O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
as your kingdom dawns,
turn us from the darkness of sin
to the light of holiness,
that we may be ready to meet you
in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Lord has punished me sorely,
but he has not given me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
Come, O Lord, and save us we pray.
Come, Lord, send us now prosperity.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
we bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God; he has given us light.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
Reading: Matthew 7.21, 24-27
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’
How firm are the foundations of our faith? For many of us, our journey into Christianity was a social ‘rite of passage’ rather than a pilgrimage of faith. Not long after we were born, our parents took us to the local church to be baptized (or Christened). Some years later, after years of attendance at Sunday School or years of singing in the Church Choir we were ‘prepared’ for confirmation. Not many of us will remember much of this process! Then, we were summoned to a special service when a man in strange clothes (it was always a man in those days!) would lay his hands on our heads and say words that we did not quite understand. For many of us that special service would have made us feel ‘warm inside’, ‘excited’, ‘keen to go on in a different way’. Then (again, for most of us) the reality dawned that things did not feel that different. We continued to go to our local church, and now we could receive Holy Communion, but, otherwise, things were not that different. We had, in fact, built the next storey in our faith journey but the foundations were not that strong.
Today’s reading is asking the question with which I opened this reflection: how firm are the foundations of our faith? Jesus is warning us that just saying: Lord, Lord, will not make us Christians. Just knowing the order of service from memory is not what God wants of his faithful followers. God would much rather we approached worship with uncertainty and apprehension than with arrogance and self-assurance. This, of course, applies to clergy as well as laity!
So many people in this world consider their familiarity with Church to be sufficient. Today Jesus is telling us, in very clear and direct terms, that this is not the case. Our journey into faith is just that … a journey. For some it is a short journey that is marked by a single moment of revelation, for the vast majority it is a slow and plodding journey that takes many twists and turns, that loses its way and is marked by struggles to get ourselves back on the right road.
This month of December, just like every December, provides us with an example of what Jesus means when he speaks to us in today’s reading. On 25th December we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. The four weeks before that great moment of celebration is a time of prayer and preparation. The season of Advent is a time when we should be reconsidering our relationship with God. The majority of the month of December should be a time for us to hear the call of John the Baptist and to repent, that is to turn away from the road we are following and journey closer to Jesus. But … of course … we rarely do that. December is a month of bustle and worry. December is month of partying (other than in 2020, of course) and shopping. December is a month during which we exhaust ourselves. December is an opportunity we waste year in, year out.
On 25th December the birth of Jesus will be celebrated, but will the foundations of our faith be up to the strain? Will we have spent the time of preparation fretting over the differences between this 2020 and previous years, or will we have taken the opportunity to strengthen the foundations of our faith? I hope and pray that those foundations will have become so strong that the whole world will see the difference!
Prayers of Intercession
For wisdom and constancy in all people, let us pray to the Lord.
Keep the Church firm on the foundation of her Lord and Saviour, that she may hear his words and fulfil the works of faith. Let your people not be broken in the time of trial or found wanting in the time of judgement.
Give the strength that comes from you alone to the world where many build on weak foundations, trusting in riches, in position, in their own capacity. Grant that those who have the duty of planning for the lives of others may be guided with wisdom and foresight.
As we try to plan our own lives help us to remember that nothing is secure that does not rest on the foundation of faith. Be with those in positions of responsibility in this community, especially those concerned with housing and welfare.
Comfort those who have seen their hopes frustrated, who have built up careers or personal relationships that have fallen into ruin. Give them courage for a fresh start in the knowledge of the only sure foundation.
Have mercy on those who have come to judgement trusting in their own words and deeds. As they pass through the high waters of death, bring them to safety on the rock of salvation.
May our prayers be accepted through Jesus Christ, the eternal rock of our faith.
Prayer for the week
God of all hope and joy,
open our hearts in welcome,
that your Son Jesus Christ,
at his coming,
may find in us a dwelling prepared for him
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Lord of all, of Church and Kingdom,
in an age of change and doubt,
keep us faithful to the gospel,
help us work your purpose out.
Here, in this day’s dedication,
all we have to give, receive:
we, who cannot live without you,
we adore you! We believe!
Fred Pratt Green (1903–2000)