Church of England Diocese of Birmingham St. Paul Blackheath

A short service for the 18th Sunday after Trinity 11th October 2020

Gathering and Greeting

Rejoice in the Lord always;

again, I say: REJOICE!

Lord God, faithful and loving,

we do not always feel like rejoicing.

Even as we gather to worship you,

our minds are sometimes distracted and elsewhere,

weighed down by the burdens of our lives.

Help us, in this moment, to find it within our hearts

to REJOICE in your constancy and loving care for us.

People of God, let us rejoice.

Amen.

A prayer of approach

Lord God, we never know what the future holds or where life will take us next.

We never know what is just around the corner and what the outcomes of things will be.

But we know that whatever follows on from this moment, you are here with us, by our side, above and beneath us, entwining your life with ours, surpassing all human understanding.

In this moment, bless us and awaken us to your abiding presence.

Amen.

Hymn

May the mind of Christ my Savior

live in me from day to day

by his love and power controlling

all I do and say.


May the word of God dwell richly

in my heart from hour to hour,

so that I may triumph only

in his saving power.


May the peace of God my Father

rule my life in everything,

that I may be calm to comfort

sick and sorrowing.

Kate Barclay Wilkinson (1859-1928)

A prayer of confession

Eternal God, so often we give up if something goes wrong or doesn’t go our way.

So often we are overwhelmed by our own problems that we forget to look out for others.

So often we are consumed with negatives and endings that we lose sight of the positives and beginnings.

Eternal God, forgive us for our self-centeredness, our blindness and our deafness, and reawaken your Spirit within us.

Amen.

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd;

I have everything I need.

2 He lets me rest in fields of green grass

and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water.

3 He gives me new strength.

He guides me in the right paths,

as he has promised.

4 Even if I go through the deepest darkness,

I will not be afraid, LORD,

for you are with me.

Your shepherd's rod and staff protect me.

5 You prepare a banquet for me,

where all my enemies can see me;

you welcome me as an honored guest

and fill my cup to the brim.

6 I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life;

and your house will be my home as long as I live.

Bible reading Philippians 4.1-9

So then, my friends, how dear you are to me and how I miss you! How happy you make me, and how proud I am of you!—this, dear friends, is how you should stand firm in your life in the Lord.

2 Euodia and Syntyche, please, I beg you, try to agree as sisters in the Lord. 3 And you too, my faithful partner, I want you to help these women; for they have worked hard with me to spread the gospel, together with Clement and all my other fellow workers, whose names are in God's book of the living.

4 May you always be joyful in your union with the Lord. I say it again: rejoice!

5 Show a gentle attitude toward everyone. The Lord is coming soon. 6 Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. 7 And God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.

8 In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. 9 Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you.

Talk

Our bible reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippian church contains that memorable line

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice”.

Paul goes on to summarize that we should not worry about anything because of the faith we possess in Jesus Christ our Lord.

These are deeply challenging words in our present context. Indeed we may find them deeply offensive and inappropriate in a time of such suffering. Our media overwhelms us with torrents of bad news relating to the current Covid-19 pandemic. There is prevailing sickness and the threat of sickness. There are restrictions on travel and socializing separating family, friends and loved ones in the most painful of ways. There is unemployment or the threat of unemployment, business failure and a loss of income. All of these factors denigrate and eat away at our mental health and well-being, presenting a deep, profound, yet often unseen aspect of the present crisis. In the midst of all this we hear Paul’s words and we wonder, perhaps struggling on the verge of protest. What on earth have we got to rejoice at, we may legitimately ask? After all there are a lot of moaners and groaners in the bible who were certainly not rejoicing at all times. We can think of the prophet Elijah who had his moments, or of Job or perhaps the psalmist who through their words often reflect the hurtful, painful and angry side of the human experience. The full range of human emotions are on show throughout the bible and that of course is one of the reasons it is such a compelling book.

But to rejoice or not rejoice is a choice. It is a disciplined decision and not something that is purely based upon how we feel. An examination of Paul’s context tells us that this letter was written from prison, where he was greatly troubled by opposition and discord within the Christian community. An assessment that could still be made in our own day, for there is truly nothing new under the sun. In Philippi there was a particular problem with false teaching, so these words of Paul were not written in easy going, happy, contented times which of course makes his statement “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” all the more extraordinary.

But the church at Philippi was Paul’s first church plant. We can imagine perhaps a fondness in Paul for the people and place where Paul’s ministry first made its mark. Despite the opposition and discord this community were experiencing, they had still managed to collect and send a gift to Paul to help him in his time of need. So this letter is in part, perhaps a version of a Christmas thank you letter we might send to a relative, after having received a gift of some kind. So this letter has something of this kind of feel to it and here is the rub, rejoicing becomes wholly easier when we are practicing generosity and kindness. However hard and tough our present circumstances may be bringing joy to other people is the surest way to bring joy to ourselves. There is almost an infectious quality to generous joy which works inside us to lift our spirits whatever our external circumstances. “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice”, well we get there by practicing generosity and sharing the love of God broadly and widely.

Paul goes on to list habits and practices that make this possible, he writes

“In conclusion, my brothers fill your minds with those things that are good and deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and honorable. Put into practice what you learnt and received from me, both from my words and my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you”.

More than this, whatever our external circumstances, whether we are in prison like Paul or free, nothing can take from us the power and significance of our baptism in Christ. This Sacrament of promise links us eternally to Christ and we are told in the book of Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. However bad or testing life gets, nothing can separate us from this love of God. Our friendship with Christ is secure and it is this more than anything else which gives us cause to say today and everyday “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” because I am a friend of God.

Halleluiah, amen.

Rev. Mike Sermon Vicar St Paul's Blackheath

Prayers

O God, we come to pray not for ourselves, but for each other – for those we know and those we don’t, for situations we understand and for those that confound us.

The news tells us of trauma and heartache across the world and we try to grasp the intensity of it all.

Bless, O Lord, all involved in the hurting and the healing.

We hear of death and dying, of grieving and weeping…

We hear of pain, scarring and disfigurement…

We hear of anguish and confusion…

We hear of those in need of help, and those who struggle to

find it…

We hear of the grieving and the sorrowful…

We hear of the lost and the alone…

And we know, Lord, there are myriad others known only to you.

Bless them all in their hurting and their healing. Amen.

A final prayer

We go our separate ways, Lord – perhaps with smiles or frowns; with our hopes and with fears; with answers but also questions; maybe crying and with heavy hearts; or with anxieties, or relief. We go our separate ways, Lord, but we never go alone. With thankful hearts, we share the journey of life with each other and with you. Be with us as we go. Amen.

Hymn

Give me peace, O Lord, I pray

in my work and in my play;

and inside my heart and mind,

Lord, give me peace.


Give peace to the world, I pray

let all quarrels cease today

May we spread your light and love:

Lord, give us peace.

Estelle White (b.1925) © 1976 Kevin Mayhew Ltd.

Let us go in peace,

In the name of Christ. Amen.

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