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URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 24th April 2022 – The Revd. David Coleman

Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Worship for Sunday 24th April 2022
The Second Sunday of Easter

By Caravaggio – http://www.christusrex.org/www2/art/images/carav10.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6804893
 
The Rev’d David Coleman

 
Introduction 
 
Hello, my name is David Coleman.  Welcome, friends, from Edinburgh, where I’m based as Environmental Chaplain with EcoCongregation  Scotland, a special category ministry of the United Reformed Church, working ecumenically, and frequently online, with now close to 600 local congregations, colleges and fellowships  who have declared their interest and commitment to a renewed relationship with the Earth and all our fellow creatures, seeking spiritual resilience as the Climate Crisis becomes more acute.
We know that sisters and brothers with our world-wide family, the Council for World Mission, are in no doubt at all as to the urgency and severity of what human beings, by unjust living, have caused.  In our work before, but all the more since the United Nations Climate Conference, which I was able to attend in person, the Earth emerges not merely as a location, but as a character, which itself gives a new perspective to so much of our traditional hymns and writings.
 
Like all injustice, it is the poor and the excluded who are hit first hardest, but for all of us, we’re discovering the special and transformative value of Christian faith in the face of threat: not for gloom and doom, but taking our cue from that joyful cry “Hosanna”, which we recalled at Palm Sunday a couple of weeks ago.  In all we do, sing pray and say: Hosanna! – God Help us! AMEN.
 
Call To Worship
 
One:         Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
 
Many:      He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
 
One:         Rejoice, heavenly powers!   Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!
 
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
 
One:         Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour,
radiant in the brightness of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
 
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers!  Sing, choirs of angels!
 
One:         Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy, 
as we sing, echoing the mighty song  of all God’s people!
 
Hymn       Love Divine
Charles Wesley (1707-1788) BBC Songs of Praise

 

Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down,
fix in us thy humble dwelling,
all thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation,
enter every trembling heart.

 2 Come, almighty to deliver;
let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return, and never,
never more thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
serve thee as thy hosts above,
pray, & praise thee, without ceasing
glory in thy perfect love.

 

3 Finish then thy new creation:
pure and spotless let us be;
let us see thy great salvation
perfectly restored in thee,
changed from glory into glory,
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.
 
Prayers of Approach
 
God above us around us beneath us, within us
God incarnate in the Earth which we are
 
We delight to share with all life
that we breathe, that we eat, that we love,
and even that, in common with all life, we die…
 
With hope of something more,
and more than this
that letting go lets life continue;
for in cycles, you sustain, and yet move on
through ending and beginnings
and through ages, so the world lives
in your  wonderful diversity.

We celebrate a faith and a hope, that begins in a graveyard
from where springs – why should  we wonder?-
from where springs hope.
through our faith that a cross of salvation
must also be a tree.
A holy habitat to all the birds of the air.
Without whom heaven is not heaven.
 
Prayer of Confession
 
We see much, this is true,
that seems cruel and vicious in what we call nature.
Predators, who nonetheless ensure the balance
of life and environment
We see the stumbling that comes without our doing.
And feel justified in adding to it
 
But with your eyes we see also what’s chosen:
human selfishness and arrogance
which afflicts us as a species,  expressed in
injustice and the oppression of the poor,
with and through violence to Earth
 
Prayer of Forgiveness
 
And so, appalled at the damage that has been done
And jolted awake to the harm that continues
But encouraged by the beauty which remains
we seek and claim that vital  forgiveness
which Jesus so often offered
before folk could put right the harm they had chosen.
leaving us no excuse in despair or guilt
but  to dare to to hope
and love
and try again
again.
 
God in Christ, hear us,  continue to warn us
and by your grace, beyond achievement,
help us to turn
and rejoice in your way
Amen
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Dear God, who reads and speaks within these words;
may our indifference and detachment
rot away and decompose
to richly fertilise compassion
and engagement. Hosanna!  Amen!
 
Reading            St John 20:19-31
 
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
 
Hymn       Let All The World In Every Corner Sing
George Herbert (1593-1633)  BBC Songs of Praise
 

Let all the world
in every corner sing,
“My God and King!”
The heavens are not too high,
his praise may thither fly;
the earth is not too low,
his praises there may grow.
Let all the world
in every corner sing,
“My God and King!”
 
2 Let all the world
in every corner sing,
“My God and King!”
The Church with psalms
must shout,
no door can keep them out;
but, above all, the heart
must bear the longest part.
Let all the world
in every corner sing,
“My God and King!”

 

Sermon 
 
When the Bible overlaps with our experience, we find the gift of meaning. We’ve never before universally shared this fear, isolation and uncertainty, but by hook or by crook – or via zoom, google, Lifesize, Skype, or even by telephone, the churches have been keeping our fellowship alive, and in some cases extending it. At one meeting this week I suggested forcefully that we stop talking about “virtual worship” in favour of worship or fellowship by technical means. That we should no more question the value and validity of what we share than we would when someone uses technology like a hearing aid to be part of the body of Christ.
 
And because of the limits of the connection, we have to give our full attention. Even when someone “freezes” And to be prepared for vile disruptions if someone tries ‘bombing’ – breaking in to disrupt. In the clip that follows, I’ve put in a reminder of how close this meeting is to the crucifixion. Judas might still be around, wondering what to do next. And whether for good or ill, we can’t expect the disciples would have been able to cope.
 
There’s a tough side to Jesus’s teaching too. Don’t throw your pearls to the pigs: they will turn and trample. Bear in mind, that as, in this emergency, we’re learning so abruptly these new ways of being church, it’s pearls we’re putting out. 
 
Most churches, I’ve seen,  are putting their soul online, and Jesus counsels, if not caution, then discernment. Don’t be pigs. Don’t trample,  but support others if they’re having trouble.
 
On a lighter note,  there’s barely one of the meetings we’ve had when online,  where someone’s cat doesn’t make an appearance. The church was never just about humans!
 
But now we know for real.
 
We’ve  had to challenge what we mean by a ‘real’ meeting.  We now know this means a meeting minds and hearts and maybe soul, which happens  online as much as what we now call in person.
 
Lockdown has taken is to a reality we might otherwise just have played with. And as EcoCongregation Scotland,  we’ve seen how this re-shuffles  our structures of inclusion and exclusion, whilst sustaining fellowship and commitment, not just for those who live close together, or within easy reach of a church.  To really encourage. To keep out faith green, however we manage to express it.
 
We also remember those positive experiences of early lockdown which showed us that change is possible when all the excuses are taken away.
 
To breathe the breath we share with all life.  The air, that we feel clearing; to share our experience of the quiet streets in which we finally hear the birds sing once more. And wonder if the streets and the  beaches might for once stay clear of the litter we’ve picked.
 
There have been more fringe benefits of this time:  rather like finally finding the name of a familiar street through a sat-nav, we’ve  see the names of those we talk with, and there are few things more sensitive than getting folks names right.
 
Especially if you’re the other Judas in the group of disciples. The four Gospels and Acts give ample scope for confusion about who’s who. And right now, we well know what that’s like!
 
There may well be hundreds of clips like mine around the world: the online meeting of the disciples in lockdown. But it’s been very fruitful for reflection. 
John’s Gospel doesn’t do justice to the diversity of the Jesus group, so I’ve put in a mention of the women, who seemed mostly to be called Mary!
 
Maybe they too had a Jesus bombing.  John’s Gospel is clear: we don’t know all the stories of the Risen Christ.
 
Nor what the sharp intake of Spirit, the breath we share with Jesus,  is getting up to in the transformation of our lives.
 
Isaiah describes the Suffering Servant, whom we like to identify with Jesus, as someone who is able to trust: who won’t wait to act in love until everything is fully forensically proven. For Jesus, real and virtual aren’t in conflict.
 
And Thomas, getting it in his face may not have been pleasant.
 
I don’t  need to have walked on a melting glacier,  nor swum amongst bleached coral to be convinced of the emergency that continues in the background whilst we’re otherwise engaged.
 
And if you’re still taking notice. And if you’re also ready to keep on forgiving as well as holding to account, then the Blessing of the Risen Christ is for you.
 
And Christ’s Spirit, Breath, Wind, Power.  Breathe in God!
 
Here we go with the sketch this week. Based, very closely,  and loosely, on John Chapter 20:  The Gospel of Lockdown!
 
Simon   OK, meeting starting.   I hope they’ve got the time right.
 
James & John … we’re here… have you sent the password round Peter?
Simon  I’m sticking with Simon for now. Peter’s a bit too dangerous
 
Simon 2: Hi there Simon.
 
Simon Hi there Simon.
 
Andrew [Dark glasses]  Is it secret? Is it safe?
 
All: Good to see you Andrew
 
Simon : Hiya Philip [Use as no-show] , Bartholemew.
 
Bartholemew.  Nathanael to you. We’re in  John’s Gospel
 
Simon  Hi Judas –
 
Judas.  -please, Thaddeus.  Or  Lebbaeus. I’ve gone off Judas
 
[Judas  bombs in]  —  [swearing ] 
Simon:  It’s OK, I’ve blocked him.
 
All:  Whew
 
Simon: Is that everyone…..
 
The girls are getting together later:  there’s Mary, and Mary and Mary…..
 
Simon2:  Heaven help us. Simon –
 
Simon : Yes Simon?
 
Simon2: Thomas?
[Ding] That’ll be him now
 
Jesus   Peace be with you.  [breathes out]-They all breath in –
 
Yes. breathe in:  Breathe in God. And when you breathe out, you’ll be forgiving and healing. The way God sent me.
 
[goes]
 
[general alarm ].… stunned silence….
 
Thomas. Hi guys….
 
Hi guys…..  you seen a ghost or something?
=============================================
 
One week later
 
======================
 
Simon : James and John,  Simon, Andrew. Bart— Nathanael,  Jude—Thaddeus.   Judas won’t be joining us again…..Thomas.
 
Thomas.  If you think that was Jesus last week, You’re being conned.  Some Troll.  I think we should block him.  Unless I can see his hands and his side. Something real,  to get hold of, Not just hearsay. Not “virtual”.
 
Jesus: [In Thomas’s  house You mean this… and this…] 
Thomas.  My Friend, my God!
 
Jesus:  “Are you convinced because you have seen me? No one will get anything done without taking the risk of trust.  Yes, you’ll get it wrong. Frequently.  But stick around……
 
[All others disappear ….  endangered species appear ]
 
Hymn       Great is thy faithfulness
Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960)
 

Great is thy faithfulness,
O God my Father,
there is no shadow of
turning with thee;
thou changest not,
thy compassions they fail not,
as thou hast been
thou for ever wilt be.
 
Great is thy faithfulness! 
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning
new mercies I see;
all I have needed
thy hand hath provided –
great is thy faithfulness,
Lord, unto me.

2  Summer and winter,
and seed-time and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in
their courses above,
join with all nature
in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness,
mercy, and love.
 
3  Pardon for sin and
a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence
to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and
bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine,
with ten thousand beside.

 

A Statement of Faith With Room for Creation
 
We trust in God beyond us  before us and after us;
Creator and Companion of All: decisive, collaborative,
 
Shaper of Earth, Breather of Life at work from the Beginning;
By choice, for justice,  assigning work for Creatures too.
 
We trust in Christ our God who shares our being;
 
God who Spoke Flesh
befriending us in Jesus;
Flesh, blood, and birth
in common with all life.
 
Jesus loved, healed, warned
turned tables, spoke for the poor
saw Wisdom in Creatures.
Welcomed with branches but nailed to the Tree.
Abandoned to Death,  Earth alone received him.
 
On the third Day he rose to New Life
to be with us as the Sky above us;
constant, present, Companion still.
 
We trust the Breath of Life, our God
The Wind that blows where they will;
Interpreter of Scriptures
Gifted like fire to the Church
seen in healing, peace, forgiveness
God in us and beyond us too.

Intercessions
 
Sustaining God
who long ago created
the stardust so wondrously reshuffled
in the budding, flowering and handing on of life;
Help us, as in Christ you taught us,
not to be overcome by the worry of tomorrow
but to live this day in fullness and compassion
with eyes wide open to what might change
and hearts receptive to wonder and gratitude.
 
We ask to hear your voice today
in the voices of those hit first and hardest
and most unjustly
by the damage to life’s balance and diversity
which is so constant it goes unreported.
 
We crave the vision to relate
wholeheartedly  to the Earth
as a beloved relative on whom we depend
rather than as property we maintain or exploit
 
Christ who nurtured friendship
may the treasures and resources of our faith
be brought out of dusty cupboards
down from long-neglected mantelshelves
that the church locally and globally
may find their place and purpose
united and  joyful
in the healing of the world
 
And Spirit, Holy Breath of Life
in fact and metaphor
poetry and concrete reality;
keep us mindful of grace
in the private struggles 
that block each horizon.
Set us free from bitterness
and tasks we need no longer fulfil.
 
Sustaining God
remake, repurpose,
and reward with hope and joy
each step we take
through Christ
with you and with all flesh.  Amen
 
Offertory
 
Neither the world nor the Bible are single-use. Indeed, we live from hour to hour, minute to minute by the circulation and refreshment of our bloodstream. It’s diagnosed as a serious life-threatening condition if one part of our body starts hoarding the goodness in a blood-clot. 
 
Hanging on to more than we need harms others and therefore, eventually, also ourselves.  And sometimes decluttering and giving can happily work together.
 
So our giving, whilst it may be admirable or sacrificial, is also a participation in the flow of goodness through and from our hands.
 
Holy Three, together
through whom, and by your pattern
We gain, enjoy, let go;
 
Give us joy in our giving
wisdom in its spending
and your peace in our hearts
and our world and our lives and your church.
Amen.
 
Hymn       Will your anchor hold?
Priscilla Jane Owens (1829-1907)
 

Will your anchor hold
in the storms of life,
when the clouds unfold
their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift,
and the cables strain,
will your anchor drift,
or firm remain?
 
We have an anchor
that keeps the soul
steadfast and sure
while the billows roll;
fastened to the Rock
which cannot move,
grounded firm and deep
in the Saviour’s love!

2 Will your anchor hold
in the straits of fear,
when the breakers roar
and the reef is near?
While the surges rage,
and the wild winds blow,
shall the angry waves
then your bark o’erflow?
 
3 Will your eyes behold
through the morning light
the city of gold
and the harbour bright?
Will you anchor safe
by the heavenly shore,
when life’s storms are past
for evermore?

Blessing
 
May Christ sneak in and disappoint despair.
May those who withhold trust till all is certain
get eggs of Easter on their face.
May fragile friendships know they heal the world
And the rumour get about that God is with us
Come what may.
So may the blessing of God the Creative Community
God, Beloved, and Breath of Life
Empower and encourage you
Today and each today God gives. Amen
 
 
 
 
 
Sources and thanks
 
Call to Worship adapted from the Exultset by Andy Braunston, all other material by David Coleman.
 
Love DivineCharles Wesley (1707-1788) BBC Songs of Praise
Let All The World In Every Corner Sing – George Herbert (1593-1633)  BBC Songs of Praise
Great is thy faithfulness – Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960) Words: © 1923, renewed 1951, Hope Publishing Company. BBC Songs of Praise
Will your anchor hold?Priscilla Jane Owens (1829-1907)  BBC Songs of Praise
 
Opening Organ Piece: Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland (“Now the Gentile saviour comes”) by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece: Komm Gott Schӧpfer Heiliger Geist (“Come God, creator Holy Ghost”) by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of Basilica Santa Maria Dei Assunta, Montecatini Terme, Italy – 2016)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to Barrhead URC for recording the Call to Worship.
 
 

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