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

The Readings

Genesis 17.1-7, 15-16

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

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

Mark 8:31-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prayers
Prepared by Barbara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Readings

Acts 19.1-7

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

Mark 1.4-11

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

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

 

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

The Sermon
By Canon Dr Alan Billings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thou hadst better.

The Prayers
From Common Worship: Times and Seasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

To view the service online, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

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

21 01 03 Epiphany Eucharist.docx

The Readings

Ephesians 3.1-12

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

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

Matthew 2.1-12

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

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

 

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

The Sermon
By Revd. Sue Hammersley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Prayers
Adapted From Common Worship: Times and Seasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Welcome to our Sunday Eucharist

To watch our service on YouTube, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

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

20 12 27 St John Eucharist.docx

The Readings

1 John 1.1-end

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

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

John 21.19b-end

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prayers
prepared by Joe

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

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

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

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

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

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

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

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

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

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

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

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

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

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

 

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

‘The hopes and fears’ – 25th December 2020 – Christmas Day

Happy Christmas from St. Mary's!

To follow our Christmas Day Eucharist please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

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

20 12 25 Christmas Day Eucharist

The Readings

Isaiah 9.2-7

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Luke 2.1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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

The Sermon
by Canon Dr Alan Billings

This year, the mood at Christmas services is quite different from any other year I have ever known.

Usually, as we tell the story of Christ’s birth, the dominant note is one of joy. ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come’, we would sing. Even the most subdued of carols are only telling us to restrain our joy, not suppress it:

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight,
glories stream from heav’n afar,
heavenly hosts sing alleluia:
Christ the Saviour is born.
Christ the Saviour is born.

Joy.

But this year we are more likely to find our thoughts settling on some other aspects of the story of Christ’s birth.

And there is one carol that captures this in a simple sentence. In the last line of the fist verse of his carol, O little town of Bethlehem, Bishop Phillips Brooks, wrote this: ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Not joy, but hopes and fears. And surely, this year that is precisely where so many of us find ourselves. Suspended somewhere between hope and fear.

For the coronavirus has changed everything.

Way back in March – which now seems an eternity ago – we realised we were going to be impacted by the pandemic. But we were assured that if we locked down and obeyed the rules we might be able to celebrate again by Easter. Then it was the summer. Then it was Christmas. And now it is Christmas and we have become fearful again – because the disease is still with us. In fact, it seems to be resurgent, not only here in the north, but in parts of the country which had previously seemed less affected.

Of course, it is different now from March. There is the promise of the vaccine. There is hope. Our hopes were raised when that was announced. Though the initial euphoria has given way now to a more sober realisation that it will be many months before a majority of the population is vaccinated. And with all the seasonal illnesses of winter still to come, that makes us anxious again, and we worry.

This Christmas, then, we are suspended between hope and fear.

But let’s return to that carol with its line: ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’

When the carol talks about hopes and fears that's another way of saying, the things that matter to us. The things that matter to us are the things that give us joy – the things we hope for – and the things that worry us – our fears.

What seems to happen at Christmas is that, almost without our realising it, we find ourselves thinking at quite a deep level, and in a way we don't normally do, about these things that matter to us, our deepest hopes and fears.

Day to day we have to get on with life. We have our jobs, our families. There's work to do, the shopping, the housework, the gardening, the decorating, cleaning the car .... all the sheer busyness of life that just comes at us each day rather relentlessly. Little time to think even if we have been more restricted in what we can do this year. Each year – and perhaps especially this year - Christmas gives us a moment to pause and think about the things that matter to us, our hopes and fears.

Often these are the opposite sides of the same coin.

We have our hopes – for those we love – that life may go well for them. Our fears are that their well-being may be threatened in some way. We have hopes for ourselves – that we may be a better person, more loving, more understanding, more generous, more forgiving. Our fears are that we may fail this test of human character.

And then there are some even bigger hopes and fears – that our children and our children's children may have a peaceful, sustainable world to grow up in. And when we think of all that threatens that, we are fearful again.

And perhaps the biggest hopes and fears are around what in the end is the real nature of this world. Is it an accident? Is it ultimately in the hands of God? Are we ultimately in the hands of God?

The coronavirus makes us ponder these hopes and fears and the Christmas story gives us answers.

The one who brought all that is into being, comes into his world as a child of ordinary but loving people, to experience our human life as one of us, from the inside of a human skin; to reassure us of God's love; to reassure us that whatever life brings in the coming year, he is with us; to reassure us that the things we think matter really do matter, because they matter eternally.

You can't come before this child this morning full of yourself.
You can't come before this child this morning with hatred inside you.
The Christmas story stops all that.

You have to come here today with love in your heart. And that love you will take from here to the things that matter – that love will support your hopes and help you overcome your fears in the days to come.

That's why, even though we are suspended today between hope and fear, we will still wish one another, A Happy Christmas.

The Prayers
from Common Worship: Times and Seasons

Let us pray to Jesus our Saviour.

Christ, born in a stable,
give courage to all who are homeless.
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Christ, for whom the angels sang,
give the song of the kingdom to all who weep.
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Christ, worshipped by the shepherds,
give peace on earth to all who are oppressed.
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Christ, before whom the wise men knelt,
give humility and wisdom to all who govern.
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Christ, whose radiance filled a lowly manger,
give the glory of your resurrection to all who rest in you.
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, Saviour, child of Mary,
you know us and love us,
you share our lives
and hear our prayer.
Glory to you for ever. Amen.

 

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

‘Shining in the darkness’ – 24th December 2020 – Christmas Eve: Midnight Mass

Welcome to our service of worship on this most holy of nights.

To follow our Midnight Mass on YouTube, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtubehttps://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

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

20 12 24 Christmas Midnight Eucharist

The Readings

Isaiah 52.7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

John 1.1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

 

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

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

If a year ago someone had suggested to me that I would be happy to be standing in the rain on a cold winter day in the Botanical Gardens, I think I’d have at the very least questioned their sanity. You see I’m a very nesh person, as we say in these parts; to anyone not from round here it means someone who really feels the cold, so as you will understand, the prospect of being cold and damp was highly unlikely to appeal to me let alone make me feel happy. But a few days ago that is exactly what happened. After weeks and weeks of not being able to see my family we finally managed to arrange a time when we could meet. Having procured hot coffee and delicious cake from a lovely local café we trooped into the Botanical Gardens and gathered, suitably socially distanced of course, round a bench which we used as a makeshift table and for an hour or so we just enjoyed each other’s company in person. We chatted, caught up on news, asked how everyone was coping and had a laugh. We played hide and seek and chased my granddaughter, much to her and our delight and counted how many squirrels we could spot. It was all very simple and it was great and both my husband and I have said several times since then how much we enjoyed it. Our perspective on what constituted a good time had changed. This year has been hard. We have been robbed of so much that matters to us: freedom to come and go where and when as we please, freedom about who we can spend time with, freedom to shop as we wish or go to the cinema or theatre or pub or restaurant or to hold someone’s hand when they need it. Some have been robbed of their work or business which may have been a big part of their identity as well as their means of making a living, others are so much in demand that they have been robbed of their ability to have much needed time off to rest and recuperate.

Wherever we are on this spectrum I think the thing upsetting the majority of us most of all is being robbed of the ability to be physically close to one another, especially to our loved ones. We miss socialising, sitting next to each other, relaxed conversations that can only work properly face to face and without a mask or protective screen. Many of us really miss giving and receiving hugs. I know I do. Christmas is a time that accentuates this sense of loss and we feel it even more keenly than at other times. But perhaps something positive that the last ten months has shown is “what really matters” in the grand scheme of things and that maybe we have sometimes taken these things too much for granted. It also makes us aware of the way some people are routinely deprived and excluded from many of these and how that needs to change from now on. Again, we are being prompted to change our perspective.

I think many of us had thought or hoped that all would “come right” by Christmas but sadly it hasn’t and people are understandably upset that what they had looked forward to after a long period denial and sacrifice has yet again been taken away, as they see it. We as a family decided months ago not to make much by way of plans for Christmas so we haven’t been too disappointed by the changes enforced by the pandemic but I know many people set great store by their traditional celebrations and they feel very upset at the loss of them.

Perhaps this is where the Christmas story can help us. Mary & Joseph were on a long and difficult Journey and it didn’t all “come right” in the way they might have hoped and expected. I’m sure that Mary giving birth in a stable was not what they wanted but in spite of it, their Son arrived safely. Even then though, the dangers they faced didn’t go away, and no doubt having to go into exile shortly after Jesus’ birth was also not what they envisaged. Being away from home, family, livelihood and support network and being dependant on others for everything must have been hard and stressful and frightening and no doubt wearying for them just as it is for refugees today, but they sacrificed their normal ways of life and eventually made it through.

We are now collectively facing a massive time of trial. Most of us will make it through this current awful situation but sadly some won’t. I don’t know whether I’ll be one of those who does or who doesn’t and it’s the same for all of us. But what we do know is that we are here, together, right now. So let us make a conscious effort to change our perspective from that of being the disappointed victims of loss and denial to people who notice what we do have and give thanks for it. Mary & Joseph & Jesus endured what they had to endure until they got to a better place. With God’s help we can do the same.

As John tells us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Hold on to that thought if things seem dark and difficult in the times ahead.

The Prayers
From Common Worship: Times and Seasons

In peace let us pray to the Lord.
Father, in this holy night your Son our Saviour
was born in human flesh.
Renew your Church as the Body of Christ.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night there was no room for your Son in the inn.
Protect with your love those who have no home
and all who live in poverty.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night Mary, in the pain of labour,
brought your Son to birth.
Hold in your hand all who are in pain or distress.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night your Christ came as a light shining in the darkness.
Bring comfort to all who suffer in the sadness of our world.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night the angels sang, ‘Peace to God’s people on earth.’
Strengthen those who work for peace and justice
in all the world.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night shepherds in the field heard good tidings of joy.
Give us grace to preach the gospel of Christ’s redemption.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night strangers found the Holy Family,
and saw the baby lying in the manger.
Bless our homes and all whom we love.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night heaven is come down to earth,
and earth is raised to heaven.
Hold in your hand all those who have passed through death
in the hope of your coming kingdom.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night Christians the world over celebrate Christ’s birth.
Open our hearts that he may be born in us today.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

Father,
in this holy night angels and shepherds worshipped at
the manger throne.
Receive the worship we offer in fellowship with Mary,
Joseph and the saints
through him who is your Word made flesh,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

 

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

‘Christingle Service’ – Thursday 24th December 2020 – Christmas Eve

Our Christingle service is available online from 4.00pm Christmas Eve

To watch the service, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

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

Christingle 2020 - PDF

Christingle2020 - Word

The Reading

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The Talk
by Catherine, a Reader at St. Mary's

I expect many of you will know today’s Bible story very well. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, but have to shelter in the stable because everywhere else is full. Mary is heavily pregnant and while they are there, it’s time for her baby to be born. So she gives birth in the stable, wraps him up in swaddling clothes, and then places baby Jesus in a manger.

Meanwhile there are a group of shepherds outside in the fields, keeping an eye on the sheep. And they have a strange experience. An angel appears to tell them about the new baby.

Who were these shepherds? We don’t know exactly. They would have been on the edges of society, because shepherding was a difficult, dirty and dangerous job. Other people might have kept away from them, because they would have been dirty and smelly.

Pictures on Christmas cards often show them as mature men with beards. But it’s possible that they might actually be quite a bit younger - teenagers even, paid a minimum wage to stay awake whilst the regular adult shepherds get some sleep.

Teenagers are often natural night-owls who like to stay awake at night and lie in late the next morning. So watching the flocks whilst the adults sleep might seem like a good plan.

But teenagers are still young, still really children themselves. And, with plenty of wild animals about to threaten them and their sheep, these young shepherds might find their job quite scary. But they do it anyway, because their families are poor and need every penny they can earn.

So they must have been very scared to see an angel suddenly appear in all the glory of the Lord. They might know how to deal with a wolf or wildcat. But this is a new and strange experience. They would have been terrified.

But the first thing the angel says is “Fear not! I have good news for you! The Messiah has been born. You will find him in Bethlehem, the city of David. Come and see for yourselves!” And suddenly a whole band of angels appear, singing praises to God.

The angels leave and the shepherds become bold. Young people are naturally curious and if these shepherds were teenagers, this experience would definitely have sparked their interest. “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see!” So they go. They see Mary and Joseph in the stable and the child in the manger. They tell everyone there why they’ve come, and everyone is amazed. And then, having seen for themselves, the shepherds return to their job, praising God as they go.

At our Christingle service we remember the work of the Children’s Society. The Children’s Society works with vulnerable children and young people, including those living in poverty on the edges of society, like the shepherds of our Bible story. The society helps these young people when they’re scared and enables them to thrive. They can then enjoy their curiosity to the full.

So as you enjoy your Christingle and your Christmas, you might like to say a prayer for the Children’s Society and all the children and young people they help. You might even like to give them a donation. If so, you can find details of how to do this in your order of service.

The Prayers
Prepared by the Children's Society

Lord Jesus,
you were born into an ordinary family:
We pray for families everywhere,
especially for families in difficulty or in poverty,
and for families and relationships that are breaking down.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus,
your bed was in a manger,
because there was no room at the inn.
We pray for all those who have no home:
those who sleep on the streets,
and all who have lost everything
through violence or disaster.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus,
the animals shared their stable with you;
We pray for the earth, and for all living things,
that we might learn to live in peace and harmony with the natural world,
and treat all of creation with honour and respect.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus,
you were worshipped and adored by shepherds and kings:
We pray for the people and nations of the world,
and especially for peace and understanding
between different faiths.
You came as the light for the whole world,
so in you may we find that we have more in common
than that which divides us.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, God with us,
we pray for people we know who are in need.
We pray especially for children who are in difficulty,
and for the work of The Children’s Society
in standing up for justice
and bringing light and hope into darkness.
Help us to show to one another
the same faithfulness and love
that you revealed at Bethlehem.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus,
you came to be with us on earth
so that we might be with you in heaven:
Keep safely all those who have died.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

 

Prayers (c) The Children's Society 2020
childrenssociety.org
christingle.org

‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord’ – 20th December 2020 – 4th Sunday of Advent (PM)

Welcome to our evening worship

To follow our service on YouTube, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

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

20 12 13 Advent 4 Evening Prayer.docx

The Readings

Isaiah 7.10-17

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.’

Luke 1.26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

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 David, Reader in training at St Mary's.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

How many of us here are on a rota? Either for church or some other voluntary organisation? I suspect most of us. We all have gifts and skills in different ways. Some in music, reading, leading prayers, preaching, others in administration, communications, organisational governance and welcoming people and creating a safe environment for them. That last one is very much in demand at the moment!

How did we end up on that rota, doing a specific task? It probably varied a little depending on the job and the organisation. Sometimes we bring skills from our paid working lives to our voluntary work. Sometimes we feel like we want to give something different a try. Sometimes a job just needs doing and there isn’t anyone else.

All of that helps explain the what, but not the how. How do we end up doing what we do?

For many jobs in the church the pattern has been that members of the congregation are asked by the vicar to take on a particular task. There may be different degrees of arm twisting involved. I’m sure this is something many of us can relate to, different clergy, different tasks but perhaps a familiar pattern. It could go something like this:

Vicar: ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’

Mary: Looks much perplexed by his words and ponders what sort of greeting this is and where this might be going.

Vicar: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, would you like to put out the church bins on a Sunday evening? It’s a great job to do, and there will be no end to it.’

Mary: ‘How can this be, since I have to go home after the service and watch the Strictly results show?’

Vicar: ‘The Holy Spirit will enable you to get this done in time to get home for Strictly, your great aunt Elizabeth did this into her old age, so nothing will be impossible with God.’

Mary: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

Yes, this is a complete caricature. Yes, it is facetious. But it raises important questions about how we end up doing what we do in church.

Why is this important?

Well, several reasons.

At the beginning of the year we prepared to move into a different way of operating as a church, working with St Marks and St Johns, we began to think about how it might all work.

How would we continue to worship God in a way that honours the tradition of St Marys?

How would we continue to serve the community of Walkley?

How would we continue to maintain strong links with our church school, and our cemetery friends group?

How would we support and encourage those seeking to explore the Christian faith?

The list could go on and on.

We had ideas. We had begun to form groups to focus on different areas of ministry, but it was all in an early stage.

Then the impact of the covid pandemic changed the way of life for almost everyone.

Much of what we might normally do we couldn’t, at least not in the same way. We were already gearing up for a period of adjustment and change, but we had to rethink and respond to fluctuating circumstances. It’s been tough, it’s been hard work and we won’t have got everything right.

But we have still grown and adapted. We have continued to worship God in a way that honours our tradition, but also allows people to join online.

We have, with input from St Mary’s school, our friends at Walkley Ebenezer Methodist and others, put together an online Advent Calendar.

We have collaborated with the Friends of Walkley Cemetery.

And much more besides.

As it looks like a vaccine will, over the next year, change our way of life again, we will need to reflect on the last 10 months. We will need to build on what we have accomplished, acknowledge what we have dropped and work out what we want to pick up again.

We won’t be going back to exactly what it was like before the pandemic.

Some things will return. I for one can’t wait to sing hymns again.

Some things will stop, we don’t know what those are yet. But let’s not be afraid of letting go.

I had an unusual experience in the church about 18 months ago. I stopped doing a task. It was quite weird. Of course the reason I stopped doing this task was because I had started doing another and the two were incompatible. But still I wasn’t sure it had really happened before, outside of paid employment. The new task is more rewarding, it feels like being in the right place at the right time.

We need to acknowledge that it’s healthy to review what we do from time to time. Better to do a few things well, than lots badly.

Mary, as a mother in the first century AD will have had her fair share of tasks, probably more than her fair share, it was after all a patriarchal time and place.

Did she really understand what she was getting into? Did she feel she had a choice? All questions we should ask when we take on a new task at church, or as will become more common as lay people, when we ask someone else to take on a task.

We will hear over the next month the Christmas story, the visit of the magi, the presentation of Christ in the temple at Candlemas. Mary is told by the prophet Simeon in Luke 2 that a sword will pierce her own soul. A sign of the grief to come at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. She didn’t know where her acceptance would lead.

Did she think she was taking on parenthood by herself? She would have known the implications of a having a child outside marriage. Luckily Joseph stands by her, though he is assumed to have died by the time Jesus is crucified.

Her task was lifelong. The details changed, she didn’t continue doing the same thing for God throughout her life. No doubt she said yes to God many times over the years, and who knows probably the occasional no. Many of us will have done that.

When we take on a task, however small it might be, and I say small, because no task done for God is insignificant. When we contemplate taking on a task let us remember it is one part of our pattern of loving service to God. Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by David, adapted from Common Worship.

As we pray to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
we say with Mary:
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

Your prophet of old foretold a day when a virgin would conceive
and bear a son who would be called God-with-us.
Help us to look forward to your deliverance
and to seek the fullness of your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

Your angel declared to Mary that she was to be
the mother of the Saviour.
Help us to be open to your word
and obedient to your will.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

Mary rejoiced with Elizabeth and sang your praise,
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.’
Help us to live joyful lives that sing your praise.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

Mary bore a son of David’s line,
a king whose reign would never end.
Bless all the nations of the world with Christ’s gift of peace.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

The child Jesus grew in wisdom and stature
in the home of Mary and Joseph.
Strengthen our homes and families in all their diversity,
and keep under your protection all those whom we love.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

At the foot of the cross of Christ stood his mother,
and from the cross she received his lifeless body in her arms.
Give comfort and healing to all who suffer
and all who watch the suffering of those they love.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

The apostle John saw a vision of a woman in heaven,
robed with the sun.
Bring us with all those who have died in the faith of Christ
to share the joy of heaven with Mary and all the saints.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

Almighty and everlasting God,
your handmaid Mary magnified your name
and rejoiced in your saving love:
trusting in that same love,
we ask all these our prayers
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

‘Reaching out to each other’ – 20th December 2020 – 4th Sunday of Advent

Welcome to our worship this morning.

To watch the service on YouTube, click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

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

20 12 20 Advent 4 -- Morning (Order of Service)

The Readings

2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.

Luke 1.26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

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

The Sermon
by Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes

This morning on the fourth Sunday of Advent we focus on your patron saint, Mary, the mother of our Lord. In the past few months I’ve been very conscious of women having to give birth alone because of Covid. Some have had to do that without having their partners present. And many have done it without having their extended families to support and celebrate with them. Mary did have Joseph with her when she gave birth to Jesus but she was far from home and among strangers. It must have been hard and possibly quite frightening for Mary, a young woman, to give birth to her firstborn son like that.

I think we also forget how potentially dangerous it would have been for Mary to be an unmarried mother in that society. We are used to that in this country now but we don’t have to look very far back in our history or very far around the world to find women for whom pregnancy brings enormous risks. Risks to their reputations and position in society. And risks to their lives. Maternal mortality is still horribly common around the world. And it is important that we celebrate Mary’s bravery and willingness to say yes to God. Although there are lots of things that we cannot do at the moment, we too need to be brave sometimes and say yes to God. We can cooperate with him in bringing new things to birth, if not now then in the months to come. With the news of the vaccine it feels as if this Advent is pregnant with possibilities. Though so much is dark and difficult at the moment, we also catch glimpses of light and hope for the future.

My wife Cathy is a retired obstetrician so pregnancy and childbirth have been a bit of a family business. The calls in the night. The rush to the labour ward. I have heard more than my fair share of hair-raising birth stories but I’ll spare you those. Instead, I want to share with you a bit of medical science which my wife passed my way recently. We’re all learning a bit about science these days but I’ll try not to blind you with it too much. I’m not a scientist myself so there won’t be time for questions afterwards. This bit of science come via the University of Michigan. And it concerns the placenta and something called fetomaternal microchimerism (microkimerism).

You may not have thought much about placentas but they are extraordinary things. The placenta is the only organ in human biology that is made by two people together, in cooperation. It is ‘built’ from tissue that is partly from mother, and partly from the growing baby. Because of this, the placenta is referred to as a ‘feto-maternal’ organ. In the creation of the placenta, cells from the embryo, ‘reach down’ towards the wall of the mother’s uterus. At the same time, the spiral arteries from the mother’s uterus are ‘reaching’ up towards the embryo. And this leads to the creation of the placenta. This reaching out might make us think of that picture from the Sistine Chapel where God and Man reach out to one another. Or more topically of the annunciation in our Gospel where God reaches out to Mary via the Angel Gabriel and she reaches out to God by agreeing to collaborate with him.

The placenta is the only organ that is designed to be disposable but unlike every other organs it has many different functions. It eliminates waste like the kidneys. It facilitates the transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, like the lungs would do, and it provides nutrients, just as our digestive system does. The placenta even has an immune function. It is a magnificently complex shared organ that supports the formation of children in the womb.

In addition to all this, the placenta enables something called ‘fetomaternal microchimerism’ (microkimerism). This refers to the presence of a small population of genetically distinct and separately derived cells within an individual. During pregnancy, small numbers of these cells travel across the placenta. Some of the child’s cells cross into the mother, and some cells from the mother cross into the child. The cells from the child integrate into tissues in the mother’s body and start functioning like the cells around them.

The presence of these cells is extraordinary for several reasons. One is that these cells have been found in various maternal organs and tissues such as the brain, the breast, the thyroid and the skin. These are all organs which in some way are important for the health of both the baby and the mother. They help to signal to the mother’s body that it needs to making milk. And they help to produce collagen which helps the mother’s body to heal. So that baby is actually helping the mother to recover from giving birth.

Usually, foreign or ‘other’ cells are detected by the host’s immune system and are destroyed. The fact that these foetal cells ‘survive’ and then are allowed to integrate into the mother’s body speaks of an amazing ‘cooperation’ between the mother and her child. It suggests that the physical connection between mother and baby is even deeper and more beautiful than was previously thought. Research in into these cells suggests that may help protect mothers from breast cancer many years after they have given birth.

This radical mutuality at the cellular level is something that we are just beginning to understand. We are not the singular autonomous individuals that we sometimes imagine. We know that at a theological level. We have a sense of our mutual interdependence. We have a deep sense of God’s presence in each one of us. And Christmas is a wonderful reminder of that. But now we have a profound biological illustration of that mutuality. We speak of Mary not just being the God bearer but of her being redeemed by her son. And now we can see that at a biological level. Mary’s body didn’t just help to bring Jesus into the world. It was also changed by that experience. Jesus brings life and healing to each one of us and he brought life and healing to Mary in a very particular way.

There was a time when science and religion seemed to be at loggerheads. Virgin births were dismissed as superstition. These days, virgin births are quite common technically speaking. And instead of being antithetical to religion, so much of science seems to demonstrate the wonder and majesty of God and his creation. The creation of Covid 19 vaccines is just one miracle that we have seen recently. Like Mary, we too need to be open to the miraculous and new. For, as the Angel Gabriel reminded her, nothing will be impossible with God. Amen.

The Prayers
prepared by Oli

Lord, as we look back on a year of grief, turmoil and restrictions, we look to your coming to bring a renewed hope to the world. may we humbly welcome and nurture this hope, as you were humbly welcomed in a stable, nurtured in a manger lined with straw.
Lord Jesus, within the darkness,
Let us celebrate the coming of your light.

Lord, where we have experienced division and uncertainty - in the world, in our country, in our close relationships, and within ourselves; may we experience your healing peace and unite these fractures, seeking reconciliation in every broken place
Lord Jesus, within the darkness,
Let us celebrate the coming of your light.

Lord, in the quiet moments of prayer, in the chaotic buzz of Christmas preparation, in the ordinary and extraordinary, may we experience your joy, mercy and simplicity
Lord Jesus, within the darkness,
Let us celebrate the coming of your light.

Lord, as we approach the coming of Christ into the world and into our hearts, may we be always aware of your ever present love, unconditional and without end nor limit.
Lord Jesus, within the darkness,
Let us celebrate the coming of your light.

Lord, as we look back on a year of loss and grief, we ask that your loving, healing presence be with all those who have lost family and friends and that your presence is also felt by all those who are sick in mind, body or spirit including those known personally to each one of us.
Lord Jesus, within the darkness,
Let us celebrate the coming of your light.

‘The promise of hope’ – 29th November 2020 – Advent Sunday

This Sunday evening we begin a series of Advent sermons focusing on the themes behind each of the Advent candles.  Our service will be live-streamed from the church.

Click here to view the live-stream

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

Click here to download an order of service

20 11 29 Advent 1 Evening Prayer

The Readings

Genesis 12.1-4a

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Matthew 1.1-17

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

 

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.

Advent. The start of the period of waiting for the birth of Christ. This year it seems that we’ve spent a great deal of time waiting, in one way or another. From when we entered in to Lockdown 1 (and yes, you know you’re in trouble when you start numbering these events) half-way through Lent, this year has been a strange time of uncertainty, with few of the usual ‘anchor points’ of our daily lives left unaffected.

At first glance, some readings would appear to give little for a preacher to go on. I have to say that that was my first feeling about tonight’s lectionary pairing. But I slept on it, prayed, and concluded that, if nothing else, these readings do go to show that our Lectionary isn’t just thrown together, and that there are frequent connections, even if at first glance the links between readings may seem tenuous.

We’re once again talking about waiting; this time the long and patient wait of the people of Israel for the coming of the Messiah.

Our first reading, from Genesis, takes place after the destruction wrought by the Flood. God now takes a new approach with Humanity. He takes a particular couple – Abram and Sarai – of an age where the idea of children seems impossible – and from them he intends to bless the world with His people. He tells Abram to leave his country – in fact, God tells him to even leave much of his family behind when He tells Abram to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” And promises that He and Sarai will be the start of a great nation. God is focusing on a single family from all the branches of man that have emerged after the Flood. And from this unlikely start, He will create His Kingdom on Earth. It’s a big job…and a long game.

And then in our second reading, the opening of the Gospel according to Matthew, we see the genealogy of Jesus. And yes – it starts with Abraham (after he changed his name from Abram).

Jesus’s genealogy turns up in two forms in the Gospels. There’s the one in Matthew, and there is a further one in Luke Chapter 3. The version in Luke traces Jesus right back to Adam; indeed, it finishes with the words ‘the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.’ Luke’s version of the family line also gives attention to Mary. The lineage in Matthew, on the other hand, follows the line back from Joseph – Jesus’s legal father – back to Abraham.

Luke, the Gentile, emphasises Jesus’s relationship to the whole of mankind; Matthew, writing as a Jew, puts more emphasis on the lineage of Jesus as a figure of Jewish history. I always feel that the inclusion of the genealogy in Luke is almost a secondary thought, whereas in Matthew it’s ‘up front and centre’, starting the whole Gospel off.

This would probably have been a deliberate decision by Matthew. Although the Gospel was written in Greek, it’s quite likely that it was aimed heavily at Jewish readers. Matthew quotes Old Testament sources more than any other New Testament author; he assumes that his readers will have a knowledge of Jewish custom and terminology, and the family lineage he uses starts with Abraham – the name which Abram took when he became the ‘father’ of the tribes of Israel.

Matthew is setting out from the very beginning to show his Jewish readers that Jesus Christ is their Messiah. And he does this by building upon existing Jewish scriptures, using Old Testament scriptures to show how Jesus fulfils the prophecies to be found in the OT.

It's also worth noting that some scholars have suggested that in the 1st Century AD, Chronicles was regarded as the last book of the Hebrew scriptures. The first part of Chronicles – what we know as Chronicles 1 – is very much a set of genealogical data, and so if Matthew is writing with the intention of making it clear that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, then starting his Gospel with the genealogy of Christ provides a continuity between old and new scriptures that would be obvious to his readers.

Matthew’s intended audience would be at home with the idea of a lineage starting his version of the Gospel. If we take a look at the reading, we see that it states:
“Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.”
Now, a quick examination of the lineage given reveals the fact that there aren’t actually 14 generations in each of the three sections; it would be more accurate to say ‘about 14 or so generations’ but that wouldn’t have read as well. There are also a few names missing in this lineage, if you compare the list here to the similar list in Chronicles. And – note that it’s only David who is marked as ‘King David’ in the list – no other ruler is so described in the genealogy.

Matthew uses his ‘rule of 14’ to split this list along lines that emphasise the role of David in the family tree of Christ – the first 14 generations end with David becoming King; his ‘regnal line’ continues for the next 14 generations until the Exile, and then, 14 generations later, the Messiah is born in to the line.

From the very start – in the opening lines of the Gospel – Matthew is asserting the continuity of the line from Abraham, through David and other well known kings and events in Jewish history, right through to the Messiah, born in this generation as Jesus Christ.

So, what’s in a number? To be precise, why does it look like Matthew is working hard to create this association with the number 14?

An aspect of Jewish spiritual beliefs was the practice of ‘Gematria’ – a process whereby numerical values are assigned to characters in the Hebrew text. The value that comes from David’s name is 14; so Matthew, with his focus on 14, is reminding his readers – who’d be aware of this – that as well as Jesus being descended from David, that descent also involves 2 lots of 14, which links the Messiah and David at a deeper, almost mystical, level in the minds of the readers.

Matthew knew his stuff. What he was saying to his readers is ‘The long wait is over; the promise given to the people is being fulfilled now, in this generation. The promised Messiah is here.’

We experience this wait every year; we experience the waiting, the anticipation, the looking forward to the light in the darkness. The Jewish people had also waited for, and anticipated the coming of the Messiah – and Matthew was letting them know. He is coming; the one we have waited for is here.

This Advent finds us waiting, uncertain, perhaps a little fearful of what is coming in the future, at the end of a year when certainties have been cast aside. But we have one certainty; one source of hope, one source of light in the darkness. The Messiah IS coming. May we all have a blessed and enlightening Advent season as we wait.
Amen

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe

The bidding for our prayers this evening is “Lord, have mercy” and the response is “Christ, have mercy.”

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

As we enter the season of Advent, we pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Bishop Sophie, our Archbishops Justin and Stephen, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s.
In these uncertain times, we know we can rely on you, Lord, to keep your promises to us, as you kept them to Abraham and Sarah.
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. In this time of uncertainty, people are fearful; we pray that leaders work to calm those fears, not inflame them. We pray that people speak the truth to each others, and that we have discernment to know when we are being deceived.
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. We pray that the levels of Covid-19 infection continue to fall, and that the health services in our city and region are not overwhelmed. As we plan for coming out of lockdown, we people will be careful and care for one another, keeping our homes, schools and workplaces ‘Covid Secure’.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing. We pray that God’s power and spirit will strengthen them and bring them the healing and peace that belong to Christ’s kingdom. We pray that the scientists working on vaccines and treatments for Covid19 are successful, and that we may soon be able to be with friends and family without fear.
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 pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, that they were comforted by your presence, Lord. We pray that you give strength and love to all those close to death and caring for the dying 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