Sunday Worship 28 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 28 January 2024

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Nicola Durley-Smith

 
Welcome

My name is Nicola Furley-Smith, Secretary for Ministries and today’s service comes from Purley.

Call to Worship

As Christians living in a broken world, we are aware of the need for healing in our own lives, in the lives of others, and in our world. Christ offers us that healing, wholeness, and transformation.

So come and praise the God who makes us whole.  Come and hear his life-giving word. Come you who have an awareness of the need for transformation.  As we gather to worship in God’s name: may the Lord be with us. Amen.

Hymn     Eternal God, Your Love’s Tremendous Glory
Alan Gaunt © 1991 Stainer & Bell Ltd Printed and Podcast in accordance 
with One Licence No A-734713  Sung by Paul Robinson and used with his kind permission.

Eternal God, your love’s tremendous glory
cascades through life in overflowing grace,
to tell creation’s meaning in the story
of love evolving love from time and space.

Eternal Son of God, uniquely precious,
in you, deserted, scorned and crucified,
God’s love has fathomed sin and death’s deep darkness,
and flawed humanity is glorified.

Eternal Spirit, with us like a mother,
embracing us in love serene and pure:
you nurture strength to follow Christ our brother,
as full-grown children, confident and sure.

Love’s Trinity, self-perfect, self-sustaining;
love which commands, enables and obeys:
you give yourself, in boundless joy, creating
one vast increasing harmony of praise.
 
We ask you now, complete your image in us;
this love of yours, our source and guide and goal.
May love in us, seek love and serve love’s purpose,
till we ascend with Christ and find love whole.

Prayer of Approach and Confession (based on Psalm 111)

O God of life, with our whole hearts, we praise you.
We lift up our voices in praise
as people who gather to sing and proclaim,
as people who gather to remember your redeeming love,
as people who gather to hear of your faithfulness and your grace.
All glory belongs to you, God.

As we come to you in worship and praise:
we will give thanks to you with our whole heart. 
As we hear and receive your Word of Life:
we will give thanks to you with our whole heart.
As we turn to you, help us to turn away from all that distracts us:
we will give thanks to you with our whole heart.
As we come into your presence 
send your life-giving Spirit that we may see the world as you do:
God’s praise endures for ever. Amen.

Healing and forgiving God,
we confess to you before this congregation,
the times we have failed to recognise you in those whom we meet.
We confess to you the times we have walked away from those who need your healing presence.
We confess to you the times we have hurt and failed others.
Be gracious, be merciful and heal us, 
in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. 
Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn     Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord
Anonymous, Public Domain.  Sung by Justin Stretch of St Lawrence Church Chorley and used with their kind permission.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord,
Holy is the Lord God almighty.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord,
Holy is the Lord God almighty.
Who was, and is, and is to come,
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.

Blessed, blessed, blessed is the Lord,
Blessed is the Lord God almighty.
Blessed, blessed, blessed is the Lord,
Blessed is the Lord God almighty.
Who was, and is, and is to come,
Blessed, blessed, blessed is the Lord.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus is the Lord,
Jesus is the Lord God almighty.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus is the Lord,
Jesus is the Lord God almighty.
Who was, and is, and is to come,
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus is the Lord.

Worthy, worthy, worthy is the Lord,
worthy is the Lord God almighty.
Worthy, worthy, worthy is the Lord,
worthy is the Lord God almighty.
Who was, and is, and is to come,
worthy, worthy, worthy is the Lord.
 
Reading     Deuteronomy 18 vv.15-20

“Instead, he will send you a prophet like me from among your own people, and you are to obey him. On the day that you were gathered at Mount Sinai, you begged not to hear the Lord speak again or to see his fiery presence any more, because you were afraid you would die.” So the Lord said to me, “They have made a wise request.  I will send them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will tell him what to say, and he will tell the people everything I command.  He will speak in my name, and I will punish anyone who refuses to obey him.  But if any prophet dares to speak a message in my name when I did not command him to do so, he must die for it, and so must any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods.”

Reading     St Mark 1 vv.21-28

Jesus and his disciples came to the town of Capernaum, and on the next Sabbath Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach.  The people who heard him were amazed at the way he taught, for he wasn’t like the teachers of the Law; instead, he taught with authority.  Just then a man with an evil spirit in him came into the synagogue and screamed,  “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Are you here to destroy us? I know who you are – you are God’s holy messenger!”  Jesus ordered the spirit, “Be quiet, and come out of the man!”  The evil spirit shook the man hard, gave a loud scream, and came out of him.  The people were all so amazed that they started saying to one another, “What is this? Is it some kind of new teaching? This man has authority to give orders to the evil spirits, and they obey him!” And so the news about Jesus spread quickly everywhere in the province of Galilee.

Sermon

In Epiphany we are adjusting to the wonder of the Jesus event.  Possessed by the Holy Spirit,  fresh from successfully confronting Satan in the wilderness,  preaching the reign of God,  and now in the company of at least four followers,  it’s time for Jesus’ public ministry to gather momentum.

Mark is the earliest Gospel and the briefest but we are still left out of breath by the sheer impact of what Jesus the man has achieved.   There are no birth stories to ease our way in.  Immediately (one of Mark’s favourite words)  we are thrown into the public ministry of Jesus. And it’s time for fighting talk.

The scene in a Capernaum synagogue a setting of prayer, teaching, worship, and community gathering centres around questions of Jesus’ authority.  Why does he do what he does?  For whom does he speak and act?  Who has authorized his ministry? The answers to those questions emerge through contests and controversies,  beginning here and extending into Mark 3.  And more will recur later in Mark’s Gospel too.  But for now,  Mark wants us to know,  here at the outset of Jesus’ public ministry that Jesus’ authority will be a contested authority.  Jesus’ presence, words, and deeds threaten other forces that claim authority over people’s lives.  These other authorities have everything to lose.

There is no hesitation in the narrative.   Mark tells us in his opening words that this amazing encounter is actually good news for the world.  This new experience of Jesus s positive and affirming. This new experience of Jesus will enable us  to cope with the most difficult of circumstances.    This is Mark’s message to his readers,  for they are living in the toughest of times.  Persecution faces the fledgling Christian community.   Where disasters both natural and man-made crowd the daily headlines.  Only an astounding message can now pierce the darkness.   And this is it. 

We are still in chapter one of this remarkable Gospel when Jesus is seen to be confronting the demons of his day.   His presence is so authoritative that the powers of darkness are thrown into retreat. The man with the unclean spirit finds Jesus.  His opening question  Is asked by the spirit that possesses him.   “Why are you picking this fight?”  “Couldn’t you have just left things as they were between us?” 

The contest does not last long – this isn’t exactly the fairest of fights in terms of the strength.  We can’t be sure whether the spirit’s next question  “Have you come to destroy us unclean spirits?”  is a fearful acknowledgement that its doom is sealed or an arrogant boast.  Whatever it is, the spirit is soon gone,  expelled from the man with a few words from Jesus.  No prayers.  No formulas.  No props.  Just commands. Mark gives no information about what happens to the spirit. It is destroyed. 

If you read Mark’s Gospel then you know ‘immediately’  that God is taking on the powers of darkness.  It will all come to a breathtaking climax fifteen chapters later.  And we are reminded that when Jesus hangs on the cross,  and the darkness covers the whole earth a centurion there was moved to exclaim in wonder:  This man was truly God’s Son. (Mark 15.39) 

Who is Jesus? is the question we need to ask in the light of this epiphany. The answer is unequivocal.   This man is The Holy One of God.   Even the winds and the waves bow to his authority.  It is clear that nothing in all creation is able to stand in the way of God’s presence in Christ Jesus.  Throughout the Gospels, the representatives of evil and the powers of darkness all give testimony to this truth. 

This seemingly simple story about a healing is enough to convince the crowd that something astounding is happening.  They are amazed. Amazed not by the fact that he is allowed to teach in the synagogue but by the manner of his teaching. Mark says Jesus teaches as one having authority.  Perhaps Mark is taking a pot shot at the Jewish legal experts,  the scribes, I don’t know.   But what it does is to issue a challenge.  Jesus is the one who claims the authority to make assertions about the way things are and the way things shall be. Jesus is the one who speaks about the newness of the kingdom of God breaking through and nothing is able to stand in its way.  Jesus is the one who speaks on behalf of God.

In Jesus’ time there was an urgent hope that the prophecy of Deuteronomy would again be fulfilled, that there would arise a prophet like Moses whose relationship with God would give new life to Israel’s traditions. Mark’s Jesus is recognised as the one with such personal authority to bring the Scriptures to life powerfully in the present,  ‘not as the scribes’ who only copied out what had been written in the past.  The opposition of ‘the unclean spirit’ to ‘the Holy One of God’  echoes Deuteronomy’s choice between ‘other gods’ and ‘your God’,  disobedience and obedience,  death and life. 

The people of the land had longed for the day when such a prophet would be in their midst.  Our reading from Deuteronomy gives voice to this hope.  Prophets are a rather complicated gift. According to Deuteronomy they were a gift from God to the people who needed to hear what God had to say but were too afraid to listen because they might not like what was being said. 

The context for Deuteronomy is at the end of Moses’ life as the wandering Israelites prepare to enter the Promised Land.  Moses is the only leader they have ever known,  and his impending death puts the community in jeopardy.  Such times as these  Prophets are vital to the wellbeing of the people. The problem was not finding a prophet it was finding a prophet that was truly speaking for God. 2 Kings tells that the king of Israel had 400 prophets at his disposal! The problem is that the words of the true prophets are quite often the last thing that people want to hear. The word of God is hard to bear. Most people and communities have a hard time hearing the words that demand a drastic change of belief or practices,  and so the tendency is to ignore such words of judgment or to dismiss them as the words of a false prophet.  The writers of Deuteronomy were practical people.  The proof of the pudding was in the eating.  The word from true prophets had authority because there was evidence afterwards that what they had said was true Turn back to God says the prophets or else God will allow people will be taken into captivity by Assyria says Hosea’ God’s coming judgment will be visited on the northern kingdom of Israel says Amos’  Jerusalem will be laid waste says Micah. Such is their authority.

The same is true for Jesus. Mark’s evidence is stark: the sick were healed,
the demons were cast out;  the kingdom was breaking through into people’s lives.   In Jesus,  the power of God over all that diminishes human life was present.  

This text also speaks to Jesus’ life and ministry.  His truths were not easy to hear,  and eventually it was his truth telling that would lead him to death on a cross.  So where are the prophets today?  Who speaks for God? These questions are asked over and over again about Jesus. Is he the real deal?  Is he really speaking for God,  or is he just another itinerant prophet?
Many did not believe him because they had already formed their own ideas of what the Messiah was to be,  and Jesus’ message of grace and forgiveness was nothing like they envisioned.  Still others were clear that this was Joseph’s son, a carpenter,  who could not possibly be proclaiming God’s will.  Yet all of the things in the Deuteronomy passage can be shown in Jesus’ life, preaching, and death.

So where are the prophets today?  Who speaks for God? This passage begins with the reason why prophets are needed.  It reaches back to the giving of the law in Exodus 19 and 20. When the people heard God speak they were so frightened,  they begged Moses to speak with God and be their mediator.  Prophets are selected by God for the sake of the people.  Prophets answer to God,  not to the people, so they are free to speak the truth.  Prophets also come “from among their own people”. These speakers of truth are homegrown.  They know the ways and the hearts of the people they speak to and connect with them. They who speak for God must also be paid attention to, for to ignore their calls is the same as ignoring God.

We are the prophets of our time. We may find difficulty in our effort to discern the word of God in our midst, and yet the task is of the utmost importance. The task of determining God’s word to us will require a great effort on our part and a willingness to listen for the word that challenges all that we hold dear and believe to be true.  In the light of Epiphany as the powers of darkness fade let us acknowledge that the word of God is, indeed, difficult to bear and to hear, but the alternative — being cut off from God, unable to look beyond our human limits and see God’s dream for us and for his world is simply untenable.

Hymn     At the Name of Jesus
Caroline M. Noel (1870) Public Domain.  Sung by the Northern Baptist Association and used with their kind permisson.

 At the name of Jesus ev’ry knee shall bow,
ev’ry tongue confess him King of glory now;
’tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

Mighty and mysterious, in the highest height,
God from everlasting very light of light.
In the Father’s bosom with the Spirit blest,
Love, in love eternal, Rest, in perfect rest.

Humbled for a season to receive a name
from the lips of sinners unto whom he came,
faithfully he bore it spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious when from death he passed;

Bore it up triumphant with its human light,
thro’ all ranks of creatures to the central height,
to the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast,
filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.

In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue
all that is not holy, all that is not true;
crown him as your captain in temptation’s hour;
let his will enfold you in its light and pow’r.

Christians, this Lord Jesus shall return again
in his Father’s glory, with his angel train;
for all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him King of glory now.
 
Prayers of Intercession

O God, Giver of Life, in the dark places of the world where ignorance and fear breed cruelty and destruction, may your Holy Spirit move to banish all fear.

In the hearts of powerful leaders and governments who can change the world for worse or better, may your Holy Spirit move to banish all fear.

Through the healing touch of doctors & nurses in hospitals & hospices, wherever people cry for comfort, may your Holy Spirit move to banish all fear.

Wherever your children’s hearts are broken, and love in families and amongst friends has died, may your Holy Spirit move to banish all fear.

Where innocents are caught in turmoil and crossfire, and there’s despair in every shadow, may your Holy Spirit move to banish all fear.

Where your church has forgotten to proclaim your message  and the voices of your people remain silent may your Holy Spirit move to banish all fear that we may go forth and declare your redeeming love.
Now and always. AMEN.

Hymn     Go Forth and Tell! O Church of God, Awake
J. E. Seddon © Mrs. C. Seddon/Jubilate Hymns, admin. by Hope Publishing Company Printed and Podcast in accordance with One Licence No A-734713  BBC Songs of Praise

Go forth and tell!  O Church of God, awake!
God’s saving news to all the nations take:
proclaim Christ Jesus, Saviour, Lord and King,
that all the world his glorious praise may sing.

Go forth and tell! God’s love embraces all,
he will in grace respond to all who call:
how shall they call if they have never heard
the gracious invitation of his word?
 
Go forth and tell! O Church of God, arise!
Go in the strength which Christ your Lord supplies;
go till all nations his great name adore
and serve him, Lord and King for evermore.

Blessing

Go forth from this place into the world, seek out the lost and lonely,
care for those who are hurt and sick.Go in the name of Christ to love and serve the Lord. Amen.

And the blessing of God Almighty Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Be amongst us and remain with us this day and for evermore. Amen.

 
 

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