URC Daily Devotions Sunday Worship – 14th March 2021 – The Revd. Clare Downing

URC Daily Devotions Worship for Sunday 14th March 2021

The Fourth Sunday of Lent
 
The Rev’d Clare Downing
Moderator of URC General Assembly

 
Opening Organ Music – Prelude in E Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
 
Introduction
 
Hello. My name is Clare Downing and I am delighted to be able to share in today’s service. My ‘day job’ is as Synod Moderator for Wessex, and I am based in the centre of the synod, near Basingstoke. I am also serving as one of the current Moderators of General Assembly.
 
Call to Worship
 
People of God, on this wilderness journey, what will you eat?
The word of the Lord is our daily bread.
People of God, in this time of temptation, how will you live?
Our faith is in the faithfulness of God.
People of God, at this kingdom crossroad, whom will you serve?
We worship the Lord our God alone.
 
Hymn       Uyai Mose
Traditional Shona song from Zimbabwe
 
Uyai mose, tinamate mwari (x3)
Uyai mose zvino
 
Translation
 
Come all you people, come praise your maker (x3)
Come now and worship the Lord
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
 
God who spoke in creation and brought light into the world, we come to bring our thanks and praise to you.
 
God, who came among us in Jesus, whose life, death and resurrection are the core of our faith, we come to learn from you.
God who works in the world through the spirit of truth, we come to be challenged and changed by you.
We come, knowing that we do not live up to our own standards, let alone yours. For the times when our thoughts, our words, our actions are subject to darkness, to falsehood, to death, forgive us.
 
The God of light, of life, of truth, offers forgiveness, restoration and renewal to each of us. Thanks be to God. Amen.
 
Prayer of illumination
 
Lord, shine your light on the words we read and hear, that we may understand your truth, and live in the fulness of life that you promise to those who walk your way. Amen
 
Reading:  St John 3:14-21
 
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
 
Hymn       Christ Be Our Light
Bernadette Farrell
 

Longing for light,
we wait in darkness
Longing for truth,
we turn to You.
Make us Your own,
Your holy people
Light for the world to see.
 
Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in Your Church
gathered today.
 
2: Longing for shelter,
many are homeless.
Longing for warmth,
many are cold.
Make us your building,
sheltering others,
walls made of living stone.
 
3: Many the gifts,
many the people,
many the hearts
that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants
to one another,
making your kingdom come.

 

Sermon
 
We’ve probably all been there – that moment when you decide to watch a TV drama, thinking that the episode is a complete story in itself, and then discovering that not only is it the second half of a particular story, but if you didn’t watch the previous series very carefully you will have missed out on some vital bits of back story.
 
It’s the same with our gospel reading today. We come in half way through a conversation, and then it’s immediately referring back to an obscure storyline from the Old Testament.  So in true TV drama style, here are the flashbacks from the previous episodes to put this passage in context.
 
Jesus is talking with Nicodemus, a Jewish leader and teacher, who had come to him under cover of darkness. The conversation has been a challenging one – with strange references to the idea of being born again. Nicodemus is struggling to keep up.
 
And way back in the book of Numbers, there’s a story of the Hebrew people. Under Moses’ leadership in the desert they are impatient and grumbling (again). God sends poisonous snakes among them. Moses prays, God tells him to make a bronze serpent, put it up on a pole, and if those who were bitten by the snakes looked at this image they would be saved. More of an antidote than a vaccination, but you get the drift.
 
So back to our conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus – with a quick warning that the subtitles on our TV drama are rather lacking in punctuation, so it’s not altogether clear as to whether Jesus is speaking, or the narrator has taken over…
 
There are three words that stand out. All concepts that recur in John’s gospel – light, life, and truth.
 
The purpose of this gospel, as the writer tells us, is that ‘you may believe…and you may have life’. In the first few verses of John we’re told that ‘in him – the Word – was life’. Here, looking back at the bronze serpent story, the people needed to look at the thing that was bringing death in order to receive life. Nicodemus is told that the son of man must be lifted up so that life may be received. And in  twist that doesn’t show up in translation, the concept of lifting up on the cross, and being exalted in resurrection and ascension are both encapsulated in that image.
 
We’ve already noted that this conversation happens at night. Back in chapter one, we’re told of the light shining in the darkness, and the darkness not comprehending it, not overcoming it. Jesus is challenging this intelligent, accomplished man with the idea that he – and by extension we – might prefer to be in the dark. We might reject the light that is offered because it exposes what we would prefer to stay hidden.
 
Then there is truth. ‘The Word became flesh..and we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth’ we are told in the prologue of this gospel. And here ‘the one who does truth’ – comes to the light. Truth is not simply the opposite to lies, nor the correct teaching. Truth is the revelation of God. If Nicodemus – or we – are to ‘do the truth’ it’s about the whole of our being, not just avoiding fake news. Later in the gospel, Jesus talks of testifying to the truth, to which Pilate responds ‘what is truth?’. He cannot see that the one before his is the truth.
 
Life, light, truth. Recurring themes in this gospel – and we haven’t even touched on the ‘I am’ sayings. In one short passage, Nicodemus is invited to consider both the concepts, but more importantly, to consider the one who he is speaking with. There is no neat ending here. The episode finishes, but the story is not complete.  We will meet Nicodemus again, as he defends Jesus rights before his fellow pharisees, and then as he, along with Joseph of Arimathea, take Jesus body to be buried.
 
And we – hopefully the not so secret followers of Jesus – continue to be challenged to live in the light, to be set free by the truth, to accept the tenacious love of God who gave his son that we might have abundant life.
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world—
which some seek to control, but which others view with despair—
we declare with joy and trust: our world belongs to God!
 
From the beginning, through all the crises of our times,
until His Kingdom fully comes, God keeps covenant forever.
our world belongs to God!
 We rejoice in the goodness of God, renounce the works of darkness,
and dedicate ourselves to holy living, for our world belongs to God!
 
As committed disciples, called to faithful obedience, and set free for joyful praise, we offer our hearts and lives to do God’s work in his world, for our world belongs to God!
 
With tempered impatience,  eager to see injustice ended, we expect the Day of the Lord. And we are confident that the light which shines in the present darkness will fill the earth when Christ appears for our world belongs to God!
 
Prayers of intercession
 
God of light, we pray…
         … for those who are oppressed by unjust systems and rulers
         … for those who are in the depths of depression
         … for all those who feel that they are living in darkness
God of life, we pray…
         … for those who are coming to the end of their lives
         … for their loved ones, and those caring for them
         … for those who are bereaved
God of truth, we pray…
         … for those who serve in governments, both national & local
         … for those who work in, and those who control the media
         … for your church
 
In a moment of quietness we bring our own particular concerns to you.
 
And we pray for ourselves, that we may live in, and be sharers of your light, your life, your truth.
 
We bring our prayers together as we share the prayer that Jesus taught his first followers:

Our father…

Offertory
 
God is the giver of every good gift. We bring our offerings as a response to God’s generosity to us, and you are invited to dedicate your gifts alongside others who are sharing in this act of worship.
 
Generous God, we bring our offerings to you, asking that you will use both the gifts and the givers – all that we have and all that we are – to bring your life into the world. Amen
 
Hymn:      Shout for joy! The Lord has let us feast
John L. Bell (1949- )
 

Shout for joy!
The Lord has let us feast;
Heaven’s own fare
has fed the last and least;
Christ’s own peace
is shared again on earth;
God the Spirit
fills us with new worth.
 
2: No more doubting,
no more senseless dread:
God’s good self
has graced our wine and bread;
all the wonder
heaven has kept in store.
now is ours
to keep for evermore
 
3: Celebrate
with saints who dine on high,
witnesses that love
can never die.
‘Hallelujah!’ ‑
thus their voices ring:
nothing less
in gratitude we bring.
 
4: Praise the Maker,
praise the Maker’s Son,
praise the Spirit ‑
three yet ever one;
praise the God
whose food and friends avow
heaven starts here!
The kingdom beckons now!



Communion
 
Apart, and yet together, all who love Jesus are welcome to share in communion. We – with our brothers and sisters across the miles, and the centuries – are Christ’s body on earth.
 
We come because Jesus invites us. We come both to remember, and to look forward.
 
In sharing supper with his friends, the night before he died, Jesus gave us the pattern of blessing, breaking and sharing bread and wine. And so we pray…
 
God of light, through your generous creation we have grain and grapes, bread and wine. For this we give you thanks.
 
God of life, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus you offer us new life. For this we give you thanks.
 
God of truth, we ask that you will send your spirit of truth on these gifts of bread and wine, and on each of us as we offer ourselves afresh to you. AMEN
 
Together, despite being apart, we are gathered around the table.
 
Jesus blesses and offers us the bread, tells us of his body broken for us, tells us to eat and to remember him.
 
Jesus blesses and offers us the cup, the sign of the new relationship with God. Tells us to drink and to remember him.
 
So take the bread and wine, eat and drink the gifts of God. Remember with thanksgiving, look forward in faith.
 
Music for sharing…
 
As you have given yourself for us, we give our lives afresh to you. Take us, change us, use us in your service. AMEN
 
Hymn:      Praise, I will Praise You Lord
Claude Frayssé, tr. Kenneth J. Morse,
 
Praise, I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart.
O God, I will tell the wonders of your ways,
and glorify your name.
Praise, I will praise you Lord, with all my heart.
In you I will find the source of all my joy. Alleluia!
 
Love, I will love you, Lord, with all my heart.
O God, I will tell the wonders of your ways,
and glorify your name.
Love, I will love you Lord, with all my heart.
In you I will find the source of all my joy. Alleluia!
 
Serve, I will serve you, Lord, with all my heart.
O God, I will tell the wonders of your ways,
and glorify your name.
Serve, I will serve you Lord, with all my heart.
In you I will find the source of all my joy. Alleluia!
 
Blessing
 
May the God of light illumine our paths,
May the God of life give us life in all its fulness,
May the God of truth set us free
And the blessing of God,
creator, son and spirit,
be with us today, and always. Amen

Closing organ music – Wir Glauben all’ an Einen Gott (“We all believe in one God”) by Johann Sebastian Bach
 
Sources and thanks
 
Prelude in E Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
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
 
Uyai Mose – Traditional Shona song from Zimbabwe.  Sung by the Chorus Pro Musica, Alison Adam & John Bell, ℗ 2008 GIA Publications, Inc.
Christ Be Our Light © 1993, 2000, Bernadette Farrell, Published by OCP Performed by The Orchard Enterprises Choir ℗ 2012 OCP. All rights reserved.
Shout for joy! The Lord has let us feast – John L. Bell 1949 © Wild Goose Resource Worship Group sung by The Choir of St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Edmund Holt (Conductor), Heather A Rendall (Conductor / Organ)
Praise, I will Praise You Lord – Claude Frayssé, tr. Kenneth J. Morse, sung by the Anabaptist Community Choir
Music during Communion the Sanctus from Missa Luba arranged by Fr Guido Haazen, sung by Les Troubadours Du Roi Baudouin
 
Liturgy
Call to worship from Feasting on the Word
Affirmation of Faith taken from Stanzas 1 and 2 of Our World Belongs to God – a contemporary testimony of faith available in the worship edition of the Psalter Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC Publications, 1987; 1-800-333-8300; www.FaithAliveResources.org).
All other prayers by the Rev’d Clare Downing.
 
Thanks to Lorraine Webb, Christopher Whitehead, Deborah Dawes, Barbara Redmond and Ray Fraser for reading various spoken parts of the service.

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