Morning Service for the Fifth Sunday of Easter 2023

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And so the fate of Stephen, the church’s first martyr, was sealed. And what did he do to win this unfortunate honour? Set fire to a holy building? Poison the Emperor? No, he spoke – he uttered words. And were those words such as to call people to arms, to demand a violent struggle? No – but they weren’t tactful, they were challenging and unflinching. 

Morning Service for the Fifth Sunday of Easter 2023

HYMN Jesus shall reign where’er the sun NEH 388 – Truro

1 Jesus shall reign where’er the sun

Does his successive journeys run;

His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,

Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

2 People and realms of every tongue

Dwell on his love with sweetest song,

And infant voices shall proclaim

Their early blessings on his name.

3 Blessings abound where’er he reigns;

The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;

The weary find eternal rest,

And all the sons of want are blest.

4 Let every creature rise and bring

Peculiar honours to our King;

Angels descend with songs again,

And earth repeat the long Amen.

PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen


PRAYERS OF PENITENCE 

Let us confess our sins in penitence and faith, 

firmly resolved to keep God’s commandments and to live in love and peace with all.


Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against you
and against our neighbour
in thought and word and deed,
through negligence, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
who died for us, forgive us all that is past
and grant that we may serve you in newness of life
to the glory of your name. Amen.

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.


THE COLLECT

Almighty God, 

who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ

have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:

grant that, as by your grace going before us

   you put into our minds good desires,

so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect;

through Jesus Christ our risen Lord, Amen.

FIRST READING – Acts 7.55-60
But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

HYMN I heard the voice of Jesus say NEH 376 – Kingsfold

1 I heard the voice of Jesus say,

‘Come unto me and rest;

Lay down, thou weary one, lay down

Thy head upon my breast:’

I came to Jesus as I was,

Weary, and worn, and sad;

I found in him a resting place,

And he has made me glad.

2 I heard the voice of Jesus say,

‘Behold, I freely give

The living water, thirsty one;

Stoop down, and drink, and live:

I came to Jesus, and I drank

Of that life-giving stream;

My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,

And now I live in him.

3 I heard the voice of Jesus say,

‘I am this dark world’s Light;

Look unto me, thy morn shall rise,

And all thy day be bright:’

I looked to Jesus, and I found

In him my Star, my Sun;

And in that light of life I’ll walk

Till traveling days are done.

GOSPEL – John 14.1-14

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

SERMON 

“But they covered their ears, and with a load shout all rushed together against him.”

And so the fate of Stephen, the church’s first martyr, was sealed. And what did he do to win this unfortunate honour? Set fire to a holy building? Poison the Emperor? No, he spoke – he uttered words. And were those words such as to call people to arms, to demand a violent struggle? No – but they weren’t tactful, they were challenging and unflinching. 

In our passage set for the epistle, you didn’t get any of the words that caused his martyrdom, so here are a few… “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?”  You get the idea… 

It seems people don’t like to be told off, they don’t like to be told that they are in the wrong. But Stephen made an even more fundamental error in his preaching technique – he stood apart from his audience, he used the wrong pronoun – he said ’you’ and not ‘we’. I suppose that wasn’t very surprising, he did feel apart from his audience, he was no longer one of them, he had joined the followers of Jesus.

Over quite a short period of time this gulf between the follows of Jesus and their Jewish roots became accepted as inevitable. What Jesus had left behind was not a set of writings, or laws to replace the Torah, not even a cause to take up arms for, but a community to become a part of, and a way of life to follow – a distinct community and a distinct way of life.

By the time St John’s Gospel was written, this sense of being a separate community, a people gathered together from all places and all races, all backgrounds, was very strong, and naturally  persecution only served to make its boundaries sharper and its purpose more seriously understood. In fact, it was clear to these disparate early Christians that they had a unique role in bringing the world to experience God’s grace in Jesus Christ. 

Indeed, as Jesus had shown people the God whom he called ‘Father’, so must they show people the man they called the Messiah, the Son of God. Without them the world would never know him. Without them, all that Jesus had taught in the world would be lost. They were a vital link in the chain, they were the means of communication, not as individuals, (who could fulfil that role?) but together as a people. Together they could become the hands and feet of him whom they followed.

What defines this new people is not birth or appointment, not even a ritual – according to the writer of St John’s Gospel, what defines them is simply belief and action. “Very truly I tell you the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.” What opens the way to the work of Christ, ongoing in the world, the task of his people, is belief. The gathered community of those who follow Jesus, is no social group, it is no state sponsored organisation for teaching good morals, it is a household with a purpose. Its purpose is to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom in word and deed – and to live the life of that kingdom in the world – in every generation.

Christians in pre-Constantine Rome were known for their work in caring for neighbours who had contracted one of the various plagues that overcrowded Rome was prey to. In fact, such was their dedicated care, and its consequences, that a rumour grew that they actually took the plague into themselves in order to heal their neighbours, often dying in their place. Perhaps here is the real reason for the spread of Christianity in Rome – a selfless living out of the way of the Kingdom, that put service before even safety. Much as we have seen so many staff do in residential homes, hospitals, and hospices during the pandemic – living the life of the kingdom in what they do, day by day. Maybe that isn’t how they would describe it, they may see in their actions nothing of faith; but to live the way of the kingdom is to follow Jesus, whether acknowledged or not. Maybe it is not, therefore, belief that most strongly defines those who live the way of the kingdom, but loving action.

“Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices. Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.” 

St.Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
Let us declare our faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures;
he was buried; he was raised to life on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
afterwards he appeared to his followers,
and to all the apostles: this we have received,
and this we believe.  Amen.
1 Corinthians 15.3-7

HYMN Jesu the very thought of thee NEH 385 – St Botolph

1 Jesus, the very thought of thee

With sweetness fills my breast;

But sweeter far thy face to see,

And in thy presence rest.

2 Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,

Nor can the memory find,

A sweeter sound than thy blest name,

O Saviour of mankind!

3 O hope of every contrite heart,

O joy of all the meek,

To those who fall, how kind thou art!

How good to those who seek!

4 But what to those who find? Ah, this

Nor tongue nor pen can show;

The love of Jesus, what it is

None but his loved ones know.

5 Jesu, our only joy be thou,

As thou our prize wilt be;

Jesus, be thou our glory now,

And through eternity.

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION  – Katherine Royale

We pray today for our new King Charles III.  Give him your peace as he commits himself to your service.  Give him strength and perseverance as he promises to serve us all as King.  May he know that you are walking with him day by day and help him to fulfil his vows and promises.  Help him to follow the example of Jesus who is the ultimate King of Kings.

We pray for Queen Consort Camilla.  Please give her the resources and strength she will need in her supporting role to the King and in her service to the nation.

We ask that you protect all members of the Royal Family.  May they work together to support the monarchy in maintaining unity, peace and goodwill with each other and among the people of this nation and the Commonwealth nations.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

We pray for our government.  We pray for the members of Parliament and all those in local government.  Thank you for these people who represent our interests and work hard on our behalf.  Please give them wisdom and integrity in all the decisions they make.

There seems to be so much dissatisfaction and unhappiness among the public sector workers at this time.  We pray that there will be good and clear communication between the government and the unions and that resolutions will be found so that confidence and trust can be restored.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

While there is amazing beauty in the world there is also so much hardship and evil.  The reports we receive of wars and violence, famine, human trafficking and child abuse are just some of the issues we find distressing.  We pray that you will encourage and influence governments to work together to find ways to bring justice and relief to those suffering as a result of the selfish intentions and actions of others.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

We pray for the people in our own community who are suffering from health issues or grief, financial difficulties or relationship problems.  Show us ways to be supportive and caring.  Let us pause for a minute to pray for those who are personally known to us ……..

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

Finally, we thank you for this time of celebration for the coronation of our King.  Thank you for the company of our families, friends and neighbours.  We pray that we can enjoy fun and relaxation together on this memorable occasion.

Merciful Father, 

accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:

Our Father in heaven, 

hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, 

your will be done,
on earth as in heaven. 

Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive 

those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation 

but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, 

and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

BLESSING
May Christ, who out of defeat brings new hope and a new future,
fill you with his new life.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen

HYMN O Jesus I have promised NEH 420 – Thornbury

1 O Jesus, I have promised

To serve thee to the end;

Be thou for ever near me,

My Master and my Friend;

I shall not fear the battle

If thou art by my side,

Nor wander from the pathway

If thou wilt be my guide.

2 O let me hear thee speaking

In accents clear and still,

Above the storms of passion,

The murmurs of self-will;

O speak to reassure me,

To hasten or control;

O speak, and make me listen,

Thou guardian of my soul.

3 O Jesus, thou hast promised

To all who follow thee,

That where thou art in glory

There shall thy servant be;

And Jesus, I have promised

To serve Thee to the end;

O give me grace to follow,

My Master and my Friend.

4 O let me see thy footmarks,

And in them plant mine own;

My hope to follow duly

Is in thy strength alone;

O guide me, call me, draw me,

Uphold me to the end;

And then in heaven receive me,

My Saviour and my Friend

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