URC Daily Devotion Friday 24th July 2020 Basis of Union 11

Friday 24th July 2020  Basis of Union 11 

Acts 2: 42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Basis

Within the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church the United Reformed Church acknowledges its responsibility under God:- to make its life a continual offering of itself and the world to God in adoration and worship through Jesus Christ;- to receive and express the renewing life of the Holy Spirit in each place and in its total fellowship, and there to declare the reconciling and saving power of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ;- to live out, in joyful and sacrificial service to all in their various physical and spiritual needs, that ministry of caring, forgiving and healing love which Jesus Christ brought to all whom he met;- and to bear witness to Christ’s rule over the nations in all the variety of their organised life.  (11)

Reflection

The Basis of Union offers an interesting list of the church’s many characteristics and responsibilities.  Our ancestors were keen to draw it all together.  However, doing all that is listed at once could exhaust a congregation!

The early Church, as described in the passage from Acts, was a visible sign of all that the Holy Spirit made possible.  People were no longer individuals, struggling on their own. There was a strong sense of social sharing and concern.

Eventually, as the Church grew, people gathered in different places, spread across the middle east. Yet the same signs and wonders held each place together with one another. There was the same impetus to hold all things in common, and to give priority to those in need.

The Basis of Union points to the way in which the United Reformed Church shares her life as part of the wider ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’ church. The URC came into being through responding to God’s call to be united as Christians. This call flows out of the life of the triune God and is responded to in worship and self offering to the world.

Each URC congregation is encouraged to live out that life as the Holy Spirit leads in each local place. But each congregation, and the URC as a whole, are not alone. That fullness of God’s life which was given to the early church is given to the whole church today, to be embodied in many different ways, depending on the context and needs of the local community.

Prayer

Loving God,
in gratitude we receive the life of Christ and the signs of the Spirit.
We are not on our own.
We give thanks for the many others who participate in what Christ makes possible.
Help us to offer ourselves again to you.
May we generously share what we have with those in need,
and live out your life of caring, forgiving and healing love for all the nations.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Thursday 23rd July 2020 Basis of Union 10

Thursday 23rd July 2020 Basis of Union 10 

St Matthew 18.15-20 

‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

Basis

The United Reformed Church, believing that it is through the freedom of the Spirit that Jesus Christ holds his people in the fellowship of the one Body, shall uphold the rights of personal conviction. It shall be for the church, in safeguarding the substance of the faith and maintaining the unity of the fellowship, to determine when these rights are asserted to the injury of its unity and peace.  (10)

Reflection

‘It leaves it up to you to decide what you want to believe… it doesn’t impose anything on you.’ This was a view expressed on the video entitled ‘What is the United Reformed Church?’ produced in the 1990s and presented by the BBC’s Political Editor John Cole. The URC is described as somewhere that allows the individual believer to take steps to grow into faith rather than sign up to everything straight away. No need to pass an exam to join, but rather learn together as a community of faith. 

However, one of the stumbling blocks of this so-called ‘Conscience Clause’ in the Basis is that it has led sometimes too easily to the idea that the individual can believe exactly what they want to the detriment of the Church. Amid the post-modern idea of the centrality of the individual, it’s easy to think that the Basis points towards believing whatever you want and such belief becoming a legitimate part of the Church’s doctrine. 

The importance of both Matthew’s reprimand of sin and the Basis is grounded in the idea of reliance upon an other. Where ‘two or three are gathered’ in the name of Christ – as The Church – in councils and congregations, we are dependent upon our neighbours in Christ to help us understand what it is that God is calling the Church into. PT Forsyth recognised that we needed something ‘outside our personal opinion, will, vision, inclination, or taste’ to form the community of the Church, while John Oman knew that the fallible Church nevertheless craves a ‘hungering and thirsting after a fuller discernment.’ Our quest is wider than ourselves. 

We may find ourselves out of step with the Church’s discernment and direction, or we can find our convictions are the very grit needed to form a pearl within the Church. As long as we are conscious of each other, in our diversity and freedom, we can discern how God is leading us today. 

Prayer

God in community, three-in-one, 

your Spirit guides and mediates 

through the complexities of life. 

Help us to be attuned to your Spirit’s call upon us and upon the Church, 

and give us the words to speak your truth 

as we hunger and thirst to know and reflect you more fully, 

in unity and in peace. Amen. 

URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 22nd July 2020 Basis of Union 9

Wednesday 22nd July 2020 Basis of Union 9 

Basis

The United Reformed Church testifies to its faith, and orders its life, according to this Basis of Union, believing it to embody the essential notes of the Church catholic and reformed. The United Reformed Church nevertheless reserves its right and declares its readiness at any time to alter, add to, modify or supersede this Basis so that its life may accord more nearly with the mind of Christ. (9)

Reflection

The phrase “catholic and reformed” is very important because it asserts the truth that we are a part of the Church universal.  Here catholic, with a small c, means universal.  We are not asserting that we are a part of the Roman Catholic Church, but that alongside them and other churches, we are all parts of the one universal Church.

If you think of a stream flowing down a mountain, it may break up into different streams as the water makes its way down the side of the mountain.  It may do this more than once, so that by the bottom of the mountain there might be a large number of different streams.  If any one of those streams claimed that it alone contained the original water it would be preposterous.  It would also be preposterous for any of the branches to forget the original from which they come, and of which they are a part with other branches.  We share fifteen centuries of Church history together with other Western churches before the Reformation.

When we speak of “catholic and reformed” we’re confessing our connectedness and indebtedness to the Church of past ages, to believers in previous generations.  This has always been central to the instincts of Reformed theologians from the 16th century to today, not a deviation from them.

The Reformed tradition does not claim to restore a Church that had been eclipsed but to reform the historic catholic (universal) Church.  If we miss this, we risk misunderstanding that Reformed actually means continuity.  A tree which is reformed is not cut down; it is pruned.  It would be a serious mistake to attempt to jump over 1500 years of Church history to recover the faith as though no one had ever written or spoken about Jesus since shortly before AD70.
May God speak to us through the voices of the saints, down the years.

Prayer

Loving Father, though you have cast us all from the one mould that is your love, we are a wealth of different shapes; a vast pilgrim people you cherish your own.  Unite us as one family, one humanity.  May we never stand alone when we could stand together; and never isolate, when we could include.  That all may recognise in all your image and your likeness, revealed most fully in Jesus Christ, our Saviour.  Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 21st July 2020 Basis of Union 8

Tuesday 21st July 2020  Basis of Union 8               

Ephesians 4: 14-16

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Basis

The United Reformed Church has been formed in obedience to the call to repent of what has been amiss in the past and to be reconciled. It sees its formation and growth as a part of what God is doing to make his people one, and as a united church will take, wherever possible and with all speed, further steps towards the unity of all God’s people. (8)

Reflection

John, a cheerful Methodist Local Preacher, told me “We’re all going to be living and praising together in heaven – we might as well start now!”  But it is not easy to be people seeking unity. 
 
I still remember, as a very new church member, the crushing blow of the failure of the Churches’ Council for Covenanting in 1981, (which would have brought together Methodist and Anglican churches and the United Reformed Church). I confess that even now there are times when I wonder whether we are achieving anything as we sit through yet another Churches Together meeting. 

But the Basis of Union reminds us that we don’t pursue ecumenism because it’s easy, or because of how we feel, or because of what we gain. As people who rightly repent past division, we seek reconciliation because we are obedient to God’s call. We seek unity because we want to be faithful to God’s mission to make his people one.
 
The reading from Ephesians describes this as ‘growing up into Christ’. As we continue to work for unity, this metaphor of growing into one body may be more useful to us than a more mechanistic imagining of bolting together the different parts of our denominations to form a single church. Instead of holding onto our childlike desire to please ourselves, we need to grow more like Christ. Then we will see better how we belong together and how we can be one church, built up in love, by Christ.
 
 
Prayer

God who is the Father of all
help us, your children, to grow up into Christ.
Through the power of your Spirit
make us faithful to the gospel
and a people who seek reconciliation,
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Monday 20th July 2020 Basis of Union 7

Monday 20th July 2020 Basis of Union 7 

Ephesians 4: 4-7

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Basis

The United Reformed Church humbly recognises that the failure and weakness of the Church have in particular been manifested in division which has made it impossible for Christians fully to know, experience and communicate the life of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. (7)

Reflection

There are many places where we come across the phrase “the strain of holding together a broad church” …whether it is a reference to the Church of England, the United Reformed Church or even the Labour party.  We might think that diversity makes it more difficult to be united, that it would be much easier to be ‘one’ if we all thought, acted or believed the same. 
 
The writer of the letter to the Ephesians does not agree. “Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift” – we know we are not given the same gifts of grace, or in the same measure. We are gloriously different…but this very individuality is built together by God in the church, pulled together by Christ, made one in the Spirit so that the whole church may be one and may be blessed.
 
The Basis of Union pulls no punches – division among Christians is not just a natural expression of our individuality and difference, like “different brands of beer” as someone once said to me. Our division is a sign of failure and weakness and we need to recognise this and repent.

As those coming from a non-conformist heritage we might rejoice in difference and abhor uniformity, but this can never be at the expense of recognising our unity and repenting of our division.

 
Prayer

Father of all,
we pray that your church may be one body,
declaring one faith in one Lord
through the power of the one Spirit.
Give grace to us so that we may recognise our failure and weakness.
Re-make us in true unity,
so that we may bear the name of Christ,
as your church in your world. Amen.

Worship for Sunday 19th July 2020

Sunday Worship from the URC’s Daily Devotions
Sunday 19th July 2020

 

Francis Brienen

 
Introduction
 
Good morning and welcome to worship. My name is Francis Brienen and I am Deputy General Secretary (Mission) for the United Reformed Church. I am speaking to you from my home in North London, where at the time of recording we are still in lockdown. Yet I know that as I do so, I am connected with God’s people all across the UK. Wherever we are, we meet together in God’s presence. We may be scattered and dispersed, but we are still God’s church, called to be a light to the world. So let us worship God.
 
Call to Worship
 
We meet in the name of God, the Holy Trinity of Love who knows our needs, hears our cries, feels our pain,  and heals our wounds.
 
God is our light and our salvation. In God’s name we light this candle and are reminded of Jesus, the Light of the World, God’s own Voice who came to live with us. May our hearts be open to you, O God, now and always. Amen
 
Hymn       Bless the Lord O My Soul
Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin based upon Psalms 103: 1-5
 

Bless the Lord,
O my soul,
O my soul!
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before,
O my soul.
I’ll worship Your holy name
 
The sun comes up,
it’s a new day dawning.
It’s time to sing
Your song again.
Whatever may pass
and whatever lies before me,
let me be singing
when the evening comes.
 
2: You’re rich in love
and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great
and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness,
I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons
for my heart to find
 
3: And on that day
when my strength is failing,
the end draws near
and my time has come;
still, my soul will sing
Your praise unending
Ten thousand years
and then forevermore.

 

Prayers of Approach
 
Living God, Lord of heaven and earth, you are the promise of eternal life:
you love us for ever, treasuring each of us in our uniqueness from the moment of our creation until we join the whole company of heaven.
Living God, through life you journey with us: our companion in the questioning, the spur to our search for truth, the passion in our indignation, always gently, tenderly, holding us in love.
 
We come to you, God of love,  for with you there is room for everyone,
and for all our broken promises, our fears and our pain.
 
Prayer of Confession
 
Loving God, we confess that we have failed, we have not been what you intend us to be, we have not been what we want to be:
 
We would touch the world with goodness,
but we chase after our own salvation.
We would care for your creation,
but we squander it with little thought for those still to come.
We would meet the needs of others,
  but we find ourselves reluctant to share.
We would stand for truth, but we remain silent in the face of evil.
We would live with love and compassion,
  but we take on the values of this world.
We would share our faith joyfully, but we lack courage to trust in you.
 
We need you, God, if we are to become who you want us to be.
Transform us by the power of your Spirit.
Renew our faith day by day and make it as big as a mustard seed,
full of promise and possibility,
so that we may live with courage and purpose
and see the signs and parables you have for us in the world today.       
                                    
Assurance of pardon
 
God’s love for us and for the world is faithful and steadfast.
God is slow to anger  and full of mercy and grace.
God breathes new life into us, so that we can start afresh,
thinking new thoughts and making new choices.
Thanks be to God!                                                                                   
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
We thank you, God, that we are never left alone.
We live confident that you will lead us on the journey of faith.
So we ask that you speak to us now:
Holy Spirit, open our minds and our souls to the truth.
Move us with your word –
that we may listen with ears of hope,
learn with hearts of faith
and live in your world with love. Amen
 
Reading:           St Matthew 13: 24-30 & 36-43
 
Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.   And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?”   He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?”  But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’
 
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’  He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;  the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one,  and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.  Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,  and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears  listen!
 
Hymn:      Everyday God
                Bernadette Farrell 2016 © OCP Publications
 

Earth’s creator, Everyday God,
Loving Maker, O Jesus,
You who shaped us, O Spirit,
recreate us, Come, be with us.
 
2: In your presence, Everyday God,
we are gathered, O Jesus,
You have called us, O Spirit,
to restore us, Come, be with us.
 
3: Life of all lives, Everyday God,
Love of all loves, O Jesus,
Hope of all hopes, O Spirit,
Light of all lights, Come, be with us.
 
4: In our resting, Everyday God,
in our rising, O Jesus,
in our hoping, O Spirit,
in our waiting, come, be with us.
 
5: In our dreaming, Everyday God,
in our daring, O Jesus,
in our searching, O Spirit,
in our sharing, come, be with us.

6: God of laughter, Everyday God,
God of sorrow, O Jesus,
home and shelter, O Spirit,
strong & patient, come, be with us.
 
7: Way of freedom, Everyday God,
Star of morning, O Jesus,
timeless healer, O Spirit,
flame eternal, Come, be with us.
 
8: Word of gladness, Everyday God,
Word of mercy, O Jesus,
Word of friendship, O Spirit,
Word of challenge, Come, be with us.
 
9: Gentle father, Everyday God,
faithful brother, O Jesus,
tender sister, O Spirit.
Loving mother, come, be with us.
 
10: Our beginning, Everyday God,
our unfolding, O Jesus,
our enduring, O Spirit,
journey’s ending, come, be with us.

 

11: Alleluia, Everyday God,
now and always, O Jesus,
alleluia, O Spirit, through all ages,
come, be with us.
 
Sermon 
 
Just as the country was about to go into lockdown and when panic buying was rife, I was waiting at the bus stop near the supermarket. I was soon joined by an elderly woman, carrying shopping. She was clearly keen to talk. She could not believe how people were behaving in the supermarket. As she was about to take a packet of biscuits to put into her basket, someone had pushed in front of her and in one fell swoop emptied the entire contents of the biscuits shelf straight into their trolley. They then marched off without so much as a by your leave. My bus stop companion was outraged and after venting about it for quite a while, she concluded with the rather memorable comment: Well, I hope that by the time this lockdown is over they will be really fat!
 
This is a rather trivial story to illustrate something very difficult and troubling, which is that good and bad co-exist, that the good don’t always get their reward and those who need justice are sometimes denied it. What goes around doesn’t always come around. Our world is messy and it is hard to understand why things are the way they are. As people of faith what do we say? Where is God in all this? Why can the children of the evil one roam freely and even seem to flourish?
 
These are the theological questions that Matthew’s parable seems to raise too. They are difficult questions, and they are uncomfortable.
 
Matthew addresses them through a parable that Jesus tells his disciples. It is unique to Matthew, though there are some parallels with the parable of the dragnet we find in Mark.  Matthew places it right at the heart of his gospel, as part of a set of parables about God’s kingdom, the reign of God – the essence of Jesus’ good news to the world. It is a complex parable, but told in imagery everyone could relate to: wheat and weeds.  It deals with difficult issues, and it is perhaps really told to warn of premature judgement, and to tell the disciples who is really in charge.
 
Jesus tells the disciples that the world is not pure and perfect. It may have started out that way, but some time during the night, while everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and then went away. So, when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.
 
You may be a keen gardener, or you may have taken it up during lockdown. If so, you will know how annoying weeds can be. They grow rather well; they don’t need any help from anyone. This particular weed was a very tricky one: darnel or rye grass according to the commentaries. A weed that looks just like wheat. I looked it up and it is described as wheat’s evil twin. That says it all really. It looks just like wheat especially in the early stages.
 
The slaves of the householder want to spring into action immediately. Let’s pull them up before they take over everything. But the master stops them. If you gather the weeds, you will uproot the wheat with them, he says. Let both of them grow until the harvest; and at the harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.
 
That is a rather surprising and puzzling statement. Is the suggestion that we should be passive in the face of evil, that we should do nothing when we can see that things are going wrong? Even stronger, are we told that doing nothing is actually less harmful than doing good?
 
What this really is, I think, is a warning against premature judgement. I don’t really like weeding much and that is not just because it is back breaking. It’s because I just don’t know enough about plants. In my eagerness to tidy up I have weeded out many a good, and dare I say it, expensive plant. I have destroyed the good with the bad. And that is what is at stake here too: the weed and the wheat look too similar. It is all too easy to exterminate something that is good. It is all too easy to wade into a situation thinking you are doing good and finding out you are doing the opposite.
 
Many years ago I was part of the leadership team of a youth in mission camp, as it was called, here in the UK, where an international group of young people came to work in and with a community on a practical project. At the end of the project we organised an open-air concert and invited a rock band to come and play. Their fee was a bit expensive, or so we thought, and being church we had some debate over having a collection. We decided against it, as it was our gift to the community. People turned out in great numbers and the concert was a huge success, but towards the end of it I noticed a woman from the community going round and asking people for money. She was known for begging by the local shop to buy alcohol. Indignant and over zealous I rushed to the local minister. How dare she use this occasion to beg for money, what would people think? Shouldn’t we stop her? The minister was relaxed about it, he knew his people well. Just leave it, he said, it’ll be fine. And he was right. Shortly afterwards she came over to him, gave him a hug, handed him her bag of money and said: This is for the church. Thank you for the concert.
 
I wish I could say that that was the last time I ever waded in, eager and over zealous, but that is not the case. And I am quite sure I am not the only one. And that is why this parable stands as a warning. Against reading situations wrongly and wading in. Against being so sure that we know what is good and what is bad.
 
Matthew’s parable is in a sense a warning, against thinking that we have it all figured out how to judge good from evil, right from wrong, moral from immoral. The main characters in this very parable should remind us of that. It is not all that long ago that Christians thought it okay that a master should have slaves and used the Bible to justify it.
 
Best to wait, best to let the weeds and wheat grow together until it is time to harvest, when it is easier to tell the good from the bad.
 
And here’s another thing. Weeds may turn out to be useful in the end. There is a hint of that in the parable. In first-century Palestine either manure or dried weeds would be used for cooking fuel. By letting the weeds grow too, the farmer would not only have wheat to make the bread, but also the fuel to fire the oven. All they needed was to wait, to tolerate the mess for a while, because it would come good in the end. 
 
Our current situation seems to be full of weeds, in fact in the face of the Covid 19 pandemic the field seems to be full of that. We have seen behaviour in people that has been discouraging and sometimes shocking. Including in those we expect to govern and lead us. And yet, we have also seen incredible acts of dedication, kindness, care and love. We have seen a coming together of community and society in a way that we no longer thought possible, and it has been heartening. We have seen a rediscovery of what it is to be church. Not the building, but the people, people who have been finding ingenuous ways to continue to worship and to serve their communities. It is as if the weeds have woken up the wheat and urged it to grow stronger.
 
And perhaps that is the message of this parable. Our world is a mixed and messy field of wheat and weeds, where the children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one live side by side. But it is still God’s world. And in this mixed and messy field God calls us to be wheat. In fact, to be the best wheat we can be: to live the gospel, to be the light, to be the salt. To be the good in the world with the full awareness of what the resistance will be. To be light when darkness will surely try to snuff it out. To be salt when blandness and conformity are always the easier paths.
 
To be all that. And to trust that God will take care of the rest.
 
Barbara Brown Taylor recounts a story she once read about Pope John XXIII, who ended his lengthy prayers each night by saying to himself, “But who governs the Church? You or the Holy Spirit? Very well, then, go to sleep, Angelo.”
 
We may not like or understand some of the things that happen in our lives or in our mixed and messy world. But we can trust that ultimately our lives and the world we live in are in God’s hand.  All we need to do is just be: being true to our roots, stretching out to the light so that we will shine like the sun and trusting that in the end the harvest is God’s. Amen.
 
Hymn       Amazing Grace
                 John Newton
 

Amazing grace
(how sweet the sound)
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost,
but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.
 
2 ‘Twas grace that taught
my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did
that grace appear
the hour I first believed!
 
3 Through many dangers,
toils and snares
we have already come:
’twas grace has brought us
safe thus far,
and grace will lead us home.
 
4: When we’ve been there
ten thousand years
bright shining as the Sun,
we’ve no less days
to sing God’s praise,
than when we’ve first begun.

 

Affirmation of Faith
 
We believe in God.
Despite His silence and His secrets we believe that He lives.
Despite evil and suffering we believe that He made the world
so that all would be happy in life.
Despite the limitations of our reason and the revolts of our hearts,
we believe in God.
 
We believe in Jesus Christ.
Despite the centuries which separate us
from the time when he came to earth, we believe in His word.
Despite our incomprehension and our doubt,
we believe in His resurrection.
Despite his weakness and poverty, we believe in His reign.
 
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
Despite appearances we believe He guides the Church;
despite death we believe in eternal life;
despite ignorance and disbelief,
we believe that the Kingdom of God is promised to all. Amen.
 
Offertory
 
Our giving is an essential part of our discipleship and of our worship. Reflect for a moment on the gifts you have been able to give in the past week. Perhaps you have volunteered, helped a friend or neighbour, given to your local food bank, or made a donation to a charity of your choice. Think also for a moment on how you give to your local church: perhaps you are filling and keeping your envelope for each week for when you gather again in your church building. Perhaps you give by standing order or bank transfer. However we give and whatever we give, all our gifts are a response to the overwhelming generosity of God. So let us pray:
 
Generous God,
we offer you our gifts – of love, of service, and of money.
Use these gifts, we pray, that they may sow seeds of hope
and bring closer your dream of justice and peace. Amen.
 
Prayers of Intercession
 
We join now in prayer as the people of God. Where there are silences, please use them to offer your personal prayers…
 
Gracious God, you have created us, you have set us free and loved us into life, You have spoken your word and shown us your way. Trusting that you hold this world in your loving care,  we bring to you our prayers for this day.
 
For your world in need, where poverty, conflict, political chaos,  and destruction of the earth are overwhelming: hear our prayers, gracious God….
 
For the leaders of all nations and for all in positions of power and responsibility, that they may act in such a way that the earth and all its people can flourish:  hear our prayers, gracious God…
 
For the church of Jesus Christ around the world,  for the United Reformed Church and for our sister churches here in the UK,    that we may be faithful to our calling hear our prayers, gracious God….
 
For those we know and name now – for family members, friends, people in our congregation, neighbours who need our prayers:  hear our prayers, gracious God….
 
And for ourselves we pray. Guard us against all that distracts us from your kingdom.  Bless us with wisdom and patience and keep us rooted and grounded in you.
 
This we pray, as we say:
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
Hymn:               It is the Cry of My Heart
Terry Butler ©  1991 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing
 
It is the cry of my heart to follow You!
It is the cry of my heart to be close to You!
It is the cry of my heart to follow all of the days of my Life!
 

 

1: Teach me Your holy ways O Lord
so I can walk in Your truth.
Teach me Your holy ways O Lord
& make me wholly devoted to You.

2: Open my eyes so I can see
the wonderful things that You do.
Open my heart up more and more
and make it wholly devoted to You



 
Benediction  
                          
This is still God’s world. May we live in it with faith.
This is still God’s world. May we live in it with hope.
This is still God’s world. May we live in it with love.
 
May we be good.
May we be light.
May we be salt.
And trust that God will take care of the rest.
 
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
 
 

 Sources and Thanks

 
Call to Worship from the Church of England’s New Patterns of Worship.
Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France (translated by Andy Braunston) all other liturgical material by Francis Brienen.
Prayer of Confession first published in ‘A Restless Hope’, Prayer Handbook 1995
Assurance of Pardon based on Psalm 86, 11-17
 
Organ Pieces  Opening: Fugue in G Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
(organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)  Closing:   Nun Danket Alle Gott – Marche Triomphale (“Now thank we all our God”) by Sigfrid Karg-Elert (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)  Both played by Brian Cotterill.  http://briancotterill.webs.com
 

Thanks to…

 
The choir of Barrhead URC, Jonnie Hill, Carol Tubbs, Marion Thomas, Ray Fraser, John Young, and Leslie Bailey for recording various parts of the service.
 
Bless The Lord (10,000 Reasons) by Tim Hughes and Jonas Myrin © 2011 Thankyou Music, Said And Done Music, sixsteps Music, SHOUT! Music Publishing performed by the author.
Everyday God by Bernadette Farrell © OCP Publications performed by the author from the Restless Heart album.
Amazing Grace by John Newton performed by Judy Collins and the Global Virtual Choir.
It is the Cry of My Heart Terry Butler ©  1991 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing performed by Terry Butler.
 

URC Daily Devotion Saturday 18th July 2020 Basis of Union 6

2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Basis

Christ’s mercy in continuing his call to the Church in all its failure and weakness has taught the Church that its life must ever be renewed and reformed according to the Scriptures, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (6)

Reflection

If we are honest, some of us find ourselves on the edge of the Church not knowing if we should be in or out. Trying to equate the pain and injury caused to some, with the endless hope and joy of Christ’s Church at its best, is a real struggle for many of us.

I cannot believe that God would wish us to suffer at the hands of the Church in its weakness, so I cannot blame those who run-to-the-hills in self-protection. It feels brave, if deeply sad.

The most theological conversations I have tend to be with my barber, dentist or postman.  Each of them has shared something like this over the years: “I left years ago with all the abuse scandals”,  “the Church is so rich and does nothing for the poor”, “the Church is full of hypocrites who talk about love, but show none”. These may be old or inaccurate stereotypes of the Church, but they are certainly signs of the failure and weakness that are part of our history and our present – if we are honest.

It does us good to be humbled and our Basis of Union does not shirk from this task, nor does it leave us in the place of shame.
Thank God, that Christ’s mercy is not dependent on our flawlessness!

God is always renewing and re-forming the Church, especially when we turn to Scripture to guide us and as we allow the Spirit to lead us in ever-new, creative ways.

Perhaps the Basis of Union reminds us that Christ continues to call his Church to be a sign of hope and resurrection to the world, even through its vulnerabilities and failings.

So, this is why I stay.
Because, at its best, the Church is a place of forgiveness, joy and hope.
At its best, the Church is happy to be reformed to the way of Christ, which is community, love and grace.
I stay, because Christ continues to call us, as we are, to be salt and light in our communities and ambassadors of love to the world.
Why do you stay in the Church?
 
Prayer

Ever-Creating God,
we pray that your global Church will constantly be reformed in your image and always be a force of active hope.
We pray for those on the edge of the Church, those who have left and those who have heard nothing but our failings. May the light of your love shine to them through us.
As we go about our day, may we be a sign of what the Church is, when we let you lead.
With you is mercy and in you, we are a new creation.
Thanks be to God
Amen

URC Daily Devotion Friday 17th July 2020 Basis of Union 5

Friday 17th July 2020 – Basis of Union 5  

Romans 7: 4 – 20

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.  I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Basis

The unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity of the Church have been obscured by the failure and weakness which mar the life of the Church.  (5)

Reflection

We dare to believe that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. It is often said that if ever you find the perfect church (as in perfect congregation) you shouldn’t join it, because you’ll spoil it. There is a sense in which this is true at an obviously human level, but within the ways of God it is not true that you can spoil the Church. The holiness of the Church cannot be spoiled by my sin, weakness or human frailty, because, in the end, the Church is more than a human society, but is God’s divine creation. 

Most of us can identify with Paul’s sense that, however hard we try, and however much we want to, we just can’t always manage to do the right thing. Sometimes that’s just because we are weak and frail human beings. And sometimes it’s just because, well, life is complicated and you can find yourself in some situations where you can only do the least bad thing. I sense that these verses in Romans are the ones that most of us really do understand well. 

Our Basis of Union recognises that our failures and weaknesses mar the life of the Church and that sometimes the holiness of the Church is obscured by them. We cannot deny this as we see the impact of scandals and abuses on our reputation and reality. But we also say, with the whole Church, that the holiness of the Church is not a product of our moral rightness, but is a gift, a miraculous gift, from God. This means that, however weak and flawed we are, however bad things get, God is present still within the Church, renewing and reforming and recreating. Where God is present, there is something holy. Even the most flawed among us can hold on to that promise. Take that hope into the weak places of your own life today.

Prayer

Holy God,
 forgive us all for the times
When
 we ‘bring your church into disrepute’

through our failure and our sin.

And, through our belonging to your Church,

bless us with your holy love,

that we may grow in goodness,

to the glory of your holy name, Amen.


URC Daily Devotion Thursday 16th July 2020 Basis of Union 4

St Matthew 28: 16 – 20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Basis

The Church is apostolic because Christ continues to entrust it with the Gospel and the commission first given to the apostles to proclaim that Gospel to all peoples. (4)

Reflection

Not long ago, I bought a box of apostle spoons from a car boot sale (I was actually rather excited to find them, somewhat to the surprise of the stall holder!). Such spoons were a familiar part of my childhood, though we never had the kind that were different for each ‘apostle’; Peter with his keys, Andrew with his cross… I realise now, looking back, that the spoons taught me to elide the ‘apostles’ with ‘the Twelve’. I’ve learned since that, even in the early Church, there were others who were called apostles; from Paul to Mary Magdalene. And I’ve begun to take in what it means to think of the Church (today’s church too) as apostolic. The apostles were simply (simply!) those entrusted with the message of the Gospel and this means that any of us who have heard and believed the Gospel might be apostles too. 

What’s vital is that we neither confine apostleship to the first century not forget that today’s apostles need to have a strong connection to those first apostles if we are to be confident that we proclaim the same Gospel. It’s liberating, challenging and exciting to discover that you can be an apostle too. It’s also vital and strengthening to know that we are connected to the apostles who carried the Gospel through the ages. ‘The Twelve’, plus Paul and Mary and countless others, are not just interesting historical figures – but co-workers with us in a common project. 

The Church is founded upon those first apostles, but in its present earthly community, is formed of apostles too. Not everyone is a natural evangelist, but any of us can live as those who bring good news. As you live your life today take a moment to wonder how you can carry good news. Think about it every time you stir your cuppa…

Prayer

Loving Jesus,
who called forth apostles

by revealing to them the good news
of God’s saving love,

call forth in me 
a voice, a life, and a heart

that brings good news to your world

and love to all the people,

in this day and all my days, Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 15th July 2020 Basis of Union 3

Wednesday 15th July 2020  Basis of Union 3 – Anne Hewling

St Matthew 11: 28-30

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Basis

The Church is catholic or universal because Christ calls into it all peoples and because it proclaims the fullness of Christ’s Gospel to the whole world. (3)

Reflection

I spent my first six years on the little island of Rarotonga, part of the Cook Islands.  My parents had ventured to these specks of land amidst thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean turquoise in 1952 as missionaries with the London Missionary Society (LMS). They served 18 years amidst various island groups of the South Pacific. It sounds like paradise and, in many ways, it was.  But my dad wrote a book about it carefully entitled Not Quite Paradise to tell the world truths that, even on palm-fringed beaches of gleaming white coral sand, people are still people and life is still burdened with plenty of cares. Indeed, some of the places we called home are already being destroyed as climate change, increasingly violent hurricanes, sea level rise, ocean warming and ocean acidification work their lethal consequences to humanity’s greed and apathy.

The Gospel reached places like this because women and men, young and old, left our congregations and set sail. Many died on the way, or became martyrs for the faith.  I cannot say these glorious words of ours with their universal vision without picturing such little islands thousands of miles away. And, of course, the churches that once sent missionaries only exist themselves because missionaries once came to where we now live, and first converts discovered a yoke that was easier than sin and death, and a burden of discipleship lightened by the constant presence of the Holy Spirit and held in the prayers of the risen and ascended Christ.  We now live an interconnected life; the world made ordinary in the palm of our hands.  This part of the Basis testifies to the abiding truth that there is, rather, something utterly extraordinary about naming ourselves sisters and brothers in Christ across all bounds of time and geography.  

Prayer

Lord, you have made a marvellous world,
rich in diversity, peopled with different cultures;
fragile and wonderful.
Thank you for loving it all so much 
that you have come to call all creation home.
Give us deep trust
to lay down our burdens too
and follow you.
Amen.