Sunday Worship 21 April 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 21 April

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Adam Payne

 
Welcome & Call to Worship

My name is Adam Payne. I am the minister at Godalming United Church in Godalming, Surrey. I’m honored to have been asked to participate in worship and so I welcome you to this service, no matter where you are joining us from.  Let’s begin with a call to worship.

The Lord is our shepherd, the Good Shepherd who loves his sheep. We will love one another, as Christ loves us. Love, not merely in thought and word, but in truth and action. Open your hearts to goodness and mercy today.   Come today and praise the God of love. May God bless our service today. Amen. 

Hymn     Awake, My Soul, and with the Sun 
Thomas Ken (1637 – 1711) Public Domain sung by The N Crew and used with their kind permission.

Awake, my soul, and with the sun
thy daily stage of duty run;
shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise
to pay thy morning sacrifice.

Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
and with the angels bear thy part,
who all night long unwearied sing
high praise to the Eternal King.

All praise to Thee, who safe hast kept,
and hast refreshed me while I slept:
grant, Lord, when I from death shall wake,
I may of endless life partake.

Direct, control, suggest, this day,
all I design, or do, or say;
that all my powers, with all their might,
in Thy sole glory may unite.
 
Prayer of Approach and Confession 

Good Shepherd, 
help us to boldly proclaim your love, 
lighting the way of your truth for all to see. 
As we walk through green pastures, 
beside still waters, 
and even through the darkest valleys, 
help us to go forth confidently. 
For you are greater than our fears 
and you know how to bring us peace. 

As the world we live in seems to be a more fearful place every day,
help us to remember that you ARE with us. 
Goodness and mercy may seem so elusive, 
but we know that you have promised we will find
them in your house, if no where else. 

Lord, we confess to you that there are times where we have 
seen enemies in the faces of our neighbours…
the other….the refugee…the poor…and the oppressed…
As you have prepared out tables, Lord, 
help us to turn enemies into friends.
Help us to desire a longer table, where more can be welcomed in your name. Amen. 

Hymn     In Heavenly Love Abiding
Anna Letitia Waring (1850) Public Domain Sung by Gareth Moore from the Isle of Man Methodist Church and used with his kind permission.

In heavenly love abiding,
no change my heart shall fear;
and safe is such confiding,
for nothing changes here:
the storm may roar without me,
my heart may low be laid;
but God is round about me,
and can I be dismayed?

Wherever he may guide me,
no want shall turn me back;
my Shepherd is beside me,
and nothing can I lack:
his wisdom ever waketh,
his sight is never dim,
he knows the way he taketh,
and I will walk with him.
 
Green pastures are before me,
which yet I have not seen;
bright skies will soon be o’er me,
where darkest clouds have been;
my hope I cannot measure,
my path to life is free;
my Saviour has my treasure,
and he will walk with me.

Offering Prayer 

Giving and loving God, 
as the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, 
may we, too, strive to serve our neighbours. 
Whether next door, across town, or around the world, 
may God bless our prayers, our gifts, and our ministries. 
In Christ’s name, we present these gifts. Amen.

Reading     St John 10:11-18

‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one take  it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’

Sermon     The Other Sheep

We find this morning’s scripture in the midst of Jesus’s I Am statements,  a group of statements that Jesus used to convey deep truths about himself in a very simple way.  I am the bread of life, he said.  I am the light of the world.  I am the door.  And this morning,  I am the Good Shepherd.  In this statement, he’s using language that would have been very familiar to the people of Israel.

That of shepherding.  This was an integral part of Israel’s economy. Even to those who were not shepherds themselves, this was something that would have resonated with them. Something that they would have known the truth of deep in their bones, so to speak.  And he begins by talking about how the Good Shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep. 

Now, I’m sure that there are a great many Good Shepherds throughout history that would dispute that fact.  But Jesus is here showing that he goes beyond even the most radical expectations.  Unlike the hired hand,  unlike the false prophet,  Jesus is willing to lay down his life for each and every one of us,  something that he would go on to prove  on Good Friday. 

Now the verse that I really want to focus in on here this morning is verse 16, the one that I really think is most relevant for us today.  Jesus said, but I have other sheep which are not of this fold.  These two I must bring in, and they will hear my voice, and they will become one flock, and there will be one shepherd. 

I think that one of the hardest lessons that we have to unlearn is exclusiveness. For some reason, human beings like to divide ourselves.  You’ve all heard the saying there are two kinds of people in the world.  How often have you heard that expression? If you’ve heard it as much as me, then must already be thousands of types of people  just based on those words. 
I was thinking about this expression this week and I ran across a blog post of a writer that collected examples about it.  And one of his favorites was he wrote about his father going to Rome and expressing concern to the taxi driver about the rather harrowing ride through the city streets,  to which the driver replied, there are two kinds of people in Rome,  the quick and the dead. 

Further Googling leads to hundreds of examples of this saying, and most of the top hits were quizzes that claim to be able to tell you about your personality based on whether or not you ate the crust of your pizza, or you preferred Coke to Pepsi.  And all of this reductionism to one type or another, all of this disregards and ignores the multitude and complexity of human likes. 

dislikes  and behavior.  And yet, for some reason, we like to decide who is most like us, who is least like us, and then find some reason to exclude those  that are least.  This is a trap Jesus’s day had fallen into. They were God’s chosen people. They were the ones God had spoken to and chose to save.  Anyone outside of the people of Abraham were Gentiles. 

A word that means outsiders.  They thought they were God’s chosen people because they were special.  But in fact, they were only special because they were God’s chosen people.  They wanted to exclude anyone from outside. Their sheep fold.  Anyone who was not like them,  but Jesus is saying that there will come a day when all will know him as their shepherd. 

There were premonitions of this even throughout the Old Testament and the days of the prophets.  Isaiah had had that same dream, and it was his conviction that God had given Isaiah to be a light to the nations.  The gospel stories of Jesus himself echo this. At the very beginning of Jesus’s story, we’re told of wise men that come from another nation to worship him. 
He himself taught in Samaria, the region that was detested by the Jewish people of Jerusalem.  It was the faith of a Roman centurion whom Jesus praised, saying that he had seen nothing like it in Israel. 

Jesus is using the imagery of sheep here, especially that of sheep pens,  sheep coming from different households, different places. But once they were all taken through the pens and into the meadow,  Jesus wanted them to become one giant flock,  indistinguishable from each other,  all being led by one shepherd. 

And yet here we are. 2, 000 years after Jesus.  And we have people, even churches, continuing to draw lines between who is in  and who is out.  Sometimes, those lines are deliberate and obvious, such as when they include and exclude peoples of different sexualities.  Sometimes they are less obvious, such as when a church makes it where only those of a certain class or certain income level feel comfortable in the church. 

Back in my home country of America, Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, The most segregated hour is 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning.  And unfortunately, that’s true here nearly 60 years later.  Even to some degree here in the UK,  along racial lines,  as well as others. 

Now, some of you may be getting a little uncomfortable about now. Where’s he going with this? You’re thinking.  Our church doesn’t do that. Our church welcomes everyone.  Maybe that’s true.  In fact, I hope it’s true.  Of the myriad of United Reformed churches taking part in the service this morning,  I would think that the vast majority of them are warm and welcoming places. 

But  can we do better?  And I think the answer  is always yes.  Yes, we can do better.  We have to examine ourselves, see our church from an outsider’s perspective, and ask the question, unintentionally, who are we excluding?  With either our words  or our actions.  How do we let people know that they are welcome?  No matter who they are, no matter where they come from, no matter what language they speak. 

the skin color they have, whom they love, how they dress, how much money they make, or, I think this is a big one in society today,  how church literate they are.  Attending church for the first time can be a truly daunting experience. There is a language about church that’s foreign to many people today.  A way of, of acting and behaving that’s vastly different than anything we see in any other organization. 

And we have to acknowledge that, frankly,  that can scare people off.  So how do we make sure that we are not just welcoming,  but invitational to those people?  Unfortunately, every church listening will have to find their own answer to that question.  But I think it’s a question that we must ask,  because despite the decline of Christianity in the global West, people are still looking for answers. 

People are still seeking something bigger than themselves.  I don’t know if we’re seeing a religious resurgence, at least not yet, but I do think that we’re seeing a bit of a spiritual resurgence. A recent issue of Reform magazine included a blurb about prayer becoming more popular among young Westerners than among their parents. 

A recent poll by Ipsos Mori found that of 20, 000 people in 26 countries, religion was less popular in the West than elsewhere. This is not surprising, you’ve heard this. For example, 48 percent of people in the UK said they have no religion. Compared to just 1% of people in India,  in South Africa, 78% said that they had prayed in places like their home, but only 25% of people in the UK said that they prayed.

However,  there was a bit of light at the end of the TU tunnel in this study.  The same study found that in the Western countries, teens and early twenties. are more spiritually engaged than the over 60s.  In the UK, this group was 15 percentage points more likely to pray at home.  And 22 percent, 22 percentage points more likely to pray in church. 

The sheep are still out there.  And currently, they are looking for us.  Now, not in the same way as generations past.  The days of opening the church doors and people just streaming in,  those days are gone.  But people are still looking,  and God is still looking for them.  It’s up to us  to be the shepherds in between. 

Welcoming people from all over. into God’s sheepfold  and making them feel that when they come into our churches,  that they have truly come home.

Hymn     Christ, Who Knows All His Sheep
Richard Baxter (1615-91) Public Domain Sung by the Treble Choir of St Paul’s United Methodist Church, Houston, Texas

Christ, who knows all his sheep, will all in safety keep:
he will not lose one soul, nor ever fail us:
nor we the promised goal, whate’er assail us.

We know our God is just; to him we wholly trust
all that we have and claim, and all we hope for:
all’s sure and seen to him, which here we grope for.
 
O blessèd company, where all in harmony
God’s joyous praises sing, in love unceasing;
and all obey their King, with perfect pleasing.

Prayer of Intercession 

God of the Resurrection, we thank you for the time that we have to worship and praise together this day. We praise you for the continuing gift of Easter, for the Spring that brings longer days and beautiful flowers. We pray for that same new life and vitality within our churches, Lord, that we may be energised to do your work. 

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

As you have been our shepherd, we pray for the shepherds within our own churches. Those that keep watch, guarding your flocks. Those willing to go out and search for sheep in need. Bless all those willing to tell others about You.  

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

We pray for those walking daily on your path. On the days that the paths are straight, and the sun is shining, it’s easy to follow you.  On other days, when we’re walking in a dark valley, it’s more difficult. It’s during those times when we need you the most. 

We pray especially for the sick, the elderly and bereaved: that the Good Shepherd may give them courage and lead them beside the restful waters of healing and peace.

Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Bless us now as we join with that cloud of witnesses throughout the ages, as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us…

Our Father…

Hymn     In Christ There Is No East or West
Text based on Galatians 3:28 John Oxenham, 1852-1941. Public Domain Music: spiritual, adapted by Harry T. Burleigh, 1866-1949 Sung by Chris Brunelle and used with his kind permission.

In Christ there is no east or west, 
in him no south or north; 
but one great fam’ly bound by faith 
throughout the whole wide earth

In him shall true hearts everywhere 
their high communion find; 
His service is the golden cord 
closebinding humankind

Join hands, disciples in the faith 
what e’er your race may be! 
Who serve each other in Christ’s love
are surely kin to me

In Christ now meet both east and west, 
in him mees south and north; 
all Christly souls are one in him, 
throughout the whole wide earth
 
Benediction 

May you show the love of God in all you do.
Following the Good Shepherd, 
welcome others with kindness, love, and humility. 
Bring comfort to all, 
making friends and not enemies,
wherever you go. 
And all of God’s people said…Amen. 

Come to the God who loves you.
 

 

 

 

 

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