‘Christian Ambition’ – 25th July 2021 – The Feast of St James

The order of service:

The order of service as a word document:

21 07 25 St James the Apostle Eucharist

The order of service as a pdf:

21 07 25 St James the Apostle Eucharist

The Livestream link

To participate in the service through YouTube, please click here:

 

The Readings

Acts 11.27 - 12.2 

At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.

 

Matthew 20.20 - 28

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’

When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

 

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

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

Today the church celebrates St James one of the 12 apostles, the first followers of Jesus. He should not be confused with the other St James also one of the 12 apostles whose feast day is the 1st of May and shared with Saint Philip.
To tell them apart the James we celebrate today is known as James the Great, whereas the other one is known as James the Less. The letter of James in the bible is ascribed to James the Less, which goes to show your writing can be included in the canon of scripture and you can still be considered the less of two James by the church.
But should he be bothered?
What does Christian ambition look like?
Today’s Gospel reading gives us an answer, one that is pretty straightforward and clear cut.
The mother of James and John has come to Jesus to ask a favour. How Matthew portrays this is telling. In the same account in Marks Gospel, which it is believed was written earlier and to which Matthew had access, it is James and John themselves who ask Jesus for the favour. In Lukes Gospel, also written after Mark the incident isn’t mentioned. In a few short years has the church moved from showing the very human, fallible actions of the disciples? Does it instead seek to present an idealised view of their actions and interactions with Jesus?
Maybe. A cautionary tale for us when dealing with events heading out of living memory. It’s very easy to rose tint our view of the past and the figures in it.
But back to the Gospel reading. Jesus has been asked for a favour. James and John would sit at the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom. In the ancient world, as now, these were positions of power and respect. To sit next to the king enabled advisers to speak at will and with relative privacy when engaged in matters of state. This could be for good or ill, think of the character Wormtongue in the Lord of the Rings. He is King Théoden’s advisor and has poured the poison of Saruman into the King’s ear weakening Théoden until Gandalf removes him from the position of power. I’m sure we can recall less fantastical instances of this in our own lives, at work or in the life of the nation, where there are powers struggles and advisors to those in authority have used the position for their own ends.
The favour asked of Jesus falls into the trap of assuming that the kingdom will look like all the other kingdoms. That it will be a place of power games and hierarchy. This isn’t the only time this happens in the Gospels. Jesus was expected by many to boot out the occupying Romans and usher in a golden age for a politically independent kingdom of Israel, with him at its head.
Jesus knows this is not where he is headed. He knows the cup he is about to drink, he death on Good Friday, and is willing to share it. However he makes it clear that the places for the closest advisors are not for him to fill, but the Father.
James does go on to drink the cup that Jesus does and is the first of the apostles to be martyred. Killed by a sword thrust on the orders of Herod Agrippa as recounted by our reading from the Acts of the Apostles. John is said to have died of old age but spent most of his live exiled to the island of Patmos and so lived as a martyr rather than died as one. The other James, the less, is also martyred, reportedly beaten to death by order of the Sanhedrin so that can’t be used to tell them apart.
The other disciples’ reaction to this exchange with Jesus is predictable. They are unimpressed. Jesus, as he often does, uses the situation to teach them something about the kingdom of God. He completely flips the idea of authority and power on its head. In the kingdom those who wish to be considered great must be humble and serve, following the pattern of Jesus. Perhaps in this context being James “the less” is a higher accolade than the “the great”?
I’m sure many of us can think of times when those in authority, in the church, the life of the nation, or in business, have tried to live by different rules to everyone else, to lord it over others with arrogance and tyranny.
This is not to call for anarchy, to have no authorities no one who exercises power. Indeed, authority and power can effect change in the world and the Gospel of Jesus does call for change, justice for the oppressed. But it is to acknowledge that those who do have authority and power must exercise it with the needs of others in mind.
This is Christian ambition. A desire for change to bring about the justice and peace of God’s kingdom.
On Friday I received an email about elections to the General Synod of the Church of England. This body is the church’s parliament, debating issues of importance to the church and the world, and making decisions on the strategic direction of the church and the use of our resources. Its composition is fairly complicated but the majority of lay and clergy members are elected by members of Deanery synods across, of which I and Janet are reps for St Mary’s on the local one. These elections are held every five years and this is an real opportunity to effect change.
Don’t worry. I’m not, as our American brothers and sisters might say, about to declare my candidacy or deliver a stump speech. But I do encourage you to find out about General Synod, what it has debated recently and the issues it will discuss in the coming five years. Speak to me and Janet about the synods and think also if God is calling you to serve on one of them.
To those who are already thinking of standing, again or for the first time. I would say this.
‘whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by Veronica.

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

O God, the creator and preserver of us all, we pray for all your peoples in any kind of need. We pray for all those suffering from catastrophic floods and fires at this time and all still suffering as a result of the pandemic. We pray that all of us, in our daily lives, and all with responsibilities of leadership of their nations and groups of nations, will realise our part in creating this imbalance in the world you have entrusted to us, and take action to ensure that future generations will inherit the world you created which provided all that is necessary for all life.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for the church worldwide, that all who profess and call themselves Christians will work together to build up our common life in you. May we be like mustard seed in our communities, striving always to serve our fellow human beings, bringing help to all who need it, following the example of Christ and his apostles, like James, whom we remember today. Help us to support our fellow Christians, whether meeting in large groups or small, remembering that Christ taught that when two or three gather in his name, there He is in the midst of them. We thank you for all who assist us in our worship here at St Mary’s, both ordained and lay.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are suffering in mind, body and spirit, those with Covid, those grieving for loved ones who have died, and all those professional workers under great stress in meeting the demands of the last year and a half, and still see no end. We pray also for the many people whose operations and treatment have been delayed, that their needs may soon be met. In a moment of quiet we remember all known personally to us who are in special need of your saving grace……..
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, particularly our former Bishop David Lunn, who died a few days ago in Scarborough. We give you thanks and praise for all your faithful servants. We remember those we loved and see no more…………..
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

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

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

 

‘Happy Fathers Day’ – 20th June 2021 – 3rd Sunday after Trinity

The order of service:

The order of service as a word document:

21 06 20 3rd Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

The order of service as a pdf:

21 06 20 3rd Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

The Livestream link

To participate in the service through YouTube, please click here:

The Readings

Job 38.1-11

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?

 

Mark 4.35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

 

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

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

In the not too distant past, when we had more actual bookshops including the Christian Literature shop, where we could enjoy browsing real books and the other items they stocked, I occasionally used to buy some of the little cards with interesting verses or prayers or sayings on them. They can be quite comforting or inspiring or encouraging and last week a few words from one of them came to mind as I struggled to relate our readings from Job & Mark to the fact that today is Father’s Day. The verse went something like “don’t give up though the going seems slow, for you may succeed with another go” and so it proved to be. In fact it has been true of the whole process of writing this sermon. I’ve really had to beat it into shape! I knew that I wanted to speak about fathers and indeed the importance of all people in parental type roles but somehow it just wasn’t coming together in a meaningful or coherent way or saying what I wanted to say. However, I stuck at it and gave the readings another go and then with the passage from Job, the penny suddenly dropped and I could see the relevance. What a relief!
God, the Father, is speaking to Job, one of his children, and by the sound of it, he seems to be really putting him in his place. I suppose it depends how you read the passage and where you put emphasis on the words but the way it sounded to me indicated that God was not entirely happy or impressed. “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements- surely you know! Not a talking to you’d want to be on the receiving end of and by the end of it, some 71 verses later, I imagine Job was pretty uncomfortable and shamefaced.
I found the story of Job a very difficult one to read and I have to admit that he’s a character I have a lot of sympathy with. Perhaps this was partly because at the time when I read it, I could identify with his efforts to do the right things, only to be met with one disaster and disappointment after another. He isn’t perfect, none of us are, but he tries to be faithful and good but eventually, after many painful trials and tests he begins to crack and challenge God about the unfairness of what is happening to him. The response he gets is probably not what he was hoping for. What God is effectively saying is “Who are you to speak of what you don’t know or understand?”
 
The brief passage we’ve heard demonstrates the relationship between parents and children very well. Children don’t always appreciate that parents know and understand far more than they do and that this usually comes from wisdom acquired through life experience. Being told that an unpopular decision is “for your own good“ doesn’t necessarily make it more palatable or easy to accept though. Children may feel that the parental figure doesn’t acknowledge or understand their situation or point of view and they often feel aggrieved about this. I’m sure we can all remember such feelings when as young people we couldn’t get our own way. What we probably didn’t realise at the time, is just how hard it can be, to be the one having to disappoint or say no.
The importance of good role models in the form of parental figures cannot be overstated and just as we celebrate mother figures so we should celebrate father figures too. Whether as fathers, grandfathers, Godfathers, stepfathers, uncles or friends, all have a part to play in nurturing and developing and inspiring those who need their loving care and guidance. Perhaps at this point I should say that I’m well aware that these relationships aren’t always easy; not everyone has a good relationship with their father, some fathers find their role difficult, I’m sure they all do at times, or they may feel inadequate. For many men who long to be fathers, it doesn’t always happen and they have to find other ways to play a fatherly role. However they may feel about their situation though, they all have the potential to play a very positive and important part in the lives of the children who look up to them and depend on them. I’m sure Joseph’s experience of fatherhood was not quite what he thought it would be but without his faithful and loving care, what would have become of Jesus?
It may seem obvious for young people as they are growing up but in truth we all continue to need and benefit from good role models throughout our lives. My own dad died nearly fourteen years ago and I still miss his wisdom, huge enthusiasm and encouragement, especially when we were working together on a new project. I miss being able to ask his advice and to talk things over with him, likewise with my mum and other family and friends who have died. I’m sure you all have people who were special to you whose loving guidance and support you miss.
That said, as adults we are usually the ones with the life experience and the wisdom and the ones making decisions so it can be hard to find ourselves in what can feel like a “junior” role, especially if the person we feel “junior” to is younger than we are. Maybe it’s not so strange with people like doctors and other health professionals or others who are trained in their particular fields but at other times it doesn’t sit so well with us. But in truth we shouldn’t be too proud or stubborn to learn from or be guided by anyone who has more knowledge and wisdom than we do, regardless of age or any other factor. As a nurse I remember learning a lot from auxiliaries and technicians who I was supposedly senior to and let’s be honest, when anything computer or tech related goes wrong, most of us are thinking “where’s a young person when you need one to fix it”!
We need a degree of humility to recognise and accept when we are the ones needing guidance and support and this is especially so in our relationship with God. As with Job, we may not always find some of God’s promptings entirely comfortable, indeed they may very challenging, painful and costly. However worldly wise we think we are, whether we are nine, nineteen, fifty nine or ninety nine we are never too young or old to be in need of God our Father’s loving and guiding presence in our lives.
So to God and to all of you who have loving fatherly roles, I’d like to say thank you for all the good that you do, and Happy Father’s Day.

The Prayers
Prepared by David, adapted from Common Worship.

We pray for the flourishing of God’s gifts to his Church, saying:
Lord of the Church,
in your mercy hear us.

God our Father, you give us gifts that we may work together
in the service of your Son:
bless the leaders of your Church, our Bishops, Pete and Sophie,
that they may be firm in faith,
and humble before you.
Lord of the Church,
in your mercy hear us.

Bless those who teach, who break open God’s word in preaching
that they may increase our understanding,
and be open to your word for them.
Lord of the Church,
in your mercy hear us.

Bless those who minister healing during this time of pandemic
that they may bring wholeness to others,
yet know your healing in themselves.
Lord of the Church,
in your mercy hear us.

Bless those through whom you speak, prophets and the voices crying out in the wilderness
that they may proclaim your word in power,
yet open their ears to your gentle whisper.
Lord of the Church,
in your mercy hear us.

Bless those who work in your world today,
that in the complexity of their daily lives
they may live for you, fulfil your purposes,
and seek your kingdom first.
Lord of the Church,
in your mercy hear us.

Bless those who are uncertain of their gifts
and those who are powerless in this world’s eyes,
that they may be made strong in your gift of the Holy Spirit.
Lord of the Church,
in your mercy hear us.

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

 

‘The parable of the growing seed’ – 13th June 2021 – 2nd Sunday after Trinity

The Order of Service

The order of service as a word document:

21 06 13 Climate Sunday - 2nd Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

The order of service as a pdf:

21 06 13 Climate Sunday - 2nd Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

Please note that there will be no livestream of this Sunday's service. 

The Readings

Ezekiel 17.22-end

Thus says the Lord God:
I myself will take a sprig
from the lofty top of a cedar;
I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one
from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it
on a high and lofty mountain.
On the mountain height of Israel
I will plant it,
in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live;
in the shade of its branches will nest
winged creatures of every kind.
All the trees of the field shall know
that I am the Lord.
I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Lord have spoken;
I will accomplish it.

 

Mark 4.26-34

Jesus also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

 

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

The Sermon
By Joe P, a Reader at St Marys. 

May I speak in the name of the father, son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Earlier this US Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert asked the following question during a congressional hearing:

"I was informed by the immediate past director of NASA that they've found that the moon's orbit is changing slightly and so is the Earth's orbit around the sun. We know there's been significant solar flare activity, and so, is there anything that the National Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management can do to change the course of the moon's orbit or the Earth's orbit around the sun? Obviously, that would have profound effects on our climate."

In other words, he seems to believe that we might be able to fix the damage that we have done to the climate via technology.

Unfortunately for the Congressman, it doesn’t work like that. Complex technical fixes and interventions are often popular because they offer a way of fixing things that often doesn’t involve changes to our lifestyles. But Creation has it’s own rules, that we often don’t fully understand, and, as Richard Feynman said ‘Nature cannot be fooled.’

And we are creatures of God’s Creation, and as such, we work within those rules – even when we are bringing about the Kingdom of God.

Today’s readings both emphasise the very organic nature of bringing the Kingdom of God in to being. After all, an omnipotent God could choose to bring about His Kingdom in an instant, but the theme that keeps recurring through scripture – not just in today’s readings – is the sense of the Kingdom of God being cultivated into being, grown with time and love, not just zapped in to existence.

Both Old and New Testament writings draw heavily on agricultural metaphors. We are told be stewards of creation; we are reminded that there are appropriate times for sowing and reaping. Jesus’s parables are particularly rich in terms of these stories – He teaches using images and ideas that would be meaningful to His audience.

This morning I want to focus on the first part of our Gospel reading – the Parable of the Growing Seed:

“He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

This parable occurs just after the ‘Parable of the Sower’, in which we hear the story of the man sowing seeds on to different types of soil – some good soil, some thorny, some rocky. Jesus explains that parable by telling the disciples that the seed represents the Gospel, the sower represents anyone who proclaims it, and the various soils represent people's responses to it.

This parable is about the growth of the Kingdom of God; it’s therefore clear that it’s related to the ‘Parable of the Sower’, but puts a different emphasis on it. It’s a parable that is only to be found in the Gospel according to Mark, and there are a number of interpretations around it. Although it seems to be related to the Parable of the Sower, it doesn’t immediately follow it; the parable of hiding your light under a bushel separates the two.

Some commentators say that the sower referred to is Jesus himself, based mainly on the interpretation that if the sowing of the seed represents the seeding and growth of faith, then the person reaping the ripened grain of faith at the end can only be the Lord.
I’m not sure about this; I like to think that this parable is a lot more general in it’s application.

So, what do we have.

We have a sower – someone spreading seed, who after spreading the seed in what is clearly fertile soil, then leaves the seed to it’s own devices in the natural scheme of things. He doesn’t know HOW the seed grows; he just gets on with the rest of his life whilst this minor miracle of creation unfolds beneath the soil, eventually resulting the plants growing and achieving maturity in their own time.
We have the seed; this can be seen to be the word of the Gospel leading to the Kingdom of God.

We have the soil itself; it’s good soil, receptive soil, soil that is allowing growth. I like to think of this as the good soil described in the Parable of the Sower. This soil can be seen as the heart, mind and soul of someone who is at least somewhat receptive to the Word of the Gospel, and hence is open to having the Kingdom of God start to grow within them.

Even when the sower is sleeping or dealing with the rest of their lives the seed starts to grow; the Kingdom of God is growing, at a rate and by a means set by God, not man.

The writer George Knight has suggested that this parable:

“serves as a "correction provided for any ancient or modern disciples who might be feeling discouraged with the amount of fruitless labour they had extended toward those" who failed to hear the message of which the parable of the Sower spoke.”

In other words, the Parable might be a means of telling the disciples that whilst they may teach the Gospel, and spread the seed of the Kingdom of God in the hearts and minds of people, the growth of that seed is still in God’s hands, not theirs.

Perhaps a useful reminder to us Readers who are often said to be in the ‘Preaching and Teaching’ ministry. And it’s a valuable reminder about Evangelism in it’s broadest terms; we may put the Word of God before people, but how and when faith emerges is not in our hands.

The Apostle Paul felt this as well.

Look what he has to say about the Church in Corinth, when he writes in the first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 3 verse 6:

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”

The growth of the Kingdom of God in Corinth is God’s work; Paul and Apollos were just workers in the field.

The seeds of my own faith were initially sown by my Aunty Harriet when I was a child. It’s safe to say that the seed lay for a while – about forty years – before God prodded it to life. Aunty Harriet died back in 1983; she didn’t see how the seeding the Kingdom of God within me would unfold. And we still don’t know what God has in store for me – or for any of us.

But remember the sower; you never know how and when the seeds YOU cast to others in your life will be contributing to the growth of the Kingdom.

Have faith that God will work on those seeds in His time, to His plan, and for His greater glory.
Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by Veronica. 

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

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we bring before you the needs of the world, in particular those countries where people are in greatest need due to war, illness and oppression. Give wisdom to the leaders of the world’s richest nations, currently meeting in Cornwall, to make decisions which will address these problems and share resources to help our fellow human beings, all of whom are your children.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church worldwide, that it may be a force for good. We pray for church leaders of all denominations that they may always seek to spread the teachings of Christ that we should seek to serve You by serving our neighbours, most particularly those in need. We pray for our Archbishops, our diocesan Bishops Pete and Sophie, and all working in parishes to witness to your word. Especially we pray for members of this church and St Mark’s and St John’s as we work together in partnership in this part of Sheffield.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for our community of Walkley, and all the people working to revive our shops and businesses after the difficult times over the last year and a half. We thank you for all who work to build up our sense of community, at the library, keeping our green open spaces and gardens beautiful, and so making this a welcoming place for newcomers.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer. 

We pray for all who are unwell at this time, who are stressed because of economic insecurity, who are awaiting overdue treatment because of the pressures on the NHS due to corona virus, and those people who are beginning to become infected again. We ask you to be with them and all the medical   and nursing staff and care workers, as they try to deal with the pressures of the last year and longer. May they all know your healing grace. In a moment of quiet we pray for those known to us….
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We remember before you all who are approaching the end of their earthly life, and those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ. We remember by name those we loved and see no more………
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

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

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

‘Glimpses of the Sacred’ – 16th May 2021 – The 7th Sunday of Easter

The Order of Service:

Order of service as Word file:

21 05 16 7th Sunday of Easter Eucharist

Order of service as PDF file:

21 05 16 7th Sunday of Easter Eucharist

 

Image by: Rude, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Livestreaming Link:

 

The Readings

Acts 1.15-17, 21-end

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people) and said, ‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.’
So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

John 17.6-19

Jesus said, ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

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 Siobhan H, Reader at St Mary's.

Glimpses of the Sacred

‘All mine are yours’
‘Keep them’
‘Protect them in my name’
‘So I send them into the world’

These were the phrases which jumped out for me when I first read the Gospel passage we have heard this morning.

In it, Jesus intercedes to his Father on behalf of his disciples. We witness Jesus’ encouragement of them not to dwell in feelings of abandonment or despair, but to hope in the assurances of Jesus’ continuing presence with them. Through the words “keep them” and “protect them”, he reveals his love and commitment to them.
We too are assured in this prayer that each of us belong to Jesus and of his continuing presence with us.

Jesus also tells his disciples to be his hands and feet in the ordinariness of the world and this applies to us too. There is no promise in Jesus’ prayer that as we engage with the world we will be free of illness, suffering, pain or physical death. There is though, the assurance nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

We are all God’s children.
We are all held and protected in God’s name.
We are all sent into the world to live and work to the glory of his name.

For me it is important to set this passage in the context that prior to this prayer Jesus had just instituted the sharing of bread and wine in remembrance of him. It is my belief communion strengthens and sustains us as a way of receiving the love of Jesus deep within us. Over the years communion has led me to recognise grace can be found in both the joys and the sorrows of life.

When I was licensed as a chaplain I promised, with God’s help, to exercise a ministry which serves the whole institution in which I am employed, to be out in the world, to live in the midst of struggle, and to embody the divine attributes of love, compassion, mercy, justice, parity of resources, generosity and unity. Over the past ten years I have come to see our world and all people as sacred and have been open to recognising that the divine is interwoven into the fabric of the ordinariness of our everyday lives.

Today I have been asked to speak specifically about raising awareness of how we can better support people with dementia and their carers in church and out in the community.

As many of you will know, dementia is an illness which affects brain functioning and progressively worsens. It can be a difficult illness for the person who has it and also for their families and friends. This morning I would like to suggest that if we stop assuming dementia is solely an affliction which takes us into a bad place, it may become a grace which moves us into a better place. If we truly come close to those with dementia and their carers we can learn radical new lessons about how to love and live.

My mother had dementia and one of my greatest fears is that I will also develop this illness. For a while I thought it was the suffering of this disease I feared. Further reflection led me to realise behind my fear is one concern:
“If I no longer have capacity, am vulnerable and dependent on those around me, how well will I be cherished, valued and cared for?”

Perhaps my fear is exacerbated by living in a culture where we are held captive to the idols of independence, autonomy, control and productivity. It’s hard to to feel secure when our sense of self is shaped by these things and when we perceive our sense of worth is valued by others in terms of what we add to society.

How would it be if our sense of self was determined not through what we achieve but by how Jesus sees us?

The Jesus who intercedes for us to his Father, who keeps us and protects us, enfolds us in love and accepts us as just as we are. The sanctity and holiness of each of us does not diminish if our memory or body physically declines. It doesn’t change as we age and it isn’t connected to our ability to function in a certain way. It endures through all stages of dementia and this imparts dignity to all people. When the church embodies divine love to all people regardless of their illness or disability it demonstrates all parts of the body of Christ are valued and honoured.

How would it be if we recognised and celebrated our interdependency on one another? If we answered the call to care and to go out into the world embodying compassion for one another. If we recognise there is a mutuality and reciprocity between us and we can benefit too by gaining insights from those with dementia.

The Alzheimer’s society has a strap line which speaks of people ‘living well with dementia’. My experience is that living well with dementia only happens when others enable it. This applies not only to dementia but to any illness or disability where we rely on the support of others. In my experience with my mum, it was small acts of kindness that made a big difference - the lady from the hospice who took mum out each week, giving dad a rest, the local Eucharistic minister who brought communion, the Golden Memories Group where mum and dad danced, sang and shared food with others, neighbours who walked the dog. There’s one memory that particularly stays in my mind which I would like to share with you.

It’s been a hard day, the car journey to Salford difficult as mum is anxious and doesn’t want to get out of the car. Eventually, I persuade her into the Harvester. There are long banks of tables with benches. I order tea and ask the waitress to check mum doesn’t move. In the ladies I breathe deeply in, exhale, and re- emerge into the restaurant. What I see next touches me deeply: the waitress is singing tea for two and two for tea and mum’s joining in. As I sit down a young mother with two toddlers sits at the table next to me. Mum, a teacher of many years smiles at them, trying to engage them and they accept her just as she is. They have been dancing their mum tells me. A moment later a lady and man with Down’s Syndrome sit at the table on the other side of us. Now we are all chatting to one another, three tables together and there is a sense of lightness. Orchestrating all of this is a waitress anticipating our needs, more bread, more tea, some ice cream she enquires. And then it hits me - THIS is communion. I smile, strengthened and renewed to go out into the world again.

Each of us at some point in life will become unwell and very often it is the feelings of things being stripped away, losing independence which people talk about at the end of life or in times of acute illness.

In my work on the dementia unit I conduct services which are adapted to be dementia friendly with familiar hymns and prayers. Before Covid, St Mary’s conducted similar services at Moorend Place and Carol has continued the link with them throughout the pandemic. If we are willing to slow down and in the words of one of my residents “trust God, accept and be still,” we can gain a new window on the world. I now have a renewed appreciation of the beauty of soft pink cherry blossom, the perfumed scent of roses, or the twinkling stars in a velvety night sky deep in the depths of Connemara. The savouring of steaming hot chocolate, freshly whipped cream and fluffy marshmallows. Imagine for a moment how it might be if we were learn to slow down, simplify our worship and be intentionally present throughout. Imagine the gift we might give and receive if we sat fully present with another. Or how much more we might connect more fully with creation if we walked at a slower pace through our world. Accompanying my mum helped me realise our essence is retained and love transcends both dementia and death and somehow, even in grief I know nothing separates her or me from the love of God through Jesus Christ.

I am very aware these are my personal reflections and just as each person with dementia is unique so is their story and that of their families. It is my hope that as the three churches of this mission area we will listen to these stories and begin exploring how we can best support those with a dementia diagnosis and their families.

As we do so, let us remember we are all called, held, protected and sent into the world.

As Jesus modelled for us in today’s Gospel, I’m going to end by offering a prayer adapted from words by Louise Moore.

My spiritual self is reflected in the divine and given meaning as a transcendent being.
As I travel toward the dissolution of myself. My personality, my very essence, my relationship with God needs increasing support from you. My other in the body of Christ. Don’t abandon me at any stage, For the Holy Spirit connects us, I need you to sing with me, pray with me, To be my memory for me, You play a vital role, in relating to the soul within me, connecting at this eternal level. Sing alongside me, touch me, pray with me, Reassure me of your presence, And through you, of Christ’s presence. For we are one bread, one body, We are one body in this one Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe P.

We pray for God’s Church throughout the world. We pray for our Archbishops Justin and Stephen, for Bishop Pete and Bishop Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s and our sister Churches.
Lord, in your mercy.
Hear our prayer.

We pray that we may be protected from evil as we try to follow in the footsteps of Jesus through our dealings in the world. Remind us that, we should not consider ourselves as belonging to the world, but that we belong to Jesus.
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 voices be used compassionately for the good of all. We pray that the violence and bloodshed in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank will cease and that a just, long-lasting and peaceful solution will be arrived at.
Lord, in your mercy.
Hear our prayer.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. We pray for those in our community who have celebrated Eid this week. We pray for a safe and successful relaxing of Covid restrictions next week, especially with the presence of new variants of Covid-19.
Lord, in your mercy.
Hear our prayer.

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

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

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

The Order of Service:

Order of service as word file:

21 04 18 3rd Sunday of Easter Eucharist

Order of service as PDF file:

21 04 18 3rd Sunday of Easter Eucharist

 

Livestreaming link:

The Readings

Acts 3.12-19

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

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

 

Luke 24.36b-48

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prayers
Prepared by Veronica.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Good Friday’ – 2nd April 2021

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

First station - Jesus in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

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

Second station - Jesus betrayed by Judas and arrested

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

Third station - Jesus condemned by the Sanhedrin

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

Fourth station - Peter denies Jesus

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

Fifth station - Jesus judged by Pilate

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

Sixth station - Jesus scourged and crowned with thorns

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

Seventh station - Jesus carries the cross

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

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

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

Ninth station - Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

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

Tenth station - Jesus is crucified

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

Eleventh station - Jesus promises the kingdom to the penitent thief

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

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

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

Thirteenth station - Jesus dies on the cross

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

Fourteenth station - Jesus laid in the tomb

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

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

The Readings

Exodus 2.1-10

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

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

 

Luke 2.33-35

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

 

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

The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me suggest one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need to be able to do two things simultaneously:

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

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

RS Thomas the Welsh poet and priest once wrote this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painting of the Transfiguration by Raphael

The Readings

2 Corinthians 4.3-6

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

Mark 9.2-9

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

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

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

The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Alan Billings. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Billings

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe. 

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

As we look towards the start of the season of Lent, we pray for God’s Church throughout the world. We for our Archbishops Justin and Stephen, for Bishop Pete and Bishop Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s and our sister Churches.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

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

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

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. we continue to deal with Covid 19, help all of us to work together for the good of all. We thank you for the skills and knowledge that scientists and medical staff have been able to use to develop treatments and vaccinations for this illness, and for all those involved in distributing vaccinations.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

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

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

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

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

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

Fig tree

Image by Maahmaah

Shared under creative commons license:

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

The Readings

1 Samuel 3.1-10

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

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

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

 

John 1.43-51

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

 

The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We pray for all of those affected by the Covid-19 epidemic. 
We pray for all those who have lost someone they love and ask that you comfort them in their grief. 
We pray for those who are struggling with their own illness: please bring them healing.

We pray for those suffering from loneliness and isolation: please help us to be your agents in bringing them contact and comfort.

We pray for those affected by any sort of relationship breakdown at this loneliest of times: couples who are no longer couples; housemates who can no longer bear each other’s company; young people who feel that they are not able to grow into independent adults; people who find themselves at risk of abuse. Please help us to notice when people need help and to bring them the help they need.

We pray for all our children: please help us to work out how to balance their education and need for face-to-face friendships with our need to keep those more vulnerable to the virus safe.
We pray that we can understand the lessons that you want us to learn from this pandemic, thinking particularly of how you want us to care for this wonderful world, so that we can stop destroying it.

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

We pray for your Church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life …

We pray for all Christian communities in this country and around the world, as we strive to find new ways of being your family that do not put each other in danger during this pandemic. 

We pray especially for our worshipping community of St. John’s Ranmoor, St. Mark’s Broomhill and St. Mary’s Walkley as we learn new ways of joining together in love for you. Please help us to feel your presence in a world turned upside down and to share that presence with others.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed, in mind, body or estate; comfort and relieve them in their need, give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out of their troubles …

In moments of peace and contemplation, we name to you all those known to us who are suffering. Please care for them and for all those of whose suffering we are unaware.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and we give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the communion of saints …

We name to you in our hearts all those known to us both near and far, asking that you bring your comfort and healing to their families and friends at this time of grief.

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

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

Our service will be live-streamed from the church.

Click here to view the live-stream:

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

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

20 12 13 Advent 3 Evening Prayer

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

20 12 13 Advent 3 Evening Prayer

The Readings

Isaiah 40.1-8

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

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

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

 

Mark 1.1-11

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

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

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

 

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

The Sermon

By Kath, a Lay Reader at St Mary's.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In light of what they saw and heard about John, many people wondered whether he was the Messiah but he always told them that he was not, saying “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prayers
Adapted from Common Worship Times and Seasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence is kept.

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