Materials for Worship on the Third Sunday of the Season of Creation

Rachael writes: Have you ever walked into a room full of people and they’ve all fallen silent? Silent like you can hear them holding their breath, their hearts racing a little, the cogs of their minds turning as everyone waits to see who will break the quiet and how. For they must decide without words, by sideways glances, with racing hearts, and awkward shifting in seats, whether they’re going to let you in on their conversation. What did the room feel like in that moment? How did you feel?

I imagine that it was that kind of silence that greeted Jesus in our Gospel passage – Mark 9.30-37 – when he’d got into the house at Capernaum, taken his sandals off, reclined on the cushions, and casually asked the disciples, “What were guys arguing about on the way here?”

Nobody answers: Mark writes that they stay silent, we can assume because their conversation was not one they expected Jesus to approve of. The thing is, Jesus already knew the topic of their discussion and now had something to say about it.


The disciples’ question of “Who is the greatest?” seems to me to be the quintessential human conundrum. Even in our origin stories, like that of Adam and Eve, it’s what gets us into trouble in the first place: “Could we be greater than we are? Greatest even? Equal to God? Maybe just one small bite of the forbidden fruit and it will all be within our grasp?”. Human beings are creatures who strive. Who reach. Who, as James puts it in our New Testament reading, James 3.13-4.3, 7-8, crave, want, and covet. We expound, develop, spread, control. We seek to dominate our world and each other, in order to be greatest.

James writes in verse 14 that where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. We see that in our created world at the moment: selfish human ambition has led to the disordering of our planet and our strivings have polluted waters, depleted habitat, and destroyed eco-systems.

Christ’s response to the disciples is to take a child into his arms.

Whenever this scene is depicted in art it’s always sickeningly sweet: a neat, tidy, and serene, scene. Can you picture something quite the opposite? The muddiest, stickiest, wildest child you can remember?

There was no sentimentality about childhood in the first century – their only real value was as replacement adults, though making it to adulthood was by no means guaranteed. And until adulthood they often weren’t so much beloved members of the family, as they were like dogs: barely housebroken, roaming free, scrounging what they could.

So, to teach his disciples about greatness, Jesus puts this kind of child, in their midst, folding them into his arms and saying, “When you welcome the likes of this child, you welcome me”.

I think that that child is each of us. Jesus welcomes not just our put-together, happy, smiley exteriors but the parts of us that are like this dirt covered, bruised, snot and tear smeared child. The very parts of us that have no ability to make us worthy, Jesus folds into his arms and says “welcome”.

What a difference it would make to our world if we really believed that! If we could let go of selfish ambition, of striving and greed, of the expectation that the material things of this world will give us satisfaction and wholeness. What a difference it would make if we drew nearer to God in the assurance that God draws near to us; indeed has done so in Christ’s incarnation and the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

What if we trusted that peaceful, gentle, merciful welcome? Then, there might just be a harvest of righteousness.

Loving God,
may we know and accept your love for us,
so that we need no longer strive for the fleeting satisfactions of this earthly life,
which bring damage and destruction to your creation.
Instead, let us draw near to you, as you draw near to us,
and hear the fullness of your “Welcome!”,
that we might serve you in the care of all the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Materials for Worship on the Second Sunday of the Season of Creation

This is the season for letting our prayer be inspired anew by closeness to nature … to reflect on our lifestyles … for undertaking prophetic actions … directing the planet towards life, not death’. (Pope Francis)

Nerys writes: As you prepare to worship today, I encourage you to have with you something that reminds you of the natural world. It may be a bloom from your garden, something you found on a walk or a picture of a familiar landscape. As you gaze on it or on the autumnal photo below, let it remind you of times when you felt at one with God in creation.

C. S. Lewis described Psalm 19 as ‘the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world’. It is certainly the meditation of a close observer of the natural world and of human life. With a spirit of wonder, awe and deep reverence, the psalmist firstly celebrates God’s glory as it is revealed through the cosmos before praising God’s goodness made manifest through Scripture. Then with honesty and humility, he addresses God directly, expressing his concern that, despite its pervasiveness, we humans so often miss God’s presence in creation, and that despite the clarity of God’s law, we often become lost. Yet, the psalm finishes with an expression of profound confidence in God to whom the psalmist has given over his whole life.

In our Gospel passage, Mark 8.27-38, Jesus challenges his disciples’ perception of who he is and what kind of life lies ahead of them as his followers. Peter may have the right title in calling him Messiah but he clearly has the wrong understanding of what that title means. Jesus is not a leader who will establish God’s rule with power and authority and bring his followers glory and reward. Instead, he will bring freedom from injustice and oppression through his own humiliation, suffering and death. Try to imagine how shocking and scandalous this would have sounded to those first followers. And, to add insult to injury, they are told that to serve this Messiah they would need to be ready to suffer and to give up their own lives also.

Jesus tells Peter that he is getting it wrong because he is looking at things from a human perspective rather than through God’s eyes. This is a challenge to all of us, as we the Church in every generation struggle not only to see and think, but also to live out our lives, as followers of our crucified Christ. The first readers of Mark’s Gospel lived at a time of political crisis which led to the severe persecution of those ready to take the risk of being known as Christians. Today, we are in the midst of a series of crises, health, environmental, food, economic and social, which are all deeply interconnected. These demand sacrificial changes to our way of life if we are to continue to follow the teaching of Christ.

Last Wednesday, on the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew took the unprecedented step of issuing a joint statement. In it they call on everyone, whatever their belief or worldview, ‘to endeavour to listen to the cry of the earth and of people who are poor, examining their behaviour and pledging meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the earth which God has given us.’ They call especially on Christian communities world wide to act and pray together, sharing with the rest of humanity a vision for a world where everyone flourishes.

At our whole church service last Sunday morning, those present wrote down their dreams for the world. I have woven them into a prayer which I invite you to make your own by adding your own hopes and dreams.

Creator God,
We listen as the heavens declare your glory and seek to join in with the song of Creation.

And yet sometimes our words fall short and our very actions cause us to fall on our face.

Lord, even if we appear foolish to the world, let us proclaim Christ crucified.

Let your presence be in us, around us, breathing new life into us, so that we may do the work you have called us to.

We pray for a world where there is peace, fairness and tolerance
• where we live in harmony with all of creation
• where every person and living creature is equally valued
• where the unloved are loved as much as the lovely
• where everyone is cared for
• where there are no refugees, no weapons, no war
• where resources are shared
• where everyone has enough to live
• where there is clean water for all
• where all children get a proper education
• where plants and wildlife flourish
• where the seas team with fish and the land is full of bees and birds and butterflies
• where animals are not hunted for their skins, tusks, fur or bodies
• where there is no plastic pollution in the seas endangering fish
• where oil-spills and overfishing have no place
• where everyone respects each other and the natural world
• where we can all live without fear of deadly weather events.

Now let the words of our mouths
and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you,
o Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Material for Worship on Climate Sunday

Nerys writes: You can’t but feel sorry for Jesus in our Gospel passage today, Mark 7.24-37. His attempts to lie low are constantly doomed to failure. Even in Phoenician territory to the north of Galilee, the home of Israel’s traditional enemies, he is sought out by someone in need. And it’s hard to imagine a more inappropriate request from a traditional Jewish point of view. As a religious teacher, Jesus should not have any dealings with a woman or with a Gentile and the fact that her daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit makes the situation even more inappropriate. Other rabbis would have turned from her in horror. Even Jesus struggles with her request, intent on bringing his message of salvation first to the Jews, but he listens to her, gives her an opportunity to challenge him and responds to her persistence.

Today we are called to follow Jesus’ example – we are called to listen, to be challenged and to respond. Today is Climate Sunday when we join with over a thousand churches in Britain and Ireland to consider the damage we are doing to our natural environment and to start prayerfully preparing ourselves for the crucial COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November.


You may be wondering why we should spend our worship time thinking about these things, why church should get involved in politics. You wouldn’t be alone in thinking like this. In today’s New Testament reading, James 2.1-17, we find that the Letter of James was written to a Christian church that had the attitude that belief doesn’t need to affect ordinary life in any way. Its first readers call themselves Christians and meet regularly to worship but they don’t see the Gospel as a matter that affects the rest of their lives or their understanding of the society and the wider world they live in. Instead, they seem to regard their faith as a kind of insurance policy which allows them to carry on with their normal lives without any worries about the consequences of their selfish actions. They are not ready to listen to the Gospel, to be challenged by its demands and to respond in their everyday lives. Are we?

Faith changes the way we live, says James. Faith is a commitment to trying to see the world with the eyes of God. As that desperate mother showed Jesus, God doesn’t have favourites. God loves all his children and we are called to do the same. Over and over again, the Gospels tell of Jesus interacting with those who would have been considered marginal by the rest of society. Today it is the woman who is also a Gentile and a deaf man who cannot communicate but there are many others. Indeed, it is mostly marginal figures whose lives are transformed by their encounters with Jesus, suggesting that being an insider, comfortable in the world we live in, makes it harder to hear the message of the Gospel for our time.

Are we ready to listen today to the voices of the young and the poor which tell us of the human cost of Climate crisis caused by the way we in the West live our lives? Will we allow them to challenge us to play our part in attempting to limit the rise in global warming and to join with them in putting pressure on our governments to make tackling climate change a priority as they seek to rebuild the economy? In St Mary’s over the next five weeks we will be focussing in our services on these challenging issues and praying for the leaders who will be at those crucial talks in Glasgow in November. We will also reflect on our own lifestyles, on what we can do as individuals and as a church to make a difference and how we can influence and inspire our wider community in Dunblane.

I wonder how you feel about this? Before you pray, you may wish to read Shirley Erena Murray’s hymn or reflect on the picture by an unknown artist entitled ‘Fragile, handle with care’.

Where are the voices for the earth?
Where are the eyes to see her pain,
wasted by our consuming path,
weeping the tears of poisoned rain?

Sacred the soil that hugs the seed,
sacred the silent fall of snow,
sacred the world that God decreed,
water and sun and river flow.

Where shall we run who break this code,
where shall tomorrow’s children be,
left with the ruined gifts of God,
death for the creatures, land, and sea?

We are the voices for the earth,
we who will care enough to cry,
cherish her beauty, clear her breath,
live that our planet may not die.

Collect for the Season of Creation
God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, you created humankind in your own image and entrusted the whole world to human care: give us grace to serve you faithfully, that we might be trustworthy stewards of your creation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Material for Worship on 29th August 2021

Jeanette writes: Today’s readings at first glance may seem to be very different, but if we look more closely, they turn out to have very close connections.  James is telling us what needs to be in our hearts for us to be able to live our lives in tune with God, and Jesus in our gospel account today Mark 7.  1-8, 14-15, 21-23, is telling us the same thing.  The Pharisees were very good at finding fault with other people for not following the law in the very strict way they did. They were also very good at thinking that a strict code of behaviour was all that was involved in being a good Jew. Remember Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.  The Publican, who knows he doesn’t always get things right, and that he needs God’s forgiveness contrasts starkly with the Pharisee, who knows he always gets it right, and is very full of himself. Jesus commends the Publican as the one God is pleased with, the one who goes home forgiven.  The Pharisee, who doesn’t think he needs forgiveness goes home unforgiven.

Jesus is saying in this encounter with the Pharisees; look into your hearts, what is your motivation for what you do?  It’s what is in your heart that’s important, that’s where evil comes from, not from omitting to keep a food law which has been made by humans.

So too in James, James 1. 17-27, who is telling us how our lives should be if we are followers of Jesus, not like the Pharisees, who follow the rules to the exclusion of everything else. Our lives, if we are to be true followers of Jesus, should follow the law of love, because God is love, and where we find love, we find God. Jesus came to show and teach us what it is like to follow the way of love.  If we are living by the way of love, then that will lead us to action, to help those in need, to spread God’s love into the world, in whatever way we can.

There is more, these verses from James are in praise of unchangingness. For in God there is no change, ever.  It is impossible for God to act in an uncharacteristic way, nothing which comes to God from outside can affect the way God acts.  Language like this can degenerate into talk of God’s master plan which leaves no space for human freedom.  We need to read on, James is not saying that God has a huge crystal board and can see everything that is going to happen in the future. Nor that we are simply pawns on God’s chessboard, moving according to the rules.  What James is saying is that God is completely at home and at ease with being God, that God has the genuine freedom to be always God. God does not have to change to get a laugh, affection or power. God is wholly, dynamically content.  If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, just think of the or two genuinely happy people you know.  They are completely content with what they have.  Which is where our blissful looking pig comes in; he lives completely in the moment, looking for nothing more than what is before him, food, absolutely content with what he has.

It is easy to misunderstand the unchanging nature of God, to think of God as less loving, less personal, less like Jesus.  But perhaps God’s unchangingness is a sign that God does not have to waste time worrying about being God, and so can be wholly available, wholly present to us, in a way that no human can ever be, as we all have our hang-ups which get in the way of being completely and totally present to someone else.

James here is giving us an impossible task – to imitate God. Unlike God that certainly means we are going to have to change, but we cannot do that unless we know ourselves in the first place, we may not realise how we behave, or how others perceive us. As we look into the nature of God, slowly, slowly we will begin to see ourselves as God sees us and our lives will begin to align themselves with the constancy of God.  Our task is to work towards the state that we see in God, where doing and being are never separated.

So, let’s pray:

Give yourself time before going on to the next petition to ponder on what the petition means for you,

Loving God, help us to know ourselves, so that we may more closely follow you.

God our teacher, help us to see what you would have us do in the place you have given us to live.

God our healer, we pray for the people of Afghanistan and for their new leaders.

God of justice, we pray for an equal sharing of the Covid vaccines throughout our world, regardless of ability to pay.

Creator God, we pray for our world; give us the will to make the changes to our living which will restore our planet to health again.

Material for Worship at Home on 22nd August, 2021

Nerys writes: This week’s dreadful news stories from Afghanistan, Haiti and Plymouth have reminded us of our helplessness in the face of evil, injustice and natural disaster. There is so little we can do, but we can turn to our God of compassion who is there in the midst of the suffering and is also here with us. As you light your candle and prepare yourself for worship today, pray that God’s light of love would transform the hearts and minds of those who are spreading darkness in our world, bring hope to those who are living in fear and in need and use us as vehicles of her peace.

Today we come to the last part of the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel which we’ve been reading for the last five weeks. It started with the feeding of the five thousand and finishes with Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum using the image of the living bread to explain who he is. Our Gospel reading is John 6.56-69.

When I first read this passage, what came to my mind was this image of a piece of graffiti I saw when I visited Rome many years ago. It was scratched on the wall of a schoolroom on Palatine Hill sometime in the late second century.

It shows a man on a cross and a boy who seems to be raising his hand in worship. The victim has the head of a donkey. Underneath, the schoolboy artist has scrawled in rather dodgy Greek ‘Alexamenos worships [his] god’.

Hi classmates would probably have thought that young Alexamenos deserved this insulting joke. To outsiders, the early Christians were stupid fools. The Greek satirist Lucian called them ‘misguided creatures’. That they were foolish was the main claim of Celsus, the first author who wrote against Christianity. And Paul, writing his letters about the same time, doesn’t deny it, saying, ‘We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness’.

Jesus claims that his words are ‘spirit and life’ but his talk of his followers needing to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to receive that life is deliberately shocking. These words are disturbing for us today. They would have been anathema to any Jew and were hotly debated in synagogues across the Mediterranean during the second half of the first century. In our Gospel passage, they cause many of his followers to leave him, saying, ‘This teaching is too difficult, Who can accept it?’ Jesus then turns to his remaining disciples and gives them a choice, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’

In our Old Testament passage, Joshua 24.1-2a, 14-18, Joshua also gives his listeners a choice. On the threshold of entering the Promised Land and making their home there, he calls the people of Israel together to make a decision. Will they serve the Lord who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and led them through the wilderness, who had been present with them in their suffering and in their joy, or the ancestral gods of the land of Canaan, the gods of the past who offered security, safety and comfort?

Some scholars think that the story of the giving and making of this choice was a rite, a kind of liturgical drama, re-enacted by subsequent generations on many occasions. It would have spoken very powerfully to readers in exile in Babylon, for example, those choosing to keep their costly promise to worship God alone in a foreign land.

Joshua offers the children of Israel this choice without any judgement, making his own profession of faith clear but offering them legitimate alternatives. Jesus in our Gospel passage also gives his followers a similar free choice between the security, safety and comfort of religion with its tidy rules and rituals, and a costly commitment to a way of life that demands a leap of faith and will be ridiculed by many.

Peter answers on behalf of the remaining few: ‘To whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ There are other gods which we can worship on our own terms, but none that lead us to a way of living and loving that deprives fear and death of the upper hand. Christ, the Holy One of God, offers us a free choice. Peter will go on to deny Jesus and desert him in his hour of need, only to recommit to following him on the beach after the resurrection. The people of God were called by the prophets to return to the Lord over and over again. Wrestling with faith doesn’t mean being judged and found wanting by God. The offer to follow Jesus remains open throughout our lives.

In a nearby room in that former school on the Palatine Hill is another graffito by a different hand. It says, ‘Alexamenos is faithful’. Alexamenos despite the mockery of his classmates, chose to worship Christ, the crucified and resurrected God, whose teaching was foolishness to the worldly wise. Will we, like him and like Peter continue to make the same choice?

To finish, you may choose to reflect on this image by an unknown artist and on these words from Philippians 2.6-11 and then read them out loud as an affirmation of your faith in Christ.

Though he was divine,
He did not cling to equality with God
but made himself nothing.
Taking the form of a slave,
He was born in human likeness.
He humbled himself
and was obedient to death,
even the death of the cross.
Therefore, God has raised him on high,
and given him the name above every name:
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow,
and every voice proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the Glory of God the Father. Amen.

Material for Worship 15th August

Nerys writes: If you could choose any gift you wanted, I wonder what it would be and why you would choose it?

You are invited to start your time of worship today with an ancient Irish prayer which asks God for may gifts. Read or sing along as David Sawyer plays the tune.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
be thou my best thought in the day and the night,
both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
be thou ever with me, and I with thee, Lord;
be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
be thou my whole armour, be thou my true might;
be thou my soul’s shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise:
be thou mine inheritance now and always;
be thou and thou only the first in my heart;
O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of heaven, thou heaven’s bright sun,
O grant me its joys after victory is won;
great Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.

8th century Irish prayer translated by Mary Byrne and versified by Eleanor Hull

In our Old Testament reading today, 1 Kings 2.10-12, 3.3-14, we hear what happened when young Solomon became king of the people of Israel. Can you imagine being made king – how exciting and how frightening that would be? Solomon’s father, David had been a great king who was loved by the people and blessed by God. He would have been a hard act to follow. Can you imagine how Solomon must have felt?

Solomon chose wisdom as his gift. Take a moment to consider what it is to be wise. I wonder what you think the difference is between wisdom and cleverness or learning?

Here are some sayings about wisdom for you to ponder:

‘Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens’.

‘Wisdom is often more a matter of asking the right questions than of knowing right answers to other people’s questions.’

‘Wisdom is about knowing when to be silent and when to speak.’

‘Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.’

‘The greatest wisdom is knowing that we know very little.’

The story suggests that Solomon received the gift of wisdom with just one prayer, but it seems to me that the young king had already been learning to be wise. Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions and Solomon made a great decision with his choice of gift. The wisdom that he already possessed helped him see that he didn’t yet have all is took to be king. He was wise enough to ask God for more wisdom!

Solomon became famous for his wisdom and many wise sayings were attributed to him including this one from the Book of Proverbs: ‘All wisdom comes from God and so do common sense and understanding’. Solomon got to be a wise and successful king by walking in God’s ways.

When Jesus was teaching once in the synagogue in Capernaum, some clever and learned men, religious experts, were listening. But instead of hearing and understanding Jesus’ words, they started arguing amongst themselves about what Jesus was saying. Our Gospel is to be found in John 6.51-58.

Jesus said: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven.’ But his clever listeners couldn’t grasp his meaning. Instead of seeing Jesus’ words as a wonderful picture of himself, they started arguing about the details of what he was saying. Down the centuries there have been people who have found it impossible to see Jesus’ teaching as wisdom, but only as foolishness.

It would be much easier if our faith in God was something we could use our intelligence or learning to decide about. It took me many, many years and many prayers and tears to really understand what Jesus meant when he said that he was the living bread. I just couldn’t accept that Christ really came as a human person, that he really died and rose again, that he was more than a gifted teacher and healer, that he is not an optional extra but the only possible source of life which will last for ever. I prayed for God’s wisdom like Solomon did, and one day I came to know and experience Christ through God’s Holy Spirit. I realised that it’s not about sitting back in the pew, coolly considering him as if he was an abstract idea, but that I needed to be ready to let him take over my whole life just has he had given his whole life to me.

Christ calls us to get up, come forward, hold our empty hands and take the bread as a sign that we are one with Him, ready to live our lives so that He can live through us. This is why the eucharist it at the centre of our worship. When we take the bread, we are saying that we trust that what Christ said and did is true, that he is who he says he is, and that we are ready to receive him into our lives so that we can share his life with those around us.

Today is the last Sunday of the summer holidays for our families with children. I invite you to pray for them, asking that God would give them wisdom for the year ahead.

Pray for all those who are starting nursery, primary, secondary, or home learning for the first time – as well as students starting apprenticeships, college and university.

Pray that our educational establishments would be places of learning, creativity, encouragement and discovery for all our young people, asking that God’s peace and joy would fill classrooms, playgrounds, and lessons.

Pray that extra-curricular activities might safely resume and that through them, pupils will grow in skills, understanding and friendship.

Pray for headteachers, teachers and support staff, asking that in challenging moments, God would give them patience, energy and a sense of His presence.

Pray that staff rooms would be places where words of encouragement, support and hope are spoken and where friendships grow.

Pray for those who make decisions about education at local and government level, that they would lead with integrity and that they would be influencers for good.

Pray for those who serve on Parent Teacher Associations and Boards of Governors.

Pray for School Chaplains, asking that assemblies, SU groups and other Christian support might be allowed to happen this year.

Pray for wisdom for our ourselves, asking that God would help us bring encouragement to our children and their families at St Mary’s both practically and through ongoing prayer.

Material for Worship 8th August

Rev Moira Jamieson writes: You may have noticed that over the past couple of weeks our Gospel passages have mentioned bread, the staple diet of human beings throughout the world. Today’s passage is John 6:35, 41-51. And in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 4:25-chapter 5 v2, Paul talks of sharing with the needy.

Bread is a basic commodity and is such a simple thing to make, even if you don’t normally bake. In some families, the making of bread is a tradition, passed down from generation to generation. The simple rhythm of mixing ingredients, flour, water, yeast, salt and a sprinkling of sugar, the kneading and stretching of the dough, the waiting for the dough to rise and double in size and the baking in the oven, are a ritual which throughout time has brought families together and kept them sharing stories round the kitchen table. When the ingredients are being mixed it helps keep idle hands busy. The kneading of the dough keeps hands and minds active and moving. The waiting for the dough to rise teaches patience. And the baking in the oven leaves time for reflecting and talking.

All of these attributes could be compared to a good Christian life. When we are ‘doing’ God’s work our hands are moving and not idle and our minds are engaged. As we sit and listen to each other with Christian concern, we learn patience and when we take time to sit and reflect (as I suggested last Sunday) we strengthen our faith and begin to share that faith by talking to others. If you haven’t tried making bread, maybe you would like to have a go in the coming week and donate it to a Foodbank or give it to a neighbour or friend.

It is so reassuring to read these words and know that when we turn to God he will provide all we need.

We need never go hungry and we will never be thirsty if we just believe in God and in what He can do for us.

Take a few moments now to reflect on this image and the words of Jesus and silently pray for those who as yet do not know Jesus.

Such a simple thing, like bread, which has been made for over 6,000 years features many times in passages of scripture. And so it is that Jesus offers us today, in our gospel passage, the image of bread as a way to better understand him. I’m sure his first listeners wondered, too, at how ordinary this man was, whose message they had come to hear. They probably wondered who he thought he was — this Jesus whose parents they knew so well. They wondered how one so much like them in so many ways could begin to think of joining himself to heaven when he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” No doubt they also wondered, how it was he could make such extraordinary claims about something so ordinary: claiming to be the bread which will satisfy hunger and quench thirst for all of time.

It’s how God always seems to work, of course. It’s true there are plenty of extraordinary things which happen in the presence of Jesus, but in the end, God uses fairly ordinary means to reach us. We experience this over and over again in many of Jesus’ teachings. Consider, for instance, his parables where he speaks of things like seeds and weeds and crops and vineyards and lost coins and travellers and families: all these things were very familiar to the people who first listened to what he had to say. And today, of course, he brings to mind the nearly universal image and experience of bread. We can see in this passage that God employs ordinary means to help us understand, to help us embrace and rejoice in God’s love for us and his intentions for us all: including Jesus himself, whose childhood, no doubt mirrored those of his neighbours. After all, it’s the ordinary things that we understand best. And by God’s amazing gift, it’s the ordinary things which the Holy Spirit somehow breaks through and makes new — in such extraordinary ways. Something as simple and as basic as bread is used by Jesus to show how he is the one who gives us new life when we follow him – he is the one who sustains us on our faith journey, and he is the one who teaches us and guides us.

The message coming from our passage today in John’s gospel is to open our hearts and minds to what God is offering us in his Son Jesus Christ. By reading God’s word in scripture regularly we begin to understand what God wants from us and how he wants us to live our lives. If we don’t want to hear the words, ‘You just don’t get it, do you?’ We need to open our minds to receive the Bread of Life who promises us eternal life. Hunger and thirst for Jesus, not for the things of this life, and you will be satisfied beyond your wildest dreams!

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Amen.

As you sit with your lit candle, take a moment now to think about all those who have not experienced Jesus as the’ Bread of Life,’ and pray for those who have turned away from God.

• Pray for the hungry and the homeless.

• Give thanks for all believers.

• Re-affirm your belief by saying the creed.

Keep watch dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or wait or weep this day, and give your angels charge over them. Tend the sick, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Material for Worship at Home for Sunday 1st August

Rev Jeanette Allan writes: One thing is for sure; the bible isn’t boring! Leastways most of it isn’t, though the long lists of rules and regulations in Leviticus would be a cure for insomnia for most people. This morning’s reading: 2 Samuel 11.26 – 12:13a of the confrontation between Nathan and David is riveting, encouraging and universal, which isn’t to say that all of us have deliberately put someone in a position where they will die. It speaks powerfully of human weakness, of God’s mercy, and of how God can use even the most flawed of us to do great things, which is both comforting and encouraging.

David, you will recall, had seen Bathsheba bathing on the roof of her house, and had lusted after her. He had abused his power as King to command that she spend the night with him, and when she subsequently became pregnant, he sent for her husband, who was away fighting for his King and country, and tried to trick him into spending the night with his wife, which didn’t work, as Uriah was a man of such integrity that he would not sleep in comfort with his wife when his men were roughing it in the fields. David’s next ploy was to send a letter to his General with Uriah, when he went back to his troops, commanding him to put Uriah in the heat of the battle where he would be killed. The whole thing was most unsavoury, from start to finish.
In today’s reading God sends the prophet Nathan to David, and using the parable of the poor man with the one ewe lamb, he stirs up such anger in David against the rich man that he condemns him to death, and in so doing condemns himself, and we get Nathan’s dramatic statement, “You are the man!”, followed by a catalogue of all that God had done for David, and how he had shown favour to him, and made him into a great King. His sentence of death was rescinded, but there were still to be heavy consequences because of David’s actions. The baby would die, and his own family would fight amongst themselves, all of which subsequently happened.
No one is above the law, not even the King says God and it is impossible to separate out private and public lives and live differently within each. Integrity cannot be subdivided; human life is a whole in both personal and corporate aspects.
Selfishness and a disregard for others destroys communities. We don’t have to look far to see how our own society measures up with integrity as the yardstick. Sin and selfishness deceive, darken understanding, and twist logic until it becomes easy to believe that good is bad, and bad is good. It happens inside, as well as outside, the church, such things as trickery, cunning, and pseudo-doctrines which impress those who lack the maturity to see the flaw.
To be a community which reflects the renewing and transforming love of God we need what Christ gives us to help us on our journey, and of course we need faith, and humility, as we remember that even a great King, as favoured by God as David was, can fail to live up to his responsibilities. Our gospel today John 6:24-35 also asks us to question our motives.
Jesus invites us, each and every one of us, to trust him, the word made flesh, to taste in him the bread of life, and in so doing to find heaven and earth united in the present and future Kingdom of God. Not one of us is perfect, and we will often fail in our endeavours, but if we trust in Jesus the bread of life, we will be able, in his strength, to pick ourselves up and continue the journey, as God gives us strength. Let’s pray that we can be honest enough with ourselves and with God to do just that. Amen.

As you pray give yourself time to ponder each petition before you go onto the next one:
Loving God, help us to see ourselves as you see us, and to love ourselves as you love us.

Healing God, help to acknowledge our need for healing, and to accept your healing touch in our lives.

God of justice, show us where you want us to work to combat injustice in our world.

Creator God, help us to be good stewards of our planet earth, help us to see how we can change our lifestyles so that your creation may thrive and flourish. Amen.

Materials for Worship at Home on 25th July

Nerys writes: Historians show us that great evil and great good don’t simply happen out of the blue. They both usually begin in small incidents, barely noticed – incidents whose significance only becomes apparent once the evil or goodness has snowballed. The current pandemic and many major international conflicts can be traced back to a number of small wrongs, misjudgements, misguided attitudes or sometimes an early absence of communication. Thankfully, the same is true of goodness. Our readings today, 2 Kings 4.42-44 and John 6.1-21, give us an opportunity to celebrate the way that small acts of obedience and faith, generosity and love, can be blessed and transformed for great, widespread good, giving us glimpses of the growth of the kingdom of God in action.

First we read about the distribution of twenty barley loaves among a hundred men by the prophet Elisha at a time of famine. The bringer of the food, a man from a town dedicated to the fertility god Baal, shows remarkable selflessness and trust in God. The first of his new crop would have been welcome either to feed his family or to sell for the highest price in the market. Instead, he brings it to Elisha, a representative of God, the true Lord of the harvest. It is an impossibly small amount among such a large number, but the combination of this man’s obedience and Elisha’s faithfulness results in many more people being fed than could have been imagined.

In our Gospel reading, the generosity of the boy and Jesus’ compassion result in a vast crowd of hungry people being fed.

Most depictions of the loaves and fishes, including this one by Ilse KLeyn, aren’t accurate according to the account you’ve just read. John tells us that the loaves are made of barley – they would have been coarse and brown – and the Greek word he uses for fish means a small dried or pickled fish, not the fresh fish you’d expect so near a lake. Through these details, John is stressing not just how meagre the offering is, but also that it is the food of the poor.

It is no wonder that Andrew is tempted to despair like his friend Phillip did. What was the point of offering such a small amount when there were so many thousands of people to feed? I suppose it’s always a temptation when we look at the huge problems and needs of our world to dismiss what we have to offer. It seems so pathetically inadequate that we are often discouraged and end up doing nothing. But Jesus taught that the kingdom of God grows from small beginnings, like the tiny mustard seed that develops into a huge tree. Small acts of generosity, like that of the boy and his packed lunch, can be transformed by God who is love, for the good of many.

The work of Saint Teresa on the streets of Calcutta was sometimes dismissed by her critics as being too little to make any difference, but, in her mind, every little act of loving kindness was something beautiful for God, and infinitely worth doing. ‘Not all of us can do great things’, she used to say. ‘But we can do small things with great love’.

It is my experience that God is very good at giving us more than we asked for in our prayers and giving in ways we hadn’t even imagined. In order for God to do this, however, we need to be ready to offer, not just what we have to give, but who we are, for God to use.

In our Gospel story, John says that Jesus ‘gave thanks’ over the bread, using the Greek word which gives us ‘eucharist’, the term we use for our communion service.  In our eucharistic prayer we give thanks to God but we also offer ourselves along with the bread and the wine as a gift to God, just as Jesus offered himself when he was on the earth. When we give ourselves to God like this over and over again at the eucharist or in our prayers at home, God can use our lives in ways we haven’t even thought of to be a blessing to others.

I like to think of it like this. Each of us has a lifetime’s worth of moments to offer for the use of God who is love. Each of these moments in themselves are very small, but over our lifetime, if they are filled with God’s love, they can make a huge difference to those we know and also to people we maybe will never meet.

Take a moment now to think what little things you might have to offer God this week. They might include

• a commitment to pray the news each day,
• solidarity with all who suffer or are in need.
• your homes and your relationships for God to work in,
• your conversations and your smiles,
• your involvement in God’s Church,
• every moment of every day.

Loving Father, accept the little that we offer to you in obedience and faith for we do this in the name of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Materials for Worship at Home on 18th July

Nerys asks: I wonder when you last ran and why you did it?

In the first century, a middle Eastern man never ran. If he were to do so, he would have to hitch up his tunic and show his bare legs which was a humiliating and shameful thing to do. A man of standing would only run if his life or the life of others depended on it. You’ll remember the loving father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, running to save his son from the violent rejection of his community, taking upon himself the shame his son deserved. In both of today’s short Gospel passages, Mark 6.30-34 and 53-56, we hear of men running, although the Greek verb is not always translated as such in our English Bibles. These are connecting passages, part of the framework of one of the multi-layered sandwiches which Mark is famous for. Between them are the accounts of the feeding of the five thousand and of Jesus walking on the water. Before them is the sending out of the disciples and the story of the death of John the Baptist we heard last week

Jesus’ fame is spreading. He is being recognised and followed by crowds wherever he goes, with little time to rest or even to eat on occasions. People are responding to the message but not always in the way Jesus would wish …

(James Tissot)

Have you ever thought what motivated such a large group of men (the word is specifically masculine in Mark) to run around the lake to meet Jesus in such a remote spot? After all, they and their families could have heard him preaching in Capernaum any time. John tells us that after being miraculously fed by Jesus, this same crowd tried to take him by force to make him king. Mark is not so explicit, but there are a few hints to suggest that these men might have seen him as the charismatic figure they needed to rise up against Roman occupation, The wilderness was the traditional place to prepare for an uprising. Were they desperately running in the hope that Jesus would lead them in an armed rebellion?

As Jesus and the disciples seek another deserted place in order to rest, they meet with another crowd, even larger in number and needs than the one they left behind. The town of Gennesaret with its numerous hot mineral springs had attracted the sick and the injured for centuries. Recognising Jesus, people ran to fetch those who couldn’t walk, believing that touching a tassel on Jesus cloak would be enough to heal them. Could it be that the news of how the woman with the haemorrhage was healed had got around. What is certain is that there was a large element of superstition mixed in with their faith. They had no idea who Jesus really was and no interest in getting to know him further. All they wanted was for him to satisfy their need for physical healing.

And yet, Jesus responds to them all with compassion, despite his tiredness and grief, and his need to be alone with his disciples. As he sees the eagerness of these people who are ready to throw away public decorum in order to get to him, his heart is moved. These are people desperate for leadership and desperate for healing. He describes them as sheep without a shepherd, drawing on the rich Jewish imagery familiar to him since childhood, and he responds as the shepherd-king of Jeremiah 23.1-6, our Old Testament reading for today.

In these short passages Jesus through his actions shows himself to be the one who has real concern for God’s scattered, confused and undisciplined sheep. He gives the people what they need, right teaching, feeding and healing.

Here are some questions to ponder and to take to God in prayer:

• Are there times when we run on ahead of Christ instead of following him?

• Are there times when we demand of God physical healing for ourselves or others?

• How does our compassion for all God’s sheep measure up to that of Jesus?

• How can we obtain a greater trust and understanding of God?

From stories like this of Jesus’ ministry we know with certainty that God never ever turns any of us away. None of our needs or wounds or sorrows are hidden from him. Whenever we run ahead of him, whenever we demand healing, he will minister to us, because he loves us. What about finishing your time of worship by reading slowly or singing the well-known paraphrase of Psalm 23, giving God thanks and praise.

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; he leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

My soul he doth restore again,
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for his own name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill;
For thou art with me; and thy rod
And staff me comfort still.

My table thou hast furnished
In presence of my foes;
My head thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me;
And in God’s house forever more
My dwelling place shall be.

Materials for Worship at Home for Sunday 11th July

Jeanette writes: Both our readings today are about dancing: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, and Mark 6: 14-29. The first tells of King David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant, the second Salome dancing before King Herod.

Take a look at the two pictures. What differences in attitude or intention can you see between them? How do each of them make you feel?

       

Certainly, the actions are similar, but the intentions behind the actions could not be more different. David is dancing in worship and love before God, Salome is dancing to seduce King Herod into killing John the Baptist. To be fair to Herod, that was something he didn’t want to do. John intrigued him – he was a little in awe of him and a little afraid of him as well – but as he didn’t want to lose face before his court, he had no alternative. He had foolishly promised the girl whatever she asked for.

These passages very clearly illustrate for us that any action cannot simply be labelled “good” or “bad”, but that everything that we do has to be looked at within its context and intention, before we label it one or the other. Is the action a loving one, or one calculated to cause harm? In other words, is what we are doing drawing us closer to God, or driving us farther away from our creator, the source of our being.

This may seem like a simple choice to make, but think again. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an eminent German theologian and pacifist, a member of the Confessing Church which was politically opposed to Hitler, was also a member of the German Resistance, working to get many Jews out of Germany. He was involved in the failed attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20, 1944. His involvement was discovered and he was arrested and later hanged for his part in the plot. As a Christian and a pacifist, was it right for him to be involved in an assassination attempt, or did the greater good of the fall of the Nazi regime, and the many thousands of lives which would have been saved as a result, justify the action? Was his involvement in the plot an action of love for God’s world or not? He obviously believed it was, and he died for his belief.

So, it isn’t so simple after all. Now I know it isn’t likely that any of us are likely to be involved in such world-shaping events, as Bonhoeffer was, but the principle still applies to us in our daily lives and in the choices we make. Are the motives and intentions of what we do based on love of God and our neighbour, or our own self-interest? Even, are we keen to be seen to be doing good?

Many years ago, I learnt, very painfully I might add, that if I was looking for God in any situation, God, who is love, would be found where I found love in that situation, however unlikely a place that might seem to be. It has informed my thinking and theology ever since, and sometimes led me to some surprising conclusions. I commend it to you.

So let’s pray. (Please ponder each petition and its implications for you before you go on to the next one.)

Loving God, help us to see the world through your eyes.

Loving God, help us not to deceive ourselves about our intentions.

Loving God, guide us in the decisions we make.

Loving God, give us the courage to work for your love and justice in our broken world.

Loving God, give us the will to make the necessary changes in our living, so that our environment may be healed, and the future of our planet safeguarded.

The God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Materials for Worship in 4th July, 2021

Jeanette writes: There are times for all of us when God has something to say to us that may involve opening us up more to God’s love in our lives and hearts. Perhaps we need to have some of our fixed or self-centred attitudes or behaviour chal¬lenged, or to do some spiritual growing-up. At these times God will tell us. But if we aren’t ready to hear, or prepared to hear, what is being said to us, then we just won’t hear it. Often, we won’t even notice God is speaking to us. Later we might look back and wonder why we couldn’t see the obvious, but at the time we’re far more likely to either completely ignore what God is saying or to react with hostility and defensive¬ness, rather like the people did in Jesus’ hometown.

Read Mark 6: 1 – 13.

We can hear their indignant, self-righteous wounded egos as they mutter their complaints about Jesus. When they look at the facts, he’s not even on a level with them for background; he’s only a carpenter’s son, so who does he think he is? He’s just an upstart who’s far too big for his boots. What right has he to be displaying more wisdom and miracle working than any of them can do? Sadly, it is not unusual to resent holi¬ness, or any other gift, in those close to us, those we want to be ordinary like us, not to set us an example which makes us feel inadequate — holi¬ness in strangers is far easier to cope with as we don’t tend to take that as a personal criticism.

But any rebellion on our part, any defensiveness or hostility, however discreet, does not go unnoticed by God. Whatever we proclaim with our lips, whatever we claim that we believe, and however cleverly we disguise our rebellion from other people, God sees and knows exactly where our hearts really are, and which way we are really facing. It simply isn’t possible for us to pull the wool over God’s eyes. This however isn’t something that should make us scared of approaching God. It’s actually quite a relief to find there’s no point in pretending or try¬ing to impress the God we worship.

If you are like me, there are some people who, when they come to visit have me checking the house to make sure everything is spick and span, as I’d hate them to find me in a girdle. It usually results in a spate of frantic tidying. There are others who know me so well, and who I trust not to judge me but to love me and accept me as I am, so that I don’t have to rush around — they know and love me whatever the house looks like! I don’t have to try and impress them – they’d see though it anyway! Thank God, God’s one of them!

When Jesus sends out his disciples, it is in pairs so that they can support each other, and they are to preach the Gospel of repentance and God’s forgiveness, whether the people are ready to listen or not. Jesus prepares his disciples for the like¬lihood that there will be people who are stubbornly resistant or rebellious and not take kindly to their challenge. He helps them to be ready to face rejections. He knows that some people will be like the people of his own town and not be ready or want to listen to what they have to say.

Brushing the dust from their feet is not a vindic¬tive move, but a visual sign — a testimony — that the Gospel of repentance has been offered to them and has been refused. It is also important from the disciples’ point of view, and from ours too. There are times for all of us when we fail, times when it is right for us to put the failure behind us and to move on, leaving the Holy Spirit to continue working in people’s hearts and minds, and for us not to wallow in failure, or be overwhelmed and bogged down by the rejection we feel at the time. Things happen in God’s time not ours. God knows we will fail in some of the things we try to do. Sometimes he plans it that way so that we can learn and grow.

This too comes down to a matter of trust; faith and trust in the God who loves us, longs for our good and longs for us to show the world how much it is loved by God and God’s people.

Let’s pray

Loving God, there are times when we do not want to hear what you want us to know, about how we can serve you better and become more faithful disciples. Open our hearts and minds so that we can hear you and listen to you, knowing that whatever you say to us is said in love for our learning and wellbeing.

We pray for a fair and just distribution of the Covid vaccines. And we pray that all those who need the vaccine will have access to it, whether they can pay for it or not.

We pray for countries where people are still dying in huge numbers from Covid.

We pray for the peoples of the west coast of North America, as they struggle with temperatures of almost 50 degrees Celsius, many have already died.

Finally, we pray for Dunblane, and its community. For all those who are struggling, for whatever reason. For its churches and the work they do in supporting the community. Amen.

Materials for Worship on 27th June

Nerys writes: This Sunday we dedicate to the glory of God a candle stand gifted in memory of Shareene Potter who died a year ago this week. This is not an ornament but, as Peter explains in a piece he has written in the magazine, it is a tool to help us to pray at those times when words don’t come easily or at all.

It is appropriate that the dedication is happening on a day when our Gospel reading illustrates the healing power of Christ, and especially the way he can take us from a place of fear and brokenness to a place of faith and wholeness.

Our Old Testament reading from the Book of Lamentations 3.22-33, also encourages us to hold on to a belief in God’s goodness even when things are difficult. Listen to the passage being read by Moira.

As you listen to the familiar story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter from Mark 5.21-43, being read by Morag, imagine that you are in the crowd watching it all happen. I wonder what you would have learned from the experience?

You may choose to listen to  the account again putting yourself in the place of one of the characters at the center of the drama. I wonder what kind of healing that person receives from Jesus and what kind you may wish to receive for yourself or for  a loved one?

Jean Holloway’s hymn to the Welsh tune, ‘Ar hyd y nos’, played on the organ by David, is especially appropriate for all of us at St Mary’s at this difficult time of transition. I invite you to use it as a prayer of healing for our worshiping community.

Lord, we come to ask your healing,
teach us of love;
all unspoken shame revealing,
teach us of love.
Take our selfish thoughts and actions,
petty feuds, divisive factions,
hear us now to you appealing,
teach us of love.

Soothe away our pain and sorrow,
hold us in love;
grace we cannot buy or borrow,
hold us in love.
Though we see but dark and danger,
though we spurn both friend and stranger,
though we often dread tomorrow,
hold us in love.

When the bread is raised and broken,
fill us with love;
words of consecration spoken,
fill us with love.
As our grateful prayers continue,
make the faith that we have in you
more than just an empty token,
fill us with love.

Help us live for one another,
bind us in love;
stranger, neighbour, father, mother –
bind us in love.
All are equal at your table,
through your Spirit make us able
to embrace as sister, brother,
bind us in love.

It was the woman in the story within today’s Gospel story who drew my attention this last week, especially after I came across this unusual depiction of her encounter with Jesus.

It is from a stunning mural by Daniel Carriola in the Encounter Chapel in Duc in Altum, a place for prayer, teaching and worship on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is often referred to by tourists and pilgrims as ‘the picture with the feet’, but it is to the hand that my eye was drawn,  the delicate hand of a once-wealthy woman – a woman whose fear and brokenness led her to Jesus. She is not named but is known as the woman with a hemorrhage, rendered untouchable because of the flow of blood which had blighted her life for twelve long years. Her fear was not only that she would never be well again but also that she would always be alone, isolated from those who could help make her life bearable. This fear had changed her from the easy-going, confident person she used to be. It had worn her down. She was now poor, cowed and tired. She didn’t have the confidence even to ask Jesus for healing, but in her desperation reached out her hand to touch his clothes.

There are many like this woman in our communities today, people  whose mental and physical health has been affected by the pandemic, whose personalities have been transformed because of fear and loneliness. We are called to pray for these people and to respond to their need. Despite being surrounded by a jostling crowd, Jesus is aware of the woman’s desperate touch and makes time to acknowledge her faith and to give her a voice. We are not told what becomes of her but it is clear that these are the first steps to her recovery and restoration.

Our Night Service this week will be a service of prayers for healing based on that which takes place every Tuesday evening in Iona Abbey. In the service, prayers are said not only for the healing of the bodies and minds of named individuals but also for the healing of oppressed communities and divided countries, of natural environments and of the planet itself. These prayers presuppose that asking something of Christ will lead to a deeper relationship with him and will inspire us to act to tackle the sources of injustice and violence which cause suffering.

Loving God, we hold in your healing presence

  • those who suffer pain and ill-health, with their families, friends and those who care for them …
  • those who suffer in mind and spirit, and all who care for them …
  • the suffering people of our world, and the places where people are experiencing division, injustice and violence …
  • natural environments destroyed by pollution and threatened by climate change …
  • those who are struggling to overcome addiction or abuse, those supporting and working with them, and all whose suffering has distanced them from those who love them …
  • those facing bereavement or experiencing grief …
  • those whose needs are not known to us …
  • those whose names we do not know but who are known to you.

May they know the deep peace of Christ.  Amen.
(Prayers taken from Iona Abbey Worship Book and adapted)

We finish our time of prayer and worship with Bernadette Farrell’s song of longing for the  light of Christ. Here is David playing the tune.

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.
Christ, be our light!

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

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

Many the gifts, many the people,
many the hearts that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another,
making your kingdom come.
Christ, be our light!

Materials for Worship at Home for Refugee Sunday

Nerys writes: Once you’ve lit your candle today, look around the room you’re sitting in. If you had to leave home in a hurry not knowing when you’d be back, I wonder what would you take with you? What would you leave behind?

No one wants to leave home but all over the world, people are forced to move because of danger. Every 2 seconds, a person is forced to flee for safety. Every day, 44,000 more people are driven from their homes. Most people don’t seek refuge in another country but every year up to a billion people cross a border and become asylum seekers, asking for protection as a refugee. Can you imagine what it’s like to arrive somewhere where everything is different from home, with no money, few possessions, no family, no friends? Can you imagine how lonely and frightened you might feel?

Our Gospel story today is set in a storm. As you read or listen to Mark 4.35-41, imagine what it was like for Jesus’ disciples. How might they have felt?

If it was you in that boat in the storm – with Jesus, your teacher, asleep, I wonder what would you have done, what would you have said to him?

According to Mark’s account, the disciples responded with the words, ‘Don’t you care that we’re in danger?’ A strange question but an important one to ask God and each other. Don’t you care about me? Don’t you care that I’m lonely and frightened?

It’s a question that the people of God have asked down the centuries. It’s a question the people of Israel sang about in their psalms.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God. (Psalm 13.1-3)

Sometimes it feels like nobody cares about us, nobody is listening. Everyone is busy with their own lives and it feels like God is asleep. At a time like this we need to call out to God like the psalmist did and like the disciples did in the boat. We do this because God has promised to be always with us, God is always listening. We do this because knowing that we’ve been heard makes a difference.

It can take away the fear. It can take away the loneliness. It can help us face the storm.

‘Why are you so afraid?’ Jesus was puzzled that his disciples had got into such a state. He was expecting them to trust in him, no matter what, and that’s what we’re called to do also.

Don’t you care that we’re in danger? Sometimes to people who have had to leave their homes, their families, their friends to become refugees, it seems that nobody cares about them. They call out but it seems that nobody is listening.

This is the last day of Refugee Week 2021. Some of us have been making people chains to remind us that ‘We cannot walk alone’.

Hugh Grant has been involved in Refugee Week in Dunblane but also volunteers with an organisation called Forth Valley Welcome.

I asked him, is there anybody out there caring for refugees?
Yes, as you know, Forth Valley Welcome supports refugees who have come to Stirling and Clackmannanshire, up to 154 people now including 88 children. We have 75 volunteers, some of those go into the house or flat before people arrive and turn them into a nice homely space with cheerful bedspreads and curtains and toys for children.

Some volunteers are assigned as befrienders to families, visit them regularly, especially at the beginning, help them get to know the area, the shops, the buses, and practice speaking in English. As they become settled in the area, we introduce them to local community organisations.

Pre-Covid we used to run a ‘Snack and Chat’ every six weeks or so people could come together and meet each other and volunteers, and again practice their English. Over the last year, when we’ve not been able to visit families, we’ve provided occasional food deliveries, especially at Eid and Christmas, and run online competitions through our WhatsApp group.

There are groups like us around the UK. Other organisations who help are the Scottish Refugee Council, who provide advice and support to refugees and to asylum seekers who are still in the process of being assessed by the Home Office as to whether they will be allowed to stay in the UK. Positive Action in Housing in Glasgow helps with people like asylum-seekers who end up on the streets if their claims to stay are not successful, and some individuals take people into their homes. Stirling’s Aid4All provides food packages and other items for people in one of the camps that is not run by UNHCR. And there are people who go to provide voluntary support to people in the unofficial camps in Calais, and in Lesbos island in Greece.

In what way can we show our care?
All of us can try to understand better the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers. The media often highlight extreme cases, not always in a sympathetic light, so we can try to keep a clear mind about the whole picture.

If we’re out shopping in Stirling or elsewhere and see people who might be refugees, people different from us, we can smile and say hello and let people feel welcome.

Some people in Dunblane are volunteers, or have been in the past, visiting families and helping in other ways. Some give donations to Forth Valley Welcome and other organisations. We have a store that’s been provided to us free in Dunblane where we keep clothes, toys, and other items but we have quite a lot in there at the moment, more than we need for now, but from time to time there’s a need for items and we can let you know about those requests when they arise.

Our Men’s Group have been discussing what we might do as a church, perhaps welcoming some here from time to time so that we can get to know some of the people affected.

There’s an organisation called Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees which provides a network for people of all faiths on the issue. They have a study course available that was produced by CBTI (Churches Together in Britain and Ireland). We could think about using that course in future.

We can pray together about refugees, their situation, the reasons why they have to flee from their homes, asking for God‘s love to be present to all – the refugees and asylum-seekers themselves, and those who work to help them.

After you have reflected on Hugh’s words, you are invited to read the words of a new hymn by Martin Pratt and use it perhaps as a prayer of confession and commitment. Here is David Sawyer playing the tune.

There are no strangers to God’s love,
yet we have privatised God’s grace.
Bounded by nationhood and lies,
in fear we shrouded love’s own face.
Acknowledging our sin and greed we come
confessing common need.

These are our neighbours and our friends,
the ones who run in fear from war,
who read abuse by power or state,
or seek the means to be less poor;
these are the ones we have denied,
as in each one the Christ has cried.

When people seeking sanctuary come
to our shores and need our aid,
then in Christ’s name let’s offer care
through this our debt of love is paid.
God’s grace is free, this grace receive,
let actions show what we believe.

Martin Wisher who is a board member for Forth Valley Welcome, invites us to join him in the following prayers of intercession:

Heavenly Father as we come to you in prayer we lament that in this world of plenty and in this age of ‘civilization’ so many of our fellow human beings have been forced as refugees to flee from their homes and countries, leaving possessions, family and friends because of wars, persecution, poverty and climate change. Children are separated from family and friend and make perilous journeys to try to reach safety. We cry out to the God who executes justice for the orphan and the widow and who loves the stranger.

We pray for those individuals and organizations seeking to provide refuge, to alleviate suffering and to bring justice for refugees and asylum seekers. We ask that your Holy Spirit empower this ministry and bring love, peace and justice out of suffering.

We pray for those in authority and particularly our UK government as it administers care to refugees and asylum seekers. We pray that there would be more compassion shown and that resources would increase to positively affect this refugee crisis.

We pray for the Church worldwide and at St Mary’s locally. May we be empowered by your Holy Spirit to find ways to care for refugees and asylum seekers and to effectively represent their needs to our society.

We pray for those known to us who are ill, those mourning the loss of a loved one..

We pray for those dealing with stress, financial concerns, the loss of their job, loneliness and depression caused by the COVID pandemic.

We pray for ourselves that we may love you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbour, the refugee, as ourselves.

We finish our time of prayer with the well-known hymn, ‘Brother, sister, let me serve you’ which reminds us on our dependence on God and on one another. Here is David playing the tune.

Brother, sister, let me serve you,
Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace to
Let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
And companions on the road;
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
Speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping,
When you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony.

Brother, sister, let me serve you,
Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace to
Let you be my servant, too.

Richard Gillard

Materials for Worship 13th June 2021

The Rev Moira Jamieson writes: As you prepare for worship this morning, you might like to take a few moments to think about your faith and how its strength has helped you through the difficulties of the past 18 months or so. Even faith that seems to us to be so little or so insignificant can grow into something larger and more visible. The readings set for today show us that with the help and encouragement of our God, our faith can bear fruit and flourish.
Listen now as David plays for us ‘All My Hope On God Is Founded’. Sing along if you wish.

All my hope on God is founded; he doth still my trust renew.
Me through change and chance he guideth, only good and only true.
God unknown, he alone calls my heart to be his own.

Pride of man and earthly glory, sword and crown betray his trust;
what with care and toil he buildeth, tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour, is my temple and my tower.

God’s great goodness aye endureth, deep his wisdom, passing thought:
splendour, light and life attend him, beauty springeth out of naught.
Evermore from his store new-born worlds rise and adore.

Daily doth th’Almighty giver bounteous gifts on us bestow;
his desire our soul delighteth, pleasure leads us where we go.
Love doth stand at his hand; joy doth wait on his command.

Still from man to God eternal sacrifice of praise be done,
high above all praises praising for the gift of Christ, his Son.
Christ doth call one and all: ye who follow shall not fall.
Robert Bridges

In the first reading from Ezekiel 17 vs 22-24, God sets out how from a small twig he will grow a large tree under which many will seek shade and will know that God is their Lord and that Gods faith in His people will accomplish all that He sets out to do. Listen now as Martin reads this passage.

During this pandemic, many people have had to step up and endure difficult situations, putting others before themselves and reaching out a helping hand. None more so than those working at the forefront of the NHS and those caring for families and friends. During Carer’s Week it was a great opportunity to pray for those who care for others quietly and in the background. I like to think that our prayers, as they ascend to God, provide a shelter over carers and those they care for and help to give them strength to continue the loving care they provide each day.

 

The parable of the mustard seed in our Gospel passage is a well known story, but until I began preaching on this passage I hadn’t realised just how enormous a mustard plant can grow to. Just look at the size of this plant compared to the height of the man standing in front of it! It really does look like a tree that the birds of the air could shelter under and find shade, and it does seem strange that in this passage, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God with a tiny mustard seed. However, when we realise just how large this plant can grow, it makes more sense. Listen now to June reading the Gospel passage from Mark 4 vs 26-34 and think about why it is that Jesus chose to speak to people in parables and only explained later in private to his disciples what they meant.

In his ministry, Jesus always tried to sew small seeds of faith, hope and love into the people, to allow them to seek things out for themselves and to let their faith grow gradually into something big. If you love nature and like to grow things in your garden, you will know the joy of planting seeds, waiting for them to germinate and with nurturing, turn into beautiful plants. When we decide to plant seeds, we need to research the best ways to encourage germination. In other words, we need to gain knowledge. Then after we plant the seeds we have to have faith that they will indeed begin to sprout and grow. Once they are established, we hope that with love and care they will flourish and grow to their own potential. Such was Jesus’ ministry. He told the people just enough to get them interested in what he was saying, then he gave them time to think about what he said so that their faith would begin to grow. Jesus gave them hope for the future and encouraged them to grow in love for one another. The ministry of Jesus was a time of sowing; a time that would lead to the seed which he sowed growing to a glorious harvest. Jesus was sowing the seeds of the harvest for God, and His disciples would be harvesting those hearts long after His death and resurrection.

In the parable of the mustard seed, its tiny beginnings were compared with the tiny beginnings of the kingship of God. The preaching of an unknown prophet (Jesus) in a corner of Palestine is compared with the greatness of the end result; and I wonder of the birds in this parable are meant to symbolize the Gentiles, those whom Jesus is welcoming into the fold? Then again, they may just simply be meant to indicate the great size of the tree, big enough to make nests in it! Small things – small events – hidden forces and insignificant things, these are the things that often bring about deeply significant results, so why can’t we trust in the things we cannot see? We seem helpless to resist our obsession with the important, the highly visible, the fast and the dramatic in this world! The message is challenging and difficult for us to grasp; God’s reign is sown into the hidden places as a small seed that slowly and quietly grows until it finally becomes large enough to provide shelter or a harvest. It is the small and hidden things that God loves to use far more than the loud and visible, it would seem. Like farmers, we can nurture the soil of our hearts and our communities, and we can watch for the signs of growth, but we cannot make God’s reign come into being. That’s God’s work, not ours! We are invited to turn our eyes away from the obvious, the strong, the wealthy, the loud, the large and to search out the hidden, the small, the insignificant and the silent places where the seeds of God’s reign are sown and are growing almost without us noticing.

As we pause now to bring our prayers to God, you might like to say these verses from Psalm 92 set for today.

“The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.” Amen.

Pray today for those who are at the beginning of their faith journey, that they would flourish and grow in God’s love.

Pray for those who have lost faith and are struggling to find God’s peace in their lives.

Pray for all who care for others in whatever capacity that they would find rest and support when they need it.

Pray for those who are on our minds this day and entrust them to God’s care and His love.

Listen now to David playing ‘Now the Green Blade Riseth’ and join in if you wish.

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain, wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been: Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

In the grave they laid him, Love whom we had slain, thinking that never he would wake again,
laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen: Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain, he that for three days in the grave had lain;
quick from the dead my risen Lord is seen: Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain, your touch can call us back to life again;
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
J. M. C. Crum

May God bless you and your family this coming week as you seek to follow Him in faith, in hope and in love. Amen.