Material for Worship on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Today we probably would have had an all-age service to mark the end of the school year for members of our Young Church. In view of this, our Gospel reflection and prayer of response are adapted from the Roots resource which our families with children are using from Sunday to Sunday and we have contributions from Julia Shanks and Peter Owen. You may want to have a cup or glass of water before you as you join with me in worship this morning. Nerys

I wonder how many different things you could do with a cup of water? You could, of course, drink it, or rinse your fingers, or water a plant, make a cup of tea, cook some rice, wash a patch of floor… or if you were a member of Young Church you could go outside and have a water fight!

In this week’s little passage from Matthew’s Gospel (10.40-42), a cup of water becomes a symbol of hospitality – a cup of cold water for a hot, tired and dusty traveller. To be hospitable, to be welcoming, is to provide another person with the basics of food and shelter. But it’s far more than that. A simple glass of water is a way of saying to another human being that they matter, that we are glad to see them, that we enjoy their company. To be welcoming is not simply a matter of handing over material goods. When we open the doors of our homes, we open our hearts. We show someone that they are of value by being prepared to share something of ourselves. We make ourselves vulnerable, thereby creating relationships. And here in Matthew’s Gospel we are told that in welcoming other human beings we are welcoming God.

Listen to Peter reading a paraphrase of the passage from The Message.
The opposite of a welcoming atmosphere is a hostile environment. The British government’s policy of creating a hostile environment for illegal immigrants proved disastrous for society. It created fear, encouraged suspicion, perpetuated divisions, and demonised vulnerable human beings. All in the hope that people would voluntarily leave this country. It cultivated not welcome but rejection. And by shutting ourselves off from other human beings, we risk shutting ourselves off from God.

In this time of Coronavirus, hospitality, like just about everything else, can’t quite be what it was. We haven’t been able to invite people into our homes or into our church. We can’t give them a hug or even a handshake. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be welcoming – the challenge is to find inventive ways of telling people that they matter, of sharing the basics of life, giving reassurance and comfort, and opening our hearts. Something as simple as phone call, a picture in the window to make people smile as they pass by, a few groceries for the Food Bank. For in each welcoming gesture, we welcome God.

Having started with a question, I will finish with two. I wonder how many ways you can think of to be hospitable this week? And how can we at St Mary’s be a welcoming, hospitable church at this time?

Prayer of response
To give a cup of water to a little one is not a lot to ask,
it only requires a few simple actions, little time, no cost.

Lord Jesus, give me the eyes to notice the thirsty around me,
behind closed doors,
on the streets,
in my family.

Give me the strength to turn off my lukewarm self-absorption
and to turn on the refreshing tap
of your compassion,
your generosity,
your cleansing.

Give me the daring to offer a cup of my treasure,
my vulnerability,
my heart,
to another.

And give me the courage to step out of myself,
to place that cup into the empty hands of another in need,
acknowledging my own need to reach out for your living water day by day. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession (please add names and situations known to you)
Heavenly Father, we pray for those in need:
the sick …
the grieving …
the lonely …

We pray for those who are afraid:
those awaiting test results …
those who are vulnerable …
those whose livelihoods are at risk …

We pray for those on the fringes of society:
those who feel rejected,
those who are overlooked,
those whom others avoid.

We pray for your Church here and across the world
for our youngsters and their families,
especially those who are leaving or changing schools,
and for our Young Church leaders.
Loving God, as you welcome us, may we welcome others with warmth and steadfast love. Amen.

Listen to Julia singing the Welcome Song that is used at the beginning of every Messy Church meeting at St Mary’s.

Collect
Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son that love fulfils the law. May we love you with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength, and may we love our neighbour as ourselves, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Material for Worship on the Third Sunday after Pentecost

As you prepare join in worship with me, Nerys, celebrating the Eucharist in the church this morning, you may wish to listen to Hazel and David Faunce Smith singing Bless the Lord O my soul:

I am grateful to the Ven. Peter Potter the reflection and prayers below and to June and Martin Sproston for recording the readings for today: Genesis 21.8-21; Romans 6.1b-11; Matthew 10.24-39.

Today’s readings are heavy going. We have Sarah’s mistreatment of her slave Hagar and her son Ishmael in Genesis 21.8-21. After so many years of longing we might have expected her to show generosity in gratitude for the birth of her own son Isaac. But she is afraid that some of Isaac’s inheritance will go to this child of a slave girl. The institution of slavery lies behind the thinking of the passage from the letter to the Romans (6.1b-11), as a metaphor of sin’s ability to keep us captive.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 10.24-39, follow a similar train of thought but he has turned it the other way round. The disciples are not greater than their master and must therefore share his fate, which is to be a slave (see Matthew 20.26-28 and Philippians 2.7) and to be persecuted. All this resonates with recent events, which have uncovered again the shameful prevalence of slavery and racism – ‘for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered’.

Slavery and racism have existed throughout human history and in many different cultures. The two are connected because slaves were often of a different race from their owners, a feature which makes relations between races difficult. Another cause of tension is fear. Sarah was afraid of what Hagar might do and slave owners feared that their slaves might revolt. Fear of people who are different causes us to act irrationally or cruelly. Some of you have met my daughter in law Bonnie, who is Chinese-Canadian. She has told us about the hostility she encountered when she was teaching English in an Eastern European country. I was once looking after my granddaughter and we went to the local play park. After a while I began to feel uncomfortable – would someone come up and ask why I was with this little girl who doesn’t look like me? ‘Stranger danger’ can be a wise precaution but it can also have unforeseen consequences.

How can these things be changed? Uncover what has been covered up. Yes, but there is another way. “Do not be afraid” is probably the most frequent of Jesus’ sayings and it is the recurring theme of all three readings this morning. And the way to lose our fear of others is to love them and treat them accordingly. ‘Perfect love casts out fear’ (1 John 4.18). When that happens both we and they are set free.

Prayers of Intercession

We pray to the Father, in the confidence of his love; through the Son in gratitude for his grace; and in the life-giving power of the Spirit.

(Please add names or situations known to you)

Lord, we bring to you
• the rawness of past wrongs and today’s injustices;
• the weariness and frustration of lockdown;
• the fears and prejudices that hamper the will to love.
Stretch out your arm, hold out your hand to heal.

Lord, we bring to you
• the sick and all who are waiting for tests or treatment;
• all whose livelihoods are at risk;
• all who are vulnerable or afraid.
Stretch out your arm, hold out your hand to heal.

Lord, we bring to you
• all who are on the way to recovery;
• all who care for the sick, the weak, the disadvantaged;
• all who are nearing the end of their earthly lives;

Stretch out your arm, hold out your hand to give strength and support.
Cast out our fears, gather us together, one family made perfect by love.
Lord, hear us.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Photograph by David Faunce Smith
Picture ‘Hagar and Ishmael’ by Alan Jones

Material for Worship on the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Good morning! How are you feeling today? I invite you to put your hand flat on your belly. This is often the place where we can tell if we are anxious or stressed or calm and relaxed. You may wish to take a few deep, slow breaths as you prepare to join in worship with me, Nerys, celebrating the Eucharist in the church at 8.30 and 10.30 a.m.

In our Gospel today, when Jesus notices that the crowds he meets in the towns and villages of Galilee are harassed and helpless, he feels pity for them —literally ‘in his bowels’. As you read Matthew 9.35-10.23 or listen here to Ramanie and Elizabeth Talbot reading from a different translation, notice Jesus’ response to the plight of God’s people.

Jesus sees his fellow-Jews as sheep without a shepherd and like a field full of wheat with nobody to harvest it. He urges his followers to pray to God the Farmer to send workers to gather them up. As they pray, they realise that they themselves are God’s answer to their prayer—they are to be the workers. They are just ordinary, flawed people as the details in the list of their names suggest, and yet Jesus sends them out to be healers and restorers, to bring peace to troubled minds and hearts. All the detailed instructions they are given point to the same loving, selfless commitment to meet the needs of others that Jesus had. In order to share in his work, they need to have the same attitude as Jesus, the same balance of shrewdness and innocence, the same trust in God’s spirit to sustain them.

One of the things I’m learning in Lockdown is to pace myself so that I don’t become overly tired and stressed. I have realized that in order to hear Christ’s voice and do his work, we need to live day-by-day in such a way that we’re in step with Him. Christ’s call asks us as individuals and as a church not to rush ahead to seek out our own opportunities for healing and ministering to others but instead to follow where we are being led so that we can notice the need that presents itself to us and respond to it. A friend pointed out that ‘pace’ in Italian is the word for peace. It is only when we allow Christ to set the pace of our lives that we can know the joy of God’s peace and share it with others.

You are invited to use the words below as a framework for your time of prayer:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of life and all the good things we enjoy …
Break down any barriers which prevent us from being at peace with you …
We ask your guidance and courage for those in positions of authority and influence.
We pray for all who long for your peace:
those who are sick …
those who are grieving …
those who are afraid …
those who are harassed and worried …
We bring before you those we love and worry about and those who love and worry about us …
We pray for your Church here in Dunblane and across the world, giving thanks for all who sense your calling and respond to it with joy.
O Lord, you always guide your people whom you build up on the foundation of your love: make us ever stand in awe of your Holy Name, and love you in equal measure; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen

Let the disciples’ prayer be yours this week
but don’t be surprised if you become part of God’s answer!
Lord of the harvest, send out workers into your harvest.
Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Material for Worship on Trinity Sunday

I am grateful to the Revd. Jeanette Allan for preparing the reflection and prayers below to enable you to join in worship with me as I celebrate the Eucharist in the church at 8.30 and 10.30 a.m. today. Nerys

What a week it has been, both at home with the easing of lockdown in its various forms and internationally with all the demonstrations which have resulted from the murder of George Floyd in Police custody in Minneapolis; and now it’s Trinity Sunday, with the Genesis 1 Creation story (Genesis 1.1-2.4) and Matthew’s Great Commission (Matthew 28.16-20), right at the end of his gospel as readings. So where does that leave us?

With a huge, but related agenda I think — Creation and Relationship, and that encompasses just about everything!

First, let’s look at the Creation story I apologise that it is so long, but you are able to listen here to Mary and Anthony Birch reading it for us, so thank you to them for that. Again and again in the course of the reading we get the repeated phrase, ‘And God saw that it was good’, and at the end of the sixth day we get, ‘And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good’. The obvious question then is, of course —what happened? Sadly, what happened was us. When God created, it was ‘very good’. When we look around at our world is it still ‘very good’? I don’t think any of us can look honestly at our world today and say that it is still ‘very good’. For some people it may be, perhaps, but they are definitely very much in the minority.

For many of us as we look at our world, we see a world which is beset with many evils:
• inequality, both of circumstances and opportunity, where poor people are the powerless and the rich have all the bargaining tools;
• war, which is tearing apart nations and where the most vulnerable suffer the most, from famine, from the destruction of their homes, their families and their livelihoods;
• where over 800 children die each and every day from drinking dirty water because there is nothing else for them to drink;
• where many thousands live in refugee camps, displaced from their own country by war and fear;
• where the colour of your skin governs how you are treated —still, racism is alive and well, although the slave trade was abolished in Britain in 1807 and the Abolition of Slavery Act was passed in 1833; still slavery exists in many forms in our own country and elsewhere although in the USA the emancipation of slaves took effect from January 1863 and slavery was banned in 1865;
• where animals are being poached to extinction, and where human activity has damaged animal habitats to the extent of endangering many more species—we have only to look at the destruction of hedgerows and the growth of intensive farming in our own country to see the effects of that, within the lifetime of some of us;
• where the way many of us live is so badly damaging our climate because of the pollution our global way of life produces that it is rapidly getting to the point where we are in very real danger of putting the very survival of our planet at risk.

I remember Bishop Ian saying when he was with us, ‘You are worried about Brexit, multiply that by 100; that’s how worried you should be about climate change’. The cartoon you may find somewhat political, but I recall that it was Desmond Tutu who said, ‘The people who say that politics have no place in religion aren’t reading the same Bible that I’m reading’, so I make no apology for including it.

All this is in direct contrast to the teachings of the Gospel which we say we follow as Christians, a gospel which teaches us to live by love, love for other human beings and love for our world.

Which brings us to Trinity Sunday, which is about relationship, loving relationship within our Godhead and what that means for us as we live our lives as disciples of the God who is Three in One in loving relationship, the God who saw that creation was very good and loves it.
The amazing thing is that God actually loves us and loves us all equally, whoever and whatever we are, and God treats us all equally, whoever and whatever we are and God loves his creation. That totally knocks racism and slavery on the head, it knocks exploitation on the head, not only of human beings but of all creation as well. It demands of us, followers of the God in loving relationship, that we treat the whole of creation, our human brothers and sisters, all the natural world, both animals and plants, with respect and dignity, so that all may continue to be ‘very good’, as they were created to be.
I said at the beginning that this week would encompass just about everything, and now you see why! As individuals we obviously cannot take on the whole world, but we can make a difference in our small corner of it as we seek to treat the world around us with love, dignity and respect, by the way we live in it.
So let’s pray.
We give you thanks for the many blessings we enjoy, for food, for clean water, for a safe home, for a wonderful spring, for birdsong and for all your blessings to those we love.
Lord graciously hear us

For the people of Bengal in the aftermath of the cyclone, and for the Diocese of Calcutta
for those who have lost their lives, and for those who grieve for them;
for those who have lost their homes;
for those who have lost their livelihoods and for all in hardship
for those affected by Covid
Lord graciously hear us

For the people of the Diocese of Amazonia in the Covid pandemic,
for the sick
for those who have died and for those who grieve for them
Lord graciously hear us

For all who are suffering as a result of the Covid pandemic
for those who are sick
for those who have died
for those who mourn them
For those who care for the sick, putting their own lives at risk every day, and who are now very tired,
for nurses and doctors, for hospital porters, for hospital cleaners and all ancillary staff
for care home staff for those caring for people in their own homes.
for those who are finding lockdown difficult
for those whose mental health has been affected
for those who have had financial difficulties

We pray for wisdom for those in power at Westminster and Holyrood as they steer us slowly out of Lockdown.
Lord graciously hear us

Please name for yourself those for whom you pray …
Lord graciously hear us

Finally, we pray for our church, which is very much open though its doors are shut.
Fill us with your love, fill us with your spirit, show us how we can serve.
help us to find fresh ways of being Church in these strange times.
We pray for all the churches in Dunblane,
we pray for our diocese and for our Bishop Ian,
we pray for all countries as their churches struggle to cope with Covid and care for their communities.

Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Southwark Trinity by Meg Wroe

Material for Worship on the Feast of Pentecost

As you light your candle and prepare to join in worship with me, Nerys, celebrating the Eucharist in the church on the morning of Pentecost, let us take a moment to invite God’s Spirit into our hearts. I invite you to listen to Hazel Faunce Smith singing the hymn of the Holy Spirit and make it your prayer.

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire

and lighten with celestial fire;

Thou the anointing Spirit art,

who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

Thy blessed unction from above

is comfort , life and fire of love;

enable with perpetual light

the dullness of our mortal sight.

Teach us to know the Father, Son,

and thee, of both, to be but one;

that through the ages all along

this may be our endless song:

Praise to thine eternal merit,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

In our reading from the Book of Acts (2.1-21), we join a group of dispirited and fearful followers of Jesus locked down in an upper room. As you read, try to place yourself in the scene.

God’s Spirit empowers the disciples to leave their isolation and venture into the streets of Jerusalem. The Spirit also gives them a gift —the gift of communication. The language of the Spirit is love and forgiveness, a language that everyone understands and needs to hear.

The Spirit that transformed that group of men and women is the same spirit that inspires and encourages us. Listen to Jesus inviting us in John’s Gospel (7.37-39) to receive the Living Water which offered to us, not for our own enjoyment but so that we may become rivers of life and quench the thirst of others.

On that first Day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God overcame division and created unity. We may be physically isolated from one another but God’s Spirit has enabled us as a church to continue to worship together and to pray for and serve our community.

O God, who on the day of Pentecost enlightened the hearts of your people by the fire of the Holy Spirit; give us wisdom and understanding, and lead us into all truth, that your Church may be kept in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Take time to look at the image of St Mary’s below and give thanks. The doors may be closed, but the church is open and full of God’s Spirit!

Our intercessions this Sunday have been prepared by Martin Wisher as a response to contemplating verses from Psalm 33.

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous.
Praise befits the upright …
For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.

Lord we praise you that the earth is full of your steadfast love.
We stand in awe that you created and sustain the earth.

We cry out to you for our world, that the world may experience your faithfulness, righteousness, justice and steadfast love when we see so much suffering, fear and evil caused by the pandemic.

We ask you to send your Spirit upon the leaders of Governments that they may lead us with wisdom, with righteousness and justice. We pray that they may look to care for the poor and those who are vulnerable, without shelter and in need of food. Give them your wisdom as they seek to lead us out of our lockdown, balancing the need for safety and the need to return to the new normality.

We ask you to send your healing Spirit upon those doctors, nurses and carers as they minister under great stress to those suffering because of the pandemic. Empower them with wisdom, great skill and compassion.

The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind.
From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth—
He who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.

Father we bless you that your Spirit who was powerfully active in the creation of the world still fashions the hearts of all people.
Father we plead with you that by your Spirit you will anoint your Church and in particular us in St Mary’s so that we can bring the good news of the Gospel to Dunblane and see your steadfast love evident in the lives of our neighbours, friends and family.
Send your Spirit to bless our Bishop Ian and our Rector Nerys and make them fruitful in their ministry.

We pray for our brother and sisters in the dioceses of Calcutta and Amazonia. May they know the peace and joy of your salvation as they deal with the effects of the cyclone and the pandemic. Open our hearts to help them.

Truly the eye of the Lord is on those that fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine.

Father we thank you for all your promises towards us and that we can trust in your steadfast love. The steadfast love of the Lord never fails us, it is new every morning.

We pray for those known to us who are sick; for those who are mourning the loss of a loved one; for those who are afflicted by depressions and anxiety. We pray for those who are alone and unable to see their family and friends. We name them before you …

We remember that Jesus said that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.

Lord we pray you to send your Spirit on those we name now.

Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield.
Our heart is glad in Him, because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

Material for Worship on the Seventh Sunday of Easter

I am grateful to the Revd. Moira Jamieson for preparing the reflection and prayers below to enable you to join in worship with me as I celebrate the Eucharist in the church this morning.   Nerys

In these times of uncertainty and isolation from our families, friends and our church family, it has been a comfort to me, as I am sure it has been for you also, to know that our Rector Nerys has been in the church building on Sundays at the same time as we would all have been gathering for worship and that we have been able to join with her in worship from our own homes.  Our College of Bishop’s have also offered worship online for those of us who have access to the internet, and they have sent messages of hope through the church Facebook page and on the Scottish Episcopal Church website. All of these things help to keep our spirits up and remind us that we are so loved by God, no matter where we are, and they help us to get through each day and to live in hope—hope for a time when we can once again hug our loved ones, hope that when it is safe to come out of isolation we will find ourselves living in a better world, and hope that all we have been through has strengthened and renewed our faith and the faith of people who have perhaps over the years lost sight of God.

As we light our candles and prepare for worship this morning, let us listen to David and Hazel Faunce Smith singing ‘There is a Redeemer’ by Melody Green:

In this Sunday’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1. 6-14), the disciples were becoming a little impatient to know just when God’s kingdom would be restored and I expect they were impatient to know when the promised Advocate, the Holy Spirit would descend on them. Jesus reminded the disciples that it was not for them to know these things, but they would happen in God’s own time. Many people throughout the world are becoming impatient with being in lockdown in their homes during this Corona Virus epidemic. Like the disciples they are questioning the decisions of our governments and want to know when this will all end, forgetting that we cannot possibly rush things when human lives are at risk, and no one knows when the virus will be able to be controlled.

The disciples were looking to the future instead of living in the here and now. Then before their eyes, Jesus was carried up on a cloud as they looked on, and two figures, robed in white, spoke to the disciples saying, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?   This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’. Thinking about the future is something we just can’t help doing.    We have an inherent need to know what is going to happen to us in certain situations, or perhaps we are simply curious to know what our lives will be like after COVID-19. We know that it is probably better if we try to live in the here and now, difficult though that is, but if we do, maybe we can keep ourselves safe and well.

In the first letter of Peter (1 Peter 4. 12-14; 5. 6-11) we are reminded that we should cast all our cares and anxieties on God, because he cares for us. Very appropriate for this anxious time as we wait for a vaccine to be found for COVID-19.  We are to be disciplined and keep alert, words we have been hearing throughout this trying time. I always find it amazing when the words of scripture reflect the times we are living in and offer us good advice.  In this passage God promises that after we have suffered for a short time, he will restore, support, strengthen and establish us once again.  These are not just words, they are promises, reassuring promises of God’s love for all his people. That reassuring promise from God helps us through all sorts of difficult times in our lives and we can be sure that, no matter what we go through, no matter when we might go astray, God our Father is ready to embrace us with his love.

This reassuring unconditional love of God reminds me of the well-known Rembrandt portrait of the Prodigal Son. It’s an amazing revealing portrait of a father’s love for his wayward son, and each time I see the father’s hand on his son’s shoulder, especially that delicate almost female right hand, it reminds me that God’s love for us is unconditional, and that he will always welcome us with open arms. Of course, this amazing work of art has much more to reveal than this, but for today’s reflection, I think it speaks of love and hope in the here and now. I wonder if you have ever felt that gentle hand of the Father on your shoulder. Some years ago, at a time of great sadness when I was alone in church praying and lighting a candle, I felt a touch on my shoulder and when I turned around there was no one there. I knew there and then that it was a touch from God, a reassuring touch, telling me that I was not alone.

At first glance, the Gospel passage (John 17.1-11) seems out of place. This is the prayer that Jesus prayed before his crucifixion, so why is it placed here in the lectionary? If we merely heard this prayer before Good Friday, we might think it was for that day alone, for that appointed time. But hearing the prayer, on the seventh Sunday after Easter day, we can hear the whole prayer and realize that what starts as Christ’s obedience to change, (in his death and resurrection), brings about our obedience to change, to become ‘one with the Father’. The point of Jesus’s plea today is not his obedience to the past; the point is Jesus’s obedience for our future. This is not merely a prayer that Jesus throws up into the heavens so that his work on the cross might be fulfilled. No, this prayer, heard on this side of Easter, is a prayer for you and me, and for the Church, that we might realize the faith Christ has in us, the faith Christ has in our call to obedience.

When Jesus ascends into heaven, he leaves behind that prayer for his disciples and for all his followers, ‘Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one’. In this time of uncertainty, we can be reassured that we are united in God’s love for us, knowing that we are one in Christ and one in the Father. As you reflect on today’s passages from scripture, may God bless you and reassure you of his love and protection.

Let us pray,

Lord God, the only true God, in your care for us, you invite us to cast all our anxiety upon you. Protect us by the power of your name, that we may be one, in and between ourselves, as you are one, and to be your people, with you as our only God.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  (from Psalm 46)

Heavenly Father, we pray for all those who are struggling in this time of lockdown. We pray for all who have contracted the Corona Virus, especially those in hospital. Be with them and surround them with your love. Give strength and courage to all who are fearful and hold them in the palm of your hand.

God our help and hope when waters rise, you brought Israel safely through the sea.   Sustain all those who seek to save others, so that they may repair the ruined cities, raise up the former devastations, and be the restorers of streets to live in; through Jesus Christ, our eternal saviour.  (based on Isaiah 58, 61)

Heavenly Father, in these times when the tide of corona Virus is all around us, bless and protect all frontline workers who risk their lives daily to serve others.

Living God, our refuge and strength, even the wind and sea obey your voice.   Put the wind back in its place, and say to the sea: Peace! Be still!  Fill us with great faith, and save us from the surging water, so that we may tell the good news of your saving love; through Jesus Christ, our hope in the storm.  (based on Mark 4)

Heavenly Father, we pray for the people of Syria, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, Myanmar, Kashmir, and all areas where there is conflict and unrest. We pray for all innocent victims of violence and ask that you would protect them and bring them peace.

God of wind and water, stillness and storm, your Spirit sweeps over the surface of the sea.  Give us faith to seek you in times of trouble.  Reach out your hand to us when we are sinking so that we may believe and worship you; through Jesus Christ, Sovereign and Saviour.

(based on Matthew 14:22-33)

Heavenly Father, we ask you to bless our Primus Mark and the College of Bishops as they provide love and support through their words of encouragement and celebrations of the Eucharist each Sunday. Bless all clergy as they seek to support the church family during lockdown and especially Nerys our Rector.

Holy One, you are our comfort and strength in times of sudden disaster, crisis, or chaos.  Surround us now with your grace and peace through storm or earthquake, fire or flood.

Heavenly Father, bless all at St.  Mary’s for whom prayers have been asked. We take a moment to remember those we pray for daily and to lift them up to you. (Moment of silence)

Bless the dying and comfort those who mourn. Be with those who are remembering an anniversary of death at this time and surround them with your love.

Lord God, as we face the uncertainties of this time, by your Spirit, lift up those who have fallen, sustain those who work to rescue or rebuild, and fill us with the hope of your new creation; through Jesus Christ, our rock and redeemer. Amen.

Material for Worship on the Sixth Sunday of Easter

It is reported that there has been a surge in people of all ages engaging with online religious activities since our places of worship have been closed. A recent survey found that a quarter of adults in the UK have watched or listened to a religious service during the crisis and that one in twenty have started praying. One in five of these have never attended church.

I wonder what your response is to these findings. As you light your candle and prepare to join in worship with me, Nerys, celebrating the Eucharist in the church this morning, let us take a moment to think about those in our lives who may not know God but who perhaps sense that there is more to life than what they experience.

The people of Athens in our reading from the Book of Acts today (Acts 17.23-31) were seeking something more, but they didn’t know what they were looking for. As you read, imagine what it was like for Paul as he looked across to the Acropolis with its spectacular temples representing all kinds of ideas and religious cults. As a devout Jew, the thought of idol worship must have horrified him but at the same time, he realized that the many buildings dedicated to worship were a sign that this city was full people looking for God.

So he takes the Athenian custom of dedicating altars to unknown gods as a starting point to expand the minds of his listeners. ‘I’m not talking about just any old unknown god’, he says. ‘I’m talking about the God behind the gods, the Creator of the universe. This is a God none of us can claim to fully know because God is beyond even the most beautiful visual images, the most elaborate rituals, the most venerable traditions. This God can’t be contained in a temple, he doesn’t belong to a particular nation or culture, he is beyond ethnic divisions, he is beyond religion, he is beyond the grasp of our intellect, beyond the furthest reaches of our imagination. And yet this God is also unimaginably close to us, closer than our own breathing, for in him we live and move and have our being’.

Paul creates a picture of a God who can be known and wants to be known and yet remains hidden from so many. As you read our Gospel reading today (John 14.15-21), you’ll see a similar picture. Jesus at the Last Supper is responding to the anxious questions of his disciples about their future and his. No, they will not be left like orphaned children, he says. The risen Christ will make his presence known to them through the Spirit. They will know that they are loved by God but other people will be oblivious to him.

Often, what we see depends on what we bring to that experience of seeing. When I look at a Scottish mountainscape, I see wonderful scenery but I am unable to identify the individual peaks because, unlike some of you, I haven’t studied them on a map, I haven’t read about them, I haven’t spent enough time amongst them, climbing them, getting to know them.

A person needs to get to know God to be able to identify his presence in their lives and in the world around them. And the way to get to know God is by learning about Jesus. Through reading the Gospels and through living in his company every day, we can have a very clear idea of what God is like. We can see that God is compassionate and forgiving, totally honest and good, that God stands up for what is right. We can see that God looks for the good in us and doesn’t condemn us or give up on us. We can see in the cross and resurrection that God will love us to the end of our lives and beyond.

If we put our faith in that God, the God that Jesus revealed to us, if we trust his promises and respond to his love, then our lives will be shaped by his presence within us. In response to our prayers, God’s spirit will work through us, giving us the resources to continue Jesus’ mission in the world, enabling us to do what he has done and more. We will live out God’s love every day of our lives even when obedience is difficult and we are called in directions we may not have taken by comfortable choice.

And other people will take notice—especially those in our lives who have kept the windows of their hearts open to the possibility of God, hoping one day to find him. What Paul does in Athens is to throw some light into those open windows. We are called to do the same. We are called to live in such a way that enables the hidden God to reveal himself through us. This week my prayer is that through our words and actions, through the way we respond to situations in lockdown, we can be used as a means for those who are seeking God to find him.

Collect for today God, from whom all good thing arise; grant such grace to those who call on you, that by your inspiration, we may ponder those things that are right, and by your guidance, do them; through, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

[Our intercessions have been prepared by John Hamilton who is a scientist and our Christian Aid representative. They have been inspired by Christian Aid Week resources and New Scientist Value of Vaccines supplement.]

Lord God, as support for Christian Aid Week reaches out and protects our neighbours in the world today, unite us with love as corona virus is still spreading across our communities, protect us as we show kindness to our neighbours, help us provide soap, clean water and medical supplies to our neighbours in the developing world, encourage responsible consumption and production of staple foodstuffs.
With people of all faiths and none, we stand up for dignity, equality and justice for our neighbours near and far.
God is good, all of the time. All of the time, God is good.

Loving Lord, as debates are ongoing about the recovery from Covid-19, encourage cooperation in the development of vaccines, keep the cost of vaccines affordable in all countries, facilitate the high uptake of vaccines, to provide community immunity.
Vaccines have the incredible superpower of protecting whole communities rather than just the individual.
God is good, all of the time. All of the time, God is good.

Heavenly Father, as we approach Ascension Day, allow us to rest in your grace and seek your vision, love us as we follow your commandments, lead us as your children, to new ways to worship you, the one God, with the promise of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Material for Worship on the Fifth Sunday of Easter

I am grateful to the Ven. Peter Potter for preparing the reflection and prayers below to enable you to join in worship with me as I celebrate the Eucharist in the church this morning.
Nerys

When asked how they are managing, several people have replied ‘Same old, same old’ and indeed it’s a phrase I have also used to describe each day’s fairly unchanging routine. Then, like the proverbial London buses, we have three things happening all at once – possible government announcements about easing the lockdown, the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday and the start of Christian Aid Week today.

For obvious reasons Christian Aid Week won’t be following the same pattern as previous years. There will not be a house-to-house collection and we are invited to donate online by visiting https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/CAWeek2020. Their work will be all the more needed as conditions in poor counties mean that the impact of corona virus will be even more devastating than in this country and the others that feature in the news.

During and after the Second World War people and governments realised that the end of the conflict would not mean that everything could go back to how it was before. In this country welfare reforms led to the creation of the NHS, which has proved its worth many times over in recent weeks. Internationally the UN was founded and in Europe old enemies learnt to keep the peace.

So the lesson as we look forward to the ending of restrictions, would seem to be that we cannot go back to ‘same old, same old’ ways, whether in the workplace, in our neighbourhoods and indeed in the Church.

The picture is from the Musée d’Unterlinden in Colmar, a town that went back and forth between France and Germany between 1870 and 1945. It shows Jesus on the first Easter morning telling Mary Magdelene ‘Do not touch me’ or, more accurately, ‘Do not hold on to me’. Easter marks the beginning of a new creation in which many of the old ways are no longer appropriate and new lessons must be learnt.

What do we have to let go of and what have we learnt in these weeks of lockdown that will help us move from ‘same old, same old’ to embrace the new life of the resurrection?

Notes on today’s readings
Acts 7.55-60 The martyrdom of Stephen is brought about by those who do not want to receive the Good News of Jesus because they prefer the ways of the old dispensation – ‘they covered their ears’. What is it that holds them back?
Stephen prays, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’, an echo of Jesus’s words on the cross. Such radical forgiveness is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed and for which Stephen is being killed.
1 Peter 2.2-10 Various mixed metaphors here but with a common theme of growth and moving on; from infancy to childhood, from separate stones to a building, from individual believers to members of a priestly body and from darkness to light. Peter’s message can give us joy and confidence, for he is telling us that God can use us in his building project. Our rough edges and odd shapes do not matter to him, for he can find a place for each of us. If we allow it (and many don’t, as Peter says), God will fashion these stones, just as children change as they mature – the mixed metaphor again – so that they will fit perfectly into the temple. But, although we may need to move on from ‘same old, same old’, we cannot travel aimlessly but must have a firm orientation point – the corner stone on which the whole edifice depends, Jesus Christ himself.

John 14.1-14 Belief is a key concept in John’s Gospel. Through believing in Jesus we become like him and ‘becoming’ implies growth and change. Jesus says, ‘I go to prepare a place for you’. The words ‘go’ and ‘prepare’ signify that we are not meant to stay as we are and carry on in the same old ways. The saying ‘No one comes to the father except through me’ often causes difficulty in an age when all faiths and none are accepted. But I think it does not have to be interpreted in an exclusive way. The Church has always believed that Christ died for the sins of the whole world and we who believe can see the Holy Spirit at work in those who do not believe. Surely Jesus has prepared a place for them too.

Intercessions for times of change and uncertainty
God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit be shielding and defending us each step of this stormy world.
For all suffering from the corona virus.
For those whose treatment and tests for other illnesses have been disrupted.
For all who are grieving or anxious.

Be a star, a helm, a compass from our lying down to our rising anew.
For all who have the responsibility of gradually lifting the lockdown.
For all whose livelihoods are at risk.
For all of us in the adaptions we must make to our routines.

You are the gracious red rowan that subdues the ire and anger of men.
For the trouble spots in the world that have been pushed out of the news.
For the UN and all who work for peace.
For the victims of violence.

The guarding of the God of life be upon us to aid and enfold us each day and each night.
For the work of Christian Aid.
For the WHO and other agencies combatting the spread of corona virus in poor countries.
For carers in the community and in care homes.

Love towards God, the grace of God and the will of God
to do on earth as Angels and saints do in heaven.
For all who have been good neighbours in these days.
For all who have kept in touch.
For all who have lightened our burdens.
For these and all your many gifts, we thank you, O Lord.

(Adapted from prayers in Carmina Gadelica)

Material for Worship on the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Good morning! As you light your candle and prepare to join in worship with me, Nerys, celebrating the Eucharist in the church this morning, take a moment to listen to any sounds you can hear. Sounds, especially the sounds of voices, have become very important to many of us, deprived of seeing and touching others in the way we used to. In a few years’ time, I wonder what voices we will remember from this period. Will it be the urgent voices on TV telling us to ‘Stay at home’, the cheering voices in the streets on Thursday evenings, the welcome voices of family and friends on the phone or other voices? And what about our inner voices? What have they been saying to us during this last week?

Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday because the Gospel is always taken from the tenth chapter of John where Jesus reveals his identity to the Pharisees who oppose him, by using parables about shepherds and sheep. As you read John 10.1-10, listen to the contrasting messages of the good shepherd and the thieves.

The sheep that belong to the good shepherd follow him because they know his voice. We can recognise the good shepherd’s voice within us because it leads to life. Christ offers us a life full to overflowing, a life better than we ever dreamed of, but he doesn’t force himself on us. Every evening on the farm, my uncle would walk around his fields to check his stock as his father and his grandfather had done before him. As he came to a gate, he would whistle gently to set the sheep at ease and they would run towards him, knowing that he had some feed in his pocket for them. Christ stands at the gate of our lives, gently and graciously waiting for us to come to him. And when we do, he greets us with the words ‘Peace be with you’, ‘Do not be afraid’. We may indeed be afraid that if we turn to him enormous demands will be made on us or that we will be worn down by guilt. We may have been exploited in the past by people who were only interested in their own good. But Christ is not in the business of destructive behaviour, he is not out to get us, to steal from us or put us down. His love is a self-giving love, he seeks only to enrich our lives by sharing his life with ours. In his keeping we are set free to be ourselves more truly than ever before and to be a blessing for others. He will not force himself upon us. It is up to us to respond to him.

We can use the psalm set for today as our response. Read it very slowly pausing at the end of each line.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;

for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

 

Our prayers of intercession today have been prepared by the leaders of thirteen Christian churches and organisations across Scotland. We are invited to join with many thousands of people to pray them again tonight at 7 p.m.

Good Shepherd, watch over us today in all we face and experience.
Never leave us or forsake us and journey with us always.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, you know us as no-one else knows us.
Guard us and keep us, as you guard and keep those whom we love.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, we pray for the sick and the lonely;
for the anxious and the bereaved;
for those whose pain is beyond our comprehension.
We stand with them and commend them to your care.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, we pray for the carers in hospitals and in homes
and for all who serve the needs of others.
May their example of living compassion inspire us in our care for others.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, you know the depths of our heart
and the fears which are ours.
Speak into the depths of our heart and calm our fears.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, you know us by our name
and our identity is not hidden from you.
Gather us to yourself as a Shepherd gathers the sheep,
that we might know your Name.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Amen

Material for Worship on the Third Sunday of Easter

When you walk through a storm,
hold your head up high
and don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of a storm
there’s a golden sky
and the sweet, silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind,
walk on through the rain
though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on
with hope in your heart
and you’ll never walk alone,
you’ll never walk alone.

I suppose that it is not surprising that ‘You’ll never walk alone’ has reached the top of the charts this week. A song of hope and solidarity, it has long been used not only as an anthem for the football terraces but also to bring comfort and encouragement in difficult times. It is particularly appropriate at the moment when so many people are in isolation and feeling very alone.

As you light your candle and 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. You may wish to bring before God those who usually sit with you in the pews and imagine us walking through this storm together.

Our Gospel reading this week, Luke 24.13-35, takes us on a journey with two of Jesus’ disciples. Some scholars think that they were husband and wife, others that Luke deliberately left one of them unnamed to make it easier for his readers to identify with them and join them on the way. As you read the passage, you may want to name some of the emotions you are carrying today.

The disciples share their story of confusion, dismay, fear and sorrow with the stranger who walks alongside them. Notice how he draws them into his story – a story of fulfilment through suffering – by guiding them through the Scriptures. This has such an effect on them that even before they understand who he is, they plead with him to stay with them. I invite you to bring to mind stories of God’s faithfulness to his people through the ages, culminating in the story of the first Easter. Do you also have a story of his faithfulness to you?

Notice the way Luke describes the simple meal and allow your mind to return to the upper room and to many other meals Jesus had shared. The meal also points forward to our own experiences of meeting Christ in the breaking of the bread. In the passage, the moment of revelation is gentle and brief but it shines a light for us on the past, present and future. The story has not finished at the cross or even at the empty tomb. The Emmaus experience happens again and again and brings us encouragement to walk on with hope in our hearts, knowing that we will, indeed, never walk alone.

As you prepare to turn to God in prayer, you may want to take a moment to read the words of the song again and reflect on the painting below by Daniel Bonnell.

Walk with us, Lord, through this time of fear and uncertainty throughout the world.

Walk with those in positions of authority and influence …

Walk with those who are risking their lives to serve others …

Walk with those who are suffering …

Walk with those who anxious …

Walk with those who are grieving …

Walk with those who feel they are alone …

Walk with your Church in Dunblane and across the world …

Help us to know your presence with us and to be your presence to others.
We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Material for Worship on the Second Sunday of Easter

Dear friends,

I will be celebrating the Eucharist in the church tomorrow at 8.30 and 10.30 a.m. Here is some material to enable to you to join in with worship and prayers:

Easter_2_Material_for_Worship

Don’t forget that churches across Scotland are joining together to light a candle and pray at 7 p.m. every Sunday evening.

Please be assured of my prayers for you. Don’t hesitate to get in touch on 824225 or rector @ stmarysdunblane.org

With love to you all,
Nerys