Sunday 7th February 2021
The Revd. Sue Fender
Hello. My name is Sue Fender and I am the minister of the Hartlepool and Teesside URC Group. We are four diverse congregations within the Northern Synod. Hartlepool sits on the North east coast and is home to the Royal Naval museum. Stockton is renowned for its part in the development of the railways. Thornaby was built on and around an RAF base and Billingham was significant for its role in the chemical industry. All four towns have experienced significant changes over the years. Today they are all places to come and enjoy coast and countryside and to try our local delicacy, The Parmos!
Call To Worship
Come and see the grace of God,
Christ our teacher and our friend.
Come and see the son of God,
Christ our healer and salvation.
God is moving in this place.
Come and see! Come and see.
Hymn How Firm A Foundation
How firm a foundation,
ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith
in His excellent Word!
What more can He say
than to you He has said,
you who unto Jesus
for refuge have fled?
2 Fear not, He is with thee,
O be not dismayed;
for He is thy God,
and will still give thee aid;
He’ll strengthen thee, help thee,
and cause thee to stand,
upheld by His righteous,
3 When through the deep waters
He calls thee to go,
the rivers of grief
shall not thee overflow;
for He will be with thee,
in trouble to bless,
and sanctify to thee
thy deepest distress.
4 When through fiery trials
thy pathway shall lie,
His grace, all-sufficient,
shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee;
His only design
thy dross to consume
and thy gold to refine.
has leaned for repose,
He will not, He cannot
desert to His foes;
that soul, though all hell
should endeavour to shake,
He never will leave;
He will never forsake.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Assurance of Forgiveness
We come before God in prayer, let us pray;
Living God, what delight we find in your presence, what joy we find in your love for us. You call us together as your people, desiring us to live in the light of your great mercy and love. As we take time to worship you this day, ready to listen for you, wanting to hear your words for us.
We gather to sing your praise, to offer you our discipleship and to seek your forgiveness.
We give thanks for the wonders of your creation, a place for us to live and breathe, a place to find comfort and strength, a place to serve and a place to rest.
Generous God, within the beauty of your creation we see all that is good and honourable. Food for our bodies, stimulation for our minds, for your generosity knows no bounds. We thank you for the wonder of life, for the many fresh experiences each new day brings, for laughter, and for tears, for the joys and sorrows that come from loving and being loved. May we recognise your mark on all our moments, your hand in all our encounters.
You bless us with abundance, yet we confess we do not always share your generous Spirit. All too often we are selfish and greedy, placing our needs above the needs of others, placing ourselves above you.
Merciful God, you keep us in your grace, forgiving our mistakes, offering us new opportunities to serve you freed from the guilt of our past.
Renew and refresh us, offer us your mercy and grant us peace.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour
Prayer of Illumination
Lord God as we gather around our scripture readings this morning, may we find in them the words we need to hear today.
Isaiah 40 21-31
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God’?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
Mark 1 29-39
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Hymn Everlasting God
Brenton Brown and Ken Riley 2006
Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord.
We will wait upon the Lord. We will wait upon the Lord (repeat)
Our God, You reign forever; Our hope, our strong deliverer
You are the everlasting God, the everlasting God.
You do not faint, You won’t grow weary.
Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord…
Our God, You reign forever…
You’re the defender of the weak, You comfort those in need;
You lift us up on wings like eagles
Our God, You reign forever…
You’re the defender of the weak….
From everlasting to everlasting
God, you are everlasting.
Today we are offered the opportunity to reflect on the relationship between God and humanity and are called to remember the foundations of that relationship and all that it has meant for the people of God throughout the ages.
This powerful poem from the beginning of second Isaiah, comes shortly after the well-known verses of comfort found at the beginning of the chapter, that we hear during Advent – the time when I am writing and recording this act of worship. In these verses we are invited to see the significance of God in creation and our own weakness and powerlessness reflected in it. As we wrangle with the words of Isaiah’s poetry, we find our hope, our place within the creative order and perhaps find something more of our true selves as the people of God.
We see a God who is on the side of God’s people. The God who is both above the circle of the earth and down with the people. The God who provides shelter for the grasshoppers and reduces the mighty from their thrones. The God who is with the people in the good times and the joys of life but also with the people when life is tough and when the winds have blown them off course.
I once heard this phrase, used in a different context but meaningful to me at a time in my life when I really needed to know that God was there with me and for me. At a particularly difficult time in my life I was reflecting on being named a child of God and these words were offered to me.
To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be named.
Isaiah reminds us that we are brought out by a God who numbers us and calls us by name. That is where I found my strength and the power from within me to fight injustice and to grow in faith.
Despite all our limitations, the power of the one true God is there to be seen and heard. The stories we share, the tales we tell of the wonderful acts of God are what we are called to declare.
Have you not known, have you not heard?
For the people of Israel, these words were a call to remember. You have known and you have heard, and yet all too often you have forgotten and turned away. You have known and you have heard, there is only one God, Yahweh. It is in this God alone they should place their undivided trust, the loving and just sovereign of the universe. The days of wandering and doubt are to be left behind. It is a call to put God at the forefront of their living always. To carry these words with them in all times and all places, to remember them always.
All too often the people of Israel have found something other than Yahweh to place their hope and trust in. So the prophet calls them to remember all they have known and all they have heard of the mighty power of God; The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth!
There is no comparison between the power of God and the power of rulers and Princes. God’s word is first and last in all matters, God is the Holy One before whom they stand.
These verses from Isaiah are a powerful reminder to us today. We, like the people of Israel, time and again move from faith to doubt and doubt to faith and back again, weaving our human misunderstandings of the divine with our hope in the promises we hold dear. This is a call to remember the power of God in our lives. Do not let these foundations of our faith become withered. Take them deep into your soul where they may flourish and thrive. Forget them and they will wither and be carried away on the winds.
Mark’s Gospel doesn’t hold back on reminding us of the divine nature of Jesus Christ, God incarnate. No stories of birth, of shepherds nor angles, but straight in to give us signs and wonders of God at work in the person of Jesus. Jesus calls his disciples, heals a man with many unclean spirits and immediately we have the declaration of who Jesus is, ‘I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’
In our reading from Mark this morning we are shown the ministry of Jesus right from its start. The many healings at the home of Simon, a whole city gathered around the door watching, listening, as Jesus cured them from their illnesses and drove out the demons within. A whole city! Just think of that – even in terms of a small village today, all gathered around.
How would they respond later to the questions, have you not known, have you not heard? A whole city saw the power of God in people’s lives for themselves!
Jesus is eager to move on – to proclaim his message and to do God’s work and will in as many places as possible. His disciples might have wanted to stay in Capernaum, be with this miracle maker as he performed acts of wonder. Perhaps they were enjoying the attention they undoubtably received as friends of the great new hero in town. But Jesus knows his work is not for one town alone. He must keep on moving, sharing all that he is and all that is within him with others too.
So many of us listening today, have heard of the awesome power of our God. So many of us listening today, have known and experienced the wonders of God at work in our lives and the lives of those around us. We know, although often we fail to recognise fully, the power of God’s Spirit within us. Sometimes we are just too afraid to let go and let the Spirit of God flow in and through us.
But are still some who have not known or have not heard of God today. Sadly there are many have heard and have seen but can’t fully grasp the story is for them too so fall away. How do we take the message of God’s power, love and compassion to all people?
As the numbers of those who have known and those who have heard appear to be decreasing, we might ask, is our understanding of God declining with each generation? The stories we take for granted of this Creator God, to whom we are intimately bound are known and lived in by so few today.
The God who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them like a tent to live in is no longer part of the experiences of many.
Yet we remain connected, in relationship with all God’s people through the ages. Too often we are like the people of Israel, questioning, unfaithful, doubting and tiresome. But our joy is that we share in the good news, that God came in human form to restore the failing relationships and to remind us that the creator God doesn’t tire of us, and God understands our failings and works with them to mould us and shape us into the people we are called to be, even still leaving us room to, for right or wrong, imprint something of ourselves into the plan.
As we work to be the people of God in our homes, churches and communities, may God give us the strength we need, to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint and to accept with joy and thanksgiving all we have known and all we have heard of our everlasting God.
Hymn Jesus Christ is Waiting
John L Bell & Graham Maule 1988
Jesus Christ is waiting,
Waiting in the streets;
No one is his neighbour,
All alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am lonely too.
Make me, friend or stranger,
Fit to wait on you
2: Jesus Christ is raging,
Raging in the streets,
Where injustice spirals
And real hope retreats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am angry too.
In the Kingdom’s causes
Let me rage with you.
3: Jesus Christ is healing,
Healing in the streets;
Curing those who suffer,
Touching those he greets.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I have pity too.
Let my care be active,
Healing just like you.
4: Jesus Christ is dancing,
Dancing in the streets,
Where each sign of hatred
He, with love, defeats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I should triumph too.
On suspicion’s graveyard
Let me dance with you.
5: Jesus Christ is calling,
calling in the streets,
”Who will join my journey?
I will guide their feet.”
Listen, Lord Jesus,
let my fears be few.
Walk one step before me;
I will follow you.
Affirmation of Faith
In Jesus of Nazareth,
true humanity was realized once for all.
Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, lived among his own people and shared their needs, temptations, joys, and sorrows.
He expressed the love of God in word and deed
and became a brother to all kinds of sinful men and women.
But his complete obedience led him into conflict with his people.
His life and teaching judged their goodness,
religious aspirations, and national hopes.
Many rejected him and demanded his death.
In giving himself freely for them, he took upon himself the judgment
under which everyone stands convicted.
God raised him from the dead,
vindicating him as Messiah and Lord.
The victim of sin became victor, and won the victory
over sin and death for all.
God who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in, you care for all you have made and so we turn to you now in prayer.
We pray for a world facing a humanitarian crisis through disease, war, famine and natural disasters. Lord we have so much, give us generous hearts and a desire to serve you as caring, charitable people.
We pray for those throughout the world who have endured humiliation, torture and death because of their embodiment of love, freedom and justice.
We give thanks for the continuing efforts by the church, civil governments, the United Nations and other agencies to create an enduring culture of peace.
We pray for those people who live with the hard realities of persistent poverty, hunger, malnutrition, homelessness and unemployment. Farm workers and indigenous peoples, who are endangered by the loss of their lands and livelihoods.
We give thanks for the homes in which we live, the people who designed and built it and assisted us in the buying or renting of it. We pray that our homes will reflect all that we know and experience through our faith in you and that they may be a place of welcome and hospitality to all who enter into them.
Sustaining and redeeming God you know how much we need encouragement and affirmation in our daily lives. When we are feeling low and anxious help us in imagination to hear and see the great crowd of witnesses who encourage us to do well in the things you ask of us. Make us, too, encouragers, always ready, not just to see the good in others, but to tell others that we see it in them.
We ask that you surround all those whom are ill or in mourning. Hold them gently in the palm of your hand. Help them through this time of struggle and suffering they may know your truth and promise of eternal life.
When we are weary, unable to run the race of the day and feel faint in our faith, sustain us and grant us your strength
So may love and faith and hope grow in us and in those with whom we share this journey.
In some of our churches within the group we use the words of the first verse to Hymn 404 as our offertory prayer
Lord of all good, our gifts we bring to thee,
Use them thy holy purpose to fulfil;
Tokens of love and pledges they shall be
That our whole life is offered to thy will
Hymn Canticle of the Turning
Rory Cooney (1990) Music: Star Of The County Down (Irish Traditional Folk Song)
My soul cries out
with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings
of the wondrous things
that you bring
to the one who waits.
You fixed your sight
on the servant’s plight,
and my weakness
you did not spurn,
So from east to west
shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?
2: Though I am small,
my God, my all,
you work great
things in me.
And your mercy will last
from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name
puts the proud to shame,
and those who would
for you yearn,
You will show your might,
put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn.
My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.
to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
These are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.
4: Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word
that our forebears heard
is the promise which holds us bound,
‘Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around.
May the mystery of God enfold us,
may the wisdom of God uphold us,
may the fragrance of God be around us,
may the brightness of God surround us,
may the wonder of God renew us,
may the loving of God flow through us,
may the peace of God deeply move us,
may the moving of God bring us peace.
Thanks and sources
Blessing: Words by Joy Cowley New Zealand (Hymn 95 in Alleluia Aotearoa)
Liturgical Prelude by George Oldroyd
(organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
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
How firm a foundation: Unknown 1787. Sung by Maddy Prior.
Everlasting God: Brenton Brown and Ken Riley 2006 © Integrity Music Sung by Chris Tomlin
Jesus Christ is Waiting: John L Bell & Graham Maule 1988 © The WGWRG from the Album Songs of Iona a Celtic Celebration
Canticle of the Turning: Paraphrase of Luke 1:46-58 Rory Cooney (1990) Music: Star Of The County Down (Irish Traditional Folk Song)
Thanks to Andrew Mann-Ray, Christopher Whitehead, Morag Donaldson, Diana Cullum-Hall, Dan Morrell, Elizabeth Gray-King for reading various spoken parts of the service.
Thanks to Alison Jiggins, Marion Thomas, Christopher Whitehead, Christine and David Shimmin, Kath Haynes, Ray Fraser, Phil, Carys and Lythan Nevard for the Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith.