‘Children at the heart of Good News’ – 28th June 2020 – 3rd Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 22.1-14

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' He said ,'Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.' So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.' Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, 'Father!' And he said , 'Here I am, my son.' He said, 'The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?' Abraham said, 'God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.' So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' He said, 'Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.' And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place 'The Lord will provide'; as it is said to this day, 'On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.'

Matthew 10.40-42

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

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

The Sermon

By Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes, Vicar of St John's Ranmoor

I’m rather glad that we didn’t have our first reading on last Sunday on Fathers’ Day. The sacrifice of Isaac is in many ways a horrific story and one which today would result in a call to social services. Its main point of course is to underline the faithfulness of Abraham. Over many years God had told him that he would be the father of a great nation and Abraham had trusted God even though he and his wife Sarah showed no signs of having children. And then finally, in their old age, they had had a son, Isaac, a miraculous baby, and it seemed that at last all the promises, all of Abraham’s hopes and dreams were coming true. And then extraordinarily, God told him to kill Isaac. To sacrifice this precious child. And Abraham was obedient. It’s an incredible story and it reminds us of the need to put God first. It reminds us too that nothing we have, not even our children, belong to us. However much we love them, we sometimes have to let them go.

As Christians, we read this story in the light of Jesus. It is often read on Good Friday as it has strong parallels with the crucifixion of Jesus. God so loved the world that he allowed his son to be the sacrifice for our sin. He is the ram caught in the thicket, the ultimate sacrifice who takes away the sins of the world. Despite this, too often, we somehow manage to sacrifice our children for the sins of our world.

Too often, institutions like the church have put their own survival ahead of the need to protect children from abuse. We have been slow to address climate change, blighting the future for generations to come. We have saddled our children with debt rather than address fundamental problems in our economy. And now with the coronavirus pandemic, many of children are missing out on education. Many do not have access to the internet and are lacking food and exercise. We don’t really know what effects this will have on their mental health and future prospects.

It has been heartening to see young people questioning these things. Like Isaac, they have asked what is going on. And unlike Isaac they have not been prepared to go like lambs to the slaughter. They have demanded real change. Young people like Greta Thunberg who has played a leading role in Extinction Rebellion. Young people in the Black Lives Matter movement who will no longer put up with institutional racism. Who question things that we have grown too used to and refuse to accept more George Floyds in the future. We have seen young people questioning old attitudes to gender and sexuality. They are no longer willing to put up with past hypocrisies and prejudice. As it says in the Books of Joel and Acts, our sons and daughters are prophesying and seeing visions of a better world. And the time for those visions to be fulfilled is now. They want change.

As we look back at the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac through the lens of the crucifixion, we are reminded that we don’t have to sacrifice our children. The whole point of Jesus dying on a cross once for all was so that we don’t have to do it again. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He set us free from that cycle of sin and sacrifice and his resurrection pointed to the fact that there is always another way. A better way. A more life-giving way. We just need to have the faith and imagination to see it.

Jesus put the poor and the marginalised first in the kingdom of God. And with them he put children. If we want to enter the kingdom of heaven we need to become like a child, he said. In our Gospel, Jesus says that whoever gives even a cup of cold water to a little one will not lose their reward. Children are at the heart of the good news. They are not things to be sacrificed but those who are closest to God’s heart. Not objects but subjects of God’s kingdom. Often, they know the secrets of the kingdom and we need to listen to them more.
Amen.

The Prayers 
Prepared by Veronica

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

We bring before You Father the needs of our world at this troubled time, when many thousands in countries all over the world are becoming ill or dying from coronavirus, and millions face great economic hardship. There is also much political tension and uncertainty as many national leaders jostle for power and influence rather than working for peace, justice and the alleviation of suffering. We pray for all in positions of responsibility at national or international level, that they may heed the cries of those suffering disease, the hungry and the refugees. We give you thanks for the work of charities and international organisations working to bring help to all in need, and ask Your blessing on them.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church worldwide, and all those of other faiths, also unable to come together for worship in their own building to prevent further spread of corona virus. Help us to work together to show your love to humankind by our support to those in need, whether by providing food or a friendly voice on the telephone. We give you thanks for modern technology which enables us to link in with our partner churches, St John’s and St Mark’s, and join with them in worship from home. Bless all their clergy and the Wardens and Readers at St Mary’s who are maintaining regular worship materials for St Mary’s congregation and beyond. When this crisis is over, may we meet together strengthened in our faith in you, and appreciating even more strongly the fellowship we share.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all key workers, in our Health Service, Care Homes, those keeping gas, water and electricity on tap, transport workers, shop workers and school staff, giving thanks that their dedication has enabled life to continue, even when their own lives have been at risk. We ask your blessing on children and young people uncertain about their future, particularly those for whom isolation has been very difficult, often in very cramped accommodation, and their teachers who will have the task of rebuilding their confidence.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are ill at this time, including all those unable to get the treatment they need because of the pressure on hospitals and fear of spreading corona virus further. We ask that you be with them all and strengthen them as they recover from their illness. Bless also all doctors, nurses, other hospital staff, care workers and family members as they support people through these difficult days.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We pray for all who have died, remembering those we have known and loved, and all others whose lives have been cut short. We ask your blessing on all who mourn, and they may know their loved ones are in your tender care. We hope that soon it will again be possible to come together at funerals and hug our relatives and friends as we say our final farewells.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our Prayer

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.
Amen.

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

‘Growth from adversity’ – 21st June 2020 2nd Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 21.8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Matthew 10.24-39

‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

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.

The Sermon

By Kath, a Reader at St Mary's

Growth from Adversity (or doing the best we can with what we’ve got)

This may not be the easiest message to contemplate at the moment given that we are still in the throes of the COVID 19 pandemic with all the pain and loss and disruption that it has caused to so many people, but sometimes it is the adversities we face and the things that go wrong in our lives that can cause or enable us to grow in ways that wouldn’t otherwise have happened.

In our story from Genesis we hear of a situation where there is obvious pain and distress and sadness for all the people mentioned in it. Having been childless until his late nineties, Abraham is now the father of two sons. With the encouragement of his wife Sarah, he had Ishmael with Hagar, one of his household slaves and sometime later, in answer to long and heartfelt prayer, he and Sarah had Isaac. This might appear wonderful but it seems that following the birth of her own son, Sarah has a change of heart about the presence of Ishmael; she doesn’t want Ishmael to inherit from Abraham and tells him to send the boy and his mother away. I don’t know how this would have been viewed by people at the time but to me it seems hard hearted and unjust, especially given that it was Sarah who suggested that her husband try to have a child with her slave girl who she offered to him. Who knows how Hagar felt about that part of the arrangement but having provided a longed for child, who Sarah initially regarded as her own, she and her child are being sent away with nothing but some bread and water for a journey to who knows where. So Sarah is unhappy about the presence of Hagar and Ishmael, who she sees as a threat, Abraham, we are told, is very distressed by Sarah telling him to cast them out, (what loving father would want to do such a thing), Hagar has lost her home and security and is in despair at the prospect of seeing her son starve to death in the wilderness and Ishmael has lost his home, his father, his possible inheritance and his brother & playmate. Isaac seems to be the only one probably too young to have an opinion on all this loss and unhappiness. How on earth, you may wonder, does good come out of this complicated and unhappy state of affairs?

Well if it had been purely an earthly situation then at the very least Hagar and Ishmael probably would have starved to death and Abraham’s distress would have been compounded. But God is at work here. Much as he is upset at the prospect of sending Ishmael and his mother away, Abraham trusts in God when he tells him to obey Sarah’s wish and that with regard to Ishmael he says “I will make a nation of him also”. We then hear that when Hagar has run out of food and water and puts her son under a bush so that she won’t have to watch him die, she is visited by an angel telling her too that God will make a nation of him, and water is provided to sustain them. By the end of the passage we are told that they both survived, that Ishmael lived in the wilderness and eventually married. In time he does indeed become the founder of a nation. Had he stayed in Abraham’s household he would probably not have done this and likely have remained resented by Sarah and of lesser status than his brother Isaac. Growth came out of adversity!

Life was complex in Abrahams’s day and it still is for us here and now, it probably always will be. There are seldom, if ever, any concrete answers or solutions to the problems we face and rarely only one absolutely right way to do something or one clearly right path to follow; most of the time they are complicated by multiple factors and what ifs and maybes and if onlys. We may not want to be the one who has to sort out some particular problem or situation, especially if it’s not of our making, but instead of automatically feeling fearful or resentful or negative about it we can view it as an opportunity to serve and in so doing we can learn and grow.

Last week I was listening to the autobiography of a police officer who said that in the early part of his career, domestic violence was seen as an area of policing that nobody, including himself, wanted to deal with because it was so complicated and difficult. However, he was put in charge of a unit where he had to face this and he described how over time he had learned to understand a great deal, particularly about the psychology of victims and the circumstances and attitudes that made them into victims and kept them there. He went on to have a long career as a police officer where he witnessed some of the worst effects and consequences of violent crimes, which along the way took a serious toll on his own mental health, but ultimately he described how police attitudes to these crimes have changed over the years and while there is still a very long way to go, they have improved. He had not shied away from a difficult job that no one wanted; he had stepped up and made a difference. I never cease to be amazed and heartened by the stories I hear of other people who have done likewise.

It’s tempting to assume that such people are extraordinary, and in some ways they are, but not because they are uniquely qualified or skilled or confident in the knowledge that they can do whatever task has come to them. They are extraordinary because they take it on regardless and do the best they can with what they’ve got. Jobs or tasks or services or whatever we see them as don’t have to big or spectacular to be of worth. Indeed, it’s often seemingly small things that can make a big difference to those on the receiving end, kindness, patience, listening respectfully, believing someone or believing in them. Using our own experience of adversity to help others see a way through theirs can be both encouraging and empowering for them and us.

Only this week we have seen how Marcus Rashford has used his own experience of going hungry when he was a young boy to persuade the government to make free school dinners available throughout the summer holidays. This will make a big difference to a lot of people’s wellbeing in more ways than just filling their stomachs. Something good has grown out of adversity.

One of the things I’m learning (very slowly) is to stop expecting that there is any such thing as a once and for all answer to problems. In the past I’ve thought that if I looked hard enough and tried hard enough and for long enough I would find these answers and in finding them, all would be well and I’d have arrived at a place of safety and security. Of course it didn’t happen. Instead, for much of the time, life felt like a long, complicated, often painful, winding road that was nearly all uphill. Each time I got to a bend in the road and | could see round it, instead of the hoped for easy bit or respite or desired result for all the effort, there would be just be more uphill. Depressing, or so I thought!!!

I’m now learning to see things differently. I’m slowly realising that the adversities and mistakes, the disappointments and losses that I have experienced, just as many people do, and sad and awful as some of them have been, they have caused me to grow and to become far more capable than I otherwise might have been and enabled me to be there for others with greater understanding and empathy when needed. I really do believe that God is always there for us and with us, especially in the difficult times, helping us to bring growth from adversity if we are open to it.

One final thing, just in case you thought I’d forgotten. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, granddads, Godfathers and father figures out there, especially those of you who have brought good things out of difficulties in your own childhoods and those of you doing your best with difficult situations now and teaching those in your care how to do the same. Enjoy your special day.

The Prayers
Prepared by Hope

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 and your saving health among all nations. Be with us as we pray in faith for the lessening of the grip of the coronavirus, on our country, and all around the world. Grant wisdom to all those who are carrying heavy responsibility for safely reducing the lock-down in the UK.

We think especially today of the children who have lost so much schooling since March, especially those who are being most damaged of all by lack of education, basic nutrition, and peer group fun and company. We know that every child matters to our Father in Heaven. Our reading from Genesis reminds us that Ishmael as well as Isaac was within God’s care. So, grant wisdom Lord to those who are working hard to make the best use of all funds available, to implement the great national Catch Up, in every way, for our children and young people. We remember locally those at St.Mary’s Primary School in Walkley.

Grant wisdom and skill to all those who are starting to work to implement the outcomes of the many reviews, studying the injustices suffered over the years, by black and ethnic minority (BAME) members of our society. Bless all creative initiatives at grass-roots level, including the start to teaching ‘Black History’ in a school curriculum in Leeds. We pray especially at this time that all that has been learnt about the causes of BAME people’s increased likelihood of severe illness and death during the pandemic, will lead urgently to preventing avoidable suffering and death.

Grant wisdom and inspiration to us all in our daily lives, so that we may be able to protect others, by our behaviour, and support our families, neighbours and communities as best we can and as you would have us do.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for your church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your Holy 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 righteousness of life. We ask your blessings, Lord, on all those who are working harder than ever for their churches, in order to provide spiritual support and opportunities for shared worship in this time of social distancing.

Bless all the members of St. Mary’s own worship and leadership teams, and our wider worshipping communities of St. Mark’s Broomhill and St. John’s Ranmoor. Bless the churches of all denominations and around the world, especially their leaders, as they cope with the struggles of living and with the virus, and leading communities in worship. Send your Holy Spirit to be with us all, especially to those in settings more isolated, more risky or simply less equipped with digital technology. We thank you Lord, that we and our families are not alone in this time of sadness: that you are with us always.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body or estate: comfort and relieve them in their need, give them patience in their sufferings and bring good out of their troubles. We ask your blessing on all those thousands of people who are suffering from the coronavirus itself or from dangerous illnesses that are made even more dangerous, due to delays in care.

We pray for all those known to each of us who are suffering from financial pressures, illness, bereavement or simply fear, for their families and future. Be close to us all at this strange time. Help us to grow in grace and understanding.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the Peace of Christ. We give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the Communion of Saints, thinking especially of Kath Gratton and John Browning and their grieving families and friends.
Merciful Father,

Accept these prayers
for the sake of your son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

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

‘Every Sparrow’ – 14th June 2020 1st Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 18.1-15 and 21.1-7

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’

The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Now Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ And she said, ‘Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’

Matthew 9.35 - 10.23

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.

‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

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

The Sermon
By Anne, a Reader at St Mary's

Every Sparrow

This week the Duke of Edinburgh celebrated his 99th birthday and, in the picture of him with the Queen that was published for the occasion, he looks remarkably well and although he has now retired from public duties he keeps himself busy. Yesterday it was the Queen's Official birthday, marked in somewhat unusual style by a special version of the Trooping of the Colour at Windsor Castle. At 94, the Queen this week took part in her first video conference with members of a carers' charity. She has in the last months made two televised addresses to the nation, one about the pandemic crisis and one on the anniversary of VE day, speaking to encourage the nation to work together in this time of crisis. Even in her 90s our Queen maintains a formidable workload, tackles new challenges and enjoys going riding. There could be no clearer examples of age being no barrier to living a full and valuable life.

However, the current crisis in our society has highlighted how many older people's lives have been held to be of little worth. There have been thousands of deaths and yet there have been only relatively muted expressions of concern. The elderly and vulnerable in have suffered disproportionately in this pandemic, many lives have been cut short because of the way infection has been allowed to gain entry to and take hold in care homes where the most vulnerable would have expected to be as safe as possible.

From the outset of this crisis there have been indications that the lives of the elderly needing care and the most vulnerable might not be valued as highly as other groups. In the very early days when the debate was about the numbers of ventilators available there were suggestions reported in the press that these scarce resources should be used first and foremost for younger patients. There may be valid medical reasons why invasive treatment on a ventilator is not appropriate for all people but that is not how the argument was framed. The implication appeared to be that younger lives were more valuable, more useful than older ones which could be said to have had had their day.

As the weeks have gone by we have seen a situation develop where the care home sector has seen huge loss of life as many older, vulnerable people in care have fallen victim to the virus or to other conditions which have been less well managed than in normal times as other areas of the health system have been temporarily closed down.

There are many questions to be answered about how elderly patients were discharged from hospitals into care homes without testing or even after testing positive for the virus, in order to free up beds, or about how care homes were equipped or supported to deal with the pandemic.

It is not just the elderly in the care sector who have been disproportionately affected – adults with learning disabilities have too. As a society it would seem that in this time of crisis we have not treated the lives of the elderly and vulnerable as it they are valued as much as anyone else.

As a church community at St Mary's we have lost, in the last few weeks, three long-standing and loved members who were living in care homes. While there is no suggestion that these deaths were all virus related or that the care homes where they lived did not do everything they could to care for them, this is a large cluster for a relatively small community and especially at this time of year. And they have happened at a time of lockdown when relatives and friends have not been able to visit and share in the last days of their loved ones.

Care for the elderly, the vulnerable and those suffering with conditions other than the Covid virus has suffered during these days in many ways and there are already many questions about the legacy of this pandemic on the care and treatment of, for instance, the mentally ill, those with cancer, those waiting for transplants and those living with dementia. So many treatments have been stopped or never started because of the virus and so many care centres have had to close their doors.

There are, in the months and years ahead, going to be many questions to answer about how we have valued lives and how some lives have been deemed to be less important or less useful than others, less precious.

In God's economy, every life is precious. All are created, all are known intimately through every cell and every fibre of their being. All are loved and cherished. None falls through the cracks of God's loving. None is overlooked or forgotten or missed off a list. No one is prioritised as more deserving or more useful than anyone else.

Our Genesis reading is about a very elderly couple – aged 100 and 90 according to the text. Abraham and Sarah are certainly well past the normal age for parenthood and yet God has promised them that their offspring will be a great nation, as numerous as the stars in the sky. Surely this is an impossibility? But here at their camp at Mamre three strangers appear and during their stopover they say that the time has come for this promise to be fulfilled. Sarah finds the idea so ludicrous that she cannot help laughing, but God's promises are fulfilled and, old as they are, Abraham and Sarah become parents to Isaac and the rest, as they say, is history. God does not see as we see. He chose this elderly couple who had doubtless long ago been written off by their peers as barren and of little use, to be the parents of a great nation and God was as good as his word.

We do not have a right as children of God to belittle, dismiss or cease to value any other person, any other life. All life is precious in God's creation and even when we cannot see the value, it is there. We do not know how God might plan to use that person, that life in his purposes now or in the future.

Our Gospel reading for today speaks of Jesus preaching and teaching in Galilee and curing and healing the sick along the way. He calls and sends out his disciples to go among the towns and villages with a remit to proclaim the Good News, to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. Jesus sends them out to look for and minister to those whom others would shun, dismiss, sideline or overlook.

A few verses later in Matthew Chapter 10, Jesus reminds the disciples that God sees every sparrow (every small, seemingly worthless bird) as it falls and knows and has counted every hair on the disciples' heads. God knows his creation intimately. He values what he has made. He has a care for the seemingly worthless and insignificant. God values those on the margins, those overlooked by others, those dismissed as of no value.

As God's church, we have a calling to go out to those society values least and help them realise their true worth, so that they can stand up and be heard and recognised and know that every life is precious in God's sight.

Whatever the background, whatever the age, whatever the ability, infirmity or condition, all lives are precious to God. All can be used by him in unexpected and creative ways to open up knowledge of the Kingdom, to show and spread love, mercy, wisdom and kindness and to enrich the lives of others. Any life can be the catalyst for some new initiative or insight.

Every person, important or unknown, in the public eye or as unseen as the smallest sparrow has value and is known and counted by God. Everyone can have a purpose we may not currently be able to perceive. May we know and celebrate that now and always. May we stand by the weakest and help their voices to be heard. May we praise God together, forever, for his rich and diverse creation and for his loving kindness that embraces even the most insignificant and overlooked of his children whatever their age.

The Prayers
Prepared by Barbara

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

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

At this time, we pray especially for all those severely affected by the global pandemic and the resultant lockdowns. We remember that it affects those who are black, of Asian descent, or poor far more seriously than it affects others.
We pray for those plunged into poverty, who are struggling to get enough to eat or to keep a roof over their heads. Help us to be generous in helping them.

We pray for all those who are suffering from Covid-19 themselves and especially for those who need or have needed hospital treatment for their illness. We pray for the families and friends of Covid-19 victims, who are unable to help or even see those in hospitals, in care homes, or living elsewhere.
We pray for those experiencing extreme isolation, either because they are ill or because they are shielding.
We pray for all families separated from their loved ones by lockdown.

Please help all of us to help each other in this time of crisis and through the recession which will follow.
Please help us also to take note of how much kinder we have been to our environment during this crisis that we may learn from this experience ways to decrease our contributions to climate change, both as individuals and as a nation.
Please help all governments around the world to find the best way through the crises of pandemic and climate change for all their people and all their neighbours throughout the world.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

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

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

Please help us as we consider the loosening of restrictions as they affect churches and work out how best to put these into practice in our churches. We remember that you are with us wherever we worship and that we should not rush back to our church buildings before it is safe to do so.

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

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body or estate; comfort and relieve them in their need, give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out of their troubles. We remember to you in our hearts those we know who need the comfort of your presence at this time.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and we give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the communion of saints.
We remember Kath Gratton, Jim Eckford, Malcolm Reaney and John Browning, who have recently gone to join you. Please comfort their families and friends.
All this we ask for Jesus Christ’s sake.

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

 

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

‘Creative responses in challenging times’ – 7th June 2020 – Trinity Sunday

The Readings

Isaiah 40.12-17, 27-end

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
or as his counsellor has instructed him?
Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as dust on the scales;
see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
Lebanon would not provide fuel enough,
nor are its animals enough for a burnt-offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him;
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God’?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Matthew 28.16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
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.

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

Imagine you are someone from Israel or Judah a few centuries before the time of Jesus. Your land has been taken over, first by the Assyrians and then by the Babylonians. The Babylonians have destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and have carted anyone from the higher classes of society off to Babylon. Perhaps you are one of those now in Babylon. Or perhaps your group managed to escape and you are one of the many scattered peoples hiding throughout the Middle East. Either way, your situation is one of exile. You are far from home, your home has gone. Your life is dictated by the whims of nations and peoples stronger than yours. Perhaps it feels as though your God has deserted you and that the gods of the surrounding nations have the upper hand. You despair that life will never improve. This is the situation that Chapter 40 of Isaiah is addressing.

How does Isaiah do this?

He uses poetry. Beautiful poetry. In the first poem that forms today’s reading, he asks rhetorical questions: Who measured the waters in his hand and marked off the heavens? Who weighed the mountains and hills? Who directed his spirit and taught him wisdom and understanding? It’s a poem of respect and awe for God the creator. It notes just how tiny each individual nation is, how tiny their worship efforts. God is great. Humanity is small in the grand scheme of things.

Then the second of today’s poems addresses the suffering Hebrew people directly – why do they think God can’t see them? Have they forgotten that God is everlasting, the creator of everything, to the ends of the earth? God doesn’t get tired or weak, and he gives power to all who are powerless. The people are encouraged to have faith, keep waiting for God and they shall be renewed.

Imagine now that you are one of the earliest Jewish Christians, living, maybe in Antioch, Syria, about 40 years after Jesus died. Everywhere in the region has been taken over by the Romans. Things are politically volatile, and indeed the Jerusalem temple will soon be destroyed by the Romans. You have come into conflict with the religious authorities, and have become estranged from non-Messianic Judaism. You are trying to preach the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and the Kingdom of Heaven, but are meeting dangerous opposition. Some of your number are being imprisoned or even killed for their faith. Perhaps you are beginning to wonder if God has deserted you. You despair of life ever improving. This is the situation Matthew’s Gospel is addressing.

How does Matthew do this?

He tells stories. Stories about Jesus and his disciples. And in his final story, he tells of when Jesus met physically with his disciples one last time. Matthew reminds readers that there are now 11 of them – Judas’ betrayal means that they are no longer the ideal 12 that started out. He also notes that they are far from perfect in their faith. Their faith has been turned upside down by the events of Holy Week and Easter. They worship Jesus on the mountain, but some doubt. A very human reaction. But Matthew tells that despite all this, Jesus instructs this imperfect and wobbly group of disciples that they are to go out into the world. They are to share the good news everywhere, baptise new believers in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teach them how to life as his disciples. And he then reminds them that he is with them always to the very end of time. Matthew tells this story of how Jesus encouraged his first disciples. And in doing so, he encourages the disciples of his own, slightly later, community to keep going with the task, however difficult they may find it. Jesus is with them too, until the end of time.

Imagine, finally, that you are someone from today’s world. Perhaps you’re one of many protesters following the appalling death of George Floyd, always on the alert yourself because you too experience frequent racism. Perhaps you’re in Hong Kong, worried about the increasing powers being exercised by China. Perhaps you’re in Brazil, alarmed at the spread of the coronavirus. Perhaps you’re in one of the world’s many refugee camps or war-stricken areas, struggling to get by even before the virus reaches your community. Perhaps you are a British MP, worried about the risks of meeting to vote in person. Perhaps you are a parent or teacher worried about re-opening schools too quickly. In the face of any one of these situations, it is easy to feel powerless; threatened by the actions of others who have control. Those with a faith might start to ask “Where is God?” Just some of the situations God’s people need to address today.

How might we do this? Can we gain any insights from Isaiah and Matthew?

Note that Isaiah and Matthew respond creatively. Isaiah writes poems and Matthew tells stories. They use creativity to catch their audience’s imagination and attention. But creativity doesn’t stop there. The past few weeks have shown a myriad of different ways in which ordinary people have acted creatively, through art, comedy, video, music and sheer determination to support each other and build up community.

Secondly, Isaiah and Matthew acknowledge that people, even people of faith, are imperfect. They sometimes have doubts about God’s power. They sometimes doubt if he is even there. That is just as true now. But God loves and accepts us anyway, and calls us to continue to serve him.

Finally Isaiah and Matthew stress that God is indeed there, with his people always, giving them the strength to go on, and the job of continuing his work throughout the world and to the end of time. And that message holds just as strongly for us today.

The Prayers
Adapted from Common Worship: Times and Seasons, copyright The Archbishops' Council 2006

We come boldly to the throne of grace,
praying to the almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
for mercy and grace.
We intercede before your throne in heaven.

Father of heaven, whose love profound
a ransom for our souls has found:
We pray for the world, created by your love,
for its nations and governments, remembering especially at this time
the people of the United States of America and Hong Kong
Extend to them your peace, love, mercy and grace.
We intercede before your throne in heaven.

Almighty Son, incarnate Word,
our Prophet, Priest, Redeemer, Lord:
We pray for the Church, created for your glory,
for its ministry to reflect those works of yours,
We pray especially as it seeks to be your Church
in this time of change.
Extend to us your salvation, growth, mercy and grace.
We intercede before your throne in heaven.

Eternal Spirit, by whose breath
the soul is raised from sin and death:
We pray for families and individuals, created in your image,
for the lonely, the bereaved, the sick and the dying.
Breathe on them the breath of life
and bring them to your mercy and grace.
We intercede before your throne in heaven.

Thrice holy! Father, Spirit, Son,
Mysterious Godhead, Three in One:
We pray for ourselves,
for your Church, for all whom we remember before you.
Bring us all to bow before your throne in heaven,
to receive life and pardon, mercy and grace for all eternity,
as we worship you, saying,
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Amen.

‘The Church’s Birthday’ – 31st May 2020 – Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday Live-streamed service

For Pentecost, St Mary's live-streamed a service for the first time.  If you would like to watch the whole service, click on the video link to the right.  If you would prefer just to read the text of the readings, prayers and sermon for this Sunday, they can be found below.

Whilst lock-down restrictions are still in place, we hope to live-stream a service on a monthly basis; eventually we hope to be able to live-stream services from the church building.

The Readings

Acts 2.1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

John 20.19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

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

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

My Goddaughter’s birthday was the 6th May; like many others this year she had a lockdown birthday. I’m lucky enough to be able to stay in touch with her and her family by technology, but it’s still strange.

Pentecost is a special day in the Church calendar; indeed, it’s often called the ‘birthday’ of the Church where we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to Peter and the disciples. Given that we’ve had Lent and Easter in lockdown, there seems to be a suitable symmetry that we should also experience a lockdown birthday for the Church.

When we think about Pentecost, what comes to mind? For me it’s the power of the Spirit, further proof that God keeps His promises, the growth of the Church.

And this year I’ve had something else bought to my attention. God is not confined by our worldly limitations or expectations. The incarnation of Jesus takes place not in a palace, but in a stable in an unfashionable part of the Empire. And after death, a grave cannot hold Christ. Our God is one who delights in surprises.

The reading from Acts tells of what happened when the Holy Spirit descended upon Peter and the disciples. It’s worth remembering how we got to this point. Jesus had shared with the disciples ‘The Great Commission’ – we hear it in the Gospel according to Matthew:

“Go and make disciples of all nations baptising them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you till the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19 and 20)

Now, at the time, despite the disciples having spent a couple of years with Jesus in his Ministry all day, every day, I think that they must have taken a sharp intake of breath and thought to themselves ‘big job’. At this time Jesus’s Ministry had taken in a tiny fraction of ‘all nations’, and I’m sure that the disciples were wondering how they were expected to do this.

They received a hint after Jesus was resurrected, when he was eating with them one day. In Acts 1, Verses 5-8, Jesus tells the disciples that they are not to leave Jerusalem, but that they should stay in the city until they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit from God. They were, in effect, told to wait.

The apostles had had some of the gifts of the Spirit already; they’d been able to cast out demons, and heal. But the full power of the Spirit was yet to be given.

And when they received this gift, they would have the power that they would need to be able to carry out the job given them by Jesus – to “be his witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.”
Jesus told them that in a few days, they would be baptised with the Holy Spirit.

And so it was on the morning of Pentecost, at around nine o’clock, that the gathered disciples were visited by and filled with the Holy Spirit – baptised with the Holy Spirit, as we hear in the reading.

I love the description; there is a sound ‘like’ a roaring wind, and divided tongues of the Holy Spirit ‘as if of fire’ settle on the heads of the disciples. It’s a wonderful description because it is full of uncertainty – Luke is describing being visited by a person of the Trinity! It’s bound to be hard to describe!

We hear that the disciples were now FILLED with the Holy Spirit – this is the baptism with the Spirit that Jesus had spoken of – and the first gift of the Spirit that we see manifested allows the disciples to speak of God’s power to all the gathering crowd – and for the crowd to hear the words in their own language. The first new gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples is to allow them to communicate more clearly – eminently useful to preach God’s word to people from all over the known world.

Of course, there were people who didn’t believe – who thought that this was some sort of drunken tomfoolery that the disciples were engaged in. But over the following days, the Holy Spirit continued to work wonders through the disciples – a sermon preached by Peter – who only 2 months before had denied Christ after Jesus’s arrest at Gethsemane – resulted in the baptism by water of 3000 people; after John and Peter healed a paralysed man in the Temple grounds, another 2000 people were baptised.

The work of the great commission had started; the Church was growing; in a few short days after Pentecost, the Church had grown from a hundred or so souls to over five thousand baptised believers – new disciples for Christ.

But let’s just step back. What had the disciples been doing BEFORE the arrival of the Spirit? They were full of what they had witnessed in the time after Jesus’s resurrection. In Chapter 1 of the Book of Acts we read that they gathered together ‘in prayer and supplication’ to wait for what had been promised them by Jesus before His ascension. I can imagine that they spent time discussing and meditating on everything that had happened in their lives in the previous three years with Jesus.

They were not out and about preaching; they were waiting. They were isolated from their fellow citizens at this time – a rather large extended ‘family’ group, spending time praying, contemplating, and reflecting upon how their lives had been turned upside down.

Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?

I think this year’s Lent and Easter were closer to the experience of the Apostles than any I have experienced. And I think the period since Easter – a period of continued isolation, expectation of better things coming, fear and uncertainty – must at least be a little like the experience of the Apostles as they awaited the Spirit.

The Spirit, thank the Lord, is with us; we may have felt a little distanced from our friends and families in recent weeks, but the fact that God is with us is well worth celebrating this Pentecost. Henri Nouwen’s pointed out:

“But solitude and silence are for prayer. The Desert Fathers did not think of solitude as being alone, but as being alone with God. They did not think of silence as not speaking but as listening to God.”

This Pentecost season – perhaps more than any other in recent history – we need to listen to God and take the gifts of the Spirit we have - love, patience, joy, kindness, peace – and give them to others. It’s been a strange time when expressing love has meant that we stay away from people. But we still have our tongues; we have phones, computers, video conferencing, letters, emails, bellowing over garden fences. We are still challenged to bring the Gospel to the world, and, despite everything, we still have a somewhat easier job of it than the first followers of Christ had.

May we all have a blessed – if rather strange - Pentecost.

Amen

The Prayers

We pray for God to fill us with his Spirit.

Generous God,
we thank you for the power of your Holy Spirit.
We ask that we may be strengthened to serve you better.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the wisdom of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to make us wise to understand your will.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the peace of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to keep us confident of your love wherever you call us.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the healing of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to bring reconciliation and wholeness
where there is division, sickness and sorrow.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the gifts of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to equip us for the work which you have given us.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the fruit of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to reveal in our lives the love of Jesus.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the breath of your Holy Spirit,
given us by the risen Lord.
We ask you to keep the whole Church, living and departed,
in the joy of eternal life.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

Generous God,
you sent your Holy Spirit upon your Messiah
at the river Jordan,
and upon the disciples in the upper room:
in your mercy fill us with your Spirit,
hear our prayer,
and make us one in heart and mind
to serve you with joy for ever.
Amen.

The Lord's Prayer
Being made one by the power of the Spirit,
as our Saviour taught us, so we pray

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

‘When will we get back to normal?’ – 24th May 2020 – Sunday after Ascension Day

The Readings

Acts 1.6-14

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

1 Peter 4.12-14 and 5.6-11

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

John 17.1-11

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

‘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.

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

I’m sure a lot of us can identify with the disciples in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. When the disciples ask ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ What’s the timetable? We ask ourselves, when will we get back to normal? When can things be like they used to be? And they’re good questions. But they get a similar answer. ‘It is not for you to know.’ For the moment we have to live with uncertainty and take every day as it comes.

Our second reading from the First Letter of Peter speaks to that anxiety. He is writing to a community that is experiencing suffering. And not surprisingly, some in that community seem to be asking why. If they are God’s people, why are they experiencing suffering? Again, it’s a good question and one that people will be asking now in the midst of the pandemic. It’s probably the biggest theological question that we have. But there are no easy answers and even if we had them they would not stop the suffering. Peter reminds his readers that Jesus shares in our suffering but by rising again, he showed us that suffering never has the last word. There is always life and hope beyond it. And it’s this that we need to hold on to as Christians. We should cast our anxiety on God. We should be disciplined and keep alert. A familiar phrase at the moment.

Each night, some of us at St John’s have been gathering for Compline on Zoom at 8pm. It’s a very simple service with just a small choice of short readings. One of them comes from today’s passage ‘Be disciplined or be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, seeking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in the faith.’ For us, that roaring lion is corona virus, Covid 19, and we must do what we can to resist it. And also pray for our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. Again, the Letter promises that this too will pass. After we have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory will restore, support, strengthen, and establish us. This is our Easter hope. This is what we must hold on to.

Jesus has been appearing and disappearing ever since the resurrection. But in our reading from Acts he is lifted up and hidden by a cloud. It echoes the transfiguration, the cloud that filled the Temple and the pillar of cloud that guided God’s people to the promised land. It marks a decisive change in the disciples relationship with Jesus. Now it is over to them. And to reinforce that point two men in white robes appear to ask the disciples why they are standing around staring at the sky. Jesus who has been taken up to heaven will return one day. And the implication is that he will want to know what they and we have been doing. Or to put it more simply, Jesus is coming. Get busy. Stop asking questions and get on with being Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. We may have lots of questions but we also have lots to do. There are huge needs in our world at the moment and we can all do something to respond to them. And some of that is at the local level. As neighbours, volunteers and as people of prayer. The disciples and some of the women who followed Jesus devoted themselves to prayer as they waited for the promised Holy Spirit.

The coming of the Spirit which we celebrate next weekend at Pentecost, or Whitsun, completes the Holy Trinity which we will think more about in a fortnight’s time. But this week’s Gospel gives us a wonderful glimpse of its common life. Of the mutual indwelling of this community of perfect love. Each person of the Trinity glorifies the other. But it is much more than a mutual appreciation society. It draws us into its life to share in that glory, that love. And we are called to reflect that life to the world. Obviously we have a long way to go but I’ve been having glimpses of it recently. Even though we are physically distant more of us seem to have time and space to glorify others. To like each other’s cooking or dodgy haircuts or pictures on social media. To clap for the NHS and key workers. To celebrate each other’s little triumphs. In our own small way we seem to be loving each other more and for that I am profoundly grateful. For me it is a sign of God at work. And hopefully, when all this is over, whenever that may be, will retain something of that love and mutual care. Amen.

‘Coming down the mountain’ – 24th May 2020 – Sunday after Ascension Day

The Readings

Acts 1.6-14

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

John 17.1-11

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

‘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.

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

Have you noticed that television news programmes seem to be full of graphs these days? Graphs showing the numbers of Covid-19 cases over time. Graphs showing the rise and fall in deaths from the virus. Graphs comparing our country’s profile with those of other countries. And then graphs showing how the economy is falling, or how unemployment is rising. Graphs which show things as they are, and graphs projecting how things might be should our country act this way, or that way.

What all these graphs have in common is either an ever increasing rise, followed by a slower fall, or a dramatic fall, followed by what is (or is projected to be) a slower rise.

It struck me that these graphs look very much like a mountain. The upward slope of the mountain is steep, the downward slope much more gradual. And anyone who climbs mountains, or navigates Sheffield’s hills with dodgy knees knows that it’s actually the downward slope that’s the more difficult bit. You may have conquered the summit of Everest, but you’ve still got to get back down to base camp again. You may have managed to climb Fir Street up to the Bole Hills, but your knees are decidedly wobbly coming back to Walkley.

In the Bible stories, mountains are places of Divine encounter. Think of Moses on Mount Sinai or Elijah on Mount Horeb. Think of Jesus’ transfiguration. Think of today’s story from Acts. Jesus and his disciples are on the Mount of Olives, not far from Jerusalem.

Luke’s story of Jesus and the early church comes in two volumes – Luke and Acts. So the mountain-top account of the Ascension actually comes in the centre of Luke’s story. Luke’s story is a bit like the mountain itself – his gospel tells of the life of Jesus and his disciples, culminating in the peak experiences of his death, resurrection and ascension. Acts then picks up where the gospel leaves off – at the peak of the mountain and the ascension.

It is here that they have their final conversation together about the coming of God’s kingdom. It is here that Jesus reminds the disciples that they won’t know exactly when the kingdom will be fully restored. It is here that he commissions them to be his witnesses throughout Judea, Samaria and the rest of the world. It is here that he promises them they will receive the Holy Spirit who will equip them for mission. And it is here that they see him in bodily form for the final time before he is taken up by the clouds. And now they must come down the mountain. This is the difficult bit.

Jesus is no longer with them physically to lead them. Their job now is to continue his work in a new and more difficult way – taking up his mantle of leadership themselves. There will be many challenges to be faced – conflict with the religious authorities, disagreements between each other, and conflicts between the different ethnic and cultural groups within the church that emerges. The rest of Acts describes the different challenges the disciples encounter. And since then, the church has continued to be challenged to find its way down the mountain and onwards into whatever lies ahead.

The rates of infection and deaths are thankfully now reducing. And as our country takes its first steps towards easing the restrictions, we have a very cautious climb down our metaphorical mountain. There are many questions to be considered, and no easy answers. When is it safe enough to open our schools, and how should we go about this? How do we educate the children that do return in a way which keeps them safe, but promotes social and emotional development? How do we balance the need to keep our most vulnerable people safe, without starving them of much needed social interaction? When will a vaccine or effective treatment be available? What is the best way to monitor the whereabouts of the virus? How do we find new work for so many whose old jobs may no longer exist?

And there has been a positive peak as a result of the world’s lock-down measures – the environment has become cleaner and healthier. Animals and birds have been thriving. People have been uplifted by the cleaner air, the clearer birdsong, the heady fragrance of blossom, the unexpected sight of wild animals. How do we prevent the decrease in the abundance of nature whilst gradually increasing our usual activities? Many have argued that now is the time for a complete rethink of how we organise our roads, our modes of transport, the way we work. Coming down the coronavirus mountain is going to be a long and rocky road.

So what is the role of God’s people in all this? Well whatever we do, let’s remember that new life is just that – new life. It is necessarily different from the old life. So there will be changes. We need to live our new lives in such a way that God’s kingdom of peace and justice can be brought about on earth, just as it is in heaven.

And let’s remember that like the disciples, we are not alone. For God’s Spirit continues to be with us, guiding us as we make our way down the mountain and into the new life ahead.

The Prayers
By Irving

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

Almighty God, as we look back to Ascension Day, may our prayers ascend to you just as Jesus Christ, your Son, was taken up to heaven. As we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus let it inspire in us feelings of joy and hope as we look forward to Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus, and for all people according to their needs.

We pray for the peace, stability and unity of the world as we respond to Covid-19. In words from Christian Aid, we pray for all health workers tending the ill, for all scientists working on a vaccination, for researchers analysing data and identifying trends, for media outlets working to communicate objectively, for supermarket and shop workers, hygiene and sanitation providers. We pray for teachers, delivery drivers, postmen, milkmen and refuse collectors and all others upon whose services we rely. We pray too for proper recognition of the value of all those key workers that have helped to keep our country running under such difficult circumstances.

We pray for all who are planning our country’s path out of lock down, that they may they respond to the challenges of this pandemic with fairness, prudence and sound judgement. May their planning alleviate economic burdens, compensate fairly for losses, protect employment and ensure ample food and protection for the poor and isolated.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for your Church throughout the world: guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led in 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 Primates, Bishops, Clergy and Laity of the Anglican Communion around the world. We pray for the Anglican Consultative Council and for the Anglican Communion Office in London. We pray for all in Sheffield Diocese and particularly the Area Deanery of Snaith and Hatfield. We pray for and give thanks to all at St Mary’s who have kept our church alive by their newsletters, electronic ‘virtual’ worship and meetings and in so many other ways.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We commend to your fatherly goodness all that are anxious or distressed in mind or body; comfort and relieve them in their need; give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out of their troubles.

Especially we pray for all affected by the Corona virus, both physically and emotionally. We pray for all who feel isolated and lonely. Keep us all, good Lord under the shadow of your mercy in this time of uncertainty and distress. Sustain and support the anxious and fearful and lift up all who are brought low, that we may rejoice in your comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And in a few moments of reflection, we bring before God our own prayers and concerns.

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

‘Sharing the Gospel’ – 17th May 2020 – 6th Sunday of Easter

The Bible readings

Acts 17.22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’

 

John 14.15-21

Jesus said 'If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’

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

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

And as we’re still in lockdown, get your favourite beverage and make yourself comfy…

Back in the days when this country had fairly strict obscenity laws, a judge reputedly made the comment that whilst he couldn’t necessarily define pornography, he knew it when he saw it.

And I think that we Christians sometimes have similar thoughts about two words that we all use, often without too much thought; Gospel and Evangelism.

Now, for many years when I heard the word ‘Evangelism’ my mind was transported to a sweaty tent in the Bible Belt of the USA, where a flashy looking chap would be preaching up a storm whilst passing a bucket around for contributions…not terribly helpful, I know, and not what I think now. But old thought patterns persist, so I want to start by putting a couple of ‘working definitions’ on the table.

“The word gospel comes from the Old English god meaning "good" and spel meaning "news, a story." In Christianity, the term "good news" refers to the story of Jesus Christ's birth, death, and resurrection.”

“In Christianity, evangelism is the commitment to or act of publicly preaching (ministry) of the Gospel with the intention to share the message and teachings of Jesus Christ.”

Having got that out of the way – you’ll see why later – let’s take a look at the reading from the book of Acts, in which Paul finds himself speaking to the Athenian ruling council – the Areopagus – and shares with them some thoughts on God.

For once, Paul is not in front of the local authorities having breached local laws. He’s in Athens awaiting the arrival of Silas and Timothy, spending time whilst the situation in Thessalonica and Berea calms down. Earlier in Chapter 17 we read how Paul had been in both those places and had been received as an agitator and a general nuisance. In Athens, the locals have invited him before the ruling council so that they can hear the new ideas that Paul has to offer. Athens is something of an intellectual hotbed, and the people are at least willing to hear Paul out.

Now Paul’s not here to preach; but given the opportunity he’s not one to turn down any opportunity to evangelise and spread the Gospel. See? I told you those definitions would come in useful! But how will he tackle this opportunity?

Taking an audience-appropriate approach to evangelism is essential, and Paul knows this. He’s seen how religious the Athenians are, and he knows they are proud of their cultural heritage. This is not a place where sermons that work in Judea or Israel will work, and Paul knows that. And there is a really big difference between the religious beliefs of the pagans – the Greeks and Romans – and the Jewish people. They are polytheists – they believe in multiple gods, each god or goddess being worshipped for different reasons and in different ways, unlike the monotheistic God of the Jews and Christians.

Paul has clearly been around the city. He remarks how he came across an altar intended for the worship of an unknown god. He then tells the Athenians that it is this ‘unknown god’ of which he will speak:

“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us”

And in doing so gives a very brief summary of the Jewish / Christian belief that the listeners would find little to object to. He even backs up his words by quoting a couple of Greek poets in support of his statement.

So – a first piece of guidance for all preachers and evangelists. When you are in a new place, with new people, know your audience. Look around, find out about their beliefs and their culture. Bring in whatever areas of commonality you can find, build the bridges to make it easier for your audience to listen to you. Don’t mis-represent your beliefs or the beliefs of your audience; look for the points of similarity to allow you to build up a sense of discussion and dialogue, not one of confrontation.

In Verse 29 Paul makes a comment that might be provocative to some of his audience; he makes comments about idolatry – God is not “an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals”. Interestingly enough, the temples and sacred spaces dedicated to most of the gods have statues and images that are objects of worship and veneration. But the ‘altar to an unknown god’ probably has nothing like that; after all – if it’s unknown, by definition it would be hard to create an image of that god.

It would have been interesting to have been a member of the audience at this stage; how would they be reacting? It’s likely that the audience wouldn’t have had too much to grumble about with these comments. The Greeks had a respect for their gods, after all.

So far, Paul has been an engaging speaker; he’s explored a few new ideas, but he has not been an evangelist. A second thing to remember for all of us preachers; we’re preaching and ministering to bring the Gospel to people, not impress folks with our rhetorical skills.

Back to those definitions; Paul has spoken of God, but he has not spoken of the Gospel – the story of Jesus Christ’s birth, death, and – most importantly – resurrection.

Paul has taken his audience with him in ways that respect their beliefs, that place God in a context that they can understand – at least intellectually. But in Verse 30 he takes things to a place that many of his audience might find uncomfortable.

God has “ fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Paul has finally hit the core message of the Gospel – still without mentioning Jesus’s name – but he talks of the resurrection from the dead of a man, who will be judge.

The part that would freak out the Greeks would be talk of resurrection of the body. Greek beliefs had a place for the immortal soul, but not for raising bodies from the dead. Paul has taken his audience to the core of the Gospel story, and, he will lose some of them.

In the next verse after tonight’s reading, we hear:

“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.”

A final lesson for preachers; it is at the point where you bring the core message of the Gospel to people – the story of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – that you may lose some of your audience; and it is at that moment that you are truly an evangelist. You are bringing the Gospel message to the people, and the people must choose whether they wish to follow Christ.

The role of the evangelist is not to brow-beat or convert; it is to lay the Gospel – honestly, fully - before the people so that, God willing, they may choose the path of Christ for themselves.

Amen.

The prayers
Written by Catherine:

God of the whole world,
we give thanks that you are not unknown,
but make yourself known to all who seek you.
Draw close to all seeking you anew,
or seeking you for the first time
in this time of crisis.
Guide your worldwide church
so that we may show your love for all.
Loving God…
Help us to be loving too.

God of all nations
we pray for your world and all people
as we continue to face this pandemic together.
Guide the leaders of the nations
that they may act
with wisdom and compassion
so that the vulnerable are protected,
resources shared equitably
and all may thrive.
Loving God…
Help us to be loving too.

God of love and truth
we pray for our own nation:
for people anxious or confused
by what this week’s changes to regulations do or do not permit,
for workplaces trying to adapt
to keep colleagues safe,
for those worried about returning to work.
We continue to pray for all
who still cannot leave home
or meet friends or relatives,
and give continued thanks
for the work of volunteers
and mutual aid groups.
Loving God…
Help us to be loving too.

Healing God
we pray for all who are unwell
or troubled in any way.
We continue to pray for those suffering from Covid-19
or any other illness.
We pray for all who work
in the health and caring professions
and for those who support them,
We remember all families
distressed because they can’t visit a loved one in hospital.
We think of anyone known personally to us
who is ill
or in particular need….
Loving God…
Help us to be loving too.

God of the dying and the bereaved
we give thanks
for your promise not to leave us orphaned.
We pray for those who have died
or lost loved ones this week:
for the victims of the maternity hospital massacre in Afghanistan
for those who died due to Covid-19
for all who died alone.
We ask that you be especially close
to all who mourn.
May they know your love.
We think of anyone known personally to us
who has died recently….
Loving God…
Help us to be loving too.

The post-communion prayer for this Sunday, the 6th Sunday of Easter:

God our Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ gives the water of eternal life:
may we thirst for you,
the spring of life and source of goodness,
through him who is alive and reigns, now and for ever
Amen.

Post-communion prayer © Archbishops’ Council 2000

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

1 Peter 2.2-10

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

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

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

 

Acts 7.55-60

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

John 14.1-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Prayers
Written by Joe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 2.42-47

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

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

 

John 10.1-10

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

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

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

What should the church look like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prayers

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

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

Lord, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

We pray for your Church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life.
We pray for your church both here in Sheffield and around the world. Please help us to continue to be your family at a time when we cannot meet as congregations.
Please help us here in the congregation of St Mary’s Walkley to learn how best to include everyone in our local church family in our efforts, including those without internet access.

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

Lord, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body or estate; comfort and relieve them in their need, give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out of their troubles. We remember to you in our hearts those we know who need the comfort of your presence at this time.

Lord, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and we give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the communion of saints.
We remember with love your servant Betty McGrory, who we have known so well here at St. Mary’s. Please welcome her to your kingdom in heaven and comfort her friends and family, this we ask for Jesus Christ’s sake.
Amen.

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