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

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

Material for Worship on 3rd Sunday of Easter, 1st May 2022

Peter said, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  

This morning as you prepare for worship and light a candle reflect for a minute on what loving Jesus means to you.   This morning our passage from the gospel of John chapter 21 verses 1 to 19 is the one chapter of the Bible that I love the most.   It has always been special to me and more so since 2018 when Sandy and I went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.   I was privileged to be asked to celebrate the Eucharist on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberius) at Tabgha and it was very special and emotional.

We are all so familiar with this part of the story, disciples fishing – they can’t catch any fish – Jesus standing on the shore shouting, “Children, you have no fish, have you?”  – then the order to cast the nets to the right side of the boat and the hauling in of many, many fish.  If we use this as an analogy for disciples of Jesus fishing for lost souls and not catching any, it’s a bit like the church today.   Many churches struggle to bring new people into the church to teach them about Jesus, and maybe, like the disciples that day, they are casting their nets in the wrong direction.   The church, over the centuries, hasn’t changed very much.   Its traditions and liturgies perhaps don’t reflect our modern day thinking and we may have lost the ability to adapt or to appeal to the young people of today’s modern world.  However, I do think that there is room in this world for different styles of worship to work alongside each other, the more traditional and the more modern both have much to offer in spirituality and in teaching, but it does make you think that just by casting their nets to the other side than that of tradition, the disciples were able to haul in many fish.

At first the disciples didn’t recognise Jesus from their position in the boat out on the Sea, but when they heard His voice, the disciple whom Jesus loved knew that it was him.   In the tenth chapter of the gospel of John, verses 14 and 15 we hear, “I am the good shepherd.   I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.   And I lay down my life for the sheep.”

The boat was about a hundred yards from the shore, with the sun shining it would be difficult for the disciples to see exactly who was on the shore, and likewise it would be difficult for someone on the shore to know that the disciples had not caught any fish.   So how did Jesus know that their nets were empty?   Throughout the New Testament there are examples of Jesus knowing that something was going to happen before it did.   Jesus knew everything and knows everything.   This theme of Jesus “knowing everything” is woven throughout the stories of Jesus. For example, before it happened, Jesus knew he was going to suffer and be “lifted up” onto a Roman cross.   He knew by what kind of death he was going to die.   He also knew in advance that he was going to be raised on the third day.  The gospels tell us that Jesus knew everything, including that the disciples didn’t have any fish in their boat even if they were a hundred yards offshore.

This resurrection story of Jesus on the shore with His disciples is about Peter, who previously denied Jesus three times, and who will now be asked three times by Jesus, “Do you love me?”   Two charcoal fires, two encounters featuring Peter – a chance to repent and the offering of forgiveness.  The scene progresses with the invitation to sit down and eat breakfast with Jesus and once again, just as in a previous resurrection appearance, fish is eaten with bread.   It’s as if Jesus is saying to them, “look, I can eat fish and bread, I have been raised from death, I haven’t left you.   Even when I go to my Father, I will still be with you.”

Now we come to the crux of the story, the ‘main event’ so to speak.   Jesus speaks to Simon Peter and says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”   What are the ‘more than these?’   Boats, nets, fish, food, family, friends!  I suspect that Jesus was referring to all these things that were there with Simon Peter that morning on the shore.  At this point, ask yourself, why did Peter deny Jesus three times in that courtyard?   Wasn’t it to protect himself, to protect his own life?   Wasn’t it because he instinctively didn’t want to die?  And if so, why didn’t he want to die?  Perhaps, like all of us, Peter loved life, and everything that goes with it, like family and friends, fish and boats and everything else that brought him happiness.   Peter loved his life, and he didn’t want to die.   It’s as simple as that, and I think this is why Peter denied Jesus three times in the first place.   He loved the things of life much more than the possibility of his premature death.  The third and final time that Jesus says to Peter, ‘Simon son of John; do you love me?”  Peter feels hurt.   Peter says to Jesus, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’   And there in that sentence is the crux of the matter, Jesus does know everything. Jesus instructs Peter, ‘Feed my sheep.’   It’s what shepherds do, feed the sheep.   It’s what ministers do, feed the sheep and care for them, minister to them.   The shepherd is to feed and care for the flock.  We are to do this as we come together each week and as we interact with each other not only on Sundays but through the week as well.   We are to spiritually feed each other with the Bread and Wine in the Eucharist, with the Presence of Jesus in that Bread and Wine, with the bread of His new life.  Jesus knows everything…including the death by which Peter was going to die, by Roman crucifixion.  By being lifted up onto the cross.   Jesus knew that eventually in his old age, Simon Peter was going to die by crucifixion, and it did come true.  After this Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’   That is what the resurrected Jesus wants from Peter and from you and me.   Jesus showed His persistence in asking Peter three times ‘Do you love me?’ and He continues to ask us the same question.   He also never gives up asking us to ‘Follow Him’ and to feed His sheep.   God knows when we are being true to Him and following in His ways, after all, He does know everything.   Amen.

 

For your prayers this morning you might like to think about the things that are important in your life and ask God to help you to include him in your daily life.

Pray for those who have strayed from their faith that God would lead them back to him.

Pray for the hungry and the homeless that they would be fed by God working in the lives of those who reach out to help.

Pray for all who minister to their flock that God would feed them also.

Pray for the community of Dunblane, for its outreach and for its churches.

May God Bless you this coming week in all that you do and say, so that you might, by your example, lead others to believe in our resurrected Lord.

Moira

Material for Worship on 2nd Sunday of Easter, 24th April 2022

Looking through our bible readings for today (Acts 5.27-32; Revelation 1.4-8; John 20.19-31), writes Peter, I was reminded of a favourite Wesley hymn,  “And can it be?”. Its first verse consists of four questions, which in turn, makes me think of John Betjeman’s much-loved poem “Christmas”, whose last section has the twice-repeated line “And is it true?” Those last three verses of the poem are written in the same metre as Wesley’s “And can it be?”  If you doubt me, you can sing them to yourself if you like.

Which brings me to Thomas. Does he deserve his nickname, Doubting Thomas?  When we look through the Bible, we see he is not alone. Abraham’s wife Sara, for instance, laughed when she heard the angel say she would give birth to a son and even Mary herself questioned the archangel Gabriel: “How can this be for I know not a man?”. But it is Thomas who comes in for criticism for asking for proof when he should have had faith. He is like a modern critic who wrote “If Jesus appeared … and it was witnessed by multitudes, photographed, recorded, televised on the news and all the prophesies recorded in the scriptures were fulfilled, I would without doubt embrace the Christian message and become a follower of the risen Jesus.”

But the underlying theme of these final scenes of John’s Gospel ( John 20.19-31) is not certainty but faith: “Blessed are those who have not seen but come to believe”. And the reason for this is that objective, verifiable proof rules out the possibility of faith, because if something is proved to be true, you do not need faith. This is not to argue for blind faith, however, I often think that the story of Adam and Eve is about the need to progress from an innocent, unquestioning state to one that we arrive at ourselves, taking account the knowledge we have acquired. In the Garden of Eden they go through that difficult stage of growing up, like teenagers who no longer want to come to church because Mum and Dad bring them. We can just imagine Thomas like a stroppy teenager: “No, I’m not going to do it just because you say so. I want to make my own mind up”.

How our children make that decision, if they make it, is a worry for churchgoing parents. But it is something they need to go through if they are to have a grown-up faith that will withstand the challenges they face in life. I can imagine God as the parent of untold millions of teenage children. He, like any parent, has to watch his children go their own way, question, experiment, make their own mistakes – and hopefully learn from them. And at times we, the parents, do end up with the marks of nails and feel the spear-thrust .

It’s not just teenagers either. We know there are adults who are seeking a faith, who want to believe but have questions. How do we react? A common mistake is to say, in effect, “Never mind your doubts and questions. Here’s a ready-made package for you to take away.” This is not what Jesus does. In offering to allow Thomas to touch his wounds, Jesus shows he takes his doubts seriously. And then – and this is significant – Thomas does not need to touch. It is taking the doubters’ questions seriously and respectfully – one could even say, lovingly – that makes the difference.

But what about us? We are called to be those who “have not seen, yet have come to believe”. What convinces us? Well, perhaps it is that word “love”, which crops up frequently in almost all of the appearances of the Risen Jesus. Our reading from Revelation (Revelation 1.4-8) this morning speaks of Jesus as “the faithful witness, … who loved us and freed us from our sins”. And this is what the new community which is coming into being is commissioned to do.

The encounter by the lakeside (next week’s Gospel reading) tells of Jesus’ forgiving Peter for his earlier cowardice and the lakeside breakfast sets the pattern for the Church as a sharing community gathering in his presence. It is also a witnessing community, as Peter says when he and the other disciples are hauled before the Temple authorities (Acts 5.27-32). Significantly, they are charged with preaching in Jesus’ name but also with healing the sick – in other words lovingly witnessing to Jesus in words and deeds. And, as Peter goes on to say, they are empowered by the Holy Spirit for this task.

We are undoubtedly convinced by those who have treated us lovingly along the road, especially when we struggle with difficulties, whether they be physical, emotional or spiritual. There have undoubtedly been moments when we have personally experienced the presence of the Risen Lord, whether in worship, in times when sorrow has turned to joy, when something that had gone wrong has been put right, when broken relationships have been mended, when we have known people in whom the light of Christ shines out.

Yes, Easter faith does make great demands of our faith at times. And is it true? And is it true? If we believe in love, then, as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein put it: “It is love that believes the Resurrection”.

 

Prayers of Intercession

 We pray for a world where many put their faith in force, weapons, oppression….. Change hearts and minds so that the peace of Christ may prevail.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

 Grant to us, our families, friends and neighbours the grace of the Resurrection. Break through the closed doors of our fear and doubt. … Give us confidence to face the challenges of daily living.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Grant to the Church the wisdom to know and power to proclaim the good news of the Resurrection. … May her ministers be strong in the Holy Spirit to bring pardon and healing in the name of Jesus.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Have mercy on all who suffer persecution for their faith, who must meet in secret and cannot worship openly. … Give them strength in their need and the knowledge that they are not alone.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Remembering that our risen Lord still bore the scars of his suffering, we pray for anyone for whom life is difficult. … Be close to them, grant them courage and healing.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for the departed, especially those who have died recently and our loved ones whom we see no longer. … May they know our risen Lord in the fullness of his glory and may we share with them in his promised blessing.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

 We make our prayers together with those of the saints triumphant in heaven, through your Son Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Materials for Worship on Easter Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Materials for Worship at Home during Holy Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Material for Worship for 5th Sunday in Lent, 3rd April 2022

As you light your candle in preparation for worship, spend a few moments with this image of Mary and her loving act of anointing the feet of Jesus and pray the collect for this Sunday.

Merciful God, look upon your family as we travel to the foot of the cross:

and, by your great goodness, guide us in body; that, by your protection,

we may also be preserved in heart and mind, through Jesus Christ, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.

This Sunday, as we begin the preparation for Passiontide, we hear God addressing his people in the passage from Isaiah (chapter 43 verses 16-21)“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

The ‘new thing’ which God is promising is deliverance for his people from Babylon.  Isaiah also prophesies in this passage that God will restore creation back into harmony, not just by delivering the Israelites from captivity in Babylon, but by the reconciling of his people in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.   The gospel reading (John chapter 12 verses 1-8) contains a second prophesy of the passion in the story of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who has already worked out that Jesus’ sacrificial death is an essential part of his work.   Her anointing of Jesus is a prophetic act that is costly and courageous, both in financial terms and in the criticism that it attracts.   It doesn’t however put Mary off her act of adoration, she feels compelled to prepare Jesus for his coming crucifixion.   For Judas, and for many other people, this act of adoration is seen as being an excessive and extravagant gesture.  Others see it as an act of love, similar to the excessive amount of water which was turned into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.   God doesn’t put limits on the amount of love he pours out on us, so why should we be surprised at the amount of expensive nard that Mary uses to anoint her beloved Jesus!

In the mystery of the Passion, Jesus stands as one robbed of all worldly power and status, which is at the very heart of his kingdom.   This transformation of values has far greater implications for the social and material status of the poorest.   It demands that they are treated not simply as objects of charitable giving, but as bearers of the divine image of God.   We are all made in the likeness of God, but in the light of the cross and suffering of Jesus, we can see and feel for the suffering of others.  In the image above, you can see Martha in the background, doing what she does best, taking care of her guests and bringing them food.   On this visit, Mary, in an act of extravagant devotion, anoints the feet of Jesus with expensive ointment and wipes them with her hair.   Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are sensitive people, whose capacity for grief and sorrow is great.   They know that the Jewish leaders are out to get Jesus and that it could end in his death.   And so, they are showing Jesus their love and devotion in this act, knowing that it might be the last time that they see him alive.

This passage from John is a rich passage indeed.   It portrays Jesus in all his humanity, enjoying a dinner with friends, one of whom, Lazarus, had received from Jesus the gift of renewed life.   It shows the care given to prepare Jesus for what was to come in the extravagant, passionate gesture of anointing the feet of Jesus, their dear friend.   As we observe the Passiontide, especially in the services in Holy Week, we should try to recognise the “new thing” that Jesus brought in his death on the cross, so that it can transform our way of living.   Jesus sacrificed his life for us, what are we prepared to sacrifice for him.

(Take a few moments here to think about what you have sacrificed for Jesus or for others during Lent). 

The message coming out of this passage from John for us this morning is, I think, that religion without passion, without extravagance, is an empty thing.   Mary’s great extravagance with the expensive nard was only a foreshadowing of the most extravagant gift of all.   Jesus gave up his life for us, he took our sins upon himself in order that we might live.   Since Jesus was prepared to give up his life for us and die a humiliating death on the cross, then the least we can do for him is to try to aspire to live our lives in and through Jesus, doing his will in all things and placing him at the centre of our lives.      Amen.

This Sunday, you might like to pray….

 For those preparing worship for Holy Week.

For strength in times of trouble.   (Pray for all who wake up each day to war and conflict, hunger, and abuse).

For awareness of the needs of others. (Bring to Jesus those on your mind who are ill or in need of prayer).

For the ability to love unconditionally and extravagantly.

 

May God bless you as you continue to travel into in Holy Week, Moira

Material for Worship on Mothering Sunday 27th March 2022

“What’s in a name?” writes Peter. Have you ever seen eagles in Gleneagles? No?, that’s because the name has nothing to do with eagles but is probably from the Gaelic Gleann eaglais (a glen with a church). Linguists call this “folk etymology”, where a name in one language is given a name that sounds like it by speakers of a different language.

So too the Egyptian name given to Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter gets changed into a Hebrew word –  Moshe, which means “to draw (or pull) out”. The woman who drew him out of the water was of course his real mother, and she had put him there in the first place. So this Hebrew name tells us that she was not only his mother but also his midwife (Exodus 2 vs 1-10). Being drawn up out of the water is like a new birth and the basket in which he floated was his second womb.

From a Christian perspective there are parallels with baptism. Our baptism liturgy talks about new life and new birth and the Church is referred to as our mother, one of the themes of Mothering Sunday. Two of the earliest women Christian writers explore this link between birth and the Christian life. The English 14th century mystic, Lady Julian of Norwich, writes: “By the skill and wisdom of [Christ] we are sustained, restored and saved … for he is our Mother, Brother and Saviour. … We owe to him all the delightful, loving protection which ever follows.” In her poem “Baptism” a German nun Hildegard of Bingen (approx 1098-1179) writes:

Love’s hidden thread has drawn us to the font,

A wide womb floating on the breath of God.

In a moving passage in Hosea 11, God himself is portrayed as a mother: “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim [ie. my people] to walk … I held them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love”. Jesus compares the coming of God’s kingdom as “the beginning of the birth-pangs” (Matthew 24), an image picked up by Paul in Galatians 4. The fulfilment of Jesus’ promises is therefore to be preceded by pain and trials; and indeed Simeon says to Mary, the new mother, “a sword will pierce your own soul too”. A colleague of mine sometimes baptised people in Lake Geneva (rather him than me!), and we can imagine the shock of being plunged into the cold water and then the joy of rising to new birth in Christ.

In our Lent book, The Book of Joy, Desmond Tutu takes up the same theme. “Think of a mother who is going to give birth. All of us want to escape pain. And mothers know they are going to have the great pain of giving birth. [But] once the baby is out, you can’t measure the mother’s joy. It is one of those incredible things that joy can come so quickly from suffering.”

Today, some people criticise Christianity for being male-centred. But yet, when we look beyond the Mother’s Day flowers and greetings cards, we discover that so much of our faith is bound up with the essence of motherhood – baptism and birth, Church and cherishing, joy through pain, the way of pain that leads to Easter – from tomb to womb.

 

Some thoughts for reflection that lead to prayer, produced for today by the Mothers Union

Take a moment after every section to bring our own response to God and to remember those we know for whom it is particularly relevant.

 

In every family there are seasons of joys and challenges:

Seasons of laughter, and seasons of sadness.

Times of unexpected joy, and times of unwanted trauma.

Circumstances to cherish, and circumstances to overcome.

Seasons of harmony, and seasons of discord.

Times of resilience, and times of weakness.

Moments to look forward with hope, and moments to look back with thanksgiving.

God in every circumstance and season, we bring you our worship and praise.

 

And to end, we ask God’s blessing

 

May the Lord who provides for all our needs, sustain us day by day.

May the Lord whose steadfast love, is constant as a mother’s care, send us out to live and work for others.

And may the blessing of God Almighty.

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be with us and remain with us always.

Amen

 

 

 

Materials for Worship at Home on the Third Sunday of Lent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

© 2022 WGRG, Iona Community

Materials for Worship on the Second Sunday of Lent

Nerys writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Materials for Worship at Home for the First Sunday in Lent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Material for Worship for last Sunday in Epiphany, 27th February 2022

This Sunday, writes Rev Peter Potter, is a kind of hinge in the Church’s year, when we turn from the season of the Epiphany towards Lent. We always hear the

account of the Transfiguration from one or the other Gospels. 

In Luke 9:28-43 we are told that Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white and his face shone. This is not an altogether uncommon event for us ordinary mortals either, in moments of great excitement, joy or spiritual devotion. Think of the expressions on the faces of the women’s curling team in Beijing, for example, and brides, in a journalist’s cliché, are often described as “looking radiant”.

Jesus’ radiance denotes a profound spiritual experience and, to his disciples and us, it reveals who he is and what he is about. Not long before he had asked disciples “Who do you say I am?” And Peter answers “You are God’s Messiah”. What happened on the mountain confirms Peter’s words and they hear a voice from the cloud saying “This is my Son. Listen to him”, an echo of the words spoken at his baptism at the River Jordan. But now he stands with Moses, who received the tablets of the law, and Elijah who ascended to heaven in glory. Jesus speaks to them of his glory but also of his “departure” (the Greek word here is “exodus”). From here on Jesus is leading his disciples out and onwards to Jerusalem, to a new departure.

After Peter’s earlier realisation Jesus had told them what it entailed: that the Messiah would suffer and be killed but then would rise in glory. A glory which the disciples saw prefigured on the mountain.

It was a moment of intense spiritual emotion. Poor old Peter does not know what to make of it. He wanted too build three huts for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, wishing to capture this moment and hang on to it. But, as the Gospel of John tells us, Jesus is the one who dwelt (in Greek “pitched his tent”) among us, not on some lofty pedestal.

We see straight away what that means. From the mountain they come down with a bump. Down in the town everything is in a mess and they are back in the nitty-gritty of everyday life. “How much longer must I be with you?” Asks Jesus, perhaps in exasperation but more likely to remind his disciples that he is on his way to Calvary, his departure (see verse 9:44). After that he will be handing on his work – to his disciples then and us now, just as Elijah handed on his cloak to Elisha as he departed into heaven and as Moses left his people as they were about to cross into the Promised Land.

And so, they and we are called to discover the greatness and glory of God not just in the intense moments of spiritual joy but also in the everyday, the let-downs and struggles, in events we hadn’t bargained for. Because “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory”.

 

PRAYERS

Let us pray; that all may see God’s glory and hear his voice.

We pray for the peace of the world, especially today in Ukraine. We pray for the leaders of the nations, that they may learn from the wisdom and follies of the past and see where their present duty lies.

We pray for those killed, injured or made homeless by war or civil strife, by oppression or the denial of human rights, and we pray for people and organisations who are working to bring relief in these places.

As we go about our daily lives, at home or at work, teach us to see the possibilities in the simple things around us. Bless our families, friends and colleagues; and all who bring us closer to you.

Be with all who are ill at home or in hospital. For those who are recovering from treatment or awaiting the results of tests. Give comfort to all whose suffering casts a veil over their lives. We name before you …..

We pray that you will give strength and resilience to all who care for the sick, the frail and those with disabilities.

Bless Ian our Bishop and all who have the joy and care of leading worship. In the heights of praise and the depths of lament may we know your presence with us. Guide your Church that she may faithfully bear witness to the wisdom of the past and be open to the revelation of the future.

We pray for the departed, our own loved ones whom we see no longer and those who have recently died.  Grant them light and peace and the joy of your eternal presence.

Materials for Worship for Epiphany 6, Sunday 13th February

Moira writes….  This morning our readings are challenging us and encouraging us to stay grounded in our faith as we struggle with discipleship in our everyday lives.

As you light your candle and prepare for worship, you may wish to read the OT lesson from Jeremiah chapter 17 verses 5-10 and the Gospel reading from Luke chapter 6 verses 17 to 26.

 This morning in our Gospel passage we, like the disciples of Jesus, are receiving a message which grounds us in our faith. This passage is often described as ‘the sermon on the plain’ (as opposed to ‘the Sermon on the Mount.’)   Quite often when Jesus was preaching and teaching, he would do so on a hillside, or from a boat on the water or in the Temple. Today’s passage however says that Jesus came down from the hillside and stood on level ground, and the King James version says, he ‘stood on the plain.’  In this sermon Jesus is speaking not just to the twelve, but to all the disciples who followed him, the “great crowd of his disciples” as verse 17 says.  All of these disciples are the “you” that is addressed throughout the sermon, which shows us that his teaching here is not for the super-spiritual.  It is meant for every follower of Jesus – including you and me.

In this art image from Jesus Mafa, the sermon is being preached on the ground and not in a high place. The words of Jesus are not high and lofty, but plain and clear, down to earth. In his ‘sermon on the plain,’ Jesus is reminding us of the blessings we receive from the Father, but also warns us of the perils of falling away from our faith when we turn to the things of the world. Unlike the blessings and woes in Matthew’s gospel which are more general and speak of ‘they’ (Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.)   Here Luke is more personal and speaks of ‘you’ (Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.)   Another great reminder that we alone are responsible for the decisions we make in our lives of faith.

The blessings and woes in this passage parallel each other, poor/rich, hungry/full, weep/laugh, and revile you/speak well of you. Luke is dealing here with literal riches, food, laughter and social acceptance as he relates the words of Jesus to the great crowd of disciples. Not for him a sermon given from a high place to those beneath, but a down to earth telling of down to earth values for ‘walking the walk’ not just ‘talking the talk.’   The words of Jesus are also a challenge and encourage us to ask ourselves, am I with the ones who are suffering for faithfulness and will be blessed, or am I with the ones who have compromised to gain the world’s favour and will be judged?

Fortunately, we don’t live in a society that really persecutes people for their beliefs, but people can and are ridiculed, slandered, rejected and lose their jobs because of their faith.  Jesus challenges us, when we face any kind of suffering for our faith, to remain faithful, despite the consequences. It’s a tough challenge for many, especially in times of crises, times of sadness and times of ill health in their lives. When Jesus blesses the poor and hungry, the sorrowful and the ridiculed, he isn’t saying that we should all aspire to poverty, hunger, sorrow, or to being verbally abused. He is saying that God is present with us, even when the world has abandoned us, that God loves us, even when everyone else hates us. As people of God, we find blessing in seeking God, in being hungry for God and for his Word, loving those whom God loves, no matter what.

When Jesus announces woe to those who are rich, eat well, and enjoy fame and admiration from people, he isn’t saying that wealth, good food, and popularity are bad things.   He is saying that when we start to take material blessings for granted, or worse, think that we have somehow acquired these gifts by our own efforts alone, we abandon God, and our self-dependence will be our spiritual doom. When we are hungry for God, we want the things God wants. God wants every person on earth to know him and love him. When we are seeking God, we feel the pain and sorrow God feels for people who are hurting. These are the people God loves, and he loves every person on earth. When we are focused on spiritual wealth, money loses its power over us. As we practice generosity, we lose the desire to accumulate more than we actually need, and we may even find that we need considerably less than we thought we did before. When we stand up to injustice with love and generosity, we affirm that every human being is loved by God, worthy in God’s sight. We are called to be the people of God, blessed and cursed in equal measure. Let us all stand up to the challenge, grounded in our faith, so that we do not fall at the last hurdle.

“Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place…”     Amen.

 

In your prayers this morning you may wish to pray the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me a channel of your peace, that where there is hatred, I may bring love;

where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;

where there is discord, I may bring harmony;

 where there is error, I may bring truth;

where there is doubt, I may bring faith;

where there is despair, I may bring hope;

where there are shadows, I may bring light;

where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;

to understand than to be understood;

to love than to be loved.

For it is by forgetting self that one finds oneself;

it is by forgiving that one is forgiven; 

it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Materials for Worship on the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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