Sharing Our Faith Together

Worship for 3 April 2022, 5th Sunday in Lent

by Rev Jacky Quarmby 3 April 2022

Welcome to our worship today which celebrates our Women's Fellowship.

Song: There's a quiet understanding

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Opening Prayer
Help us, loving God, in this hour to draw close to you
So that our minds may be filled with the vision of your goodness, 
Our hearts may be touched by the warmth of your presence
Our spirits may be refreshed by your living water 
And our bodies may be strengthened for your service.
For we ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen

Introduction to service
Welcome to worship this morning – it is special as it is the annual celebration service for the Tuesday Women’s Fellowship and we are very pleased to have members of the Tuesday Fellowship with us this morning to help lead our service.   

The Women’s Fellowship – Clarice 

A prayer for the Fellowship
Loving God,
We thank you for the Tuesday Women’s Fellowship. We thank you for the friendship and support that it has provided over so many years.  We thank you for its generosity towards those in need and its loving concern for those experiencing sadness and trouble.

We pray that you will continue to bless the work of the Tuesday Fellowship and to encourage its members as they meet together week by week.  Guide them, we pray, as they journey with you into the future.  For we ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn:  Angel voices ever singing

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Reading:  Isaiah 43: 16 – 21 

Thoughts on the passage from Isaiah
God says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing.”

In this passage, God is speaking through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel, who are in exile in Babylon.  They have lost everything – their land, their homes, their livelihood, their families – and to some extent they have lost sight of God as well.  Many were asking: where was God when Jerusalem was destroyed and our people carried into exile? Why has God allowed this to happen to us?  

Here, God reminds the people that He is the God who has delivered in the past – the God who parted the sea to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt – and He will deliver again.  

God’s people are reminded, as we are reminded, that our God is the God who makes a way, where there is no way - who is able to create streams of living water in the desert and bring new life into even the parched, dry places.  So when things are bad – we need to hold on, trust in the Lord and keep faith.  For God will do a new thing.

Here in this passage, Isaiah shows us that God is a God of the present and the future – and not just any future, but a future full of hope and promise.  

Song:  Lord I come before your throne of grace

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Reading:  John 12: 1 – 8 

Reflection – Extravagant Generosity 
Some time ago now, I read a book called “Chocolat” by Joanne Harris.  It is set in a French village.  A vibrant young woman moves into the village square with her daughter and opens a chocolate shop.  The shop is right next door to the church – which dominates village life – everyone must go there and be seen to go there.  

The priest is a rather severe and intense young man, with a formidable sense of duty, but little sense of humour.  And he is horrified when the new chocolate shop opens on Ash Wednesday, right at the beginning of Lent, when everyone should be fasting and looking sorry for themselves, not indulging in luscious cream-filled chocolates.  

What emerges from the novel is the contrast between the joyless priest, whose life is hedged around with rules and restrictions and the young woman whose life is free and open to those around her.  The intense young priest, so determined to keep his flock faithful by constantly reminding them of their sinfulness, could not touch the lives of the villagers in the way that the young woman was able to – with her generous gifts of special chocolates to those who were upset and her listening ear and cups of hot chocolate for those who were alone. In these small ways, she lifted peoples’ spirits giving them confidence and courage to face each new day and find goodness in it.

The church has often in the past been associated with joylessness – a refusal to participate in the fun things in life – in dancing or partying or even going to the theatre.  Like the severe young priest, we can give the impression that being a Christian is a duty and a chore – that we do it, because it is the right thing to do – not because we get any pleasure out of it.  And that’s why it is good to reflect on this wonderful passage from John’s Gospel … and to remind ourselves what it really means to be a follower of Jesus.

In the passage, we read that it is six days before the Passover and Jesus is in Bethany with his disciples in the home of his good friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  Jesus is relaxing over a meal that Martha has prepared for them all.  Then Mary takes a very costly perfume, anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair.  It is a totally unexpected and utterly extravagant act of devotion.  But why does she do it?  

Well, firstly, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, because she loves him and she wants to do something special for him.  Mary has accepted what the other disciples have refused to accept, that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die – and so she anoints his feet – it is a prophetic act – a sign that Mary is preparing Jesus for his burial.

Secondly, Mary makes this extravagant gesture, because she wants to express her overwhelming gratitude.  Mary is so grateful to Jesus, because only days before, Mary’s brother Lazarus had died, and Jesus had brought him back to life again.  And there he was, Lazarus, sitting at the table with them – alive and well.  Mary could not thank Jesus enough for this amazing miracle.

And thirdly, Mary was expressing her discipleship by washing Jesus’ feet.  At Bethany, Jesus received from Mary what he would soon offer to his own disciples.  Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair – just as in days to come Jesus would wipe his disciples’ feet with a towel.  

Such extravagant generosity – overflowing out of a heart that was full of love and thankfulness.   Who could possibly object to such a wonderful act of kindness?  

Well, we know in life, that no matter what we do, however good and well-intentioned – someone, somewhere will find fault with it.  And here – that person is Judas Iscariot.

Judas grumbles: “What a waste! Why was this ointment not sold and the money given to the poor?”  A reasonable objection perhaps – except that Judas is a hypocrite.  He is not really interested in the poor, he is just interested in himself and what he can do with the money, if he gets his hands on it.  

And Jesus replies, “Leave her alone.  She bought this perfume, so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.  You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me”.  

Now some have taken these words by Jesus to mean that we don’t have to keep giving to the poor – but that’s not what Jesus is saying.  Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 15: 11, which says, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be open-handed towards those of your people who are poor and needy.”  

What Jesus is saying is this, “You must always give generously to the poor, because the poor are always with you – but I won’t be, so this gift of love is special and it means a lot to me.”

Some of our cathedrals and churches have been built at such cost and with such devotion – beautiful stained-glass windows, lovely murals, intricate engravings tucked away in unseen corners.  Are they a waste of money?  Some might say so – but over the centuries, their light and beauty have led people into God’s presence – and in leading people to open their hearts to God, they have also led people to open their hands to those in need.   

For disciples of Jesus, it is not a question of either/or – giving either to God/or to the needy it is a question of both/and – extravagant acts of compassion and generosity should be the hallmark of a disciple – not tight-fisted meanness.

After all, when we live generously and abundantly, we are following the example of Jesus.  When Jesus changed water into wine at Cana, he didn’t produce a few jugs of wine that would just about last until the end of the party, Jesus produced 180 gallons of the finest wine the wedding host had ever tasted.  And when Jesus fed 5000 hungry people with loaves and fish by the Sea of Galilee, there were twelve big baskets of leftovers remaining.  Wherever Jesus is present, there is abundance, not scarcity.  And nowhere do we see this more clearly, than on the cross – where Jesus poured out his love and his life so abundantly for us.

Mary expressed her love for Jesus, by anointing his feet with perfume … how will we express our love to Jesus?

And how can we, like Mary, reflect Jesus’ extravagant generosity in the way we live our lives?

Questions for each of us to ponder as we move towards Holy Week … let us pray …

Loving and generous God: 
As we reflect on your generous love for each one of us, we are grateful. 
We thank you for Jesus who freely gave of himself to all people. 
Help us to receive the generous love of Jesus poured out for us. 
Teach us how to reflect this love in our own lives. 
May we be abundant, generous and joyful like Mary of Bethany. 
May we have the same attitude to others that Jesus had  and give our time and our money freely to help those in need.
As we approach Good Friday and Easter, prepare our hearts and minds to receive and share your life-giving love. 
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen

Song:  May the fragrance of Jesus fill this place

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Prayers of Intercession 
Loving God, we pray for all those who live in places where there is war 
Loving Lord Jesus, bring healing, bring peace

We pray for all those who are scarred by conflict and violence
Loving Lord Jesus, bring healing, bring peace

We pray for all those who find it hard to forgive someone
Loving Lord Jesus, bring healing, bring peace

We pray for all those who are ill
Loving Lord Jesus, bring healing, bring peace

We pray for all those who are anxious about many things
Loving Lord Jesus, bring healing, bring peace

We pray for all those who are sad because someone they love has died
Loving Lord Jesus, bring healing, bring peace

We pray for ourselves and the things that worry us
Loving Lord Jesus, bring healing, bring peace
For we ask these prayers in your name.  Amen

The Women’s Fellowship Prayer – Clarice

Hymn: Ye servants of God, your master proclaim

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The Blessing
May your feet walk in the way of the Lord
May your voice speak the word of the Lord
May your hands serve God in blessing others
May you know the peace of God now and always.

And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you all evermore.  Amen