URC Daily Devotion Worship
Sunday 27th September 2020
The Rev’d Branwen Rees
Hello, my name is Branwen Rees and I am a United Reformed Church minister serving as East Wales Regional Minister. This covers an area from Llanvaches to the east and Brynmawr in the west, and I have pastoral charge of 3 particular churches, Cwmbran URC, Ebenezer URC in Pontnewynydd and Sardis Chapel in Ynysddu which is a URC and Presbyterian Church in Wales ecumenical partnership. I am recording this in the study of my manse in Pontypool, looking out on a lovely view of my drive! So, let us worship God together.
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: At The Name of Jesus
Caroline M Noel (1870)
At the name of Jesus
ev’ry knee shall bow,
ev’ry tongue confess Him
King of glory now.
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.
2: Humbled for a season
to receive a name
from the lips of sinners
unto whom he came,
faithfully he bore it
spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious,
when from death he passed.
3 Since then, this Lord Jesus
shall return again,
with his Father’s glory,
with his angel train;
for all wreaths of empire
meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him
King of glory now.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
Eternal God and Father, you are the source of all life, the fount of all wisdom, the wellspring of all grace.
Your days are without end, your loving mercies without number.
We depend on you: and we remember your goodness to us and to those who have gone before us.
We tell you story in every generation:
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
God of Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel,
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
God of a pilgrim people, your Church.
You are our God, ahead of us, leading us, guiding us and calling us:
you are the Lord God, the all-wise, the all-compassionate.
Yet Lord, despite all you have done for us
we confess that we have rebelled against you
and broken your law of love.
We have not loved our neighbours
nor heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray,
and free us for joyful obedience;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
And so let us share together in the prayer that Jesus taught us, the Lord’s Prayer, the family prayer …
Prayer of Illumination
As we hear words of Scripture, may our hearts and minds be open to new thoughts, new ideas and new feelings as the Spirit moves us. Amen
Reading Philippians 2:1-13
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Hymn: Meekness and Majesty
manhood and deity
in perfect harmony
the Man who is God;
Lord of eternity
dwells in humanity
kneels in humility
and washes our feet.
O what a mystery, meekness and majesty.
Bow down and worship for this is your God.
This is your God
2: Father’s pure radiance
perfect in innocence
yet learns obedience
to death on a cross.
Suffering to give us life
conquering through sacrifice
and as they crucify
prays “Father forgive.”
God the invisible;
in frailty appears.
Lord of infinity,
stooping so tenderly,
lifts our humanity
to the heights of His throne.
I’m sure anyone who has an older brother or sister knows what it is like to live in their shadow. It may be constantly being compared to them or at the very least being called by their name! When I was in my first year of Grammar School one of my teachers called me Bethan (my sister’s name, who is five years older than me). I must have pulled a face or something and this teacher turned around and said I will just have to get used to being compared to Bethan. When I told my mum what had happened, within a couple of weeks I had moved school. You see, my sister and I, although close, are very different people and my Mum realised that even at a young age, I needed to find my own place in the world.
It is not easy to be considered a clone of someone else so I can’t imagine what it is like if you are an identical twin! But is this what Paul is expecting of us, ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’?
This passage of Scripture is perhaps one of the best known and best loved of Paul’s many letters; and it’s not just the words, there is something rhythmical about it. There are different ideas about its origins including that Paul adapted a hymn from an earlier non-Christian composition. Whatever its origins it has become an important passage but if I’m honest, I try to avoid preaching on it, why? Quite simply because it is so wonderfully overwhelming that I fear I can never do it justice.
Yet when I think about it, it’s not the words I should worry about, I’m more concerned about not being able to do justice to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and let’s face it, I will never be able to do that with a mere few words of a sermon!
But still, it doesn’t matter if I can’t do justice, I just need to try and try and keep trying. I won’t get it right all the time, I probably won’t get it right most of the time, but still I keep trying. Because we are called to be imitators, to do our best in following the ways of Jesus.
And perhaps that is the key, we are called to be imitators, not clones or impersonators. We are called to imitate the ways of Jesus. In the same way we learn by copying others, whether it’s learning to write or drive, we learn by copying and so we learn to have the same mind that is in Christ Jesus by copying his ways.
But gosh, it’s hard.
After all what did Jesus do? Jesus went to the places that we are generally loath to visit. He went and partied with those society had rejected; he sat down to eat with collaborators and criminals he touched those who could contaminate him. At a time of Covid 19 I’m sure if that doesn’t scare us then it certainly unnerves us.
You see we are respectable church communities, we may say we want to be like Jesus, but when it comes to it, it’s all a bit overwhelming so let’s just stick with what we know and what we are comfortable with.
Let the same mind be in us as was in Christ – that mind should be in all our relations – with God, with our neighbours and ourselves. That mind is one of obedience, humility and service. Three words which may be considered old fashioned. When we think of these 3 words what spring to mind? Someone who is a bit of a pushover, who you can walk all over. That’s hardly something we should aim for, is it? But then would you say Jesus was someone you could walk all over – it’s certainly not how the Scribes and Pharisees viewed him – if it was, would they have gone to all the bother of having him arrested, tried and crucified?
When we imitate Christ, church fellowships can be places of welcome and nourishment, of support and encouragement but such fellowships can also be places where people are hurt and damaged. A few years ago, there was a falling out in the church I was attending. It was over something very trivial, but things came to a head and a number of people left the fellowship. When I was recounting this story to a non-church friend she was stunned. ‘I thought people who go to church were supposed to be nice’ she said. And it struck me then that churches often accept behaviour that would not be tolerated in any other organisation. Why is that? Are we so desperate to retain members that we let bullying and other such behaviour go unchallenged? If so, then we are not imitating Christ.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians as so unlike your Christ’. Admittedly he said this in the face of occupation and his struggle to free his people but still it should strike a chord with us. How like Christ are we?
I wonder if Paul was using this hymn to condemn self-serving, individualistic behaviour. But rather than tell them off he reminds them of what event created and defined their way of life. Whatever the issues were in the church in Philippi, whether it was a major disagreement or the usual pettiness, he responds not with a big answer but with a creed, a hymn, a confession of faith. We would do well to remember these words when the pettiness of church disputes raise their ugly heads.
You see Jesus is not about status, or power or ambition, or winning the argument. No, Jesus is about being concerned with the interest of others, ‘having the same mind … the same love’.
Yet how many of us can honestly say we have taken on the self-giving mantle of Jesus Christ. There are notable examples you could say Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Martin Niemoeller (although I’m sure they had their faults) and I’m sure others will come to mind but they may well be few and far between. Perhaps too often as Christians we have skipped the self-emptying of Jesus, taking on the role of a servant part, and gone straight to the exaltation part.
As a community of Christians perhaps we need to go back to the basics of our faith and try to be more Christ like. How about that age old, and perhaps overused, question, WWJD or what would Jesus do? Are we afraid to ask the question because we know the answer lies in humility and service and vulnerability? Jesus embodies the answer – love, compassion, encouragement, and fellowship.
John Wesley once described Christianity as a ‘social religion’ and so our response to the gospel should never simply be between us and God – we live our faith in community – the Trinity shows us that. This year we’ve had to learn to practice our faith in a new way – in community, just not physically. It’s not been easy, but we have found new and different ways to give expression to our faith, in fact anecdotal evidence suggests that people have engaged with online worship and prayer who would not normally enter our buildings. There may be something to learn from that.
What we do know is that when Christians take Christ’s teaching seriously, they become light in the darkness. And we now know how to do that for Paul is telling us, ‘this is the gospel, this is what God is like, this is what God has done for you and this is what God expects you to be like. So go work out what that means for you.’ We have seen how that works in practice – we have seen how churches who minister to those on the margins have brought light and hope to many during desperate times. Foodbanks, night-shelters, advice centres, so many examples.
Yes, we may fail in following Jesus’ footsteps but still, God’s grace is there to save us. As we declare Jesus Christ as Lord and strive to follow in his footsteps, we can be assured that his way is God’s way and the final victory will be his. Think of it, when Paul was writing, Christianity was a small sect in the ancient world and yet he confidently proclaimed that ‘every tongue’ would confess Jesus Christ as Lord. We can take heart from these words as I’m sure the early church did, after all 2000 years on, ok, not every tongue may proclaim Jesus as Lord, but with an estimated 2 billion followers, almost a third of the world’s population, Paul’s prediction is doing quite well!
But what does it mean for us to acknowledge Jesus as Lord? This one statement upends our assumptions of God, it is radical because when we confess Jesus as Lord we should not be looking for status or power – which I fear all too often happens in our churches (and has always happened). Jesus certainly didn’t – washing the disciples’ feet, serving and not being served; born in weakness and vulnerability and accepting poverty and humility.
We are being challenged to give up the trappings of material success, our striving after positions of prestige, and all those things by which we seek to build up our feelings of self-worth. Paul is encouraging us to put our faith in God and to live by the values and lifestyle of Jesus, to free us from the treadmill of reliance on what is in the end a false confidence.
For when we put aside self-interest and self-obsession and take on the needs and pains and hopes of others then we will begin to know what Paul meant by having the same mind as Christ. We will know God is at work in us as we become imitators of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
So, let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Amen
Hymn: Jesus is Lord, Creation’s Voice Proclaims It
David Mansell ©1982 Springtide/Word Music
Creation’s voice proclaims it.
For by His power
each tree and flower
was planned and made.
Jesus is Lord!
The universe declares it;
sun, moon and stars in heaven
cry: Jesus is Lord!
Jesus is Lord! Jesus is Lord!
Praise Him with ‘Hallelujahs’, for Jesus is Lord!
2: Jesus is Lord!
Yet from His throne eternal
in flesh He came
to die in pain
on Calvary ’s tree.
Jesus is Lord!
From Him all life proceeding,
yet gave His life a ransom
thus setting us free.
O’er sin the mighty conqueror,
from death He rose
and all His foes
shall own His name.
Jesus is Lord!
God sends His Holy Spirit
to show by works of power
that Jesus is Lord.
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.
Although we may still be meeting separately, we remain the Church, the Body of Christ. Part of our responsibility to the Body is our giving, whether through our time, our talents, or our money. During months of lockdown you may have been giving through cheque, standing order or bank transfer. Or you may have continued to give by putting money in your envelopes each week. However you are giving, thank you and let us pray:
Generous God all we have has come from you and so we give just a little back: our money, but also our time, our talents, our very lives. We ask you to bless both the gift and giver through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Prayers of Intercession
We come together for our prayers of intercession, our prayers for the world and those with whom we share it.
Loving Lord, we are living in strange and uncertain times. It feels as if everything we were sure of now fills us with fear and doubt. Yet throughout it all you remain constant, the great unchangeable I AM.
Still there is much in our world that we would want to pray for.
We pray for those working on the frontline, especially in our NHS and those working towards a cure and a vaccine for Covid 19.
We remember all those people and professions who previously we may have taken for granted. We pray that this new-found respect continues even as our lives return to some normality. We think especially of our shopworkers, delivery drivers and refuse collectors and many, many more.
We bring before you those areas of the world which have largely disappeared from our screens, replaced by news closer to home: continued fighting in Syria and Yemen and Libya; refugees and asylum seekers who have been particularly affected by the pandemic; the proposed annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel.
We think of the homeless in our own towns and cities. We remember how accommodation has been found for them during the height of the virus and pray that this may be the beginning of the end of rough sleeping.
We pray for those who usually sit next to us, in front of us and behind us. Although distanced, may we feel each other’s presence in our lives.
We spend a moment in silence, recalling those we know who particularly need our prayers at this time …
Lord, we pray that the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus so we can go and be your agents of change in the world. Amen
Hymn: Bring Forth the Kingdom
Marty Haugen © 1997 GIA Publications, Inc.
salt for the Kingdom of God!
Share the flavour of life, O people:
life in the Kingdom of God!
Bring forth the Kingdom of mercy,
Bring forth the Kingdom of peace;
Bring forth the Kingdom of justice,
Bring forth the City of God!
2: You are a light on the hill, O people:
light for the City of God!
Shine so holy and bright, O people:
shine for the Kingdom of God!
3: You are a seed of the Word, O people:
bring forth the Kingdom of God!
Seeds of mercy and seeds of justice,
grow in the Kingdom of God!
4: We are a blest and a pilgrim people:
bound for the Kingdom of God!
Love our journey and love our homeland:
love is the Kingdom of God!
As this time of worship comes to an end and you return to the duties and responsibilities of the world: may the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus and may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds as you serve God in the world. Amen
Sources and Thanks
Call to Worship from Feasting on the Word Year A
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness taken from the Methodist Worship Book: Second Service.
Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France.
All other liturgical material by Branwen Rees.
At the Name of Jesus – BBC’s Songs of Praise.
Meekness and Majesty Graham Kendrick © Thankyou Music, Thank You Music Ltd. Sung by the author and congregation on Songs of Praise.
Jesus is Lord sung by Gareth Moore, Isle of Man Methodist Church
Bring Forth the Kingdom, Marty Haugen, from the Album Anthology II
Organ Pieces Opening: Lobt Gott Ihr Christen (“Praise God ye Christians”) by Johann Gottfried Walther (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020). Closing: Toccata from Suite Gothique by Leon Boëllman (organ of St Thomas-on-The Bourne, Farnham – 2016). Played by Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
Thanks to John Wilcox, Marion Thomas, John Young, Lorriane Webb, and Anne Hewling for recording various parts of the service and to the choir of Barrhead URC for recording the Lord’s Prayer. Thanks 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.