Sermon and prayer 15th October

Readings Philippians 4, 1-9  Matthew 22, 1-14


Paul was writing from prison, likely chained to the floor or wall, in pretty inhumane conditions, under threat of death by an occupying state which didn’t recognise his religion or his God.

He was writing (and Philippians is likely a collection of at least three letters written at different times) to a tiny but growing church, in fact after Paul’s time Philippi became a major centre of Christianity in this part of Greece. He’d visited them on three occasions, the first having had such impact that the church was started and grew rapidly.

But we see from his letter that the church was not without issues, divisions and disagreements were getting in the way of mission, of making more disciples, although it appears the church were very generous, probably a mark of the prosperity of the area as being on a major trading route and with gold mines nearby..

And Paul wrote, amongst all his difficulties as he faced death “Rejoice in the Lord always, I say again rejoice”.

He was aware that the church needed to refocus on God, he encourages (as we have heard preciously) those who disagree to have “the mind of Christ” and reminds them of those things it is important to focus on-

“whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever Is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about these things.”


As I read of Paul’s sense of faith and hope from in prison, I was reminded somewhat of Terry Waite and how his faith sustained him in captivity and how his story has impacted so many- it’s an example we have from our culture, so perhaps we can see why Paul had such an influence.

But when we come to church this Sunday with the events of the world hanging heavy in our thoughts, the atrocities from both sides in Israel and Gaza, never mind the ongoing missile attacks on civilians in Ukraine, the forgotten wars in Sudan and Libya, Yemen, Columbia, Nigeria and so many other places what should our response be? Do we remember them in our prayers all the time giving thanks that none of that is happening here, do we despair with many other commentators that it’s never going to end, do we condemn the warmongers from our position of privilege- what do we do? Let’s hear again:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”


It is all too easy, as we’ve heard in previous weeks to centre our thoughts on the things of humanity rather the concerns of God, but equally if we appear to be spending all our time rejoicing in Lord and praying, we could be accused of being out of touch with reality.

Being literally a world away from such worldly issues in our tiny paradise it can be too easy to voice our concerns, pray and then continue with our daily life here with our selfish protection of our privileged tax free comfortable life, conveniently placing the concerns of the suffering world in a box of distant compassion and failing to see those in our own communities who suffer, admittedly not in the same way. And, like the church at Philippi, to allow our disagreements and complaints both within our churches and within the community to become barriers to Christ’s mission for his church.

In our reading from Matthew’s gospel, we heard a parable, told also in Luke with a slightly different emphasis, but here, as Matthew has said in our readings in previous weeks “The Kingdom of heaven is like….” And we go on to hear about the kings invite to the wedding feast, those who refuse to come, and then the invite to all to come. Of course we can over-literalise the allegories in the parable and make our own decisions about the cruel judgement of the King towards those who either refused the invite or turned up in the wrong clothing, but the underlying implication or moral of a Kingdom that ultimately invites all, yet those who refuse to come face judgement and those that come along for a free ride reminds us of just what God offers the world.

 And Jesus was saying not only do you need to accept the invitation to enter God’s kingdom and enjoy the banquet, you have to do your part, make the effort, make the right preparations, wear the right garment, the robes of righteousness, or, reflecting Paul’s words again

“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, think on these things”

Paul’s answer, his admonition to put God first, also reminded us that God is still there, God is still in control even when humanity seems out of control, Paul’s words bring us back to the concerns of God, to “having the mind of Christ” as he says. And Christ will be weeping at the inhumanity, at the hatred at the misunderstanding of difference or race, of the squabble for land, of the excuse of religion, of the persistence of distrust, of the defiance against negotiation, of the refusal to seek peace or live together with difference.

And he would speak out, for justice, and love, for peace- in his time on earth the authorities, secular and religious labelled him a troublemaker, a revolutionary- it took him to his death, yet he took death and turned it into hope. And if that is not a message for a world in the state it is, then what hope is there? Which doesn’t mean shoving Christianity down the throats of those with different beliefs, but it does mean having the mind of Christ as we deal with, we communicate with, we think and pray about and we learn to love all we meet, and all we pray for,

(even those who are so difficult to love) and to show them the ways of love against the tragedies of war.

As I despaired this week at the intransigence of both sides in Israel and Gaza and the suffering innocents on both sides, I was reminded again of what seemed for so many years an impossible problem in Northern Ireland as we saw day in, day out bombings and shootings and awful scenes on our televisions so close to home. But there is peace there now, people live with difference, they often don’t agree, but there is no conflict, people live side by side.

And despite the death and suffering we are seeing today, I hold fast in my mind the peace of God which, as Paul says, transcends all understanding. Because, as Christians, if we cannot believe in that peace, if we cannot hold out that peace for all to see, then we are like the man who turned up at the king’s banquet not wearing the wedding clothes and are not worthy to be called followers of Christ.


Prayers of Intercession


Creator God, whose peace is beyond our understanding, rest our minds a while in your presence, still our thoughts and bind our hearts, that we may know that you are God and we are you children.


We lift before you your hurting world, perfected in your creation, fractured by our inhumanity and bleeding with the wounds of hatred and division. We pray for our brothers and sisters in Palestine and Israel that in all the pain and complexity, in all the years of bitterness and oppression that a way to peace might be found, that the innocents suffering may be freed from terror. Surround those who suffer, those who mourn, those who cry out in despair with your comfort and hope and may the tears that flow become rivers that wash hatred away and bring new springs of compassion. We pray too for Ukraine and so many places where war seems endless, where hope’s light is clouded by the dark clouds of hatred, propaganda and mistrust.


Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer


Living God, whose kingdom stretches over all, whose presence is all around us yet so often unseen like the air we breathe, we pray for your church, here on this island, throughout the Bailiwick and worldwide. Give us courage to do your will, to speak your words, to seek your justice. Give us wisdom to discern your ways, to seek the mind of Christ, and to understand the concerns of our neighbours. Renew our love that we might be the voice of compassion, the healing touch, the arm of comfort and the patient ear. Strengthen us by your Holy Spirt that we might be one in Christ in all our individuality, that as we break bread, we might mend division, as we share wine we might share the love we find in you.


Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer


Healer God, who through Christ brought wholeness and healing to all he touched, reach out and touch all those who suffer in mind, body or spirit. We pray for those who have lost loved ones, or where the memory of loss is still painful .We remember in a few moments of silence those who are close to our hearts who need your comfort………………


Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer


Holy God, keep us in all righteousness, clothed with the robes of your banquet, ready to do your will, in the name of your son, our saviour, Jesus Christ, Amen