Sunday Worship 10 September 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 10 September 2023

 (Image:  Cynthia Magana | Unsplash)

Today’s service is led by the Revd Martin Knight

Welcome

Hello my friends, and a very warm welcome to this service of worship for Sunday 10th September.  I’m Martin Knight and I serve St Paul’s URC, South Croydon and South Croydon United Church, which is a Methodist/URC LEP.  Let us be still, as we are aware of God’s presence.

Call to Worship

We gather
     to be reminded of hope
     to be built up in love
     and to step out together, on the way of Jesus;
     the path of the Kingdom.
We gather
     as a community seeking peace:
     peace in our homes, 
     our church 
     and our world.

Spirit of God, dwell richly with us we pray. Amen

Hymn    Ye Servants of God
              Charles Wesley BBC Songs of Praise

Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim,
and publish abroad His wonderful name;
The name, all-victorious, of Jesus extol;
His kingdom is glorious and rules over all.

2 “Salvation to God, who sits on the throne!”
Let all cry aloud, and honour the Son:
the praises of Jesus the angels proclaim,
fall down on their faces and worship the Lamb.
 
3: Then let us adore and give Him His right −
All glory and pow’r, all wisdom and might,
All honour and blessing, with angels above,
and thanks never-ceasing, and infinite love.

Prayer of Praise, Confession and Assurance of Forgiveness

In gardens and bushland, mountains and oceans
We see the signs that God is with us.

In grass that grows through cities of concrete and brick,
We see the signs that God is with us.

In the faces of people whom God so loves,
We see the signs that God is with us.

Where the poor and abused are heard and raised,
We see the signs that God is with us.

In our brokenness, there is the hope of wholeness.
In our emptiness, there is the hope of fullness.

In our darkness, there is the hope of light
In our doubt, there is the gift of faith.

This is the Word of Christ for us!
The flame of the Holy Spirit lives in this place
and calls us to follow Jesus.

Gracious and loving God,
we give thanks for your presence in our lives,
we praise your name and lift our voices to you!

Great God, in the silence we lament our brokenness, 
not to weigh ourselves down with guilt
but to acknowledge our limits, to name them with you,
and to seek the mercy that leads to new life.

(Silence is kept)

And so, we use a confession from the Iona Abbey Worship Book, 
in which I confess and then you confess:

Before God, with the people of God,
I confess to turning away from God
in the ways I wound my life, the lives of others and the life of the world.

May God forgive you, Christ renew you,
and the Spirit enable you to grow in love.

Amen

Before God, with the people of God,
I confess to turning away from God
in the ways I wound my life, the lives of others and the life of the world.

May God forgive you, Christ renew you, 
and the Spirit enable you to grow in love.

Amen

Jesus shows us God’s life and as we pray the prayer that he taught us, the Spirit brings it to life in our hearts:  Our Father…

Prayer of Illumination 

As we prepare to hear God’s word, we sing or pray together:

Listen to the word that God has spoken;
listen to the One who is close at hand;
listen to the voice that began creation;
listen even if you don’t understand.

Words and music: Canadian source unknown sung by Robert Morehead 

Reading     Matthew 18: 15-20

Jesus said: ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.  But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.  Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

Reading     Romans 13: 8-14 

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy.  Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Hymn      Jesus Tawa Pano
                Patrick Matsikenyiri sung by the virtual choir of the united Church in Walpole, Massachusetts

Jesu tawa pano;
Jesu tawa pano;
Jesu tawa pano;
tawa pano, mu zita renyu.

Jesus, we are here;
Jesus, we are here;
Jesus, we are here;
we are here for you.
 
Sermon    ‘For where two or three are gathered…’    

For where two of three are gathered – dot dot dot
How do we finish that sentence?

‘For where two or three are gathered… I am with you’ – says Jesus.

An alternative answer might be:
For where two of three are gathered – it can be really hard to get along!

So suggested the then Archbishop of York, John Sentamu at a service in 2018.

I recognise the truth in his words and I’m not thinking or talking about any church in particular, but it’s probably yours and probably mine!

Where two or more people gather, we bring all our emotions and thoughts and opinions together – and these can conflict!

Here we have part of the reality of being gathered!
It is both harmonious and conflicting.
It is a place of belonging and exclusion.
It is a glorious, messy, diverse, human space where difference can be celebrated, and there are deadly viruses of systemic racism, ageism, sexism, or many other ‘isms, that can establish pecking orders of human value.

Perhaps all of this is true, all at once.

For where two of three are gathered – it can be really hard to get along!

In Matthew, Jesus helps us to face up to the challenges of being gathered, not letting us off the accountability hook.

‘Reproving another who sins’ – that’s the kind of title that really encourages you to read on, isn’t it?!

Jesus inspires his followers and the church to be a community that nurtures honest dialogue and refuses to keep silent in the face of behaviour that harms others.

Conflict has its place.

There is real value in verse 15 – of taking a personal dispute to the other person and talking to them directly. This can be a useful principle in some situations, but, I have to be honest that I find myself wanting to hide under the pews at the very idea of bringing a dispute to the whole church!

Now, I’m not convinced that Jesus is setting out a universal three-step process of conflict resolution – partly because following these steps will not produce guaranteed results, which I’m sure Jesus knows – but more, I think Jesus is modelling how to walk alongside and protect those who are being disempowered or made vulnerable – giving space for all to speak so that others might hear.

What might we count as the ‘sins’ that harm us when we gather with others? Perhaps being talked about, being shouted at for not folding the teacloths correctly, feeling attacked because of any of those –isms – race, sexuality, gender, body image etc.

There is something empowering about going directly to the other person, in private, to be heard – and to hear them – because they may not understand or may have their own stuff going on that causes their reaction. Equally we may learn something about ourselves and our own behaviour.

These kinds of conversations can be places of speaking and listening, which is at the root of reconciliation and conflict resolution.

There is a sense in which the vulnerable are protected because they are given a space to speak and be heard.

Wouldn’t we all rather know if we have said or done something that has caused another pain? Is that not an opportunity to grow in our love and care for each other?

Well, it is, if that conversation is rooted in love and grace – if there is active listening and a desire to walk a mile in the other’s shoes. If it’s not, these encounters can be traumatic and abusive.

I say this recognising that, to go to another and speak of a way we have been hurt or to tell a truth about ourselves, is the epitome of making ourselves vulnerable.

I know from personal conversations about my sexuality that these are spaces of vulnerability, which can change hearts and minds. They can also be spaces where hurt and pain are caused through conscious or unconscious actions.

Just before our reading, in chapter 18, Jesus places a child before the disciples, which seems a trifle unfair on the child, but… he focuses their attention on the vulnerable in our society and proclaims that it would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck than to place a stumbling block before such a one.

It is a strong indictment against attitudes and practices that obstruct human flourishing for all God’s children.

As a church, we are called to focus attention on those who face the larger risks or who have the least power, or who find themselves to be in dangerous or vulnerable situations – often through no fault of their own.

For where two of three are gathered – we must protect the vulnerable!

It needs to be said, that there are times when it may be unsafe or perhaps even life-threatening for one person to be expected to go to another to discuss a sin – think of domestic abuse for example. For the abused to face the abuser is not safe – so Jesus’s point seems to be ‘insofar as it is safe’, and for the church and each of us to safeguard the most vulnerable or at risk.

I don’t think I’m alone in finding it easier to identify ways that I’ve been harmed than to recognise the ways that my actions harm others, even if unintentionally and unknowingly.

Perhaps one of the most difficult truths of this passage is a reminder of the human capacity to cause harm to others – both in our own personal actions (or failure to act) and in the systems we are part of.

Both the climate emergency and the aim to be anti-racist are reminders of how we can be part of a system, however unknowingly or unwittingly, and be causing pain to others. And because this sin is systemic, we may not recognise it, making the process of facing up to the pain caused, challenging and divisive.

For where two of three are gathered – we hold different views.

Here is the good news in our gospel:
Jesus promises not to desert his disciples as they try to practice living more fully into the kind of community that God desires for us. 

After all, God is present wherever two of three are gathered in his name, a name that means ‘God with us’.

We are not abandoned in our efforts to live as community.

Jesus, who lived alongside disciples, gathered in the homes of strangers, talked with outcasts, ate and drank with women and men – this Jesus is alongside us in the messy reality of our efforts to live in community in his name.

His being alongside us, is seen in scripture: we read of his engagement with others in community and this can guide us.

His being alongside us, is seen in the Holy Spirit, constantly calling us to love one another and helping us to unpack what that looks like.
He is alongside us as we gather for a meal, where no one is denied and no one is above another.

May we be brave and open as we hear where we have caused pain.
May we be bold, where it is safe, to speak the truth of our lives.
May we give thanks, that Jesus is with us,
calling us ever closer to God’s community rooted in love. Amen

Hymn    Jesus calls us here to meet him
              © John L. Bell performed by Ruth and Joy Everingham and used with their kind permission.

Jesus calls us here to meet him 
as, through word & song & prayer, 
we affirm God’s promised presence 
where his people live and care. 
Praise the God who keeps his promise; 
praise the Son who calls us friends ; 
praise the Spirit who, among us, 
to our hopes and fears attends. 

2 Jesus calls us to confess him 
Word of life and Lord of all, 
sharer of our flesh and frailness, 
saving all who fail or fall. 
Tell his holy human story; 
tell his tales that all may hear; 
tell the world that Christ in glory 
came to earth to meet us here. 
 
3 Jesus calls us to each other, 
vastly different though we are; 
creed and colour, class and gender 
neither limit nor debar. 
Join the hand of friend & stranger: 
join the hands of age and youth; 
join the faithful and the doubter 
in their common search for truth. 

4 Jesus calls us to his table 
rooted firm in time and space, 
where the Church in earth & heaven 
finds a common meeting place. 
Share the bread and wine, his body; 
share the love of which we sing; 
share the feast of saints and sinners 
hosted by our Lord and King
 
Affirmation of Faith

We believe, O Most High, that you speak to us in song and silence, in word and witness, in worship and work.  Help us to discern Your voice.

We believe, O Lord Jesus, that You call us to listen and follow, to turn around and change direction, leaving behind all that drags us down. 
Help us to discern Your voice.

We believe, O Holy Spirit, that You speak to us as we discern and discuss together, always calling us to love and justice. 
Help us to discern Your voice.

We believe, O God, that You are always heard best in community. 
Help us to discern Your voice.

Offertory

Gracious God, may the money we offer
and the gifts you have given us to use for your service,
be a blessing to our community, in your name. Amen

Holy Communion

Introduction 

Everyone who seeks to follow Jesus Christ is welcome at this table.
This is a place where we gather and we model the community God would have us be.
    
The Peace

As we come to this meal, 
we seek peace for each other and for the world.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.

Hymn     Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Knees
               Traditional Spiritual Sung by Charles E Szabo and used with his kind permission

Let us break bread together on our knees.
Let us break bread together on our knees.
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord have mercy on me.

2 Let us drink wine together on our knees.
Let us drink wine together on our knees.
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord have mercy on me.
 
3 Let us praise God together on our knees.
Let us praise God together on our knees.
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord have mercy on me.

Invitation 

Jesus was often a guest. He shared many meals with his friends, and they long remembered his words at the table. Though some disapproved of the company he kept, Jesus ate and drank with all kinds of people and showed everyone the love of God.

Wherever people met together Jesus was glad to be welcomed and to be fed. Today, we are the guests of Jesus. He welcomes us, whoever we are and whatever we bring, and he will feed us at his table. Old or young, rich or poor, joyful or in sorrow, Jesus invites us to share bread and wine with him, to remember the story of his life and death, and to celebrate his presence with us today.

On the night before he died, Jesus shared a meal with his disciples in an upstairs room in Jerusalem. The Gospel writer tells us what happened that night.

The Story 

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body’. 

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them,  and all of them drank from it.  He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I tell you, I will never again drink the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’

We are the friends and disciples of Jesus today. He invites us to break bread together, to remember him and to pray that God’s Kingdom will come – and so we pray as he did:

Great Prayer 

God is with us!  We give thanks and praise to God!

Loving God, the world you made is beautiful and full of wonder.
You made us, with all your creatures, and you love all that you have made. You gave us the words of your prophets, the stories of your people through the generations, and the gathered wisdom of many years.

You gave us Jesus, your Son, to be born and to grow up in difficult times when there was little peace.

He embraced people with your love and told stories to change us all.
He healed those in pain and brought to life those who had lost hope.
He made friends with anyone who would listen and loved even his enemies.

For these things, he suffered. For these things, he died.
And he was raised from death and lives with you forever.

You give us your Holy Spirit, to teach and to strengthen us,
to remind us of Jesus Christ, and to make us one in him.

For all these gifts we thank you, and we join with all your people
on earth and in heaven, in joyful praise:

Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

We praise you that we are here today, around the table of Jesus. We have heard the good news of your love; the cross is the sign of your arms stretched out in love for us and the empty tomb declares your love stronger than death.

Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!

Send your Holy Spirit upon this bread and wine, and upon your people,
that Christ may be with us, and we may be made ready to live for you
and to do what you ask of us, today, and every day to come.

We make this prayer through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the love of the Creator, One God, to whom be glory and praise forever, Amen.

The Sharing

Among friends, gathered round a table, Jesus took bread, broke it and said, ‘This is my body, broken for you.’ In the same way, he took the cup of wine and said, ‘This is the new relationship with God, Take this – all of you – to remember me.’

These are the gifts of God,  For the people of God.

Sharing the broken bread, we are renewed and made whole.

The cup of blessing pours out to us.

Silence

Music for Communion      In Bread We Bring You Lord 
                                            sung by Daniel O’Donnell

Intercessions

Let us pray, giving thanks for this gift beyond words, reaching out to the world in love.

Loving God, you have fed us generously at this table
as we have remembered Jesus and rejoiced that he is with us today.
We are ready now to follow him, and to be your people in the world.
May your Holy Spirit show us the way, make us holy and fill us with love.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church throughout the world, and for our own church community  gathered today for worship and prayer. May we follow Jesus every day, grow in understanding of him, and learn to love you and our neighbours. Fill us with your Spirit, and make us a community of peace,
of faithful prayer and loving action.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for the whole world; for the people, the animals, the earth, the sea and the air.  May all that you have made be sustained in peace and harmony, and may all your creatures share in the goodness of creation.
Bring healing to all who are suffering, and may all your people share in hope

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for ourselves, for our families and our friends, for all those we love and for those we find it hard to love.  May young and old respect one another, and the generations honour one another.  May nothing divide us or come between us, but let your love bind us in affection.
Bless us with your peace, that together we may praise you forever.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Glory to God.  Glory in the highest.  Today and always  Amen.

Hymn    The Love of God Comes Close
              John L Bell & Graham Maule © 1988, 1997 – WGRG, Iona Community sung by Frodsham Methodist Church
              and used with their kind permission.

The love of God comes close
where stands an open door,
to let the stranger in,
to mingle rich and poor.
The love of God is here to stay,
embracing those who walk His way.

2. The peace of God comes close
to those caught in the storm,
forgoing lives of ease
to ease the lives forlorn.
The peace of God is here to stay,
embracing those who walk His way.

3. The joy of God comes close
where faith encounters fears,
where heights and depths of life
are found through smiles and tears.
The joy of God is here to stay,
embracing those who walk His way.

4. The grace of God comes close
to those whose grace is spent,
when hearts are tired or sore
and hope is bruised and bent.
The grace of God is here to stay,
embracing those who walk His way. 
 
5. The Son of God comes close
where people praise his name,
where bread and wine are blest
and shared as when he came.
The Son of God is here to stay,
embracing those who walk His way;

Blessing 

Having gathered for worship
we go, strengthened to live our faith as church in the world
and to dwell with each other in community,
and the blessing of God, Creator, Son and Spirit, goes with us. Amen

 

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