‘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.


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.