Materials for Worship on 7th August

Nerys writes: Today at St Mary’s we’re holding special Sea Sunday Services to celebrate and pray for seafarers all over the world. Did you know that 95% of all imports and exports to the UK are transported by sea? Many of those who work on ships have a hard life, away from their families for months at a time and the Covid pandemic continues to make this even more difficult for them. So it’s important that we continue to pray for them and for those Christian organisations who are seeking to support them.

Our readings today, Psalm 107.23-30 and Luke 8.22-25 have been especially chosen to help us to pray for seafarers around the world and the many storms that beset them. This winter here in Dunblane, we were battered by high winds and it was pretty scary at times. Can you imagine being on a ship at sea in storms like that? Typhoons and large Atlantic storms can shipwreck even the largest container vessel. Those disciples of Jesus who fished would have been well aware of the power of the storms that whipped up the sea of Galilee and how a small wooden fishing boat could easily be submerged.

In Hebrew culture, large bodies of water were the home of Leviathan, the embodiment of chaos. Only God could control the sea and the evil within it. And so, by calming the storm, by controlling the evil within it, Jesus proved his divinity. And, it wouldn’t have gone unnoticed amongst his Jewish followers that this act mirrored exactly the words of Psalm 107: ‘Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. He calmed the storm to a whisper, and the waves of the sea were hushed.’

‘Calming of the Storm’ by Peter Koenig

When Jesus calms the storm, we are encouraged to have faith that He will be with us in the middle of all the storms of our lives. Recently there seems to have been a lot of those between Covid with its isolation and the fear and loss it brought with it, the war in Ukraine and the helplessness we feel, rising prices adding financial worries into the mix, and the extreme heat reminding us that Climate Change is real. But if we are struggling, imagine what it must be like for a seafarer who can be at sea for months. During the pandemic, some were on their ships for seventeen months or more. Many come from the poorest areas of the world. They work long hours for low wages, separated from those they love. At sea often they can’t get a signal or Wi-Fi, so they can’t Facetime, or even text family and friends. And their lockdown is still going on, as often they are still not allowed to leave their ship when it is in port. So, as well as facing real storms, they face the storms of isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety over finances and, more recently with Ukraine, the safety of family members. Imagine being a Ukrainian seafarer unable to speak to your family caught up in the war?

But just as Jesus responded to his disciples when they were caught in the storm, God listens and responds to our prayers today. Not only has God promised to be with us during the difficult times in our lives but God also will answer our prayers, often through the work of others who have heard God’s call. And for those working at sea, those prayers are often answered by the work of organisations like the Mission to Seafarers. In two hundred ports around the world, Mission to Seafarers chaplains and volunteers visit ships, run welcome centres and provide transport and other support services, sharing the love of Christ with individuals in their anxiety, loneliness and depression.

In your time of prayer today, I invite you to pray for all those caught up in the storms of life and especially for the thousands of seafarers and their families, and to give thanks for the work of organisations who serve them.

O God our defender, storms rage about us and cause us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us all from unbelief; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

If you wish to give a donation to The Mission to Seafarers, you can send a cheque to Mission to Seafarers Scotland,
109 Avalon Gardens, Linlithgow Bridge, Linlithgow
EH49 7PL
or visit www.missiontoseafarers.org

Materials for Worship on 24th July

Nerys writes: Our Bible passages today have the potential to give us misleading and damaging ideas of what God is like and what prayer is all about, but read thoughtfully with regard to their context, they can be an assurance and encouragement for us.

It’s easy to see how the story in Genesis 18.20-32 is often read as though it’s about Abraham bargaining with God for the lives of the people of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We picture a concerned Abraham pleading with a hard-hearted and vindictive God bent on destruction. If we read the verses immediately before this passage, however, we find that we have been misled. There we have God debating whether to share his plan for humanity with Abraham, the one he has chosen to be the ancestor of a people who will live God’s way. kindly and generously and fairly. So what we have in the conversation that follows is a lesson given by God to Abraham. God doesn’t tell Abraham his intention, but allows him to discover it and at the same time to discover what God is really like. We can imagine the twinkle in God’s eye as he dares Abraham to test him further and further, wanting Abraham to realise that the justice and mercy he is asking for is what God already wants.

We find the same kind of learning of God’s nature in today’s Gospel passage, Luke 11.1-13. After having taught his disciples the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells a funny story about an irritating friend who turns up in the middle of the night, waking up the whole house with his knocking and shameless demands for help. We assume that the grumpy householder who ultimately responds because of his neighbour’s annoying persistence is meant to be understood as God who needs to be pestered with prayer. If we read the parable more carefully, however, we find that the point Jesus is making is, in fact, the opposite of this. If even the grumpiest of neighbours will respond to a request for help from a friend, how much more would God who loves us like a father, give us what we need. ‘Ask God and you will receive’, Jesus assures his disciples. If even the worst human parents know to give good things to their own children, how much more will our heavenly Father give to those who ask?

Jesus is encouraging his disciples to bombard God with their requests, not because this is necessary to make sure that God will listen, but because God delights in being involved in every part of our lives. By pestering God with our prayers, as Abraham did and as the desperate friend did to the sleepy householder, we will learn more about God and give God an opportunity to teach us how to pray.


Our readings today invite us to reflect on the story of our own prayer life and where it has taken us.

I wonder who first taught you to pray?
What kinds of encouragement have you received to pray at different times in our life?
How has the way you pray changed over the years?
Can you think of any occasions when prayer has led you to make an unexpected decision or taken you in a new direction?
Can you think of prayers which have been answered in a way that has surprised you?
Are you struggling with unanswered prayer in any areas of your life?
What are the main themes of your prayers at the moment?

There are times for all of us when we find it difficult to pray. Sometimes it helps to do as the disciples did and ask Jesus afresh to teach us how to go about it. His response to them was to offer a prayer which enabled them to speak directly to God as their loving Father and to bring to him every aspect of their lives and every desire of their hearts. The more of ourselves we open up to God, the richer our relationship will become and the more we will learn to trust in God’s guidance.

You may wish to use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework for your time of prayer today:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
(give praise and thanks to God)
your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
(pray for a situation that needs God’s reign)
Give us today our daily bread.
(pray for a person or group of people in need)
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
(pray for situations of conflict)
Do not bring us to the time of trial but deliver us from evil.
(pray for God’s justice)
For the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, are yours, now and forever, Amen.

You are welcome to contact me or any member of the Ministry Team if you wish to speak with someone about prayer or about your relationship with God or if you want someone to pray with or for you.

Materials for Worship on 3rd July, 2022

Nerys writes: This week I invite you to  focus on the Gospel reading as it is so rich and relevant to our life as a church today. Only in Luke do we have this second sending out by Jesus of a large number of his followers (70 in some manuscripts, 72 in others), soon after the sending out of the twelve. As you read Luke 10.1-20,  I wonder what you will notice.

Here is a story about a large number of people with a real sense of ministry and mission. They are full of energy for the task ahead.

Did you notice that they are sent out in pairs as we see in Tissot’s painting above? They are not expected to go alone.

Did you notice that how and where they travel is directed by Jesus? They listen and obey.

Did you notice that it is the Lord’s harvest? The enterprise is initiated by God.  This is not just a human project.

Did you notice that the work is risky and challenging? Those who are sent  make themselves vulnerable, like lambs amid wolves.

Did you notice that they travel light? They’re not weighed down by excess baggage.

Did you notice that they don’t waste time on exchanging pleasantries along the way? They are totally focussed on their urgent task.

Did you notice that they are armed with the gift of peace? This is what they offer in return for the gift of hospitality that they receive.

Did you notice how they return triumphantly to Jesus, delighted at what they have achieved?

Did you notice his response to them?

I invite you to read the passage again and place yourself in the story.

I wonder who you identified with: was it those sent out by Jesus or those who opened their doors to  them or was it both?

They say that it is when we are simultaneously guests and hosts that the best hospitality is offered and received. This is because hospitality is a two-way process. What it does is to create relationship and enable  community to be built. It requires trust on both sides.

The famous Rublev icon based on the story of God’s visitation to Abraham,  depicts God the three-in-one as a community around a table. You can’t quite tell who is hosting whom and there is  that amazing space for the viewer who is also both host and guest at the meal.

The icon writer, like the author of the third Gospel in our passage today, invites us to enter into relationship with God, the Creator who is the ultimate host. He calls us to be a follower of  Jesus who was the finest example of how to receive hospitality – born as Emmanuel, God with us. And he encourages us to receive the Holy Spirit  who dwells within us and among us as  both guest and host. When we enter into that community of mutual love, we receive gifts of peace, healing and hope but we are also called to extend the table by becoming both host and guest to others.

Luke’s story of the 70 or the 72 (the numbers of the nations of the world given in various versions of Genesis 10), was probably intended as a preview of  the Church’s mission reaching out to all peoples. It gives us insights and encouragement as we respond to the challenge laid down by the risen Christ at the end of his Gospel.

Most churches I know are quite good at offering hospitality to the wider community but it is often much harder for us to be the recipients of the  hospitality of others.

It is  hard to go out to look for those in our wider community who might be ready to offer us hospitality. Did you notice how Jesus prepares his disciples for rejection, urging them to walk away from those who don’t welcome them, shaking the dust from their feet? Seeking hospitality risks hostility. It was something Jesus knew all too well, and yet he was prepared for the consequences of placing himself in humanity’s hands.

There will be those ready to create relationship and build community with us but it is hard for us to receive  hospitality from them when it’s not on our grounds and on our terms. Did you notice that those sent out by Jesus  are to eat whatever is set before them? In a culture where food taboos were prevalent, this was quite a challenge. To receive hospitality, we have  to overcome our prejudices and assumptions about others and ourselves. We need to travel light. Our hands need to be free of baggage in order to accept what others have to give to us. Our culture needs to be open to different ways of thinking, being and doing. In order for the kingdom of God to come near, we need to let any barriers come down and allow new communities to form.

In your time of prayer this morning, I would encourage you to reflect on your own experience of offering and receiving hospitality.

Can you think of a time when you were totally dependent upon the hospitality of someone else? What did it feel like and what were the consequences of it?

Can you think of ways that you, your family or our church community might offer or receive hospitality? To what extent is God’s love present in what we do?

Are there new ways that you or we together can develop the holy habits of offering and receiving hospitality?

What one small thing can you do this week to help bring near the kingdom of God where you are?

Lord, as your apostles were the agents of peace, le me too bring your peace to others. Take from me all worry and insecurity, in the knowledge that if I trust in you rather than my own strength, you will give me your own peace to abide with me for ever. Amen.

News Update

Dear friends,
Whenever I visit my mother in Aberystwyth I always try to get to the sea front. It is a place that holds many memories for me of childhood outings, the three years I spent living there as a student and of walks with friends and family in all weathers. Even on dismal winter days there is always something to see and somebody to meet. Last month was no exception as Llys y Brenin Square had become the setting for a visiting sculpture, the National Monument Against Violence and Aggression or ‘The Knife Angel’ as it is more generally known.

I had heard of this figure made from over 100,000 seized blades, which has been touring the UK to raise awareness of knife crime, but I wasn’t prepared for the impact it would make on me.
It is an imposing structure rising 27 feet from the ground. From a distance, there is beauty and elegance to the bronze wings which glint in the sun but as I approached, I shivered as I realised that they were made up of thousands of rusty blades of all shapes and sizes from hatchets and swords to tiny daggers. And the colours on the torso are from the handles of thousands of penknives also seized by the police or yielded in knife amnesties around the country. Some of the blades are inscribed with messages from the families of victims – a chilling reminder of the devastating impact of knife crime. As I stood at the barrier, my eyes were drawn up to the angel’s grim face modelled on that of its sculptor Alfie Bradley. I found it difficult at first to interpret its expression. Was it sorrow, grief or anger or all three? And then I noticed that the angel was looking down at his upturned hands and it dawned on me that the whole sculpture is simply asking the question ‘Why?’.

As I reflected on the experience of visiting the sculpture in the days that followed, I became aware of the frequency of that question in my prayers during the last year as I have shared with God my sorrow, grief and anger about the state our world is in. ‘Why, Lord’, is a frequent question in the Psalms of Lament as the authors, at the end of their tether, turn to God for help. This summer and autumn, during the season of Ordinary Time we will be using the Eucharistic Prayer for Times of Lament in our services from time to time. According to the introduction to this new liturgy, ‘Lament is not only about bemoaning suffering and tragedy in the world, but also about acknowledging God’s sovereignty, remembering God’s saving work in the past, and discerning God’s continuing work in the present and into the future – and committing ourselves to being part of that work of transforming the world, so that humanity may live in justice and peace’.

I hope you will be encouraged  to continue to be part of that work of transforming the world through prayer and action by reading the updates below:

It is a year since Kate Sainsbury came to St Mary’s during Carers’ Week to introduce us to her son Louis and to the Appletree Community near Auchterarder which was to become his home. Much has happened in this time including the completion of the renovation of the steading to accommodate up to three people with profound and complex needs. The main challenge, however, has been the putting together of a team of carers to support Louis and  to prepare and train them for their task.

Thanks to a great deal of prayer and hard work, the stage was reached last month where Louis was able to be discharged from the secure hospital ward where he had been held. For a number of weeks before hand, visits and overnight stays were organised so that Louis  was prepared for a very different way of life from the one he had been used to. The transition hasn’t been easy with Louis showing signs of trauma from his five years in captivity but there have also been moments of great joy and signs of  hope that he will flourish as he settles into his new life with  trusted relationships, in a purpose-built, beautiful place, with routines and regular activities.

The photos show Louis welcoming friends to his new home, crafting with his mother and enjoying a family meal

In the meantime, Kate, who is a Lay Reader,  has been busy raising awareness of the plight of people living with autism and the issue of the lack of adequate pay for support workers, by sharing Louis’ story in conferences and in the media, at meetings with leaders and policy makers and with faith communities. Please continue to pray for the Appletree Community and if you feel you can help in any way, please get in touch. You are also welcome to join Kate, Nerys, Jeanette and other supporters of the community  at the  weekly Appletree on-line prayer meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday evenings

 

Please continue to pray also for our friends who visited from Castlemilk Refugee Project last month. Along with their project leader, Eileen Baxendale, and her husband Keith came twenty mostly young people and children who belong to asylum-seeker families. They had come to thank us for organising the monthly collection of  children and baby items which are distributed to families in need in Castlemilk and to refugee families across the Central Belt. They had also come to worship with us and make friends.  We hope to organise another visit before the end of the summer.

Many of you have been asking how you can support these families further. Eileen has been thinking and praying about this and has  proposed a way of supporting one very gifted young  asylum seeker from Castlemilk who is a member of Cricket Scotland’s National under 15 squad. There is more information on how you can become one of Ali’s sponsors in the summer edition of the St Mary’s magazine or feel free to contact me.  In addition to our usual collection of children’s clothes, shoes, toys and baby equipment we are now looking for back-to-school items – pencil cases, stationery, school bags, white or pale blue polo shirts, pants, socks, vests.

 

I was delighted to catch up with Abby Parkhouse from Aberlour Childcare Trust, to hear how the money from our Christmas Appeal has been spent and to find out about new services which are being developed across Scotland.

To date Aberlour has distributed £1.34m from its Urgent Assistance fund helping 3,195 struggling families, directly supporting 11,000 people across Scotland. In the wider Stirlingshire area, £6,545 was awarded in the Financial year 2020, and a further £11,232.35 has been awarded between April 2021 and May 2022. The majority of the applications are from families living in poverty, as well as from single parents, people who are unemployed and parents with mental or other health issues. They have included requests for money to purchase beds, clothing, bedding, food, a cooker or oven and fridge freezers, amongst other things. Very few ask for help with utilities, as families are spending what little money they do have on their gas and electricity.

Aberlour’s  new Sustain services work with families to prevent their child or children being taken into care. These families may be affected by domestic violence, poor mental health, drug and alcohol use, unemployment, financial stress, disability and autism, housing issues or social isolation.  In Perth and Kinross and in Falkirk,  Aberlour’s  workers spend time with these families  in their homes in order to understand what they  need to thrive. They  work with the whole family to encourage the building of routines and resilience, helping parents, carers, and kinship carers to develop their ability to look after  their children, and to build their ability to engage with the community. The service also provides 24/7 emotional and practical support.

Aberlour is also  working with the Scottish Government to establish two new dedicated Mother and Child Residential Recovery Houses. The houses will be designed to enable children of women with problematic substance use to stay with their mothers as they receive treatment to help them recover from their addiction. The first house will open in Dundee in Autumn 2022. The second house located in Central Scotland will open in 2023. Each house will support four women and their children at any one time.

For more information about these projects and many others and to give regular support to Aberlour visit www.aberlour.org.uk

 

And finally, I would ask for your prayers  following the huge success of the Eco Fest, bringing together many key organisations and making information about sustainable living and care for the environment available to members of our wider community. Where do we go from here with our Environmental Plan? Please pray and get in touch with your ideas.

In the meantime, I look forward to seeing you in church during the Summer.
With love
Nerys

Materials for Worship at Home on the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Don’t think I came from the past,
or l don’t have education, history or heart.
Don’t look at me as if I am an insect or a rat.
Simply I just have had a very bad fate
which threw me away, very far and late.
I didn’t come to stand in a queue
to have food and clothes,
maybe old, maybe new.

There I had a lovely house
with a garden and lots of friends,
my students, my books, brothers and sisters
and my past.
All of them I lost,
All of them I miss.
Two things l brought –
my children and my coat.
I don’t want a flat or flute,
some meat or fruit.
I need your smile and some human rights.

There, under the jasmine tree
I had buried our stories,
tears, smiles and memories
for fear of them being stolen like our dreams.
There in the balcony of my house
I left a cup of coffee and a conversation with my neighbours.
On the tray there were some of the jasmine flowers
which were contaminated with the smell of gunpowder.
My children’s clothes are still there on the clothesline
waiting for the sun of hope and the wind of love.
The voices of the neighbours’ children are still singing in my ears
when they collect strawberries from my garden.
I ask someone who is still there
to water the flowers which grow on my mother’s grave.
I ask for someone to feed our cat
which is waiting for us in front of the door.

It’s great if your memory takes you everywhere.
However, forgetting sometimes is much better.

Nerys writes: Today is Sanctuary Sunday, the last day of Refugee Week – a time when communities across the world have been celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. When we think of refugees, what probably first comes into our minds these days are images of those who have fled armed conflict: the five million who have left Ukraine in recent months, the two and a half million who left Afghanistan last year, the seven million from Syria, the three million from Palestine and the two million from South Sudan. But in addition, hundreds of thousands of people in many African countries are being displaced by drought and famine brought on by climate change. The figures are overwhelming and it’s easy to forget that they are made up of individuals, each with a story to tell like Staffana, the author of the poem you have just read.

In our main service in church today we’ll be using a new liturgy for times of lament, to help us to recognise our part in the suffering of displaced people across the world, to reflect and pray for those who are in need and to ask God to turn our helplessness to hope-filled action. Our psalm for today, Psalm 77, is a song of lament. Just as Staffana is both comforted and distressed by her memories of her past life, the psalmist also is both troubled and filled with hope as he remembers God’s past presence in the life of his nation at a time when he feels abandoned. And just as the psalmist encourages us to lean on God to inspire, guide, and energize us to be channels of blessing and healing in our world, Jesus’ teaching in our Gospel reading, Luke 9.51-62, challenges us to launch out in new directions of faithfulness to God. Whatever stage of life we’re in, we are asked to walk alongside Jesus, even if that journey compels us to make difficult choices which put us at odds with the secular world. It may call us to walk alongside those who are vilified, despised and rejected by many, to speak up and ensure justice for them and to offer them financial support, welcome or hospitality.

You may wish to pray the Litany for Refugees below and add your own prayers for those known to you who are suffering today.

Lord Jesus, who fled the wrath of Herod, be with those who have to flee the injustice of others.
Lord Jesus, who had nowhere to lay your head, be with those who have no land to call their own.
For the refugees from Ukraine, Syria, Myanmar, Iraq and Afghanistan, Lord, hear my prayer.
For people uprooted in South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Colombia. Lord, hear my prayer.
For refugees and displaced persons who have fled from Somalia, Eritrea and Libya, Lord, hear my prayer.
For all who have fled oppression in their own countries and are seeking new lives in new lands, Lord, hear my prayer.
Help me, Lord, to welcome, protect and support all those who are far from home.

Materials for Worship on the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Nerys writes: Today is the second Sunday after Pentecost and the first Sunday of Ordinary Time. For the next twenty Sundays or so, until the beginning of Advent, we’ll be working our way through Luke’s Gospel, starting this week with one of his most dramatic and memorable stories of healing and salvation – a story which still speaks to us today. As you prayerfully read Luke 8.26-39, I invite you to use your imagination to enter into the scene.

Jesus, looking for some peace and quiet had crossed over the sea of Galilee. Having calmed the wind and the waves on the lake, he is met on the shore by a human storm – a tormented, deranged man in rags with the remains of chains and fetters hanging from his arm and legs, gashed and bruised from where he’d been beaten and harmed himself, his yells and screams filling the air. It must have been a terrifying sight – and what is Jesus’ reaction? To ask his name. The question creates a little ripple of quiet in the midst of this frantic, noisy story. Through it, Jesus restores the human image to the man, and he is transformed. When the townspeople get to him, he is sitting at the feet of Jesus, calm and clothed.

Image: Frank Wesley, ‘Healing of the Possessed at Gadarene’

This is a remarkable, memorable healing story, but I think that the way Luke presents it suggests that it is intended to be much more than that. It’s a story of the salvation, not only of an individual, but of a whole community. The townspeople of the region known as the Decapolis, would have regarded themselves as civilized people and yet their reaction to the healing and civilizing of their neighbour is not that of joy but of fear. They are so disquieted by it that they beg Jesus to leave the area. We are not told why they are so frightened but I wonder if they had got used to the possessed man living on the outskirts of their town. Maybe they measured their own sanity and how civilized they were against him and he made them feel good about themselves. Maybe he represented all their fears – all that was threatening, all that was other – so they kept him fettered and subdued by violence at a safe distance. Whatever their thinking, they clearly didn’t want to be challenged. They didn’t want to change the way their society operated.

To this day, communities of all kinds, from groups of children to whole nations, still have a tendency to behave in the same way, dehumanizing and persecuting individuals and groups who are in any way different. I wonder if this is why Jesus at the end of the story, refuses to allow the healed man to leave with him but instructs him stay in his town and tell everyone what God had done for him. He was to be a living reminder for the members of that community of the saving and transforming power of love. His story would speak of a new and different way of relating to one another bringing healing and wholeness to his community.

In today’s passage from Galatians 3.23-29, St Paul talks of a new community clothed in Christ. He describes it as a community free from the inequality and injustice caused by the barriers of race, social position and gender, free from fear of those who are different from ourselves, where, in the light of his love, everybody is one with God and with each other. This is the kind of community we are called to be.

Tomorrow is the start of Refugee Week, a UK-wide festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. This year’s theme is ‘Healing’ – the healing of both individuals and of communities. Those who have been offering welcome and hospitality to people seeking refuge in Scotland, testify to the way their world view has been challenged and they have been transformed by the experience. They have learnt that this is a two-way process and that in opening their churches, their homes and their hearts to those in need, they themselves and their communities are receiving a gift greater than the one that they are giving.

Take a moment now to think of an individual or a group of people you fear or find difficult and share your feelings about them with Christ, remembering that just as he knows you by name, he knows theirs also.

Pray that any barriers within our church communities built up by fear or prejudice, misunderstanding or hurt, may be broken down in Christ.

Pray for our world to be governed wisely and well, with proper consideration for the vulnerable and weak, with co-operation, honesty and respect for all.

Pray for all in desolate situations, especially all those seeking refuge or asylum and those who are migrating and displaced; those disturbed by mental illness, and all who are rejected and despised.

Materials for Worship on Trinity Sunday

Peter writes: A young Chinese woman in the congregation in Bern once asked me to pray for her grandmother, who was very ill at home in China. I asked what her name was and, to my surprise, she said she didn’t know. In Chinese culture it would be very disrespectful to refer to – let alone address – an elderly relative by their name.

There is something similar among Jewish people. In the Bible the name of God is written YHWH (or JHVH) but they will never ever say it. When they see these four letters, they say Adonai, which means “Lord”. In most English Bibles it is written in capital letters as a signal that this is the sacred name of God. In the Hebrew Bible we also read how God refuses to give his name to humans – to Jacob after he has wrestled with him at the ford of Jabbok and to Moses on Mount Sinai. The reason is that, to know someone’s name is a way of defining them or even controlling them.

But obviously we cannot do that with God. He is literally “beyond our understanding”. That is how it must be for otherwise God would be a creature of our own will and intellect, like pagan deities who could be conjured up and controlled at will. Even to ask for proof of God is useless for to do so would mean reducing him to something inferior to our own intelligence – and that would be a contradiction in terms.

However, to say that God is “one and one alone and ever more shall be so” is also inadequate. If we cast our mind back six weeks, to the scene in the Upper Room, Thomas, having realised the futility of wanting proof, cries out “My Lord and my God”. He is calling him Adonai, the word every devout Jew gives to the God of the Hebrew Bible.

We now have an insight into another dimension of God’s being. Not a different God but the same God, now seen as one with his creation, who “tears and smiles like us he knew” and who will stop at nothing in his love for us and all he has made. Indeed, in becoming human – man even – he is allowing us to get our heads round him a bit more but without exhausting all the possibilities within his being.

And there’s more. In the Creed we say “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life”. Again, “Lord”, the one God. In the beginning we see him moving over the face of the waters, a poetic image not so far removed from the way astrophysicists and biologists describe the universe coming into being. It is also the Spirit who breathes life into the first human. The Hebrew word for “spirit” is ruach, which also means “breath” or “wind”. We use the word “breath” to signify life and “to draw breath” implies gaining energy. To say we believe in the Holy Spirit is to affirm that it is God who turns inanimate matter into living being – a process that remains utterly mysterious even to the most intelligent minds.
The Holy Spirit has been described as the “go-between God”, holding creation together and making it work. On a human scale, the gifts of the Holy Spirit make for healthy, life-giving relationships between one another and also between us and God. As we saw at Pentecost last week, he breaks down barriers – of speech and other human fallibilities.

Having said all this, even so our human language(s) will never exhaust the endless extent of meaning contained in that sacred name. It is literally inexpressible because the one who bears it is a mystery, beyond our powers of speech and understanding.

Prayers of Intercession
We pray to the Father, in the name of the Son and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We pray that the mutual love and fellowship of the Holy Trinity may be reflected in our dealings one with another.

For the world: for all who suffer from war, oppression and the inequalities of society. For relief agencies at home and abroad.
For all in authority, that they may work for harmony and the good of all.

For our family, neighbours and colleagues: for the mutual love that has no limits and seeks no advantage to the detriment of others.

For those for whom we have special concern at this time. Grant them relief from suffering and anxiety.

For the Church. For Ian our bishop, for other congregations in Dunblane. For those who are persecuted for their faith in God the Holy Trinity,;for Jewish people and others facing intolerance and hostility because of their beliefs – in China, the Middle East, India and other places.

For our loved ones whom we see no longer. May they rejoice in the presence of God the Three in One.

In our prayers, we give praise and glory to God, the creator, redeemer and sustainer of life.

A modern icon based on Rublev’s icon of the Trinity

Dunblane Eco Fest, 11th June 2022

So excited about this new initiative!  So many organisations coming to Dunblane on Saturday to share their expertise! Opportunities to learn how to save energy and look after the environment. Fun for all the family!  Come any time between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Stalls in the hall and gazeebos outside. A chance to chat with  local owners of electric and hybrid cars. Meet the Bike Doctor and  Hedgehog Champion, local bee keepers, upcyclers and many more. Refreshments provided by St Mary’s Parents’ Council.

Materials for Worship at Home on the Feast of Pentecost

Nerys writes: Today is a day of celebration, when throughout the world, people are giving thanks for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – for her faith and her faithfulness. Some of you will remember the amazing day of her coronation almost seventy years ago when huge crowds had gathered in London to celebrate.

The Church today remembers another amazing day in another city where huge crowds had gathered for another celebration. Today is the day of Pentecost, a day when Jewish people from all over the world would come to the temple in Jerusalem to give thanks for the first wheat harvest of the year and to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses. And it is the day when just over two thousand years ago, the followers of the risen and ascended Christ were waiting in the city for something to happen just as he had told them to …

As you read Luke’s account of the coming of the Holy Spirit in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, you may wish to imagine the experience from the point of view of Peter or one of the other disciples or through the eyes of one of the three thousand onlookers whose lives were changed for ever on that day.

I wonder if you’ve ever had the experience of trying to communicate with someone who didn’t have a language in common with you? It can be very frustrating as I remember from the time before I learnt to speak English at the age of seven. There are many barriers to communication, especially about the deep issues of life. Jesus himself had difficulty in getting his disciples to grasp his message throughout his ministry. In fact, our Gospel passage for today, John 14. 8-17, 25-27, starts with a misunderstanding on the part of Phillip …

On the day of Pentecost, however, we see the Holy Spirit enabling the apostles to break through barriers to communication that had divided people of faith for centuries, making it possible for all of them to understand God’s language of love, forgiveness and hope. But first of all, we see the Holy Spirit coming as wind and fire into the room where they were gathered, blowing away and burning down any barriers within their hearts to the power of God’s love. This is what gives them the courage and conviction to venture out into the streets to continue the work Jesus had started.

God’s Spirit is still at work today, transforming lives and mending divisions.
I wonder if there are any areas in your life where there are barriers to God’s love?
These walls can be formed by fear, shame, anger, grief, jealousy, regret, guilt …
Where in your life is there darkness where there should be light?
Where is there a need of healing or guidance?
Come, Holy Spirt, into the areas of my life where I am reluctant to grant you entry and take away those barriers which are preventing me from being one with God who is love. Come Holy Spirit …

You may wish to reflect on the painting below called ‘ The Journey to Pentecost’ by Edgardo de Guzman. Notice how the figures appear to be caught up in the swirling wind of the Spirit almost as if they are dancing. Notice also that there are no gaps in the picture and that despite being from different parts of the colour spectrum, the shades are in harmony. Those who are filled with God’s Holy Spirit retain their unique qualities but they are enabled to work and pray together for the sake of others.

Come Holy Spirit, into the areas of our world where there is darkness where there should be light; where there is violence and injustice, corruption and oppression; where innocent people are hurting.

Come Holy Spirit, into areas of our communities where there are problems and we need your wisdom about how to solve them; where these is poverty caused by low wages or inadequate benefits, where people have to choose between food and fuel.

We ask for your guidance for all those in authority We ask your strength for those who are working for peace and justice in war-torn countries. We pray particularly today for Her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, giving thanks for her long reign and her faith and her faithfulness.

Come, Holy Spirit, into the areas of our families or friendship circles where there is friction or sadness or a need for comfort. Please hold those we know who are sick today or those who mourn.
We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

St Mary’s and Castlemilk: Rector’s Letter for June Magazine

Dear friends,
I have never been to Castlemilk but I have been praying for the community for almost 22 years. It started at a Churches Together event here in Dunblane to mark the millennium. We had invited the leaders of some new and exciting church initiatives to speak. In their midst was Eileen Baxendale from Castlemilk Community Church.


Glasgow’s decision to become an asylum dispersal city in 1999 had led to significant numbers of refugees and asylum seekers and their families arriving in Scotland. They were accommodated in the large stock of social housing left vacant by deindustrialisation. These flats were mostly located in communities with high levels of unemployment and deprivation. Tensions were often high in those early years. The newcomers were thought to be receiving preferential treatment, denying local people of housing and services.

Glasgow’s Integration Networks were set up around this time to build connections between new arrivals and members of the local community. Castlemilk Community Church was part of this response. The small Baptist congregation had opened its doors to refugee and asylum seeker families welcoming them to their building and into their community. These families had, of course, arrived with no possessions so a furniture project soon followed. During the week the sanctuary would become a warehouse where people in need, both longstanding local residents and incomers, could collect items for their homes.


Eileen spoke so warmly about the welcome and support their small group was providing to so many people fleeing war and oppression that I felt compelled to ask her how I could help. As my boys were young at the time and as many of these families had children and were having more babies, we decided that I would make a collection of clothes and toys and baby equipment. I shared some of the stories Eileen had told me with my friends and the response was overwhelming. Within days, our garage was full of donations and Eileen was back in Dunblane with her van to collect them.

By the middle of the following week, the garage was filling up again. Word had spread amongst parents at Dunblane Primary and ‘collecting for Castlemilk’ became an ongoing project for our family. Eileen would visit regularly with news of the families and requests for prayer. The threat of deportation hung over some of them, others were separated from their older children denied access to the UK. Although I had never met them, I felt a strong bond, especially with the mothers.

They must have felt the same because when I invited Eileen to my licensing as a Lay Reader in 2008, she responded by saying that some of the refugee families would like to come too. On that unforgettable evening, six mums from the Congo took over the kitchen of St Mary’s Church Hall to cook the most amazing curries for the bring and share ceilidh, whilst one of the dads took a video of the service to send to my parents who were unable to attend.

I hope that by the time you read this magazine, Eileen and some families from Castlemilk will have visited St Mary’s again. The collections have continued over the years, word spreading among parents in Dunblane by word of mouth. During the pandemic there was nothing I could do but pray for the families, but as we emerged from Lockdown last June it occurred to me that the Dunblane Free Page on Facebook would be a good vehicle for raising awareness and that the Rectory garage would be a more central location for storing the donations. Within three days, the garage was full to the gunnels and the new Castlemilk Community Church van was on its way to Dunblane to collect the hundreds of bags and boxes. Almost every day since then, folks have been coming to the door of the Rectory with donations large and small.

When I invited Eileen to come to speak to us about the work of her church among refugees and in the local community, she once more responded by saying that some of the families would like to come too. I hope that they will have enjoyed their time with us and that their visit will have sown seeds of new possibilities for the future. Please pray for them, for Castlemilk Community Church and for all families and communities who are welcoming and supporting refugees and asylum seekers.

At our recent Eco Question Time, it was made clear that Climate Change is one of the causes of the world-wide refugee crisis we are experiencing. Topics of discussion ranged from the global to the local. It is hoped that this will be the case also at our Eco Fest on 11th June when a number of organisations will set up their stalls at St Mary’s in order to provide information and advice to members of our local community on environmental issues. Please pray for this new venture and spread the word in any way you can. One of the aims of our church is to serve our wider community. These events are intended a way to achieve that aim.

With love to you all,
Nerys

Materials for Worship at Home on 29th May 2022

Nerys writes: Today is the Sunday that comes between the celebration of the Ascension and Pentecost, between the time when the risen Christ left us to be with God and when the he sent the Holy Spirit to be with us for ever. Before he left, according to the Gospel for Ascension Day, Luke 24.44-53, Jesus had instructed his disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait – not an easy thing to do especially when they had no idea how long the wait would last or even exactly what they were waiting for. As he was leaving them, however, Jesus prayed a blessing over them. They responded by worshiping him and used the days that followed for prayer and thanksgiving.

I wonder what words Jesus used to bless these ordinary people who, filled with the Holy Spirit, were to become his apostles, witnessing to him to the ends of the earth?

In today’s Gospel, John 17.20-26, we hear how, towards the end of the Last Supper, after praying for his disciples, Jesus prays for those who would become believers because of their witness. It is worth listening carefully to these words, holding in our hearts the knowledge that we are hearing Jesus pray for each one of us and for our church – that we may all be one with each other and with God through Christ so that others may come to trust and love God.

This is Jesus’s great desire for us and he died on the cross and rose again to make it possible. Through what Jesus did, we now share the very life and love of God and through prayer we are able to draw others into that life-giving, loving relationship.

It’s hard not to be stirred by Jesus’ words. The challenge is: do we trust them enough to live by them? Will we, choose to love today in a way that allows God’s love in us to overflow to others? Will we accept the responsibility to be God’s loving presence in our little corner of the world? Will we put time aside this coming week to pray for those known to us to come to know God?

One day, God’s kingdom of love will be fully here on earth as today’s reading from Revelation 22.12-14, 16-17, 20-21 assures us. Until then we are in the uncomfortable in-between time, but we are not alone. God is already with us through his Spirit as Jesus promised he would be, calling us to come to him to break our thirst with the water of everlasting life.

As you spend time in prayer this morning, I invite you to think of all those who are living with uncertainty:

  • those known to you waiting for treatment or test results,
  • those whose lives continue to be limited by Covid 19,
  • all those in this country descending into poverty,
  • the people of Ukraine, Yemen and other countries where there is armed conflict,
  • those struggling to survive in areas affected by Climate Change.

You may wish to finish with the following affirmation of your faith:

Lord of life,
I do not know the face of the future,
any more than your disciples did.
Like them, I have many questions:
how to live
how to bear witness.
Like them, I thirst for the spring waters of the Spirit
to inspire me in my living
to give me a heart language in my testimony.

You have been raised in glory
that we might rise with dignity
You live in power that we might live in peace
You are present everywhere
that we might be fully present in our own lives
This I believe
This I step out on.

Materials for Worship on May 22nd, 2022

Nerys writes: It is most appropriate that Christian Aid Week usually falls within the Season of Easter, a time of great hope and promise. Our materials today are based on resources provided by Christian Aid.

The Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible, gives us not only hope for the future, but also a vision of how God wants our world to be. It was written when the Roman Empire was seeking more and more political and economic power, and to obtain it, the Romans demand that their own emperors and traditional gods are worshipped by the people of all the lands conquered by them. John the Apostle, however, is providing another way. The scenes he describes gave encouragement to the early churches to directly challenge the powers that would suppress the Kingdom of God which is here and yet to come. John’s vision also challenges us today to not accept the global empire of our time but to seek a ‘new heaven and new earth.’

In today’s reading, Revelation 21. 10, 22-22.5, John sees God and Jesus form the Temple in the new Jerusalem, and they are the light of the world. John sees the river of the water of life flowing clear and bright like crystal, and the tree of life bearing leaves and fruit that will bring healing to all nations. Together the tree, water and light give life to all things.
When we are running short of hope or confidence, especially as we think of the unrelenting fight for climate justice and other world issues, we are invited to lift our gaze to see the world God intended, and to be strengthened by God’s Holy Spirit to help to bring it to pass.

Here is Janet Zirugo at her homestead in Njani village, Zimbabwe.


What makes you smile? For Janet, it’s seeing her grandchildren’s faces light up as she hugs them tight. Janet has a big heart. Many of the children in her family are orphans, and she is their sole provider. ‘In my family, children look up to me and I must give them food. I am more than glad to share what I have,’ she says. In her village in Zimbabwe, Janet has seen how drought pushed her family into desperate hunger. ‘One year, there was so little food. Rains had not fallen. We ate things which we wouldn’t eat in normal times. My heart was so painful thinking that my family would die. By God’s grace we did not die. We soldiered on.’ With faith, hope and love, Janet brought her family through this painful time. Thanks to a local project supported by Christian Aid she was given drought-resistant seeds that can grow in this harsh climate. You’ll be happy to know her farm is now bursting with life. In the photo below, she proudly shows the food she has grown – bowls full of groundnuts, wild fruit, golden corn; a rainbow of colour. Now, she is strong and resilient. With all her strength, she works on her farm so her family will never again go hungry. She has built a storeroom to keep her harvest safe and secure, to help her bounce back in future droughts. She knows when changes are coming and can adapt before crisis hits. ‘My life is changing,’ she says. ‘This project is lifting us up. We are thankful. It makes me happy to see my family are strong and well fed.’ As she reflects on how her life has changed, Janet sings with joy. We rejoice with her.


The river of the water of life is a particularly poignant and evocative image as we reflect on the devastation of drought in Zimbabwe and other African countries this Christian Aid Week. Pray that a day will come when no one hungers or thirsts anymore.
The leaves of the tree for the healing of the nations provide us with powerful imagery of the healing of the earth’s environment. Pray for all communities affected by drought, flooding or erosion caused by Climate Change.
The abundant fruitfulness of the tree of life provides a perpetual harvest that sustains all those who are hungry to provide for others. Pray for all involved in the work of Christian Aid and other relief charities across the world.
John’s vision also reminds us that all human beings are made in the image of God and all of creation carries God’s signature. We all belong to God and to each other, a family in partnership, all standing in the light of the glory of God. Pray that a day will come when world leaders and all those in positions of power will work together for justice and peace.

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