Sunday Worship 12 February 2023

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Sunday Service from the URC



worship for challenging times



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Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today’s service.   You can either simply read this or you can

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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 12 February 2023

Today’s service is led by The Revd Phil Nevard 

Opening Sentences
Our Lord, you bless everyone who lives right and obeys your Law.
I don’t ever want to stray from your way.
You bless all those who follow your commands from deep in their hearts
I don’t ever want to stray from your way.
Thinking about your commands will keep me from foolishness.
I will do right and praise you;
Don’t turn your back on me.
Hymn    Eternal God, your love’s tremendous story
The Rev’d Alan Gaunt, © 1991 Stainer & Bell Ltd  CCLI Licence No. 1064776
Sung by the Rev’d Paul Robinson
Eternal God, your love’s tremendous glory
cascades through life in overflowing grace,
to tell creation’s meaning in the story
of love evolving love from time and space.
Eternal Son of God, uniquely precious,
in you, deserted, scorned, crucified,
God’s love has fathomed sin and death’s deep darkness,
and flawed humanity is glorified.
Eternal Spirit, with us like a mother,
embracing us in love serene and pure:
you nurture strength to follow Christ our brother,
as full-grown children, confident and sure.
Love’s trinity, self-perfect, self-sustaining;
love which commands, enables, and obeys:
you give yourself, in boundless joy, creating
one vast increasing harmony of praise.

We ask you now, complete your image in us;
this love of yours, our source and guide and goal.
May love in us seek love and serve love’s purpose,
till we ascend with Christ and find love whole.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
Creator God, we take this day, as a special day, 
to celebrate the goodness of the world you have made, 
the world you sustain.  
The world teems with life and is filled with beauty, 
celebrating its creator.  
You have breathed your life into each one of us, 
made us in your image, called us to be your children.
We rejoice, and we are glad.
Saviour God,
we take this day, as a special day, 
to celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead.  
With joy in our hearts we can proclaim that he is risen!  
He shared our life and suffered our death 
so that we might share his  life and his rising 
– conquering death.  
Because he lives, we too shall live!
We rejoice, and we are glad.
we take this day, as a special day, 
to celebrate the coming of your Spirit, 
for you are not a God above and beyond us, but with us and in us.  
Your Spirit within us, we have a measure of your love, 
of your joy, of your peace, of your power 
to live as your children in the world.
We rejoice, and we are glad.
God of every day,
We take this day as a special day, 
forgive us when we take it as the only day to rejoice and be glad 
in all you have given, for Monday and Thursday, 
Tuesday and Friday, Wednesday and Saturday are your days too.  
Help us to live as your children all the days of our lives.  Amen.
When we offer God our confession, we join the beautiful work of reconciliation, which begins with our reconciling with God. Trusting in our Partner in grace, let us make our confession, first in silent prayer.
(Silent confession)
Gracious and loving God, 
open our hearts so that we can admit to you the fullness of our lives – 
that which is beautiful and good, and that which is hurtful and hateful.
We confess that we do not follow Jesus in all that we do.
We love with condition.  We judge and condemn.  We cast the first stone; we keep the logs in our own eyes; 
we do not turn to You as the source of our healing.
Forgive us, we pray.   Forgive our sin and empower us to be imitators of Christ in love and service. Amen. 
Assurance of Forgiveness
Friends in Christ, know this: 
the mercy of God is from everlasting to everlasting, 
and I remind you of this surpassing grace, in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.
Alleluia! Amen.
A Prayer for Illumination
Loving God, Spirit of Wisdom and Truth,
break through our drowsiness,
break through our stubborn-ness,
break through our prejudice,
break through our comfort-level,
break open your Word,
that our lives might be turned towards your glory.   Amen.
Reading       Deuteronomy 30:15-20
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Hymn    Psalm 119
              from The Psalms for Singing: A 21st Century Edition © Cameron Press Singing from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland
How blessed are those 
whose way is pure;
for in the LORD’s law 
they do walk:
blessed who his testimonies keep,
and who with their 
whole heart him seek.
Yes, they do no unrighteousness,
but in his ways they onward press.

Your precepts you 
commanded us
with diligence to be obeyed.
O that my ways established were,
to keep the statutes 
you have made.
Then I will not 
be shamed because
my eyes are fixed on all your laws.

 To you I will give thanks and praise,
out of a heart of uprightness,
when I your judgments all do learn,
for they are full of righteousness.
Your statutes will be kept by me;
do not forsake me utterly.
Reading        St Matthew 5:21-37
‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.”  But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister,[c] you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire.  So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister  has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,  and then come and offer your gift.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.  Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.”  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 
 ‘It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.”  But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.”  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
In our reading from Deuteronomy, life seems like a game of simple choices.  God has set before us two options – life and prosperity or death and adversity – which do you choose?  Choose life, we are urged.  Simple!
Many people from my generation, when they hear the words “choose life”, would not think of Deuteronomy but rather, the famous opening lines from that iconic 1990s film, Trainspotting.  Ewan McGregor burst onto the scene in the character of Mark Renton with these lines:
“Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose an effing big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of effing fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the eff you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing effing junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, effed up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”
The Deuteronomist didn’t countenance the idea that anyone would choose anything else other than this “life” that God has set before us.  But the version of “life” packaged to Mark Renton by 1990s Britain didn’t seem that attractive to him and he chose something else.  Not to offer too many spoilers, but Renton’s choices didn’t turn out to be that great either!
For the Deuteronomist, choosing “life” means obeying God’s commands, living a life of faithful obedience, living the life that God wants you to live.  It means not letting your heart turn away.
“You have heard it said”, says Jesus (and he might have added – by those who came before me, like the Deuteronomist)  “You have heard it said…”  And a whole list of commandments that had been said – murder, adultery, divorce, swearing falsely…  “but I say…”
There are some who might imagine that Jesus is going to soften what those stern Old Testament voices proclaimed, bring a bit of nuance or grey, reassure us that it’s all dreadfully difficult and it really only matters that we try our best and not to worry too much about it because God loves us.
But, far from it!  Jesus goes a step further.  Choosing “life” is not just about not doing the bad stuff, it’s also not even THINKING about doing the bad stuff, not even IMAGINING doing the bad stuff.  If you find yourself looking at another person, mentally undressing them, thinking to yourself “phwwooaarr!”, even though you would never dream of acting on your thoughts, then Jesus recommends that you have your eyes plucked out or your limbs chopped off so you won’t think that again.
Jesus was an engaging and colourful preacher.  He deployed a battery of oratorical techniques to engage a crowd.  One of his go-to techniques was hyperbole – deliberately overstating something for emotional effect. Obviously this is what’s happening here.  Jesus is not expecting you to pluck out your eyes or hack off your arm. There’s no evidence that his disciples or followers did this when he said it, they weren’t daft, they understood how powerful speech works as well as, if not better than us.
In the wilderness, Jesus struggled with this very same question – how to choose life – how to be who God wanted him to be.  And he is tempted – he imagines other choices – yet he doesn’t pluck out his eyes or hack off his arm!
The trick with hyperbole is in recognising it and responding appropriately.   If my missus tells me that I NEVER empty the bins, it won’t do for me to point out two occasions where I DID empty the bins, because this is hyperbole.  There is a much bigger conversation going on, probably bigger even than the bins issue.  So the trick is not to get distracted by the hyperbole and respond to that, but to discern the deeper issue in play.
In this instance, I don’t think it’s that difficult.  It’s even present in the Deuteronomy passage.  Remember, the Deuteronomist urges us to choose life by living a life of obedience.  But more than that – by making sure our hearts are not turned away.
Jesus is not threatening dire consequences for the thoughts that pass through your mind.  But he is telling us that we should be mindful of them and he is perhaps suggesting that our thoughts are not quite so uncontrollable as some would have us believe.  
If my first thought on noticing someone in the street is to size them up in terms of sexual attractiveness, then maybe that should tell me something about how I relate to other people, how I see other people, the worth I assign to them.  Maybe it tells me that my first thought is to see them as a possible acquisition for ME rather than as a loved child of God with needs and hopes of their own.  That will almost certainly affect the way I relate to people and act in the world.  I would need to be alert to it, think it through, pray about it, learn how to respond to people differently, educate myself, expand my horizons to understand other people better.  Or, as the Deuteronomist put it, not LET my heart be turned away.
It is not ENOUGH to avoid doing the bad stuff.  If my life is a seething turmoil of lust and bitterness, pride and jealousy hidden behind a pleasant face and general respectability, then I am not living the fulness of life that God would have me choose. The life that God would have us choose is bigger than not doing the bad stuff.  I am never going to reach out fully in love and compassion, self-sacrifice, hope, joy and peace if my mind is occupied with sizing up those around me for my own advantage.
Life is full of choices to be made.  
Choosing is your responsibility.  
Choose life.
Hymn            I Bind My Heart This Tide
Lauchlan M Watt 1907, Tune J Randall Zercher, 1965  Recording provided by Mennonite Church Music with their kind permission.
I bind my heart this tide
to the Galilean’s side,
to the wounds of Calvary,
to the Christ who died for me.
I bind my soul this day
to the neighbour far away,
to the stranger near at hand,
in this town, and in this land.
I bind my heart and soul
to the God, the Lord of all,
to the God, the poor one’s friend,
and the Christ whom he did send.
I bind myself to peace,
to make strife and envy cease.
My God, fasten sure the cord
of my service to the Lord!

Affirmation of Faith
We believe in God.
The God of all creeds, with all their truths.
But, above all, in the God that rises from the dead to become part of life.
We believe in the God that accompanies us along
every step of our path on this earth,
many times walking behind us, 
watching me and suffering with our mistakes,
other times walking beside us, talking to us and teaching us,
and other times walking ahead of us, guiding and marking our pace.
We believe in the God of flesh and blood, Jesus Christ,
the God who lived in our skin and tried on our shoes,
the God who walked in our ways, and knows of lights and shadows.
The God who ate and starved, who had a home and suffered loneliness,
who was praised and condemned, kissed and spat on, loved and hated.
The God who went to parties and funerals, 
the God who laughed and cried.
We believe in the God who is attentive today, who looks at the world
and sees the hatred that segregates, divides,
sets people aside, hurts and kills,
who sees the bullets piercing the flesh,
and the blood of innocent people flowing on the earth,
who sees the hand that dips into another’s pocket,
stealing what somebody needs to eat,
who sees the judge that favours the highest bidder,
the truth and justice of hypocrites,
who sees the dirty rivers and the dead fish,
the toxic substances destroying the earth and piercing the sky
who sees the future mortgaged and humanity’s debt growing.
We believe in God who sees all this … and keeps on crying.
But we also believe in God
who sees a mother giving birth – a life born from pain,
who sees two children playing – a seed growing,
who sees a flower blooming out of the debris – a new beginning,
who sees three crazy women clamouring for justice – 
an illusion that doesn’t die
who sees the sun rising every morning – a time of opportunities.
We believe in God who sees all this … and laughs, because, in spite of it all, there is hope.
Prayers of Intercession
Imagine the scene where a pebble is thrown into the middle of a pond.
A pebble falls into the middle of a pond.  It makes a splash or a plop, it breaks the surface, you can’t help but notice.
This coming week lies before us, each of us sits at the centre of our own little world – the place where the pebble lands and makes most impact on our feelings and emotions, stirs our anxieties and our fears, inspires our hopes and our dreams…
Think for a moment of your immediate world – the things that you are worried about this coming week in your own life – the things that directly affect you. Never mind anyone else for now – God is interested in you – God wants to come close to you in your hopes, your dreams, your fears, your anxieties….  Say something to God about how you feel about this coming week, and listen for God’s words of comfort and reassurance, hear God’s promise to walk alongside you and continue holding you in the palm of his hand…
The ripples begin to spread, creating circles, maybe the ducks are startled!  The splash has disappeared – set your own life aside for a moment – your mind can now focus wider – the people and situations around you – your family, your friends, your work colleagues, your village, your club, your church….  God is interested in all of them – God is present in all of them – God wants to come close to their lives…  say something to God about how you feel about this coming week and all those people and situations that surround you, and listen for God’s words of comfort and reassurance…  listen also for God’s words of prompting challenge that we might find new ways of being fruitful disciples in the heart of those people and situations…
The ripples are getting harder to see – but you can see their impact on the shores of the pond – the water rises and falls.  We know we are part of an unimaginably huge world – some of it we choose to get involved in – we have our passionate campaigns, some of it we choose to ignore – it seems to big, too complicated – too distant for us to effectively care for it all.  God is intimately interested in all of it – God wants to come close to every living breathing tiniest part of it…  say something to God about what you feel about the wider world that you are aware of through the news and through an ever more complex web of media that seems to bring it closer and closer to our doors…  listen for God’s words of comfort and reassurance, hear God’s promise that she will redeem every part of creation… listen also for God’s gentle, persistent, prompting challenge to stretch ourselves and find ways to join in God’s care for the whole of creation.
Now the pond is still.  Take a moment to drink in the peace of God that is beyond all human understanding…    now mentally gird up your loins, put on your sandals, roll up your sleeves, pick up your stick – ready yourself to go out and face this week – for having talked it through with God, it is already changed.    Amen.
Our offering is collected in many and various ways these days, but our gifts are no less precious to God.  Let us pray.
Loving God, you give to us beyond human measure;
You give to us without pausing to count the cost.
Accept these our gifts of money 
and with them the gift of our lives to be lived in your service
today and every day.   Amen
Hymn            Christ is Made the Sure Foundation
Latin 6th or 7th Century translator J M Neale BBC Songs of Praise
Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ, our head and cornerstone,
chosen of the Lord and precious, binding all the Church in one;
holy Zion’s help forever and her confidence alone.
To this temple, where we call you, come, O Lord of hosts, today;
with your constant loving kindness, hear your servants as they pray;
and your fullest benediction shed within its walls alway.

Praise and honour to the Father, praise and honour to the Son,
praise and honour to the Spirit, ever three and ever one:
one in might and one in glory while unending ages run!
Loving God, Send us out into your world,
To love and to serve.
And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
rest and remain with each one of you
this day, this week, and even for evermore.  Amen

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