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URC Daily Devotions Sunday Worship for 8th August 2021 – The Revd. Jenny Mills

Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Service for Sunday 8th August 2021

The Rev’d Jenny Mills
 
Introduction
 
Hello.  My name is Jenny Mills, I am an ordained Minister of Word and Sacraments currently serving in the role of Secretary for Education and Learning for the United Reformed Church.  I live right at the bottom edge of the East Midlands synod, in Milton Keynes. You may know of Milton Keynes for its roundabouts and concrete cows (of which there are now a number of sets, in case any get broken!). It is also well known for being the home of many big companies and for being the place in which parts of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and the Imitation Game were filmed.  You can cross the whole city without going on a road as it is connected by cycle paths and footpaths called Redways. It is also a slightly confusing place to live as each roundabout looks the same and the edible walkways mean there are lots of fruit-growing trees and not many landmarks to help with a sense of direction.  However, it is also a great place to travel from as road and rail connections are good – which helps in my role as I visit the Resource Centres for Learning or work at Church House in London.   Welcome to worship, it is good to be able to share with you.
 
Call to Worship
 
Come before the Lord with joyful songs, because God is good and generous, because we lack nothing. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
Serve the Lord with gladness, because of God’s greatness and justice,
because God puts an end to war, and to all forms of violence. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
Come before the Lord with joy because God is a faithful promises keeper;
God’s Word is eternal. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
Know that the Lord is God, and we are God’s own people, a community, the family of God. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
 
It is God who has made us to the praise of the Holy Name, and therefore today, in the same spirit, we have a festival to celebrate God’s peace. Let us enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.

Hymn:      Jesus Calls Us O’er The Tumult
                  Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) (alt.)  BBC Songs of Praise

 

Jesus calls us!  O’er the tumult
of our life’s wild restless sea,
day by day his voice is sounding,
saying, “Christian, follow me”.
 
 2 As, of old, Saint Andrew heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for his dear sake.
 
3: In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”
 
4 Jesus calls us!  By your mercy,
Saviour, make us hear your call,
give our hearts to your obedience,
serve and love you best of all.

 

Prayers of Approach, Confession and Declaration of Forgiveness
 
Gracious God,
You have shown us in your Son Jesus Christ that love is to be the driving force behind all our actions.
He loved where others had rejected.
He encouraged where others judged.
He enabled where others ignored.
May we seek to follow his ways.
You have shown us through the power of your Holy Spirit that we are able to be your people if we choose.
May we listen to your voice within us.
May we heed your nudging us beyond our comfort zones.
May we treasure your inspiration urging us on.
You have shown us through your beauty in creation that everything is valued and precious.
From the tiniest caterpillar to the towering giraffe.
From the tenacious flower peering through a crack in a pavement to the wildest weeds that spread themselves generously.
From the gentlest breath of a butterfly to the snort of the wild hog.
We acknowledge your splendour and majesty with awe and wonder.
We see your touch in the world that inspires and enables
And we hear your presence whisper through the trees and float off on the wind, embracing all it encounters.
Yet we find ourselves struggling to hold onto that love, that inspiration, that beauty.
We hurt and harm,
we curse and comment,
we destroy and divide.
We choose our way over your way,
even when it damages your world and your people and, at times, even us.
Because we fail to truly grasp your vision,
we see though a glass dimly,
we understand in part,
and we feel our way forward, reaching out in vain and stumbling time and again.
Call us back.
Help us to hear and to heed your voice.
Reminding us that we are your people and your wish is for harmony and unity.
Reminding us to step up and step out and choose action over rhetoric,
protest over passivity and equity over prejudice.
Forgive us for the times we have not acted, not spoken out, not championed the cause of those who had no one to speak for them. Forgive us for the times when we have acted selfishly and without appreciating our responsibility to others. Forgive us when we have become so self-absorbed that we have lost sight of your call to community and solidarity with others.
Forgive us and help us to find the will and way to make amends and alter our behaviour.
 
Jesus said: ‘your sins are forgiven’.
May we hear and heed those words, forgive ourselves, forgive others and find peace.  Amen.
Prayer of Illumination
 
Lord of light and love,
as we encounter the treasures stored in these texts,
open our hearts and minds to your Word.
May the words we hear,
the thoughts they prompt,
and the reflections they bring,
inspire us to respond through words and actions,
sharing your love with those whom we encounter,
today and in the coming days. AMEN.

Readings
 
1 Kings 19:1-15
 
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
 
St John 6:35-51
 
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.  It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Hymn:      The Kingdom of God
Bryn A Rees 1911-1983 sung by The Revd. 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.
 
2 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.
 
3 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.
 
4 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.

 

Sermon
 
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
 
When we encounter Elijah in the reading our first response may be that we feel sorry for him. Such is the risk when we take texts at face value with no context! At the beginning of 1 Kings 19 King Ahab (who was married to Jezebel) relays the story of the previous chapter in which Elijah has been sent to Ahab, by God in the middle of a drought, and shown God’s power to the prophets of Baal and then killed them all. As the drought ends we find Jezebel promise to do to Elijah what he has done to the prophets- kill him. So when we hear of him asking God that he may die, we are encountering something that is not as straightforward as it seems.
 
Elijah has been faithful to God and yet he has killed men, so when we find him in the wilderness exhausted and alone, he is obviously struggling with a lot of emotion. He is tired, he is fearful (following the threat to his life by a woman), he is possibly carrying guilt and remorse, he may feel he has given his all and yet feels distant from God, he is maybe feeling a bit self-indulgent too! I mean, who wouldn’t?
 
How many of us can identify with where Elijah finds himself (setting aside the actions related to killing the prophets!)? We have found ourselves in and out of a wilderness since March 2020; we have had to walk alongside friends and family who have been sick or died, who have had to isolate or shield. We have been in and out of lockdowns; been through the vaccination programme and started life again more than once, with changing messages and advice, with confusion around guidance and uncertainty about what is safe or not safe. We have struggled with a lot of emotion, felt fear, exhaustion and loneliness, and even as and when things around us resume some sort of normality we know we have all been changed by the effects of the pandemic, forever. We may still be feeling guilt and carrying remorse at what has happened to us or others or to our community and country.
 
Elijah is obviously struggling with his emotions and what does he do? He sleeps. I do not know about you, but a good nap always helps me! Then what God does in the story is even more amazing- God provides food, sustenance and nourishment for Elijah. As many of us know, being hungry and thirsty makes us even less rational and able to make good choices. God doesn’t judge or condemn but provides for Elijah’s physical needs with food and drink. And then God expects Elijah to get up and continue on his way, as God’s servant.
One message from this text could be that there is nothing a good sleep and some cake cannot solve. Now that may be true, but that would be too simplistic and trite in the story of a man who features at a troubled time in the history of God’s people. The rest and the feeding is really important and good advice for us all to heed, but its importance lies less in the reality of what happened and more about its meaning.
 
Let us focus for a moment on the reading from John- once again we experience emotions, this time from the Jewish authorities. They are angry. They complain. They are indignant. Who on earth is this man who calls himself the bread of life? What arrogance! Can you imagine their consternation? These are learned men whom people revere as the religious elite and the ones who ‘know’. And they are being challenged by Jesus, the man they know as the son of Joseph, a man who they feel has no right to claim such lofty ideals. In this story Jesus speaks of nourishing the people, not with simple food but with himself. It is less about physical hunger and satisfaction and more about being nourished as human beings, being given that which would enable flourishing, finding sustenance that endures and gives life in all its fulness.
 
Both stories involve food and God’s blessing.   Both stories involve emotions and confusion.  Both stories still speak into our world today, a world where both physical and spiritual hunger is still rife. A world where we can struggle with emotions, especially as people who follow Jesus, because we can receive the message that weakness, vulnerability and real emotions have to be diluted or hidden or denied for us to be faithful and ‘good enough’ for God.
 
I have realised that I was taught, in Sunday school (and reinforced at home): be good, turn the other cheek, do not cause trouble, put others first, be less noisy and emotional. I do not blame anyone for that, it is just how it was. Many Christian leaders over the years have put much energy into denying emotions, in allowing the patriarchy to dominate and control, in putting people in narrow confines of behaviour and telling us that ‘It is God’s Will’. We have been told that we must do all we can to keep the peace and take the punishment because ‘God has a plan’ or ‘it is your duty as a wife or woman’. We have been told that being depressed is a result of not being faithful enough or praying hard enough. We have been told that we must put God first, and this has been heard as putting self second, or even third, after everyone else. We have been encouraged to limit our emotions or responses to ‘fit in’ or because it feels like that is what has been expected. Absorbing such teachings and allowing them to affect us has caused damage and destruction, it has driven people away from the church and hurt and harmed people. Personally, I have spent time challenging these negative, oppressive messages and learning to embrace the message of unconditional love that God has for each and every human being. I have been encouraged by those whom I have encountered in my faith and others beyond, to see myself as a precious child of God, loved just the way I am, without limits or caveats, emotional as I can be. And I offer that encouragement to you, too.
 
Emotions are powerful things. They can be frightening and uncontrollable and organizations and structures function better with predictable and safe. And so we have often denied or ignored or belittled emotions, within organised religion. We have used scripture and sermons to champion messages of oppression for those who speak out or do not fit the mould or expected ways of behaving, we have twisted teachings to condemn and criticise those with whom we do not agree. If we go back to the Bible and we look at what happens, time after time we see love being shown, through words and actions, through teachings and subtle messages contained in texts. We can lose sight, and at times have lost sight, of the fact that God is love and love is what we are called to live. We can lose sight of the exhortation from Christ to love our neighbour (and prefer to condemn or judge or correct them!).
 
Because when the chips are down, God does not want to control us, but wants to see us flourish; Jesus did not come to tell us all how awful we are, but to show us how much we are loved and he did this by his life, his death and his glorious resurrection. The negative stuff comes from humankind, not from God.
 
Emotions are messy and exhausting, they cause problems and issues, but if we learn to harness our emotions and express them authentically and within safe boundaries, if we give permission for people to feel and work out how to manage those feelings, if we give credence to people expressing their emotions in ways that enable honest conversations, if we make our churches safe places in which to express emotions, God is visible, present, alive and able to work through people and experiences in new and exciting ways. And our lives, and those of the communities we belong to, are enriched and blessed.
 
Let us come back to Elijah, he is met with love and compassion, he is fed and strengthened and he is able to resume his calling. He is able to continue his journey, he is affirmed and energised. Despite all he was feeling, through being nourished, he found life.
 
How does Jesus model handling emotions? He listens, he hears, he acknowledges, he responds, he understands. He faces the negative stuff and challenges it and he praises, encourages and enables the positive stuff. And he reminds the people how God has always fed them- offering them the chance of flourishing, being whole and authentic, able to love God, their neighbour and themselves with equal passion and care. Let us seek to hear and heed this reminder, too. AMEN.

Hymn       God Forgave My Sin, In Jesus’ Name
Carol Owens (1931 – )  © 1972 Bud John Songs (ASCAP)(admin. by EMI CMG Publishing).
From the Album The Worship Collection 2

 

God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name,
I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name,
and in Jesus’ name I come to you
to share his love as he told me to.
 
2. All power is given in Jesus’ name,
in earth and heaven in Jesus’ name,
and in Jesus’ name I come to you
to share his power as he told me to.



He said: ‘Freely, freely you have received; freely, freely give.
Go in my name and because you believe, others will know that I live.’
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
We believe in the one and only God, Eternal Trinity, from whom, through whom and for whom all created things exist. God alone we worship; 
in God we put our trust.
 
We worship God, source and sustainer of creation, whom Jesus called Father, whose sons and daughters we are.
 We worship God revealed in Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh; who lived our human life, died for sinners on the cross; who was raised from the dead, and proclaimed by the apostles, Son of God; who lives eternally, as saviour and sovereign, coming in judgement and mercy,  to bring us to eternal life.
 
We worship God, ever present in the Holy Spirit; who brings this Gospel to fruition, assures us of forgiveness, strengthens us to do God’s will,
and makes us sisters and brothers of Jesus, sons and daughters of God.
 We believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, united in heaven and on earth: on earth, the Body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit to glorify God and to serve humanity; in heaven, eternally one with the power, the wisdom and the love of God in Trinity.
 
We believe that, in the fullness of time, God will renew and gather in one all things in heaven and on earth through Christ, and be perfectly honoured and adored.
 
We rejoice in God who has given us being,  who shares our humanity to bring us to glory, our source of prayer and power of praise; to whom be glory, praise and adoration, now and evermore. Amen
 
Intercessions
 
Let us pray: Lord we are happy that we can come together to worship, whether we access this through the internet, on a CD or in print. We are thankful for those who provide this facility each week and are grateful for their commitment and time given. We are also grateful for the blessings that have surprised, sustained and been ours this week. (Brief pause)
 
But Lord we are also sad that there are people who cannot count their blessings because they are unwell, oppressed, are victims of crime, living in areas of conflict or find themselves unable to see the positives. We are concerned for those who find life unbearable, who struggle to function each day, those who are depressed and those with suicidal thoughts. May the words of our prayers and the knowledge of your love, touch their hearts and offer hope.
 
Gracious god, we are angry with the injustices that we see around us- in our communities, our country and your world. We see so much suffering and hardship that we almost become immune. Shock us into caring, prompt us into challenging where we are able, inspire us to act and speak out knowing that your heart is for humanity to live in peace and harmony. We bring our prayers for those who are fearful and worried, those whose lives do not speak of flourishing or abundance. May the words we offer in prayers change us and our attitudes, may they stir up an emotion in us that refuses to accept the status quo and may we consider the ways that you are prompting us to respond.
 
In a short time of quiet, we offer the prayers of our hearts- for ourselves, for those whom we love and care for and for those people, places and situations in the news at this time.
 
Silence
 
As we hold all these prayers before you, we know that your love is stronger than anything else in this world and we conclude our prayers reassured and renewed.
Bless us, we pray. Bless those whom we have prayed for.
 
And bless those who need our prayers but are unable to ask for them.
In Jesus’ name, who lived, died and rose again that we might live. Amen.

Offertory
 
As the people of God we are called to serve- through our everyday lives, through our actions and words and through our decisions and choices. One area of service is giving, as we come to the Offertory in worship we come offering ourselves: our lives, our hearts, our gifts and talents and our money, as we are able. We believe that God calls us into community and brings us together to share the gospel message of love and our money goes towards sharing that message through the life of our churches.
 
So let us pray as we offer: through standing order or direct giving, through envelopes or one-off donations.
Gracious God,
Accept the tokens of our service we offer to you, given through our churches and charities.
Use us, each one of us, just as we are
and use these gifts of money to further your kingdom.
These we bring freely, confessing again our commitment to follow Jesus and live lives that reflect your will and way.
Amen.

Hymn:      We Cannot Own The Sunlit Sky
                  Ruth Duck 1984 © GIA Publications  sung by the Norval United Church Virtual Choir
 
We cannot own the sunlit sky, the moon, the wild-flowers growing,
For we are part of all that is within life’s river flowing.
With open hands receive and share the gifts of God’s creation,
That all may have abundant life in every earthly nation.
 
2: When bodies shiver in the night and weary wait for morning,
When children have no bread but tears, and war horns sound their warning.
God calls humanity to awake, to join in common labour,
That all may have abundant life, oneness with their neighbour.
 
3: God calls humanity to join as partners in creating
a future free from want or fear, Life’s goodness celebrating,
that new world beckons from afar, Invites our shared endeavour
that all might have abundant life and peace endure forever.
 
Blessing
 
The peace of God, which passes all understanding,
keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God
and of Jesus Christ our Lord;
and may the blessing of God almighty,
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,
be with you, those you love and those you struggle to love,
now and always. Amen.
 
Sources and thanks

Our thanks to those who have read various spoken parts of the service.
 
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
Songs of Praise Toccata by Robert Prizeman  (organ of St Andrew’s, Farnham – 2019)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com

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