Sunday 28th February 2021 – 2nd Sunday of Lent
Welcome to our weekly digest of prayer, music and bible readings for worship. Today is the 2nd Sunday of Lent, and our reflection on the Epistle and Gospel readings is by Chris Limb.
INTROIT HYMN – New every morning is the love (tune: Melcombe)
by the prayer and discipline of Lent
may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings,
and by following in his Way
come to share in his glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OLD TESTAMENT LESSON – Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
HYMN: The God of Abraham praise (tune: Leoni)
EPISTLE – Romans 4:13-25
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) –in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
GRADUAL PSALM – Psalm 22:23-32
O praise the Lord, ye that fear him : magnify him, all ye of the seed of Jacob, and fear him, all ye seed of Israel.
For he hath not despised, nor abhorred, the low estate of the poor : he hath not hid his face from him, but when he called unto him he heard him.
My praise is of thee in the great congregation : my vows will I perform in the sight of them that fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied: they that seek after the Lord shall praise him; your heart shall live for ever.
All the ends of the world shall remember themselves, and be turned unto the Lord : and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before him.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s : and he is the Governor among the people.
All such as be fat upon earth : have eaten and worshipped.
All they that go down into the dust shall kneel before him : and no man hath quickened his own soul.
My seed shall serve him : they shall be counted unto the Lord for a generation.
They shall come, and the heavens shall declare his righteousness : unto a people that shall be born, whom the Lord hath made.
GOSPEL – Mark 8:31-38
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
HYMN – Praise to the holiest in the height (tune: Gerontius)
REFLECTION – Mr. Chris Limb
ANTHEM: Turn Thee unto me, O Lord – William Boyce (1710-1779)
Turn Thee unto me, O Lord: O Lord, have mercy upon me, for I am desolate and in misery.
The sorrows of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my troubles.
Look upon my adversity: and forgive me all my sin.
O keep my soul and deliver me: let me not be confounded, for I have put my trust in Thee. (from Psalm 25)
Let us pray for ourselves, for the world, and all in need.
God of grace and mercy, your son Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Send your Holy Spirit on those who grieve, who struggle, and all who fear. Meet us in our times of questioning, anger, and doubt. Show us what we can do to enable one another to overcome isolation, distress, and despair. And make us a humbler people who know our need of you. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Loving God, as you revealed yourself to Abraham in ancient days, reveal yourself to us in this present age. Make us a faithful people ready to believe your promises, and to follow you wherever you will lead us.
Holy God, during this period of Lent, give us a new awareness of your presence as we pray in our own homes, and teach us the humility to accept that all our gifts come from you to be used in the service of your people and in the spreading of the Gospel. Live in us through all of our small acts of sacrifice and help us be cheerful in our fasting and giving as our Lord Jesus Christ commanded.
Creator God, your son walked upon earth and taught us to seek your hand in the beauty and wonders of earth, the sea and the sky. We so often see too much evidence of our poor stewardship of your creation, and it is easy for us to forget that the world belongs to you. Help us to recognise your presence in our modern world and help us to use the resources of the earth wisely.
Father God, we give you thanks for our local and church communities here in Sheffield; for our neighbours, for our friends and for the people around us with whom we work and share our daily lives. We pray for those who are old and lonely, those isolated because of ill-health, and those who find it difficult to be accepted. Show us all that we can do to help those around us and teach us to be good neighbours and true friends.
Gracious God, we pray for the sick and the suffering. For those undergoing treatments and surgery; for those convalescing and those who are recovered. We pray that through their suffering they may all experience the light of the Gospel. We pray too for all who administer to the sick and infirm; for those working in our local health centres and hospitals; for those working in care homes and those who daily give help at home; for all of our local charities and aid organisations.
Almighty God, be near to all those who are grieving today over the loss of a loved one. We raise before you those who have died in the faith of Christ, and for those whose belief is known only to you. Lord, we thank you for those who have travelled before us on the way of the cross, and are now at peace in your eternal presence.
Faithful God as we go out into the world today, help us to remember that your son was tempted by the Devil, but chose faithfulness before popularity, service before fame and sacrifice before power. Give us the strength to reject temptation, through our Lenten journey and beyond it throughout our lives.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat, or What shall we drink, or What shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest upon us and those whom we love, this day and evermore. Amen.
HYMN – Lift high the cross (tune: Crucifer)
ORGAN VOLUNTARY : Prelude and Fugue in C major BWV 545, played by Bart Jacobs on the organ at St. Bavo Church, Haarlem, North Holland.
Sunday 21st February 2021 – 1st Sunday in Lent
Welcome to our selection of prayers, readings and music for the 1st Sunday in Lent. Todays reflection is by Professor Clyde Binfield.
INTROIT: Ad te levavi (Palestrina)
Ad te levavi animam meam, Deus meus, in te confido: non erubescam neque irrideant me inimici mei. Etenim universi qui te expectant non confundentur.
To thee have I lifted up my soul, O my God, in thee I put my trust; let me not be ashamed, neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait on thee shall be confounded.
Almighty God, whose bless-ed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan; come quickly to defend us from the many temptations which assault us. Lord you know which weaknesses beset each of us; may your mighty hand protect, save, and guide us, whenever we stray from the paths of righteousness; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
OLD TESTAMENT LESSON – Genesis 9:8-17
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
HYMN: Put thou thy trust in God (tune: Doncaster)
Put thou thy trust in God,
In duty’s path go on;
Walk in His strength with faith and hope,
So shall thy work be done.
Give to the winds Thy fears;
Hope, and be undismayed;
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears;
God shall lift up thy head.
Commit thy ways to Him,
Thy works into His hands,
And rest on His unchanging Word,
Who Heav’n and earth commands.
Through waves, and clouds, and storms,
His power will clear thy way;
Wait thou His time, the darkest night
Shall end in brightest day.
Let us, in life, in death,
His steadfast truth declare,
And publish with our latest breath
His love and guardian care
EPISTLE – 1 Peter 3:18-22
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
GRADUAL PSALM – Psalm 25
Ad te, Domine, levavi
UNTO thee, O Lord, will I lift up my soul; my God, I have put my trust in thee : O let me not be confounded, neither let mine enemies triumph over me.
For all they that hope in thee shall not be ashamed : but such as transgress without a cause shall be put to confusion.
Shew me thy ways, O Lord : and teach me thy paths.
Lead me forth in thy truth, and learn me : for thou art the God of my salvation; in thee hath been my hope all the day long.
Call to remembrance, O Lord, thy tender mercies : and thy loving-kindnesses, which have been ever of old.
O remember not the sins and offences of my youth : but according to thy mercy think thou upon me, O Lord, for thy goodness.
Gracious and righteous is the Lord : therefore will he teach sinners in the way.
Them that are meek shall he guide in judgement : and such as are gentle, them shall he learn his way.
All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth : unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.
For thy Name’s sake, O Lord : be merciful unto my sin, for it is great.
What man is he that feareth the Lord : him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose.
His soul shall dwell at ease : and his seed shall inherit the land.
The secret of the Lord is among them that fear him : and he will shew them his covenant.
Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord : for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.
Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me : for I am desolate and in misery.
The sorrows of my heart are enlarged : O bring thou me out of my troubles.
Look upon my adversity and misery : and forgive me all my sin.
Consider mine enemies, how many they are : and they bear a tyrannous hate against me.
O keep my soul, and deliver me : let me not be confounded, for I have put my trust in thee.
Let perfectness and righteous dealing wait upon me : for my hope hath been in thee.
Deliver Israel, O God : out of all his troubles.
GOSPEL – Mark 1:9-15
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
HYMN: Forty days and forty nights (tune: Heinlein)
REFLECTION: Professor Clyde Binfield
A Sermon for Lent
Drawn from a Scriptural Quartet – and Something Else.
(Genesis 9, vv. 8-17; Psalm 25, vv. 1-10; Mark 1, vv. 9-15; 1 Peter 3, vv. 8-22)
I have a text and an anti-text. My text is from the psalm set for today:
No, those who hope in you are never shamed/Shame awaits disappointed traitors. (Psalm 25, v. 3, Jerusalem Bible version).
My anti-text is from a memoir:
In my childhood, everyone around me tried to sell me the Christian God in one form or another. I got the low church from my aunts, uncles and grandparents, and the high church from my schools. When I was brought to the bishop to be confirmed, I tried my hardest to feel pious, and felt nothing. For another ten years I went on trying to acquire some sort of religious conviction, then gave it up as a bad job. Today, I have no god but landscape, and no expectation of death but extinction …
(John le Carre, The Pigeon Tunnel, 2016, p.258)
Charlotte Cornwell, who died last month, was a much admired star of film and television and a fine Shakespearian actress as well. Her elder brother, Rupert Cornwell, who died just under four years ago, was a much admired foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and the Independent. They had an older half-brother, David Cornwell, who died just over two months ago. He was the best known of the three because he was the novelist, John le Carre.
That is interesting enough, no doubt, in a melancholy, time-passing sort of way, but does it justify a sermon, or its beginning, even in Lent?
Bear with me, as perennially harassed shop assistants used to say, and I will tell you.
Years ago, in a throwaway comment during a lecture, I asserted that everybody had a Baptist grandmother and a Methodist great-aunt. Afterwards a worried student came up: how did I know, because he had both? That student, incidentally, went on to get a first.
So it was with David Cornwell. His grandfather, Alderman Cornwell, Mayor of Poole, was Treasurer of the Southern Baptist Association, church secretary and lay preacher: “It is not easy to appraise his worth without seeming to do him an injustice”. Thus the Association’s Memorial Resolution. A cousin of David Cornwell’s, still alive and lively, was Principal of two Baptist theological colleges and closed his active pastoral ministry at the famous Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church; and an aunt married the Secretary of a Congregational church, a keen student of the writing of Reinhold Niebuhr.
That was on his father’s side. His grandfather on his mother’s side was a Congregational minister and an uncle, briefly a Liberal M.P. and a holder of minor government office, was a Congregational lay preacher and Chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales. With them we come close to home, for grandfather Glassey’s pastorates were all in Yorkshire, one of them in Penistone, and for some years the uncle lived in Sheffield. He and his wife were, for a while, members of Cemetery Road Congregational Church and her family were also pillars of Sheffield Congregationalism, especially at the Burngreave church. One of them, Miss Longbottom, was Matron of Fir Vale Workhouse. That was a commanding post; not many such were open to women in Edwardian Sheffield.
So far, so good, indeed admirable. By David’s reckoning, however, there was another side to this. There was his father, the alderman’s son. David described him as:
…con man, fantasist, occasional jailbird … a crisis addict, a performance addict, a shameless pulpit orator and a scene-grabber … a delusional enchanter and a persuader who saw himself as God’s golden boy, and he wrecked a lot of people’s lives.
And john le Carre’s finest novel, A Perfect Spy, immortalises that man as Rick Pym, con man beyond compare. It also immortalises the uncle as Sir Makepeace Watermaster, arch-hypocrite, master of resounding platitudes. It is a cruelly convincing characterization of Alec Glassey, the man who had been the author’s guardian and had paid for his expensive education.
David Cornwell’s formation, at least in retrospect and as seen by him, was shadowed by deceitfulness. It was smoke, mirrors, and appearances. No wonder John le Carre’s novels are master classes in betrayal, steeped in ambiguity, portraying disappointed traitors for whom shame awaits. How could his family’s “faith” sustain him?
Most families have their shadows though few have been subject to such precise and pitch-perfect dissection as John le Carre’s Cornwells and Glasseys, but can we really leave it at that, even in a sermon for Lent?
John le Carre’s are great novels because of their author’s Cornwell and Glassey inheritance and not despite it. That inheritance was stamped in his handsome features, his perfectly modulated speaking voice, his ear for the rhythms of speech – the lay preachers on both sides of his family, the nationally known uncle who was so proud of his elocution. It was also there in the Nonconformity from which he could never wholly disentangle himself. It was there in the way he “spoke truth to power through his novels”; it was there in “his very strong sense of the right and the wrong, aligned with a wonderful sense of humanity’s complexity. His characters … all wrestling their ambitions and frustrations and inadequacies and posturings”. It was there in his “ear for the dialect of the governing classes of this country, perfectly tuned to their evasions, their deceits, their melancholy … his deep moral sense … his ability to walk moral high wires”. All these are tributes made after his death. And it is there in his last novel.
Agent Running in the Field was John le Carre’s twenty-sixth novel, published months before he died. It ran true to form, as the blurb makes clear:
Nat, a forty-seven-year-old veteran of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, believes his years as an agent-runner are over. He is back in London with his wife, the long-suffering Prue. But with the growing threat from Moscow Centre, the office has one more job for him …
Nat is the narrator. There is also Ed, Ed Shannon, “introspective and solitary”, and half Nat’s age:
Ed hates Brexit, hates Trump and hates his job at some soulless media agency. And it is Ed … who will take [them] down the path of political anger that will ensnare them all.
There is little action. Action in le Carre’s novels is always cerebral – another sign perhaps of their author’s ineradicable nonconformity. Our Lenten concern, however, is with the religious thread, indeed the Nonconformist Christian thread, that runs – deft, occasional, yet persistent – through this particular narrative.
At the very beginning Nat is told about Ed by Alice, the Caribbean-born receptionist (“sixty years old, whimsical, portly and always a little out of wind”) of the sports club in Battersea where Nat and Ed play badminton: “He’s heard about you, now he’s come to get you, sure as David did Goliath.” After several matches they exchange views. Ed explodes over Trump and “all the tunnel-vision fanatics he’s got round him. The fundamentalist Christians who think Jesus invented greed!” Thus it builds up for Ed, “whose Nonconformist background has become by stages a notable feature of these outpourings”.
That background is carefully, accurately, coloured in. There is nothing random in the fact that their game is badminton: “For unbelievers, badminton is a namby-pamby version of squash for overweight men afraid of heart attacks. For true believers there is no other sport.” Those words, “unbelievers” and “true believers” … And there is another idea to be planted in the reader’s mind: “Badminton is stealth, patience, speed and improbable recovery. It’s lying in wait to unleash your ambush while the shuttle describes its leisurely arc.” Just think how many church halls have been fitted out for badminton; and think too of how it might prepare an agent running in the field – it is not a team sport, its players “tend on the whole to be a lonely lot”, individualists, as some Nonconformists like to be.
Ed is taking shape. He is a grammar school boy (“don’t ask me which one”) from somewhere near Doncaster, “one of two children born ten years apart into an old Methodist family of North Country miners … His mother spent whatever free time she had from work at adult education classes until they were cut”, and we later learn that she was “on record as a serial marcher, protester and rights activist on a wide range of peace and similar issues” (italics are a trademark le Carre tic). Ed’s sister Laura has learning difficulties and is partially disabled and he –aged eighteen – had “renounced his Christian faith in favour of what he called ‘all-inclusive humanism’ which I took to be Nonconformism without God, but out of tact I refrained from suggesting this to him”. He had gone on to a “new” university, “I am not sure which”. That was probably not Sheffield, which is “civic” not “new”, so he is unlikely to have tried out St Andrew’s on a Sunday in term.
Ed Shannon, with his “secularized Methodist soul”, is not the only character to be placed confessionally. There is Percy Price, “head of the Service’s ever-expanding surveillance arm … a keen churchman”. There is Sergei, a Russian defector, who “also believes in God … But his faith must not be mediated. As an intellectual he has no love of clergy”. Is nobody free of religion’s clasp? All is belief and conversion. Take the agent, Arkady; le Carre goes to town with him:
An essentially decent man … strapped from birth to the roller-coaster of contemporary Russian history.
The illegitimate street-child of a Tbilisi prostitute of Jewish origin and a Georgian Orthodox priest is secretly nurtured in the Christian faith, then spotted by his Marxist teachers as an outstanding pupil. He grows a second head and becomes an instant convert to Marxism-Leninism.
At sixteen he is again spotted, this time by the KGB, trained as an undercover agent and tasked with the infiltration of Christian counter-revolutionary elements in northern Ossetia. As a former Christian and perhaps a present one, he is well qualified for the task. Many of those he informs on are shot.
That was then, because now Arkady is a wealthy oligarch, hiding comfortably in what used to be Carlsbad and is now Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic: “We have an Orthodox cathedral. Pious Russian crooks worship in it once a week. When I am dead I shall join them”.
The entanglements intensify. There is a password, Jericho, something to do with Operation Jericho, a secret Anglo-American accord to undermine the EU. There are the Bryns, Bryn Jordan and his Chinese wife, fond of madrigals and living in Hampstead:
…the Bryns as we called them were Old Catholics and there was a Christ on the cross lurking in the shadows of the hall to tell you so. How a Welshman of all people becomes a devout Roman Catholic is beyond me, but it was in the nature of the man to be inexplicable … And that’s Bryn Jordan for you, the river you only cross once.
It is Bryn who instructs Nat to turn Ed into a double agent. Given that, where does this scene fit into the tangle? Ed has parked his bike, in order to sit in a church for twenty minutes. His minders seem mystified:
‘What sort of church?’
‘Low. The only sort that leaves its doors open these days. No silver, no sacred paintings, no raiment worth a damn.’
‘Who did he talk to?’
‘Nobody. There were a couple of rough sleepers, both bona fide, and an old Nelly in black across the aisle. And a verger. Shannon didn’t kneel, according to the verger. Sat. Then walked out and cycled off again. So’ – with revived relish – ‘what was he up to? Was he committing his soul to his Maker? Pretty bloody odd moment to choose in my judgement, but every man to his own. Or was he making sure his back was clear? …
We are approaching the end. Ed is to marry Florence. It is all arranged. Florence, with her Cheltenham Ladies College voice, is also in the Service. It is to be “a quick Register Office job, no bullshit”, but Ed, as we learn from Nat, our constant narrator, has told his mother – perhaps that was why he had sat for twenty minutes in that church:
‘…and she was magic’, he confides, leaning forward over his beer and grabbing my forearm in his enthusiasm. ‘She’s into Jesus in a pretty big way, Mum is, same as Laura, always has been. And I thought she’d say, you know, ‘if Jesus isn’t going to be at the wedding it’s a washout.’ …’Only Mum can’t travel, not easily’, he is explaining. ‘Not at short notice. Not with her leg and Laura. So what she said was: do it the way you both like. Then when you’re ready, not before, we’ll do it the proper way in church and have a big spread and everyone can come round … So we’re all fixed for this Friday, as ever is, twelve o’clock prompt at the Register Office in Holborn because there’s a queue, specially with the weekend coming up. They reckon fifteen minutes maximum to do you, then its next couple in and round to the pub, if that’s all right with you and Prue at short notice …
That is our last glimpse of le Carre’s religious thread. It peters out with “a quick Register Office job”. We will never know if Ed’s mother will get her way – church, a big spread, and everybody coming round. We will never know what becomes of Ed, our agent running in the field, or indeed of Nat, who runs him, though we might guess. All, from beginning to end, has been riddled with deception. Who knows what? For how long? On whose behalf? I read the book before reading of its author’s death but, knowing that he was eighty-eight, I wondered as I read if this was to be le Carre’s last. And now, re-reading it with this sermon in mind, I find it to be such pure le Carre as almost to be a caricature.
Well: where does this get us? My excursion into family and local history has turned into a session of lit. crit. Is this novel total fiction, innocent of any moral? Is the constant threading of religion merely a mannerism, an author’s trick to convey period detail? I am sure that that is how it will appear to future readers. But for the author and his generation, to which I just about belong, this thread is integral to his – and our – experience. Is it so far-fetched to imagine David Cornwell’s lay preacher grandfathers, church secretary uncle, theological college principal cousin, sitting behind, or beside, Ed in that London church, with his con man father looking furtively, perhaps brazenly in, even perhaps that workhouse matron?
And can you write so depressingly well of deceit and betrayal unless you have some sense of what is right, a strong sense indeed of honour, of fidelity, of the keeping of promises? Which brings me back, now that you have borne with me, to my Lenten sermon and our quartet of scripture readings.
There is such a rhythm to those readings as John le Carre might have approved. We have moved with the Christian Year from Epiphany to Lent. The actual transition is something of a roller-coaster. It shoots us from Transfiguration (last Sunday) to Temptation (this Sunday). Perhaps the word “temptation” is better caught in the phrase “dark night of the soul”, but this wilderness experience ends with the clarion call of dawn.
Mark captures its grandeur in microcosm. In a few verses, focused on Jesus, we have baptism (swift moment of decision), temptation (ample time for reflection), and proclamation (action). There is a crisp, compelling, commanding rhythm to the Gospel account which is enhanced by our Old Testament readings and the Epistle.
First, there are verses from Genesis: God’s covenant with his people caught in that promise of the rainbow which envelopes creation and completes the story of Noah. Next are verses from a psalm, a song to keep up one’s spirit in the frequent uncertainties of life’s journeyings. And finally there is their encapsulation by a man of rock-like yet realistic faith. He seizes on the hallowed myth, the littleness and the greatness of it:
Now, it was long ago, when Noah was still building that ark which saved only a small group of eight people ‘by water’, and when God was still waiting patiently, that these spirits refused to believe.
Such littleness yet greatness helps Peter to affirm the promise: the liberation of souls long imprisoned, the conquest of water (which held such terror for so many Jews) through the agency of Jesus, put to death, raised to life, leading us to God through that water, that pledge made to God with a good conscience, such that we might see how it is that now he “has made the angels and Dominations and Powers his subjects”.
Perhaps it takes a novelist, or a poet, to make real what is promised. It also takes a realist to ensure that through it all our feet keep firmly on the ground. At no point in scripture is earthbound life secure and in the rhythm of today’s four readings there is an undercurrent of which, on this first Sunday in Lent, we might take special note – flood, exile, the threat of dominations and powers, the fact of what happened to Jesus; and we know what is to happen to Peter. It takes the certitude of faith to face dark nights of the soul and to recognise their ambiguities, even their allure. Is Lent, seen thus, such a time? It allows for a stripping down to essentials, the better to celebrate our joy in the Father’s forgiveness and our consequent liberation.
No, those who hope in you are never shamed,
Shame awaits disappointed traitors.
Yahweh, make your ways known to me,
Teach me your paths …
All Yahweh’s paths are love and truth
For those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
(Psalm 25, vv. 3, 4, 10)
(Clyde Binfield, 21 February 2021)
ANTHEM: Call to remembrance (Richard Farrant)
Call to remembrance, O Lord, thy tender mercies : and thy loving-kindnesses, which have been ever of old. O remember not the sins and offences of my youth : but according to thy mercy think thou upon me, O Lord, for thy goodness. (Psalm 25:5-6)
PRAYERS for LENT
Let us pray for Strength and Guidance.
Lord God Almighty, shaper and ruler of all creatures, we pray for your great mercy, that you guide us towards you, for we cannot find our way. And guide us to your will, to the need of our soul, for we cannot do it ourselves. And make our mind steadfast in your will and aware of our soul’s need. Strengthen us against the temptations of the devil, and remove from us all lust and every unrighteousness, and shield us against our foes, seen and unseen. Teach us to do your will, that we may inwardly love you before all things with a pure mind. For you are our maker and our redeemer, our help, our comfort, our trust, our hope; praise and glory be to you now and forever. Amen.
Let us pray for a Clean Heart.
Create a clean heart in me, O God: a humble heart, a meek heart, a peaceful heart, a benevolent heart, a devout heart which does evil to no one, which does not repay evil for evil, but overcomes evil with good, which loves you above all things, thinks always about you, speaks about you, gives you thanks, delights in hymns and spiritual songs, and has its citizenship in heaven. Amen.
Let us pray for Spiritual Renewal.
God, heavenly Father, look upon me and hear my prayer during this holy Season of Lent. By the good works You inspire, help me to discipline my body and to be renewed in spirit. Without You I can do nothing. By Your Spirit help me to know what is right and to be eager in doing Your will. Teach me to find new life through penance. Keep me from sin, and help me live by Your commandment of love. God of love, bring me back to You. Send Your Spirit to make me strong in faith and active in good works. May my acts of penance bring me Your forgiveness, open my heart to Your love, and prepare me for the coming feast of the Resurrection of Jesus. Lord, during this Lenten Season, nourish me with Your Word of life and make me one with You in love and prayer. Fill my heart with Your love and keep me faithful to the Gospel of Christ. Give me the grace to rise above my human weakness. Heavenly Father, source of life, I reach out with joy to grasp Your hand; help me to walk more readily in Your ways, and guide me in Your gentle mercy. Father of love, source of all blessings, help me to pass from my old life of sin to the new life of grace. Prepare me for the glory of Your Kingdom. I ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen.
Let us pray as our Saviour Christ has taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
May the beauty of God be reflected in your eyes;
may the love of God be reflected in your hands;
may the wisdom of God be reflected in your words;
and may the knowledge of God flow from your heart;
that all might see, and seeing, believe;
And may the blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all, evermore. Amen.
HYMN: And can it be that I should gain (tune: Sagina)
ORGAN VOLUNTARY: Louis Vierne – Final from Symphony No.1 Op.14, performed by Jonathan Scott on the historic Schulze organ of Ellesmere College, Shropshire.
THE 1864 SCHULZE ORGAN OF ELLESMERE COLLEGE This organ was originally built by the German organ builder Edmund Schulze in 1864 for St. Mary’s Parish Church, Tyne Dock, South Shields and opened on Friday 24th June 1864. It was rebuilt by Schulze in 1874 with additions and enlargements including a full compass Swell to replace the original Tenor C Swell. It was rebuilt again in 1906 by Hill, Norman and Beard who extended the manual compasses by 5 notes and the pedal compass by one note. Due to the closure of St. Mary’s Church the organ was moved in 1979 by Hill, Norman & Beard and rebuilt in ‘Big School’ of Ellesmere College, Shropshire. It was re-opened in May 1981. Today this instrument this organ is one of the rarest and most original examples of the work of Edmund Schulze and is cared for by the Schulze trust to ensure its survival for future generations.
PEDAL ORGAN (1864/1874)
Open Diapason 16, Sub Bass 16, Octave Bass, Flute Bass 8, Trombone 16 , Trumpet 8 [1874 from Trombone], Choir to Pedal, Great to Pedal, Swell to Pedal
CHOIR ORGAN (1864/1874)
Lieblich Gedackt 16, Salicional 8, Flauto Traverso 8 (Common bass with Lieblich Gedackt), Lieblich Gedackt 8, Fern Flöte 8, Lieblich Flöte 4, Viol d’Amour 4, Clarinet 8 (Norman and Beard 1906 – Replacing original TC Cremona), Swell to Choir,
GREAT ORGAN (1864)
Bourdon 16, Large Open Diapason 8, Small Open Diapason 8, Hohl Flöte 8, Prncipal 4, Twelfth & Fifteenth 2 & 2 2/3, Mixture 188.8.131.52 IVrks, Trumpet 8, Swell to Great, Choir to Great.
SWELL ORGAN (1874) Enclosed
Gedackt 16, Geigen Principal 8, Stopped Diapason 8, Viol da Gamba 8 (Grooved Bass), Voix Celeste 8 TC, Flauto Amabile 4, Principal 4, Flute d’Amour 4, Twelfth & Fifteenth 2 & 2 2/3, Horn 8, Oboe 8 (New in 1906), Tremulant.
Sunday 14th February 2021 – Transfiguration Sunday
INTROIT: O nata lux (Thomas Tallis)
O light from light begotten, Jesus, redeemer of the world, in your mercy deign to hear the praise and prayers of the supplicants. You who once deigned to clothe yourself in mortal flesh for beings lost in sin, grant that we may become part of your most blessed body.
OLD TESTAMENT LESSON – Kings 2:1-12
Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
HYMN: ‘Tis good, Lord, to be here!
EPISTLE – 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
GRADUAL PSALM: Psalm 50
GOSPEL – Mark 9:2-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
HYMN: The head that once was crowned with thorns
1 The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now:
A royal diadem adorns
The mighty victor’s brow.
2 The highest place that heaven affords
Is his, is his by right,
The King of kings and Lord of lords,
And heaven’s eternal light;
3 The joy of all who dwell above,
The joy of all below,
To whom he manifests his love,
And grants his name to know.
4 To them the cross, with all its shame.
With all its grace is given:
Their name an everlasting name,
Their joy the joy of heaven.
5 They suffer with their Lord below,
They reign with him above,
Their profit and their joy to know
The mystery of his love.
6 The cross he bore is life and health,
Though shame and death to him;
His people’s hope, his people’s wealth,
Their everlasting theme.
Reflections on Mark 9:2-9 – The Transfiguration of Jesus
ANTHEM: Fairest Lord Jesus, sung by a choir of children from schools in Truro.
HYMN: Be thou my vision
ORGAN VOLUNTARY – Prelude in Eb major BWV 552 (J. S. Bach) Paul Luggya at the organ in St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Namirembe, Uganda
Sunday 7th February 2021 – 5th Sunday after the Epiphany
Welcome to our weekly selection of readings and music. This is a service based on the 4th Order of Holy Communion of the United Reformed Church. Today is the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany. The musical setting is by Harold Darke in F major.
O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; kneel and adore him, the Lord is his name.
This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Let us pray. Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
HYMN – Guide me, O thou great Redeemer (tune: Cwm Rhonnda)
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Lord God most merciful, we confess that we have sinned, through our own fault, and in common with others, in thought, word and deed, and through what we have left undone. We ask to be forgiven. By the power of your Spirit turn us from evil to good, help us to forgive others, and keep us in your ways of righteousness and love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
In repentance and in faith receive the promise of grace and the assurance of pardon. Here are words you may trust, words that merit full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ Your sins are forgiven for his sake. Thanks be to God.
KYRIE: Darke in F
Kyrie Eleison Lord have mercy upon us
Christe Eleison Christ have mercy upon us
Kyrie Eleison Lord have mercy upon us
GLORIA: Darke in F
GLORY be to God on high, and in earth peace, good will towards men. We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we glorify thee, we give thanks to thee for thy great glory, O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.
O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesu Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer. Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us.
For thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord; thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
COLLECT for TODAY
you give strength to the powerless and power to the faint;
you raise up the sick
and cast out demons.
Make us agents of healing and wholeness,
that your good news may be made known
to the ends of your creation. Amen.
OLD TESTAMENT LESSON – Isaiah 40:21-31
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. 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.
HYMN – Ye servants of the Lord (tune: Nazarena)
1 Ye servants of the Lord
Each for your Master wait,
Observant of his heavenly word,
And watchful at his gate.
2 Let all your lamps be bright,
And trim the golden flame;
Gird up your loins, as in his sight,
For aweful is his name.
3 Watch! ’tis your Lord’s command,
And while we speak, he’s near;
Mark the first signal of his hand,
And ready all appear.
4 O happy servant he,
In such a posture found!
He shall his Lord with rapture see,
And be with honour crowned.
5 Christ shall the banquet spread
With his own royal hand,
And raise that faithful servant’s head
Amidst the angelic band.
EPISTLE – 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel. For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
GRADUAL PSALM: Psalm 147
GOSPEL – Mark 1:29-39
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
HYMN – Thine arm, O Lord, in days of old (tune: St. Matthew)
REFLECTION: Revd Dr David Stec