‘Who am I?’ – 9th January 2022 – Baptism of Christ

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22 01 09 Baptism of Christ Eucharist

22 01 09 Baptism of Christ Eucharist

The Readings

Acts 8.14-17

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 10.17-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

The Sermon
By David, Reader at St Mary's

Who am I?

Who am I?

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten my name between my seat and the lectern. Nor am I suggesting we play a game of Biblical Guess Who, and yes, such a game does exist.

These words are a song title and quote from the musical Les Misérables. They are sung by the protagonist, Jean Valjean, upon discovering a man has been mistaken for him and arrested in his place. Valjean is at a crossroads and grapples with the decision before him. “If I speak, they are condemned, if I stay silent, I am damned.” Should he speak and disrupt the lives of all those who look to him for employment and leadership? Or should he stay silent and allow an innocent man to be imprisoned? I won’t spoil the plot.

In the song he uses both his real name and his prisoner number, 24601. He is caught between identities, his real name, which he cannot use. His prisoner number which has been given to him to dehumanise him and his assumed name, which he has used to shield himself from the law for years. But who is he?

Our Gospel passage this morning centres around Jesus’ identity. In Luke chapter 1 and 2 we have heard at Christmas the story of the birth of Jesus. Chapter 3 opens and the story has moved on, Jesus and John are now both adults. John has proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Those who come to see him wonder if he is the promised Messiah. He makes it clear that another is to come. One who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire rather than water.

In the similar passages in the Gospels according to Matthew and Mark Jesus is directly baptised by John himself. Luke is more ambiguous. He doesn’t explicitly state John baptises Jesus. His motives are varied. Luke was writing for a primarily non-Jewish audience and so the exact specifics of the Jewish Messiahs’ interaction with John are less important. But he also doesn’t focus on the baptism itself. It happens, it is recorded, but what takes place next is more important.

Jesus was praying. This is a recurring theme in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus at prayer before a major turning point in his life.

Then the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him. A voice came from heaven “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Here we have Jesus’ identity confirmed, God’s Son. Not just confirmation of who Jesus is, also affirmation that he is Beloved and God is pleased with him. This is the affirmation, available to all, which we get at our baptism, again at our confirmation and week by week in worship of God at the Eucharist.

Jesus Baptism is one of three major landmarks in Jesus’ life where he prays and there is divine revelation in response. The others are at the Transfiguration in Luke 9 and in the garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22. At the Transfiguration Moses and Elijah appear in glory and a voice from the cloud says “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” In Gethsemane Jesus prays “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done”. Then an angel appears and gives Jesus strength. Later at his interrogation and trial he will be mockingly asked if he is the Son of God.

At each of these three points there is change in Jesus’ life. At his baptism he moves from his early life, which aside from one instance in the temple we know nothing about, to the beginning of his ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.

When Transfigured Jesus’ appearance changes and he moves from one phase of his ministry to another. In Gethsemane he commits to the events of Holy Week.

Each time there is a choice to make or major change in Jesus’ life he is found in prayer. Having been baptised by John, should he move from what we assume was a settled life as a carpenter? Being transfigured and chosen, should he turn his face to Jerusalem? Finding himself in Gethsemane, the last point at which he could reasonably avoid his Passion, should he drink of the cup prepared for him?

We know how this story ends. With each choice Jesus is affirmed in his identity as the Son of God. This affirmation strengthens him to face the path ahead. His decisions are bound up in his identity. We, as children of God, are offered the affirmation that we are Beloved and God is pleased with us. May it strength us for the journey we face.

Returning to where we began, with Jean Valjean, we see the agony of decision making exemplified, as he works through whether he should turn himself in and set free an innocent man. But he doesn’t ask “what should I do?”. He asks, “Who am I?”

 

The Prayers
Prepared by Barbara.

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

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

We pray for all of those affected by the Covid-19 epidemic.
We pray for those countries currently suffering from upsurges of the virus, thinking especially of those
facing the omicron variant: please help them to keep their most vulnerable citizens safe.

We pray for the worldwide success of vaccination campaigns, and that vaccines are made available to all
countries, regardless of their wealth or lack thereof. Please help each of us to give informed reassurance to
those we know who are wary of having the vaccine and to play what part we can in ensuring that the rest of
the world gets vaccinated too.

We pray especially for all workers in direct contact with the public who are at such risk of exposure to the
virus: health care providers, shop workers, bus drivers, schoolteachers and all others similarly exposed.
Please help all of us to protect all of them by continuing to wear masks in public and practice safe social
distancing and by getting vaccinated, if we have not already done so.

We pray also for all those involved in trying to fight the climate crisis Please give all governments the
political courage to resist further use of fossil fuels and to invest in sources of renewable energy instead.
Please help each of us individually to contribute to protecting our planet in any way we can.
We pray for all those affected by war or tyrannical regimes, thinking particularly of people in Kazakhstan
and the Ukraine. Please bring strength and comfort to those affected.
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 especially for our worshipping community of St. John’s Ranmoor, St. Mark’s Broomhill and St.
Mary’s Walkley as we struggle to cope with the ongoing pandemic. Please help us to feel your presence in a
world turned upside down and to share that presence with others.

We pray that we can continue to worship together in ways that are safe for all of us, whether in person or
online. Please help us to think of each other and let each other know that we care and to remember those
who feel increasingly lonely and unsafe as the world is hit by yet more upsurges and variants of the virus.
Please help us find ways to reach all of our parish, both those who do have access to the internet and those
who do not.
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 ...

We pray for all those personally affected by covid, either because they are suffering from it or someone dear
to them is suffering from it. Please bring them healing and future good health.

We pray for all those struggling to get medical treatment that they need, as the omicron epidemic threatens
to overwhelm our NHS. We pray also for all those working in the NHS. Please help us to make their lives
easier, as they struggle to make our lives safer.

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 who are suffering the loss of friends
and loved ones, asking that you bring your comfort and healing to them at this time of grief.

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

‘God in a changing world’ – 28th November 2021 – The 1st Sunday of Advent

Order of service

This morning's order of service is available here:

21 11 28 Advent 1 Eucharist

21 11 28 Advent 1 Eucharist

To watch this week's service on YouTube, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

The Readings

Jeremiah 33. 14 - 16

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

 

Luke 21. 25 - 36 

‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’

Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

 

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
The Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings.

When I heard on Friday the news headlines and the weather forecast for this
weekend, I thought they must have picked up today’s gospel reading by
mistake. It wasn’t quite St Luke but it didn’t seem far off. This is Luke:

There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on the earth
distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the
waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming
upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

On Friday night the weather map had red and amber alerts all over it and in
the way the broadcasters these days love to inflict cruel and unnatural
punishment on their journalists, reporters had to stand on exposed beaches
or harbour walls, lashed by wind and rain, to tell us the bad news about Storm
Arwen. They didn’t really have to say anything. They just had to stand there
and try not to get blown over. The detail of what they said was all lost on me. I
just wanted them, soaking wet and shaking with cold, to get inside
somewhere with a mug of coffee and some fish and chips.

This was after weeks of climate change warriors – like my ten year old grand-
daughter - telling us that unless we radically change our lifestyles - swap cars
for bikes and take all our holidays in Cleethorpes - we are destined to see our
summers blighted by plagues of locusts and our winters made desperate by
overflowing rivers.

And all this against a background of a pandemic that we cannot control.

I can’t remember a time when we had so much to be anxious about.

And perhaps the key to our anxiety is in that word ‘control’. For the first time
in my lifetime I have felt, as never before, that our old confidence that
whatever the world threw at us, we could in the end bring under our dominion,
our control, was shaken.

If that is what we are beginning to feel, we are right back where those who
first heard these words of Jesus were. They lived in a world that they knew
very well was beyond their control. And from time to time that scared them:

There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on the earth
distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the
waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming
upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Now, for us, the powers of the heavens are being shaken. And we are
experiencing what they experienced: the realisation that in the end, we
cannot control the world in which we live.

We’ve lived with that illusion for a very long time, hanging our confidence on
those words in the first creation story in the Book of Genesis. God said to the
man and the woman: Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it;
and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and
over every living thing that moves upon the earth’.

We read those words ‘have dominion over’ to mean ‘do what you like with’.

We forgot that we were created in the image of God and after his likeness,
that our having dominion over was to mirror his having dominion over, which
was not exploiting the world but loving it, caring for it, looking after it.

And because we misread that text, we thought we had a God-given right to
exploit and we thought that meant the world was ours to control.

Now we know. Like those first Christians we are having to acknowledge that
the world is not ours to control and we are as frightened by events in the
natural world as they were. The centuries of hubris are over and we will learn
the hard lesson the hard way:

There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on the earth
distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the
waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming
upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

But we cannot stop there. That would deliver us back into the world of the
pagans from which Christian faith delivers us. Jesus goes on to address us in
2021 quite directly.

The kingdom of God, he says, is near. The day of God is near. So:

Be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with
dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day
does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.

What will give us back our confidence and take away our fear is not the false
god of control. We cannot control the world. We cannot control the future. But
we can find the true God in all the ever changing circumstances of our lives,
however those changing circumstances turn out.

This season of Advent starts the Church’s new year with this call to people
who are fearful, but who know that their security does not lie in trying to
control things but in knowing that they can find God in a changing world.

Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape
all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

The Prayers

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

Come to your Church as Lord and judge.
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing for your kingdom.
Maranatha:
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to your world as King of the nations.
Before you rulers will stand in silence.
Maranatha:
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to the suffering as Saviour and comforter.
Break into our lives,
where we struggle with sickness and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.
Maranatha:
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to us as shepherd and guardian of our souls.
Give us with all the faithful departed
a share in your victory over evil and death.
Maranatha:
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

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.
Maranatha:
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

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.
Amen.

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

‘Peace’ – 14th November 2021 – Remembrance Sunday Evening

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

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

The Readings

Hebrews 10. 11 - 25

And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’, and since then has been waiting ‘until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’ For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
‘This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds’,
he also adds,
‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

 

Mark 13. 1 - 8 

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

.

The Sermon

Will be uploaded later on.

The Prayers

Let us pray for all who suffer as a result of conflict,
and ask that God may give us peace:

for the service men and women
who have died in the violence of war,
each one remembered by and known to God;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

For those who love them in death as in life,
offering the distress of our grief
and the sadness of our loss;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

For all members of the armed forces
who are in danger this day,
remembering family, friends
and all who pray for their safe return;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

For civilian women, children and men
whose lives are disfigured by war or terror,
calling to mind in penitence
the anger and hatreds of humanity;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

For peacemakers and peacekeepers,
who seek to keep this world secure and free;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

For all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership,
political, military and religious;
asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve
in the search for reconciliation and peace;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those whose memory we cherish,
and those whose names we will never know.
Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world,
and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm.
As we honour the past,
may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever.
Amen.

‘Harvest’ – 3rd October 2021

The order of service

To download this week's order of service as a pdf, please click here:

21 10 03 Harvest Order of Service

To download this week's order of service as a word document, please click here:

21 10 03 Harvest Order of Service

Livestreaming

Please find a link to the church's YouTube channel here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

The Readings

Jeremiah 32:1-3, 5b-15
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Zedekiah had said, ‘Why do you prophesy and say: Thus says the Lord: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; though you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed?’

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’ Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

 

Matthew 6.25-33

Jesus said, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’

 

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

The Sermon
By Canon Dr Michael Bailey

Will be made available when possible.

The Prayers
Prepared by Shirley.

Creator God, on this day when we celebrate Harvest we pray for your Church in this country. We are truly grateful for what you have given us, please help us not to forget all those who are hungry, here and throughout the world, those whose homes have been wrecked by famine, flood, invasion and other disasters. Be with all those in need of any kind and help all charities as they seek to serve them.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer. 
Creator God, we pray for all clergy and lay workers throughout the Sheffield Diocese. Please be with our Bishops, Pete and Sophie, and all those at St. John’s, St. Mark’s and here at St. Mary’s. Please give them all wisdom and great faith.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer. 
Creator God, we pray for all those in Sheffield who are homeless, and those needing help from foodbanks. Please be with The Archer Project and with those organizing or receiving help from local foodbanks.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer. 
Creator God, please be with all those known to us who are sick, in mind, body or spirit. Cover them with your unfailing love.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer. 
Creator God, be with all those who are nearing the end of their earthly lives. Give the freedom from pain and anxiety and grant them a peaceful end. We remember those known to us who have died recently or in the past.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer. 

Finally, a prayer adapted from a speech by Chief Seattle in 1854.

Creator God, every part of the earth is sacred. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.
The air is precious; for we all share the same breath.
This we know, the earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.
This we know, all things are connected; like the blood which unites one family.
Our God is the same God, whose compassion is equal for all.
For we did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand of it.
Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.

Merciful Father
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.
Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here, is copyright © The Archbishops' Council 2000

‘Pick up your cross’ – 12th September 2021 – 15th Sunday after Trinity

The order of service

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

21 09 12 15th Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

To download a Microsoft Word version of the order of service please click here:

21 09 12 15th Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

To watch the service on Youtube, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

The Readings

Isaiah 50. 4 - 9a

The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backwards.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.

 

Mark 8. 27 - end

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

 

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

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

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

CS Lewis, in a 1944 pamphlet for the Electrical and Musical Industries Christian Fellowship, wrote:

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

Of course, Christianity will bring us joy and ultimate salvation, and Jesus reminds him that he will relieve us of our burdens, but the process of getting there might be hard going. In fact, in scripture, we’re reminded that if we follow Jesus, people may well hate us for it; in some cases Christians may die for our faith.

So…I’ll start today by asking the question ‘Will Christianity make us uncomfortable?’ to which I’d reply ‘Only if it’s done properly’.

Today’s Gospel reading includes the following two statements from Jesus:

He famously admonishes Peter with the words ‘Get behind me, Satan’.

He tells his disciples ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’.

The people are becoming aware of this new teacher amongst them; some are saying that he is a returned Old Testament prophet, or Elijah, or even that he is the recently executed John the Baptist. And a number will no doubt be wondering whether He is the promised Messiah come to free the people of Israel from their Roman occupiers.

Peter tells Jesus that he believes him to be the Messiah, but when Jesus starts telling the people that He will be abused, tried, executed and will rise again from the dead Peter tries to tell Jesus to not say these things. After all, if Jesus is the Messiah the people are hoping for – the one who will free them from oppression – how can he do this by dying? I can imagine Peter thinking that all Jesus needs to do is call upon an army of angels to defeat the Romans, and poof! Society will be purified, Israel’s supremacy amongst the nations will be secure, all will be good! Of course, Peter is thinking in purely worldly terms; he misses the point of what Jesus is saying, and His teacher swiftly admonishes him.

The words ‘Get behind me, Satan’ may seem quite harsh to us. In Judaism – and we need to bear in mind that Jesus and his followers are Jews and are steeped in those traditions – Satan is often regarded as a being subservient to God but representing the evil intentions within all men. When Jesus says ‘you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ to Peter, He is telling Peter that the Messianic promise Jesus offers is not dealing with the local problem of the Roman garrison, but the over-arching issue of the saving of mankind and the defeat of death that can only be obtained through His sacrifice on the cross.
And Satan has already attempted to tempt Jesus with Earthly prizes – like dominion of all the land he could see from the top of the Temple in Jerusalem – when he tempted Jesus during Jesus’s time in the desert.
As Jesus had seen off the tempter himself, he was clearly not going to be deflected from His path by Peter, who in mis-understanding Jesus has effectively become an unwitting mouthpiece for Satan. Peter is projecting his own thoughts and desires as to what the word ‘messiah’ means to him on to Jesus, rather than understanding Jesus’s true Messianic destiny, which must lead to the cross.

Jesus then goes on to tell the people listening that if anyone wants to follow Him, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. Let’s break this down.

What does it mean ‘to deny oneself’? These days we look at this in terms of not following up on our desires, delaying gratification or generally ‘doing the right thing’. We might deny ourselves puddings if we want to lose weight, or put off spending money if it would cause us some problems. But This is trivial compared to what Jesus meant; to his listeners, the idea of self was wrapped up with where they belonged in terms of community, class, sex, caste, freeman or slave. To be asked to deny themselves wasn’t about giving something up; it was about transformation. They were being asked to transform themselves – to turn their back on where they were in society and life, and start afresh.

Hearing the phrase ‘pick up your cross’ would probably cause the number of potential followers to thin out somewhat. The cross was recognised as a tool and symbol of oppression, torture and death. Crucifixion was the punishment for treason, for example. It was a humiliating, slow, public and painful death. Were you to be sentenced to be crucified, ‘picking up your cross’ had a literal meaning – you were expected to carry the means of your own execution to the execution site. Today we understand taking up your cross as a symbolic means of describing engaging in struggle; to Jesus’s audience there was little that was symbolic about it. Following Jesus could get you killed.

To genuinely follow Jesus – to walk in his footsteps, follow his ways – involved massive sacrifice. You would be denying your role and place in your existing society to join the followers of an itinerant, potentially heretical teacher from a non-descript part of the country whose teachings managed to upset both secular and religious authorities. Apart from turning your back on society and losing any social standing you had, and probably falling out with family and friends, imprisonment and execution would be ever-present threats.

As Lewis said ‘If you want a religion to make you really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.’

For those of us in this Church this morning, it’s unlikely that we will suffer imprisonment and death as the price for following Christ. Jesus reminds us that in today’s reading that it is a possibility. But we need to look at our society, our friends and family, our social media lives, the world in which we live and ask ‘Are we denying ourselves when we need to to follow Christ? Are we picking up our cross? Are we making the sacrifices we can make – even if they are desperately uncomfortable – to allow us to more closely follow Jesus? The world today asks a lot of us if we are to truly follow Christ. All Christians must be wary of what Bonhoeffer called ‘cheap grace’.

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

In other words following Jesus without denying ourselves, without picking up our cross, without ‘walking the walk’. Cheap grace gives us a cheap copy of Christ.

Let’s look to see how we, in our lives, can deny ourselves, pick up our personal crosses, and experience the joy, discomfort and genuine grace of truly following Jesus.

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 our Father, we bring before you the needs of our world, particularly the sufferings of those in war zones, who feel themselves abandoned by their friends to tyranny, are refused access to asylum, with no vaccines to help them fight infection, or are dealing with the results of climate change. We pray that the wealthy countries of the world will work together to relieve suffering, protect the weak, and share resources such as vaccines with those without access to them. We remember Christ’s teaching “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.”
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church worldwide that all who call themselves Christians may work together to serve your people in whatever way is most help to them in their circumstances. We pray for our Archbishops, our diocesan bishops, this parish of St Mary’s Walkley and all who work so hard to maintain our services for our own congregation, and thank you for the support of our partner churches St John’s and St Mark’s. Help us all to demonstrate that our churches are open and welcoming to everyone who finds their way into them, whether to services or, as last weekend, an event like the Horticultural Show.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for our community, both the City of Sheffield and Walkley, giving thanks for all those people who give freely of their time and talents to support their neighbours in so many ways. Encourage those organisations trying to restart their normal activities after the difficulties of the last eighteen months. Bless our schools and teachers, especially our own St Mary’s School as they start the new school year, also all the students returning to our universities, who are unsure as to exactly what this year may bring.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are ill at this time, physically or mentally, after a time of great stress for many in their work, particularly NHS and Care workers. Give them strength to cope with the circumstances they are faced with, particularly the huge backlog of treatments which have had to be postponed because of corona virus, and those suffering pain as a result.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We remember before you all who have died recently, also all who died in the twin towers tragedy 20 years ago. We remember before you by name Muriel, and others known to us in a moment of quiet. Be with all those who mourn.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

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

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

 

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