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URC Daily Devotion Sunday Service 21st August – Rev Dr Adam Scott 🙏

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 21st August 2022

 
Today’s service is led by Rev Dr Andy Scott, a tutor at the Northern College.
 
Call to Worship
 

The Lord said to me, “I chose you before I gave you life, and before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations.”       -Jeremiah 1: 4 – 5
 

Hymn Come All You People
© Alexander Gondo, World Council of Churches sung by the Chancel Choir of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Dallas, used with their kind permission.

Uyai mose, tinamate mwari. (x3)
Uyai mose zvino.

Come, all you people, come and praise your Maker. (x3)
Come now and worship the Lord.

Repeat
 

Prayers of Approach

We begin our service today in silence …

Loving Creator, you have made each of us in your image, and like Jeremiah, you called each of us into your service, so whatever our strengths or weaknesses, our triumphs or disappointments, our joys or sorrows, we come to worship you, for you created us, and accept us as we are.
Amen.
 

Prayer of Confession and Forgiveness
 

In silence, and in the presence of the Spirit, we reflect on our lives:

I invite you to place one of your hands on your lap and to clench it into a fist, if this is uncomfortable for you, or not possible, you may like to imagine a knotted cord in your mind’s eye.

In a short time of silence, draw to mind those things you are holding on to maybe feelings of guilt, shame, hurt or anger, imagine these things are in your fist or tied up in the knot. 

Silence

As we pray the following prayer together, I invite you to open your clenched fist as a prayer action, or in your mind’s eye unravel the knot releasing them to God:

Merciful Creator,
remind us that we are loved,
and transformed by love.
Help us to let go of the hurt we have caused others,
and enable us to forgive those who have hurt us,
so that we can flourish. Amen.

Jesus delighted in setting people free, may you know forgiveness for the hurt you have caused, and be able to forgive the hurt you have experienced. Amen.

Hymn Spirit of God Unseen as the Wind
Margaret V Old (1932 – 2003) © Scripture Union performed by Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir accompanied by Andrew Ellams and produced by Andrew Emison and used with their kind permission.
 

Spirit of God, unseen as the wind,
gentle as is the dove;
teach us the truth and help us believe,
show us the Saviour’s love!

 

You spoke to us
long, long ago,
gave us the written word;
we read it still,
needing its truth
through it God’s voice is heard.
 

Without your help
we fail our Lord,
we cannot live His way;
we need Your power,
we need Your strength,
following Christ each day.
 

Prayer for Illumination

Spirit of fire,
illuminate for us so we may see the Word within the word, hear the liberating message of the Gospel and respond to its eternal call.
Amen.

Readings

Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10 (GNT)

The Lord said to me, “I chose you before I gave you life, and before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations.” 
I answered, “Sovereign Lord, I don’t know how to speak; I am too young.” 
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say that you are too young, but go to the people I send you to, and tell them everything I command you to say. Do not be afraid of them, for I will be with you to protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” 
Then the Lord reached out, touched my lips, and said to me, “Listen, I am giving you the words you must speak. Today I give you authority over nations and kingdoms to uproot and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
 

Luke 13: 10 – 17 (GNT)

One Sabbath Jesus was teaching in a synagogue. A woman there had an evil spirit [spirit of weakness] that had kept her sick for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not straighten up at all.
When Jesus saw her, he called out to her, “Woman, you are free from your sickness!” He placed his hands on her, and at once she straightened herself up and praised God.
The official of the synagogue was angry that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, so he spoke up and said to the people, “There are six days in which we should work; so come during those days and be healed, but not on the Sabbath!”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Any one of you would untie your ox or your donkey from the stall and take it out to give it water on the Sabbath. Now here is this descendant of Abraham whom Satan has kept in bonds for eighteen years; should she not be released on the Sabbath?” 
His answer made his enemies ashamed of themselves, while the people rejoiced over all the wonderful things that he did.
 

Sermon

Lord, may you touch my mind, my heart and my lips that I might speak your word; and the minds and hearts and ears of your people that we might hear your word and put it into action in our daily lives. Amen.

I have wrestled with the story in Luke while preparing this sermon. My wrestling hasn’t been about the story itself, although I find it a disturbing story. As, when I read it, I am reminded of the times I have made rules more important than people, and of those of us who have used religion as a weapon to maintain power, rather than allowing the Spirit to open us to new insights.

My wrestling has been about the way the woman in the story is described. She is ‘a crippled woman’, a ‘stooped woman’, and even worse, a demonised woman. These ways of describing her feel outdated and offensive, because she is simply a disabled woman.

My problem is, that these ways of thinking make disabled people ‘problems to be fixed’, rather than fellow human beings, equal to all, and loved by God.

The simple fact is our church communities are full of disabled people, and better for it. Sometimes our disabilities are obvious, and sometimes they are not so easy to see. But, whatever disability a person experiences, we are as much part of the leadership, fellowship and mission outreach of the church, as anyone else is. Although, I am not sure we are always treated that way though. I have experienced faith communities where disabled people know full-inclusion and are valued for who they are, while I have also seen disabled people enduring needless pity and being treated as an irritant.

Biblical scholars tell us that disabled people were not treated well in Jesus’ time. Disabilities were often perceived to be the result of sinfulness – a person’s own sin or the sins of their parents. Disability could also be even seen as a punishment from God, or as in our story today, the presence of an evil spirit. That means that in Jesus’ time disability was perceived as something to feel ashamed about, something to hide away, or more disturbingly, someone to hide away. I like it that the woman in our story is not hiding away, but is right in the middle of her place of worship.

The experiences of disabled people in Jesus’ time mirror what many disabled people experience today, and before we get all high and mighty, what some disabled people experience in our society, and I think in some of our churches. I would hope that in the URC we do not see disability to be related to sin, divine punishment or demonic influence, but we may still have views that promote exclusion. So, while there have been definite advancements in how disabled people are perceived and treated within the church, there is still much work to do.

Verse 12 of our Gospel reading tells us:

When Jesus saw [the woman], he called out to her, “Woman, you are free from your sickness!” 13 He placed his hands on her, and at once she straightened herself up and praised God.

Jesus met the woman at her point of need. He reached out and touched her, and he healed her. This resulted in the woman being able to stand, and understandably, praise God. For me, there is something of the Gospel and Kingdom of God in this encounter, as God, who associates with those who are marginalised, abused and oppressed brings liberation to this woman. I think it is easy to forget that in the culture of the time this woman would have been shamed and overlooked, and possibly have be seen as being cut off from God. But, Jesus never overlooks anyone. Everyone, no matter what we have done, or has been done to us, is embraced by God and transformed by her love.

I think we are seeing Jesus enact the Gospel in this story, and showing what the Kingdom of God is like.

Now, I want to celebrate this woman’s story because something wonderfulhappened for her. But I also want to offer a word of caution, because I do not think this story is telling us that all disabled people need to be healed. There are actually many disabled people who don’t want to be different than they are, and embrace who they are. So, we need to be careful about assuming we know what another person might want or need from God. In saying that, I feel there is something that we can draw from this story that is relevant to all our contexts.

As I have already said I think this is a story about the Kingdom of God. I am not so sure the healing of this woman is primarily about her being able ‘to stand up straight’, or at least I hope it is about much more than that. Just consider this, after encountering Jesus this woman was liberated from the psychological, spiritual and economical abuse shown towards disabled people like her. She is no longer shamed. But, there would have been many others in the communities Jesus walked through who still knew exclusion, shame and abuse. The bottom line for me is the idea that there was more work to do, and Jesus will go on to tell his followers that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed and yeast, small, but with a significant impact. So this story of healing is just a little seed which has been growing for 2,000 years.

In our day, we should embrace the advancements in health and spiritual care which bring comfort and healing to those that need it, but we should also remember that we have a part to play in making the world more just and less excluding. My sense is that this means living out Kingdom values which seek to make our society a fairer and more accessible place for those of us with disabilities. What I have learned from the disability rights movement is that we need to change how the world is ordered, and remove the obstacles to accessibility, rather than trying to make people different than they are.

This can be challenging, and requires us to work together as inclusive communities.

There are plenty of good news stories around the URC of churches have taken up this call and sought to make their church building more physically accessible, as well as those who have sought to make their worship services accessible. Just think about those neurodivergent siblings in the URC who are helping us to think about how best we can meet their needs in the life of the church. Similarly, there are many creating dementia friendly church communities and projects, and I am sure you have other inspiring examples. Unfortunately, there are also stories of those who resist looking for new ways of being that promote inclusion. From my experience as a minister, I think that this is because of the fear of change, rather than any real desire to exclude.

We turn to verse 14,

The official of the synagogue was angry that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, so he spoke up and said to the people, “There are six days in which we should work; so come during those days and be healed, but not on the Sabbath!”

I found it difficult to understand why the leader of the synagogue (maybe we could translate that as minister, CRCW or church secretary) would respond to seeing a woman getting healed in this way. At first, I ignored this man as bigot, but then I listened with compassion to what he is saying, and I thought maybe he was someone, who like many of us struggle with change. The Sabbath was an essential and sacred part of his faith, and so he was rightly disturbed and outraged by Jesus healing on that day. But, in being disturbed and outraged he embraced a life-sapping faith with little or no nourishment for himself or others, and couldn’t see that God often calls us to change, to reform, to be renewed.

We all know that change is not easy, and changing our buildings, rethinking our theologies and reformulating worship so they can become more inclusive can be disturbing and disconcerting. So it’s understandable if our

immediate response to this challenge may be one of resistance, fear and even outrage. And yet, God still calls us to be different, to embrace the unfolding Kingdom.

Listen to our Jeremiah reading again:

4 The Lord said to me, 5 “I chose you before I gave you life, and before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations.” 6 I answered, “Sovereign Lord, I don’t know how to speak; I am too young.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say that you are too young, but go to the people I send you to, and tell them everything I command you to say. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I will be with you to protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

We cannot underestimate how difficult change is. But being a follower of Jesus means we need to be open to the Kingdom of God, which often turns things on their heads, sometimes even us! This can be frightening.

Jeremiah’s fear was that he is too young and that he did not know how to speak out. God’s challenge to him was to trust that he would be given what he needed to carry out his calling – and Jeremiah lived out a difficult calling.

I wonder what you fear, or what we, as communities of faith fear, when we hear the call of making our theologies, church buildings, communities and worship services accessible and inclusive?

Will we get it right? Will we have the resources? Will anything ever change? Will everything change? Will we be able to deal with the conflict that arises?

Who know what barriers and challenges we will face are before we start! The important thing is to start, and I think we start by looking at what disturbs us – for me it was the way the woman in our story was described. What disturbs you? This could be the steps at the front of the church building which mean a wheelchair user cannot get into the sanctuary or

the PA systems that never works which means certain people cannot hear. It could be the way autistic people have been treated in your church, or that the person with a learning disability has not been invited into church membership. Maybe you are disturbed by your own unseen prejudice or resistance to change? I know I am.

I want to finish by reminding us of a famous political slogan – ‘nothing about us without us’. This means that everything we do to promote accessibility and inclusion should involve everyone, which means remembering that disabled people, whether their disability is seen or unseen, need to lead the way. Amen.
 

Hymn My Life Goes On In Endless Song
Robert Lowry (1822 – 1899) and Doris Plenn sung by G. Michael Eldridge acapeldridge.com
 

My life flows on in endless song, 
above earth’s lamentation.
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
 

What though my joys and comforts die,
the Lord my Saviour liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night He giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that refuge clinging.
Since Christ is lord of heav’n and earth,
how can I keep from singing?
 

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes,
Since first I learned to love it;
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am His!
How can I keep from singing?
 

Affirmation of Faith – A Mauri Inclusive Creed

We believe in God
Source of all life
Source of all love
Creation within our past and our future Mother and Father of all that’s to be.
 

We believe in God
Christ of our history
Link with eternity
One with our humanness
Revealing our hopefulness
Traveller before us, the sign of the way.
 

We believe in God,
Spirit of newness,
Spirit of power
Wisdom and wonder
Mystery and miracle
God moves in freedom,
Transforming the earth.
 

We believe in the Church
Born of our struggles
Open to changes
Cantered in loving
And moving and growing
Heart of the community turned to the world.
Amen.
 

Offertory

Let us pray for these gifts, and dedicate them to God’s work: Loving God, you give us many gifts.

We offer you the gift of this money,
we remember that you told us not to love or trust in money,
so may this money be a symbol of the greater gift of our lives
and be used as a tool to build your community of liberation and love in this place.
Amen.
 

Prayers of Intercession

I will pray a short prayer and leave some silence for you to add your own prayer in the privacy of your heart, and then we will say the following response together:

When you offer change God, give us courage to accept it.

We pray for your world, remembering all those who are working for greater inclusion and accessibility, grant them strength, wisdom and the resources they need to bring about change.

Silence

When you offer change God, give us courage to accept it.

We pray for your Church, remembering the many communities who care for those overlooked by others, may they remain places of love, support and diversity.

Silence

When you offer change God, give us courage to accept it.

We pray for ourselves, remembering those we know who experience exclusion and isolation, help them to see change they need in the world around them.

Silence
 

When you offer change God, give us courage to accept it.
We join our prayers together in the prayer Jesus taught his followers:
Our Father …
 

Hymn Tell Out My Soul
© Timothy Dudley Smith BBC Songs of Praise

Tell out, my soul,
the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings
give my spirit voice;
tender to me
the promise of His Word – 
in God my Saviour
shall my heart rejoice.
 

Tell out, my soul,
the greatness of his name!
Make known His might,
the deeds His arm has done;
His mercy sure,
from age to age the same,
His holy name:
the Lord, the Mighty One.

Tell out, my soul,
the greatness of His might!
Powers and dominions
lay their glory by;
proud hearts and stubborn
wills are put to flight,
the hungry fed,
the humble lifted high.

Tell out, my soul,
the glories of His word!
Firm is His promise,
and His mercy sure:
tell out, my soul,
the greatness of the Lord 
to children’s children 
and for evermore!
 

Blessing

The blessing of God in Holy Trinity,
be with you,
 those you love 
and even your enemies.
Now and forevermore.
Amen.

Thanks to Sarah Wilmott, Marion Thomas, Anne Hewling, Mairi Macdonald, Pam Carpenter, Ray Fraser, Diana Cullum-Hall, Alison Jiggins and Graham Handscomb 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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