URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 30th May 2021 – Trinity Sunday – The Revd. Nicola Furley-Smith

Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Sunday 30th May
Trinity Sunday
 
The Rev’d Nicola Furley Smith

 
Good morning.  My name is Nicola Furley Smith and I am Secretary for Ministries.  Today’s service comes from Purley.
 
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.
 
Hymn                  Eternal God, your love’s tremendous glory
                           The Rev’d Alan Gaunt

 

Eternal God,
your love’s tremendous glory
cascades through life
in overflowing grace,
to tell creation’s meaning in the story
of love evolving love
from time and space.
 
2: Eternal Son of God,
uniquely precious,
in you, deserted,
scorned, crucified,
God’s love has fathomed sin and death’s deep darkness,
and flawed humanity
is glorified.
 
3: Eternal Spirit,
with us like a mother,
embracing us in love serene and pure:
you nurture strength
to follow Christ our brother,
as full-grown children,
confident and sure.
 
4: Love’s Trinity,
self-perfect, self-sustaining;
love which commands,
enables, and obeys:
you give yourself,
in boundless joy, creating
one vast increasing
harmony of praise.

 

5: We ask you now, complete your image in us;
this love of yours, our source and guide and goal.
May love in us seek love and serve love’s purpose,
till we ascend with Christ and find love whole.
 
Prayers of approach, confession and forgiveness
 
Encircling God,
to you alone belong glory, honour and praise.
We join with the hosts of heaven as we worship.
You alone are worthy of adoration from every mouth,
and every tongue shall sing your praise.
You create the earth by your power;
you save humanity by your mercy,
and renew it through your grace.
To you, loving Encircling God,
Creator, Son and Spirit,
be all glory, honour and praise
now and for ever. Amen.
 
Father, Son, Holy Spirit,
living in harmony as one,
always on the move,
we confess to you the ways in which we refuse community,
by blaming others for conflict rather than examining ourselves,
by believing that we are better than others,
by looking down on people who are different.
Christ, have mercy:
Lord, have mercy.

We confess to you the ways in which we refuse movement,
resisting your call to change and grow,
clinging to the past,
holding onto things that clutter,
letting self-pity and anxiety rule our lives,
Christ, have mercy:
Lord, have mercy.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
your work together is always for our forgiveness and healing.
As you now receive us as we are,
so we too receive in our hearts, just as they are,
those we have injured or been injured by,
asking you to weave community between us
and to lead us into the future that you have prepared for us,
so that your work in creation may continue to flow in and through us.
Amen.
 
Encircling God
knowing that you forgive those who ask,
restore us now in your image
to the praise and glory of your name,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
O God, the Three in One,
you draw us into your community of love
with people across the ages and around the world.
By the same Spirit that binds us together
speak to us that what we read and wonder
may enliven us and stretch us to trust and follow you;
through Christ our Saviour. Amen.
 
Readings
 
Isaiah 6:1-8
 
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.  Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.  And one called to another and said:
 
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
 
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.  And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’
 
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’
 
St John 3: 1-17
 
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’   Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’  Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’  Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.  What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.”  The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’  Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’  Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
 
 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.  If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
 
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
 
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
 
Hymn       Holy is the Lord
Kelly Green
 

Righteousness and mercy:
judgement and grace.
Faithfulness and sovereignty.
Holy is the Lord
Holy is the Lord

Holy is the Lord (Holy is the Lord)
Holy is the Lord (Holy is the Lord)
Holy is the Lord (Holy is the Lord)
Holy is the Lord (Holy is the Lord)

 

Sermon
 
O the mystery of the Trinity!
Three in One and One in Three!
I remember as a child listening to the preacher expounding his idea of the Trinity
as three stumps (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
and the Godhead being the bails
holding the doctrine of the Trinity together.
At the end of the children’s talk I was still mystified
because, in my understanding of cricket,
there are two bails
not one!
And so, alongside the mystery lies the challenge
to explain something that is more than just a little beyond our comprehension and understanding.
In fact, we do a disservice to the doctrine of the Trinity
if we approach it as a mathematical conundrum.
Three in One and One in three
is not merely an obscure and unnecessarily complex bit of technical dogma.
For the Trinity is not something that needs to be explained
but it is something that needs to be experienced
and it is something that needs to be lived.
 
The Desert Fathers
first compared the members of the Trinity to the source of light (the Father),
the light itself that illumines (the Son),
and the warmth when you feel the light (the Spirit)
or Augustine’s Lover (the Father),
Beloved (the Son),
and the Love shared between the two (the Spirit).
Perhaps that’s the best we can do.
 
In both of those ancient analogies
it seems to me that the heart of the matter is about relationships
and, more importantly, the relationships that make up a community.
In the first it’s the various properties of light that,
while we can name them independently,
cannot actually be separated in experience.
With Augustine it’s even easier,
as he chooses love itself as the central metaphor
by which to understand God,
the love shared in relationship.
 
Whilst our readings for today don’t specifically use the word Trinity
because that was a later construct of the church
they do point us to the experience of the Trinity.
Standing in the holy sanctuary
the narrator has a vision which tells something about the Holy One
and also about the narrator.
God’s presence is so large, the narrator says,
that the hem of God’s robe alone fills the temple space.
This is vastness indeed.
Strange but faithful creatures envelop the throne
and smoke obscures the whole scene.
We are used to the images of fire and smoke,
cloud and height being associated with God.
It is all here.
And, in comparison with that grandeur,
we see ourselves,
along with the narrator, as very small and inadequate.
Yet God’s power to cleanse and make whole is ready to do its work.
 
Faced with ultimate majesty,
Isaiah’s response to this sight is entirely understandable
He cries out ‘woe is me’.
Faced with the awe of God he is very aware of his own sinfulness.
He has “unclean lips” which signifies his inability to stand before the Holy One.
The purity codes of the ancients are foremost in his thought.
He must be purified by another,
in this case, a seraph who touches his mouth with a coal from the altar.
The purification
is not something the narrator can do for himself.
The result is healing and forgiveness.
Then God asks
‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us?’
God is always seeking out ways of relating to humanity.
As a call narrative, this is a unique text in that the narrator,
rather than being “called” by God to serve,
volunteers to be the one sent –
commissioned to be that creative, sustaining, and healing presence into the world.
 
Read against the backdrop of Nicodemus’ night-time visit,
today’s reading from John’s Gospel
again draws us into a mystery that is beyond our understanding and our wisdom.
Jesus makes it clear to Nicodemus that being holy,
being part of the kingdom of God is about being a child of God,
and that this is a gift,
not something which is our right.
No one can see anything clearly about God and God’s kingdom,
Jesus tells him, without being born again. 
Jesus picks up on words and concepts introduced by Nicodemus
and turns the conversation toward deeper truths again and again
With each repetition of the words Godenter, and being born
Jesus shifts the conversation from the smallness of Nicodemus’ view
to the largeness of life in community with God.
 
‘You must be born again’
can also be translated ‘you must be born from above’.
A re-birth then of water and of Spirit,
of being born as God’s child,
into a life in which God’s kingdom
is visible and accessible
and which places the whole person in a new light, which Nicodemus,
who has not experienced it,
cannot yet see or understand. 
 
Then we reach the verse that shines like a beacon over the whole Gospel. 
John 3:16 brings together the Gospel’s first references to eternal life and to love
which, perhaps surprisingly,
don’t just refer to the followers of Jesus
but is for the whole world. 
 
Jesus tells Nicodemus ‘God so loved the world he sent his only son…’
God in Trinity reaches out to embrace and love the whole world.
Our job is only to accept it and to become part of the community of love.
It is a gift of life from the heart of the Father,
breathing the Spirit wind over us and through us,
and opening our eyes to the Son
who must be lifted up to draw all people to himself
to learn his lesson of love.
But this is not merely an invitation.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans
Paul affirms ‘those who are led by the Spirit are children of God’
and, in the language of adoption, goes further to explain that,
as children of God, we are therefore heirs
those who stand to inherit all that is God’s.
And, not only that, but co-heirs with Christ,
sharing the riches of God’s goodness and love with Christ
and with the world
as the perfect community held together by the bonds of love.
God, though one, is not alone,
but is the sum and the focus of all relationships.
Two’s company, three’s a crowd, we say of human relationships which are exclusive,
and turned inwards;
but the triple bond within the life of God
speaks of an inclusive, and outward-facing love.
Jesus shows us that this relationship between the three persons of the Godhead
will help us to understand more about the God of love who comes to us.
God the Father is one with God the Son
and one with God the Spirit,
and this closeness,
this being with,
is also offered to us.
 
There is no distance, no boundaries between the Spirit
who is sent into the hearts and minds of the disciples at Pentecost,
Jesus who promises that Spirit,
and God the Father who sends the Spirit.
At the heart of God is
perfect relationship,
perfect communion,
perfect love
and that love reaches out, in three persons, to the world God has made.
 
The Trinity is not something that needs to be explained
but is something that needs to be experienced
and something that needs to be lived.
Because the Trinity is dynamic and loving and relating – and it is on the move.
God in Trinity wants to bring new lives into this relationship.
God in Trinity wants to give us the chance to be born from above like Nicodemus
to become part of God’s love reaching out into the life and lives of the world
to build the kingdom of love joy and peace.  Amen.

 
Hymn:      Love is the Touch of Intangible Joy
                  Alison M Robertson (b 1940)
 

Love is the touch
of intangible joy;
love is the force
that no fear can destroy;
love is the goodness
we gladly applaud:
God is where love is,
or love is of God.
 
2: Love is the lilt
in a lingering voice;
love is the hope
that can make us rejoice;
love is the cure for the
frightened and flawed:
God is where love is,
for love is of God.
 

3: Love is the light
in the tunnel of pain;
love is the will
to be whole once again;
love is the trust
of a friend on the road:
God is where love is,
for love is of God.
 
4: Love is the Maker,
and Spirit, and Son;
love is the kingdom
their will has begun;
love is the pathway
the saints all have trod:
God is where love is,
for love is of God.

 

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.
 
Prayers of Intercession
 
God the Creator, we pray for the world,
brought to birth by your love;
where your children
                           fight and kill,
                           die of hunger and disease,
                           oppress and exploit one another.
 
God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
we ask for new life in you.
 
God the Saviour, we pray for humankind,
whose joys and pains you came in love to share,
and who are still in need
                           of repentance and forgiveness,
                           of healing and comfort,
                           of faith and hope.
 
God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
we ask for new life in you.
 
God with us, we pray for the church,
which you created, sustained and filled with love,
asking that you will give us
                           vision and courage,
                           unity with one another,
                           the strength to serve you in the world.
 
God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
we ask for new life in you.
 
God the Father, bless us,
God the Son, protect us,
God the Spirit, guide us, now and evermore.
Amen.
 
Offertory
 
We pause now to remember our obligation to give.
To give to the work of the church, to give to charity, to give of our very selves as people who are committed to the one who gave his life for us.
 
So we pray:
 
Accept O God, the offerings we seek to make
of ourselves, our money and our gifts
and grant that we may always work and pray
to build your kingdom of love, joy and peace.

Hymn       Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty
Reginald Heber (1826)

 

Holy, holy, holy!
Lord God almighty!
Early in the morning
our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy!
Merciful and mighty!
God in three persons,
blessed trinity!
 
2 Holy, holy, holy!
All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim
falling down before thee,
which wert, and art,
and evermore shalt be.
 
3 Holy, holy, holy!
Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinfulness
thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy;
there is none beside thee,
perfect in pow’r, in love,
and purity.
 
4 Holy, holy, holy!
Lord God almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea.
Holy, holy, holy!
Merciful and mighty!
God in three persons,
blessed trinity!

Blessing
 
God – Your love surrounds us
Christ – Your peace enfolds us
Spirit – Your breath awakens us
 
And the blessing of God Almighty
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Be amongst us and remain with us
This day and for evermore. Amen.
 
Sources and thanks
 
Eternal God, your love’s tremendous glory – The Rev’d Alan Gaunt – Sung and played by the Revd. Paul Robinson
Holy is the Lord – Kelly Green – Vineyard Records UK – lead singer Brian Doerksen from the album Come Now is the Time
Love is the Touch of Intangible Joy – Alison M Robertson (b 1940) – Edinburgh University Singers, Ian McCrorie (Conductor), John Kitchen (Organ)
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty – Reginald Heber (1826) Polk St United Methodist Church, Amarillo, Texas, USA
 
Opening Organ Piece: Fugue in G Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
(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)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to Jonnie Hill, Anne Hewling, Mandy Hibbert, Deborah Dawes, Rhona Newby and David Shimmin for reading various spoken parts of the service.
 

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