Service for Sunday 20th February 2022
Photo credit Torsten Dederichs/unsplash
The Rev’d Janet Sutton
Hello there. My name is Janet Sutton, and I am URC Minister living near Ely in Cambridgeshire. Today’s service is inspired by, and indeed parts of it are taken from, the induction service of the Rev’d Craig Muir, who has recently moved to East Midlands Synod. Craig is one of a small group of URC members who create and lead services at Greenbelt, the Christian Festival which takes place each year on August Bank Holiday weekend. With their permission I will be sharing some of it with you. And so, let us pause, be still, and prepare to worship God.
Call To Worship
Come, let us ring out our joy to the Lord; hail the rock who saves us. Let us come into God’s presence, giving thanks; let us hail the Eternal One with a song of praise. A mighty God is the Lord, a great king above all gods. In God’s hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains belong to God. To the Eternal One belongs the sea, for God made it and shaped the dry land. O come; let us bow and bend low. Let us kneel before the One who made us, for the Eternal One is our God and we the people who belong to the royal pasture, the flock that is led by hand.
Hymn God Who Spoke In The Beginning
Fred Kaan (1929-2009)
God who spoke in the beginning,
forming rock and shaping spar,
set all life and growth in motion,
earthly world and distant star;
he who calls the earth to order
is the ground of what we are.
2 God who spoke
through people, nations,
through events long past and gone,
showing still today his purpose,
speaks supremely through his Son;
he who calls the earth to order
gives his word, and it is done.
Christ is servant, Christ is Lord!
calls us to a life of service,
heart and will to action stirred;
he who uses our obedience
has the first and final word.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Declaration of Forgiveness
God of time and space,
we come before you today, in awe and wonder of your creation.
As we look to the heavens, we see formed in plant and star,
the glory of your majesty, made manifest in all we see.
God of land and sea,
we come before you today with thanksgiving,
for a planet that provides all we need to sustain us
in its provision for our needs, and its beauty for our wonder.
God of storm and calm,
we come before you as followers of your Son, Jesus Christ;
who quelled the waves, who spoke with tenderness,
who, in word and deed, showed us how to live in step with you.
God of love and forgiveness,
we come before you today, aware of who and what we are:-
of the promise we show as your beloved children,
and of our propensity to fail you in what we think, say and do.
In a time of quiet, we offer to you our prayers of confession,
and ask that you will forgive us and make us new.
In repentance and faith, receive the promise of grace and the assurance of pardon. Here are words you may trust, words that merit full acceptance: ‘Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.’ To all who turn to him he says; ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ He also says follow me. Let us turn, then, from our past failings, assured that we are made new, and look forward in faith and in hope, joining together in the words Jesus taught us:
The Lord’s Prayer
Prayer of Illumination
As we prepare to explore God’s Word today, our prayer of illumination is taken from the hymn of Chun Ming Kao, the Taiwanese Pastor and human rights activist:
O Lord, you are the light of the world,
come live within me, come and enrich me, that I may live like you.
O Lord, make me a lamp of new light,
so in the darkest and suffering places, I always shine for you.
O Lord, make me a spring of new life
so for the thirsty and crying people, I always flow like you. Amen
Reading: St Luke 8.22-25
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’
Hymn Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)
of our life’s wild restless sea,
day by day his voice is sounding,
saying, ‘Christian, follow me’.
2 As, of old, Saint Andrew heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home & toil & kindred,
leaving all for his dear sake.
3 In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
‘Christian, love me more than these’.
4 Jesus calls us! By your mercy,
Saviour, make us hear your call,
give our hearts to your obedience,
serve and love you best of all.
This is such a well-known passage, possibly one of the best-known miracle stories in the New Testament. Jesus, having had a busy day, decides to go across Lake Galilee on a boat with his disciples and, while he is asleep in the back of the boat, a storm arrives. Jesus is awoken and calms the storm, questioning why the disciples have so little faith. The disciples, in turn, wonder who is this man, that the wind sea the waves obey him?
Such a well known story. So well known, perhaps, that there is nothing new to say about it. So in this service I have decided not to say anything at all about it. Instead I am going to suggest we take a different approach. Instead I am going to ask you to imagine the story from a completely new perspective, and see what God might be saying to you through that reflection.
The material for this reflection on the gospel passage is taken from the sermon slot at the induction service into a new pastorate of the URC minister Craig Muir. A crop of four of us were responsible for delivering a challenge to Craig’s congregations and the synod to which he was called as transitional minister. We did so reflection on the passage using three voices. I am going to use the same three voices for this service.
I want you to start by imagining the scene. It is evening. As usual the village fishing boats are setting sail onto the lake. The boat owned by the family of two of Jesus’ disciples is among them. I want to imagine that you are there. That you are part of the scene. And I want you to listen to the voices of three people who might have borne testimony to the event: a bystander on the shore, the wife of one of the fishermen, and one of the fishermen in another boat. Here they are:
VOICE 1: a person standing on the sidelines (on the shore)
It keeps coming back to me: that day by the harbour. That carpenter. You know, the one from Nazareth, who’d moved into town and begun to hang out with the fishermen. He was talking, talking. Vineyards and bushels and mustard seeds and kingdoms. Nothing to do with fishing, but then, not anything to do with carpentry either.
It was very sudden, the coming of the storm. I wanted to get straight home. I wrapped my cloak tightly against the wind and moved as quickly as I could; but suddenly I looked up, and there it was, the flotilla that accompanied the carpenter. And as the storm got worse I began to fear for them. Death was coming.
Then suddenly, there he was: standing up in the boat. And I think, what sort of idiot is he? And then I see the unbelievable happen, or I imagine I do. He raises his hands and suddenly all is calm. Eerily quiet. Like something beyond nature had just taken place.
I rushed home to tell Eli, he’s into all that supernatural stuff. I keep thinking, maybe I’ll go back down to the harbour and see him again. But I never get round to it. Someday maybe, some day…
VOICE 2: a fisherman’s wife
As Fisherfolk our lives are tied to the sea, whether it’s the men out on the boats, or those of us left behind on the shore, with lines baited and nets tied.
We are the ones keeping the home fires burning, never knowing for sure just when or if they’ll return, will it be this tide or the next, or maybe the one after.
And when a storm rises up like that (like it did that night) you know their lives are on the line, but it’s not just the lives of those in the boats at stake. If we have no boat, no man to fish it we’ll die just as sure as them, just maybe not so quick.
So that night as I watched him go off in the boat, with that man Jesus, but not in search of fish this time. When the storm rose up, the only thing to do was pray, and look out to sea in hope that there’s still life out there, and that he will come back to us. Then suddenly it all stopped, like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard of before, flat calm, stars coming out to shine down on us, glistening on the sea.
VOICE 3: a person in another boat
It was such a strange day, that day. Crowds were over there on the shore. Jesus was over in Peter’s boat. So of course, Peter’s crew had a front row seat! We were all scattered about in different boats, straining to hear what he was saying over the noise of the roaring waves, trying to feel part of it: but you never end up feeling as connected as you wish you were. Each boat’s captain is always trying to skipper his own crew.
Later, When the storm blew up, it really was a case of batten down the hatches and all hands on deck! We were used to storms, but this was a massive one. So you focus on your own boat, on the instructions of your skipper. Anything beyond the boundaries of your own wooden-framed world fades into the background.
But that day was different. Something drew our attention. It was his voice, above the roar of the ocean! “Peace! Be still!” Suddenly all was calm. And in our different fishing boats, each doing our own thing, we heard one voice call to us all: “Why are you afraid? Where is your faith?” And so, we called across the waves to our brothers…
Three voices, three individuals, all impacted on in one way or the other by the events that day.
I wonder, if you were asked which one you most relate to, who would it be…? Would you be a bystander, looking on, experiencing the activity of Christ as though from afar. Would you be a companion, an assistant, someone not at the centre, but on whose service the members of the church depend? Might you have a sense of being one boat away – within Christ’s hearing, but not quite in there with him yet?
Or would you be someone else, a disciple in the boat with Jesus perhaps?
We live in stormy times. Coronavirus has challenged us to reflect on many of the assumptions we had previously made about what church looks like and what it means to be a Christian. And it is tough. Jesus is there, and he speaks words of power, of stillness, of peace; but perhaps for you it feels more as though he has been asleep in the back of a boat. Perhaps you don’t feel as though you’ve been in a boat with him at all.
Christianity is ultimately a faith founded in relationship: our relationship with God in Christ and our relationships with others, both within our own church communities and beyond them. I wonder, might your reflection this week on the story of the calming of the storm, have something to say to you about both?
Hymn Christ be in my waking
Stuart Townend & Simon Brading
Christ be in my waking,
as the sun is rising,
in my day of working,
with me every hour.
Christ be in my resting,
as the day is ending,
calming and refreshing,
watching through the night.
2: Christ be in my gladness
for the joy of living,
thankful for the goodness
of the Father’s hand.
Christ be in my sorrow,
in my day of darkness,
knowing that I follow
in the steps He trod.
Jesus, this is my devotion:
all my life to know You,
every day to walk with You.
You’re my deepest longing,
You’re the One I live for,
teach me, Lord, to walk with You.
3: Christ when hope has faded,
nothing left to cling to,
every pleasure jaded,
every well is dry.
Christ the loving Shepherd
draws me with His kindness,
leads me from the desert
to the streams of life.
Jesus this is my devotion…
Sing verse 1 again
Affirmation of Faith
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world – which some seek to control, and others view with despair – we declare with joy and trust; Our world belongs to God!
From the beginning, through all the crises of our times, until the Kingdom fully comes, God keeps covenant forever Our world belongs to God!
We rejoice in the goodness of God, renounce the works of darkness, and dedicate ourselves to holy living, for: Our world belongs to God!
As committed disciples, called to faithful obedience and set free for joyful praise, we offer our hearts and lives to do God’s work in His world, for Our world belongs to God!
With tempered impatience, eager to see injustice ended, we expect the Day of the Lord and we are confident that the light that shines in the present darkness will fill the earth when Christ appears, for Our world belongs to God!
And now we come to a time of prayer for others. There are five short sections, and there will be short pause between each section so that you might offer your own prayers in response to the words.
We begin by praying for those who might be considered ‘all at sea’:
those who know not which way to turn, who are caught up in storms beyond their control. God of calm, enter their heart, that they might know Christ’s calming presence with them.
We pray for those left behind on the shore, whose current experience of church does not fit with their tradition, habit. or beliefs. Comforting God, enter their experience, that they might see for themselves a new way of believing, and come to be disciples of Christ.
We pray for those currently being tossed by a storm, who fear for their lives or their future, who know not which way to turn or how to reach out. God of calm, enter their vision, that they might see you, and know that your way will give them peace.
We pray for those on the sidelines, looking on, those for whom church and faith somehow do not fit. Transforming God, enter their experience, that they might witness to your power and know the truth of the gospel.
And finally we pray for those in the boat with us: our families, our friends, our fellow church members. Knowing God, who sees the storms and steps in to calm them, be with all those who need your presence this day. let them see your power, hear your words and find out who you are,
And may we be called to minister to them in their need. All these things we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our redeemer and ultimate storm-quencher. Amen.
In Christ we have been offered the ultimate gift: life in all its fulness.
Whether we are weathering storms or luxuriating in a boat, God calls us to play our part in the life of the church in myriad ways. And so we offer your gifts: of money, of time and of ourselves, asking that they might be used in the service of the one who calms storms and makes waves: Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Hymn Will Your Anchor Hold In The Storms of Life
Priscilla Jane Owens (1829-1907)
Will your anchor hold
in the storms of life,
when the clouds unfold
their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift,
and the cables strain,
will your anchor drift,
or firm remain?
We have an anchor
that keeps the soul
steadfast and sure
while the billows roll;
fastened to the Rock
which cannot move,
grounded firm and deep
in the Saviour’s love!
2 Will your anchor hold
in the straits of fear,
when the breakers roar
and the reef is near?
While the surges rage,
and the wild winds blow,
shall the angry waves then
your bark o’erflow?
3 Will your eyes behold
through the morning light
the city of gold
and the harbour bright?
Will you anchor safe
by the heavenly shore,
when life’s storms are past
(taken from the Facebook Page of the Watermen’s Museum, Hayes, Virginia)
May the seas lie smooth before you.
May a gentle breeze forever fill your sails.
May sunshine warm your face,
And kindness warm your soul.
And, until we meet again,
May God bless you and keep you safe.
Sources and Thanks
Call to Worship adapted from the Revised Grail Version of Psalm 95 by Andy Braunston. Affirmation of Faith adapted by Andy Braunston from the Christian Reformed Church’s affirmation Our World Belongs To God. All other liturgical material by the Rev’d Janet Sutton.
Thanks to Chris Watson, Geoffrey Roper, Kathleen Haynes, Sue Cresswell and Diana Cullum-Hall for reading various spoken parts of the service.
God Who Spoke In The Beginning- Fred Kaan © Hope Publishing Company 1968 sung by Melissa Oretade used by her kind permission.
Jesus calls us o’er the tumult – Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) (alt.) BBC Songs of Praise
Christ be in my waking – Stuart Townend & Simon Brading © 2011 Thankyou Music sung by Stuart Townend.
Will Your Anchor Hold In The Storms of Life – Priscilla Jane Owens (1829-1907) BBC Songs of Praise
Opening Organ Piece: Lobt Gott Ihr Christen (“Praise God ye Christians”) by Johann Gottfried Walther (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece: Toccata from Suite Gothique by Leon Boëllman (organ of St Thomas-on-The Bourne, Farnham – 2016)