O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
God of glory,
the end of our searching,
help us to lay aside
all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom,
and to give all that we have
to gain the pearl beyond all price,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Blessed are all those who fear the Lord,
and walk in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the toil of your hands;
it shall go well with you, and happy shall you be.
Your wife within your house
shall be like a fruitful vine;
your children round your table,
like fresh olive branches.
Thus shall the one be blest
who fears the Lord.
The Lord from out of Zion bless you,
that you may see Jerusalem in prosperity
all the days of your life.
May you see your children’s children,
and may there be peace upon Israel.
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.
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Down the centuries there have been many different ways of engaging with the life of the Church. At some points in history the majority have journeyed in parallel with the spiritual practices of an educated elite who were selected to offer prayer on behalf of those deemed to be unworthy. At other times there has been a compulsion for all to attend their local Church and to engage fully in the worship being conducted there. Today we find a more mixed economy: some attend Church, bringing with them a code of attitudes and beliefs which they expect others to respect and follow, while others seek a more spontaneous relationship with God. No matter what our personal feelings may be on the subject of Church membership and participation in public worship, because of our very human natures, we do not like to be seen as doing the wrong thing.
When I am on holiday I invariably attend worship in a local church. That often feels like going into a foreign land where I thought I was fluent in the language but where I suddenly know that I am lacking. No one can doubt that I know the liturgy of the Church of England, but each congregation seems to have the innate ability to make it incomprehensible to ‘outsiders’. In some churches I have been welcomed with open arms only to find myself being recruited for some rota or the other. In others I have been able to remain anonymous because it has been made perfectly clear that ‘outsiders’ are not welcome at all. Despite being on holiday, and therefore not wearing a clerical collar, I am often identified as being a priest because I have ‘a confidence’ in attending a ‘strange’ church that is not shared by other holiday makers.
As I sit, and try to pray, in churches that are unfamiliar, I often observe the local hierarchy acting out its weekly ritual. I can usually spot those who are valued by the local clergy and laity alike, just as I can spot those who are avoided for whatever reason. I can always see those who make a great show of getting things ‘right’, just as I can usually see those whose active participation in the mission and ministry of the church would not be welcome at all. It doesn’t take any insight to see those who like to be seen as the most ‘important’ and most ‘worthy’ members of those unfamiliar congregations.
Sadly, we do not have to be on holiday to see some of this. As you attend public worship look around you. What do you see? Do you see a social club that acts out a time of ritual or do you see a community of faith? Do you see an open and welcoming congregation that is eager to further the mission and ministry of Christ’s church or a coterie of local worthies who like to be seen doing the ‘right’ thing? Do you see a situation where the ragged and unpredictable Son of God would be welcomed or rejected?
Let us pray that we might set aside our need for the adulation of others and be Christ-like in our lives. Let us pray that the communities of faith to which we belong might be driven by love, prayer and service. Let us pray that we might welcome all into the light and joy of Christ, and not just those alongside whom we feel comfortable.
Prayers of intercession
Blessed are you, eternal God, to be praised and glorified for ever.
Hear us as we pray for your holy catholic Church: make us all one, that the world may believe.
Grant that every member of the Church may truly and humbly serve you: that the life of Christ may be revealed in us.
Strengthen all who minister in Christ’s name: give them courage to proclaim your Gospel.
Inspire and lead those who hold authority in the nations of the world: guide them in the ways of justice and peace.
Make us alive to the needs of our community: help us to share each other’s joys and burdens.
Look with kindness on our homes and families: grant that your love may grow in our hearts.
Deepen our compassion for all who suffer from sickness, grief or trouble: in your presence may they find their strength.
We remember those who have died: Father, into your hands we commend them.
We praise you for all your saints who have entered your eternal glory: bring us all to share in your heavenly kingdom.
Prayer for the week
Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
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.
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.