Sunday Service 31st July 2022 Rev’d Jenny Mills

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 31st July

 
The service is led by the Rev’d Jenny Mills
 

Introduction
 
Hello- it is good to be with you in worship. I am Jenny Mills and I am currently serving the United Reformed Church as Secretary for Education and Learning and live in Milton Keynes. Discipleship, or following Jesus and learning more about faith as you journey, is something that we are all involved in as we live, worship, engage in church communities and mission. As we worship together today, I hope that what is offered through this service inspires, prompts thinking, troubles or challenges you and helps you on your faith journey and in your relationship with the God of love: Creator, Son and Sustainer. 
 
 
Call To Worship 
 
Come, let us ring out our joy to the Eternal One; 
hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come into God’s presence, giving thanks; 
let us hail the rock of our salvation with a song of praise.
A mighty God is the Most High, a great king above all gods. 
In God’s hands are the depths of the earth; 
the heights of the mountains belong to God.
To God belongs the sea, made before time began; 
to God belongs the dry land shaped by God’s own mighty hands.
O come; let us bow and bend low. 
Let us kneel before the God who made us,
for the Most High is our God and we the people of God’s pasture, 
the flock that is led by God’s hand.
 
Hymn Hark How the Adoring Hosts Above
Isaac Watts’ paraphrase of Revelation 5: 11 – 14 Scottish Philharmonic Singers

 

Hark how the adoring hosts above, 
with songs surround the throne! 
Ten thousand, thousand 
are their tongues; 
but all their hearts are one
 
Worthy the Lamb that died, 
they cry, 
to be exalted thus; 
worthy the Lamb, let us reply; 
for he was slain for us. 
 
Thou hast redeemed us 
with thy blood, 
and set the prisoners free;
thou mad’st us kings 
and priests to God, 
and we shall reign with thee
 
To him who sits upon the throne, 
the God whom we adore, 
and to the Lamb 
that once was slain, 
be glory evermore.

 

 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Declaration of Forgiveness 
 
Loving God, as we sit here and try to let go of some of the anxieties we have and focus our minds and still our thoughts, we come in grateful thanks for your love in our lives and for your presence within, around, beside and beyond us. 
You are more than we can ever imagine.  You are bigger than the universe and all that is, your love is greater than anything we can even begin to envisage and understand.  
 
You commanded the world into being and blessed all that you had made – every single thing. You showed your love for us all through prophets and peoples, words and actions, hopes and dreams. 
 
We see glimpses of your kin-dom: in a gentle touch, a kind word, a symbolic handshake or a uniting event; in a relationship that affirms 
and in love given that does not expect anything in return. 
 
In Christ you showed us how we are to live and love and be and what your world should be about: justice, wholeness, peace, joy, care-fullness, 
challenging that which oppresses, celebrating that which enables and builds up, walking with those we have nothing in common with, accepting all as fellow human being journeying on and limiting our judgment. 
 
And yet, even with a teacher as amazing as Jesus, we struggle; even with prophets as blessed as Elijah, we fail to listen and respond; even with all the evidence we can see before us and all around us, we fail to live your way. 
 
God who wills good for us despite our shortcomings, we are sorry.  For the times our words and actions have divided, have been selfish, have worked against your will. For the times our ideas have taken over and stifled the blowings of your Spirit.
 
For the times when our sense of what is right and good, successful and best have strayed from your ideal and your way. For when what we have 
has become more important than who we are.  For our self-absorption and need for control. 
 
As individuals and as members of the one common humanity, we confess our sins, our shortcomings, our failings.  We are sorry that this world does not look as you would want and for our part in that.  We seek your guidance to make changes – personally, locally and globally, so we can work more faithfully to be bringers of your word, will and way. 
 
SILENCE 
 
Jesus said: Do not let your hearts be troubled. 
Let us lose the anxiety, embrace the future and trust in God. 
Let us turn again to Christ and commit to live love. 
We wrap this all up by saying the Lord’s Prayer…
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
God our guide and goal,
may your Spirit touch our hearts 
so that as we listen for your Word in Scripture, 
we may open our minds to you
and find inspiration to follow you more closely.
This we pray, as your people, blessed by you, 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
Introduction to the Ecclesiastes Reading
 
Our first reading comes from the book of Ecclesiastes and only appears twice in the Lectionary, here and on New Year’s Day! So it is with joy that we take a glimpse into the world of this book known as Qoheleth; this can be translated as ‘Teacher’ or ‘one who speaks to an assembly’. This Teacher gives us an honest reflection on life from someone who is learned in wisdom, having been devoted to study, offering some words reflecting on life, from a position of authority. The text opens with the word translated here as vanity, which is difficult to translate from the Hebrew ‘hevel’ or ‘hebel’ but gives an impression of something that does not last, is passing and lacks permanence or enduring meaning. And it is from this place that the rest of our reading emanates. 
 
Let us listen for the Word of God in Scripture. 
 
 
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
 
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.  I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me —and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labours under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
 
In this is the Word of the Lord. 
 
 
Hymn: The Love of God is Broad Like Beach and Meadow
The Rev’d Fred Kaan, © 1974 Hope Publishing Company, sung by the Rev’d Paul Robinson

 

The love of God is broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind, and an eternal home.
God leaves us free to seek him or reject him,
He gives us room to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
 
The love of God is
broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind,
and an eternal home.

We long for freedom 
where our truest being is given hope 
and courage to unfold.
We seek in freedom
space and scope for dreaming,
and look for ground 
where trees and plants can grow.
 
The love of God is
broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind,
and an eternal home.
 
But there are walls 
that keep us all divided;
we fence each other in 
with hate and war.
Fear is the bricks-and-mortar 
of our prison, our pride of self 
the prison coat we wear.
 
The love of God is
broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind,
and an eternal home.
 
O, judge us, Lord, 
and in your judgment free us,
and set our feet 
in freedom’s open space;
take us as far 
as your compassion wanders
among the children 
of the human race.



The love of God is
broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind,
and an eternal home.
 

 
Introduction to the text
 
Our second reading is from the Gospel according to Luke and this text speaks of power, privilege and wealth. In this story, Jesus is interrupted and his advice sought on a family squabble about inheritance. He refuses to get involved but takes the opportunity to offer a parable about the allure of wealth and the accumulation of possessions. Jesus speaks reality, hard hitting honesty, into this challenge. Let us listen again for the Word of God in Scripture. 
 
Luke 12: 13-21
 
Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So, it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
 
In this is the Word of the Lord. 
 
Hymn: When, O God, Our Faith Is Tested
The Rev’d Fred Kaan © 1989 Hope Publishing Company sung by Gareth Moore from the Isle of Man Methodist Church

 

When, O God, our faith is tested
and our hope is undermined,
when our love of living shrivels
and we feel bereft and drained,
Then we turn to you and cry
for your answer to our ‘why?’
 
With emotions taut to breaking,
hearts with hurt and havoc frayed,
reason by remorse diminished,
souls distraught as if betrayed,
God of bleakness and abyss,
why have you forsaken us?

 

As we question and accuse you
out of depths of being tried,
could it be, God! that in weakness
you yourself are crucified?
Are you with us in our grief?
Help us in our unbelief!
 
Sermon
 
Let us pray: God of love, bless these words as they are spoken, heard and thought about. Bless us as we seek to reflect and respond. May our thoughts, words and actions be carriers of your love in your world in the coming days. Amen.
 
Life is unfair. I remember my mother telling me this on more than one occasion! When I complained about not having something or not being able to do something, she would reply ‘life is not fair, Jennifer’. How I hated to hear those words as I struggled with disappointment.
But she was right. Life isn’t fair. It isn’t easy and sometimes there is no reason for the way things happen, they just do. And we have to pick up the pieces or find new ways of doing things or adjust to the changes that have occurred or events that have unfolded before us. 
 
The Teacher in our reading from Ecclesiastes has dealt with loss, has seen failure and experienced disappointment, and concluded that there was no point in working hard, in endeavouring to do his best, in learning and seeking wisdom, because at the end of the day everything is vanity, in vain, fluff, verging on the meaningless and pointless. He is struggling with the injustices of life and records his emotions at how futile it all feels. He sees no reason to toil because, he concludes, it means nothing in the end. 
 
The man in our parable has toiled all his life, he has amassed wealth and status (just hear that he will pull down perfectly good barns and build larger ones). He has worked hard and is successful. He is basking in the joy and blessing of all he has achieved. And yet, Jesus’ story goes on to tell us that, he dies without being able to enjoy it. He anticipated doing what, if we read on in the book of Ecclesiastes, we are encouraged to conclude that is all there is to do: eat, drink and be merry. Ecclesiastes 2:24 the Teacher wrote: ‘There is nothing better for mortals that to eat, drink, and find enjoyment in their toil’. 
 
Both men in the stories we have heard have wealth and privilege. They have choices. The Teacher has had the opportunity of study, of learning, of time to do this, of status and power. The rich man in the parable had wealth, choices, status and power. In Jesus’ time, that sort of man would have people working for him and he would hold the future of others in his hands. 
 
It is tempting, with these two readings, to look at them and say the message in them is: don’t worry about possessions, don’t focus on money and status, focus on God and on being a good person and helping others and living the Jesus way. The difficulty here is that I am speaking from a position of power, privilege and wealth. I have power because of the education I have been fortunate to access; privilege because I was born in a rich country and had parents who worked hard to give me a good life and met my material needs; and I have wealth because of the place I was born, the education system I have accessed and the way I have used my learning, been enabled and encouraged by others and been given opportunities to develop, grow, lead, serve and manage. Much of this is chance. I could have been born to a family living in a slum in Thailand, or in the desert in Iraq, or in a rundown and neglected part of Birmingham (or other city in the UK). And then my life chances would have been drastically different. I would not have had the choice, opportunities or possibilities- not because I did not work hard enough but because the odds were stacked against me from the day I would have been born. 
 
It is easy to stand here and say: don’t worry about possessions, it is not possessions that matter, it is living life and working hard and having fun and sharing with others. It is being God’s people to the world by how we live, work, socialise, share and love. But what if I have no choice but to worry about possessions? What if I am working 3 jobs, my children need new school uniform, the holidays are starting and the children need more food than when they are at school and the toilet has started leaking and it is coming through the ceiling? What if the cost of fuel has increased so much that I have to think about whether I can eat 3 meals a day as my disabled daughter needs the heating on even in the summer as her condition means she cannot regulate her body temperature and is constantly cold? What if my life meant that every day was a day in which if I did not focus on money, food, rent, bills, childcare costs, I would go under? If I didn’t juggle our income and be always on top of the pennies? 
 
Many of us do not have a clue about how tough life is for thousands, in our towns and cities, even in the small hamlets. I know I am privileged and, if I am honest, I cannot really understand the desperation felt by so many. I can try, I can empathise, I can seek to identify with their struggle. But because I am privileged, I do not really know. I do not know. Like the characters in our stories, I do not know. The men are indicative of so many of us, who have so much that we take it for granted. We do not understand our privilege. It is into this situation that Jesus speaks. 
 
Jesus does not answer the man who asks him to tell his brother to share the family inheritance (he is rich, we know this as he has an inheritance to share!) but he tells a parable of power and status and wealth. He wants to let those listening (and us still today) that it is not the wealth that is wrong, it is the focus or emphasis of the man’s life. He has worked so hard, he had amassed more than he needed, and he was going to store up more in bigger barns, so he could then sit back enjoy his labours. He was not going to share it. I am not hearing anything in Jesus’ teaching that says we cannot enjoy the fruits of our labours, Jesus loved a party as much as anyone else! What I am hearing is that if our labours become the focus of our lives and our personal gain is a greater focus than living well in community together, we need to stop and ask some questions.
 
And these questions are: am I focused on external things and taking them to extremes- material wealth, possessions, exercise, my phone or latest gadget, binge watching tv, eating, cleaning, my career or social status, my TikTok or social media account? Are these things taking me away or distracting me from living love, from being a disciple of Jesus and looking out for the lost, the lonely, those on the edges. Are these things blinding me to need or neglect or stopping me from questioning how inclusive and accepting society is or whether equality is being pursued in my workplace? Are the ‘things’ in our lives more important that the way we live? Could we live more simply, more altruistically, more kindly, more generously? And living like that also leads us to live with compassion. Spotting those people, friends, family, work colleagues who are struggling or not doing OK. Looking for situations where we can walk alongside and just ‘be’ with someone. Listening not directing. Offering help that can be refused. Accepting that just saying ‘I am here and you are loved’ is enough. We don’t have to be solution providers, but we can be accompaniers, we can empower those whose voices are not heard, just by speaking to them and listening to them and giving them power to be seen and heard. 
 
In today’s stories we have power and wealth and status, but we also have other elements of life- disagreement, difference, and, I would suggest, depression. Getting to a place where all is futile, where things seem pointless and feel empty, is where many of us get to in this fast paced, stressful, success driven world in which we are living. The Teacher has everything but still feels a sense of hopelessness. I would suggest that this is a reality for many today, mental ill health is a huge issue in our society. The words in Ecclesiastes can feel hope-less, but they are real and honest and can be a starting place for authentic conversations around faith and the mission of the church. 
 
Understanding that life isn’t fair, life isn’t easy, life is hard, is important. For those of us who are privileged, the onus is on us to share, not to store up treasures, to be good stewards and make sensible provisions, but not to let what we have drive our lives. For those who struggle to make ends meet, those who find themselves isolated, deprived, lacking hope, finding life so tough, we need to make space for them to be heard. Jesus calls us all into a community of mutual love- it is this we should find in our churches. Are they safe places where we can find acceptance and not judgement? Are they places we can be welcomed and be allowed to really be ourselves? It is this vulnerability we should be able to speak about, it is this need we should be able to reveal. Some of us need to listen better, challenge our prejudices, and accept we do not always have (or need) the solutions or answers for others. Then we pray that, hope-fully, we can counter some of the unfairness with love and support and compassion, as Jesus showed us, and the Spirit prompts us. 
Amen. 
 
 
Hymn Do Not Be Afraid, For I Have Redeemed You
Gerald Markland, sung by vocalist at St Lawrence’s Church, Chorley, 
used with their kind permission
 
Do not be afraid, for I Have Redeemed You.
I have called you by your name; you are mine.

 

When you walk 
through the waters I’ll be with you,
you will never have to sink 
beneath the waves.
 
When the fire is burning 
all around you,
you will never be 
consumed by the flames.
 
When the fear of loneliness 
is looming,
then remember 
I am at your side.

When you dwell 
in the exile of a stranger,
remember you are 
precious in my eyes.
 
You are mine, oh my child; 
I am your Father,
and I love you with a perfect love.

 

 
Affirmation of Faith 
 
We believe in God the Creator, 
maker of sea and sand, 
of waterfall and winding pathway,
bringer of apples on trees and carrots in the ground;
who breathed life into birds, fish, animals, and insects,
who equally loves us, starfish, fir trees, and slugs. 
 
We believe in Jesus Christ, 
who lived on earth to show us how to live;
who taught love, patience, peaceful protest and compassion. 
Jesus’ way is open to all, encouraging welcome, inclusion, 
diversity and justice. 
Jesus gave of himself so that God’s love 
may be seen, heard, felt and known in this world. 
We believe in the Spirit that blows wherever there is life; 
that touches hearts and inspires minds, 
that encourages creativity and dance, 
laughter and uncontrollable giggles, 
silly faces and simple paintings. 
We trust in the Spirit
to guide, trouble, challenge, lead, enable and comfort.
 
We believe in God: community, three in one
showing us the need for relationships, communication, 
tolerance, accepting difference, 
valuing each other and trusting one another. 
 
We believe in heaven on earth, here and now. 
We believe we all have a part to play 
in being, bringing and celebrating the love of God,
joining in with where God is already at work.
 
This we do because of all we have received and all we know. 
 
This we do as we anticipate the world finally becoming true to the vision 
of ultimate peace, joy and love being the way of the world. 
 
This we do because God is. 
 

Intercessions
 
God of grace, love, peace and joy. 
 
We come to you now with our hearts heavy when we look at the mess we are making of your world. We see sadness and pain, hurt and damaging relationships, selfish people with power that threatens to become dangerous and dangerous people desiring power that threatens our world. We see things that make us fearful and concerned and make us think that life will never be the same again; we also see things that are happening that threaten the very existence of our planet and so few people are taking notice and it feels like nothing is being done to address them.
 
And yet with all this, plus our own concerns, worries, lives and situations, we come to worship and hear ‘Do not be afraid…I have called you by your name, you are mine’. This goes against all the terror, anguish, pain and greed we see around us. Do not be afraid. So often we hear this from people throughout the Bible and yet our first response when things get tough is to worry and be fearful and try to control and manage things. We know your way goes against the ways of the world. That you turn around expectations and surprise, excite, amaze and confuse us even when we know what can happen.  
 
You have shown us your desire for the world, you have promised us more than we can ever imagine, you have shown us a different way to be. So, we come, stilling our hearts, holding our fears before you and seeking your way. 
 
We hold before you a broken and hurting world, people fearful and anxious, a world of hunger and pain, a world of grief and anger, a world where conflict abounds, with twisted ideologies and misguided beliefs, a world where leaders appear more concerned about serving their own interests than those of the people they are called to represent and be serving. This is your world, damaged and destroyed by us, corrupted and claimed by us. 
 
But we know this is not the end, this is not how you intend it to be and so we pray for this world, in its diversity and delight, its random colours and shapes, sizes and personalities and we pray for the good of your love, the blessing of your presence, the power of your Spirit, to come. Through words and actions, events, activities, protests and petitions, rallies and relationships. This we pray for all those people, places and situations that need peace, justice, equality, hope, love and light and renewal. 
SILENCE
We hold before you those people, places and situations known to us and those things that trouble us and we offer them to you in prayer. We think especially of our those for whom we have concerns and for whom we care. 
 
SILENCE 
 
Help us, in our own little ways, be bringers of hope, messengers of love and fear busters. Help us to lose the anxiety and live love. Help us to put aside material gain and focus on the best for the common good, to manage well all that we have but not to let it become our purpose in life. May our lives reflect your glory, be glimpses of your love and bring little nuggets of your kin-dom to the places we are and the people we meet. 
 
All this we pray through Jesus who knew our fallibility and showed us that you can work with us and through us, so that your kingdom may come and your will be done here on earth, as is already happening in heaven. Amen.
 
Offertory Prayer 
 
God calls us to think about how we use all we have. So, we come as people of faith, bringers of God’s kin-dom, called to share with others that which we have received. Through our giving God’s love can be more clearly seen, known and experienced.   
Come, let us pray:
 
Gracious God, 
we are fortunate to have shelter, warmth, food and freedom. 
As you give to us, so we respond, with our lives, our time, our hearts. 
We offer our gifts, talents and money 
to be used for your purposes in your world. 
May all we offer bring light and love as it is shared.
May all we offer be a force for good. 
May all we offer be a blessing. 
In your world, for your people, until your kingdom come. 
Amen. 
 
 
Hymn: Lord Christ, We Praise Your Sacrifice
The Rev’d Alan Gaunt (b. 1935) © 1991, Stainer & Bell Ltd sung and played by the choir and musicians of Victoria Road Methodist Church, Bristol and used with their kind permission

 

Lord Christ, we praise Your sacrifice,
Your life in love so freely given.
For those who took Your life away
You prayed: 
that they might be forgiven;
and there, in helplessness arrayed,
God’s power was 
perfectly displayed.
 
Once helpless in 
Your mother’s arms,
dependent on her mercy then;
at last, by choice, in other hands,
You were as helpless once again;
and, at their mercy, crucified,
you claimed Your victory and died.

Though helpless and 
rejected then,
You’re now as risen Lord acclaimed;
forever by Your sacrifice
is God’s eternal love proclaimed:
the love which, dying,
brings to birth
new life and hope for all on earth.
 
So, living Lord, prepare us now
Your willing helplessness to share;
to give ourselves in sacrifice
to overcome the world’s despair;
in love to give our lives away
and claim Your victory today.

Blessing  
 
May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths,
and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.
 
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.
 
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, hunger and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain to joy
And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can
make a difference in the world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
 
And the blessing of God, who creates, redeems and sanctifies, be upon us and all those we love, and also on those we struggle to love, now and forever more.
Amen.
 

 
Sources
 
Blessing from the Franciscan tradition, all other liturgical resources by Jenny Mills.
 
Opening Music: Prelude in E Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
 
Closing Music: Trumpet Voluntary in D by John Baston (organ of Basilica Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy – 2016)
 
 
Thanks to Jenny for devising the service and to Esther Watson, Karen Smith, Kathleen Haynes, Marion Thomas, Diana Cullum-Hall, Ray Fraser, Alison Jiggins, John Young, Anne Hewling and John Wilcox  for recording some of the spoken parts.  Hymn lyrics are public domain, the music in the podcast is delivered subject to the terms of the URC’s licence.

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