Service of the Word: Sunday 6th September

GOSPEL READING

Luke 12: 22 – 34

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

SERMON

In the year AD 64, in the imperial city of Rome, a massive fire broke out which burned for 6 whole days.  Half the city’s population was made homeless and the conflagration – according to the contemporary Roman historian Tacitus – destroyed 70 per cent of the city’s buildings. As the disaster unfolded, Nero, the then Emperor, is reputed to have sat down on a veranda of his palace, taken out his violin and fiddled while Rome burned!  It’s also alleged that his long suffering second wife Poppaea Sabbina looked despairingly at her husband, turned to her maid and said: “Now that’s what I call – totally useless in a crisis!”

Nero was what we might call in these parts… a nae user!  He wasn’t the kind of man that his three wives ever felt inclined to go to in a crisis!  And for good reason.  You get the same feeling about Donald Trump when you see how his wife Melania looks at him as he tries to blame everyone and everything but himself for the appalling failure of his administration to manage effectively the Coronavirus crisis and the Black Lives Matter crisis in the US.  Mind you, I can talk!  If a crisis arises in the Sheridan household, my poor wife Teresa gets pushed to the front to deal with it while I scurry off into the safety of my study, claiming I’ve got another sermon to write!!!!      

Who would you turn to in a crisis?!  A husband?  A wife?  A partner? A strong family member?  A really good friend?  A neighbour?  A colleague? Throughout the New Testament it’s quite clear that there was one person, and one person alone, to whom the people kept turning in a crisis!  And that was Jesus.  When the paralytic turned to him for help, Jesus said: “Take courage, son, I am here.”  When Simon Peter started to sink on the lake and cried out for help, Jesus said: “Do not be afraid, I’m here.”  When he saw and heard the weeping women as he entered the holy city at the start of his passion, Jesus had pity on them and said: “Do not be afraid, daughters of Zion, I am here”.  And to his disciples, who were forever limping from one crisis to the next and always running back to him for help, Jesus said repeatedly: “Do not be afraid!  Do NOT be afraid!  I am here.  Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Jesus was THE very best person to turn to in a crisis.  When his disciples were startled, or frightened, or challenged beyond their capabilities, or reticent to take a necessary leap of faith and move out of their comfort zone, Jesus was there, always there, with the words “Do not be afraid”.  He knew what it was to be human, he understood how easily put off people could be, but, in a time of crisis, when they sought him out, his reassuring presence, his wise words, his energising vision, his trust in their ability and his unshakable belief in God as God’s true and only Son were always able to convince people to keep going, to be faithful, to go the extra mile in faith, hope and love.

We don’t have Jesus with us in the flesh any more, but we do have his spirit and that wonderful promise he made us: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”  And so we can still turn to him in a crisis… we can still rely on him, through his Spirit, to be there for us, to comfort and reassure us, to lead and guide us, to hear him utter those encouraging words to us… “Do not be afraid”… 

I think it’s fair to say that the past six months of lockdown have been a strange time, a disconcerting time.  I know, from speaking to many of you in the parish, that a lot of you have lost confidence, a lot of you are a bit scared about getting back to normal – and going to church again as part of that normality.  What I would say to you all is what Jesus would say to you: “Take courage, friends, one and all. Do not be afraid!” 

And step one in responding to that rallying cry is… to trust.  Trust the Church, trust us your Clergy and the Vestry here.  The Scottish Episcopal Church provincially has been meticulous over its examination of the guidelines that have come out from the Scottish Government and it’s been scrupulous about giving Rectors and Clergy with Charge clear instructions as to how to reopen after lockdown in as safe and secure a manner as possible.  Here at Christ Church we have worked very hard to ensure everything is in place… face coverings, gels, 2 metre distancing pew ticks and floor tape, gloves, visors, communion arrangements and a whole host of rules and regulations for you to follow!  We’ve even had a lovely new path installed right round the church so that you can enter by the main door and exit via the scenic route down the south side, round west end and back onto the street again.  Feel assured by all the precautions that have been taken… and go out to reassure others that they will be as safe, if not safer, in Christ Church than they would be in Tescos. 

Step two in responding to the rallying cry is… to take courage.  It will take a lot of courage to come back to church this Sunday morning. So, well done to those of you who are thinking of plucking it up and venturing forth.  I’m sure your courage will be rewarded by the respect that you will experience from the gathered people of God here as they keep their distance and observe all the rules and regulations in order to protect, not only themselves, but you too.  We are a people of faith who love and care for one another.  You’ll not find anyone taking risks, or acting irresponsibly, or playing fast and loose with your health and wellbeing.  Feel reassured by that, then go out to tell others that this isn’t a danger zone, but a place where you can relax, and be, and worship and pray as you have always been able to do.

The final step in responding to the rallying cry is… to become fishers of people again.  Lee and I have had many an anxious moment in the last couple of weeks, worrying about whether we’d ever see a congregation back in here again after lockdown.  So, it’s great to know that we are fully booked for Sunday morning and nearly fully booked for our Wednesday midweek service.  It’s heart-warming to know that you want to return, to worship God and to meet up with your brothers and sisters in Christ in God’s house.  It has given me a bit of hope for the future that, with your help, and the Spirit’s power and Jesus’s presence with us, we will rebuild the church, we will reboot our congregation, and, slowly but surely, we will climb our way out of this crisis, glad that we responded to the rallying cry of Jesus “not to be afraid” with all the trust, courage and desire to recruit people for the kingdom that are the marks of a truly Christian community which the people of Christ Church are impressively, faithfully, thankfully.

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

INTERCESSIONS

Heavenly Father, your Son repeatedly reassured his fearful disciples with the comforting words “Do not be afraid”.  In these uncertain times we hear him speaking these words to us again and pray that people everywhere, whatever their needs, may not be afraid, but live by faith and hope… 

We pray for the world.  For justice in Belarus, Hong Kong and The United States.  For an end to conflict in The Yemen.  Take away the fear that causes brother to fight brother, sister to be at enmity with sister, and the weak always to be at the mercy of the power hungry…

Lord, hear us…

We pray for the church.  For those afraid of attending church for the first time.  For those fearful of the future and what it will mean for worship, mission and ministry.  Bless Kevin our Bishop as he leads us through these difficult times.  May all in leadership roles in your Son’s name hear his reassuring words: “Do not be afraid”…

Lord, hear us…

We pray for the sick and the anxious.  For Christine, Ian, Phillip, Les, Sam, Olive, Chris, Bill, Joyce, Ann, John, Avril, Helga, Colin, Margaret. May they hear the Lord’s voice in their distress.  And hearing it, may it remove fear from their minds and fill their hearts with peace and healing…

Lord, hear us…

We pray for the departed, giving thanks for the lives of The Revd Alex Griffiths and Tony Martin, who have died recently.  Now that their fear is over and that death itself is conquered, may they rejoice in your house for ever…

Lord, hear us…

Heavenly Father, we thank you for hearing our prayer and for sending us your Son, who cast out fear with love and with the constant reassurance he gave,  that, with you ever before us, all will be well and all manner of things will be well.  In his name, and to your glory, we pray.  Amen.

The Revd Canon Drew Sheridan