There is now a local on-line Epiphanytide Eucharist for the rest of January available via our Active Worship on-line page. This service is part of a series of services that have been provided since May, replaced as the seasons change.
The way that we have organised these materials is to try and allow as many as are able to Worship together, sharing in the offering the Liturgy, the Prayers and the Readings. To facilitate active participation:
After each bidding, there’s a gap for you to respond in the same way as you would in Church,
You pray the appropriate Collect for the Day,
You look up and deliver the Readings for the Day,
You offer you own Intercessions to God as part of our worship.
At points 2, 3 & 4 you’ll need to pause the playback until you’ve offered the prayers or readings. In addition you could also pause it to sing a hymn, play a piece of music, reflect on the readings or read a sermon.
Can we Christians align our beliefs and everyday habits in the twenty-first century? Christians have been formulating ‘rules of life’ at least as far back as the fourth century. The sixth-century Rule of St Benedict is probably the most widely known Christian rule of life, but a lot has changed since then! Is there scope for a Christian rule of life in the twenty- first century?
Advances in technology and communication, particularly social media, enrich our present-day lives whilst at the same time driving us to distraction. A cacophony of voices vies for our attention: how do we hear the Gospel above them all?
The Revd Dr Michael Hull, SEI’s Director of Studies (above), will facilitate an online discussion of issues about belief and habit, faith and practice, with insights from Justin Whitmel Earley’s “The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction” (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2019) available via: https://www.thecommonrule.org
The discussion will be held on Wednesday 20 January 2021 from 7pm to 8pm and delivered via Zoom. The link and password will be emailed on the morning of Wednesday 20 January. To register, please visit this link.
Revd Harriet Johnston is serving her Title at St James the Less, Bishopbriggs; her husband, the Revd Lee Johnston, is also a Curate in the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway, serving at Christ Church, Lanark. Both Harriet and Lee spent short periods staying with Anna and James during their training, experiencing ministry in East Sutherland and Tain. Here Harriet describes her ordination to the priesthood in November.
“My ordination to the priesthood was memorable for all the right reasons. I was encouraged by the kind words of those who brought greetings from family, friends, and colleagues around the world.
Bishop Kevin preached a memorable sermon that he made personal to me. As you might imagine, the moment of ordination was deeply profound for me too. Only 20 people were permitted to be in the church but that made the service intimate and personal.
Due to the travel restrictions, my family watched the ordination on Zoom from their kitchen. It was good to know they were there along with many friends and members of St James’ Church.“
At this time of year, our lectionary seems to be leaping around a bit. Last week we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany when the magi visited the Christ child, after first promising King Herod that when they’d found the newly born king, they’d be back to tell him all about it.
We all know what happened next. They returned home without going back to Herod and he got very angry and ordered the massacre of all the male children under two, to make sure that he wasn’t going to be opposed by some upstart King. But this event was marked in our calendar at the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28th, nearly a fortnight ago.
Then today we fast forward to the Baptism of Christ, an event which took place at the start of Jesus’ ministry some 30 years later.
When he was in Thailand in December, Pope Francis referred to King Herod, while speaking about the treatment of refugees both in Thailand and worldwide. He also mentioned that in some parts of the world border walls separate children from their parents, however, he didn’t mention any country or leader by name, though the world’s press had a field day speculating on who or where he was thinking of.
Herod was a leader who inherited his wealth from his father, a man of great influence and power. Herod loved to acquire land and build cities and large and grandiose buildings worthy of his dignity and grandeur and preferably named in his honour. He also had as many as ten wives.
When the magi didn’t return, Herod became enraged that he’d been tricked and cheated, and sent his soldiers to kill all the baby boys under the age of two. He wanted to be certain to get rid of anyone who could be a threat to his position of control and leadership, and the easiest way to do that was kill them all.
Herod was surrounded and protected by sycophantic aides and patrons. As long as the wealthy were making money, they’d look the other way and not speak out. Anyway, if they did they’d quickly be history. Herod had many friends in high places who’d put him in place as the ruler of Palestine, Roman leaders such as Mark Antony, Sextus Caesar, Emperor Augustus and Octavian, but they expected loyalty and for him to deliver for them in return.
You may wonder what kind of person could order such gruesome slaughter. Herod must have been criminally insane, you might think. According to historians, Herod the Great had descended into increasingly poor physical and mental health and that made him paranoid and led him to horrific acts of betrayal and murder. He had grandiose delusions, attacked his enemies like a school bully, had a poor grasp on reality and was very insecure. By the way, he died not long after the birth of Jesus.
Over the last few days we’ve heard news of some extraordinary events on the other side of the Atlantic and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has asked us for our prayers. I am sure that we all hold the people of the United States in our prayers, as they navigate the transition from one presidency to another. Meanwhile in this part of the world we find ourselves in another lockdown, with our Churches closed.
However, in the dreadful story of Herod we see that even in dark times goodness and divine love finds a way through, even in the midst of the most fearsome of regimes. Joseph was warned in a dream to escape down the road toward Egypt, before Herod launched his campaign of infanticide. And it’s the child that survived that continues to carry the hope and salvation of the whole world.
There’s a certain irony in Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism being the Gospel for the first Sunday after Epiphany. In the church’s tradition, Epiphany is the season when we recall the manifestation of Jesus to the world. Yet Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism, like his gospel as a whole, has an air of secrecy about it.
In Matthew, God’s declaration about Jesus, “This is my son” (Matthew 3:17), reads like a public announcement to both John and the crowds gathered at the Jordan. In contrast, Mark portrays God’s declaration as though it were a private matter between God and Jesus: “You are my son” (Mark 1:11). Likewise, it’s apparently Jesus alone who sees the heavens split open and the Spirit descending upon him. In the three other gospels, these events seem to be portrayed in a much more public way.
Portraying this baptism as a private transaction between God and Jesus suggests that Mark doesn’t recall the events surrounding the baptism so as to provide a strictly historical account, but more to provide a rich theology around baptism.
God’s words to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”, allude to Psalm 2:7 and also to Genesis 22:2 where Isaac is the only beloved son of Abraham, to Isaiah 11:2 where God’s spirit rests on the king of Israel, and to Isaiah 42:1 where God’s spirit rests on the servant in whom he delights.
So, Mark’s telling us that, in his baptism, Jesus’ future course is mapped out before him: he’ll be the servant of God, who will offer his life as a sacrifice. Like Isaac, he’s the son of a promise, a promise that nothing, not even death, can break.
In fact, it’s precisely through Jesus’ death and resurrection that His sonship and messiahship are confirmed and God’s promise fulfilled. According to Peter, in his resurrection Jesus receives the Holy Spirit from His Father, and His installation as Messiah is complete. Moreover, because Jesus has received the Holy Spirit from His Father, He can give the Holy Spirit to all those who (like us) believe in him and are Baptised in His name, sharing with them this precious gift.
Mark’s first chapter is about new beginnings. He writes of Jesus’ baptism as “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1), recalling the start of the first chapter of Genesis, our Old Testament lesson for today. “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), God’s Spirit hovered over the waters, while God spoke and called heaven and earth into being. So also at the Baptism of Jesus, God’s Spirit came over the waters and his voice declared Jesus to be his Son.
So let us hope and pray that out of the darkness and chaos of what has happened across the Atlantic will emerge light, and the light will be good and signal a new beginning. And let us hope and pray that out of our current lockdown and the rapid vaccination of those most vulnerable in our society will emerge light, and that light will be good and signal a new beginning for us all.
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus travelled from Galilee to the River Jordan. John the Baptist was there preaching and baptising the people that came to him. Jesus went to John and asked to be baptised.
It is this event that we celebrate this Sunday (10th January 2021).
St Finnbarr’s Charity Shop will be closed until further notice.
We are really sorry to have to do this, but the government regulations issued on 4th January only allow essential shops to open and prohibit non-essential travel, to reduce the spread of Coronavirus. The vaccination programme will obviously help, but in the meantime, we need to protect Charity Shop volunteers as well as the general public so with great regret we will be closed until further notice.
We would ask please that people do not leave bags of donations outside the shop as we have nowhere to store them.
Thank you all for your generosity in shopping with us and for donating goods to sell. We look forward to seeing you all again when we are able to reopen. We will be back!
On behalf of the College of Bishops, the Most Rev Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church writes:
To the Churches and congregations of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
Many of us have watched, with growing concern, the rise in the number of those testing positive for Coronavirus. This rise has been seen right across Scotland during the past few weeks and may get higher still as the effects of the recent holidays become clearer.
Many of our churches had already decided to remain closed or to suspend face to face worship as this situation unfolded, limiting the numbers to 20 people had given an added headache to our larger churches while sustaining the weekly opening regime had become exhausting for some of our smaller congregations. The awareness of the speed of transmission in the new variant had made it quite clear that the position of Places of Worship was becoming more and more difficult to sustain, a situation made clear by the First Minister today.
The reclosing of our churches is difficult, especially for those who have had the privilege of meeting together over the past few months, yet it is now what we must do. The provision of Provincial online worship will continue and many of our churches will meet together via a variety of platforms. We must continue to pray for each other, for the communities we serve and for the authorities charged with protecting the nation.
The full implications of today’s announcement and the answers to the questions we all have will become clearer as the government documents are produced this week and meetings between us and the government take place. Information will then come from the Advisory Group.
Please continue to pray for the College of Bishops as we will continue to pray for you until with the help of science and our health service we can once again have the freedom to meet together.
Following the announcement in the Scottish Parliament by the First Minister today (4th January 2021) and pending updated guidance from the College of Bishops, our Churches will no longer be open to the public for either services of worship or private prayer. So from now on we must all pray at home.
We will be reflecting and praying about what we can offer by email, on-line and on paper over the next few days and would appreciate your prayers as we do this. The on-line Coffee Morning will still take place on Tuesday mornings on Zoom using the same details as before (if you have mislaid the joining details, email James and they will be provided by return).
Keep safe, keep well and we can all look forward to when we can gather again in the presence of God and each other for worship. In the meantime, we can all help to look after each other via the phone, email etc.
May God bless you all.
Two prayers from the Scottish Prayer Book
In the time of any common Plague or Sickness.
O ALMIGHTY and merciful God, with whom are the issues of life and death: Grant us, we beseech thee, help and deliverance in this time of grievous sickness and mortality, and sanctify to us this affliction, that in our sore distress we may turn our hearts unto thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
For Hospitals and Infirmaries.
ALMIGHTY God, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ went about doing good, and healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people: Continue, we beseech thee, his gracious work among us in all hospitals and infirmaries; console and heal the sufferers; grant to the physicians, surgeons, and nurses, wisdom and skill, sympathy and patience; prosper their work, O Lord, with thy continual blessing; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
When I was younger, a question that troubled me was, quite how a star could indicate so exactly which house or stable the Christ child had been born in, so as to ensure that the wise men went to the right door. Remember this was before Sat Navs and the What 3 Words app.
When the film, “The life of Brian” came out, I realised that I wasn’t the only one puzzled by this. It tells the story of a man born in Bethlehem around 4 BC, hailed as a religious leader during a brief ministry in his 30s, and then crucified by the Romans. His name was Brian Cohen, and he shouldn’t be confused with someone in similar circumstances at the same time around whom a major world religion grew up, although in the film they started in mangers in next door stables.
The film opens with three wise men from the orient arriving in a stable to bestow gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh on a newborn baby. But they mistakenly give gifts to Brian’s mother whose name is Mandy. In a scene reminiscent of the account of Jesus’ birth in the gospel of Matthew, though Matthew doesn’t record a mishap whereby the magi accidentally bestow their gifts on Terry Jones in a dress. As for non-biblical first century sources, they too are curiously silent on that matter.
The Magi soon realise their mistake and move on to bow down before the Christ child next door. Don’t you think the magi were lucky to get that far after cheekily asking a grossly insecure character like King Herod, “Where is the king of the Jews? We have come to worship him”? Not very tactful
I wonder if Matthew, somewhere in the back of his mind, saw a comic element in this story. They were magi—astrologers: non-Jews who study the world using non-approved practices are the ones who find the Christ child, while the religious scholars missed it. All this speaks of a God very determined to be found.
So a Libran, a Pisces, and a Taurus bow down to worship Jesus—a Capricorn? This story points to what for some religious people might be a rather difficult truth – God might just be found outside the church, at night, in the arts, or in non-sacred music or literature, even within other religions?
The wise men appear. With a star as their guide, they show up on the scene enquiring of the one born “king of the Jews”. “Epiphany” means “to show up”. The star appears “at it’s rising” beckoning this group of Persian academics to make an appearance in Bethlehem. An astrological phenomenon “shows up” so that the magi may “show up”. They’re to “traverse afar” and pay homage to one who’s greater than they are. Unlike Herod who acts out of insecurity, the magi journey onwards in trust and curiosity.
Notice the tantalizing ending: “They left for their own country by another road”. Of course they did. But having met the Christ child, do they keep plodding along the same old pathways? T.S. Eliot ended his poem about the magi with
“We returned to our places … but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods.”.
Anyway the wise men return “to their own country by another road”. They’re religious teachers, interested in religious questions. They spend their lives studying religion. They may or may not live religious lives but in the main they talk about it and make their living from it.
So they probably went back home, wrote about the things that they’d seen and heard and published it. Maybe, later they gave talks about it to the Women’s Institute in Baghdad or presented papers about it at the World Congress on Comparative Religion in Islamabad or appeared on Samarkand Radio providing expert analysis of what had come to pass. Those are the sort of things professional wise men would do.
But what about the shepherds? They’re just ordinary people, not religious professionals. Like most ordinary people they don’t think about religion all the time, they’re too busy earning a living or enjoying the small amount of spare time that they have.
Maybe they’re impressed or perhaps made uneasy by the sense that there was something going on here that they ought to be paying attention to, because it’s mysteriously important. It would be nice to think that at least one of them was permanently affected by what happened that night and even that he might have stood grieving, with a small group of other people at Calvary some 33 year later. That his life was changed by the babe he saw born the night he watched in the fields above Bethlehem. I would like to think that, but it probably wasn’t true for many of them.
More likely what happened it what happens year after year to most of us. After the temporary excitement and charm of the Christmas season, we go back to ‘normal’. There is no lasting change. Bethlehem is nice once a year, but there are too many other things going on for it to make a lasting change.
But why is that so? After all we aren’t talking about something of harmless and irrelevant interest suitable only for enthusiastic nerds. We’re talking about the action and presence of Almighty God. The God whom, one day, perhaps sooner rather than later we will come face to face with in unavoidable finality. So why is it easy to avoid this reality?
The answer is simple. Is there anything quite so helpless as a new-born baby? Except perhaps : a man nailed to a cross. Yet this is how God comes to us; in helplessness. He doesn’t seek to overpower us or force His attentions on us. But why? It’s because He wants us to recognise Him through our own free choice; and because He’s so quiet, it’s easy to overlook Him.
Day after day He lays before us quiet and undemanding signs of His presence, wanting us to hang around long enough to read them and recognise Him and go to Him at last. Most of the time, we don’t notice, we rush on past headlong towards the goals that we’ve set ourselves.
Maybe this year will be different – well of course it is in so many ways. Maybe, just maybe, the forced reduction in social gatherings and many of our leisure pursuits, might just slow us down enough to notice what the God who comes to us is saying in those signs of His presence. Will this Christmas season prove to be an awakening, a moment of recognition, a life-changing experience?
I wonder what will happen to each of us after Christmas? Will it be the academic, the poetic, the ordinary normality or will be it be something else, wrapped up in the mystery of God and His incarnation?