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If you’d like a little hope and joy on your daily walk, please do come and check out our pictures in St Andrew’s Church garden!

Painted by John Roberts, they tell the story of Easter.

**Please do adhere to the usual social distancing rules, thank you!**

If you’d like to get in touch with our vicar Felicity during these strange and difficult times, please email her on walters@revfelicity.plus.com . We have a church WhatsApp group and we’d love to welcome new members!
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PRAYER FOR THE DAY

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Gracious Father,
you gave up your Son
out of love for the world:
lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion,
that we may know eternal peace
through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.
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A sermon for today by a Vince Ryder.

St. Andrew’s, 29th March 2019
Ezekiel 37.1-14. Psalm 130. Romans 8.6-11. John 11.1-45

‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ (Ezekiel 37:4). Maybe a song comes to mind when we read the passage from Ezekiel. Any guesses which came to mind for me? If you guessed ‘Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones, now hear the word of the Lord’ you were right. If another song came to mind then feel free to share it in the comments. A Facebook sermon can become quite interactive when you think about it!

There was even an article about the song in the Financial Times back in 2016, in which a journalist by the name of Helen Brown wrote: “The melody was written in the 1920’s by the great African-American author and songwriter James Wheldon Johnson to give motivational oomph to the Old Testament tale of Ezekiel at a time when spirituals were a powerful binding force among black Americans.”

Now you’re probably not surprised to learn that I’m not an avid reader of the Financial Times, to say the least, but it was a surprise to me to find an article in that particular paper when I started ‘googling’ the song. Perhaps the folk who dabble in stocks and shares appreciate reading which broadens their horizons. One thing is clear though, Helen Brown, the author of the article had done her homework and she knew the context of Ezekiel’s vision.

I’m not sure how much ‘motivational oomph’ Ezekiel needed though. His ‘oomph’ was from God alone when he had a vision in which he was instructed to ‘prophesy to the bones’. He was a young priest when the Babylonians destroyed the temple at Jerusalem in about 587BC.

He may have dwelt in a riverside refugee camp among people who may have begun to lose faith. The ‘dry bones’ represented the people Israel and the prophecy was first intended for them. They were people who were ‘tired and weary’ but people who were still God’s own people, people who God cared passionately for.

If you look at Ezekiel’s prophecy to the bones, you’ll see that it comes in two stages, and also involves a conversation between God and Ezekiel - even prophets have to pray! In his vision God asks him ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ Ezekiel answered “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”.

Now the logical answer would be to say something like ‘No, they’re just dry bones, stripped of their flesh by who knows what’. But Ezekiel knows what the Lord is getting at, and that he has a part to play in the dry bones being restored.

So Ezekiel is first told to prophesy to the dry bones and “toe bone connected to the foot bone, foot bone connected to the heel bone, heel bone connected to the ankle bone…” ( sorry, couldn't stop myself there! ). The bones become bodies again and all seems set, but there needs to be stage two for ‘there was no breath in them’.

Ezekiel is then told to ‘prophecy to the breath’ - stage 2 was needed. Ezekiel carries on prophesying as commanded: ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live’ (Ezekiel 37:9b). The result is that breath enters the bodies of those slain, they come to life and arise as a ‘mighty army.’

Many of us feel weary from time to time, we need reviving when we are in our own version of the valley of dry bones. But we do have a Saviour we can turn to who declared “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10b). I guess Jesus knows we can’t always be bouncing around like we’re in some spiritual bouncy castle, but he is able to restore us when we are at our lowest. He is here for us in the good times and the bad,

I can feel another song coming on now: ‘Rejoice! Rejoice! Christ is in you. The hope of glory In our hearts He lives! He lives! His breath is in you, Arise a mighty army, We arise!’

I wonder if Graham Kendrick had Ezekiel's ‘mighty army’ in mind when he penned the song? The same ‘breath’ that gave life to the dry bones in the valley is the ‘breath’ of God’s life giving Spirit which we receive as Christians.

It is the same breath that brought life back to Lazarus, and to all of us who believe according to the promise Jesus gave to Mary and Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26a)

Many of us will have heard these words spoken at funerals as the coffin is brought into the church and the mourners process in. Sadly, many more than usual will here these words prematurely because of these unusual times, but the words and promises of Jesus still bring comfort and reassurance to those who answer ‘Yes’ to Jesus question.

Today marks the beginning of what the Church calls ‘Passiontide’, a Sunday which marks the last two weeks of Lent. The two weeks will take us once again through to the Cross and the Resurrection. We reflect upon them again in the midst of suffering and sacrifice and our reflection might bring us closer still into understanding the depth of God’s love and compassion.

Christians, like the ‘dry bones’ of the people Israel, are not immune from pain and suffering. Yet we can still trust in a Sovereign Lord, a God whose Spirit can still give life in the most troubling of times. He can turn our sorrow into dancing (I felt another song coming on) and can breathe life into ‘dese bones’ as well as ‘dem bones’.

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 8:11-14 in ‘The Message’ should also bring a smile to finish on:

‘When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s. So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

Now there's something to think and pray about!

Amen
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PRAYER FOR THE DAY

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Merciful Lord,
absolve your people from their offences,
that through your bountiful goodness
we may all be delivered from the chains of those sins
which by our frailty we have committed;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for Jesus Christ’s sake, our blessed Lord and Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Amen.
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This Sermon was originally going to be preached in Church today by Vince Ryder...

Hadfield, Wednesday 25th March - The Annunciation
Isaiah 7.10-14. Luke 1.26-38

When I telephoned my Mam with the news that we were expecting our first child, she was over the moon. Excitedly she said ‘Tell us all about it’. I don’t know what she was expecting to hear, because she must have known all about the mechanics of things. I can’t quite remember how I answered her, all I can remember is her delight and the question she asked.

I don’t think Jesus’ grandmother would have been that excited when she heard her daughter Mary’s news. According to tradition in the Catholic and the Orthodox church, her mother was called Anne. She’s said to have been married to Joachim, a patron saint of grandparents. I wonder how they reacted when Mary told them the news of the Annunciation.

My guess is that they would have been amazed by the news to say the least. Any loving parent wants what's best for their child and if Mary's parents were loving towards her and believed in the same loving Heavenly Father, then they would have started to think how best to cope with the new situation that their daughter Mary found herself in.

I wonder for instance, was it on Anne’s advice that Mary went to spend time with her cousin Elizabeth? Elizabeth, you might remember, had also been visited by an angel, she too was bearing a child whose arrival was announced by a heavenly messenger. You might also remember that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary greeted her and her own baby kept for joy in her womb.

The Holy Spirit may have given Elizabeth a word of knowledge and she blessed Mary saying “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear”. Elizabeth might also have been given a word about the identity of the child in Mary's womb, for she added ‘But why am I so honoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’

Of course we don’t know for sure how Elizabeth knew the circumstances of Mary's pregnancy, or the identity of the young Jesus growing secretly inside Mary’s womb, but we know one thing for certain, God was at work. Jesus was being welcomed by ‘kith and kin’. Elizabeth welcomed Mary and Mary welcomed the Lord’s favour despite her initial reaction to the angel’s news, and said ‘May it be to me as you have said’.

A song came to mind as I read these words again. We used to sing it here, maybe you’ll remember it. ‘Let me have my way among you, do not strive, do not strive’. It’s an old hymn, but it's message is a good one. In the hymn, God sings to us and we sing back to him. The Lord sings ‘Let me have my way among you’ and we sing back ‘We’ll let you have your way among us, we’ll not strive, we’ll not strive’.

That was Mary's reaction to the angel when she said ‘Let it be to me, according to your word’. She didn't strive or struggle, she accepted God’s will for her and her part in his amazing plan. Like Mary, we too have to accept God’s plan for our lives. God has a plan for each one of us. We might not always know it, or discern his hand in our lives, but we can rest assured that, according to his word, he has a plan for us.

His word reassures us: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

These were words which God first gave his people when they were exiled in Babylon, but they ring true for us, for sometimes this world and it's trappings seem very ‘foreign’. Jesus himself said that we were ‘in the world, but not of it’ and his brother James warns us not to be contaminated by it. The promise is true for us, we do not need to worry or strive about the future.

God’s peace ruled within Mary's heart and his peace can be within ours too. Like in the song again, the Lord sings ‘Let my peace rule within your hearts, do not strive’ and we respond ‘We’ll let your peace rule within our hearts, we’ll not strive, we’ll not strive’.

His peace is a free gift to us, a peace promised by Jesus ‘My peace I give unto you, my peace I leave you’. It is an unworldly peace which sustains us through the troubles of this world, just as Mary was sustained through her unplanned pregnancy.

The Bible tells us that all things work for good for those who love and serve the Lord. Mary declared ‘I am the Lord’s servant ‘, let's always be ready to make the same declaration.

Amen
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