Sunday Worship 14 January 2024

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 14 Janury 2024

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Dr Janet Tollington

 
Introduction and Call to Worship
 
Good morning, my name is Janet Tollington and I am a retired United Reformed Church minister, living near Cambridge.  I am a member of Downing Place URC; but I am recording this service in my home.  We’re in the season of Epiphany when the church focuses on the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.  We will widen that theme this morning as we reflect on how God self-revealed to Samuel and to Nathanael as individuals; and consider what implications this might have for us.

Come!  Let us celebrate that Christ has come into our world and that God is with us – all of us, wherever we are this day.  
Let us lift our hearts and voices in praise as we rejoice together.
Let us draw near to God with the concerns that are weighing us down.  
Come!  Let us worship God.  

Hymn     Let Earth and Heaven Combine 
Charles Wesley 1745 (public domain) played and sung by Garah Moore of the Isle of Man Methodist Church and used with their kind permission.

Let earth and heaven combine, angels and all agree,
to praise in songs divine the incarnate Deity,
our God contracted to a span,
incomprehensibly made man.

He laid his glory by, he wrapped him in our clay;
unmarked by human eye, the latent Godhead lay;
infant of days he here became,
and bore the mild Immanuel’s name.

Unsearchable the love that has the Saviour brought;
the grace is far above both earth’s and angel’s thought:
suffice for us that God, we know,
our God, is manifest below.

He deigns in flesh to appear, widest extremes to join;
to bring our vileness near, and make us all divine:
and we the life of God shall know,
for God is manifest below.
 
Made perfect first in love, and sanctified by grace,
we shall from earth remove, and see his glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
and we shall all be lost in God.

Prayer 

Holy God, Creator of all that is, we gather to praise and thank you for the wonders of the cosmos, for the world in which we live, for life itself; and for your trust in us, humanity, to act as stewards of this fragile earth. We praise and thank you that you have come amongst us, in Jesus, to reveal your purposes and ways of love.  In him you have shown us how it is possible to be fully human and to live according to your commands. We praise and thank you that through the outpouring of your Spirit you are active not only in all those who have opened their hearts to receive you; but also in the darkest places on earth.  Nowhere is beyond your reach, nor excluded from your blessings.

We come in adoration of you, O God, and also in humble confession. We confess that we have failed to live up to our calling as your people, to your trust in us.  We have failed to recognise the intricate connectedness of all that you have brought into being; we have put in jeopardy the very eco-system essential for all live, including our own.  We have failed to love our neighbours, all those for whom Jesus died that they might have life.  We have turned away from your demands to make peace and establish justice.  We have abdicated our responsibilities to act as stewards and to live as disciples of Christ, preferring instead, all too often, to lift the problems to you and to continue on the paths that lead to destruction.

Forgive us, gracious God, for our foolishness and for all our failings.  Have mercy on us and renew us through the love of Christ.  Invigorate us by your Spirit and lead us out to participate in your eternal work of establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth. Amen.
 
Assurance

‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’
Hear the word of grace and receive the assurance of pardon.
Your sins are forgiven, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

The Lord’s Prayer

Prayer of Illumination

Eternal God, you have revealed your nature and purposes through the scriptures and in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word.  Open our hearts and minds by the activity of your Spirit, to hear you speaking, that we may learn more of you and discover afresh your call on our lives.  Amen    

Reading     1 Samuel 3:1-10

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room;  the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.  Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down.  The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’  Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.  Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’

Hymn     O God, You Search Me and You Know Me (Psalm 139) 
Bernadette Farrell 1992 OCP Publications, sung by Chris Brunelle and used with his kind permission
Printed and Podcast in accordance with One Licence No A-734713
 
O God, you search me and you know me.
All my thoughts lie open to your gaze,
when I walk or lie down you are before me:
ever the maker and keeper of my days.

You know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar,
and with love everlasting you besiege me:
in ev’ry moment of life or death you are.

Before a word is on my tongue, Lord,
you have known its meaning through and through,
you are with me beyond my understanding:
God of my present, my past and future too.

Although your Spirit is upon me,
still I search for shelter from your light,
there is nowhere on earth I can escape you:
even the darkness is radiant in your sight.
 
For you created me and shaped me,
gave me life within my mother’s womb,
for the wonder of who I am I praise you:
safe in your hands, all creation is made new.

Reading     St John 1:43-51    

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

Sermon

May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Amen.

The story of the boy Samuel’s call may be familiar but its literary context sets it at the transition point from what’s known as the age of the Judges in Israel’s early history, to that of the monarchy.  This provides a fruitful backdrop for our reflections.  In the story Eli, a priest, is serving the altar at the Shiloh sanctuary where the Ark of God – the box that symbolised God’s presence with Israel – was being housed.  Straightaway we have a question to ponder – who determines where God is present?  God, or the people who choose where to house the Ark and when and where it needs to be moved?  It is God who determines; but there’s a danger that when we identify God’s presence with any specific location or physical object we are tending to suggest that we as humans have control of this!

In the story Eli is nearing the end of his life and in the previous chapter we’ve learned that his sons are corrupt and under divine judgment.  Eli knows that he represents the end of the line!  Samuel’s been dedicated to the service of God by his mother, Hannah; and she’s given him as an assistant to Eli.  Samuel is very young and at this point knows nothing personally about God.

As readers/hearers of the story we’re told that God called out to Samuel, by name, at night, while he was lying beside the Ark – Eli is in a different part of the sanctuary.  Samuel hears his name – is he dreaming?  Is it a real auditory experience?  Who might be calling?  How can he discern where the voice or his experience has originated?  Is it all in his imagination?  Samuel certainly wasn’t expecting to hear God calling and presumes Eli must want him for some reason.  The boy runs to the priest who sends him back to bed, denying that he had called – ‘you must have imagined it’.  Clearly Eli has no thought that God might call Samuel, or himself, for any reason.  We’ve been told that Eli’s eyes were growing dim; are we also been told that his faith, his expectancy that God might appear or be at work in his life were also diminishing?  Was he going through the motions of being a priest with no idea and little hope of what would happen when he died?  Would anyone succeed him, might the sanctuary fall into disuse or decay?  I wonder, does this picture of Eli’s decline resonate with your situation, or the experience of any of our churches today?

Neither Eli nor Samuel are giving any thought to God as the boy’s experience is repeated; and neither of them thinks to call on God to seek divine wisdom on what is happening.  But on the third occasion something prompts Eli to wonder whether it might actually be God who is taking the initiative and breaking into a situation of human inertia.  So he sends Samuel back to bed but tells him how to respond, using God’s name to open up a potential relationship, if he is called again.  So God makes a fourth attempt to communicate with Samuel and this time we’re told that God appears beside the Ark as well as calling his name.  God is wanting to open Samuel’s eyes, as well as his ears, to discern God’s presence; and this time the boy’s response marks the start of a personal relationship.

The following verses contain the message Samuel was to convey to Eli about the divine punishment that was coming.  Eli has to prompt him to fulfil this responsibility, even though it is a hard message to convey; and Samuel does so.  The chapter ends by telling us that Samuel grew in his God given prophetic role and became well known across the length and breadth of Israel as a faithful, reliable prophet of God.  Samuel became the one through whom God would go on to inaugurate the monarchy, to identify and anoint David as king.  A new political and religious era was coming into being through a young boy, who was enabled to discern God entering into his life and urged to respond positively to the call, even though it would often be hard.

Before we move on to our gospel passage its worth noticing that there is a theme of knowing and being known in this story alongside that of discerning.  Eli knew the name of God, he eventually passes it on to Samuel to use; but Eli seems to have little real knowledge of God in a personal sense.  There is no indication that a mutual relationship exists.  God, on the other hand, knows Eli and all about him and his situation; and has determined how his priestly ministry will come to an end.  God also knows Samuel, his name, his potential, his inner character; and God reaches out persistently, in more than one way until this divine revelation is recognised, intellectually by Eli, and personally by Samuel in a way that prompts his response.  God knows the people involved and God is the one who discerns the time, the place, and the method of revelation that will ultimately accomplish the divine purpose.  God doesn’t give up until the chosen person’s heart and mind become receptive and are stirred to respond.

I wonder, might God desire to inaugurate a new age in the life of the church?  Are we alert to the possibility that God might be seeking to reveal the divine nature and purposes through a new Samuel – a new generation as yet unchurched?  Have we the faith and the humility to live expectantly, trying to discern any new direction God may be taking – with a willingness to encourage others to begin a relationship with God by sharing the name of Jesus, and what we know of him, with them as the starting point, no matter what the consequences might be for us or the status quo of church life? 

The idea of introducing someone to Jesus is prominent in our gospel passage, as are the ideas about seeing, hearing, discerning – and knowing – that we have been considering.  The passage continues John’s account of the first disciples who followed Jesus.  The setting is Galilee and Philip, perhaps of Greek background, is invited to follow (along with Andrew and Simon Peter).  Philip then goes to tell his friend Nathanael and he speaks of Jesus as the one who had been promised by God in the scriptures (the law and the prophets) but also as an ordinary human being from the nearby town of Nazareth.  Nathanael’s immediate reaction is dismissive – nothing good can come from that place!  This is pure prejudice based on some pre-conceived idea that a person’s home town tells Nathanael all he needs to know about a person, even before he sets eyes on him!  Clearly this is ridiculous; yet I wonder do we allow a person’s origins, their ethnicity, race, colour etc, or any other label we attach to a group with which someone identifies, to pre-determine how we regard an individual.  Might we be guilty of doing this, even at a subconscious level, in some of the ways we think and speak?  Any prejudice can never be justified, everyone deserves a hearing and to be judged on their own merits.

Philip doesn’t chastise Nathanael nor try to argue with him, he simply invites him to ‘come and see’ for himself.  Jesus’ words, as Nathanael approaches, reveal his deep insight into Nathanael as a man, into his inner character; and that he was able to ‘see’ what he’d been doing before he came into sight.  Nathanael realises that this level of knowledge and discernment is extraordinary and beyond human ability; and he immediately responds to Jesus declaring him to be the Son of God and King of Israel, titles that identify him as the Messiah.  What a remarkable turnaround!  His encounter with Jesus has transformed Nathanael from a prejudiced sceptic into a witness to him as being from God.  Jesus adds that Nathanael will discern even greater truths about who he is if he becomes a disciple, referring to the story of Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28) where the founding ancestor of Israel became aware of God’s presence with him.  And Jesus claims for himself the title Son of Man, another clear Messianic idea drawn from the book of Daniel, that links with an emphasis in John’s gospel that Jesus is both human and divine – God incarnate, God revealed in human form.
The story of Nathanael sets before us the truth about Jesus as the one who embodied the revelation of God’s full nature and purposes, the one able to totally transform someone else’s life when they came face to face, the one who calls each of us to follow and thereby discover fullness of life.  May we respond like Nathanael and also follow the example of Philip by going out and inviting others to ‘come and see’ and pointing them to Jesus that through him they may welcome God into their lives.  Amen

Hymn     Will You Come and Follow Me 
©1987  WGRG, Iona Community, Govan, Glasgow G51 3UU, Scotland GIA Publications Ltd.
Performed by Ruth and Joy Everingham and used with their kind permission. Printed and Podcast in accordance with One Licence No A-734713

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave your self behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare,
will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
 
Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go here your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Offering

Bountiful God, we pause to acknowledge that all that we have is ours through your generous love and we are truly thankful.  In gratitude we respond by dedicating our offerings to you. Offerings of money for the work of your Church and in support of humanitarian causes that further your purposes where need is great. Offerings of our physical resources, our time, our intellects; our whole selves. Accept what we offer, bless it; and guide us so that all is used to build your kingdom, in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Intercessions

God of love, we bring to you our concerns about the people and situations that are on our hearts and in our minds this day.

In a world of darkness we pray that your light might shine to bring signs of hope and to reveal new pathways that lead towards justice, peace and life in its fulness, especially in the places where conflicts rage, or the consequences of natural disasters have undermined communities.

In silence we lift before you the places that have been in the media this week and all the people caught up in the situation – be they victims, aggressors, mediators, humanitarian aid workers, or those with power to change the course of events, or to rebuild.

(Pause)

Loving God: By your Spirit bring transformation, that your light may shine more brightly.

We pray for the Church in all its various forms of expression across the world and the church in which we each find our spiritual home.  May all who are members of Christ’s body hear again the call to follow and to serve you faithfully.  Renew us by your love that your Church may be encouraged and invigorated.

Inspire us to deeper love for one another and enable us to see where we might work together more effectively as partners in mission furthering your purposes.

(Pause)

Loving God: By your Spirit bring transformation, that your light may shine more brightly.

We pray for ourselves and our friends and family, all those with whom we share our daily lives.  May your love in us strengthen our relationships and enable us to be as Christ to any who are in need of healing, consolation, or support of any kind.  May we, also, be open to receive your love coming to us from others to meet our personal needs.

In silence we name those known to us in need of particular blessing; and we present our own needs too.

(Pause)

Loving God: By your Spirit bring transformation, that your light may shine more brightly.

We bring all these prayers in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Hymn     I, the Lord of Sea and Sky 
Daniel L Schutte© 1981 OCP Publications performed by Ruth and Joy Everingham & used with their kind permission. Printed & Podcast in accordance with One Licence No A-734713
 
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin
my hand will save.
I, who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord.  Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my words to them.
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord.  Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will send the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them.
My hand will save.
Finest bread I will provide
till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them.
Whom shall I send?
 
Here I am, Lord.  Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

Blessing  

Let us go in peace and joy in the service of God, to share the love of Christ.
And may the blessing of God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer be with you all, now and always.  Amen.
 

 

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