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

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

Readings

Ephesians 1.15-end

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

 

Matthew 25.31-end

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

 

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

The Sermon
By Canon Dr Alan Billings

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

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

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

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

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

And there will be all sorts of reasons for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

yes, fed the hungry – gave to a foodbank

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

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

.. and so on.

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

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

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

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

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe.

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father

As we celebrate the festival of Christ the King, we pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Bishop Sophie, our Archbishops Justin and Stephen, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and influence be used compassionately for the good of all.  Bring clarity of thought and vision to those who make an implement policy. We particularly pray for a smooth and peaceful transition of power in the United States.   We pray that all decisions made are for the benefit of all people, and that they bring your Kingdom closer to all people.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends.  As we start to look towards the end of our current lockdown, remind us to behave with the good of all people in mind. Lord, we pray for those who are worried and troubled especially at this time of continuing uncertainty.  We pray for those whose health and livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19, and those who have ongoing health or emotional problems where treatments are still only partially available.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Remembrance Sunday’ – 8th November 2020

The Order of Service

Here you will find the order of service for this week in PDF format:

20 11 08 Remembrance Sunday

Here you will find the order of service for this week in Word format:

20 11 08 Remembrance Sunday

The Livestream

This week's service is at 10:30am and will be livestreamed from church on the our YouTube channel here:

 

The Readings

Micah 4. 1 - 5 

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

For all the peoples walk,
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
for ever and ever.

 

John 15. 9 - 17  

Jesus said, As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

 

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

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

“I have a dream” said the prophet Micah. It was a dream shared by the prophet Isaiah, for the same words read this morning from Micah also appear in chapter 2 of Isaiah.

It’s a dream of the holy mountain of God. The mountain where the temple stands. And in this dream this mountain is higher than any other mountain. It might be the mountain of Jerusalem, the holy city of the Hebrew people, but in this dream, people are flocking to it from many different nations. It’s a place of pilgrimage for all.

Why are the people drawn to the mountain? It’s because they want to learn God’s ways, walk in his paths, and take his Word back to their home countries to share with their own people.

In this dream God will act as referee, helping strong nations to work out the differences between each other. God’s action will be so effective that the people will be confident enough to take their weapons of war and recycle them into tools to farm with. There will be no more need to learn the skills of war. There will be no more fear because there is no longer any threat from anyone else. So the people of each nation can grow their own vines and figs in their own lands, safe in the knowledge that they will not be destroyed by enemies, but will bear fruit and feed them.

In this dream, no one is afraid. In this dream the world is at peace.

Micah’s dream was not about to be realised any time soon. In Micah’s reality the kingdom of Israel was about to be cruelly overthrown by the stronger, brutal Assyrians. A century later, the kingdom of Judah would be overthrown by the Babylonians; Jerusalem and her temple destroyed. There would be no growing of figs or vines and the people would be taken into exile. In reality, many people were afraid. In reality the world was far from being at peace.

And as we know, the world continues to be far from peaceful. Today we remember especially those who died in the two world wars. Young men who should have had their whole lives ahead of them. Families whose lives were turned upside down through loss of a son, brother, father.

And we bring to mind too those lost in the conflicts that have taken place, or are still taking place around the world. Their grieving families. Their displaced peoples. Those living in constant fear. The world is still far from being anything like Micah’s dream.

Micah and the other prophets knew that there was unlikely to be peace in the world in their near future. They could see that the actions of their nations and leaders would result in conflicts against bigger, stronger nations. These bigger, stronger nations would overthrow them. The prophets warned the people about the consequences of their behaviour. Their warnings came to pass.

And yet the prophets still had hope. They still dared to dream of days to come when things would be different. Days when people the world over would be guided by God into reconciling their differences. Days when the nations and their people would learn how to live in harmony with each other. Days when weapons of war would no longer be necessary and could be turned instead into useful tools, tools which would sustain life.

Their hope stood firm. It refused to die. Their hope still stands firm. It still refuses to die.

A dream of days to come. A dream not yet realised.

Not yet.

The Prayers
From Common Worship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

‘What is the greatest commandment?’ – 25th October 2020 – The Last Sunday after Trinity

Vkem, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Order of Service

Here you will find the order of service for this week in PDF format:

20 10 25 order of service

Here you will find the order of service for this week in Word format:

20 10 25 order of service

The Livestream

This week's service is at 6:30pm and will be livestreamed from church on the our Youtube channel here:

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

The Readings

1 Thessalonians 2.1-8

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully maltreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

 

Matthew 22.34-end

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet’ ”?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

 

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

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

O Lord, you have given us your word
for a light to shine upon our path.
Grant us so to meditate on that word,
and to follow its teaching,
that we may find in it the light
that shines more and more until the perfect day;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

after Jerome (420)

What is the greatest commandment?

As our Gospel passage opens Jesus is again being questioned by the Pharisees. I say “again being questioned by the Pharisees” as we heard last week how they and Herodians tried to trap Jesus with the issue of paying taxes to Caesar.

In the space between that section of Matthew’s Gospel and today’s Jesus was questioned by the Sadducees, a different group of religious teachers, on how the resurrection life will work. True to form his response astounds them to silence, referred to at the beginning of our Gospel today.

This can seem quite confrontational to us. There are forums in the modern church for rigorous debate on specific issues of doctrine and practice. I’m thinking of the church’s synods, at Deanery and Diocesan level and General Synod, its equivalent of a parliament. It takes specific circumstances for this debate to filter into parish life.

We have some experience of this at St Mary’s, often advocating for the ministry of the ordinary parish church, rooted in loving service and mission to a community. Or quietly affirming that the threefold order of bishop, priest and deacon are open to all. But it’s not something we do day in and day out.

For first century rabbis this kind of debate was much more common. There are 613 commandments in the first five books of the Old Testament, known in Judaism as the Torah. Working out how to apply them in life and how to view some of the more general, all-encompassing commandments in light of the specific, focused ones takes some thought and much debate.

So, while the Pharisees are portrayed by the Gospel writer as testing Jesus, it is part of the normal religious discourse. What sets Jesus apart in most of these arguments is that he often leaves the other side in the debate stunned and speechless. But we aren’t told that here. His response, to choose two commandments – love God and your neighbour – and make them both equal, is in fact a fairly standard interpretation of the commandments in line with Jewish thinking of the time.

What we could easily miss – we’re used to hearing them together – is that the two commandments quoted by Jesus come from different books of the Torah, Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” And Leviticus 19.18 “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.”

We all need to be reminded of the importance of these commandments, but for now I’m setting aside the first one and focusing on loving our neighbour as ourselves. It has echoes of the Golden Rule in Mathew 7 verse 12 “‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” A similar sentiment is found in the practice of most major religions and provides common cause between those of different faiths and no faith.

Yet it’s practice still seems to be a revolutionary concept. This takes many forms.

I once heard a sermon by the former Bishop of Sheffield, Jack Nichols, where he said the problem is that we do love others as we love ourselves and that we don’t love ourselves enough. There is a lot of truth to this. Low self esteem and other mental health conditions are prevalent and likely to become more so in the next six months as we face what is likely to be a very difficult winter. We all need to learn to love ourselves a little bit more. This will in turn overflow into love of others.

But it’s a fine balance between loving ourselves and allowing that self love to consume us. Between seeing ourselves as Jesus does, forgiven, loved and free, and becoming a slave to our own ego. Between overflowing with love for others and hoarding all our love for ourselves.

None of us, as individuals or institutions, gets this right all the time. A particularly live example is the debate around provision in the holidays of free school meals to children who normally receive them at school. As a school governor I know how much of a difference these meals make to the children, their health and wellbeing and their ability to learn.

If decision makers on this issue don’t go hungry and those they serve do, they aren’t loving their neighbour as themselves.

While the church is not immune to this failure to love our neighbour as ourself, we do have a calling to model it in our private, public and institutional life. By modelling it we will hopefully highlight where it is not present.

How do we tell this truth without descending into a holier than thou smug attitude? Our first reading from 1 Thessalonians offers us a blueprint. “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts… we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others.”

This is our pattern, but not only ours. Marcus Rashford seems to be modelling this behaviour pretty well for us. He speaks from a place of experience on the issue and doesn’t seem to speak to please mortals. An MBE hasn’t stopped him advocating on the issue of child food poverty. He could have taken the award, the praise from mortals and stopped, but he hasn’t.

In Sheffield the City Council has decided it will fill the gap and provide food vouchers over the half term. They are not alone, other councils had already done so and more may follow, though time is running out.

All of these actions highlight how unjust the decision on extending free school meals was. But this also points us to a broader injustice within society. While anyone goes hungry and at the same time others have more than enough, we are not living up the ideal of loving our neighbour as ourselves.

The Church of England and the Worldwide Anglican communion of which it is a part adopted five marks of mission, drawn from the life of Jesus, and on which we are called to base the life and work of our churches. Number 3 is “To respond to human need by loving service” and those working to extend free school meal provision are doing exactly that. Responding to an immediate need with a swift response. A biblical example would be the feeding of the five thousand. We do a small part at St Mary’s in our support of the S6 Foodbank. But all of this is and should only ever be a sticking plaster.

The fourth mark of mission is “To transform unjust structures of society,”. This is what comes next. The immediate need is met, now we need to look at the structural problems which caused this need and address them. The danger is we never get here. We get stuck in responding to immediate need after immediate need, all of which should be addressed, but we never get to transforming the unjust structures of society.

Over the coming months many of us may have more time on our hands than we would normally. Much of our everyday activity isn’t possible, or is at least restricted. We can use this time to pray, to reflect on and respond to the immediate needs we see around us. But also how we might may our society more just. In doing so we will inch ever more closely to loving our neighbour as ourselves.

 

O Divine Master,
grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

a Franciscan prayer

The Prayers
Prepared by David, adapted from Common Worship.

Gracious God, fountain of all wisdom,
we pray for all people;
for Pete and Sophie our bishops,
and for all who teach and guard the faith.
May the word of Christ dwell richly in our hearts,
and knit us together in the bond of your love.
Hear us.
Hear us, good Lord.

We pray for the leaders of nations,
and for those in authority under them.
Give them the gift of your wisdom,
and a right discernment in all things.
Hear us.
Hear us, good Lord.

We pray for this community of Walkley,
for those who live, work and visit here,
and for all who seek the common good.
Speak your word of peace in our midst,
and help us to serve one another as Christ has served us.
Hear us.
Hear us, good Lord.

We pray for those who do not believe,
and for those of hesitant belief.
Open their ears to hear your voice,
and open their hearts to receive you, the very Word of life.
Hear us.
Hear us, good Lord.

We pray for those bowed down with grief, fear or sickness.
May Christ your living Word bring them comfort and healing.
Hear us.
Hear us, good Lord.

We give thanks for all who have died in the faith of Christ,
and we rejoice with Mary and all your saints,
trusting in the promise of your word fulfilled.
Hear us.
Hear us, good Lord.

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

 

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

“Of the same mind?” – 11th October 2020 – 18th Sunday after Trinity

Image credit - by Brunswick Monogrammist - cyfrowe.mnw.art.pl, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23207722

The Order of Service

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

20 10 08 order of service

Here is a link to the YouTube channel where the service will live streamed:https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv0KDKmAwGyIsE1i07xmiiw

 

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

20 10 11 order of service

The Readings

Philippians 4.1-9

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

 

Matthew 22.1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’

 

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

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

“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice”

The words of Phillippians 4:4 as expressed in a popular chorus with a jolly tune.

“The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord….” - The words of Phillippians 4:7 paraphrased in the blessing given at the end of our service of Holy Communion.

Two very familiar bible quotes.  But taken out of context they can be less than helpful.  The jolly chorus sounds nice and happy, dare I say it, trite even.  The words of the blessing give the impression that all is full of peace and love.  All is well.  But when all is not well, this can cause problems for those who hear or sing these words.

However, if we look at the passage from which these quotes are taken, it’s clear that the context is not all jolly, and maybe not so full of peace and love.  Maddeningly, we don’t know exactly what has been going on, but Paul is concerned about two women, Euodia and Syntyche.  At some point in the past, they have been his co-workers and together as a team, he, they, Clement and others have struggled together sharing the gospel and building the church.

But now something seems to be causing friction between Euodia and Syntyche.  Have they quarrelled?  Have they completely fallen out with each other, or are they just disagreeing over something which is difficult to resolve?  We don’t know.  Actually, we don’t even know if there’s a problem between Euodia and Syntyche at all – perhaps the two of them are disagreeing with the rest of the community over something!

Whatever it is, the problem is serious enough that Paul feels these women need help and support.  He urges each of them to “be of the same mind in the Lord”.  Does Paul want them to think the same way about whatever the problem is?  Does he want this from the rest of the church community?  Not necessarily!  It’s interesting that he doesn’t say “I urge Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind….”, he addresses each woman individually.  He respects them each as a person in her own right, with her own view.

But Euodia and Syntyche, along with Clement and the rest, are part of a community.  Life as a pioneering community in the earliest days of Christianity was not easy, and indeed not always safe.  It was vital that despite difference, the community could hold together.  Despite difference, a collective way forward through difficulties had to be agreed.  It is in this context that the group are encouraged to Rejoice in the Lord always, and that their hearts and minds be filled with the Peace of God.  God is to be at the centre of their lives individually and as a group, whatever their individual differences.

With cases of Covid-19 rising seriously again, along with hospital admissions, things are not well in our country at the moment, nor indeed in the world.  And while it seemed in March that most people in Britain were “of the same mind” with respect to the lock-down restrictions, and bore the resulting hardships with patience and understanding, it is clear that this is not the case now.  There is much disagreement about how to control the spread of the virus.  People are confused by the different restrictions in different places.  People’s livelihoods, businesses, relationships, education, physical and mental health are all being affected by the restrictions.  It doesn’t help matters when some of those in the public eye are discovered to have broken the rules.  It doesn’t help when some of the scientists don’t agree with the rest.

Does this evening’s reading from Philippians have anything to say to today’s church in pandemic Britain?

One of the things that outsiders noticed about the early church, was the love Christians had for each other.  It was so unusual that people commented on it.  Here was a community of people from diverse backgrounds and opinions that nevertheless managed to see beyond these differences.  Here was a community of people who, despite the odds, managed to work together enough of the time to arouse the curiosity of others and draw them in.  They drew on the knowledge, love and peace of God and modelled to the world what it looks like to “be of the same mind in the Lord”.

If today’s church can do the same, this will indeed be cause for rejoicing.

The Prayers
Prepared by Hope.

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

Oh God the creator and preserver of all, we pray for people in every kind of need.
Bless all those around the world who are suffering from the effects of climate change, war and Covid-19
Bless those whose homes have been destroyed by wild fires, bombing or other violence.
Bless those who are now faced with the challenges of rebuilding their homes, businesses and lives.
Bless those whose endurance seems to have come to an end and who can see no future now.
Bless all the powerful leaders of our world.  Grant them renewed compassion.
Grant them the skills and wisdom needed at this critical time, so that those citizens who are suffering most may be supported and not forgotten.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for your church throughout the world.  Guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit
Bless all those called to leadership in your worldwide church.
Bless all those carrying special responsibilities at this time of Covid-19.
Bless those who minister in parts of the world where war and deprivation add vastly to people’s struggles
Bless our local leaders, here at St.Mary’s, and at St.John’s Ranmoor and St.Mark’s Broomhill
Bless our Bishops, Peter and Sophie, and all who work with them across the diocese of Sheffield
Bless all those who lead and support their churches, and other faith communities too, across this country.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body or estate.
We ask your blessing on all those whose lives and livelihood are being torn apart by the Covid-19 virus.
Bless those who are very sick and being admitted to hospital at this time
Bless those who are suffering in the long term from this disease, afraid that they may never fully recover
Bless the younger people, including children, who are unexpectedly suffering severely from Covid-19
Bless the carers. The parents, adult children and all those who are looking after family members, sick and perhaps infectious at home.
Bless those who are facing the loss of their work and livelihood.
With faith in your presence with us, with hope for the future, grant us all patience, endurance and compassion at this time.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the Peace of Christ. We remember our own friends, family and those who have inspired us over the years, who are no longer with us.   We give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the Communion of Saints.

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

‘A generous God’ – 20th September 2020 – The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Order of Service

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

Here is a link to the YouTube channel where the service will live streamed:https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv0KDKmAwGyIsE1i07xmiiw

 

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

20 09 20 Order of Service

The Readings

Exodus 16.2-15

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.’

Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

 

Matthew 20.1-16

Jesus said ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

 

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.

Every other Wednesday morning, at St John’s, we have a collection for a local foodbank. I really enjoy it because it means I get to meet some of my parishoners in the flesh and can have a socially distanced chat outside the church. I think it also serves a need in many people at St John’s. A need to do something. Many people in my congregation are on good pensions and they know that many in our city are struggling and they want to do something to help. Hopefully, the tins and nappies and packets of loo roll do make a difference. But when I take our contributions to the foodbank in the afternoon, I often reflect that this is a terrible way to address inequality. People from St John’s buy things at the supermarket. They bring them to church. I then take them to the foodbank and the foodbank distributes them to people who apply to them for help. It’s very inefficient. It’s demeaning to those who rely on the Foodbank. And it only meets the needs of those who ask for help. As furlough ends there will be more people needing help in the coming months. And some people have been asking whether we need a universal living wage. A basic income which anyone is entitled to. This might help to protect all those who work in the gig economy and might simplify our benefits system.

It’s an interesting idea. One of the arguments against it is that if you pay everyone the same, regardless of whether they work or not, you remove some of the incentive for people to look for a job. Some might even say it smacks of communism. But it doesn’t seem a very long way from what’s happening in our Gospel reading today. The landowner employs different groups of people at different times of the day and pays them all the usual daily wage. It doesn’t seem very fair but it does mean that more people get enough to live on. These workers don’t have any job security or employment rights and many in the world are in a similar situation.

Jesus often uses money in his parables because people care about money. They listen when money is mentioned. But money tends to be used as a metaphor for something else. So what is this parable really about? Well, one interpretation is that it is about the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews, as we know, have been God’s people since the time of Abraham. They and God have had their ups and downs but they are still his people. Heirs of the covenant. Perhaps they are like the workers who started early in the morning. But then, centuries later, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all sorts of other people start calling themselves his children. These Jonny come latelys were now part of God’s family too. That might have been hard in a religion and culture that placed so much emphasis on family and descent. Matthew, we know, was writing for a Jewish Christian audience, and perhaps there were tensions between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. And perhaps this parable tried to address them.

Another commentator reminds us that this parable was addressed to the disciples rather than preached to the multitude. They suggest that there were tensions between the disciples themselves. They were not all called at the same time. Matthew, who we celebrate tomorrow, was called after Peter, Andrew, James and John. And maybe there were tensions between the disciples. Perhaps a pecking order was starting to develop. Just before this week’s passage, Peter reminds Jesus how much they have sacrificed to follow him. Jesus says that many who are first will be last and the last will be first. Our place in the kingdom of God is not determined by how long we have been a disciple. And we know that intellectually but how often in churches do we develop pecking orders. You can’t sit there because Mrs so and so has always sat there. Or you can’t have that hymn because Mr so and so doesn’t like it.

Even if this parable is particularly addressed to the disciples, it still has meaning for us. It’s so easy for us as human beings to establish pecking orders but the Gospel constantly subverts them. Putting down the mighty and exalting the humble and meek, filling the hungry and sending the rich empty away. But this parable is not just about pecking orders it’s about grace. It’s about everyone having the same access to God’s grace, regardless of their status, how long they have been a Christian or how hard they work for the kingdom. We are loved and accepted and forgiven by God because that is what God does. It is his free gift.

Our first reading from the Book of Exodus is a good illustration of this. The Israelites have crossed over the Red Sea and are in the wilderness. And they are getting a bit nostalgic about their old life. They sound a bit like the Four Yorkshiremen in the Monty Python sketch. I won’t attempt the accent but it goes something like this:

Who'd have thought thirty year ago we'd all be sittin' here drinking Château de Chasselas, eh?
In them days we was glad to have the price of a cup o' tea
A cup o' cold tea
Without milk or sugar
Or tea
In a cracked cup, an' all
Oh, we never had a cup. We used to have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper:
The best we could manage was to suck on a piece of damp cloth
But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.

The Israelites seem to have forgotten that they were abused and exploited by the Egyptians. At least there was bread to eat, they said. And now this idiot Moses had brought them to the middle of nowhere and they were probably going to die of starvation. Like children on a long car journey, they kept saying they were hungry and asking, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’

Moses is exasperated and complains to God. And God sends manna from heaven for the Israelites to eat. And the important thing about the manna is that there is enough for everyone. Not too much and not too little. The Israelites are not to hoard it because if they do the manna will become infested with worms and rot. And grace is like that too. It is a gift from heaven. It comes freely and unearned. And there is enough for everyone. Not too much and not too little. Like the daily wage paid to the workers in the vineyard, everyone gets enough.

We may struggle to grasp that sometimes as human beings. But this is God’s work. He does what he chooses with what belongs to him. He chooses to be generous. And we need to learn to accept that free gift of grace and to be generous with others. So that all may have enough. Amen.

 

The Prayers
Prepared by Veronica.

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

Lord God, we give you thanks and praise that we are again able to meet together here at St Mary’s Walkley to worship you, joined via Zoom by those unable to attend in person. Strengthen our faith in these difficult times and make us always ready to reach out to those in need as taught by our Lord Jesus.
Lord in your mercy:
Hear our prayer.

We bring before you the needs of the world, where so many are suffering, not just from the effects of the Covid pandemic, but also from acute poverty, hunger, lack of medical care, oppression and war. We pray for all countries in need of wise leadership and those in a position to provide it. Bless the work of the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, the European Union, and all the voluntary organisations working to bring emergency aid. Inspire all nations and their leaders to look beyond their own boundaries to work with others for the good of all.
Lord in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church worldwide, that all denominations and traditions may work to show your love and care to a suffering world. We pray for our Archbishops Justin and Stephen, our diocesan bishops Pete and Sophie, and all clergy and laypeople working to maintain our mission and worship in these difficult times. We give thanks for our partner churches for their support.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for our city and our Walkley Community, especially our schools as teachers and pupils meet again after so many months, with many new conditions to deal with, often, as in St Mary’s School, in buildings where distancing is difficult. We pray also for all the students about to start the new academic year. May they feel welcome and show responsibility in dealing with a very different learning environment from what they could have expected a year ago.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are ill at this time in mind or body, whether from corona virus or other ailments for which treatment is being delayed. We give you thanks for our NHS and care workers, for all their efforts over the last 7 months, often risking their own health or lives. In a moment of quiet we think of those known to us who are in particular need of your healing grace at this time………
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We remember before you all those known to us who have died recently, and all who mourn them, often without the comfort of families and friends around them. We entrust them all to you as we hold their memory in a moment of silence………
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

With Mary and all your saints we commend ourselves and all your creation to your unfailing love, in which we put our trust.
Merciful Father:
Accept these prayers,
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

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.