This service is published by https://devotions.urc.org.uk/ .
It is also available via telephone on 01252 978319 – if you know anyone who wishes to worship but who is unable to do so via the Internet, please share this phone number with them.
This week’s service is led by the Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington and is a celebration of Holy Communion.
Good morning, I am Janet Tollington, a retired United Reformed Church minister, and I’m speaking to you from my home in Willingham, a few miles outside Cambridge. Later in the service, in memory of, and obedience to Christ I will be inviting you to share bread and wine with me. So if you wish to participate in this act of Holy Communion, now may be a moment to pause this recording and get yourself some bread and wine, or juice, in readiness. Today would have fallen during General Assembly of the URC; the occasion when we gather to conduct the church’s business and to celebrate endings and beginnings by some of significant spheres of service in the life of the church, amongst other things. Because of Covid-19 Assembly had to be cancelled but thankfully some of these matters were conducted on Friday and Saturday by Councils convened through video conferencing. There will be some reference to this in our prayers; but I think it is appropriate, at this moment, to give thanks to God for John Proctor’s service as General Secretary as he enters retirement and to pray for John Bradbury as he 16 succeeds in this role. Likewise we thank God for Nigel Uden’s and Derek Estill’s service as Moderators of Assembly and remember Clare Downing and Peter Pay as they take up these batons.
So now, let us worship God.
Call to Worship
We meet in the name of God, the Holy Trinity of Love
who knows our needs, hears our cries, feels our pain, and heals our wounds.
God is our light and our salvation. In God’s name we light this candle and are reminded of Jesus, the Light of the World, God’s own Voice who came to live with us.
May our hearts be open to you, O God, now and always. Amen
Hymn Thou Whose Almighty Word
John Marriott 1780-1825; Tune Moscow
Thou, whose almighty Word chaos and darkness heard, and took their flight; hear us, we humbly pray, and, where the Gospel day sheds not its glorious ray, let there be light! 2: Thou, who didst come to bring on Thy redeeming wing healing and sight, health to the sick in mind, sight to the inly blind, O now, to humankind, let there be light! 3: Spirit of truth and love, life giving, holy Dove, speed forth Thy flight; move on the water’s face bearing the lamp of grace, and, in earth’s darkest place, let there be light! 4: Blessèd and holy Three, glorious Trinity, Wisdom, Love, Might! Boundless as ocean’s tide, rolling in fullest pride, through the world far and wide, let there be light!
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Assurance
Eternal God, you said, ‘Let there be light’ and it was so. You brought the universe into being and set us in the beauty of the earth; and we are amazed that you entrust us with its life. You are sovereign over all that exists; and yet your love is personal and you know each one of us in intricate detail. We praise you, living God. We thank you for the invitation to come into your presence to offer our worship; and we open our hearts to you in adoration and in prayer. Draw near to us in Christ, O God.
We come, believing you have called us, a strange mix of people, confident in our status as your children, yet often cowardly. Forgive us. We profess obedience, yet often we indulge ourselves and try to assert our desires as your will. Forgive us.
We devote ourselves to you; and yet often we fail to recognise your presence or to discern where you are leading. Forgive us. Renew us by your Spirit that we might live as Christ’s body in the world. Amen.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The promise is given to all who repent and turn to Christ: Your sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Prayer of Illumination
Holy God, open our ears to your living word. Penetrate our jadedness or fatigue and awaken our yearnings by your truth. Speak to us with clarity that we might hear good news. Amen.
Readings Isaiah 55: 10-13
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
St Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’
‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
Hymn: Come Thou Everlasting Spirit
Charles Wesley 1745
Come, Thou everlasting Spirit, bring to every thankful mind all the Saviour’s dying merit, all His sufferings for mankind! 2: True Recorder of His Passion, now the living faith impart; now reveal His great salvation; preach His Gospel to our heart. 3: Come, Thou witness of His dying; come, remembrancer divine! Let us feel Thy power, applying Christ to every soul, and mine!
May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.
Jesus said, ‘Listen! … Let anyone with ears listen,’ and again he said, ‘Hear the parable’. During lockdown many commented on being able to hear so much more bird song and on the delight it brought – and there were those spontaneous outdoor concerts by talented musicians that delighted neighbours able to listen from balconies or doorsteps. Then we can probably all recall being entertained by hearing a good story or a well-crafted joke – but I doubt whether this kind of listening (or hearing), that delights our senses, or captures our attention for just a short while, to divert us from the routines of life, is what Jesus meant when he spoke to the crowds and his disciples.
He would have been speaking Aramaic, a language closely related to Hebrew – and in the Bible the Hebrew word (shama’) can be translated by hear, listen, heed, hearken to, obey, understand … the list goes on – and I imagine that Jesus’ disciples realised that he was calling them to pay attention, to heed carefully what he was saying, to strive to understand what it meant, in the hope that they might then act in accordance with his teaching through lives that had been transformed as a consequence.
As Jesus explained the meaning of his parable to them, he referred to it as ‘the word of the kingdom’. Now that word ‘word’, (dabar) in Hebrew, is another one with a huge range of meanings – saying, report, message, command (as in the 10 words), tidings, news, matter, promise, are just some of the possibilities.
At this point let’s recall the passage we heard from Isaiah where the prophet was proclaiming to God’s people in exile about God’s word. It is generally thought that this passage ends the section of the book in which prophecies offer hope to those in Babylon that God would enable them to return to their homeland and make a fresh start. The chapters challenge the people to grasp a bigger vision of God’s nature and purpose, of God’s power over creation and control of history, to recognize the reach of God’s love beyond the bounds of Israel to embrace all peoples; and to encourage them to deepen their faith and trust in God.
In our passage the imagery focuses on the natural world and reminds us how the rain and snow awaken fertility in the earth, with water transforming barren land into harvest that provides food for all and seed that can be sown to begin the cycle again. There may be good years and bad, but the prophet declares that we can trust the continuation of the seasons, of seedtime and harvest. By analogy, he tells the exiles, so it is with God’s word – God’s words of the covenant; God’s promises of salvation and restoration; God’s message of hope and righteousness, justice and peace. God’s word can be trusted to fulfil what it promises, for God’s word is active, enlivening, transforming; God’s word has power to accomplish what it intends – it is purposeful – and it was good news for the exiles. The following verses picture a joyful return to Jerusalem during which the natural world joins in the celebration and praise of God, as those promises of old were fulfilled.
These ideas of God’s word as promise and purposeful good news underlie Jesus’ focus on ‘the word of the kingdom’. It is a kind of shorthand to summarise all his teaching about the nature of God’s kingdom – a realm where justice prevails, where sinners and outcasts are welcomed, where forgiveness is offered, where the hungry are fed, the homeless are housed, those imprisoned by fear, disease, persecution are released, where all can enjoy the fullness of life, where ultimately, when all is fulfilled, evil and death shall be no more.
This is what God intends for all creation, says Jesus; and we can believe it, it will be accomplished because God’s word is faithful and true. But of course there is a gulf between what will be, in God’s good time and what is, now – as there was for the exiles between their hopes for a new Jerusalem and the realities of Babylon. Jesus call us to listen, to hear – how do we respond?
We could simply say ‘I enjoyed that delightful story about a sower and what happened to his seeds’ – or, we can grasp the vision of what God intends; and commit ourselves to following the example and teaching of Jesus in all we say and do; and invite the Holy Spirit to equip and empower us to live as signs of hope to the world, witnesses to what life can be, by God’s grace, as we share our faith and challenge the powers that try to undermine the purposes of God.
Jesus says, ‘Let anyone with ears, listen!’ So be it and to God be the glory. Amen.
Affirmation of Faith
We believe in God.
Despite His silence and His secrets we believe that He lives.
Despite evil and suffering we believe that He made the world
so that all would be happy in life.
Despite the limitations of our reason and the revolts of our hearts,
we believe in God.
We believe in Jesus Christ.
Despite the centuries which separate us
from the time when he came to earth, we believe in His word.
Despite our incomprehension and our doubt,
we believe in His resurrection.
Despite his weakness and poverty, we believe in His reign.
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
Despite appearances we believe He guides the Church;
despite death we believe in eternal life;
despite ignorance and disbelief,
we believe that the Kingdom of God is promised to all. Amen.
Prayers of Intercession
Holy God, you came among us in your Son, Christ Jesus, because you loved the world so much and now we bring to you our prayers for the world and all its peoples.
We pray for peace and justice throughout the world. By your Spirit, move among us, breaking down barriers of fear, suspicion and hatred, wherever they exist. Bring an end to conflicts and heal humanity of its divisions. Draw us together into one united family.
We pray for our nations that together constitute the United Kingdom. Enrich our common life and strengthen the forces of truth and goodness in our midst. Grant wisdom to our politicians and guide us in the ways that lead to a fairer society where resources are allocated in response to need, that all may live with dignity and joy.
We pray for those who are suffering in body, mind or spirit. Surround them with your love and give them strength. Grant that we, and all people of good will, may be channels of your grace, bringing hope and renewed courage to face the present situation.
We pray for the Church in all its forms and traditions, that it may be true to the Gospel and faithful its worship, its witness and its service. For the United Reformed Church we pray that our corporate life may be sustained through the work of its councils. As we give thanks for all that has been transacted in the name of Christ over the last two days, we pray for those who have taken on new responsibilities, or moved into new areas of service. Uphold them by your Spirit and grant them the discernment to know your will; and may all our congregations be enriched by the leadership they receive.
Finally we pray for those we know and love, lifting up by name any who are especially in our thoughts today … Loving God, be to each one according to their need; and what we pray for others, we pray too for ourselves, in the name of Christ. Amen.
It may not be possible for us to worship with our own congregations at this time but the work of the church goes on and its costs continue. It is important that we make our regular contributions, as we are able, through whatever channels are open to us, alongside offering our gifts of time and talents in the service of Christ.
So as we prepare to gather round the Lord’s table let us pray: Gracious God, we bring to you our gifts of money; and we bring ourselves, all that we are and own. With these we bring the ordinary things of life, food and drink, that all may be transformed by your love into the life of your kingdom, through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Hymn: Gifts of Bread and Wine
Christine McCann © 1978 Kevin Mayhew Ltd.
Gifts of bread and wine, gifts we've offered, fruits of labour, fruits of love; taken, offered, sanctified, blessed and broken; words of one who died: 'Take my body, take my saving blood.' Gifts of bread and wine: Christ our Lord. 2: Christ our Saviour, living presence here as He promised while on earth: 'I am with you for all time, I am with you in this bread and wine.’ 3: Through the Father, with the Spirit, one in union with the Son, for God's people, joined in prayer faith is strengthened by the food we share.
It is Christ who invites us to come to this sacred table, not because we must but because we may; not because we are strong but because we are weak; not to testify to any righteousness of our own but because we stand in need of heaven’s mercy and help. So let us come, whoever we are, because we love the Lord a little and desire to know and love him more.
We recall how Jesus sat at table with his friends, the night before he was betrayed, and took bread. He gave thanks to God and broke it, saying,
‘This is my body, broken for you. Do this is memory of me.’
Likewise, after supper, he took a cup and shared it with them saying,
‘This cup is the new covenant sealed by my blood, which is poured out for many. Drink this in memory of me.’
As Jesus took bread and wine, I take such elements to be set apart to this holy use and mystery; and as he gave thanks and blessed, let us draw near to God with our prayers and thanksgivings.
Please join in with the responses, and eat and drink, as far as you feel able.
The Lord be with you! And also with you.
Lift up your hearts! We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is truly right and our greatest joy
to give you thanks and praise,
O Lord our God, creator and ruler of the universe.
You formed us in your image
and breathed into us the breath of life.
You set us in this world to love and serve you,
and to live in peace with all that you have made.
You spoke your word to those whom you had chosen;
in disobedience they turned from your commands;
but you did not turn from them.
You came yourself in Christ, the Word made flesh;
but he was shunned, forsaken in the darkness of the Cross.
You made that tree of death, the tree of life,
the empty grave a sign of eternal hope.
You raised Christ to life and to your side.
You give to us your Holy Spirit, to lead us into truth and understanding.
Therefore we praise you,
joining our voices with all people in heaven and on earth
who forever sing to the glory of your name:
Holy, most holy, all holy the Lord, in power and wisdom, forever adored. The earth and the heavens are full of your love; our joyful hosannas re-echo above. Blessèd, most blessèd, all blessèd is He, whose life makes us whole, and whose death sets us free; who comes in the name of the Father of light, let endless hosannas resound in the height.
We praise you that we are gathered around the table of Jesus,
who revealed your love, healed the sick,
lifted up the broken, made sense of life.
We thank you for his ministry, his teaching,
his striving to bring freedom, justice and peace to all.
We thank you that in Christ we have forgiveness
and through his death and resurrection, the promise of new life.
Remembering your gracious acts in Jesus Christ,
we take bread and wine and proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us, your people, and on our bread and wine, that we may become one with Christ and be formed into Christ’s body in the world, ready to live for you and to do your will today and every day.
Creator God, we offer this prayer through Christ, with Christ, in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God to whom all glory and honour be given, now and forever.
And now, as our Saviour taught us so we pray:
Our Father who art in heaven ..
(The Breaking of the bread)
Because there is one loaf,
we, many as we are, are one body;
for it is one loaf of which we all partake.
The body of Christ was broken for us. Let us eat with faith.
(Eat the bread)
When we take the cup, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ?
Jesus said. ‘This is my blood, poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins.’ Let us drink with thanksgiving. (Drink the wine)
Music for Reflection: The King of Love My Shepherd Is
Jo Baird, Nairn URC
Post Communion Prayer
Loving God, we thank you for what you have given and promised to us here. Renewed by faith, fed by Christ, made one by your Spirit’s power, send us out in joy to make known your salvation and love to all the world. In the name of Christ. Amen.
Hymn: You shall go out with joy and be lead forth in peace
Stuart Dauermann – Tune ‘Trees of the field’
You shall go out with joy
and be led forth with peace;
the mountains and the hills
will break forth before you.
There’ll be shouts of joy,
and all the trees of the field
will clap, will clap their hands.
May God, the creative word, bless you,
May Christ, the living word, accompany you,
May the Holy Spirit lead you into a deeper understanding
of the one God, holy and true, forever. Amen
Sources and Thanks
Call to Worship from the Church of England’s New Patterns of Worship. Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France (translated by Andy Braunston) All other liturgical material from Janet Tollington.
Organ Pieces Opening: Lobt Gott Ihr Christen (“Praise God ye Christians”) by Johann Gottfried Walther (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020) Closing: Procession by Arthur Wills (organ of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Venice, Italy – 2014) Both played by Brian Cotterill. http://briancotterill.webs.com
Thanks to the choir of Barrhead URC, Ruth Watson, Ray Fraser, Marion Thomas, Anne Hewling, Jonnie Hill, Gordon Smith and John Young for recording various parts of the service.
Thou Whose Almighty Word John Marriott 1780-1825 sung by the Scottish Festival Singers.
Come Thou Everlasting Spirit by Charles Wesley performer unknown.
Gifts of Bread and Wine by Christine McCann © 1978 Kevin Mayhew Ltd sung by Kathryn Crosweller on the 2008 album Still is the Word.
Sanctus by the Rev’d Michael Forster © 1993, 1995 Kevin Mayhew Ltd performed by Lucy Bunce.
The King of Love My Shepherd Is sung by Jo Baird of Nairn URC
You Shall Go Out With Joy by Stuart Dauermann © 1975 Lillenas Publishing Company / Thank You Music