‘Where have you laid him?’ – 29th March 2020 – Passion Sunday

We welcome this morning Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes, Vicar of St John's Ranmoor and one of the Mission Area clergy who will preside at the Eucharist and preach. Singing along with the hymns is encouraged! (Text of hymns below.)

The prayers are provided by Anne, one of our Lay Readers at St Marys. (Text of these are below the hymns and are encourage to be used separate from the rest of the service.

Readings and reflection for Sunday 29th March Passion Sunday

I’ve included all the readings for today, including the Psalm. They all have something to say to us.

 

The Collect

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

First Reading Ezekiel 37.1-14

1The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord GOD, you know.’ 4Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.’

7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD.’

 

Psalm130

Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; ♦
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

If you, Lord, were to mark what is done amiss, ♦
O Lord, who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with you, ♦
so that you shall be feared.

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; ♦
in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord,
more than the night watch for the morning, ♦
more than the night watch for the morning.

O Israel, wait for the Lord, ♦
for with the Lord there is mercy;

With him is plenteous redemption ♦
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

 

Second Reading Romans 8.6-11

6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law – indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

Gospel Reading John 11.1-45

1A certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ 8The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ 9Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ 11After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ 12The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.’ 40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

Reflection

This Sunday is Passion Sunday, the day when we start to turn from the wilderness of Lent towards the events of Holy Week. And in today’s Gospel we are given a foretaste, a dress rehearsal in the story of the raising of Lazarus. Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha were close friends of Jesus. Their home was a place of solace for him, a retreat from the crowds during his public ministry. So when Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill it would have been natural for him to want to rush to his bedside. To offer his support. This is what we would want to do for someone we love. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He has to overcome his natural human instincts for a greater purpose. And he delays going to them. At this time of crisis and anxiety, our natural human instinct is to be with those we love. But for the greater good we have to remain in isolation. This situation gives a whole new meaning to our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. He tells us that to set the mind on the flesh is death. To see people in the flesh which is our normal human instinct, puts our flesh and the flesh of others in danger. But to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. We are still one in the Spirit. Even though we are physically separated, we are still joined together as members of God’s family. And thank goodness we have the benefits of modern technology like telephones and computers which enable us to keep in touch.

Eventually, Jesus judges that the time is right for him to go to Bethany in Judea. But Judea has become a place of danger for him. His disciples warn him that he is at risk of being stoned. While many of us are able to isolate ourselves, we are very aware of all those who have to go into situations of danger at the moment. Especially those on the front line of our health service. We give thanks for their courage and pray for their safety.

When Jesus arrives at Bethany, he is greeted by Martha. She is full of regret, and perhaps anger, that Jesus had not come sooner. Martha knows that Jesus could bring Lazarus back to life. God will give him whatever he asks. And on this occasion, Jesus promises that her brother will rise again. But Martha thinks he is talking about the resurrection at the end of time. This is standard Jewish teaching. Martha’s rather flat response shows that at the moment this isn’t very comforting. And I know that there will be people like Martha who have lost loved ones recently who are not yet ready to hear those words of hope. But then Jesus then utters those words which are so central to our faith. I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Words that are read at the beginning of funerals. Though their reality can seem far off, in the midst of our grief and loss, Jesus is there, alive. And like Martha we have to hang on to those words, waiting for when they become real to us again.

Martha, you will remember, was the busy sister. She went to meet Jesus on the road. Mary was the more reflective of the two. The one who wanted to spend time with Jesus. In this time of crisis we need Marthas and Marys. Those who get on and do and organise. And those who reflect and pray and think. When Mary heard that Jesus was calling for her she went to him and knelt at his feet. Not surprisingly, she too was upset and angry with Jesus.  ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Where were you? Why did you let this happen? In times of crisis like this one it is entirely natural for us to ask God some hard questions. It’s ok for us to get angry with him. He is big enough to cope. By being honest with him about our feelings we can find a deeper relationship with him.

Jesus is not unfeeling. Far from it. He weeps. This is not just evidence that he was really human but that he was the Word made flesh. In him, God shares in our suffering. He is not remote or absent but stands alongside us and he weeps. He weeps for Lazarus his friend. For Mary and Martha in their grief. For griefs past and also for himself as he journeys towards the cross. However strong our faith we all need to grieve. We cannot skip Good Friday and go straight to Easter Sunday.

Jesus asks, ‘Where have you laid him?’ Two weeks later, on Easter Sunday, Mary, supposing him to be the gardener, will say, ‘They have taken my master away and I do not know where they have laid him.’ There are already signs of future resurrection in the present. Like Jesus, Lazarus was buried in a cave tomb, with a stone to seal it. And through the power of God, Lazarus is raised from the dead. It’s a powerful moment that will stay with all those who witnessed it. And when Easter does eventually happen it will help people to come to terms with Jesus’ own resurrection. As we go through the coming weeks, we need to be alive to the small resurrections around us so that when the world finally does come alive again, we will be ready and able to recognise and celebrate it. Amen.

 

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious,
the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious,
Thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting,
Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains
of goodness and love.

To all life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish
as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish,
but nought changeth Thee.

Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render, O help us to see:
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me, and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
The living water: thirsty one,
Stoop down, and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise,
And all thy day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that Light of life I’ll walk
Till trav’lling days are done.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art
Be thou my best thought, in the day or the night;
Both waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word;
Be thou ever with me and I with thee, Lord.
Be thou my great Father, and I thy true son,
Be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight,
Be thou my whole armour,
be thou my true might,
Be thou my soul’s shelter,
be thou my strong tower,
O raise thou me heavenward,
great Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
Be thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Be thou and thou only first in my heart,
O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of heaven, thou heaven’s bright Sun,
O grant me its joys after vict’ry is won
Great heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.

The Prayers

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord hear my voice.
 
Hear us Lord as we pray this day for your world in its suffering and struggle. We pray for all those who are working as fast as possible to respond with new policies and new strategies to keep people safe and to sustain livelihoods and economies, and for those involved in research into faster and more effective tests, vaccines and medicines.  Be with those in government, local authorities, health professionals as they manage this challenging situation, and police and military personnel as they turn their skills to provide care and support.  We pray for leaders who continue to work even when ill themselves.
 
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord hear my voice.
 
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in his word I hope. Hear us as we pray for those who wait and look for hope as they stay at home, come to terms with social isolation, and work to shield and protect the most vulnerable.  May those who are particularly struggling with loneliness, anxiety and family stress find new seeds of hope in their unfamiliar circumstances. In this period of lockdown may we wait on you and hear your voice speaking words of hope even in the turmoil of our thoughts and emotions.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord hear my voice
 
My soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for morning. Hear us Lord as we pray for those who are looking for light in the darkness, for those who are sick, on the edge of life or anxious for loved ones they cannot be near. Hear us as we pray for those who grieve in isolation, unable to mourn or commemorate their loved ones as they would wish. Sustain them with your loving grace and help them to trust that light will dawn in their darkness and morning will follow night.
 
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord
Lord hear my voice
 
Hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love.  Hear us as we pray for those who have shown their love and dedication through unstinting and sacrificial service and care, through volunteering, through labouring to keep supplies reaching those who need them, and for all who are demonstrating huge community spirit.    Hear us as we pray for those who are adapting their businesses and skills in innovative ways to provide support to health workers and communities and for supermarkets as they develop their businesses to respond to new realities. Hear us as we pray for churches, clergy and congregations, as they find new ways to witness to your love, share in worship and serve your people and communities. We pray for Canon Sophie as she begins her ministry in the diocese and all others affected by delays in ordination and commissioning that they may be patient at this time and know your creative love.
 
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord
Lord hear my voice
 
Hope in the Lord for with him is great power to redeem.  Show us the redeeming and transforming power of your Spirit especially as we begin this holy season of Passiontide in unfamiliar circumstances. May we look forward with renewed and real expectation to the new life of Easter as we live through this time of suffering and pain. Reveal to us the reality of your promises of everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
 
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord
Lord hear my voice
 
Hear us as we remember those who have died and especially those who have died separated from family and friends. Support those who mourn and those who minister to the grieving. May Jesus' words of hope that those who believe will see the glory of God strengthen hearts and guide our faith always.
 
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord
Lord hear my voice.
 
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one
with your saints in heaven and on earth;
grant that in our earthly pilgrimage
we may ever be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer,
and know ourselves surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

‘Writing a sermon that no one will hear’ – 22nd March 2020 – 4th Sunday of Lent – Mothering Sunday

Based around Ephesians 5.8-14.

May I speak in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit – Amen.

When I realised that this sermon would be published on the website rather than read from the lectern, I did feel a little like ‘Father Mackenzie’ in the Beatles song ‘Eleanor Rigby’:

“Father Mackenzie,
Writing a sermon that no one will hear,
No one came near…”

It’s safe to say that we live in strange and uncertain times, the sort of times where many of us will think of family, and today – quite a few of us will think of our mothers.  I was blessed with a good mum; a loving, caring mother who wasn’t afraid to put her foot down when appropriate.  She also gave me quite a lot of latitude; the general rule of thumb in the school summer holidays was that if I went out anywhere I was to be home before the street lights came on.  This was in those long-gone pre-mobile-phone days….

But what was truly staggering was that on my return, had I been up to anything nefarious, had I been rude to anyone, had I done a bit of trespassing – she knew.  I had no idea how, but she knew.  Mother’s intuition?  Who knows…but the knowledge that she would know what I’d been up to tended to cultivate in me a sense of wanting to keep my mum sweet, and please her.

I was thinking of this when I want to look at the reading from Ephesians:

“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”

Although the author of the letter to the Ephesians identifies himself as Paul in various places, there has been some suggestion that it may have actually been written by a follower of Paul after the Apostle’s death, based mainly on the similarity of content between Ephesians and Colossians and the lack of the usual personal preamble that Paul applied to his missives.  If Paul was indeed the author, it was almost certainly written at the same time he wrote the letter to the Colossians, whilst he was in prison in around AD 60.

The city of Ephesus housed the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and as such was a centre of pagan culture which Paul made a centre for his evangelism for 3 years, as detailed in the ‘Acts of the Apostles’.  The letter isn’t written from the perspective of correcting a heresy or some bad behaviour, but is more of a reminder to the Church members of the purpose of God, and how the members of the Church can further God’s purpose in the world.

The reading starts with a reminder that before they came to Christ, the people were in darkness.  They’re now children of light, but with the gift comes a few responsibilities.  The church is reminded that:

They are to try and find out what is pleasing to the Lord – they’re told that such things are going to be those that are good, right and true.  As children of light, they’re expected to LIVE like children of light – being truthful, good and righteous in their dealings with all.

They are told to have no part in untruthful works of darkness; they are to expose them.  This is not just a call to speak against them, but is a call to behave in ways that are opposed to such things.

They’re also reminded that they shouldn’t talk about these shameful things – they’ll be exposed anyway.  Dwelling on the darkness can only strengthen it.

As is often the case, there is much here for us, especially at a time when panic and fear is prevalent.

There is little that is righteous about panic-buying and hoarding.

There is nothing that is good about refusing to isolate oneself for the benefit of others.

The truth seems to be hard to find right now as no one really knows what to expect.

And the bad behaviour?  In these days of social media and phones with video cameras, it’s VERY hard to keep selfish and hurtful acts out of the public eye.

As Christians, what are our duties and responsibilities at this time?

We remember that we are children of light, we behave in ways pleasing to the Lord, and we demonstrate, by our words and actions, that we are the light in the world.

That’s it.

Back to my mum.  If I had been a bad lad, there were consequences.  My mother only ever struck me once; I was about 5 years old and I’d been found attempting to dismantle a mains power socket with a kitchen knife.  She was very keen that Mr and Mrs Pritchard’s first and only born should not become a black smudge on the carpet…

As I grew older I realised that what motivated me was not so much to ‘do what my mum told me, because otherwise there will be consequences’ but more along the lines of ‘do what my mum told me, because she has my best interests at heart, I love her, and I want to please her’.  I appreciate how lucky I am to be able to say this.

My relationship with God is very much like this; I know He has my best interests at heart; I know He loves me, wishes to nurture me, gives me His grace, and wishes me to behave in certain ways for my own good.

Let’s look back at tonight’s reading:

“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.”

  1. God loves me – he has bought me out of darkness in to the light.
  2. He has my best interests at heart – the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true, and I should follow this pathway.
  3. I want to please God – I should try and find out what is pleasing to the Lord, and do it.

On this Mothering Sunday, in these strange times, let’s look to how we can apply this to those who WE mother and nurture – be we male or female, have children or not.

We Christians, we children of light,  can provide the loving care and attention of a good Mother to those around us, like the Lord does for us.

Amen.

‘Seeing as God sees’ – 22nd March 2020 – 4th Sunday of Lent – Mothering Sunday

As of Sunday 22 March 2020, we aim to publish the readings, sermons and prayers of intercession on this website in advance of the normal service times. While we cannot meet in person, this allows us to join together in prayer, wherever we are. Audio recordings of the sermons and intercessions will normally be available from 9am on the relevant Sunday.

This week we celebrate Mothering Sunday.
Our Sunday morning preacher is Kath.
Our intercessions are provided by Catherine.
The readings are from 1 Samuel 16 and the Gospel of John.

1 Samuel 16. 1 – 13

John 9. 1 – end

Sermon by Kath, Lay Reader

Prayers of Intercession

Let us pray…

We pray for the whole world
united in facing the same adversity
A danger none of us can see.

We pray for governments and leaders
For scientists researching treatments and vaccines
for healthcare services and workers
that they might have the insight to see clearly
readily share what is already known
and together determine the best possible courses of action
to enable the welfare of all.

We pray for those areas of the world already struggling
Places devastated by flood, fire or war
Refugee camps
Places of poverty and only basic healthcare.

Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer

 

We pray for the worldwide people of God
Unexpectedly and suddenly challenged to be Lights of Christ
in new and creative ways.
We give thanks for the technology which allow us
to stay connected
to support one another
to reach out to the wider community.
We pray for broadcasters on television, radio and online
as they seek to offer virtual opportunities
for prayer and worship together.
We pray for all who work in IT
who help to make this possible.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

 

We pray for our community in Walkley
and for our city of Sheffield.
On this Mothering Sunday we remember all who care for children,
for parents suddenly asked to be home educators
in addition to their day jobs,
for those caring for the children of the carers.
We pray for our local businesses,
especially any who are now finding it difficult or impossible to trade.
We give thanks for local initiatives seeking to support
those self-isolating or generally isolated.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

 

We pray for all who are ill,
for those suffering from Covid-19,
for those worried about catching the virus
for those whose treatment for pre-existing illness is now being delayed.
We pray for all who are feeling lonely or anxious.
We pray for all who work in the health service, and for their families.

In quiet, we bring to mind anyone known to us
who is in particular need today….

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

 

We pray for those who have died
and those who mourn.
We think of those unable to hold or attend the funeral of a loved one.
In quiet, we remember anyone known to us who has died or in mourning...

Lord Jesus
who gave sight to the man born blind
enabling him to see you clearly
and to share this insight with others,
be with us in the coming weeks
help us too
to see and to shine your light
so that all might see
your kingdom here on earth.

Merciful Father
accept these prayers,
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ,
Amen.[1]

[1]Final words © The Archbishops’ Council 2000

‘Be Prepared and Be Thankful’ – 24th March, 3rd Sunday of Lent

Based around 1 Corinthians 10.1-13 and Luke 13.1-9.

Are your affairs in order? Have you made your will? Is your spiritual house in order? These are questions many people in every age have put to the back of their mind saying, “There’s plenty of time”; “I’m only young”; “Life is for living”; “I’ve got all on providing for my family in the here and now”; “One day I’ll get round to those things.”

Jesus has, in the chapter of Luke that precedes our reading today, been telling people that having your spiritual house in order is not a thing to delay. No-one ever knows when their life will end. No-one ever knows when the “End Times” will be. Everyone needs to be ready, alert, prepared. We need to be honouring God in the here and now, not putting things off for some more appropriate time in the future (that might never arise).

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is asked about the killing of some Galileans by the Romans. The questioners are seeming to hope that Jesus will say that these Galileans were particularly sinful and therefore somehow deserving of death. But Jesus refutes this and comes back with an example of people in Jerusalem accidentally killed in the collapse of a tower. Sudden death happens – we need to be prepared!

We know that in our own day sudden death happens – accidents while travelling; catastrophic weather events; acts of violence; sudden illness… Sudden death happens. As events in Christchurch, New Zealand have shown us, even the quietest, friendliest places are not immune to sudden violence. The cyclone that recently hit Mozambique and surrounding area is highly unusual but it happened, and with devastating impact.  Even in our own times when we like to feel in control of events, we need to be prepared as unexpected things can befall us at any time. That is not to say we need to be paranoid about danger around every corner – but we should not put off spiritual matters and being prepared for our own death.

Jesus goes on to tell a parable, about a fig tree that does not bear fruit. The owner of the tree wants to cut it down but the gardener pleads for an additional year to give it extra care and attention.  If it still bears no fruit, it can be cut down. Jesus tell the parable to give a message of hope as well as one of warning. God continues in forbearance and mercy, waiting for his people to turn to him and bear fruits of righteousness, but his patience will not last forever.  We do not know the time when the end time will come. We do not know the time of our death – so we need to be prepared.

Jesus urges us to put our spiritual lives in order as we never know when we might die.

Paul urges people in the church to put their spiritual lives in order – to avoid temptation and complacency.

We have to think that when Paul wrote to the Corinthians he was sure that they would understand his references to the Exodus story from the Old Testament as told in Exodus and Numbers. Paul refers to the cloud that led the Israelites when they first fled from Egypt and continued to determine when they would travel and when they would stay in camp as it lifted or rested on the tabernacle. The whole people experienced crossing the Red Sea on dry land when God parted the waters for them. Later, in the wilderness, manna and quails were provided by God to feed the people and Moses brought forth water from the rock when he hit it with his staff, on God’s orders.

Despite all these amazing manifestations of God’s love and care, the people were often quarrelsome and rebellious. Paul’s quotation “the people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry” comes from Exodus.  Moses was up the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God but he had been there some time and the people grew restive and impatient, wondering what was happening. They made a golden calf to worship and ate and drank in celebration of their idolatry. Grumbling and complaining is an almost constant background to the Exodus story and God gets angry with the people.  There are plagues and an infestation of snakes. When some of the people start worshipping the Baal god of the Moabite people and indulging in sexual immorality God is particularly angry and sends a terrible plague and decrees that this generation will not enter the Promised Land but must wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

Paul is using the Old Testament story as a parallel with the Christian experience. He compares the guidance of the cloud and the crossing of the Red Sea with baptism and the food and water in the desert with Christian spiritual food and drink at the Eucharist. Paul’s point is that all the people benefited from the miraculous acts of God’s grace. All the people were guided, saved, fed and watered but still they were rebellious; still they grumbled and were ungrateful; still they indulged in idolatry and immorality. All the people benefited from God’s blessings and grace, but many still went astray.

Paul emphasises that we cannot be complacent in our faith.  We cannot think that because we have been baptised and become part of the body of Christ and share in communion we can cut ourselves some slack and yield to temptation.  We know God is gracious and merciful and loving but we must never abuse that grace and love by thinking God will turn a blind eye to us if we wander off the Christian path and give in to temptation and welcome us back when we want. In baptism we say we have died to sin and risen with Christ. Being  in the church is about living a life worthy of Christ.

Paul knows the Corinthians, and we, as humans will experience temptations that come to all people, but through our faith we should endeavour to stand firm and ask God to help us to resist temptation. If we can walk with him, we can find a way through, believing we will not be tempted beyond what we can endure.

Neither of our readings today is easy and the messages in them are not the most obvious to understand, but both Jesus and Paul are urging us to be alert and vigilant in our spiritual life. We need to be prepared spiritually for whatever may come whether our life is long or short.  They call on us to look to our own behaviour to make sure we are living as well as we can, being thankful to God for what He has done for us. We cannot be complacent as part of God’s family and must never abuse God’s grace and mercy and love by putting it to the test. We need to keep our eyes on living righteous lives and being prepared for death whenever it may come.  We live as those who know Christ’s call and cherish his presence and example and give thanks for all he has done for us.

As our post-communion prayer says: Merciful Lord, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Reader Anne.

‘Temptation’ – 10th March, 1st Sunday of Lent

Temptation of Jesus

Based around Luke 4. 1-13.

I have start by thanking Father Ron for the beginning of this sermon when last week he reminded us that the season of denial, as he put it, also known as Lent was almost upon us. Well as of Wednesday, it’s officially started. I say I have to thank him because I really had no idea where I was going with this sermon; even as I sat down to write it I didn’t have a single note to work with, so I’m grateful that what he said at least gave me a bit of a way in. In my own defence it wasn’t lack of thought or preparation that was the problem; I’ve been going over the readings for weeks thinking and hoping and praying for inspiration. Before I go any further, I’ll just tantalise you with this bit of information. When I first started my preparations, I looked at the reading from Luke and thought, this is great! Some really interesting ideas and questions were flowing and I’d made a page full of notes before I noticed that instead of it being Luke’s Gospel I’d turned to I’d accidentally found the almost identical passage in Matthew. It’s the same story with the same chapter number and almost the same verse numbers but the passage stops at the end of verse eleven, if you continue to verses twelve and thirteen in that gospel it prompts some very different thoughts and questions. I was tempted to go on and preach on these ideas but given that the inclusion of verses twelve and thirteen potentially change the context or focus of the passage rather a lot I thought I’d better not. Sometimes mistakes can have interesting results and perhaps one day I’ll go back to my notes and reconsider them and maybe write that sermon after all, even if it’s just for my own interest. If there’s any merit in it, I might even share it with you. On that cliff hanger I’ll get back to this sermon.

When I returned, somewhat disappointedly, to the correct passage or should I say passages for today, they provided me with a number of interesting and worthwhile thoughts but unfortunately no major theme that I felt I could get my teeth into. But over the weeks I’ve been reading them what has gradually asserted itself to me are the tones of voice of the speakers, especially in the passage from Luke. This might sound a bit of an odd idea given that much of the time when we read a passage from the Bible and then move on, it can be difficult to get a feel for the story or a real sense of the characters in it but if you have to really focus on it, as you do when you’re writing a sermon or studying, this can change and you can hear or imagine their voices and what is happening with them.

Just before our passage from Luke begins, Jesus has been baptised by John and this has been a very profound and powerful event. We are told that he is full of the Holy Spirit and that on his return from the Jordan, it leads him in the wilderness. He stays there for forty days and in that time he does not eat. At the end of that time he is said to be famished. Just stop and think about that for a moment. We’ve heard the story so many times it’s easy to not appreciate that forty days is a very, very long time to go without food. To describe him as famished seems to be a colossal understatement. Try to imagine the physical and mental state he must have been in, even with the Holy Spirit to accompany him. Starving, weak, exhausted! He was a human being after all.

Then the devil appears. In contrast to the way he has often been portrayed in art and literature, as a cloven-hoofed, horned, fiery-eyed and terrifying creature who it would be rather easy to spot as not being one of the good guys (the tail is probably a bit of a give-away too), this one seems rather different. As I read, this is where I could picture the scene and hear the tones of voice that make the encounter so powerful. In my mind’s eye, the devil looks like an ordinary man, nothing to make him stand out as different. He’s calmly regarding Jesus in his starving, weak, exhausted state; what better opportunity to tempt him, to see what he’s really made of and if he is who he thinks he is? The voice I hear is quiet, gentle and slightly mocking, perhaps even mildly amused; “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” In reply Jesus is calm and quietly strong. “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ” The devil tries again and ups the stakes somewhat. He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world; “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” He sounds whimsical, perhaps even seductive but Jesus remains calm and unmoved; “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”

The devil tries a third time. He takes Jesus to Jerusalem and places him on the pinnacle of the temple; a rather terrifying sensation, even if it was in a vision. Again I hear the slightly mocking, amused tone in the devil’s voice. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” Once again Jesus is calm and quietly strong in his reply; “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” The Devil has tried to offer temptations to physical hunger, vanity and fear but Jesus’ faith in his Father has enabled him see them for what they were and to resist them.

Whether you believe this story to be literally true or a vision or even the hallucinations of a starving, weak and exhausted man, it still has a powerful message for us here in our world today. We will encounter temptation. Sometimes it will be easy to spot such as the chocolate biscuits or alcohol or meat or whatever else we are trying to resist this Lent. Other times though it may not be so easy to identify, especially when our circumstances are difficult and life is hard and we’re tired and ground down. The temptation to do or have something we want and perhaps even feel we deserve or to neglect something or someone can be so hard to resist even when in our heart of hearts we know it isn’t right. I don’t think God is going to be too upset or worried if we occasionally fall off the wagon and succumb to the odd chocolate biscuit or glass of wine, but surrenders to some seemingly small temptations can set us on the path to very bad places that can hurt others and ourselves if we are not very wary and they can be very hard if not impossible to come back from. I can’t imagine many people set out to become addicted to nicotine or drugs or alcohol or food or gambling or porn or any of the other things that can eventually blight and destroy lives when they get a grip. Most people don’t set out to be cruel partners or neglectful parents or to behave dishonourably and dishonestly. It’s often hard to see where these processes start until it’s too late and we’re trapped in a situation we never imagined let alone intended.

For me the most telling verse in our passage from Luke is the last verse; “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him (Jesus) until an opportune time.”

We need to be on our guard. Evil is unlikely to present itself as such. It’s unlikely to look wrong or bad or terrifying although there are exceptions and some people are attracted by them; the situation with Daesh being a case in point. Evil is more likely to appear easy and seductive and let us think we’re in control. When temptation comes, as it will, we need to see it for what it is, examine our thoughts and feelings in the light of our faith and ask God to guide and help us along the way, to calmly and strongly stand firm, as Jesus did. Amen.

Reader Kath.

‘A tale of two Pharisees’ – 27th May, Trinity Sunday

Based around Romans 8: 12-17 and John 3: 1-7

Sometimes in our lives we might cross paths with someone on various occasions. At some time in the future we might look back and wonder what became of that person.

In the Bible too some characters appear and disappear and we wonder what became of them. Nicodemus is one of those characters. He only appears in the Gospel of John but he does appear, named, three times: first, here at the beginning of the Gospel, early on in Jesus’s ministry in this encounter where he seeks Jesus out at night; then later, with the priests and temple authorities when he asks whether it is right to condemn a man without a proper hearing; and lastly after the crucifixion where John records Nicodemus bringing spices to help Joseph of Arimathea  bury Jesus’ body before the Sabbath.

But who is Nicodemus? And does he become a true follower of Jesus and an active disciple after the resurrection?  We don’t know.  All we do know is that he was a Pharisee and close to the high priests, moving in important circles in the temple. He is an intriguing person. As a Pharisee he was well versed in the Scriptures, the law and the traditions of the Jewish faith and people.  It would appear that he saw something in Jesus, early on in his ministry, that raised his interest.

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and so we can assume that he did not want to be seen approaching him, and perhaps we can presume that he did not think his fellow leaders would approve of his seeking out Jesus. Perhaps surprisingly, Nicodemus begins his conversation with Jesus by saying that he believes Jesus is from God and that what he is doing is evidence of God’s work.  We know later that other leaders were more sceptical.

Nicodemus says: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus however, comes back with with something of a curveball saying “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (or “born anew”).  This is an unfamiliar concept and Nicodemus takes the obvious approach and asks how anyone can be born a second time. Jesus qualifies his statement by saying that this is rebirth through the Spirit of God and Nicodemus again asks how this can be.

Jesus again come back at Nicodemus and asks “Are you a teacher in Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” Jesus goes on to say that he has come down from God, and will be lifted up like the serpent on the staff that Moses raised to save the people from plague. Jesus seems to foretell his crucifixion and death for the salvation of all.  He goes on with those words that are so well known: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

We don’t know Nicodemus’ reaction to this, we are not told, the  story moves on. But this is a strong testimony at the beginning of John’s Gospel of key themes in this Gospel – of the power of the Spirit, of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection and of the difficulty some leaders would have in seeing past their traditions and pre-conceived ideas and worldly grounding to understand the spiritual realities of Christ.

Could Nicodemus have taken all he heard on board and spoken up for Jesus?  We don’t know. He did speak up loudly enough to say Jesus should be heard and he did respect him enough to ensure he was buried properly – but beyond that Nicodemus remains something of an enigma.

The other famous Pharisee – Saul of Tarsus – who was stopped in his tracks on the road to Damascus and challenged by Jesus to stop persecuting the Christians – became Paul who wrote to the Romans in our other reading today.  Paul reminded his readers that they had received the Spirit of God, to bring them into the family of God as adopted children of God.  They were born into earthly families, and now have been reborn into the family of God as adopted children and heirs. Paul knew the power of the Spirit to transform, to heal, to teach and to guide. He knew the power of being born anew from above. He encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was transformed by the Spirit and came to know God in a new way.

He experienced the vibrant reality of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit working together.

Today is Trinity Sunday where we especially focus on the three persons of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three and yet one, living and reigning in the unity of love.

The Trinity is a concept that some people really struggle with – how can three beings be one? Trying to explain the Trinity in rational language can be hard. Paul knew the experience of the three persons of God – and we too can know the three persons of God, but we may struggle to put into words just how they operate and how they can be three and yet one.

Jesus was trying to open up the concept to Nicodemus – of his presence and role on earth and the indwelling power of the Spirit and the heavenly existence of the Father. Paul knew the reality of Jesus in his encounter on the road to Damascus and the power of the Spirit in his conversion, healing and development as an apostle.

The Trinity is a dynamic unity of love and can be easier to experience than to describe or pin down. Pinning down the Spirit can be especially hard. Even Jesus knew this – describing the Spirit as like the wind, blowing where it will. The Trinity is united in love – embodying love, inspiring love, breaking down hostility and hatred with the power of restorative, recreative and saving love.

We can spend too much time trying to get our heads round the concept and not experience the reality touching our hears, minds and spirits, changing our lives.

Nicodemus was courageous enough to seek Jesus out, but we cannot be certain whether he ever truly became a disciple, whether he came to know the power of Jesus and the Spirit in his life to draw him closer to God. Paul knew the power of the Trinity – and the rewards of adoption in God’s family and he lived his life in the light of this knowledge.

May we know the power of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and live in the truth of the Trinity.

 

Reader Anne Grant

‘Jeremiah and the new covenant’ – 18th March, Passion Sunday

Based around Jeremiah 31:31-34.

There’s an amusing, short-short version of the Old Testament that goes as follows:

God : Don’t do the things I’ve told you not to do.

Man : Gotcha.

God : Great – we’ll get on fine.

Time passes…

Man : God?

God : Yes, my son?

Man : You know the things you told us not to do?  We did them….

God : (Sighing) Right. I’m going to punish you, then I want you to behave and not do those things again.  Can you manage that?

Man : Yep.

God : Awesome.  Let’s do it….

Time passes….

Man : God…sorry…we did them again…

And so on.

There is a lot of truth in humour. You’ll hear it said that the Old Testament describes the covenant relationship between God and His people, a relationship that is based upon the Law.  Now, what do we mean by that?

God struck a covenant – a type of contract, if you like – with the people of Israel that He would be their God, and they would be His people, if they would abide by the Laws he set before them. The Laws were given to Moses in the form of tablets of stone; they were written on scrolls of parchment to become the central part of the Torah – what we know as the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy and Leviticus provide a written down set of instructions – the Law – by which God’s people were to act and behave to maintain their side of the covenant.

And like all rule and law based systems – like our own modern society – we then get in to the whole area of interpretation.  There’s a joke that I’ve heard about lawyers and economists – ask two lawyers and you’ll get three opinions. And so it is in the culture that we read about in the Old Testament, based on the legalistic covenant between God and man.  We have sixty volumes of the Talmud – learned writings from scribes, rabbis, judges and prophets that help interpret the Law and apply it to everyday life.  As life got more complicated, there were more opportunities for loopholes and ‘grey areas’ to appear in the application of the Law. A good ‘modern day’ example of the interpretation of the Law of the sabbath was noted by the physicist, Richard Feynman, who was asked by an Orthodox Jew whether electricity was fire, because the questioner was trying to work out whether using ANY electricity on the sabbath was permissible.  The physics answer is ‘No, electricity isn’t fire’.  The Talmudic answer is ‘It depends what you’re doing with the electricity….’  If you’re interested in this particular problem, there’s a good article on Wikipedia called ‘Electricity on Shabbat’.

Having said that, though, we know that the Israelites didn’t exploit the grey areas; they drove a chariot and horses through the centre of God’s Law.  After all, these are the people who within a few weeks of being told ‘No idols’, are making golden calves to worship.

Punishment follows, then God relents, brings the people back to him, helps them along….and then the people do something else.

And Jeremiah writes at a time when the ‘something else’ has been bad indeed. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, writes at a time of exile. The country has been devastated, and Jerusalem has been destroyed by Babylonians. Jeremiah is in and out of prison, and his book reveals the anger of the Lord at the people – particularly the leaders of Israel – who have not been faithful to God by maintaining justice and obedience. The destruction of Jerusalem, the scattering of the people of Israel, the exile, is seen as a punishment by God for this failure.

You can almost imagine the more thoughtful people saying “We’re in a mess; and it’s our fault. We knew the Law, but we still were not faithful to it, and because of our disobedience and lack of faith in God and the Law we have been again punished. Why do we keep on like this? What is wrong with us?”

The book of Jeremiah is primarily the prophet telling the people hard truths from God.  But in the middle of his book, comes two Chapters – Chapters 30 and 31 – that are sometimes known as the ‘Book of Comfort’.  In the middle of his gloomy prophesying, we get tonight’s reading.  A statement of great hope from God, in the midst of the people’s despair. God tells the people – of both Israel and Judah – that He will make a new covenant with them to replace the one that he made with them when He led them from Egypt to (eventually) the promised land.

God is acknowledging that the covenant has been broken repeatedly by a faithless and ungrateful people, who haven’t treated God as a loyal bride would be expected to treat a bridegroom, but have, basically, cheated on Him and turned away from Him.

A new covenant is then described.

Whereas the old covenant was written on stone and parchment scrolls, and needed a library of explanatory texts and an army of experts to interpret, this one will be written on the hearts and minds of the people.  It’s not going to be a case of folks having to read up on it; the law will be in them, part of them.

Now, at this stage, this might start making the people feel a bit uneasy; if they have the Law written in their very being, then surely they’re in a worse position than they were previously.  There is no excuse for not knowing and understanding the law; and if the old covenant requirement of obedience ‘or else’ still applies, then things sound bad….

But wait.

Let’s listen again to what is written in Verse 34;

“No longer will they teach their neighbor,

or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’

because they will all know me,

from the least of them to the greatest,”

declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness

and will remember their sins no more.”

 

It’s not saying ‘know the Law’.  It’s not saying ‘they will all know the Law’. It’s saying that under the new covenant the people will all know the Lord. They will know God. They will be in relationship with Him.  Something rather different!

And then the final words ‘I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’ – there is nothing conditional here. God is wiping the slate clean – the covenant will not be dependent upon the people behaving in a certain way; sins will be forgiven and forgotten.

The old covenant failed because it relied on man’s faithfulness to God, and because of man’s very nature it was almost guaranteed to fail from the off.  The new covenant, spoken of here by Jeremiah, and brought to us through Jesus Christ, cannot fail because it relies on God’s faithfulness and grace to us.

That covenant is with us, now. It is written in our hearts and minds, made available to us by God’s incarnate word, Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God!

 

Reader Joe Pritchard

‘A tale of two women’ – 11th March, Mothering Sunday

Based around Colossians 3:12-17, John 19.25b-27.

Thursday was International Women’s Day. Today is Mothering Sunday.  So let me talk about two women, Dorothy and Hilda.

Dorothy* was born in the 1930s. She worked as a children’s nurse, then married and had several children of her own.  Much of the day to day work of keeping the household running and bringing up the children, she did on her own. Her husband worked long hours to provide for the family.  And in those days, men didn’t normally get too involved with the childcare.

You’d have thought she’d be busy enough with her own family.  But there was something about Dorothy that drew others close.  Her home became a magnet for friends of her children, people from her church and visitors from abroad.  People would turn up for lunch or to stay for a month at little, if any notice, knowing they would be welcome.  So meals had to be stretchable and beds or at least sleeping bags, available.  Dorothy befriended young people in care and helped to run a house for teenage mums who didn’t have the support at home.  She helped the elderly too – going shopping, giving lifts.

Her family grew, with many grandchildren and Dorothy became the matriarch of a sizeable clan.  In all, she was mother not only to her own children and others biologically related to her, but to many, many other people, young and old, who were drawn to her warm, welcoming, open house, her listening ear and her practical advice and help.

Dorothy died a few years ago.  But her legacy lives on.  It lives on in the warm, welcoming homes of her children and grandchildren.  Places where friends and strangers feel they too belong.  Places where those who practise the Christian faith mix comfortably with those who don’t, but where it’s normal to talk about the faith.  Places where you feel loved, cared for and where you can muck in and be a part of a community.

Hilda lived in the 7th Century.  She is famous for founding the Celtic monastery at Whitby.  This monastery would have been a cluster of simple houses and a chapel.  Here, small groups of men or women who had devoted themselves to God lived together in community.  They would follow the monastic way of life with its times for prayer, work, learning, and charitable care.

But others lived there too.  Lay people who worked on the land and helped provide the food for the community.  Travellers passing through.  Some would be Christian, but others might not be.

Hilda ensured that spiritual care was there for everyone in the village.  She would provide a listening ear for anyone who needed it, be they monk, farm worker or visitor.  Anyone could have their own soul friend to listen and to share with them as they journeyed their Christian faith, or indeed explored it for the first time.

Hilda came from a noble family. Kings and princes sought her advice.  But she was also deeply concerned for the ordinary folk.  One timid cowherd began to compose poetry and song.  Hilda encouraged him to develop his skills and he became perhaps the first English poet whose name we know – Caedmon.

We don’t know that Hilda had any children of her own.  She was in her 30s when she took up the religious life, so conceivably could have done.  But it was said that “All who knew her called her mother because of her outstanding devotion and grace”.  Several of her monks were to become bishops, and the way she formed a community of love and care was in turn followed by others.

Today we heard some words written by Saint Paul to the church in Colossae.

Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, meekness and patience.  Bear with one another.  Forgive each other.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love.

Words of wisdom written to help a young church community live together and to build each other up in the Christian faith.  But they’re good words of advice to help any family or community group live together.  A family like yours or mine.  A church community like ours here at St. Mary’s.

Both Dorothy and Hilda fully lived out this advice in their lives.  Everyone around them grew and thrived.  Through their compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness and love, they enabled others to reach their full potential.  Those whose lives they touched could then do the same.

You don’t have to be a mum to do what Hilda and Dorothy did.  We can all share compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness and love among family, church and community so that all may grow and thrive.

 

Reader Catherine Burchell

*name changed

‘Cleansing the Temple’ – 4th March, 3rd Sunday of Lent

Based around Exodus 20: 1-17, John 2.13-22

The content of tonight’s readings are pretty well known. The Ten Commandments, and the story of Jesus cleansing the temple.  Now – spot quiz – at first glance, what do they both have in common?

I could do with a ‘Countdown Timer’ here….

Well, they both appear more than once in the Bible.

The list of commandments we know as the Ten Commandments occurs 3 times; Exodus 34 is the only place where the label “The Ten Commandments” is used in the Bible. The other two listings (Exodus 20 – tonight’s reading –  and Deuteronomy 5) are normally referred to as the Ten Commandments, but the actual text doesn’t describe them as such.

And cleansing the Temple – that appears once in each Gospel.  The narrative occurs near the end of the Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels,  and near the start in the Gospel of John – our OTHER reading tonight.

Now, remember how I said ‘At first glance’ in my question? Well,  some scholars believe that these refer to two separate incidents, tonight’s cleansing happening at the start of Jesus’s Ministry, and the other three Gospels describing a different event that took place at the end of Jesus’s ministry. I think that this is quite reasonable; John’s Gospel also features more than one Passover, so more than one visit to the Temple by Jesus would certainly happen.

So – why did Jesus behave like this? We know from his previous experiences that Jesus wasn’t a stranger to the Temple in Jerusalem; he once ended up there ‘on His Father’s business’, as he put it, when he was a boy, and we can understand his affection and respect for the Temple.  The Temple was the Third Temple – the Temple of Herod, initiated by Herod to try and gain favour with the Jewish people.  By the time today’s reading takes place, it’s still not complete – it would only be completed about 6 or 7 years before it’s destruction in 70 AD.

It’s worth taking a look at the context of why the animals were in the temple precincts anyway, and what the money changers actually were.

At Passover, people would come to Jerusalem from all over Israel – and from further afield as well.  All worshippers at the Temple except women and children – would be expected to pay a half-shekel Temple Tax – worth about £2.50 at the current value of silver – and would also be expected to provide a sacrificial animal; a lamb or calf.

Now, the money had to be sanctified – Temple money. You couldn’t just give over any old cash. Each year different coins would be produced, and as a visitor you would exchange your currency for the Temple coins with which to pay the Temple Tax. This is where the money changers came in.  Similarly, many people coming to Jerusalem would find it easier to buy a sacrificial animal on arrival, rather than bring one with them on a long journey.

There was also a risk associated with bringing your own sacrificial animal.  Anything presented for sacrifice had to be of highest quality and would need to be approved by the Temple authorities before it could be sacrificed.

And here we find things get a bit messy, and potentially corrupt; money changers would charge a fee for each transaction they carried out.  Sellers of sacrificial animals would sell at a much higher price than would be normally expected, and it was often suspected that the Temple authorities would be ‘encouraged’ by the sellers of sacrificial livestock to disapprove as many ‘out of town’ animals as possible. Quite a few opportunities for the world of commerce and human greed to come between a worshipper and God.

Initially, the animal dealers were based outside the Temple, in the valley of Kidron on the Mount of Olives, but eventually, by the time Jesus visits, they’ve moved in to an area of the Temple called the Court of the Gentiles – the part of the temple that is open to Gentiles as well as Jews. In other words, part of the worship space has become a combination of a bank and a cattle market.

In Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 11 Verse 17, we hear that the temple was designed to be a place of worship for all nations. Gentiles who wished to worship God could, in principle, do so in the Court of the Gentiles – however, this area was now not really fit for worship – and this is why Jesus is so angry. His Father’s house is not fit to be a place of worship for all nations, if the gentiles have to worship amidst animals and moneychangers.

There’s a general idea amongst people that here’s where we see ‘Rambo Jesus’ – wading in and whipping the people as well as the animals to get them out of the Temple Court.  This is how it’s portrayed in at least one painting; but it’s not the case; the whip was used to drive the animals out, and Jesus turned over the tables over the money changers and generally ruined business for the day.

His disciples remembered what was said in scripture about the coming Messiah – that they would be overcome with zeal for the house of the Lord.  Well, this meets the bill.  The Jewish authorities, unsurprisingly, were less impressed and asked him on whose authority Jesus was asking.  His answer – that he would be able to raise the Temple in 3 days – rather foxed them.  But this answer, combined with the scriptural reference – was remembered by Jesus’s disciples after his death and resurrection, and reminded them again of the truth of the Scripture and of His teachings.

Temples are not just buildings. As Jesus pointed out – the body is a temple; even our human bodies.

Our Temple is our body, heart, mind and soul.  The place where we meet with God.

What do we do in our temple to interfere with worship? Who are the sellers of sacrificial animals and temple money-changers in our hearts and minds?  Maybe:

  • The noise and bustle of the market place of ideas
  • The sense that what we bring – our thoughts, feelings, our very body itself – isn’t clean enough, good enough or pure enough?
  • The sense that we need to change what we are for something else to become acceptable?

What can we do to cleanse our heart and mind to make accepting Jesus easier, to make worship and prayer easier?

  • We can bring Quiet in to our hearts.
  • We can accept and embrace the we’re broken; we’re fallen; we will never be perfect. That’s fine. We just try not to sin; be repentant. It’s an ongoing process; try again, fail again, try again. Keep at it.  That’s how we are – that’s how God expects to find us. Be yourself and present yourself to Jesus humbly, throwing yourself on his grace and mercy.
  • We are unique; we are made in the image of God. There is nothing in what we are to change, just how we behave.

Driving out these distractions and impediments to worship from OUR temple is not easy.  I feel I’d have more luck with shifting sheep and cows and overturning a few tables than I would in controlling and disciplining my occasionally unruly heart and head.

But, we need to make our temple suitable for worship of the Lord.

May our equivalent of whips and table turning be effective.

 

Reader Joe Pritchard

‘What now?’ – 5th November, All Soul’s Memorial Service

Based around 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 6: 37-40.

We are here tonight because of our individual experience of loss, it’s the reason that has brought us together. We want to remember our loved ones who we have lost, in a special way. Of course we remember them in our own hearts in private or among our families & friends much of the time but in a way a service like this helps us to mark their lives and their passing in a more formal, more public way and perhaps by doing this in church we feel that we can draw closer to God & hold our loved ones before him in prayer. It also gives us a space where we can be open about our feelings of loss and hurt and sadness without feeling that we have to put on a brave face for the sake of others. It’s ok to feel miserable, it’s ok to cry.

Sadly the older we get the more likely we are to experience the loss of people we care about. It’s hard enough when those people are very old and have had a good life but even harder when a death is untimely or through illness or is sudden when we were unprepared and feel cheated out of the time we thought we’d have together or of the chance to say goodbye. This can leave us feeling pretty raw and unfortunately there is no set formula or ritual or time to get over our grief. Each loss is unique because we are all unique and the relationships we have with one another are unique. What we feel and how we deal with loss is personal to us, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. That said though, it isn’t good to shut others out totally or hide away for too long for their sake or our own.

I’m at the stage in life where I have already been to too many funerals, family members, friends, neighbours and colleagues, all people who one way or another mattered to me a great deal and some I loved very dearly. The losses I feel most keenly include people from opposite ends of the age spectrum, my little first granddaughter, Lucy, who I never had the pleasure of getting to know, three friends who died way before they should have done and my wonderful dad who I had known & loved my whole life. Ten years on I still miss him very much and often wish I could ask his advice or share my thoughts and ideas with him because he of all people would understand me.

All those we lose leave a gap in our lives that can never truly be filled and we can feel that loss very keenly for a long time. Sometimes we wonder if we will ever be able to cope with it, but cope we must.

Only a few days ago Ann, one of my sister’s friends attended the funeral of her first  granddaughter, Cali Jane, who died at just a few months old after spending much of that time in a specialist hospital. After Ann came out from the service my sister said she looked utterly heartbroken and distraught and said “what now?” It’s the awful question that faces us all. Its two little words that express so much. What do we do when all the formalities are completed and we are left alone with our thoughts and feelings still raw, like open wounds that won’t stop hurting?

One of the changes that I think helps us in more recent times is how we say goodbye to our loved ones. When I was little funerals were almost always sombre, sad, serious occasions which tended to follow fairly rigid rituals that left little room for personal expression. In this part of the world everyone wore black or dark colours, looked solemn and children were usually excluded from the proceedings for fear it might upset them. Thankfully that’s largely changed now and we are more likely to celebrate the life of the person we have lost. Even little lives barely lived or not actually lived at all can be celebrated. If in the midst of our feelings of loss we can look at the good things we shared with our loved ones then we are likely to find that there is indeed much to celebrate and even smile about.

It might sound like an odd thing to say but I’ve been to some amazing funerals where a lot of joy as well as sorrow was expressed. Laughter has its place among the tears and there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t think I’ve ever come away from a funeral without knowing a lot more about the person who has died, even when I knew them well, or so I thought. Crying and laughing together helps us take that first step into the “what now” that we all have to deal with after loss. It helps us to keep putting one foot in front of the other until we find our way to a new form of normality. As long as we hold our loved ones in our hearts we are not abandoning them.

We have come together tonight to remember our loved ones. They are lost to us here and now but I take comfort in knowing that they are not lost to God but are precious to him. A line from our reading from John’s Gospel reassures me if this. Jesus says “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of those he has given me, but raise them up on the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day”. I pray that you too will find comfort in this.

Amen.

Reader Kath Boyd