Sunday Worship 13 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
 

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 13 August 2023

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Helen Garton.

 
Call to Worship
 

Let us come together to hear what God, the Lord, will speak, 
for he will speak peace to his people, 
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
 
A gathering prayer  
 
God of everything and everywhere, 
we find you by the lakeside,
we hear you in hidden places,
we see you on the mountain-top.
May we feel your presence with us as we worship today. Amen
 
Hymn    Praise to the Lord, The Almighty, The King of Creation
Joachim Neander (1680); Translator: Catherine Winkworth (1863)  BBC Songs of Praise
 
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is your
health and salvation!
All you who hear,
now to His temple draw near;
join in profound adoration!
 
Praise to the Lord, above all things 
so mightily reigning,
keeping us safe at his side 
and so gently sustaining.
Have you not seen,
all you have needed has been,
met by his gracious ordaining?
 
Praise to the Lord, who will prosper
our work and defend us!
Surely his goodness and mercy 
here daily attend us.
Ponder anew
what the Almighty can do,
Who with His love will befriend us.
 
Praise to the Lord! Oh, let all that
is in me adore Him!
All that has life and breath, come
now with praises before Him!
Let the Amen
Sound from His people again;
now as we worship before Him.

Prayers of Approach
 
Gentle God, speak to us in the sound of silence; 
speak to us through the voices of the past; 
speak to us in the babble of conversation; 
speak to us with words from scripture; 
speak to us from the experience of faith; 
speak to us, for we are listening for your word. Amen
 
Introduction to the first Bible reading
Our first Bible reading features the prophet Elijah, who lived during the reign of King Ahab of Israel. Ahab was married Elijah’s sworn enemy, the wicked Jezebel the worshipper of the god Baal. The story we are about to hear comes just after Elijah has defended the one true God and is on the run from Jezebel…. 
 
Reading       1Kings 19:9-18
 
At that place Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’
 
He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’


 
Reading       Psalm 85:8-13
 
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
    for he will speak peace to his people,
    to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
    that his glory may dwell in our land.
 
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
    righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
    and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
    and will make a path for his steps.
 
Hymn    Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
John Greenleaf Whittier (1872)  The Virtual Choir of St Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, New York
 
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives Thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.
 
In simple trust like theirs who heard
beside the Syrian sea
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word
rise up and follow Thee.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of Thy peace.
 
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

 

Prayer of Confession
 
When we look for you in your magnificence, 
and fail to see you standing next to us…
Forgive us and help us…
 
When we drown your voice in noise and busyness, 
and forget to still ourselves to listen to you…
Forgive us and help us…
 
When we look for you in good and holy people, 
but fail to see you in those who make us uncomfortable…
Forgive us and help us 
 
In the silence, hear us as we cry to you…
Reassure us with your love,
Surround us with the warmth of your grace
And your ever present forgiveness,
for you are a kind and gentle God, 
who seeks us out to bring us home. 
Amen
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
Introduction to the New Testament reading
As Paul writes to the church in Rome he asks: how the gospel can be good news to the descendants of Abraham, if Abraham’s descendants don’t see or believe it….
 
Reading       Romans 10:5-15
 
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?”’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?”’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?
 
‘The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart’
 
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
 
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’
 
Reading       Matthew 14:22-33
 
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
 
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
 
Prayer of praise
 
God of all faithfulness, you meet us in Christ in the ordinary and every day. 
You are there in the boat with us, as we are tossed about by the storms of life. 
You reach out to us when we are at our lowest ebb. 
You call to us to step out in faith, beyond our own limitations. 
You pick us up when we falter and let you down. 
You bring calm and peace when all around brings distress. 
How can we cease from singing your praises? 
How can we do other than bring our adoration? 
We can do no other than thank you for your goodness to us. Amen
 
Sermon
 
Today, we find Elijah hiding in a cave and listening to the gale blowing outside. And we have the disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, caught in the middle of a storm. Two stories about breath and wind and the Holy Spirit of God at work in surprising ways. 
Anyone familiar with the Sea of Galilee will know that it is not only a very beautiful place, but it can also be a dangerous place. Its geography makes it rather prone to storms that seem to appear out of nowhere, as wind gets funnelled onto the surface of the water it passes through a gap in the hills that surround the sea. Predicting when storms will appear was almost impossible. And today we heard of such a storm, where the disciples have gone out in their boat and the weather changes dramatically. Not only that, but these hardened fishermen are afraid because they know the danger they face. 

Strange then, that the image of a boat or a ship has become a metaphor for the Church. We see it in church architecture, particularly in our cathedrals, where the vaulted ceilings represent the bows of a ship, and the central aisle down the middle is called a nave, derived from the Latin word for ship. Stranger still that this image and the Church it represents has come to symbolise stability and safety and security. Yet, anyone who fishes in the deep will tell you that fishing is a dangerous occupation. And Jesus specifically instructs his disciples to fish, to actively seek out the lost and bring them home. He does this knowing that the work he charges them with is far from easy and, sometimes, far from difficulty and risk. For many of us, the very reason why we are Christians today is because in centuries past, missionaries travelled over rough seas to bring the Gospel to our shores. 

I rather like the image of the Church as a ship, because boats don’t put down roots. They have a safe harbour ashore where they rest and are repaired, but they are built for movement and travel from one place to another. They are only limited by their fitness for the journey. Isn’t this how the church has been at times during its past, and how the church should continue to be. Goodness only knows how we have had to adapt during the lockdowns, and we still have to adapt to the effects of Covid, as well as Brexit and the economic crisis, and we still need to face up to the reality of global warming and climate change, not only as these directly affect us, but as they affect people right around the world.

In the telling of the story of Jesus walking on water in Matthew’s gospel, the disciples’ boat is a place of safety and retreat for them in the midst of the storm, just as the cave was a place of safety and sanctuary for Elijah, surrounded by danger and threat. Jesus has sent them on ahead to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, after he has fed the 5000. Experienced sailors as they are, they are caught by surprise as the wind whips up a terrifying storm, in the middle of the sea between two shores. The weather is against them and they fail to reach the other side by the morning. Not so with Jesus, who makes as if to walk past them on the water.
Jesus is full of surprises as always. He makes no attempt to rescue them from the storm. And this, perhaps the most remarkable of his miracles, because it is one he performs almost invisibly, for there is no one but the disciples to witness it… if they have eyes to see… which they do… and it serves only to frighten them more. They have battled through the night to steer a steady course and still the storm is raging and, in the midst of that, they see Jesus looking for all the world like a ghost. 

The first disciples were privileged, they had Jesus there with them, they had first hand knowledge of him and the things he taught and showed them. They witnessed his miracles in person. They were the first to learn his teachings and have them explained. He was there for them to set them on the right path, to train them up and to show them the way to God. We are privileged too, because we have stories like this to stir our imagination and wonder what it might have been like at the time. What would it have looked like? How would we have felt? What would we have done? Stories from 2000 years ago seem to have happened yesterday as we read them and hear them read from our scriptures.

Today we are adrift on our own Sea of Galilee, in the midst of a storm that is billowing all around us. Some of us are experiencing the full force of the storm and its impact upon our lives and those we know. For others, it is as though we are in the eye of the storm, not quite affected by what is going on. The biggest challenge we think we face as a Church is one of declining numbers and dwindling resources. So what does the story in Matthew have to say to us? I think it says three things:

First, Peter recognises Jesus and calls out to him. Jesus is the one person in the story who is calm in the middle of the storm. Jesus is unafraid of the chaos. Jesus is the one who is so centred upon God, that all fear pales into insignificance and he can cope with whatever life throws at him. If, in the midst of a crisis, you call out to God then you are on the right track. Some would criticise us for turning to God when times are hard, but who else would you turn to? God has been there from the beginning for us, for God breathed life into us and all creation. And God has been there throughout history and the lives of each one of us. And God is there right until the very end when all else has given out. The challenge is to listen and to watch how God responds. It will not always be as we expect or want! God moves in mysterious ways indeed.

Secondly, if a ship is a metaphor for the Church, then getting on board the boat is a metaphor for faithfulness… but that isn’t going to protect you from difficulty and danger. At some point you will be called to step out of the boat into the world. Peter wants to be where Jesus is, there is something about Christ that draws us to him. And at some point, we will be called out of the boat in which we are being buffeted by the wind, and out into the world and the world will look different after the storm has passed. A church that is faithful, is one that responds to the world outside. We might also notice that there are other ships sailing on the same waters and facing the same stormy weather.  

Thirdly, there is the most important lesson of all when we stumble and fall. Peter walked on the water when he kept his eyes on Jesus: but when he looked at the waves underneath his feet he felt overwhelmed, it was then that he started to sink. It was at this moment that he called out to Jesus to save him. It was in this moment, that he recognised that obedience to Jesus meant stepping outside the boat. It was in this moment that he recognised that Jesus was in the storm with him. And it was in this moment, that Jesus has power and strength beyond his own. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 

Elijah called out to God and he responded in obedience when he was told to step outside the cave where he was hiding. All through his ministry he had been faithful and prophesied against corruption, calling the people back to worship the one true God. It was Elijah who defeated all the prophets of the false god Baal. It was Elijah who upset King Ahab’s wife, the wicked Jezebel. So how was it that he was running for fear of his life? How was it that he was a lone voice witnessing to the truth? But still he called out to God… and God answered with a still, small voice… and told him of his new mission. 

Let us continue to be faithful, as we have been all along. Storms will pass. We may not be spared discomfort and difficulty and we are likely to feel the aftermath just like everyone else. But we must still call on the name of the Lord and listen out for what God is saying to us. For at some point we will be called out of our sanctuary and God will have a purpose and a plan for us. At the moment, we may not know what that will be, but we can get ourselves ready. Do not be afraid. Amen
 
Hymn    Eternal Father Strong to Save
William Whiting (1860)  BBC Songs of Praise
 

Eternal Father, strong to save
whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
who bid’st the mighty ocean deep
its own appointed limits keep;
O, hear us when we cry to Thee,
for those in peril on the sea!
 
O Saviour, whose almighty word
the winds and waves submissive heard
who walkedst on the foaming deep,
and calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
O, hear us when we cry to Thee,
for those in peril on the sea!
 
O sacred Spirit, who didst brood
upon the chaos dark and rude,
who bad’st its angry tumult cease,
and gavest light and life and peace;
O, hear us when we cry to Thee,
for those in peril on the sea!
 
O Trinity of love and power!
our kindred shield in danger’s hour;
from rock and tempest, fire and foe,
protect them wheresoe’er they go;
and ever let there rise to Thee
glad hymns of praise from land and sea

 

Prayers of Intercession
 
We pray for those who find themselves tossed about by all that life throws at them, those who feel out of control and don’t know which way to turn….
 
We pray for those who find themselves with an unexpected challenge, those who have much asked of them and feel overwhelmed….
 
We pray for those who find themselves overtaken by events, those who feel dejected and at a loss….
 
We pray for those who find themselves on the wrong side of popularity, those who feel they have more enemies than friends….
 
We pray for those who find themselves searching for what they do not know, those who feel that there must be more to life….  
 
We pray for confused disciples and perplexed prophets, those who strive to be faithful and serve you, only to be surprised by grace…. Amen
  
Offertory  
 
This is the moment, time and place 
To offer back to God what truly belongs to God
Our time, talents and gifts of money
To be put to use for the sake of God’s kingdom here on earth.
For gifts given unwillingly
For service rendered grudgingly
For lives offered reluctantly
We ask for your blessing
To take, transform and use them for good
Adding them to those gifts given willingly
To the service offered freely
And lives lived with love. Amen

Hymn    Will Your Anchor Hold
Priscilla J. Owens  The Scottish Festival Singers
 

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
when the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain,
will your anchor drift, or firm remain?
 
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
steadfast and sure while the billows roll;
fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!
 
Will your anchor hold in the straits of fear,
when the breakers roar and the reef is near?
While the surges rage, and the wild winds blow,
shall the angry waves then your bark o’erflow? 
 
Will your anchor hold in the floods of death,
when the waters cold chill your latest breath?
On the rising tide you can never fail,
while your anchor holds within the veil. 
 
Will your eyes behold through the morning light
the city of gold and the harbour bright?
Will you anchor safe by the heavenly shore,
when life’s storms are past for evermore?


Blessing
 
May the blessing of God the Father be upon us 
as we venture out into the world to live to the glory of God’s name. 
May the blessing of God the Son be upon us as we step out in faith, 
to serve Jesus Christ as faithful disciples. 
May the blessing of God the Holy Spirit be upon us 
as we listen to the promptings of God’s Spirit 
at one with our neighbours, with ourselves, and with God. 
Amen

 

 
 

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