Teamwork makes the Dream work…

Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay

At our 10am service on 26th September, we welcomed back Rev’d Mike Stewart, who had been a member of St Paul’s before his ordination. Below is the sermon he shared with us:

Reading

Mark 9:38-end (NLT)

38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”

39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.

42 “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. 45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’

49 “For everyone will be tested with fire. 50 Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.”

Sermon by the Rev’d Mike Stewart

+ May I speak in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Who here has ever followed a team?? It could be football team, rugby team, cricket team or even one of the two sides in the boat race. You know that the team you have chosen to follow is the best because… they just are.

Or have you been in a club that has a little bit of needle with a similar group, scouts/guides and the boys/girls brigade, rotary club and the lions club or the ladies fellowship and the mothers union..? Nothing nasty and you respect what the other does, you know they do good stuff, but your group is better.

Or my favourite example of all from the Monty Python film the Life of Brian – The People Front of Judea. Not to be confused with The Judean People’s Front or The Judean Popular Peoples Front. A fractured group of people who all want the same thing but cant get along together because of small personal differences. So end up squabbling with one another rather than getting anything done to further their cause to rid their home land of the Romans. (I was going to ask if I could show a clip of this until I realised just how sweary it is and thought better of it, as this is my my first sermon back here in many years.)

But the point to all this is tribalism. In our bible reading this morning we hear how the disciples encounter someone who is casting out demons in the name of Jesus. The casting out of demons is a pretty common thing in the bible and is mentioned 7 times throughout the gospels and 4 times in Mark alone, so its not that that the disciple take umbridge to. It’s that the man is doing it in Jesus name and is not a follower of Jesus. He’s not in their little group. Jesus sets them straight, ‘whoever is not against us is for us’.

This applies to us as much today as it did then. We are all called to work for the Kingdom of God but we can often think that our little group is the team that are the only ones who can to do the work. Jesus shows us that this really isn’t the case. We should be open to working with people from different cultures, faiths, denomination and those who have express no faith at all. As long as we are working to the same end and for the same or similar reasons and outcomes.

Not to do this is to fall on the stumbling blocks that Jesus talks about. Its like scoring an own goal or trying to win a game by removing all defence and only attacking when the ball is lost the opposition can easily score again and again.

When I started going through the discernment process to become a vicar, it became clear pretty quickly that I looked very different to the type of person that usually turns up. This was even commented upon by Richard Cooke the DDO (Diocesan Discernment Officer), who said, its great having you Mike, we don’t get many people coming forward from your neck of the woods or with your background. I used to joke I was only getting through because I ticked lots of diversity boxes.  

This was even more apparent when I turned up at college, I didn’t bow and scrape to the Bishop who was principal of the college, I liked a drink and my focus was to try and learn to be the best priest I could be rather than getting top marks in essays.

Some members of staff and fellow students found my approach troubling, puzzling and some didn’t think I should be there at all. Yet others saw me for who I was and for who God had called me to be. My biggest accolade was being told on numerous occasion by peers and others that if they could they’d have loved to me as their vicar, cause I just saw things differently.

But this speaks to the heart of the matter, I didn’t fit the mould people expected so I was not right for it or should maybe be doing lay or charity work. But others who were open to things being different to their lived experience or seeing that although there was difference the end goal was the same. To further the Kingdom of God.

This applies more now than ever within our churches, covid had allowed people to evaluate what they do within groups and organisations, they may feel a change is needed, they are to old to continue with a particular job or role that they may have done for years. Others may now feel the time is right to take up a role or further levels of responsibility, but with congregations lessened by the corona virus pandemic we now more than ever need to be looking for others for partnership in our endeavours.

This could be across our deanery, through churches together partnerships, interfaith groups and even working with secular groups, but it can also work on a smaller scale by inviting individuals into our bubble. Obviously all of this needs to be done with the correct safeguards and procedures, but If we looked to the example Jesus set us, it was often the gentile, marginalised or oppressed that spread his message further whilst his faithful friends were confused, argued about trivial point and often missed the point all together even when seeing something first hand.

I believe that as Christians we are all called in many different ways to work towards the mission of God and to help further God’s Kingdom here on earth. We are to help make disciples and to spread God’s message. But we are not called to do this in isolation. I truly believe that God calls all types of people – its not for us to say who is called and who isn’t. As Jesus said, if they are not against us they are for us.

Amen

Closing Worship

17th Sunday of Trinity – Peace

Image by RÜŞTÜ BOZKUŞ from Pixabay

Readings

James 5:13-end (NLT)

13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.

Mark 9:38-end (NLT)

38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”

39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.

42 “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. 45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’

49 “For everyone will be tested with fire. 50 Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.”

Homily by Rev’d Kate Massey

Well Jesus seems to be in particularly strident form in today’s reading, and for some of us it can be difficult to hear. I sometimes think that the challenging passages in the Bible are a bit like the teacher who shouts at an entire class of children. The ones causing all the problems utterly ignore the teacher, while the ones who are really doing their best worry that they aren’t doing well enough. I also think such passages must always be read in the context of the whole life of Jesus. This was the Jesus who was to give himself on a cross for you and me that we could be freed and forgiven from sin. Jesus is not an irascible teacher, but someone who cares passionately about us and the lives we live.

So if Jesus is speaking so strongly, there must be a good reason. He wants the very best for us, and we would be wise to take heed of what he is so worked up about. I think that the clue is in the final line – you must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live at peace with one another!

Salt is a potent symbol in the gospels. The first disciples were encouraged to be like salt. Salt had very important properties. It gave food flavour, bringing dishes to life. It was used as a preservative to keep food edible for longer and prevent decay. It was also used to heal as an early antiseptic. So, as God’s children, we are to bring flavour to life – live life in all its fullness. We are to preserve the society around us from decay – caring for the overlooked and powerless, speaking for what is right and just. We are to bring hope and healing. We are to be people of peace.

Peace in the Bible is not the absence of conflict but a state of such shared well-being. It is a rich word, full of possibility and flourishing. We are to be people who live that way, point to that way and make that way possible for others. But we cannot do this if we sin – or worse, cause others to sin.

The trouble with such passages is that we don’t always have a clear idea of what sin is. A certain health programme counts syns as a way of keeping track of treat foods, but sin is not about having an extra Kitkat. Other people say sin is about putting ourselves first – “sin is when we put I in the middle”, as one cheesy Christian catchphrase went. But actually, I don’t think that is particularly helpful either. There is nothing wrong with attending to our own needs or maintaining healthy boundaries – we are to love our neighbour as ourselves, the assumption being that we do love ourselves!

But it is helpful to go back to the great commandments. At the root of everything are those two commands: love God with all you are and love your neighbour as yourself. Love of God, love of self and love of neighbour make a triangle of relationships which allows everyone to flourish – to live in peace.

I was sitting at the back of church with my family last week. I won’t do that again, as one of my children has started quizzing me with interesting theological questions. Last week’s one was “How could Jesus be without sin if he got angry in the temple and worried his parents sick when he stayed behind in the temple?” These are good questions. My answer is that sinlessness is not some human idea of perfection, but rather an authentic commitment to loving relationship with God, self and one another. What that will look like in different contexts may look challenging at times. Sometimes it will look like flipping tables in a temple! Conversely, sin is anything which breaks that relationship with God or one another, or gets in the way of someone else loving and knowing themself loved by God and others. We don’t have to look very far to see the consequences of sin’s ruptures in our own experience and in wider society.

Sin is heartbreaking. No wonder Jesus warns us against it so passionately. We need to take seriously the things that get in between us and love. But, remember there is always grace. Dear old James reminds us that we do not attempt to live this life alone. There is always help: help from God to who we can turn to in prayer and help from one another.

So take love seriously. Take sin seriously. And by the grace and love and equipping of God, live as salt in this world of ours and be at peace.

Prayers

The Church

O Lord God, who has called us to be your witnesses, strengthen us to make your Word known to others, through our own words and our lives, through our prayers and our gifts.

Make your church an instrument of peace, of love and of healing. We ask you to heal the dissensions which divide us from each other, and bring us back into a unity of love which may bear some likeness to the example you have sent us in your Son. And, as you are above all things, make us one through the bonds of affection so that we may be spiritually united through your peace, grace, mercy and tenderness.

May peace be within our walls and within ourselves: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

The World

O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace.
Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows,
and give peace to your Church, peace among nations,
peace in our homes and peace in our hearts.2

May peace be within our walls and within ourselves: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Our Community

Dear Father in heaven
let us be peacemakers:
more ready to call people friends than enemies
more ready to trust than to mistrust
more ready to love than to hate
more ready to respect than to despise
more ready to serve than be served
more ready to absorb evil than pass it on.
Dear Father in heaven
let us be more like Christ. 

May peace be within our walls and within ourselves: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Human Need and Suffering

Lord, we place in your gentle hands those who are sick in body, mind or spirit. Ease their pain, and heal the damage done to them. Be present to them through the support of friends, and in the care of doctors and nurses, and fill them with the warmth of your love,  and your peace in their hearts.

May peace be within our walls and within ourselves: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Communion of Saints

We give you thanks for the victory of our Lord over death, and for the gift of eternal life. We pray for friends and loved ones, who are with you in glory.

May peace be within our walls and within ourselves: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

(Prayer from Layanglicana Blog: http://www.layanglicana.org/blog/2012/09/19/peace-intercessions-for-16th-sunday-after-trinity-proper-20/?doing_wp_cron=1632421295.7748100757598876953125)

Closing Worship

Pastoral Care

Paula Modersohn-Becker

Readings

Psalm 23 (NLT)

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Luke 10:25-37 (NLT)

25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

27 The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

Sermon by the Rev’d Jo Joyce

We are thinking today about pastoral care, what it is and what we might be called to do. But it’s a bit tricky because pastoral care isn’t actually mentioned in the bible directly, although there are many, many situations which I think could be described as coming under this heading. I have picked a few readings and verses but you might find others you think are more appropriate or that speak to you about the call on us all to care for one another.

I start today with a reading that we haven’t yet had but which I think sums up why we do pastoral care and what it looks like rather well. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

It sounds straightforward doesn’t it – love each other – but what does it mean? Who are the others we should be loving – why and how do we do this? After all we have love your neighbour on our signs about mask wearing but what is that really like?

Just as we have these questions so did those listening to Jesus. What does it mean to love one another, is that everyone, is it all linked to faith, do we have to do it, or is it just being nice? Well Jesus told them a story which we hear in our reading today.

That’s where the story of the good Samaritan comes in. Those who wanted to understand their faith – who wanted to be sure they were living as God wanted so they can be sure of eternal life asked Jesus what they should do. He responds the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbour as yourself. In other words, caring for those around us as we would want to be cared for is not a nice optional extra but an essential part of how we are to be people of God – second only to loving God is caring for those around us.

But who are they, they asked? So he told them the story of the Good Samaritan, so familiar to us today. We as God’s people are to love even when its difficult, and even when the person we are caring for is someone normally we would cross the road to avoid. All people are made in the image of God, and all deserve to be treated with care and dignity.

It goes beyond this, for we still retain that responsibility to care for family – honour your mother and father, and we see this clearly when from the cross Jesus asks John to care for his mother. And of course, he sees his disciples as family too.

So, then the care of those we know and love, and the care of strangers are both an important part of being Christian, its not an optional add on, to be left to those who are good at it or delegated because we don’t really like it, but something we are to treat as part of our Christian disciplines like prayer or bible reading. Now that will look different to each of us – I am not saying take the least pastoral person you know and make them undertake all of our pastoral care we should work to our strengths, rather I am saying that all of us have some level of pastoral responsibility to those around us, some of course will be clearly gifted and enjoy it and they should rejoice in and use those gifts – others might find just learning to listen a big pastoral leap – but we still should try with the smaller things to make a difference.

What might pastoral care look like then: well listening and taking notice of others I think is a good start – we can be so busy and wrapped up in life its hard to stop and really listen to each other, but I encourage you to try because nothing makes someone feel more loved than feeling really heard and understood.

Serving them, just as the good Samaritan cared for the injured man and John cared for Jesus mother – working to help those in need when we come across them, whether we are obliged to or not, seems important.

As much as anything I think both these stories demonstrate a coming alongside. And that’s where our reading from the psalms comes in.  In this God comes alongside us in deaths darkest valley, and in the same way as we are called to love others as Jesus did so are we called to come alongside in those dark places as he does. We might not have all or indeed any answers , but we can be a shoulder to cry on, someone to listen and to love through the darkest places – sometimes (like Job’s friends) we need to shut up and listen, to be present without judging. To hold alight the candle of the flame of faith for another when they can no longer do so themselves.

Pastoral care is mainly just about being human, and seeing the humanity in others, caring where there is need, noticing, listening, loving. In pastoral care we love as Jesus has loved us and we show the kindness and care of God for us all.

Prayers of Intercession written by Emili Lowry

We pray that Christ may be seen in the life of the Church.  You have called us into the family of those who are the children of God.  May our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ be strengthened by your grace.

Help us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and our neighbours as ourselves.

Jesus, our teacher and perfect example,
in your mercy hear our prayer

You have called us to be a temple where the Holy Spirit can dwell. Give us clean hands and pure hearts so that our lives will reflect your holiness. Help us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and our neighbours as ourselves.

Jesus, our teacher and perfect example,
in your mercy hear our prayer

You have called us to be a light to the world, so that those in darkness come to you.  Lord, give wisdom to the leaders in the church and in our government.  Show them how to support other countries and ours without taking advantage of those who are most vulnerable.  May all our lives shine as a witness to the saving grace you have given for all.

Help us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and our neighbours as ourselves.

Jesus, our teacher and perfect example,
in your mercy hear our prayer

You have called us to be members of your body, so that when one suffers, all suffer together.  Move our hearts to have the compassion of the good Samaritan.  Let your holy spirit direct us to give comfort and healing power to bring hope to those in distress.  Lord, help us to remember others as we want you to remember us when we meet you face to face.  

Lord God, we also pray you bring comfort to those leaving this earth and give peace to those returning home to heaven.  We pray you bless the families who have people they love, give your peace to them and their upcoming funerals.  May those who have passed, be at rest and rise in your glory.  

Help us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and our neighbours as ourselves.

Jesus, our teacher and perfect example,
in your mercy hear our prayer

You have called us into fellowship with all your saints.  We unite our prayers with theirs and ask for grace to serve you with joy where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for all eternity.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Closing Worship

Education Sunday – Growing Faith

Readings

1 Timothy 4:8-16 (NLT)

“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. 10 This is why we work hard and continue to struggle,[a] for our hope is in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people and particularly of all believers.

11 Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. 12 Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 13 Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.

14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. 15 Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.

Luke 4:14-22 (NLT)

14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favour has come.”

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

Growing Faith -a talk by Jen Jenkins, RE and Spirituality Officer for Coventry DBE

Growing Faith is a recent initiative from the Church of England focused on supporting children and young people in developing spiritually, growing faith and becoming all God has made them to be. It is focused on the intersection of schools, churches and households, with children and young people right at the centre. Making use of spiritual encounters, connected communities and imaginative practices, it aims to see children and young people as fellow pilgrims and anticipates a two-way, reciprocal relationship as faith is ‘passed around’ and not passed down.

As fellow pilgrims, our children and young people are of equal value to everybody else in our church communities and congregations. They are regarded as equal partners in the exploration of faith, not recipients of tokenistic efforts. This is not about setting up more groups or launching more ‘Messy’ initiatives. This isn’t about forest church, Lego church or Minecraft Mission, although all those things have their place in building relationships with our fellow pilgrims. Growing Faith is about a culture shift for the whole church community. Everyone is passing faith around. It isn’t just about young, perky youth leaders taking children and young people out of main meetings. It’s about you.

The parable of the sower is often used by CE schools as the foundation of their distinctive Christian vision for education and nurturing of the whole child. My recent resources for Year 6 pupils transitioning from CE primary schools to (often not CE) secondary schools focused on the idea that being in a church primary school will have made a difference to their lives; planting seeds they can then choose to keep growing, long after they have left that school. The soil the seeds fall into matters and we are all called to be gardeners.

There are two key quotes I am fond of using when talking with people about Growing Faith. The first is this:

Do not right off your gardening efforts. You do not know what is going on under the surface. A warm smile, a genuine enquiry of ‘are you alright?’, the passing of a biscuit, the sharing of a story. These things all nurture seeds that have already been sown in schools, churches and homes.

The second quote is:

Growing Faith is intergenerational in nature. We need those who are older in years to share their stories of faith honestly and authentically and to propagate their wisdom for the children and young people growing up in a challenging age. Don’t use clichés and overused Christianese. Tell them honestly about you and your life: what was hard, what brought you to your knees, what made you question your faith, what made you want to shout it from the rooftops.

Questioning together is incredibly powerful. The world is full of questions. We are constantly asking ourselves those deep, ultimate questions and children are no different, but sometimes we focus so much on spoon feeding answers we forget to sit with them in the questions.

Your ways of experiencing the sacred and nurturing your spiritual growth may be the thing a child or young person is craving. Just like adults, children and young people don’t all want loud, energetic worship songs, hot-off-the-press movie/Bible mash ups or catchy slogans. Some of them want to use nature to connect with God, some of them need to learn how to sit quietly to pray and listen, some of them are desperate to find a way to use their hands to connect with the creativity inside them that mirrors the Creator. Just as you all take different spiritual pathways, so there is so much wisdom to share about how to connect with God and grow spiritually. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing.

Just being in the presence of an older person who is making room for you to sit alongside them is incredibly powerful. Young people are excellent at sniffing out insincerity. They don’t want or need you to be hip and down with the kids. They need you to see them and to radiate real interest in who they are.

It is about generating real warmth & authenticitytowards children and young people by everybody in the church community. You can help build that vital relationship between churches and schools through volunteering (the sewing club, the art club, a helping hand during DT lessons, tending the school garden with keen young green-fingered pupils, supporting the school choir). Going in to school to help with simple things, becoming a regular familiar face, can build relationships.

The reason we talk about a family tree is because the connections trees make offer such a beautiful model for relationships and connectedness over time. Did you know the branches of different trees barely touch? They maintain holy space for each together whilst living in harmony. Trees protect other trees that are aged or ailing and send nutrients to them. They grow in a way that allows for light to reach those who are closer to the forest floor. It is the perfect botanical illustration of ‘Let the little children come to me’ and for me, this is the reason Jesus chose to describe the Body of Christ as being like the branches connected to the vine. Nurturing, growing, holding holy space, allowing for light to come in, reproducing, holding each other in sacred community.

Now we know we can all play a part in Growing Faith, I have some practical things you can all help with to create that culture shift:

  1. Get your bees in a row: There are 3 Bs relevant to Growing Faith: Belong, believe, behave. Historically, we have placed the emphasis on believing but with the church set to shrink significantly in the next decades, we need to understand that belonging is by far the most important. Belonging is an inherent need in children & young people. Without it they look to other things- typically these days in social media & sex- for a sense of belonging and these things can be destructive.
    Focus on making children and young people feel loved, valued, welcome, included, seen. Model what believing looks like practically and with kindness. Reframe behaving as becoming. Young people need to see purpose in who they are and their lives, they want to have their own uniqueness confirmed as leading them towards something that makes them want to live differently. When they finally grasp the depths of imago dei, made in God’s image, it changes how they want to live, how they want to treat others and the things that they want to spend their time and attention on.
  • Key-chain leadership: This is about empowerment. What keys do you hold on your metaphorical key chain? What do they unlock? This might be physical spaces, connections, opportunities, meetings, decision-making, authority.
    It is also about intentional trusting; giving them their own set of keys over time. Planning for succession in the things you have nurtured; talents, skills, passions.
    Discuss the nature of power with children and young people so that as they grow up they lean naturally towards power with/to others and not power over.
    Look to Jesus’ servant leadership. When he said “Go and…” to His disciples it was after three years of ministering to them and with them. Equip and train children and young people to be successful in the opportunities you give them. Share your passions and skills and never underestimate the ability to share how to make a good cup of tea- a good cuppa can soften even the hardest hearts.
  • Serving: Serving alongside each other really helps with belonging and becoming. What can you and the children and young people in this area do together? Remember, they are becoming citizens- not only of society and its many issues and ongoing challenges, but also of heaven. Harness that sense of purpose and passion children and young people have. There is such energy there. Take climate change as an example. If our children and young people were all leading on that we would be in a much better position right now globally.
    As part of the SIAMS (Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools) inspection schedule, schools are required to nurture ‘courageous advocacy’ in their pupils. They are encouraged to ask themselves ‘How can I serve? How can I help make something that is a struggle for someone else a little better?’ You can get alongside them as they do that- providing education on key issues of social justice, raising awareness of local campaigns and initiatives and helping them to develop the skills they need to do something about injustice. Sometimes you might have a connection with someone who can really further a cause that the children and young people are passionate about addressing, such as a local MP, a company CEO or the manager of a local hospice, care home or hospital ward. Love is practical and we are called to love as He loved us- with hands, voices, food, forgiveness.
  • On/Off Ramps: There is a natural ebb and flow to the lives of young people; if they aren’t attending church services or groups or school clubs, don’t judge them or write them off. Remember, don’t confuse attendance with belonging. It is relationships that help you stay connected with them and if you have been working on warmth and authenticity those connections will still be there and they will seek you out if they need help. Provide ways for them to ‘get back on’ to channels of faith through your genuine care and concern.
    Periods of transition are especially significant for Growing Faith. If you can support Y6 pupils at school in some way they will always have a connection back to church and somewhere to go when they move to secondary, even if it is a non-CE secondary school. Recent resources provided by Coventry DBE aim to provide an electronic resource space for children and young people to come back to as they move into the next chapter of their lives: https://www.adventureswithgod.life/keep-growing.html
  • Pray: In school, pupils are encouraged to create a network hand of trusted adults as part of the ongoing commitment to safeguarding. The idea is that the people whose names are written on the hand are trusted adults they can go to if they do not feel safe. Imagine using a similar approach and having the names of 5 people written on your hand who are committed to pray for & guide you as a child or young person. This would obviously need to be done engaging with parents and embracing all safeguarding guidelines. Imagine the handprints of children and young people on the wall of the church with their names on. Could you fill each hand with prayerful advice, Bible verses, practical wisdom?

Growing faith is in your hands. You have the power to pass faith around. Will you embrace a culture of warmth and authenticity where children and young people are viewed as of equal value, included authentically in decision making, trained, included, embraced with empathy and understanding? If you can do that, you will soon be Growing Faith.

Prayers – written by Sarah Marsden

As a support member of staff at St. Paul’s Primary school I have the privilege to support children and young people to both write their own prayers as well as lead them in prayer and thought.  One of the methods I use with our young pupils is the ‘5 finger prayer’ where they can use a cut out shape of their own hand to write or draw their prayers on to each finger.  So today as we pray, I will refer to each finger in turn, and as I do, please hold that finger, if you wish to do so.

Our Thumb

Dear Lord, we pray for those closest to us. For our family, our friends and for families around the world. We pray you will strengthen us, and continue to support and provide for us. May you comfort us when needed, and encourage us all to live our lives in your service and praise.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Our Index Finger

Dear Lord we pray for all those that educate and guide our children and young people, both in educational settings and those in other roles and areas of their lives.  Please grant them, wisdom, patience and understanding as they support, guide and educate the children in their care. We pray especially for those schools in our community; for their head teachers, leadership teams and governing bodies, for the teachers and support staff in their many varied and different roles within the school communities and for all those that allow our children and young people to be able to access their education. 

We pray for parents and care givers, who are our children’s first and constant educators through their lives, and ask they nurture, guide and support them with your love.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Our Middle Finger

We pray for all those in authority. Help them to govern and make decisions with integrity, honesty and compassion on behalf of their communities and countries. May they seek to find peace and reconciliation across the world and our neighbours, sharing your love with all.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Our Ring Finger

Dear Lord we pray for all those across the world who are in need or in danger through natural disasters, conflict and war. Please bring them support and aid in their time of need. Help us to open our hearts to their cries and needs and  to not turn away from their plight.  Show us how we can stand alongside them and bring them comfort and peace. Allow them to know you are there with them and that your love surrounds them.

We prayer for those that are ill in body and mind; those that are sad and lonely.  Knowing you are there with them Lord, help them to feel your love, strength, reassurance and encouragement to bring them healing.

We remember all those that have recently died known and unknown to us. Lord, embrace them in your arms and grant them eternal peace with you.  Support and comfort those that grieve; bring them comfort in the knowledge their loved one is at peace with you.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Our Little Finger

Lord may we take a moment to pray for yourselves and our own needs.  (Pause)  Help us to know you are always with us and that your love for us is unconditional. Give us faith and courage to share your love with those we meet in our daily lives. May we continue to praise and rejoice in your love each day.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Creationtide

Image by Valiphotos from Pixabay

Between now until Harvest, the church celebrates Creationtide – remembering the gift that God has given us in Creation and our responsibility for it.

Readings

2 Corinthians 9:6-12 New Living Translation

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say,

“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
    Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.

11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.

Mark 4:1-9 New Living Translation

Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

Sermon (by the Rev’d Kate Massey)

I wonder if any of you have heard of the five marks of mission? Basically mission is any way in which we participate in and communicate God’s love. To help us think about how we do this, the Church came up with 5 marks of mission – five ways we live out our mission as God’s people. They are:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

For those, like me, who struggle to remember too many words, the five marks of mission can be remembered using the five Ts: TELL, TEACH, TEND, TRANSFORM, TREASURE. We tell people the good news of Jesus, teach those who wish to do so how to follow Jesus, tend to one another in need, transform those things which are unjust and destructive and treasure the world God has entrusted to us.

I wonder if any of those marks of mission surprise you? Which one do you resonate with most? If we were to miss one out which would it be?

The one that surprised me most the first time I heard them was number 5: to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. At the time, I came from a church which really majored on the first two marks of mission – telling people about Jesus and helping them to know how to follow him. I could understand that three – caring for each other – was important and four made sense, but five? Wasn’t that just a bit new agey?

Our readings today are focused on telling people the good news and the challenges that prevent them become fruitful disciples in the parable of the sower and in sharing generously with those in need in our letter to the Corinthians. That’s marks 1, 2 and 3 right there. But actually, for me, they also point to number 5 and the importance of creation. Creation – in both cases today the simple task of growing seed – can be a way of learning about God, encountering God and meditating on the truths of God.

This is perhaps not a surprise. Our holy books opens with an account that tells us that God is behind the wonders of our universe. Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows God’s handiwork. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says no one has an excuse not to honour God as God’s presence is encountered in the wonders of our world. And we know it from our own experience too – walking on a windswept beach, gazing at a spectacular sunset, the smell of living earth on the allotment, listening to birdsong. Many of us find it easiest to be with God in the creation God has made. So if creation is a place where we encounter God and learn about God, surely it is vital we treasure it.

One of God’s first commandments to humankind in Genesis was to steward and be responsible for the universe God had made. Like all God’s commandments, it was given with our good in mind. Creation was made to sustain us. Its cycles of growth and renewal help us as God’s children to trust the goodness of our loving heavenly Father. We cannot thrive without our world and so we abuse and destroy it at our peril. There is a Native American saying: Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money. In this country, we have been insulated from some of the damage done to our world. Our wealth and power means that when others go hungry, we still eat. But we will not be immune forever. And as people who believe ourselves to be part of a global family, like Paul speaking to the Corinthians today, we should care about the struggles of others, including those for whom climate change is causing poverty and hunger.

And short of living in a cave, you cannot be unaware of the damage we are doing to our world. Climate change is fulfilling all the prophecies which campaigners and scientists have been trying to communicate for decades. The summer news has been full of wildfires devastating communities and nature. Life-threatening hurricanes and typhoons are more regular occurrences bringing a real fragility to those who live in affected regions. Low lying countries in the Pacific face being annihilated by rising sea levels as polar ice caps shrink. And then, each year at Christian Aid Week, we hear about how climate change is affecting millions of small farmers and landowners who simply want to provide for their families as rains don’t come and crops fail.

Caring for God’s creation is not an add on – it undergirds all the other marks of mission. It is a way in which God’s goodness is revealed to us. It is a place from which we learn as a disciples. Stewarding it well is a way in which we care for one another and make the world a fairer, more peaceful place. As Christians, we need to care about the climate crisis and be involved in putting things right.

So what can we do? Well, of course we can and should consider our own consumption and carbon footprint. We can reduce what we buy, reuse what we can and recycle what we cannot. We can eat a more plant-based diet and turn our central heating thermometer down a degree or two. All of this will make a difference. We may also want to look at ourselves as a church community – if we have a group of people interested, we could begin to work for our Eco Church awards.

But real change needs to come at the level of countries and corporations – it is only by working together that we can tackle this huge worldwide problem. And that is why the COP26 summit (26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties) which is happening in Glasgow this November is so important. It is a chance for leaders from around the world to commit to real change. Our task is to tell them what we want to happen.

So there are a few things we can do as COP26 approaches. Firstly, we can contact our MP and tell him that we care about this issue. Christian Aid has produced a draft letter https://www.christianaid.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/engage-your-mp-cop26 I have written one on behalf of the church inviting him to come and meet with us and assuring him of our prayers. We can also pray – pray for our world, pray for those most affected by climate change, pray for those leaders who must show courage and creativity in the face of this challenge. We can make prayer boats to be included in some of the installations which Christian Aid are display around the summit as a visible sign of our concern and prayer. We can add prayers for the climate and creation on our prayer wall in the parish centre. We can use the creationtide resources to reflect and pray at home: https://www.churchofengland.org/about/environment-and-climate-change/creationtide/creationtide-resources

Whatever you do, do something. May our concern and care for God’s creation be a way we participate in and communicate God’s love for our world. Amen.

Prayers for the Earth based on the fifth mark of mission:

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

To Strive…
God, creator of the universe,
Fill us with your love for the creation,
for the natural world around us,
for the earth from which we come
and to which we will return.
Awake in us energy to work for your world;
let us never fall into complacency, ignorance,
or being overwhelmed by the task before us.
Help us to restore, remake, renew. Amen

To Safeguard…
Jesus, Redeemer of the World,
Remind us to consider the lost lilies,
the disappearing sparrows;
teach us not to squander precious resources;
help us value habitats:
seas, deserts, forests and seek to preserve this
world in its diversity.
Alert us to the cause of all living creatures
destroyed wantonly for human greed or pleasure;
Help us to value what we have left
and to learn to live without taking more than we
give. Amen

Integrity of Creation…
Spirit of the Living God
At the beginning you moved over the face of the waters.
You brought life into being, the teeming life
that finds its way through earth and sea and air,
that makes its home around us, everywhere.
You know how living things flourish and grow
How they co-exist; how they feed and breed and change
Help us to understand those delicate relationships,
value them, and keep them from destruction. Amen

To Sustain…
God, of the living earth
You have called people to care for your world –
you asked Noah to save creatures from destruction.
May we now understand how to sustain your world –
Not over-fishing, not over-hunting,
Not destroying trees, precious rainforest
Not farming soil into useless dust.
Help us to find ways to use resources wisely
to find a path to good, sustainable living
in peace and harmony with creatures around us. Amen

To Renew…
Jesus, who raised the dead to life
Help us to find ways to renew
what we have broken, damaged and destroyed:
Where we have taken too much water,
polluted the air, poured plastic into the sea,
cut down the forests and soured fertile soils.
Help all those who work to find solutions to
damage and decay; give hope to those
who are today working for a greener future. Amen

Anne Richards, Mission Theology Advisory Group,
The Dispossession Project: Eco-House
Resources available on http://www.ctbi.org.uk

Closing Worship

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

Sky, Clouds, Dark, Cloudscape
Image: Pixabay

Collect

Almighty God,

send down upon your Church

the riches of your Spirit,

and kindle in all who minister the gospel

your countless gifts of grace;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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

The Hope of the Resurrection

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection by Rev Jo Joyce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Collect

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

Reading (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

Homily by the Rev’d Jo Joyce

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

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

Closing Worship

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

Collect Prayer

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

Reading

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

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

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

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

Homily by Rev’d Kate Massey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Prayers

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

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

Etienne Piek ~

Hanto Yo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Worship

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

Image by Gennaro Leonardi from Pixabay

Collect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homily by Rev’d Kate Massey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intercessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Worship

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homily by Rev’d Kate Massey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

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

Closing Worship