URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 26th June 2022 – The Revd. Sarah Moore

Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Service for 26th June 2022

Photo credit Jens Johnsson / pexels.com

The Rev’d Sarah Moore
 

Introduction
 
Hello.  My name is Sarah Moore, I’m a United Reformed Church minister based in Dunblane in Scotland where I currently serve as Transition Champion for the National Synod of Scotland and as Assistant Clerk of the General Assembly.   I invite you to join with me in worshipping God. 

Call to Worship
 
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before the Eternal One with thanksgiving, and extol God with music and song.
 
Hymn       O Breath of Life Come Sweeping Through Us
Elizabeth Ann Head (1850-1936)
 

O Breath of life,
come sweeping through us,
revive your Church
with life and power;
O Breath of life,
come, cleanse, renew us,
and fit your Church
to meet this hour.
 
2  O Breath of life,
come breathe within us,
renewing thought
and will and heart:
come, Love of Christ,
afresh to win us,
revive your Church
in every part.
 
3  O Wind of God,
come bend us, break us,
till humbly
we confess our need;
then in your tenderness
remake us,
revive, restore;
for this we plead.
 
4  Revive us, Lord!
is zeal abating
while harvest fields
are vast and white?
Revive us, Lord,
the world is waiting,
equip your Church
to spread the light.

 

Prayers of Approach, Confession, Declaration of Forgiveness
 
The Psalmist cries, “I cry aloud to God,  aloud to God that they may
hear me.”  Holy One, we are met in your presence,  to glorify you, creator of all that was, all that is, and all that shall be. 
 
Here, today, we call to mind your deeds, remembering your works of old,
your action in all creation.   Your way is holy, no one and no thing can be as great as you. 
 
You redeemer of creation call us to follow you, as we follow in the way of your Son. 
 
“In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.” 
 
Holy One, life can be far from easy. Our minds, bodies, and souls can be restless and wearied.  We recognise in your presence those aspects of ourselves that prevent us from loving you with heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving neighbour as ourselves. 
 
Transform us into the best versions of ourselves, the people you created and call us to be.  Show us again how to be disciples of the risen Christ,
ready to do his work in the world, empowered and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
 
We join together in the prayer that Jesus taught his friends and teaches us
 
Our Father…
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
O Lord our God, your Word is a lamp to our feet
and a light to our path.
Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love,
that we may be obedient to your will
and live always for your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Reading            2 Kings 2.1-2, 6-14
 
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel…Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on.  Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.  Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.  When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’  As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.  Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.  He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

 
Hymn       The Church is Wherever God’s People Are Praising
Carol Rose Ikeler (b. 1920)
       

The Church is wherever
God’s people are praising,
knowing they’re wanted
and loved by their Lord.
The Church is wherever
Christ’s followers are trying
to live and to share out
the good news of God.
 
2 The Church is wherever
God’s people are loving,
where all are forgiven
and start once again,
where all are accepted,
whatever their background,
whatever their past
and whatever their pain.
 
3 The Church is wherever
God’s people are seeking
to reach out and touch folk wherever they are —
conveying the Gospel,
its joy and its comfort,
to challenge, refresh,
and excite and inspire.
 
4 The Church is wherever
God’s people are praising,
knowing we’re wanted
and loved by our Lord.
The Church is where we
as Christ’s followers are trying
to live and to share out
the good news of God.

 

Reading   St Luke 9.51-62
 
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.  And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him;  but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem.  When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’  But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.  As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’  To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’  But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’  Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’  Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
 
Hymn       Will You Come and Follow Me?
John L. Bell (b.1949) and Graham Maule (b.1958)
 

Will you come and follow me
if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know
and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown
in you and you in me?
 
2 Will you leave yourself behind
if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind
and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare
should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer
in you and you in me?

3 Will you love the ‘you’ you hide
if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside
and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found
to reshape the world around,
through my sight & touch & sound
in you and you in me?
 
4 Lord, your summons echoes true
when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
where your love & footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move & live & grow
in you and you in me.

 

Sermon
 
Three years ago I became an aunt.  My sister in law gave birth to a baby girl, and it would be fair to say that the whole family were besotted from day one.  My niece had everyone under her little thumb very quickly, and it would be fair to say that this has continued.  It is a joy to have a child in the family again after many years of just adults.  So much hope, so many plans, so much wondering what kind of adult my wee niece will grow up to become. 
 
When I think of children and young people I know and don’t know, I wonder what sort of world they are growing up into.  When I retire my niece will be 28.  What will the world be like then? 
 
I wonder how have I been complicit in making the mess that our children will inherit.  Can it be fixed?  How do we participate as individuals and as small communities in the healing of the big problems of our world and society?  How can we respond to the challenges of climate change, inequality, and the growing cost of living?  I wonder about the future of the Church.  Will there be a Church for today’s children and young people to get married in, or to baptise their children, or in time for them to be buried from? 
 
The story that we have just heard from the book of Kings is one that those of us who attended Sunday School as children might faintly remember but is not one that tends to be read in church very often.  This is the story about how Elisha was called to carry on the work that the older prophet Elijah had started.  Elijah is told when he meets with the Lord at Horeb to anoint new kings over Aram and Israel, and then to anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah as prophet in his place.  Elijah finds Elisha son of Shaphat and anoints him as instructed.  Elisha tidies up his affairs at home and sets out with Elijah. 
 
I wonder who God is asking us to anoint as prophets in our place?  In our places as individuals and in our places as church communities.  For a whole variety of very reasonable reasons the number of people able to volunteer to do anything in churches and in other community groups is diminishing.  The world quite literally is not what it once was.  This means that we cannot often see what is supposed to come after us.  As the United Reformed Church celebrates its golden jubilee, what does it mean and what will it mean to be a URC presence in the British Isles and international ecumenical dialogue and work, and to offer a distinctively URC voice into shaping the world that is emerging? 
 
The United Reformed Church was created in a flurry of excitement and fanfare.  Some of our forebears had a rich vision that the formation of the URC would spark a flurry of further church unions.  Two more unions would follow and the rest is recent history.  There is no need to rehearse how the last fifty years have worked out for many of our churches.  It is reassuring to know that the General Secretary and others are working on a Church Life Review that seeks to establish a fair and true picture of the state of the United Reformed Church as a whole as it is in 2022.  For many local congregations, church life has become a struggle in a way it didn’t used to be.  We wonder what the future holds, perhaps who is going to hold the baton of faith and discipleship when we ourselves are no longer able to hold it. 
 
Part of the problem of what next is that we don’t know what is next.  As human beings we find it hard to imagine a world without us in it.  I wonder how it felt for Elijah to know that Elisha would be the one to replace him in his work as a prophet in his community.  We hold onto so much of what has gone before.  We find it hard to let go of work that has been good but of work that God and we have finished and is now complete. 
 
In the reading that we heard this morning from Luke’s Gospel we read of people who would not accept Jesus and his teaching, and of those who were interested but who wanted to finish their current work and tie up the loose ends of their current lives before setting off on the journey of discipleship.  Jesus says, ‘follow me’, and the response is ‘let me just…’ 
 
Both of these responses are deeply typical.  It is heartening perhaps for us to remember anew that there have always been those who are not interested in Jesus’ teachings.  Always.  Here they are in the story of Jesus’ ministry on earth.  There are also those who throw up caveats and provisos, who want or let’s be honest need to sort things out first before setting out on a radical new journey of discipleship.  I met someone a few years ago who had wondered if her vocation was to follow Jesus by joining an order of nuns.  This person spoke movingly of her experience of gradually giving away everything she had, selling her house, and resigning from her very good job in preparation to move into the convent.  To simply up and leave, just like that, was not possible. 
 
In the life of our churches and in our own journeys as Jesus’ disciples we put up some let me or let us justs…  We live in the real world.  Some are necessary.  But many perhaps are less necessary than we might think.  The hard call though is the one that is presented to Elijah to pass the mantle onto someone else.  The call to die so that someone else might live is at the heart of the Gospel.  That applies in all sorts of ways.  Churches and individuals who have been equipped and enabled to do amazing things as the result of a legacy are ever-present.  In those cases the sadness of a death enabled something amazing to happen.  The challenge of this story of Elijah and Elisha is the realisation that both are very challenging places to be, whether we are the ones whose work is done or we are the ones commissioned to do something new. 
 
Jesus’ call to us from Luke is not to get caught up along the way.  To discern what is a distraction that is preventing us from getting going or keeping going on our God-given call to discipleship.  The journey of discipleship is always onwards.  It doesn’t stop.  We are called to pray as we journey for the prayer gives us our map.  We pray.  We pray that God will show us where to set our feet, as individual disciples, as church communities, as the United Reformed Church, as Christians in the world.

Hymn       Come Down, O Love Divine
Bianco da Siena (d.1434) translated Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890)
 

Come down, O Love Divine,
seek out this soul of mine,
and visit it
with your own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it,
your holy flame bestowing.
 
2  O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes,
in its heat consuming;
and let your glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round,
the while my path illuming.

 

3  And so the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
we cannot guess its grace,
till we become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.
 
Affirmation of Faith
 

We believe in God, whom Jesus called Father,
who created all things in love.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
who was with God the Father from the beginning
who co-created the universe, and holds it in being.
We believe in Jesus Christ – one with the Father and the Spirit –
who came to live a human life
and gifted the Spirit as comforter and guide.
We believe in God who is three in one
who was and is and is to come. Amen.

 
Intercessions
 
God of freedom, you invite us to share your freedom and live your way of peace and justice.   The apostle Paul reminds us that the whole of the law is summarised in the commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as you love yourself”.   We make our prayers for church, world, community, and ourselves in the spirit of this commandment. 
 
We pray for the Church throughout the world, asking that you show us what it means to love other traditions as we love our own.    We wonder if such is even possible.   Show us how to cherish love to other churches,
as we work to build up your Church wherever you place us. 
 
We pray for the nations of this world, asking that you show us what it means to love other nations as we love our own.   We pray for peace where there is none, particularly for Ukraine, Syria, Yemen and other places we hear about and those we do not. 
 
We pray for the communities where we are set, for many of us that is multiple places where personal, professional, family and other aspects of our lives work out.    Show us what you need us to do, what perhaps only we can do, in the places we live out our lives.  Show us how to love neighbour as ourselves. 
 
We pray for ourselves noting the commandment to love neighbour as self.  We pray for our own concerns, and for whatever gift or grace we need for the coming days. 
 
In the name of the Risen One we pray.  Amen. 
 
Offertory
 
Let us return to God the offerings of our life and the gifts of the earth. 
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all who live in it. 
Holy One, you call us to love neighbour as self.  Use all we have to offer, of money, talents, time, and energy to live and love the good news of your kingdom in our lives.  Amen.
 
Hymn       Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy
Jan Struther (1901–1953)
 

Lord of all hopefulness,
Lord of all joy,
whose trust, ever childlike,
no cares could destroy,

be there at our waking,
and give us, we pray,
your bliss in our hearts, Lord,
at the break of the day.
 
2 Lord of all eagerness,
Lord of all faith,
whose strong hands were skilled
at the plane and the lathe,
be there at our labours,
and give us, we pray,
your strength in our hearts, Lord,
at the noon of the day.

3: Lord of all kindliness,
Lord of all grace,
your hands swift to welcome,
your arms to embrace,
be there at our homing,
and give us, we pray,
your love in our hearts,
Lord, at the eve of the day.
 
4 Lord of all gentleness,
Lord of all calm,

whose voice is contentment,
whose presence is balm,
be there at our sleeping,
and give us, we pray,
your peace in our hearts, Lord,
at the end of the day.

Blessing
 
May the blessing of God
Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit,
be and remain with all creation,
those we love and those we are called to love,
today and in the days to come.  Amen. 
 
Sources
 
Call to Worship by Andy Braunston, Prayer of Illumination from  Service for the Lord’s Day, Supplemental Liturgical Resource 1, © 1984 The Westminster Press, Affirmation of Faith by the Rev’d Ruth Whitehead.  All other material by the Rev’d Sarah Moore.
 
Opening Organ Piece: Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland (“Now the Gentile saviour comes”) by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece: Komm Gott Schӧpfer Heiliger Geist (“Come God, creator Holy Ghost”) by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of Basilica Santa Maria Dei Assunta, Montecatini Terme, Italy – 2016)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill, http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
O Breath of Life Come Sweeping Through Us – Elizabeth Ann Head (1850-1936) sung by the virtual choir of Dronfield with Holmesfield Parish Church
The Church is Wherever God’s People Are Praising – Carol Rose Ikeler (b. 1920) © 1963 W. L. Jenkins Sung by members of Bloomsbury Baptist Church used with their kind permission
Will You Come and Follow Me? – John L. Bell (b.1949) and Graham Maule (b.1958) © WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH  Scotland.  BBC Songs of Praise
Come Down, O Love Divine – Bianco da Siena (d.1434) translated Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890) (alt.)  Sung by the virtual choir of the Riverside Church, New York and used with their kind permission.
Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy – Jan Struther (1901–1953) BBC Songs of Praise
 
Thanks to Kathleen Haynes, Anne Hewling, Ray Fraser, Rhona Newby, Diana Cullum-Hall and John Cornell for reading various spoken parts of the service.

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