Greetings from Eileen
As Ukraine’s leaders and people weather another week’s military action against them, we are thankful that more practical support is being arranged.
As we cry out and kneel in prayer for this war to end, there are ways we can help Ukraine practically.
Deuteronomy 10:18 ‘(God) defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.’
As Churches we have registered with The Sanctuary Foundation, which is facilitating help for the greatest need facing Ukrainian refugees: welcome and offer of (up to 6 months) temporary accommodation. Please look at https://www.sanctuaryfoundation.org.uk and the recording of the online information event that took place on Wednesday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4n-Wmru5LIA&t=5s.
I was most heartened to have received a telephone call on Monday night from a parishioner wishing to sponsor accommodation in her home, and who duly registered with sanctuary foundation. Despite only having about a day’s notice, more than 8,000 participated on Wednesday night. Thankful as we are for Ukraine’s friendly neighbours such as Moldova receiving traumatised and homeless Ukrainians, we need to consider that Moldova is a tiny country with 2 million people. Let us extend compassion practically where we are: the UK government are committed to provide visas to match Ukrainians being received with sponsors of accommodation and support. At the start of this war, only 30 visas had been issued. Every sponsor will receive guidance and protection. Watch the recording (about 90 minutes), which would help you to decide if you can help. I commend it to you. If you do register, please let me know: email@example.com.
Gainford Primary School’s appeal ‘Beyond Limits’ buses carrying specially requested items has to set off for Poland this weekend due to increased urgency. Thank you everyone who left items at St Mary’s Church at short notice.
LENT LUNCH: Thank you to all who organised and supported St Andrew’s, Winston’s Lent Lunch for Water Aid at WINSTON VILLAGE HALL on Saturday 19th March 2022
LENT STUDY: The next session on Wednesday 23rd March 7-8pm, St Mary’s, Gainford (West End) will focus on the God of Hospitality. The first study on ‘God who Welcomes’ led by Durham Cathedral’s Canon Pastor Rev’d Michael Everitt was enlightening and thought-provoking. I shall lead the second session and Neil will lead Compline or Night Prayer at the close. Come 5 minutes early if you would like a cuppa!
This Sunday’s Services: We look forward to welcoming everyone and especially hope to see those of you who have stayed away due to the risk of Covid-19 to come again into our churches.
• St Andrew’s, Winston: 9.30am Holy Communion
• St Mary’s, Gainford: 10.45am Holy Communion
At St Mary’s, we plan to resume Communion at the high altar and offer both bread and wine although Communion in one form (bread only) is still available. I shall continue to exercise caution, sanitising, masking, and using chopsticks.
God is with us. May Christ, who by his incarnation, gathered into one, all things earthly and heavenly, fill you with joy and peace.
Rev’d Eileen Harrop
• TICKETS for the Passion Play in Bishop Auckland
I hope many of you would come to a performance of the Passion Play on Good Friday 15th April and encourage family, friends, and neighbours to come! There are 2 performances (each around 90 minutes): 12 noon and 3 pm.
THE EVENT IS FREE but Durham County Council requires us to ticket the event so please register online for tickets. Please go to the website: https://passionplaybishopauckland.org/ then click the link at the top menu bar for tickets. This directs you to book individual tickets for the performance time you wish to attend, and tickets will be sent to your email address.
If you are coming to a performance as groups of 6 or more people, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Also use the same email address if you wish to be allocated a space in the accessible area. Although seats are not provided, wheelchair users and the person accompanying (bringing their own portable seat) will have a secure place zoned for this purpose.
For parishioners in Gainford wishing to attend the 3pm performance and travel with the St Mary’s Church group, please contact Geoff Taylor: Geoffandsue379@gmail.com
• Lent Study:
Come to discover/re-discover the nature of God and the personal way in which we are called into relationship with him and in the world. 7-8pm Wednesdays 16th, 23rd, 30th March, St Mary’s, Gainford. No pre-booking is required.
◦ Study 1 (COMPLETED): The God who welcomes – God who is actively personal, who isn’t remote despite being God Almighty maker of heaven and earth and the Judge of all
◦ Study 2: The God of hospitality – What has hospitality got to do with ‘preparing the way of the Lord’ and ‘making straight in the desert a highway for our God’?
◦ Study 3: The Good God – Bad things, good people, and a Good God? Is Lament compatible with a good God? Is there really Good News?
During the hour, we will take:
◦ 5 minutes for practical matters and an opening prayer
◦ 45 minutes for the study that involves looking at one or more Bible passages and exposition; perhaps break out group sessions for reflective conversation guided by a few questions and sharing our reflections
◦ 10 minutes Night Prayer/Compline to close (Neil will lead these at the end of study 2 and 3)
On Thursdays our youth group YOUTH SAINTS monthly meeting. Please spread the message to friends and neighbours with young people.
Youth Bible Time is also resuming from 5.45pm in St Mary’s Church, Gainford on the same Thursday. Young people from both our parishes and others from nearby places are all welcome!
Our Growth Fellowship, formerly the Young Leaders Fellowship, is now open to anyone to join from both parishes as well as those within the surrounding area – young adults interested in developing themselves, understanding more about the Bible or those interested in joining in with a regular programme of activities (both indoor and outdoor) are all welcome. Please contact us email@example.com if you are interested in taking part!
Our churches are open daily for private prayer.
We welcome everyone to join us at services in church every Sunday:
• 9.30am at St Andrew’s Church, Winston
• 10.45am at St Mary’s Church, Gainford
The Collect for the 3rd Sunday of Lent
The Collect for the 3rd Sunday of Lent
give us insight
to discern your will for us,
to give up what harms us,
and to seek the perfection we are promised
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Post Communion Prayer
grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil,
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The First Reading
1 O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6 when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
9 But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Sermon – 2nd Sunday of Lent: Rev’d Eileen Harrop, 13th March 2022 (Psalm 27; Luke 13:31-35)
Who is our adversary? Who is our enemy? What do they look like that we might recognise them?
The Psalmist proclaims his confidence in ‘the Lord’ – describing the Lord as his light and his salvation; the stronghold of his life. So confident is he that he shall not fear even those who set out to destroy his body, because the Lord will cause his adversaries and enemies to stumble and fall.
Substitute ‘The Psalmist’ for ‘The people of Ukraine’, as we read on:
3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
This morning we pray this confidence in the Lord for those who have resolved to remain in Ukraine to defend their homeland. We pray that every word in Psalm 27 applies completely to them today.
But while the people of Ukraine recognise their foe now as Putin has sent his weapons against them, had they recognised their adversary previously? There had been border conflicts in 2014 and in 1932 a famine in Ukraine caused by the Stalin regime starved 4 million people to death. Who is this adversary who is ravaging their homeland and homes and that previously instigated deliberate suffering?
The adversary is as King Herod and as the Pharisees in our Gospel reading today. Luke 13:31-35 begins with a warning from the Pharisees for Jesus about a plan apparently by King Herod to kill him. It is difficult to evaluate the motives of the Pharisees in the story. It is also difficult to evaluate whether their warning is sincere in conveying a real threat. In Luke’s writing of the Acts of the Apostles, we read that some Pharisees had become Christians. But these Pharisees are traditional and scholarly Jews irritated by Jesus because he would not conform to the way they lived out the scriptures and because Jesus challenged their interpretation of the law.
But Jesus is in fact one of them so to speak: Jesus was a Jew.
The Russian people and the people of Ukraine have shared a common Christian history in the Orthodox Church with a common Patriarch – as the Roman Catholic Church across the world share the Pope as their common leader. And both Ukraine and Russia had been member nations of the Soviet Union.
When the Pharisees tell Jesus to leave the city of Jerusalem – the city of the Jewish people – they claim to warn Jesus against King Herod’s intention to kill him. In telling Jesus to leave Jerusalem they have contravened their own Jewish laws: ‘it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem’. These Pharisees know that among them many believe Jesus to be a prophet even if they did not believe Jesus to be the Son of God. The Pharisees fool themselves as their cowardice is obvious: they have not got the integrity to stand on their own convictions. Like these Pharisees, the Russian leader today spins a story to win support for his warning against Ukraine.
The Pharisees are lying blatantly. King Herod, having beheaded John the Baptist, had been troubled by his foolishness. This is the same King Herod who later refuses to condemn Jesus. There had been no plans from the king to kill Jesus.
But Jesus knows all this, and despite their treachery, Jesus has compassion for them. Jesus tells them:
‘How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’
Some of you may have read that President Putin is a deeply religious Orthodox Christian, and that his actions are spurred by holy intentions to reunite the Ukrainian and Russian people. Could this justify Putin’s actions? Putin has been heard to say repeatedly to Ukraine ‘and you were not willing’.
What does our adversary and enemy look like? For Jesus, his adversary was his own people. The Pharisees later joined forces with other Jews, the Sadducees who were their opponents (like the Muslim Sunis and Shiites) to press for Jesus’ death by crucifixion. For Jesus, his enemy shared the scriptures that they read and held aloft together in the temple. For the Ukrainians, their enemy was their neighbour.
How should we, and they, respond to such blatant wrongdoing?
In the Psalm, we give thanks for the strength that the besieged gains from his proclamation of God’s goodness and truth. He holds fast to truth against the evil, the lies, and the cruelty, of his enemy. He calls on God to teach him the Lord’s way, and stays with the Lord for strength and courage. We pray this for the leaders and people of Ukraine.
And here is the Collect we prayed:
‘Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth, that they may return to the way of righteousness:’
We do not give up on even Putin.
On Good Friday this year, the Passion Play shall be performed in Bishop Auckland. It visually rises to the Crucifixion and surprises with the Resurrection. But it is the unseen in between, that dark moment when Jesus’ body lies dark and alone, in the tomb, when the power of the cross defies all evil. Jesus descends to hell and forgives from his grave.
Jesus commanded us to ‘Love our neighbours as ourselves’. Putin and his regime have not done that. Jesus also calls us to ‘Love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us’. Have we done this? Are we able to do this?
In a while, we shall be invited to receive Communion – to share in the Lord’s body and his blood. After that, I pray the Post-Communion Prayer set for us today:
you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves:
keep us both outwardly in our bodies,
and inwardly in our souls;
that we may be defended from all adversities
which may happen to the body,
and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
To love our enemies, more especially when our enemy and adversary is a neighbour, a brother, a sister, a member of our own community and family, we may indeed have no power of ourselves to help ourselves.
But let us today, cry out to the Lord to help us even as we cry for God by powerful grace to stop the war. Amen