Here am I, the servant of the Lord’ – 6th September 2020 – The Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Order of Service

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

20 09 06 Order of Service

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

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

The Order of Service

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

20 09 06 Order of Service

The Readings

Isaiah 61.10-end

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.

 

Luke 1.46-55

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

 

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

The Sermon
By the Revd Sue Hammersley, Vicar of St Mark's Broomhill.

A day of celebration?

It is such a privilege to be with you this morning as we take a tentative step back towards being together in this sacred space again.

I know it’s not the same, but it’s good to gather together today (and for those reading this sermon, I hope it feels good to know that there are members of the congregation meeting together in the building again).

I don’t know how this virus has affected each of you but in so many ways we are all living with profound (and subtle) change, and the lack of clarity about how long this might go on for adds to the tension.  I hope that each of you is keeping well and accepting the support of others when it is offered, as well as offering help where you can.  It doesn’t matter if it’s as simple as a phone call or a postcard, keep in touch and let’s make the most of the contact we can have with each other.

Today is an important day in the life of St Mary’s for another reason too.  Today is your patronal festival - a day to celebrate Mary, the mother of Jesus.  You mark this day on the Sunday closest to the day chosen by the church as her date of birth (September 8) and using the readings for the day which the church sets aside as her commemoration, August 15.

What an appropriate day to come back into the building.  Not simply because it is your patronal festival but also because of the role Mary plays in our faith story.

When we think of Mary we remember how God broke into her life, quite probably before she was ready.  This reminds me that God is always present, always active in our lives – even when we are not willing to respond.

My faith is incarnational: the God of heaven is present on earth; so I am on a mission to bring Mary back to earth too.

We believe that she was a young girl and unmarried – the stigma of being pregnant would surely have meant that any woman old enough to give this their full consideration would have refused.  But Mary, we believe, said yes.  She allowed God to turn her world upside down…

We are living through a time of confusion and uncertainty.  How does Mary’s story speak into our lives today?

 

A manifesto for hope…

Not only does Mary say yes but she is filled with a sense of confidence in the God who can do extraordinary things.

Her song of praise is quite remarkable…

I am sure that you will know this text very well but it never ceases to speak to me.

This young woman has such a vivid sense that the God of heaven is present on earth.

She can see how God turns everything on its head: upsets the balance of power; feeds the hungry from the store cupboards of those who have plenty; honouring the covenant made with our ancestors.  This pandemic has revealed such inequality in our world – even the simplest of instructions to wash our hands requires clean water, but being told to stay at home assumes that home is a safe place.  Here in the UK, here in Sheffield, here in Walkley there will be many people for whom home is not a safe place.  The church must find its voice, as Mary did, yes to sing God’s praise but also to call out injustice, to name inequality and to offer a different model of community, based on God’s kingdom values of love and justice.

Mary, a young uneducated girl, can see that she has been blessed.  Echoing the words in Isaiah, her whole being praises God…

As the earth brings forth its shoots, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Righteousness and praise belong together.

Whatever difficulties we may face in life I hope that we can hear Mary’s voice of praise, singing to a God who is utterly present, utterly grounded in our humanity, calling us to respond to an invitation to believe in life in all its fullness.  When Mary sings her song of praise her life has just been turned upside down.  She may not be living through a pandemic but her life is full of uncertainty.  But she knows that God is at work within her.

If we have just a fraction of Mary’s faith just think what we could do…

 

Prophetic action…

As the people called to say yes to God, in this place, at this time, how can we help each other listen to God calling us to life in the midst of the chaos and disruption that we face today? How can we ensure that righteousness and praise belong together?  How can we use our faith to make hope visible in our world today?

When Mary met Anna and Simeon in the Temple she was told that her heart would be pierced.  We know that Mary suffered in ways we can hardly imagine, unable to prevent her son from experiencing pain, rejection and death.  She couldn’t protect him but she showed us a way through the difficult paths we tread, a way which always trusted the God who had brought her life, a way that led her through the valley of the shadow of death to a new landscape of resurrection hope.

Behold, I am doing a new thing, God says.  Can you not perceive it?

In every time, in every place, God is inviting us to bring hope to life.  We can be sure that it will disrupt our plans, make us question the things we have taken for granted, see the world differently, but if we have eyes to see and ears to listen, hearts willing to be softened and lives open to change then we, like Mary, might allow God to plant hope deep within us; we, like Mary might see the possibilities for that hope to grow in the lives of those around us and we, like Mary, might be willing to suffer the pain of living through our fear because we know that God will never abandon us, that God is always part of a bigger picture.

 

From generation to generation

Here at St Mary’s you are facing enormous challenges.

The church is being called to respond, with faith, to a new way of revealing God’s presence in our midst.  A new way of being the church on the road.  Now is the time and you are the people.

St Mark’s and St John’s are faced with different but similar challenges and we are committed to working together to explore imaginative ways of being church, new possibilities for serving our communities, different patterns of ministry, not because there’s anything wrong with what we’ve done before but because God is always doing new things, God is always breaking into our reality and bringing hope alive, God is always asking preposterous things of us and hoping that, like Mary, we might just say…  yes?

Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe.

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father

We pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Canon Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s.  As we gather together again for the first time in several months, we especially thank all those who have worked tirelessly to bring us together in worship whilst we have been separated.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and influence be used compassionately for the good of all.  Bring clarity of thought and vision to those who make an implement policy. We pray that you offer all of us discernment at this time, so we can make sensible and sound decisions based on truth and sound judgement.  Recalling this morning’s reading, we pray indeed that “the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends.  At this time we pray for school children, students and the staff of our schools, colleges and universities as they also come back together for a new academic year in difficult circumstances.  We also pray for those whose livelihood as been affected by the pandemic.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer

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

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

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

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

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

‘Pick up your cross’ – 30th August 2020 – 12th Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Exodus 3.1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘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.

Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’

But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”:
This is my name for ever,
and this my title for all generations.

 

Matthew 16.21-end

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘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 will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

 

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

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

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

This week I came across the following news story:

Mother Mechthild is the abbess of Abbey of Maria Frieden in Kirchschletten, Bavaria. She is presently being pursued by the authorities in court for having granted asylum in her convent to an Eritrean woman.

“I have stood up for what I consider to be right. I could not be proud of it, I would simply have to accept it. But I would have a clear conscience, because I have stood up for what I consider to be right”,

The Reverend Mother Mechthild Thürmer, told the newspapers, the Verlagsgruppe Bistumspresse with regard to the possibility of her imprisonment.

Quite a woman; and quite a follower of Christ.

After looking at this Sunday’s readings – especially the Gospel reading -  I’d already decided that I could only focus on a small part of the scripture.

It is an astonishingly rich text – I think I worked out that if I put my mind to it I could get maybe 6 sermons out of it – in which Jesus lays out some central truths of our faith.

I decided to focus on one verse, that I think we need to bear in mind on every part of our Christian journey.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Actually making this decision and then encountering the news item above made me think ‘Yep, that’s the one!’

This statement from Jesus is present in the Gospels according to Mark, Matthew and Luke.  Jesus’s Ministry has become widely known, and people have been wondering who He is – some say he’s John the Baptist; some Elijah; others think he is another prophet.  Jesus is able to confirm what Peter thinks He is; that Jesus is ‘the Messiah’.

Jesus then tells them that “undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Now, there are a number of places in the Gospels where I wish that the writer had given us some insight into the reaction of the listeners.  This is one of those moments.  This is almost certainly not what people expected would happen to the Messiah.  And then, to drive this home, Jesus tells His followers that to follow Him they need to deny themselves and take up their own cross.

Powerful words, especially as everyone present would know that the cross was a cruel method of Roman execution used against those who would raise their hand against the state.  This is probably NOT what they all signed up for!

Following Jesus can be looked at in two ways. You might think of following Jesus in the same way you follow the activities of a celebrity or a soccer team; you might follow and study His teachings in the Gospel, in an almost academic way. Alternatively, following Jesus involves you ‘walking the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’.  Jesus says (John 14:6) “I am the way and the truth and the life” and in this statement I think we see what approach Jesus expects of his followers.  The way of Jesus is to be walked; the truth to be found; the life of Jesus to be lived.  Following Jesus is an active process, a life changing process.

Jesus is pointing this out to his followers.

This is where things start getting real; your life will change; you may die; this is what following Jesus really means.  Sounds heavy; I have to say that if I’d been there I might have considered this to be a good time to remember I had an important appointment to keep….about 200 miles away.

In Jesus’s statement we’re given three things to do if we wish to follow Him.  They’re actions – not just statements of belief or promises.  We’re told:

To DENY ourselves

To PICK UP OUR CROSS

To FOLLOW Him

At this point it sounds really hard; we’re going to follow Jesus to death.

But, as is often the case with Jesus’s statements, there’s more…

Now, in the version of this statement in Luke 9.23, there is an extra word:

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me”

A subtle but important change; discipleship involves a daily denial, and a daily taking up of the cross.  It’s a process; it’s a lifestyle; the cross may not be the instrument of our physical death, but a symbol of the death of our old life.  When we become a disciple; the change is total – our previous self dies.

So, what are WE to do to become followers – disciples – of Christ?  There is a cost to discipleship.

We deny ourselves – we focus on following the teachings of Christ and become the best representation of Gospel living we can be.  We will never be perfect, and we’ll always have things to do.  We will be denying the prime importance of the daily world in our lives, and making ‘Gospel living’ our prime aim.  We deny our own desires and follow the commandments and teachings of Christ in our lives.

Now – taking up our cross.  None of us wish to put ourselves through pain and humiliation, or even death.  But sometimes, this is necessary for a Christian.  Dietrick Bonhoeffer said “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  This may be physical, literal death – or it may be a great personal loss or struggle – or it may be imprisonment – like Mother Mechthild.  Or it may be something within our lives that needs to be gone.

For example, if we find it difficult to control our anger with people, we can carry the personal cross of being patient and showing humility.

If we are judgemental, we can carry our individual cross of being forgiving.

And we do this daily, as long as is needed.  For some people it will be a lifetime struggle to carry their personal cross.

And finally, we follow Christ; we follow Him knowing that everyone who truly follows Christ is also denying themselves, carrying their own crosses.

May we offer our fellow travellers all the support and help that Christ Himself offers us.

Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by David.

From the rising of the sun to its setting, let us pray to the Lord.

We pray for your world.
For peoples and nations and for those who work across such boundaries.
We offer to you the challenges which affect the whole world and pray that we may each be given wisdom and inspiritation to respond as best we can for the sake of the common good.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for your church.
Scattered and divided, may she be united in purpose and love of you.
We pray for Pete, our Bishop, Sophie, Bishop Designate of Doncaster, and all who minister within the Diocese of Sheffield.
Praying especially for our partners at St Mark's Broomhill and St John's Ranmoor.
May we all be guided by you in paths that lie ahead.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for our communities.
Whose with whom we live, work and enjoy life.
With so many necessary barriers between us at this time may we find new and creative ways to live our shared life.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for those who suffer, in body, mind or spirit.
The lonely, the anxious, the depressed. Those suffering, in pain or grieving.
We pray for the light of your presence with them, your healing in their lives, and where we can ourselves as servants in this work.
We offer to you those known to us and all known only to you O Lord.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for those who have died.
We give thanks for the gift of their presence in our lives.
Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.
May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

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

‘We all have something to offer’ – 23rd August 2020 – 11th Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Exodus 1.8-2.10

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’

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.’

 

Romans 12.1-8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

 

Matthew 16.13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

 

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

The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes, Vicar of St John's, Ranmoor.

One of the things that the lessons that I have taken from Black Lives Matter and the whole Windrush scandal is that it is important that we know our history. And not just the history of those in charge but the history of minorities. Those who peddle racism in this country often forget that many BAME people came to this country in response to a labour shortage in the post war era. In our first reading from Exodus, we have another example of the past being forgotten. A new pharaoh has come to the throne in Egypt and he knows nothing of the story of Joseph and of how the Israelites came to live in Egypt. And like many tyrants since then he decides to blame this minority for the ills of his nation and treats them as second class citizens.
But this story is not really about pharaoh. It’s about a group of remarkable, subversive women who find ways to fight the patriarchy. There are not that many stories about women in the Bible but this is one of the best. Too often, they are just given walk on parts and frequently they go unnamed. But in this story, we are told the names of some of the women involved and that that’s often a sign that people are doing something important.

The first two important women are Shiphrah and Puah. Like all midwives they have devoted themselves to bringing new life into the world. Pharaoh commanded them to kill every Hebrew boy that was born but they disobeyed him. Though pharaoh was thought of as a living deity and had absolute power, these women ignored his instructions and pretended that they never got to the births of the Israelite babies in time. The midwives feared God more than they feared pharaoh and God blessed them for their courage.

And then we have the story of Moses, one of those Hebrew boys. According to rabbinic literature, his mother’s name was Jochebed. And like any mother, she was tenacious in trying to preserve the life of her son. She hid him in that famous Moses basket in the reeds and set his older sister Miriam to keep an eye on him. And then pharaoh’s daughter came to the river to bathe. Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions give the princess many names. All three traditions bless her for preserving Moses’ life. She knew that he was a Hebrew baby. She knew that her father had ordered that such boys should be killed. But she used her limited power as a princess to save him. Moses’ sister Miriam was quick to make the most of the situation. She offered to go and find a wet nurse for the child. And so Moses’ mother ended up being paid to bring up her own child, something that many are still campaigning for today. Moses’ life was spared and he went on to lead the exodus, a defining event in Jewish history.

This story of seemingly powerless women subverting the system is an interesting contrast to our Gospel reading. Jesus asks the disciples who people say that he is. And they come up with a variety of responses. Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ And then Jesus asks the disciples who they say he is. And Peter comes straight back with the answer, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ He is right on the money. And Jesus praises him for his faith and insight. And he names Simon Peter, Peter, the rock on which he will build the church. And he gives him the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

And part of us wants to say, hang on a minute, this is Peter. The one who keeps putting his foot in it. The one who will deny Jesus three times. He is the rock? Can that be right? A whole system of power and influence, money and buildings has been built on this rock. But I suspect that none of those things were in the minds of Jesus or of Peter when those words were first uttered. Jesus knew Peter’s shortcomings. He knew that Peter would let him down. But he also knew that Peter had moments of huge faith and would ultimately follow him to the cross, and it was on these things that the church was to be built. In many ways, Peter stands for all of us. We all have times of doubt, times when we let Jesus down. But like Peter we have moments too when the clouds seem to clear and faith suddenly comes alive and that’s enough for Jesus. He can work with that just as he worked with Peter.

Peter is a reminder that we are called, warts and all to follow Jesus. And use the gifts that we have been given in his service. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, exhorts us to present ourselves as living sacrifices. And warns us not to be conformed to this world. Not to live by its standards of racism or sexism or any other sort of ism. But to see ourselves as God sees us. With sober judgement. Paul warns us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. And too often those words have been used by the powerful to keep others in their places. Perhaps they should be addressed to some of the people who are currently in power who seem to have a sense of entitlement but perhaps lack the gifts they really need. That work of self-examination goes both ways. Some may need to develop a bit of humility while others may need a bit more self-confidence so that they can take their rightful place in the church and in the world. They need building up not taking down.

As Paul says, like the parts of the body, we all have different gifts. And it is important that each one of us uses those gifts to the full. If we only use the gifts of a few people we are disabled as a church, as a nation and as a planet. As a church, I hope that we can model a way of working in which all can use their gifts. Where those without power do not have to subvert the system as the women around Moses had to. And where those who have power, as Peter ultimately did, are allowed to express vulnerability and make mistakes. We are all members of the one body and all of us have a part to play. Amen.

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 …

At this time of reception of exam results, we pray for all those involved in the grades debacle: the students, their parents and teachers, and the universities facing difficulties as a result. We pray for a good and wise outcome that supports all students in preparing for their future.

We pray for all those in leadership roles throughout the world, that they can find ways to lead their people out of these dark times to lives of peace, prosperity and good health. We pray that each one of us does our best to treat the world you have given us with all the love and good care that it deserves. Please help us to learn the best ways to achieve this.

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 all those involved in preparing and leading worship within our mission area, including St Mark’s Broomhill, St John’s Ranmoor and St Mary’s Walkley. Please help us all to find safe ways to return to worship within our church buildings, as well continuing to worship together online. We know that there is no one right way to worship you – please help us to reach all of your family at this time of trouble and in the future.

Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

 

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are any ways 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 suffering from physical illness at this time, whether from covid-19 or from other causes. We pray also for all those suffering from mental distress at this time of great upheaval. Please bring them all your healing and comfort.

We pray for all those who are in financial trouble or who face losing their jobs or their homes. Please bring them your comfort too.

We pray also for all of those named to you in our hearts, knowing that you will know them and help them.

Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and we give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the communion of saints. We pray that they have found their place in your heavenly kingdom. …

All this we ask for Jesus Christ’s sake.
Amen.

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

 

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

‘The Parable of the Sower’ – 12th July 2020 – 5th Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 25.19-end

These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.’
When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

 

Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’

‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

 

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

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

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

Being literate is a great boon, being literal can be something of a mixed blessing. We’re probably all aware of the ‘Biblical Literalists’ who take everything in the Bible literally, whereas it’s likely that whilst some scripture is historically factual, there is also much that is metaphorical, or dealing with symbols and ways of expression that people of the time when it was written would understand.

It's a bit like when my mum used to tell me ‘I’ll be there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail’; lamb’s do indeed shake their tails vigorously, and there was no way that my mother would get from wherever she was to me in such a short length of time. But the meaning, whilst not literally true, was meaningful enough for me to know that she would be with me quickly.
In the New Testament the teaching form that we know as the Parable is used to good effect. This would be something that the Jewish people would be aware of and expect from their teachers; teaching would be done through stories, and the mixture of literal truth and symbolic meaning would be pored over by the students and other teachers to extract the points that the teacher was trying to make. Jesus does much of his teaching in the form of parables. And occasionally – like in ‘The Parable of the sower’ – He enlightens us with the meaning.

Which, you would be perfectly right to say, means that my job as a preacher becomes a little easier when I preach on this parable. After all, the heavy lifting – the ‘exegesis’, the process of drawing meaning from the parable – has been done.

Or has it?

Like many of Christ’s parables, I get slightly sweaty and paranoid when I read this. Am I stony ground? Am I a briar patch? Am I shallow soil? Am I – please God, let me be this - good soil that will return a harvest to the sower? Go on, admit it; how many of you feel the same?

And that is something to consider – part of our personal learning process from listening to the parable. But, when we read Jesus’s explanation, we realise that if this were all there was to be gotten from it, it would be called ‘The parable of the soils’ or something similar.

It isn’t; it’s called the parable of the sower.

So let’s shift our mental model a bit; let’s stop getting nervous and paranoid and worrying about what sort of agricultural growth medium we are, and let’s focus on ‘The sower’.

Who is the sower? Good question. To get the answer we need to look at what is being sowed. What is the seed that is sown – that grows or fails to thrive?

The seeds are the Word of God – the Gospel, the teachings of Christ. Look what is said in Verse 19 – the first line of the explanation:

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it….”

The sower is casting the word of the kingdom in to the hearts and minds of all who are within earshot. The comparison of the hearts of those hearing the Word to different types of land would be something that people from an agrarian economy could get their heads around. They’d know how difficult it is to grow crops in certain types of soil, and so as a teaching model it’s a good one for Jesus to use.

You can imagine that if you had valuable seed that you wished to grow in to a good crop, with as high a return on your efforts as possible, you’d make some preparations. You’d plough up those brambles and briars to start with. Where the soil’s a bit thin you might spend time preparing it. The really rough areas of your land – well, you’d just leave them to the wild animals. And the good soil – well, you’d certainly be focusing your efforts on the parts of your land you know to be fertile. There the stakes are high – anywhere between 30 and 100 fold return! I’m pretty sure that most of us would focus our efforts there, and especially on that high yielding corner.

But this Sower takes a rather different approach to most farmers.

This Sower – our Lord – takes the most valuable seed there is – the Word of God – and casts it with no concern for where the seed landed. He throws it out generously, showering abundant opportunity for growth on all these soils – on every circumstance of human heart and mind, knowing that in some cases there will be little or no return. But the Word has been generously and openly given; it’s not something available to only the ‘good of heart and mind’ or those with special knowledge and gifts to make the Word of God grow and be fruitful within them. It’s available to everyone.

Of course – not everyone is in a place where the seed can actually take root and grow.

And this maybe for a lifetime, or a season in our lives.

But the generosity of the Sower is such that the seed will always be cast. The Word of God is always open to us – wherever we are, whatever our state of mind. Whether we’re in a barren period of our lives, or whether we’re so buried under concerns that we don’t have time for it. But the seed is there; the sower has cast it; it has not been with-held because you’re unworthy, that the seed wouldn’t grow in you. The seed falls, and when a season comes when you will be able to provide a place of growth for the Word of God, the seed will be there for you.

And if the seed takes root and grows strong, what then?

You’re blessed with the Word and all that goes with it.

And there is a return expected of you; remember what was said?

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

What’s done with all that seed that is returned?

It can be gathered up, and sown.

Perhaps some of it may be sown by you. In recent months I’ve found myself wondering whether I am serving God properly? Am I bringing the word to people who need to hear it? I have a little seed of my own, given by God, to sow. I need to be generous with it – as do we all. We need to do what we can to spread the Word – we don’t know where the seed will land, who will respond, who will not respond.

But we know the Sower who has taught us. We know that we should sow the Word of God generously, with no thought of what the return will be. That is not our job; our job is to sow. There is a saying, usually mis-attributed to St Francis – “Preach the Gospel; use words only when necessary”. We can sow the seed of the Word of God by our words, our deeds, our generosity of spirit and our love for all creation at this time.

Get sowing.

Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by Siobhan Hoyes adapted from acireland - https://acireland.ie/

In today’s gospel we are reminded that God is a generous sower of seeds in our lives. We pray that the seeds of love and wisdom bestowed on us will fall on fertile ground and that our lives are fruitful. We pray for your church throughout the world, especially our mission partnership. May the clergy and worship teams be gifted with wisdom as they discern the best to proceed safely to welcome people back into the church. We pray seeds be sown which will strengthen working together, so we might deepen our relationship with God, each other and our communities.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for Governments and decision makers here and across the world. May they be mindful of their responsibilities for the poor, marginalised, homeless and those who are in most need. We pray for everyone experiencing job insecurity and an uncertain future at this time, that in their difficulties they may receive a share of the bounties of the earth gifted by our creator God. We remember the many charities, who depend on fund raising activities to continue their valuable work. May they find new and fruitful ways of generating much needed funds.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We thank a God for our health service, our hospices, nursing homes and for all those who work in the community to care for the sick. Bless all the doctors, nurses, hospital and community staff who have supported people during these challenging times. Thank you for the flexibility and adaptability many staff have shown as they have stepped into new roles to provide holistic care. Help them to feel affirmed in their work, to celebrate close team work and new skills acquired. May staff be offered appropriate psychological support in the coming months, so they can reflect on, and process any difficult experiences they have encountered.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are sick at this time both at home and in hospital. May they be strengthened and sustained by your loving presence and grace. We remember those affected by Covid, who after the acute phase of illness continue to experience a range of symptoms, breathlessness, fatigue, and emotional distress. May therapeutic and rehabilitation input be recognised as important, so people receive the ongoing support they need.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for families that are bereaved. Let us remember their loss and show genuine empathy for their broken hearts. Let us show kindness and compassion to their needs and travel beside them on their journey through grief.

We remember those known to us who have died, may they rest in peace and rise in glory.

Let us pray for a moment for our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers.

Gracious God, grant us the grace to nurture the seeds of wisdom you grant us that we might be fruitful servants in this earthly harvest.
Amen.

‘Places of encounter’ – 5th July 2020 – 4th Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 24.34-38, 42-49, 58-67

So he said, ‘I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, “You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.”

‘I came today to the spring, and said, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, ‘Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,’ and who will say to me, ‘Drink, and I will draw for your camels also’—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.”

‘Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water-jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, “Please let me drink.” She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, “Drink, and I will also water your camels.” So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, “Whose daughter are you?” She said, “The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.” So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshipped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.’ And they called Rebekah, and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ She said, ‘I will.’ So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
‘May you, our sister, become
thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
of the gates of their foes.’
Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.

Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, ‘Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?’ The servant said, ‘It is my master.’ So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30

But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’

At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

 

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

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

In a normal year, this weekend would have marked the end of the annual Walkley Festival. But this is not a normal year and our festival had to be cancelled.

In a normal year at St. Mary’s we would have created our annual well dressing. A picture would have been designed, pricked out into clay and lovingly created from petals and seeds. We would have had our doors open and people from the church and the wider community would have dropped by to watch, to chat or to join in. The finished picture would have then been displayed outside the church alongside an improvised well. People would have stopped by to look, maybe even take a photo. Conversations would have happened as they paused to look. The act of creating and displaying the well-dressing would have enabled it to become a place of encounter.

Wells are places of life-giving water. Without wells people would die of thirst. But they are also places of encounter.

A man approaches a well. A man charged with a serious task, who has travelled a long way from a far-off land. With his 10 camels laden with gifts, he hopes to find a bride for the son of his master, Abraham. He’s mulling over things in his mind. He has some doubts about the success of his mission. Isaac is a troubled young man. How will the servant know he’s found the right woman for him? Will she consent to the marriage and return to Canaan with him? The servant is tired and thirsty. His camels are flagging too. He reaches the well and halts, exhausted. And then he prays.

“Please God, let the young woman who I ask for a drink freely offer to water my camels too. Let that be a sign that this woman will be the right bride for Isaac.”

A young woman approaches the well. The man makes his request for water and, joy of all joys, she does indeed offer to provide water for the camels too! The servant learns that she is Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham’s nephew, Bethuel. He adorns her with jewellery and she offers him and his camels hospitality. So he travels on with her to meet her family.

Before he will accept any food, he insists on explaining why he has come. After some discussion, the family, and more importantly, Rebekah herself, agree to the match. And so the next morning when Abraham’s servant sets back off home, Rebekah is with him. Rebekah, the generous young woman who provided replenishing water, quenching the thirst of a stranger. Rebekah, whose generosity extended to watering the 10 thirsty camels too, and to providing them all with rest and lodging for the night. And Rebekah is accompanied by her nurse. Later in Genesis we learn the nurse’s name – Deborah – which means “Bee – provider of nourishing honey”. Her presence ensures the best possible start for any children Rebekah will have with Isaac.

A man returns from a well. A man whose father has sent his servant to find him a wife. This man’s name is Isaac. For a man whose name means “laughter” there hasn’t been much to laugh about. As an infant, his half-brother and playmate, Ishmael, has been sent away. As an adolescent, he’s gone through the trauma of being bound to an altar as a sacrifice by his own father, only to be saved by God at the last minute. And as a young man he has suffered the bereavement of his mother. We can barely begin to comprehend the potential emotional damage caused by all this. Not a stable start for married life.

But before Isaac meets his new bride we find him returning from Beer-lahai-roi. This is not just some random place. It’s another well. This is the place to which the pregnant Hagar fled when Sarah had mistreated her. It’s the place where she had an encounter with God. It’s the place where she saw God and lived. Where she named God El-roi, which means “God who sees” or “God hears”. Where God saw her anguish and gave her the strength to return to Abraham’s household to give birth to Ishmael. This place became known as Beer-lahai-roi, which means “Well of the living one who sees me”. And this is where Isaac has now been. We don’t know what he experienced at this well. But we do know that when he meets Rebekah, he is able to welcome her into his home as his wife. And we know that she provides solace from his bereavement. She enables him to live again.

Wells are places of life-giving water. Without wells people would die of thirst. But they are also places of encounter. They are places where people meet each other. But they are also places where people encounter the life-giving Spirit of God.

This is not a normal year. But that does not mean that we have been unable to encounter each other. We couldn’t have our well dressing, nor many other of our usual festival activities. But we have been able to share in each other’s creativity, through displays of artwork, messages or plants in our windows and gardens. And in our festival week, there have been a number of impressive scarecrows to enjoy too. We have encountered each other over the phone or online, over our fences or through our windows. As the lock-down restrictions have eased, we have begun to meet in person again at a distance.

This is not a normal year. Many people have found to their surprise that the life giving Spirit of God has sprung up in unexpected ways throughout the crisis. And if like, Abraham’s servant, Rebekah or Isaac, we reach out in trust to God, with an open heart and mind, we will surely find him there ready and waiting for an encounter with us.

The Prayers
Prepared by Anne.

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

Lord we pray for our world in these difficult days that we may find your kingdom arising in unexpected places as we open our eyes to see you at work in our world.

Lord we pray for those who find themselves waiting at this time, for ordination, to be married, for medical appointments or treatments, for the results of “exams” that have never been sat, for schools or workplaces to reopen. Hear their anxious longings, their frustrations and fears, their pain and their hopes. Grant them patience and fortitude as they wait and peace in their hearts.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Lord we pray for those who feel overwhelmed by the circumstances and changes of these times, for those whose income has dried up, whose jobs have been cut, whose lives feel as if they have been turned inside out and upside down and those struggling to cope with new ways of doing what were familiar routines. We pray for those who daily juggle the challenges of working from home, home-schooling children and caring for others and those who feel utterly isolated and alone. Ease the burdens of, and bring comfort to those who feel stretched to breaking point or buffeted by storms they could never have foreseen.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Lord we pray for young people and children whose education is disrupted and who feel anxious about their future in both the short and long term. Breathe hope into their hearts and vision into their thoughts that they may see beyond the current crisis to a time of stability and adventure.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Lord we pray for those who are ill or infirm at this time, in body or mind, and for those who care for them. May they know the sustaining grace of your presence with them. Bless those who have sacrificed their own home life to care for others. Bless all those who have striven to keep us all provided with food, with water and power and who have continued to collect refuse or process waste throughout these days of pandemic and whose dedication has carried us through these times.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Lord we pray for all who are grappling with new regulations and restrictions as they try to reopen businesses, premises and even churches. Help us as we work out how we can safely be the welcoming and worshipping people of God in these changing days. Guide us as we weigh up risks and responsibilities, longings for normality and concerns for safety.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Lord we pray, bless those who mourn, especially those whose hearts were broken when they were unable to see or touch loved ones in their last days. We pray for all whose hearts are heavy with grief and loss. Surround them with your gracious love and hold them close to your heart, we pray.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Lord, we remember in your presence all those have died in these difficult days, from whatever cause. We know that no-one has died without your knowledge and loving presence. We pray that you receive them into your presence, according to your promises.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Hear our prayers. Surround us with your love. Guide our feet on unfamiliar paths and bring us with joy into your kingdom of justice, truth, peace and everlasting love.
Amen.

 

‘Living Stones’ – 10th May 2020 – 5th Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 2.2-10

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner’,
and
‘A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

 

Acts 7.55-60

But filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

John 14.1-14

Jesus said, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The Sermon
By Catherine, a Lay Reader at St Marys.

One of my prayer aids is a little bowl of pebbles.  I can’t remember where they came from, but their smooth roundedness suggests that it was a beach somewhere.  Sometimes I fill the bowl with water - a small reminder of how they appeared when the sea had just washed over them.  They help to create an atmosphere of calm stillness conducive to prayer.

They are very different from most stones we encounter in every day life.  In my garden are plenty of rough, jagged stones of all shapes and sizes.  Unlike the clean rounded pebbles in my bowl, they are dusty, or covered in moss or bird droppings.  Lift one up and the underside might be teeming with woodlice or other creepy crawlies.

Stones like this can be very useful.  One of the nature columns in the paper this week described a drystone wall that the author passed on his daily walk.  The wall was built around 25 years ago using stones of all shapes and sizes.  Each stone had its own special place somewhere in the wall, contributing to its overall strength, stability and durability.  Walls like this are places of safety – they keep livestock from straying and predators out.  They provide shelter in the rain and wind, or shade in the heat of the sun.

The writer noted the changes that had appeared in the wall over the years.  Gradually dirt built up on the surfaces and in the cracks, rain fell on it, and moss and lichen appeared.  Birds dropped seeds, which took root in the wall. Very soon the wall was teeming with plant life, sustained by moisture in the crevices and minerals in the stone itself.  These in turn became shelter and food for insects, birds and small mammals.  Over the years, the wall has become a wall of life.  Its stones have become living stones.

Living stones.  I wonder if the writer of 1 Peter was thinking of something like this drystone wall when he was writing his letter to one of the early churches?  Perhaps he had taken notice of what happens to a wall over time, its stones gradually becoming full of life.  We don’t know.

We do know that the Jerusalem temple was made from stone and that it had been the focal point for worship for the Hebrew people for centuries.  Jesus had been highly critical of this particular temple and its authorities and had warned that it would be destroyed (Matthew 24:1-2).  And by the time 1 Peter was written, it had indeed been destroyed by the Romans.

But Jesus also challenged the authorities.  In John 2.19 he says “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”.  A couple of verses later John explains that he is referring to the temple of his body.  And I think it might be this that the writer of 1 Peter had in mind.  He quotes Psalm 118:22 – “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.  Jesus is the cornerstone, and his followers are to become living stones, together building a living temple through which to glorify God.

During the Easter season we have been reading about the early church in the book of Acts.  As the church grew, different people took on different roles in order to form a strong community together.  Stephen was initially appointed to help practically with distributing aid to the needy.  But his prophetic gifts soon became apparent and his words greatly angered the religious authorities.  In today’s reading we heard the account of how he was stoned to death, the first Christian martyr.

Our readings from Acts and 1 Peter both talk of stones.  Stones which build up, and stones which cause stumbling.  Stones of death, and stones of life.  Let’s focus on the stones which build up and the stones of life.

Our gospel reading from John is often read at funerals.  The idea that heaven is a large house with many, many rooms ready to welcome each and everyone of us when we die is a powerful and comforting image.  And one which may be sustaining many different people right now as they mourn the loss of loved ones in this current crisis.  But this image is not confined to the hereafter.  God’s kingdom never was solely about what happens when we die.  It’s about the here and now too.  The Father’s house is here on Earth, right now.  We are all part of it and each one of us has a place in it.

It’s a place built of living stones.  Living stones such as doctors, nurses, care-assistants, and other health workers.  Living stones such as bus and lorry drivers, bin-collectors and shop assistants.  Living stones such as writers and broadcasters.  Living stones such as neighbours looking out for each other.  Living stones on the end of a phone or wobbly internet connection offering support to a friend, relative or stranger in need.  Living stones such as teachers, social workers, internet support workers.  Living stones such as parents and carers.  Living stones such as children and young people.  Living stones such as you or I.

So I encourage you to look more closely at the stones you see.  Look at a garden wall as you pass it on your walk, or sit next to it in your own garden.  Look for all its life – its mosses, lichens, plants. Watch in wonder at the insects crawling around it.  Or you might like to look at a single stone, brick or tile.  Observe its shape, its nooks and crannies, its different colours, its texture.

And ponder – what life can result from a wall built of living stones?  Give thanks that you, as a living stone yourself, have a special place in God’s wall – you are part of the wall, together with others giving it strength and structure.  And that you have your very own dwelling place there too – a place you can call home.

 

 

The Prayers
Written by Joe.

The bidding for our prayers this morning is “Lord, in your mercy”. The response is ‘Hear our prayer’'.

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father.
We pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Canon Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary's to create a place of worship here in Walkley.
We pray for the wider Church, and all followers of Christ throughout the world, that we can be salt and light to those around us, and be living examples of Christ-like behaviour in our communities at this difficult time.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We remember all those who lost their lives in the Second World War as the world remembers the end of that conflict in Europe.
We pray that we will eventually learn to settle our disputes justly and peacefully by bringing the Kingdom of Heaven in to being.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and influence be used compassionately for the good of all.
At this time of great uncertainty, we pray that decisions are made for the good of all people.
We pray that our political leaders and opinion formers follow the guidance of scientists and experts in finding a way forward for the world.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends.
We pray for all those involved in protecting us against Covid-19; our health and care workers, delivery people, post office staff, communications engineers.
We pray for all those finding themselves being teachers to their children.
May we all do our best to keep our families and communities safe by acting selflessly and with care and consideration for others at this time.
We pray for those fearful of not having jobs to go back to, and those who are in poverty and facing hardship at this time.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for those we know who are worried and troubled especially at this time of great uncertainty.
We pray for those affected by Covid-19, and those who have health or emotional problems that are made worse during the lockdown and cessation of some health and wellbeing services.
We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing.
Be with them at this time, Lord, and give them peace and strength.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for those close to death at this time, and those accompanying them on this final part of their Earthly journey.
We pray for those who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn, at this time when mourning and saying our farewells to the dead is made complicated by the lockdown.
We especially pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, and those who felt fear and felt alone in their last moments.
We pray that they were comforted by your presence, Lord, and that you give strength and love to all those close to death and caring for the dying at this time.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

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

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

‘What should the church look like?’ – 3rd May 2020 – 4th Sunday of Easter

Acts 2.42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

 

John 10.1-10

‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

The Sermon
By David, a Trainee Lay Reader at St Mary's.

What should the church look like?

It’s a question that has preoccupied the church for centuries, so much so that it, sometimes rightly, gets accused of navel gazing. Our reading from Acts gives us a pretty good blueprint for how it should be. We recognise that we will probably fall short but should not use this as an excuse not to aim high. Bishop Pete has made known on numerous occasions that he would rather set a challenging target and fall short than set and easy one and hit it. This is one of those times.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that every Christian should sell all their possessions and give the money away. There are those who are called to this, most notably monks and nuns. You don’t have to go much further in Acts before seeing that even in the early church, this wasn’t expected of everyone. The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 shows that church members still owned property, but we should not pretend to be more generous than we are, nor be deceitful in giving.

Moving beyond the verse on possessions, which tends to get highlighted in this passage, what struck me reading it was the emphasis on togetherness. There is little to no individuality here: “they”, “their”, “them” are used about the Christians. There is a corporateness about their way of being. They do things together, in the temple or their homes.

In our current situation that can really strike a nerve. What does togetherness mean? Particularly when we can’t physically meet?

I am a firm believer that the Eucharist connects us together through time and space and cuts across even the barrier of death, uniting us as it does with the saints in every age. But when most of us cannot even access this in our own homes?

I don’t have particular answers to some of these questions. I do have a newfound respect for our housebound fellow Christians, for we are all housebound at the moment. I and others can learn from those of us who are ordinarily housebound, and reflect, once our current crisis has lessened, what together we can absorb from this experience to be more inclusive.

We can also take this time, when the church is very definitely not how many of us would want it to be, to reflect on how we do want it to be. There are lessons to be learned which will help in the future. One take home point for me is that sometimes meeting by video conferencing is better than driving across the city. This is a small and rather practical revelation. There will be others, from all of us. God will have used this time to gently prod us to reflection; we are after all lacking some of our usual distractions.

When we do begin to come out of our cocoons, those of us who have had the luxury of sheltering at home, we need to hold before us this passage from Acts. We will need to return to devoting ourselves to “to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” and I’m sure we will. But I doubt the world will be quite the same as when we left it. There will be need of “glad and generous hearts”.

When we ask the question, what should the church look like, this is as good an answer as any.

The Prayers

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.
At this time, we pray especially for all those badly affected by the global pandemic and the resultant lockdowns.
We pray for those plunged into poverty, who are struggling to get enough to eat or to keep a roof over their heads.
We pray for all those who are suffering from Covid-19 themselves and especially for those who need or have needed hospital treatment for their illness. We pray for the families and friends of Covid-19 victims, who are unable to help or even see those in hospitals, in care homes, or living elsewhere.
We pray for those experiencing extreme isolation, either because they are ill or because they are shielding.
We pray for all families separated from their loved ones by lockdown.
Please help all of us to help each other in this time of crisis and through the recession which will follow.
Please help us also to take note of how much kinder we have been to our environment during this crisis that we may learn from this experience ways to decrease our contributions to climate change, both as individuals and as a nation.
Please help all governments around the world to find the best way through the crises of pandemic and climate change for all their people and all their neighbours throughout the world.

Lord, in your mercy
All 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 your church both here in Sheffield and around the world. Please help us to continue to be your family at a time when we cannot meet as congregations.
Please help us here in the congregation of St Mary’s Walkley to learn how best to include everyone in our local church family in our efforts, including those without internet access.

We pray especially for our mission area, the churches of St. Mary’s Walkley, St. Mark’s Broomhill and St. John’s Ranmoor, as we forge closer links following the retirement of Melanie FitzGerald. Please help us to get to know one another better and to learn how best to be your people over a wider geographical area than we are used to.

Lord, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are any ways 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 remember to you in our hearts those we know who need the comfort of your presence at this time.

Lord, in your mercy
All 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 remember with love your servant Betty McGrory, who we have known so well here at St. Mary’s. Please welcome her to your kingdom in heaven and comfort her friends and family, this we ask for Jesus Christ’s sake.
Amen.

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

‘Meeting Jesus on the road’ – 26th April 2020 Evening – 3rd Sunday of Easter

The Readings

Acts 2.14a, 36-41

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

 

Luke 24.13-35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Meeting Jesus on the road – a meditation on Luke 24:13-35
By Catherine, a Lay Reader at St Mary's.

They met Jesus on the road
walking together, just the two.
Walking with heavy hearts
their minds confused,
shocked, bereaved, exhausted.

And Jesus walked beside -
their friend -
but did they know?

They met Jesus as they tried
to make sense
or understand
how hope of the coming Messiah
hope of joyful deliverance
became hope cruelly dashed
and the agony of grief.
Then of how grief
became confusion
Rumours of an angel
saying he was alive.

And Jesus walked beside,
listening
but did they know?

They met with Jesus as he brought to life
the scriptures
pointing to this very thing
being necessary,
foreseen.
They listened intently,
their hearts burned inside.

And Jesus walked beside,
patiently explaining
but did they know?

They met with Jesus as they offered
gladly
food and drink
safety for the night
and rest.
Hospitality offered willingly
the little they could do

And Jesus stayed beside them
but did they know?

They met with Jesus as he gave God
thanks
for the welcome of strangers
now friends,
and for the simple
nourishment
of bread

And when Jesus broke the bread
Yes, now they knew!

***

Have we met Jesus on the road -
walking together or alone?
Walking with heavy hearts,
our minds confused,
shocked, anxious, exhausted.

Has Jesus walked beside -
our friend -
and did we know?

Have we met Jesus as we passed
a painting
pinned not to kitchen fridge or wall
but on a window
looking outwards?
Or as we passed
a joke or game
chalked
on street or pavement?
Children offering gladly
the little they can do?

Has Jesus walked beside,
chuckling too,
And did we know?

Have we met Jesus as we passed
a gatepost plea
for buttons for a project
making scrubs
for frontline carers.
And seen the plastic folder
already gathering
donations
great and small?

Has Jesus walked beside,
thankful too,
And did we know?

Have we met Jesus as we passed
a shop
now sadly closed
yet still proclaiming
with thanks and joy
news of recovery,
and a new birth?

Has Jesus walked beside us
rejoicing too,
And did we know?

Have we met Jesus as we reached
our homes yet once again
Has Jesus come inside
with us
and shared,
And do we know?

Catherine Burchell 26/4/20

(With thanks to all the residents of Walkley who brighten up my government-sanctioned daily exercise)

The Prayers

We pray for Christ's world, for those places where human violence and greed have marred the beauty of creation. We offer to him with thanks all those who set aside ego and self-promotion to work for peace and reconciliation.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for the Church. We give thanks when its presence brings hope, support and community. We pray for those times when it has fallen short. We pray especially for our Archbishop, our Bishop Pete and Bishop Designate Sophie. We give thanks for our partners in ministry and St Mark’s Broomhill and St John’s Ranmoor, and for Walkley Ebenezer Methodist.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for all those who suffer at this time, particularly those effected by the coronavirus. As the lockdown continues, we pray for those who struggle with isolation, mental health and domestic violence. We give thanks for those who care for others in many different ways.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for those who have died. We remember those we have known and loved. We pray for those who have died as a result of the pandemic. We pray for those from our own community. Rest eternal grant unto them O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

‘The Road to Emmaus’ – 25th April 2020 Morning- 3rd Sunday of Easter

The Readings

Acts 2.14a, 36-41

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

 

Luke 24.13-35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Sermon
By Anne, Lay Reader at St Mary's.

One day last year when I was on the train to Manchester, I suddenly became aware, as we turned out of the Hope Valley towards Edale, that, for a brief moment, there is a clear view of Peveril Castle at Castleton further up the valley. Though I have made that journey many times, it was the first time I had noticed it, as, on this particular day a shaft of light was just picking out the tower of the castle, making it stand out against the hillside. I had always known that Peveril Castle was there behind Castleton, on the ridge between the main valley and Cave Dale, but until the light picked it out that day I had not realised what a good view there is of it, fleetingly, from the train. Normally it merges into the background of the higher hills and the rocky outcrops and is difficult to make out but now I have seen it clearly and I know where to look, even on a dull day I know that it is there and can discern its outline.

A moment of illumination can transform how we see things, it can transform our whole perspective on life and bring our faith alive in a new way, even sending us in a new direction.

For the companions on the road to Emmaus on that first Easter Day events were hard to comprehend. They had seen their world come crashing down with the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, and they had been met with the startling and hard to comprehend reality of the empty tomb that morning. They had heard the witness from the women that angels had told them Jesus was alive but they had not experienced this for themselves.

Now as they walked they were discussing all that had happened, trying to make sense of it.  Perhaps surprisingly when they are joined by a stranger on the road they are willing to tell him the full story, confiding details that could have got them into trouble.  They tell the stranger that they believed Jesus was “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” and then that their own Jewish priests and leaders had handed him over to be condemned and crucified. They admit they had hoped Jesus was the “one to redeem Israel” (the Messiah). They go on to tell the stranger about the women going after 3 days and finding the tomb empty and hearing from angels that Jesus is alive and about their own visit to the tomb to see that it was empty.

They have made themselves vulnerable to this stranger. He could have been someone who had bayed for Jesus' blood on Good Friday.  They know nothing of their companion and they certainly do not recognise him as Jesus, and yet they have laid open their whole story.

And now the stranger begins to open up the Bible to them, highlighting what is really said in the prophets about the Messiah, especially in regard to his suffering before entering glory.

Cleopas and his companion feel moved and uplifted by the stranger's words, their hearts “burning within them” but they still do not recognise Jesus until they persuade him to come into the house to stay as it is late, and he blesses and breaks bread and their eyes are opened as he shares it with them.

Then, despite the late hour, as Jesus disappears, they race back to Jerusalem to share their amazing news and are met by more good news of Jesus appearing to Simon.

Cleopas and his companion knew the facts of Jesus life, death and resurrection but it was only as Jesus (in the guise of a stranger) shed light on the Bible's words and broke bread with them that they recognised the reality of God's word and action and experienced the reality of resurrection joy.

God's light had fallen on their harsh reality and revealed the glory within it and opened up a whole new future.

Like Cleopas and his companion many people in these days feel they are walking a hard road trying to make sense of recent events where hopes and dreams, plans and expectations have been upturned and dashed. Livelihoods have been damaged, old certainties have been shattered. It's a time of worry,  a time of grieving, a time of heartbreak, a time of confusion, a time when the future looks bleak.

But as we walk that road, as we mull over the story of recent weeks and days, the insights of strangers and a fresh perspective on words of Scripture as we read our Bibles can open our eyes to the revelations of Christ risen and living among us, sharing in our community.

We cannot meet as worshipping communities in our church buildings but we are finding other ways to stay in touch and to share together. Perhaps we talk to each other more now than we have before about how we are feeling and share more of what is hard and what it good.

We must not get bogged down in the undoubtedly difficult parts of these times or in feelings of being abandoned by God because a God is at work in these times as in all times. There is intense creativity going on. People, friends and strangers, are finding new ways to use their skills, their resources, to serve each other and to create what is needed for these times.

Although we might not want to admit it, there may be pressures that we are glad to be relieved of like the daily slog to work on crowded public transport or in slow moving traffic, or some pressures of consumerism.  We may be finding a positive side to a simpler way of living.

We can see nature re-emerging around us as human activity is lessened. Animals are more bold, bird song seems louder and sweeter. And we have more time to listen and to look.

May we carry our new insights into our future and hold the positives as we move forward.

The first disciples in the days after Easter had their eyes opened to the joy and reality of the resurrection. For Cleopas and his companion it was a stranger who opened their eyes. It was only at the last moment they recognised that stranger to be Jesus. As all the disciples came to understand the new reality of Christ risen, they found it was the start of a whole new direction in their lives. The coming months and years as they began to share the good news were not all plain sailing and there were many challenges and difficulties to come, but their resurrection faith was firm.

In these days I pray that our eyes may be opened to the joy and reality of our resurrection faith for these circumstances and that we may follow where Jesus guides. May the light of Christ illumine our path and lead us every onward on his way.

I conclude with the words of the Collect for the Third Sunday of Easter:

Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

The Prayers

Risen Christ come amongst us at the break of this day and be with us.

We pray for Christ's world, for those places where human violence and greed have marred the beauty of creation. We offer to him with thanks all those who set aside ego and self-promotion to work for peace and reconciliation.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for the Church. We give thanks when its presence brings hope, support and community. We pray for those times when it has fallen short. We pray especially for our Archbishop, our Bishop Pete and Bishop Designate Sophie. We give thanks for our partners in ministry and St Mark’s Broomhill and St John’s Ranmoor, and for Walkley Ebenezer Methodist.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for all those who suffer at this time, particularly those effected by the coronavirus. As the lockdown continues, we pray for those who struggle with isolation, mental health and domestic violence. We give thanks for those who care for others in many different ways.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for those who have died. We remember those we have known and loved. We pray for those who have died as a result of the pandemic. We pray for those from our own community. Rest eternal grant unto them O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

‘How can we celebrate Easter?’ – 12th April 2020 – Easter Day Evening

Matthew 28.1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

The Sermon

How can we celebrate Easter?
How can we sing Alleluia...
When we cannot physically meet up with family and friends?
When we cannot gather together in our churches to worship God?

How can we celebrate Easter?
When many people are preoccupied with the health of loved ones,
whom they cannot be near in their time of crisis?
When friends and family members die alone,
are buried or cremated without mourners,
or stored in temporary morgues?
when even our Prime Minister has been seriously ill in intensive care?

How can we celebrate Easter?
When jobs are lost, businesses collapsing, the economy floundering?
How can we celebrate Easter?
How can we sing Alleluia?
In these times of crisis it’s perhaps worth thinking back to that first Easter...

The first Easter was not euphoric or enthusiastically celebrated.

No one dressed in their best clothes to visit the temple.

There was no chocolate, no egg hunting, no fancy bonnets.

Jesus’ closest friends had fled and deserted him.  One of them had betrayed him, then, filled with remorse, taken his own life.  Another had denied even knowing him.  In three of the gospel accounts, not one of them had been with Jesus when he died.  He was buried hurriedly, without ceremony, in the nearest available grave.  Some women had looked on, watching, but from a safe distance.

Jesus’ eleven remaining friends holed themselves away in a locked upstairs room.

The women who had watched from a distance came belatedly to the tomb to do what they could for Jesus’ body with spices and ointments.  They came early, before other people were about, distancing themselves from others.

When they saw the empty tomb, and the stranger(s) in white who said Jesus had risen, they were filled with fear.  In Mark’s gospel they flee and tell no one.  In Matthew’s gospel they run to tell the disciples.  In Luke’s gospel they tell the disciples, but most of the disciples are sceptical.  Only Peter goes to see for himself, then goes home, amazed.  Two confused followers journey back to Emmaus from Jerusalem, joined by a stranger they don’t recognise who engages them in conversation about recent events.  It’s late into the evening when they finally see him for who he is – and race back to tell the other disciples.  Only after that does the risen Jesus appear to all eleven.

In John’s gospel there is similar confusion, disbelief then gradual realisation – of Mary Magdalene, of Peter and the beloved disciple, of the other disciples, except Thomas, then finally of Thomas too.

What emerges about the first Easter is that it was a time of great upheaval, a time when in grief the correct customs couldn’t be properly observed, a time of confusion, of disbelief, of rumours.  But eventually a time of gradual realisation...and yes, joy.  It didn’t all happen at the start of that first Easter morning.  No, that’s when it began to happen...but the understanding and celebrations happened, bit by bit, over a much longer period of time.  Not until several weeks later, at Pentecost, did the disciples emerge from the security of their self-imposed lock-down and begin to spread the word enthusiastically among anyone who would listen that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.

How did the disciples celebrate that first Easter?  With hesitation, uncertainty, disbelief and doubt.  With confusion and amazement.  With fear and great joy.

The events of the first Holy Week and Easter completely shook up Jesus’ little community of followers.  Things would never be the same again.  When they were ready to emerge from the security of the upper room, they were a transformed group who would go on to found one of the world’s largest faiths, confidently spreading the good news of the risen Jesus, loving and caring for each other and for many other people.

 

Being in lock-down for a prolonged time has shaken our nation, and indeed our world, up to the point where we will emerge very differently.  At the moment it’s too early to see exactly what that will look like.  But this drastic situation has forced us to re-evaluate what’s important to us.  We have been forced to let go of things that shaped our daily life and to learn new routines.  Some writers have likened this to the chrysalis stage of a butterfly – the caterpillar spins its cocoon, hides away for a period of time during which its insides are completely transformed – into something new and beautiful.

So if you’re not feeling very much like celebration this Easter, that’s OK.  It’s OK for Easter to take some time to emerge.  There will be more confusion, rumour, disbelief to come.  And once we do emerge from our lockdown state, the new reality will be different from the reality we left behind in early March.

You may not much feel like singing Alleluia.  At least not yet.  But there are other songs we can sing.  John Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community composed a hymn that’s really appropriate for an Easter when no one feels much like celebration.  It’s called “Christ has risen while Earth slumbers” – you can find a link to the words, and a meditation on them by Revd. Fiona Bennett of the Methodist Church here…

https://www.methodist.org.uk/media/15401/christ-has-risen-while-earth-slumbers.pdf

...and you can find the tune played, without the words, by following this link here…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7skRCDTjLI0

So let’s hold on to the Easter promise of new life.  Let’s hold on to the joy of the resurrected Christ.  And let us look forward in hope to the new life that will surely emerge from these strange and uncertain times.  Have a happy Easter!

Catherine, Lay Reader

The Prayers

Let us bring out prayers to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in sure and certain hope that he hears us when we call, whether gathered together or scattered in our homes, and answers our prayer in accordance with his will and everlasting love.
 
On this Easter Day we rejoice in the glorious news of the resurrection of Jesus, lifting our hearts and minds to see what God has done and know that it is marvellous. Bless your church this day, we pray, here and across the world as we celebrate this most wonderful and holy moment in our year in homes, in families, or in isolation. May your Spirit bind us together in the unity of your love and give us peace and joy in our hearts this day.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
 
We prayer for governments and health officials as they make challenging decisions for the health of nations that they may be wise and fair in all they do. We prayer for all working to keep us supplied with essential goods and for those turning their skills and talents to new lines of production or ways of working to serve their communities. We give thanks for their dedication, resourcefulness, patience and care.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
We pray for those giving vital medical and nursing care that they may be strengthened and protected in their work. We pray for thsoe who are vulnerable, elderly or with special needs that they may receive the care and support they need. Make us all servants of each other in love, that our communities may be strong and thrive even in these difficult times.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
 
We pray for those for whom this is a time of stress, anxiety and pain; for those worried about money, or whether their business or job will survive and for those struggling to cope with isolation. We pray for families where the stresses of this time feel intolerable and are pushing people to breaking point. Hear the cries of the desperate, we pray, and lead them to your peace.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
 
We pray for parents with children at home. May they find ways to enjoy this family time together and celebrate the enrichment of shared experience. We pray for those parents struggling to entertain and educate their children that they may find new avenues to create fun and learning together, and for young people whose hopes and dreams appear to be in ruins at present. Lift them up, breathe new life into their dreams, encourage them to look beyond the narrow confines of today and reach out towards a reimagined, freshly inspired future.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
 
We remember all those who have died, and especially those who have died in hospital away from loved ones. We pray for those whose hearts are breaking with grief and sorrow.
At this Eastertide, may we all know the power of your everlasting promises. Fill your people with the joy and hope of your eternal love that meets us in mysterious ways in the secret places of our hearts and gently lifts the darkness of our sorrow with the softening glow of your glorious light.  May we then shine as lights in the world around us.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
 
Lord, you promise that where two or three are gathered together in your name, you will hear their prayers and grant their requests. Hear us as we pray in our homes, our families, in scattered groups or on our own. Lead us into your truth and guide us to your everlasting kingdom.
Amen.