Sunday Worship 20 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 20 August 2023

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Lucy Brierley.

 
Call to Worship
 

People will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.  Praise the Lord
 
Every tribe and language and people and nation.  Praise the Lord
 
Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? Praise the Lord
 
Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you….’ Praise the Lord
 
Hymn    Come all you Vagabonds
Stuart Townend, Mark Edwards & Phil Baggaley © 2011 Thankyou Music 
 
Come, all you vagabonds,
Come all you ‘don’t belongs’
Winners and losers,
Come, people like me.
Come all you travellers
Tired from the journey,
Come wait a while, stay a while,
Welcomed you’ll be.
 
Come all you questioners
Looking for answers,
And searching for reasons
And sense in it all;
Come all you fallen,
And come all you broken,
Find strength for your body
And food for your soul.

Come to the feast, there is room at the table.
Come let us meet in this place.
With the King of all kindness who welcomes us in,
with the wonder of love, and the power of grace.
The wonder of the love, and the power of grace.

 

Come those who worry

‘bout houses and money,
and all those who don’t have
a care in the world;
from every station
and orientation,
the helpless, the hopeless,
the young and the old.
 
Come all believers
and dreamers and schemers,
and come all you restless
just searching for home;
movers and shakers
and givers and takers,
the happy, the sad
and the lost and alone.

 

Come self-sufficient with wearied ambition,
and come those who feel at the end of the road.
Fiery debaters and religion haters,
accusers, abusers, the hurt and ignored.
 
Prayer of Approach,
 
God, your presence lifts us, Your grace amazes us, Your power overwhelms us, Your love excites us. We come to worship, expecting to hear your voice.
 
God, your people encourage us, Your church feeds us, Your worldwide family holds us, Your kingdom beckons us, We come to worship, expecting to hear your voice.
 
Draw us close to you, as you draw close to us, Speak clearly into our hearts, speak deeply into our lives, speak wisdom into your church
 
Give us ears to listen – to you, and to you in each other In the name of Jesus, Amen.
 
Prayer of Confession
 
We are one people, You are one God. You call each of us by name,
We learn more of you and understand more deeply who you are
when we hear your story – from another place, from another voice, from another heart. God, when we behave as though our way is best. Forgive us.
 
When we claim you are at work in each one, but behave as though You can only be worshipped with our songs, You can only be glorified in ourliturgy, You can only be encountered in our culture.  Forgive us.
 
For narrowing the truth of your kingdom, for hiding from the vision that you gave – that all shall be included in the feast of life. Move us from complacency, apathy and indifference, to see the truth that in you we are one – yes – but that you made us different, you made us unique and you come to us uniquely. 
 
Open our eyes, our ears, our hearts, our homes, our tables, our churches, 
that we might encounter you in each other, in our treasured sisters and brothers, each showing us your image, until the day, when we sit at the table in the kingdom of heaven together. Thanks be to God.
 
To all who repent, Jesus says, ‘your sins are forgiven, now come, and follow me’.  Thanks be to God, Amen 
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
Reading       Isaiah 56: 1, 6-8
 
Thus says the LORD: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.  And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.  Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.
 
Reading       Matthew 15: 21-28
 
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’  But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’  He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’  She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’  Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
 
Hymn    God is Love, Let Heaven Adore Him
Timothy Rees (1874-1939)  BBC Songs of Praise
 
God is Love: let heaven 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 heavens above,
He who breathes 
through all creation,
He is Love, eternal Love.

God is Love: and is enfolding
all the world in one embrace;
with unfailing grasp is holding
every child of every race.
And when human hearts 
are breaking
under sorrow’s iron rod,
that same sorrow, that same aching
wrings with pain the heart of God.

 

God is Love: and though with blindness sin afflicts and clouds the will,
God’s eternal loving-kindness holds us fast and guides us still.
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.
 
Sermon
 
Loving God, may the words of my mouth and the thoughts, meditations and reflections of our hearts, be of you and guided by your Spirit. May we hear your words of challenge and comfort and grow ever into the likeness of Jesus. Amen
 
I wonder what your experience of walking into a church for the first time was like?  If you’ve been attending a church for a long time then it’s very easy to forget how daunting it can be for someone who is a newcomer to cross the threshold of a church building and join in a worship service for the first time.   
 
There is a website that posts reviews of church services that have been visited by an anonymous ‘Mystery Worshipper’.  Over the years it has amassed hundreds of accounts of church services, visited by a stranger and given ratings on things like “How hard was your pew?” “Did anyone talk to you after the service?” “From 1 to 10, how good was the preacher?”. I wonder how the Mystery Worshipper would rate our church!  
 
Here’s one particular report from someone who actually visited two services in one morning. They wrote: 
 
One Easter Sunday morning I visited two churches as a ‘mystery worshipper’.  At the first one the vicar was at the bottom of the drive welcoming people at the gate – impressive!  I walked up the drive and there was a note on the door saying ‘use the other one further round’. I walked on – to find that I was walking on gravestones – not a pleasant thought.  In addition to this the stones became very uneven and so there was now a health and safety problem. 
 
When I got to the door and opened it there was a curtain across the inside of the door which I had to pull to one side – it was like going through the wardrobe into Narnia. 
 
I took my books as you do, and someone on the other side of the aisle held out their hand to shake mine. I shook hands with them – but as I did I realised they had not been looking towards me but someone else, who they continued to look towards even while shaking my hand. I sat down and nobody apart from the vicar spoke to me. 
 
I arrived at the second church late.  I entered feeling very self-conscious and hastened towards the nearest available pew and sat down. I looked around and suddenly realised that those seated round me were in robes – yes I’d sat in the choir! In that church the choir sit at the back of the church. Thankfully they did not sing an anthem so I was OK.  During the peace the choir were very friendly towards me but the lady in the row behind me did nothing but grumble  about everything in the service so far.  At the end nobody spoke to me. It was a long journey home  and so I looked around for some toilets but could see no signs about them. I gave up and left, and there was not even anyone on the door shaking hands with people. 
 
The person who acted as a Mystery Worshipper that day was a Christian and, as such, hopefully didn’t have their faith or spirits dampened by their experience. But how might someone who wasn’t part of the ‘in crowd’ have felt? What do we say as a church about what it means to belong. About who is in or who is out? 
 
Today’s New Testament reading can feel like a tricky one at first sight because it seems as though Jesus is refusing to help someone who is in need because she is of a different race. That really jars with us. The woman was an outsider, a Canaanite. She was not from the people of Israel, God’s chosen people. Not only that, but she’s aware of her seeming inferior status, for when Jesus says, ‘It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’ she doesn’t balk at being compared to a dog, but replies, ‘I know, Master. But even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ At this moment, Jesus sees that she has faith and her daughter is healed. She is welcomed in and becomes part of the family of God. But why the need for such a seemingly unpleasant exchange? After all, how many books have been published about the need for us a Christians to be seeker friendly, to be bold in sharing our faith and busy inviting all our non-believing friends into the family of the church. What was going on that day? 
 
Well here we need to go back to God’s bigger picture, and recall the story of salvation which we read throughout scripture. When God created, he declared that it was good, but it didn’t take long for his people to go their own ways and to fall out of right relationship with their creator. All through the Old Testament we read of God’s desire to draw his people back and in order to do this he calls out the people of Israel to be his special, chosen people, through whom he would bring the whole world back to himself. They were to be a ‘light to the nations’. They were not called out simply for their own sake, but in order to win the whole world. So when Jesus comes to fulfil this salvation plan, he comes first to the people of Israel to announce the arrival of God’s kingdom before he begins to reach out to those beyond. 
 
We see this reflected in the words we heard from prophet Isaiah. Scattered throughout the prophets we see reminders of what God was up to, not just in their contemporary context, but also in his great salvation plan.  Not only were they speaking warnings into the current situation of the people of Israel (you could describe that as ‘forth telling’) but they were also foretelling what was to come, letting the people know promises that God had let them in on. In today’s passage, Isaiah, long before the time of Christ, makes it clear that God’s desire is to bring Israel, his wayward people, back into a faithful relationship with him, and then to reach all of his beloved people, to the ends of the earth. He says that those outside of Israel who ‘join themselves to the Lord’ will be made ‘joyful in my house of prayer’. 
 
Do we always ensure that those who see themselves on the outside are made ‘joyful in the house of prayer’? I wonder how people feel coming into our churches and the kind of welcome they receive. 
 
But back to why Jesus had that strange conversation….
 
At this point in Jesus ministry he was primarily focused on making sure that God’s people, Israel, knew that their God was, at last, fulfilling his promises. The Kingdom for which they had longed was beginning to break through. 
 
AS Tom Wright puts it ‘Though many Christians, alas, have tried to forget the specialness of Israel in the purposes of God, the New Testament writers never do…..If God’s new life was to come to the world, it would come through Israel. That’s why Israel had to hear the message first.’
 
But, just as the prophets said it would, the future keeps breaking in to the present. And that’s what we see if this conversation and of course, in many other encounters which Jesus has with Gentiles and those on the edges of society throughout his ministry. He comes both to fulfil the promise to Israel and to show how through them, salvation would come to the whole world. 
 
The women herself seems to understand this, because she refers to Jesus as ‘Son of David’, a Jewish Messianic title. She understands that Israel’s Messiah will being blessing to her and to the whole world. She was in, she was included! 
 
Signs of the Kingdom were bursting forth, even it seems, to Jesus’ own surprise. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus would show that God promises of old were fulfilled. Promises which would culminate in, as we read in the book of Revelation, every tribe and tongue and nation bowing before the throne of God. A vision of all of God’s precious creation being one in his holy presence, having been redeemed by the cross. 
 
Most of the time in our world we live in the ‘not yet’ of that Kingdom. Jesus had done the work of making it possible for everyone to come to God, his arms have been flung wide open. But we still see and experience exclusion all around us, and too often we are complicit in it. Too often the church is not a place where people feel joyful in God’s house of prayer. Too often the church is a community, where, even unconsciously, we behave as though only certain types are welcome. We forget that we, too, like the woman in our story, were once the outsiders who have been received into God’s family. 
 
Hymn    Summoned by the God Who Made Us
© Sr Delores Duffner OSB published by OCP  performed by a Mennonite Virtual Choir http://www.MennoMedia.org
 
Summoned by the God Who made us 
rich in our diversity, 
gathered in the name of Jesus, 
richer still in unity: 
 
Let us bring the gifts that differ and, 
in splendid, varied ways, 
sing a new Church into being 
one in faith and love and praise. 
 
Radiant risen from the water, 
robed in holiness and light, 
ev’ry person in God’s image, 
ev’ry person God’s delight: 
 
Trust the goodness of creation; 
trust the Spirit strong within. 
Dare to dream the vision promised 
sprung from seed of what has been. 

Bring the hopes of ev’ry nation; 
bring the art of ev’ry race. 
Weave a song of peace and justice; 
let it sound through time and space. 
 
Draw together at one table 
all the human family; 
shape a circle ever wider 
and a people ever free.

 

Offertory Prayer 
 
Generous God,  Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, to you we bring these gifts.
Use them, use us, we pray,  in the service of your world 
and to the glory of your name. Amen
 
Prayers of Intercession
 
Almighty God,
 
Summoning God, ever calling, ever ready to bless, 
we thank you that you are without limits. 
You break the moulds of the past to teach us something new, 
You meet everyone where they live and call us to do the same. 
Renew our sense of purpose and commitment to sharing your love. 
 
Teach us to treasure one another, those who are like us and those who are different. Teach us to keep the doors open, the welcome warm and the love unconditional. 
 
As we spend time thinking about the needs of others and our own attitudes we each fall silent before you. We ask that you would not only hear the quiet prayers we each whisper in our hearts, but that you would speak to us and challenge us to show where we could do better in your work of welcoming and caring. 
 
In this time and place you have called us to pray for those in need. 
We pray for the people whose names the world knows, whose stories are told daily in the news… 
 
SILENCE 
 
Lord, in your mercy hear our prayer. 
 
We pray for people in places of suffering whose names only you and their friends know, and whose lives you cherish. 
 
SILENCE 
 
Lord, in your mercy hear our prayer. 
 
We pray for the people whose names and lives we know, those who today are in pain or distress or trouble, those who are happy, those who are sad.  
 
SILENCE 
 
Lord, in your mercy hear our prayer. 
 
We pray for ourselves, God. 
You know each of us by name. 
Make us into the people you want us to be, and when that hurts, reassure us how much you love us. 
We bring our prayers and ourselves in Jesus’ name.  Amen 
 
Hymn    Our God Reigns
Leonard E. Smith Jr. © 2000 New Jerusalem Music sung by members of Our Lady and St Joseph Church, Keighley and used with their kind permission.
 
How lovely on the mountains 
are the feet of Him
who brings good news, good news
proclaiming peace, 
announcing news of happiness:
Our God reigns, our God reigns

Our God reigns, our God reigns
Our God reigns, our God reigns

You watchmen lift 
your voices joyfully as one
shout for your King, your King.
See eye to eye 
the Lord restoring Zion:
Our God reigns, our God reigns!

Waste places of Jerusalem 
break forth with joy:
we are redeemed, redeemed!
The Lord has saved 
and comforted His people:
Our God reigns, our God reigns!

 

Ends of the earth, 
see the salvation of your God
Jesus is Lord, is Lord!
Before the nations 
He has bared His holy arm
Our God reigns, our God reigns!


Blessing
 
Go forth in the name of Jesus, 
who came among us in vulnerability, 
who lived among us in poverty, 
yet welcomed us in hospitality. 
Let us share the riches of his grace  
with all those we meet. 
 
And may the blessing of God,
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, 
Be upon us in this moment, and in every moment,
forevermore  Amen 

 

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