Sunday Worship 5 May 2024

Order of Service

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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 5 May 2024

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Andy Braunston

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

 
Welcome 

Hello and welcome to worship.  With Tina Turner fading away in the background we ponder today what love is and what it has to do with our faith.  Our culture, built on the values of the Bible, sees love as a positive virtue but gets confused on what exactly love is.  We’ll explore that a little today in word and song, movement, and music, and in bread and wine as we’re swept up into the loving presence of God as we gather around His table.  So now, let us worship.  

Call To Worship

Christ has risen, alleluia! He has risen indeed, alleluia!
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Hymn     Earth, Earth Awake; Your Praises Sing: Alleluia!
Herman G Stuempfle Jr © 1996 GIA Publications sung by Grace Lutheran Church in Chesapeake, Virginia, a worshiping community of the Virginia Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  OneLicence # A-734713  
 
Earth, earth, awake! Your praises sing! Alleluia! 
Greet with the dawn your risen King! Alleluia! 
Bright suns and stars, your homage pay! Alleluia! 
Life reigns again this Easter day! Alleluia! 

All nature sings of hope reborn! Alleluia! 
Christ lives to comfort those who mourn! Alleluia! 
First fruit of all the dead who sleep! Alleluia! 
Promise of joy for all who weep! Alleluia! 

Winter is past; the night is gone! Alleluia! 
Christ’s light, triumphant, brings the dawn! Alleluia! 
Creation spreads its springtime bloom! Alleluia! 
Life bursts like flame from death’s cold tomb! Alleluia! 

Praise we the Father, Spirit, Son! Alleluia! 
Praise we the vict’ry God has won! Alleluia! 
Praise we the Lamb who reigns above! Alleluia! 
Praise we the King whose rule is love! Alleluia!
 
Prayers of Approach & Confession

We awake this day, O God, to sing your praises.
We are enlivened by your presence and made attentive to your love.
We awoke with the knowledge of your commandments in our hearts,
and we bring you our praise.

With nature we are awakened with your hope of a world reborn;
with all who grieve we embrace your comfort 
as we rub the sleep from our eyes.
We awoke with the knowledge of the joy you bring to those who grieve
and we bring you our praise.

We awake this day O God with the knowledge 
that you warm our wintry hearts,
that the light of your love awakens our desire to obey you,
and we are awoken with the life that springs like fire from the cold tomb,
and we bring you are praise.

Even in our joy, O God, we realise that we may still prefer not to awaken;
our dull heads ignore our sin,
our sleepy hearts prefer not to think of our responsibilities,
and we would rather not be awoken with the challenges your love brings.

Forgive us, O God, that we may awaken to your love, be alert to your commandments, and faithful to your call to change. Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness

Let each of us, in the knowledge of both our sinfulness 
and our creation in God’s own glorious image, 
humble ourselves before God and believe that the ever-gracious Creator 
wills us to know we are loved.  
All of us who look to Jesus for our salvation will find it and, 
through the Church, find their sins are forgiven,
in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.    

Introduction

Love is a universal human emotion; we know what we mean when we say we’re in love with someone, or that we love someone, or that this or that church shows love to others.  We mean love to mean our romantic and erotic emotions, the bonds that come within families and the acts of our will that are informed by our faith and values.  Love is what we sing about in our culture and read about in our Bibles.  Love is what the world thinks is enough yet it often is confused about love; we say we fall out of love – when we’re probably just moving on from infatuation.  We confuse, even within our faith, love as an emotion and love as an act of our will.  Today, we’re going to hear about love in our readings and then must a little about it in our sermon.  Let’s pray for the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer for Illumination

Jesus, lover of our souls, we have no other refuge but you,
all our trust is placed in you, so now, as you are read and proclaimed,
open our hearts to hear, our minds to obey
and our wills to conform to your will, our rock and redeemer, Amen.  

Reading     1 John 5:1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Hymn     Sing A New Song to the Lord (Psalm 98)
Timothy Dudley Smith © 1973 Hope Publishing Company Scottish Festival Singers Ian McCrorie (Conductor), John Langdon (Organ) used with permission.  OneLicence # A-734713  

Sing a new song to the Lord,
he to whom wonders belong;
rejoice in his triumph and tell of his power,
O sing to the Lord a new song!
 
Now to the ends of the earth
see his salvation is shown;
and still he remembers his mercy and truth,
unchanging in love to his own.

Sing a new song and rejoice,
publish his praises abroad;
let voices in chorus, with trumpet and horn,
resound for the joy of the Lord!

Join with the hills and the sea
thunders of praise to prolong;
in judgment and justice he comes to the earth,
O sing to the Lord a new song!
 
Reading     St John 15:9-17

Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Sermon

Love, they say, makes the world go round.  The Beetles held that all we needed was love and, as we heard at the start of this service, Tina Turner wondered what love, that second hand emotion, had to do with physical attraction.  Our readings today muse on love – but the love they describe may not be the same as what we might mean by it now.  A spinning, second hand emotion, might not be what the Biblical authors had in mind.  

Graham Lyle and Terry Britten wrote the song What’s Love Got to Do With it and offered it to Cliff Richard who rejected it.  The British pop group Buck’s Fizz were also offered it and recorded a demo tape but were told by a producer the sound was wrong for a female lead!  Tina Turner achieved world-wide success with the song selling over 2 million copies and being, then, the oldest solo woman artist to hit the top 100.  The song has been covered by other artists and became the soundtrack to the film of the same name telling Tina Turner’s life story.  In the song the poet tries to say that the physical feelings of attraction are nothing to do with love, but as the song goes on we realise that the poet protests a bit too much and that the rejection of the love label is about protection and not wanting to be hurt  “I’ve been thinking about my own protection, it scares me to feel this way” and “who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”  So maybe these feelings had something to do with love after all.

Love, we think, is a universal human emotion and one that links us with other cultures and times.  And yet what love might mean in any given culture or time is different.  Historian Tom Holland’s magisterial book Dominion explores the history and impact of Christianity from Jesus’ crucifixion to the Beetle’s “All you Need is Love.”  Holland argues that all our moral and social norms are the product of the Christian revolution in the ancient world.  Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s maxim that God chose the weak and foolish to shame the strong drive home the point that our cultural values, 2,000 years after Christ, are based on Jesus’ teaching and ideas about love.  Holland points out that the Christian idea of love is nothing to do with romance, eroticism, or even of the emotions – important though those things are.  Instead, Holland points out love in the New Testament is a social practice not a sentiment.  It’s not a feeling it’s an act of the will.  The love that Christ taught is a love that is ruthlessly impersonal; it doesn’t care about age, gender, race, sex, class or wealth; it’s about who needs our help.  It’s the idea that this type of love will counter the powers that seek to rule our world.  It’s the idea that this is the love that drove Jesus to the Cross and raised him from the dead.  It’s this love which is subversive.  It’s this love that the writers of today’s readings wrote about.
For the writer of 1 John loving God is seen not in feelings but in obeying God’s commandments – which are not burdensome – and God’s commandments in Scripture are most often about loving others.  We are, after all, to love our neighbours as ourselves.  Holland would say this is a radical departure, in the Judaeo Christian tradition, from any other faith or philosophy in the ancient world. Loving others with no thought of reward was an alien concept in the ancient world and made Christians, and Jews, seem very odd indeed.  

In 1966 Peter Scholtes, a white priest who volunteered to lead St Bendan’s Parish in Chicago wrote the hymn We Are One in the Spirit which posited the view that evangelism should be based on the idea of our acts of love and service.  St Brendan’s was a mixed Irish and black parish in south Chicago.  Fr Scholtes weathered protests by white parishioners when he hung signs on his church welcoming Martin Luther King to Chicago.  He showed Dr King around and had the workers in his parish basement show him how they fed and cared for those who lived in the area.  Fr Scholtes grieved when white folk left his neighbourhood for more affluent, and whiter, suburbs and tried to encapsulate in his ministry what the author of 1 John was describing – loving God by loving others.  The writer reminds us that God’s commandments are not burdensome – it’s important to remember that, especially if we’re part of social groups which have often been expected to show love through serving; women, black people, lgbt people, the poor are often expected to serve and stay in the background.  That old hymn reminds us of mutuality; we’ll walk hand in hand, work side by side and spread the news that God is in our land.  The love we hear of in our first reading inspires us to evangelise through service, to love even those we don’t like and to remember that it is in loving service that we show our faith in God.

Our Gospel reading has the same theme – love.  God’s love of us and our love of God seen in how we show love to others.  This isn’t the dreamy love of a first date, it’s not the eroticism of lovers, it’s not even the love we have for those in our family – it’s a love we’re driven to as we seek to serve and care for others.  It’s a love that is disinterested in its own reward, a love that seeks another’s good, a love that inconveniences us; it’s this love which changes the world.  This is love which tells the truth to those in power: 

  • This is a love that tells Mr Putin his lies, greed and subversion of the Gospel must be answered.
  • This is a love which tells Mr Trump that it’s better to read rather than sell Bibles, that truth will set him free but will hurt him first, and that attacking those he perceives as weak will end only in hatred.  
  • This is a love that tells our politicians to seek the common good; to look for long term prosperity for all not short-term gains at the polls.  
  • This is a love which donates and volunteers in food banks
  • This is a love which works with the homeless to help restore dignity, trust, and help.
  • This is a love where white people tell the truth about our past and the legacies of slavery which are all around us – even in Orkney where I live there was involvement in slavery – most often with 11 sons of ministers seeking their fortunes with slave plantations in Jamaica and America.  All over Britain money from slavery flowed; allowing ancient houses to be repaired, lands to be purchased and improved, charitable donations and endowments made to ease, no doubt, troubled consciences. This is tough love and requires bravery, openness, and a willingness to make reparations to those whose lives, even now, are blighted by these poisonous legacies.   

The love Jesus proclaimed was not about the physical sensations that Tina Turner sang about, it’s not about what we want to do, it’s not about our desires.  This love is an act of our will; a way of showing our faith in action.  If we say we love God but don’t love God’s people then we’re kidding ourselves.  This is love that bears fruit, that brings joy and, ultimately, sets us free.  Let’s pray

Jesus, lover of my soul, hide me while the tempest still is high;
hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past;
but in your shelter let me love, that you may receive my soul at last.  Amen.

Hymn     Christ is Alive! Let Christians Sing
The Revd Brian Wren © 1995 Hope Publishing Company. Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir. Accompanied by Andrew Ellams and produced by Andrew Emison used with their kind permission.  OneLicence # A-734713  

Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
The cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets & homes with praises ring.
Love, drowned in death, shall never die.

Christ is alive! No longer bound
to distant years in Palestine,
but saving, healing, here and now,
and touching every place and time.

In every insult, rift, and war,
where colour, scorn, or wealth divide,
Christ suffers still, yet loves the more,
and  lives, where even hope has died.

Women & men, in age & youth,
can feel the Spirit, hear the call,
and find the way, the life, the truth,
revealed in Jesus, freed for all.
 
Christ is alive, and comes to bring
good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring
with joy, with justice, love and praise.

Affirmation of Faith

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another;  everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.  So, we have known and believe the love that God has for us; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  We love because God first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a sibling whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have is this: those who love God must love their siblings also; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  

Intercessions

O God, Eternal Majesty, hear us now as we pray for our world.  
We pray for places and people in need of your love, 
for those who worship in secret this day for fear of the authorities, 
for those whose praise of your name endangers their lives, 
and for those persecuted for how they love and live.
Give them strength, O God, 
that your love will encourage and strengthen life and faith.
O God, Risen Lord Jesus, hear us now as we pray for your people,
We pray for those people and places in need of your shelter,
for those hiding from bombs and raids,
for those living with chronic pain, and for those whose life ebbs to its close.
Give them your love, Lord Jesus,
that your grace will encourage and strengthen life and faith.

O God, Fiery Spirit, hear us now as we pray for your inspiration,
that the power of your change will make a difference.
We pray for those who love evil, who prefer the dark to the light, 
and who hate your love, that you pursue them with the light of faith,
and give them time to hate their sins more than they hate others,
that they may find the grace to turn to you, 
so that your people might flourish.

O God, Eternal Trinity, we bring before you now,
in the silence of our hearts,
those whom we love and worry about.          

silence

Accept all our prayers, O God,
that through your love working in our lives
Your Kingdom may come and so we pray as Jesus taught saying, 

Our Father…

Offertory

We have thought today about love – the love God has for us, the types of love we have and the love that we’re commanded to express in our readings; a love that is not an emotion or a physical response but an act of our will.  This love seeks the good of others – those we’ve seen and those we’ll never meet.  We exercise this love in many ways – though charities, through donations to the foodbank, to volunteering for charities and, of course, through our financial offerings which support God’s work across our world and our nations.  So let’s express love through our giving.

O God, your love is the essence of all that we love here,
all the beauty of the world, all the kindness of strangers,
all the silent strength of love is an expression of your great love.
Bless these gifts of love, that we may use them wisely,
always reflecting the love you have for us.  Amen.

Hymn     O The Love of My Lord Is The Essence
Estelle White © McCrimmon Publishing Co. Ltd. Sung by Emmaus Music and used with their kind permission.  OneLicence # A-734713  

Oh, the love of my Lord is the essence
of all that I love here on earth.
All the beauty I see, He has given to me 
and His giving is gentle as silence.

Every day, every hour, every moment have been blessed 
by the strength of His love.
At the turn of each tide, He is there at my side,
and His touch is as gentle as silence.
 
There’ve been times when I’ve turned from his presence
and I’ve walked other paths, other ways,
but I’ve called on His name in the dark of my shame
and His mercy was gentle as silence.

Holy Communion

May God be with you: and also with you.
Lift up your hearts.  We lift them to God.
Let us give thanks to our gracious God: it is right to give thanks and praise.

Living God, out of chaos and darkness 
your creative word called light into being and life in all its fulness.
Though in the garden we chose to disobey you 
and death entered our world
you are the bringer of life from the places of death.
You saved Noah and his family from the Flood 
and passed over the children of Israel
when death struck the firstborn of Egypt.
You led your people out
from slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon. 
You saved Jonah from the belly of the whale 
and Daniel from the lions’ den.
By your power Sarah and Hannah brought forth sons 
and Ruth the stranger became the mother of kings.

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! 
Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour!
Christ has conquered! Jesus Christ our King is risen! 
Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
Rejoice, O Mother Church!
The risen Saviour shines upon you! 
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people! 

Therefore, with all your people in heaven and on earth 
we sing the triumphant hymn of your glory:

Skye Boat Song Sanctus
Michael Forster © 1995, 1999 Kevin Mayhew Ltd Vocalist Lucy Bunce.  OneLicence # A-734713  

Holy, most holy, all holy the Lord, God of all pow’r and might,
heaven and earth with your glory abound, wrapped in eternal light.
Blessed is he, he who has come, come in the Father’s name,
Servant and Lord, Saviour and Judge, making his royal claim.
Holy, most holy, all holy the Lord, God of all pow’r and might,
now with hosannas and jubilant praise Earth and the heav’ns unite.

Born on a dark night, during his life on earth the light of your Son’s presence brought hope to the lost and healing to the sick.
He preached good news to the poor and ate with sinners.
For this he was pursued to the death.

For this, the Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed 
took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it  and said:

‘This is my body which is broken for you. Do this is 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 this cup, 
you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’

Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

We praise you that the darkness could not hold him 
for he was raised at dawn to bring new life to the world.
By his power sin is purged, innocence restored to the fallen, 
joy to the mourners; hatred is vanquished, tyranny laid low; 
harmony reigns, heaven and earth are united 
and humanity is reconciled with God.
The Morning Star has risen, never again to set.

His light is become our light; his Spirit is ours; 
may our lives shine with the radiance of his glory
and this bread and wine, which His Spirit has blessed,
lift us into his presence and lead us to the feasting of the Kingdom, 
where we shall be raised up to see him face to face,
in the glory of the blessed Trinity, through all ages.  Amen.

To prepare ourselves to meet the Lord in Holy Communion we sing the Lamb of God.

O Lamb of God (Our God Loves Us)
John Ballantine © 1976, 1996 Kevin Mayhew Ltd, Sung by Lucy Bunce  OneLicence # A-734713  

O Lamb of God,
you take away our sins;
have mercy, Lamb of God,
have mercy. (repeat)

O Lamb of God,
you take away our sins;
have mercy, Lamb of God,
and grant us peace.
 
Music for Communion     All You Need is Love (Instrumental) 
played by the The O’Neill Brothers Group

Post Communion Prayer

Bless the Lord, O my soul; 
and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, 
and forget not all God’s benefits.

Loving God, we thank you that you have 
fed us in this sacrament, united us with Christ, 
and given us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet in your eternal realm. Send us out in the power of your Spirit
to live and work to your praise and glory,
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Hymn     Our Lord Christ Is Risen The Tempter is Foiled
William Plunkett , Bishop of Meath 1873  Public Domain
Words altered and sung by J Kelly Music and used with his kind permission.
 
Our Lord Christ is risen! 
The tempter is foiled;
his legions are scattered; 
his strongholds are spoiled.    
O sing hallelujah! O sing hallelujah! 
O sing hallelujah be joyful and sing,
our great foe is baffled!
Christ Jesus is King! 

O sin you are vanquished! 
Your long reign is over; 
though you may entice us, 
we fear you no more. 
O sing hallelujah! 
O sing hallelujah! 
O sing hallelujah be joyful and sing,  
who now can condemn us! 
Christ Jesus is King! 

O death we defy you! 
One stronger by far 
has entered your palace, 
we dread you no more. 
O sing hallelujah! O sing hallelujah! 
O sing hallelujah be joyful and sing,  
The grave cannot scare us. 
Christ Jesus is King! 

Our Lord Christ has risen! 
The day breaks at last! 
The long night of sorrow 
is forever past. 
O sing hallelujah! O sing hallelujah! 
O sing hallelujah be joyful and sing
Our foes are all conquered!
Christ Jesus is King! 
 
Blessing

May the One who loved you before the ages began,
the One who taught you how to live and love,
and the One who inspires you to love even those you don’t like,
bless you to love, live, and act
that the world may know it is loved and held in the palm of God’s hand.
And the blessing of Almighty God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Be with you all, now and always, Amen.
 

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