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Order of Service
Welcome and Notices
Call to worship Psalm 22, verses 22, 23 and 31.
I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honour him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!
Crown him with many crowns
Text: Matthew Bridges (1800-94)altd. Godfrey Thring (1823-1903)
Tune: Diademata – George J. Elvey (1816-93); last verse arr. Noel Rawsthorne (1929-2019)
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
Heavenly Father, we come to you at this time to hear your word and renew our spirits. We give you thanks that we can do that freely and openly, away from oppression and judgement in our faith in you. We praise you for the goodness you have bestowed on us this week as we have lived in your world in our communities and that you have shown and given us many blessings and good things. We pray that we may be encouraged and strengthened in these blessings and be a blessing to you in return.
Lord God, we acknowledge now that we are not the disciples you call us to be. That we often let the side down in how we act, how we think and what we say to each other and about each other. We offer you our confessions as we pray for forgiveness.
When we confess our sins, you forgive us. When we repent from our old ways, you bless us. We thank you for that forgiveness, forgiveness ultimately offered through the sacrifice of your son, Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. We pray that we may have the courage and the strength to forgive as you do and the will to not repeat the easy ways of sin, but to walk firmly with you.
Lord God we offer these prayers in your name.
We say the words Jesus taught his disciples . . .
Introduction to the first reading
Our first reading this morning is our gospel reading. Coming from John chapter 15, covering the first eight verses it speaks of the relationship between Jesus and the disciples.
Reading – John 15: 1-8
Organ interlude: Trio in E flat – Julius Reubke (1834-58)
Introduction to the second reading
Our second reading is taken from 1 John, chapter 4, verses seven to twenty-one. A passage that talks of the very nature of love and where it all originates.
Reading – 1 John 4: 7-21
Love songs have permeated and reflected the culture in which they were written for centuries. Whether it be Greensleeves, a Shakespeare sonnet, a Baroque opera piece, Elvis Presley or Ed Sheeran, the topic of love is ever present in all our favourite concertos, operas and on our favourite records and albums. Some of my favourite love songs include Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” Tina Turner’s “What’s love got to do with it”, the Darkness with their bombastic “I Believe in a thing called Love” or Elvis’ “I can’t help falling in love with you”.
The same can be said for our literature and movies. I get quite fed up with action movies that shoehorn a sloppy and saccharine sweet love story amongst the explosions and car chases. My wife finds the explosions and car chases often get in the way of the love story. There’s a sermon in there somewhere . . .
In classical literature there are four different kinds of love that permeate our stories, songs, legends, and tales. They are Eros, Storge, philia and agape. Only two of those terms are used in the bible, but let’s quickly examine all four.
The first, Eros, is perhaps the one that we know through popular culture the best but struggle with biblically the most. It is romantic love, physical love, sexual love. As a church the United Reformed Church has been very forward thinking when it comes to this kind of love, tackling issues like gay marriage and marriage after divorce in a way other denominations struggle with. But that isn’t really what Eros is about. It’s about the physical act of love. As fellowships we often don’t like talking about it and we could assume that it’s never talked about it the bible, but it is. It is safe to presume that Adam and Eve, Noah and his wife, Abraham and Sarah and even Mary and Joseph felt this physical attraction but in reality, most of our biblical teachings put this “Eros” love in negative connotations. David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah and the woman at the well who “marries” men for security and prosperity. Yet there is an entire book of love poems in the form of Songs of Solomon which talks about stags stalking deer. Mrs Walker and I had a reading from there at our wedding no less.
There is nothing wrong with this kind of love as long as it not used as the sole form of love in our relationships. At school I am constantly hearing gossip of broken relationships because after the Eros, there’s none of the others. Indeed, physical love is the basis of our very existence, but it shouldn’t be the be all and end all of our lives.
Storge is a more familial kind of love. The kind of love you feel after spending a long time with someone or something. I say something because we all have possessions we would struggle to part with. In my case it’s my Fender Telecaster guitar. It’s been all over Europe with me, it’s seen me at my best and my worst, the neck has worn down in a way that makes it easy for me to play but almost impossible for anybody else. It is my favourite thing. This kind of love is the love we often have for church. Our buildings, congregations, and ceremonies. It is arguably the most mundane yet pivotal kind of love we can feel. Safe and constant, yet when someone, or something threatens it, we react perhaps the strongest. We can survive with just this kind of love in our lives, but we rarely truly flourish. It is also the kind of love that is most easily misused with families often broken by the abuse of the relationship that forms with this love.
The third is Philia. A brotherly love. The words Philia and Adelphos were merged to name the city of Philadelphia in America, the city of Brotherly Love.
Philo is the word used to describe Jesus’ love for Lazarus and the Disciples. It is a word that when merged with Storge it can mean brotherly affection or devotion. It is the love that resonates behind the saying “You can choose your friends; you can’t choose your family”. It is the love we feel when united in thought, word, and deed to another. This is the kind of love that keeps marriages going, work colleagues together and churches functioning.
Our last is Agape. This is the “newest” concept of the four as it never really appeared in literature until the bible was widely distributed. The word appears over 250 times in the New Testament, and for good reason. Agape is a sacrificial love. A love that gives everything, a Godly love. The word didn’t hold any real significance until new testament times and is rarely used outside these contexts, yet its concept is used time and time again in books. In Lord of the Rings Gandalf the Grey gives himself so the fellowship of the ring can escape a giant, flaming beast. In Harry Potter it is the sacrificial love of Harry’s parents that protect him for the killing curse Voldemort tries to use on him as a baby and that makes him stronger that Voldemort. In war movies and action films characters give their own lives to save their comrades in arms.
This love is the love described in 1 Corinthians 13 when Paul writes about love being patient and kind and all the rest, and is the love written about in both of our passages today.
In 1 John we read about how all love comes from God. They are all blessings in all its forms, but it’s Agape that we live with. It is the sacrifice of Jesus that gives us the strength to carry our own crosses. When we acknowledge that love is God given, we acknowledge the sacrifice and love shared on the cross on Calvary.
It is this love that means we can come to God as branches fed by the vine. It is this love that means we can love our enemies as ourselves. It is this love that roots us with God and his Holy Spirit, dwelling in and among us.
We can live, and many do, without Agape love but it makes the others unstable and often difficult, but by living with the spirit of sacrificial love we can draw people to us and in turn pass it on to others. Of the four it is the love for others over ourselves instead of love we feel for ourselves and our lives.
So please, as we start to leave restrictions and lock downs behind, live with the true love of God in your hearts and in your lives. And I pray you will be blessed.
Let us build a house where love can dwell
Tune: Two Oaks
Words and music: Marty Haugen (b. 1950)
Prayers of intercession
Heavenly Father, give us the courage, strength, faith and humility to love with kindness, service and compassion in our hearts. We pray that as the world around us may act with greed and ugliness we may be willing and able to love those who have nothing to offer in return; that we may show your love for all through our love for others and that we are willing to be loved in return. We pray and remember those who don’t feel loved or feel deserving to be loved. For those whose hearts and spirits have been broken by people and situations that have taken that love for granted and that those who search for it may find it by your grace, even if they don’t recognise you in the midst of it.
We give you thanks for the vaccine as it continues to be rolled out. We give thanks for how smoothly and easily it seems to have gone and how we feel safer and better off for it. We pray that as the younger people start receiving it we can continue to meet each other again, thinking of this church and many others planning to meet inside their sanctuaries again, and that the important work can continue. We give you thanks for the people who have helped and served during lockdowns and we pray that we can thank them properly, in person soon.
We give you thanks for the safe return of our children to schools and colleges across our nation and for the shops and cafes that can reopen, giving people their livelihoods back. We pray that whilst this is exciting after so long you also keep us sensible and cautious, so we don’t have to lock down again.
We pray for our city. A complicated, multifaceted city that thrives and buzzes through the interaction of people. We pray for our city’s sick and lonely, for the homeless and the grieving. We remember those in our communities who feel trapped and scared, people living in abusive situations who cannot find a way out. We pray for all our support workers, overburdened as they are, that they may feel encouraged to carry on with the difficult tasks ahead.
We pray for our nation. A nation about to go to the polls again to elect local and regional leaders. A nation divided by politics and policy, by ideology and morals. We pray that this year may be one of renewal, renewal in what’s important. Togetherness, fellowship, and love. We pray for our leaders and influencers, that they have wisdom, kindness, and compassion. That they may have good intentions and may be drawn to justice for the many in their decision making.
We pray for our world. For the people in it who face fear every day. Those who are victims of hate, greed, and corruption. We pray that your light may shine through their windows, that your goodness may be cast upon them, that they may find the security we often take for granted. We pray for India, as they struggle with a huge second wave of the virus, that they may receive the help needed to stop the spread and cure the sick. We pray for the countries struggling to obtain vaccines, that through international cooperation we can eradicate the threat together.
Heavenly Father, we also remember those who are victims of climate change and environmental disasters. We pray for those who have lost their homes and lives through fire, water, heat and cold. We pray that we may be better custodians of your world and that we may be called to do our part in keeping it safe.
Lord God, we now offer up the people, the places, the stories, and the faces that are on our minds at this time. We offer all that is important to us now.
Heavenly Father hear our prayers this day and grant us that we may see them answered and in them feel the blessing that comes with it. In your name we pray,
I, the Lord of sea and sky
Words and music: Daniel L. Schutte (b. 1947)
So, go and declare, God loves you and all you love comes from him, and dwell in these blessings. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Organ Voluntary: Fugue in G major BWV541 – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)