SUNDAY 26TH MARCH 2023

OPENING SENTENCE

With the Lord there is mercy and plenteous redemption

HYMN

COLLECT FOR PURITY

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen
.

SUMMARY OF THE LAW

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

The first commandment is this:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.”
The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
There is no other commandment greater than these.

Amen. Lord, have mercy.

CONFESSION

God is love and we are God’s children.
There is no room for fear in love.
We love because God loved us first.
Let us confess our sins in penitence and faith.

God our Father, we confess to you
and to our fellow members in the Body of Christ
that we have sinned in thought, word and deed,
and in what we have failed to do.
We are truly sorry.
Forgive us our sins,
and deliver us from the power of evil,
for the sake of your Son who died for us, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

ABSOLUTION

God, who is both power and love,
forgive you and free you from our sins,
heal and strengthen you by the Holy Spirit,
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.

LENT PROSE
sung by Sue Turner

COLLECT

Merciful God,
look upon your family as we travel to the foot of the cross:
and, by your great goodness, guide us in body;
that by your protection,
we may also be preserved in heart and mind;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen

PROCLAIMING & RECEIVING GOD’S WORD

FIRST READING
Ezekiel 37: 1-14
read by Mark Toner

The Valley of Dry Bones

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So, I prophesied as I had been commanded, and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore, prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from your graves, O my people, and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

SECOND READING
Romans 8: 6-11
read by Peter Boreham

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason, the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed, it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.


But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, then the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

GRADUAL HYMN

GOSPEL
John 11:1-45
read by Reverend Steven Ballard

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St John chapter 11 beginning at verse 1.

Glory to Christ our Saviour

The Death of Lazarus

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So, the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather, it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus the Resurrection and the Life

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Jesus Weeps

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house consoling her saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So, the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus to Life

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

The Plot to Kill Jesus

Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him.

Give thanks to the Lord for his glorious gospel

Praise to Christ our Lord

SERMON


Both the readings from the Old Testament and the Gospel focus on the theme “when life falls apart.” I suspect we have all experienced in different ways that moment when life falls apart. That moment when you are knocked sideways; that moment when your dreams and hopes are crushed; that moment when the ground is cut from under you. That moment when you have no idea what to do next or where to turn. That moment when life’s blows really hit you for six.

Oh, you can remember the words the consultant said: I’m afraid to tell you that your son has motor neurone disease- you can feel yourself swaying; your world is rocked, and it is as if life is crumbling before your very eyes.

You wish you could forget the policeman’s words: “I am very sorry to inform you but there has been an accident and your husband is died.” You are stunned by the news. You refuse to take it in. You are in denial- it cannot be true; they must be wrong. I spoke to him only an hour ago, he was fine. You are mistaken.

The letter drops through the letterbox saying that I hereby give you formal notice to leave the premises occupied by you on 26th March. The bills keep coming in; you couldn’t cope after you lost your job. Hindsight is a great thing- you should have sought help earlier but now things have gone too far. What will you do, where will you live? You don’t want to be homeless.

After months of wondering and worrying, your fear is confirmed with the announcement of the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” seeking the “demilitarisation” and “denazification” of Ukraine. Russia is at war with Ukraine, and your world falls apart!

Today in the gospel reading Martha and Mary’s brother Lazarus died, and their lives fall apart. These two women are grief stricken. Their world has changed and they are bereft. Their world has been turned upside down. What will they do? How will they cope?

The poor people of Judah in Ezekiel are in turmoil. Their lives have fallen apart. The Babylonians have invaded their land, captured them and taken them into exile. The once proud nation of Judah had been stripped of its monarchy; its leading citizens had been carted off to a foreign land; and its city walls and temple had been demolished. To get a sense of what they were going through, think of places like Mariupol and Kyiv. These once great cities, now lie in rubble, as their people are forced into exile. The picture of dry bones depicts well their struggle. They cannot topple the Babylonian empire; they are powerless and hopeless. What misery does the future hold for them?

The prophet Ezekiel is there to tell them; don’t despair; don’t give it, all is not lost. You might feel you are alone and abandoned but God is with you. God will take the brokenness and rubble and bring new life. Can these dead bones live?

I suspect that it’s a question most of us are wondering about. Can we recover from this financial crisis that we are currently facing? Can Ukraine recover from the devastation of this war? Will the church survive this rapid decline in numbers that it is facing in the UK? Our churches are like dry bones in many ways scattered across the valley floor. We watch as our churches get smaller, and nothing we try in order to turn things around seem to be working. Our culture seems to be getting courser and less responsive to spiritual things. Can the church be revived? Can there be new life? And, if so, when and how will that happen? What will our future look like? Like Ezekiel we respond: “O Lord God, you know.”  I so appreciate the honesty in what Ezekiel says.

I hear his uncertainty. I sense his feeling of powerlessness. I picture him looking around and shaking his head at the overwhelming enormity of it all. God only knows if these bones can live again.

That uncertainty is how I feel when I hear about the latest numbers of deaths in Ukraine, when I read about the new job losses and the financial hardships that we are facing in the UK. I’m guessing that you might feel the same way. Today we are all like Ezekiel. We look at our environmental crisis and the scale of all that is wrong in our world and we shake our heads at the enormity of it all.

I know how easy it is to focus on and despair over the number of dry bones. But I also know that the story of Lazarus and Ezekiel remind us that nothing is too hard for God. We know that is not the final story of God and God’s people. In Ezekiel, God promises ten times to do something about the dry bones. Listen to God’s promises:

“I will cause breath to enter you”

“I will lay sinews on you”

“I will cause flesh to come upon you”

“I will cover you with skin”

“I will put breath in you”

“I am going to open your graves”

“I am going to bring you up from your graves”

“I will bring you back to your land”

“I will put my spirit within you”

“I will place you on your own soil.”

Did you notice the continual refrain of I, I, I, I, I. God leaves no room for doubt or misapplied credit. This would not be Ezekiel’s doing, or any secular leader’s accomplishment. Everything that was going to happen to bring them out of exile and return them to their homes was going to be God’s work for them, not their work for themselves. He was going to keep those promises. God will do it. God will fix it. God will make it right. You can’t, says God but I can and I will.” He was going to bring the people of Judah peace and rest from the upheaval of exile.

He was going to bring peace and hope to Mary and Martha. God is in the business of resurrection, transformation and new life. Putting flesh and sinew on those dry bones was not a problem for God- these dry dead bones are alive with breath and vitality. Lazarus comes out of the tomb- he rises from the dead. The miracle is that his flesh and sinew is intact, not decayed after three days in the heat and he is alive and kicking.

When life falls apart, we need to remember we are not alone. God knows and cares, and he can do something about it. He often will use other people to help us, and the best gift we can offer others is our time and presence. We must allow them to grieve in their own ways for whoever or whatever they have lost. We need few words – only a great capacity to listen. We mean well when we say if you need anything just call but actually, they are so in shock, that thinking and asking are not within their power. They need you to take the initiative and they do not need any further burdens placed on them, or putting any additional responsibility on them to do something. They need our support and empathy. Jesus is our role model.

He drew near to Martha and Mary, responding to them differently, as their needs demanded. There is in grief no one size fits all. Jesus listened to Martha with her questioning and need for answers and then responded. He sat with Mary and wept. As you know the shortest verse in the bible is- Jesus wept- but undoubtedly one of the most powerful. A man in a patriarchal society weeping is not what you would expect. Stoicism was the virtue of the day not tears, but Jesus wept. He saw the pain, the hurt, and the suffering and he empathised with the sisters. Our tears can be a great gift on some occasions for it shows we care. Our tears can be a comfort to the person whose life is falling apart.

So, when our life falls apart, we follow the approach of Martha we run to Jesus and pour out our sorrow to him. In the face of our pain all we can do is to commend ourselves to God and cling to his promises of resurrection and new life, amidst the rubble and ruins of our life. In our crumbled state of mind, we must hold to God’s promise that he is with us, that he is able to do the impossible and somehow, beyond our ken or understanding he works all things for God for those who love him. Can these dry bones live? Yes, by the power and love of God they can. Can I rise from this earth- shattering moment in my life, yes by the grace and help of God you can. Amen

NICENE CREED

We believe in one God,
the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living
and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord,
the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.
with the Father and the Son,
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen

Lord of all faithfulness

Help us to trust you more

Lord of all power,
in our scripture passage
we saw how the heartache
and sorrow of Mary and Martha
touched your heart
and so, prompted you
to reach out in love and compassion,
by bringing healing and newness of life,
to your friend Lazarus.
We marvel at your power to defeat death
and we delight in the knowledge
that you are the resurrection and the life.

Lord of all faithfulness

Help us to trust you more.

Lord of compassion,
your compassion reaches to the depths of our being,
take our hearts of indifference and apathy,
and give us feeling hearts
so that we as the Church
may be more responsive
to the needs and concerns of those around us.

Lord of all faithfulness

Help us to trust you more.

Lord Jesus you are the great leader
who inspires us and protects us.
Thank you for the promises
that you have given us.
Help us to lean on you in need
and like Mary and Martha enable us
to see your power at work
and your promises fulfilled.

Lord of all faithfulness

Help us to trust you more

Lord of tenderness, dwell in our homes,
through all the joys and sorrows,
teaching us to show compassion and love to one another.
Be especially with the homes
where there is stress and anxiety in a relationship,
or difficulties in a particular situation
and may your presence bring assurance,
strength, peace and hope.

Lord of all faithfulness

Help us to trust you more

Lord Jesus, your heart of compassion
reached out to Mary and Martha.
Kindle in us hearts of compassion for those
who are struggling in life, and
feel their lives are falling apart.
We think especially of those
living in difficult war torn parts of the world.
We remember those who are fleeing their native land
in search of safety and a fresh start.
We lift to you the refugee crisis
and help us as a church and as individuals
to be committed to lighten the load
of those who are seeking asylum
and wanting a better future.

Lord of all faithfulness

Help us to trust you more

Lord of all healing,
we think of those suffering from mental illness,
those struggling with stress and anxiety,
those dealing with physical illness,
and those dealing with emotional issues.
Lord, you know and understand us
and are able to empathise with us.
so in the quiet we lift ourselves
and people known to us and to you
seeking a fresh sense of your caring presence
and of your healing touch.

Lord Jesus the great physician
touch the people we have named aloud
or in the quiet of our hearts
with your tenderness,
and give them hope and strength
and newness of life
now and in the future.

Lord of all faithfulness

Help us to trust you more

Lord Jesus, you brought Lazarus to life,
and so, we lift to you those
whose earthly life is drawing to a close
and ask that you will journey with them
to the eternal city and lead them
to the place you have prepared for them.

Lord of all faithfulness

Help us to trust you more

Lord Jesus, you invite us to share
our faith with others.
Embolden us so to do
with a spirit of eagerness,
generosity and hospitality of heart,
that others too might have faith
and may grow, in faith, compassion, and hope.

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Do not bring us to the time of trial
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.

HYMN

BLESSING

May Christ give you grace to grow in holiness, to deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow him; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

Welcome

St John the Evangelist, Dumfries, is a parish of the Scottish Episcopal Church also serving Methodist parishioners locally.

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Contemporary Service

Contemporary Service

The Contemporary Service is at 6pm, on the second and fourth Sundays of the month, followed by refreshments in the hall.

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