Audio service, May 24, 2020

The full text of the service for the Sixth Sunday after Easter, follows. low bandwidth users might want to download and unzip the lower-quality audio file.

Higher-quality audio:

Download: Lower-quality audio file, zipped (1.9 Mb)

Welcome

Greetings. This is a service of worship for May 24, 2020, the Sixth Sunday after Easter.

Sentence and Votum

Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! [Psalm 27:14]

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. [Psalm 124:8]

Collect for the Day

Let us pray:

O God, the King of Glory, who hast exalted your Son Jesus Christ with great triumph into your kingdom in heaven; we ask you to not leave us comfortless; but send to us your Holy Spirit to comfort us; and exalt us into the same place where he has gone: your own blessed and glorious presence, there to dwell in fullness of joy forever and ever. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray, as Jesus taught, saying:

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm

Let us praise God with words from Psalm 77 [77:1-12, NRSV]

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints.
You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.
I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit:
“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Lesson

A reading from the fourth chapter of the first letter of Peter: [1 Peter 4:7-11, NRSV]

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Here ends the reading.

Address

Today’s reading from the first letter of Peter is good pastoral care in the broader sense of the term: loving-kindness, set in a theological framework.

The letter, whether or not from St. Peter, was written to menaced and derided Christians in what’s now central Turkey. But it was probably not what we think of as organized, official persecution. From the context earlier in the chapter, the blow back comes from people they knew, who did not approve of their new way of life. As Peter puts it, “They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.” Perhaps, the angry people wanted their old party buddies back. And perhaps — this is my imagination — these new Christians were, as we’d say today, preachy and judgy. A revised way of life sometimes does that to you, so be on alert for a spirit of superiority or condescension. But even if you’re minding your own business, living in a healthy, kind, wholesome or moral way can bring out the worst in others, especially if your new life pulls you away from old friends and their hurtful lives. And if that’s the case, the best we can do is say no, firmly but kindly.

Kindly is not optional. Christianity cannot sanctify rude, pretensious or overbearing behavior, or make it acceptable. Peter counseled them to “maintain constant love” and “be hospitable to one another without complaining.” Something had gone wrong; perhaps there was some bad behavior shown by Christians to their former friends, and, and if so that was a mistake.

Remember: we all will be judged, and “for this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead” (that’s in verse six, just before our lesson) and which has long been a source of hope for Universalists. The plan includes everyone. Judgment follows justice, but in seeking the last and the lost, ends in divine mercy. So we starts with carefully kept humility. “Maintain constant love for one another,” to finish the thought, “for love covers a multitude of sins.” We live, not as judges, but as those who are and will be judged. Don’t make your behavior harder for yourself or anyone else.

Let us then be “good stewards” of God’s love, and from it draw courage and goodness to bear up in hard times with courage and goodness. God bless.

Winchester Profession

Let us profess our faith:

We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things we know not to desire or for which we are not worthy to ask. And this we ask for your infinite mercy’s sake. Amen. [Based on Book of Common Prayer]

Holy and eternal Spirit, source of life and light, you are our helper in every need, you fulfill all our joy. Be this day the present help of all who turn to you, here and everywhere, whether hurt or ashamed, whether sick or disheartened. And when we are strong, be a light beyond our present thoughts and pleasures, to guide us into ways of larger right and nobler blessedness. Amen. [Von Ogden Vogt, edited]

Eternal and ever-blessed God, who hast made us heirs of many ages and set us in the midst of many brothers and sisters; deepen our gratitude for your blessings as we have received them from our fathers, our benefactors, and our friends. May we never forget the kindness that surrounds us in the present, nor be careless to the treasures we inherit from the past; but in having a lively sense of debt to our brothers and sisters, and a loving remembrance of departed generations, may we reverently carry forward the work of the ages. We thank you for the fellowship of the living; for partners in duty; for comrades in the good fight; for all who feel with our joys and our sorrows; and especially for those by whom we are beloved and whom we love. We also bless your name for the laborers; for the succession of prophets, apostles, and martyrs, continued even to this day; for leaders and commanders of the people, who have made themselves great by becoming the servants of all; and for the nameless multitude of the loyal and devoted, who have fallen asleep in their generations, leaving their memorial with you. Make us of one heart with all these your worshippers; of one purpose with all these your servants; of one communion with all these your saints; and of one will with thine. Amen. [Orders of Worship for Manchester College, Oxford]

Concluding prayer

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen. [1979 Book of Common Prayer]

Benediction

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.

Notices

For more information about these services, visit revscottwells.com. The portions of scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version.

This is Scott Wells. God bless.

Audio service, May 21, 2020 (Ascension)

The full text of the service follows, and low bandwidth users might want to download and unzip the lower-quality audio file.

Download: Lower-quality audio file (MP3) (1.9 Mb)

Welcome

Greetings. This is a service of worship for May 21, 2020, Ascension Thursday.

Sentence and Votum

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [Hebrews 4: 14, 16]

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. [Psalm 124:8]

Collect for the Day

Let us pray:

Grant, we ask you, Almighty God that as your best-beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, has ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind follow, and with him continually dwell in your glorious presence, world without end. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray, as Jesus taught, saying:

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm

Let us praise God with words from Psalm 150:

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Lesson

A reading from the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the end of the gospel. [Luke 24:49-53 (end), NRSV]

Jesus said to his disciples:

“And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Here ends the reading.

Address

The Ascension of Jesus, which we observe today, is not a greeting-card holiday with its own cultural, festive trappings. But it is a natural fit with Universalism, for as we heard in the opening collect, we pray that we “may also in heart and mind follow [Christ] and with him continually dwell.”

Yet many faithful Christians give it less than it deserves. The Universalist point aside, Ascension is an important if bittersweet, moment in Jesus’ life and ministry. His time with his disciples after his Easter resurrection has come to an end. He would no longer be seen on Earth in the flesh. Jesus would return to the heavenly realm, and there prepare a place for us; in his place, the Holy Spirit would come and give life and power to the believers, which we mark in ten days on Pentecost.

I think one reason Christians neglect Ascension comes from the art that depicts it (and in a larger sense they way it gets described) which undercuts the spiritual message and seems rather silly. Here we see Jesus in white robes, blown like a kite out of reach. Or worse, painted stiff as a Saturn rocket, half out of the scene as if he’d just sprung off a trampoline. It’s hard not to smile, even laugh and that’s a problem.

If you’re likely to think that Jesus Christ is some kind of deep space probe, it’s hard to take his departure very seriously, and you’ll miss the point of what’s being communicated: a promise of continuing divine care and connection, even when it’s not standing plainly in front of you. So much of the Gospel comes with this dynamic: “you have heard it was this way, but really this is what happened.” The Gospel frees us from the cruelty of wrong, and gives us hope that God will break decisively into our live as a blessing, countering the hardness and sadness of the world.

So, you have heard that Christ was put up – risen up – on the cross and died. Yet he lives, and now rises himself to glory. You have heard that earthly power establishes what we must believe, but we have seen that might does not make right. You have heard that everyone has a price, but we have seen that some acts of love and courage have no price. You have heard that some people are important, and others aren’t, but we have seen that the Lord of heaven and earth first lived with us, and suffered as we do, and will draw each of us up. Where he goes, we shall follow, and where we live, his promise of the Spirit shall yet dwell.

My blessing at Ascension to you.

Winchester Profession

Let us profess our faith:

We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

Prayer

O God, the Protector of all who hope in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy, multiply your mercy upon us, that, being our governor and guide, we may so pass through things temporal so we do not lose the things eternal. Amen. [Services of Congregational Worship]

Inspire our thoughts of a higher life, that we may feel how divine a thing it is to rise above ourselves, by out-growing selfish aims — and how we may be lifted into peace though sharpest suffering — and how the kingdom of heaven comes down to the heart, when the affections are set upon things above. [The Gospel Liturgy for Ascension-Exhaltation]

O Thou Guiding Spirit of the souls of men, whom all worship under many names and diverse forms, we pray for thy blessing upon the great company of those who fain would know thy law and do thy will. Grant unto thy Church Universal, wheresoever it may be found, an increasing knowledge of the truth, a deeper understanding of human need, a more generous spirit of sacrificial love. Where it is weak in the presence of evil, strengthen and upbuild it in the hearts of human beings; where it is in error, re-establish it in the right way; where it is corrupt, purify it, though it be by fire; where it is divided by misunderstanding, jealousy or suspicion, bring it into one spirit of good will. Draw together in one accord the spirits of all thy children until each shall labor in his or her appointed way for thy kingdom of righteousness and love; until the discords of earthly strife and clamor shall be lost in one great hymn of praise. So may thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen. [Composite, in Services of Religion]

Concluding prayer

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen. [1979 Book of Common Prayer]

Benediction

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.

Notices

For more information about these services, visit revscottwells.com. The portions of scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version.

This is Scott Wells. God bless.

Audio service, May 17, 2020

The full text of the service follows, and low bandwidth users might want to download and unzip the lower-quality audio file.

Download: Lower-quality audio file (MP3) (1.5 Mb)

Welcome

Greetings. This is a service of worship for May 17, 2020, the Fifth Sunday after Easter

Sentence and Votum

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. [Matthew 7:7, NRSV]

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. [Psalm 124:8, NRSV]

Collect for the Day

O Lord, from whom all good things come; grant to us your humble servants, good things by your holy inspiration, that by your merciful guidance we may perform the same, as true followers of your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray, as Jesus taught, saying:

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm

Let us praise God with words from Psalm 20: [NRSV]

The Lord answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you!

May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion.

May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices.

May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.

May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.

Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand.

Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.

They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.

Give victory to the king, O Lord; answer us when we call.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Lesson

A reading from sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of John [NRSV]

Jesus said to his disciples:

Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.” His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

Here ends the reading.

Address

We have inherited problematic ideas from today’s passage from the gospel of John, particularly the phrase, “if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” Too many Christians have take this as a license to desire anything, claim anything, want anything, expect anything. If you have entertained a variety of television evangelists, or their hearers, you will have run across this line of thinking. But when you consider the person of Jesus Christ and the promises of the Gospel, it is a strange attitude and devastating both to the hope of the Gospel, and the spiritual health of the believer. Be on guard against it, even when it tempts you in subtle ways.

First, it runs against the commandment, repeated by Jesus in the wilderness, that you shall not tempt the Lord, your God. God is God, and not some particularly well-connected benefactor. And in the wilderness, it wasn’t God who promised Jesus all things, but the Tempter. Lord: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”! Second, if this was the chief benefit of Christianity, then Jesus Christ is himself a bad example. There’s little evidence he owned much, not even having a place to lay his head. He and his disciples relied on the support of their hearers. He had no tomb of his own, but was lain in one given to him. There’s nothing in Jesus’ ministry that suggests his blessing will provide you earthly riches. He could not spare himself the betrayal of friends, the jeering of the crowds or a painful, public execution. This is not the path to a big house, a luxury car or even a quiet life.

But the passage means something. I suspect it’s a call to learn what is truly valuable, and to rely on Jesus Christ to receive that call. We are, by this same passage, to call on God in his name to receive what we ask. But what then ought we to ask for, dare to ask for? And this isn’t just my bourgeois aesthetic sensibility speaking. The thinnest fraction of Christians who have ever lived have known opulence and wealth, many knew no peace, and there’s no just reason for thinking that these are false and unfaithful believers. Which makes me think that the deepest prayers and desires of the Christian faithful lie somewhere else. Again, this makes demands on God, when God makes demands on us. What then to ask of God, in Jesus’ name? That’s a lifetime’s meditation, but there are some hints.

Christian faith, well practiced and — even more — well lived, redirects our desires. We might want and not simply obey that commandment that Jesus gave his disciples: that you shall love one another, as he loved them, and he loves us. We might want the fulfillment of the Golden Rule: trusting in God’s will “on earth as it in is heaven.”

Such things last when fortunes fall, when passions cease, when wishes end, and God will be with you. Friends, think on these things.

Winchester Profession

Let us profess our faith:

We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

Prayer

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we bless and praise you: we have awakened to the light of another earthly day; and now we will think of what a day should be. Our days are yours, let them be spent for you. Our days are few, let them be spent with care. There are dark days behind us, forgive their sinfulness; there may be dark days before us, strengthen us for their trials. We pray that you shine on this day — the day which we may call our own. Lord, we go to our daily work; help us to take pleasure therein. Show us clearly what our duty is; help us to be faithful in doing it. Let all we do be well done, fit for your eye to see. Give us strength to do, patience to bear; let our courage never fail. When we cannot love our work, let us think of it as your task; and, by our true love to you, make unlovely things shine in the light of your great love. Amen. [George Dawson]

O God, who puts into our hearts such deep desires that we cannot be at peace until we rest in you: mercifully grant that the longing of our souls may not go unsatisfied because of any unrighteousness of life that may separate us from you. Open our minds to the counsels of eternal wisdom; breathe into our souls the peace which passes understanding. Let our hunger and thirst be for righteousness, that we may be filled with the bread of heaven. O Lord, give us grace to seek first your kingdom; and we know that you will add unto us all needful things. Amen. [Services for Congregational Worship]

Almighty and ever living God, who has taught us to make prayers and supplications and to give thanks for all persons, we pray that you would inspire the universal church with the spirit of truth, unity and concord; that all they who do confess the name of Christ may live in peace and in godly love. Give grace, O heavenly Father, to all ministers of the gospel, that they may, both by their life and doctrine, set forth your true and living word. And to all your people give your heavenly grace, that with meek heart and due reverence they may serve you in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life. Comfort and succor in your infinite goodness, all those who in this transitory life are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any adversity. And we also bless your holy name for all your servants departed this life in your faith and fear; praying you to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of your heavenly kingdom. Grant this, O God, for your infinite mercy’s sake. Amen. [Book of Common Prayer]

Concluding prayer

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen. [1979 Book of Common Prayer]

Benediction

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.

Notices

For more information about these services, visit revscottwells.com. The portions of scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version.

This is Scott Wells. God bless.

Audio service, May 5, 2020

This is the first of seven audio services; as you will see, I'm still getting used to the software and the microphone, but I hope it's a blessing for you.  (Onward and upward, right?) The full text follows, and low bandwidth users might want to download and unzip the lower-quality audio file.

Download: Lower-quality audio file (MP3) (1.3 Mb)

Welcome

Greetings. This is a service of worship for May 10, 2020, the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Sentence and Votum (Psalm 124:8)

This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Collect for the Day

Let us pray:

Almighty God, who unites the minds of all the faithful: grant your people love for what you command, and desire for what you promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely be pointed to where true joys are to be found, the kingdom and promises of your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray, as Jesus taught, saying:

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm

Let us praise God with words from Psalm 34 (1-7, NRSV)

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Lesson

A reading from the first chapter of the letter of James (1:17-21, NRSV)

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

Here ends the reading.

Address

Our passage from the letter of James ends on a hopeful note: “welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” The same power which saves us, and all persons, in the span of creation comes to help us in the trials of our daily life. As in fact it must. We don’t profess a faith that only has benefits in an unseen future state. God implants a desire to hope, not just for a string of “perhaps tomorrow, perhaps tomorrow” but also that we might live fully today. Spiritually deep living proves the value of faith more than any turn of logic or theological dispute. From it comes the gift of God “from above” granting us power to be generous givers ourselves, to enjoy good times and to bear up with hard times.

While the virus sickens and kills many people, threatens livelihoods and inconveniences everyone, it is not correct to say that the days before the outbreak were good and today is bad. For many people, perhaps most people on Earth, life was hard before and is harder now. There was death, loss, hunger, sickness and violence then and now. But the burden is lighter on those with more resources. Typically, we speak of these resources as financial or material: money to not worry about lost work or medical bills, a bigger house to shelter in or the means to have food and resources delivered to you. There are other, intangible resources, say, taking comfort in the company of family and friends, but these too are limited, and the pandemic is a special burden for those who live alone. And we also have spiritual resources that give us a context and response to that crisis. Spiritual resources, unlike material resources, can be re-charged by their use. How often do we feel refreshed by being kind, and see that kindness returned, but weary from demanding indulgences from others. Don’t think it comes automatically, or that’s it’s a fraud to put yourselves in an attitude valuing goodness, service and care over, as James puts it, sordidness and wickedness.

This particular pandemic will some day pass, but other challenges will come instead. Prepare yourself — not just with canned food and toilet paper — but with an approach to life that values goodness, and “has the power to save your souls.”

Winchester Profession

Let us profess our faith:

We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

Collects

For peace

Let us pray for peace:

O God, who is the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom stands our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Grant us, your servants, we humbly ask you, that peace which the world can neither give nor take away; that we, who in all our dangers rely on your goodness, may under your parental protection be defended against all adversities, and rejoice evermore in your blessed service, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

For grace

Let us pray for grace:

O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, who has safely brought us to the beginning of this day; Defend us with your mighty power; and grant that we fall into no sin, nor run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings may be ordered by your governance, to do always that which is righteous in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For healers and caretakers

Let us pray for healers and caretakers

Almighty God, who inspires the hearts of all who would serve you, we ask you to give your special blessing to all healers and caretakers who attend to the sick and afflicted. Give faithfulness and skill to their work, efficiency to the means they employ, and guide them to the understanding that in their best service, they also serve you. In the name of the Divine Physician, Christ our Lord. Amen.

For all conditions of humankind

Let us pray for all people

O God, the Creator and Preserver of all humankind, we humbly ask that you would make your ways known unto the breath and width of the human family, your saving health to all nations. More especially we pray for the good estate of the Church Universal; that it may be so guided and governed by your Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to your tender goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate (particularly sick people and those close to death); that you would comfort and relieve them according to their various needs, giving them patience under their condition, and a happy result from all their afflictions. And this we ask for your mercy’s sake in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Concluding prayer

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen. (attributed to St. John Chrysostom)

Benediction

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.

Notices

For more information about these services, visit revscottwells.com. The portions of scripture are from the New Revised Common Version.

This is Scott Wells. God bless.

Audio services to begin

Update: I'm planning for a May 10 launch. Details to follow.

For six weeks, plus Ascension Thursday, I will be creating short audio services of worship and posting them here. I will start this Sunday (May 3) or the Sunday following, depending on how quickly I can work through the logistics.

Why? As always, I think Universalist Christianity is a word of comfort, sorely needed now. In part to share an expression of Universalist Christian worship at time when other expressions of Christian faith are being distributed through internet-published video, audio and text. Also, I want to offer something to readers, a couple of whom wished aloud that the services of my home church, Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington (UNMC) could be available. In fact, they may be in time (that’s not my decision), but for now they can only be experienced live. Six weeks is all I’m ready to commit to, and that also may see us through this wave of the shutdown. (I hope.)

Even if UNMC starts broadcasting, surely there’s room for two Universalist Christian services. But keeping that possibility in mind, I want to distinguish my efforts in several ways:

  1. The services will be rooted in the now little-known Universalist prayer book tradition. It’s close to my heart and I want it to be better appreciated. I hope to show that it’s approachable enough to learn and adopt where there is no Universalist Christian church nearby.
  2. The profession of faith I will use is the one I turn to the most: the Winchester Profession of 1803. UNMC uses a local declaration of faith based on the 1899 Chicago “Five Principles” Declaration.
  3. I will use the older one-year lectionary rather than the Revised Common Lectionary that I almost always use in my preaching.
  4. There will be no sung or choral music; it’s past my ability.
  5. The services will be pre-produced, not live.
  6. The services will serve more a supplement than as a principle worship service, though that may not be an important distinction for many.
  7. The services will be audio only, probably with a text option. This should make them more available for persons with limited internet access. The digital divide is real, and even in the United States, many people live with no internet or a poor connection; streaming or recorded video is not an option for many people.

Pray for me as I take the first steps into a different mode of ministry.

Continuing Congregationalist worship resources

The "continuing Congregationalists" are probably the closest relatives to the Universalists (probably) apart from the Unitarians, so it's worth to look at their resources.

The National Association of Congregational Christian Churches has a page of worship resources, especially ordinations and installations. There's a 1978 book, The Congregational Worshipbook, that's now out of print but can be downloaded. I've held it and read from it before, and do not recommend it. An absolute brick, and a bit too particular to its author. Do you really need services with the particular anthems filled in? The very specific dedication services (a Bible? a window? a pulpit?) is the flip side to this particularity and maybe the most useful part of the book.

Hedge’s Communion Service is up

I have posted the communion service of Fredric Henry Hedge, from his 1853 Christian Liturgy: For the Use of the Church, as a resource page. You can find it and others in the menu from the main page; I intend to post other items in time.

Properly speaking, it is the anaphora, or as Hedge puts it "the concluding or cenatory act. In a service so liable to excess of formality, it was judged best to leave a wide margin for such voluntary exercises or such spontaneous expressions of thought and devotion as the Minister or Church may be moved to connect with it."

I wouldn't expect anyone to use it today as-is. For one thing, it has phrasings — such as dumb for unable to speak — that reasonable people would find offensive. To tell the truth, I wonder how often it was used then. But it was a source for other Unitarian liturgies (and Universalist, as they seemed to borrow heavily from the Unitarians) particularly via the work of James Martineau.

Or so I think. I've never traced out the influences, and liturgical primitivism was in the air. But that's a future project to prove or refute.

“Radio Times” archive expanded

Last year I wrote a series of articles on two service books, New Every Morning and Each Returning Day, used by the BBC during (and after) World War Two in their fifteen-minute Daily Service. My goal was to see if there were any lessons to be learned for conducting worship today, and I think there are at least hints. Particularly how much you can simplify worship, and how you can identify themes for worship. (I may pick up this series later.) The series begins here:

“New Every Morning” for radio worshipers

The other articles are here, here, and here.

So, what's changed? Last year, I used the BBC Genome to read schedules from the Radio Times, which had a little blurb for the Daily Service and longer outlines for the longer weekly services. Unfortunately, when I was writing the series, only the Radio Times issues for 1939 were online. So only the opening months of the war. The BBC's schedule was still being retooled for wartime (all of the local services were merged into a single Home Service, and later one for the Forces) and Each Returning Day hadn't been published yet.

Glancing back to that series, I was prompted to look again at the BBC Genome, and lo! the many years of issues filled in! (Which you probably guessed if you saw the title.) Now I have more data to get a sense of the services.

Here is the service for June 5, 1944, the day before D-Day.

from page 61 of ' New Every Morning,' and page 38 of ' Each Returning Day.' Jesu thy mercies are untold ; Psalm 32 ; Help us to help each other, Lord

That is New Every Morning service 14, "Suffered under Pontius Pilate." The alternate Psalm is 16; I suspect Psalm 32 was the Coverdale version. There is a touching prayer for "the afflictions of thy people."  I would like to think it was used. Besides "Jesus, thy mercies are untold," there are five other suggested hymns, but "Help us to help each other, Lord" isn't one. The service continues at some point with Day 17 in Each Returning Day, "For the gift of sympathy."

Amen to that.

Theistic worship: notes from “the Unity Men”

I've been writing at this site (and earlier, at boyinthebands.org) since 2003, and it amazes me that I've written so little about "Western Unitarianism" or "the Unity Men": those Unitarians of the Western Unitarian Conference who promoted a theistic moral religion, in contrast to the Unitarian Christianity of New England.

This is all I found of mine in 16 years of writing:

A fiddle-and-lecture order of service

To be honest, it's not my thing. But it is an honest expression of religious faith, has a genuine appeal and is a honorable part of the Unitarian tradition.

And more: I worry that they're not going to be any new Unitarian or Universalist congregations. The UUA seems to have gone out of the church planting business. Perhaps this is just as well since there's been noted tendency, even among the Christians, to encourage congregations to have an all-inclusive Unitarian Universalist identity, rather than being true to a particular vision. It never made sense to me, either on theological or polity grounds. This kind of society (and it probably would be called a society) might be very desirable today.

Without banging my "parish and church" drum too hard, the Theist church looks to me to be the perfect modernist parish without a church. By which I mean it's a public service body, dedicated to education and morals though worship and service. Its "sacrament" is the pulpit. The (missing) church is that body of believers who seek (to keep it brief) closeness to God through profession of faith, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. It is specific in much the same way the parish is general. Can you guess which side the Unitarians have defaulted to? (And most, but far from all, of the Universalists.)

Of course, the Western Unitarians had a particular focus and context: public morals, personal development and a calm sense of awe and devotion. I'll defer to those who know it better to describe it in depth. It was progressive in a way that might make us roll our eyes, but what doesn't these days? Revivals, if anyone wants one, require interpretation.

Looking back to when they Western Unitarians were at their strength, you can also see a parallel movement in Reform Judaism. With its emphasis on the prophetic and universal, and a strong reduction in the use of Hebrew, Classic Reform offer something of a similar liturgical experience to the Western Unitarians. At least you could be excused if you stumbled into either service and confuse it for the other. Classic Reform at its most Classic Reformist had organs in worship, some used hymnals, might refer their pulpit-gowned rabbis as "The Rev." and some even met on Sundays. I would love to visit one of the remaining Classic Reform congregations, though watching the livestream of services from Temple Emanu-el (New York) or reading the Union Prayer Book, Sinai Edition, Revised puts me close to the tone if not the text of the Western Unitarians.  I think the clearest "bridge" is the hymn "Praise to the Living God," a traditional Jewish synagogue song, translated into English by a Unitarian minister. It was found both in the Union Hymnal (Reform Jewish, 1897) and Unity Hymns and Chorales (Western Unitarian, 1911). This is the same hymn that would open Hymns of the Spirit, and a version is found in Singing the Living Tradition.

Of course,  Unity Hymns and Chorales is where you go for a words, if you wanted it as a period piece. (Or perhaps from the Hymns of the Spirit, the fourth, fifth, sixth and eleventh services.) It's lovely, but a new Theist society, eastern or western, will need to find its own voice and its own take on that vital if emotionally constrained approach to speak in this anxious age, beset by demons.

W. E. Orchard, liturgist

For years I have run into the works of W. E. Orchard, and have made references to him twice recently. He was neither a Unitarian or a Universalist, but a Congregationalist minister later becoming a Roman Catholic priest. His service book, The Order of Divine Service for Public Worship, was evidently influential in Unitarian and Universalist circles.

I make reference to his works in the following articles:

Additionally, a prayer of his own composition appears in Hymns of the Spirit, in the Thirteenth Order of Service, for Easter :

O Thou who makest the stars, and turnest the shadow of death into the morning: on this day of days we meet to render thee the tribute of our thanksgiving. We praise thee for the resurrection of the spring-time, for the everlasting hopes that rise within the human heart, and for the gospel which hath brought life and immortality to light. Receive our thanksgiving, reveal thy presence, and send into our hearts the spirit of the risen Christ. Amen.

But I also introduce him here, because he will appear again as an associate of Unitarian minister Joseph Morgan Lloyd Thomas. Both of whom were member of the Society of Free Catholics, which will get me back to my ongoing series about the Independent Sacramental Movement.