SUNDAY 14TH MARCH 2021
OPENING SENTENCE –
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good and his mercy endures for ever.
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 our 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.
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.
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.
sung by Sue St Joseph
Almighty God, grant that we, who are weighed down by our sins, may be relieved and encouraged by your grace; 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
Numbers 21: 4-9 read by Gill Swales
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
Ephesians 2:1-10 read by Simon Lidwell
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
John 3: 14-21 read by Reverend Ann Wren
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St John, chapter 3 beginning at verse 14
Glory to Christ our Saviour
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Give thanks to the Lord for his glorious gospel
Praise to Christ our Lord
Whilst I was doing my curacy in St Andrews, my rector had a pet snake. I never ventured near it nor hadany desire ever to hold or caress it. Snakes are not creatures I like but rather fear. Their reputation of bites and stings is renown. In our Old Testament reading we see the Israelites are fearful of snakes. Indeed, some of the Israelites have been stung and bitten and consequently lives have been lost. Their fear is real. The snake that bites and kills in the Old Testament account is also the snake that heals and gives life. A conundrum indeed! The cross is a place of crucifixion and death but it is also the place of life and resurrection. It doesn’t make sense but what if that is the way that things work. What if the places, where the snakes are, are not so much places to escape from as places from which healing arises? Can polar opposites really coincide in this way?
Snakes can be deadly. Whilst in Swaziland, there were seven deadly snakes- Mozambique spitting cobra, snouted cobra, forest cobra, rinkhals, puff adder, boomslang and vine snake. The snake responsible for most bites in Swaziland is the Mozambique spitting cobra, which is extremely common there. So, it goes without saying that there are posters and signs warning people of the danger of snakes in the area. So naturally we are advised to avoid them, and if in the proximity of one to get away. We fear them and avoid them.
I suspect there is a corollary there with our own lives. We fear things and so we avoid them. It could be a broken relationship, finance or health difficulties, bereavement and death, depression and mental health. In the programme “I am a celebrity get me out of here” we see celebrities who face their fears. The Israelites were told to face their own fear of dying, emptiness, thirst and hunger, of an uncertain future and an unknown destination. The Israelites were told to stare at the very thing that they feared- the snake on a pole! God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts.
Maybe God is saying something to us about authentic living- we need to face our fears, our broken dreams, our failures and disappointments. How in today’s world do we do that? It is certainly not staring at a snake on a pole but instead it is the cross we are to stare at. On the cross Jesus has conquered every fear, every sense of brokenness, pain, hurt, betrayal and disease.
God did not remove the snakes in the wilderness but offered a remedy and away forward. Here in the cross, God offers us a remedy and a way forward without necessarily removing the dangers and difficulties of life. In Jesus as we face our “snakes”, God is with us and our place of fear becomes a place of courage. The place of sin becomes a place of forgiveness. The place of wounding becomes the place of healing. The place of failure becomes the place of newness or resurrection. The place of death becomes the place of life. The very things that seek to destroy our life in God’s world ironically are the instruments of healing and salvation. In God’s world the cure in the Old Testament for snakes is a snake. The cure for human life in its turmoil is God’s incarnate life, and the cure for death is death itself. Christ says to each one of us, face “your snakes”, look to me, believe in me and live.
Believe in me and live is at the heart of the scriptural verse John 3:16 which is branded about in football stadiums, athletic arenas, and on various modes of transport. This verse is primarily about love. William Barclay and other theologians would say that the verse above has disturbed people over the years as it implies that God has to be pacified. It is as though God had to be persuaded to forgive. Sometimes people would draw from this scriptural verse a stern, angry and unforgiving God. Sometimes it is said that Jesus did something which changed the attitude of God towards us from condemnation to forgiveness. But actually, this particular verse tells us that the initiative lay with God and his motivation was love. God is acting here, not for his own sake but ours. As Augustine said: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”
It tells us that the mainspring of God’s being is love. It tells us that the width of God’s love is not a nation, not a good people, but the world, which includes all, the lonely, the unlovely- all are included in this vast inclusive love of God. Nobody is omitted nor forgotten. You might be thinking, that is all very well that God’s love is mentioned as inclusive but nonetheless there is a reference in that verse to God’s judgement.
It is possible to offer someone an experience of a lifetime which offers joy and contentment but it becomes an experience that turns out to be a judgement. Let me try and explain this through two illustrations. There was a young adopted boy who was greatly loved by his family. No matter how often his parents told him that they loved him and by their actions demonstrated that love, he never believed them. This continued throughout most of his life- he never accepted the truth that he was loved. His unbelief, if you like, meant that he was missing out on all the fullness of their love and the joy of family life. It was there, as a gift for him but he did not receive it. So, if we wish to use the legalistic term, he condemned himself and lost out on the depth of that family love.
The other illustration is when someone took a friend to see some great masterpieces of art. The friend could see no beauty or thrill in the art so his reaction is a kind of judgement on himself. As one visitor was being shown round an art gallery by an assistant, where there were masterpieces beyond price, possessed, if you like, of eternal beauty and unquestioned genius. At the end of the tour the visitor said: “Well, I didn’t think much of your old pictures.” To which the assistant replied: “Sir, I would remind you that these pictures are no longer in trial, but those who look at them are!” The man’s reaction highlighted his blindness.
So, it is with regard to Jesus. If a person was confronted with Jesus and he responds positively, then he is on his way to salvation and to enjoy life in all its fullness. If when he is confronted with Jesus, and sees nothing beautiful then he stands condemned. His own reaction condemns him. God’s love is still there for him. It’s a bit like a gift you offer to someone. They can see it but they have to accept it and then they have to open it in order to receive its benefits. As John Ortberg says: “There is no tragedy like the tragedy of the unopened gift”
So, God condemns no-one- his love is for all and it is a gift for all to open and enjoy! God’s love is never conditional. His love is freely offered as we heard in our reading from Ephesians “for it is by grace you have been saved through faith.” Faith is something we all have and exercise in different ways. When you board a plane, you are exercising faith in its ability to get you from A to B. You exercise faith when you sit on a chair, when you visit a doctor or dentist. We all have faith- the question is in what or whom do we invest it? If we choose not to invest our faith in Jesus, then, we miss out (condemn ourselves) from a life of blessing and fullness.
God’s love is always on offer to us. He never withdraws that love- not even when we rebel against him; nor when we are complacent; nor when we hold on to our own control and sufficiency. If this was anyone else but God we would laugh at how foolishly and determinedly He loves us.
So, as we journey through Lent, we are invited to look at the cross and see the extent of God’s love for us. Through ‘staring’ at the cross we find in Jesus, healing, newness of life, courage and strength. Our “snakes” in their different guises are still present in our lives but healing, strength and help are there for us as we look to the cross. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we can have salvation and hope. As God’s love reaches and touches us may we respond with the words of the hymn “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Amen
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
Gracious God, on this Mothering Sunday we thank you for our Mother Church.
We thank you for St John’s for the faith and worship shared over the generations, for teaching that has inspired and for the wonderful fellowship shared.
For the blessings that this church and others has brought to our lives, we are most grateful.
Hear us, good Lord
Gracious God, we think today of those gifted with the responsibility of motherhood.
We pray for mothers the world over recognising both the joys and demands they experience, the privileges and pressures, hopes and fears pleasure and pain that motherhood entails.
Hear us, good Lord
We pray for single mothers, bearing the responsibility of parenthood alone, struggling sometimes to make ends meet. Grant them the emotional, physical and financial resources they need.
Hear us, good Lord
We pray for mothers who have experienced heartbreak whose children were stillborn, injured, or killed through accident or assault, or struck down by debilitating disease or terminal illness.
Hear us, good Lord
We pray for those who are denied the joy of motherhood for one reason for another.
We think of all who endure the trauma of infertility, prevented on health grounds from risking a pregnancy, or unable to establish a relationship into which children can be born.
Hear us, good Lord
We pray for those who foster or adopt children, those who long to do so but are denied the opportunity and those who for various reasons have given up their children and who are haunted by the image of what might have been.
Grant them your strength and support.
Hear us, good Lord
We pray for those who long to discover their natural mothers, those who have become estranged from them, those whose mothers have died all for whom Mothering Sunday brings pain rather than pleasure hurt rather than happiness. May your love enfold them always and remind them that you are their loving parent.
Hear us, good Lord
We pray for everyone this Mothering Sunday for their role in nurture and in caring and for their willingness to exercise their maternal side as well as their paternal side in their relationships with children and others.
Hear us, good Lord
Gracious God, you possess the maternal and paternal natures within you, May we who are made in your image, celebrate these natures within ourselves and reflect your maternal and paternal love to others.
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.
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.