URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 24th May

St John 6: 22 – 40

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the lake saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.  So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’  Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’  Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’  Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’  So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?   Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’  Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’  They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.  Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away;  for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’

Reflection

From across the lake come the crowds wanting more from Jesus: more of his time and teaching; more signs and wonders. He sees and interprets their desires. Jesus uses their longings and demands as springboards to lead them, and us, ever deeper into who he is and why he has come.

There is much going on here!  We might notice how Jesus corrects their cry for a miracle as great as the manna their ancestors received in the wilderness. That miracle, Jesus reminds them, was not a sign of the greatness of Moses, as if he conjured food from thin air. No, like all miracles, that sign pointed to God as giver and sustainer of life against all odds. The crowd’s plea is reframed; if God is the giver, how can we get hold of what God gives?

To which Jesus responds with his stunning offer: “I am the bread of life.” This is the first of seven times running across this Gospel in which Jesus will sum up all that he brings with an “I am…” Each time they come, these sayings extend the scope and scale of what is happening. Each time they come, they open a doorway into the work of God in the world being revealed in Jesus’ ministry. Each time, they offer anyone with ears to hear the dawn of salvation.

Jesus is offering life in all of its fullness. Jesus draws the contrasts. Physical hunger comes again and again. We are only as satisfied as the gap between one meal and the next. Believing in Jesus changes everything. As his friends and followers, we are assured of the unending, unquenchable, unbroken love of God. Even dying cannot undo such love.  Much we face in our lives invites us towards despair. God’s silence can be bitter agony. Today, this text invites us to hold on to the deepest truth of all; Jesus has come to give us life. He does not lie. We can trust him.

Prayer

Jesus, help us to trust you;
to trust that your offer of life is real,
to believe that it is freely given,
to know it for ourselves
and share it with the world.
Amen.         
 

URC Daily Devotion

St John 6: 16 – 21

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.  The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.  But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’  Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.

Reflection

Rowing a boat on a rough sea in the dark must be scary, though perhaps for the fishermen disciples it was familiar territory.  What WAS frightening to them was the sight of a man walking towards them 3 miles from land.  How do you explain that? 

And then Jesus said: ‘It is I, do not be afraid.’  The fear dissipated.  But as soon as Jesus got in the boat, they landed – at least 5 miles on.  What was happening?

Throughout the Bible, the reaction to encountering God is fear and awe, and the response is the exhortation to ‘Be not afraid.’  Think of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah on encountering God – all feared the consequences.  Think of Mary, Zechariah, the shepherds in the fields – all are told not to be afraid.

Encountering God’s awe and majesty makes us realise we are unworthy. Why would God want anything to do with us?

Amazingly, God wants a relationship with us, and wants us to ‘be not afraid’.

Jesus was teaching his disciples about God in a series of revelations that gradually increased their understanding of the nature of God – think of Luke’s story of the massive catch of fish after a fruitless night as he called Simon, James and John, the wedding at Cana where they saw how water was turned into wine, the feeding of the 5000, the walking on the lake.  Each time, they wondered and feared, and understood a little more, as part of their journey with Jesus towards the cross.

We have heard the whole of the story, but we too need to learn as we journey through the Scriptures, walking the way of Jesus today, wondering and getting to know the loving and forgiving (but awesome) nature of God, enabling us to grow and to share the good news with those around us.

Prayer of St Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,

for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day. Amen.

URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 22nd May 2022 – The Revd. Paul Robinson

Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Service for Sunday 22nd May –
The Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Rev’d Paul Robinson

Introduction  

Hello and welcome to this Daily Devotion Service.  My name is Paul Robinson and I’m the minister at the United Church in Rhyl.  Rhyl is a seaside town on the North Wales coast, with the hills around the Vale of Clwyd and the mountains of Snowdonia providing the backdrop to our beautiful beach.  The fingerprints of God’s creation are all around.  The church family here use two buildings in the town for worship and mission – in the centre of town at Christ Church, and (here) at our buildings on Tynewydd Road.  It is wonderful to join with you in worship today.
 
Call to Worship
 

One:         Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
 
Many:      He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
 
One:         Rejoice, heavenly powers!   Sing, choirs of angels!

Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!

 
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
 
One:         Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour,

radiant in the brightness of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!

 
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers!  Sing, choirs of angels!
 
One:         Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory!

The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy, 
as we sing, echoing the mighty song  of all God’s people!

 

Hymn       Come People of the Risen King

Keith Getty / Kristyn Lennox Getty / Stuart Townend

 

Come, people of the Risen King
who delight to bring Him praise.
Come all & tune your hearts to sing
to the Morning Star of grace.
From the shifting shadows of the earth
we will lift our eyes to Him,
where steady arms of mercy reach
to gather children in.

Rejoice, Rejoice! Let every tongue rejoice!
One heart, one voice: O Church of Christ, rejoice!

2 Come, those whose joy is morning sun,
& those weeping through the night.
Come, those who tell of battles won
and those struggling in the fight.
For His perfect love will never change
and His mercies never cease;
but follow us through all our days
with the certain hope of peace.

 
3 Come, young and old from every land,
men and women of the faith.
Come, those with full or empty hands
find the riches of His grace.
Over all the world, His people sing.
Shore to shore we hear them call.
The Truth that cries through every age
“Our God is all in all”

Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness

 
Father, we thank you for the world you have made and for the life you have given to us.  We praise you that you are far greater, far more wonderful than we can ever imagine.  We thank you for your love for us. We thank you even more that your love has no boundaries and your desire to draw us closer to yourself has no limits.  We rejoice that through Jesus you have done everything necessary to open our eyes to your presence, to change our minds about ourselves, and to lead us into new ways of serving, loving and caring.  We cannot thank you enough for those people who words and deeds and peace and joy. Help us to trust you with our lives and to serve you all our days.
 
We praise you for the promise that when we are truly sorry for the things that hurt you and spoil our own lives, we can be sure that you will forgive us.  We ask not only for your forgiveness, but that you will help us to show your love and forgiveness to others.  In the name of Christ. Amen

Prayer of Illumination:   Your words to me

George Currie Martin, 1863-1937, alt. Public Domain. Sung by Allan Henderson

 

Your words to me
are life and health;
they fortify my soul;
enable, guide, and teach my heart
to reach its perfect goal.

2 Your words to me
are light and truth;
from day to day they show
their wisdom, passing earthly lore,
as in their truth I grow.

 

3 Your words to me
are full of joy,
of beauty, peace and grace;
from them I learn your blessed will,
through them I see your face.
 
4 Your words are perfected in one,
Yourself, the living Word;
within my heart your image print
in clearest lines, O Lord.

Reading            Acts 16:9-15

 
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’  When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.  We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.  On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.  A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.

Sermon

Friends, I wonder when the last time you exclaimed, ‘What on earth is going on?’  When was the last time, that you reflected on what was going on in your life and in the world at the moment, you thought, ‘What on earth is going on?’ Or ‘How on earth have we end up in this place, in this situation?’  I don’t know about you but I’ve found myself asking that question many times over the last few months and years as we faced some really tough times.  Sometimes we say, ‘What on earth are we doing here?’, in light hearted situations.  I’m a Manchester United and I’ve watched the performances of my team drop and drop, and I think, ‘How on earth have we ended up here?’.  But it is also a question we ask in frustration as we watch the news or read news websites, or as we face deep personal situations.  When we think about the reactions of politicians in today’s world, or when we see the desires of our world leaders played out in the decisions they make.  When the economy is falling apart, or when communities are wracked by poverty.  When the world is changing really quite quickly and we’re not quite sure we’re ready for all that – ‘What on earth is going on?’  And in our personal lives too – when we face illness, emotional, physical illness.  When we think, “you know what a few years ago, my life was fine, but look at me now.  Where there were possibilities I just see barriers.  How have I ended up here?”  As we journey with grief and pain.  In all kinds of situations and contexts people say, “I never thought it would come to this.”  How on earth have I ended up here?
 
The question for us today is, when we find ourselves in those moments, does God hear?  Does God hear the cry and anguish of our hearts that lies behind that phrase?  Is there a message of hope, is there something God does in those kind of situations that brings resolution and hope?
 
When we turn then to Acts 16, we see Paul and his companions on a missionary tour.  Their tour has taken them through Acts 15.  This particular tour seems like quite a nice tour really, because Paul and his companions have been going round all of the churches that he has established previously and encouraging them along the way.  There may have been a few issues to sort out, but it is generally a helpful, supportive tour.  They come towards the end of this tour and then something strange happens.  In every direction Paul turns he gets the sense that it’s not the right direction to turn.  They try to go to Bythinia but they get the sense the Spirit says, ‘No’.  This direction – ‘No.’  That direction – ‘No.’ ‘No.’  ‘No.’  I can just imagine Paul turning round to his companions saying, ‘We’ve been on this tour, which has been great and wonderful, but what on earth are we now doing here?  How on earth have we got here, stuck right on the very edge of the world that we know?  How have we end up in this place?’  One night, as they grapple with that question, Paul has a vision, of a man from Macedonia who says, ‘Come over to us, and help us.’  When Paul woke and shared that with his companions they got the real sense that this was God saying, ‘You need to come over to this new place.’  Paul hears that as a call to proclaim the Gospel in Macedonia.
 
So I think we see, first of all, in this passage, that it is the Gospel can break through into those tough and difficult moments.  When Paul is faced with that difficult, ‘What on earth are we doing here?’ -moment, it is the Gospel that beckons him to come here, with the encouragement to proclaim Jesus.  Then when Paul and this companions arrive in Macedonia and find the principal city Philippi, we see again the gospel breaking in – into people’s lives and communities.  That happens in a geographical way – most people see this as the first moment when the gospel comes to Europe.  But it’s not just a geographical thing.  Because Paul and his companions are in Philippi and on the Sabbath (v.13) we went outside the city gates, to the river where we expected to find a place of prayer.  We sat down and began to speak with the women who had gathered there.  It’s an intriguing phrase, ‘to expect’ to find a place of prayer.  Why would Paul and companions be ‘expecting’ to find a place of prayer outside the city of Philippi?  We know that Paul’s usual pattern when he arrived in new places was to find the synagogue.  Quite often he would be thrown out of the synagogue and go on to speak in other places.  But his first port of call would always be the synagogue.  Now most people seem to think, and there is good historical evidence for this, that there was no synagogue in Philippi.  Why wasn’t there a synagogue in Philippi, even though there was group of people who were gathering on Sabbath to pray by a river outside the city?  Well there was no synagogue because there was a requirement that to be able to constitute a synagogue there needed to be 12 men.  It didn’t matter if you had a wonderfully committed, faithful, capable, God-fearing group of women who wanted to pray together every Sabbath – they weren’t able to set up a synagogue.  And so Paul expected to find a group of people praying outside the city.  And it’s into that kind of injustice, that kind of moment when people are sat down by the river saying ‘what on earth are we doing here’ that the Gospel breaks in.  I can kind of see in both Paul’s journey into Europe, and this very particular situation in Philippi, I can imagine Paul being surprised, amazed, encouraged, wonderfully coming to the conclusion, yes – the gospel is for here, at this moment, in this place and at this time.  The Gospel needs to break out into this context and into these places, and into the lives of these folk.  A little bit like a flower that is budding and…. Bursts open.  The gospel breaks into communities and lives.
 
The second thing I think we then see is that not only can the Gospel break in, but the Gospel then encourages a response.  When you hear the good news about Jesus, it demands a response from  you.  Paul and his companions join this prayer meeting.  We’re told they sit down and speak with the women who have gathered there.  I’d love to have been a fly on the wall watching and listening to that conversation.  It’s intriguing – I’m fascinated to know how that conversation played out – was Paul invited to speak, or did he just take it upon himself to do so.  What is absolutely clear, though, from what happened down by the river that day is that Paul talks about Jesus.  We know that he was convinced that he had been called to preach the gospel to the folk of Macedonia.  He doesn’t back away from that call, but instead takes the opportunity he has to speak of Jesus.  And as he speaks we read, one of those listening was a woman from Thyatira, named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth.  She was a worshipper of God.  And the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.  Lydia’s heart was opened to respond.  It wasn’t just that Lydia was sat down by the river and there was this intriguing guy telling her some things that would be helpful for her knowledge. 

But she knew that having heard this good news about Jesus, she knew she had to do something.  She had to respond to that message.  It’s a bit like when you are watching the news and you see some of those tough and difficult places – you’re thinking, ‘what on earth have we come to?’ We can sometimes just let that news wash over us.  But occasionally something happens and we’re so moved within us, that we’ve got to do something.  I can’t just sit and watch this any more.  I have to respond.  We saw that happen as we were encouraged to respond to the Ukrainian refugee crisis – and a number of folk in our nations haven’t been prepared to just sit there and say how awful this is – but know that they have to respond.  They’ve taken up the opportunity to welcome a Ukrainian family into their home.  They’ve responded.
 
When Lydia hears the good news of Jesus, she too has to respond to that.  She gets up and says, “I need to be baptised – and my household too.”  I need to respond to the grace and love that I now know there is in Jesus Christ.  Friends the gospel doesn’t just affirm folk.  The good news about Jesus isn’t just to say ‘you’re loved by God’ although that is an incredible message.  When you hear about the good news about Jesus and that takes root in our lives, then we’re called to respond, by faith and in trust.
 
Along with being baptised, another response Lydia has is to welcome Paul and his companions into her house.  When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home.  ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord’, she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’  And she persuaded us.  I wonder what Paul and Lydia thought of each other.  What on earth did they have in common?  Because on the surface it seems like they had very little in common.  You have Lydia: a tradeswoman, from Thyatira, a God-fearing Greek person; and you have Paul: with a cultural background of being a zealous Pharisee from Jerusalem.  What could they talk about?  What was there that possibly meant that they could spend time together, in a home, living as part of a Roman household.  Wouldn’t they just find all the differences between them?  There was one thing though they had in common – the only thing perhaps – was the Gospel.  And so we see that the Gospel builds relationships.  So many differences between them, and yet there is a unity in Christ.  Friends in the church today you don’t need me to tell you how many differences of opinion there about theology, practice, mission, church – there are just so many differences.  So what is it that holds us together as a church.  How can we stand together?  We stand together because of Christ and the Gospel of Jesus – there is good news for every single one of us in Jesus and we’ve each responded to that. 
 
Friends God calls us, together, to proclaim the good news we know of Jesus.  The great news today is that the same Spirit that called Paul to Macedonia, that led him to the river that day; the same Spirit that led Lydia to open her heart to respond to his message and welcome and build up relationships – the Spirit that was at work then, is at work now in our towns and communities, calling us to ‘Come over here and help us!’  Come over into this situation, into those places where people are saying, ‘How on earth have we ended up in this situation?’  Come over here.  Yes into the spheres of politics and business.  Yes into communities that are struggling, into situations where people’s lives are falling to pieces – Come over and help us.  The invitation for each one of us today is to find the places where we can sit down by the river and talk Jesus with the people we find there.
 
What does that look like?  At the start of this service I talked about how here in North Wales you can clearly see the fingerprint of God in the natural world around us.  But you can also see the dying embers of a moment when Gospel did break in, in magnificent ways in this part of the world.  The dying embers of that moment are seen in the edifices of the Welsh Chapels that dot the landscape – every hillside, village, town, has at least one, if not half a dozen huge chapels built during the time of the Welsh Revival.  I’m quite certain God isn’t calling us to build any more buildings.  But I am convinced that he calls us to proclaim the gospel, such that folks hearts are opened to receive the love and grace of Christ in our towns and communities, like what happened here in this part of the world 120 years ago.  When you read the accounts of what was happening during that time, people talk about how the courtrooms lay empty, because the crime rate dropped, as people responded to the gospel.  People talk of healing and wholeness, of people whose lives were gripped with addictions, being freed.  There are accounts of communities really being transformed and built up together as folk from so many different walks of life, with so many differences, came together in worship and praise.  The Welsh folk found they could sing together of the grace and glory of Christ.  Friends in that moment lives were changed, this nation was changed by the Gospel.
 
What does it mean, for you and I, today and now, to respond to this call to proclaim the gospel in those places where folk are asking, and even we ask ourselves, ‘How on earth have we ended up here?’  Well friends can I encourage this week to do the equivalent of finding a place like the river at Philippi?  Sit down with others and talk of Jesus.  Talk of what you know of Jesus.  What you say about your relationship with Jesus could well be very different from what I would say about my relationship with Jesus in the same situation.  But if the focus is sharing the good news we know of Christ, then we’re each being faithful.  We, together, are responding to the call in our nations to proclaim the gospel.  Can I encourage you to talk positively about what you know of your relationship with Christ?  Not in all kinds of theological language, explaining the very delicate nuances of this theological understanding or that theology that we might glean from reading 25 books.  We need to talk about what it means to live in a relationship with Christ.  And friends, don’t talk about what you don’t believe.  I know I get caught up in this – explaining and saying, ‘Well I don’t believe this, and I don’t believe that.’  Let’s stop that and let’s talk about what we do believe, honestly and openly, about Christ.  Do so with faith – the same kind of faith Paul and his companions showed when they responded to the call, ‘Come over here and help us.’  Friends if the Spirit is speaking to us now, and saying, ‘Come over and help us.’, I just want to encourage you to spend a moment in prayer, what is the Spirit prompting you with?  Where is the Spirit prompting you to go and proclaim the Gospel?  Amongst whom? In which context? 
 
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
 
Silence

Hymn       Here is Love Vast As The Ocean

William Rees
 

Dyma gariad fel y moroedd,
Tosturiaethau fel y lli:
Twysog Bywyd pur yn marw—
Marw i brynu’n bywyd ni.
Pwy all beidio â chofio amdano?
Pwy all beidio â thraethu’I glod?
Dyma gariad nad â’n angof
Tra fo nefoedd wen yn bod.
 
2: Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Loving-kindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life,
our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout heav’n’s eternal days.
 
3: Ar Galfaria yr ymrwygodd
Holl ffynhonnau’r dyfnder mawr;
Torrodd holl argaeau’r nefoedd
Oedd yn gyfain hyd yn awr:
Gras â chariad megis dilyw
Yn ymdywallt ymâ ’nghyd,
A chyfiawnder pur â heddwch
Yn cusanu euog fyd.
 
4: Let me all Thy love accepting,
Love Thee ever all my days;
Let me seek Thy Kingdom only
And my life be to Thy praise;
Thou alone shalt be my glory;
Nothing in the world I see:
Thou hast cleansed
and sanctified me;
Thou Thyself hast set me free.

Intercessions

 
When I say: ‘See, I am making all things new’  please respond:
‘Amen, make all things new!’
 
‘See, I am making all things new’  ‘Amen, make all things new!’
 
Let’s pray together:
 
We have hope.  John writes in Revelation 21:
 
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is now among the people.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the old order of things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also, he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.’
 
We pray for those who are lonely. We hope in the promise that the home of God will be among people: that God will dwell with us, that we will be his people and that God himself will be with us. We mention in our hearts those we know who are lonely or isolated.  Pause
 
Lord you said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
‘Amen, make all things new!’
 
We pray for those who are crying; the sad, the depressed and the anxious. We hope in the promise that God will wipe every tear from our eyes. We mention in our hearts those we know who are sad and who know tears.  Pause
 
Lord you said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
‘Amen, make all things new!’
 
We pray for those who are experiencing the consequences of death, the bereaved and those who are mourning. We hope in the promise that death and mourning will be no more. We mention in our hearts those we know who are affected by death and mourning. Pause
 
Lord you said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
‘Amen, make all things new!’
We pray for those who are in pain, suffering from illness either physical or mental. We hope in the promise that crying and pain will be no more.
We mention in our hearts those we know who are ill or in pain. Pause
 
Lord you said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
‘Amen, make all things new!’
 
We pray for those who are thirsty for truth, love and grace; those who seek God and his life with earnest hearts. We hope in the promise that God will give water to the thirsty without cost from the spring of the water of life. We mention in our hearts those we know who hunger and thirst for God. Pause
 
Lord you said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
‘Amen, make all things new!’
 
Lord, your words are trustworthy and true. You are the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. We pray all this in the powerful and hopeful name of Jesus Christ, Amen

A Sung Affirmation of Faith

My Only Comfort
© Joe Deegan 2016  based on the Heidelberg Catechism

 

What is your only comfort     
in life or in death?
That I belong
body and soul 
to the Lord who gives me breath, 
to the Lord who gives me breath. 

2. He has fully  paid for my sins      
with his own precious blood. 
He has set me free
from the tyranny
of the ruler of  this world,       
of the ruler of  this world.       

 

Oh I am not my own, I am bound to Christ alone.
My only comfort in  this life is belonging to the Lord,
is belonging to the Lord.
 

3. I believe in the Resurrection      
and the promise that was made,   
that my body and soul
will be made whole
on the Lord’s Anointed Day,  
on the Lord’s Anointed Day.  

4. No eye has fully seen,
no ear has fully heard,   
no human heart
can imagine    
the world that is to come,      
the world that is to come.

 

Oh I am not my own, I am bound to Christ alone.
My only comfort in  this life is belonging to the Lord,
is belonging to the Lord.

Offertory Prayer

 
Lord God,
We offer ourselves, our time, our energy and our money,
For your glory and praise.
Lord Jesus, build your kingdom, we pray.  Amen

Hymn       Go forth and tell

James Seddon (1915 – 1983)
 

Go forth and tell!
O Church of God, awake!
God’s saving news
to all the nations take;
proclaim Christ Jesus,
saviour, Lord, and king,
that all the world His
worthy praise may sing.

2 Go forth and tell!
God’s love embraces all;
He will in grace respond
to all who call:
how shall they call
if they have never heard
the gracious invitation
of his word?

3 Go forth and tell! O church of God, arise!
go in the strength which Christ your Lord supplies;
go till all nations his great name adore
and serve him, Lord and king for evermore

Blessing

 
May the blessing of Almighty God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer
Be with us all this day
and forevermore.
Amen
 

 

 

Sources
 
Call to Worship adapted by Andy Braunston from the Exultset.  Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness  by David Clowes in ‘500 Prayers for all Occasions.  Prayer of intercession based on Revelation 21 by Sara Hargreaves, from
engageworship.org  Affirmation of Faith from the Heidelberg Catechism by Joe Deegan.    All other material by Paul Robinson.
 

Come People of the Risen King – Keith Getty / Kristyn Lennox Getty / Stuart Townend © Capitol CMG Publishing Sung by Stuart Townend.

Here is Love Vast As The Ocean – William Rees. Sung by an online choir organised by Hope Church,  Rhonda

My Only Comfort © Joe Deegan 2016  based on the Heidelberg Catechism Performed by Joe Deegan of Reformed Youth Ministry. 
Used with his kind permission.

Go forth and tell – James Seddon (1915 – 1983) © The Representatives of the late James Edward Seddon / admin The Jubilate Group BBC Songs of Praise

 
Opening Organ PieceLobt Gott Ihr Christen (“Praise God ye Christians”) by Johann Gottfried Walther (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece – Toccata in Seven by John Rutter (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill
http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to John Young, John Wilcox, Mairi MacDonald and Andy Braunston for reading various spoken parts of the service.
 

 

URC Daily Devotion 21st May 2022

St John 6: 1 – 15

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.  A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.  Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.  Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.  When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,  ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’  Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.  Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.  When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’  So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.  When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’ When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Reflection

The feeding of the multitude is recorded in all four Gospels, indeed there are two such accounts in Mark and Matthew. Those of us familiar with these accounts can too easily go into auto-pilot and not pick out significant variant details.

For today I want to focus on two details

Philip features a number of times in the fourth Gospel but, although listed, is not featured in the other Gospels. In our account he is tested by Jesus – why? Perhaps Jesus, actually knowing what he planned to do, was helping Philip expand his understanding. From the Gospel I get the impression that Philip was a cautious man who, although seemingly close to Andrew, was the antithesis of Simon Peter. Philip had not sought out Jesus but was rather chosen by Jesus – yet, having been called, Philip went and brought along Nathanael. When some Greeks wanted to see Jesus they went to Philip who then consulted Andrew. How we should value those who may initially be cautious but are willing to act when opportunities are recognised and understood.

The second point that stood out for me is the word “the” – the prophet who is to come into the world, not “a prophet”. Today, just as two thousand years ago, there are many who make end encourage claims about themselves: Jewish communities throughout Biblical times had many who claimed to be a prophet but whose claims proved false. On this occasion people realised that Jesus was the genuine prophet from God. Alas, the Christian community is not immune from those who distort the teaching of Jesus to their own advantage. We often need to be cautious like Philip, checking out what is true and dependable.

Prayer

Gracious God, so much in the world is confusing and many voices clamour to be heard, endow us, we pray, with the gift of discernment so that we do not go astray but remain steadfastly walking the Way of Jesus – in whose name and power we pray: Amen.

 

URC Daily Devotion Friday 20th May2022

St John 5: 30 – 47

‘I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgement is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. ‘If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.  There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true.  You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth.  Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved.  He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.  But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.  And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form,  and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent. ‘You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.  I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you.  I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him.  How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?  Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope.  If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?’

Reflection

This passage in John is never read out as part of the Lectionary.  Much of John is missed out because his gospel does not have its own year in the conventional lectionary.  So this passage is not as familiar as some others we may read.  So let’s think about it this way….

Shinedown tell us “You can have a sound of the thousand voices calling your name. You can have the light of the world blind you, bathe you in grace” then ask the question “How did you love?”

It’s all very well being the top of your game; the peak of your performance, and all the fame and glory that go with it – but if you do not love, what is the point?  You can find the fastest; fittest; most talented people to idolise and follow but if you do not love, what do you gain?

No one  is an island – we do not exist in isolation.  But there is a difference between loving our neighbour and being adored by our fans, or adoring our idols at the expense of our neighbour.
The deserved glory does not belong to us, it belongs to God.  It is no good trying to find a relationship with God by doing our own thing or following the latest trend, or only believing the bits of scripture we like.  If we do not open ourselves up completely to God, what hope is there?

Let us turn to the eternal light and find our relationship with God –by reading the whole of scripture, and by loving God and our neighbour as ourselves with all we have.

Shinedown finish with “No-one gets out alive; every day is do or die; the one thing we leave behind is How did you love?” 

What will our answer be?
 
Prayer

Lord help us not to pick and choose what we believe but open ourselves up to you fully.  Open our hearts to love our neighbour and not be swayed by popular opinion or passing trends.  May we give you the glory and honour due to you and allow others to support us on our journey of faith.  Lord we offer you our lives.  Amen 

URC Daily Devotion Thursday 19th May2022

Thursday 19th May 2022
 

St John 5: 19 – 29

Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished.  Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomsoever he wishes.  The Father judges no one but has given all judgement to the Son,  so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.  Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life. ‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.  For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself;  and he has given him authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man.  Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice  and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

Reflection

I am writing this as one who is freshly enthused to think about John’s Gospel after a recent study day with Professor David Ford. He has just published a new commentary in which he emphasises that although the Fourth Gospel has the simplest (Greek) language it often contains the deepest ideas and benefits from constant reading and rereading. 

Prof Ford’s book is no ordinary commentary with lots of footnotes and highly technical explanations, though there is a lifetime’s scholarship lying underneath the surface. Instead it is explicitly focussed on living and praying the way of Jesus through the text of John’s gospel. And in today’s passage living and praying seem to be to be directly connected: “anyone who hears my word and believes… has eternal life” or more simply in the next vese “those who hear will live.” 

Often in Christian living we are inclined to draw a distinction between the active (or even activist) life and the prayerful way of the contemplative. But perhaps a full Christian life is both. We may not all be monastics but we can all have a contemplative thread through our daily living.

And prayerfully reading John’s gospel is not a bad place to start.

Prayer

Gracious God 
help us in our daily lives 
both to spend time in quiet with you 
and also to act with you 
and for you 
in your world. 
Amen

 

URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 18th May 2022

St John 5: 1-18

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes.  In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed.  One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’  The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’  At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.  So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’  But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.”’  They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’  Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in  the crowd that was there.  Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.’  The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.  Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

Reflection

Something bugs me in this passage.  This pool was a place of healing – rather like the spring at Lourdes.  It seems that the moment to find healing was when the waters were stirred (a later verse was added to say an angel stirred the water adding a more miraculous slant) yet this man was not able to get to the water as there was no one to assist him – though presumably he was helped to and from  the building each day.  For 38 years this man had been ill and nothing had been done until Jesus healed him.  So we might ponder the miraculous power of God but the next bit still niggles – the man does as he’s told, picks up his mat and goes on his way and, in so doing, breaks the Law.  It’s not his fault, Jesus told him to.  The man who couldn’t find anyone to help him get well now passes the blame for breaking the Law.  I can hear Jesus’ being a bit annoyed when he said “do you want to be made well?”

Maybe Jesus was puzzled at how this man arrived at the pool each day but got no further.  Maybe Jesus realised that this man needed to take some responsibility for his own health and healing.  Maybe Jesus recognised the all too human response to pass the blame.  

The story bugs me.  Do I pass the blame or accept responsibility?  How do we do this now the Covid restrictions are gone we’re all being told to take responsibility for our own health?  Do we go into work if we’ve got a cold? Do we keep away from others when we’re feeing unwell so as to protect them? Do we wear a mask on public transport to keep others safe?  Taking responsibility has always been hard, in our post-Covid world it’s become more complex.  Yet Jesus’ question still bugs me – do you want to be made well?

Prayer

Loving Lord,
I do want to be made well,
healed from my ability to shift the blame,
set free from my temptation to make others responsible,
liberated from my excuses.
Heal me Lord and make me well.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 17th May 2022

Tuesday 17th May 2022

St John 4: 43 – 54

When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee  (for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honour in the prophet’s own country).  When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival. Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’  The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my little boy dies.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.  As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive.  So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.’  The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he himself believed, along with his whole household.  Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

Reflection

Jesus’ return to Galilee is sandwiched between two visits to Jerusalem.  But there is a world of difference between the two.  During his first visit, for the Passover festival, the atmosphere is tense, he makes good his escape.  Prophets after all, come to no good in Jerusalem.  Yet after his stay in Galilee, he returns for another festival, with new confidence, vested with the authority and power of God.  What has happened?
 
In Galilee he’s welcomed.  The Galileans were impressed by what they had seen of him in Jerusalem;  it seems they wanted a Messiah who would perform miracles to order.  After all, had he not already changed water into wine In Cana?  But this is not Jesus’ agenda.  He is looking for something else – evidence that it was possible for a person to believe solely on the strength of his words as “Word made flesh.”  He doesn’t have long to wait.  A royal official has come from his dying son’s bedside in Capernaum.  He begs Jesus to come and heal him.  Jesus is abruptly dismissive; do you people have to see signs and wonders before you can believe?  But the official appeals to him directly, addresses him as Lord.  The urgency of the situation and his love for his little boy is only too clear.  This is the language of belief.  And Jesus responds simply – “go; your son will live.” And he goes.  Jesus’ word is enough for him.  The child is healed and God’s power to give life is confirmed. The boy lives and the official with his whole household become faithful followers of Jesus.
 
So what about us?  We hear God’s word of life today.  As we are faced with news of calamity, storms, floods, disease and death, are we too not called as followers of Jesus to go and be signs of God alive and at work in the world?
 
 
Prayer
 
Dear God,
from the barrenness of our own resources, we look to you
In trust and hope,
through the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

URC Daily Devotion Monday 16th May 2022

Monday 16th May 2022

St John 4: 31 – 38

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’  So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’  Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.  Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.  The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.  For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.”  I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’

Reflection

Sometimes people simply do not understand what is important.  Here the disciples were concerned about food and did not seem to realise that Jesus was busy with other things and food was not His priority.  The pressing matter was to obey God and do the things that were needed.  People were ready to hear the message, there was no need to wait, it was the time to harvest the people who wanted to learn and follow Jesus. 

Do we feel like the disciples today?  Are we concerned for our own physical needs and want to wait before doing the will of God?  Do we find excuses not to speak about Jesus?  Do we say that we need to wait a while until such and such has happened and then people will be ready? 

As I write this we are emerging from a pandemic and into other uncertainties.  When you read this what will the world be like?  We have a few certainties that we need to hold onto, we can be certain of our own relationship with God as He is unchanging.  We can be certain that today is the day to serve God and speak about Him to others because the fields are still ripe for harvesting.  We can thank God for all the Christians who have gone before us preparing the ground so we can reap the benefits of their toil.  If crops are left unharvested that will be of no use to anyone and in the same way if we do not reach out to people who have heard the word of God they will not understand and enter His kingdom.  Let’s work without making excuses and like the disciples we will reap that which we did not sow.

Prayer

Almighty God I thank you for all you have done for us.
Help me to see the opportunities that You provide,
Give me the words to say
Help me to know when to speak out and when to be silent but above all teach me how to be true to you in everything I do

Amen

URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 15th May 2022 – The Revd. Andy Braunston

Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Worship for Sunday 15th May 2022
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
 
The Rev’d Andy Braunston
Introduction
 
Hello and welcome to worship.  My name is Andy Braunston and I am the United Reformed Church’s Minister for Digital Worship.  My role is to help provide a range of resources for worship to churches to help us all as we offer praise to Almighty God.  As I prepare this service I am still living in Glasgow and am a member of Barrhead URC but, by the time it goes out, I very much hope to have moved up to Orkney where we will become part of the Peedie Kirk – our most northerly URC congregation.  Let’s worship God together.
 
Call To Worship
 
One:         Alleluia! Christ is Risen!     

Many:         He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
 
One:        Rejoice, heavenly powers!   Sing, choirs of angels!  Exult, all creation around God’s throne!  Jesus, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!
 
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
 
One:         Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
 
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers!  Sing, choirs of angels!
 
One:         Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines upon you! Let this place resound with joy,  as we sing, echoing the mighty song  of all God’s people!
 
Hymn       The Day of Resurrection
St. John of Damascus (675-754)  Translator: J. M. Neale
 

The day of resurrection!
Earth, spread the news abroad;
the Paschal feast of gladness,
the Paschal feast of God.
From death to life eternal,
from earth to Heaven’s height,
our Saviour Christ has brought us,
the glorious Lord of Light.
 
2 Our hearts be free from evil,
that we may see aright
the Saviour resurrected
in His eternal light;
and hear His message plainly,
delivered calm and clear;
“Rejoice with me in triumph,
be glad and do not fear.”

 

3 Now let the heavens be joyful! and let earth the song begin!
Let the whole world keep high triumph, and all that is therein!
Let all things in creation their notes in gladness blend,
for Christ the Lord is risen, our joy that hath no end.

Prayers of Approach
 
Eternal One, ever new, yet older than the ages, we come to worship yearning to be united with you, longing to hear your words of peace, knowing our hearts are restless until they rest in you. We bring you our praises and our pain, our time and our treasure, our fullness and our failures.
 
Risen Lord Jesus, in your good time you will unite heaven and earth, making all things new, revivifying all Creation, uniting all things with you through the power of your resurrection, refashioning us and all created things in the power of your love. 
 
Most Holy Spirit, you moved across the waters of creation, and the chaos of our lives. You inspired your people long ago and move amongst us now. Accept our praises as we meet you in worship, lift our hearts into your presence, equip us for service as we follow you.  Amen. 
 
Prayer of Confession
 
God of the Ages, you seek to unite heaven and earth, yet we seek always to divide, to ignore your will, to divide ourselves into opposing factions, to love sin over grace, and to blind ourselves to your sovereign actions loving, instead, our outworn truths refusing to see the new things you do and call us to. Forgive us, enable us to see what you are doing in our world, and give us time to change.  Amen.
 
Assurance of Forgiveness
 
Hear good news! The Risen Lord makes all things new, even us! Accept the forgiveness on offer, use the time you have well and forgive yourselves.  Amen.
 
 
The Gloria        The “Clap Hands Gloria”
Mike Anderson
 
Gloria, Gloria, in excelsis Deo, Gloria, Gloria, in excelsis Deo.

 

Lord God, heavenly King,
peace you bring to us
We worship you,
we give you thanks,
We sing our song of praise.
 
2 Jesus, Saviour of all,
Lord God, Lamb of God
You take away our sins, O Lord,
Have mercy on us all.

3 At the Father’s right hand,
Lord, receive our prayer
For you alone are the Holy One,
And you alone are Lord.
 
4 Glory, Father and Son,
Glory, Holy Spirit
To you we raise our hands up high,
We glorify your name.

 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Eternal One, you are forever new, yet ancient of days, your Spirit moved across the waters of old, inspired your people to follow you,  reflect and write of their journeys and explorations. Move amongst us and inspire us now as we hear your Word to us read and proclaimed, that we may explore and reflect as we follow you, who makes all things new.  Amen.
 
Reading            Acts 11:1-18
 
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.  So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
 
Psalm 148 (sung)
 

The Lord of heav’n confess,
on high his glory raise.
Him let all angels bless,
Him all his armies praise.
Him glorify Sun, Moon, and stars;
ye higher spheres, and cloudy sky.

2 From God your beings are,
Him therefore famous make;
you all created were,
when he the word but spake.
and from that place,
where fixed you be by his decree,
you cannot pass.

 
3 Praise God from earth below,
ye dragons, and ye deeps:
fire, hail, clouds, wind, and snow.
whom in command he keeps.
Praise ye his name,
hills great and small, trees low & tall;
beasts wild and tame.

4 O let God’s name be praised above both earth and sky;
for He his saints hath raised, and set their horn on high;
ev’n those that be  of Isr’el’s race, near to his grace. 
The Lord praise ye.

 

Reading   Revelation 21:1-6
 
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
 
Hymn       My Life Flows on In Endless Song
Robert Lowry (1822-1899) and Doris Plenn
 

My life flows on in endless song
above earth’s lamentation:
I catch the sweet,
though far off, hymn
that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult
and the strife,
I hear the music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul –
how can I keep from singing?
 
2  What though my joys
and comforts die?
My Saviour still is living.
What though the shadows
gather round
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake
my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since love is Lord of heaven & earth,
how can I keep from singing?
 
3: When tyrants tremble in their fear
and hear their death knell ringing,
when friends rejoice
both far and near
how can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile
our thoughts to them are winging,
When friends by shame
are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?
 

4:I lift my eyes;
the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
& day by day this pathway smooths,
since first I learned to love it,
the peace of Christ
makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing;
all things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?

 

Sermon
 
Our two readings today are well known and give, in different ways, powerful perspectives about our faith and our future which cause us to think deeply.
 
We are used to comparing and contrasting two different views of cosmology.  We think of heaven as eternal.  Earth changes – it’s proud empires wither and decay, countries come into being, flourish and, very often, dissolve into other entities.  Species flourish then become extinct.  The whole of life is a creative cycle of birth, life, and death.  It’s the natural order against which we like to contrast the eternal, unchanging nature of the hereafter.  We realise that death is fundamentally bound up with life – in the midst of life there is death – as Cranmer put it in the Book of Common Prayer.  When we conceive of heaven we think of something where people are no longer troubled by the pain and horror of life, where everything in heaven is different to what we endure on earth.  Heaven is eternal, earth is transitory.
 
Except that’s not the cosmology we see in the Book of Revelation.  In this book Heaven and earth are in a creative relationship and, one day will be united.  There are, according to Revelation, doors between heaven and earth.  In our Basis of Union we are told that every act of worship in a local church is an expression of the worship of the whole Church.  Revelation goes a little further – the worship of the Church is a reflection and a joining in with the worship in heaven.  Calvin might put it that through worship we are raised to the heavenly places, like Isaiah of old, to join in with the divine worship there. 
 
In today’s passage from Revelation we read of the vision of a sea being no more, of the first heaven and earth having passed away.  The sea, representing the primordial chaos of the waters over which God’s Spirit hovered in Genesis is, in Revelation, swept away.  Revelation shows a view of heaven and earth being united.  Through the atonement God makes all things new – seen in Revelation as the final consummation of all things with the creation of a new heaven and earth where there is no more death, no more illness, no more pain.  This isn’t, however, what we normally mean by heaven.  This isn’t a cloudy existence with the strains of praise in the background.  Revelation suggests a new earth, united with heaven, where God dwells in our midst.  Revelation shows that earth has been, is, and will be a primary concern of God’s activity.  It isn’t that we escape earth, and earthly things when we die but that God renews creation until, one day, heaven and earth shall be united.   As the new creation continues to unfold in Revelation so the divisions between earth and heaven melt away.  The pain of life is acknowledged and shared by God but will, one day, end as heaven and earth are renewed.  All divisions will be gone.  Only when God’s word is spoken over this deeply troubled creation will evil be finally banished, hope restored and all things made new.  It’s a theology we’re not used to, a theology we can’t yet experience but within it is hope for renewal, hope that all things will be made new, a hope that we see in our reading from Acts where the Early Church’s theology is changed by a good dose of experience.
 
This story in Acts was vital in the Early Church; without it Christianity would have remained as a movement within Judaism.  It is told and retold in Acts and clearly caught the imagination of the Earliest Christians as they started to reach out to Gentiles.  At no point did the Church think Gentiles couldn’t join – the debate was whether they needed to become Jewish first.  Did Gentile men need to accept circumcision, keep kosher and see themselves as Jewish?  The safe choice, the Scriptural answer was to see Christianity as a movement within Judaism and insist converts became Jewish as part of their acceptance of Jesus.  History would have been very different if that had happened – and, perhaps, the poisonous anti-Semitism which pollutes our history would have been different.  Perhaps we’d more easily accept God’s covenant with the Jewish people if we’d realised the Jewish roots of our faith. 
 
Peter’s vision is striking and goes to the heart of the food laws which differentiated faithful Jews from Gentiles.   What is striking isn’t just the array of animals that appeared in his vision as possible food  – but the fact that Peter didn’t baptise a Gentle of his own initiative because he thought it wasn’t fair to keep Cornelius out, or because he decided to depart from a traditional position or doctrine but because God moved.  It was God who told Peter to eat of the forbidden food, God who seemed to violate God’s own laws about kosher food.  Peter, three times – as is always the case with Peter – was told and he obeyed.  As a result of this obedience the doors of the Church opened wider, more were included but, due to human sin, a gulf opened between the Church and Synagogue with horrific and tragic consequences – consequences which are still seen today. 
 
So what might we learn from these passages that we’re offered to ponder today?
 
First, it strikes me that the Early Church was not afraid voice disagreement and difference.  They managed a process of discernment through discussion which is rather different to our own ways of doing this.  We are bound up with being nice, of not wanting to offend, of using rational argument, theological insight, appeals to pain and justice to make our points.  Surprisingly, others don’t see our theology, view of justice or rationality as entirely convincing.  Peter didn’t argue, didn’t appeal to ancient Scripture or practice but simply asserted what God had done.  In effect he said “this is what God commanded, this is what God has done, look how it’s working out.”  To the sources of Scripture and tradition Peter added experience – a source that is hotly contested even today.  How do we use our experience to inform us about what God is doing?  How do we use the experience of others to inform us about what God is doing?
 
Secondly, it’s the story not the argument that changes hearts and minds in Jerusalem.  The story enables the members of the Council to see the authenticity of the conversion and of God’s work in Cornelius.  Arguments about fairness, theology, or Biblical interpretation might have gone on for decades – as modern Christians know all too well!  Stories are powerful as they invite people to reach over the theological chasm and see something different, something new.  Stories allow people to see God at work – which is no doubt why Jesus spent so much of his ministry telling stories allowing his hearers, then and now, to tease out the meanings and interpretations.  Stories help there to be no winners or losers but simply listeners and interpreters of truth.    How do we tell our stories – as a denomination, as a local congregation and as individuals?  How do we tell our stories to our children and grandchildren, to our friends and neighbours.  How does the compelling story of God’s transforming love in our lives, our congregation, our denomination get told?  Of course theology, tradition, reason, and the Biblical witness are all vitally important – of course I’d say that I’m a minister, after all, who has spent many years studying these things.  But the personal stories of how all those things are at play in our lives is vitally important.  Faith isn’t primarily an academic exercise but a journey of trust. 
 
Finally, we need to rethink our relationship with the Church universal.  We started by thinking about and contrasting the normal way we view things and the way the writer of Revelation did.  We noted that, in Revelation, what happens on earth is bound up with what happens in heaven and, one day – in God’s good time – heaven and earth will be  united as all Creation is renewed.  Peter’s striking vision in Acts was a staging place on that journey of renewal, our own lives and decisions to follow Christ are similar staging posts on that journey.  We’re not used, however, to thinking of the union between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven.  We’re not used to thinking of the connections between our world and the heavens, nor of their eventual union.  Yet here we are in worship, listening to ancient stories, thinking how we relate to them, singing God’s praise using words from the Jewish Psalter, the Early Church, a nineteenth Century American Baptist, and, from the 20th Century, a Catholic composer, African Children, a Swedish Pastor and a URC minister.  In Revelation the worship of heaven is something we’re drawn into; in our tradition the Reformers – like those who went before them – wanted to cite both the presence of God in heavenly places and the reality of Christ’s presence in Holy Communion.  As we worship, as we meet the Risen Lord in bread and wine we’re drawn into God’s presence, we’re drawn into the heavenly places which, one day, will be renewed along with the earthly realities of our lives until all is made new by our risen and ascended Lord. 
 
Will you pray with me?
 
Help us, O God, to tell your stories,
the stories behind our theology, reason, and experience,
the stories that informed your Word,
and give energy to your Church.
Help us, O God, to tell our stories,
the stories that shape our theology, reason and experience,
the stories that help us understand your Word,
that we may find energy in your Church.  Amen. 
 
A Sung Affirmation of Faith  
 
My Only Comfort

 

What is your only comfort     
in life or in death?
That I belong body and soul   
to the Lord who gives me breath, 
to the Lord who gives me breath. 
 
2. He has fully  paid for my sins      
with his own precious blood. 
He has set me free
from the tyranny
of the ruler of  this world,       
of the ruler of  this world.       
 
Oh I am not my own,      
I am bound to  Christ alone.   
My only comfort in  this life    
is belonging to the Lord, 
is belonging to the Lord.
        
3. I believe in the Resurrection      
and the promise that was made,   
that my body and soul
will be made whole
on the Lord’s Anointed Day,  
on the Lord’s Anointed Day.  
 
4. No eye has fully seen,
no ear has fully heard,   
no human heart can imagine 
the world that is to come,      
the world that is to come.      

 

Intercessions
 
God of the past, we praise you for the stories of old which inspire us, help us to understand, puzzle and intrigue us, and provoke us to action. As the immediacy of Peter’s vision inspired him to go beyond the boundaries of culture and tradition, so may you help us to learn from stories of faith which expand our horizons, open our borders and widen our visions.
 
God of the present, we lift to you our world with all its joy and all its pain.
We see the effects of human sin around us, war and greed, conquest and hatred, misused power and corruption, imperial history and imperial present all combine to oppress, wound and terrorise your people.  Hasten the day, O God,  when you renew our earth, when you make all things new.  Until then, give us the strength to make a difference, to speak your truth, to use our money, our voices, and our resources to proclaim and embody your new realm  which breaks into the bleakness of our world. 
 
God of the future, we bring to you our dreams and our hopes, the visions and ideas we have, and ask you to bless and shape our frail efforts. Renew your Church in all the lands, that we may be a sign of your loving kindness,  a stumbling block to faith, peacemakers not war mongers, a source of blessing not of cursing.
 
God of our lives, we bring to you, in a moment of silence, those we love and care about.
 
Accept our prayers, Eternal One, as we pray as Jesus taught….
 
Offertory
 
We give for many reasons – we give because it is good for us and frees us from the consumerism that poisons our souls, we give because we believe that our money and resources should do good and, through our giving, the church uses our money to make a difference through ministry and charity in and beyond our local communities, we give, above all, because God gave and showers us with grace and blessings and we wish to express our gratitude what we, ourselves, have received.  We may gave in the plate in church, we may give through standing order, using an envelope or writing a cheque – however, we give, God rejoices in our cheerful giving.  Let us pray:
 
All good gives around us, come from you O God, and we return, through our gifts, something of what you have given us. Help us through our time, talent and treasure, to co-operate with your work of renewal of Creation,
that, at the end, we may rejoice with you forever.  Amen.
 
Hymn       You Are Holy, You Are Whole
                  © Per Harling 1991 (Du är helig) sung by Gretchen Mertes
 

You are holy, you are whole,
you are always evermore,
than we ever understand,
you are always at hand.

Blessed are you coming near,
blessed are you coming here,
to your church in wine and bread,
raised from soil, raised from dead.

You are holy,
you are wholeness,
you are present,
let the cosmos
praise you Lord.
Hallelujah,  hallelujah,
hallelujah, 
hallelujah, our God.

 

Holy Communion
 
Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Jesus Christ says to all that turn to him. Come to me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.  And so we come now to be refreshed, to be drawn up into the presence of God and given food for our souls. 
 
One:         May God be with you.     Many:          And also with you.
 
One:         Lift up your hearts.          Many:          We lift them up to God.
 
One:         Let us give thanks to the Eternal One, our God.
 
Many:      It is right to give our thanks and praise.
 
Truly it is right and good to glorify you, at all times and in all places, to offer you our thanksgiving  O Ancient of Days, Almighty and Everlasting One.  Through your living Word you created all things, and pronounced them good. You made humanity in your own image to share your life and reflect your glory.  When the time had fully come, you gave Christ to us, as the Way, the Truth and the Life. He accepted baptism and  consecration as your Servant to announce the good news to the poor.  At the last supper Christ bequeathed to us the Eucharist, that we should celebrate the memorial of the Cross and Resurrection, and receive His presence as food.  To all the redeemed Christ gave the royal priesthood and, in loving his brothers and sisters, chooses those who share in the ministry, that they may feed the Church with your Word and enable it to live by your Sacraments.  And so with the angels and all the saints,  we proclaim and sing your glory:
 
Sanctus
from Missa Luba: An African Mass Setting.
 

Sanctus, Sanctus,
Sanctus, Sanctus                                
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.                   
Sanctus, Sanctus,
Sanctus, Sanctus                                
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.                   
Pleni sunt cæli et terra gloria tua. 
Hosanna in excelsis.                          
Benedictus qui venit
in nomine Domini.                   
Hosanna in excelsis.                 
Holy, holy, holy, holy      
Lord God of hosts,           
Holy, holy, holy, holy      
Lord God of hosts,           
Heaven and earth are
full of your glory,
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He who comes
in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest.

 

 
O God, Sovereign of the universe,  you are holy and your glory is beyond measure.  Upon your Eucharist send the life-giving Spirit, who spoke by Moses, Miriam and the prophets, who overshadowed the Virgin Mary with grace, who descended upon Jesus in the river Jordan and upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost.  May the outpouring of this Spirit of Fire transfigure this thanksgiving meal that this bread and wine may become for us the body and blood of Christ.  May this Creator Spirit accomplish the words of your beloved Son, who, in the night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks to you, broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying:
 
Take, eat: this is my body, which is given for you.
Do this for the remembrance of me.
 
After supper he took the cup and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them and said:
 
Drink this, all of you: this is my blood of the new covenant,
which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this for the remembrance of me.
 
Great is the mystery of faith.
 
Christ has died!  Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
 
And so, Eternal One, we celebrate today the memorial of our  redemption: we recall the birth and life of your Son among us, is baptism by John, his anointing by the unnamed woman, last meal with the apostles, his death and descent to the abode of the dead; we proclaim Christ’s resurrection and ascension in glory, where, as our Great High Priest he for ever intercedes for all people; and we look for his coming at the last, when he will bring a new heaven and a new earth, uniting all things, renewed and made whole, into the new story of your loving kindness.
 
Remember, O God, your Church throughout the world and throughout the ages, redeemed by the blood of Christ, called to praise your name and serve all people.  Reveal its unity, guard its faith, and preserve it in peace.
 
Remember, in your loving kindness all our sisters and brothers who have died in the peace of Christ, and those whose faith is known to you alone:
guide them to the joyful feast prepared for all peoples in your presence,
when, with all the redeemed, for whom your friendship was life, we shall sing your praise and await the happiness of your Kingdom where with the whole creation, finally delivered from sin and death, we shall be enabled to glorify you through Christ our Lord.
 
Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ, all honour and glory is yours,
Almighty God and Ancient of Days, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and for ever.  Amen.
 
As we receive Communion we listen to the Agnus Dei from Missa Luba, the first mass setting using African music with no Western influence in its composition, and remember God’s work beyond our imaginings. 
 
Agnus Dei
from Missa Luba Congolese Children’s Choir
 

 

Agnus Dei,                                             
qui tollis peccata mundi,                 
miserere nobis.  (repeat)                                            
Agnus Dei,                                           
qui tollis peccata mundi,                 
dona nobis pacem           
 
Lamb of God who takes away
the sins of the world               
have mercy on us (repeat)
 
Lamb of God who takes away
the sins of the world
grant us peace.

 

Silence
 
Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that have taken holy things;
may the ears which have heard your word be deaf to clamour and dispute;  may the tongues which have sung your praise be free from deceit; may the eyes which have seen the tokens of your love shine with the light of hope; and may the bodies which have been fed with your body be refreshed with the fullness of your life; glory to you for ever.
 
Hymn       In the Light of Resurrection
                           Michael Forster
 

 

In the light of resurrection,
Jesus calls us all by name,
‘Do not cling to what is past,
for things can never be the same;
to the trembling and the fearful,
we’ve a gospel to proclaim:
The Lord is risen indeed!
 
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
The Lord is risen indeed!
 
2: So proclaim it in the high rise,
in the hostel let it ring,
make it known in Cardboard City.
Let the homeless rise and sing:
‘He is Lord of life abundant,
and he changes everything,
the Lord is risen indeed!’
 
3: In the heartlands of oppression,
sounds the cry of liberty,
where the poor are crucified,
behold the Lord of Calvary!
From the fear of death and dying,
Christ has set his people free!
The Lord is risen indeed!
 
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
The Lord is risen indeed!
 
4: Tell the despots and dictators
of a love that can’t be known
in a guarded palace-tomb,
condemned to live and die alone:
‘Take the risk of love and freedom;
Christ has rolled away the stone!
The Lord is risen indeed!’
 
5: When our spirits are entombed
in mortal prejudice and pride,
when the gates of Hell itself
are firmly bolted from inside,
at the bidding of his Spirit,
we may fling them open wide!
The Lord is risen indeed!

 

 

 
Blessing
 
May God, the Ancient of Days
who created you in the divine image,
remind you of the goodness of your creation.
 
May Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord,
renew you in heart and mind as he will,
in his own good time, renew and restore all creation
inaugurating a new heaven and a new earth.
 
May the Holy Spirit,
who guides, inspires and energises the Church,
lead you into all truth.
 
And may the blessing of Almighty God,
the Holy and Undivided Trinity,
bless you, this day and always.  Amen. 
 
Sources
 
Call to Worship adapted from the Exultset.  Communion preface and prayer adapted  from the Lima Liturgy.  All other material, and adaptions, by Andy Braunston.
 
The Day of Resurrection – St. John of Damascus (675-754)  Translator: J. M. Neale sung by the OCP Session Choir
The “Clap Hands Gloria” – Mike Anderson © 1999 Kevin Mayhew Ltd, Recording from Mike Anderson’s YouTube Channel
Psalm 148 sung acapella from The Scottish Metrical Psalter of 1650. Sung at the 24rd Free Church of Scotland Glasgow Psalmody Recital, 1995
My Life Flows on In Endless Song – Robert Lowry (1822-1899) and Doris Plenn sung by members of Bridgton United Church of Christ, used with their kind permission.
My Only Comfort © Joe Deegan 2016  based on the Heidelberg Catechism Performed by Joe Deegan of Reformed Youth Ministry. Used with his kind permission.
You Are Holy, You Are Whole – © Per Harling 1991 (Du är helig) sung by Gretchen Mertes
Sanctus – from Missa Luba: An African Mass Setting, sung by the Immanuel Baptist Church Gospel Choir, Portland Maine.
Agnus Deifrom Missa Luba Congolese Children’s Choir recorded by Les Troubadours Du Roi Baudouin
In the Light of Resurrection – Michael Forster (from his hymn In the Very Depths of Darkness) © Kevin Mayhew Ltd Sung by Susan Durber, Ruth Whitehead, Lythan and Phil Nevard.



 
 
 
Opening Organ Piece: Prelude in E Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece: Wir Glauben all’ an Einen Gott (“We all believe in one God”) by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of St Thomas-on-The Bourne, Farnham – 2001)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to Sarah Wilmott, Ray Fraser, John Wilcox, Karen Smith, Hilary Eveleigh, Diana Cullum-Hall, Kathleen Haynes and Pam Carpenter for reading various spoken parts of the service.