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Sunday Worship 30 July 2023

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 30 July 2023

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Adam Earle

 
Welcome and Call to Worship

Greetings, friends, from East Anglia in the glorious country of Suffolk and welcome to worship today.  My name is Adam Earle, one of two ministers who, in partnership, serve the Ipswich and East Pastorate.  We’ve got five churches; two churches in Ipswich that’s St John’s and Castle Hill then churches in Felixstowe, Leiston and Saxmundham.  They are a delightful mix of rural, suburban and urban.  And although each church maintains its own character and Councils we seek to support each other to help each church flourish and grow the Kingdom of God.  

Come and give praise to the Almighty God, proclaim God’s holy name, let the nations know of all that God has done. Sing out, sing praise, tell of God’s wonderful acts.  Let your heart rejoice in God; give glory to the Holy one.  Seek and find strength in God’s presence.

Hymn      At the Name of Jesus
Caroline Maria Noel (1817-1877) BBC Songs of Praise

At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him King of glory now;
this the Father’s pleasure, that we call him Lord,
who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

Humbled for a season, to receive a name
from the lips of sinners unto whom he came;
faithfully he bore it spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious when from death he passed.

Christians, this Lord Jesus shall return again,
with his Father’s glory, with his angel train;
for all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him King of Glory now.

Prayer of Approach

Welcoming God, you have sought us and we draw near, you have called us and we wait here in your presence.   What would we be without you?  What would we do without you?  

Through Christ you have pursued us with grace, forgiven us with mercy and embraced with love.  In Christ, you have poured out your all to bring us, all people and all creation back into right relationship, even submitting to suffering and death so that we may know healing and life.  In Christ you lead us through death to life and promise us life in all its fullness, undeserved and beyond our imaginings.  

We come with awe and wonder at the extent of your love, broader, higher and deeper than we are able to perceive, and we give you thanks and praise.  Receive our worship, hear our prayers as incense before your throne and enable us to submit to you will and way.  Prepare us for the coming days as we grow in you, transformed by your Spirit and challenged by you calling.

Confession

Our God is ever present to us and yet we are not always present to God, our attention is diverted, our will and actions pursuing our own will and not the way of God.  Let us, in this moment, confess our sins and empty our hands of the things that are a barrier to our service of God that we might be free to receive and to serve whole heartedly.  Let us keep silence as we call to mind the things we have done wrong, and the good that we have failed to do.

Silence is kept.

Sovereign God, ruler of our hearts and lives, 
we have sought to life for ourselves and ignored your will and purposes.

Lord, have mercy,  Lord, have mercy.

Loving God, giver of life and grace,
we have sought our own good and ignored the cries of others.

Christ, have mercy, Christ, have mercy.

Uniting God, who draws all things together in Christ,
we have sought to maintain division and ignored the challenges of unity.

Lord, have mercy, Lord, have mercy.

Gracious God, hear our cry for forgiveness, set us free to live life in its fulness in right relationship with you and one another, through Christ we pray.

Assurance of Pardon 

The LORD is merciful!  He is kind and patient, and his love never fails.  The LORD won’t always be angry and point out our sins; he does not punish us as our sins deserve.

How great is God’s love for all who worship him?  Greater than the distance between heaven and earth! How far has the LORD taken our sins from us?  Farther than the distance from east to west!  

Friends, in Christ our sins are forgiven, we are set free! Thanks be to God.

The Lord’s Prayer

With joy in God’s grace and hearts filled with gratitude, let us say together the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples, remembering we are his disciples today:  

Our Father…

Hymn      There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
Fr Frederick Faber, BBC Songs of Praise

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in His justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in Heaven;
there is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify His strictness
with a zeal He will not own.

There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.
There is grace enough for thousands
of new worlds as great as this;
there is room for fresh creations
in that upper home of bliss.

If our love were but more simple,
we should take Him at His word;
and our lives would be all gladness
in the joy of Christ our Lord.

 


Prayer for Illumination

God of truth, 
by the light and transforming power of your Holy Spirit, 
open our ears to hear, 
our minds to understand 
and our hearts to embrace your Word for us today 
that through Scripture shared 
and through weak human words 
we may behold your true and living Word, 
Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Reading      St Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52 

Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;  it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’ He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’  ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.   ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;  on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.  ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;  when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.  So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’  And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’

Sermon 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a king or queen, a ruler or monarch?  Have you ever pondered the question that was posed by Mr Pickwick in the 1960s musical Pickwick, “If I ruled the world…”  Imagine the possibilities and the opportunities.  Imagine too the responsibilities and weight of authority.  I’m not sure that the plusses outweigh the minuses.

It’s only a few weeks ago that we shared in the splendid, albeit somewhat pared down when compared to his mother’s, coronation of King Charles.  It was an occasion filled with plenty of pomp and ceremony and the treasures of the nation were on display, not least the crown placed on the King’s head as the sign of his rule and authority.  The idea of a king or queen is one with which we are fairly familiar although our monarchs have little power, this has not always been the case.  

In scripture we see rulers exercise greater or absolute authority over their kingdoms often at the expense of their people.  There’s the rule of the Pharoah’s in Egypt or Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.  Even the kings of Israel were a mixed bunch, many turning away from God and even the good ones messing up big time on occasions.

Throughout scripture we see time and again that ultimate sovereignty and power, the ultimate rule rest with God.  In Psalm 99 we read, “The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble!  He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!”  In the Gospel according to John, arrested and standing trial before Pilate Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.”

Many of our hymns and worship songs take up this theme of the authority and sovereignty of God.  And we see God’s sovereignty exercised, through Christ, in a very different way to that of some of the other less than satisfactory examples of monarchs in scripture.  We call Jesus the Servant King, his ministry and service were quite the opposite of what the world may have been expecting, revealing the wonder and unexpected nature of God’s grace in action.

A king, or queen, rules over a kingdom.  It’s this that Jesus focusses open in the parables shared today.  What is God’s kingdom like?  We begin with a parable of growth – the oh so familiar mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds, sprouting forth and growing, ever larger until its branches are able to accommodate any number of birds of any number of varieties.

It is a beautiful illustration and one by which we can be greatly encouraged.  Something small extends into a wide and welcoming community that embraces all people.  The kingdom is big enough and broad enough to include all, without exception. 

It’s interesting though that in this parable the birds are seen as welcome, they are, as it were, embraced in all their rich variety, by the branches of the tree, the kingdom spread out in all directions.  Just a few verses before birds appear in a very different light in the Parable of the Sower; snatching away the truth before it has a chance to settle and establish in the hearts of those who receive it.  

Birds can be problematic.  The people of God’s kingdom can be problematic.  The bigger things are, the larger the branches, the greater the problem can be.  We are often not as welcoming and inclusive as God would have us be.  We’re okay, we’re comfortable with birds of our feather, although we can even bicker with them, but when the inclusion of someone challenges our place on the perch, we can be quite exclusive.

I don’t know if you are someone who like to feed the birds.  It can be very entertaining and we especially delight in the little birds, the bluetits, the finches, the wren or even those singular beauties such as the blackbird or thrush.  But when a whopping great pigeon, a seagull or the ravenous hoard of starling crash into the scene we are less that content.  Birds can teach us a lot, often as an example of what not to do!  God’s kingdom is a place that can extend to accommodate the full diversity of humanity.  God’s kingdom is to grow and expand, also revealed in the parable of the yeast and it’s our calling to work with God in this challenging task.

The next two parables point us to a different kingdom theme, the hidden treasure and the perfect pearl.  In both cases it is clear that what is on offer is of tremendous value, priceless we might say.  We also recognise that what might be seen as just a field or just another pearl are recognised by the finders as something far more significant.  

Of course, the question of value is highly dependent on your perception and definition.  In 2015 a ship wreck, the San José, which had lain at the bottom of the see in the Caribbean for over 300 years, was discovered.  On board were gold coins valued at over £17 billion at today’s rates.  The largest and most valuable pearl was discovered by a Filipino fisherman whilst fishing off Palawan Island.  At over two feet long and a foot wide, weighing 75 pounds, the 170,000-carat pearl was valued, in 2003 at over £74million.  These are both eyewatering, inconceivable sums that we would never afford and yet these things, in the light of eternity, are worth nothing.  They will not last and, as we say, you can’t take them with you even if you could afford them in the first place.

The Kingdom of God is of greater value that anything that this world and this part of life’s journey has to offer.  It will not wear out or reach a conclusion, it begins now and leads us on into eternity.  It is worth investing in.  

The fact is that you and I would never be able to afford to pay the price of admission to God’s kingdom but the joy is that, by God’s gift of grace we don’t have to.  We can obtain this priceless treasure without charge, freely given through Christ.  The challenge is that when we submit our lives to God’s rule, when we embrace this wonderous, priceless gift of God’s kingdom, we give our all.  Both the purchaser of the field and of the fine pearl give all they have to invest in the kingdom.  C.S. Lewis, in his book “Mere Christianity”, presents us with these words which he perceives from the mouth of our Saviour, “Give me All.  I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work:  I want You.” And in response to this total surrendering of self he hears Christ’s offer.  “I will give you a new self instead.  In fact, I will give you Myself: my own shall become yours.”  

I often suffer from earworms, more formerly known as stuck song syndrome, when a catchy or irritatingly memorable piece of music continuously occupies your mind.  Here’s a classic, “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men…”  Sorry if you’re stuck with that now but it brings us to the final parable in the set we have drawn on today.  Jesus, perhaps not surprisingly given the former occupation of a significant number of his followers, uses a fishing reference.  The kingdom like fish caught up in a net.  It’s a missionary analogy that we can grasp, seeing our outreach as the casting of the net and drawing others in.

The sting in the tale is how Jesus concludes:  when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. The challenge is made all the more stark when Jesus speaks of judgement and fiery destruction. It’s not a comforting thought, we love the idea of the all-inclusive, embracing net, we are not so comfortable with the idea that some may not be included when that judgement moment comes.

Of course, through its history the Kingdom of God as far as we see it reflected in the Church, has welcomed and encompassed some who, despite the nurture, love and opportunity shared will not receive what Christ offers, exercising that freedom of choice which we are all given.  But notice friends who is doing the sorting? Who is the judge in the parable, it not the other fish in the net making the judgement of who’s in or who’s out, it the angels, those ordained by God to fulfil that function in that moment.

God is the judge and will ultimately ensure all injustice is attended to.  It is not our place to fulfil that role, ours is to welcome and embrace, sharing God’s love and grace.  If anything, the warning of these verses should be seen as a threat to those who may not, as yet, have embraced God’s wondrous gift but serve as an incentive to all God’s people to invest in the kingdom, to sow the Gospel seed through words and actions and see God’s Kingdom grow even in our little corners of the vineyard. Amen.

Hymn      Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God
Karen Lafferty © 1972, Maranatha! Music (admin by Capital CMG Publishing)  Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir accompanied by Andrew Ellams.
Produced by the Rev’d Andrew Emison

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness;
And all these things shall be added unto you.
Hallelu, Hallelujah!

Ask, and it shall be given unto you;
Seek, and you shall find.
Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
Hallelu, Hallelujah!

We shall not live by bread alone, 
But by every word
That proceeds out from the mouth of God.
Hallelu, Hallelujah!

Offertory

In light of the grace and generosity of our God we recognise that we could never repay what he has done for us and given to us, yet we our gifts as a symbol of our gratitude, to invest in the kingdom.  Freely you have received, freely give.

Blessed are you Lord God 
our all-powerful King, 
through your goodness and that alone 
we have these gifts to offer 
and with then our lives.  
Take both and use all to your glory 
and for the purposes of your glorious kingdom, 
through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence in the love of God who, through Christ, invites us to be part of the Kingdom and to share in its purposes.  We bring our prayers.

God of life and love, we thank you that you give us the privilege of prayer as a means of sharing in the kingdom purposes.  Help us and all your people to recognise both the wonder and the responsibility of your calling and join with you, in whatever way you lead us, in spreading your Gospel and living out our faith in you.

Sovereign God,  we bow before your throne.

We pray for the people of this world in their rich diversity, teach us to see difference and variety not as something to be viewed with suspicion or fear but to celebrate that all people are expressions of your creativity, made in your image.  Remind us that we will never look into the eyes of another person who is not loved completely by you.  May we welcome the stranger, make room for and seek to adapt to include the unfamiliar and share you love with all.
    
Sovereign God, we bow before your throne.

God of peace, we bring before you those places in our world where there is no peace, where conflict rages on, where lives are shattered by war and people driven from their homes.  Give courage to all who work for peace and hope to those who face the terrifying reality of the moment that they may know your love and hold tight to your promises.  Show us how we can offer help and support and speak truth to power in the face of injustice.

Sovereign God, we bow before your throne.

We pray for those whose lives are consumed by poverty, the hardship of natural disaster or the consequences of climate change beyond their fault and control.  May those who lead the nations exercise power in light of your sovereign rule, guided by your example of grace and love, to make wise decisions for the good of all.  Teach us to play our part in supporting those who face such life limiting situations through prayer and action as you enable us.

Sovereign God, we bow before your throne.

King of kings, we pray for our nation as many folk struggle with the cost of living crisis, with the fear of not knowing what tomorrow will bring.  We pray for our government that they too may be guided by your wisdom and compassion.  May we do all we can to live out your kingdom values as we serve those around us and put our faith into action.

Sovereign God, we bow before your throne.

God our healer, we bring to you all those who are suffering from sickness of body, mind or spirit, those in pain and those weakened by the struggle.  Give clarity, wisdom and strength to all who work to care for and provide medical support for others that they may also be embraced by your love and care.

Sovereign God, we bow before your throne.

God of life and hope we hold before you those who are nearing the end of this earthly life that they may look ahead with confidence in your saving grace and rest into the joy of your promises of the kingdom to come.  Be with those who mourn and enable them to find comfort in your presence and the hope you have given in Christ.

Sovereign God, we bow before your throne.

Our sovereign God knows the cry of our hearts, let us then, in a moment of silence, offer in prayer those things that rest on our hearts today…

Silence is kept.

Sovereign God, we bow before your throne.

Merciful God we bring our prayers in faith, knowing that you will hear and answer us as your will directs.  Help us to trust that you know what is right and what is best.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ your Son, our Saviour.  Amen.

Hymn      Be Thou My Vision
Irish Traditional performed by Celtic Worship  http://celticworship.co.uk

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart.
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night;
waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word.
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father, and I Thy true child;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one

Be Thou my battle Shield, sword for the fight.
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight.
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower.
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power

Riches I heed not, nor vain empty praise.
Thou mine inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart.
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art

High King of Heaven, my victory won
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all

Blessing

Let us live in the light of God’s sovereignty, 
proclaiming the Good News 
through word and deed 
and working with God 
to see the bounds of the Kingdom grow. 
And the blessing of God almighty, 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit 
be upon us and all for whom we pray, 
both now and for ever.  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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