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Sunday Worship 22 January 2023

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 22 January 2023 

 
Today’s service is led by The Revd Matthew Prevett 
 
Call to Worship
 

People who walk in darkness, 
   come now to follow the great light of Christ.
People oppressed by the yoke of the world,
   come now to follow the liberation of Christ.
People walking the journey of faith, 
   come now to follow in the life of Christ. 
 
Hymn    The Kingdom of God is justice and joy  
Bryn Rees (1973)  © 1973, Alexander Scott (reproduced with his kind permission) Sung by the Rev’d Paul Robinson
 

The kingdom of God is justice and joy;
for Jesus restores what sin would destroy.
God’s power and glory in Jesus we know;
and here and hereafter the kingdom shall grow.
 
The kingdom of God is mercy and grace;
the captives are freed, the sinners find place,
the outcast are welcomed God’s banquet to share;
and hope is awakened in place of despair.
 
The kingdom of God is challenge and choice:
believe the good news, repent and rejoice!
God’s love for us sinners brought Christ to his cross:
our crisis of judgement for gain or for loss.
 
God’s kingdom is come, the gift and the goal;
in Jesus begun, in heaven made whole.
The heirs of the kingdom shall answer his call;
and all things cry “Glory!” to God all in all.

 

Prayers of Approach 
 
God who calls, we open our hearts to hear your Word today. 
We have left many jobs behind, 
   unfinished reading or writing, 
   incomplete tasks in the kitchen or garden, 
and have followed into your presence. 
In this time with you,  we gather to hear your Word, 
   to be inspired by your gospel
   and to be challenged by your Call
as we come in adoration and praise. Amen
 
A Prayer of Inspiration
 
In our darkness, you show us light. 
In our daily lives, you call our names.
In our community, you show us love. 
May we know your light and love 
as you speak to us now through your Word. Amen.
 
Reading       St Matthew 4.12-23
 
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,  so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
 
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.’
 
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
 
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
 
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
 
Hymn    Called by Christ to be disciples
Martin Leckebusch (b1962) © 1999 Kevin Mayhew Ltd
BBC Songs of Praise
 

Called by Christ to be disciples every day in every place,
we are not to hide as hermits but to spread the way of grace;
citizens of heaven’s kingdom, though this world is where we live,
as we serve a faithful Master, faithful service may we give.
 
Richly varied are our pathways, many callings we pursue
may we use our gifts and talents always, Lord, to honour you;
so in government or commerce, college, hospice, farm or home,
whether volunteers or earning, may we see your kingdom come.

 

Hard decisions may confront us, urging us to compromise;
still obedience is our watchword –  make us strong and make us wise!
Secular is turned to sacred, made a precious offering,
as our daily lives are fashioned in submission to our King.
 
Sermon 
 
Let us pray:  God who brought light into darkness, open our hearts to your Word, bringing light to our path and illuminating your gospel this day. Amen.
 
In today’s readings we are faced with the bold, bright, brash form of calling – those situations where a name is called out or a bright light shines. We can have no doubt that God’s Gospel today is that of being called away from the ordinary and into the extraordinary. The bright light that shines in the darkness illuminates the way and is abundantly clear of a direction to go. It is, perhaps, these messages of call that categorically encapsulate what it means to be a follower; to be one who is called by name and shown the great light that will lighten the way. 
 
That all sounds wonderfully simple. We could sit and reflect on where that call is for us and how the great light illuminates the darkness around us, leading us unobtrusively to become examples of perfect followers unhindered by the trappings of modern life. 
 
I suspect, though, this calling-out that forms the central part of Matthew’s gospel reading today seems more than a bit distant to most of us. It tells of uninhibited freedom to walk away from the practicalities of life. It speaks of the simplicity of being called by name. It holds to an urgency that leaves nets untended, littering the shore with the tools of work and leaving a lifelong living on a whim. 
 
Much can be said of this simple calling – the simplicity of The Call and the devotion of The Called. The assuredness of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John gives a template to follow, and John’s arrest highlights the costs. Yet this approach must surely seem alien to us in our practical experience of our contemporary life – whether that be among the busyness of modern living or in the slowing down of older age. The message must still speak, and speak universally, irrespective of the simple message that greets us. This is manifest in two ways. 
 
The first is about an opportunity to hear or, more appropriately, to know. Around the globe are found restaurants plunged into darkness, served by sightless staff. With the hinderance of visual stimulation removed a focused tasting experience is produced, drawing on other senses to shape the experience.
 
The modern world is loud – both audibly and visibly. We are bombarded by messages, signs and symbols constantly. We live in a time of sensory overload, where little now shocks. Thousands crossing the sea in dinghies to make a new home. Record costs for fuel and higher costs of government support. Eyewatering rates of inflation. A war in Europe. Everything seems to be bigger, louder, more extensive than it was – and yet it all appears as added noise in an already noisy world. 
 
Maybe a bold invitation to follow is what we need? But maybe even that’s hard to spot from the advertising messages and the sensory overload that faces us? Does the message have a chance to stand out from everything else going on in our busy lives, or maybe we will need to find a way to free up our senses and tune in so we can hear the calling. For some that may be prayer and reflection – for others it may be in engaging more fully in living and working in the world with the hope of encountering the one who calls. Who knows what we may each get to know of the call, but the opportunity to know or hear is what must be universally sought. 
 
The second way this message must speak is for an opportunity to act. Even if the call is heard, being able to respond and to do so appropriately is significant. There are many practical factors affecting ability to respond: health or age; wealth or employment; family or friends; learning, upbringing or stigma. Opportunity to respond is affected by all manner of factors, many which generate a tension between the visceral and the external, between compulsion and practicalities. It is not always or especially practical to leave our nets and head into the unknown. 
In a globalised age, the prospect of moving countries for work or family seems much more practical than in previous times. The Pandemic made people reconsider their priorities and many have opted to make dramatic changes to their working life. Capacity to be self-sufficient and active in older age has led to active retirement not seen in previous generations. Yet others continue to be constrained with little sign of opportunity: costs of living making every working hour crucial; family or caring commitments filing non-working hours; background, education, and culture impacting what opportunity could ever be realised. 
 
Maybe our inner tension doesn’t need to be between lifechanging action or passive inaction, but rather the whole-life commitment to a real-life call? Jesus called real people – working men with jobs and families – and called them to follow, which they did with immediate and full commitment. Maybe our own real-life response needs to be grounded in our own full commitment demonstrated and illustrated in the opportunities we can find in our own real-life situations. Maybe our opportunity to act isn’t in the grand, public gestures, broadcast in public confessions or affirmations, but in the actions we take each day to live out the committed life of followers. This is echoed in the First Letter to the Corinthians where we’re told that Christ did not send out to baptize, but to proclaim the good news (1 Cor 1.17). 
 
The light that shines in the darkness of the world is the acts of the people of God. As followers it is the way in which we are called and follow, how we face the challenges and the difficulties, and how we live out our diversity in ever-complex communities with ever-changing priorities – called to live out freedom and liberation to the oppressed, the weakest and most disadvantaged in our communities, and those who are weighed down by the oppression of the world. Following means understanding a purpose and bringing joy to a world that desperately needs it.
We are not called to be noise in an already noisy world – but to know for ourselves that commitment to which we are called, and the opportunity to proclaim in word and deed the good news – the message of the Cross – the power of God in the world. 
Amen

Prayer of Confession
 
God of opportunity, 
in the darkness of the world, we do not always shine your light. 
We fail to live your gospel boldly, 
with the full commitment you ask of us. 
We do not always speak out for the oppressed and weak, 
and we do not live your joy and liberation in the world. 
In response to your Word, and in silence, 
help us recognise the opportunities we have to better respond to you, 
as the followers you call us to be. 
 
A Declaration of Forgiveness
 
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 

1 Cor 1.18

Thanks be to God. Amen.
 
Hymn    Community of Christ
CCLI Licence No. 1064776 © 1992 Murray, Shirley Erena (Admin. by Hope Publishing Company) Sung by the North Yarmouth Congregational Church and used with their kind permission.
 

Community of Christ
who make the Cross your own
live out your creed 
and risk your life
for God alone.
The God who wears your face
to whom all worlds belong,
whose children are of every race
and every song.
 
Community of Christ
look past the Church’s door
and see the refugee the hungry
and the poor.
Take hands with the oppressed,
the jobless in your street.
Take towel &  water that you wash
your neighbour’s feet
 
 Community of Christ
through whom the word 
must sound.
Cry out for justice and for peace
the whole world round!
Disarm the powers that war
and all that can destroy.
Turn bombs to bread 
and tears of anguish into joy.

When menace melts away
so shall God’s will be done.
The climate of the world be peace
and Christ its sun.
Our currency be love
and kindliness our law.
Our food and faith 
be shared as one for evermore. 

 
Prayers of Concern 
 
As we bring our prayers of concern for all peoples, nations and languages, let us pray:
 
In a land of deep darkness: may your light shine
 
We pray for all peoples of the world: 
for those like us and known to us
and those who are unknown to us or from different backgrounds. 
Your world is a diverse and exciting place, 
full of cultures and peoples with some many backgrounds and traditions, 
a kaleidoscope of people with whom we share much or little. 
Yet we are called to love and share together in your kingdom. 
We pray for those peoples who are treated as outsiders, 
refugees and asylum seekers, who come looking for love. 
We continue to pray not for uniformity but unity in our communities, 
where people can know love irrespective of race, gender, sexuality and sexual identity, age, disability, religion or belief. 

We pray that those who fail to show love by attacking and abusing others
because of their difference, may transform into people of love, 
and know the kingdom God is calling us into. 
In a land of deep darkness: may your light shine
 
We pray for all nations of the world: 
for those in our closest relationships and those furthest away. 
In a global society, we are interlinked across the world
with governments making decisions that affect all nations. 
We pray for those in leadership of all types. 
We pray for those who lead Churches and faith groups, 
those who work together for unity in a world of disunity, 
and all those who reach across denominational divides 
to speak, share and shape the gospel in the world. 
 
In a land of deep darkness: may your light shine
 
We pray for those who feel lonely in a world of communication. 
We keep in mind those who have been cut out of communities or families, those who will spend tonight on the streets, and those who are unable to talk about their mental, physical or spiritual concerns.
We pray for all who reach out in love, as families and friends, 
and all those who work in wellbeing and support services, 
for the love, dedication and words they use to break down barriers. 
 
In a moment of quiet, we remember all those known to us whose concerns rest heavy on our hearts today

Silence 
 
In a land of deep darkness: may your light shine
 
Ancient One, 
as we pray for the coming of an everlasting kingdom of love, 
we ask for your strength and support in our own lives. 
Help us know of your true love for ourselves,
and the truth to which we are called. 
May we be inspired by the love of your Call
and be your hands and your feet in the world. 
For the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are yours, 
for ever and ever. Amen. 
 
The Offertory 
 
As we seek to bring about the kingdom 
through the love that makes all things new, 
we dedicate ourselves and our resources to the one who Calls: 
 
As we gather together the opportunities you give us, 
bless them and us, that we may respond to your call
and may bring joy and liberation to your world. 
 
We join together now in the prayer Jesus taught us, using the words or language that is most familiar to us:  
 
Our Father…  
 
Hymn    O Jesus I have Promised
John Ernest Bode (1869) Public Domain sung by a virtual Choir 
featuring choristers from Sierra Leone and the UK
 

O Jesus, I have promised To serve thee to the end;
Lord be forever near me, My Master and my friend;
I shall not fear the battle If you are by my side,
nor wander from the pathway If you will be my guide.
 
O let me feel you near me! the world is ever near:
I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear.
My foes are ever near me, around me and within;
But, Jesus, draw thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin.



O let me hear you speaking in accents clear and still,
above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will.
O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen, O guardian of my soul.
 
O Jesus, you have promised, To all who follow you
That where you are in glory, There shall your servant be.
And, Jesus, I have promised To serve you to the end;
O give me grace to follow, My Master and my friend.
 
Blessing
 
In a world of noise, may we hear our name called. 
In a world of light, may we see the way we are called to follow. 
In a world of opportunity to respond, 
may we be compelled to share the good news of the Cross. 
And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 
be with you, and all those for whom we have prayed, 
this day, and forevermore. Amen. 
 
This material is only for use in local churches not for posting to websites or any other use.  Local churches must have copyright licences to allow the printing and projection of words for hymns.

 

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