Greetings from Eileen
‘Justice is about relationship, about a meeting of people, in their full humanity.’
It’s nearing 40 days since Russia, a neighbour, waged violence against the people and country of Ukraine. We continue to pray, to provide financial and practical help even if from a distance, and we urge those in authority or with influence to turn this situation around. Justice, to recognise and be able to do justice, is in the end about relationship and pursuing full humanity for those whose humanity is being usurped.
I am encouraged by the offers from parishioners to offer accommodation or to assist others who have offered to host fleeing Ukrainian refugees and families. These are practical ways of doing Justice that may require patience and preparation.
We are called to live Justice every day in our ordinary lives, not only when crises arise such as the acts against Ukrainians, Afghans, the people of Hong Kong, Yemenis, Syrians, or Eritreans. Today I shall be praying with a friend who is being bullied because she is a ethnic minority young woman training for Ordination. Everyday a mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandparent, somewhere, is sitting with a child who is facing injustice. Even the mother who is desperately wishing to remove the pain and to confront the perpetrator, may be practically helpless, except to be present, and listen to their story, without interruption.
Jesus met many people in their troubles, both those who suffered injustice and those who were unjust. In Jesus’ example we see the way God wants us to treat the people, whoever they are.
So today, let us attend to people around us alongside our discerning of how we may help the homeless and traumatised Ukrainians, and pray: Lord Jesus, open our eyes this week to everyone we meet, that we may see all people as your children and share your love with them. Amen
There are 2 opportunities to spent time on God’s Word and in reflection this week.
- At 6 to 7.30pm Monday 28th March in Winston Village Hall, St Andrew’s Church Lent Discussion is being led by Lynne Lobley. Drawing on Celtic Spirituality, she uses the USPG story of the cross border challenges in the Church of Ireland, and the change of culture and values in our changing society.
- At 7-8pm Wednesday 23rd March in St Mary’s, Gainford I will lead the final Lent Study.
This week we consider The Good God: Bad things, good people, and a Good God? Is Lament compatible with a good God? Is there really Good News? On Wednesday, come 5 minutes early if you would like a cuppa!
This Sunday’s Services: Join us for our Mothering Sunday services. We especially hope to see those of you who have stayed away due to the risk of Covid-19 to come again to worship in our churches.
• St Andrew’s, Winston: 9.30am Family Communion
• St Mary’s, Gainford: 10.45am Service of the Word
At both services, there will be gifts for mothers and all who have nurtured others. After the service at St Mary’s, there will be time to catch up and greet one another over a cuppa.
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
CLOCKS CHANGE! Please remember to put your clocks/watches forwards this Sunday! Spring has arrived and so has Summer Time.
• 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.
• HOME FOR UKRAINIANS: Please look at this website and register to find out more or to offer yourself as a sponsor if you wish: https://www.sanctuaryfoundation.org.uk Meanwhile I am grateful for those who have informed me so that we may together be better prepared to help when we have sufficient information about the process.
Presently, there isn’t enough information to act responsibly. We need to be patient. Please email me on email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 Mothering Sunday
God of compassion,
whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary,
shared the life of a home in Nazareth,
and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself:
strengthen us in our daily living
that in joy and in sorrow
we may know the power of your presence
to bind together and to heal;
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.
Post Communion Prayer
as a mother feeds her children at the breast
you feed us in this sacrament with the food and drink of eternal life:
help us who have tasted your goodness
to grow in grace within the household of faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The First Reading
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
1 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. 6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
The Gospel for the 4th Sunday of Lent: Luke 15
1 Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
3 So he told them this parable:
11b ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
25 ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” 31 Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”’
Sermon – 3rd Sunday of Lent: Rev’d Eileen Harrop, 20th March 2022 (Psalm 61:1-9; Luke 13:1-9)
Once again, as for recent Sundays, our set lectionary Psalm resonates with the cries of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.
The cries of our Psalmist today are strangely inspiring. These cries should be incongruent because they are so confidently uplifting when the Psalmist’s life is in danger. They are cries that acknowledge God and speak of his compassion and mercy. When the Psalmist describes the desolation around him: ‘a dry and weary land where there is no water’, he is not describing the physical landscape but the spiritual landscape of his soul. The scenes relayed across the world’s media show us the Ukrainians’ homeland laid waste and I have wondered if pipes that delivered clean water were still intact and delivering clean water. The Psalmist compares his thirst to such a scene.
We hear such faith: God will provide a sanctuary and God’s power and glory are undiminished. These are cries of joy: ‘I will bless you…I will lift up my hands’. Amidst the trauma, the numb disorientation, and fear surely natural for anyone whose life is at risk of being destroyed, is this interior victory.
We are told that the key rests in keeping one’s heart and mind stayed on God, unwavering and undistracted even in ‘the watches of the night’. As those sheltering in basements hear the advancing missiles whistling and heading for their buildings, they remain confident of God’s protective love, and they sing for joy!
This is where our Gospel passage meets our reading of Psalm 63.
Luke recounts the scene that people have come to Jesus reporting the death of some Galileans by the Roman Governor Pilate’s decree. It seems the manner of their deaths is worth remarking. They were making sacrifices in the temple when they were killed. It is like the bombing of hospitals or soldiers storming a church and killing those in prayer.
But as the people deliver their reports with outrage, Jesus sees the thoughts of their hearts, and he surprises them. Jesus asks: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” Jesus’ question sounds like an outrageous suggestion. Jesus asks: “Do you believe that those who suffer a bad death, have some sin, which has brought on them bad luck?”
Might there be people who, even today, think that the people of Ukraine had sinned in some way to deserve punishment, and Putin’s destructive invasion is their punishment?
Jesus cites another example of 18 Galileans who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Jesus alerts us to the slippery idea that bad things do not happen to good people, or worse things happen to worse people. There is also that undertone suggesting that some types of people e.g. Galileans are somehow more sinful.
We misunderstand God if we believe he has created life to be governed in such a punitive way. We should all repent of our sins and we shall all perish, but we are not more likely to suffer mortal death because our sins are greater. God is our one judge and he is our creator and deliverer.
Jesus then tells the parable of the man, his unproductive fig tree, and the gardener. The parable illustrates God’s attitude towards us. The fig tree should be producing figs. But is has not, and to the man, that tree is literally ‘a waste of space’. It is undeserving of the soil. The man calls for it to be discarded.
But the gardener’s response reveals God’s nature:
“…let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.”
God the gardener will not only give this unproductive, imperfect, and unresponsive tree another chance and time to prove its worth, he will also help to improve its situation (‘dig around it’) and give it more nourishment (‘put manure on it’). God extends his patience: ‘wait’ God says, ‘and see if it will become productive’. God does not visit pain and death on those who might be described as ‘a waste of space’. He seeks to give us time to be productive and is not quick to punish.
Listen to these prophetic words from God to Isaiah for people of all generations:
1 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God
Is this a God whose nature is to punish and exerts his presence by weighing our sins?
Therefore, the Psalmist’s extraordinary mix of cries and songs of joy are neither mismatched nor misplaced. God is worthy of confidence and praise even during human trial. Like the Psalmist, those who look to the Lord will find great blessing on his soul. May this be so today for the beleaguered people of Ukraine.