Sunday Worship 27 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 27 August 2023

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Paul Robinson.

 

Hymn    Great is Thy Faithfulness
Thomas O. Chisholm (1923)  BBC Songs of Praise
 
Great is thy faithfulness, 
O God my Father,
there is no shadow 
of turning with thee.
Thou changest not, 
thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been, 
thou forever wilt be.
 
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning
new mercies I see;
all I have needed 
thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, 
Lord, unto me!
 
Summer and winter 
and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars 
in their courses above
join with all nature in 
manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, 
mercy, and love. 
 
Pardon for sin 
and a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence 
to cheer and to guide,
strength for today 
and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, 
with ten thousand beside! 

 

Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
 
Almighty God, we come to worship in your name,
creator of the universe, source of true humanity,
and a loving parent to us all. Eternal God, be present.
 
We come to worship in the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh,
Saviour of sinful humanity, and Lord of all. Eternal Lord, embrace us.
 
We come to worship in the name of the Holy Spirit,
the Lord and giver of life, source of new humanity, and inspirer of us all.
Eternal Spirit, renew us.
 
Holy Lord, we confess that we have broken your commandments;
we have sinned by our selfishness,
our unbelief and our pride;
we have not acted justly, loved mercy nor walked humbly with you.
In your mercy blot out our misdeeds, and wash away our sin.
Create in us a clean heart, and help us to forgive others
as you have forgiven us; through Jesus. Christ our Lord.
 
May God have mercy upon us, pardon and deliver us from our sins,
confirm and strengthen us in all goodness, and keep us in life eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
 
Hymn    Jesus Christ I Think Upon your Sacrifice
Matt Redman © Copyright 1995 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music  Performed by Tash Knowles and David Gibson of Christ Church Cockfosters and used with their kind permission.
 
Jesus Christ, 
I think upon your sacrifice;
you became nothing, 
poured out to death.
Many times I’ve wondered 
at your gift of life,
and I’m in that place once again,
I’m in that place once again.
 
And once again 
I look upon the cross 
where you died.
I’m humbled by your mercy
 and I’m broken inside.
Once again I thank you,
once again I pour out my life.

Now you are exalted 
to the highest place,
King of the heavens, 
where one day I’ll bow.
But for now I marvel 
at this saving grace,
and I’m full of praise once again,
I’m full of praise once again.
 
And once again 
I look upon the cross 
where you died.
I’m humbled by your mercy
 and I’m broken inside.
Once again I thank you,
once again I pour out my life.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
We pray using words taken from Psalm 19
 
The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.
The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of the righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our heart,
Be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen
 
Reading        Matthew 16:13-20
 
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’  He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’  Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’  And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’  Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
 
Sermon
 
I wonder what image comes to mind when you hear the word “Church”?
Perhaps for some of us a local congregation – a local community of believers comes to mind – gathering together in a building a little bit like this, sitting in pews or chairs, gathering for worship with an organ or worship band, singing some hymns, listening to some sermons, praying together, and of course filing out for the obligatory cup of tea in a green china tea cup.  That sense of community and belonging within a local context.
 
For others though, when we hear the word church we may immediately think about the institution of church and all that is needed to keep that institution going.  The various levels of meetings, and committees and assemblies, and policies that are needed are needed to be in place for good order of the church.  Even thinking of the church as an employer.
 
For others still, we may think of the church as that worldwide communion of people who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  And within that communion we have different traditions, we have different theologies, we have a diversity of cultures and understandings and backgrounds where relationships between us help us to formulate better understandings of each other and better understandings of God and what he is like. 
 
For others still, it might be the image of church as a missionary organisation which first comes to mind.  The ability of the church, and the call upon the church, to speak and act for justice, for compassion and care both locally, nationally and internationally around the world. Bringing God’s Kingdom close.
 
Perhaps you have another image of church that comes to mind.
 
And with that I need to ask you another question – How do you feel about the church just at the moment?  At the moment that you are at in your life, with where we are at as a society and culture?  Does church bring some excitement, some joy, some delight?  Or actually when you hear the word church do you think about being tired, fed up?  Others might be hopeful and expectant of what the church can be, should be and is within our local communities, within the world, within society.  For others still perhaps there is a sense of hurt, a sense of being let down, and sometimes some anger.  And for others like many within our towns and communities- if you were to ask them about church, perhaps an ambivalent… mmm…
 
That leads me to ask – what is God’s vision for the church?  What is God’s vision for the church?
Now that’s a bigger question than we can tackle in one particular sermon, but it is a question that is addressed in some part by what we hear in Matthew 16, and the little conversation that happens between Simon Peter and Jesus.  In that little conversation Jesus uses the word ‘church’ – he says you are now Peter and on this rock I will build my church.  Now the word ‘church’ – Jesus doesn’t use the word ‘church’ often at all.  In fact scholars will tell you that it isn’t often used in the New Testament as a whole.  Yet the word we have here for church is the Greek Word for a Hebrew word that is used quite often in the Old Testament.  About gathering and assembling people together.  So in what sense does Jesus use this word?  And what lies behind it?  What do we learn about this gathering of people that Jesus is going to build in the future beyond this conversation with Simon Peter?  What is God’s vision for the Church?
 
The first thing we note is that this all to do with this conversation with Simon Peter.  It all focuses in on this one conversation that takes Caesarea Philippi.  Now Caesarea Philippi was a melting pot of all kinds of different religious and culture thinking – societies clashing together.  You have Old Testament Baal worship, Greek God Pan worship, Roman Emperor worship happening, you have a Jewish community too – and all of these different groups colliding together.  As you walked through the town you would see lots of different altars to all the different gods for all the different groups of people.  And it’s in this context that Jesus is walking with his disciples through the town, and he says, ‘Who do people say I am?’  I think the disciples are quite focussed in a way – because they look around and they see all of these altars to all of these different gods, and their mind goes to their own Hebrew tradition and they say well some say you are John the Baptist, others say you are Elijah, perhaps one of the prophets.  And Simon then, when he is asked who do you say I am, replies with that wonderful confession – you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  
 
Jesus’ response is to say blessed are you Simon son of Jonah – this has been revealed by your Father in heaven – this has come to you from God.  And so now, v.18, I tell you that you are Peter and on this Rock I will build my church.  And so as Peter confesses that Jesus is indeed the Messiah – the long promised Saviour and is the Son of the living God.  So Jesus changes Simon into Peter – he’s transformed from Simon into Peter.  He’s given a new identity.  And the identity is to be the rock upon the which the church is built.  The word Peter means rock.  Now this particular verse has been debated by lots of different traditions across the ages of Christianity.  But for me, it’s the transformation and the confession from Simon that seems absolutely crucial to Jesus declaring that he will be a rock upon which the church is built.  I think it has more to do with Jesus’ transforming grace and love for Simon than it has to do with him as an individual.  In actual fact I don’t think this about Simon Peter as an individual himself, but Jesus is pointing out the fact that the church will be built, the foundation, the building block of the church will be individual lives as people confess that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, and are changed by Christ.  Transformed and are found in Christ as a new identity.  For me that is really significant – that the building blocks of the church are the lives of the people who are being transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ as they place their hope and trust in him.  And so the building block of church is not a single individual, not a charismatic leader, not an individual person; nor is it about a culture or society, or the things that anyone of us have, like money, or time, or energy.  Nor is the building block about our own choices, our character or the preferences that we might have.  The building block of the church, the very foundation of what makes a church, are the lives of individual people being transformed by Jesus as they place their hope and trust in him.
 
And then next we hear something about the security of the church.  V.18 goes on, and I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock, (on this transformed life), I will build my church, and the Gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I mentioned a moment ago that this conversation that took place in Caesarea Philippi – this melting pot of different religious thoughts.  That goes back a long way in the history of this particular place.  Built upon Mount Hermon where in the Old Testament all the significant Baal worship, the worship of fertility gods took place, when the Greek empire becomes a place of worship for the god Pan, and then in the Roman Empire – its name was changed to Caesarea Philippi – it’s no surprise then the worship focusses upon Caesar himself.  This is a very religious place – there is an awful lot of religious culture going on, a clash of understanding thought.  And it was all based on the geography of the place- around Mount Hermon – a big mountainous area, but at the bottom of the mountain near Caesarea Philippi – there is a cave – cave that goes down into the depth of the earth.  And it was well thought this was the gate way to the underworld where all of the gods they were worshipping in the city above lived.  Every year at springtime, the water would start to flow out of this cave, and when the water started to flow out the cave, it was understood that all of these different gods, particularly the fertility gods, that were worshipped in Caesarea Philippi – they needed attention, they needed love and sacrifice.  So when the people in the temples saw this water flowing out of the cave – they would go up into the city, into the town amongst all of the people and community – and they would do horrendous things to each other – there would be prostitution on a ridiculous level, and people would be encouraged to do things with goats that we should definitely not even talk about.  It was in many ways, when that water flowed out of the cave, the unleashing of the underworld into the town.  The gates of Hades broke open and this sense of evil, of struggle, pain, even death flowed into the town.  And that friends is the context for the words, in v.18 when Jesus says you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  The church – this collective group of lives transformed, will not be overcome by evil and death.  Why not? Well Jesus says, I will build MY church; because lives transformed by Christ are in Christ.  As the gospel accounts tell us shortly afterward, Jesus will head to the cross where he defeats sin and death, so that those things may not have any hold over us any longer.  Because he builds his church, the church is secure.
 
One of the my favourite activities is heading down to Rhyl beach with my daughter Rachel.  Every year we head down to the beach and we build more and more elaborate sandcastles.  I think last year’s sandcastle was a hotel with a swimming pool, a multi-story car park, there were tunnels under it, bridges over the of it – this castle was ginormous – it was so impressive that there were people wandering along the beach with their dogs, pausing and uttering ooo…. Stopping and taking note.  Every year we build these sandcastles, we have a whale of a time- it’s brilliant.  Then of course the inevitable happens – the sea comes in, and as one wave comes so a little bit of the sand is washed away, the moat fills up, the tunnel collapses, the bridge falls over.  The next wave comes and another bit is washed away, and again and again.  However elaborate, however grand, however secure we think it is, it is washed away.  Of course you can watch wave after wave, and eventually you are left with just mound of sand.  If you leave it until the tide has come all the way in and all the way out again and go back the next day – it’s like the sandcastle never existed in the first place. And friends, so often, we end up thinking that the church is like this.  That it is elaborate that it is grand and it has all the structure and all of its purpose and plan – and actually bits of it are just being eaten away at the moment.  And of course one day we’ll just be left with a mound, leave it a little longer, and it will be washed away completely.   Friends the image we are given in Matthew 16 where Jesus categorically states that the gates of hades will not overcome the church tells me that the church in God’s vision is less like the sandcastle on Rhyl beach, and more like another item of architecture on Rhyl beach.  On Rhyl beach we have groynes stretching out into the sea – wooden fences that hold back the sand and stop it drifting on the tides that comes slightly sideways.  On the end of each of the groynes there is a big tall wooden pole, and on the end of the pole there is a beacon.  And do you know what?  The tide can come in, and it flows around that beacon and the beacon still stands tall above the water.  In the middle of a storm the waves can be crashing around and the beacon will still be standing tall.  In the middle of the summer the sea can be a long way out and people are building sandcastles all around it, and the beacon is standing tall.  Friends the church is much more like that beacon because our security is in the Lord Jesus Christ, who has died and has risen again.  Now there may still be plenty of storms that come that look to wash away everything – we can still be battered, the church may not be to our liking 100% of the time.  It may not be how we want it to be and be about what we think it should be about all of the time- but the church will stand strong and sure, because the church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
And so that leads us on then to think about what the purpose of the church might be.  Are we given this foundation of lives transformed with a secure future, just so that we can be smug and lord it over others? No.  No.  We are given this foundation and this security so that we might fulfil a wonderful and beautiful task.  Verse 19 – I will give you the keys of the kingdom heaven, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Now of course this verse where it says I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter – that is the verse where we get the idea that Peter is going to stand in front of some wonderful pearly gates one day and with his keys he’s going to be in charge of who gets into heaven or not.  But if the rock, the building block of the church, is every life that is transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and our security is in Jesus; and we’re thinking not of an individual, but the church as a whole, then I think Jesus is saying that the church has the keys to unleash the kingdom of heaven in the world.  In the same way as those gates of hades in Caesarea Philippi would open up and all of that evil and destructive and abusive behaviour would be unleashed into the city to bring pain and anxiety and horrendous activity; so in response the church is given the keys to the Kingdom of heaven such that it can unleash all of the goodness and grace of God into a place, into a community.  The church is given this beautiful and wonderful task of inviting communities, inviting people to experience God’s justice, a sense of joy and the peace and grace that He can bring as the kingdom of heavens unleashed in our towns.  The church is given this beautiful and wonderful task of unleashing news of spiritual restoration – opportunities for salvation, for there to be hope in the places where there is such heart-ache, for there to be joy and peace, and to see lives transformed – such that they might become the building blocks of the church.
 
I wonder what it would like if all the goodness of Jesus’ kingdom was unleashed in the context that you find yourself in today?  Because so often, I think the church is given the Keys of heaven, and what we like to do is to keep those keys to ourselves, and all of the goodness of God locked up within our own little enclaves of community – for fear, for anxiety’s sake, for worry, in trepidation of what it might mean, what it might look like.  But Jesus’s call is to take the keys and to unlock the gates of the Kingdom of heaven such that all the goodness of God is unleashed in the towns and communities where we find ourselves.
 
Now friends don’t get me wrong, that is a really daunting task.  But the great news for this daunting task of being church in the 21st century is that the church is about Jesus through and through. It’s not about you and I – it’s about being the church of Jesus Christ.  The building blocks of the church are lives transformed, by Jesus.  The security of the church is in Jesus.  The purpose of the church is all about Jesus’ kingdom.   
 
What was declared in those words to Simon Peter on that day in Caesarea Philippi would be shown so clearly upon the cross. For there we clearly see that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised Saviour, and the Son of the living God.  There we see grace and mercy beyond measure that can transform lives, that brings forgiveness and healing and hope and restoration.  There we see that Jesus is Lord  – is victorious over sin and death – the empty grace proves it to us.  There we see Jesus’ kingdom built not on earthly power, might and strength, but upon a love that is even greater, a compassion that is even deeper and spiritual power that is even stronger.  
 
The invitation for each of us today is to be the Church. To confess anew our faith in Jesus Christ. To be confident in the security Christ brings us.
And to unleash all the goodness of God that we know in the Kingdom of heaven  in our towns and communities. Thanks be to God. Amen.
 
Hymn    Lord of the Church
Timothy Dudley Smith © 1984 Hope Publishing Company Performed by Nicki Hooke and David Gibson of Christ Church Cockfosters and used with their kind permission.
 

Lord of the Church, we pray for our renewing:
Christ over all, our undivided aim.
Fire of the Spirit, burn for our enduing,
wind of the Spirit, fan the living flame!
We turn to Christ amid our fear and failing,
the will that lacks the courage to be free,
the weary labours, all but unavailing,
to bring us nearer what a church should be.

 

Lord of the Church, we seek a Father’s blessing,
a true repentance and a faith restored,
a swift obedience and a new possessing,
filled with the Holy Spirit of the Lord!
We turn to Christ from all our restless striving,
unnumbered voices with a single prayer:
the living water for our souls’ reviving,
in Christ to live, and love and serve and care.
 
Lord of the church, we long for our uniting,
true to one calling, by one vision stirred;
one cross proclaiming and one creed reciting,
one in the truth of Jesus and his word.
So lead us on; till toil and trouble ended,
one church triumphant one new song shall sing,
to praise his glory, risen and ascended,
Christ over all, he everlasting King!

Affirmation of Faith
 
We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator and ruler of all things.
 
We believe in Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, Our Lord and Saviour.
Through his life, his death on the cross and his resurrection,
He conquered sin and death, forgiving our sins 
and reconciling us to God.
 
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
Through him Christ dwells in the believers, 
sanctifying them in the truth.
 
We believe in the Church, 
the body of Christ and the fellowship of the saints.
We believe, in the Holy Scriptures 
and in the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments.
 
We believe in the coming of the kingdom of God,
and in the blessed hope of life eternal through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We believe that the chief end of humanity
is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Amen.
 
Prayers of Intercession
 
Let us pray.
 
We pray, Lord, for the peace that is from above, and for the salvation of all: Lord, hear our prayer.
 
We pray for the peace of the whole world.
For the welfare of God’s holy Church, and for the unity of all:
Lord, hear our prayer.
 
We pray for all who share in the work of the Church,
that they may fulfil their ministry with a pure heart and good conscience,
and faithfully make known the Gospel of Christ 
through witness and service:
Lord, hear our prayer.
 
We pray for our rulers in local and national governments,
that they may week and receive your guidance,
that they be true to that which is right and just,
and seek always to promote the well-being of all:
Lord, hear our prayer.
 
We pray for the wick and suffering, and those close to death;
the bereaved, the lonely and the sorrowful.
We pray for those we know. Lord, hear our prayer.
 
We pray for the poor and the needy, the hungry and the homeless,
for those who suffer in situations of war and conflict,
for refugees and asylum seekers, for those who suffer persecution,
and for all prisoners of conscience: Lord hear our prayer.
In fellowship with all God’s people, in heaven and on earth,
we commend ourselves and one another 
and all our life to Christ our Lord: Lord, hear our prayer. Amen.
 
Offertory Prayer
 
We thank-you and praise you Lord for the way in which you have blessed us, and our experience of your faithfulness towards us. We bring you now our gifts – those including time, energy, and money – and ask that you would use us and what we have for the building of your Kingdom. Amen.
 
Hymn    Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken
John Newton (1779) Sung by St Andrew’s Kirk, Chennai, India
 

Glorious things of Thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God;
He whose word cannot be broken
formed thee for His own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
thou may’st smile at all thy foes.
 
See, the streams of living waters,
springing from eternal love,
well supply thy sons and daughters
and all fear of want remove.
Who can faint while such a river
ever will their thirst assuage?
Grace which, like the 
Lord, the giver,
never fails from age to age.
 
Round each habitation hov’ring,
see the cloud and fire appear
for a glory and a cov’ring,
showing that the Lord is near.
Thus deriving from their banner
light by night and shade by day,
safe they feed upon the manna
which God gives them 
when they pray.
 
Saviour, since of Zion’s city
I through grace a member am,
let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in Thy name.
Fading are the worldlings’ pleasures,
all their boasted pomp and show;
solid joys and lasting treasures
none but Zion’s children know.


 
Blessing
 
Now may the blessing of Almighty God, 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,
Be with us this day and for evermore.
Amen

 

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