Sunday Worship 7 May 2023

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 7 May 2023

Today’s service is led by the Revd Andy Braunston 

Call to Worship

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!     He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
One:         Rejoice, heavenly powers!   Sing, choirs of angels! 
Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus, our King, is risen! 
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
One:         Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness 
of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! 
Darkness vanishes for ever!
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers!  Sing, choirs of angels!
One:         Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines 
upon you! Let this place resound with joy,  as we sing,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

Hymn    This Joyful Eastertide
George Ratcliffe Woodward 1894 sung by Josh Turner on his YouTube Channel. 

This joyful Eastertide
away with sin and sorrow!
My love, the Crucified,
has sprung to life this morrow.
Had Christ, that once was slain,
not burst his three-day prison,
our faith had been in vain:
but now hath Christ arisen,
arisen, arisen; arisen!


My flesh in hope shall rest
and for a season slumber
till trump from east to west
shall wake the dead in number. 
Death’s flood has lost its chill
since Jesus crossed the river.
Lover of souls, from ill
my passing soul deliver. 


Prayers of Approach, Confession and Pardon
O Most High,
in You we take refuge, in You we find peace, in You we find security.
When our world seems complex and confusing, painful and pitiful, 
dangerous and disturbing,
we find in You comfort and strength.
Jesus, Embodied Word,
You understand the pain of this world;
through Your death you defeated the powers 
that seek to ensnare and hold us captive.
You show us how to be free, and how to use our freedom wisely.
Eternal Flame of God’s love,
You quicken our hearts, remind us of the joy that is within us,
and show us where we need to experience resurrection.
You show us where our hearts are hard,
our minds resistant to your Word,
and where our attitudes betray our calling.
Give us time, Gentle One, to change,
time to put right all that is wrong,
time to turn around again and find You running towards us,
arms outstretched, ready to hug and envelop us in love.  Amen.
Friends, here is good news,
the Most High, the Source of all mercy has,
through the death and new life of Jesus, the Enfleshed Word,
sent the Flame of Divine Love amongst us that we might be free.
Through the ministry of the Church,
may you find freedom and peace, reconciliation and renewal,
that, at the end, you may rise with Christ
and be happy with Him forever.  Amen.  
Prayer of Illumination
Fix our gaze on you, O Most High,
that we may see Your glory, in our world, in our lives 
and in Your coming Kingdom,
and as we listen to Your Word, read and proclaimed,
give us ears to hear and hearts to respond,
that we may change our world and be changed ourselves. Amen.
Reading       Acts 7:55 – 60
But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
Hymn    Psalm 31
Words and Music © 2002 Jay Wilkey sung and played by Jennifer Greene, Director of Music Ministries Newport Presbyterian Church, Belview, Washington, USA and used with their kind permission.

Make your face to shine 
upon your servant,
and in your loving-kindness 
save me.
Make your face to shine 
upon your servant,
and in your loving-kindness 
save me.
But as for me, 
I trust in you, O Lord.
I have said, “You are my God.
My times are in your hand, O God.
You deliver me.”
Spanish Version
Haz resplandecer tu rostro 
sobre tu siervo(a);
¡sálvame por tu misericordia!
Haz resplandecer tu rostro 
sobre tu siervo(a);
¡sálvame por tu misericordia!
Mas yo en ti, Jehová, confío;
digo: “¡Tú eres mi Dios.
En tu mano están mis tiempos!
Tú eres me Dios.”

Reading        1 Peter 2: 2 -10
Like new-born infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation-if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Hymn    Jesus Is Risen Alleluia
Bernard Kyamanywa translated John Bell sung by Gareth Moore of the Isle of Man Methodist Church and used with their kind permission.

Jesus is risen, alleluia!
Worship and praise him, alleluia!
Now our redeemer 
bursts from the grave;
lost to the tomb, 
Christ rises to save.
Come, let us worship him,
endlessly sing;
Christ is alive 
and death loses its sting.
Sins are forgiven, alleluia!
Jesus is risen, alleluia!
Buried for three days, 
destined for death,
now he returns 
to breathe with our breath.
Blest are the ears 
alert to his voice,
blest are the hearts 
which for him rejoice.
‘Don’t be afraid!’ 
the angel had said,
‘Why seek the living 
here with the dead?
Look, where he lay, 
his body is gone,
risen and vibrant, 
warm with the sun.’
‘Go and tell others, 
Christ is alive.’
Love is eternal, 
faith and hope thrive.
What God intended, 
Jesus fulfilled;
what God conceives 
can never be killed.
Christ has arisen! 
Now all can see
how humankind 
is meant to be free.
though powers of darkness 
threaten their worst,
through every barrier 
Jesus has burst.
Let heaven echo, let the earth sing:
Jesus is saviour of everything.
All those who trust him, Christ will receive;
therefore rejoice, obey and believe!

Preachers these days are not used to much of a reaction after we’ve finished a sermon.  We might get some positive words of encouragement, we might get some gentle critique; I had a member of my church in Barrhead judge my sermons on how near they were to 10 minutes!  Yet these polite interactions are different to the patterns we see in the Book of Acts.  In Chapter 2 Peter preached to the crowd and 3,000 converts were made.  Today, in Chapter 7, Stephen’s preaching costs him his life.  Maybe “lovely service minister” isn’t too bad considering the alternatives!
We remember Stephen as the first martyr – the first Christian killed for his faith.  The word martyr literally means “witness” so martyrs are killed as they have given witness to their faith.  Stephen bore witness to his faith – at first before the Council in the passages before this one in Acts.  He didn’t do a good job there and annoyed his hearers…telling the leaders of the people that they resisted the Holy Spirit just as their forebears had done, saying they’d always persecuted God’s prophets and telling them they’d betrayed and murdered Jesus, and finally, that they’d received God’s holy Law but had broken it.  This might be speaking truth to power, but it wasn’t witnessing, and it wasn’t wise as it ended in them stoning him.  He does, however, witness in today’s snippet from the longer passage saying that “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  To witness is to say what God is doing in our lives.  
In courts we’re used to “expert witnesses” giving evidence about what they know academically yet most other witnesses simply are called to tell the truth from their perspective.  It’s this sense in which we, as Christians, are called to witness – to tell the truth about God from our own perspective.  Rather than presenting intellectual arguments we’re called to tell what we know about Jesus.  This is what the martyrs of the early Church did.
In the year 155 Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna (an ancient Greek city in modern day Turkey) was martyred for his faith.  Converted by the apostles, ordained as a minister, he had communicated with many who had seen Jesus.  Arrested during one of the periodic persecutions officials realised this saintly old man was no danger to anyone and they tried to persuade him to renounce Jesus, burn some incense to the emperor, and recite a pagan prayer – all that was needed to show one wasn’t an antisocial Christian.  In reply Polycarp said: Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked.  After which he was burned at the stake and stabbed with a spear.  Polycarp’s witness was simple and he told them what he knew – that for 86 years he’d served his King who’d done him no wrong.  It’s simple and moving.  Like Stephen at his death he simply told folk what God had done.  
The Psalm set for today, Psalm 31, echoes that first reading with its understanding that God is our refuge.   The Psalms were, and are, the prayer book of the Jewish people and, later, the Church.  Jesus would have known the Psalms by heart; he’d have sung them at worship; on the Cross he quoted one.  I wonder if Psalm 31 gave Jesus strength at difficult points in his life; Stephen uses v5 “into your hand I commit my spirit” and makes that a prayer to Jesus.  This Psalm sustains believers in distress and offers us hope.  The Psalm oscillates between trusting praise of God and fear and scorn of enemies who flee from the Psalmist in the street, who see the writer with horror, who have forgotten the writer as if dead.  The poet both trusts in God and calls on God for vindication.  It’s as if God has taken a long time in answering the prayers and the writer is trying to stir God into action.  God has not yet rewarded the righteous or punished the wicked, God has not stirred and smitten the ungodly.  God has not repaid everyone for their deeds.  Knowing that the Sanhedrin would, like Stephen and Jesus, have known this Psalm I wonder if Stephen’s use of it was a little sharp – reminding his hearers that they would, one day, face judgement.  Another form of witness but not always a useful one!
In these joyful days of Easter we reflect on the Risen Lord and his call to us to be his witnesses.  Jesus called his first disciples, and calls us, to bear witness to what he has done for us; what he is doing in our lives.  As contemporary Christians we find this difficult; we’re in a society which is very tolerant but which gets a bit uncomfortable when religion is talked about.  Moving away from a narrow minded judgementalism of earlier generations of Christians we’re unsure what to say to someone if we feel that we want to share our faith, or if we’re asked about it.  It’s hard even though the stakes aren’t as high for us as they were for Stephen!
Our reading from 1 Peter offers us some help as we bear witness.  Here the writer offers us hope telling us that we’re like new-born babies that need pure milk and uses this image of food to give a sense of the Lord – we taste and see the Lord is good.  We most often taste and see the Lord when we share Communion together.  Here, gathered around the Lord’s table we are fed by the Lord’s own self through the simple things of bread and wine.   The writer realises the difficulty in sharing faith; for those who believe Jesus is precious, the cornerstone of our lives, for those who don’t then Jesus can be a stone that makes folk stumble, a rock that makes folk fall.   Yet the writer tells us some remarkable things to ponder in these days of Easter – once we were not a people, but now we’re the people of God.  We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – God’s own people.  And our purpose?  God has called us out of darkness into marvellous light that we may proclaim God’s mighty acts.  We’re back to bearing witness again.
Easter is a time for renewal.  In the Northern hemisphere we’re in Spring, new life abounds us.  Here in Orkney flowers have been coming out and are enjoying our long days.  Birds are rearing their young, flying and singing with joy, flowers are pollinating through the action of bees and other insects, nature sings with new life and joy.  Jesus, our King, rose from the dead giving us joy and courage to speak of his marvellous works, enabling us to bear witness.  So how might we do this?
Do our daily lives reflect the joy we feel as believers?

  • Does our daily conduct speak of love and light?
  • Are we able to tell others why we have faith if they ask?
  • Are we able to bear witness like Stephen and Polycarp of old?  To simply say why we love God?  

We don’t need to be articulate, learned, mugged up on all the current intellectual trends; instead just to be able to say what the difference that faith makes to us.  It’s different for each of us.  

  • For some it’s a sense of comfort in a complex life, 
  • for others it’s an awareness we’re not alone and we can face the hardness of life with hope, 
  • for others it’s a sense of being healed, set free from guilt, 
  • for others it’s energy to set about changing the world for the better.  

Whatever it is for you – find the strength to gently tell others, to bear witness this Eastertime and all through the year.  Let’s pray together:
Risen Lord Jesus,
You call us to tell others of Your life and love,
of the mighty works You’ve done,
and the gentle calm You offer.
Give us the faith and fortitude,
to follow Your call
and bear witness to You 
in our lives and loves.  Amen
Hymn    The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done
              Latin, 17th Century, translated by Francis Pott (1832-1909) 
Sung by the Episcopal Church Virtual Choir and Orchestra
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The strife is o’er, 
the battle done;
the victory of life is won;
the song of triumph has begun.
The powers of death 
have done their worst,
but Christ their legions 
has dispersed.
Let shouts of holy joy outburst.
The three sad days 
are quickly sped;
he rises glorious from the dead.
All glory to our risen Head.
He closed the yawning 
gates of hell;
the bars from heaven’s 
high portals fell.
Let hymns of praise 
his triumph tell. Alleluia!
Lord, by the stripes 
which wounded thee,
from death’s dread sting 
thy servants free,
that we may live 
and sing to thee. Alleluia!

Affirmation of Faith
You, Most High, offer us refuge;
You deliver us and never put us to shame.
You are, to us, a strong fortress and a secure rock.
You, Jesus, offer us security but You don’t promise safety.
To follow You is to risk all.
As the martyrs of old found, 
to bear witness to You has its dangers.
As today’s martyrs know, 
to proclaim Your marvellous deeds
disturbs the powers that seek to rule our world. 
Yet, we believe You are, to us, a strong fortress and a secure rock.
Be gracious to us, Eternal Flame of Love,
when life is hard, when enemies prowl, when people laugh at us.
Let lying lips be stilled, 
let the haughty be humbled,
and those who wait on You be delivered. For,
You are, to us, a strong fortress and a secure rock.
Eternal One,
Your glory fills the earth, and in these joyful days of Easter, 
we bring our praises and prayers to you.
We rejoice in the new life around us; 
flowers in bloom, crops growing in fields, 
lambs skipping, running and playing with in their flocks,
calves running joyfully with playmates in their herds,
birds renewing their love through song, flight, and nurture of chicks.  
Trees in leaf, reaching their branches up in praise of You.
In Jesus You have reconciled all things to Yourself,
renewed creation with Your glory,
and given us the awesome responsibility 
to live in harmony with all creation.
Help us to fulfil Your call to us.

Risen Lord Jesus, on the Cross, and in the tomb, 
You defeated the powers of death and evil,
rising to new life, vanquishing even death.
You showed that love can defeat violence,
unjust power can be usurped, and evil can be resisted.
You call us to follow You,
bearing witness to Your love and life,
telling and showing how You want us to live.
We pray today for those who lead and seek to lead our nations,
that they may resist evil,  
turn away from policies which seek to divide or promote injustice,
and which ignore the poor, the hungry, the homeless 
and the destitute at our gates.


Flame of Love, Eternal Spirit,
You are at work in creation and culture,
causing us to see the divine glory in the most unexpected places.
You call us, again and again, to turn back to You 
and away from the ways of hatred, war, and chaos that we prefer.
Bless those who work for peace this day.
Give strength to those on the move this day 
fleeing from war, poverty, famine and persecution.
Give wisdom to Your persecuted Church 
meeting in fear and secrecy this day; 
prayer groups in Iran and Saudi Arabia, 
underground congregations in China and North Korea, 
and all believers who are persecuted for declaring Your love and life.  

O Triune One, 
we pray this day for the nations which make up the United Kingdom.
Eternal God,  You order and govern our world and all that is therein, 
bless, we pray, Charles and Camilla  
as they celebrate coronation and anointment, 
that amid the pomp and ritual, 
they may feel your loving presence, 
that they may fulfil the roles prescribed for them, 
and that we may, in this kingdom, be better governed, 
and always reminded of your eternal Kingdom which is to come.  

Accept, O Three in One, all our prayers which we offer,
and, in Your time, make our world whole,  
until then, we join with Jesus as we pray: 
Our Father…
Week after week we give.  We give of our time, our talents and our treasure.  We give because it’s part of our faith.  We give to support the work of God in the Church and in the world.  Giving is one way in which we bear witness, it’s putting our money where our mouths are.  We give to charities and church, in plate and envelope, direct to the bank and in one off donations.  To be a Christian is to give; giving from our poverty and our plenty in order to work for the Kingdom’s coming.  Let’s pray:
Giver of all that is good, we return to You some of what You’ve given us.
Bless our generosity even when it’s grudgingly given,
that through our lives and gifts, Your kingdom will come. Amen
Hymn    Come Ye Faithful Raise the Strain
St John of Damascus translated by J M Neale Sung by Chris Brunelle 
and used with his kind permission.

Come, ye faithful, raise the strain
of triumphant gladness!
God has brought his Israel
into joy from sadness,
loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke
Jacob’s sons and daughters,
led them with unmoistened foot
through the Red Sea waters.
‘Tis the spring of souls today;
Christ has burst his prison,
and from three days’ sleep in death
as a sun has risen;
all the winter of our sins,
long and dark, is flying
from his light, to whom we give
laud and praise undying.


Now the queen of seasons,
bright with the day of splendour,
with the royal feast of feasts,
comes its joy to render;
comes to gladden faithful hearts
whom with true affection
welcome in unwearied strains
Jesus’ resurrection!
Holy Communion
We have shared bread and wine many times in our lives, 
in many places, for many different reasons. 
The bread that we now break and the wine that we now share, 
are a sharing in the life of Christ.
May our acceptance of it today be a sign of our faith:
•      in the ongoing goodness of a God who journeys with us
•      in the power of love to remove any barrier within or between us
•      in the mystery of the call given to each of us 
to make bread, and life, and beauty, available to all
For it is the bread of heaven, the bread of the poor and the bread of our own lives. And we pray that we may recognise You O Risen Lord Jesus:
•      every time we join someone on a journey
•      every time we share a meal
•      every time we take bread in our hands
And may this recognition of You 
call forth such joy in us that we might never lose sight of Your goodness.
We pray, Fire of Love, 
that You will come upon these gifts of bread and wine 
which Mother Earth has given and human hands have made, 
so that they might be, for us, 
the Body and Blood of Jesus, our saviour and brother:
who, before dying, took some bread,
said the blessing, broke it, gave it to the others and said,
“Take this all of you and eat it. 
This is my body which will be broken for you, 
do this and make me real in your lives.”
Later on Jesus took a cup filled with wine, 
said the blessing, gave it to the others and said: 
“Take this all of you and drink from it,
for this is the cup of my blood, 
the blood of the new and everlasting promise of God 
which shall be shed for you and for all,
do this and make me real in your lives.”
Let us allow Jesus now to become real for us as we say together the central mystery of our faith…
Christ has died!  Christ is Risen!  Christ will come again!
Eternal Majesty, 
we pray that this bread and wine will inspire such love in our hearts 
that we may continually keep alive Your memory and promise.
May this meal provoke such a longing for truth in us 
that we may never be satisfied 
until the whole Earth experiences Your justice and Your peace. Amen
So let us eat and drink as Jesus taught, 
inviting the stranger to our table, and welcoming the poor. 
May their absence here serve to remind us
of the divisions this meal seeks to heal.
May their presence here truly transform us 
into being the Body of Christ which we share.
Let us share this bread and wine as Jesus taught,
knowing that our lives are forever changed
by this and every breaking of bread and sharing of wine.
To prepare ourselves to meet the Lord in Holy Communion 
let us sing the Lamb of God.
The Lamb of God
from the Mass of Wonder by Matthew Willcott
sung by the Sunday 7pm Choir of St. Francis de Sales Church in Ajax, Ontario, Canada and used with their kind permission 

Lamb of God, You take away,
the sins of the world, 
have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away,
the sins of the world, 
have mercy on us.


Lamb of God, You take away,
the sins of the world, grant us peace.
Music for Communion     Gifts of Bread and Wine
Christine McCann © Kevin Mayhew Ltd. Sung by Emmaus Music, Woking UK, and used with their kind permission.
Post Communion Prayer
O God,
you have chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty;
shed forth continual day upon us who watch for You,
that our lips may praise You, our lives may bless You,
and our meditations glorify You, now and forever, Amen
Hymn    They Crucified My Saviour and Nailed Him to the Cross
African-American Spiritual © 1989 United Methodist Publishing.  Sung by the choir of St Matthew’s Church of South India, Porur

They Crucified my Saviour
and nailed Him to the Cross. (x3)
and the Lord will bear 
my spirit home
And Joseph begged His body
and laid it in the tomb…
and the Lord will bear 
my spirit home
Sister Mary she came running
a-looking for my Lord…
and the Lord will bear 
my spirit home
An Angel came from heaven
and rolled the stone away…
and the Lord will bear 
my spirit home

He rose He rose He rose from the dead…
and the Lord shall bear my spirit home

May God, Eternal Majesty, 
give You joy and hope in these Eastertide days.
May God, Enfleshed Word, 
give You grace to bear witness to light and love 
which vanquishes evil.
May God, Flame of Love, 
inspire You to follow despite all the difficulties which get in the way.
And may the blessing of Almighty God, 
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
be with you all, 
those you love 
and those you struggle to love, 
now and always. 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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