‘Food for the journey’ – 22nd August 2021 – Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

To download a copy of the order of service please click here:

21 08 22 12th Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

To watch the service on Youtube, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

The Readings

Joshua 24.1-2a, 14-18
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.

‘Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’

Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’

Psalm 34.15-22
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord rescues them from them all.
He keeps all their bones;
not one of them will be broken.
Evil brings death to the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

John 6.56-69
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By the Revd. Captain Ian Maher

Chapter 6 of John’s gospel is a passage of scripture that includes the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, and the writer’s extended reflection on Jesus as the Bread from Heaven. In fact, including today, it has provided the gospel reading for the past five Sundays (Trinity 8 through to Trinity 12).

When Jesus fed the 5,000, it was an eye-catching miracle which resulted in many of the people wanting to seize Jesus and make him king by force. This was not what Jesus wanted so he withdrew to a mountain to be alone.

Next day, when the crowd found Jesus at Capernaum, he recognised their fascination with the multiplication miracle so challenged them not to focus their energy on food that will perish but on the food that endures for eternal life which the Son of Man – that is, Jesus – would give them.

The crowd then responded to Jesus with their own challenge, by asking for a sign of his authority, citing the story of manna in the wilderness while under the leadership of Moses as though it were a benchmark. Jesus reminded them that the Father, not Moses provided the bread from heaven and that the true bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. To the request for that bread, Jesus replies:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  

This led Jesus into some prolonged discussion about what that meant exactly and is picked up in the rest of John chapter 6, the final verses providing this morning’s gospel reading, and in which Jesus re-states the way in which he is the true bread from heaven:

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

What is important to remember is that we, as readers of John’s gospel, have some insights into the profound theological claims about Jesus being made by the gospel writer that many of the crowd in the story were unlikely to have appreciated. That goes some way towards explaining why so many times in John’s gospel, the followers of Jesus never seem to get the point about the signs that he gives them. Embedded within the Jewish monotheistic tradition, it is just too much of a stretch for them to embrace the implications of Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life.

Through a Christian incarnational lens, however, the identification of Jesus with the bread of life still confronts us with a challenge: How are we to avail ourselves and be sustained continually by Jesus as that source of life which does not perish? How are we to draw strength from him? How are we to be fed and sustained by him in a world where so much is taking place to starve us of hope? Here are a few thoughts which I hope might be of use. 

First, we need to be prayerful people. We must stay connected to the life of the risen Jesus; nourished by him daily as the bread of life. We can do this by pondering regularly on the life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus as portrayed and reflected upon in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament, in order that we might align our lives more closely with the life of Christ.

In the Christian life, prayer and reflection on the Bible are too often casualties in the middle of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, with the result sooner or later we dry up spiritually. It might be a sobering exercise for each of us to reflect on how much time is spent in prayer and Bible study over the course of a week. If we are not listening, how, I wonder, are we to hear what God is saying to us in our lives?

While I agree absolutely with the dictum that those who are too heavenly minded are of no earthly good, there is an opposite danger. Activists – even radical ones – who neglect the life of prayer, run the risk both of burnout and of missing the bigger picture. To nurture the spiritual life, we must foster a sense of 'being' as well as a practice of 'doing'.

Second, we need to be the vehicles through which the life of Christ is made known to others. Acts of kindness, compassion, selflessness, and generosity, undertaken in Christ’s name are an extension of his life in the world: 'doing' as well as 'being'. We are together, after all, the body of Christ in the world. Through such practical acts of love, we manifest the life of God in our own lives and to the lives of those to whom we reach out; in that way we make present the bread of life.

Importantly, those whom we seek to serve will also be channels of God’s grace to us – a truth that we sometimes miss – because Christ is present in the poor, the sick, the hungry, the outcast, and refugee. It is often in such encounters that we find ourselves nourished spiritually by the presence of Jesus: the minister becoming the ministered-to. The Christ in them meets the Christ in us.

To partake of the bread of life is to align ourselves with the agenda of Christ in the world. It is about giving but also being open to receiving in the knowledge that God’s provision is sufficient for all when shared as intended – an important insight from the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000.

Third, our participation in the Eucharist brings us into a sacramental encounter with Jesus, the bread of life and true bread from heaven. Each time we gather at the altar it is a declaration of our participation in his risen life and we are fed spiritually. In that sense, the Eucharist is our spiritual food for the journey through life.

It is a visible, experiential sign of the intimate relationship that God has made available to us through Jesus. In sharing in the bread of life we become one with that life. What greater sign can there be of us partaking in the very life of God that receiving the bread of which Jesus said: This is my body?

Summed up in three words: prayer, service, and sacrament. These are the things which connect us with an experience of the risen Christ, the living bread from heaven, in the here and now. This bread from heaven is God's sustaining gift to the world, for the benefit of all and to God's glory.

My sisters and brothers, through our faith and trust in Jesus Christ; in feeding our souls on his life and teaching; by fashioning our lives after the example of his own; and through sharing in his sacramental presence at the Eucharist, Jesus is for us – day by day – the bread of life. He is the one who sustains us through whatever challenges life’s journey places in our way. So, in all these ways let us feed always on Jesus, the bread of life, in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, you give us the body and blood of your Son as food and drink for our pilgrim journey. Grant that through our union with him we may be united with one another as members of his body, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by Catherine B

O God, following a week of relentless bad news,
we pray for our fallen world…
For Afghanistan...
...Haiti...
… and Burkina Faso.
For all those
living in fear of war and violence,
earthquake and storm
or fires raging out of control.
For all who have had to flee their homes,
For those who want to flee but cannot.
For women and girls.
For those who fought, suffered, even died,
as they hoped to bring about peace.
For their translators and security guards.
For their families and loved ones.
We pray for politicians and aid agencies
For wisdom and compassion
For resources that get quickly
to where they are most needed.
Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy.

We pray for our own country
For the people of Plymouth
For those killed or injured
in last weekend’s shootings.
For their loved ones.
We pray for our own city
For Mohammed, the little Afghan refugee child
killed in a tragic accident this week,
and for his grieving family.
Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy.

We pray for all who are in poor health
For those suffering stress and anxiety
For those caring for a sick relative
and those in a professional caring role.
In a time of silence
We bring to mind
those known personally to us.
Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy.

We remember those who have died
For those who have died very recently
or a while ago,
For all who grieve.
Thinking this week of the family of Liz
who died a year ago,
And of others known personally to us.
Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy.

O God, help us to take comfort from the words of the psalmist:
“The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.”
And give thanks that you are always close to us
and bring hope
in times of great difficulty.
Help us as your church
to share that comfort and hope
with others.

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

 

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000

‘The death of John the Baptist’ – 11th July 2021 – 6th Sunday after Trinity

We regret that we are unable to offer a live-stream of this week's service.

The Readings
Amos 7.7-15

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb-line.’ Then the Lord said,
‘See, I am setting a plumb-line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,
“Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.” ’
And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’

Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycomore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

Mark 6.14 -29

The Death of John the Baptist
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

 

Scripture Quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon

By Catherine B, a Reader at St. Mary's

Today’s gospel story is as puzzling as it is gruesome. We’re told that John the Baptist has severely criticised Herod for his irregular marriage. So why has Herod not killed him earlier? Why has he put him in prison for protection? Why does he like to listen to a man he fears and finds perplexing?

When you look more closely at his situation, for someone who is supposed to be the ruler of the area, he doesn’t seem to have much agency. His wife has left her previous husband for him. It doesn’t sound as if it’s a love match – perhaps she thought that being married to Herod would bring her more prestige and power. But John the Baptist is a threat. He has pointed out that their marriage isn’t lawful in the eyes of the Jewish faith. You can imagine her nagging Herod to do something about John.

So Herod has John imprisoned. It’s a bit of a compromise. John is contained, but not killed. There is a part of Herod which recognises that John is a holy man. John has important, albeit difficult truths to tell and Herod wants to hear them. But for his wife, this spells danger. Herod could fall for John’s charms and her access to power and prestige could be felled in one blow. So she begins to plot.

Herod’s birthday arrives, with a big party attended by many influential men. The wine flows freely and everyone has a good time. Herod’s wife sends her daughter into the room to dance. It goes down splendidly. Herod promises the girl anything she wants – yes even half his kingdom! She immediately goes to ask her mother for advice. Who grabs her chance. Ask for the head of John the Baptist.

So she does. And Herod’s mood changes from joviality to despair. He’s been trapped. He can’t back down and refuse the girl his offer – it would be seen as weak. No one would ever take him seriously again. He’d be deposed, lose everything, most likely killed. So he gives in to the request. John is beheaded, and in a gruesome parody of the great banquet – his head is brought to the feast on a plate.

Why does the church set this powerful story about John’s death set for this week, bang in the middle of what the church calls “ordinary time”? Why not during Lent or Advent – the traditional times in the Christian year for focusing on John the Baptist?

Well, if we look at the start of the passage, it’s not directly about John the Baptist at all. John is already dead and buried.

The passage is about Jesus. He has been preaching his message of repentance, has been healing the sick, and has sent his disciples out to do the same. The mission is going well. People don’t know Jesus that well yet, and are asking who he might be. Is he John the Baptist? Is he Elijah? Is he another prophet from that great tradition of prophets?

The story is also about Herod’s reaction to hearing about Jesus. When news of Jesus reaches Herod, you can imagine his heart sinking, his guilt rising. This Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead! You cannot keep important, difficult truths down. It’s only then that we are told what had happened to John.

John the Baptist wasn’t raised from the dead. His disciples heard about his death, collected his body and buried it. And that is the end of John’s story.

But who was he? In other gospel passages John makes it quite clear that he is not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet. He may be charismatic and have a message for the people. But ultimately his role is to point to someone greater.

And John’s death points too, to the way in which that someone greater would die. Jesus, too, would be arrested and imprisoned by a weak leader. Someone who found him intriguing, would have kept him alive, but who bowed to political pressure to have him executed. Today’s story is early in the gospel, but already points to the way in which the gospel story will end. Like John, Jesus will be put to death in a gruesome manner by a puppet leader.

But it’s not quite the end. John’s story ends with his burial. Jesus’ story continues - death, burial and then a mysterious empty tomb and the promise of new life. You cannot keep important truths down.

The Prayers

Prepared by Veronica H

In the power of the spirit and in union with Christ Let us pray to the Father.

Oh God, Creator and Preserver of us all, we pray for people in every kind of need, especially for those who have fled oppression and remain in refugee camps far from their homes, or who find themselves rejected when they seek a new life elsewhere. We remember how Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt when their baby’s life was in peril, and pray that the wealthier countries of the world will reach out to provide shelter and food, and welcome those in dire need. Grant to national leaders and to us all in our daily lives the wisdom to use the resources of the earth according to your will.
Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church worldwide, for the Church of England that it may continue to be in every place to minister to every community, with its churches open to all who wish to enter and join its fellowship. We pray for parish priests everywhere who lead our worship, visit the sick and all in any spiritual need, and help congregations understand their calling to build up our common life by reaching out and serving our whole community. We give you thanks for the clergy at St Mark’s and St John’s and all who take services here, our Readers, and the contribution of all our congregation.
Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all children and young people whose lives and education have been disrupted by the pandemic, and for the teachers and lecturers who have worked so hard to ensure that their pupils are not only supported in their learning, but have also ensured they are fed where families are in difficulties. We ask your blessing on staff and children at St Mary’s School.
Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are ill at this time, especially those who are suffering long Covid or have long-term conditions and are apprehensive at the spread of the new variant during the forthcoming easing of restrictions. Help us to think of the needs of others as we are allowed greater freedom in our daily lives. We give you thanks for our NHS workers and carers, and the scientists who have developed vaccines in record time. In a moment of silence we remember by name those we know who are in special need of your healing grace…………..
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We remember before you all those who have died prematurely as a result of Covid, and all others who have died through other illness, accidents or have simply come to the end of their natural life- span. We remember before you all those we loved and see no more…………..

Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary, John and Mark and all your saints, we commend ourselves and all your creation to your unfailing love.

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

 

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000

‘If it is a girl…’ – 27th June 2021 – Fourth Sunday after Trinity

To watch today's service on Youtube, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

To download today's order of service, please click here:

The Readings

Wisdom 1.13-15, 2.23-24
Because God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.

For God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.

Mark 5.21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

 

Scripture quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Canon Dr Alan Billings

Let me read you part of a letter. It was written rather a long time ago. In fact about the time of Jesus. But it has survived. It’s from a man, called Hilarion, a Roman, who is working away from home in the port of Alexandria, in Egypt.

Hilarion writes to Alis, his wife, who is not with him, but is at home with their child. And Alis is pregnant.

Hilarion writes home because some of the others he is working with may be returning ahead of him and he doesn’t want Alis to worry. Miraculously the letter has survived, and this is part of what he says – take your hankies out because it’s really so loving and tender:

Hilarion to Alis … Know that we are still in Alexandria. Do not be anxious; if they really go home, I will remain in Alexandria. I beg and entreat you, take care of the little one, and as soon as we receive our pay I will send it up to you.

Now put the hankie away and brace yourself, because he goes on to talk about the pregnancy.

If by chance you bear a child, and if it is a boy, let it be; if it is a girl, cast it out.

Hankies again for the last sentence. She had asked him not to forget her while away, and so he says:

How can I forget you? I beg you then, not to be anxious.

The first time I read that letter I had to re-read it to be sure I had read it aright. Such tenderness:
take care of our little one …

But then in the next breath, such callousness:
if it is a girl, cast it out.

How could someone capable of showing such affection and love towards his wife and child one moment, express such terrible sentiments towards the unborn child, should it be female, the next. The answer, of course, is that this is a society that does not rate females as highly as males.

But now contrast that with what we read in today’s gospel. Here is another man, Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue – a sort of churchwarden – whose little girl is sick, very sick, in fact, dying. He could have shrugged his shoulders and taken the view that, though sad, it would be one less mouth to feed, one less who would always be a financial burden until he could marry her off to a man with a job – a Hilarion type, perhaps.

But Jairus is not like that at all. He clearly loves his twelve year old daughter and will do anything for her. He will even go begging for help from this probably rather dishevelled travelling preacher, Jesus, form the insignificant village of Nazareth.

So he seeks out Jesus and throws himself down in front of him and asks for help. All very undignified for a churchwarden; but he’s desperate because the little girl is at the point of death.

I quoted from that contemporary letter to draw out something that we, reading Mark’s gospel in 2021, might not fully appreciate. Namely, this loving attitude towards children who were female was not universally shared in the society in which Jesus lived. They could be regarded as a burden, literally more trouble than they were worth. It’s important that we recognise that this was not the view of Jesus. This is why he goes with Jairus to the house and heals the little girl.

But before he does that, Mark, who compiled this gospel adds another story. Again, I think we need to appreciate just what Like is doing here. Having told us through the story of Jairus and his daughter about the attitude of Jesus towards female children, he then wants to make it clear that this is not just Jesus being kind to a child, who happens to be a girl. This is the attitude of Jesus to all who are female, whether children or adult. The two stories are put together to make just this point.

And the point is strongly made.

The woman in the crowd who seeks out Jesus is anxious because her utterly debilitating medical condition – menstrual bleeding that never stops - is something that she would almost certainly be ashamed of.

The social conventions of the time required women to keep away from others during the times of their periods – something that for her would mean a permanent lock-down. So she approaches Jesus gingerly and fearfully.

And for that reason, when she touches his garments. he stops and speak to her: ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

Sometimes, when we hear the gospels, we don’t spend enough time just thinking about what they are saying to us. Sometimes it takes the church centuries before important truths that have always been there, jump out at us and we think them obvious.

The attitude of Jesus towards women was faithfully captured by the gospel writer 2000 years ago. To our eternal shame we have often not noticed.

The Prayers
Prepared by Barbara W

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.

O God, the creator and preserver of all, we pray for people in every kind of need; make your ways known on earth, your saving health among all nations …

We pray for all of those affected by the Covid-19 epidemic.
We pray for those countries currently suffering from upsurges of the virus, thinking especially of those in South America and in the Indian subcontinent: please help them to keep their most vulnerable citizens safe.
We pray for the worldwide success of vaccination campaigns, and that vaccines are made available to all countries, regardless of their wealth or lack thereof. We pray that we can play our part in this!
We pray for those suffering from loneliness and isolation: please help us to be your agents in bringing them contact and comfort.
We pray for those affected by any sort of relationship breakdown at this loneliest of times: please help us to notice when people need help and to bring them the help they need.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for your Church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life …

We pray for all Christian communities in this country and around the world, as we strive to find new ways of being your family that do not put each other in danger during this pandemic. Please help us to reach those who most need your comfort and help.

We pray especially for our worshipping community of St. John’s Ranmoor, St. Mark’s Broomhill and St. Mary’s Walkley as we learn new ways of joining together in love for you. Please help us to feel your presence in a world turned upside down and to share that presence with others.

Today we pray for your church in Canada, and especially for all those denominations involved in running the residential schools where indigenous families were forced to send their children. We pray for all the indigenous children who were abused and neglected while attending those institutions. Torn from their families, forbidden to speak their own languages, starved as a result of extreme and intentional underfunding by the federal government that failed these children by not acknowledging their worth, these children suffered beyond our comprehension and so very many of them died there alone, never returned to their families, even in death. Please help all Canadians to recognise the wrongs done these children, in which so many of us were unknowingly complicit, and to help the bereaved families to find their children’s bodies.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed, in mind, body or estate; comfort and relieve them in their need, give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out of their troubles …

In moments of peace and contemplation, we name to you all those known to us who are suffering. Please care for them and for all those of whose suffering we are unaware.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and we give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the communion of saints …

We name to you in our hearts all those known to us both near and far, asking that you bring your comfort and healing to their families and friends at this time of grief.

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

 

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included here is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000

‘God is like a Shamrock’ – 30th May 2021 – Trinity Sunday

The Order of Service

To download a Word copy of the order of service, please click here:

21 05 30 Trinity Sunday Eucharist

To download a PDF copy of the order of service, please click here:

21 05 30 Trinity Sunday Eucharist

The Livestreaming Link

To watch the live-stream of the service on YouTube, please click here:

The Readings

Isaiah 6.1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

John 3.1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Scripture quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
by Kath B, a Reader at St. Mary's

I’m generally fairly oblivious about dates and special occasions. By this I mean that apart from Christmas and New Year, I tend to not realise that a particular date may be a bank holiday or festival or when we mark something or someone. In the past this has made me less than popular at home when I’ve not thought to request time off work. And it’s been the case with today because until a few weeks ago I hadn’t realised that today is Trinity Sunday. It was only in a chance conversation with my friend Joe about a month ago when I said I was preaching on the 30th May he said “Oh, Trinity Sunday” and then he indicated that it was a great opportunity to almost certainly commit some form of heresy, indeed that it would be almost impossible not to. Immediately a number of thoughts sprang into my mind and I decided that rather than tie myself in knots trying to avoid saying anything out of order, I’d jump straight in with both feet, get the potential heresy out of the way then we could all relax. So here goes!

One of the funniest descriptions of the Trinity I’ve ever come across was in a film called Nuns on the Run. If you have never seen it and you’re in need of a good laugh I would thoroughly recommend it. In it two gangsters, played by Robbie Coltrane & Eric Idle, are trying to escape from some other gangsters, from whom they have stolen some money, and in desperation they dive into a laundry that happens to be part of a convent and they don very old fashioned full length nun’s habits. They successfully evade the other gangsters but quickly get spotted by the nuns and have to pass themselves off as visitors from another convent. They’re given hospitality but also invited to teach a class of teenage girls about the Trinity. Sister Euphemia of the five wounds (Eric Idle) tells Sister Inviolata of the Immaculate Conception (Robbie Coltrane) that he knows absolutely nothing about the Trinity and has no idea what to say. Sister Inviolata, remembering what he had been taught by his old priest tells him to think of God like a shamrock with three leaves on one stem representing the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately things don’t go according to plan in the lesson and Sister Euphemia gets flustered by the girl’s questions about the Trinity and in panic he says “God is like a shamrock, small, green and split three ways. Class dismissed!” and he makes a run for it before he can be grilled any further on the topic.

Hilarious as this is, it highlights the fact that the Trinity is a very difficult concept to understand let alone explain to anyone else, even for those of us who come to church regularly. So I looked up some definitions. According to the Britannica website “Trinity, in Christian doctrine, the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead. The doctrine of Trinity is considered to be one of the central Christian affirmations about God”. Another from The Gathering Community says “The doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Simply stated, God is one in essence and three in person.” There is also a diagram which is rather helpful. It shows that although God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son, each is a distinct entity but all are inhabited by God. It can still sound a bit beyond us though. In fact I think the harder we try to explain it the more potential for confusion there is. To bring it down to more human terms I remember a friend telling me that the way she thought about it was that she was a daughter, a mother and a grandmother; one person with three distinct roles or aspects of herself.

In reality we all have multiple roles through which we relate to others in different ways so maybe it shouldn’t be so hard to grasp that God relates to us in different ways. It’s just a personal impression but I think there are times when we can feel closer to God as either the Father or Jesus or the Holy Spirit depending on what is going on in our lives or perhaps we as individuals are more attuned to one of these. For me personally I tend to talk to the Father most of the time but there have been times when I have felt the closer presence of Jesus. I note that some of my friends obviously sense the work of the Holy Spirit and trust that he or she will support them through life’s twists and turns.

One more snippet from the internet that made me smile and feel a bit better about not being an expert was this. “The Trinity is a controversial doctrine; many Christians admit that they don’t understand it, while many more Christians don’t understand it but think they do.” On balance, I think I’d rather admit to being one of the former.

As our reading from Isaiah seems to indicate; we may not feel worthy to be God’s messengers but by his grace we can have a role to play. Perhaps by being open and honest about finding some aspects of the Trinity hard to grasp, we may give others the courage to at least give it a hearing. Admitting that we cannot and do not know and understand everything about God is a not a weakness or a failing. Perhaps it’s a saving grace.

The Prayers
Prepared by David C.

We come boldly to the throne of grace,
praying to the almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
for mercy and grace.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Father of heaven, whose love profound
a ransom for our souls has found:
We pray for the world, created by your love,
for its nations and governments …
Extend to them your peace, pardoning love, mercy and grace.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Almighty Son, incarnate Word,
our Prophet, Priest, Redeemer, Lord:
We pray for the Church, created for your glory,
for its ministry to reflect those works of yours …
Extend to us your salvation, growth, mercy and grace.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Eternal Spirit, by whose breath
the soul is raised from sin and death:
We pray for families and individuals, created in your image,
for the lonely, the bereaved, the sick and the dying …
Breathe on them the breath of life
and bring them to your mercy and grace.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Thrice holy! Father, Spirit, Son,
Mysterious Godhead, Three in One:
We pray for ourselves,
for your Church, for all whom we remember before you.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Bring us all to bow before your throne in heaven,
to receive life and pardon, mercy and grace for all eternity,
as we worship you, saying,
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest. Amen.

Adapted from Common Worship: Times and Seasons. Copyright © The Archbishops' Council 2006 and published by Church House Publishing.

‘At the Crossroads of life and faith’ – 2nd May 2021 – 5th Sunday of Easter

For today's order of service click here

21 05 02 5th Sunday of Easter Eucharist

To follow the live-stream of today's service click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

The Readings

Acts 8:26-end
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

John 15: 1-8

Jesus said:
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

 

Scripture quotations are from:
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Sermon
By Catherine, a Reader at St. Mary's

He was a distinguished man: an official of the queen's court in Ethiopia, in charge of the treasury. He was an admirer of Israel and Israel's religion - what the New Testament refers to as a "God fearer". For this foreigner, Israel had indeed been a light to the nations, as God intended. Eager to know more, he wanted to visit Jerusalem and offer his own worship at the temple. So he planned a pilgrimage. He saved up for the trip, perhaps over several years. Perhaps he needed special permission to go. Perhaps he’d combine the pilgrimage with business matters - there were long links between Israel and Ethiopia, with respect to trade as well as religion. For Ethiopia was the land of Sheba – that of the famous Queen.

So he gets to Jerusalem after a long journey, a journey full of anticipation and excitement. He spends some of his savings on a scroll of Isaiah. And at last he reaches the temple to pay his respects to the God of the Jews he so admires.

We're not told what happened when he arrived. But if the temple officials were following the rules set out in Deuteronomy, he wouldn't have been allowed in. Why?

Deuteronomy 23.1 states that:

"No one whose reproductive organs are crushed or cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord"

This Ethiopian pilgrim was a eunuch. According to the letter of the Jewish Law, he’d have been considered defective in the sight of God.

If so, imagine how he’d feel. He's been denied access to the God he's been encouraged to follow. Those who are supposed to be God's people won't let him worship. He’d feel humiliated, downcast, puzzled. God seems not to want him. His pilgrimage has been in vain.

With a heavy heart, he turns around for the long journey home. While travelling, he opens his Isaiah scroll. He reads it, puzzling over it, perhaps seeking to make sense of his experience through it. He's reached a spiritual crossroads, one which could make or break his faith.

He reaches a physical crossroads too, crossing the path of Philip, who’s been called there by the Holy Spirit. Philip hears him reading Isaiah and asks if he understands it. He doesn't, so invites Philip to join him to discuss the passage.

It comes from Isaiah 53:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.

Could the eunuch perhaps relate to the humiliation, and justice denied? Did he feel that part of himself had died?

He asks who the passage is about. For Philip this is easy – it’s about what happened to Jesus at his trial and crucifixion. But Philip knows what happened next and tells the eunuch about how God raised Jesus from the dead giving hope and life to all who feel hopeless and humiliated. The God of Israel IS interested in the eunuch.

In Isaiah 56 there’s a passage which backs this up. It says:

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
"The Lord will surely separate me from his people";
and do not let the eunuch say,
"I am just a dry tree"
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

Although Acts doesn’t mention it, Philip might have pointed it out. The eunuch is now full of hope and joy. Look! There is water! What might prevent him being baptised?

Nothing!

The eunuch is baptised and goes on his way. Philip disappears, job done. We don't know what happened next. We do know that one of the earliest Christian communities was established in Ethiopia.

If this interpretation of the story is valid, what can we take away?

Here are a few ideas:

When sharing our faith with someone who is showing an interest, we can try to find the point where Jesus' story meets their story. Like the eunuch they may have already been following the faith, but a bad experience with life or with the church has caused them to ask serious questions of it.

We can be especially mindful of people who are different to us. Those who society finds it difficult to accept as they are. Those who the church finds it difficult to accept as they are. And to remember that even within the Bible itself, different views are presented. If the Bible can change its mind about eunuchs then maybe there are some things which the church can change its mind about too.

We can show people they are welcome, not only with words, but with actions, just as Philip reassured the eunuch of God's love for him through Jesus, and then put this into immediate action by baptising him.

A one-off encounter may be all that is needed. As far as we know, Philip and the eunuch met just once. We don't know exactly what happened next. Philip went on his way. The eunuch went on his way. The rest was left up to God. When we share our faith with someone, we may never find out what happens next in their story. We may never know if they embraced the faith themselves or rejected it. God doesn’t expect us to tally of how many converts we make. But God does expect us to be like Philip was, open to his call and to the opportunity to share the gospel message.

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe

We pray for God’s Church throughout the world. We pray for our Archbishops Justin and Stephen, for Bishop Pete and Bishop Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s and our sister Churches. We pray for those Christians in parts of the world where to express their faith is to risk their lives and livelihoods.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray that, like the Ethiopian eunuch, we are wise enough to know that sometimes we will need guidance in our understanding of scripture. Open our minds to the Holy Spirit, and those moved by the Spirit, so that we can gain a greater understanding of the word of God.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and voices be used compassionately for the good of all. We pray that the international community can come together to resolve the ongoing issues with our changing climate, especially the effects it has on the poor.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. As the vaccination programme here in the UK continues to reduce the number of cases and deaths from Covid-19, we pray for the people of India
and other countries where the illness continues to cause illness and death.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing. We pray that God’s power and spirit will strengthen them and bring them the healing and peace that belong to Christ’s kingdom. We pray for all those who are feeling isolated and lonely at this time.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for those close to death, and those accompanying them on this final part of their Earthly journey. We pray for those who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn. We pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, that they were comforted by the presence of the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us, and also those issues and concerns that we have in our own lives.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Rejoicing in the communion of Mary and of all the Saints, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to God.

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

 

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000

‘Would I have the courage?’ – 28th March 2021 – Palm Sunday

The Readings

Psalm 118.1-2, 19-24
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!

Let Israel say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Mark 11.1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

 

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
by Kath, a Reader at St. Mary's

The story we have just heard or read from St Mark’s Gospel is one that many people are likely to be at least a bit familiar with, even if they’re not church goers or particularly religious. It’s the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, riding on a young donkey and being hailed and praised by the crowds who were there for a festival. Many of them threw palm branches or even their cloaks on the road, presumably to mark Jesus’ arrival as special and no doubt many of them were aware of, or had even seen what he had been doing in his ministry among the ordinary people like themselves. No doubt too that this outpouring of adulation was genuine for a lot of them. Maybe some hoped that he would cure or help them or their loved ones with one of his miracles that they’d heard about.

For many years at St Mary’s and most likely at many other churches too, it has been our custom to re-enact this event. Sadly this is the second year that we haven’t been able to do so because of the pandemic safety concerns, so let me refresh your memories. Perhaps like me you can picture it in your mind’s eye. Usually I try to envisage the scene as it was for Jesus. In our very English and quite reserved version we start with a palm procession which begins outside the Hall doors where we gather together and hear the reading. We’re all holding our palm crosses and a few people are carrying larger palm branches. Then as we sing a hymn, we process along the road and make our way into church. Perhaps some of the passers by wonder what on earth we’re doing but they leave us to get on with it. Once inside, we process round the church, still singing, and end up in front of the alter where the big palms are laid down. After this most of the congregation return to their seats and others take their places for a dramatised reading of the Passion of the Christ according to one or other of the Gospels. Like many of you, this is a ritual I’m very familiar with. To start with, I was one of the ones sitting in the pews and our only line in the script was “Crucify him, crucify him”. These words have always gone through me and I’ve usually found myself unable to say them. This in itself feels cowardly as I’m leaving these awful words for others to say who probably feel equally distressed by them. But if we all kept quiet, the dramatised reading wouldn’t work.

Over the years, I’ve gradually moved into more “front of house” roles so to speak and I’ve played various other parts with many more lines in the script including the narrator, the evangelist, even Jesus himself and also Judas. But still the hardest words to say are “Crucify him”.
A couple of times I’ve been called on to allocate the roles for this dramatised reading and I found this hard to do too. Trying to make sure that different people got to play the different roles and bearing in mind who felt comfortable and confident enough to tackle the bigger parts. I found it especially hard asking people to play the part of Judas and hoped they didn’t think it was any kind of reflection on them. As I said, I’ve played that part myself and it made me wonder again why Judas did what he did and how he felt, especially when he realised the enormity of what he had done. Our re-enactment, little and local as it is, can stir up in us deep and powerful thoughts and feelings and questions, not only about the past but about today and all the intervening years too. How did Jesus go from being a healer, teacher, worker of miracles and saviour, praised and welcomed by the rapturous crowds, to being dishonoured, tortured and cruelly condemned to an ignominious death by those same people in the space of a few days? How have others throughout history gone from hero to villain in the blink of an eye and suffered all manner of other terrible fates?

It’s no use kidding ourselves that society is completely different nowadays, we have only to look at what happens on social media or in the press or on television or even on the streets where people are bullied, vilified, trolled or torn to pieces by others who are either angry or affronted or jealous or think they have a righteous reason to do this or because they just enjoy doing so. How desperately sad that this is how things still are. Can we seriously delude ourselves that we are more civilised than people were in the past?

At the end of all this, the question I’m left asking myself is, if Jesus comes back while I’m still around and we get a similar situation to that in Jerusalem, which we probably will, will I have the courage to stand by him or will I go along with the crowd? With all my heart I hope it’s the former but I know that I’m not always as brave as I wish to be. Whatever the circumstances I may find myself in, I pray that God will give me the courage I need, when I need it.

Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by Veronica

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Have mercy upon us.

At this time of the year we follow the Passion of Christ, and remember all the times when we have fallen short of living by his teachings. Help us not to be people who shout Hosanna one day, and a few days later shout “Crucify him!” Teach us and all your church to worship you humbly, whether at home or via Zoom in these strange times, and help us to live our lives according to your will as we observe Holy Week in the coming days.
Have mercy upon us.

We pray for the world as it struggles to cope with the Covid pandemic. Help the leaders of richer countries to be prepared to share with poorer ones both vaccines and other treatments shown to alleviate some of the worst symptoms of the disease. We give thanks for all the efforts of doctors, nurses, care workers and all the other front-line workers to meet our needs and keep us safe. We pray especially for all in countries suffering oppression, war, violence and natural disasters in addition to the virus, and for the work of Christian Aid, UNICEF, UNHCR, Oxfam and other organisations working to relieve suffering.
Have mercy upon us.

We pray for our City and our local community of Walkley while so many shops and businesses struggle to survive, and many people have lost their income. We pray for our councillors and all who will be seeking election in a few weeks’ time; may they truly work for the good of all. We thank you for the S6 Food Bank and all the others across the city for their efforts literally to feed the hungry in our midst.
Have mercy upon us.

We pray for all who are ill at this time, whether through physical illness or depression. We especially remember those having to wait longer for treatment or operations because of the current extra strain on the staff and resources of the NHS. Be with them in their suffering that they may know your healing grace won, for us on the cross on Good Friday.
Have mercy upon us.

We remember before you all who have died, many as a result of Covid over the past year, leaving behind many heart-broken relations and friends, often unable to meet to comfort each other or to hold the kind of funeral they would like to celebrate the lives of their loved ones. Give them faith in the Resurrection of Christ that their loved ones are not lost to them for ever.
Lord have mercy.

Grant to us all the grace of your Holy Spirit to amend our lives according to your holy word.

Holy God,
Holy and strong,
Holy and immortal,
have mercy upon us.
Amen.

 

Common Worship, Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included here, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000.

See Clearly and Speak Out – 28th February 2021 – the Second Sunday of Lent

The Readings

Genesis 17.1-7, 15-16

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’

Mark 8:31-38

Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

Scripture Quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Catherine, a Reader at St. Mary's

When I was in my 20s I attended a conference. It explored issues such as peace, justice, fair-trade and the environment. At a workshop on Speaking Out they suggested that you don’t have to be an expert on something in order to talk about it. We were each given a card and told not to look at it. Then in turn we were to stand up, look at our card and talk about what was on it. All went well. Then it was my turn. I stood up, looked at my card, proclaimed the word “Gaia”...and stopped. I knew “Gaia” only as the name of a fictional organisation in the 1980s television series “Edge of Darkness”. There was a disclaimer at the end saying that this “Gaia” was completely unrelated to the Gaia movement. If I’d talked about the fictional Gaia of the television series, people would have been misinformed about the real-life movement. It turns out you did actually need to know something about a subject before speaking out on it!

If you can’t see it clearly yourself, it’s probably best not to tell others about it just yet. Let’s bear this thought in mind when exploring this week’s Gospel reading. In order to set the scene it helps if we start reading from Mark 8.22.

Jesus and his disciples, plus a crowd of taggers-on, have been travelling through the villages and towns of Galilee. In Bethsaida, a blind man has been brought to Jesus for healing. Jesus leads him away from the village, away from onlookers, and begins to heal him. At first, the man sees only partially – he sees people, but they look like walking trees. Jesus lays his hands on him again, and his sight is fully restored – he now sees clearly. Jesus tells him to go directly home without passing through the village. Keep this to yourself for now!

Jesus and his followers continue on their way. Whilst they are walking, Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is. They reply: “John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets”. He then asks them who they think he is. Peter immediately declares that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus orders the disciples not to say anything to anyone about this. Keep this to yourselves for now!

In today’s passage, Jesus starts to teach the disciples what being the Messiah means. It means suffering, rejection by the religious authorities and death, then rising again after 3 days. We’re told that Jesus says this quite openly – everyone can hear about what it means to be the Messiah in general terms.

Peter won’t have this. He takes Jesus to one side, and has a quiet word in private. “Jesus, this won’t do – this isn’t what people signed up for.” We can assume Jesus chooses not to keep the conversation private, for he turns to all the disciples and rebukes Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You’re thinking of human things not divine things!” Everyone can hear this too.

Then, turning to the crowds, Jesus stresses what it means to follow where he is going. It means letting go of their own personal needs and wants, and of what society wants from them. It means suffering and possibly death. They need to understand this.

Openness. Secrecy. The blind man is brought to Jesus in the open. He is healed in private. You can talk openly about what it means to be the Messiah, but must keep secret, for now, the idea that Jesus is the Messiah. Peter rebukes Jesus in private. Jesus rebukes Peter openly.

Not seeing. Partially seeing. Clarity of sight. The man can’t see. Then he can see, but imperfectly. Finally he sees with great clarity.

Who is Jesus? Some don’t see at all. Some get a rough idea – John the Baptist, perhaps, or Elijah, or a prophet? Peter sees clearly. Jesus is the Messiah!

Peter thinks he sees clearly. But then it turns out he isn’t seeing clearly at all, because he doesn’t understand what it means to be the Messiah. This rejection, suffering and death, and rising again business just doesn’t fit Peter’s picture of the Messiah. So perhaps it’s just as well Jesus has cautioned his disciples to keep this quiet for now.

Who is Jesus? As he travels from village to village, from town to town, many are following him, curious, hopeful, expectant. What do they see? What do they think they see? Do they see where all this is leading? If they want to be a part of what Jesus is doing, do they fully see what this will mean?

What does it mean to be a true follower of Jesus? It doesn’t mean watching a series of miraculous healings, although healings are certainly taking place. It doesn’t mean listening to an intriguingly good storyteller, though that’s happening too. It means means taking up the mantle of suffering and death just as Jesus is soon to do. It means challenging those in power, with all the risks that that involves.

Jesus is quite open about this. He wants his disciples and the crowds to understand exactly what they are signing up for if they want to follow him. They must do this with clarity of sight. They mustn’t encourage others to follow him too if they themselves don’t see clearly what it may mean.

Following Jesus means suffering, possibly even death. If those wishing to follow him cling on to personal, human and societal needs and wants, they will not experience the fullness of life that God freely offers. But, paradoxically, if those followers sit light to their personal human needs and wants and embrace the possibility of suffering, they will find that God-given life in abundance. See that fully, and one can speak out in confidence.

The Prayers
Prepared by Barbara

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.

O God, the creator and preserver of all, we pray for people in every kind of need; make your ways known on earth, your saving health among all nations.

We pray for this wonderful world that you have given us. Please help us to be good stewards of your creation.
We pray that we can understand the lessons that you want us to learn from this pandemic, thinking particularly of how you want us to care for this wonderful world, so that we can stop destroying it.
We pray that all countries play their part in preventing further global warming. Please help those countries who have contributed most to the problem to recognise our responsibility to help those countries most heavily affected, who haven’t usually contributed much to the problems but suffer most.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

We pray for all of those affected by the Covid-19 epidemic.
We pray for the worldwide success of vaccination campaigns, and that vaccines are made available to all countries, regardless of their wealth or lack thereof. We pray that we can play our part in this!
We pray for all those who have lost someone they love and ask that you comfort them in their grief.
We pray for those who are struggling with their own illness: please bring them healing.
We pray for those suffering from loneliness and isolation: please help us to be your agents in bringing them contact and comfort.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

We pray for those affected by any sort of relationship breakdown at this loneliest of times: couples who are no longer couples; housemates who can no longer bear each other’s company; young people who feel that they are not able to grow into independent adults; people who find themselves at risk of abuse. Please help us to notice when people need help and to bring them the help they need.
We pray for all our children: please help us to work out how to balance their education and need for face-to-face friendships with our need to keep those more vulnerable to the virus safe.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

We pray for all countries facing unrest and changes of government. Please bring all our leaders the skills needed to lead us wisely, in peace and good will. We pray especially for the people of Myanmar, Yemen and Syria.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

We pray for your Church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life.
We pray for all Christian communities in this country and around the world, as we strive to find new ways of being your family that do not put each other in danger during this pandemic. Please help us to reach those who most need your comfort and help.
We pray especially for our worshipping community of St. John’s Ranmoor, St. Mark’s Broomhill and St. Mary’s Walkley as we learn new ways of joining together in love for you. Please help us to feel your presence in a world turned upside down and to share that presence with others.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed, in mind, body or estate; comfort and relieve them in their need, give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out of their troubles. In moments of peace and contemplation, we name to you all those known to us who are suffering. Please care for them and for all those of whose suffering we are unaware.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and we give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the communion of saints. We pray especially for your servant Malcolm, who died 27 years ago but is still sadly missed by his family. Please comfort them. We name to you in our hearts all those known to us both near and far, asking that you bring your comfort and healing to their families and friends at this time of grief.

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

 

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included here is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000

‘Rejecting the Devil’ – 10th January 2021 – The Baptism of Christ

During the lock-down, we regret that public and live-streamed worship is suspended.

The text versions of this week's readings, sermon and prayers can be found below:

The Readings

Acts 19.1-7

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.

Mark 1.4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

 

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Canon Dr Alan Billings

Dost thou, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them?

If you were baptised anytime before 1980 in the Church of England, that is one of the key questions that would have been put to your godparents.

Compare it with the modern service. Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God? Do you renounce the corruption of evil? Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?

Comparing the new words with the old is like comparing a prefab with Levens Hall. There is no comparison. The new words have similar sentiments but the blood has been drained out of them.

The language of the old prayer book is magnificent, as is most of the language of the Book of Common Prayer. It is magnificent not just because it sounds so wonderful – dignified, sonorous and musical. It is magnificent because the words do justice to the seriousness of what is being asked.

Dost thou, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them?

There are those who find talk of the devil difficult. Yes, I can see that - if devil-talk makes you think in terms of creatures in red leotards with horns and a pitchfork. The popular imagery does not help if you have a rather prosaic and unimaginative mind – and some of us have. Let me say a word - in fact two words - for the devil.

The first point about the symbol of the devil is this: it directs us to an aspect of our experience which is absolutely and frighteningly real. Namely, that there are forces in the world impacting on us, spiritual forces, that are every bit as real as physical forces. And we ignore them at our peril.

The Bible personalises them – it speaks of the devil – because they are at their most frightening when they get a grip on people.

The Book of Common Prayer baptism question reminds us of the points in our life where we may be most vulnerable to these forces for evil that assault and hurt the soul – more prayer book language.

It speaks of the need to renounce the devil and all his works. That is really robust language. It suggests that overcoming evil will be for the baptized like a struggle with an enemy.

The Bible often speaks this way too. Overcoming evil is a war or a battle. That suggests powerful opponents, constant vigilance, and considerable effort. And that surely is right? When we look back over those things in life – bad things, dodgy people, serious temptations – those things that we have had to avoid or overcome, it did seem like a struggle, a fight. It wasn’t easy. We got bruised, if not battered.

And the question in the baptism service hints at the shape some of those forces for evil take. Not being taken in by the vain pomp and glory of the world. Not succumbing to its covetous desires. Hard. Hard in a consumerist society. Resisting the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them. Again, hard in a society that has sexual imagery everywhere.

So talk of the devil first of all alerts us to the existence of evil and by personalising it as the devil makes it clear to us that overcoming evil will be like doing battle with some powerful and rather crafty opponent. An opponent whose first brilliant line of attack is to get us to think he doesn’t exist and we don’t have to worry about him.

The second reason for insisting on the devil is to save us from too much blaming and moralising. After all, if there are no forces for evil in the world pulling us, tempting us, luring us, tricking us, then everything evil that we are and do, and everything evil that other people are and do, is all our fault without remainder. That is a huge burden to put on our own shoulders and the shoulders of others.

Yes, of course, we shall have to give account for the evil we do. And yes, of course, so will others. But what enables God to be compassionate towards us, and what enables us to be less judgmental towards others, is the realisation that we have not necessarily been totally wilful, but we have been caught up in a struggle against the devil and all his works.

People who believe in the devil know how hard it can sometimes be to do the right thing or avoid the wrong thing. People who believe in the devil know how much they need spiritual resources if they are to win the battle.

This is why Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptised by John. And he is given those resources: he is filled with the Holy Spirit. Only then dare he go out and begin his life’s work.

Dost thou, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them?

Thou hadst better.

The Prayers
From Common Worship: Times and Seasons

Jesus calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Washed clean by the waters of baptism,
let us pray that we may live the life to which he has called us.

Lord Jesus, eternal Word,
proclaimed as the Christ by John the forerunner,
hear us as we pray for all who proclaim your word.
Lord of truth,
hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, baptizing with the Spirit and with fire,
strengthen us to withstand all the trials of our faith.
Lord of truth,
hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, bringing forgiveness to all who repent,
teach your Church dependence on your grace.
Lord of truth,
hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, fulfilment of the promises of old,
give hope to all who suffer or are ignored.
Lord of truth,
hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, beloved Son of the Father,
anoint us with the gifts of your Holy Spirit.
Lord of truth,
hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, bringer of hope,
share with all the faithful the riches of eternal life.
Lord of truth,
hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus Christ,
in you the Father makes us and all things new.
Transform the poverty of our nature
by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory.
Amen.

 

Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is included here is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2006

‘Beyond Tribalism’ – 3rd January 2021 – The feast of the Epiphany

Welcome to our first service of 2021 in which we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord

To view the service online, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

To download a copy of the order of service, please click here:

21 01 03 Epiphany Eucharist.docx

The Readings

Ephesians 3.1-12

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Matthew 2.1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

Scripture quotations are taken from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Revd. Sue Hammersley

I am grateful to the Revd Michael Bayley for giving me permission to use his sermon preached at the beginning to 2019 as the basis for my sermon this morning.

In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer the feast of the Epiphany, which we are celebrating today, has the subtitle, ‘The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.’
It is an example of the way the narratives around Jesus’ birth illustrate vital aspects of the Christian faith.

It may be hard for us to appreciate what a momentous step it was for the young Christian church to move outside its Jewish womb. The Jews had a turbulent history of being conquered, deported, returning to their homeland and enjoying independence, before being conquered again.
They had survived by developing a sense of their own peculiar and special God-given identity. They were God's chosen people. There were two categories of people: those who were in, the Jews, and the rest who were out, the Gentiles.

Moving out of the Jewish fold nearly tore the young church apart. The Jewish party within the church at Jerusalem insisted that any Gentiles converting to Christ had to keep the Jewish law. This was something that Paul fought against, tooth and claw. He says in 1 Corinthians 12: “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." This is emphasized again in today's reading from Ephesians: “The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." (3:6)

In the book of Acts, Luke records how a council was held at Jerusalem and eventually it was agreed that Gentiles could become Christians without having to follow the Jewish law. It was a momentous decision that led to that extraordinary explosion of the church all over the Roman Empire and beyond. It proclaimed that, as Paul reiterated in Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (3:28) It was a decisive rejection of tribalism. This matters not just for the Christian church but for humanity as a whole.

Tribalism cannot just be dismissed. It is often the means by which a person gains their sense of identity, value and belonging. It can be a vital and integral part of somebody's very being and therefore those tribal values and the tribe itself will often be defended ferociously. David Jenkins, the former bishop of Durham, puts the dilemma well. “It is useful to draw attention to the fact that that by which we identify ourselves and have our sense of identity, significance and belonging is also that by which we de-humanise others." (The Contradiction of Christianity, page 16)

At this moment in world history and, especially, in British politics there is a danger of this kind of tribalism escalating. Fear has the power to make us retreat into our bubble, whether it is the fear of an invisible virus or people who look, sound or behave differently to us. As we separate from the European Union we must do all we can to maintain those relationships of trust which have been vital to the lasting peace which we have valued in recent years.

The German historian Helene von Bismarck was quoted in the Guardian on New Year’s Eve. She said:
“Populists depend on enemies, real or imagined, to legitimise their actions and deflect from their own shortcomings.” If the EU has been the “enemy abroad” since 2016, it will steadily be replaced by “enemies within”: MPs, civil servants, judges, lawyers, experts, the BBC.
“Individuals and institutions who dare to limit the power of the executive, even if it is just by asking questions, are at constant risk of being denounced as ‘activists’”.

The Epiphany is a good time to remember that there is, firmly rooted within the very foundation of the Christian tradition, not so much a rejection of tribalism but a going beyond it. The gifts of belonging, purpose, meaning, identity, being accepted, need to find their roots not just within a tribal group but within the whole of humanity.
The world in which we live today is one which needs to hear the message that we can find our safety not just within particular groups, but as valued members of the human race. This might not feel natural at times because it is, in fact, an act of grace; it is part of our becoming fully human and is not something which we can take for granted.

One of the great advantages which I can see in the emerging relationship between St Mary’s, St John’s and St Mark’s is that it challenges the assumptions each of our communities has developed around what it means to be church. Together we will discover different aspects of faith which we might question or we might embrace. We are not looking to find the lowest common denominator or create a new form of “bubble” but to show that we are all following Christ. This doesn’t make us the same as one another, it doesn’t mean that we will always agree, but it invites us into relationships of trust such that we believe that we are stronger together than we could ever be apart.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." (5:17)

The prospects for 2021 seem as difficult and perplexing as any I can remember. The message of God’s all-embracing love for the whole of humankind seems more important than ever. And so, as we look towards this new horizon, let’s listen again to the words of Minnie Louise Haskins, quoted by George VI in his 1939 Christmas broadcast when, just 3 months into the Second World War, the future looked very dark indeed:

I said to the Man
who stood at the gate of the Year,
give me a light that I may tread safely
into the unknown. And he replied
Go out into the darkness and put
your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light
and safer than a known way…

 

The Prayers
Adapted From Common Worship: Times and Seasons

Let us worship the Saviour with joy
and make our prayer to our heavenly Father.
The magi came from the east to worship your Son:
Father, grant to Christians everywhere
the spirit of adoration .
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.

The infant Christ received gifts of gold, incense and myrrh:
Father, accept the offering of our hearts and minds
at the beginning of this year we pray for all those who continue to offer their skills and energy in science, medicine, education, poverty relief and logistics in these difficult times. We pray especially for those who have given up their much needed free time over the Christmas period.
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.

The kingdoms of this world have become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ:
Father, grant an abundance of peace to your world. We continue to remember all areas of war and unrest, of famine and natural disaster. We pray especially this week of the people of Croatia and Norway coping respectively with the aftermath of earthquake and landslide.
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.

The Holy Family lived in exile and in the shadow of death:
Father, look in mercy on all who are poor and powerless,
and all who suffer, thinking especially of refugees, victims of persecution, the homeless.
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.

Your Son shared the life of his home and family at Nazareth:
Father, protect in your love our neighbours,
our families and this community of which we are a part. We remember those on our own streets, the people of Walkley and our neighbouring parishes. We think especially of those known to us.
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.

Father, we rejoice in our fellowship
with the shepherds, the angels, the magi,
the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph
and all the faithful departed.
In your unfailing love for us and for all people,
hear and answer our prayers through your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

 

Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is used here is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2006

‘The good and faithful servant’ – 27th December 2020 – John, Apostle and Evangelist

Welcome to our Sunday Eucharist

To watch our service on YouTube, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

To download a copy of the order of service, please click here:

20 12 27 St John Eucharist.docx

The Readings

1 John 1.1-end

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

John 21.19b-end

(Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

 

Scripture Quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
by Joe, a Reader at St. Mary's

Back in the early 1970s, we in the UK were pretty used to power cuts. I remember doing homework by candle-light, but as I was interested in astronomy the opportunities to see the night sky without light pollution was amazing. One evening, in a power cut and with a clear and pitch black sky, I popped outside with a pair of binoculars and found my target; a faint grey smear of light, barely visible to the naked eye. The Andromeda galaxy. That faint smear of light had taken 2 million years to get to my eye – it’s the farthest away object you can see with your naked eye.

In the darkness – even the faintest light can be seen. Even in a two million year journey, the light is not overwhelmed by the darkness.

This year has been a hard year for everyone, and it’s sometimes hard to see the light in the darkness.
This morning’s reading from the first Epistle of John includes the words:
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”

John gives us a rule for discerning the presence of God; that God is light, and that in Him there is no darkness.
So, what can we draw from John’s words?

Well, if God is light without darkness, and we live in a world where we are surrounded by and assaulted by darkness, it suggests that we have to be able to differentiate between God’s will and the way in which the world unfolds. John’s already told us what the light looks like – it’s Jesus Christ

John goes on to say:
“If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true”
We walk in the darkness by turning away from God and Jesus. All of us have moments in our lives like that, when we follow our own wills rather than God’s will. Some people make use of this statement to suggest that God might use things we associate with darkness – death, pain, disease, natural disasters – to punish us to bring us in to line with his will. But as John says “in him there is no darkness at all” – this is not the way that God works; God works with all things to achieve his ends, but not all things are his works.

It may be hard to take this on under the circumstances that we find ourselves in now, and certainly in the circumstances that humanity finds itself in across the planet and across our history. Where was God at Belsen? During the great plagues of history? During the Thirty Years War? At Hiroshima and Dresden?

We currently cope with an illness that has turned our lives upside down; love can no longer be expressed by touching, hugging or kissing. We keep our distance from each other, and we are parted from our loved ones at the moment of death. The world often seems to be a dark place; even when we try to walk in God’s light as Christians, we are surrounded by darkness.

The darkness surrounds us but does not overwhelm us as long as we have faith. It’s easy to feel despairing in the modern world, that we are all sinners, that the world is full of pain. It’s easy to get in to thinking ‘What’s the point?’.
And John reminds us that we are indeed sinful; if we try to deny it, we’re fooling ourselves and the truth of God is not in us. But if we confess our sins, if we walk in the light with God and in companionship with each other, our sins will be forgiven and we will be cleansed by the blood of Christ.
The darkness around us in the world reminds us that there is a gap between the will of God and how things are being played out here on Earth. We pray that God’s will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven, because it ISN’T being carried out on Earth!

For us, that prayer cannot be just words. It must also guide us in what we do in the world. We must do what we can to ensure God’s will is carried out in OUR little bit of the Earth to the best of our ability.
When we come face to face with our Lord, we would all be hoping to hear the words from Matthew 25:23: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Note that Jesus doesn’t say “Well done, good and successful servant” or “Well done, good and perfect servant.” We are expected to be faithful, that is all – and that’s really as much as we can manage.

Now, what does faithful mean in times like this, especially in the light of the reading this morning from John’s epistle?

It is to accept that we are sinners, confess those sins, love one another and walk in God’s light in the world, no matter what the darkness is around us.

It is to do our best to follow our Christian vocation and allow others to see and detect the presence of God in the world, and to bring the light of God to others who still may find themselves in darkness.

And it takes a such a small amount of light from us to drive back the dark; after all, the darkness cannot even extinguish a tiny light that is two million years old.

Leonard Cohen, the Canadian song writer, says in his song ‘Anthem’:

“Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in”

In these strange times, we may not be able to sing together, but we still have some bells; our offerings of prayer and praise, and our way of celebrating the sacraments, may not be a perfect offering, but our efforts and our faithful presence as God’s people provide the means by which we let in the light of God to our lives and the lives of those around us.

“God is light; and in Him there is no darkness at all.”

May I take this opportunity to say “Merry Christmas and God bless all of us, all of us on this good Earth.”
Amen

The Prayers
prepared by Joe

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father.
As we celebrate the birth of our Lord, we pray for His Church throughout the world. We for our Archbishops Justin and Stephen, for Bishop Pete and Bishop Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s.

Help us to be lights in the darkness for those around us during these difficult times.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and voices be used compassionately for the good of all. We thank you for the efforts of all those involved in the agreement of the UK-EU Trade deal, and ask that the transition of power in the United States takes place smoothly and peacefully.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. As our communities once again face a threat from Covid 19, help all of us to work together for the good of all. We thank you for the skills and knowledge that scientists and medical staff have been able to use to develop treatments and vaccinations for this illness.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing. We pray that God’s power and spirit will strengthen them and bring them the healing and peace that belong to Christ’s kingdom. We pray for all those who are feeling isolated and lonely at this time.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for those close to death, and those accompanying them on this final part of their Earthly journey. We pray for those who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn. We pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, that they were comforted by your presence, Lord. We pray that you give strength and love to all those close to death and caring for the dying in this Christmas season.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us, and also those issues and concerns that we have in our own lives.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Rejoicing in the communion of Mary and of all the Saints, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to God.

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

 

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included here, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000.