Materials for Worship at Home on Advent Sunday

Nerys writes: Whether you have an Advent candle set or just one candle, I would invite you to join in with the following prayer as you light it today:

God of our deepest longing,
all our hopes are met in you.
You hear our heart’s cry,
You know our deepest need.
Meet us in this place,
speak to us through the silence,
Touch us with your healing love,
that we may share your hopes
for the whole creation,
in and through Jesus,
the child who is to come.
Amen.

For anyone who thinks of Advent as a straight-forward Countdown to Christmas, today’s readings will come as a bit of a shock. There is nothing straight-forward about Advent, the most puzzling and unpredictable of all the seasons of the church year. A time when we’re called to bend our minds around the idea of the Kingdom of God which is already here and yet to come. This is not a time for head-knowledge but for an understanding that comes from the heart, a time to draw on our past experiences of God as we face the reality of our present struggles, trusting in God’s promises for our future. It is this process that we see at work in all three of our readings today, Jeremiah 33.14-16, 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13 and Luke 21.25-36, a process which encourages us to see signs of hope in the midst of disaster and, by proclaiming and living that hope, to become a light in the darkness for others.

The prophet Jeremiah speaks at a time of terror and great suffering for the people of Judah. The enemies of Jerusalem were besieging the city as Jeremiah had said they would. Imprisoned by his own king for being right, the prophet speaks to the people who are at the edge of despair. But instead of the usual dark prophecies of doom which would be expected from him, Jeremiah utters words of hope and light. He offers a vision of a time when God would fulfil his promise to his people, a time when Judah would be saved and Jerusalem would live in safety, led by a king who would promote justice and mercy in the land. He encourages his listeners to imagine this alternative future which is far removed from their current circumstances, so that, instead of seeking to make the best of a bad situation, they would hold on to their faith, longing for the day when God’s promise of a just and peaceful world would become a reality.
St Paul and his companions were also living in a time of distress and persecution when he wrote his letter to the fledgling Christian community at Thessalonica. Having been forced to leave them earlier than he would have wished, Paul would naturally have been terribly worried about them especially when he heard that there had been unexpected deaths among their number. Did they in their grief still remember what he had taught them? Were they still constant in their faith? He could have easily despaired of them, but instead his letter contains expressions of joy and gratitude based on faith-filled hope. The understanding of these new Christians may not have been complete, but Paul gives thanks in advance for the mature faith that is yet to come. Like Jeremiah, he encourages the readers of his letter then and now to imagine an alternative future where they would grow in holiness and in love for one another.

In today’s Gospel, we see a side to Luke that we might prefer to overlook. He is a writer we associate with heart-warming stories and picturesque details, not with apocalyptic images warning of global disaster. But Luke, like Paul and Jeremiah, was writing at a time of great distress. Jerusalem had again been under siege, its people had endured starvation, civil strife and military defeat, and many Christians had been caught in the middle. Twenty years later, with the temple in ruins, Luke’s first audience were still trying to make sense of what had happened whilst living amidst great uncertainty. Luke draws on the prophetic language of earlier writers to express the convulsions that the world was experiencing in his day as the Roman peace was shattering from the inside. But he turns traditional imagery on its head so that, instead of announcing the end, the sun, moon and stars and roaring seas proclaim a new beginning, the coming of God’s promised kingdom. Luke’s Jesus, talking to his disciples just a short time before his arrest and death, encourages them not to be overwhelmed when disaster threatens but to stand head up, like a dog sniffing the air for the familiar scent of his master who is coming to save him. He calls them not to give in to fear but to look out for signs of the kingdom which are like the buds on the tree heralding summer.

Like Luke’s first readers, as we struggle to stay positive in these tough, turbulent times, we are called to always be on the lookout for signs of God’s presence among us now, and of the coming of God’s kingdom of justice and mercy.

Like the Thessalonians, we are called this Advent to encourage one another to grow in holiness and to live lovingly, following the examples of Christ.

Like the people of Judah, we are called to trust in God’s promised alternative future for our world today as we pray and work together for a society free from inequality, division and violence.

You may wish to reflect on Van Gogh, ‘The Starry Night’ which depicts an apocalyptic sky like that described by Luke’s Jesus and captures the mood of Advent and/or on the words of Ally Barrett’s new Advent hymn as an introduction to your time of prayer today.

Longing for a hope-filled morning,
kingdom of the Son, draw near!
Waiting for the day soon dawning,
light of love that casts out fear.
Dayspring, come from heav’n, in lowly birth,
come to warm this cold, dark earth.

Sorrow through the world is sweeping,
bitter conflict rages still,
heaven hears its children weeping:
price of humankind’s freewill.
Come, O Prince of Peace, in lowly birth,
come to mend this broken earth.

Reaching out through human history,
bring your scattered children home,
such an act of love! What mystery:
God appears in flesh and bone.
Come, Emmanuel, in lowly birth,
show how heaven embraces earth.

(to be sung on the tune Picardy used also for ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’)

Materials for Worship for Sunday 21st November, ‘Christ the King’.

Jeanette writes: Power! In today’s gospel (John 18:33b-37) we have two diametrically opposed definitions of power put before us. The question is which one do we choose to  live by?

Jesus has been brought before Pilate on charges of sedition, but Jesus, to Pilate, does not look like a serious revolutionary; he looks far more like a peasant. As yet the formal charges have not been made, so Pilate asks Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’  This is not a straight- forward enquiry, but asked rather in a tone of derision, implying that surely that could not be the case. It is not an idea that Pilate can accept.

Jesus’ response is to take Pilate seriously, to ask how Pilate came to ask this, when it wasn’t the charge against him, where did the question come from, from Pilate himself, or suggestions from others? The Jews were not Pilate’s favourite people, in fact he despised them; he was a Roman, one of the races that rules most of the known world. Jesus is a Jew, and his own people have handed him over to the Roman authorities; he can’t possibly be their leader. So, he asks, ‘What have you done?’

Jesus’ response is to talk of his kingdom, which is not of this world. Not of this world’s thinking or acting. If it were, Jesus rightly points out, his disciples would be fighting to rescue him. But a kingdom of love cannot use force to gain its ends. It is love which will keep Jesus on track, and on the cross, not weakness or lack of power. Jesus’ kingdom is one which captures hearts and wills.

What Jesus has to say is just so much gobbledygook so far as Plate is concerned. He doesn’t understand a word of it. It doesn’t fit in with his definition of kingly power, or any other kind of power come to that, at all. Because of Pilate’s limited understanding of kingship, that involves power, which is used to force and control people, Pilate asks again, ‘So you are a king?’   Jesus is unable to answer the question, and simply goes on to state why he is on earth, which Pilate doesn’t understand either, for Jesus has changed the whole nature of kingship by becoming the Servant King, and the Suffering Servant as well.

Our terms are too limited when it comes to describing the majesty of Jesus. A sad comment comes from the chief priests, who declare, ‘We have no king but Caesar’ sadly all too true, as they had rejected Jesus as their king.

The question for us then is have we chosen Jesus to be our King? Have we accepted his definition of Kingship, and welcomed it as the one we will live by? Do we strive always to live by his way of love, whatever happens to us or to those around us? Do we seek to let Jesus rule in our hearts and wills, or do we let other powers and events rule our lives? That is a question of crucial relevance, not only for us, but for the wider world, as it decides what our response to acts of terrorism should be, for instance. If Jesus is our king, then he is King in every situation which affects us, however good, or however horrendous, and if we follow him we accept his definition of kingship, the Kingdom of love. Let’s find the grace to pray earnestly, Your Kingdom come, your will be done, in us as it is in heaven. Amen.

Intercessions

(Please take time to form your own response to the petition before you move on to the next one; as you ponder on these huge issues think too on what Jesus’ response, the Servant King and the Suffering Servant would have been. What response would a kingdom ruled by love make?)

 As we look around at the injustice in our world, help us to discern what we can do to help right the wrongs.

We have heard much about Climate Justice during Cop 26, help us to discern our responsibility, and our countries’ responsibility for the plight of the poorer nations who are suffering because of the way we and our country has lived for the past 200 years, and to be prepared to work to change our own and our countries response to this.

As we approach the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, we remember the many countries where women are mere chattels with no standing in their communities to be abused on a whim, with no access to education. We remember the girls who suffer Female Genital Mutilation, the women abused in their own homes in our own country, we remember too that men are abused, on occasion just as badly, but not nearly as many of them, but they too need justice.

Help us to play our part in caring for our beautiful and fragile planet, so that it may thrive and regenerate, help us to discern the changes in our own life styes which will help this to happen.

We bring our prayers in the name of Jesus our Lord, our King, and our Saviour. Amen

 

 

 

Materials for Worship on Remembrance Sunday 14th November 2021

The readings for this Sunday are: Psalm 90 and  John 6 37-40

 Peter Potter writes:

Armistice Day, 11 November, is also the Feast of St Martin. I do not know whether this day was deliberately chosen in 1918 but, if so, it would have been appropriate. St Martin is the patron saint of soldiers. He was born into a military family in what is now Hungary around 317 and he was named after Mars, the Roman god of war. He seems to have spent his childhood moving from one garrison to another but at some stage he came into contact with Christianity. Before long his ambition was to become a monk but his pagan family had other ideas and he was enlisted into the cavalry.

Like many in the armed forces Martin had to find a way to be true to his faith whilst under military discipline. We are told that his example in doing so, and his courage in the face of the enemy, encouraged others to turn to Christ. Eventually though he got his wish and was released from the army. He founded a monastery in Tours (where he probably mentored Ninian of Galloway). Later, and very reluctantly, he became a bishop.

The most famous event of Martin’s life, however, occurred when he was still in the army. One day in the depths of winter he was riding with a column of soldiers through Amiens, in northers France. At the gate of the town was a beggar, shivering with cold. The other soldiers ignored him. Martin, so we are told, had already given away his spare rations and money in other acts of charity. But that did not stop him. Drawing his sword, he took off his cloak, cut it in half and gave one half to the beggar. This seems a strange thing to do. Jesus, citing the example of the widow’s mite, said we should give the whole of our possessions. But, one half of a soldier’s equipment belonged to the emperor, so Martin was actually giving away all his possessions. All the same a soldier in half a cloak must have looked ridiculous but the others who saw it were ashamed that they had not acted when they could have.

That night Martin had a dream. He saw Jesus standing nearby, dressed in half a cloak. “What you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do also for me.” In some parts of Germany today, children hold lantern processions on 11 November in honour of St Martin and sing songs telling of his generosity.

It also reminds me of a life-changing moment experienced by Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy, a famous army chaplain. In 1917, running towards his own lines under shellfire, he came across the body of a young German soldier. “Then there came a light” he wrote in his diary. “It seemed to me that the boy disappeared and in his place there lay Christ on his cross”. Studdert-Kennedy realised that Christ is present in the battlefields of the world, amidst the strife and destruction we make in our own lives. He has been there already and shares our pain. He also calls us not to leave it there but to respond. As Martin did. His generous act transformed a naked, freezing beggar into a child of God.

Prayers of Intercession

Most holy and loving God, hear our prayers –

for all who strive for peace,

all who seek to keep this world secure and free;

and all who fight for justice.

Help us, who today remember the cost of war,

to work for a better tomorrow;

and, as we commend to you lives lost in terror and conflict,

bring us all, in the end, to the peace of your presence;

Lord, grant us peace.

 

For all who are in danger this day, for their family, friends

and all who pray for their safe return;

for women, children and men

whose lives are disfigured by war or terror,

calling to mind in penitence

the anger and hatreds of humanity;

Lord, grant us peace

 

For all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership,

political, military and religious;

asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve

in the search for reconciliation, justice and peace;

Lord, grant us peace.

 

Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world,

and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm.

As we honour the past,

may we work for a better future,

putting our faith in you;

the source of life and hope,

now and forever.        Amen

Materials for Worship on All Saints and All Souls Sunday

Ven. Peter Potter writes: This time of year we celebrate and give thanks for the lives of the saints, the Church Triumphant in Heaven, and remember our own loved ones, souls in transition, the Church Expectant.

The notion of Purgatory was attacked during the Reformation but I actually find it a reasonable and comforting concept. I once heard an eminent Lutheran theologian say “God had not finished with us when we die”. He himself was comforted by this thought; it is a response to the sadness we feel when someone’s life has been cut short and their promise unfulfilled. This year sees the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alligieri and I have been reading his Divine Comedy lately. His section on Purgatory ends with the poet feeling “remade, refreshed, as any new tree is, with the foliage anew; pure and prepared to rise towards the stars”.

And what of Paradise? Our imagination fails us. One hymn refers to “those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see”, which might not seem very exciting, especially if we think of the typical Scottish Sabbaths of yesteryear! Dante, on the other hand, imagines it as a place of eternal springtime, where the song is “Hosanna … winter’s done”. For him, heaven is a place of pleasing melodies where many different voices blend in the manner of the polyphonic music of his day. He even imagines the saints dancing complex figures together – Strip the Willow at a perpetual ceilidh.

The illustration is a poster for a lecture marking Dante’s anniversary. It shows him, together with Beatrice, standing at the gate of Heaven (actually a real gate on the bank of Lake Lugano). Across the lake is Monte San Salvatore and at its foot the district called Paradiso. Heaven is nearer than you think!

For Dante, the life of Heaven is not a flat sameness but one that expresses the conviction that the variety and difference we find in this life will be preserved and will produce, not strife and dissension, but a true harmony. God’s great gift of free will is now purified by his love so that we wish “no more than we have … and our own wills are thus made one with the divine”. The harmony that humans were intended to enjoy is restored. This is what we are actually praying for when we ask “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

Dante’s guide to Paradise is Beatrice, a young woman to whom he was devoted but who died an early death. Now, having arrived in Paradise, she embodies the full range of possibilities that she, made in the image of God, was intended to enjoy. Dante ends his Commedia with the realisation that, in seeking God, we discover what we had truly been all along: “Now my will and my desire were turned … by love that moves the sun and stars”.

This is God’s will for us all ? the joy, peace, light and truth that awaits us in Paradise.

Prayers

Lord, give us wisdom and courage to strive for a better world. May we to care for and respect the life that you give to all you have made. May we follow the example of the saints and all your faithful people in past ages.

Give wisdom to all in authority that they may learn from all in the past who have governed according to your will. May they remember that they are mortal and the works of their hands will not last for ever. May that knowledge draw them to a closer harmony that will enable them to tackle the problems of our day.

Guide the Church to follow the example of your saints in this and every age. May we be lights to the world in our generation and witness to your love with joyful praise, reverent worship and faithful service.

Bless our community and help us to share the grace which we have seen in the lives of the saints.
As we pray for our families and friends, we give you thanks for those whom we have loved but see no longer and for the generations from which our lives are drawn.

Have compassion on the bereaved. Grant them the support of human love and may they know the comfort that comes from a firm faith in the Resurrection. Receive the souls of the departed, may they be made ready to come into the light and glory of your presence.

Together with the saints, we make our prayers in the name of Jesus, our Saviour whose death has given us life. Amen.

Materials for Worship at Home for 24th October 2021

Nerys writes: At Night Service this Sunday we are joined by Hugh Donald, former director of Place for Hope and an old friend of St Mary’s. Hugh is part of a team that leads reflections at Refugio, a monthly evening gathering at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh. Refugio is a reflective, quiet space in which people are invited to stop, and listen, and to simply be with God. I have invited Hugh to share with us a written version of his reflection and to give us a taste of Refugio in our Materials for Worship this week.

The service usually starts with a stilling practice that helps set aside the busyness and concerns of the day and enables you to become aware of who you are and of what you are feeling and experiencing in that moment. Before you read Hugh’s reflection, I invite you to take some deep breaths allowing the muscles in your body to relax so that you’re comfortable in your seat. Take a moment to fix your gaze on a candle flame or the view through your window, to listen to the sounds in the room and clear your mind of any anxious thoughts.

Hugh writes: A few years ago I was introduced to the word ‘hefted’. In his book The Shepherd’s Life, James Rebanks who is a shepherd in the Lake District talks about a kind of sheep which are described as hefted. These special sheep live out on the wild mountainsides of the Cumbrian hills. Without fences or walls, they are free to roam, always knowing the land to which they belong.

The word re-emerged for me following a recent conversation with a friend , as we talked about what church means to us, and on reflecting upon how the past 18 months bears upon that question. We explored together our need for community, places where we can encounter God through being alongside others in a mutual spirit of openness and vulnerability. So I began to wonder. Am I hefted? Where am I hefted? What might this mean in living life? As I am enjoying exploring these questions, I offer them to you.

Where am I hefted?

I look upon those sheep
roaming so freely,
out on the high crags
no fencing or walls to enclose.

Hefted sheep I am told, who
through the generations
from ewe to lamb taught
to know the land to which they belong.

Finding the right paths to take,
the places to shelter from the storms,
freely wandering, always
knowing the land to which they belong.

Where am I hefted
in these changing and uncertain days?
Anxious thoughts and doubts
that fence me in.

Might I like these sheep
need to know that I am hefted,
that place where I belong,
am held, loved, free to roam?

Take your time to think about the idea of being hefted, the sense of belonging and the freedom it contains.

Where are you hefted? Is it to a place, or to a way of being, or to someone? What does it feel like to be hefted?

Might there have been times when you have wondered away from where you are hefted and sense a need to return? These sheep seem to know the right paths to take. Do you know how to find those pathways? Who can guide you?

Having reflected on the image of the hefted sheep you may wish to turn to the verses in John chapter10 where Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd.

 

You may finish your time of reflection by listening for the voice of the Good Shepherd and responding to it in a time of prayer.

Materials for Worship at Home on 17th October

Nerys writes: I wonder what picture comes into your mind this morning when you think of Jesus? Perhaps, with Christmas goods starting to fill the shops, you’re thinking of the child in the manger. Perhaps it is a depiction of Christ on the cross – a familiar painting or a sculpture – or an image of Christ in majesty from a stained glass window.

What we find in today’s Gospel reading, however, is a dynamic image of Jesus striding purposefully towards Jerusalem with his amazed disciples just behind and a fearful crowd following at a distance as in this painting by James Tissot.

He leads the way, fully aware of the horror which lies ahead, having just warned those closest to him of it for the third time: ‘The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law. They will condemn him to death and then hand him over to the Gentiles, who will make fun of him, spit on him, whip him, and kill him and after three days he will rise again.’ With this picture in our minds, I wonder what we make of today’s passage, Mark 10.35-45?

James and John must have heard all Jesus had said but they clearly hadn’t grasped it. Their request for seats beside him in his glory couldn’t have come at a more incongruous moment. How could they have so badly misunderstood what their teacher was saying to them?

I wonder if these naturally ambitious young men had heard only what they wanted to hear? Had they fastened on to the words ‘the Son of Man’, that majestic title with its association of glory in the Old Testament, and filtered out what Jesus had said about the way his mission would be achieved? They knew he was the Messiah, the one sent by God. They had seen God’s power at work in him. It would be natural for them to think that when the victory was won and the triumph was complete, they might become chief ministers of state in God’s kingdom. If they were thinking of a Messiah of earthly power and glory, Jesus’ talk of humiliation, rejection and death didn’t make any sense. It would be easy to blot it out.

Or had they misunderstood Jesus because of wishful thinking, because they were desperate that the story of his life and theirs would have a glorious ending? I wonder if like many of us, their focus was on the end result, not the process, like children on a car journey who are only interested in the destination. Were they so fixed on the glory to come and their part in it, that they were unable to countenance the notion that the way to it would be through death on a cross?

You can’t blame them for being confused. God, through Jesus, was turning everything upside down and inside out, including the world’s ideas of power, authority and glory. Jesus had come, not to lord it over others, but to serve and to suffer and in doing so he would fulfill the great prophecy of Isaiah 53.4-12, our Old Testament reading today. He would become God’s suffering servant and any of his followers who wished to be great would need to follow his example.

Jesus makes it clear that to seek greatness is to miss it completely. The first will be last in God’s upside-down kingdom and glory will come to those who are servants of all. It’s about living for what we can do for other people rather than what we can get for ourselves. It’s about wanting to be useful – not important – enjoying working for the good of others without recognition, happy for what we do to go unnoticed and unappreciated because we are doing it in love. In God’s kingdom, glory comes from being willing to serve and to suffer. This is far from the kind of glory James and John had in mind. It is no wonder that they get it so badly wrong.

I find it so helpful that Mark here presents James and John as ordinary people, bewildered and blinkered – people that we can identify with. And yet, there is an amazing confidence and loyalty in their response to Jesus. Misguided they might be about the nature of his glory, their hearts are in the right place. They accept the challenge of their master, naively confident that they will be able to drink the cup of suffering he drinks and be swallowed by the baptism he will endure. And Jesus, in his love for them, acknowledges that they will. These are the people with whom Jesus chooses to set out to change the world. And we know that these two did suffer and die for their faith: James as one of the first Christian martyrs and John, according to tradition, after many years in prison.
October is the month in which we remember St Francis. As you prepare to pray for others, take some time to reflect on the song attributed to him which asks for a servant heart.

Make me a channel of your peace,
where there is hatred let me bring your love,
where there is injury, your pardon Lord,
and where there is doubt true faith in You.

Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
so much to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love with all my soul.

Make me a channel of your peace,
where there is despair in life let me bring hope,
where there is darkness only light
and where there’s sadness ever joy.

Make me a channel of your peace,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in giving to all men that we receive
and in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Make me a channel of your peace,
where there’s despair in life let me bring hope,
where there is darkness only light
and where there’s sadness ever joy.

Material for Worship at Home for Sunday 10th October 2021

The story of the rich, young, ruler appears in three Gospels. In Luke the man is a ruler; in Matthew he’s young. Here, in Mark 10.17-31, he is simply a man who has many possessions. He’s comfortable enough in life not to come to Jesus looking for healing, or food, or with worries about his harvest, but free to pursue the good-life-to-come. That’s what wealth meant in his day. Wealth earned fairly was a blessing from God that freed a person from the daily grind so that they could serve Him. Therefore, the man approaches Jesus with no shame about his many possessions. If anything, they are his credentials which show how obedient he has been, and give him the right to ask his question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Maybe he expected to be asked to buy shoes for everyone in Palestine, or better yet, to put all his luxurious furs into storage and accompany Jesus on his travels. Jesus, however, gives him the bog-standard, learned it in Sunday school, just like everyone else, answer: keep the commandments.

“I’ve done that, my whole life”, the man replies. And Jesus loves him. Just like that, because it’s not a pompous or frustrated reply but a plea – “I’ve done all of those things, but I know it’s not enough. I’m a rich man but I know that that’s not enough either. Neither the law nor my wealth can get me where I want. Jesus show me the way”.

He is ready for God and Jesus looks at him deeply and with compassion, longing to make the man whole, to offer him life transforming healing. Loving him, Jesus says, “You’re missing just one thing”. These aren’t words of condemnation or criticism but a call, an invitation, to confront a weakness and walk more closely with Christ. “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven”, Jesus says tenderly. “Then come, follow me.”

A rich prescription for a rich man. It’s supposed to ease the anxiety of his heart, to lift the burden from his back. To enable him to be more agile by closing his earthly accounts and opening one in heaven instead. It’s a challenge to him to become something new and to interact with the world in a different way. To be defined not as rich, powerful, educated, or obedient, but free – free to God.

I’m sure that most of us know this story well. And I’m sure that a lot of us wish it was one of those forgotten instances in Jesus’ life, then we wouldn’t have to scratch our heads and wonder if Jesus really means that we have to sell all our possessions and give the money to the poor.

There’s no escaping it, however, this passage is about money. For Jesus, money is like nuclear power, or social media: able to do a lot of good in the world but only if it’s carefully regulated and contained. Most of us aren’t very good at handling it: we get contaminated by its power and contaminate others by wielding it carelessly ourselves – we want it too desperately, use it too manipulatively, believe in it too fiercely or defend it too cruelly. Every now and then someone manages to use it well, but the odds are about as good as those of a camel passing through a microchip.

However, if it were a story that was only about money, then we could scrap most of St Paul’s writings about grace and the rest of Christ’s teaching about faith, and just buy our way into heaven. But we know that that is not how it works. None of us, no matter what we do, can earn eternal life. The poor cannot buy it with their poverty any more than the wealthy can buy it with their riches. It is God’s gift to the world.

The catch is that you have to be free to receive it. You cannot be tied up in other things, have your hands full, or be otherwise engaged. I think that is why the man went away sorrowful. He understood completely that his wealth had not freed him to pursue God after all but was a ball and chain dragging behind him. And poverty scared him more than such bondage. He couldn’t believe that the opposite of rich was not poor, but free.

Eventually our friend Job will realise this (Job 23.1-9, 16-17). He’ll say that before his ears had heard of God but only now that he’s lost everything (and at the point where we’ve joined him this morning it seems like he’s lost God too) do his eyes truly see.

Afterward the man left, the only person in Mark to walk away from Christ’s invitation to follow, Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”. They were amazed, totally astonished, even though they themselves had left so much behind to follow him: their fishing nets and boats; their families; a lucrative career as a tax collector; a political cause. They had all left something. Not because it was required of them but because they wanted to. Jesus called and nothing else seemed as important anymore. Jesus was so much more real to them than anything else in their lives that following him wasn’t heroic. He’d set them free. It wasn’t their achievement. It was Christ’s gift.

And I know: the children and grandchildren, the mortgage payments, the doctor’s appointments, the climate emergency, the fuel prices, the future. I know that there are days when it does indeed seem that threading a camel through the eye of a needle is easier than following Jesus.

So, who can be saved? Who is brave enough to be free?

The questioned hasn’t changed much. But neither has the answer. For us it is impossible. But not for God. For God, all things are possible.

Loving God, you know what holds us back and the things it’s hard for us to let go of. Help us to trust in you. Give us courage. Renew our hope. Set us free by your grace to follow you and be your healing touch in the world. In Jesus name, Amen.

Materials for Worship on Harvest Sunday 3rd October 2021

Rachael writes: We’ve thought a lot over the last few weeks about the wonder of this beautiful planet earth and we’ve thought about its struggle, particularly at the hands of human beings. Despite that struggle, God continues to give us what we need through all that the earth produces.

Sometimes, maybe very often, it is easy to take all those gifts for granted and forget how amazing everything that we have is!

In our story from Luke 17.11-19 this morning, were a group of men who were ill with leprosy. They may have had numbness, sores, welts and ulcers all over their bodies. They would have had to stay away from people, no-one would have wanted to touch or talk to them. Once Jesus had spoken to them though, they were healed! They were made completely better! No more pain and no more being left out.

Did you notice how many of them thought to come back and thank Jesus? Ten were healed but only one thought to come and thank Jesus. Only one thought to praise God for what had happened.

 

Sometimes we can become so used to all the incredible gifts that God gives us through the earth that we forget to say thank you, like the nine other men who just walked away. And other times we do say thank you but we’re just going through the motions.

Like when my little brother and I had to write thank you letters after birthdays and Christmases as children. For a long time, we wrote them all out by hand but when we got a bit older we were allowed to use the computer. My brother was always much better at using computers than me and he quickly figured out that there was a programme he could use to create a template with most of the text of the letter, then he’d input his list of names and gifts, and they would automatically be put into the letter for him. So, a few taps on his keyboard and just like that, there were all his letters!

Sometimes our thanks to God can become like that too. We go through the motions to say what we know we ought to say but without much meaning behind it. Without the genuine, heartfelt, sincere thanks of the man who was healed and came back to Jesus.

Of course, we can thank God at any time but today we set aside as a special day to really think about all that God provides through the earth and to give God our heartfelt thanks and praise.

We think about all of the fruits and vegetables, cereals and grains, the animals, the trees, the rocks, metals and minerals, the flowers and honey and seeds, the rain, the sun, the wind and the cold, that make it possible for us to live. I wonder what part of creation you are particularly thankful for at this time?

In church we will be bringing many gifts to the altar as symbols of all that we are thankful for.

Do join with us in this prayer:

We bring forward symbols of the harvest, gifts that God has created, and has nurtured by sun and rain.

The land has yielded its harvest; thanks be to God.

 

We bring forward the harvest of the cornfields,

the oats and the wheat, the rye and the barley.

The land has yielded its harvest; thanks be to God.

 

We bring forward the harvest of vegetables,

pumpkin, kales, potatoes, and vegetables.

The land has yielded its harvest; thanks be to God.

 

We bring forward the harvest of fruit,

pears and apples, berries and herbs.

The land has yielded its harvest; thanks be to God.

 

We bring forward the harvest of flowers,

the finest blooms from our gardens and our fields.

The land has yielded its harvest; thanks be to God.

 

 We bring forward the harvest of honey, a gift from the bees.

The land has yielded its harvest; thanks be to God.

 

We bring forward the harvest of seeds for next year’s crops, for cereals, vegetables, and flowers.

The land has yielded its harvest; thanks be to God.

 

We bring the shepherd’s crook, a symbol of the flocks and herds of animals and birds that have given us meat.

The land has yielded its harvest; thanks be to God.

 

 We bring forward an empty bowl, as symbol of harvests that fail and of those around the world who suffer from hunger and starvation. Keep us mindful of their needs and may your goodness towards us bear fruits of compassion and generosity.

The land does not always yield harvest; help us, O God.

 

We bring forward the grain and the grape, for our Saviour took bread and wine to feed us with his body and his blood, given and shed for the life of the world. Let us feed on him by faith with thanksgiving.

The land has yielded its harvest; Thanks be to God.

 

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

Nerys writes:  As you prepare for worship today, I invite you to take a moment to look back at a crisis in your life. It may have been a health scare or a bereavement, a falling out among  family or friends, difficulty at work or something else. I wonder how you responded?

The Letter of James was written in troubled times, giving advice to members of the early Christian church who were suffering from struggles from within and pressures from without. It is known as the most practical of the epistles and yet in its final section which is set for today, James 5.13-20, the emphasis is on prayer. Whatever the crisis, James calls on his readers to take their concerns for themselves or for others to God, Prayer is a powerful weapon which enables us to do God’s work of bringing  forgiveness and healing, reconciliation and renewal to the world. But with power comes responsibility, something which Jesus warns his squabbling disciples about in the harshest and most shocking way in our Gospel passage, Mark 9.38-50.

We have a responsibility not to keep the power of prayer to ourselves or to obstruct the path of others to God. We have a responsibility also to ourselves to look out for things in our lives that are causing us to stumble and to make changes so that we can be like salt, preserving and enhancing the lives of others. Take a moment now to reflect on this and take your thoughts to our loving and merciful God in prayer.

We are approaching the end of the Season of Creation, a time when we’ve been focusing on our response to the crisis which is facing our planet. Vestry has put together an Action Plan to ensure that concern for the environment is woven through every aspect of our life as a church. Just as in the Letter of James, the emphasis is not on practical matters only, but also on  our spiritual living and on the way we can influence others for good. I would encourage you, when you get your copy of the church magazine, to set aside some time to read the plan,  to consider how you could get involved through prayer and/or action and to share any thoughts and ideas that come to you with me or a member of Vestry. I would invite you also to join me in considering any changes that we need to make in our own individual lives as we look at the world through God’s eyes so that we alleviate the suffering of those worst affected by Climate Change today and lessen the burden on generations to come.

‘The Tree of Life’ by John Coburn

As you read the following intercessions prepared for this week’s 10.30 service by Lee Emery, please add your own prayers and intentions.

Loving God, Creator of all things, we recognize more than ever in this Season of Creation our shortcomings as stewards of our beautiful planet.  We pray that you help us to have the courage, diligence and wherewithal to make amends and to help give our support to positive and bold environmental changes wherever they are occurring.  Help us to see and implement the necessary changes we need to make in our own lives, homes, and communities to slow the adverse effects of climate change.  We especially ask for assistance to those living in areas that are, and will be, most harmed by the climate crisis.

We ask for your presence in meetings when and wherever world, national and civic leaders in authority convene, not only to develop policy and action around fighting climate change, but also in helping to make the world a more just and humane place.  Help us to find, for those who arrive on our shores in great need of a safe haven, protection and sustenance, a place in our hearts and in our land.

Loving God, we ask that you bestow upon all those who are subjected to violence, hunger, poverty, loneliness, grief and sickness, your continued love, care and blessings.  For those who are prisoners, who lack shelter and who live with addictions, repression, illness and pain, we ask you to be with them in their suffering and to offer them comfort.

Loving God, help us to recognize our collective responsibility in building a strong community, one that is inclusive, safe and responsive.  We pray for our church community and its clergy.  We pray for the entire world Christian community.  We pray for all people, of all spiritual traditions, of all nations as we know your love to be universal.  Help us to see your love in the faces of the strangers we encounter and in the friends we enjoy spending time with.

Loving God, we are often perplexed, confused and troubled by the world we are living in with all its tragic ills and problems which seem at times to be insurmountable.  In the midst of this world-wide pandemic which has seen so many people lose their loved ones and which doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, help us to strengthen our faith and to know and experience your love and care which are always present.  As we, who live in comparative abundance, sit down for a meal today, keep us ever mindful of those who are not so fortunate.
We pray all of this in the name of Jesus. Amen

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.