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United Reformed Church Daily Devotions Service for Sunday 25th July 2021
Photo Credit: Book of Love by Emmanuel Phaeton on Unsplash
The Rev’d Simon Walkling
Welcome to worship. My name is Simon Walkling and I serve as the synod moderator for the national Synod of Wales. Croeso i Gymru. In our worship we are going to reflect on one of the prayers in the New Testament letters and receive it as a prayer for us, and as a prayer that God’s expansive and expanding love will work in us and through us.
Call To Worship
We meet in the name of God, the Holy Trinity of Love who knows our needs, hears our cries, feels our pain, and heals our wounds. God is our light and our salvation. In God’s name we light this candle and are reminded of Jesus, the Light of the World, God’s own Voice who came to live with us. May our hearts be open to you, O God, now and always. Amen.
I will sing a song of love to the One who first loved me, and I’ll sing it as a child of God, who is named, and known, and free. For the love of God is good, it is broad and deep and long; and above all else that matters God is worthy of my song.
1: And I will not sing alone,
but with earth and sky and sea,
for creation raised its voice
well in advance of me.
2: And I’ll sing with every soul,
every language, every race,
which proclaims this world is good
for God has blessed this place.
3: And I’ll sing for what is right
and against all that is wrong,
because God is never neutral
who inspires my song.
4: As I bring to God my joy,
so I’ll bring to God my pain
for there is no hurt which God
requires me to retain.
5: While my life on earth still runs,
may my song to God be given,
till through grace
I join the harmony
of all in heaven.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Declaration of Forgiveness
we lift our hearts to you in praise and prayer,
thankful for the wonder of creation
and grateful for the good things in our lives.
As we open ourselves to the ways you love us,
we find the ways to love you in return.
We raise our eyes to look beyond our immediate circumstances
and to view the world with your compassion.
As we broaden our perspective, we see the needs beyond our own,
and hear your call to love others.
we thank you for the promise of your Spirit
to live with us and within us,
connecting us with others following this pattern of worship:
even though we may be separated in time and space
your Spirit connects us as a gathering of faithful people.
So as well as giving worth to you and sensing your expansive love,
may we receive worth from you, and know that we are precious to you.
sometimes we shy away from growing into your great love.
We are aware of our thoughts and actions that are less than loving;
our comments and communications
that have unintended consequences;
our habitual patterns of reacting that disappoint us and leave us low.
We lament the state of our lives, but also the state of our world,
marred by inequality, violence and careless indifference.
We are sorry.
We long to know that we are forgiven
and experience renewal that will make a difference.
Listen and hear the good news:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in love.
He does not treat us according to our attitudes and behaviour,
for as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love for us;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our wrongdoing from us.
Jesus says, ‘You are forgiven,’ He also says, ‘Follow me.’
Thanks be to God. Amen
Prayer of Illumination
We turn to listen for God’s Word stirred by the Spirit within us
as we listen to words from the Bible.
God of revelation and inspiration,
as we listen, make the words alive for us today.
As we reflect, let the words take root in our hearts.
As we translate them for our situation,
may they be a foundation for our actions,
as we follow Jesus, your living Word. Amen
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
Before we reflect on this reading together, we remember that Jesus love is so high you can’t get over it, so wide you can’t get round it. You may remember singing this at other times in other places, and even do some ‘chairobic’ stretches to recall those times and signify the height, breadth and depth of Jesus’ wonderful love.
Jesus’ love Is very wonderful, Jesus’ love Is very wonderful, Jesus’ love Is very wonderful, Oh, Wonderful Love!
So high, you can’t get over It,
so low, you can’t get under it,
so wide, you can’t get around It,
oh, Wonderful Love!
Thirty years ago, around this time of year, I was on holiday with friends, on a narrow boat. We were coming into Gloucester dock and were following the guidebook about where to tie up. I got on the roof of the boat with a rope but realised that I didn’t need to be up there after all, so walked along the roof to get down. The next thing I knew, I was on the deck, six foot below with a dislocated shoulder. I just hadn’t seen the edge of the roof and walked out into mid-air and fell to the deck. Part of the reason for telling you this is that when I arrived at Gloucester Royal Infirmary to get treatment, they asked me my religion. I said, ‘Christian, United Reformed Church.’ They said, ‘We don’t get that very often, I’ll have to look up the code to put on the form… here it is 3d.’ So, whilst I was sitting holding my arm in A&E I thought, ‘3d, I’ll take that: 3 dimensional. I have a three-dimensional faith, not a cartoon caricature of faith, or a flat faith, but a three-dimensional living, breathing, dynamic faith.’ And our reading today reminded me of this, as I thought about how to comprehend the breadth and length, the height and depth of God’s love revealed in Jesus, real for us through the Spirit: the three-dimensional expansive and expanding love of God.
The writer says, ‘I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’
Before we unpack the prayer a bit more, I want to point out that it is a prayer. It’s a prayer from the writer to the churches, but I also want us to hear it as a prayer that comes down to us today. I find it helpful to see Ephesians as a circular letter to the churches that Paul planted, maybe from Paul or from those that followed on from him. Perhaps a circular letter, but one which resonated so much with the Christians in Ephesus that they kept it and cherished it and that made it worth including in the books of the Bible. So, I would like us to receive the prayer in our reading today as being for us, with the added blessing of the Ephesians and all those who have drawn on it since. Many of the New Testament letters include prayers and I think it’s worth reading them as prayers for us now. Like this one, they often start small and
on a human scale, and expand to fill the universe, affirming God’s activity through space and time.
To hear this prayer for us, let’s consider the ideas within it. The reasons for it are in the paragraphs before our reading. The good news has been shared with Gentiles – including the Ephesians, including us. Everyone can have access to God through trusting God revealed in Jesus. The church is to make this wisdom known to rulers and authorities. So, we are prayed for.
‘I pray that … you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit.’ I guess we instinctively know what this means, but it gave me pause for thought. How we describe our inner being and its connection with our observable actions is coloured by spirituality and personality, psychology and biology. We can also tell from the descriptions in the New Testament that the Spirit has power to help people communicate their faith; to connect people in communion; to equip the church with gifts; and to grow spiritual fruit. So, I pray that we may strengthened in our inner being: to develop positive thought
patterns that give us confidence to live out our faith; to discern direction and renewed purpose for our shared life as a church; to draw on resilience to cope with the changes that we are going through; and to deepen our spirituality to let God influence our rhythm of action and reflection.
‘I pray that … Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.’ For me, ‘grounded’ has the sense of solid foundations. It reminds me of the temple imagery in Ephesians 2 and being a ‘temple of living stones’ in 1 Peter, and other places where the imagery about the church is of God building on foundations and the church being the people where God is encountered. For me, ‘rooted’ is a more organic image of growth. It reminds me of the imagery of the Jesus being the vine and us the branches in John 15, where we read Jesus saying, ‘abide in my love’, ‘those who abide in
my love bear much fruit.’ There’s also an overlap with the description of the Spirit in John 14 who will abide with us and within us. Faith and love are both relationship words that make connections, and here I think Christ dwelling in our hearts is about a felt connection with God, but it is more than a feeling. It is about becoming so familiar with the stories of Jesus and the life of Jesus that they shape the way we relate to God and other people. It is about the patterns of prayer and reflection that keep a living relationship with God. It is about ‘seeking the mind of Christ’ in the corporate life of our church, which is more
than a label for our decision-making processes, but springs from Christ
dwelling in our hearts through faith because of love. So, I pray that Christ may dwell in our hearts, so that Walking the Way and living the life of Jesus today, continually grows from being a pattern we follow to a living relationship in which we share.
‘I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,’ Which brings us back to where we began to break open this prayer with the three-dimensional love of God. The wonderful love that’s so high you can’t get over it, so wide you can’t get round it. There is something here about the all-embracing, extravagant love of God, and the way
we see that in God coming as one of us, and Jesus emptying himself and giving himself for us, and the way we know that by the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is more than intellectual understanding of facts, or the kind of comprehension we did at school where we had to answer questions about a story. This is a deep appreciation of love vast as the ocean. The Greek word translated as ‘comprehend’ here has its roots in the verb ‘to catch’ which reminds me of my youth leader who took me through church membership classes who said, ‘love is caught, not taught.’ I think this is emphasised by this love surpassing knowledge, it is not just intellectual, it engages our emotions and our wills, it is not just something inside us, but overflows in our actions. It is not secret information for an inner circle of believers, but light and salt and
yeast that has an affect on the world around us. So, I pray that God’s
expansive and expanding love may work in us and through us.
Later, you might like to reflect on other ways our faith and expressions of love may be three-dimensional. How love could influence mind, body and spirit; thoughts, emotions and actions; our head, heart and hands; our relationship with God, others and how we talk to ourselves; or our church life, locally, with our synods, or as a denomination.
I said part of the reason that I shared the story about my trip to Gloucester Royal Infirmary was to introduce the 3d theme. The other part was the walking off the edge of the roof had lasting effects. Since then, my body hasn’t trusted my eyes to know where the edge of anything is, and I have a perfectly rational fear of heights. OK so the physical discomfort I get with heights when someone is on the edge of a precipice on the telly is not rational, but in the real world I am trying to get used to coping with heights by concentration and taking care.
My observation is that some of our churches are feeling similar. Lockdowns created a sudden drop, and the experience has had after-effects. Decline is giving a feeling that there may be a tipping point and we are in danger of falling over it. We aren’t clear about the best way of changing our mindset and behaviours as local churches or as a denomination to face the future.
But the prayer in Ephesians does not leave us with our present circumstances, or our limitations, or just our close circles of belonging. ‘I pray … that you may be filled with all the fullness of God’ and this power at work in us can do ‘more than all we can ask or imagine’ That’s awesome, in both the colloquial and literal sense of the word. I have the sense of the rollercoaster being ready to start: the safety bars are in place, so I know I can’t fall out, but I know that what’s coming will be a whole-body experience. So, I pray that whatever happens, we may be strengthened in our inner being, that Christ may dwell in our hearts,
that God’s expansive and expanding love may work in us and through us, that we may be filled with the fullness of God, and that in the church, in Christ, we will give the glory to God. Amen
Hymn:Here is Love, Vast As The Ocean
William Rees sung by Nikki Rose
Dyma gariad fel y moroedd,
Tosturiaethau fel y lli:
Twysog Bywyd pur yn marw—
Marw i brynu’n bywyd ni.
Pwy all beidio â chofio amdano?
Pwy all beidio â thraethu’I glod?
Dyma gariad nad â’n angof
Tra fo nefoedd wen yn bod.
Ar Galfaria yr ymrwygodd
Holl ffynhonnau’r dyfnder mawr;
Torrodd holl argaeau’r nefoedd
Oedd yn gyfain hyd yn awr:
Gras â chariad megis dilyw
Yn ymdywallt ymâ ’nghyd,
A chyfiawnder pur â heddwch
Yn cusanu euog fyd.
Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Loving-kindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heav’n’s peace & perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.
Affirmation of Faith
We believe in God. Despite His silence and His secrets we believe that He lives. Despite evil and suffering we believe that He made the world so that all would be happy in life. Despite the limitations of our reason and the revolts of our hearts, we believe in God.
We believe in Jesus Christ. Despite the centuries which separate us from the time when he came to earth, we believe in His word. Despite our incomprehension and our doubt, we believe in His resurrection. Despite his weakness and poverty, we believe in his reign.
We believe in the Holy Spirit. Despite appearances we believe He guides the Church; despite death we believe in eternal life; despite ignorance and disbelief, we believe that the Kingdom of God is promised to all. Amen.
God of nations and generations,
we come to align ourselves with your love,
to begin our response to what we have heard
by connecting with your concern for creation.
We remember how our circle of contacts
has been limited by regulations,
and we think of those who are closest to us,
who we speak with most often, who we see most regularly.
We picture their faces
and think of the ways our lives impact each other.
We pray that your love may be active between us.
We pray for people whose lives are shaped
by particular circumstances at this time:
Children leaving primary school.
Young people planning their next stage.
Patients coping with life limiting illness.
Families living with loss.
Those looking for a way to find mental wellbeing,
and those who need a holiday.
We pray that your love that makes all things new will be at work.
We think of the things that are shaping our national life at the moment. The things we hear about on the news, but also the cultural currents that are shaping and changing our shared values and sense of identity. We pray for those who witness to your love in corporations, institutions and the corridors of power.
We pray for our world, ravaged by COVID and climate change. A world where there is unequal impact of these effects and unequal access to the resources to cope with them. Where war displaces people, and the everyday violence of discrimination distorts lives. We think of issues and concerns and the people whose lives are affected. We let our circles of concern expand to include these people we may never know. We pray for your love to turn up as justice.
And we pray for the help that each of us needs in the coming week.
For the areas of our lives where we need inner strength, or challenge, or to imagine your world transformed by love.
So, God, let your love fill our lives, and overflow to change the world,
use us and your church to accomplish more than we can ask or imagine.
We pray for your coming Kingdom of justice and peace,
using the pattern of prayer which Jesus gave us:
Offering is part of worship. It is an action which is a response of gratitude to what we have experienced and considered together. It is a symbol of giving our lives in gratitude to all that God has given us. It prepares us for all the ways we will put our faith into action in our daily living. Our gifts of money also keep the church going, supporting our ministry and mission, whatever the current context. So, let’s pray.
We give out of duty.
We give because we see the needs.
We give out of gratitude for your love beyond measure.
Accept our gifts and our lives that we offer to you
to be part of your work in the world. Amen
Hymn O Love How Deep, How Broad, How High
from the Latin O Amor Quam Ecstaticus! attributed to Thomas à Kempis and translated by Benjamin Webb in 1851. Sung by the choir of Sheffield Cathedral.
O love, how deep,
how broad, how high,
how passing thought and fantasy,
that God, the Son of God,
our mortal form for mortals’ sake!
2: He sent no angel to our race
of higher or of lower place,
but wore the robe
of human frame,
and he himself to His world came.
3: For us baptized, for us He bore
His holy fast and hungered sore;
for us temptations sharp He knew;
for us the tempter overthrew.
4 For us to wicked hands betrayed,
in crown of thorns arrayed,
for us he bore the cross’ death;
for us at length gave up his breath.
5 For us He rose from death again;
for us He went on high to reign;
for us He sent his Spirit here
to guide, to strengthen,
and to cheer.
6 All honour, laud and glory be,
O Jesu, virgin-born, to thee,
all glory, as is ever meet,
to Father and to Paraclete. Amen.
All that we have heard and hoped begins with God’s grace,
the free gift of love embodied in Jesus, and present through the Spirit.
Let’s pray God’s grace for each other:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all, evermore. Amen
Sources and Thanks
Call to Worship from the Church of England’s New Patterns of Worship, Affirmation of Faith from the Reformed Church of France translated by Andy Braunston. All other liturgical material by Simon Walkling.
Opening Organ Voluntary: Ach Gott Von Himmel Sieh Darein (“O God from heaven see this”) by Johann Pachelbel (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020). Closing Voluntary: Toccata in Seven by John Rutter
(organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020) both played by Brian Cotterill.
Thanks to Claire Ette, John Marsh, Sarah Wilmott, George Faris, Andy Braunston and the choir of Barrhead URC for recording various spoken parts of the service.
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