Materials for Worship at Home on the Fifth Sunday after Easter

Moira writes: This morning we look at the Gospel passage from John13.31-35, but you may also wish to read the other lessons for today which are Acts 11.1-18 and Revelation 21.1-6.


In this 19th century painting by Carl Bloch, we see all of the disciples of Jesus turning towards him after he has announced that one of them would betray him. Notice though that Jesus is looking directly at the retreating Judas, an image that says it all. As Jesus gave Judas the bread dipped in oil, he said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Jesus didn’t wait for any length of time before he said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”

The course of events that Judas’ departure initiated would normally have been understood by everyone to bring shame upon Jesus. Shame occurs when we feel exposed and belittled. In addition to being unbelievable painful, crucifixion was humiliating. The victim was stripped, his body was mutilated and then was put on display, in a way which made his suffering public. Yet as Judas leaves him, Jesus declares that he has been glorified, not shamed.

This ritual of public execution was not exclusive to the time of Jesus and to the time of the Roman Empire. We see throughout history horrific displays of what is portrayed as justice being done to those who would not conform to the law. Take for example the guillotine in France at the time of the French Revolution. Those who were to be beheaded were paraded around the streets in an open wagon and then executed on a high platform for all to see.

It became such a blasé act that old women would sit around the platform knitting! Although Jesus prepared the disciples for what was to come, Jesus’ crucifixion probably felt to the disciples as a sign that things had got out of control. I expect that they asked Jesus the same questions that we often ask when evil seems to have the upper hand: ‘where is God in all of this? How could God let this happen?’

Jesus was clear that his death was something that he willingly submitted to. Far from being evil triumphing over good, Jesus’ passion marked God’s victory over sin and death. We know that the disciples of Jesus carried on after his death and resurrection, following his earthly work of revealing the Father and calling to the Father those who belonged to him. They carry on his work as they love one another. After all, Jesus had given them a new commandment, to love one another just as they have been loved by him. He doesn’t claim that love is a new concept. The Old Testament is full of evidence of God’s love for his people. What is new, I think, is the character of this love. The followers of Jesus are to love one another in the same way that he loved them, which is also the way the Father loves Jesus. Just as the Sermon on the Mount presents the Ten Commandments in a way that goes beyond the technicalities of the law to the underlying meaning, so Jesus’ new commandment to love, redefines the meaning of love.

Showing this kind of love to those around us whom we consider to be our brothers and sisters is not so hard to do, but this new commandment is not limited to the community of Jesus’ followers. We know from scripture that Jesus told us to love our enemies also, which is so much harder to do. God’s love knows no bounds and God gives that love to the whole world whether we are aware of it or not. Not only does God’s gracious love create us and sustain us, but in Jesus that love transforms us. Through him we know God’s love in a particular, personal, and mutual way. God’s love is no longer something we receive, it is something we participate in, we practice God’s love as we love one another.

We know that God knows each one of us by name. I find this wonderfully reassuring, that he knows each and every one of us personally and we can come to him in prayer each day to give thanks to him for his love for us. In Jeremiah 1.4-5 we hear these words, “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” Also, in chapter 1.11 we hear, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said this, “It is impossible to love Christ without loving others, and it is impossible to love others without moving nearer to Christ.” I think this sets us a challenge, to try to love everyone we meet, not comparing them to others, but loving them for who they are. In Jesus’ death, resurrection and return to the Father, we see the depth of God’s love for us and we can know with certainty that the creation that God made in love is moving toward a culmination of that love when Jesus returns in glory. That glory is foreseen in the love Jesus’ followers have for each other.

In your prayers this morning you may wish to pray:

That God’s love is spread throughout the world, especially in areas of conflict.
Continue to pray for the people of Ukraine, the people of Russia and all who suffer the effects of war.

That love for God’s creation would move people and governments to take more care of our planet.
Pray that decisions taken in government would be ethical and not harmful to God’s creation.

That love and care would be shown to the elderly in care homes and to those in hospital.
Pray for all who work long hours caring for those who are ill and pray for those you know who are ill at this time.

That God’s love would sustain us this week and help us get through any difficulties we may be experiencing.

The collect for the Fifth Sunday of Easter:

O God, who alone can bring harmony to the minds of your faithful people:
give us grace to love the things you command, and to desire the things you promise;
that, amid the uncertain changes of this world, our hearts may be firmly fixed where true joys are to be
found; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen.

May God’s love surround you today and always.
Moira

Eco Question Time Wednesday 18th May, 7.30 p.m.

Eco Question Time is an exciting opportunity to come together to listen to  four experts speak on various aspects of the climate crisis and to ask them questions.

It will be held in St Mary’s Church Hall at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 18th May but there is an opportunity also to watch it live on the St Mary’s Church Facebook Page.

 

Dr Martin Johnstone has been involved at national level for the last 30 years in tackling social injustice and poverty. He will focus on the overall threat of global warming and the consequences of this for climate change.

Laura Young is a climate activist, environmental scientist, sustainability communicator, and ethical influencer. She will illustrate how the climate crisis is already hitting those living in the poorest countries in the world.

Alasdair Tollemache is the Green councillor for Dunblane and Bridge of Allan. He will talk about issues specific to climate change in Scotland, and what we need to do to preserve the environment  locally.

Malcolm Rooney  is currently co-chair of the UK Branch of the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group [ESRAG] and has recently been appointed Chair of Global ESRAG Groups from July 2022. He will focus on the steps each of us can take to reduce emissions and waste, and the cumulative positive impact these steps can have.

Following the talks, each of which will last for fifteen minutes, there will be an opportunity for members of the audience and those watching the livestream, to ask questions about the issues raised by the speakers. This will be an important opportunity to explore a wide range of issues of relevance to us as we seek to find ways of limiting global warming.

 

Please also remember the next initiative – the Dunblane ECO Fest – that takes place on Saturday 11th June in the Church hall and in the grounds, starting at 11am and lasting until 4pm. There will be exhibitors from regional and local organisations who will be keen to discuss a wide range of topics, including the steps we can all take to reduce consumption, and ways of being more environmentally friendly.

For more information or if you would like to be involved please contact Peter Holmes on hall @ stmarysdunblane.org

Materials for Worship at Home on Good Shepherd Sunday

Nerys writes: I wonder what kind of picture comes to your mind when you hear the words ‘Good Shepherd’? For me it’s a Victorian print which hung in the vestry of the chapel where I went to Sunday School. It was an image of a smiling Jesus in flowing white robes surrounded by cute lambs and flowers – a sugary picture which didn’t convince me even as a child! Growing up with three uncles who were involved in sheep farming, with their weather-beaten faces and calloused hands, I was aware at a young age that shepherding was a physically and mentally demanding, risky and relentless pursuit.

Nerys and her brother with their three uncles and Scott the sheepdog, Summer 1970

Our Gospel passage today, John 10.22-30, reminds us that when Jesus spoke about being the Good Shepherd, he was not using a comforting metaphor. His words were, in fact, controversial and dangerous and led to an attempt by his opponents to stone him to death for blasphemy.

It was the festival of Hanukkah when Jewish people remembered the great victory of the Maccabean freedom fighters, the rededication of the Temple and the establishment of a new royal dynasty which lasted a hundred years. Jesus was walking in Solomon’s Porch, speaking publicly of himself as the Good Shepherd and of other leaders as thieves and brigands. For his Jewish listeners, the meaning of his message would have been crystal clear. From King David’s time, it was often as a shepherd that an ideal king of Israel was pictured and his people as the flock. So, at a time of year when Jewish people would be yearning for a leader who would liberate them once more from oppression, Jesus was talking about himself as their true king, appointed by God. This was shocking enough but Jesus presses on into even more dangerous territory with a glorious and spectacular promise to his ‘sheep’. Those who hear his voice, recognise it as that of their Saviour and follow him, will be protected by him from all evil, even from death itself. Jesus was not only claiming to be the true leader of the Jewish people but also God himself. It is no wonder he was seen by some of them as a threat to be silenced.

In the difficult and uncertain time we live in, there is deep reassurance in the promise that, no matter what our circumstances are, we are safe in the loving hands of God. The two other readings for today which also contain images of the shepherd and the sheep are Psalm 23 and a passage from the Book of Revelation 7.9-17. Read together they remind us of God’s steadfast love and care for us and all his children, throughout our lives and beyond:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
The one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
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.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more.
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.
The sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life.
Surely goodness and mercy hall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.

There is also a challenge in these words, as we are called not only to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd but to make a response as to whether we will follow him and become his hands in the world. This week at St Mary’s we join with many other churches across the world in keeping Vocations Sunday. At the morning service, Cathy Johnston will speak about the new approach to discerning vocations taken by the Scottish Episcopal Church, and at Night Church, Ross Stirling-Young who is being trained for ordained ministry in the Scottish Episcopal Institute, will share the story of his calling. But when we think about vocations, it’s not limited to public ministry in the church. The Good Shepherd calls each one of us to use our gifts in God’s service wherever we are and whatever stage of life we’re at. I invite you to take some time now to prayerfully reflect on your own journey of faith and what the Good Shepherd may be calling you to be or to do.

Loving Shepherd, you call us to follow you.

• Help me to answer your call in my life.
• Enable me to be an encouragement and support to others.
• Guide all who offer themselves for public ministry.
• Bless with insight all who discern the vocations of others.
• Encourage those being formed for ministry, and sustain the staff and students of the Scottish Episcopal Institute.

So may your Church be light to the world, joining you in making your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen

Rector’s Letter – May 2022

(Khrystos Voskres!)

Christ is Risen!

Dear friends,
As I write this letter, it is Holy Week in Ukraine. By the time you read it, it will be Easter. Out of the hundreds of memorable photographs that have been published in recent weeks, it is this one, taken in the city of Lviv on 9th March, that has stayed with me. It depicts a statue of Jesus from the Armenian Cathedral, one of an untold number of priceless artifacts in danger of being destroyed by Russian shelling, being taken into a bunker for protection.

The image can be read as the packing away of hope but as I reflected on it during our Holy Week – the death-toll of civilians in Ukraine growing day by day – I realised that its composition is the same as that of Rubens’ famous painting ‘The Descent from the Cross’. In both images, the arms of the lifeless Jesus bearing the wounds of his sacrifice are spread wide. It is as if, even in death, the power of Love continues to embrace our world, created and sustained by those nail-torn hands.

This Season of Easter, as we meet in worship with the risen Christ, the hope of the world, let us continue to pray for the victims of all violence and seek ways to support them. The focus of our prayers for Ukraine will move to the Peace Garden created by our Young Church members which is accessible at all times. You are welcome to bring prayers, poems or photos to hang on the surrounding trees.

As we look for ways to welcome refugees from Ukraine into our communities, it is important not to forget those fleeing from violence, oppression and injustice in other parts of the world. I’m sure you will have been outraged by the plan to send those seeking asylum in the UK to be ‘processed’ in Rwanda, a country whose human rights’ record is very concerning. The advice I have received on how to best express our disagreement with this proposal is to write to our local MP, Alyn Smith at alyn.smith.mp@parliament.uk or House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

The focus of this year’s Christian Aid Week campaign is to help turn hunger into hope so that the people who need our support can stay in their homes and villages. These include families like that of Jessica Mwedzi in Zimbabwe pictured above, who has been robbed of the power to provide for her children by the combined effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, conflict and drought. And in recent weeks, the war in Ukraine is driving up prices of wheat and cooking oil, pushing vulnerable families like hers even deeper into hunger. Christian Aid is helping people like Jessica to set up water taps on her farm, to learn to grow food and buy seeds that thrive in drought, giving them what they need to turn dry dusty land into gardens of hope. The local Christian Aid Committee is repeating the house to house delivery which proved successful last year, with people given the choice to donate online or drop their envelope off at Meldrum or Charisma on the High Street. More details about other fundraising events and the annual ecumenical service will be available soon.

As the Climate Crisis is such a major cause of poverty leading to displacement and migration across the world, it is appropriate that our Eco Congregation Group is holding its first event during Christian Aid Week. This will be an Eco Question Time at 7.30 p.m. on 18th May – an opportunity to discuss with leading thinkers and activists a range of environmental issues. More details about this and our Eco Fest in June will appear here and on our Facebook page. I would encourage you, if you are able, to get involved in these timely ventures.

I would also encourage you to come with me to our cathedral in Perth on the afternoon of 14th May to celebrate your ministry as a lay person.

To book your place for this joyful diocesan event, phone the Diocesan Office on 01738 580426 or email bishopsec@standrews.anglican.org

In the services on the previous Sunday, 8th May, we will be focussing on the calling of the Good Shepherd in all our lives with the help of Cathy Johnston from Holy Trinity Church Stirling who is a member of the Discernment Team of the Scottish Episcopal Church and Ross Stirling-Young who is a student at the Scottish Episcopal Institute.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this image of our cross, decorated by those who attended the Easter morning services.

With love to you all,
Nerys

Materials for Worship on Easter Day

Nerys writes: It struck me the other day that many members of St Mary’s will have celebrated the Resurrection on Easter Morning more than fifty or sixty times and some more than seventy or even eighty times! I wonder what you remember of Easter services in the past. Is it the hymns and the music, the words of an Easter prayer or the theme of a certain sermon? Is it the sight of the Paschal candle, the scented beauty of the church, the sense of anticipation or excitement, the people you were with?

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. It can certainly numb the senses and close our minds to new approaches. Maybe we don’t need to be constantly looking for novelty or an emotional buzz, but, however many times we have celebrated Easter before, in order to greet the risen Christ, we need to have hearts open to new possibilities. Remembrance can fix us in the past or it can build a foundation for deeper experiences of God.

When we worship at home, we have the freedom to read Scripture and to pray at our own pace and in ways that suit us. This morning I invite you to slow down and use your senses and your imagination to enter into today’s familiar Gospel reading of the first Easter. Before turning to Luke 24.1-12, you may wish to take your time to light a candle, or to simply sit in silence observing your surroundings as you invite Christ to be present to you. As you read the story slowly the first time, notice any word or phrase that jumps out at you and give yourself time to reflect on it before using the guided reading below to explore and question the passage.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. I wonder what it feels like to hurry through the narrow streets of Jerusalem just as the first shafts of light are streaking the sky? I wonder what sounds you would hear as the city starts to come to life. What are the sights and smells?
I wonder how much of a risk the women were taking venturing out to the tomb? Maybe their headscarves would hide their identity? Maybe those in charge wouldn’t take notice of a few females? Feel their determination to give his body the proper care that hadn’t been possible the day before. Feel the fear of being caught. Feel their courage.
I wonder how heavy the spices were that they were carrying? How much it had cost to buy them? How long it had taken to prepare them? Imagine the stories they would have shared as they ground the bitter-sweet seeds and leaves- stories of the meals they’d enjoyed in his company, his healings, his stories, the laughter, the love. Feel the heaviness of their grief now, their incomprehension, their anger – their hopes and dreams destroyed for ever
And as they enter the garden and locate the tomb, the memories of their last time there flood back. How they had hurriedly prepared his body as evening came and the Sabbath was about to begin. The sound the stone had made as it was rolled into place just as the sun went down. The finality of it. The memory of his voice, ‘It is finished’.

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. Feel the shock of seeing the gaping entrance. Imagine dropping everything and rushing in. Feel the panic and confusion as your eyes get used to the darkness. Hear the cries, ‘Where is he? What have they done with him? How could this have happened?’

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.
Taste the dust of the floor of the tomb on your lips as you lie there, head down. Feel the terror. What did you see? Hear the voices of the strange bright figures right beside you … ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Look at one another as you try to comprehend their words, as you try to remember his words. He did say those times in Galilee that something like this would happen. He said he would rise on the third day. But this is so far beyond anyone’s imagining. Nobody thought of resurrection like this. The raising of all God’s people at the end of time – yes! But the raising of one person within history? Feel the puzzlement. How could this be?

Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. Imagine coming out of the shadows to the full light of morning. Coming out of the darkness with a new possibility dawning in your mind. Feel the excitement, the tears of joy. He is risen as he said! He is risen! Hear the voices of Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others sharing the news. This is what we saw! This is what we heard! See the disbelieving faces of the men. Hear their scorn and anger. Foolish, over-emotional women! What nonsense they speak! Feel the frustration as you retreat into silence. But then watch as Peter as impetuous as ever, rushes out of the door, off to see for himself.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

And the women, what happened to them? Did they ever get the apology their deserved? Did it matter? They knew what they saw. They knew what they had heard. They had remembered his words. They had believed. They had been set free. Imagine these faithful women passing on their witness to anyone who would listen. ‘He is not dead. He is alive. I know. I was there.’

Take a moment now to step back from the story and think about the way it made you feel or the questions it brought up for you. The risen Christ is with you. Is there anything you want to share with him? Take a moment to reflect and pray. What are the new possibilities Easter brings for you and for our broken world? How will you pass on your witness?

 

The morning of the Resurrection depicted by  the contemporary artist He Qi.

Materials for Worship at Home during Holy Week

Nerys writes:  Last week, I met with the pupils and staff of St Mary’s School in the church for our first end of term service in over two years. The teachers had been working hard during the preceding weeks exploring with their classes the stories of the first Easter. In fact, they had engaged the children to such an extent that when I asked them in the service what Easter meant to them, all their responses were about the events of Holy Week. When I confessed to looking forward to hunting and eating chocolate eggs with Young Church on Easter morning, an older boy put up his hand and said,’ I didn’t realise that  you could have fun in church!’ This got me thinking about the way we as Christians are perceived, especially at Easter, and how we ourselves tell the story of the last week of Jesus’ life.

I think films like The Passion of Christ with its emphasis on the horrendous suffering Jesus endured in his last hours, have skewed the way non-churchgoers view Christianity.  ‘Passion’ is from the Latin noun passio, meaning suffering, but in everyday English we use it in a very different way. A person’s passion is what they are passionate about.  The first passion of Jesus was to bring into the world  God’s kingdom of joy, hope, peace and  justice for all people. This, of course, is what led to the passion of Good Friday, but for Jesus, life  – not death- was what his ministry was all about.   ‘I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance’ is what the Good Shepherd says of his flock in John 10.10.

Holy Week starts and finishes with joyful celebrations, a reminder perhaps that as much as anything else, Christ came to bring us joy. It is found right at the beginning of his life in the joyful song of the angels and the exuberance of the shepherds. And in his years of ministry, through miracles like that at the wedding in Cana, as much as through his teaching, Jesus  spoke to his disciples of God’s great love for them ‘so that their joy may be complete’.

Although, Jesus knew that his choice to visit to Jerusalem for the Passover would lead to his suffering and death, his entry into the city  which we read this year from Luke  chapter 19, is a joyful one, accompanied by singing, cheering and the waving of palms. How different it must have been from the entry of Pilate and his troops whose presence int the city at the festival was in order to keep the peace through violence and oppression.

The resurrection of Jesus in Luke has also been associated with joy as well as shock and fear. At the end of  his second appearance in chapter 24, we read that his disciples ‘worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy’. Here, as on the road to Emmaus, Jesus opens his followers’ minds to understand the scriptures and even though they were disbelieving and still wondering, their reaction is joy. In the Book of Acts, it seems that being full of ‘joy and the Holy Spirit’ had become  the hallmark of the Christian life. Paul writing to the Romans, says that ‘the Kingdom of heaven is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (14.17)  and prays that they may be ‘filled with all joy and hope in believing’ (15.13).

So this year, as we read the Gospel of the Passion, Luke chapters 22 and 23, against the backdrop of recent atrocities  in Ukraine,  starvation amongst people in Yemen, the deprivations of 84 million refugees, fear and anxiety caused by the cost of living crisis at home and our own grief and loss, let us not forget the connection between Jesus’ death and his life, between sorrow and joy, our tears and our laughter. That connection is Love which encompasses all and will prevail. God will prevail. Joy will prevail.

As you read or listen to the news this week, I encourage you to do so prayerfully, looking  out for examples of Love at work, even in the most desperate of situations. As you reflect on what you’ve read or heard, ask God to help you to respond as he would, remembering the words attributed to St Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body but yours,
no hands, no feet on earth but yours,
yours are the eyes with which He looks
compassion on this world,
yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.

Oleksandr Antonyuk (Ukrainian artist),  ‘Entrance into Jerusalem’

Materials for Worship at Home on the Third Sunday of Lent

Nerys writes: Imagine a banqueting table laden with dozens of platters of beautifully presented food. I wonder what your favourite dish might be? There it is! What about a pudding you love? It is there also! And to wash down your meal, the best drink is right there before you. Imagine sitting down at this table. Don’t be nervous! Maybe you are wondering how much this feast is going to cost you. How will you manage the bill? You notice something that looks like a menu but when you open it, instead of a list of prices, you find an invitation: ‘Come, eat, drink and enjoy, at no cost. I delight to give you the best. Don’t concern yourself with how to pay for it. What is important is that you come to me.’

This is the invitation brought by Isaiah to the people of Israel in exile in our Old Testament reading today, Isaiah 55.1-9 — an invitation to share in God’s generous feast at no cost. Isaiah calls on everyone who thirsts to come near to God, to listen carefully to God’s life-giving words. Although we don’t deserve it and can’t pay for it, God has mercy upon us, abundantly pardoning us, lavishing us with forgiveness. God gives us a second chance like the gardener who digs around the barren fig tree, in our Gospel passage, Luke 13.1-9, surrounding it with the best manure to encourage it to grow and bear fruit.

Many of us have experienced difficulties in our lives, especially in the last few years. We may ask ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ We may struggle with experiences of suffering and loss. We may be fearful or anxious or looking for someone or something to blame. We may be finding it hard to make sense of God’s love. But Jesus in today’s Gospel says that bad things and accidents just happen. We’ve done nothing to deserve them but we’ve done nothing to deserve the blessings we enjoy either – the free lunches God provides for us. What’s important is the way we react to the good and the bad things that come to us in life, referred to in Buddhist teaching as the second arrow.

I’ve been blessed in my ministry to work with people from many different denominations and traditions, and through them I’ve learnt to appreciate and enjoy a wide range of sacred music. Some of these songs have stayed with me over the years growing in significance for me as life experiences, good and bad, have taught me more about God’s ways. One of these songs is called ‘Blessed be your Name’.  It was written by the English worship leaders Matt and Beth Redman during a visit to churches in the United States as they were coming to terms with 9/11. Since then it has been used by churches and individuals around the world as a response to all kinds of tragedies. Its message is simple but challenging: it calls on us to trust God and to respond to him with praise whatever the season. Whether we are in the land that is plentiful or in the desert place, when the sun is shining down us or we’re on the road marked with suffering, we choose to bless the name of God.

Every blessing you pour out
I’ll turn back to praise.
when the darkness closes in, Lord,
still I will say,
‘Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Blessed be Your name’.

The mystery of human suffering continues to defy explanation. The only conclusion Isaiah in today’s reading can offer is the rather enigmatic words of God: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways’. Like Luke’s Jesus, Isaiah urges his people to return to the Lord and make the most of the new life that God is offering them. Let us do the same.

You may wish to explore Sieger Koder’s painting ‘Bread for the world’ before reading prayers from an Iona Community liturgy for our time which will be used at Night Church this Sunday.

Loving God,
because you have the whole world in your hands, cradle gently those who are rocked by fear, shocked to a depth they have never known and frightened to face tomorrow.

On the people of Ukraine: their children, their old people, their vulnerable adults, their babies soon to be born, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

On the people of Ukraine: their defenders, their advocates, those who care for the wounded, who sit with the despairing, who witness and report on the savagery and destruction, who bury the dead. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

On the people of Ukraine: their leaders that they may continue to inspire,
in word and by example, and continue to receive help and solidarity from across the world. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

On the people of Russia, that they might learn the truth kept from their hearing; on the churches in Russia that they might find the vocabulary and courage to speak truth to power; on the soldiers of Russia who do not believe in the carnage they cause. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

On the Russian president, and those who affirm his policies, we ask the judgement of heaven, a radical conversion and an end to their lies, scheming and murder. Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.

And for our own nation, we ask for commitment to match conviction so that the pain of the Ukrainian nation be shared by us, their weary people sheltered by us, their peace assured by us. Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.

Amen.

© 2022 WGRG, Iona Community

Materials for Worship on the Second Sunday of Lent

Nerys writes,

More than once in the last couple of weeks, I have come across people I didn’t know sitting in the church with their heads in their hands. ‘I’ve come because I didn’t know what else to do’, they’ve said to me. What do we do when life or what’s going on in the world gets too much for us? How do we reach out to God? What words do we use?

Our psalm for today, Psalm 27, is a great example of how to pray in times of difficulty. As you read it, you’ll see that it is not a well-honed piece of writing. The author flits back and forth from confident assertions of faith and trust to expressions of fear and doubt and desperation as he pleads with God to respond to his calls. In his predicament, the psalmist is totally honest with God about how he feels and what he needs.

After you have read the psalm a couple of times, take some time to share honestly with God your own thoughts and feelings, your questions and what need from God this week.

‘Wait for the Lord’. The psalmist finishes not with confident assurances of his faith but with a plea for the ability and endurance to wait for God, even when there’s no sign that his prayer may be answered. It’s so easy to give up on God’s promises to us in times of difficulty and to do our own thing. Last Sunday we read of Jesus in the wilderness grappling with exactly this temptation to take matters into his own hands. In our Gospel reading today, Luke 13.31-35, we join him on the road to Jerusalem being tempted again to go his own way.

I wonder what struck you about that reading?
For me, it was the powerful image of the hen gathering her chicks under her wings to protect them, ready to give her life to save them from danger. This is what Jesus longed to do for the people of Jerusalem and for all Israel and this what he longs to do for our world today. But all he could see then as now, were chicks scurrying off in the opposite direction, doing their own thing, taking no notice of the signs of danger or of his urgent warnings.

And all Christ can do is lament. He will not force his love and help on us but he sets himself as an example. We see in his response to the Pharisees, his determination not to be diverted from what he knew he must do. He was aware of the fate that lay in store for him in Jerusalem but still he went, risking the threat of the fox, his clear sense of purpose enabling him to face his fear of what lay ahead.

Here in Jesus we see both a human trust in God and God’s commitment to what he has promised. We are called to develop a similar trust, a trust that roots us so deeply in Christ that we are able to live vulnerably and selflessly as he did.

You may wish to take some time now with this image of a sculpture called ‘And Jesus wept’, erected on the site of the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995.

You are invited to use the prayers of longing which follow as a framework for your own thoughts.

We pray, confident that God knows and loves us and understands our situation.

Loving God, we long to live in a world where there is no violence and where everyone is treated fairly. We pray for all those involved in the war in Ukraine and those whose lives have been disrupted by the conflict. On the eleventh anniversary of conflict in Syria we pray for the millions who have been displaced and for the refugees in our midst. We also remember all those affected by the tragedy here in Dunblane twenty six years ago. We ask that you give all who govern wisdom to seek justice and peace, and show us how to play our part.

Loving God, we long for a thirsting after you in our society. We pray for those who find it difficult to accept your love and forgiveness and for all who feel that there is no hope. Help us to make our homes and neighbourhoods places which reflect your love in our caring, our welcome and our hospitality of friends and strangers.

Loving God, we long for the healing of all those who are sick in mind, body or spirit. We pray for those known to us who are finding life difficult and for those who care for them.

Loving God, we long to be part of a church which draws people to you. Help us to grow in our faith and in our confidence. We pray for our young people and for those leading services and events for families with children. We ask that you help us to deepen our trust so that we may stand firm in you. Amen.

Materials for Worship at Home for the First Sunday in Lent

Nerys writes:
Lent for me these days isn’t so much about giving up things but about making time to remember who I am and who God is. Both our Old Testament and Gospel readings today remind us of the importance of being aware that our story is part of God’s bigger story and of allowing this knowledge to shape our lives.

The purpose of the harvest ritual described in Deuteronomy 26.4-10 was to encourage the descendants of the Israelites who had come into the Promised Land, to remember God’s part in their story and not to take the blessings they enjoyed for granted. The instructions, put into the mouth of Moses, call on them to acknowledge God both as creator of the earth and as the one who freed the people of Israel from slavery. They are to fill a basket with the best of their crop, take it to the Temple and, as they offer it, they are to tell again the story of what God did to save their people. The celebrations which follow are to be enjoyed by everyone living in the land – a reminder that it was theirs by God’s grace alone and that they were to be generous as God is generous.

Immediately before today’s Gospel, Luke gives us the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam, reminding us not only that he belonged to the people of Israel, but that, like us, he belonged to the human family and that he experienced the same inner struggles that we do. Then, in Luke 4. 1-13, Jesus takes himself away to a lonely place to try to work out how to use the power and authority he had be given by God at his baptism. In the wilderness, he is tempted to follow the example of other leaders of his day to show who he is with spectacular displays of power and to gather followers by giving them what they want. Jesus responds to the voice of temptation by reminding himself of God’s bigger story. His answers are all taken from the story of the people of Israel when they were in the wilderness centuries before. But, where Israel failed again and again, grumbling for bread, flirting with idolatry and constantly putting God to the test, Jesus succeeded. They kept on forgetting God’s bigger story but Jesus is committed to living according to God’s will, trusting God completely.

Luke’s final words suggest that these temptations were part of a continual struggle within the mind of Jesus throughout his ministry. We are also constantly tempted to focus on our own story and to forget that God who loves us is active in our lives and in our world. In the celebration of the eucharist, we have an opportunity to remember the bigger story and to offer our story anew to God. My prayer for us all this Lent, as war rages in Ukraine, is that our worship together and in our homes would strengthen our resolve to imitate Christ so that we grow in wisdom, courage and compassion.

You are invited to use  Stewart Townend & Keith Getty’s song (words and recording below) as you pray today or you may prefer to spend time with the icon of Christ Pantocrator (ruler of all) by the Ukrainian iconographer Yuvenaliy Mokritskiy from the Orthodox Cathedral of St Sophia in Rome.

Kyrie Eleison, have mercy,
Christe Eleison, have mercy.

As we come before You with the needs of our world,
we confess our failures and our sin;
for our words are many yet our deeds have been few,
fan the fire of compassion once again.

Kyrie Eleison, have mercy,
Christe Eleison, have mercy.

When the cries of victims go unheard in the land,
and the scars of war refuse to heal,
will we stand for justice to empower the weak
till their bonds of oppression are no more?

Kyrie Eleison, have mercy,
Christe Eleison, have mercy.

If we love our God with all our heart, mind and strength,
and we love our neighbours as ourselves,
then this law of love will heal the nations of earth
and the glory of Christ will be revealed.

Kyrie Eleison, have mercy,
Christe Eleison, have mercy.

Lord, renew our vision to be Christ where we live,
to reach out in mercy to the lost;
for each cup of kindness to the least in our midst
is an offering of worship to the throne.

Kyrie Eleison, have mercy,
Christe Eleison, have mercy.

Rector’s Letter

Dear friends,
Most of you are probably aware that I take a few days to visit my mother in Wales every six weeks or so. Since I have been doing this for over fifteen years now, the journey is very familiar to me: Dunblane to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Crewe, Crewe to Shrewsbury, Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth. I treasure my seven or eight hours on the train as time set aside to read a book and to reflect and pray. The great majority of my trips have been uneventful but my most recent journey was an exception.


As I left on the 11.38 that morning it wasn’t even raining in Aberystwyth which is quite unusual at this time of year. Little did I know that a fallen tree near Carlisle and the threat of storm Eunice were going keep me and some of my fellow-travellers on tenterhooks for many hours as we criss-crossed the country hopping from one train to another as more and more services were being cancelled. On a desolate platform at Warrington Bank Quay as darkness fell, it became clear that there were about a dozen of us intent on returning to Scotland that night. We were a motley crew – some loud Glaswegian lads, a very nervous young Irishman, an elegant French lady, an elderly couple from Aberfoyle, some Edinburgh business men and myself. From that point, we started to engage with one another, exchanging details about our journeys and banter about the deficiencies of railway companies to begin with, then snippets of information about our work and our families and stories about previous travel experiences. As the night wore on, we shared our meagre supplies of food and drink and also started to share more about our lives. There was much laughter and an unexpected warmth in our conversation as we got to know each other. As the train finally drew into Waverley station three and a half hours late, one of the lads commented with a wry smile that this had been the best journey that he’d ever experienced.

Reflecting on this the following day, I realised that exceptional circumstances had enabled twelve strangers to form a community and that it had brought us all joy. This is, of course, something we missed during the pandemic when many of us weren’t able to meet with close friends and family let alone larger social groups. As we return this spring to a more normal existence, some of us will find it hard to mix again having got used to solitude and some will still experience fear. So I urge you to be kind to one another whilst at the same time encouraging and helping each other to get involved in the social life of St Mary’s. The make-up of our community has changed during the last two years. Some much-loved members are no longer with us while a number of new faces have appeared in the pews. We need time to re-form as a community and the best way to do that is by sharing food and sharing stories.

I am delighted that this month, we will have refreshments after the 10.30 service every Sunday with the Boys’ Brigade and Queen Victoria School Make a Difference Group hosting fund-raising coffee mornings on the first and last Sunday. Please come and join your church community for a cuppa and a chat in the hall at 11.30 a.m. whenever you can and feel free to invite friends. They will receive a warm welcome.

The Monday Gathering meets every fortnight between 2.30 and 4 p.m. in the hall. Some bring a craft project to do, many come just for a blether, some join us from other churches and we often have a men’s table. It’s a great opportunity to make friends and also to bring friends into our community.

During Lent there will be further opportunities to get together as the Dunblane Churches Together have organised a weekly study group to reflect on The Book of Joy, an extraordinary exploration of happiness by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his Holiness the Dalai Lama. Meetings will be on Tuesdays in Lent, 8th March to 5th April, 7.30 to 8.45 p.m. in the Meeting Room of the Church Hall with a facility to join by zoom. Please contact Anthony Birch on adjbirch@btinternet.com if you would like to attend.
A wonderful documentary of the five days Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama spent together in Dharamsala will be shown at the church at 7 p.m. on Shrove Tuesday. The screening of ‘Mission Joy’ will serve as an introduction to the Lent study but it is also intended as a as a stand-alone event for the congregation and the wider community. Invite a friend and bring a cushion, drink and nibbles and some tissues!

The film will also be available on line for the following three days for those who wish to meet to view it together from their homes or those who wish to watch it again. There will also be an on-line group screening on Wednesday, 2nd March at 7.30 p.m. led by Liz Owen with an opportunity to reflect on the themes of the film on the following Wednesday . To obtain the link to the film and the online meetings, please contact events@stmarysdunblane.org

If you have any ideas for a social or a charity event for later in the year, please speak with me or get in touch with a member of Vestry. My hope is that as we grow close again we will become more confident in sharing our stories and in praying for and with each other. There is an opportunity to meet on line to pray on alternate Friday evenings. Please contact Martin Wisher for more information.

My next train journey to Wales will be at the beginning of April. I hope that it will be less of an adventure than the last one!

With love to you all,
Nerys

Praying for Peace in Eastern Europe

Dear friends,

Just to let you know that space has been set up in the church for you to come and pray about the situation in Eastern Europe.

Also, on Sunday evening, instead of our planned service, we will hold a vigil for peace.

Between 7 and 8 p.m. you are welcome to drop in to listen to some Ukrainian sacred music, light a candle and take away a prayer to use through the week.

The service which starts at 8 p.m. will consist of short chants and silences and also an opportunity for those attending to share Bible readings, poems and prayers. There are plenty available on the internet. You are invited to bring something which speaks to you or to write your own prayer or poem to share.

Please spread the word and invite friends and family to join us in prayer.

In the meantime, here is a prayer by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

with love

Nerys

 

Materials for Worship at Home on the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Nerys writes: Isaiah in the Temple, Peter in the fishing boat and Paul writing to his beloved Corinthians – as you read the passages set for today, Isaiah 6.1-8, 1 Corinthians, 15.1-11 and Luke 5.1-11, I invite you to notice what they have in common.

The three situations couldn’t be more different. We have a devout Hebrew at worship in the Temple of Solomon, a Galilean fisherman at work in his boat, a Greek-writing Pharisee reflecting on a life-changing experience. Yet each of these accounts have elements which are startlingly similar.

Each of these men have caught a glimpse of the power of God. Isaiah has an overwhelming vision of a heavenly throne room where celestial beings sing praise to one whose glory fills the whole earth. Peter’s epiphany comes in the form of an amazingly abundant catch after a night of fruitless fishing. For Paul, the awesome experience was a revelation of Jesus as risen Lord as he was on his way to persecute his followers.

Each of the three have a sense of great unworthiness. ‘Woe is me!’, says Isaiah, as God’s holy presence makes him aware of his uncleanliness. Peter’s reaction is to fall down at Jesus’ knees in shame and shout at him to go away. And when Paul reflects on his encounter with Christ, he can only say, ‘I am not fit to be an apostle’. Fear must have swiftly followed as each waited for God’s judgement to fall on him. For Isaiah, however, the burning coal didn’t bring death but a cleansing of his sin. Peter was not left to live with his guilt and Paul, as he explains in his letter, was transformed by the grace of God.

But that wasn’t the end of the story for any of them. Forgiveness is immediately followed by a call to action. The future prophet hears the voice of God asking for a volunteer. The fisherman is told that from now on he will be catching people. The former Pharisee is drawn into a mission of proclaiming the Good News of Christ to non-Jews. And although each of them knows they have nothing special to offer, they accept the task that God gives them.

You may wish to explore John Reilly’s ‘Miraculous Draught of Fishes’ below with its kaleidoscopic circles linking Christ to the right with the apostles on the left through the central sun and the fishes, The artist wrote, ‘My paintings are not concerned with the surface appearance of people or things but try to express something of the fundamental spiritual reality behind it. I try to express in visible form the oneness and unity of this invisible power binding all things into one whole.’ I wonder to what extent this painting speaks of your experience of the call of God in your life or of your desire to be called by God.’

Remember that the call of God is not just for a select few but for everyone. All that is needed is for us to be available to respond to the summons.

Loving God,
I bring my empty nets
and ask you to fill them.
I bring my tiredness and discouragement
and ask you to fill me with energy and hope.
I bring the skills that I have
and ask you to teach me new ways of using them.
I bring such vision as I have of your kingdom
and ask you to enlarge it.
I bring myself, as I am
and ask you to use me, as you can,
in the service of that kingdom of joy and peace.
Amen.

(Prayer of Dedication adapted from Spill the Beans issue 41)

Letter from the Rector

Dear friends,
Recently I have enjoyed many spectacular skies as I have walked home at sunset. A number of them have been captured and shared on line by local photographers like Raymond Dormer who took this image from his bedroom window.

What I didn’t know until a friend explained it to me, was that these beautiful sights were due to the massive volcanic eruption in the South Pacific on 15th January. They were created when the sun’s rays reflected off the particles of ash thrown up by the Hunga Tonga volcano which has caused thousands of families to be without clean water, food, and shelter. What had brought me pleasure here in Dunblane had caused suffering to many on the other side of our world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us more than ever how interconnected we are globally. It is becoming clear that the vaccination gap between richer and poorer nations is not only causing devastation the other side of the world but has contributed to the emergence of new variants which are affecting all of us. This interconnection is at the very heart of the message of this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight which starts at the end of this month. Ensuring economic justice for the poor farmers on the other side of the world who produce food we enjoy is crucial in the global fight against climate change. At the UN COP26 summit last year, the richer nations failed to recognise the urgent need to invest in these small farmers, delaying until next year the funding they had promised to the countries most vulnerable to climate disaster. During Fairtrade Fortnight we can help make sure that politicians turn their promises into action at COP27. There will also be opportunities to spread the message that we here in Dunblane have the power to make a difference to the lives of thousands of people simply by the choices we make when we shop.

Our responsibility as people of faith is made very clear in our Gospel for this year, the Gospel of Luke, which has a particular emphasis on Jesus’ compassion towards the poor and oppressed. It is difficult to read its pages without hearing the call of God’s Spirit to respond through prayer and action to their need for justice. I hope that you will join me in taking time to at least think about these things as we approach Lent and Easter.
With love to you all,
Nerys

Materials for Worship on the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Ruth Burgess writes: This Sunday Night’s service will be a celebration of Candlemas, traditionally a winter festival of warmth and light.

The season of Candlemas is a time when, in the Northern hemisphere we begin to notice the days getting longer and we look out for the first signs of Spring. We begin to look for snowdrops which are sometimes called Candlemas bells.

Within the church calendar we experience Candlemas as a pivotal festival, a moment of change, which allows us a last look back at Christmas and Epiphany before looking forwards to Lent, Holy week and Easter. The Gospel reading for today includes images of both light and darkness.

In the Gospel reading for Candlemas, Luke2:22-40, we encounter Mary, Jesus and Joseph in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that the Magi met with Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a house in Bethlehem and most scholars think that they had found somewhere to stay, possibly with relatives, in Bethlehem intending to return later to their home in Nazareth.

We know that Jesus is now six weeks old, and according to Jewish law it is time for his parents to present him to God in the Temple.

Luke introduces Simeon as a devout man living in Jerusalem. Simeon may or may not have been a priest, but he was clearly at home in the Temple. All of his life he had been looking forward to the coming of the Messiah and he had been told by God, that he would see the Messiah before he died. Perhaps Simeon knew Zechariah and had heard from him about his encounter, in the Temple, with an angel. Possibly he had heard about Mary’s pregnancy and her visit to Elizabeth.

The words of Simeon as he holds Jesus in his arms are familiar to us – words that are included within the liturgy of Compline – words that tell of Jesus being a light to the gentiles and the glory of the Jewish people.

Simeon’s words to Mary point us forward to the ministry of Jesus and to the opposition to his words and deeds.

Luke also introduces us to Anna, a widow and a prophet, who like Simeon was at home in the Temple, at home in a life of worship and prayer. As Simeon cradles the child she comes over to them, and having seen Jesus she is eager to tell others about him.

This is a story that has caught the imagination of writers and artists down through the centuries. There are beautiful Candlemas stained glass windows in our cathedral which include Simeon with the child in his arms and lots of candles.

In this painting by Dinah Roe Kendall from Allegories of Heaven, the painter says that she imagines Anna saying to the crowds in the temple. ‘This is the one we’ve been waiting for. This is him!’

A poem by Malcolm Guite can also help us to reflect on the Gospel story.

Candlemas
They came, as called, according to the Law.
Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,
They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,
For God was coming with them to His temple.

Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle
They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,
Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,
Had made a killing on the two young doves.

They come at last with us to Candlemas
And keep the day the prophecies came true
We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,
The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.
For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,
Against the dark our Saviour’s face is bright.

Tonight in church we will use music and candles to help us take a last look back at Christmas and Epiphany before we look ahead towards Lent and Easter.

You might want to light a candle and spend time with a Christmas card you received this year or sing a verse of your favourite carol.

We pray tonight that Christ may be our Light and that we may be light for others.

Longing for light, we wait in darkness.
Longing for truth, we turn to you.
Make us your own, your holy people,
light for the world to see.
Christ be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light! Shine in your church gathered today.

Longing for peace, our world is troubled.
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has power to save us.
Make us your living voice.

Longing for food, many are hungry.
Longing for water, many still thirst.
Make us your bread, broken for others,
shared until all are fed.

Longing for shelter, many are homeless.
Longing for warmth, many are cold.
Make us your building, sheltering others,
walls made of living stone.

Many the gifts, many the people,
many the hearts that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another,
making your kingdom come.
Bernadette Farrell

Star-maker God,
Lightener of the world,
bless us
and warm us
into light and loving.

Bring us to the light of Jesus
all the length and breadth
of our nights and days. Amen.

Materials for Worship at Home on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Moira writes, As you light your candle in preparation for worship this morning, you may wish to focus for a minute on this image of Jesus in the Synagogue by James Tissot, as he prepares to read from the scroll of Isaiah.

The words that Jesus reads sets out a manifesto (or agenda) for a way of living and says that “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In this final sentence Jesus was claiming that the words of Isaiah were about himself. That is why the people in the synagogue were so upset. Nazareth was the home town of Jesus and everyone knew him as the carpenter’s son, so what right did he have to make such a claim.

You may wish to pause here to read Luke 4.14-21.

In the prophecy from Isaiah Jesus was given to read in the synagogue, we see set out, what Jesus’ ministry will be and who He will seek out to serve, just as Isaiah declared in the prophecy what his ministry would be.

In this opening address, some of the themes sound familiar to those set out by our own political leaders – issues of freedom, finding new ways to help those in need, how to tackle those oppressed by war, the nations’ health. But the impetus that Jesus had is different from our political leaders. Rather than a new commitment to an old ideal, with Jesus a new reality is offered. The hope that Jesus proclaims is a reality, not a pie in the sky promise which may or may not come to fruition.

The words of the prophet Isaiah serve as an outline for Jesus’ life and mission and within it we can discern two things; the people to whom Jesus is being sent, and the nature of his ministry to them. So who are the people that Jesus is being sent to? Luke tells us that Jesus will tend the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Some like to interpret Luke’s words with a spiritual meaning, the poor in spirit, those caught up in material things, those blind to the word of God and those weighed down by sin. But it would seem that this would not be fair or true to the life and ministry of Jesus if that was all we could see in these words.

Surely the people mentioned here by Luke are not just symbols, but real people. They are the socially excluded, those who by circumstance of birth are not allowed to be a part of the mainstream of society. In Jesus’ day they were the Gentiles, Samaritans, lepers, women and tax collectors. In our day they are the homeless, the refugees, and those who do not conform to our idea of ‘normal behaviour.’

They are the religiously excluded. In the time of Jesus, they were the uncircumcised, the publicans, the sinners, and women taken in adultery, whom the Pharisees would rather stone than redeem. In our day they include murderers, abusers, addicts and others we would rather condemn than redeem.

They are the economically excluded. In Jesus’ day and in ours, they are the poor, those who are dependent on others for support. Because of their economic circumstances they have no power, no influence and no real place in society. They are easily discounted, dismissed and defeated.

But what is this freedom that Jesus proclaimed in his address in the synagogue? Well firstly it points to a relationship with God. The only way that our brokenness, the brokenness of the human condition can be overcome, is through our relationship with the one who overcomes the world. In other words, we need to have a redemptive relationship with God. This is the only way we can be truly free. Freedom to live only happens, when we commit ourselves and our lives to the one who is ultimately free. Personal freedom doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Not only do we need to be in a redemptive relationship with God, we must also have a redemptive relationship with those around us. Throughout scripture we find a strong sense of togetherness, of the need for fellowship, the need to ‘love one another as God loves us.’

The need to be aware that what one person does has an effect on others. How can we be free if there are people around us who are being oppressed! We cannot be truly free unless we join together with Jesus in attempting to free others.

Perhaps here you could read 1 Corinthians 12.12- 31a.

The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the people of Corinth, reminds then, and us, that we are all part of the body of Christ. We are not alone when we live in God’s love. Just as we need each part of our body to work together, we need the support of each other as we journey on in faith.

Jesus also makes it clear in this address that he will bring freedom to those who are discriminated against, those who face economic deprivation, those who face religious hatred. He tells the people that he has been sent to free the hungry from want, to give refreshment to those who are thirsty and to set free those who have been enslaved.

God wants all of us to be free. That is why he sent his son Jesus into the world to be the proclaimer and bearer of liberation. Jesus seeks to bring about a community of free people who will carry out his mission and who will by doing so, make freedom a reality. As long as one person is not free, the work of God’s liberation is unfinished, and God has chosen us to join with Jesus in his ministry of liberation. How will we respond? Proclamation is more than just words, it’s putting those words into action. And so, this week, we are being challenged by this passage to be the people of God, and our mission is to join with Jesus in fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. We are to be the ones to bring good news to the poor and to do whatever we can to fight against injustice and oppression.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”

In our prayers this morning let us all pray for an end to poverty and hunger. An end to human trafficking and abuse of any kind. An end to vaccine poverty and for all to be able to access medical treatment.
Please pray for those you know who are ill at this time or who are struggling with difficulties in their lives.
Pray for God’s Good News to be spread to all who have not yet heard it.

I wish you all a good week ahead and God’s blessing on you and those you love.

Moira