Sunday Worship 25 February 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 25 February 2024

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Paul Robinson

 
Welcome & Call to Worship 

Hello and welcome to this URC Daily Devotion Service. My name is Paul Robinson and I currently serve in the United Reformed Church as minister of The United Church in Rhyl. I’m also the convenor of the United Reformed Church’s Children and Youth Work committee.  As we come to worship, let still our hearts and minds. Psalm 19 says,  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands they have no speech; they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.  We join with creation in declaring the glory of God in our first hymn, “To God be the glory” 

Hymn     To God Be The Glory
Fanny Crosby (1875) public domain Sung by the 150 member mass chouir for the Classic Hymns Ancient of Days Album conducted by Emmanuel Ponraj, Pipe Organ: Leslie David  Recorded live at St Andrews Kirk Chennai in 2008 and used with their kind permission.

To God be the glory, great things he has done!
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the life-gate that all may go in.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, Let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son
and give him the glory, great things he has done!

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood!
To every believer the promise of God:
the vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, Let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son
and give him the glory, great things he has done!

Great things he has taught us, great things he has done,
and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son,
but purer and higher and greater will be
our joy and our wonder, when Jesus we see. 

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, Let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son
and give him the glory, great things he has done!

 
Prayer of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness 

Almighty God,
we come to worship your holy name.
You are worthy of our praise, adoration and thanks. 
We rejoice in the beauty of the world you created, 
the wisdom of your sovereign will,
the power of your presence,
and the incomparable love and grace you show us. 
We know you to be perfect in every way. 
And so as we bring you our worship today,
so your perfect faithfulness illuminates all the more clearly for us 
our own failings and short-comings.
We have sinned against you and others,
in thought, word and deed.
We have no other hope than to seek forgiveness
through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
who died to redeem us and show us grace.
In repentance we seek the faith to trust
in his unfailing love and ask that you would once again,
meet us with your Spirit to transform and renew us
into the people you would have us be. 
May our reflection and our thinking in your presence
lead us into that which you have prepared for us in the days ahead. 
And so, humbly, we offer ourselves once more in service and praise, 
to you, almighty God.  In Christ’s name we pray.  Amen. 

Hymn     My Hope is Built 
Edward Mote (1834) public domain sung by the choir of Mt Bethel Church, Marietta, Georgia, USA.
 
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood & righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand:
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
in every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil. 

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand:
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, his covenant, his blood,
support me in the whelming flood;
when all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay. 

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand:
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found:
dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne. 

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand:
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

 
Prayer of Illumination 

Psalm 19, which we used as our call to worship goes on to say, 

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 

The psalm concludes with a word of prayer that we use now as we turn to hear God’s Word proclaimed and then reflect upon it. 

May these words of my mouth, and this meditation of my heart, be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen 

Reading     St Mark 8:31-38 

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” 

Sermon 

Occasionally in ministry and also in my role as a governor of one of the schools here in Rhyl, I’ve been involved in interviewing people for roles and for jobs. And when you do such a thing, you are blessed with a whole pile of paperwork to go with the interviewing process. And one of the critical pieces of paper is the job description that has been put together.

And you’re trying to work out which of the candidates would be best suited to fulfilling the job description as it has been detailed for you. The job description usually comes with some attributes which people feel are essential to a role and to a job, and some which are desirable, perhaps not essential, but they would be quite nice to have as well. 

I wonder if you were to put a job description together  for what it meant to be a Christian,  what would be the essentials? What would be the desirable things that would go on that list?  Perhaps in the essential list you might have things like a certain belief, a certain set of statements of belief,  perhaps a particular  view of faith and trust in Christ,  perhaps a life of prayer,  of study of scripture, or perhaps it’s more about how it looks in the world, so being compassionate.

Non judgmental, inclusive, being truthful, having an integrity, perhaps we would put all of those things into the essential list.  What might be more, in in the desirable list? Well,  perhaps you would ask folk to be nice, to be kind, to be loving.  I know there would be many folk who would say, as a Christian, you know, it’d just be desirable for you not to be an idiot, really. 

What would you put on the list of being a Christian?  That job description.  And as you think of those essential and desirable things that you may wish to put on a list like that,  I want to ask you the question about how well you’re doing with those things. How are you doing at fulfilling the job description of being a Christian? 

Are there areas where you need to work some more?  Are there areas where you know that you’re succeeding and you get a sense that God is pleased with how you are  living and working and serving?  Perhaps there’s areas where you know you feel disappointed that you haven’t quite managed to fulfil all that God has asked of you. 

Perhaps you just feel a little overwhelmed even thinking about it in this kind of way.  That leads us to the question of course, what is God’s description of the role that we should fulfil as Christians?  And to answer that question, we turn to our Bible reading for today, and to Mark chapter 8. This reading is at the very central midpoint of Mark’s gospel, on the pivot between the first half and the second half of Mark’s gospel.

Many people have analyzed and recognized that in this, in the first half of Mark’s gospel, he is trying to show us and explore with us who Jesus is and what he was like.  And the second half  is how do you respond? How do you respond  to Christ?  And we see that through the lens of the disciples as they follow Christ.

And straight up here at the pivot point as we change from being in the first half to the second half of Mark’s Gospel, as we change from concentrating on who Jesus is, on how we might respond,  we get this little passage in which Jesus seems to lay down for us the job description of what it means to be a disciple. 

In that very famous verse in chapter eight, verse 34,  then he called the crowds to him, along with his disciples and he said,  whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  It seems that for Jesus, there are three bullet points on his job description for what it means to be a disciple, to be a Christian following him.  And the first of these bullet points  is that Christians are to deny themselves.  What does, what does that mean? Well, as we journey through Lent, I guess some of you may well have given things up for Lent. I know I hear stories every year of folk who have given up chocolate for Lent, given up biscuits, given up alcohol. 

There are other things that people might give up for Lent too.  And, and in that sense, as you journey through Lent, you deny yourself something that you enjoy in the hope that there’s some spiritual benefit behind those things. Is this what Jesus means, that we give up nice things, that we’re to deny ourselves nice things and desirable things  for some spiritual gain? 

Or for some  opportunity to pat ourselves on the back of the self sacrifice that we have made and the ability we have to have some self control over biscuits? Well,  I want us to notice that when Jesus says these words in Mark chapter 8 verse 34, there is no qualifying statement along with deny yourself.

He doesn’t say deny themselves power, deny themselves  excitement, deny themselves enjoyment, deny themselves riches, deny themselves status. It is simply. They must deny themselves. Full stop. Deny themselves. Full stop.  One of my favourite TV programs is the TV program Grand Designs. In which people develop and build and project manage some extravagant transformation of a building into a new grand design.

At the end of the programme, there’s often a moment when the presenter sits down with the couple, or the individual, or the family that have been on this journey. And they talk about the cost. What does it cost to develop this wonderful grand design of a building that you now have? And quite often they will come up with some kind of figure of pounds and pence that they’ve spent in developing the design and the building. 

But then often it’ll go on to say, but it’s not just about the pounds and the pence, because this has taken three, four, five, ten years’ worth of our lives, of energy, of time, of blood and sweat and tears. The true cost has been five years of our very selves. 

Deny yourself. Spend. yourself. And this, I think, is the kind of phrase that Jesus uses here. Not deny yourself this or that, that wonderful luxury, but  deny your very self.  Give up being you  for the sake of a new life in Christ. Deny being you so that you can be like Christ. And in a world that wants to celebrate who we are and the uniqueness of our identities, Jesus says deny yourself,  turn from it,  and be known as mine.   They must deny themselves. 

The second bullet point on Jesus job description for a disciple  is that a disciple must take up their cross.  Now, quite often, I’m sure you will have heard people say,  when they’re facing some struggle or difficulty or trial, as they reflect upon it, they may well say, we may well have said it ourselves, it’s just the cross I’ve got to bear.  Obviously reflecting these words from Jesus. But if that is our understanding of these words, then what we hear Jesus say here then is, is really when, when there’s some difficulty, when there is some trial in our lives, they are to be just faced, and, uh, you need to pick up your cross and go through them, and at the very best, Jesus is saying, just plough on. At the very worst, actually, Jesus is saying something like, hey, well, just pull up your socks and get on with it, you know.  To do so,  misses something really very crucial about what Jesus is saying here. Because the Cross  was not some temporary trial, not some difficulty to journey through for a season, for a decade,  however hard or deep that might have been.  The Cross was a tool for execution.  Something that may have a similar kind of symbolic view today would be asking people to carry around a hangman’s noose or to sit in the executioner’s electric chair. 

The focus here from Jesus is not on how to face some trial, although he will have plenty to say about that elsewhere.  Here we’re seeing the role of what it means to be a disciple and he’s saying to his disciples, you need to be ready to die,  to be killed, however unfairly, however unjustly.  For the first disciples, this would be a call to martyrdom that many of them would experience and as many folk do in the persecuted church today. 

For us, however,  I feel this is a call to give your life to Christ. And when I say that, I don’t mean some faddish phase that rattles off the tongue, I’ve given my life to Christ, but literally,  to live and die by the convictions of our faith and trust in Christ.  Many of our forebears in our denominations will have done just that. 
In a world where Christian witness is tough, where we are challenged and burdened to show the love and truth of the gospel,  we are to be passionate enough to live and die for and in our faith of Christ. 

The third bullet point  that Jesus gives to his disciples is that they are to follow him.  Quite often, um,  our party games, the games we play when we gather together for some kind of social event, um, are all about following each other. I saw one recently where you get somebody to, uh, to draw on your back a particular symbol using their finger. 

And as they draw on your back, you are leaning on a piece of paper and you are drawing with a pen on the piece of paper what you think somebody is outlining on your back. At which point,  after all of this has been done, you have a look at the piece of paper and everybody folds about in laughter,  recognizing that you just haven’t been able to follow correctly what somebody has been outlining on your back.

And I think I grew up  thinking that when Jesus says, follow me, it was something similar. That Jesus would ask us to do things to be, uh, to follow him into particular places, to be like him in particular places, and uh, that would, we would try our best uh, but we would often fail and be off the mark, and then we would have a good little chuckle about it at the end of time. And if that was what the disciples first thought,  When Jesus first said to them, follow me, when they were fishermen by the sea of Galilee, that is completely quashed then, here, when Jesus says, follow me. When somebody asks you, when somebody says to you, come follow me, just, just follow me, just follow me,  the immediate question you have in your mind is where are we going, isn’t it? If somebody says, follow me,  whether you say it or not, what you’re really thinking is,  So, where, where are we going? 

Initially when Jesus came to the disciples and said, come follow me as they’re fishing,  it was to go and change the world in Galilee.  But now,  now we’re seeing more of what that would mean. And Jesus has just told them where he is going. In Mark chapter 8, verse 31, he says he began to teach them that the Son of Man, that’s him, must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed, and after three days, rise again. 

When Jesus says to his disciples, you must follow. Me, that is right into the heart of the city of Jerusalem, right into the seat, uh, that it was recognized as the place of local Roman power, a place of corrupt leaders, into the epicentre of injustice and violence and terror.  The equivalent today would be to say,  you must follow me into the Kremlin, into Kim Jong Un’s palace in Pyongyang. 

And to do so, you will be rejected.  The British government would say, well, if you want to go there, that’s fine, but don’t expect us to come. There would be rejection. There would be suffering. There would be humiliation. There would be an unknown response to how you would be received.  And as Jesus did this,  there would also be the possibility of the kingdom of God  being born.  When Jesus says, follow me.  It’s a call to let him be completely in control  of where we’re going  and what we’re to be about. 

Well, that sounds quite a daunting list.  You may get to this point and feel now completely, perhaps you were overwhelmed at the start but now you feel completely overwhelmed that disciples are to deny themselves, their very beings. They are to take up their cross, they are to be prepared to live and die by their faith and they are to follow Jesus into some of the most difficult and dangerous places in the world. And you add that onto everything else about being loving and kind and compassionate, of having faith and praying and reading Bible and having compassion and being non judgmental, and suddenly it feels like a huge, Huge, huge ask. So the question is, are these things that Jesus has said to us, deny themselves, disciples must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me, are these, are these just on the desirable list of the job description, or are these on the essential list? 

Well just read verse 34 again,  whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  Whoever, if anyone wants to be my disciple, they must.  I think Jesus is categorically saying  that these are on the essential list. This is essential.  Whoever wants to be my disciple must. Not whoever needs to try,  needs to try harder.  Just whoever  must.  And so I believe we’re left with quite a stark choice  that seems like it is all or nothing.  Either Christ  is everything  or we are not able to be a disciple at all.  And on the one hand, this lays down a very high demand. If we are thinking in the terms of job descriptions, of all of these tasks to fulfil, this role to accomplish,  that becomes a very high demanding role. Who could, who could give that much? 

Of course, on the other hand,  This could, indeed, be the root.  To complete freedom,  to true freedom.  Jesus goes on to say, for whoever wants to save their life will lose it,  but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel  will save it.  You see, Christ doesn’t ask for this level of attainment here. And this standard to be achieved there, and this much to be given here, and for that to be done there, and this to be done there. No,  Jesus calls his disciples  to give them all,  to give their all.  Jesus doesn’t demand of you this, that, the other,  but your very self.  A little bit like being  a parent of a child.  I could write out a job description of what it means to be a father to my daughter. There would be plenty of things on the list  that involved  changing nappies a while ago, that involves encouraging, that involves driving her from place to place to go and see friends and the like. 

Actually there could be a job description every day of what it means to be a father.  But actually, being a parent  becomes who you are as you give your all to parenting a child.  And so it is with Christ.  He doesn’t demand this, that, or the other,  but asks that we give him our all. And so friends, the great news for us today is that there is no demanding job description to be a Christian.

But an invitation instead to give everything, to be totally and completely given over in our lives to the one who has given his all to you already. 

For Jesus Christ  denied himself all the glories of heaven to come and live amongst us on earth  and to die upon a cross.  Jesus Christ took up his cross  that we might live and Jesus faithfully  walked into the epicentre  of power.  Not just the city of Jerusalem but was victorious over sin and death upon that cross. 

And so the invitation for each of us today is to follow him.  follow him in life,  follow him through death  and into  an eternal life.  Jesus says,  whoever wants to be my disciple  must deny themselves  and take up their cross  and follow me.  Amen.

Hymn     Take My Life and Let It Be 
Frances R. Havergal (1874)  Public Domain.  Sung by the Northern Baptist Association and used with their permission

Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days;
let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my voice and let me sing
always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
filled with messages from thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
every power as thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.
 
Prayers of Response and Intercession 

Loving God, 
we have heard again the challenge of the call of Christ 
to live as his disciples, with faith and humility. 
In the quiet we ask Holy Spirit that you
Would personally prompt us in how we might respond to this call. 

Silence 

Jesus Christ, take myself,
and I will be ever, only, all for thee. 
We have heard again the call to play our part
in building your kingdom.
The good news of Christ is for all the world,
and so we lift to you now places and situations
that we know, where the goodness of your love and peace 
is needed today. 
We pray for those places in our world that are torn apart 
by hatred, violence and war.
We pray for all those who have denied themselves
and placed themselves in dangerous places 
as they work and strive for peace. 

We pray for those who are sick and unwell, 
facing daily struggles or life-changing diagnosis. 
We pray for all those who have denied themselves 
to offer care, support and love. 
We pray for those who are grieving for loved ones, 
mourning for shattered dreams or watching hope fade. 
We pray for all those who have denied themselves
to stand with broken-hearted and forlorn. 

We pray for our communities and towns,
our nations and society.

We pray for all those who have denied themselves 
to see the lives of other thrive
and to usher in your Kingdom of love and grace. 
We pray for your church,
and for the United Reformed Church.
We pray for all those who have denied themselves 
to serve and give that the Gospel may be known 
and the light of Christ seen in our world 

Lord God,
we ask that you would hear our prayers, 
that you would move by your Spirit, 
and that we would be humble
to follow the call of Christ
upon our own lives. 
We ask these prayers in his name and for his sake. Amen. 

Offertory Prayer 

And so as offer ourselves in service to the work of the Kingdom, 
so we bring our gifts of money, time and energy,
offering all that we are, for the sake of Christ.  Amen. 

Hymn     When I Survey 
Isaac Wats (1707) Public Domain sung by the Choir of St Andrew’s Cathedral Sydney and used with their kind permission.

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
 
Blessing 

And so may the loving presence of Almighty God be with us, 
remain with us and sustain us, this day and forevermore.  Amen. 
 

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