Seek ye first the kingdom of God - sung by St Martin’s Voices
As we prepare to reflect on this Bible passage, let’s first pause to be still, to breathe slowly and to re-centre our scattered senses upon the presence of the living God...
Acts 11:27 - 12:2 At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.
For the word of the Lord: thanks be to God.
Today in the Church calendar we remember the Apostle James. Often called James ‘the Great’ (to distinguish him from others with the same name), the New Testament tells us that he came from a family of Galilean fishermen. James and his brother John were among the first apostles called by Jesus to follow Him. These two brothers, sons of Zebedee, along with Peter, had the mountain-top experience of witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus. James also witnessed the presence of the Risen Christ with His disciples after His crucifixion and resurrection. And James was part of the group Jesus commissioned, just before His ascension, to “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:16-20).
Faithfulness to Christ’s commission, though, does not guarantee a trouble-free life or an ‘easy’ death. As the reading from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us, James lived during difficult times (not least because of severe food shortages) and he was martyred in one of the first major persecutions of the early church by the state. Herod Agrippa mistakenly imagined that, by executing Christian leaders, he could put a stop to the sharing of the Good News of Jesus and thereby prevent more people from becoming followers of the Way of Christ.
Faithfulness to Christ and His teaching has, from the outset, attracted many and repelled others. In our own society, people - including political leaders and statesmen - often take a ‘pick and mix’ approach to ‘Christian values’, for example by quoting highly selective phrases from Scripture while rejecting and ridiculing most of what the Bible teaches. So called ‘Freedom Day’ has highlighted the issue, hasn’t it? While Covid infections and hospitalisations soar, even double-vaccinated people are succumbing, and long-covid cases rise... so the NHS is under increasing pressure, much-delayed treatments for other health conditions are postponed yet again and those with increased ‘vulnerability’ to infection have lost even the limited liberty they’d recently regained to leave their homes without anxiety or fear. And yet ‘stronger/fitter/younger’ people demand their freedom to do whatever they like and defiantly jettison even a minor inconvenience like wearing a facemask to protect their ‘weaker/less-healthy/elderly’ neighbours.
What, then, is the Christ-like response for us, as individuals and churches, to make to all this? In the past week, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said this: “Taking personal responsibility means responsibility for our neighbour, not just for ourselves, and taking precautions to protect those more vulnerable than we consider ourselves to be”. Accompanying her statement, the Church of England prefaces its recently updated Covid-19 guidance with these words: “Within the Church we believe that…as many members within one body we are called to be responsible to and for one another, respecting the more vulnerable whose suffering is our suffering (1 Cor 12:12-27)”.
The hymn ‘Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you’, includes the words, ‘I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night-time of your fear…’. How shall we, like St James and countless other faithful followers of Jesus down the ages, shine with the Christ-light and bear witness to Him through the way we use our ‘freedoms’ during an ongoing global pandemic?
Let us pray for our own needs and for the needs of others, following the pattern which Jesus gave when He taught us to pray to our Heavenly Father.
Through our care for Your good creation and all that You have made: Father, hallowed be Your name.
In our homes and families, among our friends, neighbours and colleagues, in our places of work and leisure, and in our church communities: Father, Your kingdom come.
By our inviting Your Holy Spirit to fill us daily with Gospel treasure, so that others may be blessed through us: Father, Your will be done.
For the millions who suffer from mental or physical sickness, including Covid-19, for those who live in poverty and hunger, for those in Germany, Belgium, China and other parts of the world whose lives have been devastated by severe floods, and those overcome by extreme heat, for our own needs and those of people on our minds today... by compassion and co-operation, generosity and gentleness: give us today our daily bread.
Because we have broken Your commandments, in the selfish pursuit of personal freedom at the expense of others, while neglecting what Christ-like love requires of us: forgive us our sins.
If any have hurt us by ignorance, weakness or deliberate fault: we forgive those who sin against us.
When prosperity lulls us to false security, or hard times prompt us to despair, when success makes us boastful, or failure makes us bitter: lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
In the assurance of faith, in the confidence of hope, in the will to serve, help us to love Christ as Lord, and our neighbours as ourselves: for the kingdom, the power and the glory are Yours, now and for ever. Amen.
We say or sing...
1. Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.
2. We are pilgrims on a journey, and companions on the road; we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
3. I will hold the Christlight for you in the night-time of your fear; I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.
4. I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh, I'll laugh with you; I will share your joy and sorrow till we've seen this journey through.
5. When we sing to God in heaven, we shall find such harmony, born of all we've known together of Christ's love and agony.
6. Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.
Brother, sister, let me serve you - sung by St Martin’s Voices
Closing prayer - Collect for James the Apostle
Merciful God, whose holy apostle St James, leaving his father and all that he had, was obedient to the calling of Your Son Jesus Christ and followed him even to death: help us, forsaking the false attractions of the world, to be ready at all times to answer Your call without delay; through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
May we: Go forth in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honour everyone; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit and in Jesus' name.
The Revd Dr Mary Barr Melton Mowbray Team Vicar
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