Materials for Worship on 26th March

Lazarus appears only once in the Gospels, Peter writes, and these verses in John 11.1-45 are a sort of curtain-raiser for what follows. The fifth Sunday of Lent is called Passion Sunday. If you are passive, then you are suffering what is done to you by an attacker, which is how it is for Jesus on Good Friday. But, of course, the word passion also means something you feel deeply about. And we are told that at the tomb of Lazarus Jesus “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved“. Then he wept.

Whether it is for stamp collecting, a football team or a person, someone’s passion tells us a lot about their character. So what does this incident tells us about the character of Jesus? What is he passionate about? In a word it is liberation. “Unbind him and let him go” he cries. Throughout the Bible that has been God’s passion – to release Israel from bondage in Egypt, from exile in Babylon and to bring them back to Jerusalem. We see the same thing in the ministry of Jesus, but on a more personal level. Lazarus, like the son of the widow of Nain and Jairus’ daughter in Luke’s gospel, are brought to life and restored to their families. So too the lepers he heals are no longer outcasts but are restored to society.

In his hymn O for a thousand tongues to sing Charles Wesley expresses it beautifully in a series of contrasts:

Hear him, ye deaf; his praise ye dumb
your loosened tongues employ.
Ye blind behold your Saviour comes,
and leap ye lame for joy.

They were all held in bondage but now they have been unbound and set free.

Take away the stone by John August Swanson

The stone that Jesus had instructed the crowd to take away is a symbol of the things that hold us back. Jesus’ passion is to take away that stone, whatever it is for each of us, that barrier preventing us from attaining all that God has intended for us. Or – to put it in more traditional language – from entering into eternal life. When Lazarus died Jesus did not to try to comfort Mary and Martha by saying, “Well now he’s gone to a better place in heaven”. As he said at the beginning of his ministry “The kingdom of heaven is within [or “among] you.” That is, we can experience the joys of heaven in this life too. That is Jesus’ passion for all of us, now.

But we must not forget the other meaning of passion. Lazarus, after all, had to die before he could receive new life. As he set off for Jerusalem, Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would follow me, you must first take up your cross”. That is, we must leave an old life behind and enter into a new life liberated from habits and life-styles that limit our possibilities and the possibilities of others. Jesus’ passion, God’s passion, is for our wellbeing and the wellbeing of all creation.

And so, the story of Lazarus is more than a curtain-raiser. It is the key to the good news that Jesus came to bring. His passion is to bring us new life, free from the bondage of injustice, physical or mental disabilities, prejudice or hatred.

“Lazarus, come out”. These are the words that lead to eternal life.

For your prayers
for the trust that takes away all fear and brings new life;
We ask you to hear us, good Lord.

for the Church to witness to the power of resurrection and to Christ’s risen presence among us;
We ask you to hear us, good Lord.

for all hemmed in by social or political bondage, by habits and life choices that block the way that leads to hope, peace and wellbeing;
We ask you to hear us, good Lord.

for all who suffer a loss of freedom and for those who inflict it on them;
We ask you to hear us, good Lord.

for all who are striving to find ways that lead to eternal life and to turn away from all that is harmful;
We ask you to hear us, good Lord.

for all at the point of death, for all who mourn the loss of loved ones, for all who have died recently and those whose anniversaries occur at this time;
We ask you to hear us, good Lord.

We offer these prayers for the sake of him who came to bring good news and who has the words of eternal life, Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Rector’s Letter April 2023

Dear friends,
The end of April 1986 was a life-changing time for me. It was when I experienced the services of Holy Week and Easter for the first time. I had stayed on in Cambridge for the holiday and went to church every day with a Catholic friend. We travelled the journey together from Palm Sunday to Easter Day experiencing the many different emotions stirred up by the liturgy and the readings, from the fresh hope of Palm Sunday, through the intimacy of Maundy Thursday and the darkness of Good Friday to the exuberant joy of the Easter Vigil.

I have travelled that journey every year since then and each time I feel that I’m drawn a little deeper into the mystery of our faith. I look forward this year to accompanying you on this journey whether you have been travelling it for many years or whether this your first time. I hope that it will be a blessing to us all.

We will start the Great Week on Palm Sunday by gathering together in the hall to remember and re-enact the story of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem before processing to the church singing and waving our palm crosses. While the children build their Easter gardens in the hall, the adults will listen and reflect on Matthew’s account of the Passion, the events of Christ’s last days, presented as a dramatized reading. In the evening, we will reflect further on the events of that day in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago and prepare ourselves for the rest of the week.
You are welcome to drop in to church to pray any time during the week. There will be materials to guide you or you can just to sit and pray in the tranquillity of the building.

On Wednesday evening, we are invited to Holy Trinity Church in Stirling for a performance of sacred music with Scripture readings and poetry. It will feature Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, a musical setting of a 13th-century hymn which portrays Mary’s suffering during the crucifixion of his son, written during the final weeks of the composer’s life.

On Maundy Thursday, there is an opportunity to gather in our cathedral in Perth in the morning for the Chrism Mass. During this eucharist, the Oil of Chrism (for Baptism) and the Oil of Healing are consecrated by the Bishop, and all ministers, both ordained and lay, re-affirm their promises and re-dedicate themselves to their calling. Back at St Mary’s, the service for Maundy Thursday will start at 7 p.m. with a commemoration of the Last Supper and an opportunity to wash each other’s feet as a sign of self-giving service. After receiving communion, the sanctuary will be stripped of all its decorations and then we stay, if we wish, to watch and pray in silence as we remember the time Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane.

On Good Friday afternoon, we will present ‘The Nail’ by Archbishop Stephen Cottrell. Key witnesses, including Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate and Mary Magdalene describe Christ’s crucifixion from their own point of view and consider the part they played in hammering the nails into his body. Each reflection will be accompanied by a Bible reading, a prayer, a hymn and a period of silence. You are welcome to drop in for part of the service or to stay for the three hours between noon and 3 p.m. In the morning, children of all ages are welcome to explore the Easter Trail together in the church grounds at 10 a.m. followed by hot cross buns in the Hall.

On the evening of Holy Saturday we come together again just before nightfall to start our Easter celebrations. From earliest times, Christians have gathered on this night to recall the story of God’s saving work, from Creation through to the death and resurrection of Jesus. We will then light our Easter candle in a new fire and bring the light of Christ into the darkened church, sharing it among us as we listen to the Exultet, the ancient hymn of triumph and rejoicing. Then we renew the promises made at our baptism and hear the Gospel proclaimed before sharing in the first Eucharist of Easter.

On Easter Morning will be a quiet, traditional communion service at 8.30 a.m. followed by a lively celebration for the whole congregation together with an Easter egg hunt for the children.

The following Sunday evening, we have an opportunity to attend another concert of sacred music, this time in our own church. Scotland’s newest specialist chamber choir, Ominum, will perform William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices along with other works of the European Renaissance by Palestrina, Guerrero, and Tallis.

I hope that there is something to appeal to everyone amidst the services planned this year. I would urge you, however, not to skip from Palm Sunday to Easter Day but to take the journey one day at a time just as Jesus did.

Blessings,

Nerys

 

Holy Week and Easter Services

You are welcome to join us for our services during Holy Week and Easter. For more information go to the Rector’s Letter for April

 

Wake up to Spring Quiet Afternoon

An opportunity to reflect on a new season …

 

Material for Worship on the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Nerys writes: Those of you who have read my letter in the last issue of the church magazine will know that I have been inspired to read the Gospel of John in a different way this year. I’m working my way through it leisurely and thoughtfully, allowing it to speak into my life. It isn’t the way I would normally read a book, but this isn’t just any book. In my experience, Scripture doesn’t just explain things or tell us what to do or inspire or entertain us. Scripture enables us to enter into a conversation with God. And in John’s Gospel in particular, I have found that God reveals to an attentive reader who God is and how God works in our lives through Jesus, the Word. Through the stories, the conversations, the teaching and the drama, we are invited to see our world through the eyes of Christ, and to respond. We are not encouraged to seek definitive answers to the mysteries of life, but instead to ask ‘How can I live it in relationship with God?’

Our Gospel for today is John’s account of the healing by Jesus of a blind beggar and of the way others respond to this act of compassion. I invite you to read John chapter 9 prayerfully and expectantly, dwelling on any words, phrases or ideas that seem surprising or significant to you, allowing them to speak into your situation.

It is easy to get lost in this long and intricate passage with its many groups of characters and the sustained play on the ideas of physical and spiritual blindness and sight, on darkness and light. In order to navigate it successfully, I suggest you first focus on the blind man, the only character who appears in every scene of the drama.

Blind beggar by Jules Bastien-Lepage

It was as Jesus was slipping away from the temple on a day when a confrontation with a group of religious teachers almost ended in violence, that he saw him. This man is not given a name. Instead, he is referred to throughout by his disability, the congenital blindness which meant that he was reliant on the good will of visitors to the temple for his survival.

This was a man with nothing going for him. As he sat on the ground begging, he would have been invisible to many of the worshippers or they would have studiously avoided him for fear of contamination. His birth defect would have rendered him unclean in their eyes, cut off from the love of God.

Jesus, however, sees him. His response, whatever that was, causes his disciples to seek to engage their teacher in a theological discussion. They assume that his blindness was God’s punishment for sin, either his own or that of his parents. We’re not told what the man himself thought, but where the disciples see a problem, Jesus sees a person in need and an opportunity for the true nature of God to be revealed in him. We are not told either how this man felt but we can imagine his amazement and delight when Jesus proclaims himself to be the Light of the World and turns his words into life-changing action. Unlike Naaman the Leper of the Old Testament, the man immediately obeys the instruction to go and wash, and returns from the pool of Siloam able to see.

The miracle of this man’s transformation is not the end of the story. He is now called to testify to what happened to him. Over and over again, he is questioned, over and over again, he doggedly tells his tale, and as he does so he gradually comes to see who it is that has healed him. He moves from a place of ignorance to recognizing Jesus as a prophet, a man sent from God. And as his faith grows, so does his confidence. Unlike his fearful parents, he is ready to hold his own as his neighbours dispute his identity and the religious authorities interrogate, ridicule and reject him. His clear, increasingly courageous testimony brings to mind that of Jesus under arrest, and likewise divides his accusers. He is the only one who is in no doubt about who he is, what has happened to him and who was responsible.

As he stuck to his story, however, it must have dawned on him that none of the prophets had actually performed such a miracle. To open the eyes of a person born blind is the work of God, a sign of the coming of the Messiah. So when Jesus returns to find him, he is ready to enter into a relationship of trust, understanding and love with him. He is ready to believe in the Son of Man and to worship him.

As the man who was blind journeys into the light of God’s love, Jesus’ opponents choose to reject that light and remain inwardly blind. And watching on the sidelines are the disciples, the man’s parents and neighbours, bystanders and also us, the readers of the Gospel. What will our journey be as we approach Easter this year? Will it be into light or darkness, healing or rejection? John shows us that we have a choice.

In your prayers this morning, I invite you to ask for insight and wisdom for all in positions of authority and influence, for deep healing for all who are suffering and in need and for the light of God’s transforming love to shine into your own life and that of those you love.

On this Mothering Sunday,

May God our Maker, our mother, our friend,
Wrap us in wholeness,
Keep us in kindness,
And bless our journey homewards. Amen.
(Frances Copsey)

Material for Worship on the Third Sunday of Lent, 12th March, 2023

Moira writes: This morning in our three readings we are reminded that God cares for us and wants us to seek him out when we struggling with our sin and with our faith. He wants to give us hope and he also wants to renew and reform our lives to bring us closer to him. In our Old Testament reading, Exodus 17:1-7, the people were thirsty both physically and spiritually. Their faith was failing, and they questioned whether God was still with them or had abandoned them. In the second reading, Romans 5:1-11, Paul points out to his readers that when they find themselves (ourselves) having to endure suffering, they (we) needn’t worry because when they (we) endure and trust in God, his grace will give them (us) hope. Paul also reminds us all that when Christ died for our sin, it was taken away from us so that we might be reconciled with God.

As you reflect on this image by Jeff Preston and read our Gospel passage, John 4:5-42, try to picture yourself as the woman at the well and notice how she feels when she realises that Jesus knows her every secret.

It’s a true saying that we never know what goes on behind closed doors. It’s impossible to know what is going on in the lives of others, because quite often the person before us puts on a front to protect themselves. In our Gospel story, Jesus knows all about the woman who is standing before him. He can see into her soul and knows the things that trouble her. However, we mere mortals do not have that power, and so we have to be careful when we are talking to people and realise that there could be things going on in their lives which they might be sensitive about. All of us has had, at one time or another, deep rooted fears or insecurities that we have hidden from one another. Perhaps we have unresolved issues or painful experiences we have tried to bury, but which keep rising to the surface. And so we all have parts of our lives that we don’t want others to see. Everyone is also affected by what is called ‘social programming.’ Just like a computer is programmed to do certain things, so our upbringing and our social interaction with others programmes our lives. We are constantly bombarded with information which has the potential to shape or reshape our lives, especially the process by which we develop our beliefs, attitudes and feelings about ourselves, other people and even God.

When we begin our journey of faith, we begin to allow God to re-programme us, to change us into the people he wants us to be. As Christians we are constantly re-forming ourselves as we learn and grow in God’s Word. Throughout the Old Testament we hear stories of people who try to hide from God, but it’s all in vain. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden were first, because their nakedness became apparent to them after they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Cain hid from God because of what he did to his brother Abel. Jonah tried to hide from God because God wanted him to go to Nineveh with a message of repentance, and later on, David tried to hide from God after his sin over Bathsheba. Here in our Gospel story, the Samaritan woman was convinced quite quickly after speaking to Jesus, that here was no ordinary man. How on earth did he know of her past marriages and her extramarital affair? In his encounter with the Samaritan woman and in revealing to her, her past misdemeanours, we can see that Jesus is showing an attribute of God, revealing that he himself is God incarnate. How else would he know all these things about the Samaritan woman. In this season of Lent, we are more conscious of our sins than at any other time of the year I think, and perhaps when we have a time of silence before the absolution in our Liturgy, we begin to bring to God the things that we know we should be confessing. Confession of sins, whether in private or through speaking them aloud to another person, is not giving God any information that he doesn’t already know. However, it’s the person who repents who is being informed, bringing to the surface what it would be more comfortable to keep to ourselves. Believe me when I say that nothing that is said or done this Lent will surprise God, but it might just surprise us.

In our Gospel passage, the Samaritan woman was fully aware of her pain and agony, and over the years had learned to deal with it on her own. She had plenty of reasons to feel guilty and even reasons to blame herself for all her shortcomings. She had been programmed to feel this way by the society she lived in. First of all, she was a woman with a lesser role in the patriarchal society she lived in. More so, because at the time she had no husband to protect her reputation. Secondly, she was a woman with a bad reputation, people no doubt knew of her infidelities and her shortcomings and as was the way in these times, the finger was always pointed at the woman in adultery and not the man. Thirdly, she was a Samaritan, a foreigner and a second-class citizen which meant in the culture of that time that she was a person to be avoided. And fourth of all, she was a person who was spiritually thirsty and hungry, searching in her own way for peace, love and acceptance and something more.

Picture now Jesus coming into this scene at the well. How did he react and deal with the woman’s predicament? Firstly, Jesus didn’t reject the woman, but he accepted her, just as she was, warts and all, and because of this it opened the way for dialogue and for listening to her needs. Secondly, Jesus helped the woman to see where she was going wrong in her life and why she was perhaps feeling rejected and put down. Jesus let her see for herself how the sins that she was carrying were weighing her down and that if she could name these sins and leave them behind, putting her trust in God and his healing power, her life would be re-formed and re-energised. Thirdly, Jesus showed her how to praise God through worship, not in a particular place, but in spirit and in truth. It’s not the places that we worship that are most important, although they often help us in our devotion, but it’s the action of worship and following the ways of discipleship that count more. And finally, Jesus reveals himself to the woman as the Messiah, the Son of God. The Samaritan woman declares “I know that Messiah is coming, when he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” And Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” It’s exciting to see Jesus piercing through layer after layer of social programming and personal responsibility in this Samaritan woman’s life. It took years for her to be the way she was, but Jesus had already begun the healing process. Hidden cupboards were opened, open wounds were healed, scars were dealt with, grace, love and forgiveness were flowing like a river of living waters as the inner longings of a lonely soul were met by the Master.

Can you picture the woman of Samaria talking to people today? She might say something like this: Hi, I am a foreigner to you but it doesn’t matter to God, it doesn’t matter to me, so it shouldn’t matter to you. Listen, I have great news. Jesus is the Messiah. He revealed that to me. I was lost, really lost but I have been found. I have been re-programmed now, re-formed. And all of this is based on God’s grace and freedom. I don’t have to do anything to earn God’s favour. Now I want to serve God because of what God has done for me. And what about us today? Do we have issues we are not dealing with, do we have things that we need to name to God? Perhaps we are becoming aware of our blind spots and are in need of re-programming, of re-forming by God. Perhaps we can try to use this time of Lent to work on these things. Just as in the Springtime we uproot the weeds growing in our gardens, during Lent let’s uproot the things we don’t need, the things that are holding us back from being the people God wants us to be. Only then can we allow God to work in our lives and plant the seeds that we do need in our lives, so that new life can spring up. Remember, God knows everything before we even decide to open our souls to him. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”

Rector’s Letter March 2023

Dear friends,
Those who know me well will be aware that it is not natural for me to ‘go slow’. I walk quickly, I delight in multi-tasking, I read and write and think fast. It has taken me many years to learn to adjust to Davie’s leisurely pace when we go on walks, to focus on one thing at a time when helping my mother around the house, to discipline myself to think deeply as I read and write, and to still my mind and relax my body so that I don’t pray in a rush.

During the Pandemic many of us discovered the joys of slow living. Some people made meals from scratch for the first time and baked bread, they discovered gardening and took up sewing, knitting or painting, they explored the countryside around them by foot or bicycle and spent quality time with their neighbours. I benefited greatly from my daily hour in the church grounds working with my hands in the soil, from walks with friends and from celebration meals and film nights with my family. It has been so easy to slip back into our old ways and forget all that we learnt during those months of enforced leisure.

I have found that in our spiritual lives, it’s easy to let our minds race ahead instead of keeping pace with God. But when we do so we often fail to pay attention to the still, small voice guiding and encouraging us. The liturgy of the Season of Lent is designed to help us to slow down. It’s simplicity and its choice of readings from Scripture enables us to focus on Jesus and to accompany him on his journey from the wilderness to the cross and beyond.

Because of the way my mind works, I have found reading this year’s Gospel for Lent and Easter particularly difficult. The words of John’s Gospel are so accessible and familiar that it’s tempting for me to swiftly skim the surface of any passage and to think that I know what it says. I have always known that I was missing out on a feast. I was aware that John’s themes, woven through the text like threads in a tapestry, require a lifetime’s exploration. St. Augustine wrote that this Gospel is shallow enough for a child not to drown, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim in it. Until recently, however, I just couldn’t get the hang of reading John.

It was as I listened to Professor David Ford at our Clergy Conference last month that I realised that I needed to approach the book in a different way. He had spent two decades writing a commentary on John and many more years immersing himself in the text, prayerfully reading and re-reading its verses, a few at a time. I have started to do the same during my morning quiet time, letting myself be drawn to a particular word or phrase or story and dwelling on it, allowing the rest of my day or my week to be infused by it. The idea of ‘eating’ Scripture is used by the author of the Book of Revelation and by a number of the prophets before him to express the way we can take in God’s Word so that it will nurture us and get metabolized into action and prayer. I am already noticing the effect that my feeding on John’s Gospel is having on my daily life …
Some of you may have already discovered this approach to reading the Bible, but if you haven’t, I would urge you to give it a go this Lent. Copies of John’s Gospel are available for you at the back of church. Members of the Ministry Team will also put together a list of commentaries and some audio books which you might like to choose from to accompany your reading and we would be delighted to give you advice or chat with you about your experience.

Our early morning and night services on a Sunday are intended to be quiet times when we can make space to still our minds and open them to God. If you are not already a regular, you are welcome to come and experience a more reflective way of worshipping and of engaging with Scripture during Lent. We will also hold another Seasonal Quiet Afternoon on March 25th which will gently encourage us to wake up to Spring, exploring signs of new life in nature and within us in the presence of God’s Spirit.


In the meantime, please pray with me for the ministry and mission of our church and especially for those who are preparing for baptism and for the affirmation of their baptism promises.
With love,
Nerys

Materials for Worship for the First Sunday in Lent

Nerys writes: When we enter into the season of Lent, we step into the unfolding story of God’s love for us and for all creation. Today in Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, we are taken right back to the beginning to walk with Adam and Eve as they are driven out of the Garden of Eden into the harsh world that we inhabit. In Matthew 4:1-11, we accompany Christ on his journey from his baptism into the harsh wilderness, led by God’s Spirit to be tempted by the devil. There and on the hard road to Jerusalem and the Cross, Jesus offered God the obedience which Adam refused, choosing the way Eve had sought to avoid – the way of death – so that we may have life. St Paul expresses this divine circle of love in Romans 5:12-19 as sin and death coming into our life through one man, Adam, and life and grace coming into the world through one man, Jesus Christ.

As you reflect on today’s two stories which are mirror images of one another, I would encourage you to think of your own unfolding inner story as you prepare to observe Lent.

Our Lord Confronts the Disobedience of Adam & Eve; Nave Mosaics from Palatine Chapel, Palermo, Sicily.

Notice that Jesus begins his journey with the experience of being filled by God’s Spirit at his baptism and being declared Beloved. This is the starting point of our journey too. We travel into our inner wilderness this Lent aware of our failings but also knowing that we are loved and accepted by God. This love is not a reward for effort or achievement but a free gift which enables us to persevere with our inner struggles and to prevail.

Even Jesus, the Messiah, needed to wrestle with himself and be tempted in order to know himself more deeply and understand the limits and possibilities of his humanity. His forty days and nights in the wilderness can be seen as a holy time of prayerfully discerning between competing demands and possibilities. Such times are essential for us too if we are to become fully ourselves as we continue to respond to God’s call to walk the path of self-giving love.

Jesus faced the ‘if …’ of the Tempter accompanied by God’s Spirit and armed with Scripture. Our inner struggles can sometimes unsettle, overwhelm or exhaust us to such an extent that we’re tempted to give up. We need the nourishment of God’s word to give us strength to stay the course. We also need to experience the presence of God in prayer and worship to inspire us.

At the end of his account, Matthew speaks of angels coming to wait on Jesus after the Tempter left him. Although each of us needs to make the inner journey for ourselves, we will be traveling through Lent together as a worshipping community. We can hold the Christ light for each another, accompanying one another in companionable silence or conversation.

So let’s take the time this Lent to journey into the wilderness with Christ so that on Easter morning we will arrive together at the empty tomb, each of us transformed and ready to take the unfolding story of God’s love out into our world.
.
Almighty God, whose Son didn’t eat for forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted, as we are, but did not sin: help us to be disciplined and to listen to your Spirit, that, as you know our weaknesses, so we may know your power to save; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

Today, I invite you to pray especially for peace in Ukraine. You are welcome to use the prayers below written by members of the Iona Community.

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.

Lent Services

You are welcome to join us as we travel through the season of Lent.

Service of Worship and Reflections on Worship

On Sunday 19th February at 8 p.m., we look forward to an evening of Modern Worship and reflections on worship with Rebecca and Dan Curtis and singer, Sally Homoncik.

 

Journey to Lent

Materials for Worship 12th February

Nerys writes: The other day I accidentally broke the handle of my favourite mug as I was doing the washing up. How ironic I thought, breaking my beloved cup during a week when I was reflecting on readings which are all about dealing with our struggle to live well with our brokenness.

The children of Israel had grumbled and bickered in the wilderness for forty years. Even now, after they had been given God’s Law, and the Promised Land was in sight, they continued to be fractious, causing Moses in his final words to them to set out a stark choice between good and evil. life and death. ‘Love God’, he urges them in Deuteronomy 30.15-20. ‘Walk in God’s ways. Keep God’s Law so that you will live and be blessed by God, otherwise you will be cursed and you will die.’

When Jesus came, nothing had changed. His people were as dysfunctional as ever. As he delivers his new interpretation of God’s Law to his disciples, his uncomfortable teaching in Matthew 5.21-37, connects everyday thoughts and feelings with actions which can destroy lives, families, communities. Human brokenness often leads to broken relationships, sometimes with catastrophic results: lack of trust can lead to litigation, lustful feelings can lead to adultery, angry thoughts can lead to murder.

Jesus came to fulfil the Law, bringing freedom to those ready to follow him. But in 1 Corinthians 3.1-9, we see that even within the Church, nothing had changed. The Christians of Corinth were at loggerheads, their community riven by jealousy and quarrelling, causing Paul to speak to them like children rather than mature believers.

Two thousand years later, nothing has changed. Today, Racial Justice Sunday marks 30 years since the death of Stephen Laurence as the result of an unprovoked racist attack in London. Since his murder, at least another 96 young people have died in similar attacks in Britain. In our society, nothing has changed. We continue to live in communities fractured by prejudice and hate. We live within broken social systems, led by broken people, and the Church is no exception to this.

In our culture we tend to throw broken thing away, however precious they have been to us. In Japan though, there is an ancient art called Kintsugi. The word means ‘to repair with gold’. Broken pottery is put together again and a lacquer mixed with gold, silver or platinum is used to fill in the cracks. The restored vessel is considered to be even more beautiful, more valuable and stronger for having been broken.

I haven’t done any golden repairs on my mug, but I have been reflecting this week on  the way God cherishes me despite my brokenness, despite the cracks, bruises and scars which sometimes cause me to hurt others.

Rather than tossing people aside because they are damaged, God pulls them closer and restores them. During their long years in the wilderness, Jehovah Rapha, ‘the God who heals’ had ministered to the broken people of Israel. When Jesus came, he gravitated towards those in need and mended them. physically and spiritually. Today, just as the shimmery gold binds the broken pottery giving it beauty and new worth, Christ continues to heal the broken-hearted, binding up their wounds and making them new again. Christ redeems our lives. When we live in Christ who is Love, his strength and his beauty shine through our cracks enabling us to bring about healing in others.

Baptism reminds us of all of this. When we renew our baptism promises, we acknowledge our brokenness and turn to Christ. We make the choice Moses is talking about. We express our decision to renounce evil, to repent of sin, to follow Christ. We choose life. We do this, not in our own strength but standing with Christ. And again, when we express our commitment to live the Christian life following God’s call, we do so, not in our own power but in the power of Christ. As Paul pointed out in his letter, God is the one who gives spiritual growth. We make our promises acknowledging that we’re completely dependent on the help of God to fulfil them.

At baptism we become ‘co-workers in God’s service’, part of God’s Church, a community of broken people who are in regular need of restoration. Together we are Christ’s body, a broken, wounded body through which God’s Spirit works, bringing healing, hope and joy to the world. When we wonder who we really are or doubt that our lives are worth much, when we see only our limitations and dwell on our failures, when we struggle with self-destructive habits, baptism reminds us of who God has called us to be.

On the internet you can find many sayings attributed to famous people which they almost certainly never uttered or wrote. Among these is the claim that Martin Luther said, ‘Every day when you wash your face you should remember your baptism’. This doesn’t really match the reality of 16th century hygiene when daily washing wasn’t practised, but it does chime with Luther’s thinking about the central place of baptism in the life of the Christian. Here are some things that Luther really said:

Baptism is not a work that we do but … a treasure that God gives us and faith grasps.
In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life.
Thus, we must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and say: ‘But I am baptized!’

This week we pray in particular for all those who have been affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria as we look for ways to work together to help mend lives and communities broken by the disaster.

Almighty and everliving God, whose Son Jesus Christ healed the sick and restored them to wholeness of life, look with compassion on the anguish of the world, and by your power make whole all peoples and nations; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Materials for Worship at Home on 15th January

Nerys writes: On the feast of  Pentecost at the end of May this year, Bishop Ian will join us for a special service where some of you will  affirm for the first time the promises made on your behalf when you were baptised and the rest of us will join in by expressing our faith and our commitment to following Christ. Between now and then,  in preparation for this important day in the life of our church. we will be reflecting together on the sacrament of baptism in order  to deepen our understanding of what it is to be a baptised person.

I wasn’t a great rebel when I was at university. In fact, probably one of the most adventurous things I did with my new-found freedom from parental authority was to regularly leave the hostel in the morning without having dried my hair. Recently, my memories of walking outside with wet hair and my understanding of baptism came together when I stumbled upon the painting by Mike Moyers below. It depicts the moment in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus steps out of the water and walks off in the direction of the wilderness, soaking wet, following the Spirit’s call.

I suppose the water from the baptism Jesus received from John would have evaporated very quickly in the heat of the Mediterranean sun, but the gifts he received from God on that day were to accompany and empower him on his journey to the Cross and beyond. As he submitted himself to the water, God responded by filling him with the Holy Spirit,  and by naming his identity, affirming his relationship as God’s beloved child.

Baptism for Jesus was not a one-off event but a two-way, life-long process. This is true of our baptism also. Most of us won’t have any memory of it, but we are all on a journey that started at the font on that particular day. Like Jesus, we have God’s Spirit as our companion and guide, and, if we listen, we can still hear God’s claim on us echoing down the years: ‘You are my child whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

After we are baptised, life  can still be a wilderness at times, full of confusion, disappointment, pain and  loneliness. Our baptism does not spare us from difficulty, but it does help us deal with it in different ways.

At our baptism, our story becomes part  of the story of all the  people of God and of the whole of creation. In the baptismal prayer of our church, that biblical story is told from the beginning, when God’s spirit moved over the face of the waters. We are reminded of the times when God used the gift of water to nourish his people, transforming deserts into gardens, when God calmed the wildness of the waves, put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of hope, and parted the Red Sea to lead his children from slavery to freedom. Our baptism has brought us into this ancient story of God’s dealings with humanity, a story through which we can make sense of our lives and of the world.

In baptism we also become part God’s Church so that we are never alone on our journey. In the account of his baptism in today’s Gospel passage, John 1.29-42, the first thing we see Jesus doing as soon as he steps out of the water is to call a group of people together to walk with him.  One of the striking changes between the life of the prophet whose longe voice is heard in our Old Testament reading, Isaiah 49.1-7, and the Corinthian Christians Paul greets in the New Testament reading, 1 Corinthians 1.1-9, is the gift of the Church. When we are baptised, we enter into a spirit-filled community who share in God’s calling, who witness and serve together and who learn from one other  as well as from God.

Baptism is a visible sign of an invisible reality. It is a sign that points to the nature and work of God and the means by which we are adopted into God’s family. It is also a seal, a guarantee that God keeps God’s promises to us. At baptism we are given a new identity as God’s own children. We enter into a new life with Christ. The apostles and the church fathers used images of rebirth, washing clean, and dying and rising again to express in their writings the work of baptism in our lives.  At times when I feel myself drifting away from God, I remind myself of the fact that I have been baptised. I imagine the water of baptism still clinging to my hair, I feel its freshness on my skin,  I see the droplets glistening as I walk, and I remember that I am unconditionally loved. I know that no matter how far I have wandered, through God’s amazing grace, I can return, I can have a new start, be born again, washed clean, raised with Christ and filled once more with God’s spirt of love.

I hope that today and in the weeks to come, you will join me in praying for those who are intending to affirm their baptismal promises at Pentecost and that you will also take time to recall your own baptism and consider what it means to you. I invite you now to reflect on the painting of Jesus’ Baptism above and also on the beautiful Prayer for the Affirmation of Baptism, (SEC 2006) slightly adapted to include us all.

God of mercy and love,
new birth by water and the Spirit is your gift,
a gift none can take away;
grant that we may grow into the fullness of the stature of Christ.
Fill us with the joy of your presence.
Increase in us the fruit of your Spirit:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of love, patience and gentleness,
the spirit of wonder and true holiness.

Come, Creator Spirit, rekindle in us your gifts of grace,
to love and serve as a disciple of Christ.
Renew our life in Christ
and bring to completion all that your calling has begun.
Empower us  to bring life to the world.

Living God, sustain us and all your people
to be hope and strength to the world;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,  t
o whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be honour and glory, now and for ever.
Amen.

What are Street Pastors?

Come and find out about Street Pastors at Night Service this Sunday, 15th January at 8 p.m.

 

Materials for Worship on Christmas Day

Nerys writes: A blessed Christmas to you and those you love!

I wonder if you have bought and sent Christmas cards this year?  They say that the tradition of sending handwritten cards in the post is on the wane and   it’s not surprising when we consider the cost of stamps and the convenience of digital cards, delivered at the click of a button. I used to look forward to receiving Christmas cards and parcels through the post when I was a youngster. As a keen philatelist, I was always on the look-out for the more unusual denominations of Christmas stamps to complete my set for the year.  I don’t collect stamps any more, but I still have an interest in the history and design of British stamps. I must admit that I did  get a little excited when I realised that this year’s Christmas issue is  particularly significant. Their theme also ties in with today’s readings, Isaiah 9.2-7 and Luke 2.1-20.

These are the last Christmas stamps to have an image of Queen Elizabeth on them. Next Christmas it will be replaced with that of King Charles. These stamps represent the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. These, also,  are the first Christmas stamps to be barcoded. Apparently, these barcodes  will make it possible for the Royal Mail to precisely track and trace every piece of post, but they will also enable customers to interact with a special app on their mobile phones.  This is seen as the biggest change in the way the post operates since  the Penny Black was introduced in 1840. These stamps represent a revolution, a completely new way of doing things.

There’s nothing unusual in the fact that these  stamps depict key moments in the story of the first Christmas. We have the angel greeting Mary, the journey to Bethlehem, the child in the manger, the appearance of an angel, the arrival of the shepherds and the wise men. What’s special about this issue is that each stamp is designed to look as if it is emitting light.  If you look carefully,  you’ll see that within each stamp is a central point of light with rays shining from it. I don’t know to what extent their designer has been influenced by the Old Masters, but they often  depicted the  stable in darkness with light from the baby illuminating the faces of the figures around the manger.

It’s hard for us to imagine how dark it would have been in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.  There would have been no street lights and household lighting was only affordable by a few.  When night fell, it was dark and the darkness would have been very frightening.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of his people living in a land of deep darkness. They were a conquered people whose very existence was under threat, a people deeply afraid, stumbling along in the dark, longing desperately for dawn to break. ‘My soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning’, sings the psalmist. They were yearning for God to send the promised king who would bring justice and peace. The birth of this child would be like a great light brining in a new era, a completely new way of doing things.

In the days before Jesus were born the people of Israel were still walking in the darkness. Living under foreign rule in a deeply unjust society with a corrupt religious system, they were still longing for God to send a saviour, someone who would  be source of light for the whole world. The message of the angels came in the darkness on the hillside above Bethlehem to ordinary people whose work was dirty and rough. The glory of God shone around them and they were terrified. And yet as they stood there in the light of heaven, they recognised that this was good news. Something had happened that would change everything. A new source of light had come into the world who would bring great joy. Standing at the manger, they must have realised how fragile this light was, embodied in a newly-born child. And yet this light was powerful enough to send them out, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.

The gift of God’s light, the light of Love,  still comes when we least expect it. It can come to us in and through the must unexpected of people and circumstances. It is fragile and yet piercing, searching and life-changing. It comes to us in the beauty of worship and  in the everyday routines and the messiness of our lives. And when it comes,  it transforms us, making us, like the shepherds, sources of light for others.

We are called  to celebrate the light that has come into the world by living as Children of Light, as followers of Jesus. We are called to celebrate  the Good News proclaimed today. We are called to tell the world, for this is news too good to keep to ourselves!

 

God of Hope, God of Love, God of Joy, God of Peace,
You dwell in glorious light and yet you choose to live among us.
May your Spirit fill us with the light of your love and kindness
as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World,
One God, now and forever. Amen.