URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 14th November 2021 – The Revd. Fleur Houston

Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Service for Sunday 14 November 2021
 
The Rev’d Fleur Houston

 
Introduction
 
Good morning. My name is Fleur Houston and I’m joining with you in worship from Macclesfield. I am a member of Macclesfield and Bollington United Reformed Church and a retired minister. A little later on today, a church service will be held here to mark Remembrance Sunday, and a service and parade will be held at the Cenotaph to commemorate men and women who died in wars from 1914 to the present day. In our service today we will reflect on how being a follower of Jesus affects our attitude to disasters. So now let us worship God.
 
Call to Worship
 

We are the Church – the people who pray for and live in the kingdom of God.  A Church united across time and space
 
We are the Church – a people of many races, languages, races and ways of life. A Church united across time and space
 
We are the Church – we respond with love to the One who makes all things new.  A Church United across time and space.
 

Hymn:      God is Our Strength and Refuge
                  Richard Bewes after Psalm 46 © Richard Bewes/Jubilate Hymns
 

God is our strength and refuge,
our present help in trouble,
and therefore we will not fear,
though the earth should change!
Though mountains
shake and tremble,
though swirling floods are raging,
God the Lord of hosts
is with us evermore!

2 There is a flowing river
within God’s holy city;
God is in the midst of her-
she shall not be moved!
God’s help is swiftly given,
thrones vanish
at his presence-
God the Lord of hosts
is with us evermore!

 

3 Come, see the works of our maker, learn of his deeds all-powerful:
wars will cease across the world when he shatters the spear!
Be still and know your creator, uplift him in the nations-
God the Lord of hosts is with us evermore!
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession, Declaration of Forgiveness
 
Ever living and ever loving God,
You show me the path of life,
in your presence there is fullness of joy.
And yet we are slow to hear the cries of your world,
threatened by our greed and heedlessness;
we are slow to see our own share in the passions
and pride that lead to war.
We take for granted your gift of Jesus Christ your Son
and fail to remember that in him we have hope.
Spirit of God, search our hearts. Amen
 
Hear the good news:
God forgives you your sins,
strengthens you by his Spirit,
and keeps you in everlasting life.
through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Gracious God,
you utter a word of promise and hope;
open our eyes to see you,
open our ears to hear you,
open our minds to understand you
open our hearts to know you.
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Saviour, Amen
 
Reading:  Mark 13: 1-8
 
As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’  Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’  When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately,  ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’  Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray.  When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

Hymn       We lay our broken world

                            Anna Briggs (b. 1947) © Anna Briggs. Wild Goose Publications

 

We lay our broken world
in sorrow at your feet,
haunted by hunger, war, and fear,
oppressed by power and hate.
 
2 Here human life seems less
than profit, might, and pride,
though to unite us all in you,
you lived and loved and died.
 
3 We bring our broken towns,
our neighbours hurt and bruised;
you show us how old pain
and wounds
for new life can be used.
 
4 We bring our broken loves,
friends parted, families torn;
then in your life and death we see
that love must be reborn.
 
5 We bring our broken selves,
confused and closed and tired;
then through your gift
of healing grace
new purpose is inspired.
 
6 Come Spirit, on us breathe,
with life and strength anew;
find in us love, and hope, and trust,
and lift us up to you.

 

Sermon
 
The disciples of Jesus were like tourists the world over. As they visited the Jerusalem temple, they gasped at its beauty and grandeur. No cost had been spared in its construction. Herod the Great had the men and the means. It was spectacular. Faced with white stone, it dominated the city. One of the disciples exclaimed at the size of the mighty quarry stones. There was a sense of permanence in those great stones. A symbol of the power of civic and religious authorities.
 
Yet these magnificent buildings would, one dreadful day, be thrown down.
 
Jesus thinks the unthinkable, speaks the unspeakable, predicts that this great Temple will be destroyed. Just that. He doesn’t say why or when, but you don’t have to be a divinely inspired prophet to guess that Romans and Jews were set on a collision course. Jesus might well have seen that if his countrymen continued in their present mood they would bring down upon themselves the wrath of Rome. In fact if we move forward forty years to around the time Mark was writing, this is exactly what happened. Jerusalem was razed to the ground in retaliation for the ongoing Jewish revolt and the temple was destroyed.
 
For the Jews, it was grim, harrowing, horrific. Over a million people were slaughtered and thousands more driven into exile. Homes were reduced to rubble, Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, old people and babies, were killed. Those who survived were traumatised. All that linked them to the past, to their religion, to their national identity, was gone. All gone. The present was filled with grief, the future with terror.
 
The impact of Jesus’s prophecy on the Christians in Rome for whom Mark was writing would have been considerable. So what does Mark do? He applies the teaching of Jesus directly to the urgent needs of the early Church.
 
He describes Jesus engaging in serious conversation with his closest disciples. The disciples are excited and disturbed. They want more information about the destruction of the Temple, when will it be? what sign will they have? Jesus however, doesn’t give them a road map, or a time table, instead he talks with them about wars, earthquakes, famine, catastrophic situations which biblical prophets had seen as a prelude to the end of the world. But Mark’s readers would naturally identify them with the disasters of their own day.
 
The tone is sombre. War and rumours of war, nations rising up against nations, earthquakes, famine, social dislocation; it is so unnervingly realistic – if this is the disorder in which Mark’s community finds itself, surely this is our world too. Every day, or so it seems, we hear of another natural disaster even fiercer than the last, floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes; every day, or so it seems, we are haunted by the wide eyes of starving children, and every day, or so it seems, men, women and children flee with only the clothes they are  wearing, from countries devastated by war. So can we apply what Jesus says to ourselves ? it suddenly matters for us to relate his words to our own situation today. It matters very much.
 
So how should we react in the face of calamity? Jesus cautions us not to be gullible, not to be taken in by every pious voice we hear, any dynamic new pedlar of fake news that comes our way. There is no hard and fast rule for distinguishing false voices from true, fake news from fact, but if we weigh up the evidence carefully we will learn to be discriminating. Nowhere is this more important than with natural disasters. Thanks to climate change, these affect us all and time is running out, but it has not yet done so; the best scientific evidence suggests that we can still meet the challenge of climate change if we take urgent action now.
 
Then Jesus exhorts us not to get hyper-excited. If, when we are confronted by disasters on all sides, we find ourselves becoming alarmist, Jesus advises us to take a long look, to be patient, to be hopeful. For this is not yet the end. These calamities are like early labour pains. They are signs that deliverance is on the way. Jesus takes seriously the reality of present suffering, he doesn’t trivialise it or treat it as redemptive. But he makes it clear that such pain is the prelude to new life. He wants to strengthen and sustain our faith.
 
It is notable that even as Jesus was speaking with his disciples on the Mount of Olives, the net was drawing in – the authorities were waiting to pounce and when he spoke of the destruction of the Temple, he had sealed his own fate. He would shortly be arrested on a drummed up charge, given a mock trial, and executed. It might then have appeared to his disciples that this was the end, that the forces of evil had won the day – but in Jesus’s resurrection from the grave, those early Christians knew that the power of death was overcome and history changed course once and for all.
 
And so, as we experience calamity in our own day, buried hopes come alive, and our gaze, so easily distracted from our living Lord, is directed back to him. We will not panic, the end is not yet. In this frame of mind, we will encourage one another another even in the face of the severest of trials. You may have heard on the radio the other day an interview with Father Louis Merosne, priest at the cathedral of St Anne in Anse- à-Veau, Haiti. Haiti had been suffering from acute political instability and rising numbers of COVID cases when it was hit by an 7.2 magnitude earthquake. An estimated 53,000 homes were destroyed or unsafe. There was an urgent need for shelter, for water and for food; people were traumatized; it was still raining; the beautiful white cathedral of St Anne, which had surmounted the village for more than 200 years, was so damaged that it was dangerous, but people had built a hangar with galvanised pipes where children gather for a hot meal, mass is said, funerals and meetings are held.
 
Father Louis was asked how he was feeling; “tired, stressed, and happy to be with the people – to see their needs touches me deeply.” Most had lost everything, but he could still see a bright smile on many of their faces. “On Sunday, he said, “they get dressed, cleaned up, changed into fresh clothes – sometimes they pull these from under the rubble and they sing praises to God, knowing that he is with them –
and that,” Father Louis concluded, “brings me hope.”

Hymn       My Shepherd, You Supply My Need
Isaac Watts (1719)
 

My Shepherd, you supply my need,
Jehovah is your name;
in pastures fresh He makes me feed,
beside the living stream.
He brings my wand’ring spirit back.
when I forsake His ways;
and leads me,
for His mercy’s sake,
in paths of truth and grace.
2 When I walk through

the shades of death ,
thy presence is my stay;
one word of thine
supporting breath
drives all my fears away.
Thy hand in sight of all my foes,
does still my table spread;
my cup with blessings overflows,
thine oil anoints my head.

 

3 The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
oh, may thy house be mine abode, and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come;
no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home.
 

Affirmation of Faith
 
We sing to our Lord a new song; we sing in our world a sure hope:
 
Our God loves this world,
God called it into being,
God renews it through Jesus Christ,
God governs it by the Spirit.
God is the world’s true hope!
 
Come Lord Jesus: We are open to your Spirit,
We await your full presence.
 
Our world finds rest in you alone.

 
Prayers of Intercession
 
Nurturing God we thank you for your gifts in creation;
for our world, in its exquisite beauty and variety; and so we pray:
 
for those who make decisions about the resources of the earth,
for the leaders of the nations as they end their summit in Glasgow
that they may find ways to use your gifts responsibly
and so curb the disasters we inflict upon ourselves.
Give us reverence for life in your world.
 
We pray for those who hold authority in the nations of the world.
that they may set aside pride and thirst for power and work for the common good. Guide them in the way of justice and peace.
 
Have compassion, we pray, on survivors of war;
on those who have been forced to flee in fear of their lives
from their homes and their countries to an uncertain future.
Look with kindness on the homeless and refugee and on those who mourn their dead.
 
We pray for the church, our own congregations and throughout the world. Strengthen us that we may continue to surmount with courage
the challenges of the pandemic, and proclaim your gospel as we minister in Christ’s name.
 
Merciful Father, to all who mourn grant faith and courage. that they may sorrow indeed but not without hope.
And now we remember before you with tenderness the lives of those dear to us who are now at rest. Bring us with them at the last to those inexpressible joys which you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. God in whom alone is our hope, we put our trust in you. May your blessing empower our praise through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

The Lord’s Prayer
 
Offertory
As we seek to bring about the Kingdom through love that makes all things new, we dedicate ourselves and our resources to the Ancient One.
 
Generous God, we ask that you use the means we have at our disposal, the resources of money, time and voice to transform the world and bring about Your kingdom. Makes us know of your love, that we, too, may share love with others.
 
Hymn:      All my hope on God is founded
Robert Bridges (1844-1930) (alt.) based on Joachim Neander (1650-1680)
 

1 All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew.
Me through change and chance he guideth,
only good and only true.
God unknown, he alone
calls my heart to be his own.
 
2 Pride of man and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
what with care and toil he buildeth,
tower and temple, fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour
is my temple and my tower.
 
3 God’s great goodness aye endureth,
deep his wisdom, passing thought:
splendour, light, and life attend him,
beauty springeth out of naught.
Evermore, from his store
new-born worlds rise and adore.
 
4 Still from earth to God eternal
sacrifice of praise be done,
high above all praises praising
for the gift of Christ his Son.
Christ doth call one and all;
ye who follow shall not fall.

 
Blessing
 
May the God of peace fill you with all joy and hope in believing;
and the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Be with you and all those who are dear to you,
today and always. Amen.
 
Sources and thanks
 
Call to Worship adapted by Andy Braunston from the Mennonite Church in Canada.
Affirmation of Faith from the Worship Source Book p168
 
God is Our Strength and Refuge – Richard Bewes after Psalm 46 © Richard Bewes/Jubilate Hymns. Sung by the All Souls Virtual Choir and Orchestra
We lay our broken world – Anna Briggs (b. 1947) © Anna Briggs, from This is the day, Wild Goose Publications. BBC Songs of Praise
My Shepherd, You Supply My Need – Isaac Watts 1719. Sung by the group Eclipse 6
All my hope on God is founded – Robert Bridges (1844-1930) (alt.) based on Joachim Neander (1650-1680). BBC Songs of Praise
 
Thanks to Sarah Wilmott, Kathleen Haynes, Mairi Macdonald and Graham Handscomb for reading various spoken parts of the service.
 
Organ Pieces
 
Opening: Liturgical Prelude by George Oldroyd (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing: Toccata from Suite Gothique by Leon Boëllman (organ of St Thomas-on-The Bourne, Farnham – 2016)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved.
PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762
 
 

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