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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

Categories
Minister Mission Podcasts Prayers

Praying with Questions

Our final podcast of this Easter to Pentecost series finds us playing with questions and responding in prayer. We hope you have found them useful, we will return if we feel we have something to say.

Credits: Music – “Spirit of God” © Ray Stanyon

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Mission News

Advent Gatherings

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Mission

Silent Garden

In the silent garden,

we stood with graves laid out

as if disbelief could turn back time.

 

Sometimes, silence is all we have to express ourselves;

awed, astonished, ashamed, ashen,

silent as the grave.

 

In the hushed corner plot,

woeful folk quietly plant raised beds

as if peace could descend with new blooms.

 

Sometimes, silence sings collusions victory dance;

soft, scented, scared, scarred,

hushed with inaction.

 

In the secret terrace,

weans play a raucous hide ’n seek

as if solemn tongues could break into laughter.

 

Sometimes silence is the comma, as life explodes –

caught, caressed, carried, carved,

gleeful Easter’s fête.

 

In festival garden,

world-weary ones feast on merriment,

as if lament will be heard no more.

 

Sometimes, silence proclaims extravagant garlands,

plaited, pretty, presented, pricey

fanfare of rebirth.

 

Craig Muir  March 2017

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I wanted to write something that viewed Jesus’ burial site as a garden – as that would be the natural place for Mary to meet with “the Gardener”  But I found myself imagining a park where different activities go on alongside one another and yet still told a story that takes a community from despair to delight.

In one corner is a burial area, – so often there is little to be said  after the formal words – we say little but are reluctant to move away.

in another corner people are gardening – finding some healing in doing so – but it also contrasts the way silence can be companionable with the times when our failure to speak out colludes with injustice.

In another corner the children (heard but not seen) play (weans is not a natural world for me but it allows the part rhyme of we/wo/we/wo to begin each second line) children really allow life to remain quiet for long – they are the reminder to us that life goes on – that so many moments that seem like a full stop – are really just a comma, as the story unfolds. (And couldn’t resist the homophone of fête with fate) 

In another corner, it’s time to party, parade, feast, festival – Easter time!

 

Categories
Mission News

Feasts & Festivals: A Lent Gathering

So if Lent is a fast, why is our Lent Theme all about Feasts and Festivals?” Well, partly because the United Reformed Church is following that theme in various guises throughout the year, but also because Lent is as much about feasting as it is about fasting. Each Sunday is a feast day, and not counted in the 40 fast days of Lent. Our Lent Gatherings will be a time to reflect on the way our journeys can take various turns, that some are feasts and others fasts but all take us towards the greatest festival of all … Easter.

The sessions have been inspired by the wonderful prayers in this years Prayer Handbook, for example

We pick up the stones

of the hurts of the world

violence and poverty,

disaster, and starvation

wanting you to turn them into bread;

Carol Dixon, URC Prayer Handbook 2017

God so loved …

this home for humanity,

rich varieties of shape, colour, language, identity, story

that God sent his son not to condemn but to save.

May we value all of humanity with the same love,

share the same willingness for sacrifice

and make the same risks

that God makes for us

                  Vaughan Jones,  URC Prayer Handbook 2017

In the midst of a fast, we will enjoy a feast of poetry, song, prayer and discovery. We will touch, look, taste and imagine. We will roam from wilderness to garden, pausing at a well as darkness falls and we catch our breath. Come and join in

be blessed, Craig

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Mission News

Advent Songs

We will celebrate Christmas in song. No surprise there – whether in the four songs of Luke’s Nativity story, or our carolling traditions or the constant soundtrack of popular favourites – we will sing our way through Christmas.

In choosing our carols I try to ensure that across each service most of the favourites are sung but will also include something rare – it might just be or become someones favourite. It means that I get to sing everything at least once and hopefully congregations will as well. I have a particular liking for Carols that have strong harmonies and descants (I can’t sing them but love to be there as better voices soar) and those carols telling the story of Jesus and sharing hope, wonder and joy.

On both counts “Hark! the Herald Angels sing” hits the mark. It speaks of glory, peace, mercy, reconciliation, joy, adoration, incarnation, and a restored relationship between God and creation all set to a wonderful tune that reaches new heights when the descant amplifies the final verse

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Sun of righteousness!

Light and life to all he brings

risen with healing in his wings …

But in different ways, I also love to be reminded that “God surprises earth with heaven, /coming here on Christmas Day” The hymn that takes us there is so modern, asking the questions that challenge so many assumptions,

Who would think that what was needed

to transform and save the earth

might not be a plan or army

proud in purpose, proved in worth?

It is sung to such an innocuous tune in Scarlet Ribbons, that we could be tempted to dismiss such offering as unbecoming in worship – yet it reminds us that if we seek to follow this story through into our everyday lives, that God will surprise us, calling people to live in ways that challenge a world so often deaf to God’s wisdom.

May God surprise you this Christmas;

May you hear the angels sing;

and know God’s blessing for the New Year

Craig

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Mission News

Remember November

November: Remembrance month – All Saints Day, Bonfire Night, Remembrance Sunday swiftly following. Each bringing their own memories and rituals. Memory is an important part of who we think we are, hence, when we are unable to remember, or we are faced with someone who seems to have forgotten themselves, life is painful.

At Greenbelt I heard Professor John Swinton ask “Who Am I When I Forget Who I Am?” He was presenting his book, Dementia: Living in the Memories of God.

He talked about a three-fold self in which firstly we bring our experiences of living, secondly we bring the stories our social roles tell and thirdly we have an identity given by our community. Hence, the difficulty of dementia is we lose personhood when the community loses us. He argues that the problem is not that people become forgetful but that they are forgotten. Hence it is important that someone holds our memories well. If Mum seems to have forgotten who you are, don’t forget who she is and things she has always enjoyed. Remember that our bodies hold our memories just as much as our minds – so a song. a smell, a ritual takes us into emotion and open hearts just as much as an ability to still tell our stories. For all of us memories change over time, we live in the present tense and the future is before us all, still with a sense of call and vocation. If we struggle to articulate our past so be it, we are still experiencing this moment.

So our memories are held by those who remember us and amongst those who remember is God. Even if we seem to forget God, God does not forget us. None of which negates the difficulties of dementia, but it is a reminder that we must not define people by their condition. Each person still knows the experience of living, still have social roles, are still part of the communities that hold them close and are still beautiful children of God. The task for each of us is to participate in the stories we have been given,

Remember in November and be blessed
Craig

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Mission News

Talking Mission

Here we are, our first month as Ansty Road United Reformed Church, there has been much to do and we have been focusing on some of the practical issues of merging the two churches and leaving Harefield Road. At our forthcoming Church and Elders’ Meetings it will be time to think once again about Mission aims and objectives.

We began the process last August when we discussed six themes drawn from our existing mission statements and grouped them with some biblical characters that emerged from the discussions we had around the Nature, Faith and Order of the United Reformed Church during 2015. The conclusions we come to as we look forward may be very different but for the moment I would like to continue working with these themes.

Praying like Hannah,  1 Samuel 1

Hannah’s prayer was soaked in pain, bitterness, anguish and grief. It produced praise, power, potential, prophecy, proclamation. Prayer will be at the heart of who we are, it will be place where healing begins, it will be available through the labyrinth, regular prayer times and in an encouragement to spend regular time with God.

Growing like Mary of Bethany, Luke 10, John 11 & 12

Mary is the disciple who learns and worships at the feet of Jesus. Discipleship is about growing faith through learning from the bible and for each other. We will create regular opportunities to explore the bible, make a faithful response  and create discussions that help people think about faith and spirituality.

Welcoming like Martha, Luke 10, John 11 & 12

Martha; housekeeper, theologian, disciple, witness – who together with Mary creates a culture of welcome and worship. We will be committed to creating welcome, hospitality and friendship where people are inspired to worship and witness.

Encouraging like Barnabas: Acts 4, 9, 11

Barnabas is an encourager, he eases tension, finds the best in people, goes out of his way to welcome people into the church. We shall encourage people to make new beginnings and develop their skills. We will put our prayers and biblical pondering into action, emphasising a care for the vulnerable.

Witnessing like Mary Magdalene: Luke 8, 24, John 20

Mary, first witness to the resurrection, yet has been misrepresented through history and sidelined by patriarchal narratives. We will seek ways to witness to Jesus however much the message may be sidelined or ignored. We will explore developing a new centre in Stoke. We will network and partner with people of good will in creating loving communities.

Celebrating like the dancing cripple: Acts 3

A man’s life is turned around when he meets the risen Christ through Peter and John. His reaction is to dance with joy and amaze those around him. We need to celebrate life’s moments, celebrate the good news of Christ, celebrate a love shared. As Dory told us one day, these moments are like a comma changing the flow of a sentence – so let’s find reasons to dance.

So be prepared to share your hopes and ideas. Be open to the way the Spirit is moving, join with us as we explore God’s Mission for Ansty Road United Reformed Church.

be blessed

Craig