In our Gospel reading today Jesus speaks hopeful words to Nathaniel: “You will see greater things than these”. And a wonderful promise, “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man”. Tradition has it that Nathaniel was much older than Jesus and the other disciples, yet Nathaniel is told to look forward in hope, and to expect to see great things.
As a Church Council we made the difficult decision this week to close the Church for acts of worship and private prayer. It may feel that this makes it harder to look to the future in hope. We will review this decision at a PCC meeting later this month. For the time being these virtual services continue to be our main way of being Church, Sunday by Sunday. Although we can’t pray in Church we can still pray together, so watch this space for some zoom invitations in the weeks ahead.
Nathaniel wasn’t a spring chicken when he was called by Jesus but Jesus encouraged him to keep looking forward towards a hope-filled future and, as Jonathan says in his sermon today, to walk in the light of that hope. A prayer based on our Gospel reading today:
Lord, thank you for the promise you made to Nathaniel, that he would see great things in the future. For us when the immediate future looks bleak and precarious help us to see beyond that and to claim that promise for ourselves, that a future spent with you is one full of promise, full of potential, full of hope. Amen.
Today the Church commemorates the Baptism of Christ. This third national lockdown is going to be a baptism that we will all be baptised with. None of us can escape it – it is a universal experience of stress and anxiety that will test our ability to cope.
The Prime Minister in his address to the nation on Monday night alluded to the fact that this will be the most difficult lockdown of all. We enter lockdown with the numbers of people contracting the virus at a rate higher than it has ever been in the UK. A reminder that the days and weeks ahead are going to be tough.
So we pray for ourselves and those we love; we pray for our nation; we pray for those on the front line in the NHS; for all essential workers. We pray for all who seek to bring hope and to help us remain connected. And we pray for deliverance.
My sermon today reflects on Christ’s baptism alongside our experience of lockdown and suggests that we can find hope in the midst of feeling out of control, in the midst of chaos and in the face of death.
Sometimes when we surrender control something surprising happens, we can be open to new possibilities and we can experience hope. By entering the waters of the Jordan river Jesus enters into our chaos, all our fights to keep our heads above water. And Christ’s baptism points to hope even in the midst of death. These are the words written on the font at Portsmouth Cathedral. I think they speak to us at the start of this third and most difficult lockdown.
“When you went down into the water it was like the night, and you could see nothing, but when you came up again it was like finding yourself in the day. That one moment was both your death and your birth”.
It may feel like the night at the moment. But hope will come as surely as the dawning of a new day.
Happy New Year!
I’ve got some good news and some bad news. If you want the bad news first: the bad news is that Christmas ends on Wednesday; the good news is that we can sing Christmas carols for another four weeks until 2 February. If you want the good news first: the good news is that its still Christmas; the bad news is that we have to sing carols for another four weeks.
Please support a local appeal by the Children’s Society – a simple idea to make sleep packs for young asylum seekers as a way of countering the effects of sleep deprivation. In this mailing you will find ways in which we can be engaged as a Church, helping with giving particular items that are needed or by making a financial donation.
The birth of a New Year calls forth the desire in us to bestow a blessing upon those we love, and the following blessing is by the Irish poet John O Donohue:
Beannacht: A Blessing for the New Year
On the day when the weight deadens on your shoulders
And you stumble, May the clay dance to balance you.
And when your eyes freeze behind the grey window
And the ghost of loss gets in to you,
May a flock of colours, indigo, red, green, and azure blue,
Come to awaken in you a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays in the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you,
An invisible cloak to mind your life. Amen.
|Sunday 20 December Virtual Service Hello everyone|
It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent. The fourth candle on the Advent wreath represents Mary. This is the prayer I used this week:
Lord Jesus, Light of the world,
blessed is Gabriel who brought good news;
blessed is Mary – your mother and ours.
Bless your Church preparing for Christmas. Amen.
Jonathan sets us some homework in his sermon today to read through Luke’s Gospel with an eye out for all who positively respond to Christ. Jonathan encourages us to think of Mary’s own positive “yes” to Christ. We ask God to help us to say “so be it” with Mary (Luke 1.38) and to respond positively to his call, even when that call is, as it was for Mary, demanding and beyond our comprehension.
As with the Advent tradition of listening to Handel’s Messiah the Nine Lessons and Carols service included in this mailing gives us an opportunity to claim God’s salvation history – the story of God coming to redeem his people – as our story too: God speaking into our history, our context, our need of deliverance.
As the lessons unfold and the carols beckon us towards the new-born child in the manger Mary’s experience is made universal, that every Church “becomes Bethlehem” at Christmas:
I open the stable door
I kneel before the infant
I worship with the shepherds
I adore the Christ Child
I ponder the Word made flesh
I absorb the love of God
I give glory with the angels
I receive the living Lord
I hold him in my hands
I go on my way rejoicing
Glorifying and praising God.
It’s the third Sunday of Advent. We are having our first Christingle service this afternoon, which will be an opportunity to welcome young families back to Church for the first time in a long time.
I am delighted that Paul Ayers, the Archdeacon of Leeds, is our virtual preacher today. Archdeacon Paul reflects on our Gospel reading that John the Baptist came as a witness to the light, the true light that was coming into the world (John 1. 7,9). The following prayer warms to that theme:
The candle burns brightly, the candle of peace
The star shines with radiance, the star of peace
The sun blazes with splendour, the sun of peace
But outshining all in glory, the Prince of Peace,
Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Johansen-Berg)
As you can see from the videos we are sending out on social media the Church is now decorated for Christmas. A massive thank you to all those involved this week in decorating the Church with flowers and candles, crib scenes and Christmas tree. Christmas definitely isn’t cancelled this year.
Archdeacon Paul reminds us in his sermon today that Jesus Christ the true light speaks to our emotional darkness, our intellectual darkness, our moral darkness, our spiritual darkness, our social and political darkness, and our mortal darkness – on all these levels Jesus Christ speaks to us, “light and life to all he brings”.
In closing, a blessing of light:
Lord, be thou a bright flame before me
Be thou a guiding star above me,
Be thou a smooth path beneath me
Be thou a kindly shepherd behind me,
today, tonight, and always. Amen. (St Columba of Iona, 521-597)
|Sunday 6 December Virtual Service Good morning|
I am delighted to say that we have a guest preacher at our virtual service this morning, the Reverend Dr Ian White. Ian reminds us that each time you think you have got to the end in Mark’s Gospel you have in fact reached a new beginning. Ian gives us valuable insights into how to read a Gospel which begins and ends unexpectedly.
A quick reminder that the last date for dropping off toys is next Sunday, 13 December. We have until next Thursday 10 December to drop off items for St George’s Crypt. The list of things they are particularly wanting is in a link in this mailing.
An Advent blessing from the Northumbria Community:
God of the watching ones,
give us Your benediction.
God of the waiting ones,
give us Your good word for our souls.
God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,
and of the angels in heaven,
and of the child in the womb,
give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest and rise
in the kindness of Your company.
Thank you to Michael for reading the Gospel, to Alan for the song “O Come, O come, Emmanuel”, and to Gill for the reflection on the Gospel reading for our young people.
Today, Advent Sunday, is our day of new beginnings, our day of eager anticipation. We give thanks that at a start of a new Church year, God is with us, and that God will be with us, whatever happens.
As we light the first candle on the advent wreath – a sign to us that Jesus is coming – we pray that God will make that expectation for each of us bright and real.
Lord our God, make us watchful and keep us faithful
As we await the coming of your Son our Lord;
That, when he shall appear,
He may not find us sleeping in sin
But active in his service and joyful in his praise. Amen.
We look forward to seeing folk at our virtual coffee zoom after the service, and you will find the invite in this mailing. As an icebreaker I invite you to think of something we sadly won’t be able to do in Advent or Christmas this year. But also to give thanks for something that we are able to continue to do. We can weep for what we have lost, but we can also weep with thankfulness for what we still have.
We have our usual collection for toys in the lobby area which can be accessed when the Church is open on Sunday and Thursday mornings for acts of worship. These toys are distributed across Leeds from a hub at St Richard’s Church Seacroft run by a dedicated team of volunteers. It is wonderful that they are still wanting to go ahead this year, making Christmas special for a lot of families in Leeds whose life is a struggle.
An Advent blessing:
Lord Jesus Christ, single light, shining in the darkness,
crucified, risen, awaited.
Meet us today, journey with us in Advent,
and lead us into a tender and fruitful tomorrow.
Every good wish for the difficult days and weeks ahead.
This week is the “Sunday next before Advent”, also known as the feast of Christ the King. The following reflection – based on our Gospel reading today from Matthew 25 – is by Revd Roger Quick, chaplain to the homeless at St George’s Crypt, in his recent book “Entertaining Saints”:
I was hungry and you went out for a nice meal.
I was thirsty and you bought a few bottles for Christmas.
I was a stranger and you wanted me deported.
I was naked and you bought yourself a new outfit.
I was sick and you had cosmetic surgery.
I was in prison and you went on holiday.
Lord have mercy.
The book is a thoughtful and moving read. This advent we are collecting items for St George’s Crypt, and I invite you to watch the video accompanying this mailing. This appeal is something that we have done at St Giles for a number of years under the auspices of the Mothers’ Union. You will find the box for collecting particular items requested in the video in the lobby area of the Church which continues to remain open each week on Thursday and Sunday mornings for private prayer.
As we approach what is (we trust) the mid-point of our second national lockdown I thought it would be good to focus on one of the greatest gifts that we have been given as followers of Jesus: the Lord’s Prayer. In my sermon I invite you to imagine the Lord’s Prayer as being like six envelopes alongside a handwritten note from Jesus saying, “open when anxiety strikes”.
Our Advent course, “Living in Hope”, starts this week. The Zoom link for Week One is in this mailing. Week One is entitled “Living well”. Catherine Fox, who wrote the course, reminds us of the rabbi who asked, “What if there is only one question God puts to us when we die: “Did you enjoy my creation?” How would we answer? As I have been preparing for the course that question has been going round in my head. Despite lockdown I am thankful that I can still enjoy creation, and being with God in creation.
A blessing on the Feast of Christ the King:
May Christ our exalted King
pour upon you his abundant gifts,
and make you faithful and strong
to do his will. Amen.
Thank you to Joan for reading the Gospel today, to Andrew for the song “Make me a channel of your peace”, to Val for leading our prayers, and to Gill for the video for young people.
This afternoon at 2.30pm we have our Annual Church Meeting. It’s a chance to celebrate our life together as a Church, to reflect on what we have been up to this past year and to look to the future with hope.
We have quite a few people stepping back from roles this year so it will also be an opportunity for us to thank them for all they have done, and to show our support for all those taking up and continuing in roles in loving service on behalf of the Church family.
Our Gospel reading today is the parable of the Talents. Jonathan’s sermon today reminds us that it is not the quantity of talents that we have in life that matters, it is how we use them. We are encouraged to seize the day and use our gifts responsibly. The following prayer seems appropriate:
O God our creator,
your kindness has brought us the gift of a new day.
Help us to leave yesterday
and not to covet tomorrow,
but to accept the uniqueness of today. Amen.
This year our usual Advent course will ‘go virtual’. I will be co-leading the course with Roger the minister at Bramhope Methodist Church, and we will be looking at the York Courses material which has been produced this year by the novelist Catherine Fox. Her course material is very engaging and has been written with Covid-19 in mind. The course is entitled “living in hope”. It will be on Thursday evenings at 7pm, starting on Thursday 26 November.
We continue with our national month of prayer. On Thursdays we are encouraged to fast and to pray as we bring to God those who are going to be worst affected by this lockdown. We continue to commit ourselves for the next three weeks – as we are able – to praying each day, and on Thursdays to fast as well as to pray.
A hopeful blessing this week from the Iona Community:
And now may the God of hope
Bring you such joy and peace in believing
That you overflow with hope
In the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.