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.

Material for Worship on the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Thank you to the Ven. Peter Potter for preparing this week’s Material for Worship:

When we lived in Switzerland it was my birthday treat to take a ride on a mountain railway. Some people might say that was cheating but the experience and the views were quite something, even if I did once get caught in a blizzard – in August!

There is something exhilarating, mystical even, about standing there at the top of the world, as it were. It is easy to understand why God revealed himself to biblical characters on mountain tops. In today’s Old Testament reading the prophet Isaiah is made aware of God in a new way. He realises that previous conceptions of God were too small. It is no longer enough to see God as an exclusive deity, for the Israelites alone: “I will bring [the foreigners] to my holy mountain”. Isaiah is not necessarily standing on a mountain himself when he receives this revelation but it is significant that it is where “salvation will come and deliverance … revealed”. We are to imagine a vast gathering on the mountain, rather like a pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick or other holy sites. What is important in Isaiah’s vision is that, first, God’s will is done, that is achieved by people’s actions (“maintain justice and do what is right”) and, second, that this is a call to all people, not just to the Israelites.

Listen to Anthony Birch as he reads Isaiah 56.1, 6-8.

Then listen to another of Isaiah’s descriptions of God’s will being realised on his holy mountain (Isaiah 2.1-5), sung to the tune Glasgow, played by David Sawyer. I think this hymn deserves to be better known in Episcopal/Anglican churches.

Behold! the mountain of the Lord
in latter days shall rise
on mountain tops above the hills,
and draw the wondering eyes.

To this the joyful nations round,
all tribes and tongues, shall flow;
up to the hill of God, they’ll say,
and to his house we’ll go.

The beam that shines from Zion hill
shall lighten every land;
the King who reigns in Salem’s towers
shall all the world command.

Among the nations he shall judge;
his judgements truth shall guide;
his sceptre shall protect the just,
and quell the sinner’s pride.

No strife shall rage, nor hostile feuds
disturb those peaceful years;
to ploughshares men shall beat their swords,
to pruning-hooks their spears.

Come then, O house of Jacob! come
to worship at his shrine;
and, walking in the light of God,
with holy beauties shine.

Scottish Paraphrases, 1781

The story of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15.21-28), read by Anthony, makes the same two points but in a rather roundabout way. In the previous verses Jesus had been telling his disciples that our ingrained attitudes shape our actions. Now they are presented with a real case study. How should Jesus deal with the woman’s plea? Should he ignore the stranger, tell her to go away? This would be the normal reaction, especially as she is making a nuisance of herself. Jesus’ initial reaction sounds like a parody of this attitude and examples are not far to seek in our day. Perhaps he is testing his disciples: is this really what you want me to do? The woman’s quick-witted reply exposes the hollowness of this attitude: “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table”. Those of us who are well-off have more than enough, in fact so much that we throw away some of God’s bounty.

What the woman has, is faith and she is a stranger. Matthew was writing his account for a community of Jewish Christians at a time when the possible admission of Gentile believers was a live issue. Some wanted to send them away, as happened in some British churches when the Windrush immigrants turned up for worship. This episode of the Canaanite woman, like Isaiah’s vision of the holy mountain, show that people from many backgrounds have faith and are to be welcomed amongst the saved. And they will receive more than the crumbs from God’s bounty.

The psalm set for today is Psalm 67, which has the refrain “Let the peoples praise you, O God: let all the peoples praise you”, which again shows that God’s call is for all the peoples of the world and that he bestows his blessings on the peoples of all nations. For this to happen, however, we all need to follow his guidance and do his will. If we do, then his bounty will be fairly distributed and his creation respected.

Listen to Mary Birch singing “God whose farm is all creation” based on this psalm.

God, whose farm is all creation,
take the gratitude we give;
take the finest of our harvest,
crops we grow that we may live.

Take our ploughing, seeding, reaping,
hopes and fears of sun and rain,
all our thinking, planning, waiting,
ripened in this fruit and grain.

All our labour, all our watching,
all our calendar of care,
in these crops of your creation,
take, O God: they are our prayer.

John Arlott

 

For your prayers of intercession:

Lord, may the richness of your creation
and the wonders of your heavenly kingdom
bring all your people together,
that we may make known your grace
and live out your ways of peace and love. Amen.

Let us pray
– for a removal of the barriers that divide us, consciously and unconsciously;
– for a just distribution of the earth’s resources and for the will to respect the fragile balance of creation;
– for a willingness to examine ourselves for harmful attitudes and assumptions;
– for a readiness to work with people of other faiths and none for the good of all;
– for the sick, the anxious and distressed, for all in any kind of difficulty;
– for the departed.

Joining our prayers with those of Mary (whose feast day was yesterday) and all the saints, we give you our thanks and praise, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Material for Worship on the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Today the Ven. Peter Potter is celebrating the eucharist in the church building at 8.30 and 10.30 a.m. Let us prepare ourselves for worship by reading or singing the words of ‘Be still’ as Moira Langston plays the tune. You may also wish to spend some time reflecting on Sieger K?der’s painting ‘Stronghold’.

Be still, for the presence of the Lord,

the Holy One, is here.

Come, bow before him now,

with reverence and fear.

In him no sin is found,

we stand on holy ground.

Be still, for the presence of the Lord,

the Holy One is here.

Be still, for the glory of the Lord

is shining all around;

he burns with holy fire,

with splendour he is crowned.

How awesome is the sight,

our radiant King of light!

Be still, for the glory of the Lord

is shining all around.

Be still, for the power of the Lord

is moving in this place,

he comes to cleanse and heal,

to minister his grace.

No work too hard for him,

in faith receive from him;

Be still, for the power of the Lord

is moving in this place.

David J. Evans

In a sense, both of the main characters in our readings today are sinking and are given firm-handed rescue by our loving God. The prophet Elijah is isolated, exhausted and worn down—easy prey to nagging negative thoughts which whisper the futility and unfairness of it all. It is a place many of us will recognise. Listen to Judith Abbott reading 1 Kings 19.9-18.

Despite Elijah’s fears and failings God doesn’t give up on him. This must have been encouraging and comforting for the community for which this history was written, an audience of scattered, exiled and humiliated people. God doesn’t attempt to dissuade Elijah from how he feels, but offers him instead the way forward, enabling him to view it differently so that it is less overpowering and crippling. He does the same with us if we will allow him, gently offering us a route of hope.

Peter too is overwhelmed by the sense of his own vulnerability in our Gospel passage, Matthew 14.22-33, read here by James Humphreys. Think what it was like for Peter as it dawned on him that he was out in the middle of a huge stretch of dark and angry sea, buffeted by a violent wind with nothing under his feet except fathoms of cold water. It is no wonder that he panicked and started to sink!

This passage has two messages entwined around one another. One is about faith and how it operates. It invites us to see ourselves as disciples in the boat or even as Peter, struggling to stay afloat in the midst of the storm. The other is about who Jesus is. The two messages go together because, according to Matthew, Jesus is Lord of the storms. He walks on the sea as only God can do. He greets his friends saying, ‘It is I’, echoing the ‘I am’ of God’s presence to Moses, and his ‘Fear not’ brings to mind the words of the Book of Isaiah, ‘Fear not. You are mine. When you pass through the waters I’ll be with you’. This is truly Emmanuael, ‘God with us’. We can place our trust in him.

For the disciples as a group, the experience was a moment of growth in their faith and understanding. The risk Peter took to trust Jesus and respond to his call enabled the rest to move from fear to worship, from thinking Christ was a ghost to recognising him as the Son of God.

I wonder what Jesus is calling us to do or to continue to do, as individuals and as a church during the storm of the pandemic? Pause for a moment with this image by Lisle Gwynn Garrity from the Sanctified Art Group, called ‘Step into the swell’. Remember that with Jesus the little things we do to serve the needs of others and the prayers we offer, are just as important as great projects. Like Peter, ask Jesus to call you to come to him on the water.

Trusting in our faithful God let us pray
for people who are struggling to stay afloat:
for the people of Beirut,
for refugees,
for migrant workers,
for those living in slums, favelas and townships:
for people living in fear:
for those in abusive relationships,
for those who have been trafficked,
for those who have lost their jobs;
for those known to us who are sick in body mind or spirit …
for those who are grieving …
for ourselves and for your Church:
a clearer vision,
a readiness to take risks for the sake of others,
the gift of deeper faith in you.
May we and they know the steady hand of Jesus reaching to them and holding them up.
In Christ’s name. Amen.

Material for Worship on the ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Let us sit quietly for a moment and think about how we are feeling. Are we ready to give God our full attention and worship him? Then, scattered as we are, let us come together in prayer as the eucharist is conducted on your behalf by me, Nerys, in the church this morning.

Dear God, you look deep inside us, seeing not only our outer but our inner needs. Have compassion on us we pray. Feed us today from your holy word and we will be filled. Amen.

Listen to God’s invitation for us to come to him to buy and eat without any cost. Alison Diamond is reading from the Book of Isaiah, 55.1-5:

As you listen to today’s Gospel, Matthew 14.13-21, read by Roger Lockwood, I invite you to focus on the person of Jesus who is at the centre of the story:

Jesus had slipped away to a deserted place to deal with his grief at the death of his cousin and colleague, John—a violent death which must have reminded Jesus of what lay ahead for him too. Notice his reaction when he sees the crowd which has followed him. The Greek verb suggests a deep, spontaneous response. ‘He was moved in his guts’, not by anger or frustration but by compassion, and spends the afternoon tending to the needs of those who were sick. His disciples, out of concern for the people, urge him to send them away so that they can get food to eat but Jesus has a better idea. ‘Why don’t you give them something to eat?’ —a daunting challenge when all you see is scarcity. But Jesus, looking with eyes of love, not fear, sees promise and potential and, blessing the meagre offering, trusts in the lavish generosity of God who provided manna in the wilderness for the children of Israel. The desert place once more is transformed into a banquet and everyone is fed.

Jesus is inviting us to join him in his ministry, to see to the needs of others in our community and across the world today. How are we to respond? Maybe we think that what we have to offer is not enough to make a difference so we hold back and pray for a miracle. But if we are ready to share what little we have, we will be part of that miracle. Jesus will take our ideas, our money, our time, our energy, our skills, our prayers, our love—whatever we have to offer, and having blessed them, he will return them to us multiplied to use for the good of others.

Spend some time with this icon from the Coptic Church in Egypt.

Where are you in the picture?
Imagine yourself trusting Christ to meet your needs in the desert place.
Imagine Jesus inviting you to join him in the task of seeing to the needs of others.

A prayer for ourselves, drawing on verses from Psalm 145
God of grace, good to all,
You have compassion over all you have made.
When I am falling, hold me up.
Raise me to my feet, so that I can walk with you.
When I am in need, meet with me.
Open your hands to me, to satisfy my longing.
When I call out to you, hear my cry.
Watch over me, that I may live in your love.
When I am hurt, lend me your grace.
Open my heart, that I may forgive.
When I see need, help me to face it.
Open my hands to offer all I have and am.
When I hear you, help me listen.
Open my mouth to bless your name.
Amen.

Prayers for others
We pray for people who are in a lonely place of grief and loss …

We pray for people who are sick in body, mind or spirit …

We pray for people who are hungry …

We pray for people who live in fear and uncertainty …

We pray for people who have difficult decisions to make …

We pray for people who risk their lives to serve those in need …

We pray for our friends and families …

We pray for each other …

Lord God of compassion and boundless blessings, we praise you for your generosity, your love and your care as we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

You are welcome to sing Williams Pantycelyn’s great hymn, ‘Guide me, O thou great Redeemer’. as David Sawyer plays Cwm Rhondda:

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
pilgrim though this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand;
Bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore.

Open now the crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fiery cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through;
strong deliverer,
be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death, and hell’s destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side;
songs and praises,
I will ever give to thee.

A fourth-century floor mosaic from a chapel at Tabgha on the shore of the Sea of Galilee

Material for Worship on Sea Sunday, 19th July, 2020

Thank you to members of the Men’s Group for working together to prepare this resource to help us celebrate Sea Sunday and reflect on the work of the Mission to Seafarers: to Martin Wisher for the reflection, Richard Crockett and Martin Sproston for recorded readings and to Anthony Birch and John Hamilton for prayer pointers. Thank you also to David Sawyer for recording the tune for ‘Eternal Father strong to save’ so that we can sing along to it. The Ven. Peter Potter will be celebrating the eucharist in the church at 8.30 and 10.30 a.m. .
Nerys

On 19th July we are celebrating Sea Sunday and think of the work of the Mission to Seafarers. As you read this, over 60,000 cargo ships are on the high seas, laden with phones and electrical equipment from China, dresses from Bangladesh, beef from Argentina, bananas from the Dominican Republic, oil from the Gulf and much, much more. Ships are the circulatory system of global commerce and their 1.25 million seamen its lifeblood. If ships were to stop, much of humanity would soon begin to starve or freeze.

Day and night, the Mission is on call for seafarers in over 200 ports around the world. Seafarers need help because they are often working in dangerous conditions, with no one else to turn to. The Mission’s chaplains send in stories about the men and women they support, and the Mission tries to tailor help to each and every one of them. In 2018 the Mission made 70,600 ship visits encountering 353,000 seafarers on board their vessels; 673,000 seafarers visited the Mission’s centres in 121 ports. They transported 439,000 seafarers in their vans and dealt with 726 justice and welfare cases. You can learn more about the pre-pandemic work of the Mission in this short YouTube video.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic merchant seaman have kept working, but they have been stuck on board. In a normal week around 50,000 finish their contracts and are relieved. The pandemic has cut that number to almost nothing. Over 250,000 mariners are stranded at sea. Most merchant seamen are from developing countries, in particular India, Indonesia and the Philippines. They start and end their contract in whatever port a shipping schedule stipulates. The ship management firms normally fly them out and back again, but most commercial flights have been grounded for months and many countries are refusing entry to non-citizens. Sailors are forbidden to disembark, and their reliefs are barred from entry.

The duration of seafarers’ contract is typically between four and six months on ships, followed by a period of leave. Shifts are typically 10-12 hours long, seven days a week – performing tasks that require constant professional attention. Seafarers spending extended periods on board are more at risk of adverse health effects, including physical and mental health issues. Thousands stranded on board ships have already expressed their exhaustion, fatigue, anxiety and mental stress. Seafarers stuck on land cannot take up their new contract and are not being paid with all the associated hardship for themselves and their families. Most of them are from countries with little or no social services or financial support.

The UK Government has taken a leading position with the International Maritime Organisation to have seafarers declared ‘essential workers.’ They hosted a virtual conference at the beginning of July with the aim to try to repatriate seafarers stuck on ships and enable other seafarers to travel to take up new contracts. It is not clear yet whether this had led to practical solutions to help affected seafarers.

In this situation the Seafarers Mission has tried to help affected seafarers by setting up digital chaplaincy; listening to seafarers through the Seafarers Happiness Index App; loaning ships MiFi (individual Wi-Fi units) and giving out SIM cards to ease communication whilst people are unable to leave ships in port (less than 25% of seafarers have access to email). They have adapted the 121 Seafarers centres so that they can be COVID-19 ‘safe’ environments because seafarers now have limited access to shore-based facilities such as shopping centres and coffee shops. The Mission has been working with different Embassies to help to repatriate stranded seafarers. Chaplains are continuing to share the love of Christ to individuals in their anxiety, loneliness and depression.

Our two readings were chosen for their nautical theme however they contain a much stronger message applicable to all. Psalm 107.4-32 (read to us by Richard Crockett) is a song of thanksgiving for the steadfast love of the Lord. Our souls can be in very dry places, not knowing the refreshment of God’s presence or human friendship (vs 4- 9). We can be in depression and despair where every aspect of life can be hard work (vs 10-16). We can be sick at heart through our sinful ways (vs 17-22) but if we cry to the Lord in our trouble He promises to save us from our distress, to lead us into good things, to bring us out of despair and gloom and to heal us.

We can be going about our daily business on the sea of life (v22) with plans made for 2020 when without warning a pandemic storm strikes and our lives are thrown into turmoil. We don’t know when the storm will end. Will there be a second wave of infections? Will the economy recover, will our jobs be safe? We can be at our wit’s end. But if we cry to the Lord, He promises to bring us out of distress. God may not stop the pandemic, we may have more to go through, but He does promise to give us gladness and his peace and to bring us to our desired haven (v 30). ‘Let those who are wise give heed to these things and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.’ (v 43).

How can we be so sure of these promises? Our second reading (Matthew 8.23-27, read to us by Martin Sproston) tells us why. This is a familiar story of Jesus and his disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a gale arose, and the boat is being swamped by the waves. Jesus is asleep when the disciples cry out to Him to save them. What did Jesus do when he woke up? First he asked them why they were afraid – you of little faith? Then he rebuked the winds and the sea and there was a dead calm. The disciples were amazed. ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and the sea obey him?’

Jesus calms the storm by Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey

We can trust God’s promises because Jesus came as fully man – the perfect man. He understands what is means to be human, he understands our limitations, our emotions. He understands our hopes, our fears. He experienced the stresses and pressures of daily life, of living in a family. He knew sadness and the loss of loved ones. Yet ‘who is this man, that even winds and the sea obey him.’ He is perfect Man and the Lord of creation. He has the power to deliver us out of distress and bring us to our desired haven. Let us thank Him for his steadfast love.

Eternal Father strong to save

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep
It’s own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy Word,
Who walked on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst it’s rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid it’s angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our family shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect us wheresoe’er we go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.
William Whiting

A prayer of lament based on Psalm 107
We are lost, wandering and confused, lead us into your straight way.
We are in misery and despair, bring us into your joyful light.
We are sick at heart and hungry, feed us with your steadfast love.
We are tossed by life’s storms, bring us to our safe haven in you.

Prayers of Intercession
Pray for sea workers who work thousands of miles away from their families.
Ensure that they can keep in touch with home . . .
Maintain their income during this difficult time . . .

Pray for people who fish on inland seas, such as the Sea of Galilee
Be with the crews in boats when bad weather hits . . .
Help control the effluent flowing into these sealed areas of water . . .

Pray for the ministry of Mission to Seafarers
and for chaplains who minister to sea workers and their families all over the world

Pray for those known to us who are suffering in mind, body or spirit
We name them now …

Heavenly Father, you have promised to be with us in the storms of our lives. We ask that you give us courage and wisdom, a heart for you and for all your children.
In the name of your son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

As part of our worship today and in response to God’s steadfast love please take the opportunity to give your money offering to the Mission to Seafarers using this link: https://www.missiontoseafarers.org/donate or by posting a cheque to

The Mission to Seafarers Scotland,
109 Avalon Gardens,
Linlithgow Bridge,
Linlithgow,
Scotland,
EH49 7PL

Material for Worship on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

I wonder if you can spot in this photo from John and Rosemary Hamilton’s garden some of the ‘Seeds for Hope’ which were shared among our congregation on Mothering Sunday just as Lockdown started? As you prepare to join in worship with me, Nerys, celebrating the Eucharist in the church this morning, let us take a moment to think about our St Mary’s family past and present and give thanks.

As you listen to Morag reading the Gospel passage for today, Matthew 13.1-9 and 18-23, try to visualize the images the words create and allow God to communicate to you through them.

This story wasn’t exactly what the enormous crowd which had gathered around Jesus were expecting. It appears simple and accessible. Nobody in Galilee lived far from the land. They would understand farmers and fields very well. But there is a perplexing aspect to this story which was probably deliberate. Jesus wanted them to puzzle over it, to talk about it amongst themselves, to think it through, to discover its truth for themselves. Maybe he wanted them to experience how easy it is to listen but how hard it is to hear and understand and allow an idea to take root in our minds and hearts.

The story was also unexpected for those who were ready to delve deeper into its meaning as it seems to talk of both failure and success. Many would have been incredulous on hearing of the long series of failed sowings. They would know that a sensible sower doesn’t just fling his seeds all over the place. Given the high cost of seed-grain and the knowledge a Middle Eastern farmer would have of his fields from years of careful tending, they would wonder why this farmer did not take better care to prevent the seed from falling in places he knew were unproductive—on the road, on the thin soil and among the weeds? What sort of farmer wastes two thirds of the seed like that? What was he up to? What was the point being made?

I suppose that Jesus probably used parables because it was a safe way of communicating his challenging message. Among the crowd would have been religious leaders who were already out to destroy him. But even if they could grasp the underlying meaning, they couldn’t condemn him for speaking of soil and seeds and birds and stones. But I think he used this sophisticated method of teaching also because through parables, he could present different messages to different groups of people at the same time.

If we take the soil to be the main focus of this story, then it is a warning designed to prompt new listeners to think about the way they respond to the message of God’s love and forgiveness which Jesus is sharing with them through his life and words. It is not enough to hear without understanding, it is not enough to understand without taking action, it is not enough to take action without persevering. For a seed to take root and grow successfully so that it can bear fruit, barren soil needs to be cultivated, stones removed, weeds uprooted. To ensure the right conditions for God’s love to grow in our hearts takes time and effort but the end result is a fruitful life of prayer and service to others in which we will accomplish through our trust in God what we could never have dreamt of.

If we focus on the sower, then the story can be taken as a message to those who had already joined Jesus in spreading far and wide the new vision of God, calling on people to listen and respond. At times, Jesus’ disciples must have wondered what on earth they were doing. Crowds came to hear him, but very few were really changed for life. Even those healed by him often went away and forgot. And the doors of the synagogues were shutting against them as Jesus seemed to rouse nothing but hostility in the religious leaders.

To followers of Jesus then and now, the story is a word of encouragement. This sower who flings the seed about without looking where it is going to land reminds us of our Heavenly Father who gives everybody a chance to be part of his family. God the bountiful Sower doesn’t choose good soil alone. Think about those Jesus kept company with! Even if the response is not immediate, God knows that barren earth can become fertile ground, hard paths can be softened by rain, last year’s crop of thistles can become compost that will grow strong plants. He knows that sometimes seed will lie dormant in the ground for years before it germinates and bears fruit when the conditions are right.

We are called to imitate God’s endless patience and gracious generosity The sowing may be a patchy and sometimes discouraging process but if we persevere, the harvest is sure to come and will be abundant.

‘The Sower’ by James Tissot

You may be interested in this short reflection on the painting and on Tissot’s spiritual journey by Fr. Warner D’Souza, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Bombay.

God of mystery, help us to cherish your word in our hearts that we may truly hear, understand and turn afresh to you.
God of life, help us live as people of hope and expectancy, rejoicing in your love for us and all your children.
God of growth, help us, your Church, to encourage and nurture one another in faith at every age and every stage.
God of compassion, help us to respond to those in need: the anxious, the sick, the grieving, the homeless, the hungry …
We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.