Written services from a year ago
This service is best read on your computer so that you can click on the music and it will then play for you. I am sure by now you have worked this out and that all you have to do is put the cursor on the link, press the control button on your computer keyboard whilst left clicking on the mouse, the music will then follow. Make sure you have the volume turned up.
Sixth Sunday of Easter May 9th 2021
Call to Worship: Make your paths known to me, Lord; teach me your ways, lead me by your faithfulness and teach me, for you are God my Saviour. Psalm 25
Hymn: To God be the glory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xPAF0YlY5A
A prayer song, to help prepare us for prayer:
Reign in me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEcrJvC4gN0
Prayers: Lord in our service today we ask that we might look at the scriptures anew and see the part we must play in them. Help us to open up the calling of your love which is abundantly given for us to share with joy. May we, through attention to your word, help to make our lives and community part of your Kingdom? May we be worthy examples of your loving nature, and help us to comprehend that the love which you give and which we share, does not diminish but increases by that very act of loving others.
Gracious Lord, we thank you for all that you have been to past generations, all that you are to this generation and all that you will be to our generations yet to be. Praise to you, God of all nations. Amen.
Lord’s Prayer: Sung in Urdu https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ParMYPL82Jo
First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-11
God has glorified his people, and offers them abundant life. His word is to be heeded, it will always accomplish God’s purpose. It is spoken in the language of the day, where the abundance of food was deemed a blessing.
Gospel: John 15:9-17
Jesus speaks to his disciples, not as servants, but as friends. They are to abide in his love and obey his command to love one another.
Thought for Sunday:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another...You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12, 14)
The Queen’s official birthday on 21st June is normally marked by the ceremony known as ‘Trooping the Colour,’ and the chosen brigade parades with great splendour to pay tribute to their monarch. The occasion is famous for its drill movements performed with intricate precision at the word of command. Indeed, the whole ceremony depends on commands being issued and instantly obeyed.
The precise commands of the parade ground are very different from the one which Jesus gave his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another.” It is a short command, it appears to be simple, but in fact is just the opposite. No command could be less precise. No command could be more difficult. To complicate matters, there is a condition attached, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Few service personnel would be friends with the one who gave them their orders, let alone love them. But it is fundamental to our understanding of the Christian faith to say that we love Jesus. We need to resolve this apparent contradiction.
We recognise that particular command, and the many others that Jesus gave his disciples, follow established biblical tradition. The whole Bible story unfolds in response to a series of commands, “In the beginning ... God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” God placed Adam and Eve in the garden with the command not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. When they disobeyed, he ordered them out and commanded for them a life of toil. God commanded Abram to leave his home and venture into the unknown. As a test of his faith, he commanded him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. God commanded Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt into the Promised Land. On Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, which still lie at the heart of Jewish faith and practice.
God called the prophets and commanded them to proclaim his word, despite their misgivings and feelings of inadequacy. Similarly, Zachariah, John the Baptist’s father, could not believe he would have a son. The angel commanded that he should remain dumb until the birth took place.
The pivotal moment from which the good news of Christ develops is the appearance to Mary of the archangel Gabriel. Again it is the pattern of command and obedience. God has chosen Mary to be the mother of the Messiah, “let it be with me according to your word,” she replies. But other qualities are involved, for Mary, love and tenderness for the new life conceived within her; for Joseph, we may surmise some turmoil of conflicting feelings. How was he to find a loving response to the command of God? How do we respond to the command of Jesus to love one another?
The clue is to be found in John’s first letter, “for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen,” (1 John 4:20). We can extend this observation further, how can we love the brother or sister whom we may or may not have seen, when we do not love ourselves as the person we live with day by day?
However contradictory it may seem, we cannot begin to love other people until we have learned to love ourselves. We may find ourselves difficult to love, painfully aware of our faults and failings, unwilling or unable to extend to ourselves the forgiveness and understanding which, at our best, we would want to extend to others. Too often we burden ourselves with unattainable targets, unrealistic expectations. We blame ourselves, often unnecessarily, when we are unable, for whatever reason, to achieve them. We may burden ourselves with feelings of guilt and failure. There can be too many ‘ought to’s’ in life, and sadly and invisibly, our faith may add to them.
When we are friends with ourselves, we can be friends with others, love them even, knowing that they are like us. They have their joys and sorrows, their struggles, their conflicting feelings, and all of this God knows, sees, recognises, forgives and accepts. So we reach a point where the words of Jesus become realistic and attainable, “This is my commandment, that you love one another ... You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
The parade ground drill at ‘Trooping the Colour’ is performed in response to a series of precise and clear-cut commands.
Jesus’ command to love one another is less than precise, but falls within recognised biblical tradition of commands given and obeyed.
Many of these commands caused personal conflict in those who received them. We may find Jesus’ command to obey him by loving one another causes us difficulty or conflict.
The problem may be resolved by looking at ourselves and recognising our own personal problems, quirks and difficulties.
We can then look at other people, see that they are very much like us, and be content that God knows, loves, forgives and accepts us all.
We reflect as we listen to this new hymn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tYEo0DXclE
Prayers of intercession:
We pray for all who take decisions or issue commands, and for those who obey them.
We pray for all world leaders, and for the leaders of our own country, that the decisions they make and the steps they take may lead to peace and well-being in our world.
We pray for all who make decisions about the distribution of the world’s resources, that they may be used for the good of all and the relief of many.
We pray for all who are persecuted and oppressed, for all who are forced into obedience against their wills or their consciences.
We pray for all who make decisions for the life of the Church, that it may be healed of its divisions, and become itself an agent of healing.
Father, strengthen us we pray, as we seek to love one another as your Son commanded us, so that we may bring peace and reconciliation to your troubled and divided world. We ask it in his name. Amen.
Hymn: Amazing grace https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBs7-crFAKQ
Go out to love and serve one another in the name of the Father, who created us for his service,
in the name of the Son, who accepted us for his service,
in the name of the Holy Spirit, who empowers us for his service,
And may the blessing of God be your just reward. Amen.
To end with we hear one of many songs written by Chris Bowater who was the musical leader at the New Life Fellowship in Lincoln. The fellowship bought what was a redundant URC church and filled it with young people. You may wish to look up some of his other songs on YouTube.
Fifth Sunday of Easter May 2nd
Call to Worship:
We come into the presence of God, the source of all our light and life. Like branches of the vine, may we draw our strength and nourishment from him, and worship him with glad and thankful hearts.
Hymn: Crown him with many crowns https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTDt4TLXGdw
Prayers: Almighty and eternal God, we come before your presence singing.
From all that we are, for all that you are, we offer you our love.
You are our maker and minder; in you, darkness becomes light, chaos becomes order, and the desert bears fruit.
You are our friend; through Jesus you reach out a hand of forgiveness and hope to the world; embracing us with strength and courage.
You are our guide; breathing your spirit in us and between us, so that we can know your grace in our lives and show your grace to the world.
Loving God, Maker and Minder, Friend and Guide, we come before you in worship, in Jesus’ name. Amen
Lord’s Prayer: Tasked with writing a new song the composer chose to set the Lord’s Prayer to music and in Swahili, his adaption won him a Grammy award. It’s contemporary and demonstrates the joy of the prayer.
First Reading: Baruch 3:9-15, 32–4:4
The Israelites are directed to listen to the commandments of life and learn wisdom.
Hear the commandments of life, O Israel;
give ear, and learn wisdom!
Why is it, O Israel, why is it that you are in the land of your enemies,
that you are growing old in a foreign country,
that you are defiled with the dead,
that you are counted among those in Hades?
You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
If you had walked in the way of God,
you would be living in peace forever.
Learn where there is wisdom,
where there is strength,
where there is understanding,
so that you may at the same time discern
where there is length of days, and life,
where there is light for the eyes, and peace.
Who has found her place?
And who has entered her storehouses?
But the one who knows all things knows her,
he found her by his understanding.
The one who prepared the earth for all time
filled it with four-footed creatures;
the one who sends forth the light, and it goes;
he called it, and it obeyed him, trembling;
the stars shone in their watches, and were glad;
he called them, and they said, “Here we are!”
They shone with gladness for him who made them.
This is our God;
no other can be compared to him.
He found the whole way to knowledge,
and gave her to his servant Jacob
and to Israel, whom he loved.
Afterward she appeared on earth
and lived with humankind.
She is the book of the commandments of God,
the law that endures forever.
All who hold her fast will live,
and those who forsake her will die.
Turn, O Jacob, and take her;
walk toward the shining of her light.
Do not give your glory to another,
or your advantages to an alien people.
Happy are we, O Israel,
for we know what is pleasing to God.
You will remember last week there was a preamble to the thought for the day about celebrating the bible. Today’s reading comes from one of the books written between what we call the Old and New Testaments, we think it was probably written between 110 to 63 BCE.
The Book of Baruch is found in some Christian traditions. In Judaism and most forms of Protestant Christianity, it is considered not to be part of the Bible. It is named after Baruch ben Neriah, Jeremiah's well-known scribe, who is mentioned at Baruch 1:1, and has been presumed to be the author of the whole work. The book is a reflection of a late Jewish writer on the circumstances of Jewish exiles from Babylon, with meditations on the theology and history of Israel, discussions of wisdom, and a direct address to residents of Jerusalem and the Diaspora.
Second Reading: 1 John 4:7-21
The distinguishing characteristic of those born of God will be the love they have for one another. To love God alone is not enough: believers must also love their brothers and sisters.
Gospel: John 15:1-8
Jesus describes himself to his disciples as the true vine, and urges them to remain in him as the branches remain in the vine. Just as the branches need to remain in the vine if they are to be fruitful, so the disciples need to remain and abide in Jesus’ love.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
The creation stories in Genesis 1-3 have offered rich food for study and contemplation throughout the ages. Thomas Keating, the Benedictine monk, the founder of the contemplative Centring Prayer movement, focuses on these stories in two lectures given under the title ‘The Human Condition.’ In the first lecture he begins, “Where are you? This is one of the great questions of all time. It is the focus of the first half of the spiritual journey.”
Keating takes this question from the biblical story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Despite a contented and fulfilled relationship with their Creator, Adam and Eve have succumbed to the temptations of the serpent and eaten of the apple. Guilty and ashamed, they have hidden themselves from God amongst the trees after their disobedience, and God searches for them with the question, “Where are you – why are you hiding?” (footnote 1)
The story in Genesis is concerned at this point with the issues of union and separation. Before their disobedience Adam and Eve had enjoyed close communion with God, were content and at ease in his company, and were unaware of any sense of separation from him. But the eating of the apple changes everything; now there is a sense of shame and alienation, and so God asks, “Where are you? – why have you moved away from me?”
Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel passage is concerned with the same tension between union and separation. He asks each of us, “Where are you?” Are you attached to the vine – or trying to strike out on your own? The saying “I am the vine, you are the branches,” (v.5a), assumes the same relationship of intimate union between Jesus and his disciples as the pre-fall Adam and Eve enjoyed with God in the Genesis story. The challenge to each disciple is to remain attached to the vine, “because apart from me you can do nothing,” (v.5).
The language describing the cutting down and burning of the dead branches is brutal and uncompromising, (v.6). But rather than representing a threat of punishment, Jesus is simply indicating a natural consequence; one obvious to any vine-grower, if a branch becomes separated from its sole source of life and nourishment then it will inevitably die.
But the consequences which naturally follow when the branch remains deeply attached to the vine are equally clear, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you,” (v.7). The vine and its healthy branches cannot do anything other than work in agreement, it is impossible for the branch to ‘ask’ for anything that the vine does not naturally give to it.
Some commentaries on this passage treat the vine image as totally synonymous with the Church, and the subsequent teaching relates to the need for believers as ‘branches,’ to play a full and active part in their church life and fellowship. And it is certainly true that a serious commitment to Christ will result in inner promptings of the Spirit which urge us to co-operate and share with Christ in the work of the kingdom. But, it is not about bricks and mortar, it is connectedness with Christ. The church is an aid - not a destination.
We cannot anticipate what directions these promptings will take, sometimes they may coincide with the work being urged on us by our churches, at other times they may not. The boundaries of the kingdom are set wider, and if we limit our consideration of this passage to the active work of the Church, we will not allow ourselves to be drawn in deeply enough. As branches of the vine, we are called before all else to become ever more firmly embedded in Christ.
In the first instance, this is a call to deeper prayer and will involve a patient, silent waiting on God, listening for the still, small voice within. The Centring Prayer movement, established by Thomas Keating, has encouraged countless numbers of disciples along this path of silent listening prayer. If we are willingly to spend regular, disciplined time with God in this way, and
can resist the pressure to rush headlong into a frantic, (and possibly guilt-ridden), busyness, we will gradually become more sensitively attuned to the nuances of our Father’s will.
The effect of the God-directed activity arising from this prayer will be light years away from that resulting from the frenetic busyness generated by our own efforts. It will invigorate rather than drain us, because its source is not in our own limited strength, but in the life-sap of the vine itself.
Jesus urges his disciples to remain as firmly fixed in him as the branches are to the parent vine.
A branch cannot exist by itself, without the nourishment of the vine, the branch will die and be thrown on the fire and burnt.
If the disciples do not remain in Jesus, they will be unable to accomplish anything by themselves.
We need to spend time in prayer, waiting silently on God, listening for the subtle promptings of the Spirit within.
If our work for God arises out of the Spirit’s promptings it will not drain us, because its source is the life-giving sap of the vine.
A time to reflect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sicaArhwbIw&t=28s
Prayers of intercession:
As peace-makers and vine-dwellers, we pray for the Church and for the world.
We pray for the Church, that in all its areas of tension and misunderstanding, it may not lose sight of its kinship with Jesus the true vine.
We pray for the world, for all who suffer injustice and for those who seek to reveal the light of Christ in the dark places of the earth.
We pray for our local communities, and for all those, within our churches and beyond them, who give of their time, energy and resources on behalf of others.
We pray for ourselves, that we may be willing to cultivate our relationship with God, seeking an ever-deepening relationship with him.
We pray for all churches as we approach the day when with joy they may reopen and minister to their congregations and community.
In the name of Jesus Christ we commit our prayers, and all the unspoken thoughts of our hearts, to the loving wisdom of our heavenly Father. Amen.
Hymn: A contemporary hymn that speaks of the challenge ahead for all congregations as churches reopen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca9LnzJnpjQ
May the strength and wisdom of God the vine-grower invigorate you;
may the loving wisdom of Christ the vine inspire you;
may the quickening zest of the Spirit fill you with joy.
And the blessing of God almighty be your strength and stay this day and evermore. Amen
A tradition in Judaism: ‘A second blessing.’
Keating was one of three principal developers of Centring Prayer, a contemporary method of contemplative prayer that emerged from St. Joseph's Abbey in 1975. William Meninger and Basil Pennington, also Trappist monks, were the method's other principal developers. When the concept was first proposed by Keating, Meninger started teaching a method based on the 14th century spiritual classic ‘The Cloud of Unknowing.’ Meninger referred to this as the ‘Prayer of the Cloud’ and taught it to priests at the retreat house. Pennington gave the first retreat to a lay audience in Connecticut where the participants suggested the term "Centring Prayer". Since Thomas Merton had been known to use the term prior to this, it has been suggested the phrase may have originated from him.
Easter Sunday April 4th 2021
Call to Worship:
Christ is risen! Your sorrows will pass.
Christ is risen! A new day is breaking.
Christ is risen! The darkness is falling away.
Christ is risen! Let us arise and give thanks!
Hymn: Christ the Lord is risen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVIKjE4uIFI
This is the day that starts the week.
This is the day of rising.
This the day that starts new life.
This is the day we sing for Joy.
For Christ our Lord, though killed on the cross,
is now alive for ever.
And so we gather, to rejoice and give thanks
That this day and all our days
are lived in the light of that hope,
In the name of Jesus, the Christ, our Lord. Amen
In silence take time to make your own confession
The Lord’s Prayer:
Gospel: John 20:1-18
John's narrative sparkles at every turn, his words and images bearing rich allusion. In his first resurrection narrative Mary's tears seem quite natural, yet Jesus’ questioning of them becomes the announcement that Isaiah's longing prophecy has been fulfilled.
“Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:13)
A small boy gets lost in the crowd. He's surrounded by a forest of legs but none of them are the right ones. His mother is beside herself with worry but when they find each other she wipes his tears from his eyes.
A man in his forties is made redundant for the third time. His debts are mounting. He can't provide for his family. He feels such a failure. He breaks down and his wife holds him close. Later she wipes his tears and holds him some more.
An old man fondly recalls a teenage summer, with crystal clear vision. Suddenly a woman is shouting at him angrily. He left bacon frying on the cooker and the house nearly caught fire. She looks vaguely familiar. She is his daughter. “Was that me?” he says, and something makes him cry. He feels confused and ashamed. And now she puts her arms around him and with the edge of her thumb, pushes his sorrow to one side.
When someone weeps with you it means they will never leave you. When someone tells you to dry your tears, it's because there is more coping to be done. When someone wipes your tears away it means a new day has dawned.
In today's Gospel, Jesus doesn't physically wipe away Mary's tears, but the episode and imagery are part of a developing biblical theme beginning with the tears of Hagar in Genesis 21 and ending with the New Heaven and Earth of Revelation 21. Thematically central is the resurrection of Jesus.
John calls it “the first day of the week.” Had he used the alternative ‘third day’ his viewpoint would have been looking backward – sealing up the Easter event and opening into the future. But John, whose Gospel began by alluding to the original creation, wants to emphasise the beginning of a new creation.
Yet, because of the hour, ‘it was still dark.’ Darkness and light always mean more than the existence of photons. Here, the darkness mirrors Mary's lack of spiritual sight; she is shrouded in grief and cannot see beyond it. But as with any dawn, the darkness will lift.
At Mary’s urgent call, Peter and a second disciple rushed to the tomb. Something about the grave clothing made them pause. John says the beloved disciple “saw and believed,” but immediately makes it clear that he didn't understand what he believed in because he hadn't yet learnt about the resurrection.
Knowing in their hearts the presence of God's hand, they went home. ‘But Mary stood weeping...’ Like Jesus' tears at the tomb of Lazarus, her tears gather up all the grief the world has ever known and all the sadness any of us feel.
First Angels, and then Jesus ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping, who are you seeking?” It's obvious why someone would be weeping at a tomb, and doubly so when the tomb had been disturbed. So the question is a challenge rather than an enquiry. Who does Mary think Jesus is? Who did she ever think Jesus was? If he was a mere human being, she would be right to weep at his demise. Is this who she is looking for – a good man who ran out of options? Or does she seek the Son of God?
Mary answers on the surface, but Jesus' question has begun to open her spirit. When he calls her by name, there is instant recognition. “Mary?” “Teacher!” He has just taught her all over again.
The message of Easter is like the rising of dawn in our hearts. Of course our world and our lives are still full of tears. Some of us are struggling in our work situations; others are struggling at home or in our families; some have companions in the struggle; others bear the burden alone, and for others it just takes all their energy to survive.
Yet the resurrection of Jesus heralds the first day of a new creation and so it urges us to look beyond our struggles; to look with faith and to name them as temporary. To do this doesn't make our struggles any less; Jesus came to us because without him our struggles will never be diminished. Yet the reality of our struggles shows even more brightly the power of this new dawn which is displacing them.
This Easter, let's actively rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus, for it is God, his Son, his power and his salvation we are seeking, - and he wipes every tear from our eyes.
1. The image of God wiping tears runs throughout the Bible and the resurrection of Jesus stands thematically at the centre.
2. John emphasises the resurrection as a turning point by calling it the first day of the week and by mirroring Mary's spiritual darkness-to-dawn in the physical description of the ‘darkness-becoming-light.’
3. The repeated question “why are you weeping, who are you seeking?” begs the issue of who we believe in. If God is truly at work in Jesus then everything can be transformed.
4. Today we find ourselves in similar situations – burdened by problems and heavy with grief. But the message of Easter is a call to rise up in faith, rejoicing in the victory of Christ who defeated death.
A time to reflect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFDzS5Yt8zo
Prayers of intercession:
Jesus said to Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Let us spend time with the tears of our world.
For those who mourn the death of a child or someone very close...
For those who can barely make ends meet...
For those who have not eaten properly for months...
For those who feel the weight of shame...
For those who have lost their bearings in life...
For those who are struggling to find, or hold on to, faith...
Mary called him ‘Teacher.’ Lord, teach us to live in peace, as those who put the past behind us and stretch to embrace your new day. Amen.
Hymn: And can it be https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dC8HSEKtuio
“I have seen the Lord” said Mary.
May the light of Christ's presence pour down upon you,
play joyfully around you,
wipe away your tears and give you the vision of a new day.
And may the blessing of God almighty go with you on your journey. Amen