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.

Amen.

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.
Amen.

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.

Material for Worship on the Second Sunday of Advent


Lord Jesus, light of the world,
John told the people to prepare,
for you were very near.
As Christmas grows closer day by day,
help us to be ready to welcome you now. Amen

Good morning. Those of you who are unable to be in church or follow the service online are very much part of the worshipping community of St. Mary’s and I hope that you find the material for reflection and prayers below helpful to you. Nerys

You are invited to start your time of worship today with Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn. As you read or sing along, notice the many commands in this prayer that implores Christ to be with us and also the many instances of the word ‘born’, each one revealing a different aspect of Jesus’ mission to a troubled world. Here is David playing the tune.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us;
let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver;
born a child and yet a King;
born to reign in us forever;
now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal Spirit,
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

Both of our readings today, from the Book of Isaiah and the Gospel of Mark, are announcements of Good News in difficult times.
Imagine you live in Babylon around the year 545 BC. Forty years ago, your people were taken there by force. A generation has died in exile and been replaced. Many of your people have succumbed to this calculated attempt to destroy their culture and religion, to break their spirits and wipe out their identity. They languish under the thumb of Marduk, the Babylonian god. But some of you still regard yourselves as children of Abraham, still wonder every day when you will return to Jerusalem, praying that it may be soon. Your homeland has been laid waste, God’s temple razed to the ground but you still cling on to hope.

A new message has come from the Holy City, another prophecy. You sigh. Not more bad news! Surely you’ve lived under God’s judgement for long enough. But this message is different. Here at last is some good news. Listen to Davie reading Isaiah 40.1-11.

Imagine you live in Galilee around the year 70 AD. There’s a war on. Some radical Jews have revolted against Roman rule and Jerusalem is under siege. Reports have come to you that conditions are really bad in the city. Up and down the land, people are divided. Everyone is anxious, caught between resentment of Roman military oppression and fear of guerrilla extremism.

In your village, tensions are high. Jewish and Gentile neighbours fear one another. Even families are divided. But one small sect refuses to fight on either side. Followers of a teacher from Galilee named Jesus who was crucified about forty years ago by the Romans. The rabbis call them heretics. The Zealot rebels dismiss their founder as ineffective. The Roman loyalists suspect them of continuing his alleged insurrection. But you are intrigued by them. They claim that their leader’s execution is good news for us from God. How can that be? Someone hands you a scroll with the title scribbled on it: ‘The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ the Son of God’. Listen to Gudrun reading Mark 1.1-8.

Now, imagine you live in Jerusalem around the year 28 AD. Today you’ve travelled out of the city along the highway to the area where the River Jordan winds down to the Dead Sea. It’s a long way to walk in the heat of the sun but you’re not alone. Imagine being part of that vast crowd of people – city dwellers like you, mingling with villagers from all over Judea. It must have taken a lot for you to venture into this barren, hostile landscape. An unsettling, unnerving place where weird things have happened. The place where your ancestors were formed through hardship and suffering as the people of God.

As you near your destination, the noise level increases. The people are gathering as if for a festival. But there is no temple here, no ritual baths, no priests to make the sacrifices. Instead there is a muddy river and a man dressed in rough clothes. People say he is Elijah returned in his fiery chariot. His words are fiery enough, pouring hot into your ears, challenging people to change their lives, telling them how their ways must be mended.

I wonder what had drawn you out of the city to listen to him. Was it a longing for something the temple with its rituals and sacrifices couldn’t offer you? Was it hope that the prophets’ words were being realised out here in the wilderness, that God was about to fulfil his promise to his people. That the Messiah, the Christ, was on his way. It must have taken a lot for you to confess your shortcomings in front of all those people. It must have taken a lot for you, a Jew, to step into the river and be baptised. I wonder what it felt like to emerge from the water and walk back to the shore dripping and shivering? What was it like to know all your wrongdoing had been forgiven? To know that you had been given a new start?

But John is speaking again. He’s saying that this is just the beginning. He is just clearing a path for someone else. What he is doing with water, the Coming One would do with the fire of God’s Spirit. You remember the words of Isaiah. This is Good News indeed!

So what about us? Advent is a time of refreshing and renewing, an opportunity for a new start in the midst of troubled times. Take a moment now to reflect on God’s word to you today and to respond to it.

Advent God,
through scripture your people waited,
waited to be taken to the promised land,
waited for exile to end,
waited for the Messiah to come,
and we wait too.

We think of those who are waiting
for delayed operations and tests,
for family to visit,
for help with their struggling business,
for winter to end,
for babies to arrive,
for the vaccine,
for hope,
for comfort,
for love.

Advent God,
be with them in their waiting
and be with us
as we help bring the good news of Emmanuel, God with us,
into our homes,
into our communities,
into your world.

Christ Jesus,
we thank you for our fellow travellers in Advent and beyond,
for the opportunity to worship,
for the voices in the wilderness who prepare the Way for your coming.
May we be among those voices
to bring hope,
bring comfort,
bring love.

Loving Spirit,
inspire our thoughts and deeds this week to the glory of God,
the God we know,
the God we love,
the God we long to serve.
Amen.

(Adapted from a prayer by Susan Cord)

Material for Worship on the First Sunday of Advent

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
the prophets said you would bring peace
and save your people in trouble.
Give peace in our hearts at Christmas
and show all the world God’s love. Amen.

A reflection by the Ven. Peter Potter on today’s readings: Isaiah 64.1-9 and Mark 13.24-37 read here by Peter Owen and by Liz Owen.

The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new year in the Church’s calendar. But, strangely, today’s reading are concerned with an immanent end of things. The reading from Mark’s Gospel comes just before Jesus’ arrest on Maundy Thursday. This ambiguity reflects the mood of Advent as we swither between waiting and looking back, hopeful anticipation and fear and trembling as we confront the four great themes of Advent: heaven and hell, death and judgement.

Perhaps we find these contrasting, jarring notes all the more keenly as we prepare to celebrate Christmas at the end of a year like no other. We shall be deprived of carol singing and Midnight Mass. In the UK alone over 56 thousand people will be missing from family gatherings. But yet, our feelings are not far removed from people in Isaiah’s day or those living in first century Palestine. The Israelites had endured decades of deprivation in Babylonian exile and the apocalyptic words of Mark 13 tell of trials and tribulations.

Isaiah 64:8 gives us a striking description of God “we are the clay and you are the potter”. (I like that, but I would, wouldn’t I?) It portrays a dynamic God whose creative energy never ceases. We can picture him working away at his potter’s wheel, creating a thing of beauty out of a shapeless lump of clay. At times when things are not going right he pushes the clay back into a lump to start again. This picture holds good at an individual level, for there is never a time when God has finished with us. It also applies in other ways. Israel, for all its faults had become like a piece of pottery on the wheel that was beginning to come apart. The potter needs to push it together and start again.

When the later chapters of Isaiah were written there were signs of this new start. Cracks were beginning to show in the Babylonian empire and a new power was rising. A new star in the east, we could say, and with it new hope was dawning.

The scene in Mark 13 was similar. The coming events of Holy Week and Easter heralded both an end and a beginning. As today’s readings and the Advent collect tell us, this will be both a time of deliverance and a time of judgement.

Today, after a year of tribulation, it seems as if there are signs of a new dawn. Talk of a vaccine has got our hopes up. But are we to breathe a sigh of relief and go back to where we were before? Or has the misshapen vessel been put back on the potter’s wheel to be reshaped into something more pleasing in the sight of God.

For now, we must wait, be alert and ready to cast off anything that obscures the light of God’s glorious majesty.

Intercessions – please add your own petitions where indicated

In joyful expectation of his coming to our aid we pray to Jesus.
Come to your Church as Lord and judge.
We pray for …
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing for your kingdom.

Come to your world as King of the nations.
We pray for …
Before you rulers will stand in silence.

Come to the suffering as Saviour and comforter.
We pray for …
Break into our lives,
where we struggle with sickness and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.

Come to us as shepherd and guardian of our souls.
We remember …
Give us with all the faithful departed
a share in your victory over evil and death.

Come from heaven, Lord Jesus, with power and great glory.
Lift us up to meet you,
that with Andrew and all your saints and angels
we may live and reign with you in your new creation.
(Adapted from Common Worship, Times and Seasons)

A prayer for the Feast of St Andrew, Patron of Scotland, 30th November

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son, Jesus Christ, give us, who are called by your holy Word, the grace to follow him without delay and to be messengers of the good news of your kingdom; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may wish to finish your time of prayer by reading or singing the words of the seventh-century Advent hymn, ‘Creator of the starry height’ as David Sawyer plays the tune.

Creator of the starry height,
thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesu, redeemer of us all,
hear thou thy servants when they call.

Thou, sorrowing at the helpless cry
of all creation doomed to die,
didst come to save our fallen race
by healing gifts of heavenly grace.

When earth was near its evening hour,
thou didst, in love’s redeeming power,
like bridegroom from his chamber, come
forth from a virgin-mother’s womb.

At thy great name, exalted now,
all knees in lowly homage bow;
all things in heaven and earth adore,
and own thee King for evermore.

To thee, O Holy One, we pray,
our judge in that tremendous day,
ward off, while yet we dwell below,
the weapons of our crafty foe.

To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One,
praise, honour, might, and glory be
from age to age eternally. Amen.
(Trans. J. M. Neale)

Material for Worship on the Feast of Christ the King

Good morning. Today is the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday before Advent, before the beginning of a new year in the life of the Church. It is very appropriate that after the service this morning, the Annual General Meeting of the Church will be held, when we will look back together at the year that has been and look forward to the year to come. Today is also known as Stir-up Sunday, a name which come from the collect set for the day in the Prayer Book which begins ‘Stir up, we beseech thee O Lord the wills of thy faithful people …’ which in years gone by would send housewives all over the country back home from church to start preparing their Christmas cakes and puddings! My prayer this morning is that God would stir in each of our hearts a desire to spend time with Christ and worship Him. Nerys

Today I feel as if I’m saying goodbye to an old friend. Like many of you, reading is one of my favourite pastimes and my habit, when I come across an author whose work I enjoy, is to try to get hold of as many of their books as I can and work my way through them. That way, I feel that I’ll get to know their particular voice and grasp the issues that concern them.

The way our Sunday readings are arranged means that we do something similar with the authors of the four Gospels. As so, today, on the last Sunday of the Church year, we are coming to the end of our time in the company of the author of the first Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew.
After a whole year of listening to this author and engaging with his writing, I feel that I have got to know his voice – although I don’t even know his name for certain, let alone anything much about his background, and who he was writing for. There is no doubt, however, about his intention in writing an account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. All of the Gospels are preoccupied with the same question ‘Who is this man?’ and by implication, ‘Who am I in relation to him?’ But, perhaps because they were originally meant to address the concerns of different groups of early Christians, each Gospel is angled differently. The emphasis in Matthew, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is on Jesus as the Messiah, the promised one, the fulfilment of the dreams and prophecies of the Jewish people. Right from his account of his birth, this author shows Jesus as the Son of God and throughout his Gospel, Jesus is said to cause amazement, not only by his actions, but also by his words. Time and time again, this young man is presented as knowing and understanding more about God than the religious leaders of Israel and he speaks with an authority which surely could only come from God himself.

Our passage today, Matthew 25.31-46, read here by Mary Birch, comes right at the end of a long section which focusses on Jesus’ teaching, set in the courtyard of the temple. Once he finishes speaking to the crowd, he turns to his disciples, saying, ‘The Passover is in two days’ time. That’s when the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’ We need to read this last parable of Jesus in the light of this because here he depicts himself as a king like no other.

Matthew’s Jewish readers would have been familiar with scenes of a heavenly courtroom where God presides in judgement over the people of the world, punishing those nations who were lacking in their support of Israel. Imagine their consternation when they discover that in his version, Jesus puts himself on the throne and depicts himself judging all people according to their compassion towards those who are in need. Even the characters in his story are taken aback by the yardstick according to which they are measured! It is not their beliefs, their faithfulness in attending worship or their financial support of a religious institution that counts but how they respond to the beggar on the street corner when nobody’s looking. Christ’s measuring stick is those actions which arise out of our love of our needy neighbor, a love that is rooted in and inseparable from our love of Him.

What a challenge to those of us who follow in Christ’s footsteps today! Matthew has both groups of people responding by saying ‘we didn’t know we would be judged for that!’ The problem is that none of them had understood the nature of God. Our Epistle for today, Ephesians 1.15-23, read here by David Sawyer, suggests that the early Christians at Ephesus didn’t really know God either. Maybe they saw God as a distant figure, easily pleased by religious behavior, easily pushed into a convenient corner of their lives. Maybe they hadn’t realized that knowledge of God is not intellectual or theoretical but that it grows through a living relationship with Christ – a human figure who identifies himself with all who suffer.

Today as we reflect on the last year in the life of St Mary’s, I wonder to what extent we have followed Christ’s teaching? It is not just doing harm to others that marks out our rejection of God’s ways, it is the goodness we fail to do, the needs we don’t notice or ignore. We as church are members of Christ’s body in the world. Looking out for the needy, the suffering, the neglected, the oppressed in our local community and responding to them with love is our God-given work.

For our time of prayer today, I invite you to reflect on an image introduced to me by my predecessor, Revd Janice Cameron, many years ago. ‘The Christ of the Breadline’ first appeared on the cover of the Catholic Worker Magazine in 1951. The artist is Fritz Eichenberg, a German Quaker who worked closely with the American Catholic author and social activist, Dorothy Day. In it we have Christ standing in line at a soup kitchen, waiting for His turn to be served. This Christ is not the powerful, physically perfect figure of much classical sacred art. He is weak. He’s wrapped in rags. He’s entirely in shadow. Although he is in the middle of the piece, our eyes are not drawn to him but to the details of those in the line with him who can only be seen in his light. In front of Him and behind Him are other raggedy people, hands in their pockets, wrapped up in shawls, anxiously waiting for food. And these figures are still. They all stand, motionless in their deep poverty and hunger with the Lord of the universe in their midst, waiting for our response …

Take some time now to reflect on the image and to consider your response.

Who is Christ standing with in our community today as we return to Lockdown?

What is our prayer for them and for those known to us who are finding life difficult just now?

How can we respond to them with love?

Listen to Moira Langston and follow or sing the words of the hymn of adoration by an anonymous American author.

He is Lord, he is Lord;
he is risen from the dead, and he is Lord;
every knee shall bow, every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord.

He is love, he is love;
he has shown us by his life that he is love;
all his people sing with one voice of joy
that Jesus Christ is love.

He is life, he is life;
he has died to set us free and he is life;
and he calls us all to live evermore
for Jesus Christ is life.

He is King, he is King;
he will draw all nations to him, he is King:
and the time shall be when the world shall sing
that Jesus Christ is King.

You may wish to finish your time of prayer with the Collect for today from the Prayer Book, making it a prayer for yourself and for all of us at St Mary’s:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Material for Worship on 24th Sunday after Pentecost

We prepare for worship today by reading or singing the ancient Irish hymn, ‘Be thou my Vision’ as David Sawyer plays ‘Slane’.

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

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

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

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

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

Revd. Moira Jamieson writes:

This week the people of America voted to elect their President for the next four years and some of our friends who live in the U.S. were really putting their faith and their trust in a change of power to bring about healing for their country.

Our first reading today is from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians 5.1-11, read here by Anthony Birch. In it the people are entreated by Paul to trust in their knowledge of their own destiny. They are to stay alert and awake, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and a helmet of salvation, encouraging each other and building each other up in faith. The parable in the gospel reading from Matthew, 25.14-30, read by Pippa Faunce Smith, presents two very different ways of responding to the call of God. The master shows a complete trust in all three servants as he entrusts them with his hard-earned savings. Not only that, but he trusts them to take care of his property while he is away on a long journey, but how does his faith in them play out? The trust of the master brings about a trusting response from the first two servants in almost identical ways, they invest what they have been given and they double its value. When the master returns, his response to these first two servants is again identical but the word-for-word equality of the verses we hear is important, because it shows the master’s total disinterest in the actual amounts each of them produces and the reward for each faithful servant is the same. They are commended for being faithful and trustworthy. Then the parable takes a threatening turn. When the man learns that the third servant has hidden his money, he calls him out. “You wicked and lazy servant!” He confiscates the money and passes it along to the richest of the three servants. Adding insult to injury, he calls for the third servant to be cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and Jesus says, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

Picture: The Three Servants by Kasakhstan artist Nelly Bube

No matter how many times I read this verse, from our gospel passage this morning, I find it hard to swallow! It’s a hard saying which seems unjust and in parts even seems to contradict itself, after all, how can nothing be diminished? However, we all know that at times, the teaching of Jesus is a strong statement of reality. This story is another which is intended to shock the hearers into knowing something more about the different values of the kingdom, but it is also true for life in this world. Jesus is once again turning our values upside-down to teach us a lesson. This passage is often used as part of stewardship campaigns in some churches, however, it’s not a lesson in investment policy, although stewardship of money may be a part of our duty to God. It’s more about having faith in what we can do when we are asked to go that extra mile. The foolish servant knew that his master would have high demands, but he didn’t know that playing it safe would not be enough.

If you watch any of the multitudes of cooking and baking competitions on television, you will know that “playing it safe” is not a good strategy if you want to win! This parable shows the element of risk that comes with the call to each one of us from God. When he calls to us, God always asks us to step out of our comfort zone, and act out of faith, not fear. Something that Nerys and I both know very well from our discernment up to our ordination and beyond.

It’s what God expected of Noah when he told him to build an ark and collect animals. It’s what God expected of Abraham when he told him to leave his home. It’s what God expected of Moses at the burning bush, and it’s what God expected of Mary when he sent the Angel Gabriel. Faith!

I wonder what would have happened if any one of these people had acted out their fears rather than their faith! If they had thought “what will happen?” “Will we be safe?” “Will we have enough money?” “Will people still like me?” and “How can I accomplish this?” then did nothing? Instead of faith, the Bible would be a very different book. Now we can see that the difference between the two servants who invested what their master gave them, and the slave who dug a hole and buried what the master gave him – was a willingness to have faith, instead of succumbing to fear.

In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians he encourages his readers to “put on the breastplate of faith and love.” Paul knows what it means to have faith and to have that faith tested. He also tells his readers (and us) that we should encourage and build each other up in the faith. We are called to be people of faith, not people of fear for so many reasons. The third servant in our parable was afraid of what would happen if he gambled what his master had given to him and he lost it. We all do stupid, ridiculous things when we’re afraid. But, even more, we lose sight that even through all the risks of failure, and all the failures themselves, God is still always with us. We don’t go through failure alone, and, on the other side, God turns our failures into things we couldn’t even imagine.

Trustworthiness is fine. It’s good and we like that, but really, it’s all about faith, and faith is what God expects of us all.

Let’s read or sing the challenging hymn from the Iona Community, ‘Jesus Christ is waiting’ as David plays the tune.

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.
where good conquers evil
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.

John L. Bell and Graham Maule

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 people are on hold until a safe vaccine is found to protect us from the Coronavirus. 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. (Pray for those for whom you have concerns). 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 and all who enable our Sunday services to be shared by all. 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. 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 Remembrance Sunday

Today is Remembrance Sunday, a day when we as Christians as called to do two things, to remember and to pray. We start with prayer as we read or sing the words of Fred Kaan’s hymn ‘For the healing of the nations’ – a hymn which reminds us that we are called to care for a world where we are inter-dependant and to use our political will, our global influence and our natural resources for the good of all humanity in seeking justice and peace for all. Here is David Sawyer playing the tune.

For the healing of the nations,
Lord, we pray with one accord,
for a just and equal sharing
of the things that earth affords.
To a life of love in action
help us rise and pledge our word.

Lead us forward into freedom,
from despair your world release,
that, redeemed from war and hatred,
all may come and go in peace.
Show us how through care and goodness
fear will die and hope increase.

All that kills abundant living,
let it from the earth be banned:
pride of status, race or schooling,
dogmas that obscure your plan.
In our common quest for justice
may we hallow brief life’s span.

You, Creator God, have written
your great name on humankind;
for our growing in your likeness
bring the life of Christ to mind;
that by our response and service
earth its destiny may find.

This year for the first time, poppies have been made available in our church porch – red poppies which represent a commitment to remember those who have served and died in past wars and white poppies which represent a commitment to work and pray for peace. Some would that they are incompatible but for us as Christians who are seeking to grow into the likeness of our Creator God, they are surely two sides of the same coin.

Our Scripture teaches us that down the ages, remembering has shaped the future of the people of God. We remember the promise and responsibility God gave to his chosen people which they often forgot but which is the foundation of our relationship with God through Christ. We remember the promises Jesus made, like the ones in our Gospel passage, John 6.37-40, read today by James Humphreys, that if anyone comes to him, he will hold on to them and never let them go, that anyone who trusts who he is and aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. We remember the wonderful mysteries of our faith, like the mystery of the resurrection Paul talks about in his first letter to the Corinthians 15.51-57, read by Cpt. John Roddis. And we remember the amazing transformative power of God’s spirit which is alive within us and between us. We remember all these things so that they will shape our lives and enable us to grow in our faith. Likewise, we remember the tragedy of countless lost lives and the traumas endured by those who survived past wars, so that we can be inspired to work to build relationships of peace and justice in our world today. As the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel, said, ‘Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.’

Our forebears her at St Mary’s knew the importance of remembering for the future. This is why we have in the church the window which was unveiled seventy years ago, in May 1950, in memory of those members of our church who lost their lives in the Second World War. Once more this year we will honour the memory of the seven young men listed on the plaque beneath the window and we will also listen to the stories of their short lives. As we do so, we will be aware of the gaps their deaths left in the lives of their families and in the community here in Dunblane. We will be reminded of the terrible cost of war and how our best response to their loss is the active bringing about of justice and peace.

Ronald Gutteridge, the son of Company Sergeant Major Gutteridge of Queen Victoria School. Educated at St Mary’s School, he was a fine athlete and swimmer. He joined the navy at the age of 15. He was killed two years later, in October 1939, whilst serving as a boy sailor on HMS Royal Oak. The battleship was anchored at Scapa Flow in Orkney when she was torpedoed by a German submarine. Over eight hundred men and boys were killed that night. Ronnie was the Dunblane’s first war casualty.

William Guthrie, the middle son of Alexander and Christina Guthrie of Thorncliffe, The Crescent, Dunblane. Educated at St Mary’s School he was a member of the choir and a Scout. He was apprenticed to as a draper in Stirling leaving in 1938 for the Royal Navy. He was killed at the age of 20 while serving on convoy duty on board HMS Wakeful, evacuating Allied troops from Dunkirk in May 1940. The destroyer was struck by two torpedoes causing the loss of most of the crew and troops on board.

Alastair Guthrie, William’s younger brother and also a member of St Mary’s Church choir and a scout. He joined the navy straight from school at the age of sixteen to train as a signaller at the Boys Training Centre, HMS Ganges near Ipswich. He went to sea in May 1938 and having taken a number of proficiency exams he was promoted to Yeoman of Signals in 1941. His last post was as a leading signalman on HMS Culver, an ex-US Coastguard cutter, escorting convoys to and from Liverpool. His ship was torpedoed by a German U boat, broke in two and sank in less than a minute. Alastair was killed two years after his brother, in January 1942 at the age of 21.

Frank Wilson who lived with his parents and two brothers about the family’s newsagents shop in Station Square, Dunblane. He was a member of St Mary’s Choir and a Rover Scout. Both he and his brother, Sandy joined the RAF. He was killed in July 1941 on an operational flight to Hamm on the Rhine.

Fredrick Lax, the only son of Bandmaster and Mrs Lax of Queen Victoria School. Born at Agra in India, Fred had been a pupil at St Mary’s School. He joined the RAF at the age of 15 in 1937 and qualified as an engineer air-gunner on Sunderland Flying-Boats before becoming a flight engineer on Stirling big Bombers. He went missing following a night operational flight over Germany in 1943. He was 21, married with a child, when he died.

John Fowler, the son of Mr and Mrs C. Fowler, the Cross, Dunblane. A pupil of Queen Victoria School, he had served for seven years as a Sergeant with the Royal Artillery before being imprisoned by the Japanese. He died in a prisoner of war camp in June 1944 at the age of 24 and is buried at Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore

Allan Heywood Ball, the younger son of Henry and Annie Ball of Bishop Barn, Dunblane. He was a Lieutenant Commander with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve serving on the anti-submarine trawler HMS Visenda operating in the North Atlantic. He died aged 37 at a naval hospital near Bristol in February 1945 and is buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol.

We also remember Robert Thomas who was lost in the First World War. He was baptised in St Mary’s on 11th December 1898. His father Robert was the publican of the Railway Hotel. Serving in 1st/6th Battalion of The Black Watch, Robert was killed when the dugout he was in on the Western Front was hit by a shell on 17th October 1918. He is buried in France.

We will remember them

Let us pray
for all who suffer as a result of conflict, and ask that God may give us peace: for the service men and women who have died in the violence of war, each one remembered by and known to God;
May God give peace
for those who love them in death as in life, offering the distress of our grief and the sadness of our loss;
May God give peace
for all members of the armed forces who are in danger this day, remembering family, friends and all who pray for their safe return;
May God give peace
for civilian women, children and men whose lives are disfigured by war or terror, calling to mind in penitence the anger and hatreds of humanity;
May God give peace
for organisations which give support to victims of war, their volunteers and fundraisers;
May God give peace
for peace-makers and peace-keepers, who seek to keep this world secure and free;
May God give peace
for all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership, political, military and religious; asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve in the search for reconciliation and peace.
May God give peace

O God of truth and justice, we hold before you those whose memory we cherish, and those whose names we will never know. Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world, and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm. As we honour the past, may we put our faith in your future; for you are the source of life and hope, now and for ever. Amen.
You may wish to finish your time of worship and reflection with Katherine von Schlegel’s hymn of trust in God, ‘Be still, my soul’. Here is David playing the tune ‘Finlandia’.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to thy God to order and provide;
in every change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly friend,
through thorny way leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake,
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Material for Worship for All Saints

Moira writes: This morning as we celebrate the feast of All Saints and remember the ‘multitude that no one could count’ (Revelation 7.9), we also remember the ordinary people who in their own way have reached out and have risked their lives to save others. In the past seven months, many who we would consider to be modern day ‘saints,’ have risked their lives to help those suffering from Covid-19 and those isolated by lockdown. We have much to be grateful for, but we must not forget those whose lives have been touched with sadness and grief in the loss of a relative from this unrelenting virus. Tonight, Nerys will lead a service of remembrance for those of our loved ones who have gone before us, as the church celebrates the feast of All Souls.
We begin with a prayer of thanksgiving for the Saints which you can read or sing along to David on the organ.

For all thy saints, O Lord,
our grateful hymn receive,
who followed thee. obeyed, adored,
and strove in thee to live.

For all thy saints, O Lord,
accept our thankful cry,
who counted thee their great reward,
who strove in thee to die.

Thine earthly members fit
to join thy saints above,
in one communion ever knit,
one fellowship of love.

Jesus, thy name we bless,
and humbly pray that we
may follow them in holiness
and live and die in thee.

All might, all praise, be thine,
Father, co-equal Son,
and Spirit, bond of love divine,
while endless ages run.
Bishop Richard Mant

On a personal note, it seems rather appropriate that our Gospel reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount and that it includes the Beatitudes. In 2018 Sandy and I were fortunate to join a Diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land and for two days we stayed at the Mount Beatitudes Guest House, run by Franciscan Sisters. Set high up in the hills looking over the Lake of Tiberius, the Church of the Beatitudes and its beautiful gardens were so tranquil and peaceful. In the garden the beatitudes were set out on plaques, with flowers and flowing water, with space to reflect and be still. The church was also very beautiful and as we sat in silence, Rev Matthew Little from our group began to sing ‘Salve Regina,’ and his voice carried around the church and rose into the heights.

As we listen to the first reading from the Book of Revelation 7.9-17, read by Ramanie, St John gives a wonderful description of people that we would identify as being the saints in heaven. We are told that they were ‘a great multitude.’ Many from all tribes and nations, all peoples and languages. They were the ones ‘who washed their robes in the blood of the lamb,’ and their promised reward was shelter, freedom from hunger and thirst, and the great Shepherd as their guide. They were certainly blessed and the saints we remember today, certainly give us a great example to live up to.

In the Gospel passage from Matthew 5.1-12, read by Davie, Jesus is speaking to the crowd gathered before him, and all were eager to hear what he had to say. The Beatitudes which Jesus set out before the crowd, spoke about the ‘attitude’ that his followers should have in their everyday lives, and a number of years ago, Pope Francis produced his own set of modern-day standards to live by, and this is what he wrote:

Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart.
Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalised and show them their closeness.
Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him.
Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.
Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.
Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.

I am particularly encouraged by this last beatitude. Both the Beatitudes of Jesus and those of Pope Francis, place stress on the attitude part of the word Be-attitude. What really matters is the attitude that we have as we serve God in our church community and in the communities that we live in.

Let’s look at what the Beatitudes mean.
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Poor in spirit’ means to be humble, to realise that all our blessings come from God’s grace, and to have poverty of spirit means to be completely empty and open to the Word of God. Humility brings an openness and an inner peace, which allows us to do the will of God.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
When we are humble and appreciate the gifts and blessings we have from God, we grow in love and gratitude for Jesus and all that He sacrificed for us. This in turn brings regret for our own sins and the sins of the world, and of course we also mourn over the suffering of others. But as the sentence continues we reminded that we will be comforted when we mourn. And so our mourning becomes a blessing.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Justice and righteousness in the New Covenant we have with Jesus, indicates the fulfilment of God’s will in our hearts and in our souls. It’s not just about observing God’s law, but more an expression of brotherly love towards one another. This should bring about in us a desire for social justice for all.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
If we have mercy, we are showing a loving care towards those who suffer distress. Love, compassion and forgiveness towards each other will bring peace in our relationships. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 25 ‘whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me.’

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Moses, John and Paul all say that no one can see God here on earth! However, Jesus says that the pure of heart shall see God! To be pure of heart means to be free from all selfish intentions and self-seeking desires. What a wonderful goal to aspire to, but how difficult to accomplish!

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
In the Gospel of John 14.27 Jesus gives us peace, ‘My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.’ Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Peacemakers not only live peaceful lives, but also try to bring peace and friendship to others and to preserve peace between God and Man.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Stephen, Peter and Paul, nearly all of the Apostles, and many Christians in the Roman era suffered martyrdom and it brought them the honour of Sainthood. We look to their lives today in our All Saints Service and give thanks for them and for the modern-day saints we encounter in our ordinary lives during these strange times of lockdown and the Coronavirus.

Following the Beatitudes is not easy. They challenge our human nature and challenge our attitudes to each other and to the world. In this passage we are being challenged by Jesus to become purer in heart, to try to always see the good in each other and to work for justice and peace whenever we can. Keep praying for the people and causes that you care about, and God will answer your prayer.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the communion of saints through which we are mysteriously united in Christ with those who have walked before us and with us in the faith. Although they now rest from their labours in your heavenly realm, we continually draw upon their indelible and living examples of excellence and holiness. We are grateful for the way they have shared their lives, struggles, faith, courage and acts of mercy during their lifetimes so that we might today live better lifetimes of joyful service to You in your kingdom. With them we pray in one accord, ‘Thy Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Preserve the vivid lessons of their deeds of heroic trust, healing compassion and sacrificial love and inspire our hearts to dare to follow in their fearless footsteps.

We pray for our ever-changing world. For an end to poverty, homelessness, and abuse of any kind. For a sharing of resources and an end to inequality. Lord help us to have compassion and give us an attitude of care and concern for those in need. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for an end to conflict, war, and greed. For peace among nations and peoples of every race, colour, and creed. For your love and peace to spread throughout the world. Lord help us to be peacemakers where we can and give us an attitude of fighting for justice in our troubled world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for all who are working to control the effects of the Coronavirus throughout the world. For all who work in the NHS, in Care Home settings, and in our community. For the development of a vaccine, with access for all to receive it. Lord help us to keep others safe and to follow guidelines in this present time of trouble. Give us an attitude of humility as we seek to serve you as best we can. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

As we remember the feast of All Souls, we pray for all of our family and friends who have gone before us and for those who have died as a result of the Coronavirus. We remember them before God now in the silence of our hearts. They may have gone from our sight, but they are not forgotten. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace, and rise in glory.
Heavenly Father, we make this prayer to you, the God of all nations, who calls us each to yourself that we might aspire to holiness and service in concert with the work of the saints of the ages. To you be glory and praise and honour for all time to come. Amen.

We finish by reading or singing along to George Matheson’s hymn played here by David. You may also want to reflect on this image of the saints by an unknown artist.

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain,
that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

George Matheson

Material for Worship on the Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind’. These words from the Book of Deuteronomy are part of the Shema, the daily confession of faith in the Jewish tradition, expressing absolute devotion to God. This is what Jesus naturally turns to when he is challenged to say which commandment is the greatest in Jewish law, but he also goes to the more obscure priestly handbook, Leviticus for a second commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. If we love God and put God first, that love will flow into our relationships with all others.

We are approaching the Season of Remembrance. Next Sunday we will celebrate All Saints and also, in the evening, remember and give thanks for those we have loved and lost. The following Sunday we will commemorate those who were killed in the two World Wars and all victims of armed conflict and also this year, all those who have died in service of others. We remember, not to dwell in the past, but in order to learn from it and to be inspired to work to build relationships of peace and justice in our world, starting right here in our own community. Today, inspired by the work of older pupils at St Mary’s School, we are going to have a look at our own past as a church in light of the two commandments at the heart of our faith. But first, let’s prepare ourselves for worship by reflecting on the new commandment given by Jesus at his last supper, to love one another as he loves us.

You are welcome to follow the words as David Sawyer plays the tune on the organ or to sing along.

A new commandment I give unto you,
that you love one another as I have loved you,
that you love one another as I have loved you.
By this shall all know you are my disciples
if you have love one for another.
By this shall all know that you are my disciples,
if you have love one for another.

A new commandment I give unto you …
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Without my help you can do nothing …

A new commandment I give unto you …
True love is patient, not arrogant nor boastful;
love bears all things, love is eternal …

Listen to our readings for today, Leviticus 19.1-2, 15-18 read by James Humphreys and Matthew’s Gospel 22.34-46 read by Jill Wisher.

The pandemic has held a mirror up to the world and forced us in recent months to see the reality of injustices of all kinds. We have become especially aware of racism in all its guises- from people of colour dying disproportionately of the virus to the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Black Lives Matter protests around the world have sparked a commitment among many of us to educate ourselves about Black history so that we can have a better understanding of the roots of racism and speak out against it. Last term, the older pupils at St Mary’s School chose the Slave Trade as their topic and researched into its history. The children also wanted to look at local links with slavery so they approached me to help them. Fresh from a seminar organised by the diocese on the Church’s response to racism and armed with Bill Inglis’ history of Dunblane, I set to work. I would like to share with you what the children and I discovered and consider how we may respond to it in the light of our Gospel reading.

The founders of St Mary’s were mostly local lairds, including Archibald Stirling of Keir and John Stirling of Kippendavie. Archibald Stirling’s grandfather, Sir James Stirling, 13th Laird of Keir, had 22 children and many debts. Because of this, several of his sons like many of their contemporaries, went to the West Indies to make their fortunes as traders. James the younger and his brother Robert became owners of a number of sugar plantations in Jamaica,. Their nephew, our Archibald, inherited these estates in 1783 when he was a young man and spent 20 years in Jamaica. In 1833, he was awarded compensation of over £12,000 for the emancipation of his enslaved labour-force – over a thousand men women and children. Archibald, who died in 1847 was involved in the planning and early development of St Mary’s. His son and heir William paid for the original rectory.

John Stirling of Kippendavie was the main benefactor of St Mary’s. He gifted the land and provided much of the £1,800 for the building of the church in 1845. He also paid for the building of the school to educate the children of the poor in Dunblane and supported many other local improvements. The money he used for these projects, however, derived from the fortune of over £146,000 he had inherited from his father, John Stirling the elder, who like the Stirlings of Keir had owned lucrative sugar plantations in Jamaica.

We are greatly indebted to these two men. Without them there probably wouldn’t have been a Scottish Episcopal Church in Dunblane and our much-loved building would certainly not have existed. But how do we respond to the fact that the wealth that they used to establish our church derives from an industry powered by the human misery of thousands of enslaved African men, women and children? In the Stirlings of Keir Archive are the annual financial accounts from their Hampden Plantation which record the revenue received from exporting sugar and rum and also lists the slaves owned by the estate. These documents give us a rare insight into the lives of these people brought over from west Africa in order to produce huge wealth for their masters.

Most infants born on the plantation didn’t survive but those who did would start working in the fields from the age of four or five weeding the sugar cane and collecting fodder for livestock. From their late teens to their early thirties, men and women would often work twelve-hour shifts six days a week, digging, planting, weeding, harvesting, grinding and boiling the sugar cane in scorching heat. Overseers used whips to violently force them to work as hard as possible. Living in a dangerous and disease-ridden environment on meagre rations of salt fish and meal, few survived into their fifties. They were literally worked to the grave and any sign of rebellion was met with a brutal response.

How do we respond to this? If we turn to today’s Gospel, the answer is clear. I invite you now and in the weeks and months ahead to think deeply and pray about your own response and what you think we as a church should do. The following prayers points may help to guide and inspire you.

Heavenly Father, you call us to love you with all our hearts, with all our soul and with all our mind, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
It is not possible for us to undo the wrongs of the past but we can learn lessons from our history and respond to injustice and violence of all kinds in our world today:
• the fact that 12.3 million people are living in slavery today, forced to work for little or no pay, some of them in our own towns and cities.
• the fact that due to the legacy of slavery, the face of a person in poverty usually belongs to a black person.
• the fact that the ideology of racism used to justify the enslavement of African people is still seen in aspects of modern day racism.
Give us the courage to challenge our own thinking and that of others.
Inspire us to speak out and act where we see an injustice.
Help us to reach out with compassion to all those who are suffering.

You may wish to finish your time of prayer by reflecting on Richard Gillard’s hymn as David plays the tune.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Material for Worship on the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Let us prepare for worship today by joining the psalmist in praising our faithful God whose promises to us are changeless and everlasting.

You can listen to David playing the tune as you read or sing James Quinn’s hymn based on Psalm 100.

Sing, all creation, sing to God in gladness,
joyously serve him, singing hymns of homage,
chanting his praises, come before his presence:
praise the Almighty!

Know that our God is Lord of all the ages;
he is our maker: we are all his creatures,
people he fashioned, sheep he leads to pasture:
praise the Almighty!

Enter his temple, ringing out his praises;
sing in thanksgiving as you come before him;
blessing his bounty, glorify his greatness:
praise the Almighty!

Great in his goodness is the Lord we worship;
steadfast his kindness, love that knows no ending;
faithful his word is, changeless, everlasting:
praise the Almighty!

Our readings for today are Isaiah 45. 1-7read by Hugh and Matthew 22.15-22 read by Gudrun.

The Ven Peter Potter introduces the Gospel reading for today, and helps us reflect on our ambivalent attitude towards money.

“Whose head is this?” Jesus asked the Pharisees. Still today the monarch’s head appears on our coins while in France and Switzerland you see Marianne or Vreni, the national icon in the form of a stylised female figure. The image on the “heads” side of a coin is more than a decoration; it stands for the power of the state to guarantee the coin’s value but also to proclaim the ruler’s authority wherever the coin is used even though he or she is not actually present.

Behind Jesus’ question lies another one which the Pharisees, being religious people, will have heard. Unfortunately our modern translations often fail to bring out the double edge to Jesus’ words. In the original Greek, the word Jesus used is not “head” but “icon”. The Authorised Version renders this as “image”, which is nearer the mark. It is also the word used to translate “icon” in the Genesis account of the creation of the first human beings. The Pharisees knew that God made us in his own image and so, behind the image (or face) of the emperor on the coin is the likeness of God and it follows that giving to the emperor cannot be easily separated from our primary duty to give to God.

Equally it imposes a duty on the emperor, i.e. the state, to act in a God-like manner, using its power and authority to act with justice, mercy and compassion, working for the good of all and especially of the poor and weak. This is also the message of Old Testament prophets like Amos and Hosea, who castigate the rulers of Israel for their neglect of this duty. Today the state and big business are often characterised as “faceless”, which would imply that they are not acting in a God-like manner and that they in turn regard their citizens, employers and customers as an anonymous mass rather than as individuals. This has the effect of turning society into a collection of strangers. Like the prophets of old, today’s religions must help us recognise the times when we see our common identity in the face of strangers.

“Whose image do you see?” This is a question we too need to ask ourselves in our everyday dealings with our fellow men and women. If we are made in the image of God then we must expect to see God in the face of each one we meet. Although our faces are unique, there are features we all have in common, something we recognise in each one of us that identifies us as human. Can we then recognise God’s image in one who is not exactly, or even closely, in our image? It is when humans have failed to do this that the greatest inhumanities have occurred. These instances of inhumanity are not matters of secular politics or economics – the things of Caesar; they are instances of failure to give to God the things that are God’s.

The monarch’s head on our coins is an image of authority, a sign that authority is present wherever and whenever we go about our daily lives. And the faces we meet in the street or see on our television screens are fragments of God’s image, signs that he is present in all our dealings with each other.

Intercessions

Let us reflect on our ambivalent attitude towards money: we know that we cannot do without it; we know that the lives of many would be improved if they had more money; but we also know that there are dishonest and dubious ways of gaining money; nor can money buy us health or happiness.

We give thanks for all God’s good gifts, including money that is the fruit of honest labour and wise stewardship.
We pray for all whose lives are blighted because they cannot earn enough to provide for themselves and their families.
Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done.

We give thanks for all who give their money generously for the mission of the Church, for the good of those in need and for the advancement of well-being.
We pray that all may receive a just reward for their labour, skills and contribution to society.
Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done.

We give thanks for all whose gifts of time, talents and treasure have benefitted us.
We pray for debt counsellors and others who are helping people in financial difficulty; and for victims of scams, fraud and theft.
Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done.

We give thanks for those who administer financial affairs with integrity and honesty.
We pray for all who campaign for tax justice, against tax havens and other schemes thatp deprive poorer nations of a rightful share of the profits from their resources.
Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done.

We give thanks for all God’s gifts that cannot be bought with money: for the beauty of creation, kind words and smiles, love and companionship. And above all for his grace freely given.
Lord, your Son declared that your kingdom has come among us. Open our eyes to see it in the face of friend and stranger; open our ears to hear it and our hands to work for it.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may want to finish your time of worship today by joining in with Edward J. Burns’s uplifting hymn, ‘We have a gospel to proclaim’.

Here is David playing the tune.

We have a gospel to proclaim,
good news for men in all 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.

Material for Worship on the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nerys reflects on one of the most challenging of Jesus’ parables.

As we come to the end of the Church Year, the Gospel passages in our lectionary become darker and even more challenging. In these difficult times, it would be easy to focus on comforting words. Today’s story of the Wedding Feast is one of the most startling and striking of Jesus’s parables but I hope that we will find in its message encouragement for each one of us as individuals and as a church. It certainly inspired Edward Plumptre, the author of ‘Thy hand, O God, has guided’. You may wish to reflect on the words of his well-known hymn as you prepare your hearts for worship.

Thy hand, O God, has guided
thy flock, from age to age;
their wondrous tale is written,
full clear, on every page;
thy people owned thy goodness,
and we their deeds record;
and both of this bear witness:
one church, one faith, one Lord.

Thy heralds brought glad tidings
to greatest as to least;
they bade men rise, and hasten
to share the great King’s feast;
and this was all their teaching,
in every deed and word,
to all alike proclaiming
one church, one faith, one Lord.

And we, shall we be faithless?
Shall hearts fail, hands hang down?
Shall we evade the conflict,
and cast away our crown?
Not so: in God’s deep counsels
some better thing is stored;
we will maintain, unflinching,
one church, one faith, one Lord.

Thy mercy will not fail us,
nor leave thy work undone;
with thy right hand to help us,
thy victory shall be won;
and then, by all creation
thy name shall be adored,
and this shall be their anthem:
one church, one faith, one Lord.

Jesus had entered Jerusalem, had turned the tables in the Temple and was healing and teaching there when the chief priests and elders came to him asking questions, hoping to catch him out. Our Gospel reading today is part of Jesus’ response to them.
Listen to Judith reading Matthew 22.1-14

As men of learning, the religious leaders would have instantly understood the significance of the wedding feast thrown by a king in honour of his son. They would have been very familiar with our Old Testament reading for today, a remarkable vision of the great feast laid on by God at the end of history.
Listen to Davie reading Isaiah 25.1-9.

According to Isaiah, the feast was intended for all people but over the centuries the Jewish view of the banquet had narrowed until, in Jesus’ day, it was thought that only those who observed the Law would be worthy to attend it. These, of course, are the chosen guests of the parable who are sent invitations by the King but who refuse to come, ignoring or abusing the messengers and insulting the Son. This is because Jesus’ view of God’s banquet was very different from theirs. For Jesus, the feast had already begun. He, the Messiah, had already entered Jerusalem but the pious people of the city who had waited so long for his arrival, didn’t want to know and were preparing to reject him.

This is a dire last-minute warning to Israel’s leaders who were running the risk of excluding themselves and their followers from the opportunity to receive God’s grace and to enjoy his presence in their lives. Instead, the king now invites anyone who wishes to come to be his guests. Good and bad alike are welcomed.

You may want to reflect on Sieger Köder depiction of the joyful scene.

This, however, is not the end of the story in Matthew. There is a final scene which seems to present a contradictory and unexpectedly severe view of God. The idea that the king has a man thrown out of the wedding hall because he’s not wearing the proper clothes seems terribly unfair until we learn that the custom probably was for the host to provide wedding gowns for all the guests so that they could join in the celebration. Despite being invited to the banquet, this man refuses the king’s gift. He makes no effort to change and this, I think, is the point of the parable.

God who is love, accepts us all as we are. God who knows all about us, delights in us. But as we spend time in God’s company we are expected to change. When the blind and lame came to Jesus he healed them. When the prostitutes and tax collectors came, his love reached out to them where they were but that love refused to let them remain unchanged. And the same goes for us. God’s grace is free but it does require a response. We are expected to change, to allow God to renew and transform us. St Paul writes of being clothed with Christ, being clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, being clothed with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

I wonder if we are ready to allow our Servant King to change us and the way we live, and also to transform our church?

As you ponder this you may wish to listen to David playing the tune of ‘Servant King’.

From heaven you came, helpless babe,
entered our world, your glory veiled;
not to be served, but to serve,
and give your life that we might live.

This is our God, the Servant King,
he calls us now to follow him,
to bring our lives as a daily offering
of worship to The Servant King.

There in the garden of tears,
my heavy load he chose to bear;
his heart with sorrow was torn,
‘Yet not My will but yours,’ he said.

Come see his hands and his feet,
the scars that speak of sacrifice,
hands that flung stars into space
to cruel nails surrendered.

So let us learn how to serve,
and in our lives enthrone him;
each other’s needs to prefer,
for it is Christ we’re serving.
Graham Kendrick

Let us pray for our world:
for those in positions of authority and influence …
for those caring for others …
for those whose businesses or livelihoods are affected by this week’s restrictions …

Let us pray for those in need:
for those who face an uncertain future …
for those who sick in mind, body or spirit …
for those who are grieving …

Let us pray for the Church:
that we may remain connected with Christ and with each other …
that we may pray for and support anyone who is struggling …
that, called to God’s feast, we may be ready to be changed by him.

Collect for today
O Lord, since without you we cannot please you: let the work of your mercy in all things guide our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.