Material for Worship on the First Sunday of Advent

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
the prophets said you would bring peace
and save your people in trouble.
Give peace in our hearts at Christmas
and show all the world God’s love. Amen.

A reflection by the Ven. Peter Potter on today’s readings: Isaiah 64.1-9 and Mark 13.24-37 read here by Peter Owen and by Liz Owen.

The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new year in the Church’s calendar. But, strangely, today’s reading are concerned with an immanent end of things. The reading from Mark’s Gospel comes just before Jesus’ arrest on Maundy Thursday. This ambiguity reflects the mood of Advent as we swither between waiting and looking back, hopeful anticipation and fear and trembling as we confront the four great themes of Advent: heaven and hell, death and judgement.

Perhaps we find these contrasting, jarring notes all the more keenly as we prepare to celebrate Christmas at the end of a year like no other. We shall be deprived of carol singing and Midnight Mass. In the UK alone over 56 thousand people will be missing from family gatherings. But yet, our feelings are not far removed from people in Isaiah’s day or those living in first century Palestine. The Israelites had endured decades of deprivation in Babylonian exile and the apocalyptic words of Mark 13 tell of trials and tribulations.

Isaiah 64:8 gives us a striking description of God “we are the clay and you are the potter”. (I like that, but I would, wouldn’t I?) It portrays a dynamic God whose creative energy never ceases. We can picture him working away at his potter’s wheel, creating a thing of beauty out of a shapeless lump of clay. At times when things are not going right he pushes the clay back into a lump to start again. This picture holds good at an individual level, for there is never a time when God has finished with us. It also applies in other ways. Israel, for all its faults had become like a piece of pottery on the wheel that was beginning to come apart. The potter needs to push it together and start again.

When the later chapters of Isaiah were written there were signs of this new start. Cracks were beginning to show in the Babylonian empire and a new power was rising. A new star in the east, we could say, and with it new hope was dawning.

The scene in Mark 13 was similar. The coming events of Holy Week and Easter heralded both an end and a beginning. As today’s readings and the Advent collect tell us, this will be both a time of deliverance and a time of judgement.

Today, after a year of tribulation, it seems as if there are signs of a new dawn. Talk of a vaccine has got our hopes up. But are we to breathe a sigh of relief and go back to where we were before? Or has the misshapen vessel been put back on the potter’s wheel to be reshaped into something more pleasing in the sight of God.

For now, we must wait, be alert and ready to cast off anything that obscures the light of God’s glorious majesty.

Intercessions – please add your own petitions where indicated

In joyful expectation of his coming to our aid we pray to Jesus.
Come to your Church as Lord and judge.
We pray for …
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing for your kingdom.

Come to your world as King of the nations.
We pray for …
Before you rulers will stand in silence.

Come to the suffering as Saviour and comforter.
We pray for …
Break into our lives,
where we struggle with sickness and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.

Come to us as shepherd and guardian of our souls.
We remember …
Give us with all the faithful departed
a share in your victory over evil and death.

Come from heaven, Lord Jesus, with power and great glory.
Lift us up to meet you,
that with Andrew and all your saints and angels
we may live and reign with you in your new creation.
(Adapted from Common Worship, Times and Seasons)

A prayer for the Feast of St Andrew, Patron of Scotland, 30th November

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son, Jesus Christ, give us, who are called by your holy Word, the grace to follow him without delay and to be messengers of the good news of your kingdom; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may wish to finish your time of prayer by reading or singing the words of the seventh-century Advent hymn, ‘Creator of the starry height’ as David Sawyer plays the tune.

Creator of the starry height,
thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesu, redeemer of us all,
hear thou thy servants when they call.

Thou, sorrowing at the helpless cry
of all creation doomed to die,
didst come to save our fallen race
by healing gifts of heavenly grace.

When earth was near its evening hour,
thou didst, in love’s redeeming power,
like bridegroom from his chamber, come
forth from a virgin-mother’s womb.

At thy great name, exalted now,
all knees in lowly homage bow;
all things in heaven and earth adore,
and own thee King for evermore.

To thee, O Holy One, we pray,
our judge in that tremendous day,
ward off, while yet we dwell below,
the weapons of our crafty foe.

To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One,
praise, honour, might, and glory be
from age to age eternally. Amen.
(Trans. J. M. Neale)

Material for Worship on the Feast of Christ the King

Good morning. Today is the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday before Advent, before the beginning of a new year in the life of the Church. It is very appropriate that after the service this morning, the Annual General Meeting of the Church will be held, when we will look back together at the year that has been and look forward to the year to come. Today is also known as Stir-up Sunday, a name which come from the collect set for the day in the Prayer Book which begins ‘Stir up, we beseech thee O Lord the wills of thy faithful people …’ which in years gone by would send housewives all over the country back home from church to start preparing their Christmas cakes and puddings! My prayer this morning is that God would stir in each of our hearts a desire to spend time with Christ and worship Him. Nerys

Today I feel as if I’m saying goodbye to an old friend. Like many of you, reading is one of my favourite pastimes and my habit, when I come across an author whose work I enjoy, is to try to get hold of as many of their books as I can and work my way through them. That way, I feel that I’ll get to know their particular voice and grasp the issues that concern them.

The way our Sunday readings are arranged means that we do something similar with the authors of the four Gospels. As so, today, on the last Sunday of the Church year, we are coming to the end of our time in the company of the author of the first Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew.
After a whole year of listening to this author and engaging with his writing, I feel that I have got to know his voice – although I don’t even know his name for certain, let alone anything much about his background, and who he was writing for. There is no doubt, however, about his intention in writing an account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. All of the Gospels are preoccupied with the same question ‘Who is this man?’ and by implication, ‘Who am I in relation to him?’ But, perhaps because they were originally meant to address the concerns of different groups of early Christians, each Gospel is angled differently. The emphasis in Matthew, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is on Jesus as the Messiah, the promised one, the fulfilment of the dreams and prophecies of the Jewish people. Right from his account of his birth, this author shows Jesus as the Son of God and throughout his Gospel, Jesus is said to cause amazement, not only by his actions, but also by his words. Time and time again, this young man is presented as knowing and understanding more about God than the religious leaders of Israel and he speaks with an authority which surely could only come from God himself.

Our passage today, Matthew 25.31-46, read here by Mary Birch, comes right at the end of a long section which focusses on Jesus’ teaching, set in the courtyard of the temple. Once he finishes speaking to the crowd, he turns to his disciples, saying, ‘The Passover is in two days’ time. That’s when the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’ We need to read this last parable of Jesus in the light of this because here he depicts himself as a king like no other.

Matthew’s Jewish readers would have been familiar with scenes of a heavenly courtroom where God presides in judgement over the people of the world, punishing those nations who were lacking in their support of Israel. Imagine their consternation when they discover that in his version, Jesus puts himself on the throne and depicts himself judging all people according to their compassion towards those who are in need. Even the characters in his story are taken aback by the yardstick according to which they are measured! It is not their beliefs, their faithfulness in attending worship or their financial support of a religious institution that counts but how they respond to the beggar on the street corner when nobody’s looking. Christ’s measuring stick is those actions which arise out of our love of our needy neighbor, a love that is rooted in and inseparable from our love of Him.

What a challenge to those of us who follow in Christ’s footsteps today! Matthew has both groups of people responding by saying ‘we didn’t know we would be judged for that!’ The problem is that none of them had understood the nature of God. Our Epistle for today, Ephesians 1.15-23, read here by David Sawyer, suggests that the early Christians at Ephesus didn’t really know God either. Maybe they saw God as a distant figure, easily pleased by religious behavior, easily pushed into a convenient corner of their lives. Maybe they hadn’t realized that knowledge of God is not intellectual or theoretical but that it grows through a living relationship with Christ – a human figure who identifies himself with all who suffer.

Today as we reflect on the last year in the life of St Mary’s, I wonder to what extent we have followed Christ’s teaching? It is not just doing harm to others that marks out our rejection of God’s ways, it is the goodness we fail to do, the needs we don’t notice or ignore. We as church are members of Christ’s body in the world. Looking out for the needy, the suffering, the neglected, the oppressed in our local community and responding to them with love is our God-given work.

For our time of prayer today, I invite you to reflect on an image introduced to me by my predecessor, Revd Janice Cameron, many years ago. ‘The Christ of the Breadline’ first appeared on the cover of the Catholic Worker Magazine in 1951. The artist is Fritz Eichenberg, a German Quaker who worked closely with the American Catholic author and social activist, Dorothy Day. In it we have Christ standing in line at a soup kitchen, waiting for His turn to be served. This Christ is not the powerful, physically perfect figure of much classical sacred art. He is weak. He’s wrapped in rags. He’s entirely in shadow. Although he is in the middle of the piece, our eyes are not drawn to him but to the details of those in the line with him who can only be seen in his light. In front of Him and behind Him are other raggedy people, hands in their pockets, wrapped up in shawls, anxiously waiting for food. And these figures are still. They all stand, motionless in their deep poverty and hunger with the Lord of the universe in their midst, waiting for our response …

Take some time now to reflect on the image and to consider your response.

Who is Christ standing with in our community today as we return to Lockdown?

What is our prayer for them and for those known to us who are finding life difficult just now?

How can we respond to them with love?

Listen to Moira Langston and follow or sing the words of the hymn of adoration by an anonymous American author.

He is Lord, he is Lord;
he is risen from the dead, and he is Lord;
every knee shall bow, every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord.

He is love, he is love;
he has shown us by his life that he is love;
all his people sing with one voice of joy
that Jesus Christ is love.

He is life, he is life;
he has died to set us free and he is life;
and he calls us all to live evermore
for Jesus Christ is life.

He is King, he is King;
he will draw all nations to him, he is King:
and the time shall be when the world shall sing
that Jesus Christ is King.

You may wish to finish your time of prayer with the Collect for today from the Prayer Book, making it a prayer for yourself and for all of us at St Mary’s:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Material for Worship on 24th Sunday after Pentecost

We prepare for worship today by reading or singing the ancient Irish hymn, ‘Be thou my Vision’ as David Sawyer plays ‘Slane’.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
be thou my best thought in the day and the night,
both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
be thou ever with me, and I with thee, Lord;
be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
be thou my whole armour, be thou my true might;
be thou my soul’s shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
be thou mine inheritance, now and always;
be thou and thou only the first in my heart;
O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of heaven, thou heaven’s bright Sun,
O grant me its joys after vict’ry is won;
great heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.

Revd. Moira Jamieson writes:

This week the people of America voted to elect their President for the next four years and some of our friends who live in the U.S. were really putting their faith and their trust in a change of power to bring about healing for their country.

Our first reading today is from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians 5.1-11, read here by Anthony Birch. In it the people are entreated by Paul to trust in their knowledge of their own destiny. They are to stay alert and awake, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and a helmet of salvation, encouraging each other and building each other up in faith. The parable in the gospel reading from Matthew, 25.14-30, read by Pippa Faunce Smith, presents two very different ways of responding to the call of God. The master shows a complete trust in all three servants as he entrusts them with his hard-earned savings. Not only that, but he trusts them to take care of his property while he is away on a long journey, but how does his faith in them play out? The trust of the master brings about a trusting response from the first two servants in almost identical ways, they invest what they have been given and they double its value. When the master returns, his response to these first two servants is again identical but the word-for-word equality of the verses we hear is important, because it shows the master’s total disinterest in the actual amounts each of them produces and the reward for each faithful servant is the same. They are commended for being faithful and trustworthy. Then the parable takes a threatening turn. When the man learns that the third servant has hidden his money, he calls him out. “You wicked and lazy servant!” He confiscates the money and passes it along to the richest of the three servants. Adding insult to injury, he calls for the third servant to be cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and Jesus says, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

Picture: The Three Servants by Kasakhstan artist Nelly Bube

No matter how many times I read this verse, from our gospel passage this morning, I find it hard to swallow! It’s a hard saying which seems unjust and in parts even seems to contradict itself, after all, how can nothing be diminished? However, we all know that at times, the teaching of Jesus is a strong statement of reality. This story is another which is intended to shock the hearers into knowing something more about the different values of the kingdom, but it is also true for life in this world. Jesus is once again turning our values upside-down to teach us a lesson. This passage is often used as part of stewardship campaigns in some churches, however, it’s not a lesson in investment policy, although stewardship of money may be a part of our duty to God. It’s more about having faith in what we can do when we are asked to go that extra mile. The foolish servant knew that his master would have high demands, but he didn’t know that playing it safe would not be enough.

If you watch any of the multitudes of cooking and baking competitions on television, you will know that “playing it safe” is not a good strategy if you want to win! This parable shows the element of risk that comes with the call to each one of us from God. When he calls to us, God always asks us to step out of our comfort zone, and act out of faith, not fear. Something that Nerys and I both know very well from our discernment up to our ordination and beyond.

It’s what God expected of Noah when he told him to build an ark and collect animals. It’s what God expected of Abraham when he told him to leave his home. It’s what God expected of Moses at the burning bush, and it’s what God expected of Mary when he sent the Angel Gabriel. Faith!

I wonder what would have happened if any one of these people had acted out their fears rather than their faith! If they had thought “what will happen?” “Will we be safe?” “Will we have enough money?” “Will people still like me?” and “How can I accomplish this?” then did nothing? Instead of faith, the Bible would be a very different book. Now we can see that the difference between the two servants who invested what their master gave them, and the slave who dug a hole and buried what the master gave him – was a willingness to have faith, instead of succumbing to fear.

In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians he encourages his readers to “put on the breastplate of faith and love.” Paul knows what it means to have faith and to have that faith tested. He also tells his readers (and us) that we should encourage and build each other up in the faith. We are called to be people of faith, not people of fear for so many reasons. The third servant in our parable was afraid of what would happen if he gambled what his master had given to him and he lost it. We all do stupid, ridiculous things when we’re afraid. But, even more, we lose sight that even through all the risks of failure, and all the failures themselves, God is still always with us. We don’t go through failure alone, and, on the other side, God turns our failures into things we couldn’t even imagine.

Trustworthiness is fine. It’s good and we like that, but really, it’s all about faith, and faith is what God expects of us all.

Let’s read or sing the challenging hymn from the Iona Community, ‘Jesus Christ is waiting’ as David plays the tune.

Jesus Christ is waiting,
waiting in the streets;
no one is his neighbour,
all alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am lonely too.
make me, friend or stranger,
fit to wait on you

Jesus Christ is raging,
raging in the streets,
where injustice spirals
and real hope retreats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am angry too.
in the Kingdom’s causes
let me rage with you.

Jesus Christ is healing,
healing in the streets;
curing those who suffer,
touching those he greets.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I have pity too.
let my care be active,
healing just like you.

Jesus Christ is dancing,
dancing in the streets,
where each sign of hatred
he, with love, defeats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I should triumph too.
where good conquers evil
let me dance with you.

Jesus Christ is calling,
calling in the streets,
‘Who will join my journey?
I will guide their feet.’
Listen, Lord Jesus,
let my fears be few:
Walk one step before me,
I will follow you.

John L. Bell and Graham Maule

Let us pray
Heavenly Father, clothe us with the armour of faith as we trust in you for our every need. Help us to be good stewards of your wonderful creation, always mindful of the impact our lifestyle choices make on the lives of others. As we seek to serve you in our communities, strengthen our faith and give us ears to hear your call to us. Whatever you have given us to do in this world, enable us to do it with firm resolve and joyful obedience, so that our lives and the lives our others are enriched by it.

Lord, we are aware of the suffering that is going on in our world just now. The lives of many people are on hold until a safe vaccine is found to protect us from the Coronavirus. We pray for those who are struggling with mental health issues, those who are fearful for loved ones in hospital and those whose routine hospital appointments are being cancelled and treatments delayed. Give us strength and courage Lord as we face new challenges each day and help us to put our trust in you. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In a world where there is much inequality, help us to count our blessings as we hear of others who are struggling to feed their families and to be generous with what we can do and what we can give to help others. We thank you for food banks and for local charities who are reaching out to families in need, but we pray that world-leaders and those in our own governments would do more to promote equality in all areas of life to help eradicate poverty and homelessness. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, bless and protect all who are working in healthcare in hospitals and in the community and all essential workers who are in contact with the public each day. Help us to obey the guidelines we are given so that we might help to protect others. We thank you for our times of good health and bring before you now those who are ill at this time either at home or in hospital. (Pray for those for whom you have concerns). Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We thank you for the church and for our faith during the times of restrictions. Bless our Primus Mark, our Bishop Ian and Nerys, Peter and Jeanette and all who enable our Sunday services to be shared by all. Lord, bless your church throughout the world and protect those who are persecuted for their faith. May we all seek to spread the Good News of your Kingdom with those we meet. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Finally Lord, we pray for ourselves and our families. May we always trust in you as we travel along on our journey of faith together. Bless us this week and keep us safe. We ask this in the precious name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Material for Worship on Remembrance Sunday

Today is Remembrance Sunday, a day when we as Christians as called to do two things, to remember and to pray. We start with prayer as we read or sing the words of Fred Kaan’s hymn ‘For the healing of the nations’ – a hymn which reminds us that we are called to care for a world where we are inter-dependant and to use our political will, our global influence and our natural resources for the good of all humanity in seeking justice and peace for all. Here is David Sawyer playing the tune.

For the healing of the nations,
Lord, we pray with one accord,
for a just and equal sharing
of the things that earth affords.
To a life of love in action
help us rise and pledge our word.

Lead us forward into freedom,
from despair your world release,
that, redeemed from war and hatred,
all may come and go in peace.
Show us how through care and goodness
fear will die and hope increase.

All that kills abundant living,
let it from the earth be banned:
pride of status, race or schooling,
dogmas that obscure your plan.
In our common quest for justice
may we hallow brief life’s span.

You, Creator God, have written
your great name on humankind;
for our growing in your likeness
bring the life of Christ to mind;
that by our response and service
earth its destiny may find.

This year for the first time, poppies have been made available in our church porch – red poppies which represent a commitment to remember those who have served and died in past wars and white poppies which represent a commitment to work and pray for peace. Some would that they are incompatible but for us as Christians who are seeking to grow into the likeness of our Creator God, they are surely two sides of the same coin.

Our Scripture teaches us that down the ages, remembering has shaped the future of the people of God. We remember the promise and responsibility God gave to his chosen people which they often forgot but which is the foundation of our relationship with God through Christ. We remember the promises Jesus made, like the ones in our Gospel passage, John 6.37-40, read today by James Humphreys, that if anyone comes to him, he will hold on to them and never let them go, that anyone who trusts who he is and aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. We remember the wonderful mysteries of our faith, like the mystery of the resurrection Paul talks about in his first letter to the Corinthians 15.51-57, read by Cpt. John Roddis. And we remember the amazing transformative power of God’s spirit which is alive within us and between us. We remember all these things so that they will shape our lives and enable us to grow in our faith. Likewise, we remember the tragedy of countless lost lives and the traumas endured by those who survived past wars, so that we can be inspired to work to build relationships of peace and justice in our world today. As the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel, said, ‘Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.’

Our forebears her at St Mary’s knew the importance of remembering for the future. This is why we have in the church the window which was unveiled seventy years ago, in May 1950, in memory of those members of our church who lost their lives in the Second World War. Once more this year we will honour the memory of the seven young men listed on the plaque beneath the window and we will also listen to the stories of their short lives. As we do so, we will be aware of the gaps their deaths left in the lives of their families and in the community here in Dunblane. We will be reminded of the terrible cost of war and how our best response to their loss is the active bringing about of justice and peace.

Ronald Gutteridge, the son of Company Sergeant Major Gutteridge of Queen Victoria School. Educated at St Mary’s School, he was a fine athlete and swimmer. He joined the navy at the age of 15. He was killed two years later, in October 1939, whilst serving as a boy sailor on HMS Royal Oak. The battleship was anchored at Scapa Flow in Orkney when she was torpedoed by a German submarine. Over eight hundred men and boys were killed that night. Ronnie was the Dunblane’s first war casualty.

William Guthrie, the middle son of Alexander and Christina Guthrie of Thorncliffe, The Crescent, Dunblane. Educated at St Mary’s School he was a member of the choir and a Scout. He was apprenticed to as a draper in Stirling leaving in 1938 for the Royal Navy. He was killed at the age of 20 while serving on convoy duty on board HMS Wakeful, evacuating Allied troops from Dunkirk in May 1940. The destroyer was struck by two torpedoes causing the loss of most of the crew and troops on board.

Alastair Guthrie, William’s younger brother and also a member of St Mary’s Church choir and a scout. He joined the navy straight from school at the age of sixteen to train as a signaller at the Boys Training Centre, HMS Ganges near Ipswich. He went to sea in May 1938 and having taken a number of proficiency exams he was promoted to Yeoman of Signals in 1941. His last post was as a leading signalman on HMS Culver, an ex-US Coastguard cutter, escorting convoys to and from Liverpool. His ship was torpedoed by a German U boat, broke in two and sank in less than a minute. Alastair was killed two years after his brother, in January 1942 at the age of 21.

Frank Wilson who lived with his parents and two brothers about the family’s newsagents shop in Station Square, Dunblane. He was a member of St Mary’s Choir and a Rover Scout. Both he and his brother, Sandy joined the RAF. He was killed in July 1941 on an operational flight to Hamm on the Rhine.

Fredrick Lax, the only son of Bandmaster and Mrs Lax of Queen Victoria School. Born at Agra in India, Fred had been a pupil at St Mary’s School. He joined the RAF at the age of 15 in 1937 and qualified as an engineer air-gunner on Sunderland Flying-Boats before becoming a flight engineer on Stirling big Bombers. He went missing following a night operational flight over Germany in 1943. He was 21, married with a child, when he died.

John Fowler, the son of Mr and Mrs C. Fowler, the Cross, Dunblane. A pupil of Queen Victoria School, he had served for seven years as a Sergeant with the Royal Artillery before being imprisoned by the Japanese. He died in a prisoner of war camp in June 1944 at the age of 24 and is buried at Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore

Allan Heywood Ball, the younger son of Henry and Annie Ball of Bishop Barn, Dunblane. He was a Lieutenant Commander with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve serving on the anti-submarine trawler HMS Visenda operating in the North Atlantic. He died aged 37 at a naval hospital near Bristol in February 1945 and is buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol.

We also remember Robert Thomas who was lost in the First World War. He was baptised in St Mary’s on 11th December 1898. His father Robert was the publican of the Railway Hotel. Serving in 1st/6th Battalion of The Black Watch, Robert was killed when the dugout he was in on the Western Front was hit by a shell on 17th October 1918. He is buried in France.

We will remember them

Let us pray
for all who suffer as a result of conflict, and ask that God may give us peace: for the service men and women who have died in the violence of war, each one remembered by and known to God;
May God give peace
for those who love them in death as in life, offering the distress of our grief and the sadness of our loss;
May God give peace
for all members of the armed forces who are in danger this day, remembering family, friends and all who pray for their safe return;
May God give peace
for civilian women, children and men whose lives are disfigured by war or terror, calling to mind in penitence the anger and hatreds of humanity;
May God give peace
for organisations which give support to victims of war, their volunteers and fundraisers;
May God give peace
for peace-makers and peace-keepers, who seek to keep this world secure and free;
May God give peace
for all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership, political, military and religious; asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve in the search for reconciliation and peace.
May God give peace

O God of truth and justice, we hold before you those whose memory we cherish, and those whose names we will never know. Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world, and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm. As we honour the past, may we put our faith in your future; for you are the source of life and hope, now and for ever. Amen.
You may wish to finish your time of worship and reflection with Katherine von Schlegel’s hymn of trust in God, ‘Be still, my soul’. Here is David playing the tune ‘Finlandia’.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to thy God to order and provide;
in every change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly friend,
through thorny way leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake,
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Material for Worship for All Saints

Moira writes: This morning as we celebrate the feast of All Saints and remember the ‘multitude that no one could count’ (Revelation 7.9), we also remember the ordinary people who in their own way have reached out and have risked their lives to save others. In the past seven months, many who we would consider to be modern day ‘saints,’ have risked their lives to help those suffering from Covid-19 and those isolated by lockdown. We have much to be grateful for, but we must not forget those whose lives have been touched with sadness and grief in the loss of a relative from this unrelenting virus. Tonight, Nerys will lead a service of remembrance for those of our loved ones who have gone before us, as the church celebrates the feast of All Souls.
We begin with a prayer of thanksgiving for the Saints which you can read or sing along to David on the organ.

For all thy saints, O Lord,
our grateful hymn receive,
who followed thee. obeyed, adored,
and strove in thee to live.

For all thy saints, O Lord,
accept our thankful cry,
who counted thee their great reward,
who strove in thee to die.

Thine earthly members fit
to join thy saints above,
in one communion ever knit,
one fellowship of love.

Jesus, thy name we bless,
and humbly pray that we
may follow them in holiness
and live and die in thee.

All might, all praise, be thine,
Father, co-equal Son,
and Spirit, bond of love divine,
while endless ages run.
Bishop Richard Mant

On a personal note, it seems rather appropriate that our Gospel reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount and that it includes the Beatitudes. In 2018 Sandy and I were fortunate to join a Diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land and for two days we stayed at the Mount Beatitudes Guest House, run by Franciscan Sisters. Set high up in the hills looking over the Lake of Tiberius, the Church of the Beatitudes and its beautiful gardens were so tranquil and peaceful. In the garden the beatitudes were set out on plaques, with flowers and flowing water, with space to reflect and be still. The church was also very beautiful and as we sat in silence, Rev Matthew Little from our group began to sing ‘Salve Regina,’ and his voice carried around the church and rose into the heights.

As we listen to the first reading from the Book of Revelation 7.9-17, read by Ramanie, St John gives a wonderful description of people that we would identify as being the saints in heaven. We are told that they were ‘a great multitude.’ Many from all tribes and nations, all peoples and languages. They were the ones ‘who washed their robes in the blood of the lamb,’ and their promised reward was shelter, freedom from hunger and thirst, and the great Shepherd as their guide. They were certainly blessed and the saints we remember today, certainly give us a great example to live up to.

In the Gospel passage from Matthew 5.1-12, read by Davie, Jesus is speaking to the crowd gathered before him, and all were eager to hear what he had to say. The Beatitudes which Jesus set out before the crowd, spoke about the ‘attitude’ that his followers should have in their everyday lives, and a number of years ago, Pope Francis produced his own set of modern-day standards to live by, and this is what he wrote:

Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart.
Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalised and show them their closeness.
Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him.
Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.
Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.
Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.

I am particularly encouraged by this last beatitude. Both the Beatitudes of Jesus and those of Pope Francis, place stress on the attitude part of the word Be-attitude. What really matters is the attitude that we have as we serve God in our church community and in the communities that we live in.

Let’s look at what the Beatitudes mean.
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Poor in spirit’ means to be humble, to realise that all our blessings come from God’s grace, and to have poverty of spirit means to be completely empty and open to the Word of God. Humility brings an openness and an inner peace, which allows us to do the will of God.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
When we are humble and appreciate the gifts and blessings we have from God, we grow in love and gratitude for Jesus and all that He sacrificed for us. This in turn brings regret for our own sins and the sins of the world, and of course we also mourn over the suffering of others. But as the sentence continues we reminded that we will be comforted when we mourn. And so our mourning becomes a blessing.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Justice and righteousness in the New Covenant we have with Jesus, indicates the fulfilment of God’s will in our hearts and in our souls. It’s not just about observing God’s law, but more an expression of brotherly love towards one another. This should bring about in us a desire for social justice for all.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
If we have mercy, we are showing a loving care towards those who suffer distress. Love, compassion and forgiveness towards each other will bring peace in our relationships. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 25 ‘whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me.’

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Moses, John and Paul all say that no one can see God here on earth! However, Jesus says that the pure of heart shall see God! To be pure of heart means to be free from all selfish intentions and self-seeking desires. What a wonderful goal to aspire to, but how difficult to accomplish!

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
In the Gospel of John 14.27 Jesus gives us peace, ‘My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.’ Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Peacemakers not only live peaceful lives, but also try to bring peace and friendship to others and to preserve peace between God and Man.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Stephen, Peter and Paul, nearly all of the Apostles, and many Christians in the Roman era suffered martyrdom and it brought them the honour of Sainthood. We look to their lives today in our All Saints Service and give thanks for them and for the modern-day saints we encounter in our ordinary lives during these strange times of lockdown and the Coronavirus.

Following the Beatitudes is not easy. They challenge our human nature and challenge our attitudes to each other and to the world. In this passage we are being challenged by Jesus to become purer in heart, to try to always see the good in each other and to work for justice and peace whenever we can. Keep praying for the people and causes that you care about, and God will answer your prayer.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the communion of saints through which we are mysteriously united in Christ with those who have walked before us and with us in the faith. Although they now rest from their labours in your heavenly realm, we continually draw upon their indelible and living examples of excellence and holiness. We are grateful for the way they have shared their lives, struggles, faith, courage and acts of mercy during their lifetimes so that we might today live better lifetimes of joyful service to You in your kingdom. With them we pray in one accord, ‘Thy Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Preserve the vivid lessons of their deeds of heroic trust, healing compassion and sacrificial love and inspire our hearts to dare to follow in their fearless footsteps.

We pray for our ever-changing world. For an end to poverty, homelessness, and abuse of any kind. For a sharing of resources and an end to inequality. Lord help us to have compassion and give us an attitude of care and concern for those in need. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for an end to conflict, war, and greed. For peace among nations and peoples of every race, colour, and creed. For your love and peace to spread throughout the world. Lord help us to be peacemakers where we can and give us an attitude of fighting for justice in our troubled world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for all who are working to control the effects of the Coronavirus throughout the world. For all who work in the NHS, in Care Home settings, and in our community. For the development of a vaccine, with access for all to receive it. Lord help us to keep others safe and to follow guidelines in this present time of trouble. Give us an attitude of humility as we seek to serve you as best we can. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

As we remember the feast of All Souls, we pray for all of our family and friends who have gone before us and for those who have died as a result of the Coronavirus. We remember them before God now in the silence of our hearts. They may have gone from our sight, but they are not forgotten. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace, and rise in glory.
Heavenly Father, we make this prayer to you, the God of all nations, who calls us each to yourself that we might aspire to holiness and service in concert with the work of the saints of the ages. To you be glory and praise and honour for all time to come. Amen.

We finish by reading or singing along to George Matheson’s hymn played here by David. You may also want to reflect on this image of the saints by an unknown artist.

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain,
that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

George Matheson

Material for Worship on the Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind’. These words from the Book of Deuteronomy are part of the Shema, the daily confession of faith in the Jewish tradition, expressing absolute devotion to God. This is what Jesus naturally turns to when he is challenged to say which commandment is the greatest in Jewish law, but he also goes to the more obscure priestly handbook, Leviticus for a second commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. If we love God and put God first, that love will flow into our relationships with all others.

We are approaching the Season of Remembrance. Next Sunday we will celebrate All Saints and also, in the evening, remember and give thanks for those we have loved and lost. The following Sunday we will commemorate those who were killed in the two World Wars and all victims of armed conflict and also this year, all those who have died in service of others. We remember, not to dwell in the past, but in order to learn from it and to be inspired to work to build relationships of peace and justice in our world, starting right here in our own community. Today, inspired by the work of older pupils at St Mary’s School, we are going to have a look at our own past as a church in light of the two commandments at the heart of our faith. But first, let’s prepare ourselves for worship by reflecting on the new commandment given by Jesus at his last supper, to love one another as he loves us.

You are welcome to follow the words as David Sawyer plays the tune on the organ or to sing along.

A new commandment I give unto you,
that you love one another as I have loved you,
that you love one another as I have loved you.
By this shall all know you are my disciples
if you have love one for another.
By this shall all know that you are my disciples,
if you have love one for another.

A new commandment I give unto you …
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Without my help you can do nothing …

A new commandment I give unto you …
True love is patient, not arrogant nor boastful;
love bears all things, love is eternal …

Listen to our readings for today, Leviticus 19.1-2, 15-18 read by James Humphreys and Matthew’s Gospel 22.34-46 read by Jill Wisher.

The pandemic has held a mirror up to the world and forced us in recent months to see the reality of injustices of all kinds. We have become especially aware of racism in all its guises- from people of colour dying disproportionately of the virus to the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Black Lives Matter protests around the world have sparked a commitment among many of us to educate ourselves about Black history so that we can have a better understanding of the roots of racism and speak out against it. Last term, the older pupils at St Mary’s School chose the Slave Trade as their topic and researched into its history. The children also wanted to look at local links with slavery so they approached me to help them. Fresh from a seminar organised by the diocese on the Church’s response to racism and armed with Bill Inglis’ history of Dunblane, I set to work. I would like to share with you what the children and I discovered and consider how we may respond to it in the light of our Gospel reading.

The founders of St Mary’s were mostly local lairds, including Archibald Stirling of Keir and John Stirling of Kippendavie. Archibald Stirling’s grandfather, Sir James Stirling, 13th Laird of Keir, had 22 children and many debts. Because of this, several of his sons like many of their contemporaries, went to the West Indies to make their fortunes as traders. James the younger and his brother Robert became owners of a number of sugar plantations in Jamaica,. Their nephew, our Archibald, inherited these estates in 1783 when he was a young man and spent 20 years in Jamaica. In 1833, he was awarded compensation of over £12,000 for the emancipation of his enslaved labour-force – over a thousand men women and children. Archibald, who died in 1847 was involved in the planning and early development of St Mary’s. His son and heir William paid for the original rectory.

John Stirling of Kippendavie was the main benefactor of St Mary’s. He gifted the land and provided much of the £1,800 for the building of the church in 1845. He also paid for the building of the school to educate the children of the poor in Dunblane and supported many other local improvements. The money he used for these projects, however, derived from the fortune of over £146,000 he had inherited from his father, John Stirling the elder, who like the Stirlings of Keir had owned lucrative sugar plantations in Jamaica.

We are greatly indebted to these two men. Without them there probably wouldn’t have been a Scottish Episcopal Church in Dunblane and our much-loved building would certainly not have existed. But how do we respond to the fact that the wealth that they used to establish our church derives from an industry powered by the human misery of thousands of enslaved African men, women and children? In the Stirlings of Keir Archive are the annual financial accounts from their Hampden Plantation which record the revenue received from exporting sugar and rum and also lists the slaves owned by the estate. These documents give us a rare insight into the lives of these people brought over from west Africa in order to produce huge wealth for their masters.

Most infants born on the plantation didn’t survive but those who did would start working in the fields from the age of four or five weeding the sugar cane and collecting fodder for livestock. From their late teens to their early thirties, men and women would often work twelve-hour shifts six days a week, digging, planting, weeding, harvesting, grinding and boiling the sugar cane in scorching heat. Overseers used whips to violently force them to work as hard as possible. Living in a dangerous and disease-ridden environment on meagre rations of salt fish and meal, few survived into their fifties. They were literally worked to the grave and any sign of rebellion was met with a brutal response.

How do we respond to this? If we turn to today’s Gospel, the answer is clear. I invite you now and in the weeks and months ahead to think deeply and pray about your own response and what you think we as a church should do. The following prayers points may help to guide and inspire you.

Heavenly Father, you call us to love you with all our hearts, with all our soul and with all our mind, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
It is not possible for us to undo the wrongs of the past but we can learn lessons from our history and respond to injustice and violence of all kinds in our world today:
• the fact that 12.3 million people are living in slavery today, forced to work for little or no pay, some of them in our own towns and cities.
• the fact that due to the legacy of slavery, the face of a person in poverty usually belongs to a black person.
• the fact that the ideology of racism used to justify the enslavement of African people is still seen in aspects of modern day racism.
Give us the courage to challenge our own thinking and that of others.
Inspire us to speak out and act where we see an injustice.
Help us to reach out with compassion to all those who are suffering.

You may wish to finish your time of prayer by reflecting on Richard Gillard’s hymn as David plays the tune.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Material for Worship on the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Let us prepare for worship today by joining the psalmist in praising our faithful God whose promises to us are changeless and everlasting.

You can listen to David playing the tune as you read or sing James Quinn’s hymn based on Psalm 100.

Sing, all creation, sing to God in gladness,
joyously serve him, singing hymns of homage,
chanting his praises, come before his presence:
praise the Almighty!

Know that our God is Lord of all the ages;
he is our maker: we are all his creatures,
people he fashioned, sheep he leads to pasture:
praise the Almighty!

Enter his temple, ringing out his praises;
sing in thanksgiving as you come before him;
blessing his bounty, glorify his greatness:
praise the Almighty!

Great in his goodness is the Lord we worship;
steadfast his kindness, love that knows no ending;
faithful his word is, changeless, everlasting:
praise the Almighty!

Our readings for today are Isaiah 45. 1-7read by Hugh and Matthew 22.15-22 read by Gudrun.

The Ven Peter Potter introduces the Gospel reading for today, and helps us reflect on our ambivalent attitude towards money.

“Whose head is this?” Jesus asked the Pharisees. Still today the monarch’s head appears on our coins while in France and Switzerland you see Marianne or Vreni, the national icon in the form of a stylised female figure. The image on the “heads” side of a coin is more than a decoration; it stands for the power of the state to guarantee the coin’s value but also to proclaim the ruler’s authority wherever the coin is used even though he or she is not actually present.

Behind Jesus’ question lies another one which the Pharisees, being religious people, will have heard. Unfortunately our modern translations often fail to bring out the double edge to Jesus’ words. In the original Greek, the word Jesus used is not “head” but “icon”. The Authorised Version renders this as “image”, which is nearer the mark. It is also the word used to translate “icon” in the Genesis account of the creation of the first human beings. The Pharisees knew that God made us in his own image and so, behind the image (or face) of the emperor on the coin is the likeness of God and it follows that giving to the emperor cannot be easily separated from our primary duty to give to God.

Equally it imposes a duty on the emperor, i.e. the state, to act in a God-like manner, using its power and authority to act with justice, mercy and compassion, working for the good of all and especially of the poor and weak. This is also the message of Old Testament prophets like Amos and Hosea, who castigate the rulers of Israel for their neglect of this duty. Today the state and big business are often characterised as “faceless”, which would imply that they are not acting in a God-like manner and that they in turn regard their citizens, employers and customers as an anonymous mass rather than as individuals. This has the effect of turning society into a collection of strangers. Like the prophets of old, today’s religions must help us recognise the times when we see our common identity in the face of strangers.

“Whose image do you see?” This is a question we too need to ask ourselves in our everyday dealings with our fellow men and women. If we are made in the image of God then we must expect to see God in the face of each one we meet. Although our faces are unique, there are features we all have in common, something we recognise in each one of us that identifies us as human. Can we then recognise God’s image in one who is not exactly, or even closely, in our image? It is when humans have failed to do this that the greatest inhumanities have occurred. These instances of inhumanity are not matters of secular politics or economics – the things of Caesar; they are instances of failure to give to God the things that are God’s.

The monarch’s head on our coins is an image of authority, a sign that authority is present wherever and whenever we go about our daily lives. And the faces we meet in the street or see on our television screens are fragments of God’s image, signs that he is present in all our dealings with each other.

Intercessions

Let us reflect on our ambivalent attitude towards money: we know that we cannot do without it; we know that the lives of many would be improved if they had more money; but we also know that there are dishonest and dubious ways of gaining money; nor can money buy us health or happiness.

We give thanks for all God’s good gifts, including money that is the fruit of honest labour and wise stewardship.
We pray for all whose lives are blighted because they cannot earn enough to provide for themselves and their families.
Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done.

We give thanks for all who give their money generously for the mission of the Church, for the good of those in need and for the advancement of well-being.
We pray that all may receive a just reward for their labour, skills and contribution to society.
Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done.

We give thanks for all whose gifts of time, talents and treasure have benefitted us.
We pray for debt counsellors and others who are helping people in financial difficulty; and for victims of scams, fraud and theft.
Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done.

We give thanks for those who administer financial affairs with integrity and honesty.
We pray for all who campaign for tax justice, against tax havens and other schemes thatp deprive poorer nations of a rightful share of the profits from their resources.
Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done.

We give thanks for all God’s gifts that cannot be bought with money: for the beauty of creation, kind words and smiles, love and companionship. And above all for his grace freely given.
Lord, your Son declared that your kingdom has come among us. Open our eyes to see it in the face of friend and stranger; open our ears to hear it and our hands to work for it.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may want to finish your time of worship today by joining in with Edward J. Burns’s uplifting hymn, ‘We have a gospel to proclaim’.

Here is David playing the tune.

We have a gospel to proclaim,
good news for men in all the earth;
The gospel of a Saviour’s name:
we sing his glory, tell his worth.

Tell of his birth at Bethlehem,
not in a royal house or hall
but in a stable dark and dim,
the Word made flesh, a light for all.

Tell of his death at Calvary,
hated by those he came to save,
in lonely suffering on the cross;
for all he loved his life he gave.

Tell of that glorious Easter morn,
empty the tomb, for he was free.
He broke the power of death and hell
that we might share his victory.

Tell of his reign at God’s right hand,
by all creation glorified.
He sends his Spirit on his Church,
to live for him, the Lamb who died.

Now we rejoice to name him King:
Jesus is Lord of all the earth.
This gospel-message we proclaim:
we sing his glory, tell his worth.

Material for Worship on the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nerys reflects on one of the most challenging of Jesus’ parables.

As we come to the end of the Church Year, the Gospel passages in our lectionary become darker and even more challenging. In these difficult times, it would be easy to focus on comforting words. Today’s story of the Wedding Feast is one of the most startling and striking of Jesus’s parables but I hope that we will find in its message encouragement for each one of us as individuals and as a church. It certainly inspired Edward Plumptre, the author of ‘Thy hand, O God, has guided’. You may wish to reflect on the words of his well-known hymn as you prepare your hearts for worship.

Thy hand, O God, has guided
thy flock, from age to age;
their wondrous tale is written,
full clear, on every page;
thy people owned thy goodness,
and we their deeds record;
and both of this bear witness:
one church, one faith, one Lord.

Thy heralds brought glad tidings
to greatest as to least;
they bade men rise, and hasten
to share the great King’s feast;
and this was all their teaching,
in every deed and word,
to all alike proclaiming
one church, one faith, one Lord.

And we, shall we be faithless?
Shall hearts fail, hands hang down?
Shall we evade the conflict,
and cast away our crown?
Not so: in God’s deep counsels
some better thing is stored;
we will maintain, unflinching,
one church, one faith, one Lord.

Thy mercy will not fail us,
nor leave thy work undone;
with thy right hand to help us,
thy victory shall be won;
and then, by all creation
thy name shall be adored,
and this shall be their anthem:
one church, one faith, one Lord.

Jesus had entered Jerusalem, had turned the tables in the Temple and was healing and teaching there when the chief priests and elders came to him asking questions, hoping to catch him out. Our Gospel reading today is part of Jesus’ response to them.
Listen to Judith reading Matthew 22.1-14

As men of learning, the religious leaders would have instantly understood the significance of the wedding feast thrown by a king in honour of his son. They would have been very familiar with our Old Testament reading for today, a remarkable vision of the great feast laid on by God at the end of history.
Listen to Davie reading Isaiah 25.1-9.

According to Isaiah, the feast was intended for all people but over the centuries the Jewish view of the banquet had narrowed until, in Jesus’ day, it was thought that only those who observed the Law would be worthy to attend it. These, of course, are the chosen guests of the parable who are sent invitations by the King but who refuse to come, ignoring or abusing the messengers and insulting the Son. This is because Jesus’ view of God’s banquet was very different from theirs. For Jesus, the feast had already begun. He, the Messiah, had already entered Jerusalem but the pious people of the city who had waited so long for his arrival, didn’t want to know and were preparing to reject him.

This is a dire last-minute warning to Israel’s leaders who were running the risk of excluding themselves and their followers from the opportunity to receive God’s grace and to enjoy his presence in their lives. Instead, the king now invites anyone who wishes to come to be his guests. Good and bad alike are welcomed.

You may want to reflect on Sieger Köder depiction of the joyful scene.

This, however, is not the end of the story in Matthew. There is a final scene which seems to present a contradictory and unexpectedly severe view of God. The idea that the king has a man thrown out of the wedding hall because he’s not wearing the proper clothes seems terribly unfair until we learn that the custom probably was for the host to provide wedding gowns for all the guests so that they could join in the celebration. Despite being invited to the banquet, this man refuses the king’s gift. He makes no effort to change and this, I think, is the point of the parable.

God who is love, accepts us all as we are. God who knows all about us, delights in us. But as we spend time in God’s company we are expected to change. When the blind and lame came to Jesus he healed them. When the prostitutes and tax collectors came, his love reached out to them where they were but that love refused to let them remain unchanged. And the same goes for us. God’s grace is free but it does require a response. We are expected to change, to allow God to renew and transform us. St Paul writes of being clothed with Christ, being clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, being clothed with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

I wonder if we are ready to allow our Servant King to change us and the way we live, and also to transform our church?

As you ponder this you may wish to listen to David playing the tune of ‘Servant King’.

From heaven you came, helpless babe,
entered our world, your glory veiled;
not to be served, but to serve,
and give your life that we might live.

This is our God, the Servant King,
he calls us now to follow him,
to bring our lives as a daily offering
of worship to The Servant King.

There in the garden of tears,
my heavy load he chose to bear;
his heart with sorrow was torn,
‘Yet not My will but yours,’ he said.

Come see his hands and his feet,
the scars that speak of sacrifice,
hands that flung stars into space
to cruel nails surrendered.

So let us learn how to serve,
and in our lives enthrone him;
each other’s needs to prefer,
for it is Christ we’re serving.
Graham Kendrick

Let us pray for our world:
for those in positions of authority and influence …
for those caring for others …
for those whose businesses or livelihoods are affected by this week’s restrictions …

Let us pray for those in need:
for those who face an uncertain future …
for those who sick in mind, body or spirit …
for those who are grieving …

Let us pray for the Church:
that we may remain connected with Christ and with each other …
that we may pray for and support anyone who is struggling …
that, called to God’s feast, we may be ready to be changed by him.

Collect for today
O Lord, since without you we cannot please you: let the work of your mercy in all things guide our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Material for Worship for Harvest Thanksgiving

Nerys invites you to reflect on the year that has passed.

Good morning. In Jean-François Millet‘s painting, ‘The Angelus’, a couple are called by the church bell to stop and pray as they gather in the potato harvest. As you come into the presence of our loving God, I invite you to pause and look back over this extraordinary year.

This year has been marked by terrible suffering and loss which has affected each one of us. Before we give thanks for all the blessings we have received, we need to acknowledge our grief before God. You may wish to use this prayer of lament based on Psalm 102.

Listen to our lament God. Hear our cry for help. When we are in trouble don’t turn away from us. Answer us when we call.

Your world is weeping, God. The ice is melting. The fires are burning. Your creatures are losing their homes.

Your world is in despair, God. Our wealth and knowledge are not enough. A virus is taking our away our breath.

Your world is dying, God. As ever the poor are suffering most. Their scarce resources are spent.

We lie awake watching screens. We are like lonely birds on housetops. You are picking us up and throwing us away. We are fading like evening shadows. We are dry grass.

Hear our groans, God. Listen to our lament. We are in trouble. Don’t turn your back on us. Answer us when we call. Amen. (Ruth Burgess)

We also need to acknowledge our part in what’s going on – to confess our forgetfulness of the needs of the poor and repent of the ways in which we waste the resources of the world.

God our Father, we are sorry for the times when we have used your gifts carelessly, and acted ungratefully. Hear our prayer, and in your mercy: forgive us and help us.
We enjoy the fruits of the harvest, but sometimes forget that you have given them to us.
We belong to a people who are full and satisfied, but ignore the cry of the hungry.
We are thoughtless, and do not care enough for the world you have made.
We store up goods for ourselves alone, as if there were no God and no heaven.
Father, in your mercy: forgive us and help us. Amen.

In the midst of the pandemic and the natural disasters that have beset our world this year, we have enjoyed many blessings given to us by our faithful God. Take a moment to bring to mind some of the good things you have enjoyed as well as blessings you may have taken for granted and give thanks.

We have looked back, over the year, acknowledging our grief and our guilt and given thanks to God through our tears. Our psalm for today, encourages us to go out and sow those tears like seeds so that with God’s help, a harvest of joy can be brought out of them.
Listen to Mary Birch reading Psalm 126.

The Gospel reading, is taken from the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is addressing a large crowd and from what he is saying to them we build up a picture of a fairly settled, law-abiding people. They are not so well off that they are cushioned from day-to-day worry entirely, but they have some savings and some education, and they are reasonably satisfied with their lives. What Jesus is saying to them is provocative and challenging. He is opening their minds to the possibility of a new attitude to life. He is calling on them not to be anxious about material things. These can be left to God who knows what we need. Instead they are to seek God’s kingdom and follow a pattern of right living, seeing the world through the eyes of compassion.
Listen to David Faunce Smith reading Matthew 6.25-34.

In uncertain times, like the ones we’re living through, it is difficult not to worry about our lives and about our future, but Jesus is right. Worry doesn’t gain us anything. Worry is like a heavy weight which drags us down and disables us. It prevents us from enjoying what we have and from being loving and generous towards others. It is not easy to be free of worrying. In my experience it can take many years of unlearning and of building up trust in our loving God. As followers of a crucified Messiah, we can’t expect life to be always easy. That isn’t Christ’s promise to us. What we are promised is that we will know the loving care of God throughout our lives and beyond. Trusting in that promise, releases us to live freely even in the darkest of days, with the expectation that God will bring a harvest of joy out of our grief.

Matthias Claudius, the author of the famous Harvest hymn, ‘We plough the fields and scatter’, returned to the Christian faith of his youth after a period of serious illness. You may wish to use his words as a prayer to reaffirm your trust in God’s provision for you. Here is David Sawyer playing the tune.

We plough the fields and scatter
the good seed on the land,
but it is fed and watered
by God’s almighty hand:
he sends the snow in winter,
the warmth to swell the grain,
the breezes and the sunshine,
and soft, refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above;
then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,
for all his love.

He only is the Maker
of all things near and far;
he paints the wayside flower,
he lights the evening star;
the winds and waves obey him,
by him the birds are fed;
much more to us, his children,
he gives our daily bread.

We thank thee then, O Father,
for all things bright and good,
the seed time and the harvest,
our life, our health, our food.
Accept the gifts we offer
for all thy love imparts,
with what thou most desirest,
our humble, thankful hearts.

Take a moment to pray for the world, for those who suffer and those in need, and for the Church.

You will find on the Church Website details of how to contribute to Start-up Stirling which provides Starter Packs to people who are entering into new tenancies, following homelessness or a crisis, and to Christian Aid’s Autumn Appeal which aims to help communities around the world living in poverty which are facing crisis due to Covid 19 and also Climate Change.

Collect
Almighty and eternal God, you crown the year with your goodness and give us the fruits of the earth in their season: grant that we may use them to your glory; so that none may hunger, none may thirst, and all may cherish the gifts of your creation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

You may wish to join in with Mary singing the final hymn of our service this morning.

For the fruits of all creation,
thanks be to God;
for these gifts to every nation,
thanks be to God;
for the ploughing, sowing, reaping,
silent growth while we are sleeping,
future needs in earth’s safe-keeping,
thanks be to God.

In the just reward of labour,
God’s will is done;
in the help we give our neighbour,
God’s will is done;
in our world-wide task of caring
for the hungry and despairing,
in the harvest we are sharing,
God’s will is done.

For the harvests of the Spirit,
thanks be to God;
for the good we all inherit,
thanks be to God;
for the wonders that astound us,
for the truths that still confound us,
most of all that love has found us,
thanks be to God.
Frederick Pratt Green

Material for Worship on the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Good morning. Those of you who are unable to be in church or follow the service online are very much part of the worshipping community of St. Mary’s and I hope that you find the reflection and prayers below helpful to you. The readings this morning are taken from Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2.1-13 and the Gospel of Matthew 21.23-32. Moira

How would you describe the God of the Old Testament? In parts he comes over as being a gentle God, someone who is busy being Creator and caring for his people, a father figure gently admonishing and encouraging. In other passages he is more like an angry God, judging those who do wrong and who disobey his laws, and he certainly has justification in the way he is provoked by his people. However, in the Gospel passages, as we hear of the ministry of Jesus, things begin to change. We can see that God works quietly, changing the lives of those who will hear his word and who listen to his voice. He is honoured by obedience, and not by words of approval and acceptance that have no results.

In last weeks’ Gospel passage we saw that God is the one who gives us our reward. Not by looking at what we say we might do, or what we might be, but by looking into our hearts and seeing our intentions for what they are. We were reminded that God’s ways are not our ways. In our passage for today, the Pharisees have a problem in seeing just who Jesus is. They are known to be knowledgeable in their understanding of religion, and yet they are demanding to know where Jesus’ authority comes from.

Their curiosity doesn’t phase Jesus, and he replies with a question for the Pharisees, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” John the Baptist had puzzled them, and now this man was agitating them by healing and preaching without a licence. To top it all, Jesus now asked them a question which caused arguments to break out as to what the correct answer would be. No matter what they answered, from heaven or from human origin, Jesus would have a ready reply for them. If they said “Heaven” then Jesus, by right would ask why they hadn’t believed John and if they replied “by human origin”, then the followers of John assembled in the temple would be angry as they thought of John as a prophet. They were caught between a rock and a hard place and had to answer “we do not know.”

Since the Pharisees didn’t answer the question that Jesus set them, he declined to answer their question about his authority. It was obvious that the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus and instead of falling into their trap, Jesus turned their question against them and made them their own accusers. If they could not cope with the uncertainty they had about John, the forerunner of Jesus, how could they understand the status of the one whose coming he had prophesied? Once again, Jesus turned things upside down and put the ball squarely in the Pharisees court! Sometimes the silences of Jesus, when he calmly turned questions around and then stood in silence, were as powerful as when he spoke. Those who don’t respond to the signs of God at work in the world and in the personal lives of those around them, will never be satisfied by theological arguments.

What does Jesus do next? He does what he so often did in these situations to try to make people listen and think about his words. He told a parable. In this short parable, we have once again a vineyard owner, but this time he is looking for help from his sons. The first son is quick to respond to his father’s request for help with a straightforward “no!” However, later he changed his mind and went to work with the vines. The second son seemed to be quite happy to help his father and immediately said, “Yes” he would go and work with the vines, but somehow he didn’t get round to doing what he said he would do! Jesus then posed another question. “Which of the two sons did the will of his father?”

Of course, the Pharisees replied, “the first,” no doubt because he took action, albeit after some time, and did the work. So if they could see by his actions that the first son did the will of his father, why couldn’t they see where Jesus’ authority came from by Jesus’ actions in healing and preaching in the Temple? Why also could they not see that John had come in the way of righteousness – why could they not believe him when even the tax collectors and prostitutes did? Jesus points out that even after the Pharisees saw who John was, they didn’t change their minds and believe him.

Once again this parable shows us that God sees what is really in our hearts and not in what we say we are going to do and then fail to do it. God doesn’t want us to be like the Pharisees who argued amongst themselves and against others about the smallest detail of the Law. He wants us to live in unity with one another, building each other up in his love.

In the letter of Paul to the Philippians, Paul was encouraging his readers to be compassionate, to have sympathy and to be of the same mind. He says, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

As we continue to live through this Covid pandemic and once more have restrictions placed on our lives, especially our lives with our families, it is important that we listen to the words of Paul and keep thinking of others as we wear our masks and avoid meeting up indoors. If we know that someone is struggling with living on their own or from worrying about catching the virus, although we maybe can’t physically be with them to give them a reassuring hug, we can call them and have a chat. Sometimes all it takes are a few encouraging words or maybe just a listening ear, to help someone through a difficult time.

Jesus helped the Pharisees through their difficulty on the question of where the authority of John came from – heaven or from human origin – by telling them a parable to help them see what they couldn’t see before. He turned their question against them and made them their own accusers. God was at work in John the Baptist, yet the Pharisees couldn’t see it. This week let us ask God to open our eyes so that we can see Him at work in those around us, and to encourage and build up each other in His love.

Let us pray

God of Creation, we come to you asking for your forgiveness for all that pollutes the earth and our lack of care for the world you created. Help us to be more mindful of how we use precious resources, to help sustain them for future generations. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of love, we come to you just as we are, flaws and all and ask that you would help us to show your love to all we meet in our daily lives. We give you thanks for all who care for others, all who risk their lives to save others and all who try to bring others to know your unconditional love. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of mercy, we ask your forgiveness for anything we have said or done that does not please you. Help us to be mindful of the feelings of others and to remember that we cannot possibly know what other people are going through in their lives. As you are merciful, make us always ready to be merciful to others and to always be ready to forgive. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of humility, help us to remember that in your eyes all are equal and that we are not any more deserving of your grace than others. We pray that you would give to us a servant heart and keep us walking in humility at all times. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God our Father, we pray this day for all who are fearful, all who are anxious and all who are struggling to feed their families. We pray for healing for those who are ill and in a moment of silence we pray for those we know who are on our minds. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Eternal God, keep us, and all those we love, safe each day, that we might be refreshed and ready to share the good news of your Gospel with those we meet. Amen

Material for Worship on the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Good morning. We hope that you are finding these materials helpful as you worship at home. This week the eucharist will be celebrated in private at 8.30 a.m. with prayers said for the whole community of Dunblane, for Scotland and for the world. Nerys will officiate at the morning service in church which will be livestreamed on our Facebook page at 10.30 a.m. while Revd Moira Jamieson will lead the night service using Celtic-style prayers and music. If you wish to attend any of our services, please get in touch with Sue at services @ stmarysdunblane.org

Let us start our time of worship this morning by giving thanks to God for each other and for all the blessings we have enjoyed this week.

There seems to be a lot of grumbling going on at the moment in the media and on our streets. I know that many things are wrong in our world and it is important to speak out but it is easy to have a grumbling attitude towards everyone and everything, including God.

There’s a lot of grumbling in today’s readings which, taken together, challenge us to think about our own attitude and to reflect on God’s attitude towards us.

You’ll all be familiar with the story of the reluctant prophet Jonah who gets swallowed up by a big fish after running away from God’s calling. In our reading today from the last part of the story, Jonah 3.10-4.11, read here by John, the author’s satirical intent becomes very obvious. We find Jonah grumbling because, when he eventually gets to the city of Nineveh and speaks to the people, they actually listen to him and repent and God lets them off from the punishment Jonah thinks they deserve. You may want to spend some time with this image ‘Jonah and the Gourd Vine’ by Jack Baumgartner which encompasses the whole story.

‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ is the question God asks Jonah twice in this passage. Jonah knows that God is merciful and gracious but he doesn’t like it and wants no part in it. In his mind the people of Nineveh deserve to be punished and because of that he is unable to rejoice in their change of heart. He has forgotten how disobedient he himself had been and how merciful God was towards him. He is angry at what he sees as the injustice of the situation. He thinks he knows exactly what God should do and is annoyed that God’s approach is different. God, however, doesn’t give up on grumpy old Jonah. God continues to try to change his heart and help him to see things through the eyes of love. God doesn’t share our ideas about who are deserving and who aren’t. God doesn’t only care for those we think he ought to but for all God’s children. As Jonah himself admits, God is always ‘gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love’.

Jesus experienced the same grumbling attitude when he started living out God’s love on earth, especially from the religious leaders who thought they knew better how he ought to behave and with whom he should spend his time. In his teaching, Jesus tries to help us grasp something of the nature of God’s love for us which is so much wider and more far-reaching than we can imagine. We see it in our Gospel reading today, which is traditionally known as the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard but should maybe be called the Parable of the Generous Employer. Listen to Gudrun reading Matthew 20.1-16:

The first lot of workers are happy to agree to a day’s wage but later resent the fact that the employer gives the same amount to the last lot who only worked an hour. It is natural to think that this is not fair, but the employer is looking at it quite differently. ‘Are you envious because I am generous?’ is his response to their grumbling. He sees the needs of all the men in the market place and wants to provide for them all. For a hired worker to be unemployed even for a day was a disaster. They and their families would go hungry. This is why the employer returns in person to the market time after time to seek them.

His behaviour is unexpected and open to criticism and so, Jesus implies, is God’s attitude towards us. It’s easy to forget that not a single one of us deserves God’s love. It is a generous, costly gift which doesn’t depend in any way on human merit. In God’s kingdom ‘the last will be first and the first will be last’. So, the next time we see God’s generosity in evidence, however much of a surprise it is to us, let’s not grumble about its unsuitability but rejoice with the angels at his amazing love and let’s seek to imitate it in our own lives.

You are invited to listen to Hazel singing ‘King of kings, majesty’.

King of kings, majesty,
God of Heaven living in me,
gentle Saviour, closest friend,
strong deliverer, beginning and end,
all within me falls at your throne.

Your majesty, I can but bow,
I lay my all before you now.
In royal robes I don’t deserve
I live to serve your majesty.

Earth and Heaven worship you,
love eternal, faithful and true,
who bought the nations, ransomed souls,
brought this sinner near to your throne;
all within me cries out in praise.

Your majesty, I can but bow,
I lay my all before you now.
In royal robes I don’t deserve
I live to serve your majesty.
Jarrod Cooper

Let’s pray to our loving God for a change of heart, an awakening of a more generous way of living and the courage to reject wrong attitudes that diminish us.

Increase in us love, not only for the victims but also for the perpetrators of evil and violence.

Help us to better understand offenders and give us compassion to support them.

Help us to pray for all governments which run on corruption and fear and to speak out for justice.

Encourage us to recognise the needy in our community and to respond with generous hospitality.

Deepen our love towards our own families and friends and prompt us to pray and act as you would do.

Today’s Collect
O Lord, let your constant compassion cleanse and strengthen your Church: and since, without you, we cannot continue in safety, may we ever be governed by your grace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Material for Worship on the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Today Nerys will be celebrating the Eucharist at 8.30 a.m. and leading the Evening Service while Jeanette will be preaching at the Morning Service. Here is Jeanette’s reflection on today’s readings followed by prayers written by Jayne Manfredi which were spotted by Sheila Redwood in the Church Times.

Today both our bible readings are about forgiveness, very different stories with the same theme. First we have Joseph’s brothers getting scared in case Joseph takes revenge on them now that their Father has died, as they cannot believe that he has really forgiven them for what they did to him when they sold him into Egypt.

Listen to Matthew reading Genesis 50:15-21. (Matthew is reading for the first time in church.)

Our Gospel story first tells us of Peter’s question to Jesus, “How many times should I forgive?” which results in Jesus telling the parable of the slave who although he had been forgiven refused to forgive a fellow slave.

Listen to Peter reading Matthew 18.21-35.

Our picture is Sieger Köder’s depiction of the Return of the Prodigal, a powerful picture showing strong emotions. That is our problem with forgiveness, it does evoke strong emotions, and it is not easy, either for the person forgiving or the person forgiven. Even harder when the person who has hurt us refuses to admit it or does not think they have done anything wrong. Yet Jesus puts forgiveness at the heart of our relationship with God. Every time we say the Lord’s prayer we pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” The one is dependent on the other. If we cannot forgive what other people do which hurts us, then we place ourselves in the position of not being able to receive forgiveness. There are times when that puts us between a rock and a hard place, for it is not easy to forgive when we feel really hurt by what someone has done to or said about us but that is what we are called to do, seventy seven times, effectively saying, don’t even bother to count, just keep doing it.

I think I find it harder sometimes to forgive someone who has harmed someone I care about; how dare they! I remember having a great deal of difficulty forgiving someone who’s ill treatment of a friend of mine resulted in them losing their job. I was furious, it was so unjust. She, bless her magnanimous heart, had forgiven them long before I managed to do so, though I did try!

One thing is for sure, forgiveness is not easy, and we can only find the strength to do it with God’s help. Remember we follow the Way of Jesus who prayed “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing”, as they nailed him to the cross. That is the model we follow, after all the first disciples were called the followers of The Way, and we follow in their footsteps as we walk in the way of Jesus, and we too are called to forgive those who wrong us or mistreat us.
The flip side of all this is that we are not to become doormats either. We are not to let people just walk over us and what we stand for. We still need to stand up and work for good stewardship of the earth we have been given, and for justice and equality in our world. In the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu,

Goodness is stronger that evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours, victory is ours
through him who loves us.

With God’s help we can do this, we can forgive and yet stand firm for the things we believe in – and we will!

As you pause to reflect, you may want to listen to Moira playing ‘As water to the thirsty’ by David Haas.

As water to the thirsty,
as beauty to the eyes,
as strength that follows weakness,
as truth instead of lies,
as songtime and springtime
and summertime to be,
so is my Lord,
my living Lord,
so is my Lord to me.

Like calm in place of clamour,
like peace that follows pain,
like meeting after parting,
like sunshine after rain,
like moonlight and starlight
and sunlight on the sea,
so is my Lord,
my living Lord,
so is my Lord to me.

As sleep that follows fever,
as gold instead of grey,
as freedom after bondage,
as sunrise to the day,
as home to the traveller
and all we long to see,
so is my Lord,
my living Lord,
so is my Lord to me.

Beatitudes for a Global Pandemic
Blessed are those who stay indoors for they have protected others.

Blessed are the unemployed and the self-employed, for their need of God is great.

Blessed are the corner shopkeepers, for they are the purveyors
of scarce things.

Blessed are the delivery drivers and the postal workers, for they
are the bringers of essential things.

Blessed are the hospital workers; the ambulance crews, the doctors, the nurses, the care assistants, and the cleaners, for they stand between us and the grave, and the Kingdom of Heaven is surely theirs.

Blessed are the checkout workers, for they have patience and fortitude in the face of overwork and frustration.

Blessed are the refuse collectors, for they will see God despite the mountains of waste.

Blessed are the teachers, for they remain steadfast and constant in disturbing times.

Blessed are the church workers; the deacons, priests and bishops, for they are a comforting presence in a hurting world as they continue to signpost towards God.

Blessed are the single parents, for they are coping alone with their responsibilities and there is no respite.

Blessed are those who are alone, for they are children of God and with Him they will never be lonely.

Blessed are the bereaved, for whom the worst has already happened. They shall be comforted.

Blessed are those who are isolated with their abusers, for one day – we pray – they will know safety.

Blessed are all during this time who have pure hearts; all who still hunger and thirst for justice; all who work for peace and who model mercy. May you know comfort. May you know calm. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all. Amen.

Material for Worship on the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Today Revd Jeanette Allan is celebrating the eucharist in church at 8.30 a.m. today and the Ven. Peter Potter is taking the Morning and Night Services while Nerys is away. Here is Peter’s reflection for today followed by a framework for intercession.

‘Eat out to help out’ seems to have been a success. I’m sure that offering a discount on take-away meals would not have had the same effect. Perhaps this thought helps explain the excitement and emotion that accompanied last Sunday’s resumption of services at St Mary’s. Live-streaming and the other technologies are all very well, but everyone I’ve met agrees that they’re not the same. Eating at home feeds the body of course but it does not provide the experience of eating out. In the same way, prayer at home is vital for our spiritual health but it cannot be a substitute for worship in church.

Worship is not ‘the flight of the alone to the Alone’, to quote Plotinus, a pagan philosopher. It is a shared experience that requires an ekklesia, the Greek word used in today’s Gospel reading for ‘church’. It signifies a congregation or gathering rather than a building, although you can’t really have the one without the other. Matthew 8.15-20 is part of a section on how the members of the church should behave towards each other and the passage from Romans 13 broadens this out into our conduct in general. We’ve all heard the argument “I can just as easily worship God at home on my own” but, as these last months have shown us, this individualistic attitude is not sustainable. From the very beginning the Bible stresses the importance of community and mutual responsibility: ‘It is not good for man to be alone’. (By the way, in Hebrew this sentence is gender inclusive.)

Listen to Mary and Anthony reading the passages: Romans 13.8-14; Matthew 8.15-20

People are sometimes put off from church because, they say, they don’t get anything out of the services. Well, yes, a service can sometimes fall flat and clergy do have off-days – Guilty as charged m’lud. But that is not the point. Worship involves the offering of each of us to God and God’s offering of himself to us. It is a two-way street, as the language of the liturgy makes clear. We speak about us and you/thee. We say ‘Our Father’, not ‘My Father’.

Some people who don’t go to church also argue that God must be like an oriental despot who requires his subjects to fall down and praise or flatter him. But that is easily countered once we realise the two-way nature of worship. By his presence in worship God not only accepts our praises but also ascribes worth to us. We can take this further. With its elements of mutual forgiveness, healing, peace and sharing, the gathering for worship is a model, a vision of the kind of community for which God created us.

This is a rather roundabout way of saying that worship gives us a vision of God’s kingdom, a trailer for the main picture if you like. Our weekly celebration reinforces this pattern, so that we can put it into practice in our daily life.

You are invited to sing or follow the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn and use it a prayer. Here is David playing the tune.

Jesus, Lord, we look to thee,
let us in thy name agree:
show thyself the Prince of peace;
bid our strife for ever cease.

Make us of one heart and mind,
gentle, pitiful, and kind,
lowly, meek in thought and word,
altogether like our Lord.

Let us for each other care,
each the other’s burdens bear;
to thy church the pattern give,
show how true believers live.

Free from anger and from pride,
let us thus in God abide;
all the depths of love express,
all the heights of holiness.
Charles Wesley

For intercession:
• the Church, that is all who gather for worship wherever they are
• all who would come to join in worship but are prevented from doing so for whatever reason
• the clergy and others who lead worship
• wisdom to know how we can best ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord’
• students returning or starting at universities and colleges
• Belarus, the USA, Yemen and other trouble spots in the world
• people who have been made redundant or whose jobs are at risk

Material for Worship on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

As you prepare yourself for worship today, knowing that I, Nerys, am celebrating the eucharist at 8.30 and that some of the congregation are meeting in the church for services at 10.30 and at 8 p.m., I wonder how you feel? If there’s anything that’s troubling you, take a moment now to offer it to our Lord. If there’s anything that you are grateful for, offer that also.

Before listening to James reading our Gospel for today, you are invited to explore this painting by Paolo Emilio Besenzi. I wonder if you recognise the subject from his appearance or from the objects included in the picture? In today’s passage he is a much younger man with none of the inner peace suggested in this image. In fact, he’s the one from among the disciples who most often gets it wrong – who speaks without thinking, takes leaps of faith only to stumble, makes great promises only to break them. In last week’s Gospel he was the one who proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah and was rewarded with a powerful blessing and the keys of the kingdom of heaven. In this week’s passage, Matthew 16.21-28, he is cursed: the rock, the foundation stone of the church, becomes a stumbling block to Christ.

Peter is the most human of the disciples, struggling to understand Jesus and to follow in his way. I wonder what Matthew wants us, his readers, to learn from him? Peter is blessed, not through any virtue or wisdom of his own but because of his love of Jesus and his readiness to follow him. Are we, perhaps, being reminded that blessedness is not about being perfect but about being willing – willing to speak out, to take a risk, to allow Christ to speak and act through us?

Peter, despite his failings, did follow Jesus and obey him to the end, literally taking up his cross and losing his life for his Lord. I wonder what it means for us as individuals and as a church to take up our cross and follow Christ, to lose our life in order to find it?

Listen to Ramanie reading today’s passage from the letter to the Romans, 12.9-21 which fleshes out Christ’s call. Paul’s instructions give us guidance for a life of daily self-sacrifice. It would have been a revolutionary new way of imagining community for the early Christians in Rome where love was usually reserved for family and the needs of the poor were ignored. This list is challenging for us too. Read it slowly pausing after each command to reflect on how it might relate to your life and to the life of our church.

Our human reaction to Paul’s words may well be the same as Peter’s reaction to the words of Jesus as he explained what being the Messiah means. Surely there must be a less difficult way to live our lives? It’s easy for us to miss, like Peter did, the last part of Jesus’s message. Yes, he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and be killed but on the third day he would be raised to life.

I wonder if you asked yourself when you were reflecting at Besenzi’s picture of St. Peter what or who he was looking at? I like to imagine that in his mind’s eye Peter is seeing his risen Lord. Maybe he is recalling that last encounter on the shore of Galilee which must have brought him such peace and hope and renewed purpose. Like Peter, we can have that peace and hope and sense of purpose as we imitate and follow the risen Christ even when it is difficult.

Let us pray.

Thank you, Lord, that you do not call us to anything without also giving us the resources to cope. You do not ask us to go anywhere you haven’t been. Renew our commitment to your loving in all our relationships, our work and our prayer. In the hard choices, give us wisdom, in the painful decisions, affirm us, and may our words speak your truth, whether that is to encourage, to comfort or to challenge. Be with us, Lord, as we take up our cross and follow you. Amen.

You are welcome to use the following framework for your prayers of intercession.

Let us ask our loving Lord

to give wisdom to all those in positions of influence and power …

to encourage those who are living or working selflessly for the good of others …

to bring healing and wholeness to those who are suffering in body, mind or spirit …

to sustain all who are persecuted for their faith …

to bless those we love and hear our prayers for them …

Almighty and merciful God, by whose grace alone your faithful people offer you service and praise: grant that we may hasten without stumbling towards the things that you promise; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

The morning service in church today will finish with ‘At the name of Jesus’ on the organ with the congregation silently following the words. At home, you are welcome to sing along if you wish! Here is David playing the tune.

At the name of Jesus
every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him
King of Glory now:
’tis the Father’s pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.

Humbled for a season,
to receive a name
from the lips of sinners
unto whom he came,
faithfully he bore it
spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious,
when from death he passed.

Name him, Christians, name him,
with love strong as death,
but with awe and wonder,
and with bated breath:
he is God the Saviour,
he is Christ the Lord,
ever to be worshipped,
trusted, and adored.

Surely, this Lord Jesus
shall return again,
with his Father’s glory,
with his angel train;
for all wreaths of empire
meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him
King of Glory now.
Caroline M. Noel

Material for Worship on the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Thank you to Rev. Moira Jamieson for the reflection and prayers this morning. Nerys

As we share in worship this morning and reflect on our two readings while Nerys is celebrating the Eucharist on our behalf, we focus on the building up of the church, the community of believers, and the way that we share Christ’s Gospel with others. Next week some of us will have the opportunity to begin once again to worship together in church (with guidelines in place). No matter if we are in the church building or at home, we will still come together as a worshipping community, building each other up in faith, hope, and love.

Listen to our readings. Romans 12.1-8 is read by Kath Smallman…

…and Matthew 16.13-20 by Rob Smallman:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build up my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. With these words from our Gospel passage this morning, Jesus is beginning to build up his church, and he is doing it using his apostles as the foundation. Through their spreading of the Word, they will be used by God to make his church stronger. In John 17.17, Jesus says, ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, [his disciples] but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word’.

This is how we, as disciples of Christ can help to build up his church in our own communities. By witnessing to the truth of the Gospel and speaking about its message of saving grace and salvation, we can perhaps help those who are struggling with their faith or who do not yet know God, to decide to follow him. It is not just by sharing the Good News that we can bring people closer to God, but often it’s by the example of God at work in our lives. By our example, the way we live our lives, we might find that others come to a realisation of God and his love for them.

In this Gospel passage, Jesus is preparing his disciples to be the building blocks on which his church is to be built. He promises that his spiritual church will never cease to be—there will always be Christian people here on earth. That doesn’t mean that we should sit back and do nothing, God still needs us to help build up his church, and he needs us to be ‘salt and light’ in our communities. If our hearts are full of God’s love and we show that God is part of our lives, it shouldn’t be too hard a task.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he begins with an exhortation, an appeal to the church in Rome, and he does this through the mercy of God. He tells the church, and us today, that not only is our salvation dependent on God’s mercy, but that the Christian life also grows out of that mercy. Our spiritual worship, when it is true and acceptable to God, helps to build up not only the worshipping community, but others whose lives we touch and encounter each day. When we receive grace from God, it remains active in our lives and we can show that same grace to others. Therefore, Paul’s exhortation is about us living a life that is appropriate to our status of grace received, by the mercy of God, and to live as one who has been saved.

The grace and mercy that we are shown by God is not something that we should keep to ourselves, instead we need to give thanks to God for his saving grace and offer up ourselves to God in his service. As we say in our Liturgy each week, ‘and with them ourselves, a single, holy, living sacrifice [to God]’. At my ordination in 2009, I chose a hymn that was special to me, ‘Take My Life And Let It Be’. This hymn was written by Frances Havergal after a wonderful experience of God’s mercy moving in the lives of those around her. The words tell the story of a life offered to God. It is almost a great shopping list of the things that Frances was thankful to God for and which she wanted to offer up in gratefulness. Listen to Moira Langston playing the tune and sing along if you wish.

Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee;
take my moments and my days,
let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move
at the impulse of thy love;
take my feet, and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing
always, only, for my King;
Take my lips, and let them be
filled with messages from thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect, and use
every power as thou shalt choose.

Take my will,l and make it thine:
it shall be no longer mine;
take my heart: it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at Thy feet its treasure-store;
take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.

I wonder if anyone has ever made a list of aspects of their life that they have offered to God. During this strange time, perhaps it would be a good idea to put pen to paper and make our shopping list of things that we want to offer up to God in gratefulness. Are there things that we have hidden away or forgotten, parts of our lives that we have not offered up? It could be things that we have done or said, places we have been and things we have experienced. Perhaps now is the time for each of us to pray, ‘Take my love, my Lord I pour, at thy feet its treasure store. Take myself, and I will be, ever, only, all for thee’.

Take a little time over this next week to reflect about what determines the form of your life – the life that you have offered up to God. Can you evaluate the power of the various influences in your life? The influence of family and friends, your education or things you have been involved in within your community. Where does the Church and God fit in?

Paul tells us, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect’. Rather than the outside influences, what should be important to us as Christians, is the influence of God in our lives. Paul is saying that we should not let the distractions of this world force us into its mould. Not an easy thing to do with the pressures from the media and hard selling advertising, so how are we to resist? Well Paul tells us that as Christians we have all the help we need, and that help comes from God. We are not our own and our lives are transformed by the renewing of our minds, a renewing that can only be done by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. This means that we are not left to foster our own self-discipline in order to achieve a life acceptable to God. God is ready and eager to work with us if we just turn our lives over to him.

I leave you with a couple of questions we might want to ask ourselves this week. Do our lives show the grace of God to our neighbours and those around us? Do our lives show by example, that saving grace of God? I think it is time for us to let go of the things of this age and all its distractions, and to let God lead us to be the people he wants us to be. In this way, we help to build up the body of the church, the community of believers, building on the foundations of those who have gone before us by God’s grace and mercy.

Let us pray,
God our Father, we come before you with thanksgiving for your wonderful grace and mercy. Help us to keep you foremost in our lives that we might show your grace and mercy to others. We pray for your church here on earth, that it would be a true witness of your love for all whom you have created. Build us up in faith that we might be the people you want us to be.
We pray for the Scottish Episcopal Church, for its witness in Scotland, for our Primus Mark and for the College of Bishops. We give thanks for all the opportunities to worship which have been provided throughout the Province in this time of lockdown, and we ask you to bless all clergy and congregations. Bless Nerys our Rector and the congregation at St. Mary’s.
We pray for all who are struggling to feed their families and give you thanks for the many foodbanks and charitable organisations who are helping to relieve some of that suffering. Help us to give generously when we can. We remember all refugees and asylum seekers who have the added worry of being infected with Covid19 in holding camps and overcrowded accommodation. We pray for their safety.
We pray for all who are ill at this time and remember those who are in hospital with symptoms of the Coronavirus, especially those in intensive care. Bless all nurses, doctors and hospital staff, paramedics and all who work in the ambulance service and all carers at home and in the community. We bring before God those those known to us who need our prayers.

Finally Father, we pray for ourselves, that you would continue to show us your grace and mercy to build us up in faith, hope, and love. May we be salt and light in our community and always be ready to share the Good News of your saving grace with those we meet.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Savour Jesus Christ. Amen.