COVID-19Sermons

Worship from the URC – Sunday 30 August 2020

This service is published by https://devotions.urc.org.uk/.

Today’s worship is led by the Rev’d David Coleman, chaplain to EcoCongregations Scotland, who will lead us in a service of Holy Communion. You may like to have some bread and wine ready to share with us at the relevant time.

Introduction

Welcome to this Service including Holy Communion, the first of two services I’ll be involved in, today led by myself, the Rev’d David Coleman, EcoChaplain with EcoCongregation Scotland. This is a special category ministry of the United Reformed Church, working ecumenically to encourage 500 Christian fellowships as they discover the concern for the care of Creation which is integral to Christianity, and which can take many forms, aspects and tones.

This is not a movement aimed at reinventing a shiny new green religion, but rather looking at what it means to be the church in an age of urgency and deepening awareness of crisis, where forgiveness, hope, love for the neighbour and trust in God are the most environmental gifts we can receive, to be people of hope against hope, and find joy in it all too!

Call To Worship

One: To all who are imprisoned,
Many: God says, “Come out”.

One: To all who are living in darkness,
Many: God says, “Show yourselves.”

One: To all who hunger and thirst,
Many: God gives food and springs of water.

One: To all who are far away,
Many: God makes smooth the way home.
God will not forget us, we are inscribed
on the palms of His hands.

Hymn: Touch The Earth Lightly

Shirley Erena Murray © 1992, 2005 Hope Pub. Co,

Touch the earth lightly, use the earth gently,
nourish the life of the world in our care:
gift of great wonder, ours to surrender,
trust for the children tomorrow will bear.

2: We who endanger, who create hunger,
agents of death for all creatures that live,
we who would foster clouds of disaster -
God of our planet, forestall and forgive!

3: Let there be greening, birth from the burning,
water that blesses and air that is sweet,
health in God's garden, hope in God's children,
regeneration that peace will complete.

4: God of all living, God of all loving,
God of the seedling, the snow and the sun,
teach us, deflect us, Christ reconnect us,
using us gently, and making us one.

Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness

God, Christ and Spirit, Partnership of Creation: Bringer of beauty from chaos welcoming all who are lost. Alone and together we bring life to transform.

Earth cries out against us; so: pardon our species: forgive! Forgive each, forgive all!

And where damage is done by my choice or neglect to what you have made and you love: so open a window of healing that, mindful of the magnitude of change, we be not bound by despair but empowered by hope encouraged by mercy enlivened by grace beyond earning.

Silence

Declaration of Forgiveness

God of Good Earth, who offers forgiveness in advance of completed action. Show us our place and purpose as creatures of dust and love through the friendship of Christ sharing flesh with all life. Amen, Amen, as you call.

Prayer of Illumination

God who inspired the writers of Scripture to interpret the joys and crises though which they came to know you; bless the words we read and wrestle with today; the thoughts they provoke the anger they arouse the impatience they encourage for these our days. Sustain our hope and our readiness to forgive as well as to “get on with it” living to your glory and the good of the Earth, telling your story, speaking your Word. Amen

Readings

Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord͘”. No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads͘.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them renounce self and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

“͞For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Musical Reflection:By Gracious Powers (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered
and confidently waiting, come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to meet us each new day.

2: Yet are our hearts by their old foe tormented;
still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
O give our frightened souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.

3: And when the cup you give is filled to brimming
with bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it gladly, trusting though with trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.

4: If once again, in this mixed world, you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
we shall recall what we have learned through sorrow,
and dedicate our lives to you alone.

Sermon Beyond Apple Pie

Paul’s advice to churches is generally on-the-hoof, but considered.

He likes to send lists of things that they ought to see as good as a way of getting across that from the identity of Christian community follows as a matter of course, that you care for the social and created environment where you have ended up.

Paul’s lists have their faults, and granting them word-for word authority can be counter-productive, though using them as a springboard for reflecting on the many dimensions of what it means to be church here and now is seriously challenging.

For instance: for churches in western cultures, having suffered from a winner-takes-all view of competition, where prizes are allocated for trampling the weakest underfoot, thus perhaps embracing as a knee-jerk response, a view of Christian character as non-competitive, …do we miss the chance to use the gift of a competitive spirit for the benefit and encouragement of all: ͞”outdoing one another in showing honour”?

Do we recycle, rather than just reject?

And can we repurpose the deep and powerful feelings – that should surely explode into revenge – instead into burning-coals actions of love and justice?

Can we accept that the satisfaction, closure and healing that nations who maintain the death-penalty believe is offered when victim’s families witness an execution, can be equalled or exceeded by the defiance of rising in goodwill above the evil we have experienced?

Here, having already got across the uncontroversially apple-pie message that ͞”it’s good to be good“, as well as a version of Jesus’ more wholesome reassurance, that we shouldn’t worry, but welcome it, if we find a good life rewarding, …..after all that, Paul is sticking his neck even further out, meddling in matters of honour and shame, and those things of importance, from which we might prefer to exclude some ‘wimpish’ religious influence.

In the controversies this year about the statues of slavers, Paul’s notorious cultural accommodation of slavery -on closer inspection (especially in the letter to Philemon) turns out to be a first step in subverting the fabric of an unjust society by appeal to better nature.

With hindsight, this does fail to impress, though hindsight can be smug and merciless, as well as defensively keen to demonstrate the moral superiority of our own day.

But in any time and place: How far can we push the change that is needed? How many noses can be put out of joint?

When is it right to blow our irrevocable scope for martyrdom, and when right, to ‘keep our powder dry‘ as our Scottish moderator, the late John Humphreys so frequently advised as our synod piloted the sensitive waters of the reconsideration of the inclusiveness of Christian marriage, just a few years ago.

Plenty of what we will do as the church today will amount to the planting of seeds to be trees for others and future generations. That’s a holy calling.

If as a prayerful offering, you want to plant real trees, though, take advice: take the same care with the effectiveness of environmental actions as you would with the maintenance of an organ, or of the church boiler.

Act for the care of Creation as if your life as a church depended on it, because, in so many ways, that is true.

Not least the mission bonus of being seen by wider society to care for what society wishes it had time to care for, thus our life together does depend on it. No one who is concerned for mission and its effectiveness, can afford to ignore the deeply environmental context of the Gospel.

Christians do rock boats. Sometimes despite themselves. It goes with being bearers of Good News. The least diplomatic hymn of the Bible is that of Mary, looking to God tearing down tyrants from their thrones. Is that part of your Christmas?

Christians rock boats. Sometimes half-heartedly, though when the boats they travel in are rocking due to stormy waters, as Paul found in the storm that led to his shipwreck, we have the chance to shed inhibitions and come into our own as the bearers of healing, hope, and transformation. The ship may be wrecked, but there will be survivors.

But hindsight or no hindsight, we should be in awe at Paul’s rattling the cage of a culture of honour satisfied through revenge which, to this day is perpetuated in song, film and story; daring to comment on the sort of thing where even in churches, people prefer to leave well alone.

Just as, apart from bringing a tree into the church at Christmas, many of our local congregations will set aside care for creation, feeling that some things are too holy to be green, so too, once the lived and practical implications of Christ͛s teaching and example begin to be risky or contradictory of the iron fist of common sense, then a voice in our head says ‘hold on’, ‘be sensible’. You don’t want to do THAT do you”. That is when we follow that other scriptural advice to ‘test the spirits; [ 1 John 4:1] as to whether this is the voice of love and wisdom, or, as Jesus identified it even in his close friend Peter, the outright opposition to God: Satan, the contradictor of shocking but ultimately life-giving decisions.

Jesus, as we meet him in Matthew 16 has already wrestled with the limits of his perceived mission ͞”to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” as well as facing and accepting the possibility that a project of change and transformation is not rendered invalid merely because its completion is uncertain or distant.

His lifetime, and that of the disciples, will not round off the transformation of the world.

For us, the ethic of success is not clear-cut, but it can also be oppressive.

Is a self-evidently good direction of travel, a good aspiration, worthwhile only if it will run clearly and precisely to plan and completion?

Again, the voice of Satan is heard when climate science cannot offer precision, but only a range of possibilities, though it͛s abundantly clear that we know enough about enough to make some serious changes of direction.

That’s when we can look to some of the distinctive resources and treasures of our faith.

As in the practise of prayer. Praying we offer with no guarantee of cause and effect, but trusting in the wisdom and goodness of God, and frequently reconciled to effort and sacrifice without guarantees.

A prayer is worthwhile, and may change our own outlook, whether or not any firm causal link might ever be established between the conversations that arise out of our relationship with God and how things eventually turn out.

What then, is the voice of Satan for us today: the reasonable, sensible, “slow us downLord” prayer, passed off as wisdom and maturity, which might earn the rebuke of the reckless determination of Jesus to continue to Jerusalem?

For what will it profit us if to keep on growing GDP but forfeit all else that makes life worthwhile?

Well, right now, it has seemed sufficient to see the acute coronavirus crisis, which may have been more disruptive than any other factor in recent memory, as a time to put things on hold, on ice, in mothballs, rather than a chance to finish off, to write off, to let go. Cherish memories, but recognise that what is past is past.

It’s been easier and seemed kinder to see these months as an irritation than a gift, especially given the casualties, the farewells which have been forced on us, to loved ones and ways of life.

There is a reluctance to acknowledge that some changes really have happened. Amidst much crying, the milk is spilled.

It takes courage to grasp that the pain of the death of friends has accompanied the release which is the end of some things that needed to end. Or at least, that chance is offered.

It takes courage, if we are looking forward to getting back to an old, or even a new ͞”normal” to hear the news that the greater many layered crises of climate and extreme weather, rising sea-levels and the acidification of the oceans, biodiversity, soil degradation, plastic overload, and of course, the terrifying toll of the sixth mass extinction on earth…. all these things have carried on apace, even if we have been granted the encouragement of cleaner air and coastal waters, of cities quiet enough to hear the birds praise God in their singing.

We have been shown how things still might be. God is never saying nothing. Let those with eyes to see and ears to hear read, and continue to read the signs; to take note of the voice of the Earth, interpreted through the honesty of science. We have learned that some of the changes we didn’t expect we could make can be made.

The global theme of the Season of Creation, in which churches from around the world make the effort to highlight the environmental responsibility which is inherent to our faith… the theme this year is a “jubilee for Creation”.

Jubilee, which Jesus also referred to in his preaching, is a deeply holy and profoundly practical theme, related also to Sabbath: a reset of and reboot of our relationship with the soil and the land, where injustice and abuse may have crept in. Slaves (formally or de facto) are to be liberated.

Perhaps Satan would prefer us to just go back to the deadly status quo we set aside this year. Or to its close and much more attractive relative gradualism: which is doing nothing at all by doing the sensible minimum. Not to learn. Not to repurpose reuse and recycle.

The other change, which sensible Satanists would rather we kept on one side, is that the wilder passages of scripture, even those verses with which our Gospel reading concludes; poetic and apocalyptic speech which is both a response and a resource for times of crisis, begins to come into its own.

“͞For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done”

…should not keep us calm, but should equip us for the struggle of love and justice, zealous and ardent in spirit.

Remember that the church on the day of Pentecost attracted the (malicious) suspicion of intoxication. What grounds do you offer for a similar accusation?

Our faith is no longer boring. That too was a lie, long upheld as a way of evading the transformative implications of following Jesus.

Tragedy remains tragedy. Never let it be said, even that the Cross was “worthwhile”. Though what followed from, it is joy and sustaining hope; the offer of a world different from what might have been, and the solidarity of God in the flesh, by the power of the Breath of Life, come what may.

Hymn: Lord, Bring The Day to Pass

Ian Fraser (1964)

Lord, bring the day to pass
when forest, rock and hill,
the beasts, the birds, the grass,
will know your finished will:
when we attain our destiny
and nature lives in harmony.

2 Forgive our careless use
of water, ore and soil Ͷ
the plenty we abuse
supplied by others' toil:
save us from making self our creed,
turn us towards each other's need.

3 Help us, when we release
creation's secret powers,
to harness them for peace Ͷ
our children's peace and ours:
teach us the art of mastering
in servant form,
like Christ our King.

4 Creation groans, travails,
futile its present plight,
bound Ͷ till the hour it hails
God's children born of light
that we may gain our true estate.
Come, Lord: new heavens
and earth create.

Affirmation of Faith

We believe in God, creator of all,
whose word sustains the life of humanity,
and directs our history. God is our life.

We believe in God’s Son,
born amongst the poor, light in our night,
first-born from the dead. He is alive.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
who gives birth to the new life of God,
who breathes life into the struggle for justice,
who leads us to hope. Who is a living force.

We believe in the holy universal Church,
herald of the Good News
which frees people and brings new life.
We believe in the coming of a new world
where Jesus Christ, our Lord, will be all in all. Amen.

Invitation to the Table

If you are blessed by the attempt, if not by completion of the healing of the Earth, as which Christ is incarnate, as are we, then gather round his table to be a work of God in progress finding friends in the friends of Jesus and nourishment in bread and wine in food and drink made available through human hands, from Earth itself, on which we feed; holy hitherto, for Jesus, by God͛s choice, is made of such.

Jesus said: when you celebrate, invite those who can’t finish what you egin: for completion’s in God’s hands alone. celebrate now with whoever who will join you: make time now, whilst you can, for the feast.

Offertory

What you’re listening to just now is provided by people like you. Some years ago, I was asked to leave out of a sermon the idea from 2 Corinthians that there’s no point in giving if you don’t enjoy it. The organisers were worried that people would give less in freedom than in duty. So pause just now, and think about the good things that are part of the life we share. The things of the church, locally and nationally that give joy and pleasure, comfort and fulfilment. Then see where your heart leads you. Our reading from Romans today offer some responses in terms of sustaining what it is to live as friends of Christ, offering what we are and what we have:

Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Our response, in support of our local church, yes, in money, as well as in our kindness, and our impatience, at this time when so much is hidden, allows that good things continue to be visible, and thus that those around us turn to God in praise:

So here’s a wee prayer for when we get round to it, as well as what you’re sharing right now.

Dear God
give us joy in our giving
wisdom in our spending
and your peace in our hearts
now, and until next time.

We pray in the way Jesus teaches us….Our Father

Thanksgiving

Thank-you God for our place and purpose as creatures of soil and partners with Earth͛s creatures. Through all the ages, as mountains dance and trees applaud we hear the call to join your praise. From our beginning, Earth cried out at the spilling of blood bearing the burden of human harm. Your People sought a land of milk and honey but injustice brought decay. Your prophets: priests and farmers, called them to account. Yet then, as now, your countless warning signs (and words and actions) fell often by the wayside.

Then: Christ Jesus, friend of wildlife, speaking to the seas teaching through trees, showing God͛s generous wildness in wildness of wind and eloquence in weather. In Jesus you spoke of sharing; of justice as acknowledgement of need. You showed the cost of healing and the price of the truth unwelcomed by the Powerful. Now risen, Christ is with us in the care of a damaged world. And he feeds, invites, inspires us friends and siblings, with Christself through food and faith

At the Last Supper shared with friends before his murder Jesus gave them food and drink, flesh and blood, bread and wine. Celebrating past and present Church, throughout the earth, where God is, here and now:

Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of pow’r and God of might,
heav’n and earth are full,
heav’nand earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest,
hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is He who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest,
hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna in the highest,
in the highest!

Intercessions

Dear Christ, as we bring to your table what we are and what we have you call on us to pray, (if necessary, using words) to carry and focus the thoughts and feelings which might heal, disturb and enable us as your hands, feet, heart, in the midst of Creation rooted in soil, sheltered by sky.

The World

We pray as part of it all, responsible, and yet carried along victims and collaborators, unclean of speech and action, yet on the spot to heal and tend and catalysts of change beyond our seeing.

We pray for and with the life of the Earth; giving thanks for the great healing and balancing power of nature acknowledging the injustice which distorts even that;

In the midst of all the disruption which we have experienced from the virus and the measures we have taken to mitigate its spread; with the trajectory of climate catastrophe neither shelved nor yet diverted; in the midst of suffering and perhaps, of premature hope that “all will soon be normal again” teach us respect for life; even for dangerous life: seeking to befriend rather than dominate to manage, rather than eradicate, to sustain and transform, rather than “solve” what it means to share breath and be part of the cycles of the living planet.

Open to us the significance of our place and purpose to till and keep your garden; the family business of life sustained that we may look our fellow creatures in the eye and see you staring back.

The Church

Dear Spirit, Wind of Change, and Breath of justice we pray as your Body, the Church; a people, not just an idea, far from perfect, yet subject to your wayward gusts of kindness, vision, prophecy and truthful speech;

Risen, Christ commissioned us, believers and doubters to bring good news to every creature; teaching your way of care, with justice; confident to converse with trees and seas: and in our praise, to join Earth’s lovely chorus.

Claiming the unity, your given gift, whatever barriers we still cherish and botch in the midst of the times and seasons you called us into being for:

Show forth in us the power of the powerless the strength of the weak, the joy of those who do not aspire to control, yet carry loǀe͛s authority, content to get hands dirty as Christ reached out where all withdrew.

Recall us too, to that privilege of care at the ending of lives; for hope and healing even through the painful times holding hands even as ours are held because, when ǁe͛re together, trust in you lives here.

Ourselves

We’ve prayed the world, the Church to you: and all we offer overlaps. So now, beyond the words we hear we hand hearts over, silent, fragile. we share a space of quiet without spoken words for what you need to say and hear

Silence (with water and birdsong)

God, you have heard. Amen.

Prayer of Consecration

Blow, breath of life on flesh and blood, on bread and wine. Make us, in sharing these good things more fully creatures of your Earth.

Breaking of Bread

Taking into our own hands what Earth has given and other hands have
made we break and share

Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us
Jesus, bearer of our sins, have mercy on us
Jesus, redeemer of the world, grant us peace

Communion

Dear God, by faith, beyond mere symbol by the reality of food and drink your blood flows in our veins, carrying goodness to sustain justice your flesh walks and works as we do receiving and reaching out. As we eat, feed the world Pause

As we drink, quench life͛s thirst Pause

The Peace

Christ, your peace is offered by grace may we be worthy
that peace rests and remains on our house. Peace be with you, and with
all those with whom we share today.

Christ our Saviour, so live within us that we continue this day with the light of hope in our eyes, your Word on our lips, and your love in our hearts. Amen.

Hymn O the Life of the World

© Kathy Galloway (b 1952)

Oh the life of the world
is a joy and a treasure,
unfolding in beauty
the green growing tree,
the changing of seasons
in mountain and valley,
the stars
and the bright restless sea.

2: Oh the life of the world
is a promise of blessing,
in the rain that renews,
in the heat of the sun;
in the heart that confesses
and the act that expresses
all things and all people are one.

3: Oh the life of the world
is the breath of our being,
it is fragile and precious
and offers a choice;
shall we share the earth wisely,
can we touch the earth gently,
will we listen to
earth͛s silenced voice?

4: So give thanks for the life
and give love to the Maker,
and rejoice in the gift
of the bright risen Son,
and walk in the peace
and the power of the Spirit,
till the days of our living are done.

Blessing

May the blessing of God who is always sustaining as Parent, Beloved, and Breath of All Life – surprise you, connect you as friends of Creation, hands, feet, hearts at the ready alert and awake! Amen.

Sources and Thanks

Call to Worship from Feasting on the Word Year A
Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France.
All other liturgical material by David Coleman.

Touch the Earth Lightly recorded by various artists: from a compilation of songs distributed free of charge to congregations by Dr Alison Elliot CBE.
By Gracious Powers sung by Roberta Ritson
Lord Bring the Day to Pass sung by Lythan, Carys and Phil Nevard
Meditation piece by Leslie Schram.
Sanctus by Paul Inwood © Magnificat Music sung by Portmouth Diocesan Choir
Oh The Life of the World sung by Lythan Nevard.

Opening Organ piece: Prelude in D Major; Closing: Fugue in F major both
played by Brian Cotterill. http://briancotterill.webs.com

Thanks to Carol Tubbs, Anne Hewling, Kathleen Haynes, John Young and David Shimmin for recording various parts of the service, to the choir of Barrhead URC for recording the Lord’s Prayer, to Kathleen & Callum Haynes, Elfreda Tealby-Watson & Greg Watson, David & Christine Shimmin, Elizabeth Kemp, Marion Thomas, Tina Wheeler and Myra Rose for recording, virtually, the Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith.