United Benefice of
St Mildred’s, Whippingham
St James’, East Cowes
12th July 2020: Fifth Sunday after Trinity
St Mildred Patronal Festival
FOR YOUR PRAYERS THIS WEEK:
Give thanks for: the opening of St Mildred’s café; all volunteers; key maintenance workers; the food bank
Pray for: all living in fear of a second Covid-19 spike; the tourism industry, especially on the island
PRAYERS FOR THOSE IN NEED:
Please pray for: Richard Gray; Bob Hitchens; Dave; Reg and Eileen King; Beryl; Ena Young; Olivia; Dave and Liz Smith; Brenda; Stuart; Andrew; Gordon; Joy and Dave; Sarah and colleagues; Beryl Carpenter; Rosie and family; Barbara Blacklock; Hilda Bell; Paul & family
Give thanks for: medical staff; lifeboat volunteers; coastguards
PRAYERS FOR THE DEPARTED:
COLLECT FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
READINGS AT ST JAMES’ CHURCH
OLD TESTAMENT READING Genesis 25 : 19-end
19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23And the Lord said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.’
24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ 32Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ 33Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
GOSPEL READING Matthew 13 : 1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!’
18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
For quite a few years now I have struggled with the parable of the sower. Superficially it is all very simple, but the problem for me has always been in understanding exactly what the seed actually is that is sown. Is it the word of God (the gospel, the good news, call it what you will)? After all, we often use the analogy to defend ourselves when we look at our low scores in evangelism: we say confidently that we are sowing seeds, when there is no obvious result to be seen – to which I tend to retort that it’s about time we actually saw a harvest from them! Sowing seeds is fine, but that’s not the sum total of our work as Christians. There needs to come the watering, the nurturing, and eventually the harvesting. Sowing seeds is not in itself enough.
But Jesus doesn’t actually say that the seed is the word of God. He says the seed is the one who hears the word – and reacts in a variety of ways. We can all relate to that: some of us have been blessed with a faith that was handed down by our parents, others have had a much stonier way into Christian living. Some blossom quickly as Christians, but are easily discouraged and wither away. Others get distracted by all sorts of circumstances – and wealth often has a role in that. It is easy enough to understand the parable on those lines.
To reconcile the two ideas – the seed both standing for the word of God and for the listener – I have come to the conclusion that actually both are true. Every single person on this planet is God’s field, and we each bear within us from the moment of conception the capacity to relate to God: this capacity is part of our very DNA, as it were, an integral part of our being. Indeed, we have this potential before the tiny embryo develops organs and limbs and understanding. When Jesus said that “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17 : 21) he was speaking the literal truth: it is within each of us. The kingdom of God is new life, life that responds to the divine. So I suppose I want to use the metaphor of the seed as meaning nothing less than the soul itself.
Now “soul” is a word that occasionally gets bandied about without us thinking too much about it. “Poor soul!” we say, of someone who is struggling. “He was the life and soul of the party!” is another one – meaning that the party was somehow made to come alive by someone’s presence. And we also talk about the souls of the faithful departed resting in peace. But otherwise the word is barely considered at all. I think that’s a shame, because if we all paid more attention to our souls we might see the world slightly differently.
Now here it helps to have a tiny bit of linguistic knowledge. Just a smidgeon! In German, the word “soul” is “Seele”, from which comes the adjective “selig”. Selig means blissfully happy, at a depth that simply isn’t covered by words like joyful, cheerful, merry, or even ecstatic. Selig is a lasting inner happiness from the depths of the soul. And that happiness is deep within each of us – we are born to be happy! Born to yearn for the deep joyfulness that is characteristic of God himself. And it’s not something that can easily be hidden away – when you have good news, the instinct is to share it. I am sure that is why the enforced lockdown has had such a hugely detrimental effect on so many people: we are not meant to be alone, but to share our deepest joys, which we find we cannot contain. And that is also why so many people, especially youngsters, have instantly taken advantage of any let-up in the lockdown to go and socialise. In the circumstances, it is absolutely foolish and dangerous to act as though the virus has gone away – but the human need for the company of others, for the joy of sharing, has burst out because it is not natural to contain it.
Well, if only Jacob and Esau had known that joy in sharing, in understanding differences, in finding happiness within oneself rather than in things, history might have been rather different. (And by the same token, if Adam and Eve had been satisfied in the first place….!) But human curiosity, by which we discover many of the blessings of this life, has rather eclipsed the simple idea that the soul doesn’t need physical things in order to be happy. We each have to find our own way back into that relationship with God, that peace which passes all understanding. We have a great opportunity to rediscover better priorities in life and to be open to appreciating each other as we come out of lockdown and form new patterns of living. May knowing we bear the seed of God within us give us confidence and deepen our faith as we move forward in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
READINGS AT ST MILDRED’S CHURCH
NEW TESTAMENT READING Philippians 4 : 4-8
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
GOSPEL READING Luke 18 : 18-22
18 A certain ruler asked Jesus, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
19 ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.” ’
21 ‘All these I have kept since I was a boy,’ he said.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
You won’t have seen it yet, as I preach this sermon, but this week’s picture on the pew sheet is a gorgeous sunset with three wild geese flying across. I chose it because St Mildred, if you see pictures of her, is often shown holding a church and accompanied by either a young deer or wild geese. The church reflects that she became an abbess at a community on the Isle of Thanet, and the young deer is the symbol of the minster there. But the geese have a symbolism all of their own, and there are various reasons why they appear so often in art. Roman tradition has it, for instance, that the Gauls tried to attack Rome, but were thwarted when the sacred flock of geese made such a commotion that the Roman guards were alerted and the raid was foiled.
Then again, in Celtic spirituality the wild goose is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and this is more probably why St Mildred appears with three of them. The goose became a symbol when, recognising the power of the Holy Spirit to disturb and disrupt life, the Celts decided that the image of the Holy Spirit hovering over the darkness of the world in Genesis 1 v2 referred not to a dove, but to a wild goose. Three geese flying in formation is a symbol of perfect teamwork and unity – and therefore an excellent way to portray God in Celtic art.
Put together with the Roman tradition, we get from the wild goose a reminder of spiritual vigilance, which is perhaps the one thing the young man of today’s gospel really lacked. He had got used to a certain way of life – blameless as far as it went, but certainly a habit he was unwilling to have disturbed. He could do it all so easily. And Jesus asks this very promising candidate for discipleship to go one step further – to give up his security and trust in him. No wonder (as the other gospels tell us) he went away sad.
I strongly suspect every single one of us would do the same if we were asked to give away everything we have and follow Jesus. But we have actually already made a beginning in that area – not through choice, but because we have had to in the pandemic. We have given up on so many things we enjoy, including our communal worship, which we are only just recovering. We are (in this congregation) particularly fortunate that most folks are of pensionable age and have not been hit hard by financial losses: but while our bank balances look healthier because we have not been spending on meals out and excursions, a huge number of people are now struggling because they have lost their livelihoods. Some businesses will not recover. Society is organising itself differently: working from home has proved popular among white collar workers. Shopping is a whole new ballgame, and town centres will never be the same. Meanwhile, the foodbanks are overwhelmed and people are desperate for supplies. So I would urge us all, if we possibly can, to use some of the money we would have spent on our own pleasure to help restock the foodbank. We can do this. It’s a far cry from giving up everything we have, but it is a step in the right direction. Just maybe it could even be possible to lobby local government into using some of the empty premises in town to provide shelter for the homeless, even. I can’t begin to imagine how scary it must be to be homeless at present, or about to be evicted from temporary accommodation with nowhere to go.
Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to go on disturbing our spiritual awareness, because that’s how we can bring about change. Let’s focus our minds, not on how we can put back the clock in church life, but on how we are freed up to take on different types of discipleship. Our post communion prayer today askes that “your Church may joyfully serve you in all godly quietness”. We have had this quietness thrust upon us – let’s use it to God’s glory. Amen.
INTERCESSIONS (supplied by Joy Broome)
Jesus Lord of time, hold us in your eternity.
Jesus, image of God, travel with us the life of faith.
Jesus, friend of sinners, heal the brokenness of our world.
Jesus, Lord of tomorrow, draw us into your future.
Faithful God, as we thank you for the life of St Mildred, we pray for all who seek to follow you. Please be with the Church and all its leaders, as it seeks to make wise and good decisions about the way forward in opening churches and planning services and becoming involved in the community in which it is placed…
Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer
Creator God, we pray for all peoples and nations as they seek to find their way out of the troubles brought on by this pandemic and especially for our own Prime Minister, Cabinet and their advisers…
Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer
Father God, we pray for all those people around us, in our neighbourhood and the streets where we live, those in our places of work or schools, the shops we visit. We pray that we will learn to love our neighbours as ourselves and we will have sensitivity and insight in all areas of our talking and interaction. Help us to be responsible and sensible in all we do so that we don’t infect others or be infected by those we meet…
Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer
Gracious God, we pray that you will provide strength and the ability to get through the day ahead for all those who are ill, weary, carrying heavy burdens, those whose family relationships have become strained as day to day life has been harder because of the lockdown, loss or lack of work, anxiety, the pressures of home schooling, loneliness or too much time alone…
Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer
Merciful God, many people die each day because of war, violence, famine – please show your mercy to those who suffer in these and many other ways both in this country and around the world. We pray, and thank you, for all those in the UK and further afield who are working to provide food, support and shelter for those who are without…
Merciful Father . . . accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, Amen.
PREPARING FOR SPIRITUAL COMMUNION
In union, Lord, with the faithful at every altar of your Church, where the Holy Eucharist is celebrated, I offer you praise and thanksgiving. I present to you my soul and body with the sure hope that I may always be united to you. And since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, I ask you to come spiritually into my heart. I unite myself to you and embrace you with all my being. Let nothing ever separate you from me. May I live and die in your love. Amen.
You might like to sit in silence for a while, then pray:
Grant, O Lord, we beseech you,
that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered
by your governance,
that your Church may joyfully serve you in all godly quietness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
To conclude, rest quietly in God’s presence.
WORSHIP IN AN UNCOMMON SEASON
Initially at least our services be a straightforward communion service with no hymns – however, we shall have some introductory and closing music, as well as some extra music during the service. Communion will be offered in one kind, and there is the option of not receiving at all if you feel it is safer for you to let the priest receive on your behalf. Please follow the directions of the stewards for going up to receive communion and be aware of the usual social distancing requirements. I will of course continue to administer communion in the pews to anyone unable to walk to the altar. We are advised to remain standing to receive the bread.
On leaving the church, please drop your service booklet into the basket by the exit door and note that we are leaving by a different door from the way we came in. At St James’ this will be via the south door at the front, and at St Mildred’s via the royal chapel.
ST MILDRED’S CAFÉ RE-OPENING
The café at St Mildred’s has re-opened from 10.00am – 3.00pm, Mondays to Thursdays. Social distancing is in place, and although it is preferable for folks to eat outdoors, it will be perfectly possible to have a table indoors for tea, coffee and cakes. During this initial period the church will be available on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons for private prayer, but it is hoped to expand this by an extra day to match the café opening times in due course. If you would like to volunteer and are not on the current lists, please contact Peter Robinson (299230) to be allocated a slot at a suitable time. NB The rule about over 70s has been lifted, but please check with me first as I have to give permission!
The pew sheet will be available on the parish website from Sunday afternoon. (You will be able to re-read the sermon and engage critically with it as well as use the prayers provided!) We are indebted to Raj for enabling the website to function this way! Those who are unable to receive email will continue to receive a hard copy. Please have a look on your way out and see whether you live near to anyone who needs to have a hard copy delivered. Now that we are open again, I would appreciate your help in delivering these.
It has proved tricky to transfer the church music onto the parish website, but it can be found on the virtual prayer room website, www.whippinghameastcowesprayerroom.org along with other music to help you pray. Our music duo have renamed themselves Inspire – so look out for it under that heading on the music page. Thanks again to Jane and Nigel for all your hard work!