St Helen’s Church

Antiphon

19th May 2024. Pentecost.   

Prayer for today:. God, who as at this time taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things and evermore to rejoice in  his holy comfort; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for Barbara Parker, Liam Marshall, Maureen Stevens, Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan, Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett, Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde.

Among those whose year’s mind is about this time we remember Dougy Lamb, Robert Blackett Charlton, Marjorie Francis Leybourne and Joseph Nichol.

A Choir in the Shire: an evening service for Pentecost, this evening at 6.30 p.m. led by the choir Antiphon, under the direction of John Roper. Any help with refreshments after the service will be much appreciated.

Hexhamshire Garden Trail; June 16th : please collect and display posters from Church , and volunteer to help in any way you can.

 

Readings:

Acts 2: 1-21. When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 ‘“In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

 

Psalm 104: 24-34

O Lord, how manifold are thy works!
in wisdom hast thou made them all:
the earth is full of thy riches.
25 So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable,
both small and great beasts.
26 There go the ships:
there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.
27 These wait all upon thee;
that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
28 That thou givest them they gather:
thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
29 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled:
thou takest away their breath, they die,
and return to their dust.
30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created:
and thou renewest the face of the earth.

31 The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever:
the Lord shall rejoice in his works.
32 He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth:
he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
33 I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live:
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
34 My meditation of him shall be sweet:
I will be glad in the Lord.

 

John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15

26 ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, “Where are you going?” Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 ‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.’

Thoughts on today’s readings

Pentecost is celebrated as the sending of Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus, and therefore their being sent out, their mission, into the world. It is hailed as a new thing, a birthday, a radical new beginning, yet the Bible teaches us that the Spirit was there from the beginning. At the beginning of creation the Spirit is described as hovering over the waters. When he was anointed as king, we read how Saul was mightily filled with the Spirit and, in the account of the calling of David, read how the Spirit came upon that boy when Samuel anointed him. Nevertheless, Saul lost his faith and lost his way, and was rejected by God.

Jesus had told the disciples explicitly that he would send them the Spirit. They were not, as it were, surprised by a rather terrifying figure carrying a horn of oil; they were ready and waiting , together, when the day came. Nevertheless Jesus warned them that their mission, the mission of the Spirit, would be one of conflict, just as his mission had involved conflict.  He had  not been believed, and they must not expect to be believed either. The world looked for religion, and created gods which would endorse and bless their choices and their self-centred ambitions. Lacking faith, blind, they would  not accept the one who showed them God who requires conversion and obedience to his call, yet who alone has the word of truth and life.   Regarding righteousness, Jesus was going to the Father, and that journey meant the cross. To the world that made him a criminal and an outcast and a failure, moreover they  had condemned him and judged him. Here , however, is God, and rather on the cross it is human judgement , the failure of human justice and the corruption of human power which is held up to the light of  God and condemned. The Son of God endures the cross and goes to the Father to plead our cause and in order that, as the hymn puts it, ‘Thou didst clear me.’

Here was no mealy-mouthed lukewarm spiritual sticking plaster. Those who waited and received the Spirit were given God’s uncompromising gospel to bring to those who would receive it and to those who were hostile alike, conscious of their own falls and failings yet overjoyed and the reality of the presence of the life-transforming Spirit, no longer just in the lives of one or two, or even of 120 people, but in the lives of countless millions, of every race and language under the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer for today:

O God the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: we beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Among those who are sick we pray for Barbara Parker, Liam Marshall, Maureen Stevens, Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan, Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett, Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde.

Among those who have died recently we remember Nigel Herold, whose life will be celebrated here in Church on Thursday 16th at 2 p.m., and also Millicent Richardson, Anna Rossiter, Neil Robinson and Frank Thompson, whose year’s mind is about this time.

Please put these dates in your diary:

A Choir in the Shire: an evening service for Pentecost  (May 19th) at 6.30 p.m. led by the choir Antiphon, under the direction of John Roper. Any help with refreshments after the service will be much appreciated.

Hexhamshire Garden Trail; June 16th : please collect and display posters from Church , and volunteer to help in any way you can.

 

Readings

Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, ‘Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.’

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’ 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
nor standeth in the way of sinners,
nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord;
and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
his leaf also shall not wither;
and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so:
but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous:
but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

John 17: 6-19

‘I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by[c] that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

13 ‘I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by  the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Thoughts on today’s readings:

The flowers that frame the door of the Church this morning and decorate the archway of the screen tell us that there was a wedding here yesterday. Under that archway Jordan and Anna stood together and made their vows to each other and exchanged rings. At the heart of what they were expressing was the truth that they have become one. Their little daughter Ava, who stretched out her arms to them, and was carried by her Dad, is an expression of that oneness: they are a family, the love that unites them has been blessed and fruitful in the life of this child. Nevertheless children, however amazing they are, can sometimes try to get their own way by playing off one parent against another, and show skill in detecting areas of division which can be exploited. I know that as a child I was aware of the essential unity of my parents, very different as they were. There was no point trying to appeal the decision of one parent to the other. There is really no chance we would have heard one of them criticising the other  to us as children.

Our readings this morning have at their heart that sense of unity being not just essential but also of God and from God.  Within the company of the disciples of Jesus there had occurred a division as a consequence of the betrayal by Judas. The twelve were a sign of God’s desire to establish a new Israel, a new people of God, no longer divided into separate princedoms, but united in the Spirit of God, one as Jesus and the Father are one. The number 120 is significant, representing the  number needed by custom to establish a new community. It tells us that the followers of Jesus numbered many more than 12. It was from these that two were put forward, that the Lord might tell them which was to complete the twelve. We know little more about who Matthias was. As opposed to Judas, who went off into the night, when Satan had entered his heart, her are the disciples emphasising their unity as a community, and their desire to be the people that Jesus called, and to seek his will.

In the passage from St. John’s Gospel Jesus speaks of having made known to his disciples the Father’s name. This is not like some sort of social introduction, or even the revelation of a secret name, so much as making known to them the nature and character of God, whom Jesus addresses as Father. Jesus does this because he and the Father are one. Theirs is  a perfect unity of love, the words, the work of Jesus are the words, the works of God; there is no difference, no otherness. And the fruitfulness of the mission of the Son is grounded in that perfect love. Yet this is not some sort of exclusive divine bliss, a sort of divine couples holiday. This is the creative , divine love which we believe to be  at the heart of all creation, and to be at the heart of our existence as children of God, who have learnt to know God through Jesus, and to know God as Father. As beloved children, called  by name, we are invited into that relationship and, as Jesus prays, that is a relationship of unity: may they be one as we.  Jesus did not pray for the world which did not know him, but for those he had been given by the Father. Though they were in the world, they were his, not of the world, and he prayed the Father to protect them. Therefore they must be one, so that when the Spirit came it would fill and give life to one body: the Body of Christ which is the new people of God, to go out united in love to bring the Good news into the whole world. They were not to concern themselves with who the world considered them to be : provincials from Galilee. Christ the true high priest had offered the sacrifice on the cross which took away all unworthiness, and all the former things by which people sought God’s favour.  Henceforth they did not need to offer the blood of animals upon the altar; Christ’s blood upon the cross had made them clean: he, the true high priest  had consecrated himself in order that we, his disciples, might be sanctified – no longer earthen vessels but a royal priesthood, witnessing not to ourselves but to the truth. That truth is the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Good news of God.

 

 

5th May 6th Sunday of Easter

Prayer for today:

God our redeemer, you have delivered us from the powers of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of your Son: grant that, as by his death he has recalled us to life, so by his continual presence in us he may raise us to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ your Son our  Lord. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for Barbara Parker, Liam Marshall, Maureen Stevens, Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan, Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett, Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde.

Among those who have died recently we remember Nigel Herold, and also Mary Robinson, Henry Lockhart, Giuseppe Sanna  and Peter Moore, whose year’s mind is about this time.

There will be a service of thanksgiving for Nigel here in Church on May 16th at 2 p.m. Please remember his father tony and his family in your prayers.

Please put these dates in your diary:

A Choir in the Shire: an evening service for Pentecost  (May 19th) at 6.30 p.m. led by the choir Antiphon, under the direction of John Roper.

Hexhamshire Garden Trail; June 16th : please collect and display posters from Church , and volunteer to help in any way you can.

Readings:

Acts 10: 44-48

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[a] and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 ‘Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ 48 So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Psalm 98

 O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvellous things:
his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.
The Lord hath made known his salvation:
his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen.
He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel:
all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth:
make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
Sing unto the Lord with the harp;
with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.
With trumpets and sound of cornet
make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King.
Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof;
the world, and they that dwell therein.
Let the floods clap their hands:
let the hills be joyful together before the Lord;
for he cometh to judge the earth:
with righteousness shall he judge the world,
and the people with equity.

 John 15: 9-17

‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.12 My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.17 This is my command: love each other.

 

Thoughts on today’s readings:

Some time ago I was talking to a local man about his life as a soldier. He spoke about the nature of the friendships he had known with those with whom he served. Living together, training together, they had grown into a body of people who could rely totally on one another; literally they held each other’s lives in their hands.

He had served in Afghanistan, where more than once the vehicle in which he was travelling was damaged by an explosive device, but he had always known that, no matter what, his friends would stick by him. Once, after a period of leave, he had been asked to return to Afghanistan with a different unit. He refused. Why? I asked him.

‘They didn’t know me; I didn’t know them,’ he replied. ‘ I could not be sure that, if something happened, they would not leave me behind.’

Friendships grow and are strengthened by what we do together. The friendship Jesus offered his disciples was strengthened by their common life: eating together, walking together, going together to the villages where they had to move far out from their comfort zone and bring God’s good news together; walking, listening, questioning and living their hours awake and asleep, with the one they called Teacher, Master and Lord. ‘You are my friends if you do what I command,’ he said. This is not about blind obedience: the obedience of a slave, or the fear of punishment for failing to obey a command. It is about being of one mind, with a common purpose. It is about accepting, and indeed being joyful in one’s calling.

As many of you know, I spent much of my childhood in the Caribbean. I had wonderful parents; my father was great fun, nevertheless I treated him with a degree of wariness. Parents in the West Indies in those days were strict, and my father was no exception. When I was 8 we went on holiday to the neighbouring island of Tobago, and one afternoon we were on the beautiful beach at Mount Irvine. Offshore there was a reef popular with snorkellers, and there were rocks in the sea. I had never learned to swim, but was hopping from one rock to another and looking down into the water.

However, as I leapt to yet another rock, I slipped and fell into the deeper water. I could not reach the surface and, for seemed like a very long moment, wondered if I would drown. Quickly my father dived into the sea, caught me up and brought me to the shore. I was not seriously hurt, but was apprehensive about what punishment I would receive for my foolishness. Then I looked and saw that my father was bleeding from where the rocks had cut him as he dived in. In that moment I was conscious and understood in way I had not understood before that he loved me.

Surely as parents we do love our children, and it is our greatest joy that they should count us as friends.

Jesus reveals to us God who is love, who loves us, who offers us friendship. I have a sense, reading the account in St. John’s gospel of the resurrection, of those disciples who saw the wounds in Jesus’ hands and feet, that they had come to realise how much he loved them.

Nevertheless, as our first reading reminds us, God is sovereign, and does what he will. As in last Sunday’s reading from Acts, and Philip and the Ethiopian, today’s account emphasises the unexpected in God’s action. Here we hear how the Spirit of God fell upon the household of a Roman soldier,  Cornelius, to whom God had sent Peter. Peter and his companions see the Spirit come upon these gentiles in a way identical with its coming upon the followers of Jesus at Pentecost. The disciples are astonished, but recognise that this is God’s action and rejoice in it, baptising the new believers.

I consider the contrast with the story of Jesus healing the servant of the centurion: the soldier urged Jesus not to come into his house, understanding that this would make him ritually unclean.

Here Peter has not only come into the home of a Roman, but the accepts the invitation to stay some days.

Jesus urged his disciples to take all things to the Father in prayer: not in order that they might manipulate the will of God, but in order that they might be fruitful. So may we as disciples make this our order today and every day. Whatever it is: take it to the Lord in prayer. For as the Father has loved him, so Jesus has loved us; and let us love one another.

 

 

 

  1. Soul of my Saviour sanctify my breast,
    Body of Christ, be Thou my saving guest,
    Blood of my Saviour, bathe me in Thy tide,
    Wash me with waters gushing from thy side.
  2. Strength and protection may Thy passion be,
    O blessèd Jesus, hear and answer me;
    Deep in Thy wounds, Lord, hide and shelter me,
    So shall I never, never part from Thee.
  3. Guard and defend me from the foe malign,
    In death’s dread moments make me only Thine;
    Call me and bid me come to Thee on high
    Where I may praise Thee with thy saints for aye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

28th April 2024. Easter 5.

Prayer for today:

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant that, as by your grace going before us you put into our minds good desires, so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for Liam Marshall, Maureen Stevens, Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan, Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett, Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde.

Among those who have died we remember Daphne Harding, whose funeral will be in Church on Tuesday 30th at 11.30 a.m., and also Thelma Kirker-Head, Dorothy Short, Mary Robinson and Henry Lockhart, whose year’s mind is about this time.

Please put these dates in your diary:

A Choir in the Shire: an evening service for Pentecost  (May 19th) at 6.30 p.m. led by the choir Antiphon, under the direction of John Roper.

Hexhamshire Garden Trail; June 16th : please collect and display posters from Church , and volunteer to help in any way you can.

Readings:

An angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up; go south to the road between Jerusalem and Gaza (it is a wilderness road), and so he went. Here was an Ethiopian eunuch, treasurer at the court of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He had been to Jerusalem to worship; returning home, he was sat in his chariot reading the prophecy of Isaiah. The Spirit prompted Philip, ‘Go over to the chariot.’ So Philip ran over and heard the man reading. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ he asked. The Ethiopian replied, ‘How can I , unless someone guides me.’ He invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. He was reading these words, ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life was taken away from the earth.’

The eunuch asked, ‘Is he writing about himself or about someone else?’ Then, beginning with this scripture, Philip began to proclaim the good news about Jesus. They came to some water and the man said, ‘Look! Here is water. What is to prevent me being baptized?’

He commanded the chariot to be stopped; they went down to the water, and Philip baptized him. As they came up from the water, the spirit snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, but went his way rejoicing. Philip found himself at Ashdod, and travelled all the way to Caesarea, proclaiming the good news as he went.

Verses from Psalm 22

My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation:
I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied:
they shall praise the Lord that seek him:
your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord:
and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s:
and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship:
all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him:
and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him;
it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness
unto a people that shall be born,
that he hath done this

John 15: 1-8

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I am the true vine, my Father is the vine-grower. He cuts out every branch that bears no fruit. He prunes every fruitful branch to make it more fruitful. You have already been cleaned by the word I spoke to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. The branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is like a branch thrown away: it withers. Such branches are gathered and burned in the fire. If you abide in me and my words abide  in you, ask for whatever you will, and it will be done for you. In this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’

Thoughts on today’s readings

The extraordinary story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 has so many fascinating details that it is worth taking some time over it. First, it illustrates how widespread was the influence in the ancient world of the temple in Jerusalem, and the interest in it.

The Candace was a hereditary queen, not in Ethiopia, but at Meroe in the upper Nile, in what is now Sudan. These queens kept the Romans at bay and governed their kingdom for hundreds of years. Their culture was derived from that of ancient Egypt, as the employment of eunuchs at court illustrates.

There is a poignancy about this man making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Jewish law, in Deuteronomy, excludes a eunuch from being part of the community and therefore from the temple.

There is a poignancy about the fact that he was reading from Isaiah: In Isaiah 56 verses 3 to 8 speak of God welcoming, blessing and accepting the worship of devout foreigners, and indeed of devout eunuchs: ’to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them a name that will last forever.’

Nevertheless he is reading from Isaiah 53, and the song of the suffering servant, when Philip is sent to him. This passage, these verses speak of the one who suffers having been cut off from the land of the living: what would be his generation?

The strangeness of the story is compounded by the added details: Philip was sent to the south – literally to the noon of the day, when no-one would be on the road, and to ‘a wilderness road’.

This is the Lord’s doing, and the encounter is his work.

The story told is a familiar story of conversion throughout the ages: the one who is seeking the light of God struggles alone to make sense of the journey. It is through the ministry and teaching of a faithful apostle that the penny drops, understanding comes, and the Spirit makes its home in the soul of the seeker.

In the joy of that moment the new Christian asks to make the public declaration of his new life and new identity in being baptized. Some water at the roadside will suffice, and he goes on his way rejoicing, while God’s Spirit sends Philip to continue his work of evangelisation along the coastal towns.

To those who put Jesus to death he was not the vine, but a troublesome weed to be rooted out and thrown out of the vineyard. Israel saw itself as the vine, rooted in the truth of God, surviving hardship, fruitful through God’s blessing.

But Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine. You cannot bear fruit unless you abide in me.’ He chose his twelve disciples to represent the twelve tribes of the new Israel of God he had been sent to proclaim.

Yet within that twelve would be one who would be betray him, who whose end would be his destruction.

The story of Philip is rooted in his faith: he joyfully embraced and obeyed his Lord’s will, and delighted in being sent to bring his word.

Acts is about telling us how that vine bore fruit and glorified the Father in the witness and lives of the early Church.

It is not there as  a story of what happened long ago, but a template, if you will , for Christian life and evangelism.

For today, now as then, people seek the truth and seek answers, seek to make sense of life. People feel excluded, feel they do not belong; question what their future is, if there is one at all.

We have been given the word of life. Our friends Simon and

Lynn, who spent 14 years living with the people of Ethiopia and worked to translate the Gospel into the language of the Basketo people received their calling with joy and their work has been greatly blessed.

We are called to leave aside all that is self-centred, to rejoice that we have been called and to trust in the one who has called us; to trust in the resources we are given, to go where we are sent and to be God’s witnesses . He will not fail us.

In bread we bring you, Lord, our bodies’ labour.

In wine we offer you our spirit’s grief.

We do not ask you, Lord, who is my neighbour?

But stand united now, one in belief.

Oh we have gladly heard your Word, your holy Word,

And now, in answer, Lord, our gifts we bring.

Our selfish hearts make true, our failing faith renew,

Our lives belong to you, our Lord and king.

The bread we offer you is blessed and broken,

And it becomes for us our spirits’ food.

Over the cup we share your Word is spoken;

Make it your gift to us, your healing blood.

Take all that daily toil plants in our heart’s poor soil,

Take all we start and spoil, each hopeful dream,

The chances we have missed, the graces we resist,

Lord, in thy Eucharist, take and redeem.

21st April 2024. 4th Sunday of Easter.

Prayer for today:

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life: raise us, who trust in him, from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, that we may seek those things that are above, where he reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Please remember in your prayers Jill Oakley and Oliver Beazley, who will marry at Whitley Chapel on Wednesday.

Among those who are sick we pray for Liam Marshall, Maureen Stevens, Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan, Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett, Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde.

Among those who have died we remember Pascale Handisyde and Daphne Harding, and also Jack Cross, Dorothy Wilson, Mary Ann Smithurst, Elizabeth Johnson and Andrzej Ciupska  whose year’s mind is about this time.

The funeral of Daphne Harding will be here in Church on April 30th at 11.00 a.m.

Please put these dates in your diary:

A Choir in the Shire: an evening service for Pentecost  (May 19th) at 6.30 p.m. led by the choir Antiphon, under the direction of John Roper.

Hexhamshire Garden Trail; June 16th : please collect and display posters from Church , and volunteer to help in any way you can.

Copies of minutes and reports from the Church’s Annual Meeting, held on Wednesday, are  available in Church

Readings:

Acts 4: 5-12

After they had healed a man at the gate of the temple, Peter and John were arrested and brought before the leaders and high priests wo asked them, ‘By what power and in whose name did you do this?’

Peter was full of the Holy Spirit and replied, ‘If we are questioned today because a good deed was done to a sick man; if your question is how was he healed, then let it be known to you and to all in Israel that this man was restored to health by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.

Jesus is ‘the stone rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else; in al the world there is no-one else whom God has given who can save us.’

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

John 10: 11-18

Jesus said to the pharisees, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. When the hired man, who is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away; so the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this flock. I must bring them also  for they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

The Father loves me because I give up my life in order that I may receive it back again. No one takes it from me; I give it up freely.

I have the power to give it up and I have the power to take it back. This is what my Father has commanded me to do.’

Thoughts on today’s readings

On Tuesday I was in school for prayers and asking the children about their Easter holidays. The farming children were concerned about about the rain-soaked land, and the difficulty putting stock out to graze. One child spoke about the numerous pet lambs he was caring for. ‘We’ve given them all names,’ he said. Is it sentimental to give a name to an animal which will end up being eaten?

On reflection, that lamb is still an individual, with its own character and ways. Being a good shepherd is about knowing and understanding your sheep, your flock, and that requires not only a particular talent, but also being interested, wanting to know, wanting to learn. The lamb’s survival depends on learning to follow its mother, or in the case of the pet, the one who feeds it. The flock learns to come to the one they trust and feel safe with.

The sheep’s official identity is expressed by a set of numbers and letters on a tag, without which it cannot be bought or sold, but that is not the essence of its relationship to the shepherd.

Years ago when I moved from primary school to Grammar school, and from shorts to long trousers, I found myself in a world where everyone was addressed by their surname only. It felt strange, and it was I suppose just how things were in the more formal world of 1960s England.

Today we are invited to be more informal , but how real is all of this? Long gone are the days when in hospital  a patient was addressed as Mr or Mrs so and so, but this does not always have the intended result. For example, many people in our area are not known by their first given name. One day in the hospital I as visiting someone I know well. A cheery young nurse came up to him and greeted him with ,’Here’s your cup of tea, Arthur!’ Of course, he had never been called this in his life, but he turned to me with a smile and said, ‘I’m in here incognito.’

All staff have to wear a badge proclaiming, ‘Hello I’m Andrew’ or whatever our name is, but does that guarantee the person talking to us sees us as a trusted friend?

Whenever I visit someone on the wards, I ask them how they would like to be addressed. I try to make a point of remembering the names not just of the patients but of the people I work with. How likely is it that they will think I care about them if I can’t remember their names?

Of course numbers do matter in a hospital. Patients are identified by their date of birth and by their NHS number.

To the various departments of government we are identified by NI numbers and date of birth. As I discovered a few years ago, it is a problem if the wrong data about you gets on to the system. The computer says ‘No’.  We cannot expect a personal relationship there.

 

But God calls us  by name, and we are given a name by which we may know God. Jesus speaks of himself as the good shepherd, who knows his flock, and they know him. His love for them his commitment to them,  is so complete that he will freely give up his life in order to save them. But Jesus is not just speaking of what he was doing in that moment but of what he would do hereafter.

The passage from Acts is an illustration of what that means in the life of the Church, in the lives of those in and through Jesus is alive and at work now.

When Peter and John healed the man at the gate of the temple, they did so in the name of Jesus. Peter , speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit, was adamant: what the people had seen was the power of Jesus at work.

The Easter hymn proclaims, ‘Jesus lives!’ and this is our driving force. In Jesus we have a living God whom we know and who knows us and has called us, who has saved us.

The Church is the body of Christ most faithfully when it makes the name of Jesus known in the lives of people, and by the difference it makes. To go out, to love, to serve, to care.

To those priests and rulers in Jerusalem it was unbelievable that two uneducated fishermen from Galilee should be there in the temple healing the sick, and preaching the gospel with power an eloquence.

But how many great things has Christ done and continued to do in and through the most unlikely of people throughout the centuries?

Let us give thanks for that light which shines, and let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

 

14th April 2024. 3rd Sunday of Easter.

Prayer for today:

Almighty Father, who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord: give us such knowledge of his presence with us, that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life and serve you continually in righteousness and truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for  Maureen Stevens, Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan, Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett, Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde.

Among those who have died we remember Pascale Handisyde and Daphne Harding, and also Ruby Rose Charman,  John  Nixon, Melvyn Hull, Emily Rutherford Pearce, whose year’s mind is about this time.

The funeral of Daphne Harding will be here in Church on April 30th at 11.30 a.m.

The Annual meeting of St. Helen’s Church takes place on Wednesday 17th April at 7.30 p.m. in the Parish hall.

Readings:

Acts 3: 12-19

After Peter had healed a man at the gate of the temple, the people  ran and gathered where he was and he said to them, ‘People of Israel, why are you amazed, why do you stare as though in our own power we had given this man the strength to walk?  The God of our Fathers Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, even though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and righteous one and asked that a murderer be released to you; and so you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, this man you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in your sight.

Friends, I know you acted in ignorance, as did your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he foretold though the prophets, that Messiah must suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.’

Psalm 4

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness:
thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress;
have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.
O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame?
how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah.
But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself:
the Lord will hear when I call unto him.
Stand in awe, and sin not:
commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
and put your trust in the Lord.
There be many that say, Who will shew us any good?
Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.
Thou hast put gladness in my heart,
more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.
I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep:
for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.

Luke 24: 36-48

As the eleven and their companions were talking about what they had heard, Jesus stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

They were startled and terrified; they thought they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ’Why are you afraid? Why is there doubt in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; see: it is I. Touch me: a ghost does not have flesh and bones like this. ‘He showed them his hands and his feet. In their joy they were yet unbelieving and wondering and he said, ‘Have you something to eat?’ They gave him a piece of baked fish and some honeycomb, and he ate.

He said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you while I was with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their  minds to understand the scriptures and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written that the Messiah must suffer, and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

You are witnesses of these things.’

Thoughts on today’s readings:

How good are we at listening? How well, how accurately do we remember what we have heard?  As a new chaplain at the RVI we received some very good education and one of the things I remember being taught is that when someone has been given bad news, they will on average remember 25% of what they have been told. The point there was to try to ensure that person has someone else with them to help them remember and make sense of what they have been told but it’s also about the impact that what is going on in our heads has on what we are hearing and seeing.

‘ I will say this only once’ was one of the catchphrases of the popular sitcom ‘Allo, allo’, but it’s not a necessarily a great strategy for being understood.

In the course of a telephone conversation yesterday  the person I was speaking to picked up on something they thought they had heard me say at a meeting we had attended earlier in the week. They had clearly slightly misheard me and misunderstood what I had said: their interpretation of what they thought they had heard revealed a lot more about their own preoccupations than about what I was trying to communicate.

The gospels frequently make it clear that Jesus was misunderstood by the people to whom he came , and by his disciples too.

In our first reading the account makes clear that Peter was determined that there should be no such misunderstandings:

Seeing that there was a danger the people might think he had healed the man because he was a particular virtuous or wonderful person, Peter emphasised that this sign had been done in the name of Jesus and on his authority alone. The sign showed that Jesus, who had been crucified and died , had indeed been raised from the dead, and was active through his name and at work through his followers.

Peter faced his hearers with a hard truth: among them were people who had shouted vociferously for the disgraceful death of the holy and righteous one of God, and demanded mercy and freedom for a murderer.

As a Jew speaking to Jews Peter made an appeal to an authority they could not ignore: the Bible. ‘Read it in the Bible, ‘ he said, ‘it’s all there, in Moses and the prophets.’

Peter spoke to the people not to condemn them, for they had acted in ignorance, he said, but to invite them into a new relationship with God; to repent sincerely , but to believe and trust that their reconciliation to God had come not through the sacrifices of the temple, but through Jesus the Messiah.

For this is the truth which Jesus revealed to his disciples after the resurrection when it is written in St. Luke’s gospel ,’He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.’

These words speak to me: as a young person in my teens I had learnt that I should read from the bible every day and that this would help me to understand the faith I professed. And so, alone, I read from the bible but I have to confess it was a dry and joyless experience.

It was only later, when I began to study the bible to with others, and to hear the insights of those who had read the same words before me, that those words came to life, and began to have a real impact on my life and on who I am.

This is not necessarily about listening to or reading the words of famous bible scholars. At that same meeting that I referred to earlier  we read a passage from the first epistle of Peter chapter 2, and were asked for our thoughts. The four lay people present all shared their insights in ways that for me shed fresh light on those well-known words.  For me one of the great riches and joys of the Bible study group during Lent, put together by Chris and hosted by Barbara, was those moments when the penny dropped, and the light shone – surely this is the Spirit of Jesus Christ at work.

For when the appeared to the disciples, the physical appearance of Jesus initially caused consternation and even when he had proved he was not a ghost, their doubts and questions remained. Why was he there? What had been the point of the dreadful journey to the cross.

He had to open their minds, and when the penny dropped they understood that this had been the purpose of God from the beginning, that through  his suffering Christ had opened the way of forgiveness and reconciliation to those who came to him in repentance, and that his was the name to whom God’s authority had been given, not only in Jerusalem , but in all the world where his Gospel would be preached.

7th April 2024. 2nd Sunday of Easter.

Prayer for today:

Almighty Father, you have given your only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for  Maureen Stevens, Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan, Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett, Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde.

Among those who have recently died we remember Daphne Harding, and also Margaret Pigg, William Moralee, Bill Patterson, Fowler Anderson and Bob Tweddle, whose year’s mind is about this time.

The Church Annual Meeting takes place on Wednesday at 7.30 p.m. in the Parish Hall. All are welcome.

Readings

Acts 4: 32-35

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Psalm 133

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
for brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious ointment upon the head,
that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard:
that went down to the skirts of his garments;
as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion:
for there the Lord commanded the blessing,
even life for evermore.

John 20: 19-31

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’

But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’

28 Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’

29 Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Thoughts on today’s readings:

This account from St. John’s gospel gives a clear picture of the lives of the disciples following the crucifixion of Jesus. They were frightened and demoralised. The journey they had made with Jesus had not led to the establishment of a new kingdom or a new order where they might have exercised power, but to rejection by the authorities who spoke for the Lord God of Israel, to the humiliation and disgrace of death on a cross. Their hope was gone. Jesus was dead; they never entertained the thought or hope that they might see him again this side of the grave. They had no wish to share his fate. Eventually they might return to the lives they had known before. For now they were hoping for peace, and peace for them meant hiding away from the world behind a locked door, avoiding drawing attention to themselves; this was what peace meant to those who were afraid and saw themselves as powerless.

On that evening of the first day of the week Jesus came and stood among them. He was very much alive, and his body bore the wounds of what he had endured on the cross: this was not someone else, and it was not a ghost. His greeting sounds conventional: Shalom, Salaam is the standard greeting in the Middle East: Peace be with you. But this was not so much a greeting as a commission: this was not about Jesus making them safe: not that sort of peace. He breathed his spirit upon them and said, ‘As my Father sent me, so I am sending you,’ out into the hostile and dangerous world, to fulfil God’s mission, as Jesus had done. He gave them his authority: the authority to forgive sins. This is the peace Jesus was talking about: that through forgiveness and reconciliation people might have peace with one another and with their neighbour, that they might be at peace withing themselves, and that they might be at peace and reconciled to God. As Jesus said on the night before he died, ‘My peace I leave with you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not be anxious; do not be afraid.’ The little passage from Acts paints a vivid picture of the fruits of the outpouring of that Spirit: the believers were at peace with God: their testimony to the resurrection carried conviction and power. Their trust in God for all things was real and tangible: they did not retain their property in order to try to guarantee their own security but shared all that they had, so that none were in need.. It is an image of a community liberated from anxiety and filled with the joy of the presence of the living Jesus Christ.

Every Easter the Church proclaims God’s good news afresh and the light of the Gospel highlights the scandal of our world, where the children of God are starved, where warfare and killings continue, where people’s actions are driven by fear and perceived self-interest. May our eyes of faith be opened to the wounded Christ who stands among us. May we desire his peace above all things, and may we and all God’s people show its meaning in our lives, in our actions as well as in our words.

Here is  a quote from the Christian writer Luigi Gioia:

What if our hearts are closed, and fear prevents us from opening the doors? The good news is that Christ, now risen, can come through closed doors to deliver us. Closed doors are not a barrier to him: although the doors were shut Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ This takes us into the real meaning of  resurrection. Resurrection is not about going through wooden doors or walls: this would be magic. Resurrection is this new capacity that Jesus has acquired wherever we might be lost or imprisoned.          ‘Risen, I am with you always,’ runs a wonderful Latin  Gregorian antiphon for Easter. The most insistent promise and assurance God utters in the Old Testament is this, ‘I will be with you, I am with you.’ Jesus is the fulfilment of this promise. His name is Emmanuel, that is, God with us, but only with the resurrection is this promise realised. Only then can Jesus be everywhere at all times in the power of his Spirit so that neither distance nor darkness, nor even our wish to flee away from hm, can escape the reach of his love and presence anymore.