1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

Sky, Clouds, Dark, Cloudscape
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Collect

Almighty God,

send down upon your Church

the riches of your Spirit,

and kindle in all who minister the gospel

your countless gifts of grace;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bible reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

The Hope of the Resurrection

13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words.

Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.

But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

Reflection by Rev Jo Joyce

I wonder if you ever think about life after death, or for that matter Jesus coming again? Its not something we like to talk about is it? And yet we have so much to give us hope that we should be not only talking about it but encouraging one another as Paul urges. It is striking to me that although we rarely want to talk about it both the bible and the lectionary talk quite a lot about ‘The coming of the Lord.’ Think back to some of those heavy-going days in advent when all the readings are of judgement and the second coming, or indeed again in lent we can often find it as a theme. But what if it wasn’t something we avoided like the plague?

I suspect one of the reasons we scantly pass by is that now death so rarely touches our lives, whereas in Paul’s time it was all around, with no medical care, no food if harvests failed, accident, arrest and a hostile occupying power, death was very much nearer to Paul and his comrades, which meant they thought and spoke about it much more and in turn were much more prepared. This is one of few passages in the bible which deals not just with the return of Jesus but also with what happens to those who have died and to those still living on his return.

For the early Christians Jesus’ immanent return was expected, anticipated even, and yet as it says, he will come ‘like a thief in the night.’ In other words, no one knows when that might be, and so we are always to be prepared for we just don’t know when our time will come.

Here Paul is being pastoral though. Not focusing on our own mortality but on giving hope to those who mourn. Don’t grieve like people with no hope – instead let faith give hope, we believe Jesus died and rose again, and so too do we believe as a result that all who die in faith will rise with Christ. That Jesus has command over the living and the dead. There is hope, ‘together, with them we will meet the Lord… therefore encourage one another.’ This is not the desolation and nothingness that death is often portrayed as, but a meeting once more, a resurrection hope for us all the chance to reunited with those we love and the chance to be reunited with those we love, and meet with Christ in worship. Its amazing – but we only ever really talk about it at funerals, and that’s a shame because few of us are in a place to have hope in those dark moments.

Paul goes on to talk about preparing ourselves. Being ready and preparing ourselves. Now that could sound either morbid, or a kind ‘big brother is watching you’ sort of a statement, but I think it needs to be taken in the context of what he says next. For you are ‘children of Light, not of darkness.’ In other words we are to remember who God has made us to be. We don’t live a life worthy of Christs calling, loving one another, loving our neighbour and loving God because we fear death and the consequences of judgement. No we do these things because we know that we are loved by God and because we are sue of our calling to be children of God into the life beyond. We live as children of light because of our hope in God rather than our fear of God. It is for this reason that we are to encourage one another.

So next time we go into advent and all is talk of the last days, or you are afraid, or sad as you remember loved ones, remember too this passage to the Thessalonians, encourage one another, be children of light and hope.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 The Hope of the Resurrection

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Collect

Almighty God,
send down upon your Church
the riches of your Spirit,
and kindle in all who minister the gospel
your countless gifts of grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Reading (NLT)

13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died[a] so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.[b] 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died[c] will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words.

Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters,[d] we don’t really need to write you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.

But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief.[e] For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

Homily by the Rev’d Jo Joyce

I wonder if you ever think about life after death, or for that matter Jesus coming again? Its not something we like to talk about is it? And yet we have so much to give us hope that we should be not only talking about it but encouraging one another as Paul urges. It is striking to me that although we rarely want to talk about it both the bible and the lectionary talk quite a lot about ‘The coming of the Lord.’ Think back to some of those heavy-going days in advent when all the readings are of judgement and the second coming, or indeed again in lent we can often find it as a theme. But what if it wasn’t something we avoided like the plague?

I suspect one of the reasons we scantly pass by is that now death so rarely touches our lives, whereas in Paul’s time it was all around, with no medical care, no food if harvests failed, accident, arrest and a hostile occupying power, death was very much nearer to Paul and his comrades, which meant they thought and spoke about it much more and in turn were much more prepared. This is one of few passages in the bible which deals not just with the return of Jesus but also with what happens to those who have died and to those still living on his return.

For the early Christians Jesus’ immanent return was expected, anticipated even, and yet as it says, he will come ‘like a thief in the night.’ In other words, no one knows when that might be, and so we are always to be prepared for we just don’t know when our time will come.

Here Paul is being pastoral though. Not focusing on our own mortality but on giving hope to those who mourn. Don’t grieve like people with no hope – instead let faith give hope, we believe Jesus died and rose again, and so too do we believe as a result that all who die in faith will rise with Christ. That Jesus has command over the living and the dead. There is hope, ‘together, with them we will meet the Lord… therefore encourage one another.’ This is not the desolation and nothingness that death is often portrayed as, but a meeting once more, a resurrection hope for us all the chance to reunited with those we love and the chance to be reunited with those we love, and meet with Christ in worship. Its amazing – but we only ever really talk about it at funerals, and that’s a shame because few of us are in a place to have hope in those dark moments.

Paul goes on to talk about preparing ourselves. Being ready and preparing ourselves. Now that could sound either morbid, or a kind ‘big brother is watching you’ sort of a statement, but I think it needs to be taken in the context of what he says next. For you are ‘children of Light, not of darkness.’ In other words we are to remember who God has made us to be. We don’t live a life worthy of Christs calling, loving one another, loving our neighbour and loving God because we fear death and the consequences of judgement. No we do these things because we know that we are loved by God and because we are sue of our calling to be children of God into the life beyond. We live as children of light because of our hope in God rather than our fear of God. It is for this reason that we are to encourage one another.

So next time we go into advent and all is talk of the last days, or you are afraid, or sad as you remember loved ones, remember too this passage to the Thessalonians, encourage one another, be children of light and hope.

Prayer

Gracious God, take from us
any anxiety we might face
as this day, with its baggage,
opens the door and enters in.
May we see opportunities
that yesterday were missed,
blessings in the little things
we might normally walk past;
time enough to set aside
a space to read your Word,
say a prayer, sing a song,
strengthen faith and know
you’re there, always there,
whatever this new day might bring.

(Prayer from Faith and Worship website c/o Jon Birch)

Closing Worship

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

Collect Prayer

Gracious Father,
by the obedience of Jesus
you brought salvation to our wayward world:
draw us into harmony with your will,
that we may find all things restored in him,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Reading

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more. For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor— not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a fellow believer in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another. 10 Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more.

11 Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. 12 Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.

Homily by Rev’d Kate Massey

So this morning, we are going to talk about the thing we never talk about in church. We never talk about it despite it being a topic in many books, despite it being an indispensible part of the storyline in almost every television soap and drama and despite it being used to sell us everything from sportscars to sofas. We never talk about it despite it being quite an integral part of how we all happen to be here. We never talk about it despite significant chunks of the Bible having quite a bit to say about it. It is, of course, sex. But before you have an attack of the vapours, I promise this is not going to be an X-rated sermon. Rather, I want to challenge the idea that the Bible in general and Paul – who is one of the co-authors of this letter – in particular are negative about this aspect of our lives.

We believe in a God of love, and so all love is a gift from God, including the ways we express our love physically. Making love is a way of giving ourselves to another and enjoying one another in a way that can build intimacy. There are many passages in the Bible which celebrate the physical love of couples in a committed relationship, not least the book called Song of Songs – or Song of Solomon as it is sometimes called. This under-read little book of the Old Testament can be quite funny to our modern day sensibilities. The lover praising his beloved because she has such nice teeth, like sheep processing in pairs from the hillside – well, that won’t work as a chat-up line today. But despite being nearly 3000 years old, it captures the passion and longing of a couple much in love, as well as warning the reader not to take such love lightly – do not awaken this love until the right time it says again and again. It is a wise celebration of the wonder of romantic love in all its forms.

However, in church we tend to spend more time reading Paul than we do the more obscure books of Hebrew love poetry, and Paul has something of a reputation for being a spoilsport. Today’s reading is full of warnings against mis-using God’s gift of sex, and it can sound rather harsh. After quite a positive and encouraging letter up until this point, invoking God’s wrath against someone who fails in the area of relationships does make it seem like Paul has unresolved issues in this area. Please hear me – no sort of sin, sexual or otherwise, is a good idea. It hurts ourselves and other people, whether it is greed or gossip, exploitation or envy. Why is Paul getting quite to het up about this particular sort of sin. Is it because they are in a different sort of category from other sins – or is there something else going on?

Recently, I have been reading a book called Paul Among the People by Sarah Ruden. Now Sarah Ruden isn’t a theologian or a biblical scholar. She is an expert in translating classical literature from the Greek, who happens to be a Christian. And she used to have quite a low opinion of St Paul. She thought he was a bit of a stuffy old bigot given his views on partying, sex and gender. But then she started reading Paul’s letters through the eyes of her knowledge of classical Greek and Roman texts. She stopped thinking about what his words sounded like to us now, and started to think about how they would sound then, when they were first written to a small diverse church in the first century Roman Empire. Holding Paul’s words alongside some of the other writings of the time shed a new light on them and a new, more humane Paul was revealed.

As I have said before, it is almost impossible for us, who are the products of a society which has been shaped by Christianity for over a millenium, to recognise how radical and hopeful some of Paul’s writings were. This isn’t helped by the fact many of us – myself included – don’t know much about that world. Reading Sarah Ruden’s book was an eye-opener. For example, she argues that when Paul advises his hearers against drunkenness, he is referring to a particular sort of revelry which was common in Roman culture and was frequently violent, destructive and disruptive. This isn’t about Uncle Ted having one too many sherries at Christmas and falling asleep in front of Eastenders. And when he is talking about sex, he is more concerned with justice and the rights of the weaker members of Roman society than any desire to police how consenting adults express their love.

In the culture of the day, if you were a rich Roman man, you could pretty much get away with treating anyone how you wanted. Women, younger men, slaves – all were at the mercy of the whims of these powerful men, and there were no consequences. Pretty much the only people they weren’t supposed to sleep with were other men’s wives, because in that scenario the consequences were so severe. Infidelity can be incredible destructive to families today, practically and emotionally, but in Roman society, the effect was catastrophic. The affront to the other man was irreparable, and so irrespective of blame the woman would be thrown out of her household and all her children rendered illegitimate. Julius Caesar put away one wife merely because a man had gatecrashed a party she was holding with her friends, and the merest whiff of scandal was more than his pride could countenance. Given that the household was the way dependents were supported, this disowning of women and children was frequently a one-way ticket to utter destitution. Even in the fairly immoral society of the time, to do this to another household was beyond the pale, so to Paul’s readers his strong prohibition would make perfect sense.

We have to remember, too, that one of the radical features of an early Christian house church was the diversity of people who belonged to it. Wealthy householders and slaves, women and men, Gentiles and Jews – all gathered round the good news of Jesus, broke bread together and called one another sister and brother. It was utterly unlike anything that society had ever experienced. But this meant that there would be men in the churches who were used to using the bodies of other people for their own gratification with no more consideration of this than someone today might order a takeway. And some of the people who had experienced this treatment would be the other members of the church community. No more, says Paul. No more of this behaviour. Each person must be in control of their own body – quite a radical statement for the members of the church who had felt like they had no control. Each person’s body was a matter of honour and respect. Each person was called to holy living. This exhortation operates from an assumption of profound equality, profound equality, which would be so encouraging to the letter’s recipients. And respecting one another’s bodies and boundaries was a way in which this new Christian community could model radical love for its surrounding society. This quiet and loving living was to be their most powerful witness to those around them.

So Paul wasn’t some neurotic spoilsport, but someone who longed for all members of his fledgling churches to exist in a community of loving equals, modelling a new way of being for those around them and pointing them to the transforming love of God. And this invites us to consider how we might model respect and equality for other human beings in a way that is countercultural in today’s world. How are people’s bodies exploited today and their choices limited today? There remains a despicable trade in human bodies, especially with modern day slavery and human trafficking which must be strongly resisted. Organisations like the Clewer Initiative, spearheaded by the Diocese of Derby do important work there. But there are also the bodies that are exploited in pursuit of profit, and so as Christians we should care about fair wages and ethical working practices. I am delighted to say that the PCC recently renewed our commitment to being a Fair Trade Church, which is one practical way we can do this. But there are other things we can do, like avoiding companies who treat their employees badly, and actively support ones who value their workers. We can vote for political parties who care about fair treatment of people at work. Finally we can simply ensure that we treat the people who serve us with respect and honour. Ask your checkout assistant what sort of day they are having. Tell your delivery driver to have a good day. Thank the healthcare assistant who takes your blood pressure for their work. Move the meeting from an exchange of services to an encounter of human beings. Notice the people behind the roles and treat them with honour and respect as a beloved child of God.

And so I finish by quoting – well slightly misquoting – the words of Paul in our reading: But I don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another. 10 Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers in St Paul’s and beyond. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, I urge you to love them even more…

Amen.

Prayers

Scripture calls us to pray for social justice issues (Isa. 58:6-7, Matt. 25:34-40, Luke 4:18-19)
until God brings healing, restoration and transformation (Isa. 62:7).
However, social justice will not be achieved by prayer alone. 

If we pray for social justice, we will find ways of working for social justice.
That is the best “amen” to our prayer.

Etienne Piek ~

Hanto Yo

(Hanto Yo means “clear the way” in the Lakota language of the North American Plains.)

God of surprises,
you call us
from the narrowness of our traditions
to new ways of being church,
from the captivities of our culture to
creative witness for justice,
from the smallness of our horizons
to the bigness of your vision.

Clear the way in us, your people,
that we might call others to freedom
and renewed faith.

Jesus, wounded healer,
you call us
from preoccupation with our own histories and hurts
to daily tasks of peacemaking,
from privilege and protocol
to partnership and pilgrimage,
from isolation and insularity
to inclusive community.

Clear the way in us, your people,
That we might call others to
wholeness and integrity.

Holy, transforming Spirit,
you call us
from fear to faithfulness,
from clutter to clarity,
from a desire to control to deeper trust,
from the refusal to love to a readiness to risk.

Clear the way in us, your people,
that we might all know the beauty and power
and danger of the gospel.

—Gwyn Cashmore and Joan Puls, From One Race the Human Race: Racial Justice Sunday 2003, published by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland: Churches Commission for Racial Justice, London

https://www.reformedworship.org/article/june-2014/prayers-justice-reconciliation-and-peace

Closing Worship

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

Image by Gennaro Leonardi from Pixabay

Collect

God our saviour,
look on this wounded world
in pity and in power;
hold us fast to your promises of peace
won for us by your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:17- 3:13 (NLT)

17 Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again. 18 We wanted very much to come to you, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us. 19 After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! 20 Yes, you are our pride and joy.

Finally, when we could stand it no longer, we decided to stay alone in Athens, and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles. Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know. That is why, when I could bear it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong. I was afraid that the tempter had gotten the best of you and that our work had been useless.

But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord.

How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence. 10 Night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith.

11 May God our Father and our Lord Jesus bring us to you very soon. 12 And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. 13 May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen.

Homily by Rev’d Kate Massey

So, it is Father’s Day today. For some people this is a day of celebration. For others it is more difficult – maybe it is the first year without Dad around. Maybe Dad wasn’t the Dad they needed him to be. Maybe there are men who would have loved to be Dads, but life hasn’t worked out that way. Maybe there are Dads whose child is in heaven. Whether today is a day of joy or of something more ambivalent, we are praying for you.

For me, today is three weeks, five days and about – I estimate – five hours until I see my Dad for the first time in ten months, one week and one and half days. Not that I am counting. I have missed him and the rest of my family so much. We might live over 300 miles apart, but we are a close family and well used to bumbling up and down the M6 to see each other. The pandemic has meant we have been unable to visit and it has been really tough.

I wonder who you have missed during this last year. It has been a year that makes it easy to relate to Paul and Silas’ emotion in our reading today: they wanted so much to visit their friends, Paul and Silas were longing to see them and made every effort to visit, but they were prevented from doing so. You can hear the distress this has caused them. Many of us know that distress only too well. Finally, Paul and Silas get so frustrated at being unable to support the church in Thessaloniki, they do the only thing they can – they send Timothy, their young co-worker to send their love and bring back an account of their wellbeing.

We believe that Paul was unmarried and childless, yet he was a father figure to those fledgling churches. He cared about them, kept abreast of their concerns and struggles, wanted to help them – and most of all longed to know that they were safe, which for Paul meant holding tightly to their faith in Jesus.

Good Dads really have a thing about keeping their children safe, don’t they. My Dad is the sort that goes out and scrapes my car well in winter – making sure that the headlamps are clear as well – tops up the screenwash and makes sure my car tires are in good nick. He just wants his little (44 year old ) girl to be protected. Some of the most heart-rending pictures for me of various conflict zones and refugee camps which have appeared in our news recently are of Dads trying desperately to protect their children from things that are beyond their control. Their desperate attempts anyway and their grief when they fail is so difficult to see. So we pray for all Dads trying to keep their families safe with the odds stacked against them right now…

When I first came to St Paul’s I caused some consternation in the community. I mean, what do we call you? We had Fr Hootten and then Fr Mick, but you… Traditionally priests have been called Father in their communities. I think that there can be some unhelpful aspects to this practice – the congregation aren’t my children, but gifted co-workers in the Kingdom of God – but if there is a useful parallel with parenting, perhaps it is about my concern for your spiritual wellbeing. It is my responsibility to care about your spiritual lives and try to ensure that you are nourished and encouraged in your journey of faith. While we have been in lockdown, it has been so frustrating that my ability to support you has been so limited. And yet, with Paul, I rejoice with every account of people persevering in their faith and living out God’s love in whatever ways are open to them. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord!

But in the end, our reading points us, as Scripture always should, to our Father in heaven. It is to God Paul and Silas give thanks for the safety and faith of their friends in Thessaloniki. It is to God they pray for their ongoing growth in love, faith and righteousness. God is the Father who cares for his children, provides for them and watches over them. God holds us in perfect safety because whatever life throws at us nothing can separate us from God’s love. God is the Father who could not come to us, yet sent his Son, to guarantee eternal safety through his defeat of death and promise of life eternal. So whatever today means for you, whatever this reading raises for you, may you know yourself held in the love of God our Father. Amen

Intercessions

Mother Father God, creator and sustainer, we thank you for nurturing us like a mother. We praise you that your care and protection surround us like a father. On this Fathers Day, we remember all the people who have nurtured us, especially the important men in our lives, those who have seen, not just with their eyes, but with their heart. Hear our prayer for fathers around the world.
Mother Father God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We remember fathers, whose families are torn apart by jealousy, fighting and misunderstandings.
We remember fathers who are older, but who still bear the responsibility of raising children and grandchildren. And we remember fathers who mean well, but make mistakes.
Mother Father God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We remember men who, because of various circumstances, are unable to become fathers. We remember fathers who have adopted children and fathers who given up their rights as fathers.
Mother Father God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We remember fathers who rejoice in the achievements of their children. Who joyfully watch a new generation take hold. We remember fathers who are single parents, who through personal sacrifice and perseverance provide a loving home for their children.
Mother Father God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We remember fathers who helplessly watch their children suffer and die from malnutrition because of famine, drought, flood or war. We pray for the fathers where recent disasters have occurred and those taking their children in hope onto the high seas. We remember fathers whose children are sick or disabled and who will try anything to cure or help them.
Mother Father God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for fathers and their children around the world caught in the terrors of violence and living in fear — in Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan. We weep with the fathers of those who inflict violence on others..
Mother Father God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Nurturing God, thank you for those who have nurtured us. Open our eyes to the plight of so many fathers and mothers around the world for whom life is difficult. Help us share your love and mercy with them.
Mother Father God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In the silence of this moment, hear the prayers of our hearts. [pause]
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Merciful God, Mother and Father of us all, honour our prayers, spoken and unspoken, humbly lifted to you in faith. Amen.

(adapted from Worship Words https://worshipwords.co.uk/prayer-of-intercession-for-fathers-day/)

Closing Worship

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16 (NLT)

You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters,[a] that our visit to you was not a failure. You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.

As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but instead we were like children[b] among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.

Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you. 10 You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were devout and honest and faultless toward all of you believers. 11 And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. 12 We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory.

13 Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.

14 And then, dear brothers and sisters, you suffered persecution from your own countrymen. In this way, you imitated the believers in God’s churches in Judea who, because of their belief in Christ Jesus, suffered from their own people, the Jews. 15 For some of the Jews killed the prophets, and some even killed the Lord Jesus. Now they have persecuted us, too. They fail to please God and work against all humanity 16 as they try to keep us from preaching the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles. By doing this, they continue to pile up their sins. But the anger of God has caught up with them at last

Homily by Rev’d Kate Massey

Two of my oldest and dearest friends are going through a tough time right now for different reasons. They both live in Scotland, and so there is so little I can do to help. I cannot pop round and be useful. I cannot be the person they call for practical help. All I can do is encourage them from afar, and so I have been writing them letters. Letters are amazing things. There is something special about getting a letter through the post that isn’t a letter of business. Someone has thought to sit down, get pen and paper and share a little of themselves with you.

Over the next few Sundays we are going to be looking at a letter – the first letter to the Thessalonians. It is probably the first part of the New Testament to actually be written down. Although the events recorded in the Gospels happened earlier, they weren’t actually recorded in written form until much later. It is a letter written by three men, Paul, Silvanus – or Silas – and Timothy, who were a little missionary team, to a church they had planted in the town of Thessaloniki. You can read the story of this in Acts 17. After a bruising experience in Philippi, where Paul and Silas ended up in prison, they turn up at the local synagogue in Thessaloniki and start explaining the good news of Jesus. Their message convinces a good number of people, both Jew and Gentile, who – as we heard in our reading last week – received the good news with joy!

It is hard for us, who have lived in a country shaped by Christian faith for over a millennium, to understand just how radical and freeing the gospel message was for people of the ancient world. It was also extremely disruptive to the status quo, and so, before long there was more trouble – the opponents couldn’t get a hold of Paul and Silas, but took a new Christian household, the household of Jason, to the authorities accusing them of sheltering people who were “turning the world upside down”! If ever you want to know what the church should be doing, there it is in a nutshell – turn the world upside down.  The new believers quickly smuggled Paul and Silas out of Thessaloniki that very night.

Since then, it seems that this fledgling church has continued to face opposition and suffer for its new faith, and so Paul, Silas and Timothy write to them to encourage them. In the first chapter which we heard last week, they remind the people of the reality of their conversion – of their joy in hearing the good news and the experience of God’s Holy Spirit which sealed and confirmed their new faith. In this reading, they remind their friends of the authenticity of their ministry amongst them. If the Thessalonians faith is wobbling in the face of all their troubles, Paul and his friends are reassuring them: “it’s okay – we weren’t conmen spinning you a yarn. This is real!”

They remind their friends how they arrived with them having already suffered for the good news message they shared. Whatever their motives in spreading the gospel, it wasn’t for personal gain, nor for an easy life! They didn’t seek any financial recompense from the people of the new community, working hard during their stay in Thessaloniki to support themselves. Neither did they seek honour and praise, but rather their focus was the wellbeing of the new church. Twice Paul uses parenting language for the work he and Silas offered – like a mother nurturing her child, like a father looking after his children. And I love this line: we loved you so much that we shared not only God’s good news, but our lives too…

The utter authenticity and purity of Paul and Silas’s motives was to be further encouragement and reassurance to this small church as it continued bravely in its faith in the face of challenge.

I think that there are two key things I am taking from this reading this morning and that I want to share with you. The first is a reminder to ourselves. When we are facing difficulties and some of us will be right now, this encouragement from Paul, Silas and Timothy speaks also to us. Remember, they say, remember the things that first made you believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. Remember too the faith and example of those who have taught you, inspired you and shared their lives with you as you have grown in your own faith. Remember. Be encouraged. The faith you have in Jesus is real.

So, if you are struggling today, May that encouragement be yours.

But I think there is also a message for us as a church as we re emerge from lockdown and continue our 200 by 200 journey. Despite suffering and setbacks – in Paul and Silas’ case, unexpected bed and breakfast in a Philippian jail, in our case a pandemic – we are to continue to share the good news of Jesus. We are to continue to share a message that brings people joy, and as we do so, we will see the Holy Spirit at work in their lives. It is never our task to make anyone believe – only to share our stories, share our lives and let God and the person work it out.

We are to do all this, as best with can, with no selfish motive, but only love. The same love with which a mother or father cares for their child, with not expectation of return or reward. All the good parent desires is that the child grows to be all they were meant to be.

Now that sounds obvious, but it can be easy to have mixed motives. It is nice to be part of a “successful” church. It is especially nice to be the Vicar of what outwardly appears to be a successful church. Note to self: Vicars with such temptations need to remind themselves that Paul and Silas ended up run out of town! But success is not why we are doing this. We are doing this because God’s love makes all the difference in the world in our lives and that is something we are compelled, in word and action, to share in whatever way we can.

When we are sharing the good news of Jesus, we are not sharing a slick message. We are not advertising executives. We are sharing lives in which Jesus has made all the difference in the world. Authenticity is essential to sharing faith. People can smell bunkum a mile off, but honest, lived-out, everyday faith with real relatable stories, well that just might make people think.

So remember. Be real. And see what God will do…

Prayer

Gracious and loving God, as unique as we all are, so are our stories. Each story is intricately woven with the fine details of life, seasoned with memories – some pleasant, others not so pleasant. In every detail, every memory, every element of our story, you are present. As we share our faith, we witness to your ever-present, ever-faithful, ever-loving accompaniment on our journey. Help us, Lord, to share our faith stories in ways and with people who might come to know you all the more as a result of our witnessing. Show us those with whom you would like us to connect. Thank you for those you have sent to share their stories with us. Together, all our stories are a part of your story, for which we are grateful. Amen.

(This prayer is an excerpt from “Faith reflections: Sharing our faith stories” by Tiffany C. Chaney is Café e-magazine.)

Closing Worship

1 Thessalonians 1

Today we begin a short series on the letter to the Thessalonians.

Thessaloniki, Greece Image, Pixabay

Collect

God of truth,

help us to keep your law of love

and to walk in ways of wisdom,

that we may find true life

in Jesus Christ your Son.

Bible Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of people we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions[b] report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Sermon

Brothers and sisters, although the majority of the world is aware of the Christian religion, few are aware of faith.  You may ask is one not the same as the other?  Well, we are not living in the times of the first believers, witnessing Christ and his miracles firsthand.  Instead, we are living according to Hebrews 11 verse 1; we’re living the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.  We haven’t seen God in Christ as a human being, but we know of his existence and we believe in Him.

We are living in this time, 2000 years later.  A time where at the touch of a few buttons we can access information about almost anything through Google and view a video about how to access, work, or create it via YouTube.  We live in a country and in a time where people believe in what they can see, hear, and touch.  Faith isn’t typically required as everything is present and at the tip of our fingers.  Things happen in our everyday lives, but unlike the past where word of mouth and writing on tablets was the main way of passing on information, we share stories through in a variety of ways and can do so instantly through social media.  You might say, there are no miracles in my life or at least none worth sharing.  No one has been raised from the dead or regained their sight after being blind.  But, you’re wrong. 

A miracle by definition is an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.  In other words, it could not be explained by reason and thus must have been a gift from God.  The very miracle of life is something to celebrate every day.  My own daughter was born with a limp arm that barely moved.  The doctors said that there were no broken bones, no fractures, and after various body and head scans, they couldn’t identify the issue.  My family prayed for her for 3 days.  We had faith that though the doctors could place no reason for why her arm was deformed, that God could and would heal her.  On the third day her arm was miraculously healed.  There’s something about that third day.  There’s something about the name of Jesus!  Amen? 

When she attended her physiotherapy, the therapist said he couldn’t identify any abnormalities, but due to her age scheduled a follow-up visit.  After seeing her 6 months later, she was discharged.  This is one of many stories I share as a part of my overall testimony.  What is your testimony?  What have you had to believe and trust God for, what strengthened your faith and gave you hope?  What is your story?

Recently, I attended a diocesan course on evangelism where we were asked about how we talk to others and share our faith.  Interestingly, many shared their discomfort about how to do this.  Although, many had been Christians for majority of their lives and were church goers, they struggled in this area.  We see in the first Thessalonians 1, that these followers of Christ lived by faith and led the example of how to live.   Their actions spoke to those around them and others were drawn in because they witness their major life changes and saw the fruit from it.  In verse 5 it said the gospel came in not only word, but in full conviction.  We know that Jesus is the word and gave us the perfect example on how to live.  Being convicted is being firm in what we believe, having faith without a doubt that all our blessings come from God.

You might ask how do I live so that others might see?  How do I share my convictions and my story with others?  And, how do I do it during covid, when we have to be socially distanced?  The answer is easy.  You must be guided by the Holy Spirit.  Now, that answer might sound cliché, but the reality is only you know your story.  Jesus gave us two commandments to follow: to love God above all else and to love our neighbours as ourselves.   Ecclesiastes 3 verse 1 says there is a time and season for everything.  There will be moments where you can share the love of Christ with others.  This could be sharing something small like whilst leaving the till at the supermarket saying, “God bless you.”  Or it could be sharing something a bit more personal when chatting to a stranger whilst waiting for the bus, or a video blog on your Facebook page.  The great commission comes in various forms.  In Matthew it says to make disciples and baptise them.  In Mark it says to preach the gospel to all creation.  However, and whatever form the Holy Spirit is directing you, do as the Thessalonians, be bold…share your story with power and conviction.  Know that no matter what, our invisible God has not been invisible in your life and sharing your story of faith might be the miracle that someone else has been waiting for.

Final Hymn, To God be the Glory

Trinity Sunday

Collect Prayer

Holy God,
faithful and unchanging:
enlarge our minds with the knowledge of your truth,
and draw us more deeply into the mystery of your love,
that we may truly worship you,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Reading: John 3:1-17 (NLT)

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again,[a] you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.[b] Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.[c] So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man[e] has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.[f]

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[g] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Sermon by Rev’d Jo Joyce

Today is Trinity Sunday. A day where training incumbents the world over like to give the sermon to their curates to see if they stumble over any of the ancient heresies of the Trinity! Because of course trying to describe the Trinity without slipping down one of these holes is nigh on impossible, as soon as we start to use an analogy or metaphor, we are almost certainly going to end up doing this. The problem is that God is by nature mysterious, Holy and indescribable.

In Rabbinic Judaism there are seven names of God that are so holy that once written they shouldn’t be erased or spoken. I am not going to list them here as I would not like to offend any of our Jewish brothers or sisters, but in English they are translated variously to God, the Almighty, the Lord of Hosts and so on, the holy name of God that may never be spoken is translated in our bibles as LORD, in capitals. After these names there are other names that describe attributes of God, but all refer to just one God, and that of course was the distinction between ancient Judaism and the religions of all the surrounding peoples, which had many different gods for different things – think of the myths and gods of ancient Babylon, Greece, Rome, Egypt. Having one God was what made the Israelites stand out.

Christianity is no different, we believe in one God – the Lord almighty, but we understand God as three distinct persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Something which has been the case ever since the ancient church councils set it out in writing, and which is evident from the beliefs of the first Christians as they worshipped Jesus and were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The problem is, this is where the heresy comes in, because as soon as we start to try and describe or explain it, we can easily slip into describing something wrong. So, let’s first look at a few heresies – what the Trinity isn’t!

Modalism – this is the idea that the Trinity is not three distinct persons but three modes by which God reveals himself. Modalism teaches that God changes form over the course of time, a bit like a transformer, that God is one thing or the next. But we know from scripture that God is all three simultaneously – think of the transfiguration at Jesus’s baptism where the Spirit descends like a dove from heaven and the voice of the Almighty says ‘this is my Son.’

Arianism – is another ancient heresy. This teaches that Jesus was created by God the Father – in other words there was a time when Jesus did not exist. Yet we know from the start of John’s Gospel that in the beginning was the word (Jesus) and that the word was with God and the word was God. Jehovah’s witnesses today follow Arius in their understanding of God, Jesus is not divine and God is not known as Trinity.

Tritheism – this suggests that there are three God’s rather than one. We can slip into this if we start to see each person as distinct rather than united. This is rarely taught but easily implied, we can see it in the way we pray or act or worship if we over emphasise one of the persons of the Trinity and forget the others.

There are then, a whole load of others about the Person of Jesus Christ and how we understand his humanity and divine nature. It is to be fair a bit of a mine field!

So back to the Trinity. There are lots of analogies – God as Trinity is like a triangle or a clover leaf – all three parts are identical and linked and without the others are no longer the whole – so a triangle with two corners is just a line! But the problem is for me this is too static, none describes what we essentially know of God to be relational. Or perhaps we can think of water which can be also ice and steam, but this for me come too close to modalism, as it is rarely all three together distinctly and all of the time.

So, what are we left with? Well, we understand God as relational, so perhaps Rublev’s famous icon of the Trinity is something that can help. A famous icon, it’s also known as ‘The Hospitality of Abraham’ you may remember the story where Abraham greets three mysterious strangers, taken to be angels, but often understood in the Christian context as a manifestation of the Trinity. The important thing in the picture is the relationship between the figures. The central figure has his hand in blessing, the other two point their feet to each other their gaze looks from one to the other, they are seated to create a circle, and missing from this ancient piece of religious art is the mirror originally in the centre of the piece drawing us into this relationship. Rublev was trying to draw a depiction of the Trinity that captures the dynamism and relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, three distinct yet united as one God. Both mysterious and Holy.

But what is the point of tying ourselves in knots? Does how we understand God as Trinity really matter? Well yes it does and I think relationship is the best way to describe why…

If we understand and relate to God mainly or wholly as God the Father – almighty God – the creator, awesome and unknowable – as the hymn would put it immortal, invisible, what is that relationship really like? Is it about God as an angry old man with a long white beard – irrelevant, angry, unapproachable, or a benevolent Father, a kind of Santa like figure for whom judgement and justice are frankly impossible, or a creator so awesome and remote that we cannot possibly relate to God or he to us? If we see God in this light, we deny the other persons of God and loose out a great deal on our understanding both of Jesus and of the work of God in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Ok so how about we relate to God as Jesus, surely as Christians that’s good? But again, if we relate purely to the humanity of Christ, we begin to deny his divinity, and that’s important, not just to understand, as we have heard, that he was there at creation, but that his death and resurrection transcends death, he is both God, and yet was indeed fully human – and here we have to be careful of all the heresies around how we understand Jesus – which are many! But, if my prayer life and understanding of God focusses purely on Jesus then I have of course missed so much of what the Christian understanding of who God is, and indeed how Jesus relates to God the Father during his life on earth, and the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I live in the danger of making God only human and relatable, and of forgetting the transcendence of God.

What then about the Holy Spirit? What if this is the person of the Trinity I most relate to. Well, there is danger here too. Perhaps we become too focussed on how things feel, we fail to recognise that God is present not just in the moments we find holy or spiritual, such as receiving communion or in prayer or worship, but that God is present at all times, including those moments when we least feel the presence of God. When we only relate to God in the Holy moments, we deny God with us at other times, and we heap burdens on those faithful who never feel a sense of God near and as a result wonder if they are faithful enough.

The Christian understanding of God as Trinity is heavily rooted in the bible, and in the experience of God’s faithful people throughout time. With a balanced understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit we have a balanced faith that is relatable, that sees the power of God the creator, the compassion and humanity of God the Son and the beauty and power of God the Holy Spirit at work in the world. We are relational as a Christian community and as human beings because God first was relational.

The Trinity is one of those concepts we don’t think about very much but is something that has been wrestled with by Christians down the ages as they tried to work out and explain what God was like. The creeds that we read each service are the result of that wrangling. Sometimes I think its easier that rather than talk about the Trinity, to say do you believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Because that of course is how we know, understand and experience God.

Intercessions

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

Father of heaven, whose love profound
a ransom for our souls has found:
We pray for the world, created by your love,
for its nations and governments …

Extend to them your peace, pardoning love, mercy and grace.
We plead before your throne in heaven.

Almighty Son, incarnate Word,
our Prophet, Priest, Redeemer, Lord:
We pray for the Church, created for your glory,
for its ministry to reflect those works of yours …

Extend to us your salvation, growth, mercy and grace.
We plead before your throne in heaven.

Eternal Spirit, by whose breath
the soul is raised from sin and death:
We pray for families and individuals, created in your image,
for the lonely, the bereaved, the sick and the dying …

Breathe on them the breath of life
and bring them to your mercy and grace.
We plead before your throne in heaven.

Thrice holy! Father, Spirit, Son,
Mysterious Godhead, Three in One:
We pray for ourselves,
for your Church, for all whom we remember before you …

Bring us all to bow before your throne in heaven,
to receive life and pardon, mercy and grace for all eternity,
as we worship you, saying,
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest. Amen.

Closing Worship

Pentecost – A Spirit-Filled Community

Collect Prayer

Holy Spirit,
sent by the Father,
ignite in us your holy fire;
strengthen your children with the gift of faith,
revive your Church with the breath of love,
and renew the face of the earth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Reading

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2.1-13)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

Homily by Nigel Blease

Today is my first sermon, it just happens to be Pentecost which was also St Peters first sermon, and we are having the service outdoors. What could possibly go wrong and no pressure then.

Joel prophesised “I will pour out my Spirit on all”.

We certainly can see and feel this in todays reading, the power of God, described as a hard gale or the blowing of a violent wind. In Hebrew the word Ruach means breath or wind, and in the old testament Ruach is used to describe the Holy Spirit or Spirit of God.

In John 14:15 Jesus promised the Holy spirit “If you love Me, you will keep My commandment. And I will ask the Father and He will give another advocate to be with you forever-the Spirit of the truth”. In the King James version “advocate “ is described as “ comforter” , I prefer this thought of the Holy Spirit as a comforter which is always there for us.

We also are told there were tongues of fire, fire from God, these are an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual reality. They represent the power purity and passion of God. If we experience the Holy Spirit, She brings a new fire and passion to our life.

In this room on the day of Pentecost, where all of this is being witnessed by the early followers of Jesus along with fellow Jews from all the regions around the Mediterranean and beyond.  They witness the tongues of fire descending from heaven, the Holy Spirit precipitates another miraculous event. The disciples begin proclaiming the good news in different languages so their fellow Jews may hear the message in their own language.

This is often interpreted as a reversal of the chaos and disunity of Babel described in “Genesis 11:1-9”. But I think the meaning is more than this, God is not speaking to us in His language but in multiple languages. God is speaking in Greek, Aramaic, and other ancient languages. This is God showing us that in our diversity we are united, despite our differences we are the same. The good news must be taken to all the peoples of the world speaking all their different languages. We must remember we are all born in the image of God, and follow the commandment to love our neighnbour. This is the mission set out for the disciples and all the early followers of Jesus. This would prove to be a great challenge which would be extremely dangerous and would ultimately topple empires. The disciples are being asked to pick up their cross and follow in the footsteps of Christ, some would be martyred for this mission.

Sometimes the Church has not been successful in this. In an interview Justin Brierley who hosts Unbelievable on Premier Christian radio was speaking with a Pastor from Uganda. The pastor was telling how in the time of Idi Amin in the 1970’s the percentage of Christians in the country dropped to only 15%. But since the fall of Amin there has been a miraculous revival in Uganda and now 85% of the country claim to be Christian. What really saddened me was that early missionaries would not allow the tribal drums in worship claiming they were evil and pagan. This did more harm than good, who is to say what is the correct way to worship God and it should be a joyous event. This may also be the case of people who attend more Charismatic churches, how would we react if someone in our congregation started speaking in tongues and was intoxicated with the Holy Spirit. Would we also be guilty of missing these miraculous signs. Christianity is very diverse; it has been estimated that there exists 31000 different denominations. What we share is so much more important than our differences.

There were three reactions to the events that unfolded in that room;

  1. Amazement
  2. Perplexity
  3. Ridicule: as humans is this not a significant flaw that even when witnessing something miraculous, we are blind to it. Things we do not understand we ridicule in our ignorance.

People mocked saying that they were filled with wine and at this point Peter starts his first sermon with an explanation of what people had witnessed. This was not intoxication with wine but sober intoxication of the Holy Spirit.  Peter full of the Holy Spirit goes back to the Old Testament, consider the quote from Joel that I started with. The Holy Spirit is the author of the word of God. The Holy Spirit brings a Hunger for the word of God.

Whilst filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter is setting out the message for the early Christians.

In a part of Acts 2 ver 22-24 after our reading:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through, him in your midst as you yourselves know- this Jesus delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God , you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death because it was not possible for him to be held by it”.

Is this not wonderful, this would have been part of the Early Christian creed that he would have shared with Paul when they met.  He is affirming the miracles of Jesus, Jesus was crucified and he conquered death and this was all part of Gods plan. Is this not truly a wonderous message for us to share with others. Peter also states in a later part of the passage that I witnessed this I confirm this is the truth.

So how can the Holy Spirit help us ; we can call on the Holy Spirit in prayer, we may approach the Holy Spirit in quiet meditation, we need to listen and trust in the Holy Spirit.  In one of the ten minute talks you will see a video on dealing with Stress. I was fortunate to do a short course with Michael on this topic and I found it really helpful in stressful situations at work . Michael encourage us to Lament to God and the Holy Spirit, share you burdens with them. I found this really therapeutic it centred me, days you anticipated as being fearful became manageable and enjoyable. I often now prey for wisdom, the courage to face difficult situations and the words to deal compassionately and truthfully with my colleagues.

Another example of the Holy Spirit at work in us I would give would be when our small group ran the service last year. Some were quite nervous about speaking or taking part in the service. Everyone took part and supported each other but I would say after everyone felt exhilarated in the experience.

A Challenge for All

At Pentecost we celebrate the disciples being given authority from God to go and spread the Good News to the ends of the earth. They were given the gifts of healing, prophesy and tongues.

Like them le us today use Pentecost as our own platform to share the good news of Christ.

 Acts 2 verse 32-36

This Jesus, God raised up , and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit he has poured out this which you see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says. “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet”. Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

This is our message to share we can do this in many ways; Messy Church, Job Club, SPOGS, our Online Services, Ten Minute Talks, how we lead our lives but also as simply as talking about our faith.

It is also important that we do so respectfully and compassionately, respecting people of different faiths or of no faith. We can still work at sharing the message, planting the seeds, and letting God do his work.

I recently attended an online Christian Conference; at which Tom Wright, the ex- bishop of Durham and Historian spoke. A lot of talk centred around attracting young people to Church. Part of this was about Western Christianity had watered down Christ message and thus it was no longer appealing to young people also we need to engage with young people on their own territory ie Social Media and also we should trust young people in our Church and give them challenging tasks. This seems even more pressing now post Covid.

Tom Wright emphasised that our message should be more in line with what the early Christians believed; Christ died for our sins but our aim is to create heaven on earth. Heaven Is not a distant place up in the sky but we can create it on earth by living our lives committed to Christ.

Amen

Prayers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Worship

Christian Aid Week – A Community for Justice

Prayer

Love incarnate,

fountain of mercy and justice
in a world of inequity and pain
may our actions be our prayer.
Let the Spirit of Truth guide us.
Let the Spirit of Love free us.
Give us the courage, compassion and resolve
to become the light we seek
that many may see their life and dignity restored.
Inspire us to embody a world without injustice and prejudice.
Form us into channels of your love and peace.
Let the river of justice and mercy flood our imperfect world,
quenching the thirst of parched souls and parched lands.
Abide in us, O Liberator, that we may become the Word,
so that the world may have Life, in all its abundance.
Amen.

Prayer by the Rev’d Dr Anderson Jeremiah from the book “Rage and Hope: 75 Prayers for a Better World” edited by Chine MacDonald and Wendy Lloyd to celebrate 75 years of Christian Aid.  If you would be interested in buying a copy of this book, you can order it here: https://stclaresatthecathedral.org/product/rage-and-hope-75-prayers-for-a-better-world/ or at most booksellers.

Reading: Micah 6:1-8 (NLT)

Listen to what the Lord is saying:

“Stand up and state your case against me.
    Let the mountains and hills be called to witness your complaints.
And now, O mountains,
    listen to the Lord’s complaint!
He has a case against his people.
    He will bring charges against Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?
    What have I done to make you tired of me?
    Answer me!
For I brought you out of Egypt
    and redeemed you from slavery.
    I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you.
Don’t you remember, my people,
    how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed
    and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead?
And remember your journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal,
    when I, the Lord, did everything I could
    to teach you about my faithfulness.”

What can we bring to the Lord?
    Should we bring him burnt offerings?
Should we bow before God Most High
    with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
    and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
    to pay for our sins?

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Homily

The slogan for this year’s Christian Aid Week, which I now know thanks to Colin and Jane’s excellent quiz last night (sadly, I didn’t know it before the quiz or my team might have done slightly better) is Real People, Real Change – 75 Years of Hope. And Christian Aid is a profoundly hopeful organisations. We have been hearing some challenging messages this morning, as we recognise how our misuse of creation is resulting in suffering for the most vulnerable communities around the globe, and this can feel rather depressing and hope-less. But the task of the prophets – like Micah, but also like Gloria and Katalina and our Christian Aid family around the world – is to inspire our imaginations. To give us a vision of a how the world might be different – a vision compelling enough that we have the courage to live it into reality.

Now Micah was writing a few thousand years before greenhouse gases were a thing – what might he have to say into this very modern crisis of climate change? Well, the crisis might change, but people haven’t, and so the prophet’s words are as fresh and incisive as ever. Micah begins with a message that climate change campaigners have been giving us for years: LISTEN. Don’t bury your head in the ground. Hope and healing is never to be found by ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away. We have to face up to the problems of climate change, recognise our part in it, hear the effect it is having on other human families around the world – because only then will we be able to imagine a different world and begin to live into it. So we have to listen, pay attention, to what our modern day prophets and creation itself are saying to us.

Micah, then, speaking what he feels God has called him to say asks creation to bear witness on the peoples’ sin, and asks the people to remember all God has done for them. Creation does indeed bear witness to the consequences of our choices. A few years ago I remember going to a beautiful little beach in a remote part of Skye and finding it utterly ruined by plastic waste that had been washed up by the currents. I can still feel now the frustration and disappointment in my stomach at the despoilation of that beautiful corner of God’s world. And this is a small tragedy in comparison to so much that is happening. God has given us such a beautiful abundant world – let us remember that gift with gratitude and do our best to protect it.

Finally, Micah calls on the people to act – not with grand gestures, but with values and attitudes that inspire everyday choices. Real people making real changes leading to real hope. Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God, Micah says – a compelling vision for human life that speaks down through the ages and inspires us today.

So how might we, as a community of justice, work for climate justice and the wellbeing of all creation.

Firstly, we must not underestimate the task – either in changing the world, or changing ourselves. Our first step is prayer, and if you need inspiration a good place to start is the Christian Aid 75th Anniversary book “Rage and Hope” which we used for our opening prayer. It contains not just 75 beautiful, inspiring and challenging prayers, but some wonderful explanations of the work of Christian Aid and the issues that are affecting its partners around the world.

Then we can give. Things are far from hopeless. The money we have raised this week WILL make a difference. It could buy the parts to create a community dam providing water security for a community affected by climate change. It could pay for trees to reverse deforestation and improve the land. Real people, real change, real hope – please be as generous as you can!

Lastly, we must ACT on climate injustice as individuals and together. As individuals, we might look at how we choose to travel, or invest, or power our homes or the amount of plastic we buy. We can make sure our local government representatives and the businesses we support know that climate justice matters to us and encourage them to make good decisions and show just leadership. As a group, we might want to work towards our Silver or Gold Eco Church Award.

So pray for change in both ourselves and our world. Give and support Christian Aid partners making a real differences in communities affected by the climate crisis, and act, act now, to reduce our consumption and burden on creation. Be hopeful, and hold to a vision of a world sustained by love of neighbour and not growing GDP figures. It doesn’t have to be this way – let us pray, give, act and live our way into a different future.

Amen

Prayers by Emili Lowery

We come before the Lord thankful for all that He has done and continues to do in our lives. Knowing that He always listens to our prayers we bring before Him all our intentions.  That all our lives may be sanctified in the truth, let us pray to the Lord.  We pray that your Church may be committed to the needs of the world, but never conformed to those worldly practices that fail to reveal your love and light.   We pray that those you have called to your service may be strong in the faith of Christ and given power to reveal his love.

Lord in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.

Be with all who must make decisions that will affect the lives of others.  Lord, give wisdom to those who appoint and elect others to positions of authority.    And, for all those who serve in authority in our country, the Prime minister, the queen, ministers of parliament, bishops and leaders in our church, inspire them to speak the truth and guide them with your Holy Spirit to seek the common good.

Lord in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.

Bless us, our families, friends and colleagues in our decision-making, both small and great, which we must make in our daily lives.  We also pray for godly wisdom in how to better love the beauty of your creation.  Show us how to do our part to make this world a better place for ourselves and others.  We ask you to transform us in your image and help us to become the people you have called us to be.

Lord in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.

Have mercy on any who have broken faith, betraying those who trusted them.  And, forgive us for all the times we’ve betrayed you by not trusting in you.  Restore all in your mercy to the life of love that has been forsaken and bring relief to those who have lost their direction through the distress of misplaced trust.

Lord in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.

We pray for all of those who have been victims of violence abroad, in our home country and in local communities. We pray especially for families who have had to deal with the heart break of losing loved ones because of anger and hate.   We ask you Lord to open the minds and hearts of those who show prejudice against them and we pray that we will not show prejudice against others.  We pray for godly wisdom that gives others both space and support, that encourages and guides, that knows when to speak and when to listen.  Help us to hear your still quiet voice, but also be stirred by the holy spirit to speak out against injustice and against the spirit of the enemy that would want to steal, kill, and destroy all that is around us.

Lord in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.

Grant to the faithful departed the eternal life promised through Jesus Christ.  May his saving love avail for those who have passed through this world and into the world beyond.  May they receive their eternal reward with you in Heaven.  We pray for the godly wisdom that sees time in the context of eternity, and death as the gateway to heaven in the presence of God.   Lord God bring comfort to those leaving this earth and give peace to those returning home to heaven.  We also remember the families who’ve lost people they love, give your peace to them and their upcoming funerals.  May those who have passed, be at rest and rise in your glory.  

Lord in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.

Wise and Holy God, we pray for your wisdom that encourages our hearts to live simply and thankfully, rejoicing in all that you are and all that you do.  Let us remember to love you in all things including the gift of life every day.  As our joy is made complete in Christ, we pray with confidence in his name, saying together…

All: Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your

Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Closing Worship

Acts – An Inclusive Community

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Collect Prayer

Risen Christ,
by the lakeside you renewed your call to your disciples:
help your Church to obey your command
and draw the nations to the fire of your love,
to the glory of God the Father.
Amen

Reading

44 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. 45 The Jewish believers[e] who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. 46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues[f] and praising God.

Then Peter asked, 47 “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” 48 So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.

Acts 10:44-end (NLT)

Homily by the Rev’d Jo Joyce

This account in Acts of the gentiles – non Jewish believers, receiving the Holy Spirit is a little different to the account of Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit came then, those who were filled were all Jewish believers or Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. This account comes a little later when Peter is speaking to Gentiles who have not converted. First, he had an encounter with Cornelius, a roman centurion, a captain of the Italian Regiment and as he reflects on this he realises that God’s message is for all, not just those who have converted to the Jewish faith – Christianity at that point remined a small sect of Judaism. Peter’s speech, the revelation of the Holy Spirit and a vision convincing him that new believers no longer needed to follow Jewish food laws led him to open the message of Jesus to all comers, without putting barriers in the way of conversion to Judaism and all of its laws.

As we move then to our part of the story it’s worth looking closer. Often, I think when we are reading in the bible about the gift of tongues we are a bit sceptical, or maybe even anxious. Unlike more obvious gifts such as healing, it doesn’t seem to have much purpose. At Pentecost others heard them speaking their language and believed, so it was missional, but it doesn’t seem to happen here, rather the gift of tongues seems to be used in worship to praise God with no other obvious purpose. There is no clarity as to why it happened or whether it happened again to that group of people. Add this to it being one of those gifts which in the modern church can end up being divisive – “they are one of those born again people” – where there is genuine fear about people being manipulated or making it up, and where some church leaders have made it into a badge of their particular type of church – either you’re in or out, it can be sadly dismissed.

Yet all of this, whether it is making it a requirement of belonging, or something of which to be afraid somewhat misses the point. The early believers didn’t ask for it it, it just happened, it was a kind of spontaneous worship, as natural as breaking into song, or dropping to their knees to pray. And for Peter it was a sign that what he was coming to believe – that God saw all people as equal, was right. And remember for him that was a radical cultural shift.

Later in the letter to the Corinthians St Paul talks of love as being more important than the gift of tongues, while in the letter to the Galatians he talks about the fruit of the spirit – love, joy peace gentleness etc. These are the ways that we know if something is of God. My guess is that the day that Peter preached the atmosphere would have been full of that peace, filled with the presence of God. He is not afraid of what God is doing, even if it doesn’t look like how he would think of worship, but he sees similarities in his own experience, and opens his mind to the fact that God might be doing something radically new, including people who until now had been, not just outside but religiously unclean.

So how might we see this today, well firstly, I think the key message is that God includes those we least expect. The Holy Spirit doesn’t put barriers on who can be included. As I read this it’s easy to get blasé and think but of course God is like that, but we too can be like Peter. I wonder who we think God would never include? Who are the outsiders who make us feel a bit different? What are the experiences of worship that we shy away from or deny are of God? When we see others experience God differently to us how does it make us feel?

Peter was on a journey – it took him a while to come to terms with allowing others in and enabling them to worship in a different way to him, but it’s a journey we all have to go on at some point. As we pass the faith on, we realise that God doesn’t always work in others the ways God works in us. That worship can be different from ours but just as holy. That sometimes God challenges us to step outside our comfort zone and realise that he is doing a new thing. The work of the Holy Spirit in bringing others to faith might sometimes challenge us, but if we are not being challenged to see and think about faith in new ways then maybe we need to question how open we are to the work of the Spirit.

Prayer

May the Lord God Bless you each step of Life’s way.
May you learn each day to open yourself to love and the blessings of love.
May you find a stick to lean on when the road is hard- and not use the stick to beat
yourself.
May you be blessed with life’s abundance and blessed in poor days too, learning again
what really matters, what lasts. May you never give in to despair or the lie that
nothing can change.
May you find ways of life and walk them with courage, knowing that every step is
within the heart of Christ who holds all our days in love.
© Revd Dr Christopher Jenkins

Closing Worship