‘Render unto Caesar’ – 18th October 2020 – 19th Sunday after Trinity

You can download a PDF of this week's order of service here:

20 10 18 order of service

This week's service and meeting to elect 2 Churchwardens will be livestreamed together on the parish YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv0KDKmAwGyIsE1i07xmiiw

The Readings

1 Thessalonians 1.1-10

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of people we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Matthew 22.15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

 

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 David, Reader-in-training at St. Mary's

The question raised by Jesus in our Gospel passage today is one worth considering. It’s not something many of us often think about, and it has the capacity to divide as well as unite us. We shouldn’t avoid it because of this.
How should we, as Christians, relate to secular authorities?

The passage opens with the Pharisees, religious teachers, sending followers to test Jesus. With them come the Herodians, followers of King Herod, the local ruler who governs with the occupying Roman Empire’s permission.
They begin with flattery, hoping to feed Jesus’ ego and catch him off guard. Then the question to trap him. Here is the moment of danger:
“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

Why is this dangerous for Jesus?

If he says it is not lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor then the Herodians, whose master owes his position to the Romans, will label him as subversive, seditious and a threat to Roman authority. More than enough for his arrest and execution.

If he says it is lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, then his disciples and the crowds gathered around him will feel betrayed by his apparent acceptance of the occupying Roman force.
It’s a no-win situation.

Jesus, aware of their intent to trap him, turns the question back upon them.
“Show me the coin used for the tax.” forcing them to handle the Roman coin used for the census tax. It would likely have had the image of the emperor Tiberius and carried the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” A problem for devout Jews who viewed the Emperor’s claims of divinity, and his image, as blasphemous. A problem also for Jesus, the actual son of God.

Jesus then questions them about the coin: “Whose head is this, and whose title?” getting the obvious response: “The Emperor’s”.

The climax of the story follows with Jesus declaring: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He leaves the Herodians and Pharisees shocked and speechless.
Jesus appears to be separating some things as belonging to God, and some to earthly rulers. This feels like it goes against our understanding that everything we have comes from God, and we offer back to him. See 1 Chronicles 29.14 “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you”.

It can appear as if Jesus is setting up two equal and different authorities here, Caesar and God, and that we are called to give to both with equal weight.

But the context is important.

The Jewish people were not minting coins during Jesus’ lifetime; all currency used was Roman or Greek. During Jewish rebellions against the Romans between AD 66-73 and again between AD 132 and 135 they did begin to mint their own coinage. It seems odd this was a high priority when defending against the Roman army.
It highlights how much a symbol of occupation and oppression these coins were. Which helps us see that in Jesus’ eyes these coins did not come from God, but earthly rulers.

Giving the blasphemous coins back to the Romans as tax wasn’t giving away something that was God’s. The Jewish people could, and can, follow the rules and expectations of secular rulers and society without breaking their covenant with the living God. The Emperor could have their money, but not their allegiance. The people belonged to God, not to Caesar.

How does this impact our interaction with secular rulers and authorities?

If we belong to God, then we should offer to God the first fruits of our labours, rather than what we have left over.
I’ve often wondered why the Church of England’s teaching on giving, 5% to the church and 5% to other charities, is based around gross income, the money we are paid before taxes, national insurance and pension contributions are taken off. It always seemed a bit unfair, particularly for those on lower incomes. Surely using the net value, what is left once the contributions to the state are paid, would be more just? Here is an answer: we are called to give to God from all that we are given, regardless of any given to the modern-day Caesar.

This could equally apply to our time as our money. How often do we give God the time when we are tired, at the end of a long day?

Neither of these points are supposed to add to the burdens of those who are poor in time or money, especially as time and money offered to God can take many different forms, and doesn’t always take place through the church.
How then should we, as Christians, relate to the secular authorities?

At the heart of this question is one of citizenship.

Theresa May uttered in 2016: “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”. This felt odd when I heard it, particularly from someone who professes the Christian faith. It fails to knowledge people often feel ties of citizenship to multiple places. We might be citizens of Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, the UK, as well as the world.

But for Christians this goes one stage further, Paul reminds us in Philippians 3.20 “our citizenship is in heaven” and Jesus at his trial tells Pilate “My kingdom is not from this world”.

This is not to advocate a complete rejection of secular authority. HMRC, if you’re watching, I’m not telling people to evade paying tax. But we must remember that our primary allegiance is to God and our citizenship is of his kingdom.
The practical outwork of this will mean potentially coming into conflict with secular authorities over issues where our faith tells us one thing, and secular authority another. An example of this includes the Conscientious Objectors, many of whom refused compulsory military service in the First World War on the grounds of Christian pacifism and were subsequently jailed, being treated appallingly. Or more recently the members of Christian Climate Action, associated with Extinction Rebellion, engaging in civil disobedience to highlight the damage done to God’s creation, who also face criminal charges for ultimately telling truth to power.

Whether we agree with their methods or not, one has to admire their faith and recognise that their primary allegiance is to God and his kingdom. How would we react when faced with such a difficult choice?

May we set the example of Jesus, and those who have followed him with faith before us when we are similarly tested.

Let us pray:
Now to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
be ascribed as is most justly due,
all might, majesty, dominion and power,
now and for evermore. Amen.

The Prayers
prepared by Joe

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father.

We pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Canon Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s. On this day when we recall the life and work of Luke the Evangelist, we pray that the Gospel continues to be preached truthfully and widely, and that in these difficult times we find new ways to spread God’s word.

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 influence be used compassionately for the good of all. Bring clarity of thought and vision to those who make an implement policy, and ensure that wise decisions can be made on national and international issues. We pray for a resolution to the conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh, and pray that the UK and EU can come to a satisfactory and just arrangement for trade relations in the future.

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 region settles in to a new level of precautions to try and slow the spread of Covid-19, we pray for all those whose jobs and livelihoods are threatened by the new rules.

Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy.

Lord, we pray for those we know who are worried and troubled especially at this time of continuing uncertainty. We pray for those whose health and livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19, and those who have ongoing health or emotional problems where treatments are still only partially available.
Luke was also a physician; inspire our physicians with professionalism and compassion for their patients. Enable them to cure the ills of both body and spirit that afflict so many.
We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing. Be with them at this time, Lord, and give them peace and strength.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for those close to death at this time, 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 especially pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, and those who felt fear and felt alone in their last moments. We pray that they were comforted by your presence, Lord, and that you give strength and love to all those close to death and caring for the dying at this time.

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 

‘Harvest Festival’ – 4th October 2020

 

Here you will find a link to this week's order of service in PDF form

20 10 04 Harvest Order of Service 20 10 04 Harvest Order of Service

 

Here you will find a link to the order of service in Word form

20 10 04 Harvest Order of Service

The Readings

2 Corinthians 9.6-15

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures for ever.’

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Luke 12.16-30

Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.

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

Harvest is one of those seasons when Christian people so easily slide into sheer sentimentality when thinking about the natural world. The trap is set for us by many of our Harvest hymns.

All things bright and beautiful
all creatures great and small
all things wise and wonderful
the Lord God made them all.
                            Cecil Frances Alexander

I don’t know how much of the natural world is bright and beautiful, wise and wonderful, but not all of it is. The poet William Blake reminds us of another side to nature in his poem The Tyger. The tiger is no doubt a beautiful and bright creature, but hardly friendly towards other creatures.

When Blake thinks about the tiger in the forest of the night – its sheer sinewy ferocity - it makes him ask the question, What kind of a God made you?

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Blake reminds us that nature can be red in tooth and claw. And if nature includes the tiger as well as the lamb it also includes cancer and the coronavirus. No adequate doctrine of creation can forget that.

So we shouldn’t be simply sentimental about the natural world.

Nor should we continue with that mindset which leads us all the time to think that the natural world is ours to control, a sort of stage on which the human story is played out, that we can manipulate all the time for our purposes. That is a trap we fall into if we misuse the story of creation in the Book of Genesis.

In that story the first human is told to have dominion over the earth. That can be read in two ways. It has been read to mean that the earth is there for our use and we can manipulate it as we want. That is in part the attitude of the rich man in today’s gospel parable. It leads him to have a false sense of security. But having dominion could also mean that we should treat nature in the same way that a king in ancient Israel was told to have dominion over his people – which meant that the king was to have a pastoral concern for them. Those kings who exercised dominion by exploiting their people were regarded as bad kings. In the same way, those who treat the natural world as if they can do with it what they like are also acting badly.

The present debate about climate change exhibit both of these attitudes. There is something arrogant about the idea that we have broken it so we can fix it. There is something more pastoral about acknowledging that we can behave better towards it. But let us not seek to exercise dominion over the earth with the same kind of hubris with which we wrecked it.

So what then are we to make of today, our harvest festival?

I think harvest calls us to something far simpler than the debates around climate change or food distribution or social justice, important though they may be. It is an invitation to adopt that same attitude of mind that Jesus is commending for his followers in the gospel.

Don’t be anxious about material things. Count your blessings – blessings that include food and drink, but above all life itself. And remember your true status – as creatures that God knows and bothers with.

All of which is summed up in our harvest gifts. They are emblems of our blessings and tokens of God’s love.

The Prayers

From Common Worship: Times and Seasons

Let us pray to God, the Lord of the harvest,
that he will bring to fruition all that he desires for his creation.

Lord of creation,
we see that the fields are ripe for harvesting:
we pray for your Church,
that it may be ready to gather fruit for eternal life.
Lord of the harvest,
in your mercy hear us.

You have created the universe by your eternal Word,
and have blessed humankind in giving us dominion over the earth:
we pray for the world,
that we may honour and share its resources,
and live in reverence for the creation
and in harmony with one another.
Lord of the harvest,
in your mercy hear us.

Your Son has promised that the Spirit will lead us into all truth:
we pray for the community in which you have set us,
for one another and for ourselves,
that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit
in love and joy and peace.
Lord of the harvest,
in your mercy hear us.

You have given your people a rich land,
yet by sin we have made a world of suffering and sorrow:
we pray for those who bear the weight of affliction,
that they may come to share the life of wholeness and plenty.
Lord of the harvest,
in your mercy hear us.

Your Son Jesus Christ is the first-fruits of the resurrection
and will reap the harvest of the dead at the end of time:
we pray that he will gather us all together
with those who have gone before
in the banquet of the age to come.
Lord of the harvest,
in your mercy hear us.

Source of all life
and giver of all that is good,
hear our prayers and grant us all that is in accordance with your will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is included here,
is copyright © The Archbishops' Council 2006 and published by Church House Publishing.

The parable of the brothers

The Readings

Philippians 2.1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Matthew 21.23-32

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe 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 Joe, a Reader at St. Mary's

May I speak in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Tonight, our reading from the Gospel according to Matthew brings us the parable of the brothers. Just to remind you:
“A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”

We KNOW that the answer to this question isn’t going to be what we expect; this seems to often be the case with Jesus, who seems to often speak in paradoxes, inverting social norms, and generally catching us off guard.

When we think of fathers and sons in parables, I guess the first thing that usually comes to mind is the parable of the Prodigal Son. Both that parable and tonight’s parable tend to cause us a few problems with interpretation and understanding today, especially if we see the stories through our 21st Century eyes. As with all the parables, to get even a feel for what Jesus was attempting to teach his disciples, we have to discard our usual ways of thinking and attempt to think like a 1st century citizen of the Roman Empire listening to an itinerant Jewish Rabbi.
Context is everything.

We need to look at tonight’s reading from the context of the society in which the story was being told, and the moment in Jesus’s ministry at which he is telling it.

Let’s start by looking at what’s happening in Jesus’s ministry at this point.

Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem and has been hailed as the ‘Son of David’, the Messiah, by the crowds. A leader who will usher in God’s will to the world. He’s done some healing, he’s withered a fig tree, and he’s turned over the tables of the money-changers in the temple. In other words, it’s not surprising that the priests and elders come to see him and ask Him by whose authority he is doing these things. Jesus immediately turns the tables, and asks them whether the baptism of John the Baptist was of earthly or heavenly origin. This question was quite a beauty; were the priests to say ‘From Heaven’, then Jesus could quite rightly point out to them that in that case they should be following in His footsteps, with the consequent loss of their position in society. And were they to say ‘Of earthly origin’, and retain their power and influence in society, then they are denying John as a man of God and Jesus as Messiah.

They give what they hope is a face saving answer; they don’t know. What is equally interesting is how they come to this answer; they discuss it amongst themselves, and they don’t seem to pray to God for guidance. What matters to them is trying to avoid people thinking ill of them – either Jesus or the crowd.

And in doing so, they lose what spiritual authority and leadership they have. Jesus’s question is forcing the priests to question their understanding of how God is working in the world. Leaders need to do what is right – even if that means you upset the status quo, lose face or upset people.
We now come to the parable.

Let’s try and look at the story from the viewpoint of those hearing it. The chances are that the audience would be mainly men. First century Jerusalem is a very male-oriented society, and respect for one’s father is very important. The cultural context and sensitivities of the priests and elders would colour their thought processes on this. Some would have thought that the son who says ‘No’ but then does the work is a good son; others would think that to publicly defy his father – even if he then went to work – is beyond the pale, and worse than publicly obeying the father and then privately disobeying him.

The father gets the choice of being publicly honoured and privately shamed (the second son) or publicly shamed and privately honoured (the first son). Messy. Indeed, quite a few scholars have suggested that both sons are being pains in the bum here; both could do with some behavioural adjustment – and I suppose THAT wouldn’t reflect well on the father either!

Both sons are defying their father to some degree; in a similar way, different groups of people – the sinners, like prostitutes and tax-collectors – and the religious leaders – were making decisions as to whether John the Baptist was a servant of God or not.

So, the question in the parable now becomes what and who matters to us when we make choices, but there is also something in there about salvation through deeds and salvation through faith.

Now, I have to admit that when I first encountered this parable I would have answered like the priests – Number 1 Son is eventually doing the right thing by his father. Jesus rebukes them when they give this answer – he suggests that those sinners will see Heaven before the priests do! Now, we’re used to the paradoxical thinking that often emerges from the parables, but how does this work?

The first son – defiant to his father, eventually does the right thing after changing his mind. This is the situation of the priests; they publicly make the right noises about worshipping God, just as the son publicly says ‘Yes’ to his father. But when they have seen and heard John the Baptist, they have have denied his holiness – they’ve not done the work in God’s kingdom that would be expected of them. The son in the story, later in the day, changed his mind (sometimes translated as ‘having a change in heart – a much stronger meaning) and did the work requested. In a similar way, there may be a point at which the priests experience a change in heart - do the right thing, and come to see John as holy, and do God’s work ‘in the vineyard’. But until that point, they’re not following the will of God.

The second son says Yes to the father, but then doesn’t follow it up with action. This is the position of the sinners who behaved poorly before encountering John, but when they do encounter John they say ‘Yes’ to him as a righteous man of God. They have shown faith, and respect for God. That faith has granted them access to Heaven before those who expressed denial of God.

This is why Jesus says that the priests will not see Heaven before the sinners. The sinners have seen fit to come to God through John, and acknowledged him as being from God. They say Yes to God, through their faith in John the Baptist. They will be saved through their faith, irrespective of their actions before they came to God.

The priests, on the other hand, didn’t see John in this way, and didn’t acknowledge his position as being from God – even after they heard of his actions. They have said a public Yes to God, through their work and position, but have denied God through their attitude to John the Baptist.

All is not lost for them – they may still experience a change of heart and do God’s will by acknowledging the message of John the Baptist as coming from God; but until they do – until they have that change of heart – they are not seen as being as righteous as the sinners who followed John.

I once viewed this as a disturbing parable – confusing, paradoxical, upside down. Now I view it differently.
We simply need to say ‘Yes’ to God and let Him into our lives.

The act of saying ‘Yes’ is what matters.

And we get lots of opportunities to say yes to God, every day of our lives.
Amen

 

The Prayers
prepared by Catherine

Let us pray….

To the words:
Lord, in your mercy:

Would you respond
Hear our prayer.

Lord, in your mercy:
Hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church...

For the church throughout the world
and especially those churches in dangerous and challenging places.
For the church in Sheffield
For our diocese and deaneries
For Bishop Sophie, and Archdeacon Javaid, installed this week.
For all who have been ordained deacon and priest this week.
For our churches at local level – St John’s, St Mark’s and St Mary’s –
our congregations and communities,
and their businesses, schools and care homes.
May we all be of the same mind as Christ
And serve others with his same humility.

Lord, in your mercy:
Hear our prayer.

We pray for the World…
Exploited by a humanity grasping at equality with God.
For all countries as they grapple with the challenges of Covid-19
For places stricken by war, poverty and the effects of extreme weather or climate.
For those seeking refuge far from home
For those struggling to accommodate refugees
For greater compassion from those who could do more to help.
We pray for our own country, its regions and cities
For wise and compassionate decision making regarding the pandemic
And wise and compassionate responses.

Lord, in your mercy:
Hear our prayer.

We pray for those in need
For the sick and those recovering from illness or injury
for the frail, the scared,
the lonely, the homeless,
the estranged, the bereaved.

In silence we remember those known personally to us who are in particular need.

Lord, in your mercy:
Hear our prayer.

We remember those who have died
We pray for their families and friends
And for all who mourn.

In silence we name those loved ones known to us who we see no more
May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

Lord, in your mercy:
Hear our prayer.

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 in these prayers is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000

‘Far and near’ – 13th September 2020 – The Eve of Holy Cross Day

The Order of Service

Here you will fine an order of service for this mornings Eucharist in PDF format:

20 09 13 order of service

Here is a link to the YouTube channel where the service will live streamed:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv0KDKmAwGyIsE1i07xmiiw

The Order of Service

Here you will fine an order of service for this mornings Eucharist in Word format:

20 09 13 order of service

The Readings
Isaiah 52.13 - 53.12

See, my servant shall prosper;
he shall be exalted and lifted up,
and shall be very high.
Just as there were many who were astonished at him
—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of mortals—
so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.

Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Ephesians 2.11-22

So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

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

Well the schools are finally back. And parents, students and teachers are generally relieved about the return to something like normality. Some things will be done differently for everyone in order to try to keep everyone as safe as possible from the virus. There may be disruptions along the way should there be a case of Covid-19 at the school. But returning to the routine of school and lessons is generally welcome.

Things won’t be the same as they were in March. Staff and pupils will each have had very different experiences of lock-down. Some will have been able to work reasonably well, others not. Some will have had good enough technology to learn at home, others not. Some will have had a home environment conducive to nurturing and learning, others not. Some will have suffered trauma due to bereavement, illness, family difficulties, or the isolation caused by lock-down itself. Others may have come through lock-down unscathed. Others may have even thrived on its restrictions. Schools will find a huge gap between the well-being and learning of different groups of students. There will be those who are pretty much ready to continue learning. There will be others needing a lot of pastoral support before they can face the prospect of double maths on a Wednesday afternoon. There will be, as it were, an “in” group and an “out” group. If this isn’t handled sensitively, it may hinder the educational progress of a large number of young people. It’s a challenging time for our schools.

Churches are gradually reopening too. And we are experiencing some of the same issues that schools are facing. Some of us have found it relatively easy to learn the new technology to keep in touch by video call and email. Others aren’t online, or find online interaction difficult. There have been traumas, illnesses, and the challenges of isolation or being with family members 24/7 among many of us too. And whilst we’ve tried to keep in touch with people individually, it’s not been perfect, and some people have managed this more easily than others. Those who have managed to keep in touch have found that they’ve got to know each other better. But not everyone. Some of us have perhaps returned to church feeling more left out. Others may not feel able to return at all yet. We too have found that there are different groups of people. A group of people who feel near, and a group who feel much further away. We won’t be the only church to feel like this.

There were groups who felt like this in the early church. Some felt they clearly belonged to the church community. Others felt more distant. Often the separation into groups happened along Jewish/Gentile lines. Those from a Jewish background sometimes wanted to insist that their Gentile brothers and sisters signed up to Jewish customs and practices such as circumcision. Those from a Gentile background sometimes felt inferior because they didn’t have the Jewish grounding in the faith to start with. They felt more distant. The Christians in Ephesus seem to have come from this second group – they had a Gentile background. And it seems from the letter to the Ephesians that they were indeed feeling rather distant from the Church as a whole, perhaps feeling like second-class Christians.

Paul is keen to address this. He reminds his readers that in Christ, human divisions such as circumcision are irrelevant. Whilst Gentiles were once not part of the chosen people, before Christ, this is no longer the case. They are very much fully Christian, fully members of Christ’s family and fully members of God’s household. Christ has broken down all divisions and brought his people together. Christ has proclaimed peace to those who were far off, and peace to those who were near. Therefore the two groups are to come together as one, and to work together to build up God’s spiritual temple among all his people. This message has held true for Christians experiencing division ever since. It holds true, just as much, for the Church today.

When churches throughout the country moved their activities online during the pandemic, some people felt excluded. However, other people found themselves suddenly included, perhaps for the very first time. People, for instance, who can’t easily get to a church service, perhaps through disability, or caring responsibilities, or work. When they switch on their computer or phone, there is no longer a barrier to being part of a service of worship, or a church community. How then, can the Church work towards re-opening its buildings for worship, whilst continuing to include these once-excluded people, and indeed include them fully?

At St. Mary’s, the word “Inclusive” is part of our strap-line. The experience of lock-down, and having to do things differently, has made many of us realise that we can do so much more to be inclusive. And so now, beginning in a small, imperfect way, you’ll see how we’re attempting to do this. As well as altar and lectern, we now have a laptop set up at the front of church, and the service is being live-streamed to people at home. So our congregation includes not just you and me here in the building, but all you who are joining us now at home. It includes you who are watching the recording later, and you who are reading elements of the service on our website in your own time.

We are all part of St. Mary’s. We are all part of the whole Church of God. God is challenging us to work together, to share with each other, to learn from each other as equals.

Our challenge is to have hearts and minds open and willing to do this.

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe

The bidding for our prayers this evening is “God be near us”.
The response is ‘God give us strength'

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father...

We pray for the Church of Christ, for Pete our Bishop, Canon Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary's to create a place of worship here in Walkley. As we return to worship in this place, we offer special thanks to all who have worked hard behind the scenes to make it possible for us to gather together in person once again.

God be near us,
God give us strength

We pray that we always remember the words from Isaiah; that we are members of the household of God. Give us the presence of mind to keep this at the front of our thoughts as we go about our daily lives.

God be near us,
God give us strength

We ask that all civic and political leaders throughout the world remember their power and influence, and that they use their power and words to heal with love and compassion, rather than generate hatred. As politicians in Europe and the UK face the issues of Brexit and Covid-19, we pray for them to show wisdom and good judgement.

We pray for refugees and those people affected by war and climate change at this time, particularly those affected by wildfires in the US and the refugee camp fire in Greece.

God be near us,
God give us strength

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. As we enter into yet another period of uncertainty, remind us that you are our strength and our certainty in this quickly changing world.

God be near us,
God give us strength

Lord, we pray for those we know who are troubled at this time, who feel excluded from society, who feel nervous and frightened for the future – especially as we face an increase in incidence of Covid 19. We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing. Be with them at this time, Lord, and give them peace and strength. We particularly remember ….

<silence>

God be near us,
God give us strength

We pray for those close to death at this time, and those accompanying them on their journey. We pray for those who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn. We particularly remember ….

<silence>

God be near us,
God give us strength

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us, and those issues that trouble our hearts and minds at this time.

<silence>

God be near us,
God give us strength

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 in these prayers is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000

‘It’s not fair’ – 16th August 2020 – 10th Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 37.1-15

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, “Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.” And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honoured in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.’ Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Matthew 15.10-28

Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

 

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

“It’s not fair”

The exams were abandoned, but the results are in. And the students aren’t happy. There has been much hand-wringing and u-turning, dismay and protest. It was always going to be difficult working out a fair system for grading our school leavers this year, but pretty much everyone thinks that it could have been handled so much better. Students feel that their grades have been arbitrarily lowered at the whim of an algorithm. Schools which have not performed as well in previous years feel that this year’s more able cohort may have been penalised. Students who might have pulled out all the stops at the last minute feel that they have not had the chance to show what they’re really capable of. And so the cry goes out “It’s not fair!”

“It’s not fair” is a complaint that every parent will be familiar with. “Why was my brother allowed to go out when I wasn’t?” “Why was my sister given more pocket money than me at the same age?” “Why is my friend allowed to have a mobile phone and I’m not? It’s not fair!”

“It’s not fair” was a sentiment felt keenly by the 10 older sons of Jacob. As we were reminded in last week’s reading from Genesis, Joseph, was the favoured son, the golden boy who could do no wrong, the apple of Jacob’s eye. Joseph was honoured with a fancy coat and given only light duties while they had to go out all day and look after the sheep. And we were reminded of the outcome of such unfair treatment. The jealousy felt by Joseph’s brothers had dreadful consequences. At first they threw him in a pit, intending to leave him there to die. Then they relented slightly, deciding instead to sell him into slavery, and pretended to Jacob that he’d been savaged by a wild animal. And in doing so, they broke their father’s heart.

It’s not been fair for this year’s school leavers. Life often isn’t fair for children growing up. Things definitely weren’t fair for Joseph’s brothers. We can see and understand this easily.

But then in our Gospel reading we find Jesus saying “it’s not fair”. And it’s rather puzzling. A Canaanite woman is begging him to heal her daughter of a demon. And Jesus’ reaction is somewhat strange, considering we generally see him happily healing anyone who asks for it. First he ignores her. Then he says that he’s only been sent to the lost sheep of Israel. When she kneels before him, he seems to insult her, calling her a dog. And he says “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”. We’re left asking why exactly isn’t it fair to heal the woman’s daughter?

Earlier in Chapter 15 the religious authorities have been criticising Jesus’ disciples for not performing the ritual hand-washing before they eat. They are implying that if you don’t wash your hands in a certain way, you are unclean. Jesus has rebuked them, accusing them of passing off human practices as religious doctrine. What’s the point of washing your hands if your heart is full of evil intent?

Jesus knows that his mission is primarily to the people of Israel. He hopes to bring them, and their leaders, back to a right relationship with God. He continually offers them the chance of healing and renewal. He isn’t ready to give up on them and offer God’s grace to others instead. They are God’s special people. It isn’t fair to give to others what God declares is theirs.

But fair, or not fair, they aren’t responding. And the Canaanite woman points this out: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table”. She is open to Jesus, receptive to any scrap of God’s healing grace that is left over or discarded. She will welcome with open arms what the religious authorities of Israel have rejected. Jesus sees this, and so her daughter is healed.

It wasn’t fair to sell Joseph into slavery and break Jacob’s heart. Understandable, maybe, fair, no! He must have felt rejected, unwanted and abandoned. But God was with him in Egypt, and he thrived. He found favour with Pharaoh, and his foresight and administrative skills helped Egypt to prepare during the years of plenty for the years of famine. Food was stored to be fairly shared, not only among the people of Egypt, but also with the refugees from neighbouring countries. And then when Joseph’s brothers came in search of food, he was able to show them God’s abundant grace, calling the whole family to move to some of Egypt’s best land where they too would thrive.

Life often isn’t fair. And this year’s school leavers are feeling it most keenly at the moment. We all suffer from unfairness from time to time. And yet, even when life is treating us unfairly, God continues to be with us. Let us pray that God is close to all the students who feel let down. And let us strive to be instruments of God’s justice, love and grace in this imperfect, unfair world.

The Prayers
Prepared by Hope

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the father.
Dear Father in Heaven bless all those around us who are struggling today, especially as a result of the pandemic.
Bless those who face soon having to lose their jobs, as government support runs out
Bless those who are so short of money now that they don’t know how they are going to cope
Bless children and teenagers who have had no school since March, and have needed it so much
Bless the young people who have received A Level results in England yesterday
Bless those who have had their exam grades adjusted by a complex system.
Bless especially those students who now fear that their life plans are crumbling around them
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Bless those in our own country who are suffering from the effects of violent storms and flooding.
Bless those affected by the derailment of the train from Aberdeen: the injured and the bereaved.
Bless those whose home countries are ravaged by war, as well as the effects of climate change.
Bless those who are so desperate that they struggle to reach this country in overloaded small boats.
Bless all those from this country and around the world who are most directly affected by Covid-19
Bless the people of Beirut. Grant them a better future for their city and their country
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Dear Father in Heaven
Grant us… Faith, in your power to redeem your creation
Hope, for a better future for those who are suffering
Love, which is a part of your everlasting love.
Show us how to understand better the needs of others
Help us to meet those needs, through prayer for guidance and by giving and sharing
Help us to live day by day with awareness of your presence with us in Jesus Christ.
Grant us, day by day, wisdom and strength in the Power of the your Holy Spirit
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We ask your blessing on all those who are living with anxiety and fear at this tough time.
We give thanks for the health workers, counsellors, carers, friends and neighbours who have given unselfish support when it is most needed.
We give thanks for the work of all our local church leaders in this time of digital support and services
Bless them all and be there for them
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We remember all those who have gone before us in the Peace of Christ.
That great cloud of witnesses who have inspired us and with whom we rejoice in the Communion of Saints.
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 in these prayers, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000

‘Life’s restless sea’ – 9th August 2020 – 9th Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 37.1-4, 12-28

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ So he said to him, ‘Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.’ So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.

He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, ‘What are you seeking?’ ‘I am seeking my brothers,’ he said; ‘tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.’ The man said, ‘They have gone away, for I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan.” ’ So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’ But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, ‘Let us not take his life.’ Reuben said to them, ‘Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him’—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

Matthew 14.22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

 

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 Dave, Reader-in-training at St. Mary's

Our Gospel passage today is a rarity for St Mary’s. The last section of it is depicted in one of our stained glass windows. See the picture nearby. It shows Peter, who has left the boat with the other disciples in, and moved across the water towards Jesus. Peter has clearly begun to sink and has called to Jesus who will lift him up out of the waves. But we’ve jumped into the middle of the story.

Our passage begins following Jesus’ feeding of 5000 people with two loaves and 5 small fish, see Matthew 14.13-21. A clear expression of his divinity, and God’s ability to turn that which is meagre and everyday into an unending blessing.

Following the miracle Jesus sends the disciples away in the boat, dismisses the crowds and goes up the mountain to pray. He withdraws and spends time with the Father.
When he comes to re-join the disciples, they are in, if not a dangerous situation, then one which is certainly causing them problems. The boat they are in is battered by the waves and they are far from shore. They have followed Jesus’ instructions. They have set out for the far shore, but through no fault of their own, they now find themselves buffeted about.

Jesus comes towards them on the water and they are terrified and fearful. Rather than remembering yesterday’s miracle with the two loaves and five fish, and therefore his extraordinary power, they retreat to their own flawed, human understanding, thinking this must be a ghost. Jesus reassures them, telling them to take heart, which gives Peter just enough courage to speak with Jesus and ultimately step out of the boat.

The wind is still blowing at this point. The water is still choppy. This can be seen in the window, it isn’t a placid millpond Peter has begun to cross. Yet, walk on the water he does. At least for a brief while. The wind and the waves get the better of him though. He loses his focus on Jesus and instead focuses on the tempest around him. He begins to sink, which is where we find the story in our window. Peter is reaching out to Jesus and Jesus is reaching out to Peter.

Jesus catches him, they both go to the boat, the wind ceases and the disciples acknowledge the reality of Jesus’ divinity. The boat with all aboard then makes it across to the far side.

---

The boat in this story is often interpreted as being God’s church, in pretty much every age. Jesus is no longer physically with us in the same way he was with the first disciples. The boat or church is buffeted from all sides as its members, Jesus’ disciples, us, try to steer it where we have been instructed to go. We do our best, but it’s hard work and sometimes it feels like we aren’t moving in the direction we should.
This interpretation raises interesting questions for us.

Jesus isn’t in the boat with us, but he is there on the water, out in the world. Peter is the only one who has the courage to leave the relative safety of the boat to venture and meet Jesus on the water. It doesn’t go particularly well for Peter, but then it doesn’t normally, does it? But he is caught by Jesus, gently chided and returned to the boat.

Under normal circumstances large parts of the church would gather in person to be fed by the generous spirit of God in both word and sacrament. At the end of the service we are dismissed “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” replying “in the name of Christ. Amen.” Here we leave the presence of Jesus in bread and wine and go and seek him in the world. We venture out of the boat, knowing it may not go as well as it could, but that Jesus will catch us, in whatever form that may take.

But those are normal circumstances. Which we are definitely not in.

At the risk of stretching the metaphor a bit, it can feel like we are bobbing around in the water trying to latch on whatever remaining bit of the blasted apart boat floating by. We’ve gone through the initial wrecking of the boat, who would have thought that public worship in the Church of England would ever be suspended for more than three months? We’ve followed our Royal National Lifeboat Institution guidance on hitting the water and floated on our backs till we could assess the situation, work out what life and the church might look like after the wreck. We are now looking at the differently shaped pieces of wood which each of us has and wondering how we can put them all together into something vaguely seaworthy. All the while bobbing along.

I can guarantee that it won’t look the same as it did before. It will probably be more raft-like than ship and maybe that’s okay. A raft has low sides, easy to get in and venture out of, whereas a ship has tall, imposing sides.

Leaving the metaphor behind, how does that look for St Mary’s? It might mean that the weekly commitment to sermons on the website, etc. is continued. It might mean that services back in the building are live streamed. It could mean plenty of other things that have yet to become clear, not least of which is how to respond to what could be one of the biggest economic crises of our time and the need that arises from that. Ours is definitely not the only boat that has been blown apart.

But through all of this Jesus is constant, out in the world, hoisting people onto floating debris, creating chance encounters and pushing bits of broken apart boats together so that we can build a fleet that works for all.
I’d like to finish with the words of the first verse of a hymn by Cecil Frances Alexander.

Jesus calls us o'er the tumult
of our life's wild, restless sea;
day by day his sweet voice soundeth,
saying "Christian, follow me."

Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by Catherine

God of work and of leisure:
We pray for all who work on the land -
For those tending livestock or bringing in the harvest
so that others may eat.
We pray for all who work in tourism
with the particular challenges of this summer,
for those unable to take a holiday,
and for those whose holiday has not been the hoped for time of rest.

God of crowds and of solitude:
We give thanks that you are with us
whether we are together, or alone.
We pray for Christian communities everywhere
Challenged to worship and to share your love
together while apart.
We pray for all who are working towards
the safe re-opening of local church buildings.

God of families and rivalries,
and of those who strive for peace:
We pray for all families and communities
For those whose relationships have been strained to the limit by lock-down
For all who are suffering from inequality and injustice.
We pray for the work of mediators, counsellors and politicians
remembering with gratitude the peace-making work of John Hume.

God of strong winds and small boats:
May we feel your presence when times are particularly stormy.
We hold before you all those places of strife, conflict, poverty and disaster.
We pray for migrants crossing dangerous waters in overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels.
We remember those who have lost their livelihood,
or whose jobs are insecure.

God of all who reach out for you, but then lose heart:
We pray for all those who are sad, lonely or downcast
for those whose faith is being tested.
We pray especially for those injured in Beirut’s explosion
and their severely compromised hospitals.
We remember all who are unwell or frail
thinking in particular of anyone known to us personally.
We ask for strength, courage and an assurance of your presence.

God of the missing and the dead:
We hold before you especially this week the people of Beirut,
those anxiously seeking news of friends or relatives,
those mourning the dead.
We remember anyone who has died this week,
and in particular anyone known to us personally.

God of the dreamers and those who see visions:
We look in hope to the fulfilment of your kingdom
on earth as in heaven.
Guide us in our lives
that we may reflect, however imperfectly,
your never-ceasing love for your world
and for all your people.
In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

‘Do we really need to know?’ – 2nd August 2020 – 8th Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 32.22-31

The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Matthew 14.13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

 

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 Kath, a Reader at St. Mary's

I think I can say, with a fair amount of confidence that I’m not alone in liking to know how things work. I say “with confidence” because many TV channels are full of programmes about how things work or how they are designed or made and if you’ve ever tried getting a place on a tour of a factory or power station or theatre or indeed any kind of “behind the scenes” visit you will know that they get booked up pretty quickly. Obviously a lot of us “like to know”. We’re curious, fascinated, intrigued and sometimes amazed at what we see and learn and quite rightly so. I’ve been on numerous such visits and loved every one of them and I’ve spent many a happy hour watching programmes like “How it’s Made”, “Kirstie’s Handmade Home”, “Grand Designs” “Abandoned Engineering” and even “Wheeler Dealers” where each episode, Ed China, a mechanic, skilfully restores some clapped-out old vehicle to its former glory. There are some very clever people around!

That said, although we might like or want to know, much of the time we don’t actually need to know how something works in order to use it, appreciate it or benefit from it. For instance, I can drive a car and although I have a rough idea of how it works, I don't know in detail and I certainly couldn’t explain it or mend it if it broke down. Likewise with the computer I’m using to write this sermon, I can operate it without knowing much about how it works nor do I really understand how the internet works in order for it to reach you. Interesting as it all is, I don’t actually need to know.

Maybe it’s quite a leap, maybe not, to say that I have a similar approach to what I encounter in the Bible. I like to know and understand and be able to see an explanation or reason in the stories but that isn’t always possible because some things are beyond the ability of even the cleverest of us to understand or explain so that certainly rules me out. And I’m ok with that! I’m certainly not advocating that we don’t question what we are presented with; that would be foolhardy and has in the past been very damaging and disastrous when faith has been placed in individuals who are either deluded about their own greatness or have ulterior motives, nor should we wilfully ignore evidence that doesn’t fit in with what we want to believe but I accept that there are some things we just can’t explain or know. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t true or didn’t happen or that we can’t benefit and be enriched by them. People who are sceptical or hostile about religious faith want evidence, which believers can’t provide; if we could it wouldn’t be called faith, and the sceptics can’t prove that our faith is wrong or misplaced. The most obvious example of something we all know to be real but can’t be proved with empirical evidence is love. Love can take many forms and expressions of love can be of an even greater variety but no matter how extravagant they might be, they are not proof. In matters of love there is also a lot of trust involved and a willingness to make ourselves vulnerable. We can’t know for certain whether the love professed for us is real however much we want to.

Our reading from Matthew’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, one of the best known of the miracles he performed and it’s a story known to more than just church goers and believers. Many of us choose to believe it but we can’t prove it happened or know how Jesus did it. But do we really need to know in order to benefit or be enriched by it? I personally don’t think so because there is a lot more besides the miracle itself to be enriched by.

To set the story in context, Jesus has been rejected by the people of his hometown Nazareth. In spite of hearing his teaching in their synagogue and being amazed by his deeds they can’t get past the knowledge that he was “the carpenter’s son”, they know his mother is Mary and they know his brothers and sisters and they effectively devalued him. So he moved on. He then received devastating news that his cousin John, who baptised him, had been executed, murdered because he had upset Herodias by criticising King Herod’s relationship with her. Understandably Jesus wanted some time to himself to take in and start to come to terms with what had happened and no doubt to grieve for John. He may also have been frightened; we can’t know.

But his time alone was not to be because the crowds followed him. Instead of insisting on his own need for privacy and space we are told that when he saw them “he had compassion for them”. He goes to them to “cure their sick” and he teaches them. As evening drew near, the Disciples, quite sensibly, suggested that Jesus send the people into the nearby towns so they could get some food. They too were probably thinking of the people’s welfare and concerned for Jesus himself. Imagine their feelings when he said “you give them something to eat”. What? How are we supposed to do that? We’ve only got five small loaves and two fish! No doubt their stress levels were immediately rocketing. But then came the miracle when Jesus blessed the food and gave it to the Disciples to share among the crowd. It would have been impressive if he had fed twenty people with such a modest amount of food but we are told that five thousand men plus women and children, so possibly seven to ten thousand people, “ate and were filled” and there were twelve baskets of leftovers. We can’t know how Jesus did this. Does that detract from the story? Not for me. For those who demand hard, irrefutable evidence before they will believe anything all I can think is that our history books would be a lot thinner than they are and life in general would be a lot meaner and poorer than it is. For me what stands out in the story is Jesus’ loving care and compassion for others, something each of us can do our best to emulate, thereby enriching life for us all.

The Prayers

Prepared by Joe

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father...

We pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Canon Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary's to create a place of worship here in Walkley. At this time when we are physically separated from our brothers and sisters in Christ, we pray for each other.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray that we can exhibit the generosity of spirit, time and resources as exemplified by the feeding of the five thousand. May we all be willing to put whatever resources we have at your disposal, so you can multiply what we offer to further your Kingdom.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and influence be used compassionately for the good of all. We pray for the late US Civil Rights leader John Lewis, who used his influence and faith to be a cause of ‘good trouble’ in furthering the rights of black Americans throughout his life. As parts of the country go in to local special measures for Covid-19, we pray for those in positions of leadership in those areas.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. We also pray for those in the North West and West Yorkshire where Covid-19 has again flared up, leading to restrictions of family contact. This is particularly sad coming at the time of Eid, and we pray that all those affected may still find your presence around them.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for those we know who are worried and troubled especially at this time of continuing uncertainty. We pray for those whose health and livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19, and those who have ongoing health or emotional problems where treatments are still only partially available.

We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing. Be with them at this time, Lord, and give them peace and strength.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for those close to death at this time, 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 especially pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, and those who felt fear and felt alone in their last moments. We pray that they were comforted by your presence, Lord, and that you give strength and love to all those close to death and caring for the dying at this time.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

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 in these prayers, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000

‘And Mum came too…’ – 26th July 2020 – James the Apostle

The Readings

Genesis 29. 15-28

Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’ Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.’ So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.’ So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?’ Laban said, ‘This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me for another seven years.’ Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.

Acts 11.27-12.2

At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.

Matthew 20.20-28

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’

When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

 

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 Anne, a Reader at St. Mary's

Saints and people who have done great things for God must have been free of the constraints and complications of family, mustn't they? We can imagine them striding across history, dedicated to their calling from God, unaffected by the family ties, responsibilities and complications that can make our own attempts to follow Jesus seem at times weaker and less wholehearted than we might aspire to.

In fact the Bible shows us people whose lives were just like ours, whose walk with God also involved family who sometimes seemed to get in the way! A bit like video interviews on TV that have been interrupted by children or animals, especially in recent months, sometimes family do creep into the narrative.

St. James was one of Jesus' disciples who went on, after the first Pentecost, to be the first apostle to be arrested and martyred by King Herod (Acts 12: 1-2). His saint's day was yesterday, July 25th, but we are remembering him today.

James was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee along with his brother John, working with their father, Zebedee. When Jesus called the brothers to be disciples they were mending nets on Zebedee's boat. Sometimes called the “Sons of Thunder” (or Boanerges), James and John were singled out, along with Peter, to accompany Jesus to the Transfiguration where Jesus' glory was revealed on the mountain top.

Interestingly, the passage from St. Matthew's Gospel that is set for St. James' day, is the story of his mother coming to Jesus to ask a favour for her sons. This story comes as Jesus and the disciples journey to Jerusalem for the final drama of Jesus' life – his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus has just been telling the disciples what is coming, when James' and John's mother comes and kneels before Jesus and asks that her sons should sit on Jesus' left and right in his kingdom.

Were the brothers embarrassed at their mother coming to Jesus like this? Were they taken aback? Had she been badgering them ever since they walked away from their father's boat? I can imagine her repeatedly asking them questions like, “Who's going to help your father now?”, “How are we going to survive?”, “Who will look after us in our old age?” “What are you getting out of following this Jesus?” “Is it worth it?”, “If he is a king, what's in it for you?” *Will you be honoured for being with him?” “Have you asked him what place you will have in his kingdom? If you won't, I will”

And here, now, she does come with them to Jesus. It almost feels like a mum dragging her reluctant children to a situation saying, “Now, let's get this settled.” But these are not children. James and John are grown men, fishermen, who have already spent a considerable time with Jesus, being part of the incredible activity around Jesus, seeing his miracles and hearing his teaching. Are they embarrassed that their mum has come like this? Whatever they are thinking, she does kneel and ask Jesus this favour, that her sons should have honoured places in his kingdom.

Jesus does not get angry, although the other disciples do! Jesus asks the brothers if they can drink the cup that he will drink, can they suffer as he will? They say yes but Jesus still says it is not for him to say who will have prominent places in the kingdom. He reiterates that being a follower of his is not about power or position but about servanthood. His kingdom is not about lordly position, but humility and sacrifice. The first will be last and the last first. Was mum satisfied? She did not get the answer she wanted. We don't know how she reacted; the story moves on.

In our Old Testament reading, Jacob also encounters family complications, with his uncle and father-in-law, Laban, who cheats him by substituting his elder daughter Leah for Rachel at Jacob's wedding. Jacob had returned to his mother's family in search of a wife and had set his heart on Rachel, working seven years for Laban to win her hand. On the wedding night Laban substituted Leah, later saying that it was not right for the younger to marry first. He had had seven years to find a husband for Leah, but she was still unmarried. Laban did let Jacob marry Rachel as well, but demanded another seven years of service.

There is irony in this story, as, before leaving home, Jacob had tricked his own elder brother, Esau, out of his birthright and his father Isaac's blessing for the older son. Now Jacob himself has been tricked. He does get his own back on Laban by amassing a fortune at Laban's expense, but that is another story!

Had Jacob only married Rachel, he would never have had the large family he did, including the twelve sons who went on to the the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin. Only Joseph and Benjamin were Rachel's sons. Laban's trickery had an unexpected positive outcome!

When we look at key players in the Bible it is easy to forget that they were, like us, part of larger families of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, in-laws and cousins who did not always understand what they were doing. These were real people with families who were sometimes helpful, supportive, kind and encouraging but who could also be difficult, obstructive, argumentative, jealous, unsupportive and lacking in understanding.

God deals with all of that. He guides people through the difficulties of family relationships and still manages to lead those he has called to the places where they can be who he wants and achieve what he has planned.

Sometimes we perhaps feel that our attempts to be followers of Jesus are complicated by our families but there is nothing new in that. Remember that in Jacob's family, Joseph's brothers were jealous of him and sold him into slavery. He went on to become powerful in Egypt and was able to save the family in time of famine. When his brothers eventually threw themselves on his mercy, Joseph said he forgave them because although they meant evil by their actions, God had turned the situation to good.

We live in the real world, in our families with all the complexities that that entails. We encounter the whole range of personalities, emotions, tensions, ideas; all the love, encouragement and support and all the envy, dismay, bafflement and misunderstanding. We encounter other people's ambitions and other people's agendas and sometimes struggle to put our point of view across. But so did the Biblical Old Testament heroes, so did the disciples and apostles who grew the young church after that first Pentecost.

We are who we are with the family we have. God knows our situation. He created us in our families. He called us where we are, not in some other place we might consider would be more ideal. So let us not think things might be easier if only ….. Let us ask God to show us how we can serve him best in the context in which we find ourselves. Let us be servants for Christ and follow the saints of history, following Jesus' word and example.

St. James' mother did not really understand Jesus' kingdom and she was not granted the favour she asked, but James and his brother, John, her sons, went on to serve with distinction as disciples and apostles promoting Jesus' kingdom within which they took their own place.

The Prayers
Prepared by Irving

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

Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy. Sustain and support the anxious, be with those who care for the sick, and lift up all who are brought low; that we may find comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus, and for all people according to their needs.

We continue to pray for the peace, stability and unity of the world as we continue to respond to Covid-19. We pray for all who are planning our country’s path towards greater freedom of movement and personal contact. May they respond to challenges of Covid with fairness, prudence and sound judgement. May their efforts help alleviate economic burdens, compensate fairly for losses, protect employment and ensure protection for the poor, fearful and isolated.
We pray particularly at this time for ‘the West’s’ relationships with China and Hong Kong, that peaceful, fair and productive outcomes will be found to the current differences and disputes.

At home we pray for all who look after Walkley, its postmen and women, refuse collectors and street cleaners, shopkeepers and businesses, medical workers and school staff. We pray for those who, like Walkey Community Forum and Walkley Library, have continued to support people during Covid.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We pray for your Church throughout the world: guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led in 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 in Sheffield Diocese, especially at this time the Deanery of Laughton. We pray for and give thanks to all at St Mary’s who have kept our church alive by their newsletters, electronic ‘virtual’ worship and meetings, coffee mornings and in so many other ways. We pray especially for those who are responsible for planning the eventual re-opening of our buildings and resumption of services and other activities.

We pray for all at St Mary’s Church of England Academy as they prepare for the planned re-opening of school and a new academic year.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We commend to your fatherly goodness all that are anxious or distressed in mind or body; comfort and relieve them in their need; give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out of their troubles.

Especially we pray for all affected by the Coronavirus, both physically and emotionally. We pray for all who feel isolated, lonely and without hope. We pray for all who care for and treat Covid sufferers and for those working on protective vaccines and treatments.

And in a few moments of reflection, we bring before God our own prayers and concerns…….

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 in these prayers, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000

‘In the fields of charity and sin’ – 19th July 2020 – 6th Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 28. 10-19a

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

Matthew 13. 24-30 and 36-43

Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

 

Scripture quotations are from The New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, 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 worldwide.

The Sermon

By Canon Dr Alan Billings, a former vicar of St. Mary's

If you have to explain a joke, you might as well not have bothered. The whole point of a joke is that it works instantly. Almost before you have time to think, you are smiling. Just think of the stand-up comics.

The same is true of the very short stories, the parables, that Jesus tells. As you hear the story, you are drawn in, it affects you and you respond. There is a flash of insight, or you suddenly feel uncomfortable or inspired …. Jesus tells the stories for many reasons and they trigger a variety of responses. But you react immediately. It may, it will, make you thoughtful; but you don’t have to take it away and try to figure it all out. Jokes and parables provoke in an instant.

Which is why today’s gospel reading is a bit odd.

We first have a parable. (Matthew 13.24-30) It is not difficult to understand. We react to it. But then in the next verses (34-43) we have the disciples coming along and saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field’. The equivalent of saying, ‘I don’t get the joke. Can you explain.’

My own reaction to this whole passage is to say, ‘I get the parable, but I am not sure the explanation adds much. If anything, it takes from the parable the power to provoke.’

I am left wondering, therefore, whether we should set the explanation to one side and let the parable do the talking. Because, like a joke, if you have to explain it, you might as well not have bothered.

So let me turn to the parable.

It makes for uncomfortable reading. It says two things to me – though remember it's a parable designed to illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like.

First, it’s an answer to the question: How do we experience the kingdom in the here and now? Jesus says it’s like a farmer who plants his wheat but as it grows, it does so alongside other seeds that the farmer did not plant – weeds. And there is no way of rooting out the weeds without disturbing the wheat; they are rooted in the same spoil and are quite intertwined. In other words, the reality of life is that there will be good experiences – glimpses of the kingdom of heaven – but they will always be amid and among and intertwined with the bad. Life is always this inseparable mix of good and bad, charity and sin.

We know this only too well. Think of how we sometimes do a good deed, but for a mix of motives. Altruism, yes. But also we like to think of ourself as a good person. Or we want to impress. Or – unconsciously perhaps – we like to feel in control, or have others beholden to us. I suspect that many of the weeds in our life are unconsciously sown and are all mixed up with good things.

And the reason the good and the bad are entwined is because we live this side of the kingdom which has not yet come in all its fullness. The poet Edwin Muir captured this so well when he wrote in his poem ‘One foot in Eden’ that we were like people who, down the generations since we roamed in the botanical paradise of Eden’s garden, had planted in the fields of our lives crops of love and hate.

“One Foot in Eden” / Muir

Muir suggests that ‘the enemy who has done this’ - the one who has spread weeds among the wheat - is actually us, whether consciously or not.

Then the second thing that the parable suggests to me is that this world, where good and bad are entwined, is not outside of God’s design, even though that is sometimes hard to understand. And the reason for that is that there is some good which comes about as a result of that which challenges goodness. Without the challenge, we wouldn’t have or know that good.

Quite a lot of what we admire in others and want to emulate for ourselves is goodness that is the result of such challenge. We can all think of what I mean: lives that are hard or difficult that bring out extraordinary qualities in us. Think of the single mother who successfully brings to adulthood her three children; the husband who cares for his wife with dementia; the carer who volunteers to stay with the elderly people in the home during the coronavirus crisis; and so on. Goodness that is not called from us in Eden – paradise – but is called from us in these fields of charity and sin.

Again, Edwin Muir captured it. He speaks of the ‘famished field and blackened tree’ that produce flowers that are unknown in the Garden of Eden. Eden knows nothing of anxiety or death or any of the other experiences in this life of mixed fortunes, that evoke in us feelings of pity or hope or even love. Love is most keenly felt when the object of our love is threatened in some way.

These are, as the poet says, strange blessings that in paradise never fell from our beclouded skies.
We live our lives in fields of wheat and weeds. And that can be very challenging at times. But the very challenges call forth from us goodness we might otherwise never know.

The Prayers
prepared by Kath

God, our Father, hear us when we pray to you in faith

We give you thanks for this day and your many gifts to us.

We pray for your church throughout the world as it faces the additional challenges caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. We pray for our leaders, both lay and ordained who are working so tirelessly to devise and sustain new ways of worshipping and working towards the safe re-opening of your churches. Especially we pray for our bishops, Pete and Sophie, our mission partnership churches, St Mark’s, St John’s and our own team at St Mary’s. We pray for our congregations who have so much missed being able to gather at church for worship and to spend time in each other’s company as we have always done. We give thanks for the ways in which we have managed to do these things and to support each other but we hold in our prayers those who do not find some of these ways easy or possible to access. Father help them to know that they are not forgotten.
Lord hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for our world and again give you thanks for this wonderful gift which, as many of us are aware, has done so much to sustain us through our recent troubles. Help us to take the time and open our eyes and minds to appreciate every day all that you have created and to take care of it.

We pray for all your people, especially those who are struggling with the reality or fears of unemployment, financial problems, loneliness or fears for their personal safety and security, all of which have been heightened by the effects of the pandemic. May we all be sensitive to each other’s concerns and needs and do what we can to help. We give thanks for all who have worked so hard and selflessly to keep our societies going in healthcare, provision of food and other necessities, services and keeping us as safe as possible. We continue to pray for them in their work and for those in positions of leadership which is particularly demanding at this time. Lord give them vision, courage, compassion and humility in their roles and help them to not feel overwhelmed by the tasks they face.

We pray for the work of the Disasters Emergency Committee and all other groups and charities working to relieve the
suffering of refugees in the war torn areas of the world as again their work is made so much harder by the effects of the pandemic.
Lord hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us

We pray for our loved ones, families, friends and neighbours giving thanks for all that we share with them, even when we are forced to remain apart from each other. Especially we pray for all who are ill or struggling or distressed and we name in our hearts those known to us who are in need at this time and we pray and give thanks for those who are alongside them to care and support them.
Let us also remember to pray for ourselves and our needs.
Lord hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us

We remember those who have died and pray for their families and friends, especially those who have been unable to be with their loved ones as they died or to say their goodbyes at funeral services as they would have wished.
We pray for all who continue to struggle with feelings of loss and grief, may they find comfort and hope for the future in the knowledge that you are with them in their sadness.
Lord hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

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 in these prayers, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000.

‘Children at the heart of Good News’ – 28th June 2020 – 3rd Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 22.1-14

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' He said ,'Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.' So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.' Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, 'Father!' And he said , 'Here I am, my son.' He said, 'The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?' Abraham said, 'God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.' So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' He said, 'Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.' And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place 'The Lord will provide'; as it is said to this day, 'On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.'

Matthew 10.40-42

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

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

The Sermon

By Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes, Vicar of St John's Ranmoor

I’m rather glad that we didn’t have our first reading on last Sunday on Fathers’ Day. The sacrifice of Isaac is in many ways a horrific story and one which today would result in a call to social services. Its main point of course is to underline the faithfulness of Abraham. Over many years God had told him that he would be the father of a great nation and Abraham had trusted God even though he and his wife Sarah showed no signs of having children. And then finally, in their old age, they had had a son, Isaac, a miraculous baby, and it seemed that at last all the promises, all of Abraham’s hopes and dreams were coming true. And then extraordinarily, God told him to kill Isaac. To sacrifice this precious child. And Abraham was obedient. It’s an incredible story and it reminds us of the need to put God first. It reminds us too that nothing we have, not even our children, belong to us. However much we love them, we sometimes have to let them go.

As Christians, we read this story in the light of Jesus. It is often read on Good Friday as it has strong parallels with the crucifixion of Jesus. God so loved the world that he allowed his son to be the sacrifice for our sin. He is the ram caught in the thicket, the ultimate sacrifice who takes away the sins of the world. Despite this, too often, we somehow manage to sacrifice our children for the sins of our world.

Too often, institutions like the church have put their own survival ahead of the need to protect children from abuse. We have been slow to address climate change, blighting the future for generations to come. We have saddled our children with debt rather than address fundamental problems in our economy. And now with the coronavirus pandemic, many of children are missing out on education. Many do not have access to the internet and are lacking food and exercise. We don’t really know what effects this will have on their mental health and future prospects.

It has been heartening to see young people questioning these things. Like Isaac, they have asked what is going on. And unlike Isaac they have not been prepared to go like lambs to the slaughter. They have demanded real change. Young people like Greta Thunberg who has played a leading role in Extinction Rebellion. Young people in the Black Lives Matter movement who will no longer put up with institutional racism. Who question things that we have grown too used to and refuse to accept more George Floyds in the future. We have seen young people questioning old attitudes to gender and sexuality. They are no longer willing to put up with past hypocrisies and prejudice. As it says in the Books of Joel and Acts, our sons and daughters are prophesying and seeing visions of a better world. And the time for those visions to be fulfilled is now. They want change.

As we look back at the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac through the lens of the crucifixion, we are reminded that we don’t have to sacrifice our children. The whole point of Jesus dying on a cross once for all was so that we don’t have to do it again. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He set us free from that cycle of sin and sacrifice and his resurrection pointed to the fact that there is always another way. A better way. A more life-giving way. We just need to have the faith and imagination to see it.

Jesus put the poor and the marginalised first in the kingdom of God. And with them he put children. If we want to enter the kingdom of heaven we need to become like a child, he said. In our Gospel, Jesus says that whoever gives even a cup of cold water to a little one will not lose their reward. Children are at the heart of the good news. They are not things to be sacrificed but those who are closest to God’s heart. Not objects but subjects of God’s kingdom. Often, they know the secrets of the kingdom and we need to listen to them more.
Amen.

The Prayers 
Prepared by Veronica

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

We bring before You Father the needs of our world at this troubled time, when many thousands in countries all over the world are becoming ill or dying from coronavirus, and millions face great economic hardship. There is also much political tension and uncertainty as many national leaders jostle for power and influence rather than working for peace, justice and the alleviation of suffering. We pray for all in positions of responsibility at national or international level, that they may heed the cries of those suffering disease, the hungry and the refugees. We give you thanks for the work of charities and international organisations working to bring help to all in need, and ask Your blessing on them.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church worldwide, and all those of other faiths, also unable to come together for worship in their own building to prevent further spread of corona virus. Help us to work together to show your love to humankind by our support to those in need, whether by providing food or a friendly voice on the telephone. We give you thanks for modern technology which enables us to link in with our partner churches, St John’s and St Mark’s, and join with them in worship from home. Bless all their clergy and the Wardens and Readers at St Mary’s who are maintaining regular worship materials for St Mary’s congregation and beyond. When this crisis is over, may we meet together strengthened in our faith in you, and appreciating even more strongly the fellowship we share.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all key workers, in our Health Service, Care Homes, those keeping gas, water and electricity on tap, transport workers, shop workers and school staff, giving thanks that their dedication has enabled life to continue, even when their own lives have been at risk. We ask your blessing on children and young people uncertain about their future, particularly those for whom isolation has been very difficult, often in very cramped accommodation, and their teachers who will have the task of rebuilding their confidence.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are ill at this time, including all those unable to get the treatment they need because of the pressure on hospitals and fear of spreading corona virus further. We ask that you be with them all and strengthen them as they recover from their illness. Bless also all doctors, nurses, other hospital staff, care workers and family members as they support people through these difficult days.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We pray for all who have died, remembering those we have known and loved, and all others whose lives have been cut short. We ask your blessing on all who mourn, and they may know their loved ones are in your tender care. We hope that soon it will again be possible to come together at funerals and hug our relatives and friends as we say our final farewells.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our Prayer

Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary and all your saints, we commend ourselves and all 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 included in this service, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000.