Today, the 12th June, becomes the feast of St Barnabas the Apostle, as the Feast of Corpus Christi took priority yesterday. Barnabas is, as you will know, the Patron Saint of encouragement and the Collect for the day is:
Bountiful God, giver of all good gifts, Who poured your Spirit upon Barnabas And gave him the grace to encourage others: Inspire us though his example To be generous in our judgements And unselfish in our service. This we ask through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen
Perhaps like you, when I look back on my life, I am so immensely grateful to those who saw, not who I was at any given moment, but who I could become through encouragement, and who then nurtured me through their belief and prayer for me. We all have a responsibility under God to be encouragers of others. People are far too keen to criticise, to condemn, to demand, to find fault with. One of the things which marks people out as saints is this capacity to encourage others toward being more fully the wonderful, unique people God has created them to be, to love people into wholeness and to believe in those who find it hard to believe in themselves. Part of how we encourage and build each other up is through doing for them what they might find it hard to do for themselves and that is to pray for them. When people say "I find prayer difficult" it may be because we find love difficult. Prayer is just an aspect of love. It is to bring someone into the presence of God, when we ourselves allow ourselves to encounter the presence of the living, loving God, who seeks communion with us and then allowing His love to penetrate their lives through us. Prayer is love, as love is prayer. For completely understandable reasons many of us use expressions such as "the elderly," "the unemployed," "carers," "primary school children," "the bereaved," "politicians," to describe various groups within society. It interests me that in the gospels, Jesus tells stories that effectively evoke something of the unique personality of the character being described, even when we are not told those people's names, because He sees people being of unique worth and wonder. Hence we have stories about "The Tax Collector," " The Widow," "The Woman at the Well," "The one who was called Legion," "The Prodigal Son," all of whom become real for us as believable human beings, even though they may also represent a group they may be described as coming from. I am aware that over recent months all of us have inevitably and understandably, used "group terms" in our prayers. How else could we encompass the complexity and variety of the people we need to be encouraging through our prayerful support for them? But in the same way as George Floyd became distinct for us from the People Of Colour whom he may have been a representative of to us, so too perhaps we would find it helpful to think of particular people when we pray, rather than a whole mass of people, thus allowing our prayers for a group or type of people to spring from our sense of a particular person. This is surely partly what Jesus was doing in the stories He told in the gospels, describing the motivations and behaviour of one person and, through them, allowing us to see and understand others more clearly, and even in some cases, ourselves. Were I only to pray for "the bereaved," "the elderly," " children," "politicians," "doctors, nurses and carers," if I am honest, I probably wouldn't feel able to do so that deeply. Whereas, if I were to imagine someone who would for me represent the more general range of people in that category, seeing them in my mind's eye, appreciating their foibles and frailties, sensing their pain, need and anxiety, I would then feel far more involved in praying for them, more invested in encouraging them, more committed to willing them on, because I would be praying for recognisable human beings with whom I can relate, empathise with, believe in, know. So, may I suggest that you try doing something similar when you carve out some time in your day to encourage others in your prayer, people who are in so much need of your encouragement? Choose to see someone representing the group of people you may wish to pray for on a given day. Don't try to pray for everyone, or every group of people, every day, make it more particular and personal. It's better to pray slowly and thoroughly than swiftly and impersonally. Imagine their faces, their skin, their eyes, their lips, their smile, their voices. Sense the questions they might be wrestling with, the pain they may be suffering with, the news they may have just heard, the homes they live in, the families they come from, the future they may be contemplating, the room they are sitting or standing or laying in. Allow them to become real to you as people who are as familiar to you as a close friend. Indeed, befriend them through your prayerful imagination. Then see Jesus coming into the space they inhabit, look at them, understand them, reach out to them with compassion, reassurance, sensitivity, power, encouragement, love. When it comes to prayer, none of us can really engage with the concept of a group in any meaningful way. Jesus always sought to encounter people personally. I don't think any healing miracle was ever performed generally or non specifically, they were always personal and particular when He reached out to another life, respectful of their uniqueness and wonder. So picture a carer, a nurse or a doctor when you pray for the NHS. See them in your mind, feel their weariness, know their commitment, be mindful of the years of experience and training behind them, see their hands, hear their breath, encounter who they are as you seek to encourage them in your prayer. And in praying for them, ask God to use your prayer to encourage all those like them, whom they may represent. Picture an elderly man or woman, on their own all week apart from one swift visit from a volunteer who brings them a delivery of food. See the room they spend their waking lives in, perhaps sitting by a silent telephone in case someone rings, peering out of the window watching people pass, longing for someone to call. And then use this appreciation of a particular person to pray for all those experiencing the loneliness of lockdown. Picture a young girl or boy, unable to meet with friends, not yet permitted to re-attend school, shut in their room away from the increasing volume of their parents' arguments, using headphones to block out the noise of the shouts and the bangs of slamming doors, and pray for families undergoing the strain of social isolation, especially those experiencing abuse. Picture a politician, in a rare moment of self reflection, as they look at themselves in the unflattering light of a bathroom mirror. Allowing the weight of the last few weeks to be acknowledged, feeling the responsibility for so much that has gone wrong, taking no comfort in what may have done right which has made a positive difference to others, knowing that they need to put on a defiant face and project a positive message to the unrelenting questions of the media, even though they have diminishing confidence in their ability to do the job. Then see Jesus coming nearer to them and assuring them that they are not alone, that help is being offered and waiting to be invited to do so. And use this encounter to pray for all those feeling unequal to the task in hand, fatigued by responsibility, desperate for inspiration. The world is full of complicated, conflicted and caring people. We are not merely one of a group and certainly not one of a "herd," whether we have immunity or not. Each one of us has a dignity and a destiny given to us by our Creator. Each one of us has a value and a worth because we are all of God's making, saving and loving. So, let us reflect God's loving of all His children by praying in this more personal and particular way. Mindful of Barnabas' example, let us commit ourselves anew to encouraging others, seeking to encounter them in their uniqueness and wonder in our encounter with our listening, loving God, both in our prayers and also, like Barnabas, by looking for opportunities to say encouraging words to those who need them, that they may feel through us, something of the value and love which God has for them. . May He also encourage all of us who need encouragement. May we know that He believe in us, even when we find it hard to believe in ourselves. May He use our prayers for others to encourage them to continue to make the life-changing differences they long for, for themselves and for those they care about, that all of us may know that we are called to live, not in our own strength alone, but in the strength of the Holy Spirit which is given to us new every morning as the encouragement we need to live more full and fulfilling lives. With continued blessings and best wishes. Jeff
Please join us this Sunday for our Zoom Service, based on the Eucharist, as we enjoy communion with each other and seek communion with Christ. This service gives us all an opportunity to listen to the words of scripture together and to pray for all those throughout the world who seek God's healing, strength, inspiration, peace and blessing. If you would like to invite others to join us for the service, please do so by forwarding them the link below. All are very welcome.
Our readings will be:
Romans Chapter 5 verses 1-8 and John Chapter 15 verses 12-17.
O God, the strength of all those who place their trust in you,
Mercifully accept our prayers and, because of the weakness
Of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without you,
Grant us the help of your grace,
That in the keeping of your commandments,
We may please you both in will and in deed.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirt, One God, now and for ever.
THE GRENFELL BELL.
At 6pm on Sunday 14th June, the bell at St Mary's will be tolled 72 times as we recall the 72 lives which were lost at the Grenfell Tower fire three years ago.This will then be followed by a short silence as we pray for all those who were injured and those who continue to be effected by that tragic event, then by 3 tolls, as we remember that it was three years ago today. Wherever you are at 6pm on Sunday, please join us in prayer for those who died, those who survived and for all those who continue to fight fires in our city. Thank you.
ST MARY'S DOORS ARE OPENING!
From next week, you are warmly invited to come in to our church building, there to pray, during either of the following times: WEDNESDAY 17th JUNE 10am-12noon. SUNDAY 21st JUNE 4pm-6pm Please follow the direction of the Stewards, who will seek to ensure your safety and the wellbeing of others who wish to access our building for prayer. We will ask that you use the hand sanitiser which will be available when you enter and when you leave, else you can of course bring your own. Masks will not be required but of course may be worn. There will also be directions for where you may be seated, which we would appreciate you observing. Please ensure that you observe social distancing during your visit to us, remaining at least two metres or 6 feet away from the nearest person. Thank you for your co-operation. May God bless you and those for whom you pray. With every good wish, Jeff