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Intercessions for Trinity +14 – Proper 18 – Year B – 6 September 2015 Series 2

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Image ID: 65929720 Copyright: Air0ne via Shutterstock

The Collect

Almighty God, whose only Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence: give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

First Reading: Proverbs 22.1-2,8-9,22-23

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favour is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.

Psalm 125

Refrain: Glorious things are spoken of you, Zion, city of our God.

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, * which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever.
As the hills stand about Jerusalem, * so the Lord stands round about his people, from this time forth for evermore.
The sceptre of wickedness shall not hold sway over the land allotted to the righteous, * lest the righteous turn their hands to evil.
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, * and to those who are true of heart.
Those who turn aside to crooked ways the Lord shall take away with the evildoers; * but let there be peace upon Israel.

Refrain: Glorious things are spoken of you, Zion, city of our God.

God of power,
you are strong to save
and you never fail those who trust in you;
keep us under your protection
and spread abroad your reign of peace
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Second Reading: James 2.1-10(11-13)14-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?  For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

 

Gospel Reading: Mark 7.24-37

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’

The two miracles dealt with in short order by Mark in today’s reading are analysed best by Jeffrey John in ‘The Meaning of the Miracles‘ (pp 111-118 for the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter, and its troubling references to dogs and Gentiles [search ‘dogs’]and 119-128 for Ephphatha and ‘be opened’). You can find Jane Williams here : search ‘Eeyore’.

Capture

Prayers of Intercession

Bidding

Lord, open our lives to your goodness.
Open our eyes to your presence.
Open our ears to your call.
Open our hearts to your love
Open our lips to your praises
And open us to your glory. (David Adam)

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, look down on your Church in all its messy humanity. We thank you for the moments of transcendence which inspire us to continue along our pilgrim journey together as the Body of Christ. And we ask your forgiveness for the moments when we seem lost in a maze of disagreement about form and function. Hasten the day, we beseech you, of the New Jerusalem, when we shall all rejoice together to be branches of one vine and sheep of one fold.

Lord, open our lips to praise you and our lives to your service: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight. Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may…love the common good and care for this world in which we live. Lord, seize us with your power and light. Help us to protect all life to prepare for a better future, for the coming of your kingdom of justice and peace, love and beauty.*

Lord, open our lips to praise you and our lives to your service: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The local community

Lord, open our hearts to those we live amongst so that we may be loving and giving, building our community together. And then make us a gift to others in your name. We thank you for the modern miracle that is happening as people whose lives have been destroyed by war sheek shelter amongst us. While governments wring their hands, the people of Europe in their hundreds and thousands, Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Jews, are feeding and clothing those who have nothing left but their humanity. May their efforts be perpetually replenished like the loaves and fishes.

Lord, open our lips to praise you and our lives to your service: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Those who suffer

Lord, we know that your greatest gift to those who suffer in body, mind or spirit is simply your presence. Help those in pain to feel your closeness and to draw strength and comfort from it. Help them to undergo what must be undergone, and give them the gift of hope for the morrow, knowing that underneath are your everlasting arms.

Lord, open our lips to praise you and our lives to your service: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The communion of saints

Lord, we pray for all those who have departed this life, and for those who mourn their passing. May they rest in peace and rise in glory. And may we in due time join them in the feast of eternal life in your presence.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers …

* From the Prayer for the Care of Creation, part of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter Laudato Si. September 1st was the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Promulgated by the Church of England.

Prayer after Communion

Lord God, the source of truth and love,
keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.


 

These are the intercessions which I proposed for this Sunday in 2012:

 

 The Church

Grant to your whole Church grace to show true faith through works of love and mercy. Help us to strengthen the bonds of the Anglican Communion, with those that have sharing with those who have less, while bearing in mind that those who have more money are not necessarily those with greater grace. Take away all prejudice that causes unequal treatment, especially among the autistic and others that feel marginalised by the Church. (Chapman, slightly tweaked)

Freely have we received, freely may we give. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Nation

God of the nations, all authority is yours. You touch the hearts of rich and poor alike. As the Paralympic Games end today, we ask you to keep in the minds of those in authority the courage and dignity of those who took part, and the stirring of the hearts of the spectators around the world. May the lessons learned live on as compassion is increased, and the good of all becomes our common aim.

Freely have we received, freely may we give. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Community

Lord, teach us to be generous as you have been generous with us. Show us the truth of the saying: ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ . Help us to understand that others, perhaps unknown to us, depend on us for help. Remind us that our world, our parish, need “Good Samaritans” to heal the wounds of our community. In these times of economic hardship, we pray for the food banks that have sprung up – may they be perpetually replenished like the loaves and fishes. Lord, make us a gift to others in your name.

Freely have we received, freely may we give. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.



The Sick and the Suffering

Lord, who invited all who carry heavy burdens to come to you, refresh us with your presence and your power. Quiet our understandings and give ease to our hearts by bringing us close to things infinite and eternal. Open to us the mind of God so that through his light we may see light. And crown your choice of us to be your servants by making us springs of strength and joy to all whom we serve. (Evelyn Underhill, tweaked)

Freely have we received, freely may we give. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Departed and the Dying

Lord, let us learn to be open to the night.

Let us pray with open hands, not with clenched fists. (Lord Dunsany)

Father of all mercies and giver of all comfort: Deal graciously, we pray, with those who mourn, that casting their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love.

We remember before you the whole company of saints, and pray for our loved ones departed. (David Adam)

Freely have we received, freely may we give. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Review of ‘Writing On The Word’ by Malcolm Guite

guite advent 001Like the rest of his many fans, I look forward eagerly to publication of the latest poems of everyone’s favourite troubadour. We have not met, but we have corresponded when he allowed me to quote from The Green Man in the guide to St Peter’s Church, Hurstbourne Tarrant. And it pleases me, partly for the sake of symmetry, but chiefly for Malcolm Guite’s fresh insights, to complete the cycle of birth, death and renewal afforded by reading The Green Man and this new book together.

The Revd Malcolm Guite puts it like this in the introduction:

“Advent falls in winter, at the end of the year, in the dark and cold, but its focus is on the coming of light and life, when the Ancient of Days becomes a young child and says, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’  Perhaps only poetry can help us fathom the depths and inhabit the tensions of these paradoxes”.

We begin, appropriately, on Advent Sunday, with Christina Rossetti’s poem of that name. Poems for every day follow, right up until 6 January, with William Blake’s The Divine Image. Each page provides a new insight by perhaps the greatest living poet with a Christian sensibility, so, although you will know many of the poems already (including one or two of Malcolm Guite’s own), each page is also a journey of discovery.

Between the first and the second coming, says Guite, “there are many other advents…in our encounters with the poor and the stranger, in the mystery of the sacraments, in those unexpected moments of transfiguration surely there is also an advent and Christ comes to us. Perhaps that is why the other sense we have of the word ‘advent’ is to find it beginning the word ‘adventure’. The knights in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur say to one another, ‘Let us take the adventure that God sends us’, recognizing that the God in whom we live and move and have our being may come and meet us when and where he pleases, and any door we open may be the door to the ‘chapel perilous’. God may send the adventure, but you will find a door to it through Malcolm Guite and this book.

§§§§§§§§§§

10 December

(pp 40-42)

In drear nighted December John Keats

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne’er remember
Their green felicity:
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them;
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne’er remember
Apollo’s summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.

Ah! would ’twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy!
But were there ever any
Writhed not at passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme.

…Keats’ felicitous phrase ‘drear nighted December’, sums up the way many people feel in the dreary darkness of encroaching winter. But, much as I love his poetry, I think in this case Keats is wrong about the tree. Indeed it is just because those bleak, rain-lashed December branches do ‘remember their green felicity’, and retain, hidden within themselves, the patterns and energy of their former green-ness, that they will unfold into leaf again in spring and be able, as Larkin said, of trees in May, to ‘begin afresh, afresh, afresh’.

It can be the same with us: we manage to get through the winter, and also perhaps the severer seasons of the heart, because we carry the memories of spring; we are sustained by a kind of parley between memory and hope. So George Herbert, trying to cope with severe experiences of depression and loss, writes in his poem ‘The Flower‘:

Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

But Herbert knew, even in the depths of winter, that

Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.

And so in that great poem of recovery he writes:

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live…

And what about us? We too, in ‘drear nighted December’, need to remember our ‘green felicity’, and surely that is just what we do in Advent, and in the whole approach to and celebration of Christmas. In the darkest time of the year Christ, the life within us and the seed of light, is sown. The root of Jesse, the stock of that true vine from which we all spring, is planted in our hearts, just when our hearts may feel at their darkest and most ploughed up. So through the dark days of Advent I pray for him to come so deeply and quietly into our hearts that, as Lancelot Andrewes said, ‘He may with one word make all green again’.


Waiting On The Word: A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany

is published by Canterbury Press on 31 August 2015, but advance copies are available.

 

Author(s): Malcolm Guite

ISBN-13: 9781848258006

 

For every day from Advent Sunday to Christmas Day and beyond, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it. A scholar of poetry as well as a renowned poet himself, his knowledge is deep and wide and he offers readers a soul-food feast for Advent.

Among the classic writers he includes are: George Herbert, John Donne, Milton, Tennyson,and Christina Rossetti,as well as contemporary poets like Scott Cairns, Luci Shaw, and Grevel Lindop. He also includes a selection of his own highly praised work.

Author Information

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge. A performance poet and singer/songwriter, he lectures widely on poetry and theology in Britain and the US and has a large following on his website, www.malcolmguite.wordpress.com.

 

 

Intercessions for Trinity +13 (Year B) (Proper 17) 30 August 2015

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‘Making a choice’ Image ID: 285870038 Copyright: goir via Shutterstock

The Collect

Almighty God, who called your Church to bear witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: help us to proclaim the good news of your love, that all who hear it may be drawn to you; through him who was lifted up on the cross, and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

¶ The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Song of Solomon 2.8-13

The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.’

Psalm 45.1-2,6-9

My heart is astir with gracious words; * as I make my song for the king, my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
You are the fairest of men; * full of grace are your lips, for God has blest you for ever.
Your throne is God’s throne, for ever; * the sceptre of your kingdom is the sceptre of righteousness.
You love righteousness and hate iniquity; * therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.
All your garments are fragrant with myrrh, aloes and cassia; * from ivory palaces the music of strings makes you glad.
Kings’ daughters are among your honourable women; * at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

 

Second Reading: James 1.17-27

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing. If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Gospel Reading: Mark 7.1-8,14-15,21-23

When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”’ Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’ or it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’

The Ministry Handbook has ‘Ideas of ceremonial washing began with the highest of motives, relating to dedication to holy living. The problem, as Jesus pointed out, was that they could become a hypocritical illusion to mask sinfulness, or even a substitution for God’s law, the very thing they were supposed to reinforce. ..it would be a serious mistake, however, to interpret Jesus’ words as merely an attack on tradition…we all rely heavily on tradition, whether or not we acknowledge this explicitly. The challenge is to keep tradition in perspective, so that it does not hinder a living relationship with God, but rather reinforces it.’

Jane Williams’ exegesis  is worth reading in its entirety, and I only have space for an extract: (Search here for ‘imply’, pp 102-3).

Capture2And, finally, if you would like to see the prayers I suggested for this Sunday in 2012, you can find them here “The readings for today are varied, but the thread running through them seems to be about the observance of God’s law. Do we just obey the letter of the law or do we obey the will of God behind them?”

Prayers of Intercession

Let us pray to the Lord, who knows all the secrets of our hearts.

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, we are sustained by the traditions of the Church, the knowledge that Christians have worshipped you for two thousand years inspired by the Bible. This knowledge is a source of strength, and a very present help in time of trouble. But you are also the living water from the well of heaven, the bread of life that must be renewed daily.

Lord, show us how to worship you in all your facets: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord, inspire the rulers of our nations to use their power to protect the weak, not to ride roughshod over them; to serve the people in the cause of truth, justice and mercy. For the trappings of power may be glorious and golden, but they do but mask our common humanity. Let it never be forgotten that it is you, our God, king of kings, who is ruler of all.  *

Lord, show us how to worship you in all your facets: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The local community

Lord, we thank you for the gift of friendship. Help us not to forget that we have two ears and only one tongue; that it is more blessed to listen than to be listened to. Help us show forbearance of one another’s foibles, knowing that we have foibles of our own. Let us be slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Lord, show us how to worship you in all your facets: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Those who suffer

Lord, you see the pain of the whole world, whether it be public or secret. We ask you to keep your people from reaching the depths of despondency and despair: let them feel the reality of hope for the morrow. May all those in pain know the reality of your presence, and that underneath are your everlasting arms.

Lord, show us how to worship you in all your facets: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The communion of saints

Lord, we give thanks for the peace of the departed, whose journey is over and who now rest in your care. Give comfort and strength to those who mourn their passing. And may we all be reunited in the glory of your heaven.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers…

*Inspired by Jim Cotter’s meditation on Psalm 46

Prayer after Communion

God our creator,
you feed your children with the true manna,
the living bread from heaven:
let this holy food sustain us through our earthly pilgrimage
until we come to that place
where hunger and thirst are no more;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Post Communion (13th after Trinity) © 1980, 1986 Mowbray, a Cassell Imprint: Prayers for the Alternative Services comp. David Silk Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000

 

Intercessions for Trinity + 12 (Year B) (Proper 16 ): 23 August 2015

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The Lord’s Supper Image ID: 2599134 Copyright: fredredhat

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down upon us the  abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

¶ The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: 1 Kings 8.(1,6,10-11)22-30,41-43

Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.  Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, ‘O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, “There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.” Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David. But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Have regard to your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day towards this house, the place of which you said, “My name shall be there,” that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray towards this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling-place; heed and forgive.  Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name – for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm – when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.’

Psalm 84

Refrain: Blessed are they who dwell in your house.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! * My soul has a desire and longing to enter the courts of the Lord; my heart & my flesh rejoice in the living God.
The sparrow has found her a house and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young: * at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King & my God.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house: *they will always be praising you. R
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, * in whose heart are the highways to Zion,
Who going through the barren valley find there a spring * and the early rains will clothe it with blessing.
They will go from strength to strength * and appear before God in Zion. R
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; * listen, O God of Jacob.
Behold our defender, O God, * and look upon the face of your anointed.
For one day in your courts * is better than a thousand. R
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God * than dwell in the tents of ungodliness.
For the Lord God is both sun and shield; he will give grace and glory; * no good thing shall the Lord withhold from those who walk with integrity.
O Lord God of hosts, * blessed are those who put their trust in you.

Refrain: Blessed are they who dwell in your house.

Lord God,
sustain us in this vale of tears
with the vision of your grace and glory,
that, strengthened by the bread of life,
we may come to your eternal dwelling place;
in the power of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Second Reading: Ephesians 6.10-20

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Gospel Reading: John 6.56-69

Jesus said to the crowd: ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’ Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’


 

The Ven Michael Gilbertson writes in ‘The Ministry Handbook’:

Jesus’ teaching in chapter 6 is extremely challenging (v.60). Many of those who had been following him are scandalized by his claims about himself, and perhaps by the idea of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Far from backing off, Jesus then heightens the challenge by suggesting that he might subsequently ascend ‘to where he was before’ (v62). For John, Jesus’ glorious return to his Father is inextricably, and paradoxically, linked with his being ‘lifted up’ on the cross. But is the idea of a humiliated, crucified Messiah a blasphemous scandal or the supreme focus of faith? The way the suggestion in verse 62 is left unanswered is deliberate: each person in the crowd and every subsequent reader of the Gospel must fill in their own response to the challenge of Jesus. John shows us two ways of responding to that challenge. Many disciples find Jesus’ teaching unpalatable and drift away (v66). Another will subsequently betray him (v64). In contrast, Peter makes a moving and committed confession of faith in Jesus (vv 68-69). John always describes this choice in stark terms: do we accept Jesus and his offer of external life, or do we reject him? There is no halfway house.

Jane Williams explains this challenging passage through the eyes of Peter (you can find here it on pp 99-100 : search for ‘fool’ ).

And Jeffrey John quotes Augustine of Hippo:

‘I am the living bread which comes down from heaven’…the manna also came down from heaven, but the manna was only a shadow, this is the reality…believers know they are the body of Christ, provided they do not neglect to be the body of Christ. One must be the body of Christ if one is to live by the Spirit of Christ….When you eat this food and drink this wine, they will be transformed into your substance. Equally you will be transformed into the body of Christ, if you live in obedience and faithfulness…You, therefore, begin to receive what you already begin to be’. The Meaning in the Miracles, pp 69-70

Prayers of Intercession

Let us pray to the Father, who sent his Son to be the saviour of the world.

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, as we kneel before you, we do so as a people who understand and emphasise different aspects of what it means to follow you. Some of these ways of understanding you may seem strange, even mistaken, to the rest of us. But we are all your people, and we know you love us all. Help us therefore, day by day, to accept and love each other for your sake,  and to try with all our might to worship you in unity.

Lord, through you all good things are possible: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord, as we undergo a great migration of peoples, who find it impossible to live in the land of their birth, help us to be mindful that none of us is an island, complete in itself: we are all a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod of earth is washed away by the sea, Europe is the less – any man’s death diminishes us, because we are involved in mankind. We therefore need never send to know for whom the bell tolls; you have taught us it tolls for each and every one of us.

Lord, through you all good things are possible: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The local community

Lord, as we draw strength and inspiration from the daily bread you offer us, help us to build the kingdom of heaven here on earth, with the people who surround us in the here and now, the testing ground for our faith. As we build a human chain to encircle the earth, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.

Lord, through you all good things are possible: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Those who suffer

Lord, we bring before you all those suffering pain, whether of the mind, body or spirit. Help us to bear one another’s burdens, and be a human comfort to each other. Be with them, and be with us all when the wheels of being slow. Teach us patience, and forbearance, and give us hope for the morrow.

Lord, through you all good things are possible: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The communion of saints

Lord, we give thanks for the lives of the departed….

Comfort those who mourn. And, in the midst of the journey, we glimpse our own end, whose fulfilment is beyond our imagining. **

Merciful Father, accept these prayers …

 

Note

We have now reached the end of the journey through the lectionary which I began in 2012. If you would like to compare today’s suggestions with those of three years ago, when I picked the theme of ‘putting on the armour of God’, you can do so here. I am writing a post on the lessons I have learnt so far from the exercise, a personal view of intercessionary prayer. I am proposing to continue on my journey, at least for the moment, but where the intercessions for the first series seem adequate, I would hope to add more, for example, for the red-letter days which fall in the middle of the week.

* cf Hosea 2.23

** Based on Jim Cotter’s meditation on Psalm 84.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Post Communion (12th after Trinity) © 1985 Anglican Church of Canada: The Book of  Alternative Services Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 Collect (12th after Trinity) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Sermon by Taylor Carey

dormition

A 12th-century rendition of the Dormition by a Novgorod artist via Wikipedia

 

 Sermon Preached at Evensong, Church of St Mary the Virgin, Holy Island of Lindisfarne

William Golding will be remembered favourably for many literary accomplishments. From these, alas, his use of potatoes in philosophical argument may be omitted. In his fourth novel, Free Fall, Golding has his protagonist declare that ‘free-will cannot be debated but only experienced, like a colour or the taste of potatoes’. This kind of freedom, it transpires, is the freedom of childhood, a carefree, detached, and frictionless navigation of endless possibilities. A little later in the text, our narrator gives us an example: ‘I was sitting on the stone surround of the pool and fountain in the centre of the park…The gravelled paths of the park radiated from me: and all at once I was overcome by a new knowledge. I could take whichever I would of these paths…’.[1]

Philosophers have wasted little time in frying Golding’s potatoes.[2] The exercise of the will, at least with regard to any morally significant decision, is never a matter of abstract choice, freed from constraints both internal and external. To hold such a model is to entertain an unsustainable dualism which attempts the absolute separation of thought and fleshy material matter. The notion that the will is an autonomous, free-floating capacity irrespective of our material conditions is as problematic as its polar opposite: the view that choice is an illusion, and that we are already determined by our material processes. Neither will withstand scrutiny, and yet both exercise a disturbing grip on our contemporary politics.[3]

Today, the Church wades into this hallowed territory in celebrating a woman who made a choice, who said ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’, and who declared her ‘will’ to be in accordance with God’s. How then are we to avoid casting this story in the mould of the regrettable extremes already described? What is really meant by Mary’s choice? And in what way might her story shed new light on our understanding of our decision-making and learning in the Body of Christ?

Our New Testament reading offers a startling clue. ‘I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory’, says St Paul, ‘may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him’.[4] This is not a spontaneous matter, but rather an extended process of relationship; the ‘eyes of our hearts’ are not ‘enlightened’ by the momentary apprehension of a set of facts about God. This would be too quick, too painless, and too easy. Instead, we are invited patiently to attend the call of the Spirit, which moulds and shapes us as we participate in the ‘groaning of all Creation’.[5] Again, such a venture may be far from comfortable, but it is precisely in this patient disposition of openness to the calling of the Spirit that we grow into the fullness of God’s image. In the words of St Augustine, ‘our pilgrimage on earth is a school in which God is the only teacher…[and] we learn something new every day’.[6]

What this picture really resists is the notion of a ‘fixed’ or ‘rigid’ identity, an entrenched and stable stance from which to attempt to control and manipulate our social environment. Our rigidities and our certainties, the very language with which we articulate our own identities, are constantly being overwhelmed, broken, and rendered incomplete as we encounter the self-giving Spirit of God in Word and Sacrament. We are compelled repeatedly to look again at who we are, to look again at who we are called to be, and to find again that place where Jesus Himself stands, and to which he calls us. And then we can ask, ‘what kind of choice can I make here?’, and ‘which course of action seems most open to the possibility of communion and growth?’. The way we attend to ‘the world’ will change the world which we see and to which we respond; our ‘free choices’ are thus inextricably intertwined with our imaginative capacities, with the kind of world we see laid open and made possible, in hope, before us.

It is of course for this patient disposition towards the Lord – so memorably captured in many paintings of the Annunciation, or icons of the Hodegetria – that we venerate Our Lady. Western Catholic piety can, in the depths of kitsch, forget the messy materiality of it all; perhaps this is corrected most effectively in the Eastern tradition, and its talk of Mary as Theotokos, as ‘God-bearer’, as that most earthily grounded woman, filled with fear, desire, conflict, awe, and, through all of this, enormous love and trust. Mary’s ‘yes’ in this regard must be seen as an instinctive opening, the moral reflex of one who has nurtured the material conditions of her freedom through self-criticism and reflection, through humility and sensitivity. It must be regarded as akin to so many ‘yes’s’ throughout Christian history – the ‘yes’, for example, of St Maximilian Kolbe, whom we remembered on Friday, and who opted to forfeit his life for the life of another in the unimaginable hell of Auschwitz. His and Mary’s ‘yes’s’ are not choices ‘above’ the messy conditions and tragic conflicts of our shared world; rather they are the results of stances of attention and reflection which align action with the very essence of who we are called to be, precisely in the midst of the most desperate human strife. They are responses which align our will with God’s.

Hence, the Church is a school, and we learn together, each of us at different stages, yet each of us aware that we need only touch the hem of Christ’s garment to be drawn into his loving embrace.[7] Mary’s example calls us to a lifetime of sensitive discernment, a commitment to seeking out the call of the Spirit, and a rejection of any model that sees the exercise of our will as somehow detached from and indifferent to the material conditions of our shared world. This is precisely why our societal institutions of education and care are worth fighting for. Above all, this is a slow pilgrimage; in the words of Iris Murdoch, ‘if you aren’t moving at a snail’s pace, you aren’t moving at all’.[8]

For all this, we must thank the one who gave her ‘yes’ to God, who allowed herself to become the site of His Grace and creativity, that our world might be thrown open to the infinite depths of His love. To her, we simply say, ‘Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you’.

Amen.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

[1] William Golding, Free Fall (London, 2013), p.2.

[2] For a lucid summary of recent developments, see Rowan Williams, ‘Can we ever be in charge of our own lives?’, New Statesman (4th May 2015) .

[3] Exemplified perhaps by the ‘privatised gain, socialised risk’ culture of the banking industry pre-2008. For a sound articulation of a democratic ‘capabilities’ approach which owes much to the writings of Martha Nussbaum, see Julian Baggini, Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will (London, 2015). For a highly sophisticated argument which demonstrates how our understanding of ‘free will’ has tended to alienate us from our natural and social environment, see John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom (London, 2015).

[4] Ephesians 1:16-17.

[5] Romans 8:22.

[6] St Augustine, Sermon 16A.1.

[7] Matthew 9:21.

[8] Iris Murdoch, ‘Above the Gods: A Dialogue about Religion’, in Existentialism and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature (London, 1997), p.500.

Intercessions for Trinity + 11 (Year B) (Proper 15 ) : 16 August 2015

shutterstock_2300657

Copyright: Thomas M Perkins Shutterstock Image ID: 2300657

 

The Collect

O God, you declare your almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace, that we, running the way of your commandments, may receive your gracious promises, and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

¶ The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: 1 Kings 2.10-12; 3.3-14

David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.  Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt-offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.’ And Solomon said, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart towards you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?’  It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.’

 

Psalm 111

Refrain: The Lord is gracious and full of compassion.

Alleluia. I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, * in the company of the faithful and in the congregation.
The works of the Lord are great, * sought out by all who delight in them.
His work is full of majesty and honour *and his righteousness endures for ever.
He appointed a memorial for his marvellous deeds; *the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. R
He gave food to those who feared him; *he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He showed his people the power of his works *in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are truth and justice; *all his commandments are sure. R
They stand fast for ever and ever; *they are done in truth and equity.
He sent redemption to his people; he commanded his covenant for ever; *holy and awesome is his name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have those who live by it; *his praise endures for ever.

Refrain: The Lord is gracious and full of compassion.

Gracious God, you are full of compassion;
may we who long for your kingdom to come
rejoice to do your will
and acknowledge your power alone to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Second Reading: Ephesians 5.15-20

Brothers and sisters, be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Gospel Reading: John 6.51-58

Jesus said to the Jews: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’


We have arrived at the climax of Jesus’ teaching about himself as the bread of life. These verses concentrate on the physicality of the eucharist (hence the illustration). When I was confirmed, I was told on no account to ‘chew the Host’, but after taking the smallest sip possible of the blood of Christ/wine, to allow this to enable one to swallow both. Very refined and genteel. However, it is clear from this passage that we are intended to relish the physical eating and drinking of the eucharist.

…when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being ‘in Christ’ or of Christ being ‘in them’, this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts—that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. And perhaps that explains one or two things. It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion. It is not merely the spreading of an idea; it is more like evolution—a biological or superbiological fact. There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.   C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity pp 63-64.

Here is Jane Williams (which you can find here by searching for ‘additives’) (pp 98-99)

CaptureCapture

Prayers of Intercession

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, we join in the stream of praise with your people gathered for worship. We take our place in the Story, as we celebrate your deeds among us. Day by day you nourish us, feeding us with sacrament and word, quenching our thirst from the wellspring, the waters that never run dry. As we sense your heartbeat within us, we rejoice in whatever part we can play in the Body of Christ. *

Lord, your constant presence is the joy and lodestar of our lives: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord, give right judgement, we pray, to all those in authority. Forgive the folly of our rulers, which the world believes to be wisdom. Give them insight into the consequences of their decisions, including their errors that bring wrong decisions. And may their hearts not be hardened when their decisions bring suffering to those whom they govern.

Lord, your constant presence is the joy and lodestar of our lives: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The local community

Lord, help us to see you in the face of each member of our community, and give us greater power to understand those whom we find it hard sincerely to like. Help us to find something we can share. And then, in understanding the common humanity which binds us, help us to love each other as we would love you.

Lord, your constant presence is the joy and lodestar of our lives: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Those who suffer

Lord, as we sing our praises to you, and delight in the companionship of our fellow travellers on the journey, we remember those who find it difficult to rejoice. Look with mercy on all those in pain, whether it be physical, mental or spiritual. May they feel the reality of your presence with them in their suffering, and may they see light and hope over the horizon.

Lord, your constant presence is the joy and lodestar of our lives: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The communion of saints

Lord, we pray for those who have departed this life. As we feed on you, you have promised to raise us up on the last day: so may we come to share in your life for ever and ever.

 

Merciful Father, accept these prayers…

*Based on Jim Cotter’s meditation on the psalm, from ‘Out of the Silence’

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Post Communion (11th after Trinity) © 1985 Mowbray, a Cassell Imprint:After Communion  compiled by C L Macdonnell Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 Collect (11th after Trinity) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

Review of ‘Questions Are The Answer’ by David Hayward (@nakedpastor)

dh 001
‘Graffiti artist on the walls of religion. Dinner guest & conversationalist at The Lasting Supper. Cartoonist, Thinker, Painter, Blogger. Join the Journey!’

I urge everyone to read this book, from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the church mouse . You will find it stimulating and a page-turner. If you are comfortable in your Church and your church, you may see them in a new light which will illumine your path. And if you are unhappy, David offers you a possible way out of the labyrinth that is organised Christendom.

Right. End of review. Or at least, that is where David hints he would like me to stop: “I …still know what it means to put my work out there and have it and me analyzed as a result. I draw something I think is true, and others analyze my art with interest and concern and draw conclusions about me. There exists within me this tension between not wanting to draw attention to myself but doing the things that accomplish exactly that” (p.2). But the publishers might feel a little short-changed, and I would feel frustrated. So, with apologies in advance to David, I am going to attempt to analyse him and his book, and even draw a few tentative conclusions….

On the face of it, ‘Questions Are the Answer’ is David Hayward’s testimony, an autobiographical account of his relationship with the Church and the Body of Christ. This is a notoriously difficult thing to communicate.

  “We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves…By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies—all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves.” Aldous Huxley in ‘Heaven and Hell’ (1954).

David is helped in communicating his experiences through the accompanying drawings, liberally scattered throughout the text. These do much more than simply illustrate what he is saying: as Sir Kenneth Clark said in Civilisation ” ‘What is too silly to be said may be sung’ — well, yes; but what is too subtle to be said, or too deeply felt, or too revealing or too mysterious — these things can also be sung and can only be sung”. In ‘Questions Are The Answer’, the author draws what is too subtle, too deeply felt, too revealing or too mysterious to be expressed in words. The word ‘cartoon‘ conveys something more frivolous than ‘the naked pastor’s, which can be as penetrating and uncomfortable as those of Ralph Steadman, but they may also make you smile at our human foolishness.

David does not spare us the pain that he has suffered in response to the challenge to take up his cross. He uses the simplest language to convey this, which is all the more effective as a result. But he also says at the end that he is one of the happiest people he knows, and that he has achieved theological peace (p.122). He attributes this in part to having been released from the cage, not of Christianity itself, but the barnacles (my metaphor, not his), the accretions which have covered the hull of the ship in which all worshipping Christians sail. And – as the title says – one of the purposes of this book is to encourage the asking of questions. And when the answers prompt further questions, as they usually do, to continue to ask questions.

For the testimony is only the first layer of the onion, the answer to the first question. Those prepared to take him at his word, and peel off layer by layer, will find they are taking a journey, first into Christendom, and then deep into themselves:

The third kind of questions is open questions. The answer to these questions is that there isn’t an answer. Oh, there may be an answer, but we don’t know what it is, we don’t pretend that there is, and we remain open in order to discern it when or if it should arrive. I would characterize this period as a time of contentment. (p.15)

David is extraordinarily approachable for someone in his league of celebrity – he has nearly ten thousand followers on twitter and five thousand followers on Facebook. He has considerable charm, and I find his ‘company’ curiously compelling. Watching this hangout from ‘The Lasting Supper’ potluck feels rather like looking at the Rublev icon, being drawn into the dance, as if there is a place waiting just for you to join. And this is a beguiling offer in the 21st century.

But David Hayward has become a pastor to many of these people. I must ask him why he is ‘naked’, but I presume it is because he has no baggage in the way of a church building or diocesan officials breathing down his neck.

He also travels light – at one stage he was bankrupt and, although I hope he is now solvent, he could never be confused with a proponent of the prosperity gospel.

David ends his book:

I compare our journeys to taking a canoe trip down a river…

I like to have my own canoe, but I like to meet up with other canoeists with their own canoes when I want. This is how I integrate my intoverted and extroverted self. Of course, I am aware that sometimes I have no choice in the matter. Sometimes I just find myself very alone. At other times I suddenly find myself surrounded by other canoes…

I feel like we are all in our own canoes making our own trips, but that we have the privilege of meeting up with others who are on the same kind of river. Before, I often felt like I was the only living soul on the whole river. I now now there are many others on the same river and they are my companions. ..

I’m not going nowhere. The river is taking me somewhere. While for me the river is the destination, it is also a way. I’m taking in every minute of it now, but I also feel, deep down, that I’m being taken to a more wonderful place somehow and that I’m going to be a better person for it.

Intercessions for Trinity + 10 Year B (Proper 14): 9 August 2015

Bread of life

Bread of life by Matt Hoile courtesy of Veritasse

The Collect

Let your merciful ears, O Lord,  be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall  please you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

¶ The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: 2 Samuel 18.5-9,15,31-33

The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, ‘Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.’ And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom. So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword. Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And ten young men, Joab’s armour-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him. Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, ‘Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.’ The king said to the Cushite, ‘Is it well with the young man Absalom?’ The Cushite answered, ‘May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.’ The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’

Psalm 130

Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice; * let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to mark what is done amiss, *O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, *so that you shall be feared.
I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord, more than the night watch for the morning, *more than the night watch for the morning.
O Israel, wait for the Lord, *for with the Lord there is mercy;
With him is plenteous redemption *and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

 

Second Reading: Ephesians 4.25-5.2

Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Gospel Reading: John 6.35,41-51

Jesus said to the crowd, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

You can find the relevant passage in Jane Williams by searching here for ‘innately’. Here is how she ends:

Bread

Prayers of Intercession

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, we thank you for being a part of our lives in every moment of our day, not just at Sunday worship. In manifesting yourself through the very bread that we eat, you are with us in all the ordinariness of our lives. And through your presence in the everyday, the ordinary becomes charged with your grace. When we share the living bread at the altar, may we remember that we are also members one of another,  working as your Church for the coming of your kingdom here on earth.

 Lord, help us to live simply that others may simply live: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord, you have created this wonderful world, and filled it with your abundant gifts. But we have exploited it for our own ends, and with little thought for future generations. Lord, help us now to work together as good stewards of this earth and its creatures that we may yet save it with good husbandry and your grace.

 Lord, help us to live simply that others may simply live: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The local community

Lord, as the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore, make each of us an island, set apart with you,  alone with you and holy to you. Leave us each alone with you as often, and for as long, as may be. And then,  as the waters recede with the turning of the tide,  prepare us to carry your presence out into the busy world beyond, the world that rushes in on us, until once more the waters return and fold us back into you.

 Lord, help us to live simply that others may simply live: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Those who suffer

Lord, we remember before you all those for whom finding even daily bread to eat is a constant struggle. We pray for those who have been displaced by war, with their homes and communities destroyed and, with them, their way of life. We pray for those who set out into uncharted waters in the hope of finding a better future for themselves and their families. We pray for all those who suffer.

 Lord, help us to live simply that others may simply live: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The communion of saints

Lord, according to your promise, grant eternal life to those who have died in the faith of Christ. ..As they were strengthened by the bread of life in this world, grant them everlasting presence in your heavenly kingdom.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers…

Prayer after Communion

God of our pilgrimage,
you have willed that the gate of mercy
should stand open for those who trust in you:
look upon us with your favour
that we who follow the path of your will
may never wander from the way of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


 

First, a little bleat aimed at the Liturgical Commission: There are 150 psalms to choose from, that is almost one for every week of the three year cycle. That being the case, why do we have Psalm 130 – out of the depths – again for the 10th  Sunday after Trinity when we had it only six weeks ago, for the 4th Sunday after Trinity on 28 June 2015? And also on 6 April 2014, Year A, on the 5th Sunday of Lent.

Next, a note on sources this week, which are a little unusual:

The first is the sermon on the bread of life for last Sunday on the blog of the Beaker Folk of Hursborne Crawley. I urge you to read the whole blog post, as I cannot condense it into one prayer. In essence, he is pointing out that bread was the most ordinary thing in the world in 1st century Judea, the basic, staple, everyday diet, very restricted in its scope compared to ours.

The second is the prayer under the heading ‘local community’, which I have based on the prayer attributed to St Aidan, quoted by Taylor Carey in his article on this blog yesterday. It represents an eternal truth, that we cannot give of ourselves to our community without spending time alone with God in prayer: in order to be outward-looking, we need also to spend time in contemplation.


 

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Post Communion (10th after Trinity) © Rt Revd David S. Stancliffe Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 Collect (10th after Trinity) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

The Church and Discipleship – a Problem of Expectations? – Andrew Bennison

shutterstock_132844280

Valentina Razumova via Shutterstock Image ID: 132844280

 

The soft bigotry of low expectations’. It’s a phrase oft-quoted in education circles: the idea that poorer pupils are disadvantaged by the well-meaning, but ultimately pernicious, attitudes of their teachers, who assume that certain students are unable to achieve highly – assumptions which then become self-fulfilling. Thankfully, considerable attention and resources have been committed in recent years to tackling this ‘soft bigotry’ in education, and there is evidence that these efforts are beginning to pay off: raising our expectations does result in real positive change.

What relevance does this have to the Church? Well, to put it bluntly: could it be that a similar problem of low expectations inhibits the mission of the Church of England? In our parishes and congregations, do we actually expect people to be transformed ‘from one degree of glory to another’? If this isn’t visibly happening, are we concerned about it? More fundamentally, do we actually believe in the transformative power of the gospel we seek to proclaim?

Reading accounts of the early Church and patristic writings, one cannot help but be struck by the dedication and perseverance displayed by the early Christians: through their wholehearted commitment to prayer, worship and community life, their lives attested to the demanding, countercultural nature of Christian discipleship. The Church grew as people encountered the mystery of God in Christ and orientated their lives around it, pursuing what St Paul described as ‘the renewing of your minds’. In contrast, much Anglican parish life today seems to ‘be conformed to this world’: lacklustre worship, a dearth of prayer and spirituality, and overstretched clergy contribute to a culture of low expectations, in which widespread theological illiteracy amongst the laity is tolerated. Recently I read through the ‘Grow Stage’ of the Church of England’s flagship Pilgrim resources, which seeks to help Christians ‘continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship’. As the material encouraged me to reflect on and establish a ‘pattern of worship and daily prayer’, it struck me that I almost never discuss my spiritual growth and discipleship at church: a culture of etiquette and small talk ensures that we – the laity – are rarely challenged to discuss the depth and development of our faith. A forceful speech made by the Archbishop of Canterbury last week surprised me in its willingness to confront this culture of mediocrity: his uncompromising assertion that ‘the quality of our Christian lives matters very seriously to God’ took aim at the ‘cultural Christianity’ which implicitly views the laity as consumers to be satisfied, rather than ‘living stones’ to be built into ‘a spiritual house, a holy priesthood’. Low expectations are not clearly confined to one wing or tradition of the Church.

To state this critique plainly is not, of course, to invite blame and recrimination – particularly as I am aware of my own complicity in this culture of low expectations. I should also be wary of exaggeration: there are many examples of church communities who are committed to deepening the holiness and discipleship of the whole people of God. The Revd Dr Ian Mobsby has written at length about how ‘new monastic’ communities, for instance, are enabling ‘the empowering of the people of God, the laity, to be the Church, moving away from passivity and “church going” to participation and “church being”’.[1] Moreover, we are rightly suspicious of an overbearing clericalism which seeks to impose a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model of discipleship, based on crude understandings of theology and spirituality; many Anglicans would push back firmly against such a model, emphasising instead the need for humility and freedom in discipleship, open to the promptings of the Spirit. Nonetheless, it is appropriate and necessary for clergy and lay leaders to provide resources, guidance and teaching to support ordinary Christians in their spiritual journeys. Often, this will involve explicit guidance in the practice of contemplative prayer – described by Rowan Williams as ‘the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit’.[2] Seeking to live as a Christian in today’s sceptical postmodern climate can be a difficult and bewildering task; providing spiritual guidance and direction is thus vital to the priestly role of guiding God’s people ‘through [the world’s] confusions, that they may be saved through Christ for ever’.[3] To affirm that Christian faith is ultimately a mystery does not mean abdicating responsibility for helping the faithful to plumb the depths of this mystery in prayer and wonder, and in doing so to grow into the likeness of Christ.

The Church of England is currently facing an existential crisis. Disagreements abound over whether the Church should be prioritising spiritual or numerical growth. The answer, of course, is that these priorities can’t be separated: the Church becomes attractive not through its hyperactive apologetics, or through the frantic multiplying of worship styles and ‘fresh expressions’ to meet consumer demand. Rather, the Church becomes attractive when it models a new way of living: when a gathered community of disciples worship God in faith, hope, and love, bearing witness to the image of God in Christ through their very being and living. ‘You are the light of the world’, said Jesus. Perhaps it’s time to raise our expectations.

 

[1] Ian Mobsby, God Unknown: The Trinity in contemporary spirituality and mission (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2012), p. 65.
[2] Rowan Williams, ‘Archbishop’s Address to the Synod of Rome’, 10 October 2012, available here.
[3] Extract from the Church of England Ordinal for priests, available here.

St Aidan – A Model for Mission? – by Taylor Carey

Aidan

Hagiography is not biography, and what we know of the ministry of St Aidan – principally through the Ecclesiastical History of Bede – must not be considered forensic material, so much as the rich echo of a dynamic and striking life. Nonetheless, these facts we may ascertain: that in 634, Aidan, a monk from Iona, was invited by King Oswald of Northumbria, recently restored from exile, to preach the Gospel to a largely pagan people in the North East of England. Here the pagan gods were apparently in the ascendant; in either 632 or 633, King Edwin of Northumbria, who had himself deposed Oswald’s father Aelthelfrith in 616, was killed by Penda, the powerful leader of Anglo-Saxon Mercia, who joined forces with Cadwallon, King of Gwynedd to deliver a crushing blow to the Christian ruler. Though Oswald would defeat Cadwallon and regain Northumbria, he too was to meet his end at the hands of the Mercians some ten years later – though Penda never considered Oswald’s murder to constitute any particular obstacle to his own son’s marriage to Eanfled, daughter of the slain king’s brother Oswiu. These were interestingly complex times.[1]

Into this violent arena strolled Aidan, an Irish monk. We might suppose that he considered the task at hand with a biblically sound mixture of fear and trembling. On the one hand, there is just a hint in Bede’s History that he might have harboured ambitions: a previous mission from Iona had failed to win over a sceptical Northumbrian population, and Aidan, though hardly the most senior member of his community, emerges rapidly as the candidate for a second try. On the other hand, almost every aspect of his subsequent ministry directly repudiated the prevailing social assumptions of his day. Aidan served several kings, enjoying their support, yet never confusing political patronage with friendship. He impressed nobles and could speak eloquently, yet he walked everywhere, and considered peasants as human individuals, not faceless subjects. One story even has Aidan giving away a fine horse, forced upon him by Oswiu, to a beggar. In a time when travelling unarmed was a reckless invitation to beasts both human and non-human, Aidan’s monks preached the Gospel of peace with integrity, wielding not swords but ploughshares, and asking for nothing but a little patience from the communities they visited with regularity. Aidan founded a school to educate English boys, many of whom (voluntarily) became monks on Lindisfarne, where Aidan had chosen to situate his community, and had built a wooden church in 635. Out of the pages of this particular chapter of history walk countless lives touched by Aidan’s witness, many of whom benefitted from his patronage and instruction – Cedd, Chad, and Hild most directly, but, perhaps most famously, the future Bishop of Lindisfarne, and much exalted, St Cuthbert.

Whilst hagiography is not biography, what emerges from the sources regarding St Aidan is a vivid portrait of a distinctive model of mission. Admittedly, too much has often been made of so-called ‘Celtic Christianity’, an unduly romanticised construct emphasising the ‘free’ and ‘natural’ spirit of early mediaeval ecclesiology in the ‘Gaelic world’, so beloved of the post-industrial mindset. It would be worth remembering here that Aidan always sought to found an English monastery with English monks, participating in the ordered mission of the universal Church.[2] Nonetheless, I think we ought to be able to discern, within the life and witness of Aidan’s community, one or two images which may serve to enrich our own discussions of ‘mission’, which are certainly plentiful in today’s churches. In the ministry of St Aidan, then, we may find some valuable pointers for thinking more thoroughly about what ‘mission’ really entails.

Firstly, Aidan’s model of evangelism was humble, gentle, and personal. We are told by Bede that the first monk from Iona to attempt the conversion of the Northumbrian pagans met with failure. Bede names him simply as austerior, or the ‘more severe’, and implies that an impersonal and somewhat aggressive approach to demythologising the Anglo-Saxon pantheon merely aroused hostility and incredulity. By contrast, Aidan’s understanding of evangelism centred on meeting people on their own terms, rushing out to them like the father of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:20). To ‘win the neighbour for Christ’ was, in reality, the enterprise of so opening up the space and time of a shared world that God could be present to and for others. In a sense, then, Aidan’s ministry emphasised the importance of getting out of God’s way, rather than attempting to force others into a preconceived framework for holiness. In such sentiment is the clear imprint of the spirituality of the Desert Fathers, memorably recorded and broadcast to Western Christendom through the Conferences and Institutes of John Cassian (c.360 – 435), whose ascetical theology was immensely popular in early Christian Ireland.[3] Aidan’s ministry thus conformed to an ‘inculturated’ pattern which sought to avoid sharp narrative conflict with existing societal landscapes, instead working through them in a manner vividly repeated by Vincent Donovan amongst the Masai in east Africa in the 1960s.[4] The central element of mission, for Aidan, was not the performance of an act or the imparting of a particular piece of knowledge, but the relation of prayerful charity and hospitality which opened up the possibility of God’s continuous creative activity being allowed to shine through and touch others afresh. In the memorable words of one desert monk, which Aidan may even have known, ‘My rule is to welcome you with hospitality, and to send you on your way in peace’.[5]

This understanding of the activity of mission opens up a second, and perhaps more profound, realisation. Amongst the recorded conversations in Cassian’s Conferences is a warning that ‘a monk’s prayer is not perfect if in the course of it he is aware of himself or of the fact that he is praying’.[6] Evagrian spirituality, and particularly its understanding of prayer as a form of ascent to and mystical union with God, formed an influential strand of Christian thought for much of the Western Church’s formative years (itself being influenced by the Neoplatonic tinge of the Cappadocian Fathers). For Cassian, as for many influenced by his presentations of Patristic teachings, spirituality was, fundamentally, the occupation of a certain place in the world, standing ‘where Christ stands’ in relation to the Father. To ‘put on’ Christ in this way was never primarily a matter of exercising a certain set of skills or activities, but rather, to so attune one’s life to response to God and neighbour that we are ‘swept up into the Son’s journey towards the Father, his eternal and temporal pouring of his life into the life of the Father who eternally pours his life into the Son’.[7]

For the Christian, the life of the spirit is an invitation into the ‘way’ of Jesus Christ, the crucified God. It should thus be clear that any understanding of mission must take as its basic point of reference a particular located narrative; a series of (diverse, challenging, problematic) images which serve as further invitations into the depths of Jesus’ divine life, and which are, as such, sources of the radical re-description of our environment. To ask, then, what ‘mission’ would look like in such a scheme would be rapidly to find the fundamental inseparability of Jesus’ life and work. As Rowan Williams puts it, ‘The mission of Jesus is his concrete reality: God’s purpose is satisfied when the lost and the lawless come into specific relationship with Jesus… There is no mission which is not this sort of involvement…in Jesus, mission and person are identical’.[8]

Hence, perhaps, for Aidan, as for countless Christians before and since, the inseparability of contemplation and mission. The grounding of Christian ‘activity’ in a rigorous pattern of asceticism might be seen as a form of guarantee against the separation of these two images of Jesus’ own life – his personhood, and his being ‘sent by the Father’. Holding these images together, for all their tensions and difficulties, provides the space for a radical understanding of what the proclamation of the Gospel might be: nothing less than our own immersion in the depths of divine creativity and love, through which our environment may be so opened and transformed, that something of God’s grandeur may show forth and prove a spectacle most wonderful for all. This, we might dare to assume – though of course we cannot let ourselves think he would have expressed it in such language – was the inspired vision of St Aidan, and the pattern to which he sought to conform as he rejected so many other assumptions of his day. Plodding humbly through peasants’ fields and villages, teaching with patience and courtesy, and finding where God spoke through others before he presumed to tell them anything, St Aidan might just be a model for our contemporary understanding of mission. In the words of a prayer ascribed to him:[9]

Leave me alone with God as much as may be.

As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore make me an island, set apart, alone with you, God, holy to you.

Then with the turning of the tide prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond, the world that rushes in on me till the waters come again and fold me back to you.


 

[1] For a lucid and accessible account of these developments, and their relation to St Aidan and Lindisfarne, see Kate Tristram, The Story of Holy Island (Norwich, 2009).

[2] This is a contentious issue. Quite obviously, the spiritual offshoots deriving (consciously or otherwise!) from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica (first published in 1900) constitute, in a non-cognitivist sense, an authentic ‘Celtic Christianity’. The difficulty arises when such frameworks are then read back into the historical record (sketchy and agenda-ridden as Bede’s account, for example, often is). Such recent developments must also be seen in the light of various post-Reformation attempts to play up the importance of the Synod of Whitby in 664.

[3] Irish monasticism was marked by a twofold emphasis on biblical theology (due to the necessity of learning Latin in order to absorb the wisdom of the Scriptures, which orientated Irish theology towards an understanding of its task as the true revelation of the hidden depths of the Word of God), and rigorous asceticism, which aided the gruelling enterprise of memorising the Scriptures and other important texts, including Cassian’s Institutes and Conferences. For a fascinating portrait of Irish monastic spirituality as evidenced by the life of one of its earliest ‘celebrities’, see Kate Tristram, Columbanus: The Earliest Voice of Christian Ireland (Blackrock, 2010).

[4] See Vincent J. Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered (London, 1982).

[5] Benedicta Ward (ed.), The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (London, 2003), p.136.

[6] John Cassian, Conference 9:31.

[7] Rowan Williams, ‘To Stand Where Christ Stands’, in Ralph Waller and Benedicta Ward (eds.) An Introduction to Christian Spirituality, pp.6-7. See in the same volume Kallistos Ware, ‘Prayer in Evagrius of Pontus and the Macarian Homilies’, pp.14-30.

[8] Rowan Williams, Open to Judgement (London, 1994), pp.254-255.

[9] Though, of course, not written by him.

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