Worship for Sunday 26th July 2020

Sunday Worship from the URC’s Daily Devotions
26th July 2020

 
 

The Rev’d Ruth Whitehead

 
Introduction
 
Welcome to this act of worship. My name is Ruth Whitehead. I am a minister of the United Reformed Church, currently serving as Moderator of the South Western Synod. The Synod stretches from Cornwall up beyond Swindon, and I live more or less in the middle, in Taunton in Somerset. In today’s worship we are going to celebrate the Biblical concept of the breath of God.
 
Introit:  Down to the River To Pray
 
As I went down in the river to pray studying about that good ol’ way
and who shall wear the starry crown (robe and crown)
good Lord, show me the way.
 

O sisters, let’s go down
let’s go down, come on down
O sisters, let’s go down
down in the river to pray
 
O brothers, let’s go down…
O fathers, let’s go down
 
O mothers, let’s go down…
 
O sinners, let’s go down…

 

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  Breathe on Me Breath of God  Edwin Hatch (1835-1889)
 

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love
what Thou dost love,
and do what Thou wouldst do.
 
2: Breathe on me, Breath of God,
until my heart is pure,
until with Thee I will one will,
to do and to endure.

3: Breathe on me, Breath of God,
till I am wholly Thine,
until this earthly part of me
glows with Thy fire divine.
 
4: Breathe on me, Breath of God,
so shall I never die,
but live with Thee the perfect life
of Thine eternity.

 

Prayer of Approach
 
God of all,
in the beginning you breathed over the void, and fashioned creation.
You breathed into the dust of the ground, and made earthlings,
You spoke your word and gave form to your law.
We praise you for all you have done.
 
God of love,
You took your first human breath as Jesus, born of Mary.
You called and taught and healed ordinary people.
You breathed your last on the cross, yet sprang to life from the tomb.
We praise you for all you have done.
 
God of life,
You are the Spirit who breathes life into your people.
You are the great wind of Pentecost.
You are the soft sigh of the dove’s wings.
We praise you for all you have done.
 
As we come to praise you this morning, receive our praise and breathe life and love into us all. In your name, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
God whose breath is life to us
You spoke and the world came into being
You spoke and your prophets heard your voice
You spoke in Jesus Christ and people came to follow.
Speak now through your Holy Word and help us to be your people, hear your voice and follow in your path. Amen.
 
 Reading  Romans 8:26-39
 
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
 
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
 
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
 
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 
 
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
 
Hymn:  Not Far Beyond the Sea  George Caird (1917-1984)
 

Not far beyond the sea, nor high
above the heavens, but very nigh
Your voice, O God, is heard.
For each new step of faith we take
You have more truth
and light to break
forth from Your holy word.
 
2. The babes in Christ
Your scriptures feed
with milk sufficient for their need,
the nurture of the Lord.
Beneath life’s burden and its heat
the fully grown find stronger meat
in Your unfailing word.

3. Rooted & grounded in your love,
with saints on earth & saints above
we join in full accord:
to grasp the breadth, length,
depth and height,
the crucified and risen might
of Christ, the incarnate Word.
 
4. Help us to press toward that mark,
and, though our vision now is dark,
to live by what we see.
So, when we see You face to face,
Your truth & light our dwelling place
forevermore shall be.
 
Sermon
 
A sigh can convey so much.
A sigh of resignation – ‘I don’t know what else to do…sigh.’
A sigh of boredom – ‘I just feel…sigh’.
A sigh of frustration – ‘Why don’t you just…sigh.’
 
But we need this passage from Romans to remind us that a sigh can be a prayer and a gift from God..
 
‘We do not know how to pray as we ought but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words’.
 
Whatever we are facing today, however many words we use in this act of worship, for God to hear our prayer we just need the soft sighing of the Holy Spirit, carrying our deepest concerns from our hearts to the heart of God the Father.

So maybe instead of a sermon I could just sigh and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.
 
But there are such amazing words here, we shouldn’t miss out on thinking about them.
 
Many of the phrases in today’s readings may have been quoted to us at one time or another:
 
‘We know that all things work together for good for those who love God’
 
‘If God is for us, who shall be against us?’
 
‘We are more than conquerors through him who loved us’
 
‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God’…
 
But if we just trot out the familiar phrases, we may hear the Holy Spirit sigh… words alone are not everything.  Facebook seems full of encouraging Bible verses taken out of context, but the Bible is not meant to be merely a treasury of encouraging words.  In the Bible we find a wonderful collection of stories, poems and letters which tell us about the God who loves us and who wants to be in relationship with us.  And like any love, God’s love is expressed in more than just inspirational sound bites.
 
So what is Paul trying to say in this letter to the church in Rome?
 
In the verses just before this, Paul has referred to the children of God ‘groaning inwardly’ while waiting for adoption as daughters and sons of God. We groan.. but the Spirit sighs.
 
God sends the Spirit to help us: supporting us in our weakness, helping us to pray, speaking out on our behalf.  This is the God who reaches out to relate to us, sending us the Spirit to turn even our groaning hopelessness into sighs of prayer.  We groan, the Spirit sighs, and then God speaks.
 
Paul explains that God calls each of us and forms us into the likeness of Jesus, God’s Son. This call is all we need – for God is on our side, like one speaking out for us in a court of law.
 
We can trust in this love – the love that came in Jesus Christ, that accepted the suffering of the cross and overcame death. Paul is clear –  nothing can separate us from the love of God. God is closer to us than breathing – our helper, our saviour and our companion.
 
It was Alfred, Lord Tennyson who wrote the lines: Speak to Him, thou, for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet-  Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet. 
 
However amazing the words, however wonderful the ideas, however deep the sighs of prayer, the greatest truth is that here, as well as guidance and inspiration, we have something even more precious – we have hope.
 
God is closer than breath itself, and God breathes life into us, into our words, into our prayers and into our lives.
 
The God of love is with us –  Spirit, Son & Father. Coming as a sigh to convert our groans into prayer. Coming to breathe our air – living and dying and rising for us. Coming closer even than breath – our inseparable and loving God. We have only to let out a sigh –  Amen.
 
Hymn:  How Can I Keep From Singing 
(adapted from an American Shaker Hymn)
 
Many of us are missing singing in church in this time of lockdown. As we prepare to pray for the world, let’s listen to this old Shaker hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing’ and reflect on the words of Augustine “Who sings, prays twice.”
 

My life goes on in endless song
above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
 
No storm can shake
my inmost calm,
while to that Rock, I’m clinging.
Since Love prevails
in heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?
 
2: While though the tempest
round me roars,
I know the Truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness
round me close,
songs in the night it giveth.
 
3: I Lift my eyes.
The cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it.
And day by day, this pathway smooths,
since first I learned to love it.

No storm can shake my inmost calm, I hear the music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?
 
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.
 
Prayer of Intercession
 
“We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us, with sighs too deep for words”
 
Living God, hear our prayer. Hear our words, our groans, our sighs and our silence, we pray. So may your kingdom come.
 
We pray that here, in this moment, in our homes, we may know you close. We bring to you the deepest burdens of our hearts… for our health, our dear ones, our future…
Living God, hear our prayer and may your kingdom come.
 
We pray that you may be known in love of friend and neighbour. We bring to you prayers for our communities… for our neighbours, our sisters and brothers in Christ, and those who serve us…
Living God, hear our prayer and may your kingdom come.
 
We pray that you may speak in the life of our nation. We bring to you prayers for those in government, local and national, for emergency services, for justice in financial affairs..
Living God, hear our prayer and may your kingdom come.
We pray that your kingdom will be known among the nations of this world. We bring to you prayers for all whose health or health services are poor, for those who work to support the weakest, for all who care for our fragile planet..
 
Living God, hear our prayer and may your kingdom come.
 
Living God, take these prayers and shape them and us to build your kingdom, in Jesus name and by the power of the Spirit. Amen.
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
The Offertory
 
In worship we offer our prayers, our time and our praise to God. Normally the symbol of this is the giving of money for the work of the kingdom. We pause today to remember our offering of ourselves and our gifts.
 
Living God, show us how best to serve your kingdom.
We offer our lives, our gifts and our money
and ask you to show us how best to give them to you.
So may your kingdom come. Amen.
 
Hymn:  Guide Me O Though Great Redeemer  William Williams 1717-91
 

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak,
but Thou art mighty,
hold me with Thy powerful hand;
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven
feed me till I want no more;
feed me till I want no more. 
 
2: Open now the crystal fountain
whence the healing
stream doth flow;
let the fire and cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through:
Strong Deliverer, Strong Deliverer;
be Thou still my strength and shield;
be Thou still my strength and shield.



3: When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of Death, and Hell’s destruction
land me safe on Canaan’s side:
songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee;
I will ever give to thee.
 
Blessing
 
May the God of all life and power
breathe into your heart, mind and soul.
And may the love of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Be with you and all those you love
now and evermore. Amen.
 
 

Sources and Copyright

 
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 Ruth Whitehead.
 
Organ Pieces  Opening: Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland (“Now the Gentile saviour comes”) 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 Anne Hewling, David Shimmin, Ray Fraser, Jonnie Hill and Karen Smith for recording various spoken parts of the service.  Thanks also to members of the Nevard family for recording the hymn Not Far Beyond
 
Copyright
 
Down by the River to Pray – Alison Kraus
Breathe on me Breath of God and Guide Me O Though Great Redeemer from the BBC’s Songs of Praise, Not Far Beyond sung by various members of the Nevard Family, How Can I Keep From Singing by the New York City Virtual Choir. 
 

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