Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today’s service. You can either simply read this or you can
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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church for Sunday 17th July
The service is led by the Rev’d Simon Walkling, Moderator of the National Synod of Wales.
Welcome to the United Reformed Church Daily Devotions Sunday Service. My name is Simon Walkling and I am moderator for the URC national synod of Wales. I have recorded my contributions to our worship from home in Pontypridd and on the wall behind me are a collection of crosses from around the world, which have been given to me by various individuals and groups at different times through my ministry. They remind me of connections with people and the centrality of my faith in God, whose love is revealed in Jesus and real for me through the Spirit. I pray that we may be connected in God through whatever way we join in this worship. Today our theme is hospitality, and when we go beyond culture and conventions to better share God’s love.
HymnKing of glory king of peace George Herbert, The Scottish Festival Singers
King of glory, King of peace, I will love Thee; and that love may never cease, I will move Thee. Thou hast granted my request, Thou hast heard me; Thou didst note my working breast, Thou hast spared me.
Wherefore with my utmost art I will sing Thee, and the cream of all my heart I will bring Thee. Though my sins against me cried, Thou didst clear me; and alone, when they replied, Thou didst hear me.
Sev’n whole days, not one in sev’n, I will praise Thee; in my heart, though not in heav’n, I can raise Thee. Small it is, in this poor sort to enrol Thee: e’en eternity’s too short to extol Thee.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
we have made space for you in this place at this time. We have made space in the rhythm of our days to worship you, to thank you, for your place in our lives. But when we stop, we realise that you have always been making the space for us, making time for us, opening a place of love for us.
You made space for creation to explode, expand, and explore being alive. You loved each of us as we formed and grew and continue to develop. You call us and gather us and open up new possibilities for the future.
So forgive us when we are distracted by our own busyness and need. Forgive us when we see the earth and its resources as ours to exploit for short term gain.
Forgive us when we use other people as a means to our ends.
Forgive us when we lose our focus on you, your will and your way.
Loving God, calm us and capture our attention.
Welcome us into your belonging.
Assure us of our worth.
Lead us in love.
So may we know that we are forgiven and be refreshed to be your people in the world, in Jesus’ name,
Prayer for Illumination
Living God, You still speak to us through circumstances and other people and in our prayers. We pray now that your Word will be alive for us today as we hear and reflect on readings from the Bible with the help of your Spirit. Help us to picture the scenes, be curious about what they mean, and open to you speaking afresh to us, as we seek to follow Jesus, your living Word, Amen
Genesis 18: 1 – 10a
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’
HymnBreak Thou The Bread of Life Mary Lathbury 1841 – 1913 sung by Michael Eldridge https://acapeldridge.com/
Break Thou the bread of life, dear Lord, to me, as Thou didst break the loaves beside the sea.
Within the sacred page, I seek Thee Lord. My spirit pants for Thee, O living Word.
Bless Thou the truth, dear Lord, to me, to me, as Thou didst bless the bread by Galilee.
Then shall all bondage cease, all fetters fall, and I shall find my peace, my all in all.
Thou art the bread of life, O Lord, to me.
Thy holy Word the truth
Give me to eat and live that saveth me. with Thee above. Teach me to love Thy truth, for Thou art love.
St Luke 10: 38 – 42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
Sermon Hello, come in! Welcome, croeso! Let me take your coat. No, don’t worry about taking your shoes off. Go through to the lounge. Would you like a tea or a coffee? Help yourself to a biscuit. I invite you to think of a moment where hospitality began. Were you the host or the guest? Opening the door or crossing the threshold? Was it planned or unexpected? Was the kettle boiled ready, or were you unprepared and did you resist the impulse to tidy the table and move the cushions? Or was it less formal, a deepening moment of meeting when someone let you into their inner life? Did the preliminaries prepare you to be comfortable and connected? How does the memory make you feel now?
I ask you to recall such a moment because both of the readings we have heard can help us think about hospitality. The word ‘hospitality’ has been used a lot in the last couple of years when talking about the ‘hospitality industry’ or the ‘hospitality sector’ and the impact of measures to keep us
safe from the spread of coronaviruses. I am thinking more about the ways people show hospitality in their daily living. There are elements of social and cultural convention; doing what we saw in the home we grew up in; and our own reflections on what works for us.
Our readings are separated by hundreds of years in time, and we are separated from them by a couple of millennia, but we share common human needs, despite the differences.
With Abraham, I imagine different family clans moving with their tents and flocks between watering places. They are careful around built up settlements and other travelling groups. Small groups of independent travellers might not be able to carry everything they needed for a long journey and would be dependent on the generosity of others, but they were also a potential threat to those they approached. The practice of hospitality could meet their need for food, but also created relationships to defuse hostility. Both hospitality and hostility have the same root in Latin in the word ‘hospes’ which means visitor and stranger. So, in the encounter of Abraham with the three strangers we see hospitality involving the host offering the best, and taking the preparation time to offer rest and refreshment. It takes time to prepare and roast a calf, so in that time there is a developing relationship and the opportunity for trust to grow. In turn, in common with many middle Eastern traditions of hospitality, the guests offer something in return, maybe compliments, a gift, or a blessing. Here we see the promise of a child, an heir.
Abraham has been blessed by a promise from God. He shares that blessing with strangers. The blessing he receives from that opens the way for the promise from God to be fulfilled: a virtuous circle of blessing and sharing, promise and fulfilment.
We can find resonances today with that story. Earlier in the year many United Reformed Church ministers gathered for a conference in Yarnfield.
One of the speakers was Najla Kassab, who told us about her church providing schools in Lebanon for children from Syrian refugee camps. She is a minister of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon and President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, but she grew up in Lebanon during the war there, when her family had all their documents packed in a bag in case they needed to leave at short notice. Since the war in Syria, the influx of one and half million refugees to the small country of Lebanon (which had a population of five million before it) has meant that some communities were wary of the incomers. That wasn’t helped by the economic collapse in Lebanon, where wages are worth a fifth of what they were and electricity is only available a couple of hours a day. However, the church set up schools for Syrian refugee children with funding from partners. Najla talked about it as hospitality, but not just service – doing something for someone – but opening a welcoming space where the hosts make room for the guests; where needs are met, but the guests are respected and given dignity; and where there is the potential for both guest and host to change.
That gave me food for thought about our welcome for refugees. The church where I’m a member has language classes for Syrian refugees and we support ‘Displaced People in Action’, a charity in Cardiff that helps refugees settle and convert their qualifications into ones that are recognised here. You can probably think of examples close to you. More broadly, when the Radio 4 Sunday programme interviewed Christians about offering a welcome to Ukrainian refugees, they quoted Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” A verse which itself has echoes of the Abraham story we heard earlier. There are cities of sanctuary for refugees across the UK, and Wales has been designated ‘a nation of sanctuary’, but I hope for a more hospitable welcome for refugees in general.
When we move on to consider Martha and Mary, the environment has changed – no longer nomadic and more settled – but the conventions of hospitality have persisted, and there is still the need to build trust, as Jesus and the disciples look for safe houses as they journey to Jerusalem. There is the irresistible expectation to offer food, to provide rest and refreshment. As Martha asks Jesus to tell her sister to help her, there is also the sense of expectation on many women to be self-sacrificial in looking after others. I think this is summed up by a line in a BBC news report about the long East African drought, where Narogai Long, a Kenyan woman, is quoted as saying, “There is no food. We, the mothers, have to sacrifice ourselves and give what we have to our children or elders.”
Martha has the weight of all these expectations along with the burden of doing the work. And yet, Najla made the point that hospitality is more than service: it considers the needs of the guests and their happiness. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, as a disciple listening to a teacher. She allows him to be who he is: the one who comes to communicate the love of God within a new community; the one who challenges conventional codes to include others. When Martha asks Jesus to tell her sister to help her, he says Mary has chosen the right thing, the good part, the better portion, the main course. I sometimes wonder whether there is a bit of a humorous twinkle in Jesus’ eye, and whether people could have used the word ‘dishy’ then, in the way that it is sometimes used today, to mean attractive. Mary has chosen the best dish and Jesus is it!
Whether it is Mary choosing to listen to Jesus, or being allowed to, her sitting at his feet makes the space for him to be what he has come to be, and that is as much part of hospitality as Martha’s provision of food.
In our Synod Meetings in Wales, we welcome our ecumenical guests and tell them they can participate in our discussions, and we add that their presence helps us to be more of who we are, in having an ecumenical vision of being one in Christ.
In thinking about providing for needs, but also making space for the other to be themselves, I am reminded of a community in Sheldon on the edge of Dartmoor. Their calling is to support people in ministry with hospitality, with retreats and counselling, and they are called The Society of Mary and Martha. It’s hard to forget the traditional interpretations of this story, which tend to put contemplation above practical action, but we all need people who know how many sandwiches are needed for the church picnic.
I have also sat with older people who feel that they are no longer contributing to church life when they are housebound and can no longer help at a coffee morning. I tell them of a comment made by Peter Mcintosh when he was Moderator of General Assembly in 2000; he said that he reminded housebound people that they had plenty of time to pray, and could pray for all those people who were busy doing things and sometimes too busy to pray themselves.
I find it interesting that when we see Martha and Mary described in John’sgospel, when their brother Lazarus dies, it is Martha who defies convention by slipping away from the expected ritual of sitting and mourning. It is Martha that speaks the words of faith, saying to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” Maybe they are different traditions, or maybe she learnt something in between times, or maybe we all need a mixture of action and reflection? Certainly, the received wisdom is that we learn best by reflecting on things that have happened and working out what we would do differently next time or how we can build on positive experiences. That’s at the heart of reflective practice, theological reflection, and the pastoral supervision that all ministers are expected to share in now.
So, we have generated some reflections about our readings. We have thought about the persistence of culture and the importance of hospitality, and not only about seeing ourselves as good hosts, but thinking about the particular needs of our guests, by making space for them to be themselves. We have hinted at the importance of both action and reflection, serving and learning, worship and mission. What actions then, might flow from these reflections?
As individuals, we might think about how we balance action and reflection, and incorporate contemplation and learning from Jesus with a response flowing from it into our daily living. We might consider how we can contribute to creating a hospitable environment for refugees, rather than hostile one. We can make space in our conversations for others to express themselves, and for us to properly listen, rather than thinking about what we will say next.
As churches, we might think about how we need to break out of our cultural conditioning: to be hospitable to a wider variety of people, and think about how to connect with people in the communities around us. We could talk about what it means to practice hospitality in a variety of ways and what it means to be hospitable in the social context of social media. We can talk about how to create the confidence to be open to new ideas, and how to welcome synod officers and resources from the wider church to generate virtuous circles of sharing God’s blessings.
As we turn what we could do, into what we will do, may we grow as part of God’s people and part of the Body of Christ, gathered for worship and active as partners in God’s work in the world. May it be so.
For everyone born, a place at the table, for everyone born, clean water and bread, a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing, for everyone born, a star overhead,
Chorus: And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace: yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!
For woman and man, a place at the table, revising the roles, deciding the share, with wisdom and grace, dividing the power, for woman and man, a system that’s fair,
For young and for old, a place at the table, a voice to be heard, a part in the song, the hands of a child, in hands that are wrinkled, for young and for old, the right to belong,
For queer and for straight, a place at the table, for trans and for gay, a welcoming place, a rainbow of raceand gender and colour, for queer and for straight, the chalice of grace,
For everyone born, a place at the table, to live without fear, and simply to be, to work, to speak out, to witness and worship, for everyone born, the right to be free,
God of rest and relaxation, we pray for those looking forward to holidays: schools breaking up for the Summer in England and Wales, people travelling to different places, families and friends making connections.
May praying be part of our reflection May praying be part of our action
God who is with us on the stages of life, we think of those contemplating life transitions, children changing schools and young people thinking about university. We pray for people finding themselves in a time of transition.
May praying be part of our reflection May praying be part of our action
God who calls us together as Church, we pray for those implementing decisions of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, we pray for local churches thinking about the future, we pray for synods and committees working out how to offer support. We pray for the other churches around us and those we are connected to around the world.
May praying be part of our reflection May praying be part of our action
God of welcome and wellbeing, we pray for refugees seeking hospitality.
We pray for those who are ill or in hospital and undergoing treatment. We pray for those who are grieving. We pray for peace in the midst of personal turmoil and conflict in the world.
May praying be part of our reflection May praying be part of our action
We gather all these prayers in the pattern of prayer Jesus followers learned from him, saying together:
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, thine will be done, On Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, And forgive us our debts, As we forgiver our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, Forever and ever. Amen.
Offertory To our offerings of prayer, we add acknowledgement of our offerings of money. Let’s pray.
Generous God, our offering is more than money, and we offer you our time, our prayers, our skills, and our commitment to you and your work. To these we add our offerings of money, whether put in a plate, tapped with a card, or made by bank transfer. We give in these different ways out of gratitude for all you have given to us, and pray that they may be used to make your presence known in the world.
HymnGive To Me Lord a Thankful Heart Caryl Micklem sung by the choir of Victoria Methodist Church, Bristol and used with their kind permission.
Give to me, Lord, a thankful heart and a discerning mind. give, as I play the Christian’s part, the strength to finish what I start, And act on what I find.
When, in the rush of days, my will is habit-bound and slow, help me to keep in vision still what love and power and peace can fill; a life that trusts in you.
By your divine and urgent claim, and by your human face, Kindle our sinking hearts to flame, and as you teach the world your name let it become your place.
Jesus, with all your Church I long to see your kingdom come; show me your way of righting wrong and turning sorrow into song until you bring me home.
Having been blessed by God, let us leave this worship to share that blessing with others:
Ready to give, because God has given to us. Ready to share, because Jesus calls us as partners in his work. Ready to live, because the Spirit lives in us. Ready to care, because God first loved us.
And for all this we need God’s grace, so let’s pray that for each other:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore, Amen
Sources: All liturgical material by Simon Walkling.
Opening Music: Ach Gott Von Himmel Sieh Darein (“O God from heaven see this”) by Johann Pachelbel (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020) Closing Music: Toccata in Seven by John Rutter (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)
Thanks To Kathleen Haynes, Alison Jiggins, John Young, John Wilcox, Graham Handscomb, Diana Cullum-Hall and Sue Cresswell for recording the spoken parts of the service.
Thanks to Simon for devising the service and to Kathleen Haynes, Alison Jiggins, John Young, John Wilcox, Graham Handscomb, Diana Cullum-Hall and Sue Cresswellfor 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.
Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776, Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved. PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762
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