‘Resurrection’ – 18th April 2021 – 3rd Sunday of Easter

The Order of Service:

Order of service as word file:

21 04 18 3rd Sunday of Easter Eucharist

Order of service as PDF file:

21 04 18 3rd Sunday of Easter Eucharist

 

Livestreaming link:

The Readings

Acts 3.12-19

When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, ‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

‘And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.

 

Luke 24.36b-48

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

 

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

The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes, Assistant Priest at St Mary's.

I don’t suppose I’m the only one who has been reflecting a bit on the death of Prince Philip in the past week. It’s been interesting to observe the very varied reactions among people in this country and around the world. From those who were angry at having their television schedules disrupted to the people of Tanna in Vanuatu who worshipped him as a divine figure. From older members of the population who might remember when Prince Philip married young Princess Elizabeth, to our younger people who probably knew him only as a sometimes politically incorrect elderly man. Prince Philip lived a long and active life. Like Her Majesty the Queen he was a committed Christian. So I find it hard to see his death as a tragedy. But I have come to appreciate what an extraordinary person he was and how much there is in his life that we should thank God for, and not least his support for the Queen.

When preparing services in the past eight days, it has been a challenge to find the right balance between official mourning and the celebration of Easter. Working out how many alleluias I should put in or leave out. People seem to be in such a wide variety of places. And I suppose that was also true in the days after the resurrection. For the vast majority of people, the resurrection passed them by. Many were hostile or at least indifferent to the carpenter who had been executed on a cross. Rumours of his resurrection probably meant very little to them. For those on the inside, to his disciples and followers, there was sadness, guilt, grief, doubt and then elation, joy and peace. But the rollercoaster of emotion continued as Jesus kept appearing unexpectedly. To Simon, and to Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus. And in today’s Gospel we are told that the eleven were startled and terrified, full of wonder and disbelief. The risen Jesus comes to the disciples where they are but the good news of the resurrection is not simple or easy to digest. It disturbs and challenges. And that is probably important. The resurrection should challenge us. Upset old certainties. Make us see the world in new ways.

One of the great legacies that Prince Philip leaves behind is a movement to modernise the monarchy. He understood the power of television and it was because of him that the coronation was televised. He tried to show that the Royal Family was made up of real human beings and he wasn’t afraid to reveal his own humanity. In our Gospel today, the risen Jesus also demonstrates that he is human. Although he can pass through walls and locked doors he is not a ghost. He shows the disciples his hands and feet and invites them to touch him. At the same time though, the risen Jesus seems to be slightly out of focus. Hard to pin down. And perhaps we just need to be open to that ambiguity.

To prove that he is not a ghost, Jesus asks the disciples for something to eat. They give him a piece of broiled fish and he eats it in front of them. I don’t suppose that the risen Jesus really needed to eat but by doing so he showed the disciples that it was his body that had risen, not just his spirit. And for me that is a reminder that the resurrection is about this world. Not just about forgiveness or what happens to us when we die. Not just about the promise of heaven. It’s about the redemption of all that is.

I expect Prince Philip has touched the lives of quite a few of us in one way or another. I was lucky enough to meet him when I got my Duke of Edinburgh Award 34 years ago and even then he seemed quite old. He had had to stop shaking hands with people. As a curate, I helped out a reception at St James’ Palace for the Council of Christians and Jews and I was impressed at how knowledgeable Prince Philip was and by how much interest he took in people. I’m also very thankful for the leadership programme that Prince helped establish at Windsor. In the past week we have been reminded of the extraordinary range of interests that the Prince had. From the Royal Navy to engineering. From carriage riding to painting. And from the environment to interfaith matters. Prince Philip read voraciously and widely and many of his books were on matters of religion.

We don’t often see that range of interests in one person. As I’ve been reflecting on them this week, I’ve been challenged to expand my ideas about what resurrection might mean. Forgiveness of sins and life everlasting are fundamental of course. But resurrection is so much bigger than these things. It is about the whole of our lives. The whole of creation. We are used to seeing resurrection in terms of the arrival of spring. Flowers opening and new leaves budding. And this year we have a strong sense of resurrection as another lockdown ends. As the vaccination programme is rolled out. As shops and pubs and businesses reopen. As a Church, resurrection involves the reopening of our buildings. The resumption of public worship.

But of course, resurrection is much bigger than all these things. Surely it means things like an end to inequality. An end to things like foodbanks. An end to racism. An end to totalitarian regimes. Resurrection is not always comfortable. It unsettles, challenges the status quo. In recent years we have become increasingly aware of our impact on the climate and biodiversity. Resurrection surely means the reversal of global warming and the restoration of creation. And that involves change. Sometimes costly change. But it is something the Church of England has committed itself to and we can all play a part in helping make it happen.

I wonder then what resurrection means to you. What does might it look like in your life? Or in the lives of those around you? How might you help to bring about resurrection in your family life, in the lives of friends or of your local community? What might resurrection mean for the church on the street? Of course, it’s not just about the resumption of public worship but how we go out into the community and share good news with others. Resurrection is not something we can keep to ourselves behind closed doors. Part of our calling as Christians is to share it with others. Jesus sends us, as he sent the disciples, to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem, from Walkley, and to the ends of the earth. We are witnesses of these things. Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by Veronica.

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

O God, the creator and preserver of us all, we pray for all your people throughout the world at this time of mutating pandemic. Guide those in authority to work in partnership with all, especially the poorer parts of the world, to use the inventiveness of our geneticists and virologists to share the vaccines that are being developed. Guide them also to seek peace where there is war, and to bring aid to all who are suffering where there is conflict or natural disaster.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for our Queen and all the members of the Royal Family as they mourn Philip Duke of Edinburgh whose funeral took place yesterday. We give thanks for his life of service to this country and the Commonwealth, remembering how millions of young people’s lives have been enriched by participating in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, in addition to his many royal duties.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church worldwide, especially for the Queen, the supreme governor of the Church of England, that her faith will give her strength at this sad time. As we continue to celebrate our risen Lord, may all Christians seek to live according to the promises made by Christ, and work together for the good of all the peoples of the world.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for our city and community and for the elections due in the next few weeks. We pray that you will inspire successful candidates to work for the good of all constituents in their community. We give thanks for all the volunteers who give their time to provide services, and keep our streets and green open spaces clean and beautiful.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are ill at this time, whether from corona virus or other conditions and have to wait longer for treatment than normal. Be with them all, and all who work in the NHS at this time of great strain, that they may know your care and healing grace. In a moment of quiet we remember by name those known to us who are suffering at this time.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, especially your servant Philip and others known to us, including Patricia Browning and her family. Grant us with them a share in your eternal kingdom. Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary and all your saints we commend ourselves and all creation to your unfailing love.
Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.

‘Good Friday’ – 2nd April 2021

Since we are unable to gather together at the foot of the cross this Good Friday we offer these reflections to aid in personal devotion today. They are written by Paula Gooder and can be found in the book "Walking the Way of the Cross" from Church House Publishing. They are narrated by those at St Marys, St Marks and St Johns.

First station - Jesus in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Second station - Jesus betrayed by Judas and arrested

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Third station - Jesus condemned by the Sanhedrin

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Fourth station - Peter denies Jesus

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Fifth station - Jesus judged by Pilate

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Sixth station - Jesus scourged and crowned with thorns

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Seventh station - Jesus carries the cross

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Eighth station - Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Ninth station - Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Tenth station - Jesus is crucified

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Eleventh station - Jesus promises the kingdom to the penitent thief

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Twelfth station - Jesus on the cross; his mother and his friend

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Thirteenth station - Jesus dies on the cross

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

Fourteenth station - Jesus laid in the tomb

To see the image associated with this station please click here. This will open in another window or tab.

‘Turning aside to the miracle’ – 14th March 2021 – Mothering Sunday

The Readings

Exodus 2.1-10

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. ‘This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,’ she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’ Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Yes.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, ‘because’, she said, ‘I drew him out of the water.’

 

Luke 2.33-35

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

 

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

The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings

Mothering Sunday – or Mother’s Day - affects people very differently. For some people this is one of the most important celebrations of the year. It’s a chance to be pleased and proud that you are a mum, or to give thanks for your own mum, or both. It’s an opportunity to give thanks for the blessings of family life.

But other people might have come to church today – if you can remember when we used to do that - and felt uncomfortable, or they wouldn’t come at all. There are many reason for that: it may be because they are not mothers; or they couldn’t be mothers even though they wanted to be; or they are mothers on their own; or because they had bad experiences of their own mother, or bad experiences of being a mother; or they just feel the whole motherhood-childhood-family thing has been overdone or sentimentalised.

So we ought to begin by recognising that Mothering Sunday is a day of mixed emotions.

It’s also a day that has been somewhat hijacked. When it began in the distant past, this Sunday, mid-Lent, was not particularly about mothers. It was about taking a break half way through Lent when you may have been fasting, and having a bit of a holiday, going to mother church, and saying prayers before an image of Mary the Mother of Jesus.

Servants were given the day off and not expected to work – and that would mean big numbers of people, especially women, who were in domestic service. Many took the opportunity of going back home. My grandmother was in service when she was a teenager and recalled this practice in her later life.

Over the past century Mothering Sunday has gradually turned from all of that to being a day to celebrate mothers and for families to get together. So the church’s Mothering Sunday has turned into the card, chocolate and flower-sellers Mothers Day. Nothing wrong with that, and many will get great satisfaction and pleasure from it.

But what about those who are not so sure? If you are someone who might feel left out or this is not for you, cheer up. There are helpful things we can all think about today – sub-themes of Mothering Sunday if you like.

Let me suggest one.

Quite a lot of those who will receive flowers today are not just mothers, they are grandmothers as well. I have heard being a grandmother called ‘the vocation of the second chance’. A second chance either to do again all those things you did with your own children the first time, or, more likely, to do those things which you never quite had the time to, or got round to, the first time.

Above all, it’s a second chance to receive – to receive and enjoy being in relationship to another human being.

Perhaps it’s around the idea of receiving from another human being that we should concentrate our thoughts this morning.

When we are parents we are often very busy, very rushed, very tired, very preoccupied people. We don’t always have the time or space or opportunity to be able to step aside and receive what the old Mothers Union prayer called ‘the blessings of family life’.

One young mother told me some while ago that she and her husband had decided they needed a weekend away without the children – though they loved them dearly. To get to know one another again – as she put it. They stayed at a nice hotel - but spent most of their weekend asleep, they were so exhausted.

Our society values being energetic, getting things done. We champion the vigorous virtues. The downside is that it does often squeeze out time for simple appreciation. Giving and making a contribution may be prized above receiving. So perhaps grandmothers on Mothering Sunday have a role in helping all of us to understand again the importance of just receiving.

We need to be able to do two things simultaneously:

We need first to recognise how God’s greatest gifts to us often come through the ordinary things of life – like having children, like being a mother or grandmother. And that requires of us a certain attitude, a proper humility, to be able to appreciate and give thanks for the ordinary things God gives us day by day.

And second, we need to seize the moment. Mothering Sunday says to us: those precious moments that God wants to give us will come in the ordinary relationships of life. So don’t get into such a pattern of busyness that you can’t seize the moment and appreciate them when they come.

RS Thomas the Welsh poet and priest once wrote this:

Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

When God lights up the ordinary for you, seize the moment.

The Prayers
From Common Worship, copyright © The Archbishops' Council 2002 and published by Church House Publishing.

As children of a loving God who always listens to our cries, let us pray to our Father in heaven.

Loving God, you have given us the right to be called children of God. Help us to show your love in our homes that they may be places of love, security and truth.
God of love,
All hear our prayer.

Loving God, Jesus, your Son, was born into the family of Mary and Joseph; bless all parents and all who care for children; strengthen those families living under stress and may your love be known where no human love is found.
God of love,
All hear our prayer.

Loving God, we thank you for the family of the Church. We pray that all may find in her their true home; that the lonely, the marginalized, the rejected may be welcomed and loved in the name of Jesus.
God of love,
All hear our prayer.

Loving God, as we see the brokenness of our world we pray for healing among the nations; for food where there is hunger; for freedom where there is oppression; for joy where there is pain; that your love may bring peace to all your children.
God of love,
All hear our prayer.

Loving God, accept the cries of our heart as we offer you prayers;
through them transform us and all creation until you are in all and through all.
We ask these and all our prayers in the name of Jesus.
Amen.

‘We walk on holy ground’ – 14th February 2021 – The Sunday next before Lent

Painting of the Transfiguration by Raphael

The Readings

2 Corinthians 4.3-6

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Mark 9.2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

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

The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Alan Billings. 

Many years ago when I was a curate, I conducted a wedding. After the young couple had exchanged their vows, the verger was supposed to switch off the microphone that stood in front of them. He forgot, and as we prepared to sing the second hymn, we heard the bridegroom talking to his new wife. He called her, ‘My little fish finger’.

My little fish finger. He called her this, of course, not because she was golden brown and covered in breadcrumbs, but as a term of affection. Some of us may have been doing something similar today, which happens to be St Valentine’s day.

It is sometimes quite difficult to find the words to express some of our deepest feelings or to describe some of our most profound experiences. The Bible is full of descriptions of people encountering God – and as often as not they seem very strange when they get put into words.

Take Moses. On one occasion he went up Mount Horeb. Here he met God. He had some overwhelming experience of the presence of God. How could it be described? It was as if a bush was on fire, yet was not consumed. Transfigured, we could say. Genesis goes on: “Then … God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”

God cannot be seen or even imagined – his presence is mysteriously felt. For Moses it was as if you were in front of a burning bush. God is utterly other, utterly holy. Moses is fearful. Yet God also draws near; he speaks to Moses.

And God identifies himself - as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. I have always read that as a way of saying that God exists beyond time and through all times; he has no beginning or end, and he keeps faith down the generations with his people.

But I came across a commentary on it by rabbis: they have a second explanation for those words – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – which I rather like. They say that this is a reminder that each person’s experience of the one God is different. Abraham’s experience, Isaac’s experience, Judaism’s experience, your experience, my experience, may be different – but it is the same God.

Then we have the gospel for today. We jump forward 1200 years. Jesus and his three disciples on another mountain. And the disciples have an experience which is equally strange and mysterious.

They see their teacher and friend, Jesus, transfigured in front of them, rather as the burning bush was transfigured for Moses. Again, a sense that this is holy ground, a little fearfulness. Yet God draws near and speaks to them out of the cloud that overshadows them, ‘This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him!’

This incident – the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain – comes at a critical moment for the disciples. They have recognised Jesus as the one sent by God. This experience nudges them towards a hard and bitter truth: that the way of the messiah is inescapably the way of suffering. That will put the faith they have in Jesus to the most severe test. A test they will at first fail before they can draw again on this experience and understand Jesus for who he is.

Transfigurations. Strange mysterious encounters with God. A sense of God’s utter holiness, his difference from us, his distance from us – for he is God and we are mere mortals, sinful mortals at that. A sense that we are on holy ground. Yet a sense too of God’s nearness to us, his approachability, his wanting to speak to us. All these emotions mixed up together. No wonder when they try to describe it all, it comes out in such odd ways.

I suspect we all have experiences of God which are equally strange and hard to put into words. People often have them when they step aside from life’s busyness – to come to church or say their prayers, or go on retreat.

But they come out of the blue, unbidden. And they can happen anywhere – in the countryside, in the house, walking down the street, as well as in church. At any time of day. They may come when we are doing something overtly religious – like saying our prayers or receiving the sacrament or singing hymns. They are just as likely to come, though, when we are doing something very mundane – like washing up or sweeping the yard. Cooped up at home in lockdown.

They are a funny mix of sensing God’s presence, sensing his holiness, his difference from us; a little fearful; yet also being aware of his nearness, his calling our name; a feeling of being safe in his presence. Sometimes, when this happens, the world around us lights up or takes on a transfigured appearance in some way – sometimes.

We couldn’t live in this state of heightened awareness all the time, of course; but we do need these moments when we glimpse God, when we encounter God the living and the true – what the NT calls seeing the glory of God. They are often only moments, sometimes only fleeting moments. But we need them. They refresh our spirits, they rekindle our hopes, they give us the strength and courage we need to go back to the mundane world and do battle again.

Alan Billings

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe. 

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

As we look towards the start of the season of Lent, we pray for God’s 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 and our sister Churches.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We are called to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and recognise that we are slaves for Jesus. During the time of reflection ahead of us, we pray that we may bring the light of the Gospel in to clearer focus in our own lives, as well as helping others perhaps see it for the first time.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

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

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. we continue to deal with 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, and for all those involved in distributing vaccinations.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

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

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

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

Rejoicing in the communion of Mary and of all the Saints, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to God. Merciful Father: accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Amen.

‘Can anything good come out of?’ – 17th January 2021 – 2nd Sunday of Epiphany

Fig tree

Image by Maahmaah

Shared under creative commons license:

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

The Readings

1 Samuel 3.1-10

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’

 

John 1.43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

 

The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes.

Last weekend I had an unexpected phone call. Stephen was someone I helped in my last parish. He had been homeless and we managed to get him settled in London with a job and somewhere to live. Unfortunately, that didn’t last and he was getting in touch to ask for some support. My last parish where Stephen and I had met is in a leafy suburb of Birmingham. Stephen seemed a bit surprised that I had moved to Sheffield. He thought it must have been a big change of context. ‘It’s a bit rough isn’t it?’ he asked.

Many of us have rather skewed perceptions of different parts of the country, or indeed the world. I used to get slightly pitying expressions when I said I lived in Birmingham. The family of a friend of mine sometimes say that something is a bit Barrow in Furness if it’s a bit down at heal. They have never been to Barrow in Furness but once read the name on pencils that are made there.

In Jewish culture, Galilee in general and Nazareth were often looked down on. They were close to areas occupied by Gentiles and the brand of Judaism that Galileans practised was seen as a bit suspect. And like the north in many countries Galilee was seen as remote and parochial.

We get a glimpse of this snobbery in our Gospel today when Philip goes to Nathanael and tells him about Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael is sceptical. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? he asks. We all need to let go of our preconceptions and broaden our minds sometimes. The world is full of surprises.

Thank goodness for Philip in this story. He is not easily put off. Philip is clearly excited by his encounter with Jesus and he knows that Nathanael will benefit from meeting Jesus too. ‘Come and see,’ he says. And what an amazing effect that has on Nathanael’s life. We know that lots of people have preconceptions about Christianity and the church. Some have never crossed the threshold of a church building. ‘Can anything good come out of St Mary’s Walkley?’ they might ask. Well, we can be Philip to them. We can say, ‘Come and see’. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t need to be able to explain everything about the Christian faith. Or even justify all the things that Christians do. We just need to give people that nudge, that invitation, that welcome.

Crossing the threshold of a church can be daunting for some people. There are lots of things that we do that many people would find strange and unfamiliar. For me I guess it would be a bit like going into a bookie’s to place a bet for the first time. I wouldn’t know where to start. But when someone new comes to church we can be a friendly face. Helping them to find their way. To know when to stand and when to sit. And inviting them to coffee afterwards. Remember coffee after church?

The thing that first impresses Nathanael about Jesus is that Jesus saw him under sitting under a fig tree before they even met. In spite of the fact that Nathanael was rude about Nazareth, Jesus welcomes him as an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Jesus sees Nathanael. He sees deep into his soul. And Nathanael feels really known and understood. And that’s important for all of us. We all want to be known and understood. And that’s as important now as it ever was. In this third lockdown when many of us are feeling lonely and isolated; we want to know and be known. We aren’t able to gather in church at the moment but we can still be in touch with each other. We might see someone else, not under a fig tree but on zoom at home. Or we might just remember them and think about them for a bit. And perhaps pick up the phone and see how they are. Ask if there’s anything we can do. Or just bring them to God in prayer.

The season of Epiphany is jam packed with stories and themes. And one of those themes is the theme of mission. Of God’s mission to the world. The birth of Jesus as a human being is an expression of God’s mission, of God reaching out to humanity. And throughout his life, Jesus reached out to the world, demonstrating God’s love and healing and forgiveness. And we share in that mission. As members of the body of Christ we share in the miseo dei. There are lots of things that we cannot do at the moment but we can still play our part. I’m really grateful to all those who contributed to the Foodbank and baby Basics on Wednesday and to those who have donated laptops for school children. The mission of God is incredibly broad and all of us can share in it.

In these very challenging times I think our first reading is also important for us. It’s one that is very dear to me and my own sense of calling. The calling of Samuel. Samuel was just a boy. An apprentice in the temple at Shiloh. Not someone with any authority or standing. The human equivalent of Nazareth. We are told that the word of the Lord was rare in those days and visions were not widespread. No one seemed to be hearing much from God. But God spoke to Samuel. And he became God’s mouthpiece. A great prophet. Samuel did not understand this at first. He though Eli was calling him. But eventually, Eli realised what was happening and helped him to listen to God. Sometimes we need to be Eli for other people. Helping them to hear what God is saying to them. And we all need to be like Samuel. Open. Listening. In this strange time when things keep changing and we are not sure what to do, we need to spend time waiting on God and say, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’ Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by Barbara, adapted from Common Worship copyright 2000 The Archbishop's Council

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

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

We pray for all of those affected by the Covid-19 epidemic. 
We pray for 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.

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.
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 for all countries facing elections and changes of government. Please bring all our leaders the skills needed to lead us wisely, in peace and good will.
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. 

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 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.

‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ 13th December 2020 Evening Prayer – 3rd Sunday of Advent

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 a pdf of the order of service:

20 12 13 Advent 3 Evening Prayer

Click here to download a Microsoft Word document of the order of service:

20 12 13 Advent 3 Evening Prayer

The Readings

Isaiah 40.1-8

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.

 

Mark 1.1-11

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
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 Kath, a Lay Reader at St Mary's.

For all that he is one of the best known characters in the Bible; it seemed to me that we don’t actually know that much about John the Baptist. This concerned me when I was allocated the task of preaching about him today, what was there to say about him beyond the stories that most of us know? In the interests of being thorough and making sure I hadn’t missed anything, I set about reading as much on John as I could find in the Bible and he is referred to in all four Gospels but to a large extent they say pretty much the same things. So what do we know about him? Well to start with his role is foretold in our passage from Isaiah; personally I think that the imagery used to convey something can sometimes get in its own way and I find it so with this passage which sounds more like a description of a colossal civil engineering project than telling us that someone will be sent ahead of the Messiah to prepare the way for him. Perhaps what it does successfully covey is the sheer scale of the task. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight”. No pressure!

To start at the beginning of his life we know that John was the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, a blessing from God in their old age. We hear how the baby leaps in his mother’s womb when she is visited by her cousin Mary who is pregnant with Jesus. In a break from tradition the child is not named after his father. Because he had not trusted God at a critical moment, Zechariah had been rendered unable to speak but at the naming of his son, when he confirms in writing that he is to be called John, his ability to speak is restored and he begins praising God. The neighbours present are made rather fearful by what has happened and they spread word of it throughout the region. All who hear about it recognise that there is something very special about John and wonder “What then will this child become?” Zechariah makes a speech about God’s gift of the Messiah and on what his own son’s role will be. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High: for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.”

I think it would be fair to say that most of us take a long time to find our career or path in life. Many of us make a few mistakes, take wrong turns or things don’t work out as we had hoped or planned, some of us have more than one career or vocation, some trust to providence, some just fall into whatever is available at the time and sadly some never find their way at all. For John it seems that his role and destiny were preordained before he was even born.

We hear nothing further about his life until he begins his public ministry other than that he was in the wilderness where he grew and became strong in spirit. It seems that he was taken into the wilderness to hide and protect him from King Herod’s edict to kill all the infant boys less than two years of age. I always thought that wearing camel’s hair clothing and a leather belt and living on locusts and wild honey didn’t sound like the most appealing of job descriptions but when you put it into the context of literally surviving that gives a slightly different perspective. It also stood John in good stead later in that he couldn’t be accused of using his ministry to “feather his own nest” so to speak. Instead he was accused of having a demon. It seems that sometimes you just can’t win!

As far as I can make out from the information readily available, it is probable that John began his ministry in his early thirties, as Jesus did. In Luke’s Gospel we hear that he went out into all the region around the Jordan “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. From then on, great numbers of people from all walks of life went out to him to be baptised in the river Jordan and seeking advice about what they should do in order to be saved. What he told them was simple and practical, for example to tax collectors he said “collect no more than the amount prescribed for you”, and to soldiers he said “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” This might not sound particularly remarkable but bear in mind this was a society where many people used whatever means they could to further their own interests, even if it meant trampling on or cheating others because they could get away with it. Come to think of it, things are not always so different nowadays!

When some Pharisees and Sadducees came to John for baptism he didn’t hold back in his criticism of them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not say to yourselves we have Abraham as our ancestor. ... Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

In light of what they saw and heard about John, many people wondered whether he was the Messiah but he always told them that he was not, saying “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 baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”

When Jesus himself came to John for baptism, John was initially reluctant to do this and thought that Jesus should be baptising him. But Jesus said it was right for him to be baptised by John so that is happened; as described at the end of our passage from Mark’s Gospel, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Immediately afterwards Jesus went into the wilderness and sometime later John was arrested by King Herod because he had openly criticised him for divorcing his wife and for his relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodias.

While in prison even John needed reassurance that Jesus was the Messiah. He sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come or should we wait for another? Jesus sends word back “Tell him what you see and hear”.

It might seem that John is not the important one in this story and that is how he saw himself but Jesus says of him “he is the greatest of all prophets” and calls him “Elijah, who is to come”. John said of his relationship with Jesus “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He displays true humility!

It seems that John knows that his role has been fulfilled. While he is in prison, there is a big celebration for Herod’s birthday and Salome, the daughter of Herodias, dances for him. He is so delighted by this that he promises her anything she asks for. At her mother’s bidding she asks for the head of John the Baptist and because he doesn’t want to lose face in front of his guests, Herod orders John’s immediate execution and he is beheaded. His head is given on a platter to Salome who then presents it to her mother. To all intents and purposes, it would seem that John had failed and lost and that his life had accounted for little. His disciples took his body away and buried it and they told Jesus what had happened. John’s death effectively warned Jesus to leave the area to avoid persecution. I couldn’t find any reference to how Jesus felt about all this but I don’t doubt that he was very distressed and saddened.

So what are we to make of John’s life and his death, what can we learn from it? This set me thinking about how we make our value judgements about our own lives and the lives of others. In our time and society we tend to be judged by our “successes” which in turn are frequently measured by our social status and financial wealth; not to achieve these things is all too often seen as making us a failure or somehow “lesser” and therefore lacking in value. We can be manipulated to be over-concerned with how we appear to others who then make value judgements about us without real knowledge or understanding of who and what we are or why and this can be done with a total lack of compassion or care. We see this happen not just to celebrities and well known people but to pretty much anyone. I feel sorry for those who have grown up in this culture where there is little to challenge or counter balance it. How does all this distort our approaches to life and vocation, especially when it is seen as the norm for behaviour?

A phrase I have always liked is “Standing on the shoulders of giants”. It comes from a quote by Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We are all shaped, at least to some extent, by those around us and in our history. If we are wise we will learn from them, both from their successes and their mistakes. My parents did their best to equip my sisters and me for life and to make things better for us for which I am profoundly grateful, enriched and humbled. Their parents did the same for them. I in my turn try to do the same for my children and their children. This desire to make things better for others doesn’t have to be within a family context, it can apply to any relationship.

Perhaps we can all benefit from reflecting on this. Maybe it isn’t our place to be number one or the most famous or rich or important but we can still be giants to those around us or who follow after us, just as John was for Jesus.

It seems there was more to say about John than I first thought.

The Prayers
Adapted from Common Worship Times and Seasons.

Watchful at all times,
let us pray for strength to stand with confidence
before our Maker and Redeemer.

That God may bring in his kingdom with justice and mercy,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

That God may establish among the nations
his sceptre of righteousness,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

That we may seek Christ in the Scriptures
and recognize him in the breaking of the bread,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

That God may bind up the brokenhearted,
restore the sick
and raise up all who have fallen,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

That the light of God’s coming may dawn
on all who live in darkness and the shadow of death,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

That, with all the saints in light,
we may shine forth as lights for the world,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

We commend ourselves and all for whom we pray
to the mercy and protection of our heavenly Father:

Silence is kept.

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

‘John the Baptist’ – 13th December 2020 -3rd Sunday of Advent

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 a pdf of the order of service:

20 12 13 Advent 3 Eucharist

Click here to download a Microsoft Word file of the order of service:

20 12 13 Advent 3 Eucharist

Image credit: John Stephen Dwyer

Creative commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

The Readings

Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-end

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

For I the Lord love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

 

John 1.6-8, 19-28

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.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said,
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’,
as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

 

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

The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings.

John the Baptist, whom we remember today with our third Advent candle, prepared people for the coming among them of Jesus. He was the cousin of Jesus, though a very different sort of person from him.

John was an ascetic. He believed you had to suffer a bit to be seriously religious. You had to go without creature comforts. Jesus, we know, took an opposite point of view. As a result, he was accused of being a bit too fond of the food and drink. His enemies said he was a drinker and a glutton. Compared to John the Baptist, he probably was. But that is not saying much. For John liked his religion lean and spare. No frills. Best practised away from the temptations and distractions of life in the city.

So John took himself off into the desert, while Jesus stayed in the towns. Not for John fine clothes. He dressed in a garment of camel’s hair, with a leather belt. Not for him fine food. He ate locusts and wild honey. Not for him the chatter and the laughter. What a contrast with Jesus who liked dinner parties, wore the tasselled dress of a rabbi, and joined in lively conversation.

But although he was very different from Jesus, even puzzled by Jesus’ behaviour; nevertheless, he could see who Jesus was and was very clear that his task was to prepare people for the coming of Jesus, and to see him as the Christ. In that respect he was a very gracious and humble man.

He said: ‘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.’

He might have been humble but he was far from being timid. He spoke out, urging people to sort out their lives as part of this getting ready for Christ’s coming. He even on one occasion publicly denounced the King who had married his dead brother’s wife – something forbidden. That got him put in prison and his head chopped off. But while he lived he never lost sight of the fact that he had the task of preparing the way for Jesus.

This was not a matter of making the Jews godly. They were already believers. They had the Torah – the scriptures – they worshipped in the Temple and said their prayers in the synagogue. John the Baptist’s task was to help them see God in Jesus.

All of which made me wonder how we, the Church, collectively, might be John the Baptist for people now. How might we point people to Jesus and help them see God in him.

Strange as it may seem, I believe the last few months of living with this awful disease, the coronavirus, with all its restrictions, has made me think about that afresh. I’ve come at it this way.

In my day job I have 23 people who work for me in my office. Since March they have all been working from home. Twice a week we all get together by video call and so I’ve been listening to what they say. It has been really quite revealing.

Eight months ago they were all saying how wonderful it was not to have to drive in every day to the office – it’s opposite IKEA - spending so much time sitting in traffic. Now, while they still want to have some days working from home – and we can arrange that – they have come to value and appreciate the working day, which for the moment they have lost. They have realised how the job didn’t just provide them with a wage; it also brought them companionship, friendship, human contact. We have all missed that.

And that is something that the Church also supplies week by week. Friendships and human contact. We miss it and have re-valued it during these last months.

As well as missing something, my office also discovered something. They discovered neighbours – neighbours in the sense of people next door or down the street. They noticed people around them, looked out for those who were frail or on their own. They appreciated more than they had ever done before what it means to be part of a community, to live in a place. They discovered what the Church of England has always understood the importance of the place you live – which we call the parish – where our neighbours are, where we are rooted.

This is the Anglican way of being a Christian. In our journey through life we become the people God wants us to be, not by ploughing some lone spiritual furrow, nor by joining a congregation distanced and unconnected with where we live, but by making our journey alongside others who are part of the community in which we live. A Church on the road, in the parish. The parish church, as its name suggests, brings together neighbours and teaches us all to value the parish, the place where our lives and our Church is set and to find Christ there.

If, like John the Baptist, our task is to help our neighbours find Jesus Christ, we need to value again both the parish church and the parish.

The Prayers
Prepared by Siobhan.

Holy God, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ our Saviour we ask you make us a holy people fit to meet him. We pray for our leaders ordained and non ordained, may they be blessed with wisdom as they guide us through Advent despite the pandemic. Strengthen the links between St Mary’s and our partnership churches St John’s Ranmoor and St Mark’s Broomhill.
Let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

Creator God,help the leaders of nations seek justice and peace, may there be good news for the poor and broken heartened, release those wrongly imprisoned and may conflicts be resolved. We pray for our country as we draw close to Brexit may solutions and a way forward be found. Help all who are struggling at this difficult time as COVID 19 continues globally.
Let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

Father God, we pray for all who bear witness to the message of Christ by word and example. We pray particularly for the teaching staff at our church school and for all those involved in the education of young people. We pray for parents and grandparents and remember families who are troubled or face financial hardship. We pray too for chaplaincies, community leaders and for all who work with the homeless and marginalised in our society.
Let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

Compassionate God, we entrust to your tender care those who are ill or in pain, knowing that whenever danger threatens your everlasting arms are there to hold them safe. Comfort and heal them and restore them to health and strength. Be with hospital staff and medical researchers, give resilience, empathy and compassion to those caring for the sick.
Let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

Gracious God, may those who have died be granted the peace of your heavenly kingdom. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

Faithful God, as we continue this Advent journey, may we open our minds and hearts to your word and presence in those we encounter. In silence we bring our own prayer intentions and those who have asked for our prayers before you.

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

‘The Prophets’ – 6th December 2020 @ 6:30pm – The Second Sunday of Advent

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

Click here to view the live-stream:

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

Click here to download a pdf of the order of service:

20 12 06 Advent 2 Evening Prayer

Click here to download a Microsoft Word copy of the order of service:

20 12 06 Advent 2 Evening Prayer

The Readings

Ezekiel 34: 11-16

For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

 

Matthew 5: 17-20

Jesus said ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

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

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

This time last year, the coronavirus was something we were dimly aware of as a health problem in China.  Few had heard of Jonathan Van-Tam, Britain’s deputy chief medical officer.  Yet this week “JVT” as he is now being styled, is fast becoming a national treasure, someone we trust to tell the truth about anything concerning the pandemic.  He tells it like it is, dishing out the advice he’d give to his mum, and voicing his concerns about some of the official advice given by politicians.  

JVT likes to use metaphor to explain things.  Where another person might slip the occasional metaphor into a sentence when explaining something, JVT picks one and runs with it.  So you get a whole paragraph describing in detail how the latest situation with respect to lock-downs or vaccines is like a football match (complete with goals, extra time and penalties) or railway journeys (the train has slowed safely and stopped at the station.  It will call all over the country – so please get on board.  More trains will follow).

I wonder if JVT is familiar with chapter 34 of Ezekiel?  Because like JVT, Ezekiel likes to take a metaphor and exploit it to the full. We only heard a few verses this evening, but the prophecy of chapter 34 is best read as a whole.  It explores the well-used Biblical metaphor of sheep and shepherding from many different angles. 

Ezekiel’s prophecy voices the word of God:

In verses 1-6 God addresses the “Shepherds of Israel”.  They have fed themselves and not their sheep, whose wool they continue to take.  They have not healed their sheep when sick, and have not sought them out when they’ve strayed.  As a consequence the sheep have been scattered far and wide.

In verses 7-10 God declares that he has therefore stripped the shepherds of their responsibility.  They no longer have charge of the sheep.  God himself will rescue the sheep.

In verses 11-16, which we heard this evening, God declares that he himself will seek out all the lost sheep from the many places they have strayed.  They will be brought back to good grazing land in Israel.  He will strengthen the weak and destroy the strong.  Justice will come about.

Then in verses 17- 22 comes a message addressed to the sheep themselves.  Feed on good ground, but beware of trampling on the food and spoiling it for others.  It is not to be a mad dash survival of the fittest.  God will destroy those sheep who have become fat at the expense of others.

Forget any notions of romantic rural idylls.  Shepherding was a difficult and responsible management job, leading the sheep to places where they’d find decent food, keeping them safe from wild animals, rounding up the strays and keeping the flock together.  

Of course Ezekiel is not declaring God’s word to actual shepherds and sheep, but to people.  In the Ancient Near East, kings were often described as “shepherds”.  The Kings had overall responsibility for the welfare of their people – safety from enemies, enough food to eat, shelter, care when sick, keeping people together in the community, maintaining harmony within the community and above all, religious guidance.  

Ezekiel is thought to have been among those from Judah who were deported to Babylon when the Babylonians invaded the land and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Yet he addresses them as if they are the whole nation of Israel.  He is highly damning of the leaders who have failed in their responsibility to their people.  And now they are being punished.  They no longer have care of their flock.

Ezekiel addresses the ordinary people too – in this time of great upheaval, it has been everyone for themselves, with people fighting over scarce resources and some thriving at the expense of others.  They too are warned of the consequences of this.

But the prophecy does not end with doom and warning. In verses 23-4 God promises to restore his servant David as shepherd of the people.  God is ultimate king, but David is his human representative on earth.  David, or someone descended from him will come to restore things.  As a result, verses 25-31 foresee a renewal of the Covenant of peace, the land restored with fruitful trees and plentiful harvests.  The people will be released from slavery and will be safe from both wild animals and threats from other nations.  All will know that the LORD is God and that the people, the House of Israel, are his people.

Ezekiel’s prophecy holds true for the world today just as it did for the remnant of Judah in exile in Babylon.  Times are very tough.  Our leaders do not always seem to be getting things right.  And as the pandemic drags on, patience is being severely tried, tempers are becoming frayed and some people are looking out for themselves and forgetting the more vulnerable.

In this second week of Advent we focus on the prophets.  Times were grim, but the prophets foresaw a time when a king from David’s line would be restored and all would be well.  It would be, as Joe said last week, around 14 more generations before the birth of this new king.  A long time to wait.  But he would be born and all would be well.

Times are grim at the moment and we won’t be able to celebrate the birth of this new king quite in our usual way.  The vaccines are almost ready to be rolled out, so hopefully we won’t have to wait 14 generations before we can freely mix with our friends and families at Christmas.  In the meantime, like Israel we watch and wait, and we take encouragement and guidance from the words of the prophets of old and the deputy chief medical officers of today.

The Prayers
Prepared by David, adapted from Common Worship Times and Seasons.

In joyful expectation of his coming to our aid
we pray to Jesus.

Come to your Church as Lord and judge.
We pray for our Bishops, Pete and Sophie,
our Mission Partnership churches, St Marks and St Johns,
and all who minister here at St Mary's
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing for your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to your world as King of the nations.
We pray for the leaders of the nations,
for those negotiating a mutually equitable agreement with the European Union
and for a peaceful transfer of power in the United States of America.
Before you rulers will stand in silence.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to the suffering as Saviour and comforter.
We pray for those who are struggling with loneliness,
for those undergoing medical treatment,
and for those who have no hope.
Break into our lives,
where we struggle with sickness and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to us as shepherd and guardian of our souls.
We remember all who have died, praying for Pam and all who mourn her loss.
Give us with all the faithful departed
a share in your victory over evil and death.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come from heaven, Lord Jesus, with power and great glory.
Lift us up to meet you,
that with Mary, Mark, John and all your saints and angels
we may live and reign with you in your new creation.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay;
give new courage to your people,
who trust in your love.
By your coming, raise us to share in the joy of your kingdom
on earth as in heaven,
where you live and reign with the Father and the Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

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

‘Comfort and Joy’ – 6th December 2020 @10:30am – The Second Sunday of Advent

This Sunday morning marks the first public service since the second lockdown.

Click here to view the live-stream

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

Click here to download a pdf order of service:

20 12 06 Advent 2 Eucharist

Or here for a Microsoft Word order of service:

20 12 06 Advent 2 Eucharist

The Readings

Isaiah 40.1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

 

Mark 1.1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
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.’

 

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 the Revd Caitlin Thomson from St Mark's Broomhill and Broomhall

My favourite carol has to be ‘God rest ye merry..’ – with a beautiful tune and memorable lyrics, it succinctly summarises the purpose of the Christmas season:

God rest ye merry, gentlefolk,
let nothing ye dismay;
for Jesus Christ our saviour
was born on Christmas Day;
to save us all from Satan’s power
when we were gone astray.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy –
Comfort and joy!
Oh tidings of comfort and joy!

As I continue to remain mostly at home, it has felt important to me that I set this season apart to embrace its message – it could so easily melt into the indistinct blob of time which started in Lent… indeed, for many of us it may feel like we are still in Lent, awaiting the resurrection and celebration of Easter.

I’ve been putting extra effort into marking Advent – the Nativity set is out, my Jesse Tree is up to help me reflect on the journey from Creation to Christ, and my Advent playlist has been brought out of its digital slumber.

In many ways, it is starting to feel more like Christmas for me than past years now. I’m more engaged with the season, because my longing for its message is deeper.

I desire to be merry this season, and to put aside my fears and troubles.

I want to bear tidings of comfort and joy.

And so, this morning, because I long to share tidings of comfort and joy, I want to talk about the message of comfort that we heard in our reading from Isaiah this morning.

First, some context:

In the previous chapter of Isaiah, the prophet goes to see King Hezekiah who is being courted by the Babylonian empire (and is enjoying the attention). Isaiah warns him that the Babylonians are going to invade and carry off all the wealth that Hezekiah has been showing off – even some of the king’s sons will be stolen away as slaves. However, Hezekiah doesn’t care and is instead comforted as the misfortune will not affect him but his descendants!

So we enter chapter 40 with an Israel whose King cares only for himself – an Israel who, due to the actions (or inaction) of their King is going to endure a time of suffering.

And these are the opening words of God to this people:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.

The consolation is immediate, the contrast clear – this is a ruler who cares. In the Hebrew, the instruction ‘comfort’ is plural, an instruction to the heavenly courts… it is as if God is calling his kingdom to rise up around the people in support and solidarity – not just one voice of comfort, but many. This message is also to be repeated – enduring and continuous as a more accurate translation of God’s action here is not just ‘says your God’ but ‘your God keeps saying’.

And what do the people need to hear? On the surface, verse 2 seems to indicate that Israel is being punished, but digging deeper reveals the opposite – the price has already been paid. The image of ‘receiving from the Lord’s hand double’ is not intended as an expression of harsh punishment, but instead paints a picture of how God’s wisdom is ‘folded over’ double on itself – difficult to understand, but always overlaid with love. This is an image of forgiveness laminated with grace – unconditional and generous.

This is, after all, the character of the Lord: gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love. Whatever is happening, however far God’s people have strayed, the Lord’s loving kindness endures.

The passage then continues to express this message through three movements:

In the first movement a voice cries out in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord!” This is a call to make ready to receive the royal procession, to welcome with joy and celebration the King of Love whose glory shall be revealed to all people. This is a ruler who cares for everyone (a stark contrast to the selfish Hezekiah), and who will move among his people.

In the second movement, the prophet turns back to himself and asks, “what shall I cry?” Humanity is held up in contrast to the divine nature – humans are fleeting and inconsistent  - the prophet even uses the word hesed which is the word used for God’s loving-kindness/goodness/mercy throughout the Old Testament but which you may be most familiar with in Psalm 23 – (surely goodness and mercy shall follow me…) Humanity’s hesed (in the NRSV translated as consistency) is like the flower of the field – it withers and fades – this is held in contrast to the eternal and unchanging hesed of God. Human purposes will falter and fade, and our experiences are transient – but the divine purposes never fail. The love of God underwrites all of history – it is always there and always constant.

The third movement carries us up the high and holy mountain; an instruction for the heavenly kingdom to herald the coming victory of God. The language used alludes to Miriam, the prophetess - heralding victory already accomplished and rushing to assemble a welcoming party to meet the Shepherd and those he is leading home.

So what is the comfort to God’s people?

  • That even through the hardest times, the Lord has not abandoned us. God is with us in the darkest valley and leads us through the wilderness to reach our home.
  • No matter what we believe about divine punishment, God’s mercy always extends further.
  • We have a divine ruler who cares about us and wants us to be happy – he wants us to be rejoice and be glad, and to be free from the shadow of despair. God is actively concerned with our wellbeing – and even wades in to retrieve us when we stray too far.
  • In all of this, God is constant – his loving mercy endures forever.

This is a message to sustain Israel through their trials – and one which is still relevant to us today. This message of comfort and joy can sustain us too - the Church of England has even identified it as the message which is most needed this year and has chosen ‘Comfort and Joy’ as our Christmas 2020 ‘strapline’.

The more I engage with this message, the more it means to me. As with many matters of faith, message circles deeper, and the more you encounter it the further in it draws you.

I began Advent this year recognising that comfort and joy seemed a bit further away, that the ‘different’ nature of this season meant I would need to work more proactively and intentionally to ‘feel’ Advent and Christmas. And it has been working – I am discovering comfort and joy because I am seeking it and expecting to find it.

It is this active involvement which is making the difference – just as there is a call in Isaiah to prepare the way of the Lord and to herald his victory, so we are called to herald the birth of our saviour and celebrate with tidings of comfort and joy by living in expectation of their truth.

There are a myriad of ways that we can do this – whether you are counting the days to Christmas with an advent calendar or candle, decorating a Jesse Tree, baking, cooking, decorating your house, preparing gifts and activities for friends and family, or planning services and events in which we can communally celebrate the birth of Christ (even if we have to do so in different ways this year)… whatever you are doing to mark Advent and prepare for Christmas, I encourage you to seek eagerly in expectation knowing that you will find Jesus in the manger. The light of the world has come: it shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

And whatever you are going through this Advent, may you find comfort in this: the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love. His love endures forever.

Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by David, adapted from Common Worship Times and Seasons.

In joyful expectation of his coming to our aid
we pray to Jesus.

Come to your Church as Lord and judge.
We pray for our Bishops, Pete and Sophie,
our Mission Partnership churches, St Marks and St Johns,
and all who minister here at St Mary's
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing for your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to your world as King of the nations.
We pray for the leaders of the nations,
for those negotiating a mutually equitable agreement with the European Union
and for a peaceful transfer of power in the United States of America.
Before you rulers will stand in silence.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to the suffering as Saviour and comforter.
We pray for those who are struggling with loneliness,
for those undergoing medical treatment,
and for those who have no hope.
Break into our lives,
where we struggle with sickness and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to us as shepherd and guardian of our souls.
We remember all who have died, praying for Pam and all who mourn her loss.
Give us with all the faithful departed
a share in your victory over evil and death.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come from heaven, Lord Jesus, with power and great glory.
Lift us up to meet you,
that with Mary, Mark, John and all your saints and angels
we may live and reign with you in your new creation.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay;
give new courage to your people,
who trust in your love.
By your coming, raise us to share in the joy of your kingdom
on earth as in heaven,
where you live and reign with the Father and the Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

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

‘Christ the King’ – 22nd November 2020 – Last Sunday before Advent

Image by: John Stephen Dwyer, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Readings

Ephesians 1.15-end

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

 

Matthew 25.31-end

Jesus said, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

 

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.

The Sermon
By Canon Dr Alan Billings

We are so familiar with this passage and so familiar with the way it is often, if not always, explained, that we can miss, as a result, many of the things that Jesus is actually saying to us – both then and now.

For instance, starting where the parable starts – with sheep and goats.

it was only when I went to the Holy Land that I realised how difficult it is to separate sheep and goats in that part of the world. Here, we have no trouble. Sheep look very different from goats. But the Palestinian sheep and the Palestinian goat look alike – with their droopy long ears.

So the first thing Jesus is saying is quite hard for us to grasp, let alone put into practice. He is saying something about how difficult it is to recognise in the here and now those who deserve to be on God’s right hand and those who will be on his left – the good and the bad. In the here and now they are often indistinguishable.

We don’t really believe that. So we have to be jolted into thinking about the truth of that. We need to pause before we start condemning others. We may not be as clever at spotting the difference as we think.

And there will be all sorts of reasons for that.

In the first place, we only see what people do, we don’t see, we can’t see, their motivation for doing it. And that may be very important.

Why did she walk out on her children all those years ago? We may be quick to judge. But we don’t know that she knew that, if she had stayed, she might well have done something to them that she would have regretted. She knew the inner compulsions. She knew how close she came on more than one occasion to hitting them with fury. So she walked away, even though it broke her heart to do so.

As God said to Samuel: “...for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16.7

We do not see as the Lord sees, so we ought to pause before we judge others – in the same way we might hope that others would pause before they judge us – a familiar theme in the gospel.

Jesus is also saying something else in this passage. And this too may be hard to hear.

He is not saying, I’m going to give you a list of things I want you to do in order to win the approval of our heavenly Father. This is not a check list for us to scroll down and tick off:

yes, fed the hungry – gave to a foodbank

yes, gave sustenance to the thirsty – supported the charity Water Aid

yes, took in someone stranded who needed a bed for the night

.. and so on.

The point of the list is not that we go down it and tick things off, it is only to make the point that there will be those who should have done something – not necessarily these things – but they didn’t. They didn’t because they didn’t recognise what they should have done. Their hearts, perhaps, were hearts of stone, or lacked compassion or generosity. The point is that they didn’t understand why their outward behaviour was so lacking because they didn’t acknowledge what their inner self was really like.

In the same way, those who are commended are not commended because they did what was on this list – the list could have been any number of things. They are commended for doing good in ways they didn’t know were good. They did these things because they had generous, loving and compassionate hearts, not because they followed a checklist. They didn’t know they were doing good. They were not self conscious about it at all.

So the parable is saying this. Not do the things on this list and you will be alright in the judgement. It is saying you will not know what the judgement is until you are judged because the important thing will be what you carry in your heart, what motivates you. That is what will put you on God’s right or his left. And that holds the potential to surprise us all – unless we sort our heart out.

For while man looks on the outward appearance, the Lord will look on the heart.

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe.

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father

As we celebrate the festival of Christ the King, 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.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and influence be used compassionately for the good of all.  Bring clarity of thought and vision to those who make an implement policy. We particularly pray for a smooth and peaceful transition of power in the United States.   We pray that all decisions made are for the benefit of all people, and that they bring your Kingdom closer to all people.
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 we start to look towards the end of our current lockdown, remind us to behave with the good of all people in mind. Lord, we pray for those who are worried and troubled especially at this time of continuing uncertainty.  We pray for those whose health and livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19, and those who have ongoing health or emotional problems where treatments are still only partially available.
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.
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.

Heavenly Father, you have rescued us from the power of darkness. Help us to walk in this world as citizens of your kingdom of light where Christ reigns as King in eternal glory.

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