Sunday Worship 28 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 28 April

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Sue McCoan

 
Welcome

Hello, and welcome to this service of worship for the 5th Sunday of Easter. My name is Sue McCoan, and I’m the minister of two churches in West London. It’s good to be with you. Let’s worship God together.

Call to Worship   

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
    his steadfast love endures for ever!
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the LORD.
The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
    it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
    his steadfast love endures for ever!

Hymn     This is the Day, This is the Day  
Les Garrett (1967)  © Scripture in Song performed by Emmaus Music and used with their kind permission.  OneLicene # A-734713  

This is the day, this is the day
That the Lord has made, that the Lord has made;
We will rejoice, we will rejoice
And be glad in it, and be glad in it.

This is the day that the Lord has made;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
This is the day, this is the day
that the Lord has made.

This is the day, this is the day
When he rose again, when he rose again;
We will rejoice, we will rejoice
And be glad in it, and be glad in it.

This is the day that the Lord has made;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
This is the day, this is the day
that the Lord has made.

This is the day, this is the day
This the day when the Spirit came, this the day when the Spirit came;
We will rejoice, we will rejoice
And be glad in it, and be glad in it.

This is the day that the Lord has made;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
This is the day, this is the day
that the Lord has made.

Opening Prayer

God of steadfast love,
We praise you for your love poured out in Creation,
In the glorious diversity of creatures,
In the splendour of the heavens
And the fertility of the earth.

We praise you for your love poured out in Jesus,
In healing and teaching, in signs and wonders,
In his humility and obedience,
In his death and rising again.

We praise you for your love poured out in the Spirit,
Inspiring and guiding,
Giving words and understanding,
Building community and renewing faith.

We praise you for your love poured out on us,
God our creator, redeemer, and spirit.
In this time of worship, may we abide in your love,
And share that love with those around us.

Confession

Loving God,
We confess that there are areas in our lives 
    we would rather you did not see:
the blighted patches that we hardly notice,
the twisted thoughts that we have learnt to live with,
the fruitless stems of half-forgotten dreams.
In your incisive mercy,
Prune us of our dead, diseased and damaged wood;
Cut back our selfish growth,
Clean us of unnecessary baggage.
Heal our wounds,
And train our new shoots into shape,
So that we may grow again in health and strength.
And bear much fruit.
We pray in the name of Jesus,
Amen.

Prayer for Illumination

May the light of scripture open our eyes,
May the words of scripture stir in our hearts,
And may the truth of scripture fill our lives.  Amen.

Reading     Acts 8:26-40  

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.  Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’  He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.  Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
    and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
        so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
        For his life is taken away from the earth.’

The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’  Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.  As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’  He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.  When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Hymn     Jesus the Lord says ‘I am the Bread’  
V 1 – 5 anonymous Urdu, 6 – 7 Bert Polman, © Faith Alive Christian Resources Sung by members of the Grace Presbyterian Church, Montclair, New Jersey, USA. OneLicene # A-734713  

 Jesus the Lord said I am the Bread the Bread of Life for the world am I
The Bread of Life for the world am I the Bread of Life for the world am I
Jesus the Lord said I am the Bread the Bread of Life for the world am I

 Jesus the Lord said I am the Life the Resurrection and the Life am I
The Resurrection and the Life am I the Resurrection and the Life am I
Jesus the Lord said I am the Life the Resurrection and the Life am I

Jesus the Lord said, I am the Way the way of truth and the life am I
the way of truth and the life am I the way of truth and the life am I
Jesus the Lord said, I am the say the way of truth and the life am I

Reading     St John 15:1-8  

Jesus said ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.  You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Sermon

We have a ceramic biscuit jar, which we have repaired many times. This is not kintsugi; this is just clumsiness. It’s a square shape and we keep knocking the corners off. But it was a present and we’re rather fond of it, so we want to keep it going.

The glue we use is a 2-part epoxy resin, because it’s strong and also waterproof so we can wash the jar. It takes a bit of work. You need to make sure the 2 pieces of pottery are clean and dry. Then you mix equal parts of the 2 components of the glue. You put a thin layer of the mixed glue on each of the two surfaces. Then you leave them for a little bit, and then bring the two surfaces together. When you bring them together, the bond is almost instant. You hold them in place for 4 minutes, till the glue is set, and then in another couple of hours it’s completely hardened and reaches full strength. 

The actual sticking is quick. It’s the preparation that takes the time and trouble. I’m saying all this because I was reminded of it when looking at today’s reading from Acts about Philip and the Ethiopian official. Their mutual trust seems immediate – they hit it off straight away – but that meeting didn’t come from nowhere. God had been at work, doing the preparation well in advance.  

God has been at work in Philip. Possibly not for very long – Philip is one of the growing Christian community in Jerusalem, and that community is still in its early days – but certainly in depth. Philip is already recognised by the others as a man of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.  When the apostles ask the community to nominate seven people to help with the practical tasks of leadership, Philip is one of the seven who are chosen.

He doesn’t do that task for very long. Another one of the seven is Stephen, a gifted preacher. Stephen’s preaching so upsets the authorities that they stone him to death and instigate a severe persecution against the whole community. The apostles stay in Jerusalem but most of the others are scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. If the persecution was meant to silence the gospel then it manifestly failed, because of  course they all start speaking wherever they are. Philip goes to Samaria, and it turns out that he, like Stephen, is a charismatic preacher, and he is soon attracting big crowds. God is very much at work in Philip.

Meanwhile, God has also been working in the Ethiopian. This man is wealthy and privileged: as a court official of the Queen of Ethiopia, he is in charge of the whole Treasury; he has his own chariot and can afford to travel. We also know from his actions that he is a God-fearing man. He has just made a real pilgrimage of faith, all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem – in ancient geography, Ethiopia is an area in today’s northern Sudan, but it’s still an awfully long way to go by unsprung chariot. He’s gone to Jerusalem to worship, and he’s now on the way home, and reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, possibly one that he’s bought while he was there, at considerable expense. This is a man who takes his religion seriously. As a Gentile and a eunuch, he is always going to be an outsider, but there is no question that God is at work in him.

So here are two prepared people, like our two prepared surfaces.  God carries on the process. The Holy Spirit prompts Philip to leave Samaria and travel south, towards the Jerusalem to Gaza road, which runs east-west – the very road that the Official is travelling on to get home, via Gaza and then through Egypt. The Spirit’s timing is such that Philip arrives at that road at exactly the moment that the Official is going past. Philip is able to see him reading the scroll out loud, and to go over and ask if he can help.

Imagine the excitement of this meeting. Here’s Philip, seeing an important foreign official – and he’s reading our scriptures! And here’s the Official, seeing a local man – and he’s just the person to help me make sense of my new book! The bond is instant. Within 4 minutes (I’m guessing), Philip has been invited into the chariot so they can continue and deepen the conversation. And within 2 hours, again at a guess, they have found water and the official has been baptised.

If the story ended there, my illustration would work really well. Philip and the official would form a lasting friendship, just as, I hope, the join in my biscuit jar will stick for good. But the story doesn’t end there. As soon as the baptism is complete, we are told, Philip is whisked off to Azotus, the official goes home, and they never meet again. So it becomes clear that God has not been preparing Philip for this one meeting, with this one person, on this one occasion; God has been preparing Philip to respond to God, to do God’s work, in whatever way is needed or appropriate. So I need to set that illustration to one side, and look for a better image for God’s preparation.  

Happily, we have just such an image in our second reading, from the gospel of John. 

Here is Jesus, speaking to his disciples, on the night of the last supper, preparing them to deal with his death and learn to manage on their own. Jesus uses the image of a grapevine – a rather more beautiful image than a broken biscuit jar, as well as more apt. We can only live, and flourish, and bear fruit for God, Jesus says, if we remain connected to Jesus the true vine, if we abide in him. In order to remain connected, we also have to remain healthy. Jesus talks of love but also of pruning, cleaning, discarding and even burning. Gardeners among us know that if a plant gets diseased, you have to cut out the damaged part, and that often means cutting into the clean tissue too, to make sure you’ve got it all out. Sometimes, that means cutting back quite hard.

Pruning, for us, might come through the circumstances of life – bereavement, or illness, or maybe a change of job – or through a conscious choice on our part. For some of us, God’s pruning might mean cutting out habits that have become comfortable, or even comforting, but which no longer serve us as whole people. For some, it may mean refusing to listen to those voices, internal and external, that try and tell us we are not good enough, we are not worth it. For some, it may mean letting go of a role that we have been called to, and that we have carried out faithfully, as Philip had to do, in order for God to call us to something new. And for preachers among us it might mean letting go of our favourite illustrations. It will be different for each of us, and it can sometimes be a painful process. 

The disciples must have felt, after the death of Jesus, that they had been cut back right to the heart-wood. How could they ever grow back from that? But having heard these words from Jesus before his death, they knew to hold on; and as the resurrection unfolds in their lives, they find new growth. And when Pentecost comes they find growth in ways they had never imagined. 

We are not to shy away from pruning. It’s God’s way of keeping our connection to the vine healthy and clean; it allows the sap of God’s love to flow freely through us, helping us to grow into the people God is calling us to be. It is our preparation, our being prepared, for bearing much fruit, in our own lives and in the lives of the others.

So may we continue to abide in God; may we accept our pruning with grace; and may we be ready, as Philip was, to do God’s work, in whatever way is needed or appropriate Amen.

Hymn     Spirit of the Living God  
David Iverson (1890-1972) © Moody Institute of Chicago USA  Sung by Gareth Moore of the Isle of Man Methodist Church and used with his kind permission.  OneLicene # A-734713  

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me,
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Offertory Prayer

God of steadfast love,
We thank you for your many gifts to us.
We bring these gifts to you as a sign of our thanks.
Accept and bless all that we bring, and all that we are,
And use us and our gifts to serve you in the world.
We pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

God who hears the cries of the poor,
We pray for a world where everyone has enough to eat,
    a safe place to live,
access to education and healthcare,
       and dignity and respect for who they are.
Give us the courage to challenge the structures of inequality,
And to speak for those whose voices are silenced.

God whose word is to be preached to all nations,
We pray for evangelists, teachers and preachers,
For those reaching people in new ways and places,
For those who take risks for the sake of the gospel.
Inspire and uphold them, 
So that all they do is rooted in your love.

God who plants, tends and prunes,
We pray for farmers and growers,
That they may balance the drive to maximise crops
With care for the long-term health of the earth,
And that they may be properly paid for their work.

God who commands us to love one another,
Help us to abide in your love, and deepen ours,
So that we may make this church a safe and welcoming place
  For all who are here,
  And all who are yet to come.

God who cares for each one of us,
We hold before you the people we know who are suffering in body, mind or spirit…

(silence, or naming people out loud)

Bring your comfort and healing to them and to those who care for them.

We ask all these prayers in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Hymn     O Jesus I Have Promised  
John Ernest Bode (1869)  Public Domain Virtual Choir choristers from Sierra Leone and the UK.

O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;
be Thou forever near me, my Master and my Friend;
I shall not fear the battle if Thou art by my side,
nor wander from the pathway if Thou wilt be my Guide.

O let me feel Thee near me, the world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear;
my foes are ever near me, around me and within;
but, Jesus, draw Thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin.

O let me hear Thee speaking in accents clear and still,
above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control!
O speak, and make me listen, Thou Guardian of my soul!

O Jesus, Thou hast promised to all who follow Thee
that where Thou art in glory there shall Thy servant be;
and, Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend! 

Blessing

May the love of God flow around us,
 Among us and through us,
And may the blessing of God,
Creator, Redeemer and Spirit,
Be with us all, today and always. Amen.

Come to the God who loves you.
 
 

 

Where words are copyright reproduced and streamed under the terms of  ONE LICENSE A-734713
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762
 

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