Sunday Worship for 26th April

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 26th April, Easter 3


Today’s service comes from the Manse of the Rev’d Martin Knight, minister of St Paul’s URC in South Croydon and South Croydon United Church (Methodist/URC).

Call to worship
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!           He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
Rejoice, heavenly powers!  Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour,
radiant in the brightness of our King!
Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!

Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy, as we rise and sing,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!
Hymn       The Day of Resurrection
                St John of Damascus 675-750
                translated by  John Mason Neale 1818 -1866
The day of resurrection!
Earth, tell it out abroad;
the Passover of gladness,
the Passover of God.
From death to life eternal,
from earth unto the sky,
our Christ hath brought us over,
with hymns of victory.

2 Our hearts be pure from evil,
that we may see aright
the Lord in rays eternal
of resurrection light;
and listening to his accents,
may hear, so calm and plain,
his own “All hail!” and, hearing,
may raise the victor strain.
3 Now let the heavens be joyful!  
Let earth the song begin!
Let the round world keep triumph,
and all that is therein!
Let all things seen and unseen
their notes of gladness blend,
for Christ the Lord hath risen,
our joy that hath no end.
Prayers and the Lord’s Prayer
Loving God, in this time of prayer, we rest in your presence, giving thanks for all that speaks to us of you: for the blossoming of Spring – a sign of creation and re-creation; for the contact of friends and family – a reminder that you desire for us to relate for volunteers, health workers, actions of love – all clues that point to hope and light in the darkness.
Your love is steadfast and faithful. Your hope and belief in us give us strength. Your Kingdom inspires us to live the way of Jesus.
Living God, who moulds us and shapes us, we confess when we fail to serve your purposes. Remake us we pray.
Merciful God, you make us new and set us free, you use our dents and cracks and breaks to your glory. We are resurrection people and cannot remain the same,  therefore, we accept your forgiveness and ask that you will fill us with courage to be all that you make us in these changed and challenging times.
Our Father…
Prayer of Illumination
Holy Spirit, again and again you open the Scriptures to us, allowing us to hear your voice, bless us now as we listen for the Word read and proclaimed, that through it, our lives may be forever changed.  Amen
Acts 2: 14, 36-41 (NRSV)
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘People of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
Living God, may we make that vital connection between your word and our lives. Amen
It’s not often that ministers and anyone who preaches, gets interrupted during a sermon – at least not in the URC or other mainstream denominations.
The Church of Pentecost that normally shares our buildings at St Paul’s is a very different experience with lots of affirmations and ‘Amens’.
Whilst on placement at college with a New Testament Church of God, my sermons were openly challenged, which was terrifying and refreshing in equal measure.
Chatting away to my laptop as I record this, there is no possibility for one of you to throw rotten tomatoes or interrogate what I’m saying.
Taking a look at Acts, we can see that Peter was frequently questioned. Addressing the crowds was much more of a discussion, with individuals responding to what was said – experiencing the words – arguing – seeking the truth – deciding whether to accept what was said or not.
This makes me wonder if my preaching is any good.
Am I truly getting the message across if no one shouts out or questions me, having been so enthralled or challenged by the story of Jesus?
Is the silent shuffling and daydreaming of the listener just because we’ve been trained to behave appropriately, or am I not exciting enough, challenging enough, brave enough in my preaching of the gospel?
Surely the Gospel should elicit a response.
Surely the story is surprising enough to require questioning.
The gift of love so unfathomable, that we should cry out.
Or maybe I need to chill, because I don’t know how God works through a preacher’s words, to challenge and change us.
At the heart of today’s reading, is the truth that having heard and experienced the story of Jesus, we cannot remain the same. This is the 3rd week of Easter, and having heard and experienced the resurrection, surely, we are led to questions, to action, to a new way of understanding the world.
In vs.37 the crowd listening to Peter and the disciples (now including Matthias), ‘were cut to the heart and said to them, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’
‘Repent’ says Peter ‘and be forgiven’.
What should we do as a response to the story of resurrection;
to the stories of resurrection around us?
So often, it is the hardest experiences that prompt us to see life in a new way.
In 2015, Alan Kurdi was washed ashore in Turkey. He and his family were Syrian refugees trying to reach Europe amid the refugee crisis. His lifeless, 3 year old frame made headlines and changed those who saw the photograph. The crisis was brought home to us, allowing us to find empathy and to change.
Jade Goody’s willingness to be so public as she suffered with and ultimately died from Cervical Cancer, prompted tens of thousands of women to face the fear of a smear test.
What other life changing experiences have you known that have changed your world?
We are invited to view and experience the Easter story each year, so that we might live differently. Each year we are ourselves different and the story of life when all seems dead, speaks to us afresh, encouraging us ever closer to God’s Kingdom.
Peter is sharing this story with the crowds as an invitation to live in God’s way.
Might we view the Coronavirus Pandemic as an invitation to live differently?
Not that I believe God created it for that purpose, but that we can hear God calling to us from our human experiences, to live in a new way. To see the world afresh, to repent and change where necessary.
Photographs from space have shown pollution levels dropping during national shut-downs. Water-ways and rivers are cleaner, with fish and dolphins returning to Venice. Timely reminders of the earth’s greater beauty when we care for it.
Our distancing from each other is reminding us just how connected we are.
A tiny virus  reminding us of our human fragility.
A tiny virus prompting us to value the self-giving action of NHS staff, key workers and volunteers; those called low-skilled: the cleaners and carers.
A tiny virus helping us to see that the unchangeable global economic structures can, actually, be made more humane if there is the will to do so.
The homeless can be housed. Benefits can be increased.
Our churches have seen our buildings close and we have been forced to work in new, creative ways that we might have resisted before.
We have seen the best to emulate and the worst to repent.
Might this be a game-changer, when things cannot go back to how they were before?
When I preside at Communion, I particularly value the words from the Iona Community – ‘take us out to live as changed people, because we have shared the living bread and cannot remain the same.’
We are people who are experiencing a Pandemic, and we cannot remain the same. We are seeing with fresh eyes, the brilliance and struggle of the world, and we cannot remain the same.
The words and acts of the disciples call to us now as they did then;
Christ’s life and death and new life, interrupts all that we hold as normal, with the possibility of change.
This is good news my friends. This is hope. That God interrupts the injustice and pain of our world, with the promise of renewal. This promise, we are told, is ‘for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone the Lord calls to him.’
I pray that we may be interrupted; be confronted by the possibility of resurrection and make a decision to commit ourselves to living the way of Jesus today. Amen
Hymn         The Sorrow
                 John Bell & Graham Maule
                 © The Wild Goose Resource Worship Group
Don’t tell me of a faith that fears to face the world around.
Don’t dull my mind with fickle thoughts
of grace without a ground.
I need to know that God is real!
I need to know that Christ can feel
the need to touch and love and heal
the world, including me!

2: Don’t speak of piety and prayers divorced from human need;
don’t talk of spirit without flesh
like harvest without seed.
3: Don’t sate my soul with common sense
distilled from ages past
inept for those who fear the world’s about to breathe its last.
4: Don’t set the Cross before my eyes
unless you tell the truth
of how the Lord, who finds the lost, was often found uncouth.
5: So let the Gospel come alive in actions plain to see
in imitation of the one
whose love extends to me.

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 new possibilities, we give thanks for your constant reminder that you have a vision for our world that far exceeds our present realities. 
Faithful God, You wait and rage and heal and dance and call in our streets. Give us ears to hear.
You call us up out of our blindness, apathy and fear to keep our eyes on the life you would have us live.  We are grateful for the courage and determination you make available to us  to sustain our efforts to work for better relationships, justice and peace. 
Loving God, we pray for our world and those nations where violence and tyranny cause so much suffering…
We pray for people driven out of their homes and their homelands, who struggle to survive in refugee camps…
We pray for those who do not have enough food to sustain them or water to quench their thirst… 
We pray for those who are victims of slavery, even in this 21st century…
In the midst of this global pandemic,  we pray for all who care and clean and comfort, for those who are able to work and those still in isolation. We bring those who have lost loved ones and are trying to grieve, to your  love. We pray for the governments of the world and those who manage our economies, that they may align their priorities to your kingdom.
God who is always re-creating,  we pray that we may hear you calling to us through these times,  to embrace the good and repent all that harms and limits us.
We celebrate the victory of your kingdom. We dance with you in every sign of hatred defeated and every hope restored. In faith and trust we pray. Amen.
Worship always involves giving – of our time, our talents and also of our treasure.  In these days where we can’t get to church – indeed where some of us can’t even get out of the house – it’s important still to give.  Resolve, this week, to give something to a charity and something, as normal, to your church.  You may have already made a standing order out or you may be putting your money away in the weekly envelopes to donate when things get back to normal.  Either way, let’s pause and give thanks.
Almighty God,
who with great generosity created this world and all that is in it,
showing your love for all things;
help us also to be generous,
to show with our resources,
our love for You. Amen
Hymn       God Is Love Let Heaven Adore Him
                Timothy Rees 1874-1939
                © Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd

God is Love: let heaven adore him;
God is Love: let earth rejoice;
let creation sing before him,
and exalt him with one voice.
He who laid the earth’s foundation,
he who spread the heav’ns above,
he who breathes
through all creation,
he is love, eternal love.
2 God is Love: and he enfoldeth
all the world in one embrace;
with unfailing grasp he holdeth
every child of every race.
And when human
hearts are breaking
under sorrow’s iron rod,
all the sorrow, all the aching
wrings with pain the heart of God.

3 God is love: and though with blindness
sin afflicts the souls of all,
God’s eternal loving-kindness
holds and guides us when we fall.
Sin and death and hell shall never
o’er us final triumph gain;
God is love, so love for ever
o’er the universe must reign.
Creating God,
May we acknowledge your presence
in all human goodness we will see today.
May we hear you in all that interrupts
the normal patterns of our lives
and calls us back to you.
May we walk your way with joy
knowing that the blessing of God,
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,
goes with us. Amen.

Sources and Thanks

Call to Worship adapted from the Exultset by Andy Braunston
Prayer of Illumination and Offertory by Andy Braunston
Sermon, Intercessions and Blessing by Martin Knight
Statement of Faith from the Christian Reformed Church in North America
The Day of Resurrection sung by Gloucester Cathedral Choir
The Sorrow sung by members of the Wild Goose Worship Resource Group
God is Love recorded by BBC’s Songs of Praise
Thanks To
Members of Barrhead URC, Kathleen Haynes, Karen Smith, Walt Johnson, Jonnie Hill, and John Young for recording various aspects of the service and to Phil Nevard to mixed the recordings into one podcast.
Words of hymns, where in copyright, reproduced under the terms of the URC’s various licences.  Musical material recorded under the terms of Barrhead URC’s OneLicence.

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