Worship for Sunday 5th November 2023, by Peter Smith

Opening music       The Magnificat –  Thomas Tallis


Call to worship (based on psalm 107  from URC Worship Notes)

O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.

God’s steadfast love endures forever!

From the East and West, from the North and the South, we come.

And the Lord has saved us.

In our times of need, we have cried to the Lord.

And God has led us out of our distress.

Wonderful are the Lord’s works to humankind.

Let us tell of God’s deeds with songs of joy.

Let us call on the name of the Lord, our God:

Who was, who is, and who is to come.


Hymn H&P 414 What does the Lord require

What does the Lord require

for praise and offering?

What sacrifice, desire

or tribute bid you bring?

Do justly;

love mercy;

walk humbly with your God.


Rulers of earth, give ear!

Should you not justice show?

Will God your pleading hear,

while crime and cruelty grow?

Do justly;

love mercy;

walk humbly with your God.


All who gain wealth and trade,

for whom the worker toils,

think not to win God’s aid

if greed your commerce soils.

Do justly;

love mercy;

walk humbly with your God.


Still down the ages ring

The prophet’s stern commands:

To merchant, worker, king,

He brings God’s high demands:

Do justly;

Love mercy;

Walk humbly with your God.


How shall our life fulfil

God’s law so hard and high?

Let Christ endue our will

with grace to fortify.

Then justly,

in mercy

we’ll humbly walk with God.

Albert F Bayley ©Oxford University Press


Prayer of adoration (©Neil Dixon Companion to the Revised Common Lectionary vol 10)

Glory be to you, God the Father,

resplendent in majesty and might,

maker of all and shepherd of your people.

Glory be to God,

Glory and praise for ever.


Glory be to you, God the Son,

eternal Word of the Father,

redeemer of all and saviour of your people.

Glory be to God,

Glory and praise for ever.


Glory be to you, God the Spirit,

Fountain of light and giver of life,

Sustainer of all and advocate of your people. Glory be to God,

Glory and praise for ever.


Glory be to you, God the Father,

Glory be to you, God the Son

Glory be to you, God the Spirit,

Glory be to you most holy Trinity,

Glory be to God,

Glory and praise for ever. Amen



Merciful Lord, you have taught us through your Son that love is the fulfilling of the law,  Grant that we may love you with our whole heart and our neighbours as ourselves; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Reading Micah 3: 5 – 12

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
   who lead my people astray,
who cry ‘Peace’
   when they have something to eat,
but declare war against those
   who put nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
   and darkness to you, without revelation.
The sun shall go down upon the prophets,
   and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
   and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
   for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
   with the spirit of the Lord,
   and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
   and to Israel his sin.

Psalm 43

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust
deliver me!

For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because of the oppression of the enemy?

O send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.
Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Glory to the Father and to the Son

and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning is now

and shall be for ever. Amen.


Gospel Matthew 23: 1 – 12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.


Hymn 611 Brother, sister let serve you


   1   Brother, sister, let me serve you,
        let me be as Christ to you;
        pray that I may have the grace
        to let you be my servant too.

   2   We are pilgrims on a journey,
        and companions on the road;
        we are here to help each other
        walk the mile and bear the load.

   3   I will hold the Christ-light for you
        in the night-time of your fear;
        I will hold my hand out to you,
        speak the peace you long to hear.

   4   I will weep when you are weeping;
        when you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
        I will share your joy and sorrow
        till we’ve seen this journey through.

   5   When we sing to God in heaven
        we shall find such harmony,
        born of all we’ve known together
        of Christ’s love and agony.

   6   Brother, sister, let me serve you,
        let me be as Christ to you;
        pray that I may have the grace
        to let you be my servant too.

Richard A. M. Gillard (b. 1953) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 611
Words and Music: © 1977 Scripture in Song (a division of Integrity Inc.), Administered by Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, East Sussex, TN22 1QG.  <www.songsolutions.org>  Used by permission.



It struck me that both the Old Testament and the Gospel readings have in common the subject of leadership and both fit well within the theme of a Justice Seeking Church – Walking with Micah (see the report adopted by the Methodist Conference this year).

But it is important to clear up something right at the start.  There were undoubtedly scribes and Pharisees who were devout men trying there hardest to follow God’s commands and live holy lives.  Matthew is writing his gospel for a church consisting of Jewish converts at a time when the early church and Judaism were not only parting company but openly hostile to each other.  So, it appears that he exaggerates the words of Jesus. 

Both Jesus and Matthew are concerned with hypocrisy in leadership, and those leaders could be Jewish or Christian.  In particular when the actions do not match the words, or the words do not match the underlying beliefs of the revelation of God’s love.  The leaders that Jesus singles our those that make things harder for others whilst exploiting any loop holes for themselves or acting as though the rules don’t apply to them.  They make the burden harder compared with Jesus, who says his yoke is easy.

In addition, these are rulers or leaders who are not there out of sense of service but in order to secure the best outcome for themselves.  Some of the scandals that have hit the charity sector in recent years have been about people who rather than doing good have used the system to benefit themselves, and one of the key principals of charity law is that trustees should not use their position to benefit themselves.  But a look at the Charity Commission website will show that a small minority haven’t quite grasped that. (just to be clear I am not saying that staff in charities should not be properly rewarded – there is an important difference between earning your living and voluntary service).

Sometimes we have encountered people in the Church who are so full of themselves that they seem to have lost sight of the model of servant ministry.  But, remember we are all called to follow Christ in humility so none of us gets to lord it over someone else.

Micah’s complaint against his fellow prophets is that they bend with the wind, or more accurately they will say whatever you want as long as pay them enough, stop paying and you lose their support.  I am reminded of the punchline form the joke about what does two plus two make – when the accountant says “what figure did you have in mind?”.  What use is an accountant like that, when you want accuracy and truth?  What use is a prophet who will tell you only what you want to hear?

We hold those in leadership to high standards, not that we should expect them to be perfect but that they should be striving to act with honesty and integrity whether in the church or the political world. 

There have been occasions when the public persona of a leader (church or political) has not matched their real character.  The worst being those who have used their position and reputation to take advantage of other people.  That deliberate exploitation of a position of power is reprehensible.  Such people need to be called to account and their actions remind us of the importance of safeguarding.

I have been reflecting on the nature of leadership and the demands of peace and justice in light of the violence and humanitarian crises in Gaza/Israel.  How should sovereign states exercise the right to protect themselves?

The report A Justice-Seeking Church has amongst its Six Principles for Justice these two:

God entrusts those in power with a special responsibility for upholding justice.

Those seeking justice will encourage and challenge those with power to fulfil their vocation.

God calls all people and nations actively to work for peace and justice, liberation and transformation.

It is never just someone else’s responsibility. We all have a part to play.

The Doctor, as played by Tom Baker, once said:

“You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.”

What justice should look like given the current crises is hard to say, but it is true to say that it is not the indiscriminate killing of civilians, especially children by any side.   The path to justice and peace will be hard and long, and it requires genuine commitment to find that path and follow it.  It will not be a comfortable journey but it is one that needs to be embarked upon for the sake of all people, even those we find hard to love.

In the video we are going to watch, the Doctor has rigged up a system in which humans and Zygons (shape shifting aliens) can live together.  The Zygons had been the invaders.  However, there are those Zygons who believe they settled for too little and want the war to go on.

The Doctor has some critical challenges to offer that come out of his own experience of a near catastrophic war.


Video – The Doctor’s War Speech

(for those who can’t watch the video, the doctor has both sides represented in sealed room.  They have the choice to press a button on a box with a 50/50 chance the outcome will go their way or they could listen to the Doctor, who says:

Ah. Ah, right. And when this war is over, when you have a homeland free from humans, what do you think it’s going to be like? Do you know? Have you thought about it? Have you given it any consideration? Because you’re very close to getting what you want. What’s it going to be like? Paint me a picture. Are you going to live in houses? Do you want people to go to work? Will there be holidays? Oh! Will there be music? Do you think people will be allowed to play violins? Who’s going to make the violins? Well? Oh, you don’t actually know, do you? Because, like every other tantrumming child in history, Bonnie, you don’t actually know what you want. So, let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect and just and fair, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

And goes on to say:

This is a scale model of war. Every war ever fought, right there in front of you. Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die! You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning. Sit down and talk! (sigh) Listen to me. Listen, I just, I just want you to think. Do you know what thinking is? It’s just a fancy word for changing your mind.


Prayer of confession

Let us confess our sins


When we mouth the word peace but make war instead. Forgive us and heal us

When we mistake vengeance for righteous anger.Forgive us and heal us

When we mistake talking for weakness

Forgive us and heal us


Loving God, give us the reassurance of your forgiveness and lead us in your strength in the ways of justice and peace.  Amen


Hymn 708 O God of hope

    1 O God of hope, your prophets spoke
of days when war would cease:
when, taught to see each person’s worth,
and faithful stewards of the earth,
we all would live in peace.

   2      We pray that our divided world
may hear their words anew:
then lift for good the curse of war,
let bread, with justice, bless the poor,
and turn in hope to you.

  3    Earth’s fragile web of life demands
our reverence and our care,
lest in our folly, sloth and greed,
deaf both to you and others’ need,
we lay our planet bare.

 4     Earth’s rich resources give us power
to build or to destroy:
your Spirit urges us to turn
from selfish, fear-bound ways, and learn
God’s selfless trust and joy.

 5     The Prince of Peace is calling us
to shun the way of strife:
he brings us healing through his pain;
our shattered hope is born again
through his victorious life.

Basil Bridge (b. 1927)  (alt.) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 708

Prayers of intercession (©Christine Odell – companion to the revised common lectionary vol. 1)

God whom we worship with our lives, grant us integrity.  Fill us with your Holy Spirit, that all we say or think or do may be motivated by you.

In your loving mercy:  Hear our prayer.

God whom we worship with our lives, we pray for those with power and influence.  We ask that the words that they speak and the measures that initiate should not spring from the desire to hold on to power at all costs, but from a desire to serve their fellow human beings with justice, wisdom and compassion.

In your loving mercy: Hear our prayer.

God whom we worship with our lives, we pray for those holding positions or responsibility within the church.  We ask that in the exercise of their religious duties and in meeting the demands of their busy lives they should not loose sight of the vision of your saving love that first enthralled them.

In your loving mercy: Hear our prayer.

God whom we worship with our lives, we pray for ourselves as followers of Christ.

We ask that our beliefs might find expression not only in words but in loving actions.  And we ask that in our relationships with others we may learn to love for love’s sake and not for any ulterior motives of our own.

In your loving mercy: Hear our prayer.

God whom we worship with our lives, we pray for the places and people in the news…..

In your loving mercy: Hear our prayer.

God whom we worship with our lives, we pray for our neighbours, families and friends….

In your loving mercy: Hear our prayer.

God whom we worship with our lives, we offer to you our gifts of time and money.

God whom we worship with our lives, we offer the whole of ourselves to you; our weaknesses as well as our strengths, our flaws as well as our virtues, in childlike trust in your unfailing love for us, made known in Jesus Christ, your Son.  Amen

The Lord’s Prayer


Hymn StF 550 Forth in thy name

    1      Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go,
my daily labour to pursue,
thee, only thee, resolved to know
in all I think, or speak, or do.

   2      The task thy wisdom has assigned
O let me cheerfully fulfil,
in all my works thy presence find,
and prove thy good and perfect will.

   3      Thee may I set at my right hand,
whose eyes my inmost substance see,
and labour on at thy command,
and offer all my works to thee.

   4      Give me to bear thy easy yoke,
and every moment watch and pray,
and still to things eternal look,
and hasten to thy glorious day;

   5      For thee delightfully employ
whate’er thy bounteous grace has given,
and run my course with even joy,
and closely walk with thee to heaven.

Charles Wesley (1707–1788) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 550.



Go now in peace, to love justice, to do mercy and to walk humbly with God.

And may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon you now and for ever.  Amen

Closing music Peace is flowing like a river