Led by: Mrs Lucy Cooke
Good morning and welcome! And a special welcome too to anyone joining us by the power of the internet. It is a real pleasure to be with you all this morning although I’m still not sure how I feel about being live on the web – perhaps I just need to try and forget about the camera!
So let us still ourselves now, and come before God in worship.
Call to Worship
Our desire, our need, our yearning
draws us together to worship God.
unbelievable, incomprehensible love,
pulls at our heart strings,
tugs at our emotions,
turns our eyes beyond the seeing.
So, come. Come to the God who knows us,
to the God who created our being,
to the God who knows our frailty,
to the God who loves and cherishes us beyond measure.
Come just as you are, whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey.
All-encompassing God, just as we are, we come.
Prayers of Praise & Thanksgiving
God of love and grace beyond our telling,
we bring our thankful hearts to you,
acknowledging that without you we are nothing
and with you we can be so much more…
thankful that you care for us, and love us beyond measure;
that you have endless patience with us;
that you teach us time and time again
what it is to be committed to you and your way…
thankful that you reveal yourself to us in a myriad of ways,
to inspire us and evoke within us a heartfelt response…
thankful that all this is freely there for everyone who comes to you and accepts you,
it is for me – for us! and may we truly know and feel it deep within.
So, Lord, with overflowing hearts, we bring our prayer to you. Amen.
Dedication of Offering
Patient Lord, you amaze us each day with your boundless capacity for forgiveness. Help us to be stewards of your mercy and grace as our monetary offerings are transformed into your work through us, reaching people in new ways. We pray in the name of the one who teaches true forgiveness, Jesus Christ saying together the words he taught us,
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.
Forever and ever. Amen.
New Testament Reading (Andrew Cooke): Romans 14.1-12
Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Gospel Reading (Andrew Cooke): Matthew 18 21-35
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents[c] was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;[d] and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister[e] from your heart.”
When I first looked at today’s readings, I thought to myself – “Oh good, something meaty to really get stuck into – a nice heavy sermon on judgement and forgiveness!” Then I thought – “hang on a minute – is that really what’s called for on the second Sunday back in church after a 6 month break?” You’ll probably be relieved to know that I decided not! However, you don’t get off too lightly there is plenty of opportunity to look at the events of recent months through the lens of today’s passages.
I don’t know about you, but recently I have found myself becoming increasingly less tolerant and more judgemental and then at the same time on the receiving end of other people’s intolerance and judgement… but it isn’t all bad. We have also witnessed countless examples of selfless giving and truly sacrificial behaviour. The sheer scale of the work carried out by frontline staff in the NHS being just one example of this. It has been said so much that we are living in unprecedented times which we are all ill equipped to deal with and this is certainly no less true for the constant repetition. It seems as though this pandemic has, however cliched it sounds, brought out the worst as well as the best in us all.
As I say, I am aware that I have become less forgiving and more judging and I wonder how many of you would admit to the same. A simple shopping trip for example sees me getting more and more frustrated with others around me, “why aren’t they wearing a mask?!” “That’s a funny looking 2m” “Am I the only one here taking things seriously?!” If I stop to think, those not wearing masks may have good reason not to and who here can honestly say that they have maintained the 2m distance rule at all times? The irony really struck me one day as I found myself complaining about the number of people in the queue at Ikea… as I was myself stood in the queue for Ikea… but of course, I had a genuinely essential reason… unlike everyone else?
Most of you will be aware that I have only just returned to work following 5 months of furlough – a difficult situation which has seen me on the receiving end of some people’s judgement as they made the sweeping assumption that those of us in this position were somehow at fault – scroungers, lazy, undeserving – unfairly getting months of holiday while others are working. In the end I had to force myself to stop reading posts on social media – already struggling as I was to cope with the guilt I was already feeling and which was being exacerbated by the constant stream of negative judgements made by those who did not and would not understand the nuances of the situation.
Taking things a step further, alongside the coronavirus pandemic we have also seen the explosion of the BLM movement, forcing us to confront our own and indeed our nation’s acts of prejudice and discrimination against black people which permeate not just our history but life in the world today. Bringing to the forefront countless examples ending in tragedy where people have been judged because they are perceived as different due to the colour of their skin. I read a poignant story, or account really of a young couple in America who enjoyed going jogging together. Except the wife never ran in front of her husband even though she was actually a lot faster than he was. They had learnt from bitter experience that if he ran behind her assumptions would be made that she was being chased – that she was in danger from this man. She is white. Her husband is black. That’s the only basis for the assumptions. “Don’t all lives matter – comes the cry” Well yes, of course they do but consider for a moment the distinction between equality and equity. Equality means giving everyone the same size box to stand on, regardless of whether or not that means they can see over the wall. Equity means ensuring everyone has the right size of box they need to stand on in order to enjoy the view…
Paul tells us in our Romans passage that it isn’t our place to cast judgement on those who are different from us. That we should strive to practice acceptance. Both the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have brought to the fore the times when we face the choice between understanding and acceptance and passing judgement on other people who are different from us in some way or who follow a different path from us or who don’t behave exactly as we think they should. This behaviour is often instinctive which means that we need to be aware, perhaps now even more than ever, of our own thoughts and actions, look to rectify them and incidentally, thinking about our Gospel passage this morning seek forgiveness for them as we seek to forgive others – but perhaps that’s the heavier sermon for another day!
In everything that we think or do in relationship to others we are called to follow Paul’s instructions and endeavour not to judge, but to unconditionally accept – just as we – and for that matter everyone else – is ultimately and unconditionally accepted and loved by God for who they are, whoever they are…
Hymn (sung by Lucy Cooke): Help us accept each other
Help us accept each other, as Christ accepted us;
teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace.
Be present, Lord, among us and Bring us to believe:
we are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live.
Teach us, O Lord, your lessons, as in our daily life
we struggle to be human and search for hope and faith.
Teach us to care for people, for all – not just for some,
to love them as we find them or as they may become.
Let your acceptance change us so that we may be moved
in living situations to do the truth in love;
to practice your acceptance until we know by heart
the table of forgiveness and laughter’s healing art.
Lord, for today’s encounters with all who are in need,
who hunger for acceptance, for justice and for bread,
we need new eyes for seeing, new hands for holding on:
renew us with your Spirit; Lord, free us, make us one!
Fred Kaan (1929 – )
Prayer of Confession
more willing to forgive than often we are to confess,
help us to see our failings,
to see where we fall short,
to see where we deceive ourselves,
where we close our eyes and ears
to the ripples of our wrongdoing.
May we breathe in the reality of our actions,
the need to change, the depth of our unworthiness.
We come before you, seeking forgiveness. (keep silence)
Now let us breathe in the power of your forgiveness,
and breathe out the need to live and love
in the shadow of your forgiveness of us,
that we may forgive as you have forgiven us. Amen.
Prayers of Concern (Andrew Cooke)
We bring our prayers of concern before God:
Let us pray.
Father, We come to you in a time of sorrow and suffering,
but also one of looking forward with hope.
We live in a world plagued with disease, conflict and natural disasters
We recognise that the past year has not been easy for anyone
and has been a time of grief and pain,
but it is from this place
that we come before you seeking comfort, guidance and forgiveness.
Firstly, we pray for all those affected by the coronavirus pandemic
which has touched people’s lives in so many different ways.
We pray for the sick and for the doctors and other medical professionals
working tirelessly to treat and care for them
and for those developing cures and vaccines to help combat the virus,
that you may give them strength and comfort at this time;
for our leaders attempting to lead us through this at a local, national and global level,
that you may give them guidance to work for the good of everyone.
For all those suffering through bereavement,
we pray that you will be with them as they cope with their loss.
We pray for those affected by the wildfires on the West Coast of America
and natural disasters around the world.
We recognise that this is a problem we can all help to avoid,
as we seek to combat the ever growing problem of climate change,
however we are able to do so.
We pray for those who face discrimination on a daily basis
because of the ignorance and hatred of others.
We ask that you give them comfort
and that you would forgive us for the times when we have unjustly judged others.
We pray for people around the world
fighting against injustice, such as racial justice activists, pro-democracy protesters
and anyone who seeks to end the injustices which we see and too often partake in.
We recognise that it is our duty
to stand up as a voice for the oppressed, weak and disadvantaged in our society –
refugees, all minority groups and the poor.
We think particularly of the treatment of the Uighur Muslims in Western China
and we pray for your strength to do this.
Finally, we pray for ourselves,
that we may be a force for good in the world
but also that you may comfort us in our times of difficulty.
As we continue the worshipping life of St Andrew’s,
we look forward to the day when we can worship as normal once again.
We also pray for the members of our congregation
who are unable to be with us this morning.
We pray for all these things and for those concerns known only to ourselves in a moment of silence.
In Jesus’ name we pray.
Just before we end our time together this morning, a reminder and maybe a bit of instruction. After I have delivered our sending out prayer I will invite you to share in the Grace with me – at which point Tim will play a recording from the Virtual Church Choir and Andrew, Pete and I will leave. Please listen to the hymn as an end to our worship this morning and listen out for the extra verse written especially for these times by Canon Clare MacLaren from Newcastle Cathedral! Afterwards remain in your seats until directed to leave via the side door. I will be outside the front of the church for those who wish to say good morning in person – at a suitable distance of course!
Sending out and Blessing
Into a world of noise and confusion;
into a world that bewilders and bemuses;
into a world of delight and regret;
into a world of hope and fear;
into a world that is ever changing,
we go with the message of a steadfast God
who loves and accepts all of us with an all encompassing, self emptying, sacrificial love,
all that we might live life to the best of our ability.
God of all, go with us and be within us, this and every day.
Share the Grace
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen (Lucy, Andrew & Pete leave the church)
Hymn (sung by the Virtual Church Choir): Let us build a house
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
Let us build a house that needs no walls – that bridges time and space;
where the lonely and the suff’ring ones know a virtual embrace.
Where despite our social distance we may share God’s healing grace –
held in prayer by all who love and miss them:
Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter,
Marty Haugen (1950 – )
extra verse Rev’d Canon Clare MacLaren
Words and Music reproduced under CCLI 213535 / One License A-632495