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Minister Mission Prayers Sermon

11 July 2021: Witnessing Like Mary Magdalene

8 July 2021

Dear Friends

I’m writing this the day after the Prime Minister announced that from 19 July all Covid restrictions would be lifted despite the infection rate steadily rising. We are each to “make informed decisions” about masks, distance, numbers, travel, events and learn to live with Covid. Many people are jumping for joy, but for others there is an increased anxiety, we need to listen to those concerns and be mindful of them. We might chose to wear a mask and keep a distance, but if people around us do not, are we placed in more danger of catching or spreading the virus? We will each find ourselves making daily risk assessments about where we should go and how we should behave for the sake of ourselves and for those who are still vulnerable. 

At the moment it looks like we will be permitted to sing in church and to return to sitting in an un-distanced way. But the question for us will be, “Should we?” We have an Elders’ Meeting on 12 July and I’m sure this will be a topic of conversation, so it would be good if people could let Elders have a sense of how you are feeling and whether you would still like some restrictions in place when we meet in church. We also have a Church Meeting after our service on 25th July. At the moment I would prefer to hold that service using the same restrictions we have in force at the moment and then let Church Meeting discuss the way we worship for the coming months. The reality is that our own informed decisions have an impact on everyone else, so we need to return at a pace that we can manage together. 

Craig’s Last Quiz Night on 16th July will still be within the time when restrictions are in force. So we will open up the screen and the doors. We will spread the tables a good distance apart, teams/tables of no more than 6, require masks to be worn when not eating and serve food in a way that is compliant with the restrictions. Apparently the price I quoted in my last letter was incorrect – but the Magazine was right. £5 per person. Please let Isabel know if you are going to come. 

This Sunday our Communion will be led by Craig at 10:30am in church and on zoom.

We will also be on our usual ZOOM LINK. Worship for Sunday 11th July

partly based on material produced for URC General Assembly 

 

This is the day that the Lord has made;

We will rejoice and be glad in it.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord;

His love endures forever.

 

Hymn

The kingdom of God Is justice and joy,

For Jesus restores What sin would destroy; 

God’s power and glory In Jesus we know,

And here and hereafter 

The kingdom shall grow.

 

The kingdom of God, Is mercy and grace,

The prisoners are freed, The sinners find place, 

The outcast are welcomed God’s banquet to share 

and hope is awakened

In place of despair.

 

The Kingdom of God is challenge and choice, 

Believe the good news, Repent and rejoice!

His love for us sinners, Brought Christ to his cross, 

Our crisis of judgement 

For gain or for loss.

 

God’s kingdom is come, The gift and the goal,

In Jesus begun, In heaven made whole; 

The heirs of the kingdom, Shall answer his call,

And all things cry “Glory!” 

To God all in all.

© 1973, words by Bryn A Rees, OCP,

 One Licence A-632955

 

Prayers of Praise and Confession

Creator God,

You are holy beyond our wildest imagination.

You called everything into being and saw that it was good.

As we come to Your presence, 

You gather us together with the whole of creation.

Creator God, we worship You;

Creator God, we worship You.

Lord Jesus Christ,

Just as we are, you invite each one of us to your celebration feast, 

You greet us each by name and welcome us into your family.

Lord Jesus Christ, we worship you;

Lord Jesus Christ, we worship you.

Holy Spirit, breath of Life,

You fill us with your love for all,

So that we are enabled to witness with and to your Word.

Holy Spirit, we worship you;

Holy Spirit, we worship you. Prayer of Confession

Loving God,

As we draw near to you, we are painfully aware of our faults and failings,

We confess that we have been greatly influenced by other voices than yours, 

We have been seduced by the superficial glamour of the culture of the world, 

We have not spoken out against injustice and inequality in our society,

We have filled our own plates whilst other plates are empty,

We have been indifferent to the damage our way of life has caused to your creation.

Forgive us, Lord God. Help us to listen only to your voice, to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly in your way.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

To all who turn to him he says: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ 

He also says: ‘Follow me.’

 

Bible Luke 8:1-3, Luke 24:1-11

Witnessing like Mary Magdalene: Having used the prayers and hymns from General Assembly which is meeting online over the weekend, I move away from their material to return to the people who inspired our mission priorities. Mary Magdalene is the first witness to the resurrection, yet is that what first comes to your mind when you think about Mary Magdalene? I suspect that the image that first comes to mind for many people is the one that has seen her misrepresented through history and sidelined by patriarchal narratives. The first evidence of this misrepresentation comes in a series of Easter sermons delivered in 591 by Pope Gregory in which he conflated the story of an unnamed woman with long hair who anoints the feet of Jesus with the description of Mary as one of the women who followed Jesus and myth was born that took away her status as the first witness to the resurrection. The one who God trusted to tell the disciples that Jesus was risen becomes the fallen woman, depicted in a whole variety of ways that emphasise her sexuality rather than her role as a leader within the early church. Anyone would think that they had a problem with a woman in such a prominent role!

So let’s look at her again. Luke tells us that she is part of a group of women who travel with Jesus and have been cured of evil spirits and infirmities. He then highlights her as the one from whom seven demons have gone. So it sounds as though she had much to be grateful to Jesus for. This is the sort of language we have seen gospel writers using for people with a variety of mental illnesses, but no one then assumes that the men who were healed in the synagogue or the graveyard were sexually promiscuous, they are seen as people with an illness. So it should be for Mary, and with those other examples, we do not hear of them again, but Mary is so important to the gospel writers that they speak of her again, as one of the women who follow Jesus all the way to the cross and then the empty tomb. What a story! What a life to live! Not just to be cured of an illness that must have made life so difficult, but to have the opportunity to forge out a new life as one who follows the way of Jesus. That could have been enough, but then she (along with Joanna and Mary, the mother of Joses) is entrusted with an important mission“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen”. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.

So if we are to be inspired by Mary and her friends it is surely to find ways to witness to Jesus however much the message may be sidelined or ignored. We know that our message is acceptable when safe and uncontroversial, but when we start to stray into messages that are deemed too political, too radical, too challenging of those who wish to assert power over others then suddenly we may find that we are no longer welcome to share our message because it is far too mischievous. This week I went to the opening of an exhibition highlighting three years of research by “Life on the Breadline.” It is hosted by the Chapel of Unity for Coventry University and highlights the very detailed report that can be found at https://breadlineresearch.coventry.ac.uk. This is work that spells out the gravity of the situation for 14 million people caught in poverty by the deliberate economic policy of creating austerity. It highlights the way in which poverty creates physical and mental ill health and explores the impact of faith communities who take the lead in many communities in providing the resources that help people manage life on the breadline. The report makes some hard hitting recommendations that will not be popular amongst those who prefer to cosy up to the architects of austerity or who would prefer the church to stay out of politics. 

But there is more mischief going on than that – those who are challenging the church and wider society on how we treat the vulnerable – especially as we lift Covid restrictions. Those challenging our attitude towards Downs Syndrome and whether it is right to be able to terminate a pregnancy beyond the limit for any other termination. Those who are challenging the new bill that will criminalise any attempt to support an asylum seeker. There is so much holy mischief for us to get up to – but when we do we are standing in the tradition of those who have been misrepresented through history despite have a clear mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Amongst our aims is to network and partner with people of good will in creating loving communities. Mary formed a community with other women who shared a desire to support the people who gathered around Jesus. We know enough about them to know that they came from a variety of backgrounds, that some had financial resources and others didn’t, that they had different political ambitions, that they were leaders and followers, that most had risked much to follow Jesus and life could never be the same for any of them.  Can we witness like Mary Magdalene, naming the good news we have experienced and the goodness we see emerging from the struggles to manage life?

Hymn

Take this moment, sign and space

take the friends around,

here among us make the place

where your love is found

Take the time to call my name

take the time to mend

who I am and what I’ve been

all I’ve failed to tend.

take the tiredness of my days

take my past regret,

letting your forgiveness touch

all I can’t forget.

 

Offering 

We bring this bread and this wine to the table of Jesus.

With them we bring ourselves,

all that we are and all that we own. May the ordinary become holy,

and heaven be opened to the people of earth.

May God be blessed forever!

We praise you that we are here today, around the table of Jesus.

We have heard the good news of your love; 

the cross is the sign of your arms stretched out in love for us

and the empty tomb declares your love stronger than death.

 

Prayer

Loving God,

you have fed us generously at this table, 

as we have remembered Jesus

and rejoiced that he is with us today. 

We are ready now to follow him,

and to be your people in the world. 

May your Holy Spirit show us the way, 

make us holy and fill us with love.

We pray for the Church,

for the great Church throughout the world, 

and for our own church community gathered today for worship and prayer.

May we remember Jesus every day,

grow in understanding of him,

and learn to love you and our neighbours. 

Fill us with your Spirit,

and make us people of peace,

of faithful prayer and loving action.

We pray for the whole world;

for the people, the animals,

the earth, the sea and the air.

May all that you have made

be sustained in peace and harmony, 

and may all your creatures

share in the goodness of creation. 

Bring healing to all who are suffering, 

and may all your people share in hope especially…….

We pray for ourselves,

for our families and our friends,

for all those we love

and for those we find it hard to love.

May young and old respect one another, 

and the generations honour one another. 

May nothing divide us or come between us, 

but let your love bind us in affection.

Bless us with your peace,

that together we may praise you forever.

URC Worship Book, Second Order of Holy Communion

Hymn

Eternal God, your love’s tremendous glory 

cascades through life in overflowing grace, 

to tell creation’s meaning in the story

of love evolving love from time and space.

 

We ask you now, complete your image in us;

this love of yours, our source and guide and goal.

May love in us seek love and serve love’s purpose,

till we ascend with Christ and find love whole.

© 1991, words by Alan Gaunt, Stainer & Bell Ltd, Hope Publishing Co, 

CCLI Licence No. 1280770

Blessing

Go into the world to speak with courage.

Go into the world to act with compassion.

Go into the world to encourage your neighbours. 

Go into the world to share the good news.

And may God – creator, son and spirit –

inform and inspire our thinking,

our speaking and our actions

and bless us today, and every day to come. Amen

URC General Assembly 2021