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URC Daily Devotion Sunday Worship 4th September🙏

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 4th September

 
Today’s service is led by The Revd Jonnie Hill
 
Introduction

Hello, and welcome to this service of worship. I’m the Revd Jonnie Hill and I serve the Greater Manchester South and Cheshire Missional Partnership in the North Western Synod. We come to worship the living God.
 

Call to Worship

The eternal God, who is beyond us, yet within us, calls us, and the whole of creation, into the divine dance of mutual delight and self-giving love, now, and in each moment of every day. So, may we delight now in our worship of the living God.
Amen.
 

Hymn O Jesus, I Have Promised
John Ernest Bode (1816-1874) (alt.) sung by a Virtual Choir organised by Collins Pratt of singers in the UK and Sierra Leone. Used with their kind permission.
 

O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end;
Lord be forever near me, my master and my friend:
I shall not fear the battle if you are by my side,
nor wander from the pathway if you will be my guide.
 

Oh, let me feel you near me: the world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear;
my foes are ever near me, around me, and within;
but, Jesus, draw now nearer, and shield my soul from sin.
 

Oh, let me hear you speaking in accents clear and still,
above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will;
Oh, speak to reassure me, to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen, O guardian of my soul.

O Jesus, you have promised to all who follow you,
that where you are in glory your servant shall be too;
and, Jesus, I have promised to serve you to the end:
O give me grace to follow, my master and my friend.

Prayer of Approach

Creator God, at the very beginning, you formed humankind from the clay of the earth and breathed your life into our inmost parts.

In Jesus, you revealed your truest likeness loving, healing and forgiving – showing us all we can be when we put love first.

Your Spirit, like a potter at the wheel, continues your artistic work today, shaping and moulding our clay-like form prompting and drawing us ever more toward love and beauty, justice and peace.

As we gather, may we centre ourselves in you, may we be drawn into the great mystery and wonder of your Holy Trinity, may we be refreshed and renewed as we encounter divine presence here in our midst.
Amen.

Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Forgiveness

Holy one, fearfully and wonderfully made as we are,
we struggle to live from the truth of our infinite worth in your sight.

Short silence

We have failed in the cause of self-giving love, valuing our own comfort and security above that of the common good.

Short silence

We have ravaged our beautiful earth, trading the integrity of creation for material goods and wealth.

Short silence

We have judged harshly, excluding those who do not fit our predetermined and partial expectations. Forgive us.

Short silence

God of grace and new beginnings, heal us, make us whole,
free us to live ever more in the likeness of Christ we pray in Jesus’ name, 
Amen.
 

Friends, let us proclaim good news to one another.
In Christ we are forgiven, thanks be to God.
Amen.
 

Prayer of Illumination

Spirit of God, present now in each of us, 
bring forth truth from ancient words spoken and heard,
as we seek to follow in the way of Christ 
the eternal living Word. Amen.
 

Reading Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
“Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”
So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
Then the word of the LORD came to me:
Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.
Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD:
Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
 

Reading Psalm – 139:1-6, 13-18

O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them – they are more than the sand;
I come to the end – I am still with you.
 

Hymn Faithful One
©1989 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing Brian Doerkson Sung by the Bethel Assemblies of God Church, Bangalore, band and used with their kind permission.

Faithful one, so unchanging.
Ageless one, You’re my rock of peace.
Lord of all I depend on You:
I call out to You again and again.
I call out to You again and again
You are my rock in times of trouble;
You lift me up when I fall down.
All through the storm, Your love is
the anchor; my hope is in You alone.

Sermon

There’s a worship song from the late 80s that I loved singing as a child. It’s called ‘Faithful one, so unchanging’. Perhaps you know it. It’s quite an emotive song, which speaks of God’s changelessness.

The idea of being able to depend on God’s unchanging nature has always been held up as something that we people of faith can cling to in a world that is nothing but change. And it is certainly comforting and has been for me.

There’s lots in scripture to reassure us of God’s unchanging nature and it’s been central to belief in our Reformed tradition too.

But God’s nature as revealed in the Jeremiah reading is far from straightforward. Let’s just note for a moment the challenging aspects of the reading – the angry God, who threatens violence and destruction against the people is there, plain as day.

I don’t know about you, but this is a case in point for why I sometimes find Old Testament scripture more challenging to read.

For today, I’m not proposing to focus on the violent imagery in the reading, but perhaps it’s helpful to acknowledge any discomfort we might feel.

The flip side to this depiction of God is that we see a God who actually cares about how the people live. This is not a God who is distant and remote, but one who is intimately concerned with the events of the world and the actions of people.

Despite the challenges the Jeremiah reading presents, the reading also includes a feature of scripture I find one of the most compelling of anywhere in the Bible – the fact that God can and does change God’s mind.

It’s something we see in other parts of scripture – Abraham pleads with God and God’s mind is changed, Moses argues for the Israelites and God’s mind is changed. There are many examples we can draw upon.

So, what do these examples of God’s mind being changed do to our notions of a changeless God when here we have clear testimony to say that God will repent, or God’s mind will be changed according to the decisions and actions of the people?

Honestly, this has been a very real dilemma in my own faith, particularly as I trained for ministry. And as a result, I have had to find other ways of making sense of who God is and how God relates to us.

So if God’s mind can be changed, what does this tell us about God?

Well in one way, it might challenge our ideas that God is all-knowing,particularly in relation to God’s knowledge of the future.

Think of it like this – if God already knows what’s was going to happen, why would God’s mind ever be changed by anything we humans said or did?

And then there’s the matter of our God-given free will. If humans are truly free – then surely the future cannot be in any way already decided or known.

An area of Christian thought which has helped is called open and relational theology. It might be something you want to look up another time, but for the moment I just want to share a couple of ideas from it.

The term ‘open’ relates to one of its basic assumptions that the future is open and therefore is not decided. That God experiences time moment by moment as we do, and so, God does not or cannot know what is not yet decided.

Now if the idea of God not being able do something like know the future sounds too out there – there are some that say, it’s not that God can’t know the future.

But rather the true cost of honouring the freedom God has given us means that the future must remain open, and not yet be decided or known – so in essence – God chooses not to know.

Now I recognise the danger of getting overly technical about this, and that’s not what I want to do – so let me talk about the other part of this theology – the relational part.

For me, one of the most prominent themes from both passages of scripture is God’s relationship to people – in Jeremiah, God’s relationship to nations – appealing that they repent and choose good.

And in the Psalm, we see something much more personal and intimate – the God who knows us in our inmost parts, the God who was there when we were still being formed in our mother’s womb.

These readings reveal that God is a God who seeks relationship with people individually and corporately. Our understanding of God in trinity is to say that God’s very nature is loving relationship and mutual delight.

God is invested in seeking relationship with people. God is not stood on the side-lines watching from afar. God is with us – in the thick of it – seeking good, wholeness and the fullest expression of love.

And yes, God offers love, abundant love – even at the risk of this offer of love being rejected by us.

But there’s something interesting about love – true love never demands or bullies – it does not seek to dominate or overpower. It always allows the freedom to respond or to turn away.

So, what of God’s power? Well, some thinkers believe that God self-limits and refrains from using any sort of dominance, again in the interest of offering true free will.

Would it still be free will if God ever overruled or overpowered?

Then there are others who think that if power, like love, is expressed mutually within relationships, and if people hold some of the power (that is, the power to love in return or not) then God can’t hold all the power.

Perhaps that is why Jeremiah’s God and the God of much of the Bible has to struggle with Israel and the nations to persuade them to repent.

So where does this leave us?

Well, it might leave us feeling vulnerable, if it turns out that God is not the kind of God who’s going to come in and sort everything out for us.

It might leave us asking what power, if any, does God have to answer prayer?

The conclusion I have come to was helped along by the subsequent lines of the worship song which speak of God’s firm faithfulness. The fact that we can call on and depend on God to turn up for us in times of trouble, to lift us up, to be our anchor in the storms of life.

The Living Bible translates Psalm 59:10 like this, “My God is changeless in his love for me”.

God’s changelessness is God’s love – and perhaps God’s fullest power is that God achieves all things in and through love and love alone.

Thanks be to God, Amen.
 

Hymn Have you heard God’s voice; has your heart been stirred? 
© 2008 Jacqueline G. Jones performed by Ruth and Joy and used with their kind permission.

Have you heard God’s voice; has your heart been stirred?
Are you still prepared to follow?
Have you made a choice to remain and serve,
though the way be rough and narrow?
 

Will you walk the path that will cost you much
and embrace the pain and sorrow?
Will you trust in One who entrusts to you
the disciples of tomorrow?

 

Will you use your voice; will you not sit down
when the multitudes are silent?
Will you make a choice to stand your ground
when the crowds are turning violent?
 

In your city streets will you be God’s heart?
Will you listen to the voiceless?
Will you stop and eat, and when friendships start,
will you share your faith with the faithless?
 

Will you watch the news with the eyes of faith
and believe it could be different?
Will you share your views using words of grace?
Will you leave a thoughtful imprint?

We will walk the path that will cost us much
and embrace the pain and sorrow.
We will trust in One who entrusts to us
the disciples of tomorrow.

Affirmation of Faith

We are not alone, we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church: 
to celebrate God’s presence, 
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
 

In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.
 

We are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Amen.
 

Offertory Prayer

Just as we are called to love, because God loved us first, so too are we called to give, because God has given first.

Generous God,
as we acknowledge that all we have is from you,
accept our gifts of money,
and the gift of our lives,
so that we might be instruments of love, justice and peace – kingdom builders in Christ’s name,
and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Intercessions

Loving God,
your triune nature is relationship,
and you have created us for loving relationship with you and with one another.

Help us always to see your image reflected in every human face,

that as we seek the good of our neighbour, we also express our love for you.

Short silence

There is much happening in our world that concerns us and which we bring to you in prayer:

Short silence

the armed conflict in places like Ukraine and Yemen displaced people who have already lost everything

Short silence

the cost-of-living crisis raising food prices
impacting those across our world who can least afford it

Short silence

rising fuel prices with the threat of a very cold winter for some

Short silence

God, not only do we cry out for justice and fairness, equity and enough for all people

– we pray also that you would show us, how we might be agents for the kind of change our world needs.

Grant us boldness and courage,
as we seek to live out the call of the Gospel,
and follow in the way of Jesus, our guide and our goal.
Amen.
 

Hymn O Lord all the world belongs to you
Patrick Appleford 1965 1965 Josef Weinberger Ltd performed by the Chet Valley Churches and used with their kind permission

Oh Lord, all the world belongs to You
and You are always making all things new.
What is wrong, You forgive,
and the new life You give
is what’s turning the world upside down.
 

The world’s only loving to its friends,
but Your way of loving never ends,
loving enemies too;
and this loving with You
is what’s turning the world upside down.
 

The world lies divided and apart,
You draw folk together, and we start
in our friendship to see
that In harmony
we can be turning the world upside down.
 

The world wants the wealth to live in state,
but You show a new way to be great:
like a servant You came,
and if we do the same,
we’ll be turning the world upside down.
 

Oh Lord all the world belongs to You
and You are always making all things new.
Send Your Spirit on all
in Your Church whom You call
to be turning the world upside down.

Blessing

May the God who is faithful uplift you this day
May the God who assures freedom accompany you on the way May the God who above all else seeks love enfold you always. And the blessing of God,
Creator, Christ and Spirit
be with you and all whom you love,
this day and every day. Forevermore. Amen.

Sources: ‘A new creed’ from the United Church of Canada
 

Thanks to Lorraine Webb, Pam Carpenter, Diana Cullum-Hall, Marion Thomas, Andy Braunston, Graham Handscomb, John Wilcox and Ray Fraser for recording the spoken parts of the service.
 

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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