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The Decline Of The Church And The Strangeness Of God: by Andrew Bennison

HS 001

I find that few things are more humbling, as a teacher, than being forced to go ‘back to basics’: you’re trying to explain an idea or concept and – despite your best efforts – the looks of confusion and incomprehension remain. You realise at this moment that it is pointless to continue re-wording, revising or clarifying your explanation – the weaknesses in understanding are much more foundational, and you need to return to the fundamental premise or first principle of your topic, without which nothing further makes sense. The lesson plan is ditched and you need to think on your feet. In my experience the ensuing process is often unexpectedly fruitful for the teacher: returning to the starting point of your knowledge can prompt you to see the whole topic in a new light. This might involve re-discovering what originally fascinated or perplexed you, and being startled that what has over time become dull and prosaic now strikes you afresh as radically strange, complex and exciting. In short, the experience can lead to something of an epiphany.

 

Of course, this experience is not confined to classroom teaching. Last Sunday (Pentecost) I was taken by surprise when a curious member of my family, who is not a church-goer, asked me a simple question: ‘What is the Holy Spirit?’. My reply, which sought to sketch out a Trinitarian theology in layman’s terms, produced only confusion and incomprehension. I soon realised that this was the wrong question to be answering; for a meaningful conversation to develop I would need to go ‘back to basics’, and start with the question ‘What is a Christian?’ And so I did. I set aside some time to write an answer to this question for an imagined interlocutor who knows none of the stories or vocabulary of the Christian faith – indeed, for whom the word ‘faith’ itself produces little recognition. The experience was extraordinary. In my writing I discovered afresh the outlandish ‘strangeness’ of Christian faith when explained systematically. It felt simultaneously familiar and radically unfamiliar. Indeed, it sounded so odd that I felt embarrassed at the prospect of sharing it with friends and family. And yet I still believed it with my whole heart.

 

For me, the true epiphany was the thought which followed on from this: could it be that the crucial task of the Church in our time is to rediscover the ‘strangeness’ of Christianity? The Church of England is currently facing up to a profound existential crisis, prompted by the sustained – and possibly terminal – decline of church-going in recent decades. The ‘Reform and Renewal’ programme currently proposed to meet this crisis is couched in the calm, dispassionate language of institutional decision-making, but I cannot help but suspect that a dominant motivation is fear. Indeed, as someone contemplating a lifetime of ministry in the Church, I am myself conscious of the fear which the prospect of decline instinctively provokes: am I setting myself up, I wonder, for an unstable career in a dying, demoralised institution, forever on the back foot as churches and congregation disappear around me and the Church progressively loses its influence in the public sphere?

 

Confronted afresh by the ‘strangeness’ of Christianity, however, I begin to see the prospect of ‘decline’ in a new light. As I consider the ongoing wrestling with mystery which characterises my life of Christian faith, I am sceptical that a majority of those in historic Christendom have ever orientated their lives in faithful response to the call of Jesus Christ. The Christian life is hard – it is, after all, the way of the cross – and the testimony of history would seem to indicate that ‘Christian’ has been for many Western people down the ages (perhaps even for many churchgoers) more a marker of identity than a description of their lived inner reality. Could it be therefore that the collapse of Christendom provides the opportunity for the revival of the strange, distinctive witness of the Church? Could it be that, shorn of its cultural dominance, architectural presence and political influence, the Church of England is freed to refocus on what truly matters most: hospitality, fellowship, prayer and worship? I was struck by the Revd Sam Wells’ sermon observation at St Martin-in-the-Fields on the Fourth Sunday of Easter that ‘the critical mass of the sorted and normal no longer assumes church is part of what it means to be sorted and normal’. When our Christian identity loses its comforting sense of security for us, I wonder whether we will find a renewed security in fellowship with God and one another, embracing our new-found freedom to live as salt and light in the world?

 

Of course, I do not want the Church to decline numerically. I desire to see more and more people finding the peace and healing that comes through knowing God in Jesus Christ. But if, as seems likely, the Church does continue to decline, our hope in Christ – the one who reminds us always not to be afraid – can be undiminished. We will still gather to break bread with glad and generous hearts, rejoicing afresh in the strangeness of God, whose loving reality is both mysteriously immanent and radically unknown. And perhaps we will then pray with renewed confidence: ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people, and kindle in us the fire of your love’.


s200_andrew.bennison Andrew Bennison was at Trinity College Oxford and now teaches history. He blogs at Musings on Mystery and describes himself thus: “History teacher, Christian, identical twin, London-dweller and countryside-lover (among other things). This blog is my attempt to share my experience of the mystery of God, and to create a space for generous conversations.”

 

Intercessions for Trinity Sunday Year B: 31 May 2015

Boss depicting Holy Trinity, Peterborough Cathedral (Wikimedia under CCL)

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity and in the power of the divine majesty to  worship the Unity: keep us steadfast in this faith, that we may evermore be defended from all adversities; 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: Isaiah 6.1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:  ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, you powers of heaven, * ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the honour due to his name; * worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders; * the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is mighty in operation; * the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; * the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf * and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord splits the flash of lightning; the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; * the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare; * in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’
The Lord sits enthroned above the water flood; * the Lord sits enthroned as king for evermore.
The Lord shall give strength to his people; * the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Second Reading: Romans 8.12-17

Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—  for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Gospel Reading: John 3.1-17

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’

The RSCM has: “So often we attempt to split God into his component parts on Trinity Sunday, but it’s like trying to split the atom, using huge amounts of energy to do something that is potentially very dangerous. Warmth and light – energy emanating from the sun – are integral to it being the sun…No wonder Jesus so often spoke in parables, and no wonder Nicodemus was confused. But at the heart it is a simple story…The Trinity is not, after all, a puzzle to be solved, it is the very life of God in which we are invited to share.”

You can read the whole of Jane Williams on this year’s Trinity readings here, by searching for ‘milk’ (p74), but she begins:

Capture

Prayers of Intercession

 

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, we hear the sound of the wind of your Holy Spirit as it blows through our world and our Church. We know this Spirit does not appear to our timetable, or blow in the direction we are expecting or at the exact strength we would like. Help us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to listen for the wind, knowing that if our doubts are too deep we may drown but if our certainties are too strong we shall stumble and fall. Hold us, Lord, trembling on the tightrope of faith as we seek to do your will.

Lord our creator, powerfully sustaining: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

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

Lord, your voice divides the lightning flash and your glory thunders over the oceans. Your voice resounds through the mountains, echoing your glory and splendour. Your voice whirls through the sands of the desert, the whistling sands of the desert storm. More powerful than tempest or flood, your love embraces all the powers of creation. Give strength, we pray,  to your people and let all the powers of the universe praise you, O Creator, as we worship you in the beauty of holiness. *

Lord our creator, powerfully sustaining: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶The local community

Lord, help us to imitate in our own lives the unbroken harmony  and mutual love of the Holy Trinity, moving seamlessly from one to another, drawing on the strengths of each. Lord, strengthen the bonds of our community and may this grace and balance be reflected in our families, our lives and all our relationships.

Lord our creator, powerfully sustaining: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶Those who suffer

Lord, have mercy on those whose lives are crippled by physical, mental or spiritual strain and anxiety. Release their tension, give them the blessing of inward peace, and restore them to the wholeness which is your will for all.

Lord our creator, powerfully sustaining: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶The communion of saints

Lord, our mystery, you bring us to life and move between us with love. May we so participate in the dance of your trinity that our lives may resonate with you, now and in the hereafter, in the company of those whom we have loved.

 

Merciful Father, accept these prayers….

*This prayer is based on Jim Cotter’s meditation on Psalm 29.

Prayer after Communion

Almighty and eternal God,
you have revealed yourself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
and live and reign in the perfect unity of love:
hold us firm in this faith,
that we may know you in all your ways
and evermore rejoice in your eternal glory,
who are three Persons yet one God,
now and for ever.

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 (Trinity Sunday) © Oxford University Press: The Book of Common Worship of the Church of South India Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000
Collect (Trinity Sunday) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

Intercessions for Pentecost Year B: 24 May 2015

Hosios_Loukas_Katholikon_(sanctuary_vault)_-_Pentecost_-_detail_01_Glossai

Pentecost Mosaic in Hosios Loukas via Wikimedia under CCL

The Collect

God, who as at this time taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, 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: Acts 2.1-21

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.’ But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Psalm 104.26-36,37b

O Lord, how manifold are your works! * In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, spread far and wide, * and there move creatures beyond number, both small and great.
There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan * which you have made to play in the deep.
All of these look to you * to give them their food in due season.
When you give it them, they gather it; * you open your hand and they are filled with good.
When you hide your face they are troubled; * when you take away their breath, they die and return again to the dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created, * and you renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; * may the Lord rejoice in his works;
He looks on the earth and it trembles; * he touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; * I will make music to my God while I have my being.
So shall my song please him* while I rejoice in the Lord.

Bless the Lord, O my soul. Alleluia.

Second Reading: Romans 8.22-27

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Gospel Reading: John 15.26-27; 16.4b-15

Jesus spoke to his disciples: ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. ‘I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’


 

Jane Williams has a good account of some of the complexities of the Pentecost, which you can read here on page 70 by searching ‘soppy’. The RSCM has: “There’s a sound like wind, but  no movement of the air. There is something that looks like flames, but no one is burned. Nothing is what it seems. The disciples appear drunk, but are stone cold sober. The crowd look like a disparate gathering of ‘every nation under heaven’, but they have the potential under the creative work of the Holy Spirit to become united in the body of Christ. They only have to hear and see (understand) Peter’s message for themselves.”

 

Prayers of Intercession

In the power of the Holy Spirit, which we have received through grace, let us pray; and may our prayers be worthy of that grace:

¶The Church of Christ

Lord of light, enlighten us. Lord of warmth and love, evermore enkindle us. Lord and giver of life, evermore live in us. Lord who bestows grace on us sevenfold, evermore replenish us. As the wind is your symbol, so breathe your inspiration on our endeavours. As the dove, launch us heavenwards. As you are water, so purify our souls. As a cloud, veil our temptations and lessen them. As you are dew, revive us when we tire. And as you are fire, purge from us our dross. *

Lord, pour out your Spirit upon us: in your mercy, hear our prayer

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

Lord, you know better than do we the challenges that face us in caring for your creation. Sometimes these problems seem overwhelmingly complex, and solutions hard to find. Come, Holy Spirit. Sometimes we can almost hear the earth groaning under the onslaught. Come, Holy Spirit, come to lead us, come to guide us, so that we may work through your power and rest in your presence.

Lord, pour out your Spirit upon us: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The local community

Lord, fill our homes and our hearts with the warmth of your love. Breathe on us and inspire us with new ideas and new possibilities, as well as enabling us to see the comfortable and familiar in a new light. Guide us in our relationships with each other, and draw us together to serve you in love and joy.

Lord, pour out your Spirit upon us: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Those who suffer

Lord, we pray for those who suffer in mind, body or spirit. For those who can see only the dark corners, even on the brightest day. For those who fear lurking dangers on every side. For those who have lost confidence in their ability to deal with what the day may bring. For those whose pain is unremitting. For those whose inner light seems about to be extinguished. Comfort them all, we pray, with the promise of your healing presence.

Lord, pour out your Spirit upon us: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The communion of saints

Lord, we pray for those who now rejoice in the perfect knowledge and unclouded vision of your nearer presence. May we who now know and worship you imperfectly in this world come at last into that same eternal light..

Merciful Father, accept these prayers….

Prayer after Communion

Faithful God,
who fulfilled the promises of Easter
by sending us your Holy Spirit
and opening to every race and nation
the way of life eternal:
open our lips by your Spirit,
that every tongue may tell of your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

* This prayer is based on the Pentecost prayer ‘Be The Power Of All Things Within Us‘ by Christina Rossetti (1830-94) (quoted in The Lion Book of Christian Poetry)

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Post Communion (Day of Pentecost) © 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 Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2002 Blessing (Day after Ascension Day until Pentecost; Guidance) © The Archbishops’ Council Collect (Pentecost) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

Intercessions for Seventh Sunday of Easter Year B: 17 May 2015

"Wien - Steinhof - Engel auf der Otto-Wagner-Kirche" by Haeferl - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 at via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wien_-_Steinhof_-_Engel_auf_der_Otto-Wagner-Kirche.jpg#/media/File:Wien_-_Steinhof_-_Engel_auf_der_Otto-Wagner-Kirche.jpg

Otto Wagner Kirche, Vienna via CCL

 

The Collect

O God the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: we beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before, 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: Acts 1.15-17,21-26

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people). He said, ‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus – for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

 

Psalm 1

Refrain: The Lord knows the way of the righteous.

Blessed are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, * nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the assembly of the scornful.
Their delight is in the law of the Lord * and they meditate on his law day and night.
Like a tree planted by streams of water bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither, * whatever they do, it shall prosper. R
As for the wicked, it is not so with them; * they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked shall not be able to stand in the judgement, * nor the sinner in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, * but the way of the wicked shall perish.

Refrain: The Lord knows the way of the righteous.

 

Second Reading: 1 John 5.9-13

If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

 

Gospel Reading: John 17.6-19

Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed: ‘Father, I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.’

The RSCM (2009) says: “St John’s Gospel gives us Jesus’ long prayer to the Father for his followers, present and yet to come. It is beautiful in its intimacy, both in the way Jesus speaks to his Father and the things he asks for his friends. To know oneself to be the subject of such a prayer is astonishing. It must have sustained the disciples in that ‘in-between time’ after the Ascension and before Pentecost, a time almost as dark as his absence on Easter Eve. It can sustain us too.”

Prayers of Intercession

 

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, giver of life, you bless us when we delight in your truth and ponder your law.  We struggle with evil in our hearts, tossed to and fro like chaff in the wind. Save us, we pray,  from the desert of faithlessness, and nourish us with your living water so that in due season we may bring forth fruit whose leaves shall not wither away. *

Lord, keep us true to your way: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

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

Lord, help us to build on the values of your eternity. We pray for all those who must make decisions that will affect the lives of others. Impress on them the great privilege they have been afforded, and its accompanying responsibilities.  Fill them with your wisdom and compassion so that they may never abuse their authority, but instead be steadfast in seeking the common good and your greater glory.

Lord, keep us true to your way: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶The local community

Lord, you have set us in the world, while holding before us the beacon of the celestial city. Help us to base our own communities on that city. When we have short-term setbacks, or when we find each other difficult to work with, let us remember that vision of a shining city on a hill and give us renewed strength, we pray, to do what we can, with what we have, where we are, to build it here on earth.

Lord, keep us true to your way: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶Those who suffer

Lord, shine your light into our darkness and despair.  We pray for all who are struggling with their faith. For those who are in mental anguish, either because of their own pain, or because they watch the sufferings of those whom they love. For families, where relationships have broken down. For all who are ill or in chronic pain. May all know the reality of your presence, and thus be strengthened and comforted.

Lord, keep us true to your way: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶The communion of saints

Lord, we pray for loved ones departed, that in you they may know newness of life. Bring us, also, at the last to rejoice with you

Merciful Father, accept these prayers…

 

 


 

Prayer after Communion

Eternal God, giver of love and power,
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom:
confirm us in this mission,
and help us to live the good news we proclaim;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Christ our wisdom,
give us delight in your law,
that we may bear fruits of patience and peace
in the kingdom of the righteous;
for your mercy ’s sake.

 

* Based on Jim Cotter’s meditiation on Psalm 1.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Post Communion (7th of Easter) © 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 Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2002 Blessing (Day after Ascension Day until Pentecost; Guidance) © The Archbishops’ Council Collect (7th of Easter) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

Conservative Evangelicalism, Gender, and the Episcopate: by the Revd Liam Beadle

Crop_Book_of_Isaiah_2006-06-06
I am writing in the week of a general election. Without wishing to predict the future, it is likely that the following week will be taken up with conversations between possible coalition partners. It is helpful to think of evangelical Anglicanism as a coalition. Bishop Graham Kings has identified three ‘parties’: conservative, open, and charismatic. While there is some overlap between them, as in a coalition government, relationships between the three are not always easy, and this is one of the reasons for the appointment of Rod Thomas as Bishop of Maidstone. Our prayer is that a conservative evangelical voice on the bench will enable the evangelical coalition to flourish.

But what is a conservative evangelical anyway? Any outline is bound to be personal and impressionistic, but to get our bearings there are a number of historical influences, contemporary concerns, and external markers. It is these which distinguish conservative evangelicalism from the evangelicalism of Holy Trinity Brompton and the Alpha course which nurtured the Archbishop of Canterbury and from the evangelicalism of senior figures such as Bishop Graham Kings, associated with the Fulcrum movement. An obvious historical influence is John Calvin, the misrepresented second-generation reformer. Calvin’s sharp legal mind and knowledge of the Scriptures and the Fathers make him a sublime theologian, whose Institutes of the Christian Religion is one of the great books of the world. While many of Calvin’s followers have been regarded as dour, his theology emphasises joyful confidence in the sovereignty of God, giving rise to a deep assurance of salvation in those who read the Scriptures through the lenses he provides.

Another obvious historical influence, this time from within the Church of England, is J. C. Ryle, the first Bishop of Liverpool. Ryle’s writing is pithy and accessible, while giving a beautifully clear defence of the Reformed nature of true Anglicanism. A primary contemporary concern of conservative evangelicals is expository preaching. The ministry of Dick Lucas at St Helen’s Bishopsgate and the establishment of the Proclamation Trust have done much to make conservative evangelical Anglican preaching one of the secret glories of the Church of England. The conservative evangelical conviction is that the preached word is the voice of God. There is an excitement about conservative evangelical gatherings not because of high-octane music or perpetual innovation, but because of the expectation that God will address his people through his word.

As far as external markers are concerned, historically the position of the officiant at the Lord’s Supper at the north-side of the holy table was the obvious one, and grants to parishes from evangelical trusts were often contingent on it. It can still be found, but a more reliable external mark is that while open and charismatic evangelicals are happy to adapt Common Worship Order One, conservative evangelicals prefer to use Order Two, most often in contemporary language. In a conservative evangelical parish church you are unlikely to find candles, but you will always find Bibles in the pews – very often the English Standard Version. It is a very distinct group of Anglicans.I am enormously grateful to them: I came to a living faith through their ministry, and they taught me to preach.

I am not convinced by the current conservative evangelical opposition to the consecration of women bishops, but I do claim to understand it, and hope to represent it fairly. It should be obvious that for conservative evangelicals the supreme authority is not the wisdom of the world or even the tradition of the Church, but the Bible. They have Article XX on their side: ‘…it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.’ Conservative evangelicals believe that for women to exercise a ministry of headship in the church (that is, as an incumbent or bishop) would be contrary to Scripture. The classic texts have been discussed elsewhere, but for reference I Timothy ii.11 ff. is read alongside I Corinthians xiv.34 and an appeal to the order of creation and the nature of the marital relationship, giving especial weight to Ephesians v.22-24 and 32. Conservative evangelicals are adamant that women are equal to men and that this understanding of Scripture honours women, enabling them to play a vital part in the life of the local Church.
 
It is the local Church which is primary for conservative evangelicals. Again, they will appeal to the Articles, specifically to Article XIX: ‘The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.’ But if this is the case, why do bishops matter at all?First, and most importantly, conservative evangelical Anglicans believe that the seeds of episcopal ministry are to be found in Scripture. The New Testament refers both to elders and overseers, that is, to presbyters and bishops. While in the first century it seems these rôles were combined, in time they were separated. The Book of Common Prayer refers to ‘the Ordering of Priests’ but to ‘the Consecration of Bishops’: that is, presbyters are consecrated (or ‘set apart’) for ministry as a Bishop. Bishops thus have a distinctive purpose within (not apart from) the presbyterate.
 
Secondly, conservative evangelical Anglicans believe that episcopal ministry benefits the Church. To them, the accusation of congregationalism is not particularly offensive, but nor is it entirely accurate. While to be apostolic is to submit to the apostles’ teaching in Scripture, there is an ‘apostolicity’ about episcopal ministry. St Paul did not set apart committees for ministry and mission. He set apart men. That is why it is important for conservative evangelicals to have bishops to whom they can relate with confidence. While personally wary of an ecclesiology in which congregations may choose their bishop for a particular doctrinal stance, clearly conservative evangelicals have specific needs which arise from a specific hermeneutical understanding of gender and ministry.
 
It is to be hoped that an honoured place for conservative evangelicals in the Church’s ministry will enable all evangelicals to unite in mission, that the people of England may hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and come to a living faith in him.


liam phot webLiam Beadle is the Vicar of Honley in the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. He grew up in Newcastle and read Theology at Oxford before training for ordained ministry at Cranmer Hall, Durham.

He likes second-hand bookshops and gin.

His chief desire is to preach God’s word to the end that God’s chosen people will worship God in the name of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

I am extremely grateful to the Revd Liam Beadle for agreeing without knowing much about me or the website to write this piece for us in an attempt to explain the viewpoint of Conservative Evangelicals. Until now, I have had some difficulty in grasping why, for example, they insist on male headship but I now understand much better how and why it is so central in their ecclesiology.

Intercessions for Sixth Sunday of Easter Year B: 10 May 2015

Marcus_Larson_-_Dramatiskt_forslandskap_med_figurer_och_kvarnbyggnader

Marcus Larson: Dramatiskt forslandskap med figurer och kvarnbyggnader 1854

The Collect

God our redeemer, you have delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of your Son: grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life, so by his continual presence in us he may raise us to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

¶ The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Acts 10.44-48

While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Psalm 98

Refrain: The Lord has made known his salvation.

Sing to the Lord a new song, *for he has done marvellous things.
His own right hand and his holy arm *have won for him the victory.
The Lord has made known his salvation; * his deliverance has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his mercy and faithfulness towards the house of Israel, * and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. R
Sound praises to the Lord, all the earth; * break into singing and make music.
Make music to the Lord with the lyre, * with the lyre and the voice of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn * sound praises before the Lord, the King. R
Let the sea thunder and all that fills it, * the world and all that dwell upon it.
Let the rivers clap their hands * and let the hills ring out together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
In righteousness shall he judge the world * and the peoples with equity.

Refrain: The Lord has made known his salvation.

 

Second Reading: 1 John 5.1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
 

Gospel Reading: John 15.9-17

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’

 

The RSCM (2009) has: “Fruit frames this passage of St John’s Gospel: last week’s reading spoke of the Vine, and here is the ‘juice’, or the heart of the matter. Bearing fruit in Christ means loving people. Sometimes this is accompanied by warmth of feeling, sometimes (perhaps often?) it is a sheer act of will in obedience to the commandment Jesus lays on us, to love one another. Always this fruit is produced not in our own strength, but because he first chose us to go and bear it.”

Prayers of Intercession

¶The Church of Christ

Lord we pray for your Church. You speak to us, urging us to follow the example of your Son, and to fulfil your word. Now that we see only through a glass darkly, may we know ourselves unsatisfied with all that distorts your truth. Help us to understand your purpose through the words of scripture, finding your Word beyond,  and listening to your liberating voice. Give us hearts to long for you, grace to discern you, and courage to proclaim you.

Lord, who makes all things new: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

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

Lord, with the strength of endurance and the folly of weakness, with the wisdom of justice and the power of gentleness, you have brought triumph from the midst of defeat. Work still in these our days, we pray, bringing new and unexpected life out of despair and death, that we may sing a new song to your glory. *

Lord, who makes all things new: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶The local community

Lord, may the power of your love overcome the pettiness and squabbling that divides people. Make us loving and filled with your grace in our human relationships, that we may show ourselves to be amongst those whom Christ called his friends.

Lord, who makes all things new: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶Those who suffer

Lord, we ask for your mercy on those who find it difficult to love because they have rarely been loved in their turn. Look with compassion and understanding on those in whom the will to love has grown cold. Visit with new life the neglected and lonely of our society. Shine light and warmth into the hearts of those who long for human companionship, and may they thus be led to you.

Lord, who makes all things new: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶The communion of saints

Lord, we give thanks for those who were called to be followers of Christ in this world, and all those whose beliefs were known only to unto you. May they be received into eternal life with that divine love which they first glimpsed through the gift of love between one human and another.

Lord, who makes all things new: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 
.


*Based on Jim Cotter’s interpretation of Psalm 98.

Prayer after Communion

God our Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ gives the water of eternal life:
may we thirst for you,
the spring of life and source of goodness,
through him who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Post Communion (6th of Easter) © 1985 Anglican Church of Canada: The Book of Alternative Services Invitation to Confession (Easter Day until Eve of Ascension) © 1988 Continuum (Mowbray) (Adapted) 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 (6th of Easter, Short) © The Archbishops’ Council 2005

Intercessions for Fifth Sunday of Easter Year B: 3 May 2015

Cluster_in_mid_veraison

“Cluster in mid veraison” by Agne27 Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Collect

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant that, as by your grace going before us you put into our minds good desires, so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect; through Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen.
 

¶ The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Acts 8.26-40

An angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.’ The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
 

Psalm 22.25-31

From you comes my praise in the great congregation; * I will perform my vows in the presence of those that fear you.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; * those who seek the Lord shall praise him; their hearts shall live for ever.
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, * and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s * and he rules over the nations.
How can those who sleep in the earth bow down in worship, * or those who go down to the dust kneel before him?
He has saved my life for himself; my descendants shall serve him; * this shall be told of the Lord for generations to come.
They shall come and make known his salvation, to a people yet unborn, * declaring that he, the Lord, has done it.
 

Second Reading: 1 John 4.7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. 2Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
 

Gospel Reading: John 15.1-8

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’
 

 
Jane Williams writes:

Jane

Prayers of Intercession

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, grant that your Church, constant in faith and love, may bring forth good fruit. Rooted in you, we know that such fruitfulness is not only possible but cannot be prevented with you as the dresser of the vine, pruning us into the form you would have us take. Help us to understand that, though there are many branches, we all stem from the one vine, the true vine, our Saviour. And then others, too, may taste and see that you are good.

Lord, where we see love we recognise your presence: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

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

Lord, help us to see that sometimes structures which seem part of our very existence are in reality so much dead wood, and that there can be no renewal without first clearing out all that is decayed. Only then, like a phoenix from the ashes, can we build the new Jerusalem. Help us to be bold in our spring cleaning, so that new life may burst into being, in your name.

Lord, where we see love we recognise your presence: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶The local community

Lord, you have set each one of us into a community, with needs and strengths and weaknesses. Help us to form a useful part of that community and teach us where you need us to be doing, and where you ask us simply to be. Let us do all that we do in a spirit of love, reflecting the example of our Saviour, and where we fail, as we know we will, let us above all do no harm.

Lord, where we see love we recognise your presence: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶Those who suffer

Lord, we pray for those who are in pain, whether of the mind, body or spirit. Be with them in their travail, and let them know that, whatever they are called upon to undergo, you will always be by their side. May they feel the reality of your everlasting arms, buoying them up on their journey through the vale of tears, whether it be long or short.

Lord, where we see love we recognise your presence: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶The communion of saints

Lord, we pray for those who have departed this life and are now in your everlasting presence. May those who felt their lives to be marred by fruitlessness and aridity now find fullness and fulfilment beyond measure.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers…

 

Prayer after Communion

Eternal God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life: grant us to walk in his way, to rejoice in his truth, and to share his risen life; who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

 

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Invitation to Confession (Easter Day until Eve of Ascension) © 1988 Continuum (Mowbray) (Adapted) 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 (5th of Easter, Short) © The Archbishops’ Council 2005

Intercessions for Fourth Sunday of Easter Year B: 26 April 2015

Blake_shepherd

The Collect

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life: raise us, who trust in him,  from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, that we may seek those things which are above, where he reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

¶ The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Acts 4.5-12

The Jewish rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

Psalm 23

Refrain: I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The Lord is my shepherd; *therefore can I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures * and leads me beside still waters. R
He shall refresh my soul * and guide me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; * for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. R
You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; * you have anointed my head with oil and my cup shall be full.
Surely goodness and loving mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, * and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Refrain: I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

 

Second Reading: 1 John 3.16-24

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Gospel Reading: John 10.11-18

Jesus said to the Pharisees: ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’

The RSCM says (2006): “There are so many things that call out for our attention that it can be hard to hear the voice of God, let alone to follow it…we can only say this: that amongst all the idols that vie for our allegiance, only the Good Shepherd has translated promises into actions and laid down his life for his flock.”

Jane Williams has a gloss which helps us to look beyond the sheep to the message (search ‘ostensible’ here). ‘The sheep would not have come to trust the shepherd if he had come out and given them a sermon a day. His voice would not be the one they loved and believed if they had not experienced it first as the voice of practical care…we have to live in the world as if we really did believe in Jesus…we have to live together, one flock with one shepherd, as though we knew that this is what we were made for. Any other way of living is out of tune with the whole purpose of the universe. Luckily, the voice of the good shepherd is still heard in the Holy Spirit, since we still need to learn how to be shepherds ourselves’.

Prayers of Intercession

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, we thank you for sending us the Great Shepherd, your son, to lay down his life for his sheep and to set us the supreme example to be followed. Help us to live together as one body in Christ, one flock with one shepherd. Help us to see this as our part as you work out your purpose for mankind. And teach us, through the voice of your Holy Spirit, to be shepherds in our turn as we feed and care for the flock in your name.

Lord, your rod and your staff they comfort us: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 

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

Lord, you have taught us that no one is an island, entire of itself; we are all a piece of the continent, and of the whole world that we live in. We thank you for the gift of television, though it brings vivid reminders of man’s inhumanity to man daily into our homes. We thank you for the reminder that the death of any of our fellow humans diminishes us, because we are involved in mankind. Let us never ask who is responsible, when we know in our heart of hearts that the answer is each one of us.

Lord, your rod and your staff they comfort us: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 

¶The local community

Lord, you promise a world where those who now weep shall laugh; those who are hungry shall feast; those who are now poor or excluded shall claim your kingdom for their own. Help us to build such a world in the here and now, and let it begin with each one of us. Let us learn to live together in harmony, and let it begin right now. And, Lord, give us the perseverance, courage and hope to work towards this as a reality.

Lord, your rod and your staff they comfort us: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 

¶Those who suffer

Lord, you are a very present help in time of trouble to all those who suffer pain in body, mind or spirit. We pray for those whose pain is acute, and in this very moment. We pray for those whose pain is a dread for the future or an ache of longing for the past. We pray for those whose pain will be short in duration, and we pray for those who will have to live with their sorrow for some time to come.

Lord, your rod and your staff they comfort us: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 

¶The communion of saints

Lord, you brought your son through the valley of death to reign with you for all eternity. We bring before you…..

Comfort us with your protecting presence, and your angels of goodness and love, that we too may come home and dwell in your house for ever.

 

Merciful Father, accept these prayers…

 

Prayer after Communion

Merciful Father,
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again:
keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Invitation to Confession (Easter Day until Eve of Ascension) © 1988 Continuum (Mowbray) (Adapted) Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Post Communion (4th of Easter) © 1995 General Synod of the Church of Ireland Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000

Intercessions for Third Sunday of Easter Year B: 19 April 2015

Emmaus

 A wayside shrine in Lower Austria, painted by Albert Huspeka in 1996. CCL.

The Collect

Almighty Father, who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord: give us such knowledge of his presence with us, that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life and serve you continually in righteousness and 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.

¶ The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Acts 3.12-19

Peter addressed the people, ‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. ‘And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.’

 

Psalm 4

Refrain: In peace I will lie down and sleep.

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness; *you set me at liberty when I was in trouble; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
How long will you nobles dishonour my glory; * how long will you love vain things and seek after falsehood?
But know that the Lord has shown me his marvellous kindness; * when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me.
Stand in awe, and sin not; * commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. R
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness * and put your trust in the Lord.
There are many that say, ‘Who will show us any good?’ * Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon us.
You have put gladness in my heart, * more than when their corn and wine and oil increase.
In peace I will lie down and sleep, * for it is you Lord, only, who make me dwell in safety.

Refrain: In peace I will lie down and sleep.

 

Second Reading: 1 John 3.1-7

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

 

Luke 24.36b-48

While the eleven and their companions were talking about what they had heard, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’

If you could be one of the disciples for a day, which day would you choose? I think for me it would be this moment, watching Christ eat a piece of grilled fish just like the old times, the very ordinariness of it. And then ‘he opens their minds to understand the scriptures’: the full understanding of the meaning of the resurrection is unlocked as they share their meal, knowing that they are somehow reunited, forever.

 

Prayers of Intercession

Give us today, O God,
a glad heart and a clear conscience,
that when we come to this day’s end
we may rest in peace with Christ our Lord.

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, open the minds and hearts of your people to the living reality of your presence amongst us, and help us to live our lives reflecting that reality in ourselves and to others. We thank you that in the Eucharist, the beating heart of Christian worship, we your people have taken, eaten, and remembered for nearly two thousand years, opening ourselves to transformation in mind, body and spirit.

Lord, may we see you more clearly day by day: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

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

Lord, look with tenderness on this fragile earth, our island home. Help, we pray, all our human efforts to nurture nature, the flora and fauna you have entrusted to our care, the air that we breathe and the water that we drink. Help us as we work towards a fairer distribution of the world’s resources, so that none shall die for lack of food or clean water. Look with compassion on a world where the innocent still suffer and authority is often unjust. Give wisdom to those who rule over others and teach them to use their power aright.

Lord, may we love you more dearly day by day: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶The local community

Lord, grant that we shall know the presence of Christ in our families and among our friends. May he always be the unseen guest at our meals, so that we may welcome others in his name and take pleasure in their presence.

Lord, may we see you more clearly day by day: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶Those who suffer

Lord of gentle strength and steadfast courage, be present to those who live in fear so that they too may find courage. When others whisper that you have faded from human sight and are lost in silence for ever, hear their cries and melt the ice of their fears. Make those who suffer know the reality that your steadfast love will never fail but endure for ever and ever.

Lord, may we follow you more nearly day by day: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶The communion of saints

Lord, we give thanks for the departed who are lifted up with Christ to eternal life….May they rejoice with him in his risen and ascended glory

 

Merciful Father, accept these prayers….

 

Prayer after Communion

Living God,
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread:
open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in all his redeeming work;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Post Communion (3rd of Easter) © 1985 Anglican Church of Canada: The Book of Alternative Services Invitation to Confession (Easter Day until Eve of Ascension) © 1988 Continuum (Mowbray) (Adapted) 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

‘Downton Church — Season 2: Eight Lessons the Church Could Learn from Downton Abbey’ by Dr Wendy Dackson

 

Downton Abbey Church Logo

by Ken Howard and Wendy Dackson

Alrighty then! Our recent blog post “10 Ways the Church is Like Downton Abbey” got quite a lot of views. So, like our friends in Public Television, we decided to renew Downton Church for a second “season.” And the theme for season two is “Eight Lessons the Church Could Learn from Downton Abbey.”

Indeed, there much agreement in the comments we received that Downton Abbey – both the story and the production – was an excellent metaphor for the organized Church. Both are centuries-old institutions, both have a tendency toward aristocratic organization and behavior, both are steeped in tradition and stymied by traditionalism, both have a higher opinion of their own inherent holiness than their histories reveal. In other words, as institutions, both Downton Abbey and the Church are prone to similar mistakes.

Yet as the historical premise of Downton Abbey and the current cultural context of the Church (“in a world where everything is changing, an institution struggles for relevance…”) reveal, both institutions are capable – albeit reluctantly and imperfectly – of learning and change. So taking the metaphor a step further, what are some lessons that the Church can learn (or perhaps remember) from looking in the mirror of Downton Abbey.

Lesson #1 Noblesse oblige (with nobility, obligation). One thing that the various members of the Crawley family learn again and again, each in different ways, is that with positions of social power and influence comes social obligations: an understanding of their responsibility for those whose lives and livelihoods depend upon them. Lord Robert always seems keenly aware of the house’s obligation to provide economic sustenance and social stability (maybe too much of the latter) to both those directly employed by the house, and those on the wider estate and in the village. Lady Cora seems more attentive – though in a somewhat naïve fashion – to the emotional lives of those who depend on them. Lady Mary, on the other hand, makes a transition from self-centered debutante to more of a socialite with a conscience, who understands that part of their responsibility to those around them is to remain relevant to their needs in a time when those needs are changing in big ways.

What might the Church learn? Despite the claim that churches are somehow under siege from the prevailing culture (at least in North America and western Europe), they still hold a privileged position. Whether as employers of lay professionals (educators, administrators, musicians, and a variety of others), or as shapers of public opinion and policy (as evidenced in the new-but-contested RIFRA laws in Indiana), they influence people well beyond who shows up in any given congregation on Sundays. That influence shapes public perception of the Church –for good or ill. Churches might be better attuned to how their actions affect those with whom they have little if any contact.

Lesson #2 – Willingness to change. Speaking of change, another thing the members of the Crawley household all seem to learn – albeit reluctantly – is that change (sometimes profound change) is often a necessity. And they display willingness (if under duress) to listen to and act on (if sometimes fumblingly) voices other than their own about better ways forward. Indeed, one by one each of the family members seem to learn the painful lesson that the world doesn’t revolve around their comfortable traditions, and that awareness of the changing needs of the world around them often requires them to adapt – not just by adding electricity, telephones, radios, and other new-fangled technology, or sporting new fashions at social occasions, but by making deeper changes and finding new reasons for being.

What might the Church learn? That “modernizing” is more than trying to be “trendy” or “relevant” to a particular generation – right now, the millennials. Concentrating on new music that sounds more like what young people hear on the radio, or being more “cool” in the language used in preaching, or using “contemporary” forms of worship isn’t enough – worse than not enough, in some cases it may actually be harmful: like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, when we really need to be getting people into lifeboats. This is not a new problem. Every generation in From the very beginning, every generation in Church has faced the challenge of translating the Gospel for a new generation. The problem arises when, instead of offering the new generation a true translation in words they understand, we instead sugarcoat it with passing cultural affections in order to make it easier to swallow. True modernizing means discovering what are the public perceptions and beliefs about the faith are and addressing them honestly and directly, without compromising the core of Christian faith or cheapening the tough demands that being a follower of Jesus entails. It isn’t easy or quick, the way changing up the music or adding projection screens might be.

Lesson #3 – A Sense of Family. At Downton, the servants are more than simply support staff to the family and the house. By and large, there is a palpable sense of family between the upstairs Crawleys and the downstairs servants: a feeling of connection and interrelatedness. And while the relationship is not always pleasant – or healthy, for that matter – it is deep and strong… How else could a character like Thomas survive for all these seasons? And how else could the Dowager and Isobell become such a mutually (and lovingly) irritating odd couple.

What might the Church learn? William Temple is frequently misquoted as saying that “the church is the only institution that exists primarily for those outside it” (click here to read what he actually said), how Christians behave toward other Christians is important. When the Church treats its loyal members badly – especially when longtime, committed lay people are treated badly – it does more than encourage those individuals to leave. It undermines the public perception of the Church as a benevolent institution. Because when church is important to people, they share all the reasons why. But when church loses its luster, people share those reasons, too.

Lesson #4 –Willingness to “bend the rules” in order to “do the right thing.” There is a ongoing tension at Downton Abbey between the need to respect the rules (or follow tradition, which is harder) societally and the need to do what is right in individual cases. And example of this was the case of Mrs. Patmore’s dead nephew, Archie, and his exclusion from the war memorial, which Lord Grantham resolved by erecting a special memorial to honor Archie’s sacrifice. This goes to the heart of the tension in the church between tradition (honoring things that have been tested by time) and traditionalism (worshipping tradition for its own sake), which the Church has had to learn century after century.

What might the Church learn? First, we might learn that some rules just shouldn’t exist in at all. Second, we might learn that service doesn’t have to be perfect to be sincere and devoted, and that the people who render service also don’t have to be perfect, either. Finally, we might learn that we will garner more loyalty by finding ways to show appreciation than we will by finding ways to withhold it.

Lesson #5 – Willingness to find humane ways to outplace members of the downstairs household when continued relationship becomes untenable. Time and again, the Crawley family finds ways to part ways with servants who have become too difficult or embarrassing to endure. On the plus side, they realize that in an “incestuous” institution like the aristocracy one has to take great care in the way that people are let go, since termination without reference is tantamount to a sentence of lifelong poverty or worse (in the case of pregnant Ivy), and even laying off a person due to the elimination of a specialized position (in the case of Mosley) may render an otherwise loyal and competent former employee without honorable work. They have learned from painful experience not to throw anybody “under the bus.”

What might the Church learn? Don’t throw people under the bus. See Lessons #1 and #3. ‘Nuff said….


Would you like to know what Lessons 6, 7 and 8 might be? Please follow the link here:

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