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Sunday Worship for 28th February 2021 – The Revd. Jenny Mills

United Reformed Church Daily Devotions Sunday Worship

28th February 2021

The Second Sunday in Lent
The Rev’d Jenny Mills – Secretary for Education and Learning

 
Introduction
 
Hello- Welcome to worship today, Sunday 28th February.  I am Jenny Mills, I am a Minister of Word and Sacraments currently serving as Secretary for Education and Learning for the United Reformed Church. I began in the role between lockdown 1.0 and 2.0 in October 2020.
 
I am recording this from Newport Pagnell, famous for its service station, and also for being a place where there was a dissenting academy to train ministers in the 1800s. This academy became part of Cheshunt college, which in turn became part of Westminster College, Cambridge. A noble claim to fame!
 
As I record this, I have family on Zoom calls and hope you do not hear them in the background- such is the joy of online meetings and gatherings in a family home!
Come, let us worship God
 
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       God of grace and God of Glory
H E Fosdick 1878-1969
 
God of grace and God of glory
on you people pour Your power.
Crown Your ancient Church’s story
bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
for the facing of this hour,
for the facing of this hour.
 
2: Lo!  The hosts of evil ‘round us
scorn our Christ, assail His ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.
 
3: Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore;
let the gift of thy salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving You whom we adore,
serving You whom we adore.
 
4: God of grace and God of glory
on your people pour Your power.
Crown your ancient Church’s story
bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour,
for the facing of this hour. 
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Assurance of Forgiveness:
 
God of grace and God of glory.
You are the divine, the almighty, the Lord of all.
You created and love all that is.
You created and love us all,
just as we are, without exception.
Not because we deserve your love,
not because of what we have done.
but because you are God.
You know us,
know the things we like and value about ourselves,
the things we struggle with and dislike.
You know the ways we behave,
our thoughts, words and actions.
And still you love us, unconditionally.
Gracious God,
may we truly absorb, believe and appreciate this,
worship and praise you,
and seek to live our lives for you,
through the power of your Holy Spirit
and following Jesus’ example.
 
And yet, despite all we can profess to understand and all we commit to do, we fail to truly live as people who are blessed by your love.
We limit you.
We box you in.
We make up rules and processes that keep you away from others.
We live in ways that directly contradict your ways revealed through Jesus.
We falsely convince ourselves that you have favourites and like some people more than others.
We elevate ourselves to the ‘good’ pedestal whilst knocking others down, judging them and finding them wanting and then make excuses and justifications for our words and actions. 
We look at ourselves through rose coloured spectacles and look at others from positions of power and arrogance and pride.
We think of ourselves more than others and live with unchallenged prejudices and hate.
We are guilty of failing to act to bring justice and peace,
we are guilty as individuals and as members of humanity.
So often we do not even do it consciously.
So often we do not even know we are doing it.
So often we do not even see what we are doing.
And yet we fall short.
 
Help us to take steps closer to you,
to be a truer reflection of Christ in how we live in this world.
Help us Lord to stop and reflect:
on our words and actions, our attitudes and ways.
Reveal again to us your compassion, your justice, your will and way.
Help us turn from the self-absorbed and insular, to focus on the wider world and on others.
May we be seen as light and love, not judgment and condemnation.
 
Gracious God, forgive us our sins and help us turn again to you
knowing we are loved and forgiven.
Jesus said: ‘Come to me all you who are heavy-laden and I will give you rest’.
We come,
we bring our burdens,
lay them down
and seek that rest.
Let us then help others, forgive others, love others,
and forgive ourselves,
in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Loving God,
open our eyes, hearts and minds to your joy, light and love
as we listen for your Word brought to us in these words.
May we respond to your call
and step out in your name,
living out the love we have heard and reflected on.
Amen.
 
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
 
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
 
God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’

Romans 4: 13-25

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’, according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’  Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
 
Hymn       To Abraham and Sarah
Judith Fetter, 1984
 
To Abraham and Sarah
the call of God was clear:
“Go forth and I will show you
a country rich and fair.
You need not fear the journey,
for I have pledged my word
that you shall be my people
and I will be your God.
 
2:  From Abraham and Sarah
arose a pilgrim race,
dependent for their journey
on God’s abundant grace;
and in their heart was written
by God this saving word:
that “You shall be my people
and I will be your God.”
 
3: We of this generation
on whom God’s h and is laid,
can journey to the future
secure and unafraid,
rejoicing in God’s goodness
and trusting in this word;
that “You shall be my people
and I will be your God.”

Sermon
 
What words stood out for you in today’s readings? What images? What did you hear that made you think? The wonder of the Bible is that, even if we have heard the same reading many times, each time we hear it we hear something different, something new. And while it is helpful to have people to offer reflections and words on the Lectionary readings, we must never forget that God gave us all the ability to hear, discern and respond to the words of Scripture ourselves.
 
For me, the words ‘promise’, ‘faith’ and ‘faithful’ stood out. Abraham was encouraged to be faithful and through his faithfulness and the faithfulness of his descendants, we have the encouragement that through faith we, too, are part of God’s promise.
 
Abram was old, very old. He had had experienced God’s word to him on many occasions and had lived according to God’s will and yet in this reading, we hear, God appeared to Abram and did something new, massive, life changing, transformational and enduring. God chose him and made a covenant with him, a lasting covenant, an everlasting covenant that still has ramifications today. God’s promise to one man and one woman grew and grew and became possibility, opportunity and blessing for many. And because of that covenant, we are here, listening, reading and reflecting on God’s Word still today.
 
God did not put any limitations on what was going to happen. God didn’t choose the strongest or the best, God didn’t choose the likeliest candidate: God chose an old man. We don’t have to look far to see that this was, and is, God’s way. God still chooses those whom society may consider the unlikely, the least and the lost.
 
God chose Abram, then God renamed him. God acknowledged who Abram was and, to signify the new beginning, changed his name. He was known and he was named and Sarah too. Powerful stuff. How do we experience the story of Abraham, the father of our faith? We revere, we hold him up as an example of solid faith. In Romans we heard that Abraham did not weaken in faith, that he did not distrust and that he hoped against hope. And yet in the next verse in our reading, verse 17 in Genesis 17, Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself: ‘can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?’ What we see here is a fallible human being. A man who was open to question, to challenge, to feel uncertain.
 
God’s promise to Abraham seems impossible. And yet what did he have to do? Walk before God and be blameless! Not a great ask, some may say- but we already know Abraham and how his treatment of Hagar, his wife’s slave girl, was awful and so God’s word was a challenge to him. God also made it clear that the covenant was something that was two-sided: Abraham and the people of Israel had to keep their side of the bargain by practising circumcision. And this was a massive issue for the post-exilic people of God and went on into the Epistles in the New Testament, where we hear of the struggles of the people of God who believed they were being unfaithful if they did not demand circumcision of all. The added complexity of covenant related to circumcision and then the idea of the land as perpetual holding brings us into increasingly difficult territory. This is what the Bible does- it challenges us! It is not an easy read! My offering here is that we cannot use the Bible as an instruction manual but are to read it as a narrative of God’s relationship with humankind and the growing understanding and revelation of that relationship. The risk we run if we do not see it as a collection of books written by ordinary people is that we allow it, not to challenge and change us, but to perpetuate and excuse poor behaviour and we do so in God’s name. We can look at history and see how things that were widely accepted in society, and were condoned and supported using biblical texts, are no longer considered appropriate: slavery, the vilification of unmarried mothers, the refutation of divorce, the condemnation of same gender relationships or the prejudice towards different races and the acceptance of white supremacy. Condemnation, criticism, triumphalistic narratives of hate or hurt have no place in God’s kingdom.
 
And so, as we move on in time and in narrative to the words of the letter to the Romans, the story of God’s covenant through Abraham and the people of God is taken on and transformed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus: the covenant with God continued not because of the actions of anyone, but because of the faith of the people. The faithfulness of the people matters more than sticking to the letter of the law. Being trumps doing. And so it endures.
 
Faith is believing in an all-loving God, it is an understanding of God’s will and way being made real in the world through Christ and through human beings and it is trusting the divine presence of God to guide, uphold, enable, inspire and help us to live well as we seek to bring God’s kingdom here on earth. As we learn more, as God is revealed in new and exciting ways, it becomes clear that God’s love is unchanging but God’s interaction with humankind develops and grows and so does our understanding of society and what needs to change.
 
Abraham was named, known, loved and sent out to grow the kingdom of God.
 
We, too, are known, named, loved and called to go out and grow the kingdom of God.
 
Not by preaching limitations and narrow boundaries, but by sharing the extravagant, transformational, abundant and life giving love that was shared with humankind in the promises to Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses; in the promises brought in Christ to the disciples and given to the people by the apostle Paul and those writing in his name.
 
As we make our Lenten journey, as we walk the road to Jesus’ crucifixion and consider, once again, the sacrifice he made for us and for the whole of humanity, may we continue to consider how our faith impacts our daily lives, how we can use that faith to change the world around us, seeking to follow God and live blameless lives . May we also endeavour to share the promise and blessing of our faith so that others may find fulness of life, inspiration, hope, peace, joy and love and strength, all made possible by a covenant God. Amen.
 
Hymn:               God who sets us on a journey.
Joy Dine (1937 – 2001)
 
God who sets us on a journey
to discover, dream and grow,
lead us as you led your people
in the desert long ago;
journey inward, journey outward,
stir the spirit, stretch the mind,
love for God and self and neighbour
marks the way that Christ defined.
 
Exploration brings new insights,
changes, choices we must face;
give us wisdom in deciding,
mindful always of your grace;
should we stumble, lose our bearings,
find it hard to know what’s right,
we regain our true direction
focused on the Jesus light.
 
End our longing for the old days,
grant the vision that we lack –
once we’ve started on this journey
there can be no turning back;
let us travel light, discarding
excess baggage from our past,
cherish only what’s essential,
choosing treasure that will last.
 
When we set up camp and settle
to avoid love’s risk and pain,
you disturb complacent comfort,
pull the tent pegs up again;
keep us travelling in the knowledge
you are always at our side;
give us courage for the journey,
Christ our goal and Christ our guide.
 
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!
 
Intercessions
 
Loving God,  our world can be beautiful, supportive, united, thrilling and joyful. Life can be enriching and easy, simple and untroubled. And for these times and these experiences, we give you thanks. For the times when life is easy and each step is an exciting adventure, we give you thanks. For the times when happiness and peace and faith come easy, we give you thanks.
And yet, life in this 21st century world so often feels like a storm: like the rain obscuring our vision and stopping us from rational responses, like the cold chilling us and making us moan, like the wind blowing us from place to place as we are tossed around at the whim of others, and then the overwhelming floods that make it almost impossible to carry on daily life, making it hazardous and difficult. Life in this broken and troubled world becomes tough, exhausting, isolating and hard. We live in a world where we can struggle for glimpses of you.
 
And yet, Gracious God, we know you love everyone and everything that you have created. And we know that you are as saddened by the devastation, pain and conflict in this world as we are. You are the God who wills good for your world, and you work through, in and with us. Help us to listen for the promptings of your Holy Spirit calling us to step up and step out, for the inspiration needed to change and the resilience to keep that change going.
 
We bring to you now those places, people and situations around the world who are affected by the storms of life. Those who are experiencing the worst this world has to offer, who feel abandoned and forgotten. The anxious and the broken, the fighting and the fearful, and all those whose lives feel hopeless. In this time of quiet we offer the words of our hearts.
 
(Silence)
 
Loving God, life is sometimes so hard.  When it is and we are in need, may we risk being vulnerable and reach out to ask for help.
May we also seek to find ways to help each other, love, support, assist and care for each other, however, whenever and wherever that is possible.
 
We believe that you can do things beyond our imaginings, influencing change and bringing love, in places and people so often neglected or ignored.
All these prayers we offer in Jesus’ name, who showed us what love is and what relationships can be and we pray as He taught us saying:
 
Our Father…
 
Offertory
 
God calls us to share what we have and to do so with a willing heart.
 
Loving God, we come giving thanks for your love in our lives and the blessings we find in being  joined together in community, whether online, on the airwaves or on paper.  We offer our thanks and our lives to you, that our time and money, our gifts and talents
may be used to glorify you and  enable your kingdom to flourish here on earth.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
 
Hymn:      Peace, perfect peace      
                  Words and Music: Kevin Mayhew
 
Peace, perfect peace, is the gift of Christ our Lord.
Peace, perfect peace, is the gift of Christ our Lord.
Thus says the Lord, will the world know my friends,
peace, perfect peace is the gift of Christ our Lord.
 
Hope, perfect hope…
Joy, perfect joy….
 
Blessing
 
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
And may the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be with us, those we love,
those we are yet to love
and those we struggle to love.
Now and forever, Amen
 
Sources and thanks
 
God of grace and God of Glory – H E Fosdick 1878-1969 Sung by Sanctuary Choir, First Methodist Church, Houston, Texas.
To Abraham and Sarah – Judith Fetter, 1984. Unknown church choir on Youtube
God who sets us on a journey – Words: Joy Dine (1937 – 2001)  © The Revd Mervyn Dine. Reproduced with permission Sung by Michael Schoepe accompanied by Paul Dankers Sunday, October 4th, 2020
Peace, perfect peace – Words and Music: Kevin Mayhew. Performed by a Primary School Choir for the BBC’s Come and Praise CD
 
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).
 
Organ Pieces
Ein Feste Burg (“A mighty fortress”) by Max Reger. (organ of Basilica Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy – 2016)
Nun Danket Alle Gott – Marche Triomphale (“Now thank we all our God”) by Sigfrid Karg-Elert (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)
 
Both pieces played by, and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill. http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to John Cornell, Anne Hewling, Marion Thomas, David Shimmin, Karen Smith and Alison Jiggins for reading various spoken parts of the service.
 
Thanks to the choir of Barrhead URC for the Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith.
 

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