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URC Daily Devotion Sunday Service 14th August – Rev Ruth Whitehead 🙏

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 14th August 2022

 
Today’s service is led by the Rev Ruth Whitehead, moderator of the South Western Synod. 
 

Call to Worship

God of all,
join us with your Church throughout the world to sing your praise.
God who is close to us, draw closer still and help us hear your whisper.
 

Hymn Songs of Thankfulness And Praise
Christopher Wordworth sung by the Euphony Choir, of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Ghana
 

Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesus, Lord, to you we raise,
manifested by the star
to the Sages from afar,
branch of royal David’s stem,
in your birth at Bethlehem.
Anthems be to you addressed,
God in flesh made manifest.
 

Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, Priest, and King supreme,
and at Cana, wedding guest,
in your Godhead manifest;
manifest in pow’r divine,
changing water into wine.
Anthems be to you addressed,
God in flesh made manifest.

Manifest in making whole
failing limbs and fainting soul;
manifest in valiant fight,
quelling all the devil’s might;
manifest in gracious will,
ever bringing good from ill:
Anthems be to you addressed,
God in flesh made manifest.

Grant us grace to see you, Lord,
mirrored in your holy Word.
May we imitate your way
and be pure as pure we may
that we all like you may be
at your great epiphany
and may praise you, ever blest,
God in flesh made manifest.

Prayers of Approach and Confession

God takes his stand in the council of heaven

Living God, You created all of heaven and earth, and we bow our heads before your power and your might. Loving God, You came to us in Jesus Christ so that we might see you in flesh and blood, teaching and healing, dying and rising.
 

“How long will you judge unjustly, and show favour to the wicked? Save the weak and the orphan; defend the humble and needy; Rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked.”
 

God whose Spirit brings your word to life for us, help us to hear and respond to your challenge. Make us those who live for justice, who defend and save the weak, who deliver others from wickedness.
 

They do not know, neither do they understand; they go about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
 

God forgive us when we fail to hear and understand your commands. Give us a fresh start this day and each day we live, that our lives may declare your greatness.
 

Arise, O God, and rule the earth, for you shall take all nations for your own.
 

God, all-holy, all-loving, all-merciful, be present in your people and bring your rule to all the earth. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 

Prayer for Illumination

Speak to us in your holy word, that we may know Jesus the living Word and show your grace in all our words. Amen.

Readings

Jeremiah 23:23-29

Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back – those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
 

Luke 12:49-56

Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Hymn The Hand of God
A version of Psalm 82 by Wendell Kimbrough, used with his kind permission.

The hand of God
gave you power to reign
so that you might stand
for the weak.
He made you judge
so the fatherless and the poor could rest in your strength.

But you have left them in darkness
and the earth’s foundation’s shake.

How long, O Lord,
before Your justice reigns? Rise up, O Lord!
For You, the nations wait!
 

Sermon

Today is not a good day to be listening to the Bible as presented in the Lectionary, if you wanted something cozy. These are hard words, challenging words – be prepared to be shaken up!

Jesus – yes, Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth – says “I came to bring fire to the earth. Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No…” Oh dear. Sometimes when you open your Bible you just want gentle Jesus meek and mild, a few words of comfort. Or we want the good news to be quiet, and uncontroversial and we’d like the coming of the kingdom to be announced in a quiet, reverential whisper, so that no-one gets over- excited by it, or, on the other hand, turned off by it.

The people to whom Jeremiah is speaking have fallen into this ‘meek and mild’ trap. We hear God lamenting over people who have tried to domesticate God, to make religion comfortable and entirely in line with what people want to hear (what Jeremiah calls ‘false prophets’). But God is the God of all, who fills heaven and earth – a vast and potentially terrifying image – and this is a God who speaks words of great power. God’s words nourishes God’s people with judgement and challenge – it is not a sugar-coated delicacy – it is strong meat!

And in this particularly tough slice of Luke’s gospel, Jesus says he has come to bring fire, baptism, division. Oh heck. What is the good news in this?

Well, fire is an interesting Biblical image.

Fire can represent the presence of God – for example in the pillar of fire which led the people of God in the wilderness (Exodus 13:17-22), the fire summoned by Elijah in his contest against the prophets of Baal (1 Kings ch 18), or the tongues of flame which appear at Pentecost (Acts ch 2).

But fire is also a sign of judgement as we heard in Jeremiah ‘is not my word like fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces’ and fire is also a symbol of purification – ‘he is like a refiner’s fire’ (Malachi 3: 2-3).

Jesus has come to show us God’s presence with us – a presence that guides and empowers, but also a presence which judges and purifies.
Baptism can be seen as another symbol of decision and purification – but Jesus refers here to the baptism he must undergo – the baptismal trial of suffering and death – passing through the waters of death to God’s eternal life. God’s presence in Jesus is not just bringing judgement to others but is prepared to be put through the suffering of that judgement.

Jesus warns us that the good news will bring division – because as Mary’s song right at the start of Luke makes clear, the proud will be scattered, the mighty will be brought down and the lowly lifted up. Good news for the poor is not entirely good news for the rich. Even in the same family, Jesus’ message of hope and salvation for all people has the ability to bring division. Just as Jeremiah is clear that God is not just near at hand, but is also an Almighty God of all – so Jesus doesn’t want to offer us a watered down gospel. The gospel is meant to be startling and revolutionary.

You might remember the Church advertising network’s Easter campaign for 1999. It featured a black image of the face of Jesus on a bright red background – meant to resonate with the famous image of Che Guevara – with the strapline Meek, mild, as if…discover the real Jesus.

The church where I was a minister at the time decided to use the poster to draw the attention of people as they passed the front of the church.

The first surprise was that we had to order 2 posters (we only really wanted one); the second surprise was it was way too large for the noticeboard, so we attached it to the front double doors of the church, at the start of Holy Week. We were on a bus route – we thought it might get noticed.

I think it was the morning of the Wednesday of Holy Week when we noticed Jesus had gone missing overnight. Undaunted, we put up the second poster – with perhaps a few more drawing pins to deter all but the most determined thief. Then our church secretary got a phone call from a

local resident – she had found a poster in her teenage son’s bedroom. It matched the poster outside our church – except her delinquent son had added a cigarette. She would meet us at church at a time of our choice with the son, the poster, and an apology. We met, me in a spirit of ‘no real harm done…I think Jesus would forgive this relatively mild and victim-less vandalism’, the mum wanting a bit more ‘wrath of God’ I think. The lad managed to say he would turn away from his life of crime forthwith.

It set mother against son, it overturned expectations, it couldn’t go unnoticed – it felt like Jesus was laughing, possibly even taking a drag of a cigarette, and saying ‘Meek Mild, as if…discover the real Jesus’.

I think Luke wants us to meet the real Jesus, son of the living God, in this account. Jesus challenges us to look at the signs, as we might look for signs of turning weather, that our lives need turning around. Instead of seeking our own comfort, we need to look for the broader picture of how the gospel brings comfort to all – even if ‘levelling up’ some will bring the mighty down a peg or two. This is not an easy, comfortable gospel that everyone can agree is a good thing – it demands a crisis of decision, of deliberate choice, even if that means being divided from our own family.

And yet this is good news – the challenge may be great, but the grace and power of God is greater. The baptism of suffering takes Jesus to the cross and the grave – so that he can show us that whatever we endure, God’s resurrection life is promised.

We can spend ourselves in the work of the kingdom of God, knowing that the reward he offers is nothing less than eternal life. The road may be hard, but it leads to heaven.

Feed on the tough bits of the Bible – discover the real Jesus – long live the revolution.
Amen.
 

Hymn The Kingdom of God
Bryn A Rees (1911 – 1983) 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.
 

Affirmation of Faith

We believe that God is the God of all time and space
Filling all things, yet close to each one of us
Creator, Father and ground of all being

We believe that God came to us in Jesus Christ
Flesh of our flesh, yet fully God
Saviour, Son and redeemer of the world

We believe that God send the Holy Spirit
Fire and wind, yet soft as a whisper
Sustainer, Spirit and power of the Church

We believe that we are God’s people
Falling and failing, yet redeemed and forgiven 
Made in God’s image to proclaim God’s glory.
 

Intercessions

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.     –   from Hebrews ch11
 

In prayer we are brought into communion with the church of God in all space and time, so let us pray.

We pray for those who need to lay aside the burdens which weigh them down: those who grieve, who are in relentless pain, those ground down by injustice. Lord who is near, hear us.
Lord graciously hear us

We pray for any to whom sin clings closely those who live with guilt and shame, those who are abused, those exploited by greed. Lord who is near, hear us.
Lord graciously hear us

We pray for those at the start of life’s journey: for new parents, for those being adopted, for those who help life to flourish. Lord who is near, hear us.
Lord graciously hear us

We pray for those who feel the pace of life is hard: for those who feel there is no time to rest, for those who feel there is nothing to live for, for those who feel they cannot pause, even for a moment. Lord who is near, hear us.
Lord graciously hear us

We pray of those at the end of life’s race, those whose life has been all too short, who have always struggled, who cannot wait to reach the finish line. Lord who is near, hear us.
Lord graciously hear us

We pray for all who seek to strengthen the lives and the faith of others For medical professionals, for teachers, for carers. Lord who is near, hear us.
Lord graciously hear us

Lord Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, receive our prayers, and at the end of our life receive us into your loving arms, we pray.
In the grace and mercy of God, three-in-one.

Amen.
 

Offertory

By faith, let us bring our gifts to God – gifts of money, and our lives, given with a grateful heart.
Lord, receive these and all the gifts we give you – money, time, talents. Bless and increase them, and make us and all your children glad.

Amen.
 

Hymn O Happy Day That Fixed My Choice 
Philip Doddridge sung by the Celebration Choir
 

O happy day, that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Saviour and my God!
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
and tell its raptures all abroad.
 

O happy day, O happy day
when Jesus washed my sins away. He taught me how
to watch and pray
and live rejoicing every day. Hallelujah!
O happy day, O happy day
when Jesus washed my sins away.

 

’Tis done!
the great transaction’s done;
I am my Lord’s, and He is mine; 
He drew me, and I followed on,
charmed to confess
the voice divine.
 

Now rest,
my long-divided heart,
fixed on this blissful centre, rest;
nor ever from the Lord depart,
with Him of every good possessed.
 

Blessing

High Heaven, that heard the solemn vow,
that vow renewed shall daily hear,
till in life’s latest hour I bow,
and bless in death a bond so dear.

May the God who fills heaven and earth
fill you with grace, joy and wholeness,
that you may see
God the Creator at work in this world
God the Son in the faces of all you meet
God the Spirit alive inside and outside the church Now and forever more.

Amen.

 
Thanks to Mandy Hibbert, John Wilcox, Kathleen Haynes, Pam Carpenter, Christopher Whitehead, Ray Fraser, Karen Smith, Addie Redmond and Barbara Redmond for recording some of the spoken parts.  Hymn lyrics are public domain, the music in the podcast is delivered subject to the terms of the URC’s licence.

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