URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 22nd May 2022 – The Revd. Paul Robinson

Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Service for Sunday 22nd May –
The Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Rev’d Paul Robinson

Introduction  

Hello and welcome to this Daily Devotion Service.  My name is Paul Robinson and I’m the minister at the United Church in Rhyl.  Rhyl is a seaside town on the North Wales coast, with the hills around the Vale of Clwyd and the mountains of Snowdonia providing the backdrop to our beautiful beach.  The fingerprints of God’s creation are all around.  The church family here use two buildings in the town for worship and mission – in the centre of town at Christ Church, and (here) at our buildings on Tynewydd Road.  It is wonderful to join with you in worship today.
 
Call to Worship
 

One:         Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
 
Many:      He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
 
One:         Rejoice, heavenly powers!   Sing, choirs of angels!

Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!

 
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
 
One:         Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour,

radiant in the brightness of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!

 
Many:      Rejoice, heavenly powers!  Sing, choirs of angels!
 
One:         Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory!

The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy, 
as we sing, echoing the mighty song  of all God’s people!

 

Hymn       Come People of the Risen King

Keith Getty / Kristyn Lennox Getty / Stuart Townend

 

Come, people of the Risen King
who delight to bring Him praise.
Come all & tune your hearts to sing
to the Morning Star of grace.
From the shifting shadows of the earth
we will lift our eyes to Him,
where steady arms of mercy reach
to gather children in.

Rejoice, Rejoice! Let every tongue rejoice!
One heart, one voice: O Church of Christ, rejoice!

2 Come, those whose joy is morning sun,
& those weeping through the night.
Come, those who tell of battles won
and those struggling in the fight.
For His perfect love will never change
and His mercies never cease;
but follow us through all our days
with the certain hope of peace.

 
3 Come, young and old from every land,
men and women of the faith.
Come, those with full or empty hands
find the riches of His grace.
Over all the world, His people sing.
Shore to shore we hear them call.
The Truth that cries through every age
“Our God is all in all”

Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness

 
Father, we thank you for the world you have made and for the life you have given to us.  We praise you that you are far greater, far more wonderful than we can ever imagine.  We thank you for your love for us. We thank you even more that your love has no boundaries and your desire to draw us closer to yourself has no limits.  We rejoice that through Jesus you have done everything necessary to open our eyes to your presence, to change our minds about ourselves, and to lead us into new ways of serving, loving and caring.  We cannot thank you enough for those people who words and deeds and peace and joy. Help us to trust you with our lives and to serve you all our days.
 
We praise you for the promise that when we are truly sorry for the things that hurt you and spoil our own lives, we can be sure that you will forgive us.  We ask not only for your forgiveness, but that you will help us to show your love and forgiveness to others.  In the name of Christ. Amen

Prayer of Illumination:   Your words to me

George Currie Martin, 1863-1937, alt. Public Domain. Sung by Allan Henderson

 

Your words to me
are life and health;
they fortify my soul;
enable, guide, and teach my heart
to reach its perfect goal.

2 Your words to me
are light and truth;
from day to day they show
their wisdom, passing earthly lore,
as in their truth I grow.

 

3 Your words to me
are full of joy,
of beauty, peace and grace;
from them I learn your blessed will,
through them I see your face.
 
4 Your words are perfected in one,
Yourself, the living Word;
within my heart your image print
in clearest lines, O Lord.

Reading            Acts 16:9-15

 
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’  When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.  We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.  On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.  A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.

Sermon

Friends, I wonder when the last time you exclaimed, ‘What on earth is going on?’  When was the last time, that you reflected on what was going on in your life and in the world at the moment, you thought, ‘What on earth is going on?’ Or ‘How on earth have we end up in this place, in this situation?’  I don’t know about you but I’ve found myself asking that question many times over the last few months and years as we faced some really tough times.  Sometimes we say, ‘What on earth are we doing here?’, in light hearted situations.  I’m a Manchester United and I’ve watched the performances of my team drop and drop, and I think, ‘How on earth have we ended up here?’.  But it is also a question we ask in frustration as we watch the news or read news websites, or as we face deep personal situations.  When we think about the reactions of politicians in today’s world, or when we see the desires of our world leaders played out in the decisions they make.  When the economy is falling apart, or when communities are wracked by poverty.  When the world is changing really quite quickly and we’re not quite sure we’re ready for all that – ‘What on earth is going on?’  And in our personal lives too – when we face illness, emotional, physical illness.  When we think, “you know what a few years ago, my life was fine, but look at me now.  Where there were possibilities I just see barriers.  How have I ended up here?”  As we journey with grief and pain.  In all kinds of situations and contexts people say, “I never thought it would come to this.”  How on earth have I ended up here?
 
The question for us today is, when we find ourselves in those moments, does God hear?  Does God hear the cry and anguish of our hearts that lies behind that phrase?  Is there a message of hope, is there something God does in those kind of situations that brings resolution and hope?
 
When we turn then to Acts 16, we see Paul and his companions on a missionary tour.  Their tour has taken them through Acts 15.  This particular tour seems like quite a nice tour really, because Paul and his companions have been going round all of the churches that he has established previously and encouraging them along the way.  There may have been a few issues to sort out, but it is generally a helpful, supportive tour.  They come towards the end of this tour and then something strange happens.  In every direction Paul turns he gets the sense that it’s not the right direction to turn.  They try to go to Bythinia but they get the sense the Spirit says, ‘No’.  This direction – ‘No.’  That direction – ‘No.’ ‘No.’  ‘No.’  I can just imagine Paul turning round to his companions saying, ‘We’ve been on this tour, which has been great and wonderful, but what on earth are we now doing here?  How on earth have we got here, stuck right on the very edge of the world that we know?  How have we end up in this place?’  One night, as they grapple with that question, Paul has a vision, of a man from Macedonia who says, ‘Come over to us, and help us.’  When Paul woke and shared that with his companions they got the real sense that this was God saying, ‘You need to come over to this new place.’  Paul hears that as a call to proclaim the Gospel in Macedonia.
 
So I think we see, first of all, in this passage, that it is the Gospel can break through into those tough and difficult moments.  When Paul is faced with that difficult, ‘What on earth are we doing here?’ -moment, it is the Gospel that beckons him to come here, with the encouragement to proclaim Jesus.  Then when Paul and this companions arrive in Macedonia and find the principal city Philippi, we see again the gospel breaking in – into people’s lives and communities.  That happens in a geographical way – most people see this as the first moment when the gospel comes to Europe.  But it’s not just a geographical thing.  Because Paul and his companions are in Philippi and on the Sabbath (v.13) we went outside the city gates, to the river where we expected to find a place of prayer.  We sat down and began to speak with the women who had gathered there.  It’s an intriguing phrase, ‘to expect’ to find a place of prayer.  Why would Paul and companions be ‘expecting’ to find a place of prayer outside the city of Philippi?  We know that Paul’s usual pattern when he arrived in new places was to find the synagogue.  Quite often he would be thrown out of the synagogue and go on to speak in other places.  But his first port of call would always be the synagogue.  Now most people seem to think, and there is good historical evidence for this, that there was no synagogue in Philippi.  Why wasn’t there a synagogue in Philippi, even though there was group of people who were gathering on Sabbath to pray by a river outside the city?  Well there was no synagogue because there was a requirement that to be able to constitute a synagogue there needed to be 12 men.  It didn’t matter if you had a wonderfully committed, faithful, capable, God-fearing group of women who wanted to pray together every Sabbath – they weren’t able to set up a synagogue.  And so Paul expected to find a group of people praying outside the city.  And it’s into that kind of injustice, that kind of moment when people are sat down by the river saying ‘what on earth are we doing here’ that the Gospel breaks in.  I can kind of see in both Paul’s journey into Europe, and this very particular situation in Philippi, I can imagine Paul being surprised, amazed, encouraged, wonderfully coming to the conclusion, yes – the gospel is for here, at this moment, in this place and at this time.  The Gospel needs to break out into this context and into these places, and into the lives of these folk.  A little bit like a flower that is budding and…. Bursts open.  The gospel breaks into communities and lives.
 
The second thing I think we then see is that not only can the Gospel break in, but the Gospel then encourages a response.  When you hear the good news about Jesus, it demands a response from  you.  Paul and his companions join this prayer meeting.  We’re told they sit down and speak with the women who have gathered there.  I’d love to have been a fly on the wall watching and listening to that conversation.  It’s intriguing – I’m fascinated to know how that conversation played out – was Paul invited to speak, or did he just take it upon himself to do so.  What is absolutely clear, though, from what happened down by the river that day is that Paul talks about Jesus.  We know that he was convinced that he had been called to preach the gospel to the folk of Macedonia.  He doesn’t back away from that call, but instead takes the opportunity he has to speak of Jesus.  And as he speaks we read, one of those listening was a woman from Thyatira, named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth.  She was a worshipper of God.  And the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.  Lydia’s heart was opened to respond.  It wasn’t just that Lydia was sat down by the river and there was this intriguing guy telling her some things that would be helpful for her knowledge. 

But she knew that having heard this good news about Jesus, she knew she had to do something.  She had to respond to that message.  It’s a bit like when you are watching the news and you see some of those tough and difficult places – you’re thinking, ‘what on earth have we come to?’ We can sometimes just let that news wash over us.  But occasionally something happens and we’re so moved within us, that we’ve got to do something.  I can’t just sit and watch this any more.  I have to respond.  We saw that happen as we were encouraged to respond to the Ukrainian refugee crisis – and a number of folk in our nations haven’t been prepared to just sit there and say how awful this is – but know that they have to respond.  They’ve taken up the opportunity to welcome a Ukrainian family into their home.  They’ve responded.
 
When Lydia hears the good news of Jesus, she too has to respond to that.  She gets up and says, “I need to be baptised – and my household too.”  I need to respond to the grace and love that I now know there is in Jesus Christ.  Friends the gospel doesn’t just affirm folk.  The good news about Jesus isn’t just to say ‘you’re loved by God’ although that is an incredible message.  When you hear about the good news about Jesus and that takes root in our lives, then we’re called to respond, by faith and in trust.
 
Along with being baptised, another response Lydia has is to welcome Paul and his companions into her house.  When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home.  ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord’, she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’  And she persuaded us.  I wonder what Paul and Lydia thought of each other.  What on earth did they have in common?  Because on the surface it seems like they had very little in common.  You have Lydia: a tradeswoman, from Thyatira, a God-fearing Greek person; and you have Paul: with a cultural background of being a zealous Pharisee from Jerusalem.  What could they talk about?  What was there that possibly meant that they could spend time together, in a home, living as part of a Roman household.  Wouldn’t they just find all the differences between them?  There was one thing though they had in common – the only thing perhaps – was the Gospel.  And so we see that the Gospel builds relationships.  So many differences between them, and yet there is a unity in Christ.  Friends in the church today you don’t need me to tell you how many differences of opinion there about theology, practice, mission, church – there are just so many differences.  So what is it that holds us together as a church.  How can we stand together?  We stand together because of Christ and the Gospel of Jesus – there is good news for every single one of us in Jesus and we’ve each responded to that. 
 
Friends God calls us, together, to proclaim the good news we know of Jesus.  The great news today is that the same Spirit that called Paul to Macedonia, that led him to the river that day; the same Spirit that led Lydia to open her heart to respond to his message and welcome and build up relationships – the Spirit that was at work then, is at work now in our towns and communities, calling us to ‘Come over here and help us!’  Come over into this situation, into those places where people are saying, ‘How on earth have we ended up in this situation?’  Come over here.  Yes into the spheres of politics and business.  Yes into communities that are struggling, into situations where people’s lives are falling to pieces – Come over and help us.  The invitation for each one of us today is to find the places where we can sit down by the river and talk Jesus with the people we find there.
 
What does that look like?  At the start of this service I talked about how here in North Wales you can clearly see the fingerprint of God in the natural world around us.  But you can also see the dying embers of a moment when Gospel did break in, in magnificent ways in this part of the world.  The dying embers of that moment are seen in the edifices of the Welsh Chapels that dot the landscape – every hillside, village, town, has at least one, if not half a dozen huge chapels built during the time of the Welsh Revival.  I’m quite certain God isn’t calling us to build any more buildings.  But I am convinced that he calls us to proclaim the gospel, such that folks hearts are opened to receive the love and grace of Christ in our towns and communities, like what happened here in this part of the world 120 years ago.  When you read the accounts of what was happening during that time, people talk about how the courtrooms lay empty, because the crime rate dropped, as people responded to the gospel.  People talk of healing and wholeness, of people whose lives were gripped with addictions, being freed.  There are accounts of communities really being transformed and built up together as folk from so many different walks of life, with so many differences, came together in worship and praise.  The Welsh folk found they could sing together of the grace and glory of Christ.  Friends in that moment lives were changed, this nation was changed by the Gospel.
 
What does it mean, for you and I, today and now, to respond to this call to proclaim the gospel in those places where folk are asking, and even we ask ourselves, ‘How on earth have we ended up here?’  Well friends can I encourage this week to do the equivalent of finding a place like the river at Philippi?  Sit down with others and talk of Jesus.  Talk of what you know of Jesus.  What you say about your relationship with Jesus could well be very different from what I would say about my relationship with Jesus in the same situation.  But if the focus is sharing the good news we know of Christ, then we’re each being faithful.  We, together, are responding to the call in our nations to proclaim the gospel.  Can I encourage you to talk positively about what you know of your relationship with Christ?  Not in all kinds of theological language, explaining the very delicate nuances of this theological understanding or that theology that we might glean from reading 25 books.  We need to talk about what it means to live in a relationship with Christ.  And friends, don’t talk about what you don’t believe.  I know I get caught up in this – explaining and saying, ‘Well I don’t believe this, and I don’t believe that.’  Let’s stop that and let’s talk about what we do believe, honestly and openly, about Christ.  Do so with faith – the same kind of faith Paul and his companions showed when they responded to the call, ‘Come over here and help us.’  Friends if the Spirit is speaking to us now, and saying, ‘Come over and help us.’, I just want to encourage you to spend a moment in prayer, what is the Spirit prompting you with?  Where is the Spirit prompting you to go and proclaim the Gospel?  Amongst whom? In which context? 
 
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
 
Silence

Hymn       Here is Love Vast As The Ocean

William Rees
 

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.
 
2: 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,
Throughout heav’n’s eternal days.
 
3: 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.
 
4: Let me all Thy love accepting,
Love Thee ever all my days;
Let me seek Thy Kingdom only
And my life be to Thy praise;
Thou alone shalt be my glory;
Nothing in the world I see:
Thou hast cleansed
and sanctified me;
Thou Thyself hast set me free.

Intercessions

 
When I say: ‘See, I am making all things new’  please respond:
‘Amen, make all things new!’
 
‘See, I am making all things new’  ‘Amen, make all things new!’
 
Let’s pray together:
 
We have hope.  John writes in Revelation 21:
 
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is now among the people.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the old order of things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also, he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.’
 
We pray for those who are lonely. We hope in the promise that the home of God will be among people: that God will dwell with us, that we will be his people and that God himself will be with us. We mention in our hearts those we know who are lonely or isolated.  Pause
 
Lord you said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
‘Amen, make all things new!’
 
We pray for those who are crying; the sad, the depressed and the anxious. We hope in the promise that God will wipe every tear from our eyes. We mention in our hearts those we know who are sad and who know tears.  Pause
 
Lord you said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
‘Amen, make all things new!’
 
We pray for those who are experiencing the consequences of death, the bereaved and those who are mourning. We hope in the promise that death and mourning will be no more. We mention in our hearts those we know who are affected by death and mourning. Pause
 
Lord you said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
‘Amen, make all things new!’
We pray for those who are in pain, suffering from illness either physical or mental. We hope in the promise that crying and pain will be no more.
We mention in our hearts those we know who are ill or in pain. Pause
 
Lord you said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
‘Amen, make all things new!’
 
We pray for those who are thirsty for truth, love and grace; those who seek God and his life with earnest hearts. We hope in the promise that God will give water to the thirsty without cost from the spring of the water of life. We mention in our hearts those we know who hunger and thirst for God. Pause
 
Lord you said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
‘Amen, make all things new!’
 
Lord, your words are trustworthy and true. You are the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. We pray all this in the powerful and hopeful name of Jesus Christ, Amen

A Sung Affirmation of Faith

My Only Comfort
© Joe Deegan 2016  based on the Heidelberg Catechism

 

What is your only comfort     
in life or in death?
That I belong
body and soul 
to the Lord who gives me breath, 
to the Lord who gives me breath. 

2. He has fully  paid for my sins      
with his own precious blood. 
He has set me free
from the tyranny
of the ruler of  this world,       
of the ruler of  this world.       

 

Oh I am not my own, I am bound to Christ alone.
My only comfort in  this life is belonging to the Lord,
is belonging to the Lord.
 

3. I believe in the Resurrection      
and the promise that was made,   
that my body and soul
will be made whole
on the Lord’s Anointed Day,  
on the Lord’s Anointed Day.  

4. No eye has fully seen,
no ear has fully heard,   
no human heart
can imagine    
the world that is to come,      
the world that is to come.

 

Oh I am not my own, I am bound to Christ alone.
My only comfort in  this life is belonging to the Lord,
is belonging to the Lord.

Offertory Prayer

 
Lord God,
We offer ourselves, our time, our energy and our money,
For your glory and praise.
Lord Jesus, build your kingdom, we pray.  Amen

Hymn       Go forth and tell

James Seddon (1915 – 1983)
 

Go forth and tell!
O Church of God, awake!
God’s saving news
to all the nations take;
proclaim Christ Jesus,
saviour, Lord, and king,
that all the world His
worthy praise may sing.

2 Go forth and tell!
God’s love embraces all;
He will in grace respond
to all who call:
how shall they call
if they have never heard
the gracious invitation
of his word?

3 Go forth and tell! O church of God, arise!
go in the strength which Christ your Lord supplies;
go till all nations his great name adore
and serve him, Lord and king for evermore

Blessing

 
May the blessing of Almighty God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer
Be with us all this day
and forevermore.
Amen
 

 

 

Sources
 
Call to Worship adapted by Andy Braunston from the Exultset.  Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness  by David Clowes in ‘500 Prayers for all Occasions.  Prayer of intercession based on Revelation 21 by Sara Hargreaves, from
engageworship.org  Affirmation of Faith from the Heidelberg Catechism by Joe Deegan.    All other material by Paul Robinson.
 

Come People of the Risen King – Keith Getty / Kristyn Lennox Getty / Stuart Townend © Capitol CMG Publishing Sung by Stuart Townend.

Here is Love Vast As The Ocean – William Rees. Sung by an online choir organised by Hope Church,  Rhonda

My Only Comfort © Joe Deegan 2016  based on the Heidelberg Catechism Performed by Joe Deegan of Reformed Youth Ministry. 
Used with his kind permission.

Go forth and tell – James Seddon (1915 – 1983) © The Representatives of the late James Edward Seddon / admin The Jubilate Group BBC Songs of Praise

 
Opening Organ PieceLobt Gott Ihr Christen (“Praise God ye Christians”) by Johann Gottfried Walther (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece – Toccata in Seven by John Rutter (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill
http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to John Young, John Wilcox, Mairi MacDonald and Andy Braunston for reading various spoken parts of the service.
 

 

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