Come & join us on Sunday 26 March at 11:00

We are delighted that the service on Sunday will be led by the Revd Fiona Bennett, Moderator of General Assembly, and look forward to welcoming her to Trinity.

Fiona is minister of Augustine United Church in Edinburgh.  You can read more about her background and experience here.

There will be age-related activities for children and young people.

Bible readings will be Ezekiel 37: 1-6 and John 11: 1-45.

Coffee & tea will be available after the service.  All very welcome – do join us and meet the Moderator!

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 19 March 2023 

Today’s service is led by the Revd
Dr Alex Clare-Young

Sentences from Psalm 23 
God is my shepherd, 
I shall not want.
They enable me to lie down in green pastures; 
they guide me beside still waters;
God restores my soul, 
guiding me in directions that honour their name.
Even though I walk through the rockiest valley, 
I am not afraid for God is with me;  
God prepares an open table, and anoints our heads, 
our cups overflow.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, 
and I shall dwell in the house of God my whole life long.
Call To Worship
God says: “I am doing a new thing, do you not perceive it?” 
We open our hearts and minds to perceive God’s action all around us.
God says that: “I do not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but I look on the heart. 
We open our hearts and minds to perceive God’s likeness in other people. 
Jesus says, “But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” 
I open my heart and mind to mystery, to grace, to non-judgment,  to the gifts of those who experience the world differently than me.
Hymn    When Listening Prophets Dare To Speak
              The Rev’d Dan Damon, © 2002 Abingdon Press performed by Ruth and Joy Everingham and used with their kind permission.

When listening prophets 
dare to speak,
love thunders like 
an ocean wave,
old wineskins burst, 
stone columns quake,
and dry bones 
rise up from the grave.
When prophets feel 
their strength is gone,
as churches add to people’s pain,
a prophet’s question lingers on,
‘Can dry bones ever live again?’
True prophets challenge 
us to change,
to wake and wonder, 
risk and grow,
and when the way ahead 
seems strange,
to name the fear and let it go.
God bids us rise 
to speak and move
like prophets on a lighted stage,
unmasking fear, 
revealing love,
and making peace from age to age.

Prayers of Approach & Confession 
God, our creator, we are so thankful 
that you do not perceive as we perceive,
that you experience the world differently,
that you know our hearts and minds,
that you undermine the judgments and stereotypes 
that are so prevalent in this world.
Sometimes we ask the wrong questions,
We take a moment hold our questions before you in the quiet…
Sometimes we seek the wrong answers,
We take a moment to shake off our need for certainty, just for now…
Sometimes we seek to assume your judgment of others,
We take a moment to dwell in the mystery of grace…
The good news is that God does not see as mortals see but, instead, looks on our hearts.  Thanks be to God, Amen.
Prayer for Illumination
Some of us sense through sight, through touch, through taste, through smell, through sound. Some of us experience sightlessness, numbness, a loss or change of taste or smell, deafness. God knows all that is created and calls us good, just as we are.
Open our hearts to perceive your Word in our own, unique, ways; engaging with the world around us, and sharing the particular ways in which we perceive you, our environment, and the people we meet, generously with each other. Amen.
1 Samuel 16:1-13
The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”  Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
St John 9:1-41
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Hymn    Holy Darkness Blessed Night
              Dan Schutte SJ Inspired by St. John of the Cross, 1542-1591. © 1988, 1989, Daniel L. Schutte. Published by OCP sung by Chris Brunelle and used with his kind permission

Holy darkness, blessed night
Heaven’s answer 
hidden from my sight
As we await you, O God of silence
We embrace your holy night
I have tried you 
in fires of affliction
I have taught your soul to grieve
In the barren soil of your loneliness
There will I plant my seed
I’ve taught you 
the prize of compassion
You have stood before the grave
Though my love can seem
Like a raging storm
This is the love that saves
In your deepest hour of darkness
I will give you wealth untold
When the silence stills your spirit
Will my riches fill your soul

Any scripture reading that talks about the ways that bodies function is full of challenges for those of us who hope to speak helpfully about them. They come with the risk of asking the wrong questions: a risk which is exemplified over and over again in today’s readings. We will look at the questions asked in our readings in a moment but first, given that our Gospel reading considers blindness, I would like to turn to the insights of the seminal disability theologian, John Hull. In his book In the Beginning there was Darkness, Hull writes about his experiences of accessing scripture as a blind person, and highlights the stumbling blocks in interpretations that treat blindness as a problem.
Hull explains that the sightedness of biblical writers can be alienating to blind and partially sighted readers. He notes that blindness is often used as a metaphor for spiritual ignorance, including in the Gospel reading that we have been given by the lectionary today. Perhaps most strikingly, he asks, if Jesus came to heal the blind and if that is the chief thing we see him doing in his ministry, could a blind person actually become a disciple (159-160)?
It is vital that we pay attention to the voices of blind and partially sighted people as we consider scripture. I would strongly encourage you to have a look at the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB)’s current campaign about sight loss, entitled ‘see the person, not the sight loss’. In an included video, Ava, a young woman experiencing sight loss, says that, “I can still do me things, just differently”. RNIB’s tagline is ‘see differently’. My mum is a teacher of people who are blind and partially sighted, and so I spent much of my time as a child with blind and partially sighted children and young adults. This has given me treasured experiences of how blind people ‘see’ differently. I am friends with a young person who can map his environment by clicking his tongue and hearing how far away objects were. I also know a young woman who creates beautiful tactile art using a mix of braille – a tactile language based on groups of dots – fabrics, and pens which create a raised line. These are just two examples of the wonderful people my blind and partially sighted friends are. 
When we ask, then, ‘What it is like to be unable to see?’ we are asking the wrong question. Perhaps, instead, we should be asking, ‘How do you experience the world around you?’ or ‘What can you show me about what it means to be human?’ The people that today’s scripture passages refer to know what it is like to be caught out asking the wrong questions, too. 
In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, Samuel meets with Jesse and his sons to discern which of them is being called by God to be anointed, to lead. First, Samuel asks the wrong questions. He looks at Eliab and asks whether his appearance is fitting for the role to which Samuel is making an appointment. He looks using his eyes, instead of really discerning, really understanding the person, using all of his senses and wisdom. God says that this is the wrong question: saying to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.”’ In this way, God gives us an example of seeing that is nothing to do with using our eyes but, rather, to do with getting to know who a person really is. 
Then Jesse continues Samuel’s trajectory of asking the wrong questions: continuing to send out those of his sons that are popular in his community, that are judged well by outward appearance, by stereotyping, by norms. Instead of choosing one of his conventional brothers, God chooses David. David who is ‘ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome’, David who plays the harp, David who is later to be in a relationship of covenant with Jonathan, David who was, perhaps, seen as weak, as stereotypically feminine, as unpopular in relation to the cultural norms that he was subject to. And so David is anointed in the presence of his brothers, who were put before him.

  • Who do we stereotype and judge by appearance?
  • What cultural norms have the Church subjected folks to?
  • How do we choose our leadership? 
  • How can we ensure we are asking the right questions? 

In our Gospel reading, in an encounter with a blind man, so many people are asking the wrong questions.
Jesus’s followers wrongly ask who sinned. Jesus says that this is the wrong question. That they should, instead, focus on the whole person, and what God is showing them through him. 
Then, the man’s neighbours wrongly ask if the man is a beggar and refuse to listen to his answers. They judge him by sight and refuse to recognise who he really is. “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” Even though he kept saying, “I am the man.” They stereotype him according to their assumptions of what blindness looks like, and what someone who is begging for money on the streets looks like, and refuse to listen to him and, in doing so, to perceive that he is still the same person, even though he now appears different than before.
After repeated questioning, religious leaders wrongly ask the man, yet again, what Jesus did and how. He answers them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” In doing so, he suggests that the right question is not about what Jesus did, but about whether they will follow him. He doesn’t root his identity in sight but, rather, in who he journeys with. 
When Jesus suggests that the religious leaders are spiritually blind, they ask the wrong question again: “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
This takes us right back to the beginning of this sermon. Hull, and other blind people, have experienced this reading as deeply problematic because some interpretations of it link a lack of spiritual perception with physical blindness, implying that blindness is bad, or even sinful, just as the religious leaders do at the beginning of the passage. But this is not what Jesus says, or what our readings tell us. Rather, they suggest that physical sight is sometimes actually deeply unhelpful; leading us to focus on the wrong people, judge people on sight rather than getting to know them; and assuming that we know it all when, in reality, much is a mystery.
So let’s take some time this week to, as RNIB suggests, ‘see differently’ – to perceive with our hands, our minds, our hearts. To perceive by asking questions that challenge indifference or injustice. To perceive by asking others to share their truths with us and by genuinely paying attention to the answer. John Hull called his blindness “a strange, dark, and mysterious gift from God”. We celebrate John, all who share his giftedness and, above all, the God who weaves and breathes our diverse bodies into being. Amen.
Hymn    Let the Tears Fall
              Tim Hughes © 2003 Thankyou Music  Performed by Tim Hughes

I’ve had questions 
without answers, 
I’ve known sorrow, 
I have known pain. 
But there’s one thing 
that I’ll cling to: 
You are faithful, Jesus, 
You’re true.
When hope is lost, 
I’ll call You Saviour. 
When pain surrounds, 
I’ll call You healer. 
When silence falls, 
You’ll be the song 
within my heart.
In the lone hour 
of my sorrow, 
through the darkest 
night of my soul,
You surround me 
and sustain me;
my defender, 
When hope is lost…
I will praise You, 
I will praise You;
when the tears fall, 
still I will sing to You.
I will praise You, 
Jesus, praise You;
through the suff’ring, 
still I will sing.
When hope is lost…
I will praise You…
When the laughter 
fails to comfort,
when my heart aches, 
Lord, are You there?
When confusion is all around me,
and the darkness 
is my closest friend,
still I’ll praise You;
Jesus, praise You.

Prayers for Ourselves and Others
Holy One, your Strange ways, they astound us.
Among the mighty, your Wisdom is called foolish.
While others assert their power with force,
Yours unfolds like an invitation. You never resort to weapons.
You turn from all paths of domination.
Beauty and truth are your means of persuasion.
Freedom is your promise.
While empire shouts false promises of security,
using fear to turn us against each other,
You whisper things of vulnerability,
of meals at table and sharing what we have,
of solidarity and new life.
When you, the Sacred, took on flesh,
You sought neither thrones nor prestige,
but made your friends among the outcast.
Sex workers.
The imprisoned.
The hungry and the ill.
The fed up and the weary.
Though you were presented with every opportunity
to seek importance among the elite,
to the end, you choose the edges,
making your home among the vulnerable,
living in solidarity with the criminalized and despised.
we hope to be strange like you.
Strangers to all that normalizes evil,
to power that corrupts,
to practices that demean or neglect.
Make us faithful to the peculiar calling of Christ.
Unafraid to bear the names of the despised.
Firmly planted in the confidence of your Holy Mystery –
the strange love that calls us to fight with and for each other,
and awakens us to the joy you set before us.
Let’s take a moment to offer our authentic selves, gifts, and thoughts to God…
God, we offer up all that we are, and all that we are not
All that we have and all that we have not
All that we know and all that we know not
That you might bless these gifts to
The questions and practices
That embody you in this world.  Amen.
Hymn    Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
              John Greenleaf Whittier (1872) Public Domain, sung by the Northern Baptist Association and used with their kind permission.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways;
reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.
In simple trust 
like theirs who heard
beside the Syrian sea
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word
rise up and follow thee.
O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt 
to share with thee
the silence of eternity,
interpreted by love!
With that deep hush subduing all
our words and works that drown
the tender whisper of Thy call,
as noiseless let Thy blessing fall
as fell Thy manna down.
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls 
the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.
Breathe through 
the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

As we move on from this time and space
Let’s seek the foolishness
To ask the revealing questions
And to challenge limiting norms.
As we move on from this time and space
We know that we go with the blessing of God,
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,

This material is only for use in local churches not for posting to websites or any other use.  Local churches must have copyright licences to allow the printing and projection of words for hymns.


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Saturday 18 March 2023

St Matthew 21: 23 – 27
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’  Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?”  But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’  So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

The chief priests and the elders were not happy.

Yesterday Jesus had caused havoc. First he had stirred the city of Jerusalem into turmoil, leaving everyone asking who he was. Then he went straight to the temple and turned over the tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves. Next he had the temerity to hold court inside the Temple, purporting to cure the blind and the lame and rudely rebuffing those who remonstrated with him when children began to call out ‘Hosannah to the Son of David!’.

Now Jesus was back again, teaching the people as though he owned the temple. So they accosted him, knowing that they were in the right – that they had the right, because they were in charge, as their caste had been for centuries (albeit now with the shadow of the Romans ever present). They didn’t beat about the bush. ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’

Jesus, like the seasoned teacher he was, answered their question with one of his own. One that reminded Matthew’s audience that it was at Jesus’ baptism that he had received confirmation of his authority from heaven and that the Spirit had descended upon him then, making him the anointed one, the Messiah.

Jesus’ question also left the chief priests and the elders in a quandary. The people believed in John and they did not. They could not or would not believe that either John’s or Jesus’ authority came from heaven, because that would have meant drastic changes to their understanding of God and God’s purposes, and, as a consequence, to their lives.

The question for us, is what do we believe and are we willing to let our beliefs change our lives?

Lord Jesus,
all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to you.
Help us not simply to believe this,
but to let our beliefs change us and the way we live our lives,
that we may become every more true to your image in us.
Thanks be to God

Today’s writer

The Rev’d Jacky Embrey, minister in the Bolton and Salford Missional Partnership.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Friday 17 March 2023

St Matthew 21: 18 – 22
In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea”, it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.’

I do feel sorry for the fig tree, it’s done nothing wrong. If you look at the parallel account in Mark’s gospel it also tells us that it wasn’t even the season for fig. A little bit of digging shows that the fruiting season is August but small semi-fruit can grow in spring. If none shows in spring it’s a sign of a poor harvest later. 
It seems the passage is less about this one fig tree than Jesus not being able to see fruit around him, fruit of the spirit that would grow and carry the seeds of the Good News.  It’s partly a miracle (not healing but harming) partly a parable. 
The tree is condemned to wither because it is fruitless, but what of the disciples and us?
This passage is set on the short journey from Bethany to Jerusalem and looking at the lie of the land about half way on your route you would have to climb near Bethphage up to the brow of the Mount of Olives. From here you have a view looking over Jerusalem.
There’s a subtlety  to the mountain reference that I don’t think I’d seen before, Jesus isn’t simply saying here that you can uproot any mountain, but this mountain in particular, and put together with the reference to the fig tree you can hear a call to the disciples to go out and be witnesses because no-one here is either equipped or prepared to take the Good News out.
This passage asks us to have faith in how we pray, to trust. It calls us to be engaged in active prayer that guides us, challenges us, comforts us, upsets us… but ultimately prayer that connects us with a God who loves us and shows us how to love, to bear fruit and to begin to move mountains.
God of fig and mountain
Hear our prayers
Help us to own the words we pray
May we pray with confidence that you will use us to make our prayers active.

Today’s writer

Sam Goodman, Elder, Central Derby URC

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Come & join us on Sunday 19 March at 11:00

Everyone will be very welcome – especially mothers & grandmothers!  Come and bring your friends.

We will celebrate Mothering Sunday, thinking of all those who give the love and care of a mother to the children, young people and adults in our community. It will be a child-friendly service with songs, a quiz, crafts and Bible study with Junior Church leading the prayers and readings. 

Daffodils will be handed out and it will be a great opportunity to worship together.

Worship Notes and Weekly Intercessions for Lent 4

Dear Friends,

this week’s Worship Notes for the Fourth Sunday of Lent have been prepared by the Rev’d Dr Alex Clare-Young and can be found here.  Alex examines two of the readings set for today: 1 Samuel 16:1-13  (where Samuel meets Jesse and his sons to discern which of them is called to serve as king) and St John 9:1-41  (where Jesus meets a blind man).  Alex suggests in these encounters people were asking the wrong questions.  Samuel and Jesse ask the wrong questions about who is to be king and the disciples around Jesus ask the wrong questions about the blind man.  Alex suggests the insights of Disabled Theology mean we often ask the wrong questions instead of listening to what disabled people themselves say.  As ever all the prayers needed for worship, a selection of hymn suggestions and notes to help build a sermon are included.

The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray King has prepared this week’s intercessions.  They can be used in Sunday worship, small groups or for personal use.  My iPad doesn’t seem able to load up the file (and I’m away at the moment) so here are the prayers for you to cut and paste:

Weekly Intercessions Sunday 19th March
The Fourth Sunday of Lent

God of all places and all people,  
We come to you today in the place we are, 
with people on our minds.  
Praise you for people who have shown us new things and new thinking this last week.  
Thank you for those who have been willing to think differently, 
prompted by comments from Gary Linekar 
and those who affirmed, accompanied, and responded to him.  
Thank you for people whose hearts are open 
to mystery, to grace and to attentive listening.  
Thank you for that amazing person who asked each of us the right question.  
We stop and think of that question from that one amazing human.  
Bless them as each of us recalls.  
On this Mothering Sunday, 
we thank you for people who have mothered us in our lives, 
nurturing our growth and grace. 
We each take a moment to recall a mothering time 
from that one who truly helped and loved us without judgement or condition.  
As we scan the news and find a bank closing and another rescuing,  
homes saved from dereliction to provide shelter, 
people drowned in boats as they seek such shelter, 
people awarded for incredible talent, 
people neglected in corridors; 
God, it feels overwhelming.   
Give us grace to ask questions and seek answers 
before we come to our own assumptions about the issues we try to understand.  
Give us the imagination to experience Jesus noticing issues with us. 
Help us know his searching question; 
the one which will help us see deeper than the surface.  
In this silence, we pray for all those issues preying on our mind.  
Finally, dearest trusted God, 
may we all be healed of all that harms us in body, mind and spirit.  
We bring these prayers in the name of Jesus Christ 
and in the power and presence of Holy Spirit.  

I hope these resources continue to be of use to you and your congregations.

with every good wish


The Rev’d Andy Braunston
Minster for Digital Worship

St Matthew 21: 1 – 11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

There are no palms in this reading for Palm Sunday but that doesn’t detract from the drama.  From the start Jesus’s entry to Jerusalem is deliberately stage-managed.  Jesus instructs the disciples with authority; he chooses not to approach Jerusalem on foot like other pilgrims but to ride a donkey like an eastern monarch, garments spread on the road before the beast in token of subjection.  This is an intentionally symbolic action for the benefit of his disciples.  Here surely is Israel’s king, coming to his kingdom.
Yet Matthew’s readers are also given to understand that this is not a military triumph. The animals are the clue.  The strange image of Jesus riding a donkey and its colt is a cogent reminder that Zechariah’s prophecy (9.9) is now fulfilled.  This king Jesus is Israel’s long-expected deliverer, the Messiah.  As if there were any doubt, Matthew associates it with the joyful acclamation of the Messiah in Psalm 118. 25-26.
Jerusalem, however, does not understand that its king has come and prophecy fulfilled.

Jesus is acclaimed by those going with him to Jerusalem, not those inside the city and this anticipates upcoming events.  In his Passion, he will be humiliated but in his Resurrection he will also be glorified. 
How may we connect this story with our own situation?   Like the first readers of the Gospel, we experience increasing uncertainty and latent fear of the future.  Our context arouses fear of economic decline, increasing destruction of the natural world, wars rashly started with incalculable consequences.    But as followers of the risen and glorified Christ we may with confidence face the challenges of the present in the triumphant hope of the Resurrection.


Gracious God,
Fix in us the image of your Son in glory 
To sustain us in the path of discipleship,
That we may pass over with him to newness of life.
May his name be blessed.  Amen

Tuesday 14th March 2023

St Matthew  20: 29 – 34

As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!’ Jesus stood still and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.


Sitting by the roadside sounds so passive, so helpless. I suppose they were there to beg, dependent on other people’s generosity, trying to catch the crowds of folk who would be going into or leaving Jericho. Even so, they’re firmly connected to what is going on, and when Jesus comes by they know about it – and who he is. Which is more than a lot of the folk around them. Maybe it’s years of having folk walk on by as they beg that gives them the courage and tenacity to keep shouting. Even when told bluntly to shut up.

And they are rewarded when Jesus asks for them to be brought to him. He gives them his full attention, treats them and their needs with respect, and gives them what they ask.

I wonder how quickly we give up when our prayers aren’t answered the way we want? Can we find reassurance and encouragement in this passage to keep shouting for Jesus’s attention to our needs?
And when he answers our prayers, do we trot off back into our own lives – or like the two men in this story, do we respond by following him?


Loving, caring Lord Jesus,
Help us trust that you hear all our prayers,
Know and respect our needs,
And will always answer with whatever is best for us
And in line with your loving and holy will. 
Enable us to persist, trustingly, in prayer. Amen.

St Matthew 20: 20 – 28

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him.  And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’  But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’  He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’ When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave;  just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’


A mother kneels before Jesus and asks a favour.  Earlier in Matthew’s gospel someone suffering from leprosy kneels before Jesus and asks to be healed, and a leader of the synagogue kneels before Jesus asking him to restore life to his daughter who has just died.  I imagine that there were many more, unrecorded, who knelt and asked.

You and I may or may not kneel in prayer, but, kneeling, sitting or standing, as we pray we share with these characters from the gospel the same longing and hope for those we love and for ourselves.

However, this mother’s plea is not for healing or for the restitution of life.  It is for a position of privilege for her sons in the coming kingdom.   Jesus cannot grant her request.  He can only promise suffering, and use the incident as a springboard to teach a fundamental truth.  Sacrificial service is the way of greatness.  He came not to be served but to serve.  They must do the same.  So must we.

Coming back, then, to a mother’s prayers, what should we pray for our children?  What should we pray for ourselves and for each other in the church?  Clearly not for success or status, good salary or trouble-free lives!  Nor even subtly disguised versions of those things.  Rather, that God may put them (and us) in situations where people need help. And that God may supply the strength and love needed to act effectively.

I am reminded of the story of Dr Hawa Abdi, who established a clinic serving tens of thousands when civil war broke out in her home country, Somalia.  Her daughters recall how even when they were very young their mother’s mantra was “Help your people.”  No wonder that as adults they followed her example.

From Heaven, You came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served but to serve
And give Your life that we might live.
You are our God, The Servant King
You call us now to follow You
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King.
So let us learn how to serve
And in our lives enthrone You
Each other’s needs to prefer
For it is Christ we’re serving.
Adapted from Graham Kendrick
The Servant King lyrics © Thank You Music Ltd., Make Way Music

Recommended reading!

‘The sun shone on London for 5 October 1972.  Three thousand people, Congregationalists and Presbyterians, gathered to become the United Reformed Church, celebrating the fruition of nine years’ work and full of hope for the future.  Leading churchmen danced in the aisle. They did not rejoice for the creation of a new Church, they hailed the dawn of a new age of the reunion of Churches.’

In this highly readable account, to mark the URC’s jubilee year, Stephen Tomkins takes us through the story of the Church from 1972 to 2022.

Price:  £7.99 from the URC Bookshop.  Order a copy here.