by Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band
 
Come, O thou Traveller unknown,
whom still I hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
and I am left alone with thee.
With thee all night I mean to stay
and wrestle till the break of day.

I need not tell Thee who I am,
my misery and sin declare;
Thyself hast called me 
by my name,
look on Thy hands, 
and read it there;
but who, I ask Thee, who art Thou?
Tell me Thy name, and tell me now.
 
In vain Thou strugglest to get free;
I never will unloose my hold;
art Thou the Man that died for me?
The secret of Thy love unfold;
wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
till I Thy name, Thy nature know.
 
’Tis Love! ’tis Love! 
Thou diedst for me,
I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
the morning breaks, 
the shadows flee:
pure, universal Love Thou art;
to me, to all Thy mercies move;
Thy nature and Thy name is Love.
 
The Sun of Righteousness on me
hath rose with healing in His wings,
withered my nature’s strength; from Thee
my soul its life and succour brings;
my help is all laid up above;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love

 

Reading       Hosea 12: 2 – 6
 
The Lord has an indictment against Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways, and repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he tried to supplant his brother, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed, he wept and sought his favour; he met him at Bethel, and there he spoke with him. The Lord the God of hosts, the Lord is his name! But as for you, return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.
 
Sermon
 
They say we can choose our friends but not our families.  
We may argue with our families but they don’t stop being related to us. We can fall out, cease communication, only see them at the great events of birth, marriage and death, but they still remain our families – even if they wound us or we wound them.  We have people we used to be friends with, but we don’t have people who used to be our brother, or father, or mother, or sister.  Blood, they say, is thicker than water.  Maybe that’s why families are complex; no matter how hard we try we’re still related to them. No matter how they, or we, behave, those bonds are there. Friendships change and, sometimes, end; families endure in all their complexity.
 
Our readings today give a glimpse of an ancient family feud and an experience of struggle which still speaks to us. Jacob and his brother Esau had a troubled relationship. They struggled even in their mother’s womb. Jacob deceived their father, Isaac, to get his blessing and inheritance thus denying it to his brother Esau. Jacob struggled throughout his life – he had to strive with his father-in-law Laban in order to marry Rachel and, in today’s reading he strove against an unknown traveller against a background of family conflict and tentative reunion. Jacob had been away for 20 years in Mesopotamia; the last time we saw Esau and Jacob together in the text Esau was plotting to kill his brother as he’d been cheated out of his inheritance. Now Esau was rich and powerful as was Jacob – he’d done well with his years away. 
 
When Jacob left, all those years beforehand, he’d negotiated a deal to come back in safety but that agreement was about to be put to the test. Jacob sent messengers ahead with extravagant gifts to Esau in order to test the waters. The messengers returned and told Jacob that his brother is coming to meet him – but with 400 men.  Quite an honour guard and, given their family dynamic, Jacob was anxious.  Assuming his brother was hostile Jacob divided his family and retainers into two groups so that if attacked one half could flee to safety. Jacob pleaded with God for safety and trusted in both his prayers and his preparations. Half his family, stock, and retainers withdrew. Night came and then this strange scene happened where Jacob wrestled through the night with a stranger.  
 
The wrestling continued and neither would let the other go; eventually it’s clear that Jacob was wrestling with God – the refusal to tell Jacob His name is the clue. (In the Old Testament God does not reveal His name simply telling Moses “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”. To let another know one’s name is to allow another to have power over you and God doesn’t play that game.)  The stranger changed Jacob’s name to Israel just as God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. The encounter left Jacob forever wounded and the story continued with a reconciliation with Esau.
 
This idea of wrestling with God is one that has entertained the imaginations of Jews and Christians for millennia. Our reading from Hosea is an early Jewish attempt to interpret the story. Hosea ministered 800 years before Jesus in the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel.  He’s a bit of a prophet of doom foretelling destruction if the people don’t turn back to God.  In today’s passage Hosea identifies the Jewish people, Israel, with Jacob – whose name was changed into Israel.  Just as Jacob fought in the womb with his brother and with God as an adult, so the people have rebelled against God and fight against Him. Just as Jacob prevailed against God so we can prevail by obeying God by holding fast to love and justice.  
 
Much later, Luther saw this story as one of wrestling with God – not surprising given the troubles Luther had with the Church in his attempts to reform it. Calvin saw the story as a vision for all of us about the wrestling we have to do in life – the Lord, he said, exercises us with various kinds of conflicts. God tries our strength through these struggles. Calvin thought that it was, like Jacob, with God’s own self that we wrestle in order to be tested and strengthened.  Charles Wesley, in his hymn Come O Thou Traveller Unknown saw the figure that Jacob wrestled with as Christ. Wesley captures Jacob’s desire to know God “The secret of Thy love unfold; wrestling, I will not let Thee go, till I Thy name, Thy nature know.”
We know all too well that the life of faith, like families, is hard!  Just as we struggle with families, learning to keep the peace, find ways to challenge and disagree without wounding deep bonds, finding ways to be ourselves against another’s wrath we also struggle with faith.  We can see throughout our history of the struggle to follow Christ can be difficult; whether that’s Christians in Roman arenas or meeting in secret in Iran, North Korea, or Saudi Arabia now.   But for us it’s hard to – not has hard as where the Church is persecuted – but we still do a lot of wrestling and some wounding.  Sometimes that struggle is to be true to ourselves and our faith:
 

  • we may struggle to keep our ourselves intellectually honest when the Biblical message appears to condemn, wound, and destroy yet we long to believe God is love and light.
  • we may struggle to be faithful and able to speak of God in a public space where we’re seen, at best, as quaint or, at worse, as dangerous.
  • we may struggle to continue to keep the commitment we’ve made to follow Christ when it’s easier to wander off the path.
  • we may struggle to find the new God given opportunities as all the old privileges of the Church are forgotten, stripped away or seen as wrong in contemporary society.
  • we may struggle in our efforts to live in harmony with creation in a world which wishes to green wash its polluting habits.

 
I’ve no idea if Calvin was right when he wrote that in all these struggles it’s with God we fight as we’re taught to be better disciples. I’ve no idea if we will, like Jacob, have the energy to fight throughout the night. I do know that in our struggles we changed, liked Jacob was; we may even be wounded. I do know that in our wrestling and in our woundedness we will be blessed, just as Jacob was. As Wesley wrote, we realise that, in our struggles, we see the one he described as:  ’Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me, I hear Thy whisper in my heart; the morning breaks, the shadows flee: pure, universal Love Thou art; to me, to all Thy mercies move; Thy nature and Thy name is Love.
 
Will you pray with me?
 
O God, with whom we wrestle until the break of day,
make us long to seek your face
beyond the limits of our strength;.
that in our wounds we may remember you,
and in your blessing
we may find ourselves
through Jesus Christ, Amen.
 
Hymn    Love is the Touch of Intangible Joy
Alison M Robertson Sung by St Andrew’s Episcopal Choir, New Hampshire
 

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.  

Affirmation of Faith
 
Our affirmation of faith comes from the French Reformed Church and wrestles with both faith and doubt in the face of our world’s realities.
 
We believe in God.
Despite His silence and His secrets we believe that He lives.
Despite evil and suffering we believe that He made the world
so that all would be happy in life.
Despite the limitations of our reason and the revolts of our hearts,
we believe in God.
 
We believe in Jesus Christ.
Despite the centuries which separate us
from the time when he came to earth, 
we believe in His word.
Despite our incomprehension and our doubt,
we believe in His resurrection.
Despite his weakness and poverty, 
we believe in His reign.
 
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
Despite appearances we believe He guides the Church;
despite death we believe in eternal life;
despite ignorance and disbelief,
we believe that the Kingdom of God is promised to all. Amen.
 
Intercessions
 
O Most High, 
we pray today for those who struggle against 
the earthly powers and principalities that seek to rule our world;
for those who seek peace in a world at war,
for those who seek love in a world of hate,
for those who seek justice in a world of evil;
give strength, encouragement and the ability to hold on 
until the dawn comes.
Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
 
O Enfleshed Word,
we pray today for those who struggle against,
the forces of the market which seek to enslave and impoverish;
we pray for those who can’t pay their bills,
for those for whom work doesn’t pay,
for developing countries never out of debt to the new empires of capital,
for those who sell not just their labour but their bodies this day;
give strength, encouragement and the ability to hold on
until the dawn comes.
 
Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
 
O Abiding Spirit
we pray today for those who struggle with ill health,
in mind, body or spirit;
for those struggling with pain waiting to see a doctor,
for those struggling to make the NHS work better,
for those with mental health problems for whom there seems no hope;
give strength, encouragement and the ability to hold on
until the dawn comes.
 
Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
 
O Trinity of Love,
we remember before You all we love and worry about….
and all the places and people we’ve mentioned this morning,
give us the strength, encouragement and ability to hold on,
that we may make a difference as the dawn comes.
 
We join all our prayers together as we pray…Our Father…
 
 
Offertory
 
We struggle with much in life – money is a constant struggle for us all.  For some we struggle as we don’t have enough; with rising inflation which pay, pensions and benefits struggle to keep pace with we wrestle with bills and bank balances.  For some we struggle as we have more than enough but find giving hard; saving for a rainy day can soon become selfish if we’re not careful.  Giving is the antidote to greed; giving is good for us and for those to whom we give.  Giving is a key measure of our discipleship; we give through time, talents and treasure and now we give thanks for all that God has given us.
 
O God of struggle,
bless, we ask, our gifts of time, talent and treasure,
that the little we return to you may make a difference in our world,
as we cling on ‘til dawn.  Amen.
 
Hymn    Be Still My Soul; The Lord is on Thy Side
Katharina Amalia Dororthea von Schlegel (b1697) translated by Jane Laurie GBorthwick (1813-1897) sung by the group Eclipse 6  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqKVFYD8Obc
 

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
bear patiently thy cross of grief or pain;
leave to thy God to order and provide;
in ev’ry change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heav’nly friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
 
Be still, my soul; thy God will undertake
to guide the future as He has the past;
thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He lived below.

 

Be still, my soul; the hour is hast’ning on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still my soul; when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
 
Communion
 
Be still my soul, for God is on your side.  
Bear patiently your crosses of grief and pain.  
Be still and remember God will guide you 
through both good times and bad; 
let nothing shake your confidence 
for God is here at this table.
 
Here we meet with our praise and our pain.  
Here we meet with our triumphs and our tragedies.  
Here we meet with our memories and our hopes.
Here we meet with the Risen Lord who wipes away our tears.
 
Here we show forth Calvary 
through bread broken and wine outpoured.
Here we eat and drink as Jesus taught 
and through these earthly gifts receive heavenly food.
Here, through bread and wine, 
we are nourished and grow in grace.
Here we offer ourselves again as living sacrifices;
here we rejoice that Jesus will come again in glory.
 
Here we remember all that God has done for us,
and sing again, with angels and archangels,
in praise of God’s most holy name:
 
Holy is the Lord
Brian Doerkson © 1983 Mercy/Vineyard Songs Sung by Brian Doerkson

 

Righteousness and mercy.
Judgement and grace.
Faithfulness and sovereignty.
Holy is the Lord. Holy is the Lord.
Holy is the Lord!
Holy is the Lord!
Holy is the Lord!
Holy is the Lord!

Holy are you, O Most High, and holy is Your name.
From before ages You called us to be Your people,
to love and follow You,
to wrestle and struggle with You, to praise and imitate You.
 
In the fullness of time You became one of us,
that You might know our pain and woundedness,
our joys and sorrows, our struggles and yearnings.
Jesus preached the good news to the poor,
released captives, lifted up the oppressed,
and enabled his followers to see the world as it really is.
Yet those who did not wish to see struck him down.
Those who did not wish to release captives locked him up.
Those who resisted the poor enriched themselves.
Yet You, O God, raised Jesus on high;
from the struggle of the Cross You brought forth joy and victory,
and allow all the broken victims to be freed.
 
We remember night when Jesus wrestled with Your will,
and when, amongst friends, he took bread, blessed it, gave it to the others
and said:
 
“Take this all of you and eat it,
for this is my body which will be broken for you.”
 
Later, after Supper, he took the cup of wine, 
blessed it, gave it to the others and said:
 
“Take this all of you and drink from it; this is the cup of my blood,
the blood of the new and everlasting covenant,
it will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.
Do this in memory of me.”
 
Let us proclaim the mystery of our faith:
 
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
 
Come now tender Spirit of our God,
wrestle with us that we know Your will.
Sanctify these gifts of bread and wine,
that the bread may be a communion with the body of Christ,
and the wine a communion with his blood.
Bless us as we eat and drink these gifts,
lift us into the presence of the Most High,
that with the saints who have gone before us, and who will come after us,
we may praise Your name for ever and ever, Amen.
 
To prepare ourselves to meet the Lord in Holy Communion we sing the Lamb of God.
 
Breaking of Bread from the Millennium Mass
Paul Inwood © Decani Music, 30 North Terrace, Mildenhall, Suffolk
 
Jesus, Lamb of God, Jesus, Lamb of God,
Jesus, Saviour, have mercy on us.
Jesus, bearing all our sin, Jesus, bearing all our sin,
Jesus, Saviour, have mercy on us.
Jesus, Redeemer of the world, Jesus, Redeemer of the world,
Jesus, Saviour, O give us your peace.
 
The music continues as Communion is shared.
 
Post Communion Prayer
 
Strengthen us O God, 
to relieve the oppressed, 
to hear the groans of poor prisoners, 
to reform the abuses of all professions; 
that many be made not poor to make a few rich;  
for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
 
Hymn    Sent By the Lord Am I
© Jorg Maldonado

 

Sent by the Lord am I; 
my hands are ready now 
to make the earth the place 
in which the kingdom comes. 
Sent by the Lord am I; 
my hands are ready now 
to make the earth the place 
in which the kingdom comes. 
 
The angels cannot change 
a world of hurt and pain 
into a world of love, 
of justice and of peace. 
The task is mine to do, 
to set it really free. 
Oh, help me to obey; 
help me to do Your will.


 
Blessing
 
May the One with whom we wrestle, 
strengthen you in your woundedness.
May the One who has guided our past and who will guide our future, 
assure you of His love and nature. 
May the One who hears the groans of the oppressed 
inspire you to action.
And the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 
be with you and all whom you love, now and always, Amen.
 

 
 

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