Material for Worship on Mothering Sunday

Nerys writes: For a number of years, our Mothering Sunday services at St Mary’s have been all-age gatherings but today is a rare opportunity for a reflection aimed at adults only.

For many, this is normally a happy day, a time to show our love and gratitude to our mothers, to receive cards and gifts from our children and to enjoy precious time with our families. For some, however, this celebration of motherhood brings the pain of longing, loss, grief or guilt. For those of us who were here in Dunblane in March 1996, Mothering Sunday is inextricably linked with memories of the tragedy that struck our community. And now, it will also carry a reminder of the beginning of the first Lockdown and all the suffering and loss caused by the pandemic. Mothering Sunday can be a bitter-sweet day but it is also an opportunity to remember that we have a mothering God whose care for us extends throughout our lives and beyond and who has promised to be especially close to us in difficult times.

So, as you light your candle today, take a moment to bring to mind what Mothering Sunday means to you and to share your joy or pain with God who is listening.

You may wish to finish your time of prayer by listening to a modern hymn based on the writing of the medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich, sung by Moira.

Mothering God, you gave me birth
in the bright morning of the world.
Creator, source of every breath,
you are my rain, my wind, my sun;
you are my rain, my wind, my sun.

Mothering Christ, you took my form,
offering me your food of light,
grain of life, and grape of love,
your very body for my peace;
your very body for my peace.

Mothering Sprit, nurturing one,
in arms of patience hold me close,
so that in faith I root and grow
until I flower, until I know;
until I flower, until I know.
Words, Jean Janzen; Tune, John Bell

Today’s readings, 1 Samuel 1.20-28 and Luke 2.33-35, acknowledge both the joy and pain of those who are mothers or who care like mothers, and give an insight into the heart of God. They are taken from two stories set in Jerusalem featuring two mothers who had brought their sons to the Temple to be dedicated to God. The first, read here by Colin, is the story of Hannah who had known the desperation and shame of childlessness and the delight of answered prayer. The second, read by Mary, is the story of Mary whose pregnancy was a source of potential disgrace, who was forced to seek refuge in a foreign land soon after the birth but who carried with her the secret joy of the angel’s message and all that she had seen and heard in Bethlehem. Both had come to the Temple to offer their sons back to God, Mary in accordance with Jewish law and Hannah to honour her promise. In order to allow them to fulfil their calling, both mothers would need to step back and stay in the background as their sons’ lives unfolded. Simeon’s prophecy is a reminder of the painful cost of that letting go. As Mary stood at the foot of the cross, pierced to the heart, I wonder if she remembered those glorious and dreadful words?

Mary’s was not the only heart to be pierced that day as Jesus allowed himself to suffer and die for love of the world. Our mother God was suffering too and continues to suffer alongside mothers in war zones, refugee camps and in situations of poverty and injustice. In her writing, Julian of Norwich returned again and again to the necessity of trusting in God’s mothering love and to her confidence that with God, ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’. I invite you to join with me to pray for each other, that when we experience the pain of the world’s suffering and the cost of caring, we would know God with us, bringing us all the perseverence and hope we need to continue to give of ourselves for the sake of others.

‘Compassion’ by Sister Mary Southard, a member of the Congregation of St Joseph, La Grange Park, Illinois.

Our prayers today have been written by Hugh. You can listen to him here, or read them yourself.

Holy and loving God, on this Mothering Sunday we give thanks for all who nurture and care for your world and all its people. Help us all to play our own part in that work, according to the different gifts you have given to each one of us, to give of what we have to share in that work.

We give thanks for the signs of new Spring life all around – the snowdrops, bulbs emerging, the longer days. Help us to care for your world, seeking and speaking out always for a fair sharing of its resources. We pray for those in countries already affected by rising seas, those suffering from drought and deprivation.

We pray for those who are finding it difficult in this pandemic – the lonely, the sick, those out of work, those struggling to meet living costs. We give thanks for the scientists, care workers, doctors, nurses, and all who are working to keep us safe and well. Thinking of countries who do not yet have enough vaccines, encourage leaders here and elsewhere to ensure fair sharing of those. We give thanks for the work of World Health Organisation and others seeking to bring medical help to people in all countries.

We pray for those in other countries forced to flee from their homes, thinking especially today of the people of Yemen and Myanmar. We give thanks for those who work to support and care for them and those seeking ways out of the violence.

We remember today the children and the teacher whose lives were cut short here 25 years ago. We pray for their parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers, and all those directly affected. We know that you share with us the pain of that time and of our present time where people continue to die at the hands of others. Open our hearts to the fullness of your love, help us to live in true community, at one with all who are suffering or in need, that none may feel themselves excluded or eliminated.

We pray for those in our own community and beyond, and for those known to us personally, who are experiencing any kind of hardship or ill health or mental distress. Lord bless them and comfort them.

We pray for St Mary’s, for all who serve in this church, for all who are part of the church community, and all in the broader community we seek to serve.

Holy and loving God, help us to live and work in a spirit of love and care for all, inspired by this mothering Sunday and the life and message of Jesus, your Son our Lord, in whose name we pray.

If we were meeting for worship in church today there would have been an opportunity to make a donation to the Mothers’ Union Make a Mother’s Day Appeal.

If you wish to give a gift which will help empower women and girls in developing countries to flourish, please visit

Material for Worship on the Third Sunday in Lent

Our reflection this week for the third Sunday in Lent was prepared by Rev Moira Jamieson.

You may wish to sing along to or read the words of this hymn;

Jesus Christ is waiting, waiting in the streets;
No one is his neighbour, all alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I am lonely too.
Make me, friend or stranger, fit to wait on you

Jesus Christ is raging, raging in the streets,
Where injustice spirals and real hope retreats.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I am angry too.
In the Kingdom’s causes let me rage with you.

Jesus Christ is healing, healing in the streets;
Curing those who suffer, touching those he greets.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I have pity too.
Let my care be active, healing just like you.

Jesus Christ is dancing, dancing in the streets,
Where each sign of hatred he, with love, defeats.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I should triumph too.
On suspicion’s graveyard let me dance with you.

Jesus Christ is calling, calling in the streets,
”Who will join my journey? I will guide their feet.”
Listen, Lord Jesus, let my fears be few.
Walk one step before me; I will follow you.

© WGRG, Iona Community, 1988.

This week as I have been preparing this reflection, I have been thinking about the many injustices going on in our world right now. Injustices which have escalated in the light of the Coronavirus pandemic. Our government has been trying to do their best to protect everyone by rolling out their programme of vaccination, and I commend them. However, in poorer countries people are dying from the virus because they are already weak from hunger and disease and their governments, because of international debt, cannot afford to buy the vaccine that is needed. In today’s gospel passage, John 2 v 13-22 (read here by Rob ) Jesus sees injustice going on in the Temple and he rails against it. This is not an easy passage to read. We find Jesus, the caring loving Jesus who heals the sick and has compassion on those in need, storming into the Temple in a rage! It’s an image that is disturbing and uncomfortable. I don’t know about you, but I remember as a child, fighting or arguing with my brothers and stomping off, slamming doors and then facing the wrath of my mother. And so, I suppose, I should find this passage about the cleansing of the Temple quite reassuring, after all here is Jesus throwing things around in a ‘church’ of all places – the Jesus who was so good the rest of the time. It makes me remember that he was also human as well as divine.

This story is more complex than we think. The whole system of commerce in the temple was well established, and indeed, became a money-making exercise for the temple authorities. Historians tells us that once a year, Jewish males had to pay a temple tax and that tax could be paid only in temple coin, not with Roman or Greek coins, which is why the moneychangers were there. But the moneychangers charged a huge fee for the exchange; often up to half the amount being changed went into their pockets, out of which the temple took its substantial cut. Additionally, any sacrifice offered at Passover had to be that of an animal without blemish. The temple authorities offered perfect animals for sale. Anyone bringing his own animal had to have it inspected by the priests. Not surprisingly, the animal was nearly always rejected, and the person had to buy another from the priests. Therefore it was not simply the presence of the moneychangers and the animals offered for sale that so angered Jesus – after all, they were services meant for the convenience of people who had travelled long distances to get to Jerusalem. It was the misuse of authority in the blatant and gross overcharging of even the poorest people that set Jesus off. It is that blatant misuse of authority which is happening in our world today which must tear at the heart of God, as he sees injustice and deceit playing out here on earth.

From the Jesus Mafa collection

John tells us that that chaos ensued, with Jesus overturning tables and driving animals out with a whip made of cords. People, including the disciples, were stunned and confused, a situation not helped by Jesus when they asked for an explanation. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” That didn’t make sense to them. The temple had been under construction for 46 years, how could Jesus raise it up in three days? As with so many things, the disciples only worked it out later, in the light of resurrection hindsight. They came to realise that the temple of which Jesus spoke was his body, not the bricks and mortar of a building. However, there is another lesson to be learned from this reading, and that is the need for righteous anger in face of injustice, extortion and especially the exploitation of vulnerable people should not be tolerated. The plight of refugees, those fleeing from oppressive regimes and war, and the callous people who exploit their vulnerability should make us angry. Anger at such things is not a bad thing, it’s a good and cleansing thing. Such anger is not the opposite of love. Anger at injustice is an appropriate expression of love and a cry for righteousness. Righteous anger is not a loss of control, Jesus is not out of control, in fact he is noticeably clear about the targets of his wrath. Righteous anger is about taking control, it’s a move out of passive acceptance towards change. St. Augustine of Hippo once said. “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage: anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

Before Lent, some of us met on Zoom to discuss the theme of Worship. What it means to us and how we have had to adapt during lockdown, among other things, and we had a final session with Bishop Ian exploring the future of worship in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Over the years the church has had to adapt and change as the world and society have also changed. Sometimes these for some, have changed and upset established tradition, and seem to have created chaos. But God’s wisdom often works in the midst of chaos, and in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 1:18-25 (read here by Kathryn) Paul extols the grace of God, who saves his people from their foolishness as he tells them, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” In this passage, Paul helps his readers (and us) understand the wisdom of God and how it should show itself in their (our) lives, transforming them (us) in the way that they (we) think and behave. People who have been transformed from unbelief into belief and who grow strong in their faith, have a strong connection to God through the love of Christ on the cross. During Lent, we can take time to ask ourselves how close our relationship to God is and how, being a Christian has shaped us and moulded us as we grow in our faith and our belief. Paul asks us to believe in the wisdom and power of God to work in people’s lives, transforming us, and moulding us to be the people he wants us to be. Let us try to keep faith this Lent and take time to reflect on the strength or otherwise of our closeness to God. “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Amen.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, grant us wisdom to see the injustices of this world and to take action where we can. Help us not to be impassive and think that we cannot make a difference to the lives of others. May our prayers reach out to you as we pray for the people of this world. (Please add your own concerns here.)

We pray for all refugees who are fleeing violence in their own countries and who seek the safety of another land. May they be treated fairly and justly. Bless all who try to improve conditions in refugee camps and those who care for the health of those living in squalid conditions. We pray especially for the children.

We pray for those who are facing violence and abuse of any kind in their lives. May they find refuge for themselves and their families. At this time we think of the people of Myanmar and their situation. Bless the work of charities who provide refuge for victims of abuse.

We pray for all who are struggling at this time to feed their families. May they receive the help they need to enable them to keep their families strong and healthy. (Please pray for local initiatives like foodbanks.)

We pray for those who are ill at this time, especially those with Coronavirus and those with life-threatening illnesses. May they know the healing power of Jesus in their lives through those who care for them. We lift before God all those on the prayer tree at St. Mary’s. (Please pray for those you know who are ill at this time or in need of prayer.) Heavenly Father surround them with your love.

God of mercy and compassion we lift all these our concerns to you and ask you to keep us walking in your ways as we continue on our journey of faith this Lenten tide.

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Materials for Worship on the Second Sunday in Lent

Nerys writes: On the altar in St Mary’s stands this icon written by Diana, the late wife of Hugh Grant. It is there as a reminder that this year we focus on the writing of St Mark, author of the shortest and possibly the most puzzling and challenging of the four Gospels. Although it was the first Gospel to be written down, it didn’t attract the attention of the great commentators of the early church, and for many hundreds of years it wasn’t used much in public worship. Yet, there are many stories of the extraordinary impact it has had on the lives of all sorts of people. One of these is the famous German theologian Jürgen Moltmann who first read Mark’s Gospel when he was a prisoner of war in Kilmarnock in 1945, soon after he and his fellow-prisoners had been shown photographs of the horrors of Belsen and Buchenwald. In his autobiography he writes: ‘I read Mark’s Gospel as a whole and came to the story of the passion; when I heard Jesus’ death cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I felt growing within me the conviction: this is someone who understand you completely, who is with you in your cry to God and has felt the same forsakenness you are living in now … I summoned up the courage to live again.’

Because it is so short, Mark’s Gospel can be read in one sitting. What about joining me in reading it as a whole this Lent, at this time when so many are feeling forsaken?

The passage for today is at the heart of Mark’s Gospel. I invite you to listen to it with the ear of the heart, allowing God to speak to you through it.

First you may wish to light a candle or have a moment of silence and then say:

Lord God, I open my ears to hear you.
Lord God, I open my eyes to see you.
Lord God, I open my heart to love you.

As you listen to Barbara reading Mark 8.31-38, notice what thoughts or feelings arise within you. If a particular word or a phrase stands out, take some time to reflect on it before listening to the passage again, this time read by Andrew.

As you let the words of Scripture resound in your heart, notice any prayerful response that arises within you. As you bring your Lectio Divina or ‘holy reading’ to an end, rest for a while in God’s presence beyond thoughts and reflections.

It is only the second week of Lent and already we are on the road towards Jerusalem, the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus has asked his followers who they think he is. ‘You are the Messiah’ was Peter’s response. And now Jesus informs them what that means: rejection, suffering, death and resurrection. Peter can’t handle this and objects, only to be publicly slammed down. Then Jesus speaks to all who are listening. If we want to follow him, Jesus tells us, then we must be prepared to deny ourselves and take up our cross.

Take up your cross – what a huge challenge lies in those words! For Mark’s first audience which was probably a persecuted community, possibly in North Africa, the message was straightforward. And the same is true for Christian communities today in Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Eritrea, Egypt, Yemen, and Nigeria who live with discrimination, harassment and even the risk of death because of their faith. But what about us at St Mary’s? Take a moment to ask yourself, what does it mean for us as a Christian community in Scotland to deny ourselves, take up our cross and faithfully follow Christ? As you do so, you may wish to reflect on the image below of Jesus taking up his cross from the Jesus Mafa Collection or read or sing along as David plays the tune to C.W. Everest’s hymn, ‘Take up thy cross, the Saviour said’.

Take up thy cross, the Saviour said,
if thou wouldst my disciple be;
deny thyself, the world forsake,
and humbly follow after me.

Take up thy cross: let not its weight
fill thy weak spirit with alarm;
his strength shall bear thy spirit up,
and brace thy heart and nerve thine arm.

Take up thy cross, nor heed the shame,
nor let thy foolish pride rebel:
thy Lord for thee the cross endured,
to save thy soul from death and hell.

Take up thy cross then in his strength,
and calmly every danger brave;
’twill guide thee to a better home,
and lead to victory o’er the grave.

Take up thy cross and follow Christ,
nor think till death to lay it down;
for only they who bear the cross
may hope to wear the glorious crown.

To thee, great Lord, the One in Three,
all praise forevermore ascend:
O grant us in our home to see
the heavenly life that knows no end.

‘Jesus takes up his Cross’ from the Jesus Mafa Collection

Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness asking himself what it meant to be Jesus the Messiah. In his Gospel, Mark sets out to answer this question and by doing so helps us to answer our own question of what it means to be disciples of Jesus the Messiah. For Peter in today’s passage, Jesus’s answer is unacceptable and unbelievable. He vehemently rejects the idea of a suffering self-giving Messiah, causing Jesus to rebuke him just as he had rebuked the Tempter in the wilderness. It is difficult for us also to accept Jesus for who he is and to follow in his footsteps. Time after time, we will be tempted to take the easier route in order to avoid risking the conflicts which are bound to accompany committed discipleship. It is only by letting go of our preoccupation with ourselves that we can walk with Jesus in the paths of love and service.

Let us pray to our loving God to increase our faith. May we be more ready to trust you and move forward with you wherever you lead us.

Let us pray for the persecuted church, for their oppressors, for nations that foster persecution, and for those who ignore it.

Let us pray for all leaders and their advisers to have the courage to be honest, the will to be just, the greatness to be humble and the openness to learn.

Let us pray for those who suffer and are in need, asking God to show us how we can love and serve them.

The Collect for today
God of patience and humility, in your love you gave your Son to be rejected and raised up on a cross. Gather us under its shadow and open our eyes to its mystery, that we may share even now in the life that is from above; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Material for Worship on the First Sunday in Lent

Today Rev. Jeanette Allan leads our worship for the first Sunday in Lent.

Today Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent. However, did it arrive so soon? I know Lent is early this year, but! Just to convince ourselves that we really are in Lent let’s read the words whilst David plays ‘Forty days and forty nights.’

Forty days and forty nights
Thou wast fasting in the wild;
forty days and forty nights,
tempted still, yet undefiled.

Sunbeams scorching all the day,
chilly dew-drops nightly shed,
prowling beasts about thy way,
stones your pillow, earth thy bed.

Shall not we thy sorrows share,
and from earthly joys abstain,
fasting with unceasing prayer,
glad with thee to suffer pain.

And if Satan, vexing sore,
flesh or spirit should assail,
thou, his vanquisher before,
grant we may not faint nor fail.

So shall we have peace divine;
holier gladness, ours shall be:
round us too shall angels shine,
such as ministered to thee.

Keep, O keep us, Saviour dear,
ever constant by thy side,
that with thee we may appear
at the eternal Eastertide.

So that’s conclusive, we are in Lent, but what does that mean to us in the lockdown in which we are living, even if there is hope on the horizon? Well, I heard of a community in Eire whose Lenten discipline this year was for everyone to take a dip however short, in the sea every day. I struggled with that one a bit, it’s certainly a discipline, but to what purpose? Just to prove you can do it? If the sea dippers were sponsored, raising money for a good cause, then at least someone benefits. So, what is Lent really about, well, historically it was a time when new Christians prepared for their Baptism at the Easter Vigil; for medieval monks and nuns it was the great fast when their diet was even more limited than usual, in preparation for the great Festival of the Resurrection at Easter; but what is it for us now in 2021 in the middle of a pandemic? We are already restricted in what we can do in our world. Which could be a good thing as that actually makes more room for what we can do in Lent, which could be a variety of things like reassessing our relationship with God and asking to be shown how we can draw closer to our Creator and the Source of our being; asking God’s help to discern how we are failing in our discipleship, and what we can do about it. Psalm 25 puts it very well and could well become a daily prayer during Lent. It makes it clear just how much we owe all we have and are to God’s love and mercy, and how we can live our lives more closely tuned with our Creator.

Let’s listen as Anthony reads us Psalm 25 v. 1-10

Being in Scotland we can’t ignore the Scottish Psalter with its metrical Psalms so, as David plays let’s read the words of the metrical version.

Lord, teach me all your ways,
reveal your paths to me;
and lead me in your saving
truth show me what I should be.

Remember, Lord your love,
your care from ages past;
and in that love remember me,
in kindness hold me fast.

Forget my youthful faults,
forgive my sinful ways;
within the kindness of your love
remember me always.

God who is just and good,
shows all who sin his way;
he leads the humble in right paths,
their teacher day by day.

All pathways of the Lord
are kindly, true and sure
to those who keep his covenant
and in his ways endure.

Both those put things quite clearly, you are free to choose your favourite. Nerys has already given us examples of Lenten literature we might find helpful. Let’s face it, none of us are perfect, nor will we ever be we could all do with a bit of a wash and brush up now and again and Lent can be the ideal time, a time when we can not only have our rough edges smoothed by God’s forgiveness, but also bathe in the wonder of God’s love and mercy and learn how to live more truly as the body of Christ here in our world. What special task does God have for you?

Let’s listen now as Morag reads the Gospel for us. Mark 1: 9-15

Whenever I read this passage I am always struck forcibly by the juxtaposition, of God’s commendation of Jesus “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased” with what happens next. ‘And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the

If any of us had just the vestige of a notion that because we are disciples of Jesus life should go well for us, and we should go through life comfortable and happy, get such a notion knocked completely into a cocked hat by what happens to Jesus, both in the wilderness and on the cross. We follow the one who said, “Take up your Cross and follow me”. No way are we to expect no difficulties in our lives. What we are to expect is that whatever does happen to us in our lives we will never have to face it alone. God’s love, comfort, forgiveness, and strength will be there for us every step of the way, for as long as it takes.

So let us pray:

Come Jesus, do not smile and say
you are already with us.
Millions do not know you, and to those of us who do,
what is the difference?
What is the point of your presence if our lives do not alter?
Change our lives, shatter our complacency,
Make your word our life’s purpose,
Take away the quietness of a clear conscience.
Press us uncomfortably.
For only thus that other peace is made,
your peace. [Dom Helder, Brazil]

For our incapacity to feel the sufferings of others,
and our tendency to live comfortably with injustice.
God forgive us.

For the self-righteousness which denies guilt,
and the self-interest which strangles compassion.
God forgive us.

For those who live their lives in careless unconcern,
who cry “Peace, peace” when there is no peace,
We ask your mercy.

For our failings in community,
our lack of understanding.
We ask your mercy.

For our lack of forgiveness, openness sensitivity
God forgive us.

For the times we were too eager to be better than others,
when we were too rushed to care,
when we were too tired to bother,
when we don’t really listen,
when we are too quick to act from motives other than love.
God forgive us.
[Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness South Africa]

As we conclude our time of worship together let’s Listen to David play the tune as we read the words of Timothy Dudley Smith’s hymn.

Above the voices of the world around me,
my hopes and dreams, my cares and loves and fears,
the long-awaited call of Christ has found me,
the voice of Jesus echoes in my ears:

I gave my life to break the cords that bind you,
I rose from death to set your spirit free;
turn from your sins and put the past behind you,
take up your cross and come and follow me.’

What can I offer him who calls me to him?
Only the wastes of sin and self and shame;
a mind confused, a heart that never knew him,
a tongue unskilled at naming Jesus’ Name.

Yet at your call, and hungry for your blessing,
drawn by that cross which moves a heart of stone,
now Lord I come, my tale of sin confessing,
and in repentance turn to you alone.

Lord, I believe; help now my unbelieving;
I come in faith because your promise stands.
Your word of pardon and of peace receiving,
all that I am I place within your hands.
Let me become what you shall choose to make me,
freed from the guilt and burden of my sins.
Jesus is mine, who never shall forsake me,
and in his love my new-born life begins.

Reflection for Ash Wednesday

From dust we come
To dust we will return.
We belong to God.

We come in penitence,
We come in confidence,
We belong to God.

At the beginning of Lent
At every moment of our lives
We belong to God.

In ancient times, ashes were used to express grief and sorrow for sins and faults.

Job says to God, ‘My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’

The prophet Jeremiah urged the wayward people of Israel to express their contrition by putting on sackcloth and rolling in the ashes.

Christians continued the practice of using ashes as a sign of repentance and by the end of the 11th century it had become a custom for ashes to be sprinkled on the heads of the faithful on the first day of Lent which became known as Ash Wednesday.

We are not be able to meet together to receive a cross of ash on our foreheads this year, but here is an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of that symbolic action, to acknowledge our brokenness, accept God’s forgiveness and commit ourselves to allowing God to work in us this Lent, transforming us from the inside out.

You are invited to prepare yourselves for worship by listening or singing along to Davie playing the tune of ‘Be still and know that I am God’.

Be still and know that I am God,
be still and know that I am God,
be still and know that I am God.

I am the Lord that healeth thee,
I am the Lord that healeth thee,
I am the Lord that healeth thee.

In thee, O Lord, I put my trust,
In thee, O Lord, I put my trust,
In thee, O Lord, I put my trust.

Listen to our Old Testament readings for today read by Ruth and Nerys: Joel 2.1-2, 12-17 and Psalm 51.1-17

Having reflected on God’s invitation to the people of Israel to return to him expressed by the Prophet Joel, on King David’s expression of repentance and on Mark Lawrence’s painting, inspired by the opening words of the psalm, we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness.

Prayer of Confession
Loving God, you made us from the dust and ashes. You know the situations we face, the decisions we make, our motives, our passions, our desires. We long to act justly, with love and kindness, towards those around us but so often we fail.

Lord have mercy upon us.

We acknowledge, and cry out in shame for our part in the wider issues that affect our world. We remember: the world’s poor, kept poor by our wasteful lifestyles; Creation’s beauty, marred by our selfish carelessness; the innocent, caught in the middle of unjust conflicts.

Christ have mercy upon us.

In all these things, we call out to you to act, to forgive and renew. To restore in us the brightness of your love, and the radiance of your glory.

Lord have mercy upon us.

Loving God, we receive your forgiveness. We receive your empowering to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with you. Amen.

Listen to Catherine singing a traditional Mexican hymn translated and adapted by John Bell.

When we are living, we are in the Lord,
and when we’re dying, we are in the Lord;
for in our living and in our dying
we belong to God, we belong to God.

Each day allows us to decide for good,
loving and serving as we know we should;
in thankful giving, in hopeful living,
we belong to God, we belong to God.

Sometimes we sorrow, other times embrace,
sometimes we question everything we face;
yet in our yearning is deeper learning:
we belong to God, we belong to God.

Till earth is over may we always know
love never fails us: God has made it so.
hard times will prove us, never remove us;
we belong to God, we belong to God.

Prayer of Turning Around

Loving God,
truly dust we are, and to dust we shall return;
and truly yours we are, and to you we shall return.
Help this to be a time of turning round and beginning again.
Through the forty days of Lent, help us to follow you
and to find you: in the discipline of praying
and in the drudgery of caring –
in whatever we deny ourselves,
and whatever we set ourselves to learn or do.
Help us to discover you in our loneliness and in community,
In our emptiness and our fulfilment,
in our sadness and our laughter.
Help us to find you when we ourselves are lost.
Help us to follow you on the journey to Jerusalem
to the waving palms of the people’s hope,
to their rejection, to the cross and empty tomb.
Help us to perceive new growth amid the ashes of the old.
Help us, carrying your cross, to be signs of your Kingdom. Amen.

(Jan Sutch Pickard in Eggs and Ashes, ed. Ruth Burgess and Chris Polhill)

Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to come upon you, upon our church and into our world as Davie plays:

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me
Melt me, mould me
Fill me, use me
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us
Melt us, mould us
Fill us, use us
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us.
(Daniel Iverson)

We have come before God in penitence and faith, we’ve acknowledged our brokenness and accepted God’s forgiveness. We’ve committed ourselves to observe the season of Lent and asked God, through the Holy Spirit, to help transform us. Now let’s listen to the advice Jesus gave to his first followers in Matthew 6. 1-6, 16-18. Hugh is reading from the Message.

The desert waits
ready for those who come,
who come obedient to the Spirit’s leading;
or who are driven,
because they will not come any other way.

The desert always waits,
ready to let us know who we are—
the place of self-discovery.

And whilst we fear, and rightly,
the loneliness and emptiness and harshness,
we forget the angels,
whom we cannot see for our blindness,
but who come when God decides
that we need their help;
when we are ready for what they can give us.

(Ruth Burgess in Eggs and Ashes, ed. Ruth Burgess and Chris Polhill)

‘Angels bring food to Jesus in the wilderness’ from A Mirror of Holiness of Father Jerome Xavier’, Mughal India, 1602-1604. Click here for more information.

As you prepare yourself for the weeks ahead, listen to or join in with Catherine singing ‘Sent by the Lord am I’ by Jorge Maldonado.

Sent by the Lord am I;
my hands are ready now
to make the earth a place
in which the kingdom comes.

The angels cannot change
a world of hurt and pain
into a world of love,
of justice and of peace.

The task is mine to do,
to set it really free.
O help me to obey;
help me to do your will.

From dust we come
to dust we will return
we belong to God.

Grace us with your blessing
today and always.
Keep us close to you, God,
Keep us close to you. Amen

Material for Worship on Transfiguration Sunday

This Sunday, our reflection has been written by Kate Sainsbury, a Lay Reader, the founder of the Appletree Community and a new associate member of the St Mary’s Ministry Team.

“There’s no such thing as magic!”
Or is there?
Walking in a wood once, I suddenly found a sycamore helicopter spinning in the air below my finger, seemingly without support. The spider’s thread that connected us was invisible at first glance. I was with my son, Louis, who is profoundly brain-injured.
“Look, Louis!” I said, lifting my arm to raise the spinner up towards his face, into his field of vision. “It’s magic!”
The delight of this event put great emphasis into my voice, an energy that broke through Louis’ lack of understanding, to lodge a new phrase in his memory.
He looked from the spinning bit of green to my face, his eyes fixed on mine, shining with reflected amazement and love.
“It’s magic!” he repeated.
In Louis’ language, which lacks consonants because of damage to the 7th cranial nerve, what he said sounded like …. i …. a … i ….
He began to smile. His whole body took it up, he rocked backwards and forwards from his waist, he became happy in front of my eyes, all of him, his face, his body, his whole being. Mum was happy: Louis was happy. We existed in this moment, united in our love for each other, triggered by an encounter with something beyond understanding.
The incident, and the word, were lodged forever as a shared memory for us both. Even today, when we go back to the phrase, ‘it’s magic!’ we get a little bit of the feeling we had that day.
I can never know what Louis thinks, can never hear his explanation, from the inside. But the outward evidence is all I need to know that we are talking about the same thing: encounter in love.
It was both magic … and, with the scientific explanation of the spider’s thread that I had brushed against … NOT magic.

Our Gospel reading today, tells us a story of something that is MAGIC. Take a moment to listen to Margaret reading Mark 9.2-9. (The image is from the Vie de Jesus Mafa series.)

This Transfiguration follows Peter’s recognition of Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus’s teaching that leadership as Messiah means suffering, death and rising again. That had been followed by Jesus’ invitation to the crowd and disciples to take up their own crosses, to go into uncertainty and suffering, trusting God would bring about new life through them.
Our story was an intimate gathering. Peter, James and John, were taken up a mountain by Jesus, where they knew that Moses encountered God. What happened next was as amazing as Moses’ own experience had been.
In front of his friends, Jesus’ was transfigured – he became shining white, they saw him talking with both Moses, the lawgiver, God’s messenger, and Elijah, the great prophet.
It was MAGIC.
The veil of time and place slipped aside, the three disciples found themselves existing in a new dimension, for which Peter had no words. This was holy space, they were drawn in and at the same time, terrified. Peter, the practical one, cast about to pin down the awe of the moment. ‘Shall we build some booths, Lord? temporary temples, like those we make at our festival, to contain this holiness?’
James and John – called elsewhere ‘Sons of thunder’ – say nothing. Perhaps their tempestuous nature makes them more used to living with uncertainty. Then a cloud comes over them, just as a cloud had descended on Moses. Out of the cloud God speaks to them, an echo of God’s address to Jesus at his baptism. ‘’This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’
How did they make sense of that?
Perhaps it took years, the events of the last days of Jesus’ life, his death, resurrection and Pentecost, for them to learn that the God who is Father to Jesus, was father to them too, that each of them, was beloved, each was a part of the whole.
How do we make sense of the mystery?

At the heart of this story I find certainty, the power of love, a guarantee that each of us is precious. That matters to me, as Louis’ mother. I find the Transfiguration a story of hope, a vision of a just world coming into being through God’s love. It powers me to pursue a vision of a long-term home for Louis and others with disabilities. At Appletree Community, Louis’ calls us to his table to be fed by the God of love, who asks each of us to participate in living well, equal with each other, loved equally.

The vision, grew out of need. When Louis’ care home shut there was nowhere for him in Scotland. Its particular shape follows from asking ‘WHO is Louis?’ recognising his sociable nature, his wish to live with others, the benefits for staff of being able to support one another. The Court of Protection approved my plan to use Louis’ medical negligence funds to buy a house. Care will be given 24/7 by professional carers from Scottish Autism, funded by the local authority, who economise through overnight care shared amongst three.

The house is a converted steading, with plenty of space for shared living, indoors and out, and self-contained ensuite bedrooms for all. It has the security of a south-facing, enclosed courtyard and gardens. Its wooden floors and high ceilings make a calm atmosphere. It is close to the A9 at Aberuthven, semi-rural, yet accessible. Alongside is a barn for developing future day activities.

Partnership with Scottish Autism, will be crucial. We seek to encourage long-term commitment in staff. It takes a while to learn Louis’ language. When he is understood, communication is a pleasure. In the hospital now, where he is not heard, he resorts to shouting or protest. Developing a centre of excellence for Louis and his house-mates, will contribute to a sea-change that is going on all around in social care in Scotland for the better. As Bishop Ian says of work inspired by the Holy Spirit, ‘Find out what’s going on and join in!’

In December 2019 we held our first Appletree Christmas party, where over forty people joined us, friends, neighbours. We sang carols, prayed, enacted the journey to Bethlehem in search of the star. We met our second resident, Ewan, who came along with his family. He felt so at home, he went off for a sleep. A guest, Laura, who played the part of Mary, has become one of our Patrons.

A year after lockdown, there is much to be thankful for: building adaptations progress; a core Scottish Autism staff team is getting to know Louis and Ewan. Relationships with wider society grow, we are supported through prayer, newspaper coverage, donations, invitations to speak. We participate in arts groups and United Nations young people’s groups. We have academic links with the School of Christianity and Autism at the University of Aberdeen, policy links to Scottish Government. PAMIS (Promoting a More Inclusive Society), a charity for people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities advocates for us.

We are supported and blessed by Bishop Ian, who sees us like a new way of being church, a diaconal movement, with Benedictine roots, where ‘to work is to pray’. We are prayed for by local churches. We move, with wider society, into an unknown future, one step at a time, listening, giving thanks, trusting God, holding to values of justice, equality, joy and love. It’s magic!

On this Valentine’s Day, you are invited to listen to Mary singing ‘Love is the touch of intangible joy’ by Alison M. Robertson.

Love is the touch of intangible joy;
love is the force that no fear can destroy;
love is the goodness we gladly applaud:
God is where love is, for love is of God.

Love is the lilt in a lingering voice;
love is the hope that can make us rejoice;
love is the cure for the frightened and flawed:
God is where love is, for love is of God.

Love is the light in the tunnel of pain;
love is the will to be whole once again;
love is the trust of a friend on the road:
God is where love is, for love is of God.

Love is the Maker, and Spirit, and Son;
love is the kingdom their will has begun;
love is the pathway the saints all have trod:
God is where love is, for love is of God.

Here is an opportunity to pray with the words of St Paul’s famous chapter on Love before we bring to mind all those who need our prayers today.

Loving God,
Help us to be patient; help us to be kind; help us not to be envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Help us not to insist on our own way, not to be irritable or resentful. Help us not to rejoice in wrongdoing, but to rejoice in the truth. Help us to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.

Let us pray for all who are lacking in love,
for those who don’t receive the love they need,
for those who cannot show love to others.

Shine your love upon us, Lord,
so that we might reflect it out into the world.

Help us to live out your life in our actions,
especially towards those we find hard to love.

We bring before you all those in positions of authority and influence …

We pray for those who are sick in body or mind, bereaved or lonely …

We pray for the church all over the world and especially for the Appletree Community.

May love be the force that drives us and the power that binds us,
we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

More of Kate’s story …

Louis enjoying a winter’s walk. Louis is currently detained in a locked hospital unit because there is nowhere else for him in Scotland. He was recently pinned down and injected, because, even after two years, there isn’t sufficient understanding of his language to take a gentle approach. He is traumatised by such incidents. Louis has the understanding of an 18-month old.

Louis’ friend, David, photographer and artist, my godson. For eight years, Louis and David enjoyed communion services together, adapted for additional needs, called ’Comrie Special Friends’. David co-led worship at the last national Lay Reader conference 2014, with Bishop Bob Gilles and was a guest worship-leader at TISEC. We shall start ‘Appletree Special Friends’.

The bedroom wing undergoing total remodelling, with soundproofing and new walls, creating two ensuite bedrooms, one wheelchair accessible, with ensuite carers’ bedroom

A local estate gifted us five huge boulders that will stand in the courtyard, their solid weight a reminder of time, of matter. Their grouping will express how we are all dependent on each other and on forces greater than ourselves. To me they seem to say, ‘Yes we can!”

Material for Worship on the Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

Today, writes the Ven. Peter M Potter, we begin St Mark’s account of Jesus’ public ministry. He starts by telling us that it is a gospel, that is, good news. So let us begin by listening to David playing the tune of “We have a gospel to proclaim” and you can follow with the words here:

We have a gospel to proclaim
Good news for all throughout the earth;
The gospel of a Saviour’s name:
We sing His glory, tell His worth.

Tell of His birth at Bethlehem,
Not in a royal house or hall
But in a stable dark and dim:
The Word made flesh, a light for all.

Tell of His death at Calvary,
Hated by those He came to save;
In lonely suffering on the cross
For all He loved, His life He gave.

Tell of that glorious Easter morn:
Empty the tomb, for He was free.
He broke the power of death and hell
That we might share His victory.

Tell of His reign at God’s right hand,
By all creation glorified;
He sends His Spirit on His Church
To live for Him, the Lamb who died.

Now we rejoice to name Him King:
Jesus is Lord of all the earth.
This gospel message we proclaim:
We sing His glory, tell His worth.

The readings for today, the fifth Sunday of Epiphany, are Isaiah 40. 21-31, which proclaims God’s power and authority over all creation, and Mark 1.29-39, which portrays Jesus beginning his public ministry with acts of healing. They are read by Jill and Martin.

In spite of what you might imagine from television or the cinema, casting out demons is a very rare occurrence. It is also a highly specialised ministry, not to be undertaken lightly. In fact, only once in my ministry have I felt the need to consult a diocesan advisor. His advice was to try to persuade the person to get checked out by a psychiatrist to exclude all other explanations. Unfortunately, I was not able to do so and, from what I hear, the person’s behaviour is unchanged.
In New Testament times people did not have the benefit of microbiology or psychoanalysis to explain the causes of physical or mental illnesses. They were regarded as the work of demons, that is, minions of Satan. Jesus’ earthly ministry begins with a series of exorcisms performed, not to establish for himself a reputation as another wandering miracle worker (of whom there were quite a few at that time), but to show that his teaching and actions are done with authority because he is the Holy One of God. The fact that he is able to cast out demons shows that God’s good news is more powerful than Satan’s negative, destructive forces.

In today’s reading we also hear an account of a physical healing. Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, who had had a fever. The wording here is the same as a description of an exorcism. What is interesting though is that, after she had been healed, she got up “and served them”. Presumably she fed them a meal, like any good Jewish mother. In other words, she is restored to her rightful place in the family, just as later in the Gospel lepers, the disabled, those possessed (mentally ill?) And various sinners are restored to the community. Jesus’ mission is to break down the barriers created by Satan, whether through illness or sin.

So, what has all this to do with us, as we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic which is having a devastating effect on people’s physical and mental health? We have identified the cause as a virus, not a demon, and people are looking to a vaccine not exorcism for the cure. We could answer that our God-given intelligence has given us the ability to find effective cures for all sorts of illness and we rightly thank him for that.

But we can also say that Christians believe there is a distinction between to cure and to heal. The latter is much more wide-ranging. As we have seen, it includes the element of restoration and the breaking down of barriers. One such barrier is the stigma associated with mental illness. I have certainly known a number of people in various congregations who are disturbed or just strange. Obviously in some instances medical help is needed but quite often the informal care and patience they find among church members can create a sense of security and stability for them. At times it is not easy but it can be an opportunity to show that we are willing to go the extra mile.

Healing also includes a sense of peace, or shalom to use the Hebrew word. When there is no physical cure, or even when the condition is terminal, there can still be healing. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, and it comes through prayer and the loving care in words and deeds that dispels fear, isolation and loss.

To minister to others in this way is not a highly specialised calling but it does advance God’s kingdom and break down barriers.

These intercessions are based on prayers in The Pattern of Our Days, by the Iona Community.

Let us come to God in our need, and bringing with us the needs of the world.
Lord, we come to you with our faith and with our doubts, with our hopes and with our fears, and we come in confidence because you have promised never to turn us away.
We pray for people we do not know but are among the numbers relayed in the news day by day, people whose names only you, their families and friends know, and whose lives you cherish …..
We pray for the people whose lives and names we do know, who are in pain, distress or trouble, those who are happy, those who are sad ….

Lord, in your mercy; hear our prayer.

We pray for those who do not love themselves,
who are assailed by turmoil within themselves,
who make themselves ill with self-loathing or bitterness,
who feel themselves devalued and unloved.
Restore them and help them to live with themselves.
And we pray for ourselves, for the times when “them” includes “us”.

Lord, in your mercy; hear our prayer.

For your strength that fills us, your love that heals us,
and for your hand that leads us into tomorrow, we thank you O Lord.

We make these prayers in the power of the Holy Spirit and offer them, together with those of all the saints, to you, Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Video Reflection for Candlemas

‘Living and dying, striving for holiness and justice, accepting forgiveness and affirmation, living with the questions and the mystery, trusting in the glory and light of resurrection – these are the elements of life and loving that dance and burn in the candles of Candlemas. And these are the candles that are offered to us so that, lit by God’s bright fire, we may be light and warmth for God’s world.’ (Ruth Burgess)

This week, Jeanette reflects on the feast that marks the first day of Spring. Many thanks to Morag Hamilton and Rob Smallman for taking part, to Moira Langston and her sister for the music and to David Jamieson for putting the video together.

Material for Worship on the Third Sunday after Epiphany

The Lord called the disciples to be fishers of men.
He calls us to follow him, to trust in, rely on and have confidence in him.
Come, let us cast our nets into his waters and offer ourselves in worship.

Our readings today are 1 Corinthians 7.29-31read by Margaret and Mark 1.14-20 read by Les.

You are invited to listen to David playing the tune Kelvingrove as you follow the words of John Bell’s hymn ‘The Summons’ or to sing along.

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown?
Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you, and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare,
should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded man see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean,
and do such as this unseen?
And admit to what I mean in you, and you in me?

Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell that fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found
to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you, and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go,
where your love and footsteps show,
thus I’ll move and live and grow in you, and you in me.

Revd Moira Jamieson writes:

Whenever I sing the words of this hymn, it reminds me of my commitment to be a follower of Christ at my confirmation many, many years ago. It also reminds me of the promises I made at my ordination in 2008. The call to discipleship is what our Gospel passage this morning, reminds us of. When Jesus called his first disciples, he wasn’t just inviting them to come and follow him, but to learn from and be taught by him. The story is basically a fishing story. It’s a fishing story about Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. Simon Peter, as you know, was a fisherman by trade. He fished on the Sea of Galilee, a beautiful big lake, thirteen miles long and eight miles wide. A lake which Sandy and I sailed on three years ago after eating some Tilapia fish (or Peter’s fish). The men who fished on the lake weren’t fishing as sport, they were fishing for their livelihoods.

The passages preceding our text today speak of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. Now he has emerged and is ready to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He sees the fishermen Simon and Andrew and he calls to them. They immediately drop their nets and follow Jesus, as do James and John who are further down the shoreline. Amazingly none of these four men ask any questions. They don’t enquire about pay, fringe benefits, time off for holidays or even what position they might have in this Kingdom of God – although we know that they eventually got round to that last question! They don’t ask who Jesus is, what he is about, or where he is going. This makes me wonder if they had heard stories of Jesus from others. Had they perhaps witnessed his baptism by John, and had they, maybe, heard him preach some days before he arrived in their fishing village, sensing something ‘different’ about this man?

If we look at John 1.41-42, we find that Andrew did in fact know about Jesus as he was a follower of John the Baptist. When he heard John speak about Jesus. he then went and spoke to his brother Simon and told him, “we have found the Messiah.” Whatever the answers are to these questions, Christians today know what it is to be called by God. You or I wouldn’t be members of St. Mary’s today if we didn’t feel that call from God, through the Holy Spirit, to follow Jesus and his teachings. The Holy Spirit stirs up within us the need to be in God’s house, to hear his holy scriptures and to sing praises to him. However, as we have experienced during this Covid pandemic, we don’t need to be in a church building to experience God’s presence with us and to connect with him in worship. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit makes us restless, makes us uncomfortable, and especially at this time of year as we move towards Lent, it makes us look back at our past actions to see if there is anything we need to change. The Holy Spirit can also be reassuring and can bring us peace and calm, soothing our souls in times of trouble. I hope that this has been evident for you during the times of lockdown and all the restrictions we have had to follow.

There is a popular belief that to be a disciple of Jesus is to simply follow him. However, the true meaning of the word ‘disciple’ is in fact someone who learns. The twelve disciples of Jesus who were his close companions were always getting the wrong end of the stick and were often accused of not understanding the things that Jesus was trying to teach them, especially in the parables. They were being called to be fishers of people and not fish, and they probably didn’t know just how hard it would be. Many times they would be shunned and persecuted for spreading the good news of the gospel, many times they would struggle to make their voices heard, and many times they would have to rely on the hospitality of strangers to sustain them. In our gospel passage this morning, Jesus said, ‘Follow me, I will make you fish for people.’ Jesus taught Simon Peter and his followers how to ‘fish for people,’ they had to learn a new skill, a new talent, a new ability. If there is one thing that’s true about a good fisherman, it’s that he has to be taught by other skilled fishermen. If we are to be true followers of Jesus, we too must learn what it means to be a fisher of people. What does that mean for us? What are some of the characteristics of becoming good fishers of people? Well, I believe that we must have the right attitude in order to show people that we are living out the gospel in our lives. We need to show people that we are filled with God’s love and that we want to show that love to them and to others. We should try to be encouraging, without being pushy, and we need to be ready to share our faith whenever an opportunity comes along. If people can see that we have God in our lives, we are well on the way to being good fishers of people. We should also take stock of how we are living our lives and be ready to repent if things aren’t This coming season Lent, don’t worry too much about what you can give up, instead let’s all try to be learning disciples, finding time to read our Bibles and learning more about how we too can be good fishers of people.

Let us pray

Heavenly Father, clothe us with the armour of faith as we trust in you for our every need. Help us to be good stewards of your wonderful creation, always mindful of the impact our lifestyle choices make on the lives of others. As we seek to serve you in our communities, strengthen our faith and give us ears to hear your call to us. Whatever you have given us to do in this world, enable us to do it with firm resolve and joyful obedience, so that our lives and the lives our others are enriched by it.

Lord, we are aware of the suffering that is going on in our world just now. The lives of many are on hold until they receive the Covid vaccine. We pray for those who are struggling with mental health issues, those who are fearful for loved ones in hospital and those whose routine hospital appointments are being cancelled and treatments delayed. Give us strength and courage Lord as we face new challenges each day and help us to put our trust in you. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In a world where there is much inequality, help us to count our blessings as we hear of others who are struggling to feed their families and to be generous with what we can do and what we can give to help others. We thank you for food banks and for local charities who are reaching out to families in need, but we pray that world leaders and those in our own governments would do more to promote equality in all areas of life to help eradicate poverty and homelessness. Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

Lord, bless and protect all who are working in healthcare in hospitals and in the community and all essential workers who are in contact with the public each day. Help us to obey the guidelines we are given so that we might help to protect others. We thank you for our times of good health and bring before you now those who are ill at this time either at home or in hospital, and those who are grieving. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We thank you for the church and for our faith during the times of restrictions. Bless our Primus Mark, our Bishop Ian and Nerys, Peter and Jeanette. Lord, bless your Church throughout the world and protect those who are persecuted for their faith. May we all seek to spread the Good News of your Kingdom with those we meet. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Finally Lord, we pray for ourselves and our families. May we always trust in you as we travel along on our journey of faith together as your disciples. Bless us this week and keep us safe. We ask this in the precious name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Material for Worship on the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Recently Nerys came across this photo of a sign outside a Dundee church. It is intended to bring a smile to the faces of passers by but it also expresses a truth which, in these difficult times, is both comforting and challenging.

Throughout the Bible, we see God at work, from the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis telling the story of God’s work in Creation to the final chapters of the Book of Revelation. God is particularly active in working with people as today’s Psalm reminds us. ‘You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways’ (Psalm 139.1-6, 13-18). God is the Good Shepherd, always guiding and protecting his flock, a gardener, an artist, a potter, a parent, a builder.

In today’s Gospel passage, John 1.43-51, read here by Martin, we see God at work through Jesus.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus talks several times about being sent to complete his Father’s work. Here the work consists of seeking and finding those who are actively searching for him. We’re often unaware of God at work in our lives and think that it’s all down to us. This is what gives the story of the calling of Phillip and Nathaniel its wry humour. John tells us that Jesus goes to Galilee to find Philip and invite him to be his follower. But listen to Philip’s triumphant words to his friend, Nathanael, ‘We’ve found him about whom Moses and the law and the prophets wrote!’ Philip thinks it is he who has found Jesus, the Messiah, not realizing that it is always God who takes the first step. The longing deep in Philip’s heart, which had led him to study the scriptures – the same longing that had driven Nathanael to sit and pray under the fig tree – was the work of God. As St Augustine said, we could not even have begun to seek for God unless he had already found us.

In the New Testament, we see that it is the same deep and sincere desire for relationship with God that had caused Saul to become a Pharisee and such a zealous persecutor of the followers of Jesus. His passion was misplaced, just like Nathanael’s initial incredulity borne out of prejudice, that anything of any value could come from the town of Nazareth. God’s work is transforming work and it doesn’t stop at our initial calling. God works in us for the rest of our lives, guiding us in the right direction, widening our understanding, deepening our compassion, helping us to deal with those things that diminish us and distance us from His love.

God also works through us, as he did with Philip, who didn’t argue with his friend but invited him to ‘come and see’. In our Old Testament passage today, 1 Samuel 3.1-20, read here by June, we see God at work through an old, blind priest and a courageous young boy.

God who is love has made it his job to know each one of us intimately. He has given me and you a special message to deliver, a special song to sing for others, a special act of love to bestow. No one else can speak my message, or sing my song, or offer my act of love. These are entrusted only to me by a God who knows me personally. ‘Where did you come to know me?’ asks Nathanael as his distain turns to amazement. You’ve seen nothing yet, is Jesus’ response. In responding to God’s unique calling and allowing him to work through us, whatever stage of life we are at, we discover what we were born for and that brings with it a profound sense of rightness and peace.

You are invited to follow the words of a hymn by Timothy Dudley-Smith, which speaks of Christ’s work in and through our lives. You may wish to sing along to the tune ‘Love Unknown’ played here by David.

Christ is the One who calls,
the One who loved and came,
to whom by right it falls
to bear the highest name:
and still today
our hearts are stirred
to hear his word
and walk his way.

Christ is the One who seeks,
to whom our souls are known.
The word of love he speaks
can wake a heart of stone;
for at that sound
the blind can see,
the slave is free,
the lost are found.

Christ is the One who died,
forsaken and betrayed;
who, mocked and crucified,
the price of pardon paid.
Our dying Lord,
what grief and loss,
what bitter cross,
our souls restored!

Christ is the One who rose
in glory from the grave,
to share his life with those
whom once he died to save.
He drew death’s sting
and broke its chains,
who lives and reigns,
our risen King.

Christ is the One who sends,
his story to declare;
who calls his servants friends
and gives them news to share.
His truth proclaim
in all the earth,
his matchless worth
and saving name.

Let us pray to our God who is at work in us and through us, knowing that he is listening to us. (With thanks to John for putting together the intercessions that follow.)

To him who alone is God let us make our requests with thanksgiving, through the one mediator, the man Christ Jesus.

I ask your prayers for peace in the life of the world, in dangerous places, in disaster areas, in more stable areas and in all our dreams.
Uphold all those promoting the democratic outcome of the presidential election in the
United States. Support the Uighur people suffering from violent persecution in Western China. Give hope to the civilians in North East Nigeria suffering from very long running terror attacks.
Pray for God’s peace.

I ask your prayers for all who suffer injury, sickness and loss.
Pray for all who are afflicted.

I ask your prayers for all who wield authority and influence, through God’s call.
Remind them that they have been entrusted by all those that they represent, to serve to the best of their abilities. Inspire President elect Joe Biden and Vice President elect Kamala Harris in their new presidency. Give strength to Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon as they lead our governments and are continuously asked questions which cannot be answered. Enrichen charities such as Christian Aid and Tearfund who respond to disasters and provide ongoing support, directly to local agencies, that support thousands of people.
Pray for all who exercise power.

I ask your prayers for all whom we have wronged and all whom we disagree with.
Lead us to respect all who are different from us. Help us understand that our own red lines may be seen as offensive to others. Make space for people, with different views to talk to each other. Enable us all to listen.
Pray for all who hate us.

I ask your prayers for our bishops as they field questions about our churches being closed and for all whom Christ has appointed to his service, as they nurture our faith.
Help cast the burdens off our Ministry team after a long year. Guide the technical team who have been streaming St Mary’s worship. Flood all your disciples with your Holy Spirit.
Pray for God’s people.

O God, whose will it is that all should find salvation and come to know the truth: receive
the prayers and petitions which we offer in faith and love; through him who gave proof of your purpose, and who sacrificed himself to win freedom for all mankind, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Video Reflection on the Epiphany

This week, instead of the usual written Materials for Worship based on the morning Service of the Word, a video version of what would have been tonight’s reflection on the Epiphany is offered. Many thanks to Ruth Burgess who planned and intended to lead the service with Nerys, to Alastair Christmas, Peter Holmes and Davie for taking part and to David Jamieson for putting the video together.

Material for Worship on the Second Sunday after Christmas

The Ven. Peter Potter has prepared a reflection and prayers for the second Sunday of the season of Christmas.

A happy and blessed New Year to you all. I’m sure we’re all hoping it will be better than the last one. Even though many people will have removed their tree and decorations, we are still in the Christmas season until Wednesday, the arrival of the Magi on the Feast of the Epiphany.

We don’t often get two Sundays in the in-between days from Christmas to Epiphany and it’s even more unusual to have a reading from the book called Ecclesiasticus, which was written in the period between the Old and New Testaments. Today’s reading, Ecclesiasticus 1.1-12, is significant though, as it features the figure of Wisdom (Sophia), who is also found in Proverbs and has much in common with John’s concept of the Word in today’s Gospel, John 1:1-18

Listen to the passage from Ecclesiasticus read by Mary Birch.

The Gospel passage is read by Anthony Birch.

The Gospel according to St John is a masterpiece in its own right. It is written in simple, direct language – “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” What could be more simple? But what depths lie beneath. Like a Russian doll, as you lift off one layer, you find another. Especially here, in this wonderful Prologue, these simple words introduce a mystery. But it is a mystery that reveals, not covers up, its meaning.

“In the beginning…” Yes, all four Gospels begin at the beginning. But they all begin at a different place. For John, the beginning is not in Bethlehem, with shepherds and angels; no donkey, no manger, not even Mary. Echoing the first verse of the Book of Genesis, “In the beginning” means just that. For John, the story of Jesus is the story of the whole cosmos. But yet, as we shall see shortly, it is also the story of particular events at a particular time. And yet again, a story that continues down to our own time, and beyond. Such is the artistry of the Fourth Gospel.

Unlike the shepherds and angels, the Word is not something you could put a costume on for the Nativity Play. But it is there in the Bible; in Ps 33, we find “By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made”. It was also found in contemporary Greek philosophers, so the term Logos, Word would also be familiar to educated Gentiles. The Word, then, is God’s creative, dynamic force: “God said ‘Let there be light. And there was light’”. But this Logos is no ordinary word. When we speak, we make words with our lips and throat muscles, whereas this Word was with God. It was part of God’s being from all eternity. In Greek, the tense used is past continuous, that is, the Word was, always has been and still is part of the divine being and activity.

John is able to develop this insight, referring next to light, the first item on God’s list for the creation of the cosmos, a light that is not solely a physical phenomenon but also moral and spiritual, that is to say, truly life-giving. The Word spoken to create light brings with it the gift of life, for without it, creation is merely lifeless matter. This light, enlightening and life-giving, manifests itself at many times and in many places, in particular in the person of John the Baptist whose rôle is to prepare people to receive the true light, which had already been shining but had gone unrecognised.

Like the opening of some film epic which begins with a broad panorama and then gradually zooms in on a particular character, John is now ready for the climax of his prologue. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He identifies the Word with Jesus Christ and the whole history and future of the cosmos is now centred on one person. This is the whole Nativity Story condensed into one simple sentence but a sentence so profound that we can no longer read Luke’s and Matthew’s accounts as pretty stories about an important person. Nor – crucially – can we view the earthly life of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection, as God’s afterthought or Plan B, which is what some of today’s popular explanations seem to imply. John has carefully prepared us for this verse, which reveals the eternal purpose of God and the whole meaning of the universe.

This verse actually uses the Russian-doll technique, for it conveys further levels of interpretation. The word that we translate as “dwelt” or “lived” (or perhaps “stayed”, in the Scottish sense of the word, would be an even better translation) is in Greek “pitched his tent” or, more literally “set up his tabernacle”. Pitching a tent has overtones of mobility, not being tied to a particular place. It reminds us of how God travelled with the Israelites up to the time when King Solomon built the temple and it also hints at the earthly life of one who would “have nowhere to lay his head”. To the Old Testament prophets, “tabernacle” was the place where God would dwell in the midst of his people for ever. Wherever we are, whatever is happening, God stays with us.

All this and more is contained in these 18 short verses. The mystery of God’s will and purpose in bringing the cosmos into being has been made known in the Word, now revealed in the incarnate Son of God. In his time, John the Baptist testified to him and now it is our turn to speak the words, to do the deeds, so that the Word that has become flesh is made known in our time and place.

Prayers for the New Year

Lord Jesus, you are the one who stands at the gate of the year. Give us a light that we may tread safely into the unknown. As we go into this new year, we place our hand into yours, for that is better than any earthly light and safer than a known way! Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.
(based on a poem by Minnie Haskins, 1875-1957)

Lord, you make all things new . In these dark days we pray for all who suffer – through illness, uncertainty, family breakups, war, starvation. Bring hope alive in their hearts and cause their spirits to be born again. In this new year kindle in the hearts of all a mighty flame so that in our time, many will see your wonders and live to praise your name. Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Lord Jesus, come and ‘first-foot ’for us. May we welcome you into our home and we invite your blessing, for us, for our families and neighbours. May your love be a light to guide us through this new year. Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Almighty and eternal God, we pray for your Church, for Christian people throughout the world, especially this congregation. Draw our hearts to you, guide our minds, fill our imaginations, control our wills, so that we may be wholly yours, dedicated and committed to you; and then use us, we pray, as you desire, and always to your glory and the wellbeing of your people. Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Lord, accept these prayers through our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Amen.

Material for Worship on the First Sunday of Christmas

The Ven. Peter Potter has prepared a reflection and prayers for the first Sunday of the season of Christmas which is also the last Sunday of the year.

Here we are almost at the end of the year, looking forward to a new – and hopefully better – one in a few days, a situation neatly personified in the scene described in today’s reading, Luke 2.22-40. It is a meeting that one of the people present had long been waiting and longing for.

You are invited to listen to Ruth Burgess reading the first part of the passage and then to follow the words of a hymn based on Simeon’s prayer as David Sawyer plays the tune before listening to the rest of the reading.

Faithful vigil ended,
watching, waiting cease;
Master, grant your servant
his discharge in peace.

All the Spirit promised,
all the Father willed,
now these eyes behold it
perfectly fulfilled.

This your great deliverance
sets your people free;
Christ their light uplifted
all the nations see.
Christ, your people’s glory!
Watching, doubting cease:
grant to us your servants
our discharge in peace.
Timothy Dudley-Smith

Here we have two old people, Simeon and Anna, almost at the end of their lives, and a baby at the threshold of his life. And Mary, full of joy and pride at having given birth, but also full of anxiety and uncertainty about the responsibilities of caring for this tiny child. She too is on the threshold – from girl to mother. No doubt Joseph shares some of these feelings, for his previously settled life (as we suppose) has been turned upside down by this birth.

It is a turning point for them all – and for us too, as a disturbing light enters the familiar, almost cloyingly comfortable, Nativity story. Simeon’s words must have discomforted Mary: “A sword will pierce your own soul”. It is what every parent has to face as they realise their child will grow up and grow away from them. Growing up, making your own way in the world, is not easy and it is hard for parents as they watch their child do so. But somehow the whole thing is necessary. Jesus could not stay a baby for ever. It would have been a pretty story but, if he had, he could not have saved us. Our children cannot stay dependent for ever, wrapped up in cotton wool.

“Mankind has come of age” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a telling phrase. The cross is a powerful symbol of what humanity does to its heavenly Father in the process of growing up. The experience of Mary at the foot of the cross, her soul pierced by a sword, is an experience shared by many a parent. It is also God’s experience as he contemplates the children he has created and loved growing up and coming of age. As children are growing up, a parent’s rôle (whether it is an earthly or a heavenly parent) changes to standing behind our children as a support, not in front as a screen. Mary at the foot of the cross is our example here. Being there is what matters. Or the father of the Prodigal Son. The loving thing was not to stop the son going away but to be there when he came back. But in the meantime it hurts, because love hurts.

This scene in the Temple is a story about transitions, crossing a threshold: from baby to child; from the carefree life of a teenager to the cares and responsibilities of a wife and mother; from one generation as it hands over to the next. Growing up, coming of age is not just about being independent and doing your own thing. It means becoming responsible, taking on commitments, giving back in return for the love we have received from our parents, the Church and God, the pain-bearer and the rock at our back.

Prayers of Intercession

Father, when your Son was born, there was no room at the inn.
Protect with your love those who have no home
and all who live in poverty.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

Mary, in the pain of labour,
brought your Son to birth.
Hold in your hand [… and] all who are in pain or distress.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

Father, her Son and yours, came as a light shining in the darkness.
Bring comfort to […and] all who suffer in the sadness of our world.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

In the Temple, Simeon sang, a song for peace.
Strengthen those who work for peace and justice
in [… and in] all the world.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

When she saw the holy Child, Anna praised you and began to speak about him.
Give us grace to preach the gospel of Christ’s redemption.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

Father, your Son shared an earthly home in Nazareth,
Bless our homes and all whom we love.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

In that holy birth, heaven is come down to earth,
and earth is raised to heaven.
Hold in your hand [… and] all those who have passed through death
in the hope of your coming kingdom.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

Father, whose Son our Saviour
was born in human flesh.
Renew your Church as the Body of Christ.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

As Christians the world over celebrate Christ’s birth.
Open our hearts that he may be born in us today and every day.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer. Amen.

You may wish to finish your time of worship by reading or singing along to ‘What Child is this?’ as David plays the tune.

What Child is this who laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
while shepherds watch are keeping?
this, this is Christ the King,
whom shepherds worship and angels sing:
haste, haste, to bring Him praise,
the babe, the son of Mary.

Why lies he in such mean estate,
where ox and ass are feeding?
come, have no fear, God’s Son is here
his love all loves exceeding:
nails, spear, shall pierce him through,
the cross be borne for me, for you:
hail, hail, the Saviour comes,
the babe, the son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
all tongues and peoples own him,
the King of Kings salvation brings,
let every heart enthrone him:
raise, raise your song on high
while Mary sings a lullaby,
joy, joy, for Christ is born,
the babe, the son of Mary.
William Chatterton Dix

Material for Worship on the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Lord Jesus, light of the world,

blessed is Gabriel, who brought good news;

blessed is Mary, your mother and ours.

Bless your Church preparing for Christmas;

and bless us your children, who long for your coming.


Today Nerys reflects on our Gospel reading, Luke 1.26-56 read here by Mary and Anthony Birch.

One of the things I particularly like about the story of the First Christmas in Luke’s Gospel is that it is full of the impossible possibility of God. This is something which gives me great hope for myself, for our church and for our world today.

The account of Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary is surrounded by the story of her cousin Elizabeth who finds herself facing the impossible possibility that she might be pregnant in her old age. Elizabeth’s wondrous words, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me’, echo the angel’s greeting to Mary, demanding that we see her story as equally impossible. For the Gospel’s first audience though, it probably wasn’t the fact that Mary was to fall pregnant without knowing a man that was most surprising, but that she would have been singled out to be favoured by God.

Down the centuries, some have tried to explain this by arguing that Mary had special qualities but the Gospel makes clear that the only extraordinary thing about Mary is her ordinariness. Mary herself cannot believe this impossible possibility. We are told that she is perplexed and troubled by the angel’s words of greeting. It’s not hard to imagine what was going through her mind. Who, me? Why am I favoured by God? How can the Lord be with me? She knows who she is, a young, poor, unmarried peasant girl, living in a remote village in an occupied country. It would be impossible for someone like her to be chosen to do God’s work, wouldn’t it?

Gabriel then tells her that she’s going to be pregnant with a son, but not just any son, the Son of the Most High who will be placed on David’s throne, with a kingdom that will go on for ever. Her response to this astonishing news is naturally one of disbelief. What? Is this for real? How can this be? A natural reaction when faced with an impossible possibility. And yet her question is a faith-filled one. It’s more information she’s after, not proof. She is curious, not as to whether it will happen, but how God’s going to achieve it. And when God’s messenger provides her with an explanation, Mary doesn’t bargain or suggest alternatives or ask if she can swap with someone else. She accepts that the impossible is possible with God and makes her choice.

She must have been afraid. But there again she was used to experiencing fear and powerlessness. She was young, female and poor and she belonged to a conquered, oppressed nation. For her, it would have been all too easy to go on living under the shadow of fear. But she chooses instead to live under the shadow of the power of God.

She wouldn’t have been able to imagine then the joy and anguish that her choice would bring her in future years, but she would have been immediately aware of the scandal and disgrace that she would face. She had plans for her future with Joseph and could easily have chosen to stick to those rather than risk the impossible possibility that was being offered to her.

I wonder what convinced Mary to participate in God’s plan? I wonder what it took for her to name herself ‘the servant of the Lord’? She couldn’t have comprehended the full meaning of Gabriel’s message, but she clearly didn’t submit unthinkingly to her vocation. She responds actively, a willing partner in the new impossible thing that God would do with her and within her.

Mary’s song suggests that she had already knew and trusted God. It expresses her deep joy and delight in God and a sense that her prayers have been answered. It is full of echoes of the Scriptures that she would have known from childhood, In particular the joyful song of Hannah celebrating the birth of Samuel and all that God was going to do through him. Her song places Mary at the end of a line of worshipful women who played key roles in the lives of ancient Israel and Judah. Through it she expresses not only her own hopes but those of all her people and everyone throughout the world who see themselves as lowly and hungry and are oppressed by those who misuse their power and authority. She expresses the impossible possibility that there is another way of organising the world. She shares the ancient dream of the people Israel, that one day all the prophets had said would come true. One day God would do what he had promised to their ancestors. All nations would be blessed through the descendants of Abraham.

Mary, living in the dark days of Herod the Great, was all too familiar with the grip that the power of violence and inequality had on her world. She knew of the poverty, hunger and misery they caused. But she also knew of God’s faithful love and God’s desire to break through the status quo. She breaks out in joyful song at the realisation that God’s revolution had started and that her ‘Yes’ was the first step.

As our Advent journey comes to an end, God is now waiting for our ‘Yes’. In the words of St Augustine, ‘God without us will not; we without God cannot’. Like Mary, we are called to participate in the new impossible thing that God would do with us and within us which will bring to an end this era of violence, injustice and oppression.
I don’t know how it came to be that our church was dedicated to Mary but I think that we need to see it as a challenge for us as a congregation. My prayer for this Christmas and the year ahead is that we would not only share in Mary’s joy in the midst of difficulty and danger but that we would also emulate her and together become bearers of the Good News which brings the impossible possibility of peace and hope to the world.

You may wish use these prayers from the Spill the Beans resource as a framework for your own.

Loving God, in your unending love you sent an angel to Mary, telling her that she is blessed and highly favoured; as you were with her, we know today that you are with us and we give thanks. Knowing your presence and rejoicing in the surety of your love we pray today for your blessing and your guidance.

On this winter’s day we remember the gift of your creation, given to us for sustenance and shelter, for us to enjoy and to protect, yet we have squandered this gift, and put the lives of future generations in jeopardy, We ask for the strength to make changes now to protect and renew our planet before it is too late.

In this time of uncertain futures, we pray for your church, both world-wide and our community of believers gathered before you today, grant us the wisdom to create and support
new growth both spiritually and numerically, as we dedicate ourselves once more to your great commission.

At this time of plenty, we give thanks for all that we have, for the joy that this season brings
and the time we set aside to celebrate, but we also remember those among us and those around us with little, who struggle and go hungry, help us to be more generous and more
loving this year.

We pray, today, for ourselves, your beloved children, as we seek to follow you.
As Christmas approaches, and expectations of plenty, of community, of happiness are set, we remember that not all people enjoy this time of year, that the joy of others can cause pain in some, we ask for the wisdom to care for and be sensitive to those who need our help at this time of year.

You are invited to finish your time of worship by reading or singing along to the missionary hymn, ‘Hills of the North rejoice’ as David Sawyer plays the tune.

Hills of the North, rejoice,
river and mountain-spring,
hark to the advent voice;
valley and lowland, sing.
Christ comes in righteousness and love,
he brings salvation from above.

Isles of the Southern seas,
sing to the listening earth,
carry on every breeze
hope of a world’s new birth:
In Christ shall all be made anew,
his word is sure, his promise true.

Lands of the East, arise,
he is your brightest morn,
greet him with joyous eyes,
praise shall his path adorn:
your seers have longed to know their Lord;
to you he comes, the final word.

Shores of the utmost West,
lands of the setting sun,
welcome the heavenly guest
in whom the dawn has come:
he brings a never-ending light
who triumphed o’er our darkest night.

Shout, as you journey home,
songs be in every mouth,
lo, from the North they come,
from East and West and South:
in Jesus all shall find their rest,
in him the universe be blest.

Based on the hymn by Charles E. Oakley

Material for Worship on the Third Sunday of Advent

Lord Jesus, Light of the World, we thank you that the joy that flooded the hearts of the shepherds, the angels, the wise men, the hosts of heaven, and Mary and Joseph, is the joy that still has the power to overwhelm our hearts with rejoicing. Amen.

Our readings today are Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11 read by Alastair and John 1.6-8. 19-28 read by Ramanie. They have inspired the following reflection by Revd Jeanette Allan.

The chief actor in the historic mission of the Christian Church is the Holy Spirit, the director of the whole enterprise. The mission of the Church we learn about in Acts consists of the things that the Spirit is doing in the world. You remember how Paul often says, ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .’. In a special way what is happening is that the light that the Holy Spirit is focusing upon Jesus Christ.

This fact, which was so patently obvious to Christians in the first century, is, I fear, largely forgotten in our own time. Because that is so we have lost our nerve, and our sense of direction, and we have turned the divine initiative into human enterprise. ‘It all depends on me, or on us’ is an attitude that is bedeviling mission these days. I’ve heard it said in Vestries, ‘We have to look after ourselves, if we don’t who will?’ and yes, I sympathize, we do have to be responsible, but we also need to hear the promptings of the Spirit, leading us to the Kingdom, for that is why we are the Church, not to keep our building, beautiful as it is, wind and water-tight, not that I’m suggesting we shouldn’t do that, but it certainly isn’t our raison d’etre. The attitude, ‘It all depends on me’ is precisely what Jesus forbade at the start of it all. His followers must NOT think that mission is their sole responsibility.

While he was in their company Jesus told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem. ‘You must wait,’ he said, ‘for the promise made by my Father, about which you have heard me speak: John, as you know, baptised with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and within the next few days’ (Acts 1 :4-5) The Spirit, by taking permanent hold of the waiting disciples, as he had taken hold of Jesus, effected a kind of extension of the incarnation, bringing the disciples into everything that could be available to them in Christ. This was their ‘Christening’ by which they were made to be as Christ in the world, to be his body, filled with his very Spirit. When we read of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts the direct result was an outburst of praise to the Lord, of whose presence in their midst they had suddenly been made aware. The polyglot crowd who came from many nations, all speaking different languages, overhearing and miraculously understanding, asked one another, ‘What can this mean?’

As one by one men and women have their eyes opened to see the overmastering reality of Christ and put their faith in him, they are baptised in the Holy Spirit and joined to the Spirit-filled society. For the Spirit’s power, as well as its mission towards the whole world, operates always in the interactions of community rather than in the secret recesses of each individual soul. The task of the Church, then, because it is filled with the Spirit of the New Man, Jesus Christ, is to live the life of the new humanity in the middle of the old world. And, as we have discovered, there are many challenges and difficulties with that.

Our usual Eucharistic Prayer reminds us of that when it says, “He broke the bonds of evil and set your people free to be his Body in the world.” That makes the mission of the church crystal clear in one short sentence. What a sentence and what a task.

As these 1st century Christians went down under water, as they drowned to their old, pagan way of life, all the divisions that marked that way of life drowned along with them. At least they did so symbolically, for the old Adam and the old Eve are mighty good swimmers. Race, social class and sex: these were what delineated the Jewish world. Poor you, if you were a Gentile. Poor you, if you were a slave. Poor you, if you were a woman.

That kind of injustice must stop. Working for peace and justice, caring for the environment, in other words, honouring all God’s people equally and being good stewards of God’s creation; these should be the hallmarks of the church. We would certainly make an impression on the community around us if we became known as a community of people who actively supported and worked for these things.

As, during Advent we wait for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, it is also a good time to assess how we are approaching mission, working as a community to further God’s Kingdom here on earth, the things we are doing well, the things we could do better and the things we are doing badly. Time to pray about what we need to do here at St. Mary’s to become a community through which Christ’s love shines out like a beacon to the world around us.

I leave you with two question to ask yourselves. How much of the unredeemed me actually drowned when I was baptised? How do I live the freedom given me by God, to treat everyone as equals, to work for justice for all, to be compassionate at all times, to care for God’s creation and to show God’s love to the world around me?

You are invited to pray the intercessions which follow, written by Allan Boesak from South Africa based on John 10:10, Matthew 11:5, Revelation 21:4, Malachi 3:1-2, Romans 13: 11-12

We are called to proclaim the truth. And let us believe it is not true that this world and its people are doomed to die and be lost.
This is true: I have come that they might have life in all its abundance.
Father, your Kingdom come.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction.
This is true: the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the poor are hearing the good news.
Father, your Kingdom come.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction have come to stay forever.
This is true: death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more.
Father, your Kingdom come.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world.
This is true: the Lord whom we seek will suddenly come to his Temple; and he is like a refiner’s fire.
Father, your Kingdom come.

It is not true: that our dreams of liberation, of human dignity, are not meant for this earth and for this history.
This is true: it is already time for us to wake from sleep. For the night is far gone and the day is at hand.
Father, your Kingdom come. Amen.

You may wish to finish your time of worship by reading or singing along to Edward Caswall’s translation of the Advent hymn, ‘Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding’, as David plays the tune.

Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding;
‘Christ is nigh’, it seems to say;
‘cast away the dreams of darkness,
O ye children of the day’.
Wakened by the solemn warning
let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her Sun, all ill dispelling,
shines upon the morning skies.
Lo, the Lamb, so long expected,
comes with pardon down from heaven;
let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
one and all to be forgiven;
That when next he comes in glory,
and the world is wrapped in fear,
with his mercy he may shield us,
and with words of love draw near.
Honour, glory, might, and blessing
to the Father and the Son,
with the everlasting spirit,
while eternal ages run.