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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reader Catherine Burchell

*name changed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May our equivalent of whips and table turning be effective.

 

Reader Joe Pritchard

‘The Ten Commandments’ – 4th March, 3rd Sunday of Lent

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

I don’t think I have ever preached on the Ten Commandments before. I must admit my first thought was somewhat dismissive – “we all know the Ten Commandments so nothing much there of interest”. But then I looked into it a bit more and found there were more points of interest that I’d thought. For one thing I learned that the way the verses in this passage have been divided up into Ten Commandments have in fact not always been the same. Some are obvious – e.g. You shall not steal, but some of the other verses are less clear.

Today I would like to look at just two of the Commandments. First, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”. The people were told to have a rest day every seventh day – and it was a rest day for everyone, including children, slaves, foreigners and even animals. This is quite a radical idea – and we could regard it as some of the earliest animal rights law in the world! Even today there are places where campaigners are trying to get proper rest and refreshment for working animals.

The Sabbath commandment is not just for those who want a day of religious observance – it is about rest and compassion for all members of the community and for animals. The interpretation of rest on the Sabbath has varied down the years throughout history and some Orthodox Jews still keep very strict rules on what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath.  Jesus did not take this strict approach to the Sabbath but rather a more pragmatic approach. He did not condemn his disciples when they rubbed grains of corn to eat on the Sabbath even though some people thought he should. And Jesus even healed on the Sabbath, arguing that people would rescue a trapped animal or take a beast to water on the Sabbath and so it would be just as appropriate to set someone free from sickness. Jesus’ attitude to the Sabbath is summed up in Mark’s Gospel where he says, “The Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath.”  In other words it is not about forcing yourself into conforming to a set of rules but about observing a rest day for the welfare of all people – and even their animals.

The second commandment I want to look at is the last one, “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife or male or female slave, or ox or donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”  An interesting point about this commandment is that it relates to a thought, an attitude of heart rather than an action. That is quite a sophisticated idea in social and legal terms. To covet is, in the dictionary,to “desire eagerly” – but with the rider that it is usually to desire eagerly something that belongs to someone else.  And therein is the problem, because desiring eagerly what belongs to someone else can lead to envy, jealousy and even to theft or adultery or even murder.

A good example from the Old Testament is King David who saw Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, and coveted her. He committed adultery with her and when she became pregnant he tried to cover it up by summoning Uriah back from the army. But Uriah refused to spend time at home while his colleagues were away at war, so David commanded that Uriah be sent to the thickest of the fighting to ensure that he would be killed – in effect murdered by David. David’s  coveting of Bathsheba led to adultery and then murder. Nathan the prophet took David to task for his behaviour and expressed God’s displeasure at his actions. David repented – but the damage had been done.

The story of David has a contemporary feel in that our newspapers are full every day of stories of people behaving in terrible ways because they covet things or people. Victims are robbed, defrauded, attacked and even murdered because someone covets their belongings, their money, their lifestyle, their looks … and the pain and heartache of broken relationships caused by people coveting other people’s spouses or partners and acting on their desires, is incalculable.

Youngsters are mugged for high end phones or trainers or other items, because the thieves covet these goods. Elderly people have their savings stolen by people who covet  money and the good life they feel it will bring. Fraudsters target people with pension funds because they covet wealth they have not earned. The other year a man died when thieves stealing his car from his drive ran him over – and all because they coveted his vehicle. People covet the lifestyle, the looks, the clothes of celebrities and see them everyday on social media. And even if they do not get into crime because of their coveting, they may get into debt trying to satisfy their desires.  Apparently in China, people will spend thousands of pounds on plastic surgery so that their selfies will be “perfect” – they covet a perfect self portrait. And there is the acronym FOMO – fear of missing out, as people are desperate not to miss out on experiences or events or belongings that they believe everyone else is enjoying.

But coveting can be, and often is, based on a lie – that somehow everyone else’s life is better, more exciting. If only I can have these goods, that look, a big enough bank balance, my life will be what I think other people’s lives are. I will find the satisfaction I lack.  But always thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence is a way of avoiding tending the lawn on this side. Coveting what others have can be a way of avoiding discovering your own talents, strengths and uniqueness or cultivating the garden of your heart.

So much of our society is driven by encouraging us to want things. The advertising industry is based on encouraging us to want things. The credit card industry invented the slogan, “Take the waiting out of wanting”. And as people are encouraged to want and to expect instant gratification, the pleasures of anticipation and saving up for something are lost. Craving instant gratification makes coveting so dangerous – how can I get what I covet now? The desire, the thought, can drive the action that can lead to crime, or destructive behaviour, and people can lose sight of their true selves.

In Lent we reflect on what can bring us closer to God. We can look again at some of these texts, like the Ten Commandments, that we think we know so well and see what they can say anew to us in this day and age.

In a world where people seem to be constantly driven we can model and promote the ideal of regular rest. Perhaps we need to heed that ourselves as we can find our rest time taken up with work for the church. We all need to rest to live well and have time to know God and so we need to find a good balance between activity and rest.

In a world where social media and advertising seem to be driving more and more wanting, more and more coveting, we can perhaps show that things and looks and appearances are not what life is about. Life is about who we are as people on the inside and especially as people who know we are loved by God just as we are – imperfections and all. Who we are in ourselves is more important than what we have and tending the garden of our hearts gives us the base to reach out to others.

This week’s bad weather has brought much difficulty to many but it has also brought out many good things in people and communities. Villagers have provided food and drink and safe space to people who have been stranded. Strangers have reached out to others in need. We have seen much good as people have pulled together in difficult circumstances. May we nurture this concern for our neighbours and seek to  find ways to carry it on as we return to ordinary times.

 

Reader Anne Grant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Reader Kath Boyd

‘In-between Times’ – 28th May, 7th Sunday of Easter

This Sunday feels like the time “in-between” – after the glory of the Ascension and before the drama of Pentecost with the coming of Holy Spirit.  Just before our reading from Acts today we are told that Jesus ordered his disciples and followers “not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the Promise of the Father.” Jesus said, “You will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So for now the disciples wait together and pray not sure what exactly to expect.

Life is full of times “in-between”. For sports teams that have done particularly well (or badly) this can be a time “in-between” as one season has ended in one league and another is yet to begin in a higher (or lower) league. School children can find the summer holidays a time “in-between” schools, or exam groups or the transition to university, apprenticeship or work. There can be a time “in-between” when moving house, or expecting a baby (especially the period between taking maternity leave and actually giving birth). Life is full of times “in-between” – some so short they are over in a trice, some lasting days or weeks or months or even years. Some are fixed in duration while others are open-ended.

The time “in-between” can feel like a waste, an annoyance, an obstacle to getting on with things – but it can be very useful.  When I was a student in Scotland I loved the long train journey between home and university as a time to adjust between home life and student life.

The time “in-between” can give us time to recollect, to savour, to resolve things that have been neglected, to prepare ourselves for new realities, to anticipate, to explore new possibilities. Sometimes we can miss the opportunity provided by the time “in-between”. We can be so caught up in the old reality that we fail to prepare for the new. A team may be so caught up in the glory of winning in one league that they fail to prepare well for the step up to a higher one – or they may be so weighed down by the despondency of relegation that they enter a lower league so downcast that they get off on the wrong foot.

Or maybe we fear the future and change and don’t want to look ahead, preferring to dwell in the past. On the other hand we may be so excited at the prospect of a change, of something new, that we fail to take stock of where we have come from, of what has brought us to this place and fail to approach the new phase with a clear appreciation of its advantages and downsides (and everything has some downsides!)  We may invest too much expectation in a change – and believe that it will make everything right in our lives, forgetting that the one constant going forward is that we will take ourselves – who we are, what we have lived through, what we have yet to come to terms with.

We hear that the disciples and followers used the “in-between” time to meet together and to pray.  They also appointed another disciple to take the place of Judas. They doubtless talked a lot about what had happened, about how they came to be in Jerusalem, about events over the last few months, and about just what exactly they were anticipating and how it might affect them and they prayed together, opening themselves to God.

Some people like to end each day with a prayerful review of what has happened – good and bad – and offer it to God, to celebrate successes, to resolve to address failings and to prepare for tomorrow.  That is a good way to treat “in-between” times – however short or long – to review the past and pray to be prepared for what may be coming.

Writing a sermon this week, I have been aware that I really cannot ignore what has happened in Manchester – the tragedy of the terrorist attack on young people at a concert. For many people this has been, and still is, a time “in-between”. For many it is a time “in-between” youthful innocence and coming to terms with shocking horror and violence. For some it is a time “in-between” of coming to terms with dreadful, life-changing injuries, and of families coming to terms with new realities of disability or disfigurement. For some it has been a terrible “in-between” time of waiting for news of loved ones only to be met with the devastating news that they have died. And now they face the “in-between” time of dealing with a funeral, bereavement, shock and horror at what has happened and all that this terrible incident means for the future of their lives and families.

It has been a hard “in-between” time for us all – as we all deal with this attack on young people at a concert and the impact of heightened security for all of us.

But it has also been a week that has seen a lot of coming together of families, of communities, of friends and strangers, to reflect, to pray, to keep reverent silence, to remember, to support. There has been a coming together to offer practical assistance – safe refuge, transport, help, comfort, to offer financial help, aid and counsel.

We have seen some of the hardest “in-between” times and some heart-warming responses.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those caught up in this terrible atrocity – with the victims, their families and friends, with the emergency services, the medical staff, the police and security personnel, with politicians, teachers, faith leaders, communities at large and all who have been faced with challenges as a result of these events.

May God’s blessing rest on all whose have been changed by this bomb attack. May light shine in the dark places, living water well up in the dry places and new life bud in the barren places.

May we all live through these days with hope and trust in the faithfulness of God, with an appreciation of the love and support of others around us and with prayerful trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to comfort, to heal, to inspire and to transform.

May we use all our “in-between” times well – coming together, offering prayers to God and trusting in His future. May we join with all God’s church in praying in this “in-between” week for a new outpouring of his Spirit this coming Pentecost.

Amen

Reader Anne Grant

 

Readings for sermon and links:

Acts 1:6-14 John 17:1-11

 

‘The Heart of Prayer’ – 21st May, 6th Sunday of Easter

We are all aware of the differences to be found in the many traditions of worship in the Church, such great variety of expression. There is, however, one practice that all Christian traditions follow. All pray, and although I am not familiar with all of the many styles of prayer I am certain that the majority end with the words ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’, or something similar. The only public prayer that I can think of that does not is what we call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.

 

Prayers can vary so much. Some can be devout; and some even outrageous when God is told what He should be doing for us. Unhappily, the words, ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’, because of their familiarity can become something like a mantra. A neat ending to our prayer, which cannot be faulted because the words are true.

 

We know that, as Jesus promised, if we pray in His name He will answer our prayer, but when things do not turn out as we would like we have a problem which we get round by saying that God will answer in His own way. This does not always disguise our disappointment, of course, but disappointment is inevitable when we offer our prayers more in hope than expectation.

 

So let us now see if we can add some substance to our prayers. To do that we need to think about why we pray. It is so instinctive and it is right that we should but what is the thinking behind our prayer?

 

The meaning of the words of Jesus about us asking in His name is far more significant than just being a formula spoken at the end of our prayers, even though the words are true. They have great depth because we are told to offer our prayers in His name.

 

In Biblical sense a person’s name is virtually the same as the person themselves. To put it another way, a person’s name is the very essence of that person. Jesus was not speaking in the manner of ‘just mention my name’, as we say these days. It was an invitation to invoke Himself as our Divine Mediator, mediation being the core function of His priesthood.

 

With this in mind our prayers take on a whole new dimension, for by our prayers in the name of Jesus we are joining in the divine mission of Jesus, epitomised by His words from the cross pleading for those who were killing Him; Father, forgive them.

To approach our Father in the name of Jesus is an invitation to join in His divine mission of reconciliation. This is not presumption on our part but acceptance of His invitation and promise. And it is costly.

 

The ultimate cost was paid by Jesus on the cross and we are invited to share in His self-giving when we offer our prayers in His name, remembering that the name is the person. Such self-giving cannot be sustained by our own efforts but it doesn’t have to be. We have the Holy Spirit to help us, and we need His help, for we are talking of a movement of the heart towards Jesus, not a clinical calculation or formula to ensure that our prayers are answered.

For this reason the grace that comes through the Holy Spirit is essential for it is He who unites us with Jesus in our prayer. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help us to fulfil our Christian lives, but there is another side to the coin in that the Holy Spirit is essential for the fulfilling of Christ’s mission, in which we have a part to play.

 

Our prayer is part of His sacrifice because we are one with Him in His purpose as our Great High Priest. This sharing with Him is active and organic in that it is alive, just as Jesus is alive. This is so for all of our prayer.

 

It can be difficult to think like this when we are faced with the all encompassing prayers that are used on grand public occasions, the sort of prayers that are so vague as to cover a multitude of situations and offend nobody. Broad intentions or requests that speak of matters beyond our comprehension.

 

Such prayers are no less real in their intent, but when we hear them we can bring them to life by having in mind what the words, ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ mean, and then bring the intentions into the presence of Jesus our Great High Priest, the One who lives to intercede for us.

 

In His sacrifice Jesus gave glory to God and when He said “It is finished” He knew that the first chapter was over and that in Him the Father would be glorified because His only Son had been faithful to the last. His death was but the end of a chapter and the beginning of the next.

 

In saying to His disciples, and to us, that whatever is asked in His name He will do, Jesus is giving us an invitation to join with Him in His sacrificial priesthood. Our prayer is for others, certainly, and it is also an opportunity to share and join in with the priesthood of Jesus.

That is why we pray. Not to manipulate God but to offer ourselves to Him on behalf of others, as Jesus the Son of God, offered Himself.

 

To pray in whatever form it takes, is an opportunity to share with Jesus and is welcomed by Him with open arms. It is a privilege for us that He has achieved by His self-giving and like all privilege it comes with responsibilities, albeit that it is also to be treasured and loved.

 

This goes far beyond a mantra tacked on at the end of a supplication. By using the words ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ we exercise our vocation as Christians, offering our self-giving life with His; and in doing so we give glory to our Father, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Fr Ron Barret

 

Readings for sermon and links:

John 14: 13-14