Sunday 28th February – sermon and intercessions

Sunday 28th February – sermon and intercessions

St Luke’s & the Barn Kew. 2nd of Lent.February 28th

On the face of it, the link between this mornings readings from Genesis and St Mark’s gospel is not obvious. In the Old Testament reading, there is the promise given to Abram as an old man that his descendants will be blessed, and in the gospel reading there is the first prediction of his Passion made by Jesus to his disciples, and they would face suffering themselves.

But in fact both readings have something important to say about faith – living by a reality which is unseen.

The story of Abraham is a myth – that’s not to say it’s not true, but the memory of the story goes so far back into the mists of pre-history that its details are hazy and unverifiable: an old man of 99 with a childless wife being promised an heir. Nevertheless, the story has been remembered for thousands of years as foundational, precisely because it is a religious myth; it tells us something which is theologically true, even though the historical setting of the story is uncertain.

Religious history begins with Abraham, the archetypal man of faith. He is given a promise that he and his descendants will be blessed and become a great nation. They will be a covenant people, and on the basis of that promise, that covenant, Abraham has the faith to set out, leaving behind all that was known and familiar, and travel to another country, the name of which he did not yet know. And much of the Old Testament story is really the story of living by that covenant promise from those modest beginnings with Abraham, through the wilderness years under the leadership of Moses to the time when God’s promise to make of Abraham a great nation was fulfilled.

To the prudent or cautious, such behaviour might be regarded as foolishness. Abraham could have rationalised his way out of going; (he could have pleaded old age ), but this would have only been an excuse for not accepting the risk of obeying God. It is that quality of faith which is above all else the essential ingredient for finding new life in the new world. Such behaviour was and is either unnatural or it is supernatural! But faith and religion at some point demands more than what is natural and straightforward. Common sense would tell you to hold on to what you know and stay where you are. Or as we might say  – to remain in your comfort zone.

That was Peter’s reaction when Jesus first predicted his passion. He took Jesus on one side and told him it’s all too risky, this business of obeying God. And Jesus with uncharacteristic bluntness rebukes Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan’. And then he goes on to say that being a follower of his means sharing in his Passion: ‘ For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it’.

I remember the words of a wise nun, in a Lent talk at the Barn many years ago, who said that the journey of faith begins when we let go of self-preservation. Faith is about a change of heart, and maybe even a change of direction, re-routing us away from cautious and self-centred attitudes of self-preservation and mere survival, and opening us to the risk of faith, sacrifice and self-surrender. Living by true faith, as opposed to clinging to old securities , which is sometimes mistakenly called faith, is always a sign of apparent contradiction and will sometimes  have the mark of foolishness about it. It’s at the heart of Christ’s teaching and challenge:

‘ Fore whoever loses his life for my sake, and the gospel’s, will save it’.

In the 14th century, Julian of Norwich had a remarkable vision of the cross. It was a time of the Black Death which was to wipe out more than 40% of the population. It was an ugly age in many of its aspects – the church was divided against itself with two competing popes. Added to this there was the Hundred Years’ War  between England and France. Yet in the midst of all of this, from a tiny cell in Norwich, Julian writes of her revelation of the cross revealing Christ’s love, mercy and compassion for the world. Her writing expresses the experience of many during this time of pandemic, a year on. She writes in her 16th Revelation:

This word: ‘ you shall not be overcome’ was said very distinctly and firmly to give us confidence and comfort for whatever troubles may come. He did not say you will never have a rough passage, you will never be overstrained, you will never be uncomfortable, but he did say: ‘ you will never be overcome’. God loves us and delights in us, so he wills that we should love and delight in return, and trust him with all our strength. So all will be well, all manner of thing shall be well’.

Nicholas Darby.

Intercessions for Second Sunday of Lent

We have heard how Abraham put his trust in God. Help us to have the faith to do the same. We pray that our efforts this Lent will strengthen our faith and bring us closer to you.

Jesus spoke of the suffering he knew was to come. Help us to endure whatever suffering we encounter and comfort those whose pain has been caused by or increased by this pandemic. We particularly pray for all who are suffering mentally from the restrictions on their lives.

We pray for the many people around the world suffering from a lack of the freedoms we enjoy, whether due to war, poverty or political repression. Give them hope for the future and help all those working on their behalf.

We give thanks for the skills and dedication of the scientists who have created vaccines to fight the pandemic. We pray that these and other measures will enable us to follow the government’s plan for a return to normality. 

The pandemic has had some positive effects on our society including a greater sense of community in many areas, a better appreciation of the work done by the NHS and other caring professions, more help for the homeless and a greater willingness to do voluntary work. We pray that these positives continue to improve the lives of many.

We pray for all those who are sick and particularly Peter Low, John Lynch, Canon Robin Morrison, Annie Woolmer, Gemma Fryer, Revd Neil Summers and Rosemary Murray.

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sermon and prayers 21st February

Sermon and prayers 21st February

Mark 1: 9-15; 1 Peter 3: 18-end; Genesis:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9

In normal times we all have to move on at some point in our lives. We all have to leave one part of our life, which may have been comfortable and familiar, and we have to move on. It is something we do throughout our lives. We leave school, we leave home to go to college or to set up our own household, we move because of jobs or family circumstances. Over and over, we move on. And it can be scary. Can any one of us say in all honesty, when moving to the next big phase of life, that we have not been nervous or anxious about what lies ahead? Sometimes we can’t wait to leave. We’re ready to go. Other times we would rather stay put. Regardless of how or why it happens, change is a part of life. It happens in lots of different ways and at different times.

In the Gospel we read that Jesus had left his home in Nazareth. The carpenter shop and the family life with Mary and Joseph were now behind him. He was moving out into the World where he would be loved, hated, feared, but above all noticed. He left his home and now stood with John in the Jordan, the transit stop between that home and the wilderness. There he was baptised. Then the Heavens were torn apart, the Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice declared:” You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And from there the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

Moving on is not, however, simply about the circumstances of life. It has always been the way of God’s people. Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden. God told Abram to move to a new country. Moses and the Israelites left Egypt. Noah and his family moved in dramatic circumstances casting off from dry land into the unknown. When Noah saw the flood waters, he must have been petrified, but he trusted in God.

When Jesus stood on the banks of the Jordan, he may have been thinking “Right well here we go, this is it!” He too must have been nervous and anxious.  He knew why he had come to Earth; he knew what lay ahead and, as he was human as well as divine, he must have at least been apprehensive.

I think it unlikely, though not impossible, that someone here might be thinking “Hey, he is just repeating word for word the sermon he gave us on 18 February 2018”. Well so far that would be correct. What I have said up to now is pretty well what I said then. But now I will go in a slightly different direction.

None of use would have guessed in 2018 where we would be now. We are all probably itching to move on, to get on with life. The vaccine and its so far pretty impressive, roll out holds a spark of hope that life will get back to some form of normality. The last year has been pretty depressing. So many hopes and dreams and just life in general put on hold. We want to move on.

But what the messages we get from today’s readings confirm to us is that, despite the difficulties of life, the frustrations and worries, God is there for us, just as he was for Jesus, just as he has been for his people throughout the ages. Noah saw the World destroyed; Jesus stood on the threshold of a life about to be transformed. God has a covenant with us as he had with Jesus and Noah and all his people. Wherever we may be, whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, there he is blessing us, encouraging us, caring for us. And as we move on through life, we go through not only a physical journey in which we gain many experiences and deal with changes in our bodies and our lives, but we should also be going through a spiritual journey with God alongside us.

In my sermon three years ago, I spoke about our spiritual journey, our pilgrimage with God. We all need times to reflect on where we are on that journey, whether there are things in our lives that hinder us rather than help us and whether there is anything we could be doing to grow spiritually. We all need a little bit of God time, when we can devote ourselves to prayer, not just on Sundays, but every day. Over the last year some, but by no means all, of us may have had more opportunities for being alone and for approaching life more calmly and quietly. For having God time. Have we used this time profitably? I must admit that I cannot necessarily claim that I have. I hope those of you who have had the opportunity, have been more successful.

Prayer and contemplation should be what this holy season of Lent is about. Traditionally on Ash Wednesday many people were marked with the ashes of remembrance, ashes often made by burning the previous year’s palm crosses. And now today the Gospel takes us with Jesus into the wilderness. The two occasions cannot be separated. Wednesday’s ashes are about moving on. And Lent is about sacrifice, reflection and contemplation. Lent and life can take us to somewhere uncomfortable, somewhere new, somewhere where we need to make adjustments.

But just as Jesus used the forty days he spent in the wilderness preparing for his Ministry, we can use the forty days of Lent to reflect, to pray, to prepare ourselves for the traumas and momentous events of Palm Sunday and Good Friday and ultimately the joy of Easter. Let’s make the most of it!

And to him be praise for ever! Amen.

Intercessions First Sunday of Lent 2021

Let us pray

Dear Lord

On the first Sunday of Lent, we think of the many meanings that Lent holds for us.

Lent is a time of testing and of temptation – we’ve heard today how temptation was all around in the wilderness.  An interesting perspective on this can be seen in the photo of the church on the peak of Mount Tibidabo in Barcelona on today’s church email.  Tibidabo means “I will give to you” in Latin and early Monks thought that it was a perfect place for Satan to tempt Jesus, offering all the wonders of Barcelona from an “exceedingly high mountain”.

Lord, help us to resist temptation wherever it come from.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lent is a time of taking stock.  Perhaps of counting our many blessings like the arrival of Spring flowers; the fact that we live in a democracy where the majority of people try to live with consideration of the common good; and the hard work that has taken place in the development and distribution of Covid vaccines.  It’s sometimes easier for us to think of the trials of life and taking stock can perhaps help us to take a more balanced view of both the good and not-so-good things that fill our lives.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lent is a time of reflection, of thinking how we can improve.  We think of John Wesley’s words:-

Do all the good you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lent is a time of drawing closer to Christ.  We think of his church and in particular we pray that the process of selecting our new Vicar goes smoothly and provides a good outcome for all involved.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for all the staff who work in the NHS, who have month after month taken care of the health of the nation and many of whom have worked unceasingly under great strain.  We pray for the carers and in particular for those who are ill at the moment: Peter Low, John Lynch, Canon Robin Morrison, Annie Woolmer, Gemma Fryer, Revd Neil Summers, Margaret and Hugh.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We think of those who have passed on, both recently and not so recently.  We pray that they rest in peace with you and that those who mourn them can feel your peace which passes all understanding.  In a moment of quiet, we think of those who have died and are known to us.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Kew St Valentine Sunday before Lent

Kew St Valentine Sunday before Lent

Mark 9: 2-9                   Revd Elisabeth Morse

Today is St Valentine’s day. A day when messages of love are traditionally sent. Which is odd because St Valentine himself was the victim of a brutal murder, a martyr under the Roman Emperor Claudius. Quite how St Valentine’s death was made to metamorphose is, as they say, a ‘mystery’. But I have a story, a modern day story which I think, quite remarkably. combines the two – murder and love. It comes from an amazing book called ‘Tattoos on the heart’.  Hence you see its link with Valentine’s day. But it is not a book about cards and flowers but about gang culture.

The book was a bestseller in the US and won a couple of awards. The author is Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who, for over 20 years has run a gang intervention programme in Los Angeles. LA has the dubious title of being ‘the gang capital of the world’. And the book is the story of his ministry, a ministry of compassion with some of the most frightening boys – and a few girls – who have walked this earth.

It is very American – and by that I mean that Brits like me have a bit of difficulty understanding the language. But there is no difficulty getting a picture of the lives of these gang members with their guns, drugs, prison sentences and tattoos. One of the most important ministries Father Boyle offers is laser treatment to remove tattoos – it is a sort of ritual cleansing for these youths before they can move onto to a different way of life. He also offers them work. He runs a flourishing silk screen industry which employs these young people giving them work – which they crave – and a new start in life.

As you might expect, there are lots of heart-warming stories of gang members who manage to change their ways. Which is great – that’s what we want to hear! But there are almost as many stories of these boys being gunned down. All that work, all those tattoos removed, all those honest wages at last earned, boys becoming parents determined to be better dads than their own fathers – and then, after all that, so many of them still end up dead. Not, please, because they have changed their ways but because someone from the past wont forgive them or simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Father Boyle has conducted hundreds, almost thousands, of funerals of young gang members. And so, in one chapter, he asks – what is success? Because his programme is dependent, like all such programmes, on funding. And funding these days is nearly always based on outcomes. Grant giving bodies want the programmes they fund to be successful.

But as Father Boyle knows, success and failure have little to do with living the gospel. What Jesus did was stand with the outcasts until they were welcomed or until he was crucified – whichever came first. Jesus defied all the categories on which the world insisted: categories like good and evil, success and failure, pure and impure, right wing and left wing. The right wing hated him aligning himself with outsiders – people you ought neither touch nor be near. And the left wing hated him when there was no revolution. The Left screamed ‘don’t just stand there, do something’ and the Right shouted ‘don’t stand with those awful people at all’. What Jesus did was stand in solidarity with the outcast – until he ended up being crucified for it. Father Boyle would be the first to say he prefers success stories to failure and decades of death. It is what Father Boyle calls ‘the slow work of God’.

In one sense the deaths and failures easily outweigh the successes but, for all its tragedies and sheer awfulness it is a book filled with humour, joy and generosity. You can see why the young outcasts of LA love him. They love him and he loves them. It is a story of unconditional love and, despite the chilling statistics, that’s what makes it a book, paradoxically, of hope.

The Father Boyles of this world are rare – we don’t love like he loves – and that fills us with shame. But it is the sort of shame that is not meant to diminish us but to challenge us so that we see what true humanity is capable of.

And taking a long, hard look at ourselves and our shortcomings is what Lent is all about. This is what the symbolic act of ashing on Ash Wednesday is all about. When mediaeval pilgrims started out on their journey they covered themselves with ash. It was a way of telling the world ‘I mean what I say’ – a bit like each member of Alcoholics Anonymous openly admitting to being an alcoholic. Ash Wednesday is about each one of us facing our sinfulness. It is a politically incorrect day that brooks no excuses, no plea of mitigating circumstances. And yet, despite all our failings, we hear God still calling us to be disciples. 

Then, having acknowledged, faced up to, confessed that we are sinners, we have the rest of Lent to come to terms with our sin, but also with God’s mercy and forgiveness. Lent is a time to take stock, as we focus on discipleship in a world of suffering.

But everything will change. We don’t have to stay in the ghetto.

So perhaps a Lenten discipline could be to look for and respond to the glory of God revealed in other people – like Father Boyle. Because people like him help us realise not just how far we fall short but also the good human beings are capable of. Which gives us hope.

Intercessions

Let us pray to the God of glory, revealed to us in his Son, Jesus.

Father lengthen and deepen our attention span as we, your people, listen to your beloved Son, so that we do not fail to hear his will for us or share his longing for the world to be saved.

Dear Lord as we move into the season of Lent may your Church direct our reflections on the Glory of your Son as revealed on that mountain, and may we in turn look to lead others to Christ, your Beloved, that they may also listen and follow Him.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Father, with such humility you entered the world to save it through love’s giving power; increase our desire to enter into one another’s suffering and hardship, as we continue to battle with this Pandemic, helping us to share the world’s resources fairly with one another, and recognising all humanity as our brothers and sisters.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

As our two churches move towards choosing a new vicar to lead us, give wisdom and loving understanding hearts and minds to those making those decisions, that they with prayer and the Holy Spirits guidance find the right person to both carry us forward and unite us more firmly as God’s family and living Church.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Father, let us not take one another for granted, but wake each morning ready to notice the Christ in each person we see and are able to speak to. Let us as parents, grandparents and teachers help to guide our children and teenagers through these both difficult and demanding times.

Let us also give reverence to your hidden presence and power in all creation, and treat your world with kindness and respect.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, in our prayers may we stand alongside all who are too weak, or too confused; all those in hospitals, care homes or indeed their own homes who are suffering from Covid, or from lack of treatment because of it. May all who are suffering sense your love and comfort, and be given strength to persevere, and peace of mind and spirit.

We remember within our own community, Peter Low, John Lynch, Canon Robin Morrison, Annie Woolmer, Gemma Fryer, Revd Neil Summers (St John the Divine, Richmond), Margaret and Hugh.

and any others known personally to us. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Father, welcome into your kingdom of everlasting light all who have come to the point of death. Comfort those who miss their physical presence, and bring us all to spend eternity in your radiant presence.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, thank you for providing always the encouragement and inspiration we need for the work you would have us do; give us the grace to trust your will for us and walk forward boldly in your company.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sermon and prayers 21st February

Sermon. Sunday. 7th February 2021

Readings:  Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31; John 1:1-14

An atheist was walking through the woods. He said to himself: ‘ What majestic trees!’. ‘ What powerful rivers!’ ‘ What beautiful animals!’ As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He glanced back and saw a 7 foot grizzly following him. He ran as fast as he could along the path. He looked over his shoulder and seeing that the bear was closing in on him, he stumbled and fell to the ground. Rolling over, he saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike him. In that moment, the atheist cried out. Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky. ‘ You deny my existence for all these years, you tell others I don’t exist and even regard creation as some  cosmic accident. Do you now expect me to help you out of this predicament?’

The atheist looked directly into the light. ‘It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps you could make the bear a believer.’ ‘ Ok’ said the voice. The light went out; the sounds of the forest resumed and the bear dropped his right paw. Then he brought both paws together, bowed his head and spoke: ‘ Lord bless this food, which I am about to receive from thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.’

Today, the 2nd Sunday before Lent is sometimes known as Creation Sunday, an opportunity we might think for doing the liturgical equivalent of saying to ourselves “ What majestic trees” or even “ Lord bless this food”. Well, our scripture readings will not let us off so lightly! They challenge us to take seriously our relationship with creation as that which is God-breathed and spoken into being by the very Word of God. They challenge us to ask what it means to be made in the image of God and to be those in whom the wisdom of God delights. They ask us to take seriously the concept of wisdom as a vital element in our relationship with creation, with God and with one another.

‘Where is the wisdom we

Have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we

Have lost in information?’         

..wrote T S Eliot in one of the choruses of his poem ‘ The Rock’.

We have more factual information about the nature of the world around than any previous generation. We have the knowledge both to speculate about the origin of life and to project into the future how the world might develop, though the present pandemic was unpredicted and  caught us off guard. We are becoming more aware how our choices and lifestyles today can affect future generations; and what we know about that projected future doesn’t sound encouraging. The rate of melting of the Artic ice cap suggests that the serious impact of global warming and rising water levels will hit us sooner than we think. By the year 2050, in the lifetime of your children or grandchildren, if not you, there will be a projected 150 million climate refugees as countries such as Bangladesh, Egypt, & Holland become uninhabitable. We know we are damaging our world; we know the consequences of potential disaster for generations.  *And there won’t be some miracle vaccination ‘.

  As part of the Lent programme  this year, St Anne’s church is organising a series of weekly informal studies on the  Christian response to climate change, and St Anne’s website has further information if you’d like to know more. In November, the UK will be hosting the 26th UN climate change conference in Glasgow. So climate change is on the global agenda , but all too often it seems we have been powerless to act because our fragmentary knowledge is not informed by wisdom or we’ve simply lacked the will to change.  Our perception of the world around us is not informed by the gifts of wisdom -open eyes, clear vision and enlightened minds.

In the ancient Hebrew tradition, wisdom and creation were bound together in the heart of the community – the Temple. That was where Wisdom dwelt with God, defining and setting the boundaries of creation and imparting her gifts to those whom she anointed.

The Temple itself was modelled on a vision of creation and at its heart stood the Holy of Holies representing the throne of God. This was separated from the rest of the Temple by the Veil, representing the material world screening the presence of God from human eyes.

St John’s great insight, expressed in the opening verses of his gospel we listened to a few moments ago, was to recognise that in the flesh and blood of Jesus the veil that hid the glory of God has been removed – in his words ‘ the Word became flesh and we have seen his glory’. In Christ the anointed one, the Wisdom of God is visible for all to see in the very material of God’s creation. The familiar, opening words of John’s gospel are a testimony to the wisdom and creative purposes of God. In Christ the whole created order holds together and finds it meaning and purpose. To be created in the image of God and to be those in whom the wisdom of God delight is to be in relationship with the whole created order. Christians don’t really have an option of being ‘green’ or not – it’s there in the very life-blood of wisdom which flows through us, in the relationships that bind us. And to close our eyes to the wilful or neglectful destruction of creation is to cut ourselves off from the source of life itself.

It’s the task of a lifetime to seek to understand where knowledge and wisdom begins; of seeking to grow in relationship with the wisdom and word of God made flesh; of seeking to glimpse and respect God’s glory in that which appears mundane, or ordinary; and in all things learning each day to tread lightly on God’s glorious earth.

I began on a light hearted note. I want to end with something more profound on the theme of wisdom and creation which speaks to our current situation as we approach the season of Lent.

It’s from a short series of reflections on the pandemic by Rowan Williams, which he wrote a year ago and recently published as ‘Candles in the Dark’. * 

‘ Here we are nearing a serious Lent, looking around for signs of a transfigured world; looking around what seems a wasteland with no timetable to reassure us that things will be back to normal any time soon. We can’t do what we’d normally do to show our devotion; we can’t gather in celebration and share the food and drink of God’s kingdom.

As we contemplate the coming months, not knowing when we can breath again, it’s worth thinking about how already the foundations have been laid for whatever new opportunities God has for us on the far side of this crisis. The small actions we take to protect one another, to keep open the channels of love and gift; finding new ways of communicating, even simply meditating on how our society might become more just and secure – all of this can be the hidden beginning of something fuller and more honest for us all in the future.

The great question, as and when we have emerged from the immediate shadow of the pandemic, will be: What have we learned? Christians should be able to prompt, and to build on some answers.

Ultimately the question for us as a society is whether we have grownthrough the solidarity into which we have been forced. What if the change has already begun? What if something of a new world has been seen afresh and has kindled a new force of longing for generous, equitable, joyful living together? ‘

Amen .May it be so!

* ‘ Candles in the Dark’ Rowan Williams  SPCK 2020

INTERCESSIONS – 7.02.21

The news is dark, the world seems dark.  But there is light and we ask you:

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

In the northern hemisphere we emerge from deep winter with Spring just visible in the distance.  Snowdrops hang their elegant heads, robins chirp from lofty trees lining the Kew streets.  Nature is performing its act of annual resurrection reminding us that healing and renewal is possible, even in these suffering times, and we thank you for this.   We thank you for the Christian belief in Jesus’s resurrection and for the message of hope that it gives us. 

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Many good things have happened during this last year and this week in particular we remember Captain Sir Tom Moore, aged one-hundred who walked one-hundred laps in his garden and raised millions of pounds for the NHS and the spirits of people all over the world.   We thank him and pray that he rests in peace.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

We thank you for all those trying to alleviate the suffering – key workers in the NHS, in education, in care homes. We thank you for the scientists being able to produce vaccines so quickly, the planners for organising distribution, and the doctors and nurses for administering it.  We thank you for everyday individual kindnesses and actions, and for the opportunity to reflect and find new ways of living, serving others and finding meaning.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Healing takes time and we pray for all those mourning the death of their loved ones and trying to live on in the aftermath; for those thousands of people sick with Covid 19;  for those anxious for jobs and livelihoods;  for those struggling to care for school children while trying to do their job.  Let us not forgot what can be hidden by the enormity of the pandemic:  those who are homeless; those who have had medical treatment postponed; those slipping into further poverty.  And further afield, let us remember those thousands of migrants struggling to find a home; and those people in Myanmar living with fear and uncertainty under the recent military coup.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

We pray for our two churches and for everyone involved in keeping them open for quiet prayer and meditation and for organising and taking part in Zoom services.  We pray in particular for Guinevere and Irene who for a nearly a year throughout the pandemic and more recently during the interregnum have seamlessly, and with infinite courtesy, managed the parish office as if nothing untoward was going on.  We pray for the important meeting next week when the church wardens, and all those responsible, will be deciding about a replacement for Peter Hart.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

We pray for the sick in body, mind and spirit, and for all those who love and care for them and who may be adjusting to a new reality and need all your support and strength.  We think in particular of:  Peter Low, John Lynch, Canon Robin Morrison, Annie Woolmer, Gemma Fryer, Revd Neil Summers (St John the Divine, Richmond), Margaret and Hugh, and Anne Freebody, the other grandmother of my grandchildren, who has just caught the virus.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

A few days ago, my husband, Charlie, opened his computer to the following words on the screen:  ‘If we prayed as much as we worried, we’d have a lot less to worry about’.   Let us keep praying.

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Harriet Grace

Kew St Valentine Sunday before Lent

31st January – Sermon and Intercessions

Candlemas 2021 Kew                                                         Revd Elisabeth Morse

It’s not easy being people of faith. Those who have little or none often make assumptions about those of us who do – especially during times of adversity. And today the gospel story of Simeon and Anna is one of those stories held up as a great story of faith.

So what does this story about two old people have to say to us today? And does it have anything to teach younger people?

We live in a society that values youth above all else where to be reminded one is old is not comfortable. Yes of course old age carries its frailties but the young person inside every old body wants to shout ‘I wasn’t always so slow on my feet and behind in my wits!’ So what is the spirituality of old age?

I would like to tell you something of an old woman I got to know when I was much younger and who had quite an influence on me. Her name was Betty. What I found in Betty, when I knew her in her late seventies, was what I would like to describe as ‘weather-beaten’ faith. A faith that had seen much, been through a lot and was all the more interesting and resilient for having weathered so much.

I discovered that Betty understood me better than I understood myself; but she didn’t let that make her a know-all. She had been an actress in her youth, been divorced and, like me, had returned to faith later in life. I don’t remember her telling me much more. But there was a wisdom and a kindness about her which I drank up. I cannot say what it was in particular about her that fed me but at her funeral 20 years later – as so often happens – I learnt things about her I had not known before. Like the fact that she and her second husband had worked hard at putting their faith to practical use. In their case working for better housing for the vulnerable. I learnt that there is a sheltered housing estate, just over the river, named after her.

As we get older perspectives change. As we age, there are two predictable ways we can go –

either resisting the changing world, complaining and being grumpy,

or accepting and marvelling at the new complexities.

The saying ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is there because it reminds us how difficult it is for us to accept change as we age.

And we have to be honest about how ageing can change faith. We may try and fight change or, with a bit of luck – perhaps I should say grace – we may become less rigid in our views, more tolerant of things that we can’t change, maybe rest easier with doubt, and learn a wisdom of generosity with those who aren’t the same as us. The faith I experienced in Betty, was the latter, what I call ‘weather-beaten’ faith.

And this kind of faith is likely to worry less about doctrine or dogma. It becomes more open to different ways of loving God, whilst being sustained by the knowledge that God has made promises to us even though we realise we don’t necessarily know what they mean.

Old age challenges us with awkward questions especially about suffering. We ask: ‘Why does God allow this?’ ‘How can this God be a God of love?’ We don’t like to be told that suffering, like death, is inevitable and there is no answer to either question – but the person with faith will deal with such questions in a different way. Those with faith believe we are held by God in our pain and distress. Faith means, that when tested by the realities of life we remain faithful. In the oddest way, if our faith is true, we are free from argument with God.  When Simeon says those words ‘Now, Lord, let thy servant depart in peace’ he is saying he has found that peace. He has been searching all his life for the Messiah and he has kept faith that God will fulfil his promise to him. But now, in old age, he has reached the point where he is no longer worried about searching and working out what this promise means. And whether he really knows it or not, when he gives up trying – he finds it.

And this is the significance of the baby.

Yes, I know in this particular story the baby is Jesus but I think that here Jesus is being no more, no less, than a baby. But a baby who transforms Simeon’s understanding of faith. All his life Simeon has been looking for the Messiah – and, importantly, failing to find him. He has held hundreds of babies in his arms, he has spent months, years in the temple. He has prayed and prayed but still has not been able to find what he has been looking for.

And then on this day something changes. Because in his arms he suddenly realises he is holding something very, very precious. Not so much a baby as his very own faith. And that faith – like a baby – is precious, it is something to be blessed and, most importantly of all, that faith is to be shared, passed on.

And this is the message I think for Kew at this moment in time when you are seeking a new vicar. You, as congregations of two churches, have been entrusted with a tiny, but incredible bundle of faith. It is infinitely precious. And whereas you may think you are looking for a new vicar to carry the torch. That – I respectfully suggest – is not the direction you should be looking. Because I can promise you, you will never find the Messiah, let alone the next Archbishop of Canterbury, in a new vicar. Rather, what you need to understand is that each of you has a candle flame of faith and it is you, you who are being asked to carry it on.

And at this point in time each one of us is being asked to carry it on in a very particular way.

This week tragically we passed the milestone of 100,000 deaths from COVID. And on top of that there are those who died from other causes who could not be visited in care homes or hospital. It has been estimated that for each one who dies there are nine mourners. That’s an awful lot of people. Our age, our society desperately needs the resilience of faith. Not the kind of faith that offers platitudes but the kind where the person of faith walks alongside those who mourn, maybe silently, but is present, there.

Faith is precious, hold it tenderly and look after it. It is the light of Christ. I pray that you are able to pass it on.

INTERCESSIONS:  CANDLEMAS 2021

The Dean of Southwark has sent us a prayer to help us to remember those who have so far died in the Pandemic.

God of love

Who holds us in life as in death,

As we commend each one of those who have died

To your eternal and tender care

Comfort all who grieve,

Hold us in our sorrow

And give us that sense of hope

Which brings us all

To resurrection life

In Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

Let us pray for the sick, and for your comfort for them and their families. We remember before you:

Peter Low, 

John Lynch, 

Annie Woolmer, 

Canon Robin Morrison, 

Gemma Fryer, 

the Rev. Neil Summers from  the church of St. John the Divine, 

Margaret and Hugh.

And for others, known to us.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, give renewed strength and health to all those at the front line of the NHS. Bring them our prayers and thanks for the great number of lives that they are saving.

Send our grateful prayers to those scientists, businesses, and doctors round the world who are working to create vaccines and to make and distribute them.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, at this time of change and uncertainty, send your guidance to all members of our Government and Parliament.  Let them be helped towards wise decisions.  Let them, and all of us, remember and follow that great light of our faith, to help the poor.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We give you thanks for the community of Kew, and for these two churches. Let us pray for those choosing our new vicar. Keep us together with one another in our thoughts and actions, help us to pray, and help us to find ways of inspiring the next generation in our faith.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.