Sunday Worship 21 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
 

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 21 January 2024

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Andy Braunston

 
Welcome

As the strains of George and Ira Gershwin’s controversial song, It Ain’t Necessarily So fade away we gather to listen to God’s word, found in scripture, sermon, song and silence.  The Gershwin brothers were Jewish, well versed in the Bible and the music of the Synagogue, and used those influences to write their song – a song which reminds us to think, interpret, and search for truth. We read and interpret the Bible always in community, knowing that truth is found in many ways.  Today we listen to some of Jonah’s story – a parable about fidelity – the faithfulness of the pagan people of Nineveh and the disobedience of Jonah.  

Call to Worship

We gather this day, O God, Source of all that is, to listen to Your voice, heard in scripture, sermon, song, and silence.
Help us to listen.

We gather this day, O God, our Saviour and Sovereign, to rest, recharge and repent, to be confronted, again, with Your powerful Word.
Help us to listen

We gather this day, O God, Spirit of fire and energy, to be inspired and provoked to show our love and life to a hurting world.
Help us to listen.

We gather this day, O God, Trinity of tender love, that we might learn to be Your Church, obedient to Your will and faithful to Your call. 
Help us to listen.

Hymn     Loving Creator Grant To  Your Children
Daniel thambyrajah Niles (1908-1970) © 1991, GIA/Christian Conference of Asia Printed and Podcast in accordance with One Licence No A-734713 Performed by Ian McCrorie, John Kitchen and the Scottish Festival Singers and used with their kind permission.
 
Loving Creator, grant to your children
mercy and blessing, songs never-ceasing;
grace to invite us, peace to unite us – 
Loving Creator, Parent and God.

Jesus, Redeemer, help us remember
your pain and passion, your resurrection:
your call to follow, your love tomorrow – 
Jesus, Redeemer, our Friend our Lord.
 
Spirit descending, Your light unending
Brings hope and healing, is truth revealing.
Dispel our blindness, inspire our kindness,
Spirit descending, Spirit adored.

Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness

Great God, Source of life,
we come to worship with our praises and prayers,
needing to both rest in Your presence
and find food for our journey.

Great God, Guide through life,
we come to You in worship with our pain and our protest,
needing to find both forgiveness and passion for life.

Great God, Goal of life,
we come to You in worship with our weariness and our yearning,
needing to find both energy and inspiration.

Most Holy Trinity, forgive us when we’ve 
avoided Your call,
denied what Your actions,
and decried others who seek You.
Forgive us, Great God, and give us time to change.  Amen.

Words of Assurance

Hear good news – God loves us and, when we turn back, runs, like a loving father, to welcome us home.   Hear good news God is like a fierce mother who looks out for us, grieves when we suffer, and delights in our joy.   Hear good news, like a rock, God is steady and sure giving us a firm foundation.   Hear good news – you are forgiven, have the strength to forgive yourself. Amen!

Grumpy Jonah & Curious Disciples

The book of Jonah is a highly entertaining parable about God working in unexpected places with unexpected people.  The pagan folk of Nineveh respond to God’s call, through Jonah, and repent.  Jonah, first resisting God’s call running off to Spain, then getting thrown overboard and delivered up from a whale, sulks when the people repent!  He’s the type of preacher that delights in the sins of the congregation and looks forward to divine punishment – of others of course.  Jonah’s grumpiness in the face of God’s grace is in stark contrast to the willingness of Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow.  We play, today, with themes of call, fidelity and disobedience.  Let’s pray.

Prayer of Inspiration

Faithful God, speak through our infidelity.
Calling God, speak through our disobedience.
Curious God, speak through our indifference,
that we may hear, change, and find life.  Amen.

Reading     Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Hymn     Psalm 62: 5-12
From the Psalms Sung project – ThePsalmsSung.org

Find rest, my soul, in God alone;
in him my hope is ever sure.
My safety, fortress, sheltering rock—
in him alone I am secure.

My honour and salvation rest
on God, my rock and mighty fort.
O people, trust in him always;
to him alone pour out your heart.

Do not seek after wealth by force,
or triumph in ill-gotten gain;
and even though your goods increase,
set not your heart on what is vain.

My God has spoken; I have heard
that you are strong and loving, Lord.
Each one according to his deeds
you will assuredly reward.
 
Reading     St Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Sermon 

All religions, it seems to me, are based around stories through which truth is conveyed.  In the Bible we read many stories which give us insights into the people who wrote them, their culture, and their understandings of God.  Through those stories we understand ourselves, our culture, and God a little better.  Of course, the best religious stories are those which are rather subversive and where meanings aren’t immediately obvious.  We puzzle and wonder if it ain’t necessarily so.
Jonah’s story is popular with Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  We have a disobedience prophet, a pagan nation who respond to God’s call, a fish doing God’s will, and even repentant cows.  Everyone loves stories of the self-righteous being unpleasing to God and of God being found in unlikely places with unlikely people.  The story was written to be subversive in an era after the return of the Jewish elite from exile where they found those who had been left behind had married people from other cultures and faiths.  There were strong pushes for people to prove their fidelity to God by divorcing their pagan wives and abandoning them and their children which would have meant, at best, destitution and, at worse, death.  The writer of Jonah clearly didn’t think this understanding of God’s will was necessarily so. 

Against that background we read of the self-righteous disobedient prophet – the one who should know what God is about – and the king, people, and cattle of Nineveh who repent even though they aren’t supposed to know and understand God.  Imagine telling such a story in a culture wanting racial and religious monotony.  Imagine the reaction of the priests wanting to cast out foreigners.  I hope people laughed with delight as they heard the story, and after they finished laughing thought deeply about what was necessarily so.

Like all good stories we’re not sure if it’s a fable or a farce – but both fable and farce can convey truth.  God’s light, which should have been known by the Jewish people, is cast on pagans who respond well.  It makes us wonder who really knows God.

When we think about the Ninevites’ repentance we’re reminded of one of the main jokes in the Bible – those outside God’s people tend to get things more readily than God’s own people do!  Balaam’s donkey knows better than Balaam, Ruth – the pagan outsider finds her way into God’s people despite Naomi trying to send her away, and the Good Samaritan who knows and does God’s will more than the priest and the Levite.  They all hear God’s voice and obey whilst God’s people turn away.  They all know God better than God’s own people do.
Jonah hears God – he knows what God wants but runs to the other end of the world – to Spain at the farthest reaches of the Mediterranean.  The pagan sea farers know that he’s displeased God and throw him overboard; even the fish gets God’s will better than Jonah and spews the reluctant prophet out at the right place.  Bizarrely, and the writer was having fun here, the people of Nineveh repent after hearing a one sentence sermon which doesn’t mention God “forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” If only preaching was so easy!  If only it was necessarily so!

Jonah’s part in the story is as the unfaithful member of God’s people.  Maybe the writer used him as a metaphor for the leaders of the day.  Jonah knows God’s love and mercy but acts as if he doesn’t.  In the passage following on from today’s Jonah becomes furious that the people repent, and God forgives them.  Jonah settled down waiting for the fireworks of destruction but is disappointed as the people turn to God and put aside their sin and wickedness.   Even Jonah’s sermon doesn’t mention God’s love and mercy – the other prophets always implore people to turn back to the love and grace of God.  Jonah just preaches doom and yet the people still repent.  In this wonderful story the one who knows, or should know God acts as if he doesn’t, whilst the ones who don’t know God act as if they do!  

Then there’s God who’s in the story.  Throughout the Bible there’s a fear that if God’s people turn away then God will choose another people.  This is seen in the Moses stories after the people seem to worship the golden calf and Jesus makes clear that if the first people invited to the feast don’t respond, others will be.  God’s love and mercy extend and extend in the Scriptures – to the poor and forsaken, to those left behind by their society, to God’s own people again and again and, in today’s reading, to the pagan people of Nineveh.  God’s love and mercy extend beyond the boundaries of race and faith and the story teller has a lot of fun showing this. Faithful pagans know God better than the unfaithful prophet proving it ain’t necessarily so!

In our Gospel reading we have a rather better reaction in the story to God’s call.  Instead of running away, Simon, Andrew, James, and John all respond to Jesus’ call to follow.  Not knowing what that call might involve they trust and follow.  Like the writer of Jonah, Jesus is being subversive in his story telling.  Jesus chose to proclaim the Kingdom of God which stood in stark contrast to the earthly kingdom of Herod  and the Roman empire.  Anxious to show he was a good Jew, Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple – a prerogative of kings, he arranged for the construction of buildings over the tombs of the patriarchs in Hebron to show he honoured Jewish traditions, and he built cities to impress his patron the Emperor Augustus.  Herod’s son, Antipas, built a city just three miles from Nazareth and then another city, Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee.  These cities stood as the prestige and power of the Herodian dynasty – Jesus is not recorded as entering those cities.  

Instead, Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom is about call and response – a call to repentance and a change of life having repented.  Jesus called people to change direction so that they would be orientated to God and made God’s priorities their own. Such a radical change involved resistance – something hinted at in Mark’s opening verse in today’s reading noting that Jesus’ cousin, John, had been arrested by Herod Antipas.  

Today’s passage reminds us that Jesus’ subversive message was not his alone to proclaim.  He called four people in today’s reading and continues to call people to follow him, to undermine the power structures of this world with the sure foundation of God’s kingdom.  In both the Gospel reading and in Jonah the key to understanding is the idea of call and response.  God calls and we must decide how to respond.  Will we, like Jonah, run to the ends of the earth or, like the disciples become curious followers?  Will we, like Jonah, become grumpy about God’s all-inclusive love or, like Jesus call all people into God’s kingdom?  Will we, like those who ruled Israel after the Exile, insist that only we know God or will we, like the anonymous writer of Jonah, seek discipleship amongst those on the outside?

Let’s pray:

Calling God,
we hear Your cry, knowing we have to respond.
Help us to repent and turn to You, not flee from Your presence.

Including God,
we know your love and life extend to all, even those on the edge.
Help us to learn from the outsider.

Subversive God,
we know Your Kingdom is not like ours. 
Help us to expose and turn the tables on injustice. 
So that evil may not have the last word.  Amen

Hymn     Jesus Lover of My Soul
Charles Wesley 1740, public domain, sung by the 200 Mass Voice Choir of St Andrew’s Church The Kirk,  Madras Musical Association, TELC Adhaikalanathar Lutheran Church, TELC Arulnathar Lutheran Church Kellys, Lutheran Men’s Voice, MCC Allumni Choir, CSI Redeemers Church Anna Nagar, Voice of Eden, The Kingdom’s Singers and used with their kind permission.

Jesus, lover of my soul,
let me to thy bosom fly,
while the nearer waters roll,
while the tempest still is high;
hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
till the storm of life is past;
safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last!

Other refuge have I none;
hangs my helpless soul on thee;
leave, ah! leave me not alone,
come support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed.
All my help from thee I bring.
Cover my defenceless head
with the shadow of thy wing.

Thou, O Christ, art all I want,
more than all in thee I find;
raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is thy name,
I am all unrighteousness!
False and full of sin I am,
Thou art full of truth and grace.

Plenteous grace with thee is found,
grace to cover all my sin;
let the healing streams abound;
make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art;
freely let me take of thee;
spring thou up within my heart,
rise to all eternity.
 
Affirmation of Faith

Across the ages, O God, Source of Life, we hear Your call to love justice and mercy and to show kindness to the poor and the stranger.
Other refuge have we none.

Through story, comedy, history, and fable, Risen Jesus, we hear Your call to follow and subvert the powers of our age as we proclaim Your coming realm.  
Other refuge have we none.

In worship and work, rest and play, and in solitude and stillness, committee and council, we hear Your call, O God, Goal of our Existence, to make bread, life, and beauty available to all.  
Other refuge have we none.

Help us, Eternal Trinity, to hear and respond when You call, that we may be found faithful for
other refuge have we none.

Intercessions

Eternal One, we hear Your call to love our world and we bring You now its praise and pain, its power and protest.

We pray, O God, for all who are displaced by war, terror, persecution, climate change, and poverty.  We hear Your call to be justice and peace makers knowing that this risks anger and hatred.  

pause

Give us the strength, O God, to follow where You call us.

We pray, O God, for those in despair…those who think life is not worth living, who can’t make ends meet, who struggle in insecure and poor accommodation, who yearn for asylum to be granted, who long to live with dignity.

pause

Give us the strength, O God, to follow where You call us.

We pray, O God, for those who are ill in mind, body or spirit, and those who care for them

longer pause

We remember those who are lonely and isolated and for those whose grief seems overpowering.

longer pause

Give us the strength, O God, to follow where You call us.

We pray for ourselves, O God, that we may reject any tendency to be judgmental like Jonah but, like the Ninevites in the story, respond to Your call with eager longing.

pause

Give us the strength, O God, to follow where You call us.

We join all our prayers together as we pray as Jesus taught saying Our Father….

Offertory

Giving is part of our response to God.  We give because it’s good for us, it helps us be free from the clinging allure of wealth.  We give because it’s good for others, through our gifts lives are changed.  We give because God gave and calls us to do the same.  We give our time, our talents and our treasure.  We give through cash in envelopes or lose on the plate, we give direct to the bank, we give through Gift Aid.  We give and we thank God for the opportunity to respond to the call to make a difference.

God of all that is good,
we thank You for the myriad gifts You give us,
bless these gifts we offer now,
that we may use them wisely
and always hear where you are calling us to follow. Amen.

Hymn     For Your Generous Providing
© Leith Fisher (b 1941) performed by the Scottish Festival Singers, Ian McCrorie (Conductor), John Langdon (Organ) Printed and Podcast in accordance with One Licence No A-734713

For your generous providing which sustain us all our days, 
for your Spirit here residing, we proclaim our heartfelt praise. 
Through the depths of joy and sorrow, though the road be smooth or rough, 
fearless, we can face tomorrow for your grace will be enough.  

Hush our world’s seductive noises tempting us to stand alone; 
save us from the siren voices calling us to trust our own. 
For those snared by earthly treasure, lured by false security, 
Jesus, true and only measure, spring the trap to set folk free.
 
Round your table, through your giving, show us how to live and pray
till your kingdom’s way of living is the bread we share each day:
bread for us and for our neighbour, bread for body, mind, and soul,
bread of heaven and human labour – broken bread that makes us whole.

Holy Communion

O Most High,
before the ages You called us to be Your own people,
blessed us with precious law, raised up judges in time of crisis,
and, through the prophets, gave us the hope of salvation.
But we turned away from You,
trusting in war, alliance, and politics instead.
In the bitter years of exile, You sustained and reformed us,
just as You had during the wilderness years.
Despite the agonies of invasion and occupation,
You taught us to trust in the hope of liberation.

Jesus, our Saviour, in the fullness of time You became one with us,
bearing our flesh and our frailty,
suffering our pain, and feeling our protests.
You proclaimed liberation to the poor, freedom to the imprisoned,
sight for the blind and the Year of Divine Favour.  
You subverted the powers of the age,
turning the tables on the indifferent rich by lifting up the lowly.
Yet You were struck down by evil men,
betrayed, tried, tortured, mocked, and crucified,
where Your arms stretched out between heaven and earth
revealing powerful liberating love that seeks us out and changes us.
In the tomb You defeated the powers of death and destruction,
showing Yourself to be a wounded healer.

Most Holy Spirit,
You came upon frightened disciples,
teaching them the power and grace of inclusion,
helping Your Church to see You at work
in unexpected places with unexpected people.   
Help us, to hear Your call, 
subvert unjust power, 
and proclaim Your all-inclusive love.

For we remember the night when Jesus, 
before he was struck down,
shared in the simplicity of meal with his friends.  
During the meal he said the ancient blessing over the bread, 
broke it and gave it to his friends saying:

“This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, 
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Come now, O Holy Spirit,
transform these simple things of bread and wine, 
and make us obedient to Jesus’ call 
to show forth his sacrifice on the Cross 
by this broken bread and outpoured wine to eat and drink.
Help us to recognise that Jesus, himself, risen and ascended, 
is present here and gives himself to us 
for our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace. 

United with Jesus, 
and with the whole Church in earth and heaven, 
we gather at this table to present You, Eternal One,
our sacrifice of thanksgiving 
and to renew the offering of ourselves in response to Your call;
we rejoice in the promise of Jesus’ coming in glory,
and, through Him, with Him, and in Him,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
we know that all honour and glory is Your’s, O Most High, 
forever and ever.  Amen.

These are holy gifts for holy people,
Eat and drink and be renewed for service.

Music for Communion     I Watch the Sunrise by John Glynn 
performed by Joy and Ruth Everingham and used with their kind permission.  Podcast in accordance with One Licence No A-734713

Post Communion Prayer

Most holy and loving God: for being present among us, we thank you!
For making us one with You, we thank you!
For enabling us to know You more, we thank you!
For feeding us with Your bread of life, we thank you!
For uniting us with Your people, we thank you!
For the reminder of your covenant promises, we thank you!
For this sign of forgiveness, we thank you!
For the time to express our gratitude, we thank you!
For the promise of a future together, we thank you!
 
Hymn     Lord You Have Come to the Sea Shore
© 1979, 1987, Cesáreo Gabaráin. Published by OCP. All rights reserved. Printed and Podcast in accordance with One Licence No A-734713 Sung by the 7pm Choir of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Ajax, ON Canada and used with their kind permission.
 
Lord, you have come to the seashore,
neither searching for 
the rich nor the wise,
desiring only that I should follow.

O, Lord, with your eyes set upon me,
gently smiling, you have spoken my name;
all I longed for I have found
by the water,
at your side, I will seek other shores.

Lord, see my goods, my possessions;
in my boat you find no power, no wealth.
Will you accept, then, 
my nets and labour?

O, Lord, with your eyes set upon me,
gently smiling, you have spoken my name;
all I longed for I have found
by the water,
at your side, I will seek other shores.

O, Lord, with your eyes  set upon me,
gently smiling, you have spoken my name;
all I longed for I have
found by the water, at your side, 
I will seek other shores.
 
O, Lord, with your eyes set upon me,
gently smiling, you have spoken my name;
all I longed for I have found
by the water,
at your side, I will seek other shores.

Blessing

May the One who has called you since before the ages began,
the One whose eyes have gently smiled at you,
the One who accepts your nets and your labour,
bless you, that you may proclaim the good news,
show gentle love to those around you,
and accept all who are placed in your path.
And the blessing of our Almighty yet playful God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be with you now and always, Amen.

 
 

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