Sunday 29th November 2020 – 1st Sunday of Advent (Caledonian Sunday)
Greetings to you, and a warm welcome to all who are sharing our act of worship at home today. Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent. If you are using an advent ring, please light the 1st candle for Hope during the singing of the introit anthem.
Our introit anthem this Advent Sunday is ‘Ad te levavi animam meam’ by Palestrina. This is a setting of the opening verses of Psalm 25, which is a traditional text for the 1st Sunday in Advent.
Ad te [Domine] levavi animam meam, Deus meus, in te confide: non erubescam neque irrideant me inimici mei. Etenim universi qui te expectant non confundentur.
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.
A Prayer for Advent Sunday
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Ghost, now and for ever. Amen.
The Old Testament lesson is written in the 64th chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah, beginning at the 1st verse.
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence- as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
Our first hymn today is ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’, sung to the tune ‘Veni Immanuel’.
The Epistle is taken from the 1st Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 1, beginning at the 3rd verse.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind– just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you– so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Gradual Psalm for today is Psalm 80
Qui regis Israel
HEAR, O thou Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep : shew thyself also, thou that sittest upon the cherubims.
Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasses : stir up thy strength, and come, and help us.
Turn us again, O God : shew the light of thy countenance, and we shall be whole.
O Lord God of hosts : how long wilt thou be angry with thy people that prayeth?
Thou feedest them with the bread of tears : and givest them plenteousness of tears to drink.
Thou hast made us a very strife unto our neighbours : and our enemies laugh us to scorn.
Turn us again, thou God of hosts : shew the light of thy countenance, and we shall be whole.
Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt : thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.
Thou madest room for it : and when it had taken root it filled the land.
The hills were covered with the shadow of it : and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedar-trees.
She stretched out her branches unto the sea : and her boughs unto the river.
Why hast thou then broken down her hedge : that all they that go by pluck off her grapes?
The wild boar out of the wood doth root it up : and the wild beasts of the field devour it.
Turn thee again, thou God of hosts, look down from heaven : behold, and visit this vine;
And the place of the vineyard that thy right hand hath planted : and the branch that thou madest so strong for thyself.
It is burnt with fire, and cut down : and they shall perish at the rebuke of thy countenance.
Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand : and upon the son of man, whom thou madest so strong for thine own self.
And so will not we go back from thee : O let us live, and we shall call upon thy Name.
Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts : shew the light of thy countenance, and we shall be whole.
The Holy Gospel is written in the 13th chapter of the Gospel according to Mark, beginning at the 24th verse.
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
We join with Sheffield Cathedral Choir to sing the hymn, ‘Wake, O wake! with tidings thrilling’, to the tune ‘Wachet auf’.
1 WAKE, O wake! with tidings thrilling
The watchmen all the air are filling,
Arise, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight strikes! no more delaying,
‘The hour has come!’ we hear them saying.
Where are ye all, ye virgins wise?
The Bridegroom comes in sight,
Raise high your torches bright!
The wedding song
Swells loud and strong:
Go forth and join the festal throng.
2 Sion hears the watchmen shouting,
Her heart leaps up with joy undoubting,
She stands and waits with eager eyes;
See her Friend from heaven descending,
Adorned with truth and grace unending!
Her light burns clear, her star doth rise.
Now come, thou precious Crown,
Lord Jesu, God’s own Son!
Let us prepare
To follow there,
Where in thy supper we may share.
3 Every soul in thee rejoices;
From men and from angelic voices
Be glory given to thee alone!
Now the gates of pearl receive us,
Thy presence never more shall leave us,
We stand with Angels round thy throne.
Earth cannot give below
The bliss thou dost bestow.
Grant us to raise,
To length of days,
The triumph-chorus of thy praise.
For our reflection on today’s readings we welcome a new contributor to our worship this week, Robin Lockwood, who is a local funeral celebrant from Woodseats, Sheffield.
In glad Remembrance
Hello, my name Robin Lockwood and may I take this opportunity to thank you for inviting me to address your Christian community at St. Andrews on this First Sunday of Advent. I am extremely pleased and encouraged that your leadership are doing their upmost to reach out and provide services on-line during these difficult times. May God pour out His spirit and grace on you, your families, and the wider community through these services and bless you all in your commitment to His service.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
‘No eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. you meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways.’ (Isaiah 64: 4b-5a)
One of today’s readings looks back towards the exciting time of creation, whilst another looks forward to the End of Time, which looks even more exciting. And where do we fit in all of this? We, who are caught up in this cosmic upheaval somewhere in-between? We, who stand once again at the beginning of a new Christian year? God, the Supreme Encourager, is urging us to learn from the past, and to anticipate a thrilling future; whilst, in the meantime, striving to do what is right, not merely out of a sense of duty, still less grudgingly, but with gladness. There has been upheaval on a cosmic scale, and today there are still little earthquakes, little meteorites, little disturbances… a foretaste of things to come. The End is not here yet, although at this moment it feels a bit like it could be. Covid 19 has stopped the world in its tracks. We have been denied valued and intimate contact with our loved ones; many people have lost their livelihoods; governments have found it difficult to know exactly which path to follow in order to manage the pandemic most effectively, and worst of all, friends and loved ones all over the world have been very poorly, whilst already over a million have tragically died. But we, through all this, are to keep steady for Christ, with our mind set firmly on his great commission and his plan for his creation. If we accomplish the work we have envisaged, all well and good. Should we be called home; if the end comes before we have completed all the tasks we want to; well, we simply shall not need to do them.
A month of remembering.
We are still in November, the month during which, for a variety of reasons, we have already remembered the saints in glory, the faithful departed, and all those who have fallen in war. So now, as the month nears its close, what better a way could there be than to begin this new liturgical year by remembering God gladly, celebrating all the ways in which he deals with humanity? We could begin by counting our blessings; we may run out of time before we come to an end of them, but that’s no reason not to begin the exercise! For all of us, there will be things for which we find it hard to give thanks: yet even in these desperately sad and tragic times, when God may seem to be absent, we know he is always close by, and rejoice in his presence. One day we may get to know the how, the why and the wherefore; perhaps by then it will no longer matter. In Ephesians chapter 5, verse 20, Paul’s instruction to ‘give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ is pretty all-embracing; frankly, it would be difficult for us to misunderstand Paul’s command!
God at work.
God ‘works for those who wait for him’, says Isaiah, in verse 4 of today’s reading from the Old Testament. Advent is surely a time of waiting: but are we going to leave all the work to God? As ever, Gods invitation, ‘Come now, let us argue it out’ (found at verse 18 of the 1st chapter of Isaiah), is again calling out to us this Advent-tide.
Can we answer the divine summons? Can we draw aside from the oh-so-busy run-up to Christmas, and get serious with our Lord, even for a moment? What is he really expecting of us, this Advent Sunday? An hour of worship? A few minutes of prayer? A brief respite from all the secular busyness? ‘Come now, let’s get together and talk this thing through!’ God is saying. We are approaching the celebration of the greatest birth of all time, when God played his part so mightily, so convincingly, so lovingly. Come now, what are we going to do about it?
Lacking for nothing.
Paul, in today’s epistle, helps us to focus on one important aspect of our faith: spiritual gifts. As he says in the 7th verse, ‘Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed’. How are we using the gifts God has given us? Have we let any go through neglect? Are we firing on more spiritual cylinders than we were on Advent Sunday a year ago? Can we even remember our spiritual state this time last year, what with all that has been going on around us recently? Well, God has given us memory-recall, if we will only try to use it. ‘God is faithful’, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians, chapter 1, verse 9. ‘God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful’. That means he is still in the business of sharing out his gifts; an act which doesn’t impoverish him one iota, but which enriches us beyond our imagination. Are we giving the people around us; at work, at home, and at church; cause to bless God for our spiritual gifts? Or vice versa? Not only the high-profile gifts: preaching, teaching, healing, prophesying; but also the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; those that should be the hallmarks of a practising Christian? These qualities form the precious bastion that exists between us and the advances of selfish and self-serving behaviour. If that were not the case, then Christmas would become for us just any other holiday; but we recognise its true significance as we prepare to welcome the Christ Child as he enters our world with wondrous majesty and divine humility.
Answering the call.
As it is also Caledonian Sunday today, let me say a little about St Andrew for our shared encouragement.
St John’s gospel has Andrew as the first of the twelve to hear the call of Jesus and to follow him. And, since he went immediately to find his brother Simon Peter, and bring him to Jesus, we can see also in Andrew the first Christian missionary. He became one of the ‘inner circle ‘, together with Peter, James, and John. At the feeding of the five thousand, it was Andrew who displayed enough faith to present to Jesus the boy with his little bag of fish and bread, even though he wondered how such a small amount of food could satisfy such a large crowd of hungry people. Significantly, Andrew was among those present when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, although our biblical accounts from then onwards appear to fall silent about him. According to tradition, however, he went to Scythia with the gospel, and from there onward to Greece and Byzantium. During or around AD 60, he is said to have been crucified on an X-shaped cross at Patras, in Achaia. After this, it is believed that Andrew’s relics were brought to Scotland during the 8th century, soon after which the country adopted him as its patron Saint.
A quiet learner.
Throughout the years of Jesus ministry, Andrew had been quietly learning from the Master, so that when the time came for him to launch out on his own, he not only had plenty of teaching stashed away in his memory, but he also knew (and this would have bolstered his confidence even more) that the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost was forever thereafter a part of him, reminding him of any teachings he might have otherwise forgotten. John, in verse 26 of chapter 14 declares that ‘The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’ If we, also, could remember this, and pray the spirit into action, rather than thrashing about trying to do everything by ourselves, we should not only be honouring the gift, but also the giver.
So far as we know, Andrew did not return to his Galilean home once the missionary zeal got full hold of him. There have been others who, like Andrew, have left home and country for the sake of the gospel; William Tyndale, for example, fled to the Continent where he suffered even further persecution. On this festival of St Andrew, can we, indeed dare we, ask God to make our own path clear? For it is possible that he would like us, too, to help in getting the gospel message rolled out further.
‘For my sake and the gospel’s go
And tell redemption’s story’;
His heralds answer, ‘Be it so,
And thine, Lord, all the glory!’
They preach his birth, his life, his cross,
The love of his atonement,
For whom they count the world but loss,
His Easter, his enthronement.
We continue our worship with the complete version of the hymn quoted at the end of our reflection, ‘For my sake and the gospel’s, go’, sung to the tune ‘Bishopsgarth’ by Sir Arthur Sullivan.
1 “For my sake and the gospel’s go
And tell redemption’s story”;
His heralds answer, “Be it so,
And thine, Lord, all the glory!”
They preach his birth, his life, his cross,
The love of his atonement,
For whom they count the world but loss,
His Easter, his enthronement.
2 Hark, hark, the trump of jubilee
Proclaims to every nation,
From pole to pole, by land and sea,
Glad tidings of salvation:
As nearer draws the day of doom,
While still the battle rages,
The heav’nly Day-spring through the gloom
Breaks on the night of ages.
3 Still on and on the anthems spread
Of alleluia voices,
In concert with the holy dead
The warrior church rejoices;
Their snow-white robes are washed in blood,
Their golden harps are ringing;
Earth and the paradise of God
One triumph-song are singing.
4 He comes, whose advent trumpet drowns
The last of time’s evangels,
Emmanuel crowned with many crowns,
The Lord of saints and angels:
O Life, Light, Love, the great I AM,
Triune, who changest never,
The throne of God and of the Lamb
Is thine, and thine for ever.
Edward Henry Bickersteth (Dean of Gloucester and Bishop of Exeter in 1885)
A Litany for today. Let us pray.
We enter into this first Sunday of the Advent season, turning our attention to You, God. We acknowledge the darkness that is within us, and that permeates the world.
Father, forgive us.
We acknowledge the suffering, tragedy, and pain by which humanity is afflicted, which seems at times to overwhelm us. We bring to mind Ann Cathels and Sheila Cooke from our own congregation, who are suffering in hospital. We ask for your comfort and support as they are treated for their various conditions, and pray for a timely recovery from their afflictions.
Draw near to us, O God.
We consider the mystery of your ways, that you chose to enter our world as an innocent baby and not as a warrior or a king; as one who humbly accepted suffering and humiliation and called it glory.
Our hope is in Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
We choose in this moment to focus our attention on HOPE; the hope of Jesus Christ and all his coming represents for suffering people, the hope for restoration of all that is broken in the world, the hope of new life and resurrection.
Hope is the light we wish to see by.
Grant, O God, that when he comes, Christ may find us waiting in expectation, our souls quieted, our hearts open.
We wait in hope for the Lord.
In Christ all things are made new, and we look forward to the day our hope is fulfilled, each heart reconciled, the work of Christ completed in all the earth.
Our hope is in Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
We conclude our prayers with the words Jesus taught his disciples, saying together:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on 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.
Litany for Hope ©Fran Pratt franpratt.com Used with permission.
Our final hymn is ‘Lo! He comes with clouds descending’, sung to the tune ‘Helmsley’.
The organ voluntary is ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’ BWV 645 by J. S. Bach, played by Wolfgang Zerer on the organ of St. Catherine’s Church, Hamburg.
Sunday 22nd November 2020 – Sunday next before Advent – Christ the King (Stir-up Sunday)
As winter approaches, and at this time when much news in our world seems bleaker than any mid-winter, a particularly warm welcome is extended to you as you share in this act of worship. We are especially delighted that our friend, the reverend Canon Adrian Alker, is here to enlighten us with his thoughts about, and insights into, the relevance of today’s bible readings in our various lives today. As we bring another liturgical year to its close, let us look forward with a degree of hope and optimism to a brighter year ahead.
Let us pray.
Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that they, bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be richly rewarded: through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Our introit anthem today is the Jubilate Deo, a setting of Psalm 100 by Simon Johnson.
O BE joyful in the Lord, all ye lands: serve the Lord with gladness, and come before his presence with a song.
Be ye sure that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and speak good of his Name.
For the Lord is gracious, his mercy is everlasting: and his truth endureth from generation to generation.
Today’s lesson from the Old Testament begins at the 11th verse of the 34th chapter of the book of Ezekiel.
For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.
The first hymn today is ‘Jesus shall reign where’er the sun’, sung to the tune ‘Truro’.
The Epistle comes from the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, beginning to read from verse 15.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The Gradual Psalm set for today is Psalm 95.
O COME, let us sing unto the Lord: let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving: and shew ourselves glad in him with psalms.
For the Lord is a great God: and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are all the corners of the earth: and the strength of the hills is his also.
The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands prepared the dry land.
O come, let us worship and fall down: and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is the Lord our God: and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
The Holy Gospel is written in the 25th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, beginning at the 31st verse.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Today’s anthem is ‘Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous’ by James Nares. This rarely heard work takes its opening text from Psalm 33.
For our reflection on today’s bible readings, we welcome back the Reverend Canon Adrian Alker. Thank you, Adrian, for sharing your thoughts with us.
Stir Up Sunday and Christ the King
For those of us who are old enough to have been brought up on the Book of Common Prayer in the Church of England before the various alternative services were introduced, this Sunday before the season of Advent was commonly called ‘Stir up Sunday’ after the opening words of Cranmer’s collect. And housewives (sic) and ‘downstairs servants’ would be reminded that this was the time to stir the ingredients of the Christmas pudding in its long gestation for Christmas dinner.
Cranmer of course was rather more piously reminding worshippers that the season of Advent was around the corner, a season that was marked by both a penitential reflection of our shortcomings as we prepare to welcome not only the birth of Christ at the incarnation but also the second coming when Christ comes in glory as judge. Indeed, if and when we are to face our Maker, there needs to be a great deal of self-awareness of the kind of life we have led!
For most of the two thousand years of Christian history, the church has sought to emphasise the need for such accounting, and indeed Christianity very much became a religion of rules and obligations; of punishments and rewards. Furthermore the focus on the kingship of Christ, ‘reigning where’er the sun’ as in Isaac Watts’ hymn or indeed expecting ‘every tribe’ to ascribe majesty to Christ , as in the hymn ‘All hail the power of Jesus’ name’, written in 1787, emphasised for centuries the exclusivity of Christianity above all other faiths. And so the world witnessed religious warfare and utmost cruelty, alongside the beneficial effects of Christ’s teachings.
And so on this Stir up Sunday, as we look ahead through advent to Christmas, and in the depths of a pandemic which has ripped through our communities leaving thousands dead, what might we gain from our readings and theme this Sunday?
It is hard to be ‘joyful in the Lord all ye lands’ as our opening Jubilate invites us to be. Hard, as in our gradual Psalm 95, to ‘heartily rejoice’ to worship the God of all creation. Why did God create Covid 19? Is he such a great God after all?
Our Old Testament reading from the book of Ezekiel is set in a time of exile for the people of Israel when they, too, were having a particularly hard time of it. Who was to blame for their demise? Their rulers? Themselves? Had they been disobedient and not ‘brought forth the fruits of good works’? In this passage the prophet clearly wishes his hearers to keep faith in a God who loves his own. Who is a Good Shepherd? Who will rescue them, feed them, lead them to better pastures? Who will bind the injured, seek the lost, strengthen the weak? But this God is also a Judge who will bear down upon the fat and the strong who bullied the weak. Out of a time of crisis, the prophet holds faith in a God who cares; in a God who loves and who judges.
And of course, this passage finds its New Testament equivalent in our gospel from Matthew 25, when Christ in glory comes to judge the people; separating out the sheep and the goats, in a return to the same pastoral imagery. But this passage strikes a much more contemporary chord with us all, as it lays out the need to feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit those in prison. It echoes the Lukan manifesto of Jesus in the temple at Nazareth, declaring his mission to be the light of God’s love in the world. This Matthean passage has spoken to countless generations who have been inspired by the words and deeds of Jesus the Good Shepherd. But as with Ezekiel, there are also words of judgement here. Condemnation for those who fail to feed the hungry; or who fail to clothe the naked, or who show no welcome to strangers. Life will be hell for them.
It is particularly difficult, in this year especially, to find in the theme of Christ the King, that the Christ of God is coming in glory to speak to a world smitten with this dreadful pandemic. It seems as if it is the virus, and not some Lord our God, who is ruling the world. And yet, through these very demanding times, we have also witnessed the very best of human endeavour. The equivalent of the sheep at the right hand of God. Those who have tended to the sick; who have come to the help of the injured; who have comforted those in distress. We have pulled together in community, both locally and globally. We have shared our knowledge; we have seen the fruits of scientific discovery. There is hope in forthcoming vaccines; we lift up our eyes, we see a brighter future.
But there is also judgement to be exercised, there are metaphorical goats. Not all governments, and not all rulers, have been good shepherds. Around the world, there are leaders who have tried to downplay the severity of the pandemic, which has caused excess deaths. In our own country, years of austerity have led to a National Health Service less well able to cope. Lessons will have to be learnt, and judgements will be made.
Today in our country, few people will be thinking about Stir up Sunday, or ‘kneeling before the Lord our Maker’. But in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, they might be inspired to work for, and hope for, a world in which the poor are lifted up; in which the sick are tended to, the stranger welcomed, the prisoner visited. This would be a world in which Love reigns. This would be a world where scientists and others work tirelessly for the common good; and where people of faith see, in all this outworking of Love, the hope which God has called us into.
Revd Canon Adrian Alker
Our next hymn is ‘King of Glory, King of Peace’, sung to the tune ‘Gwalchmai’.
1 King of glory, King of peace, I will love Thee; and that love may never cease, I will move Thee.
Thou hast granted my request, Thou hast heard me; Thou didst note my working breast, Thou hast spared me.
2 Wherefore with my utmost art I will sing Thee, and the cream of all my heart I will bring Thee.
Though my sins against me cried, Thou didst clear me; and alone, when they replied, Thou didst hear me.
3 Sev’n whole days, not one in sev’n, I will praise Thee; in my heart, though not in heav’n, I can raise Thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort to enroll Thee: e’en eternity’s too short to extol Thee.
Let us pray for the whole world, and for all according to their needs.
Today we pray for family relationships of all kinds. As our travel and social interactions have been severely restricted for quite a long time, we have become particularly aware that a multitude of people have become isolated from their friends and relatives, due to the restrictions that are in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Whilst governments and authorities have introduced these restrictions for the good of the community, and for the preservation of life, we have all been affected by the effects of separation from our friends and loved ones; whether or not we have come into direct contact with the virus ourselves. In our own church community, we pray for one another. Most of us are advancing in years. We are thereby potentially vulnerable to the worst of the effects of the symptoms brought by this disease. Some of us were already separated from regular worship with the rest of the church, for various reasons, before this virus struck our community. Now we are prevented from all but the most urgent occasional contact from our friends and relatives, which has contributed to a real sense of loneliness and isolation.
Heavenly Father, we pray for ourselves, and for all who may be lonely and separated from personal contact with their friends and families. We ask for your protection, and the reassurance of your infinite loving-kindness, as we experience the hours of isolation brought about by the effects of coronavirus on our communities. We pray especially for those who are trying to cope with this situation away from their families and friends; for students, and young people isolated in college halls of residence or other accommodation, unable to return to the relative comfort of a family home; for those in hospital for any reason, unable to be allowed home; for all who have no home of their own to go to. We pray for those able and willing to visit others in isolation, but who are prevented from doing so by the current restrictions. We pray for all who are sick. Comfort them in their affliction and help relieve them from any hurt or pain. Support those who are caring for them, tending their wounds or treating their ailments and, where it is possible, bring about a timely recovery and return them to good health. For all those who are dying, or close to death; for any whose loved ones are nearing the end of life, but who are unable to share their final moments together; enfold them in your loving arms and be to them a tower of strength in their final days. Look with mercy and kindness on their souls and bring them into your everlasting kingdom.
Lastly, we give thanks for our friends and families. We are grateful that, even though we may not be able to meet each other in person, we are still able to maintain contact from a distance using a telephone or computer. We are indebted to those who are working in scientific communities to develop antidotes and vaccines, to help our fight against viruses and other infections of the body or mind. We give thanks for the good news of various successful trials of potential remedies to our current afflictions, and look forward with hope and optimism to a return of relative normality in our daily lives.
We sum up our prayers in the words our Saviour taught his disciples, saying:
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On 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.
Eternal Father, whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven, that he might rule over all things as Lord and King: keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace, and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet; help us to hear the call of Christ the King and to follow in his service; and may the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest upon us all, this day and always. Amen.
Our final hymn today is ‘All hail the power of Jesus’ name’, sung to the tune ‘Diadem’, and led by massed choirs in St Andrew’s Kirk, Chennai, India. After this hymn, the service will conclude with the canticle, ‘Te Deum Laudamus’ (We praise Thee, O God : we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord).
1 All hail the pow’r of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall, Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him, crown Him, crown Him, crown Him;
And crown Him Lord of all!
2 Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race,
Ye ransomed from the fall, Ye ransomed from the fall,
Hail Him who saves you by His grace,
And crown Him, crown Him, crown Him, crown Him;
And crown Him Lord of all!
3 Sinners, whose love can ne’er forget
The wormwood and the gall, The wormwood and the gall,
Go, spread your trophies at His feet,
And crown Him, crown Him, crown Him, crown Him;
And crown Him Lord of all!
4 Let every kindred, every tribe,
On this terrestrial ball, On this terrestrial ball,
To Him all majesty ascribe,
And crown Him, crown Him, crown Him, crown Him;
And crown Him Lord of all!
5 O that with yonder sacred throng
We at His feet may fall, We at His feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song,
And crown Him, crown Him, crown Him, crown Him;
And crown Him Lord of all!
Canticle – ‘Te Deum Laudamus’, set to music by John Ireland
Organ Voluntary: Toccata from the 5th Organ Symphony, played by Kalevi Kiviniemi at the organ of the church of St.Ouen, Rouen, France.
Sunday 15th November 2020 – 23rd after Trinity – 24th after Pentecost
Hello. A very warm welcome to you this autumnal day as you share with us in this week’s selection of readings, prayers and music for the twenty-third Sunday after Trinity. Our reflection has been specially recorded by the Reverend Helena Roulston, who under normal circumstances would have led our service in church if we had been meeting today.
We begin with the Introit hymn ‘Rejoice today with one accord’, sung to the tune ‘Ein Feste Burg’, and led by Sheffield Cathedral Choir.
A Prayer for Today
whose blessed Son was revealed
to destroy the works of the devil,
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory
we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The Old Testament Lesson is written in the 4th chapter of the book of Judges, beginning at the 1st verse.
The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died. So the LORD sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years. At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.'”
The next hymn today is ‘Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart’, sung to the tune ‘Slane’.
The Epistle is written in the 5th chapter of the 1st epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, beginning to read from the 1st verse.
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
The Gradual Psalm set for today is Psalm 123.
Ad te levavi oculos meos.
1 Unto thee lift I up mine eyes : O thou that dwellest in the heavens.
2 Behold, even as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress : even so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until he have mercy upon us.
3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us : for we are utterly despised.
4 Our soul is filled with the scornful reproof of the wealthy : and with the despitefulness of the proud.
The Holy Gospel is written in the 25th chapter of the gospel according to Matthew, beginning at the 14th verse.
“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”
The hymn, ‘Ye Servants of the Lord’, sung to the tune ‘Narenza’.
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.
We welcome back the Reverend Helena Roulston, who has provided her reflection on this week’s bible readings.
There is a bit of a problem with the parable Jesus tells in the Gospel reading today that stands out loud and clear, and I want to address this at the start of this reflection.
Many would suggest, and my study Bible agrees, that this is a parable painting a direct picture of God’s Kingdom. Matthew chapter 25, verse 1, introduces the parable of the Bridesmaids with the words ‘the Kingdom of heaven will be like…’. We then pick it up from verse 14 when Jesus starts with ‘Again, it will be like…’, and so it follows that the ‘it’ here refers to the aforementioned Kingdom of heaven. The metaphors seem to align nicely:
the master going away and coming back paralleling the second coming of Jesus that will come with God’s judgement
the abundance of wealth that the master entrusts to the slaves; a talent was the equivalent of 15 years work, so 5 talents was an unimaginable sum of money. This parallels the abundant nature of a loving God
the reward of the slaves entering into the joy of the master, presumably the heavenly places
and even the image of throwing out the lazy, bad slave into the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth fits with Matthew’s image of hell – a place where the unrighteous and ungodly goats will be thrown into (the parable that follows on from v31).
This all feels like a perfect fit until we read that the slave was afraid of his master because he was a harsh man who stole from others, and this image is confirmed by the master himself. Now, although this may have been an image of God that the Victorians liked to extol to ensure that servants and peasants were kept in their place this is not the revelation of God given to us through the Bible – the God from whom creation was birthed into being through an outpouring of divine love.
Jesus told parables to tell a message through the image of a story, a story that was often startling and unexpected because those are the type of stories that are more likely to stay with us!
I don’t think it is necessary to build a parallel between the master and God. Indeed I would suggest that doing so not only distracts us from the message of the parable but paints an unhelpful and dangerous image of God that could open the path to oppression.
But if God isn’t the master in this parable where is God? And how does the parable relate to the kingdom of heaven as Jesus clearly suggests it does?
Jesus tells a story of a very wealthy landlord going away and entrusting vast sums of money to three slaves. The heart of the message focuses on the actions and intentions of the slaves; let us build a picture of the character of these slaves as portrayed in the parable:
First, the two slaves who invest. These slaves would have taken time to research good investments and work hard to ensure that interest is made. I would imagine, like all investments, that risks were taken, and the slaves would have had to make shrewd decisions. These slaves were motivated, focused and energised. They had also invested time into getting to understand their master as they knew he would be expecting a gain on the money he entrusted to them. There is an indication that honesty and integrity were important values for these slaves, for their master would not have known if they had kept some of their earned money for themselves. They chose to give back to their master all that he had entrusted them with and all that they had gained from that money.
And what of the third slave? I do wonder what he did with his time whilst the master was away after he had buried the money. The slave took the money, buried it, and waited for his master to return. And I imagine that, whilst waiting, he would have eaten and drunk from his master’s resources, since he had less work to do given that the master wasn’t there. Perhaps that is why the master entrusted the money to the slaves – to give them work whilst he was away. And what the third slave doesn’t take into account as he buries the money, is that not only will he not gain an investment on the money, but he buries it in the ground where it is vulnerable to thieves and robbers. Thankfully, on his master’s return, no thieves had found the money. He digs it up and gives it back to his master. ‘Have what is yours’, he says.
Now I don’t know whether I have been watching too many films over lockdown, but when I read these words, an unexpected image came to my mind; that’s of that frequent scene in a ‘rom com’ where there is an argument between a couple; shouting and screaming erupts, with the climax of an engagement ring or wedding ring being thrust on the floor in a gesture that says, ‘Have what is yours’, meaning I don’t want it anymore – I want to break our contract together. At this point, the one who has thrust the ring storms off, and the other partner is left, often lost for words; and you can see the hurt and rejection on their face as their love is thrown back in their face.
Did the master feel this rejection?
Building a character profile of these slaves identifies that we have two very different kinds of people; the one group motivated, energetic and shrewd; the other fearful and cautious.
I wonder if we can feel a connection to both these groups of character traits as we wade through the quicksand of lockdown. I know I do.
But it might not be about judging ourselves against those slaves every moment of each day, trying to prove that we are good investors.
At the beginning of my reflection I argued the case for not aligning the master of the parable with God, because the image here doesn’t fit with the overall revelation of God in Scripture. We all have bad days when we feel dejected, lack motivation, and question our ability to do anything worthwhile. And that’s okay… as long as you don’t let those feelings define who you are.
You are created by the most wonderful, awesome God who gave the songbird a voice, who erected mountains that tower above the earth, and who formed the tiniest amoeba in the deepest darkest oceans. This God created you, and in doing so entrusted you with the Holy Spirit to fire your very being – the greatest of all gifts.
In one of his letters to the Corinthian church, Paul tells us that we are ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’. This is the Spirit at work in us; guiding us, motivating us, instructing us in the ways of love and compassion and moving us when we see God’s presence in the world around us. We can choose to suppress God’s Spirit, or we can connect with that power and passion within us.
Do we struggle with feeling helpless in the face of so much confusion and despair in our world? Jesus is telling us today to give those feelings to God knowing that through the Spirit they can be transformed into energy to make a difference in the world. We can do the things that are difficult because we have the gift of the Spirit within.
From our reading in Judges, we hear that Deborah was moved to lead in battle.
The church in Thessalonica was moved by God’s Spirit to put on the armour of faith, love and hope, in the face of adversity.
How will you be moved by God’s Spirit today? Will you recognise the Spirit that God has entrusted to you?
Creator God, you have created us and fashioned us, and we praise your name for your love. Loving Lord, there are so many of your children in the world today who are fearful, lonely and dejected. In your mercy, renew our trust and strengthen our faith that we may follow the nudges of your Spirit within us this day. Amen
Revd. Helena Roulston
Today’s anthem from Guildford Cathedral is ‘Thou hast made me’, a setting of a prayer of John Donne, set to music by Lennox Berkeley.
Thou hast made me, and shall thy work decay? Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste; I run to death, and death meets me as fast, And all my pleasures are like yesterday. I dare not move my dim eyes any way, Despair behind, and death before doth cast Such terror, and my feeble flesh doth waste By sin in it, which it towards hell doth weigh. Only thou art above, and when towards thee By thy leave I can look, I rise again; But our old subtle foe so tempteth me That not one hour myself I can sustain. Thy grace may wing me to prevent his art, And thou like adamant draw mine iron heart.
Let us pray for our world and all people, according to their needs.
Lord God, creator of the heavens and the earth; who has designed and fashioned all living things with precision and beauty, from the smallest microscopic cell to the infinite vastness of space; whose own almighty hand laboured awhile, forming humankind from the dust of the earth in your own image; look mercifully with favour on your unworthy servants, who since the days of the early Israelites have so frequently strayed from the path you laid before them. We confess that, despite our best intentions, we have from time to time fallen short of your expectations of us; and marred that image you implanted in us. We give thanks that you sent your Son to save us from the crafts and assaults of the evil one. Forgive us when we go astray. Renew and restore us by your Holy Spirit, so that we may go forth into the world refreshed and confident to confess that you are the guiding Light of the World, and our Saviour. Amen.
Today we reflect that our scientists, like those of former generations, are working hard to combat the effects of those things which cause death and decay in our bodies; we are thankful for those involved in the formulation of antidotes and vaccines which help us fight the infections which afflict us, especially the coronavirus which is affecting our brothers and sisters all over the world in our present time, preventing us from demonstrating our love for one another, even for our own families. We give thanks for the lives of those who have already fallen victim to the fatal effects of this affliction, and ask that you will help and support their loved ones who have been left grieving because of their loss. Lord, as we grow daily nearer to your kingdom, we ask that you will keep our hearts and souls in a state of good repair, and grant that we may continue to be worthy mirrors of your loving-kindness, as we travel on through our journey of life. Amen.
Using the words our Saviour Christ taught his disciples, we are confident to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On 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 road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand,
So may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest upon us, this day and for evermore. Amen
We conclude our worship with the hymn, ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’, sung to the tune ‘Blaenwern’.
The organ voluntary, ‘Fugue “Alla Gigue”‘, by J. S. Bach, played on the Mormon Tabernacle organ by Richard Elliot.
Sunday 8th November 2020 – 22nd after Trinity- 23rd after Pentecost – Act of Remembrance
Welcome to our service of Remembrance, during which we dedicate to the keeping of Almighty God the men and women of all nationalities who have given their lives in the service of their countries; we ask God’s forgiveness for the conflicts of the past and for the violence in our world today, and we pray for peace. Let us pray.
Lord of all creation, You are greater than anything which we can know or imagine, more powerful than any human being or any tool that we have made, more beautiful than all that our eyes can see or our minds comprehend, more loving towards us than the love we find in any human relationship. You made us in Your image and came into our world, suffered and died for us; You uphold us with Your loving care, meet us when we are far off and constantly guide our feet towards our home in You. Be with us this day as we come before You; guide and inspire us with the presence of Your Holy Spirit, that our thoughts, our words and our worship may now and always be to Your praise and glory. Amen.
Our Introit today comes from Maurice Durufle’s Requiem. The words in English are: Merciful Jesus, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest. Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest eternal.
Our lesson from the Old Testament is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 25, beginning at the 1st verse.
O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled. On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
The 1st Hymn is ‘God of mercy, God of grace’, sung to the tune ‘Heathlands’.
An Act of Remembrance
We remember today and give thanks to those members of our own congregation who gave their lives during the two World Wars of the twentieth century, using their familiar family names as they appear on our War Memorial:
Andrew Briggs. John Brunton. James Cumming. Bernard Duke. Charlie Goodsir. Roy Harrow. Charles Henderson. Frank Mastin. Bruce Matthews. Farquahar Nicolson. Harry Pilcher-Clayton. Ross Simpson. David Colquhon. Tom Colquhon. Sydney Hyde. George MacBeth. Ian Meldrum. Bob Tilsley.
Words from For the Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon
They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old;
age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them
Response: We will remember them
The Last Post
Two minute silence
The National Anthem (arr. Benjamin Britten)
God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen
God save the Queen
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen
Thy choicest gifts in store
On her be pleased to pour
Long may she reign
May she defend our laws
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen
The Epistle is written in the 1st epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians, chapter 4, beginning at the 13th verse.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The Gradual Psalm for Remembrance Sunday is Psalm 46
Deus noster refugium
GOD is our hope and strength : a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved : and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof rage and swell : and though the mountains shake at the tempest of the same.
The rivers of the flood thereof shall make glad the city of God : the holy place of the tabernacle of the most Highest.
God is in the midst of her, therefore shall she not be removed : God shall help her, and that right early.
The heathen make much ado, and the kingdoms are moved : but God hath shewed his voice, and the earth shall melt away.
The Lord of hosts is with us : the God of Jacob is our refuge.
O come hither, and behold the works of the Lord : what destruction he hath brought upon the earth.
He maketh wars to cease in all the world : he breaketh the bow, and knappeth the spear in sunder, and burneth the chariots in the fire.
Be still then, and know that I am God : I will be exalted among the heathen, and I will be exalted in the earth.
The Lord of hosts is with us : the God of Jacob is our refuge.
The Holy Gospel appointed for today is written in the 25th chapter of the gospel according to Matthew, beginning at the 1st verse.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The Hymn, ‘Alleluia, Alleluia! Hearts to heaven and voices raise,’ sung to the tune ‘Lux Eoi’, and led by Sheffield Cathedral Choir
1 Alleluya! Alleluya!
Hearts to heaven and voices raise;
Sing to God a hymn of gladness,
Sing to God a hymn of praise;
He who on the Cross a victim
For the world’s salvation bled,
Jesus Christ, the King of glory,
Now is risen from the dead.
2 Christ is risen, Christ the first-fruits
Of the holy harvest field,
Which will all its full abundance
At his second coming yield;
Then the golden ears of harvest
Will their heads before him wave,
Ripened by his glorious sunshine
From the furrows of the grave.
3 Christ is risen, we are risen;
Shed upon us heavenly grace,
Rain, and dew, and gleams of glory
From the brightness of thy face;
That we, Lord, with hearts in heaven
Here on earth may fruitful be,
And by angel-hands be gathered,
And be ever safe with thee.
4 Alleluya! Alleluya!
Glory be to God on high;
To the Father, and the Saviour,
Who has gained the victory;
Glory to the Holy Spirit,
Fount of love and sanctity;
To the Triune Majesty.
We welcome back our own Revd. Dr. David Stec who has shared with us his reflection on today’s readings.
Isaiah Chapter 25; verses 7 and 8 “And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.”
Isaiah 25, verses 1 to 9, is one of the special passages offered by the Lectionary for Remembrance Sunday, whereas our two New Testament readings are the regular Lectionary passages for this Sunday in the Christian year, and I think they fit rather well together.
When we look back at the twentieth century, for all the great advances which it saw in science and technology, and despite all the improvements in the health and material well-being of at least a large part of the world’s population, there remains something of a dark shadow cast over it by the two world wars.
In recent years we have commemorated some significant anniversaries of both world wars. Not long ago our thoughts were very much on the First World War as we marked its centenary.
The First World War was one of the deadliest of human conflicts ever. It was on a scale that is difficult to comprehend; resulting in the death of over nine million combatants, and millions of casualties; many with injuries that would maim them for life. It was characterised by the trench warfare of battles like the Somme and Passchendaele; in which the application of technology to high-intensity, individual man-to-man combat, caused carnage on a scale never seen before; in appalling conditions, which few people alive today could even begin to appreciate. It led to the loss of a whole generation of young men, and there was hardly a community or a family in this land, which did not experience the death of at least one of their own number.
The Second World War was even more deadly than the first. When one takes into account not only those who were killed in armed combat, but also the strategic bombing, the genocide of the Holocaust, various massacres, deaths from starvation and disease, and the use of nuclear weapons right at the end, it was a war with more than 50 million, and some say as many as 80 million fatalities.
Unlike the First World War, the events of the Second World War took place within the living memory of many still alive today. Even though the numbers of those who served in the armed forces during the war, or who contributed in someway toward the war effort, are diminishing with each passing year, some of them are still with us as we observe some mile-stone anniversaries. A year ago we remembered the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the war, and also the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings. This year we have been observing the 75th anniversary of the ending of the war, with our attention being particularly focused on VE Day on 8th May and VJ Day on 15th August.
It is important that we remember those who gave their lives in the two world wars and reflect upon the tragedy suffered by those who lost loved ones as well as the hardship experienced by those who lived through the years of conflict. It will still be important to keep Remembrance Sunday even when those who had first-hand experience of the Second World War are no longer among us, not only in order to commemorate some of the most defining events of the twentieth century, but also to remember those who have lost their lives in armed conflicts since then and who continue to lose their lives in the wars taking place in the world today.
Our reading from the Book of Isaiah begins with a song of praise sung by an individual, which opens with the words, “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” This is a reminder that the events of world history are ultimately in the hands of God, who is working towards the fulfilment of his purpose. The song then paints a picture of utter devastation, in which a fortified city, the work of human hands, has been so utterly destroyed, that powerful and ruthless nations are moved to glorify God, and fear him. By way of contrast, whilst the city was being reduced to a heap of ruins, God has been a firm support to the poor and needy; a stronghold in their time of distress; a shelter from the storm, and a shade from the heat, protecting them from the blast of the ruthless.
This song of praise is then followed by a very different passage, perhaps from a different source, but which complements the song very well. It opens with the words, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things …” This passage presents a picture of a great festival banquet celebrated by all the nations in honour of God. Many scholars think that verses 6-8 are from the same source as the passage at the end of chapter 24, and a continuation of it. In that case, “this mountain” is Mount Zion, and the feast celebrated by the nations on Mount Zion may be recalling the time when the elders of Israel ate and drank in the presence of God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:9-11).
On this future occasion the nations are to join in the praise of God and honour him, since they too will share in the blessedness brought about through the salvation of Israel. This passage also describes a triumphant ending of the years of grief and sorrow which have afflicted all nations and peoples. We read: “And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.”
This is a truly remarkable prophecy.
The covering and the veil are those worn as a sign of mourning, and the suggestion is that these will no longer be needed, since the very cause of mourning, death itself is to be abolished.
What a tremendous hope that is!
Our Old Testament lesson ends with a short hymn of praise to be sung by the Israelites in celebration of the salvation which God has brought them: “It will be said on that day, ‘Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’ ”
The theme of waiting is something which each of our lessons have in common.
Our Gospel reading is the parable of the Ten Maidens, or “Bridesmaids” as the NRSV calls them, though they were not what we would call bridesmaids, but rather maid-servants. Evidently this parable reflects marriage customs at the time of Jesus. The maidens waited to meet the bridegroom at the house of the bride, to which he would come in order to fetch her to the wedding being held at his house. But the customs alluded to are not completely clear. According to some manuscripts, the women are waiting for the bridegroom “with the bride”, in which case they would be waiting at the house of the groom, to which he would return with his bride after the wedding at her house.
Whatever the exact situation reflected by the parable, the important thing is that they were waiting, and they had to wait a long time. They all brought their lamps with oil, but the foolish maidens had only the oil which was already in the lamps, whereas the wise also brought spare flasks of oil with their lamps. The wait was a long one, and the oil in the lamps of the foolish was not enough, and while they went to buy extra oil, the bridegroom came, and they missed him. It was only the wise who went in with the groom to celebrate the marriage feast; the doors were closed, and the foolish were shut out.
Jesus ends the parable with the words, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The exact point of the parable is not completely clear. Jesus may originally have been suggesting that the Jews of his own day should have been ready to receive the Messiah when he came, but they were not, and had missed their opportunity. But St Matthew and the early church evidently took it to refer to the second coming of Christ, which the earliest Christians believed was imminent. As the years went by, however, and this did not happen, the words of Jesus were taken as a warning to remain vigilant.
This expectation of the return of Christ forms the background to St Paul’s 1st Letter to the Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians 4, St Paul deals with a question which was troubling the Thessalonian church: Since he and his fellow missionaries had left Thessalonica, some of the members of the church there had already died, so did this mean that by dying before the return of Christ they had lost their chance of taking their place in the company of the redeemed and sharing in the Lord’s triumphant return?
He assures them that this is not the case, since upon his return, at the call of the archangel and the sound of the trumpet, those who died in Christ will be raised from the dead, and together with those still alive they will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. This is a dramatic and colourful picture which has inspired many fine works of art. St Paul concludes this passage: “And so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Indeed, this hope has been a source of comfort to many over the years.
I began by speaking about the dark shadow cast over the twentieth century by the two world wars, or to use the terminology of Isaiah 25:7, “the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations”.
This year has seen another covering and veil of mourning spread over the whole world by the covid-19 pandemic.
It is much too early yet to assess the full impact of this crisis, but I suspect that in 100 years time, when people look back at the twenty-first century they will view the covid-19 pandemic as an event on the scale of a world war both in terms of the loss of life caused and the economic devastation brought about by it.
The New Testament ends in the Book of Revelation with a vision of the fulfilment of the prophecy found at verse 7 of the 25th chapter of Isaiah, of the new heaven and earth and the new Jerusalem: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.’ ” (Revelation 21:3-4)
The hymn, ‘Dear Lord, and Father of mankind’, sung to the tune ‘Repton’.
Let us pray for reconciliation in the conflicts of our day, between nations, between races, between religions, between all who oppress others and all who are themselves oppressed.
Lord, there is so much hatred and aggression in your world today; we despoil the beauty you have created for our pleasure, the natural world around us that you have put into our keeping. Forgive our carelessness in our stewardship of your creation, and our disregard of the effects on the lives and well-being of others of our own greed and self-interest.
Lord, even in the midst of conflict there are men and women who reflect your love. We thank you for every act of courage, of generosity, of selflessness. We thank you for those who, disregarding their own safety, bring medical care to the injured, or help to rebuild and restore homes, hospitals and schools; or generally provide support where there is great need. Grant that we may be generous, thoughtful and caring towards the many in our world who suffer from the effects of war and oppression.
Lord, we commend to you all peacemakers and peacekeepers. Grant that where there has been enmity, there may be reconciliation; where there has been aggression, forgiveness; and where there has been hatred, love. Grant that we may always strive to reflect the care and compassion that you show to us.
Merciful Father; accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
May we all live in peace, and in the confidence of Christ’s salvation; and may the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with us and all people, today and for ever. Amen
Our final hymn, led by Sheffield Cathedral Choir, is ’O God, our help in ages past’, sung to the tune ‘St. Anne’; and the service will end with the canticle the ‘Nunc Dimittis’.
Canticle: Nunc Dimittis, from the Evening Service in G by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation : Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be : world without end. Amen.
Organ Voluntary: ‘St. Anne’ Fugue in E flat BWV 552 (J. S.Bach), played by Reinier Korver
Unless you speak Dutch fluently, you may prefer to stop the video manually when the music ends!
Sunday 1st November 2020 – 21st after Trinity – 22nd after Pentecost – The Feast of All Saints
Welcome to our service on All Saints Day 2020!
The words of today’s Introit are taken from chapter 3 of the Wisdom of Solomon. Composed by James Nares, here is his setting of ‘The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God’ sung by members of the chapel choir at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seem to die, and their departure is taken for misery, but they are in peace. For though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality. For God hath proved them and found them worthy of himself. And in the day of visitation they shall shine. They shall judge the nations and have dominion over the people, and their Lord shall reign for ever. Amen.
A Prayer for All Saints Day
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect, in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints, in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
The lesson from the Old Testament is taken from the book of Micah, chapter 3, beginning at verse 5.
Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry “Peace” when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths. Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without revelation. The sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God. But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the LORD and say, “Surely the LORD is with us! No harm shall come upon us.” Therefore because of you Zion shall be ploughed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.
We sing the hymn, ‘Fight the good fight’, to the tune ‘Duke Street’.
1 Fight the good fight with all thy might;
Christ is thy strength, and Christ thy right:
lay hold on life, and it shall be
thy joy and crown eternally.
2 Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
lift up thine eyes, and seek his face;
life with its path before us lies,
Christ is the way, and Christ the prize.
3 Cast care aside; and on thy Guide
lean, and his mercy will provide;
lean, and the trusting soul shall prove,
Christ is its life and Christ its love.
4 Faint not, nor fear, his arm is near;
he changeth not, and thou art dear;
only believe, and thou shalt see
that Christ is all in all to thee.
The EPISTLE is taken from Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians, chapter 2, beginning at the 9th verse.
You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is; God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.
The GRADUAL PSALM for All Saints Day is Psalm 24, recorded in Woodley Parish Church in Berkshire in 1977. The chant is by the late Ian Ord-Hume, who was joint Organist and Choirmaster at the church with Douglas at the time.
Domini est terra
THE earth is the Lord’s, and all that therein is : the compass of the world, and they that dwell therein.
For he hath founded it upon the seas : and prepared it upon the floods.
Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord : or who shall rise up in his holy place?
Even he that hath clean hands, and a pure heart : and that hath not lift up his mind unto vanity, nor sworn to deceive his neighbour.
He shall receive the blessing from the Lord : and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is the generation of them that seek him : even of them that seek thy face, O Jacob.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors : and the King of glory shall come in.
Who is the King of glory : it is the Lord strong and mighty, even the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors : and the King of glory shall come in.
Who is the King of glory : even the Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.
The HOLY GOSPEL is written in the 23rd chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, beginning at the 1st verse.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father; the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor; the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
The hymn, ‘O Holy City, seen of John, sung to the tune, Sancta Civitas.
1 O Holy City, seen of John,
Where Christ, the Lamb, doth reign,
Within whose four-square walls shall come
No night, nor need, nor pain,
And where the tears are wiped from eyes
That shall not weep again!
2 O shame to us who rest content
While lust and greed for gain
In street and shop and tenement
Wring gold from human pain,
And bitter lips in blind despair
Cry, “Christ hath died in vain!”
3 Give us, O God, the strength to build
The City that hath stood
Too long a dream, whose laws are love,
Whose ways are brotherhood,
And where the sun that shineth is
God’s grace for human good.
4 Already in the mind of God
That City riseth fair.
Lo, how its splendour challenges
The souls that greatly dare,
Yea, bids us seize the whole of life
And build its glory there!
We are once again indebted to the Revd. Dr. Walter Houston for this week’s reflection:
Readings: Micah 3:5–12; Matthew 23:1–12
‘They’re only in it for themselves.’ ‘They don’t really care about us.’ How often have you heard people say things like that about politicians? It is a sign of the increasing distrust that we have in our elected representatives. It’s cynical, and I think unfair, to a great many of the men and women who work hard both in Westminster, and in the places they represent, to make sure they are served as well as they can be, from the resources of the state.
And yet I can’t deny that sometimes it is true, or at least appears to be true. Some responses to the recent call for free school meals to be extended into this half-term week, or the Christmas holidays, make it appear that the responders have no understanding of how difficult it is to feed a family on Universal Credit, and even worse, are contemptuous of those who are trying to cope. ‘Food parcels are traded for drugs.’ ‘Kids live in a crack den, mother in a brothel. Free meals can’t help these kids.’ ‘Benefit entitlements… rightly enrage people who are working hard for themselves.’
On another tack, how about those contracts for the test-and-trace system worth millions, that have been handed out, without any competitive tendering, to companies that just happen to be owned by friends of Dominic Cummings; and which then make a total dog’s-breakfast of the vital jobs they have been contracted to do?
Arrogant attitudes are bad enough among politicians. But what if you found similar attitudes among religious leaders? This is what Micah and Jesus in our readings today both found. Micah finds prophets and priests, and civic leaders or judges who are ‘only in it for themselves.’ ‘Her leaders, meaning Jerusalem’s, sell verdicts for a bribe; her priests give rulings for payment; her prophets practise divination for money.’ Jesus accuses the scribes of arrogance, and a lack of compassion. ‘They make up heavy loads, and pile them on the shoulders of others, but will not lift a finger to ease the burden themselves.’ ‘They love to have the places of honour at feasts, and the chief seats in synagogues; and to be greeted respectfully in the streets and to be addressed as ‘rabbi’.
The scribes were both religious authorities and judges: Jesus warns his hearers they should pay attention to what they say, lest they might end up in trouble, but not to what they do! (According to Matthew, Jesus is attacking the Pharisees as well as the scribes. But this is a mistake. Mark, whom Matthew is copying, only mentions the scribes, and the Pharisees were not authorities, they were a party or sect.) In Jesus’ day, ‘rabbi’ did not in itself mean a religious teacher, as it does today. It was simply a title of respect which might be given to anyone important or authoritative. Wanting to be addressed in that way would be a sign that you were more interested in your own status than in anyone else’s concerns. What they enjoy is not so much being authoritative as being treated by others as an authority.
What they are guilty of, among other things, is the sin of pride. There is a good and proper pride, which finds its place in the feelings of a good person. You may be proud of your grandchildren, or of your achievements. Or proud of your country or your city. What is meant by the sin of pride is insisting arrogantly on your own importance and correctness; and putting down others in order to inflate your own power and authority.
Jesus goes on to warn his followers not to arrogate grand titles to themselves: not rabbi, not father; not even teacher. Here there is a danger that we may seize the opportunity to poke scorn at others. You know the sort of thing. ‘Which church calls its priests ‘Father’ even though Jesus forbade it?’, for example. But the object, always, of Jesus’ moral teaching is to get us to examine our own conduct, and not that of others. ‘Don’t say to your brother or sister, “Let me take that speck out of your eye”, when there is a plank in your own eye!’ And all of us have our ways of being arrogant. We may say that our church believes in everyone being equal. But is that the way we behave? What about the elder who is always listened to, while others, especially women, are simply ignored? Or ministers who use their authority, and their knowledge of the system, to make sure the church members do what they want without actually telling them to? Or the group leader who tells the rest of the group what is going to happen without first consulting them?
Jesus’ teaching is summed up in two sayings which recur again and again in the Gospels: ‘The greatest of you must be your servant,’ and, ‘If you exalt yourself, you will be humbled, and if you humble yourself, you will be exalted.’ These are hard lessons to learn. Humbling ourselves is difficult. Acting as a servant once you’ve got to the top of the tree is a big ask. But what Jesus says, – that those who humble themselves will be exalted, – is true.
Today, November 1st, is All Saints Day. Typically, those who are remembered as saints are those who have acted as humble servants to their fellow-Christians, or to their neighbours, and kept at it day after day and year after year, not just reacting to an emergency, as some generous people have recently. They may not necessarily be people who are famous for their sacrificial spending of themselves for others, such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta. They may be quite unknown. You will know one or two, almost certainly.
Many churches used to have a ‘Dorcas circle’, making clothes for people who could not afford them or to sell for church funds. The name remembers the woman at Joppa whom Peter raised from apparent death, according to Luke’s story in Acts chapter 9. She is called Tabitha, but Luke translates the name as Dorcas. Both names mean ‘gazelle’, one in Aramaic and the other in Greek. ‘She filled her days with acts of kindness and charity’, says Luke. When he entered the room where her body was laid out, the women surrounding her, and ritually mourning her, showed him the tunics and coats which she had been making before she died. That is the true model of sainthood, and a true example of a humble servant. And Tabitha, or Dorcas, has been ‘exalted’ by being remembered in scripture, and having her name known nearly 2000 years later, having been added to the calendar of Saints’ Days in the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, with a feast day on October 25th; last Sunday, as it happens.
But a word of warning! Humbling yourself doesn’t mean being a doormat and letting people walk over you. This can be a particular temptation for some women; it’s not their fault; they tend to have been brought up to be self-effacing. That is actually encouraging another person, or other people, to ‘exalt themselves’; encouraging them in their pride just because they’ve found someone they can boss about. No. Humbling oneself means being a servant to the lowly and the poor. Not to the high and mighty. It can mean standing up to the high and mighty, especially when they are crushing and exploiting and walking all over the poor and lowly.
Going back to Micah. After he has denounced the prophets ‘who lead my people astray, who promise prosperity in return for food’, and sketched their judgment from God, he says ‘But I am full of strength, of justice and power, to declare to Jacob his crime, to Israel his sin.’ You may say that is pretty arrogant. But what is the crime of Israel? It follows straight away. ‘Listen to this, leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert what is straight, building Zion with bloodshed, Jerusalem with iniquity.’ He is talking about rulers and government officials who are conscripting people to work on strengthening the walls of Jerusalem to prepare for an attack by the Assyrians. It’s work that needs to be done. But these officials are utterly unconcerned about the hardships these forced labourers are undergoing; the industrial accidents they are dying in; while they themselves don’t lift a finger to help, as Jesus says of the scribes.
So Micah’s arrogance consists in denouncing the mighty, for afflicting and causing the deaths of the poor and lowly; for only such people would be chosen for this kind of service. You may be sure that the officials and the rulers were left off the conscription lists. This is true humility. Serving the poor and weak, in preference to the high and mighty. Putting the spiritual power with which God has endowed him, to the service of those who cannot reward him.
Humility of this kind builds up a community. Pride, in the bad sense, destroys it. Pride refuses to compromise, or to accept that one isn’t going to have everything one’s own way. Micah foresees the eventual devastation of Jerusalem. It didn’t happen during his lifetime. Not quite. But it did happen when similar circumstances recurred just over a hundred years later.
I think we can see this effect in the political affairs of our country at the present time. And I’m afraid it’s even more common in church affairs. So many of us are so convinced we are right, that we can develop a concept that because our beliefs are correct, God is therefore on our side and we would actually be wrong to compromise. Sometimes the result is a split in the Church, sometimes the other side is simply crushed.
So let us determine today that we will behave with humility, seeking to serve those who most need our help, and are least able to reward us. This church has done fine service in this way over many years; the breakfasts, the starter packs, the opening of the church for use by congregations who have no other home, to name but a few of your good works. I expect that under Covid restrictions it has been impossible to carry on some or most of these. But once normal conditions begin to return, it will be important to make sure that all these things are restarted, and others added to them.
At the same time, we need to watch our personal lives, to make sure that while we are doing good works, we are not oppressing those who are close to us, with our insistence on having our own way; building ourselves up by doing others down. After all, we must every one of us submit to the Lordship of Christ. And he became our Lord by doing what he asks of us; offering his own life in service to the humble and, in defiance of the proud, washing his disciples’ feet before going to the Cross for them. The saints are those who accept him as leader and Lord, and follow in his way.
The anthem, ‘And I saw a new heaven’ by Edgar Bainton.
Let us pray for the whole Church of God, and for all according to their needs.
Holy and loving Father, look mercifully upon your faithful servants as we pray for your forgiveness for any thoughts or deeds for which we may be responsible, which may have offended your Divine Majesty, or our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Inspire us through your Holy Spirit, renew in us a clean heart, and refresh our minds and bodies, that we may go out into the world with confidence, as true beacons of the light of Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.
We pray today especially for the victims of the coronavirus which is affecting the lives of many people here and across the world. As we face the prospect of further restrictions in our society which prevent us from interacting properly with one another, we ask for the necessary strength and fortitude to cope with the effects it is having on us and our fellows. We give thanks for the support of any who can help those who are less able to cope, or who may be stricken with symptoms of the disease themselves. We continue to pray for workers in the emergency services, especially the medical workers and support staff. We are conscious that many in our community are lonely in isolation at the present time, and we pray that they may feel able to find comfort in the knowledge of your enduring presence. We ask that you enrich and inspire all people who seek to follow your guiding light, allowing them glimpses of your loving-kindness, that they may ultimately meet you in your heavenly kingdom. Amen.
At this time of the year, we pray for all those who have departed this life in your faith, and especially for those who have joined the company of the saints and angels who delight in your continual praise. We give thanks for the earthly example set by them, and pray that we, too, may be inspired to reflect your glory in our own earthly lives. Grant us the wisdom to recognise the path you have prepared for us to walk upon, and the sustenance to follow it to the end. Amen.
We sum up all our prayers and petitions in the words which Jesus himself taught us, saying:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on 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.
Pardon, O Lord, any imperfections in our prayers and praises, and bless this holy service to our souls; and may the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us all, now and for ever. Amen.
The hymn, ‘For all the saints, who from their labours rest’, sung to the tune ‘Sine Nomine’.
We end our service today with the canticle ‘Te Deum Laudamus’; We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord. This setting is by Charles Villiers Stanford in B flat, and is sung by Winchester Cathedral choir accompanied by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
Organ Voluntary: Bach – Prelude and Fugue in G minor BWV 535 (Organ: Leo Van Doeselaar)
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