Monday, 30 September 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 6 October 2019,
Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

‘World’s Smallest Seed,’ 40”x30” oil/canvas, by James B Janknegt

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 6 October 2019, is the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVI).

There are two sets of readings in the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, the continuous readings and the paired readings.

The Continuous readings: Lamentations 1: 1-6; Psalm 137: 1-6; II Timothy 1: 1–14; Luke 17: 5-10. There is a link to the readings HERE.

The Paired readings: Habbakuk 1: 1-4; 2: 1-4; Psalm 37: 1-9; II Timothy 1: 1–14; Luke 17: 5-10. There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! … She weeps bitterly in the night’ (Lamentations 1: 1-2) … a night scene in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Introducing the Readings

The Book of Lamentations is a painful account of the Prophet Jeremiah’s intense sorrow over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. As Rabbi David Aaron writes in Inviting God In, without the Temple, the people felt ‘out of touch with the presence of God within the world and within each other.’ He describes this as ‘a real tragedy and the real reason to mourn.’

But he points out that in the depth of his pain Jeremiah realises ‘that we cannot know the joy of being alive without experiencing the pain that comes with it, and that we should be thankful for the very ability to cry, since it is a sign of our ability to laugh and feel pleasure. Together they capture the miraculous experience of being alive.’

The pain and tears of that exile are recalled in the Psalm:

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
As for our lyres, we hung them up
on the willows that grow in that land.
(Psalm 147: 1-2).

In the New Testament reading, Saint Paul expresses his worries that in his isolation his former companion and fellow-missionary Timothy has neglected the faith. Paul recalls he has the same faith as his Jewish ancestors, and reminds Timothy that he has inherited this same faith from his mother and grandmother, who were practising Jews, and this faith has been strengthened by the gifts of the Spirit Timothy received at the laying on of hands.

Isolation and the feeling of a diminishing in faith are also at the heart of the apostles’ questions that lead to the parables in the Gospel story.

‘She lives now among the nations, and finds no resting-place’ (Lamentations 1: 3) … flags of the nations at a shop in Kalambaka in central Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Lamentations 1: 1-6:

When the Babylonians invaded Judah and occupied Jerusalem in 597 BC, they deported King Jehoiakim, Ezekiel and many leading citizens to Babylon and installed Zedekiah as their puppet king. Judah rebelled and achieved a degree of freedom until 587, when Nebuchadnezzar attacked again. This time, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, along with other towns in Judah, and people were deported in large numbers.

The five poems of Lamentations were written as laments in response to these events.

In this reading, Jerusalem is depicted as a widow who is mistreated and has no protection in law. Her lovers and friends are Judah’s former allies, including Egypt. Now she is a vassal of Babylon and they have become enemies.

The invasion by Babylon is seen as God’s punishment for Judah’s sins. Now God is seen as acting through Babylon, and not through Judah finds no resting, and appears to have withdrawn his promise. The Temple lies in ruins and no-one comes to Zion or Jerusalem to celebrate the festivals. Because of its disobedience, Israel’s foes are now the masters her children are captives. The leaders of the people who have escaped deportation have fled and now rule nothing.

‘By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. As for our lyres, we hung them up on the willows …’ (Psalm 137: 1-2) … willows by the banks of the River Cam in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Psalm 137: 1-6:

Psalm 137 was probably written after the return from exile in Babylon. The psalmist remembers the time when the people were deportees and sat down by the rivers of Babylon, which were fed by the Tigris and Euphrates. When their captors mocked them and called for songs praising Zion as the city where God dwells, they found it difficult to sing God’s praise for Jerusalem was in ruins.

Now, when this psalm is being sung back in Jerusalem and in the Temple, they can praise God. They are reminded not to forget God, Jerusalem and their joy.

‘Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner’ (II Timothy 1: 8) … a sculpture at Limerick Prison (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

II Timothy 1: 1-14:

Saint Paul says he was made an apostle as part of God’s plan of salvation to bring eternal life, found in Christ Jesus, to all. He explains that he worships God in continuity with his Jewish ancestors.

Recalling his separation from Timothy, he hopes his sorrow may be replaced with joy.

Saint Paul commends Timothy for his ‘sincere faith.’ The word faith occurs over 50 times in the pastoral letters, and appears in the lists of virtues in these letters. Faith includes doctrinal statements and fidelity. In rabbinic Judaism, faith is related to trust in God.

Timothy’s faith has been handed down from generation to generation, he has been given and received the gift of God through the laying on of hands by Saint Paul, but the spirit of power, love and self-discipline which he received as gifts at this time have been neglected Yet, despite that neglect, God has not withdrawn these gifts, and Paul urges Timothy to rekindle them. Timothy should follow Paul in his suffering in spreading the Gospel.

Our calling is based on God’s plan and his gift of grace, and Christ has brought eternal life. The body of faith has been entrusted to Paul until the day when Christ comes again. Timothy is urged to hand on these valuable teachings faithfully, relying on the Holy Spirit, which is present and active in us.

The sycamore fig, the mulberry and the fig are all related … a fig tree in Córdoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 17: 5-10:

In this Gospel reading, we are told that our relationship with God makes obedience to God a duty to be fulfilled and not an occasion for reward.

Christ has told his followers that there will be times when they will lose their faith. But if you cause another to do so, their fate will be worse than death (verses 1-2). He also tells them that if a fellow Christian sins, he is to be rebuked. If he repents, forgive him, no matter how often he sins and repents (verses 3-4).

The apostles now speak to Christ, asking him to give them enough faith to remain faithful.

They aske for an increase in faith. But I imagine, once again, like so many other occasions, are missing the mark. They want an increase in faith rather than a deepening of faith. It is one of those moments when the people involved think that quantity matters more than quality, and Chrst replies by giving a good illustration of how they might considered the concept that in many cases less may mean more and more may mean less.

The mustard seed, is very small, while the mulberry tree is large with an extensive root system, making it hard to uproot, but it would not take root in the sea. Christ tells them that with genuine faith, however small, anything is possible. The quality of faith matters more than the quantity.

Christ then tells a parable. Slaves were expected to do their duties, and no master would absolve a slave of them. So how then could a slave eat before his master? The master stands for God and the slave for his people.

There are two Greek words for service in this short passage:

In verse 8, note how the word to serve, διακονέω (diakonéo), relates particularly to supplying food and drink. It means to be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, wait upon. It is the same term that gives us the word ‘deacon’ in the ministry of the Church.

In the New Testament, the service of this type of servant is different to the role of a steward or a slave. It means to minister to someone, to render service to them, to serve or minister to them; to wait at a table and to offer food and drink to the guests. It often had a special reference to women and the preparation of food. It relates to supplying food and the necessities of life.

The second word, δοῦλος (doulos), in verses 7, 9 and 10, refers to a slave, someone who is in a servile condition. But it also refers metaphorically to someone who gives himself or herself up to the will of another, those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing the Kingdom.

The Greek word translated worthless (ἀχρεῖος, achreios, verse 10) means those to whom nothing is owed, or to whom no favour is due. So, God’s people should never presume that their obedience to God’s commands has earned them his favour.

Olive groves in Crete … why did Jesus talk about mustard plants and mulberry trees and not about olive trees? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Some reflections on the Gospel reading:

It is safe to say, I do not have green fingers.

Until recently, I had no interest in the garden. I like sitting in the garden, reading in the sunshine, listening to the sound of the small fountain, enjoying the shade of the trees, and in summertime, eating out in the open.

So, it is not that I do not enjoy the garden; it is just that I have always felt I would be no good at it.

It is an attitude that may have been nurtured and cultured from heavy hay-fever in early childhood, and hay-fever that comes back to haunt me persistently at the beginning of summer.

We once bought a willow tree, put it in the back of the car, and drove back across the city, with me holding on to it, in a small Mini in the early 1980s. By the time we got home, I was covered in rashes, and my eyes, ears and nose were in a deep state of irritation.

For that reason alone, you could not call me a ‘tree hugger.’ But do not get me wrong … I really do like trees.

I relish spending time in the vast, expansive olive groves that stretch for miles and miles along the mountainsides in Crete, or in vineyards where the olive groves protect the vines.

But I cannot be trusted with trees. I was once given a present of a miniature orange tree … and it died within weeks. I have been given presents of not one, but two olive trees. One, sadly, died. The other is still growing, but it is a tiny little thing.

Perhaps if I had just a little faith in my ability to help trees to grow, they would survive and mature.

You may wonder why Christ decides to talk about a mustard seed and a mulberry tree, rather than, say, an olive tree. After all, as he was talking, he must have been surrounded by grove after grove of olive trees.

But, I can imagine, he is also watching to see if those who are listening have switched off their humour mode, have withdrawn their sense of humour. He is talking here with a great sense of humour, using hyperbole to underline his point.

We all know a tiny grain of mustard is incapable of growing to a big tree. So what is Christ talking about here? Because, he not only caught the disciples off-guard with his hyperbole and sense of humour … he even wrong-footed some of the Reformers and many Bible translators.

So, what sort of trees are referred to in this reading?

Why did Christ refer to a mustard seed and a mulberry or sycamine tree, and not, say, an olive tree or an oak tree?

Christ first uses the example of a tiny, miniscule kernel or seed (κόκκος, kokkos), from which the small mustard plant (σίναπι, sinapi) grows. But mustard is an herb, not a tree. Not much of a miracle, you might say: tiny seed, tiny plant.

But he then mixes his metaphors and refers to another plant. Martin Luther, in his translation of the Bible, turned the tree in verse 6 into a mulberry tree. The mulberry tree – both the black mulberry and the white mulberry – is from the same family as the fig tree.

As children, some of us sang or played to the nursery rhyme or song, Here we go round the mulberry bush. Another version is Here we go gathering nuts in May. The same tune is used for the American rhyme Pop goes the weasel and for the Epiphany carol, I saw three ships.

TS Eliot uses the nursery rhyme in his poem The Hollow Men, replacing the mulberry bush with a prickly pear and ‘on a cold and frosty morning’ with ‘at five o’clock in the morning.’

Of course, mulberries do not grow on bushes, and they do not grow nuts that are gathered in May. Nor is the mulberry a very tall tree – it grows from tiny seeds but only reaches the height of an adult person.

It is not a very big tree at all; it is more like a bush than a tree – and easy to uproot too.

However, the tree Christ names (Greek συκάμινος, sikámeenos) is the sycamine tree, which has the shape and leaves of a mulberry tree but fruit that tastes like the fig, or the sycamore fig (συκόμορος, Ficus Sycomorus).

Others think the tree being referred to is the sycamore fig (συκόμορος, Ficus Sycomorus), a tree we come across a little later as the big tree that little Zacchaeus climbs in Jericho to see Jesus (see Luke 19: 4). We shall come across this tree and this story in a few weeks’ time in the Gospel reading on 3 November (the Fourth Sunday before Advent).

The sycamine tree is not naturally pollinated. The pollination process is initiated only when a wasp sticks its stinger right into the heart of the fruit. In other words, the tree and its fruit have to be stung in order to reproduce. There is a direct connection between suffering and growth, but also a lesson that everything in creation, including the wasp, has its place in the intricate balance of nature.

Whether it is a small seed like the mustard seed, a small, seemingly useless and annoying creature like the wasp, or a small and despised figure of fun like Zacchaeus, each has value in God’s eyes, and each has a role in the great harvest of gathering in for God’s Kingdom.

Put more simply, it is quality and not quantity that matters.

We are challenged to pay attention to the quality of our faith, our commitment, our hope, our love, and we will be surprised by the results.

Perhaps I should be paying more attention to that small olive tree on my patio.

Faith is powerful enough to face all our fears and all impossibilities. Even if our germ of faith is tiny, if it is genuine there can be real growth beyond what we can see in ourselves, beyond what others can see in us.

‘How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! … She weeps bitterly in the night’ (Lamentations 1: 1-2) … a scene at night in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 17: 5-10 (NRSVA):

5 The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ 6 The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.

7 ‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? 8 Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” ’

‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ (Luke 17: 10) … a stained-glass window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

O Lord,
Hear the prayers of your people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know
what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

Faithful God, have mercy on your unworthy servants,
and increase our faith,
that, trusting in your Spirit’s power
to work in us and through us,
we may never be ashamed to witness to our Lord
but may obediently serve him all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of mercy,
through our sharing in this holy sacrament
you make us one body in Christ.
Fashion us in his likeness here on earth,
that we may share his glorious company in heaven,
where he lives and reigns now and for ever.

‘If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill’ (Psalm 137: 5) … a painting of Jerusalem in a restaurant in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

Lamentations 1: 1-6:

563, Commit your ways to God
653, Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
135, O come, O come, Emmanuel
372, Through all the changing scenes of life

Psalm 137: 1-6:

398, Alleluia! sing to Jesus
135, O come, O come, Emmanuel

Habakkuk 1: 1-4, 2: 1-4:

643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
509, Your kingdom come, O God

Psalm 37: 1-9:

325, Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One, is here
563, Commit your ways to God
639, O thou who camest from above

II Timothy 1: 1-14:

261, Christ, above all glory seated!
102, Name of all majesty
33, O Lord of every shining constellation
639, O thou who camest from above
175, Of the Father’s heart begotten
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

Luke 17: 5-10:

563, Commit your ways to God
549, Dear Lord and Father of mankind
463, Give us the wings of faith to rise
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
446, Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands
601, Teach me, my God and King
372, Through all the changing scenes of life

‘How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! … She weeps bitterly in the night’ (Lamentations 1: 1-2) … a street scene at night in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The hymn suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000).

Monday, 23 September 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 29 September 2019,
Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity,
Saint Michael and All Angels

Lazarus and the Rich Man ... a panel in the East Window in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick, made in 1878 by Mayer & Co (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 29th September 2019, is the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XV).

The Continuous readings: Jeremiah 32: 1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91: 1-6, 14-16; I Timothy 6: 6–19; Luke 16: 19-31. There is a link to the readings HERE.

The Paired readings: Amos 6: 1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; I Timothy 6: 6–19; Luke 16: 19-31. There is a link to the readings HERE.

That Sunday is also the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. The readings for that feastday are:

Genesis 28: 10-17; Psalm 103: 19-22; Revelation 12: 7-12; John 1: 47-51.

This posting is divided into three sections:

1, Sunday 29 September 2019 as the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XV).

2, Sunday 29 September 2019 as the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels.

3, Sunday 29 September and resources for the Season of Creation.

Part 1, Sunday 29 September 2019 as the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XV).

‘Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land’ (Jeremiah 32: 15) … a vineyard and houses in Platanias, near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Jeremiah 32: 1-3a, 6-15:

King Nebuchadnezzar II (‘Nebuchadrezzar’) of Babylon made King Zedekiah the puppet ruler of Judah in 597 BC, so it is now 587. Most of the preceding poems are about the restoration of Israel, but in this passage Jeremiah speaks of the future of Judah.

When the Egyptian armies arrived in 588 and lifted the siege of Jerusalem, the people thought that their deliverance had come. But when Jeremiah warned them that their optimism was without foundation, he was arrested on his way home, imprisoned and then confined to house arrest.

Once the Egyptians left, the Babylonians put Jerusalem under siege again.

Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel visits him and asks him to buy his field in order to keep the land in the family. The deed of sale is signed, sealed and witnessed as if Judah is free. Jeremiah’s action symbolises his hope in the future and a time when people will be free once again be free to buy and sell property, to build houses, to till fields and to plant vineyards.

‘He shall cover you with his wings and you shall be safe under his feathers’ (Psalm 91: 4) … a modern painting on a ceiling in the Monastery of Rousanou in Meteora (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Psalm 91: 1-6, 14-16:

In this psalm, a priest or a prophet speaks in the Temple and depicts God is depicted as a bird protecting the young from a hunter or fowler, protecting faithful and those who trust in God: ‘He shall cover you with his wings and you shall be safe under his feathers, are protected from demonic perils’ (verse 4).

In the second section (verses 14-16), God speaks through a Temple official, confirming the teaching of the earlier verses. Knowing God’s name and understanding his ways includes seeking his help from him: he will help those who love him and know on his name.

‘If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these’ (I Timothy 6: 8) … a colourful fruit stall in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I Timothy 6: 6-19:

This reading is the concluding part of Saint Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Having warned against those who teach anything other than the faith passed down from Christ and the Apostles, he now says that there is great spiritual gain in teaching the truth, and those who do so are content with enough to pay for necessities such as food and clothing. On the other hand, false teachers want to be rich, hold senseless and harmful desires, and lead people astray.

He addresses Timothy as a ‘man of God,’ and urges him to ‘fight the good fight of the faith,’ and to ‘keep the commandment’ until Christ returns again. As for the rich members of the community, they are not to be haughty or to put their trust in their wealth and money. All these things are God’s own gifts, to be shared with others, for generosity such as this lays the foundations for the future.

Bonifacio Veronese, Dives and Lazarus, 1540-50. Oil on canvas, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

Luke 16: 19-31:

As we continue to read from Saint Luke’s Gospel, we hear a well-known parable about a rich man who feasts sumptuously and a poor man who begs at his gate each day.

The rich wears fine clothes of purple, and fine linen. Although we associate purple with the seasons of Advent and Lent and sometimes with funerals, purple is not a penitential colour, not wis it a colour of mourning at that time. It is a rich, royal imperial colour, originally derived from a very rare source. Πορφύρα (porphyra), the rare purple dye from Tyre, could command its weight in silver and was manufactured in classical antiquity from a mucus secreted by the spiny dye-murex snail. As a seller of purple, Lydia was a wealthy woman of independent means (see Acts 16). As Judith Herrin points out in her beautiful book on the powerful woman of Byzantium, Women in Purple, a child born to a reigning emperor was πορφυρογέννητος (porphyrogénitos), ‘born in the purple.’

Lazarus on the other hand, instead of having fine dressings, needs dressings for his sores, but instead finds they are licked by the dogs on the streets.

But their fortunes in life are reversed at death: when Lazarus dies, he finds himself beside beside Abraham. During a visit to a monastery in Meteora in Greece last month, I was reminded of a patristic tradition that prior to the final judgment there were only three people we could say with certainty are in heaven: Abraham, Elijah and the penitent thief. to God’s will. But the rich man, for his part, finds himself in Hades, where he is being tormented.

When the rich man realises that the gulf or chasm between him and Lazarus cannot be bridged, he asks that his brothers be saved from the same fate. Abraham answers, telling him that if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.

Conventional wisdom has been overturned: wealth is not a sign of being blessed by God or a reward for good behaviour, nor does poverty and oppression mean that the poor and the oppressed are being punished by God or the victims of some sort of capricious divine retribution.

The story of Dives and Lazarus has inspired great artists, and composers like Vaughan Williams

A reflection on the Gospel reading:

This popular Gospel reading, found only in Saint Luke’s Gospel, is usually known as the story of Dives and Lazarus. As a parable, it is almost as well known as the parables of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son.

Surprisingly, God is not named in this story. But, of course, as in the Book of Esther, God is seldom named in the Gospel parables either. Instead, the parables challenge us to think who is God for us by asking us to see who is most God-like, who acts like God would act.

Apart from God, who is not named in this story?

The poor man at the gate is named, but the name Lazarus could be confusing, because this is also the name of the brother of Mary and Martha, the dead friend Christ raises to life in Bethany.

The name Lazarus, or in Hebrew Eleazar, which means ‘the Lord is my help,’ is an interesting name for those who first heard Christ tell this story, for the rich man in his castle certainly is of no help to the poor man at his gate.

Abraham is named.

And Moses is named.

Both are key figures in this story, for all the descendants of Abraham are promised that they are going to be children of the covenant with God. And it is Moses who receives that covenant in the wilderness on Mount Sinai. So just think of what that covenant must mean for people in the wilderness, people in exile. The man at the gate, who is being ignored by a leading religious figure of the day must have been made to feel hopeless, outside the scope of the covenant, abandoned, in a wilderness, impoverished, exiled outside the community.

But there are six other characters in the story – and not one of them is named.

The Rich Man, who is at the centre of the story, is sometimes called ‘Dives.’ But the name Dives is one he does not have in the Gospel story, in the parable as Christ tells it. Tradition has given him that name, we have given him the name Dives. When you read the story again, you can notice that the rich man is anonymous. He has no name. The name Dives derives simply from a misreading of an early Latin translation of the Bible.

And the rich man has five brothers – but not one of them is named.

I like to think this man is anyone who claims to be religious but who falls in love with riches. It is not his wealth that is his downfall, but his love of wealth and how he uses it.

The Apostle Paul is often misquoted as saying money is the root of all evil. But as the Epistle reading reminds us, what he actually tells Timothy is that ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,’ and that, ‘in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.’

Of course, someone can be religious and rich at one and the same time. But if I appear to be religious, I need to be careful that my religious practices are not a contradiction of, a denial of, the way I live my life in the world, and respond to the needs of others.

God’s covenant is only meaningful when it is lived as a covenant of love. The rich man loves himself first, and, perhaps, his family, his own inner circle second. But that is as far as his religion goes. It doesn’t go beyond his own front door.

I like to think Christ is playing a little game with those who are religious and listening. In the story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), she is told that she is wed to five husbands but has no true marriage at all.

The five husbands could represent the first five books of the Bible – the Torah. The Samaritans would not accept any other writings as Holy Scripture, and there was a joke among Jews at the time that the Samaritans were so insistent on these five books alone that it was like being wedded to them. They were the Biblical fundamentalists of their day. She is being told that you cannot be wed to Holy Scripture and have a covenantal relationship with God without love.

She realises that just as being wed but without love is no marriage, being religious without love is no religion at all.

Love is the active ingredient of true religion. And when that dawns on her, she becomes one of the greatest missionaries in the Gospels.

Similarly, Christ may be playing a game with those who are listening to this morning’s parable. If the rich man, as it appears, is a priest of the Temple, then he too is a religious figure. But the priestly caste of the day were Sadducees, not Pharisees. And so the Pharisees who were listening to this story (verse 14) would have known that the Sadducees too refused to accept as part of the Bible any books other than the first five– when it came to Holy Scripture they only admitted those five into the family of faith.

The rich man realises that being wed to the Torah without love is no covenant. But unlike, the Samaritan woman, it is too late for him when this truth dawns on him.

There is no covenant without love, and this is true for marriage and for religion.

There is no true religion without love ... not self-interest, but love for God and love for others.

One additional character in this story is not named: this is not a human character, but an animal – the dog.

The Sullivan Bluth studios in Dublin produced the 1996 movie All Dogs go to Heaven, with a voice over by Burt Reynolds. But, while we think of dogs today as faithful pets, there was a religious tradition in the time of Christ that dogs did not get into heaven.

Lazarus is hungry and covered with sores, and sits outside the gate of what must have looked like a Heavenly City inside. He is in such a condition and in a place where even the dogs come and lick his sores (verse 21). For its time, this is a description of abject living, so abhorrent that this man is totally outside normal, good clean company. He is in the wilderness, in exile, and at a point where only God can redeem him.

Dives is not a single identifiable rich man. He is each and every one of us. Who among us, on first hearing this story, as it opened, as the first part of it began to be told, would not have delighted in the lifestyle of the rich man. After all, how often do I find myself saying, quite rightly, all I want is for me and my family to have somewhere decent to live, decent clothes and decent food?

But that decency turns to indecency when these things soon become all we want in life … and want nothing for others, have no place for meeting the needs of others.

Having lost his compassion for others, especially the needy on his doorstep, Dives loses his religion, for without love their can be no true religion; and Dives loses his humanity, for I am only human in so far as I am like God and love others.

The loss of Dives’ humanity is symbolised by his loss of a personal name. I am baptised with a personal name, and so incorporated into the Body of Christ; that name is how I am known to God and to others – God calls me and you recognise me by my name. Without a name, can Dives remain in the image of God? Can he be called on by others as a fellow human being?

On the other hand, the coming of Christ turns all our skewed values upside down: those we think are most outside God’s compassion and outside the Kingdom of Heaven may well be those most likely to be signs of what the Kingdom of God is, and to be reminders of kingdom values.

Lazarus who is an outsider becomes the true insider; Lazarus who is totally poor, becomes rich in the one way that really matters; Lazarus who is at death’s door finds eternal life.

The dogs too play an important role – like the woman who mops the brow of Jesus on his way to Calvary, and the women who weep with him above the city … they do not take away his suffering, but they tell him that his suffering is shared in creation.

So, who is most like God, most like Christ, in this Gospel story?

Those who first heard this story, would initially have expected the person to be most like God to be the religious leader, the one who can cite the Bible, call out to Abraham and Moses.

And those who first heard this story would initially have expected the person to be least like God to be the beggar at the gates, the man out with the dogs.

But is that not what Christ is like? He gives up everything to identify with our humanity in his incarnation, life and death; he is rejected, suffers and dies outside the city walls.

You may not want to be like Lazarus, but Christ wants us to be like him. And we are most like him not when we hope for riches and pleasures beyond our reach, but when we love God and when we love one another. God calls each and every one of us to be like him, to love like him, and when he calls us he calls us by name.

We may marginalise others, we may exclude others, we may push others outside the gates. But God never counts me out, God never excludes you, God never closes the gates on others. We too, despite what others may think of us, are invited to the Heavenly Banquet. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast.

Maddy Prior’s live performance of ‘Dives and Lazarus’ at the Nettlebed Folk Club on the ‘Seven For Old England’ tour. The song is on the album of the same name ‘Seven For Old England’

Luke 16: 19-31 (NRSVA):

19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25 But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27 He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house — 28 for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29 Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30 He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31 He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead”.’

‘Jesus Christ … is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords’ (I Timothy 6: 14-15) … an icon of Christ as the King of Kings and Great High Priest in the Church of Saint Spyridon in Paleokastritsa, Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit
upon your Church in the burning fire of your love:
Grant that your people may be fervent
in the fellowship of the gospel;
that, always abiding in you,
they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

O God,
you call us to serve you:
enable us to be faithful in minor tasks
so that we may be entrusted
with your true riches.
We ask this through your Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
we have received these tokens of your promise.
May we who have been nourished with holy things
live as faithful heirs of your promised kingdom.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land’ (Jeremiah 32: 15) … grapes on the vine at a house in Lichfield last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Suggested Hymns:

Jeremiah 32: 1-3a, 6-15:

No suggested hymns

Psalm 91: 1-6, 14-16:

63, All praise to thee, my God, this night
642, Amazing grace (how sweet the sound!)
66, Before the ending of the day
459, For all the saints who from their labours rest (verses 1–3)
668, God is our fortress and our rock
12, God is our strength and refuge
322, I bind unto myself today (verses 1, 6, 8, 9)
357 I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath
553, Jesus, lover of my soul
366, Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
595, Safe in the shadow of the Lord
372, Through all the changing scenes of life

Amos 6: 1a, 4-7:

630, Blessed are the pure in heart
498, What does the Lord require in praise and offering?

Psalm 146:

4, God, who made the earth
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
92, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
357, I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
99, Jesus, the name high over all
535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour
363, O Lord of heaven and earth and sea
708, O praise ye the Lord! Praise him in the height
712, Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
8, The Lord is King! Lift up your voice
376, Ye holy angels bright

I Timothy 6: 6-19:

10, All my hope on God is founded
643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
11, Can we by searching find out God
566, Fight the good fight with all thy might
353, Give to our God immortal praise
223, Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
275, Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious
363, O Lord of heaven and earth and sea

281, Rejoice! the Lord is King
485, Rise up and serve the Lord!
285, The head that once was crowned with thorns
8, The Lord is King! Lift up your voice

Luke 16: 19-31:

642, Amazing grace (how sweet the sound!)
630, Blessed are the pure in heart
517, Brother, sister, let me serve you
87, Christ is the world’s light, he and none other
318, Father, Lord of all creation
496, For the healing of the nations
495, Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love
589, Lord, speak to me that I may speak
712, Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
497, The Church of Christ in every age
498, What does the Lord require for praise and offering?
499, When I needed a neighbour, were you there?

Saint Michael (centre) with Saint Gabriel (right) and Saint Raphael (left) in stained-glass windows in Saint Ailbe’s Church, Emly, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Part 2, Sunday 29 September 2019 as the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels.

Readings: Genesis 28: 10-17; Psalm 103: 19-22; Revelation 12: 7-12; John 1: 47-51.

Churches dedicated to Saint Michael in the Dioceses of Limerick, Killaloe and Clonfert include Saint Michael’s, Pery Square, Limerick, Saint Michael’s Church, Killorglin, and Saint Michael and All Angels, Waterville, and the monastic settlement on the Skelligs Rocks was dedicated to Saint Michael. In the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, Saint Michael’s Church, Miloremoy, is in Ballina, Co Mayo.

There are few references to Saint Michael in the Bible (Daniel 10: 13, 21, 12: 1; Jude 9; Revelation 12: 7-9; see also Revelation 20: 1-3). Yet Saint Michael has inspired great works in our culture, from John Milton’s Paradise Lost to Jacob Epstein’s powerful sculpture at Coventry Cathedral and poems by Philip Larkin and John Betjeman.

In all our imagery, in all our poetry, in stained glass windows throughout these islands, Saint Michael is depicted and seen as crushing or slaying Satan, often Satan as a dragon.

Culturally, today’s feast day of Saint Michael and All Angels has been an important day for the Church: the beginning of terms, the end of the harvest season, the settling of accounts.

It is the beginning of autumn, and as children in West Waterford we were told that Michaelmas Day is the last day for picking blackberries. As I grew up, I realised that this is a superstition shared across the islands, from Achill to Lichfield, from Wexford to Essex and Cambridge.

In his poem ‘Trebetherick,’ the late John Betjeman seems to link ripening blackberries and the closing in of the autumn days with old age and the approach of death:

Thick with sloe and blackberry, uneven in the light,
Lonely round the hedge, the heavy meadow was remote,
The oldest part of Cornwall was the wood as black as night,
And the pheasant and the rabbit lay torn open at the throat

Betjeman had spent much of his childhood there, and he died in Trebetherick on 19 May 1984, at the age of 77. But the former poet laureate had a more benign view of blackberries on a visit to the Isle of Man, when he described ‘wandering down your late-September lanes when dew-hung cobwebs glisten in the gorse and blackberries shine, waiting to be picked.’

In his poem ‘At the chiming of light upon sleep,’ first drafted on Saint Michael’s Day 73 years ago [29 September 1946], the poet Philip Larkin links Michaelmas and a lost paradise with chances and opportunities he failed to take in his youth.

A beehive hut at Saint Michael’s Well in Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, associated with monastic settlement on the Skellig Rocks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This is a day to allow the mind to wander back to childhood memories, and a time for contemplation and unstructured prayers, giving thanks for the beauty of creation. September is the beginning of the Church Year in the Orthodox tradition, so this too is a day to think about and to give thanks for beginnings and ends, for starting and ending, for openings and closings, for memories and even for forgetfulness.

When I worked as Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times, Michael Jansen was a good friend and close colleague. We shared many of her hopes and fears, values and visions while she worked in Israel and the West Bank. Later, when she moved to Cyprus and shortly before my ordination, she invited me to spend Orthodox Easter in her village on the outskirts of Nicosia.

Friends and readers alike were surprised to find Michael is a woman. Most of us presume Michael is a man’s name. Yet the name Michael (Hebrew: מִיכָאֵל‎, Mîkhā'ēl; Greek: Μιχαήλ, Mikhaíl; Arabic: ميخائيل‎, Mikhā'īl) is not gender specific. The Talmudic tradition says Michael means ‘who is like El (God)?’ It is a popular mistake to translate the name as ‘One who is like God.’ It is, however, meant as a question: ‘Who is like the Lord God?’

The name was said to have been the war-cry of the angels in the battle fought in heaven against Satan and his followers. With a name like that, is it any wonder that my friend Michael lived up to her father’s expectations, taking a strong stand against the twin evils of oppressive violence and political corruption.

Saint Michael depicted in a stained-glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Killorglin, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Archangel Michael is one of the principal angels in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. In John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, Michael commands the army of angels loyal to God against the rebel forces of Satan. One of the best-known sculptures by Sir Jacob Epstein is Saint Michael’s Victory over the Devil at Coventry Cathedral.

Yet Michael is mentioned by name in the Bible only in the Book of Daniel, the Epistle of Jude and in the Book of Revelation.

After a period of fasting by Daniel, Michael appears as ‘one of the chief princes’ (Daniel 10: 13). Michael contends for Israel and is the ‘great prince, the protector of your (Daniel’s) people’ (Daniel 10: 21, 12: 1).

In the Epistle of Jude (verse 9), Michael contends with the Devil over the body of Moses, a story also found in the Midrash. In the Book of Revelation (Revelation 12: 7-12), we read of the war that ‘broke out in heaven’ between Michael and his angels and the dragon.

The later Christian traditions about Michael draw on Midrashic traditions and accounts in the Hebrew Apocrypha, especially the Book of Enoch, where he is the ‘viceroy of heaven,’ ‘the prince of Israel,’ and the angel of forbearance and mercy, who teaches clemency and justice, who presides over human virtue.

Rabbinic lore and the Midrash made Michael the special patron of Adam, the rescuer of Abraham, Lot and Jacob, the teacher of Moses, and the advocate of Israel; Michael tried to prevent Israel from being led into captivity, to save the Temple from destruction, and to protect Esther.

In the early Church, Michael was associated with the care of the sick, an angelic healer and heavenly physician associated with medicinal springs, streams and rivers. The Orthodox Church gave him the title Archistrategos or ‘Supreme Commander of the Heavenly Hosts.’ Saint Basil the Great and other Greek fathers placed Michael over all the angels and so called him ‘archangel.’

In the Middle Ages, Michael became the patron saint of warriors, and later became the patron saint of police officers, soldiers, paratroopers, mariners, paramedics, grocers, the Ukraine, the German people, of many cities, including Brussels, Coventry and Kiev, and, of course, of Marks and Spencer.

There are legends associating Michael with Castel di S. Angelo in Rome, Mont-Saint-Michel in France and mountain chapels all over Germany, and with Skellig Michael off the Kerry coast, which is a World Heritage Site. Saint Michael was also popular in the early Irish monastic tradition.

More practically, Michaelmas Day became one of the regular ‘quarter days’ in England and in Ireland. It was one of the days set aside for settling rents and accounts. Traditionally, in England and Ireland, university terms and court terms began on Michaelmas.

In the modern world, where angels and archangels are often the stuff of fantasy, science fiction and new-age babble, it is worth reminding ourselves about some Biblical and traditional values associated with Saint Michael and the Angels. Angels are nothing more than – but nothing less than – the messengers of God, the bringers of good news.

Saint Michael in a window in Saint Cronan’s Roman Catholic parish church in Roscrea, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Michael’s virtues – standing up for God’s people and their rights, taking a clear stand against manifest evil, firmly opposing oppressive violence and political corruption, while always valuing forbearance and mercy, clemency and justice – are virtues we should always keep before us in our ministry and mission.

There is no special preface in the Book of Common Prayer for Michaelmas because in the Preface to the Eucharist, we already declare: ‘And so with all your people, with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you and saying ...’

We should always be prepared, like Saint Michael and the angels to ask and to answer to the question: ‘Who is like the Lord God?’

An icon of the Archangel Michael in the Church of Saint George in Aghios Georgios in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

John 1: 47-51 (NRSVA):

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48 Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49 Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50 Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51 And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

A statue of Saint Michael vanquishing the devil remains in front of the former Convent of Mercy in Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical colour: White


Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Woe is me, for I am lost;
I am a person of unclean lips.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your guilt is taken away,
And your sin is forgiven.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Everlasting God,
you have ordained and constituted the ministries
of angels and mortals in a wonderful order:
Grant that as your holy angels always serve you in heaven,
so, at your command,
they may help and defend us on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Hear again the song of angels:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace. (Luke 2: 14)


A Preface is not used on the festival of Saint Michael and all Angels.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord of heaven,
in this Eucharist you have brought us near
to an innumerable company of angels
and to the spirits of the saints made perfect.
As in this food of our earthly pilgrimage
we have shared their fellowship,
so may we come to share their joy in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Blessing:

The God of all creation
guard you by his angels,
and grant you the citizenship of heaven:

Saint Michael in a fresco in a church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for today in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

Genesis 28: 10-17:

561, Beneath the cross of Jesus
562, Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine
330, God is here, As we his people
331, God reveals his presence
67, God, who made the earth and heaven
656, Nearer, my God, to thee

Psalm 103: 19-22:

682, All created things, bless the Lord
250, All hail the power of Jesus’ name
453, Come to us, creative Spirit
465, Hark, hark, my soul! angelic songs are swelling
321, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty
708, O praise ye the Lord! Praise him in the height
366, Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
709, Praise the Lord! You heavens, adore him
376, Ye holy angels bright

Revelation 12: 7-12:

269, Hark ten thousand voices sounding
487, Soldiers of Christ, arise
112, There is a Redeemer
492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim

John 1: 47-51:

460, For all your saints in glory, for all your saints at rest (verses 1, 2n, 3)
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun

Other hymns that are also suitable include:

346, Angel voices ever singing
316, Bright the vision that delighted
332, Come, let us join our cheerful songs
696, God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
476, Ye watchers and ye holy ones

Legends associate Saint Michael with Castel di S Angelo in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Part 3, Sunday 29 September and resources for the Season of Creation, 2019.

The Season of Creation is celebrated throughout the Christian world from 1 September, the feast of Creation, to 4 October, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi.

This year, the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches and the World Council of Churches have united in celebrating this special time.

Resources for Sunday and weekday services throughout the Season of Creation were posted on this site on 21 August 2019 HERE.

Each week during this season, these pages are also offering resources and reflections on the Sunday Gospel reading related to the theme of the Season of Creation, which have been circulated by the Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, the Right Revd Kenneth Kearon.

Penitential Service for the Season of Creation 2019:


O Gracious God, Creator Spirit, you have given order, light and life to the world and you have expressed delight in your creation. You commanded us to till and care for the garden. And yet, we have trampled on the beauty of your creation and neglected to keep your Word.

And so:

We confess that the way we live today is changing the climate of our earth, polluting oceans and rivers with plastics, and interfering with the balances of the life-systems of mother earth, and hurting the poor.

Lord, have mercy.

We have been exploiting the resources of our common home, stealing the birth right of future generations, and neglecting to care for creation as a gift from God to be cultivated.

Christ, have mercy.

We acknowledge that we have neglected to protect the biodiversity of our planet, poisoned the atmosphere with toxic gases, and failed to share the resources of the earth equitably and justly.

Lord, have mercy.

May Almighty God have mercy on us, pardon us for our sins against the integrity of creation, and inspire us to work towards a new heaven and a new earth, Amen.

Homily or Gospel Reflection by Jane Mellett:

The Rich Man and Lazarus is a powerful story reminding us that to ignore poverty and injustice brings consequences. We are called to live our faith in our daily lives through generosity towards the poor and in working towards justice in our world. We do this in a variety of ways and we can see the goodness around us in those who are living examples of this Christian message. We are now called to listen urgently to the cry of the earth and to reflect on the injustices caused by the climate crisis. Climate breakdown may not be fully experienced on our own doorstep yet, but the fact remains that millions of people are suffering worldwide because of this crisis through drought, sea level rise and a breakdown of the earth’s ecological systems.

Joanna Sustento lives in Tacloban city, Philippines. On 8 November 2013, she lost her parents, her brother, her sister-in-law and three-year-old nephew in the storm surge of Typhoon Haiyan. This storm was the largest ever to make landfall in recorded history with wind speeds of over 300 km per hour. 10,000 people perished in two hours. Joanna’s story is one of thousands. The strength of Typhoon Haiyan is attributed to climate change. It is an injustice that those who have done the least to cause this problem are on the frontline. The governments of the world must act. They will only do so if the public demand it. We have a responsibility to ensure they do so. We are at a crossroads as a global community and we have the solutions. Let us go forward together to a more sustainable future and listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

Christians need an ‘an ecological conversion, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.’ (Laudato Si’, 217)

In a few days, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis (4 October), patron saint of ecology. Perhaps by hosting a blessing for animals, organise a local clean up, trying to go plastic free we can mark this special time in some way and embrace our role as stewards of creation.

‘God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight. Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live. The poor and the earth are crying out.’ (Laudato Si’, 246).

‘If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these’ (I Timothy 6: 8) … a colourful meal at a restaurant in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The hymn suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000).

Monday, 16 September 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 22 September 2019,
Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Unjust Steward … part of the East Window in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick, made 1878 by Mayer & Co and illustrating 10 parables (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 22 September 2019, is the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XIV).

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, are in two groups: the continuous readings and the paired readings.

Continuous readings: Jeremiah 8: 18 to 9: 1; Psalm 79: 1-9; I Timothy 2: 1-7; Luke 16: 1-13. There is a link to the readings HERE.

Paired readings: Amos 8: 4-7; Psalm 113; I Timothy 2: 1-7; Luke 16: 1-13. There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land’ (Jeremiah 8: 19) … the Famine Memorial by the sculptor Rowan Gillespie on Custom House Quay, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Introducing the readings:

If you are preaching at a Harvest Thanksgiving in these coming weeks, I hope you do not have to chose one verse from next Sunday’s Old Testament reading: ‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved’ (Jeremiah 8: 20).

Nor do I hope any of us is preaching on the first verse in the psalm: ‘O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance; they have profaned your holy temple …’ (Psalm 79: 1).

The Unjust Steward is probably not a choice parable for any sermon either. On the previous Sunday, the Gospel reading (Luke 15: 1-10) provided one of the many images of the Good Shepherd. Many people look forward to ‘Good Shepherd Sunday,’ most churches have stained glass windows with the Good Shepherd, the Church of Ireland even has a Church of the Good Shepherd in Belfast.

But nobody knows next Sunday as ‘Unjust Steward Sunday,’ and I know of only one stained glass window depicting the Unjust Steward – in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick – and no parish would like to be called ‘the Church of the Unjust Steward.’

Throughout these readings, there is a common thread: ignoring and exploiting the plight of the oppressed and the poor is turning away from God and turning towards idolatry. We are called to turn around, and in turning to the needs of the poor we find that we are turning to God.

‘O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night’ (Jeremiah 9: 1) … a fountain at the Pantheon in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Jeremiah 8: 18 to 9: 1:

This passage was written in the 600s BCE, when the leaders and people of Judah, the southern kingdom, had been straying from God’s ways for generations. They had formed alliances with Egypt and other foreign countries in the hope of avoiding invasion from the north by Babylon. The Prophet Jeremiah links religious apostasy with these military policies, for through alliances with foreign powers, Judah had adopted their ways and their gods.

Jeremiah is filled with grief and he is sick at heart, distressed at Judah’s conduct and its consequences for the poor people throughout the land. The poor cry out, wondering where God is to be found in midst of their plight, and feel they have been deserted or abandoned by God: ‘Is the Lord not in Zion?’

God speaks through Jeremiah, who says Judah has provoked God with the adoption of foreign ways and the worship of foreign idols. This may have coincided with a year of drought, when the people realise the good times have come to an end and the poor in particular suffer the consequences.

Jeremiah asks whether there is any way of restoring past prosperity. The plight of the poor is so great and the looming disaster seems so inevitable that Jeremiah is moved to tears and weeps day and night.

‘They defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins’ or ‘a heap of stones’ (Psalm 79: 1) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Psalm 79: 1-9:

This Psalm is ascribed to Asaph. The land has been invaded, the Temple has been sacked and Jerusalem has been in ruins, probably in the year 587 BCE. The sanctuary has been defiled by pouring the blood of victims round the base of the altar, like a ritual sacrifice.

Judah is taunted, mocked and derided by its neighbours, and so feels that God is being taunted too.

The invasion is seen as God’s punishment for ungodliness. But the psalmist asks God to direct his anger at the nations and kingdoms that have brought this about and who have laid waste Jerusalem and Judah.

The people now turn to God and ask for God’s salvation, deliverance and forgiveness.

‘For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus’ (I Timothy 2: 5) … an image in the Monastery of Rousanou in Meteora, Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

I Timothy 2: 1-7:

For seven weeks, we are reading from Saint Paul’s two letters to Saint Timothy (15 September to 27 October). Timothy and Titus worked as missionaries with Paul; Timothy remained in Ephesus and Titus remained in Crete. Timothy, the son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother (see Acts 16: 1), often co-signs many of the Pauline letters (II Corinthians, Philippians, I Thessalonians and Philemon).

At a time when Christians came under suspicion with the civil authorities for not joining in the worship of Roman gods, the author urges them to pray for everyone, especially those who hold high office, so that they may live quiet and peaceable lives.

He reminds them in an early Christian credal formula that God desires that everyone should be saved and come to know the truth. God desires this for there is one God for all people; and there is one mediator, Christ, who shared our humanity and who gave his life as a ransom for all.

For this, Saint Paul says, he has been appointed a herald, an apostle and a teacher of all nations (translated as the Gentiles) in faith and truth.

‘The Unjust Steward,’ by the Kazakhstan Artist, Nelly Bube (Bubay)

Luke 16: 1-13:

As he continues on his journey to Jerusalem, Christ has more to say about what is required of a disciple. Many in the crowd are poor and oppressed, so a story about a rich man and his agent (verses 1-8) has true resonances for them.

A steward or ‘manager’ (NRSV) negotiates and signs contracts on behalf of his master, a rich man who is probably an absentee landlord.

Mosaic law forbids charging interest on a loan, and the parable does not suggest that the manager s removing an interest charge, despite what many commentaries say.

The debtor in verse 6 had probably received 50 jugs of olive oil but the bill was for 100. The manager settles the account by forgiving the overcharging, probably to his master’s benefit but not to his own. The lord (verse 8) or rich man praises the manager for acting shrewdly, or, as the Greek meaning puts it, pragmatically. Both men understand prudent use of financial resources.

At the time, ‘the children of light’ (verse 8) was a name for the spiritually enlightened. So, business people are presented as being more pragmatic in their sphere than are disciples in affairs of the kingdom.

Then, in verse 9, Christ advises the accumulation of heavenly capital by providing for the needy. If we do this in our own small ways in this world, God will see us as trustworthy when it comes to the Kingdom of God. Being faithful now involves sharing possessions. Our financial resources are gifts from God and they belong to another.

But there is a sting in the tail in verse 13: we cannot make a god out of money and continue to serve God. We must serve God exclusively, using material resources for his purposes, sharing with the needy. The alternative is being enslaved to materialism.

Where is the place for Christian values in today’s world of finance and debt? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Gospel reflection 1:

In this economy, this parable could easily sound like a manifesto for NAMA, the National Assets Management Agency, which is buying properties from indebted bankers and speculators at knock-down, discount prices, so they can get back to business, but at the expense of the taxpayers. But, at face value, this story is in danger of portraying approval by Jesus for deceit.

Sarah Dylan Breuer, author of the celebrated American blog Sarah Laughed (, says most commentators agree this story is about how the shrewd steward acts decisively, and that Jesus is describing the ‘in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, call[ing] upon us all to act decisively.’ But is Jesus really commending a crook who acted decisively?

Take the master, who is confronted with a fait accompli. Who does he represent? The master in this parable, in the original Greek, is actually called the Lord (ὁ κύριός, ho kyrios, see verses 3, 5 and 8; see also verse 13): it is the Lord who is praised (verse 8), and it is in the Lord’s name that unexpected forgiveness is extended.

So, am I supposed to be like the unjust steward? It is interesting that the Greek word Saint Luke uses here for the steward, οἰκονόμος (oikonómos), the one responsible for the household, is used when Saint Paul says those in ministry are ‘servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries,’ that as ‘stewards’ we must be found trustworthy (I Corinthians 4: 1-2; c.f. I Peter 4: 10), that ‘a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless’ (Titus 1: 7).

So, what is it that the shrewd steward or unjust manager does?

Well, the shrewd steward forgives debt. So, this passage is less about clever trading but all about forgiveness. And, as Sarah Dylan Breuer points out, forgiveness is an overarching theme throughout the Gospels. How often should I forgive? As Saint Luke reminds us in his next chapter, even if someone offends seven times a day, I should be willing to forgive them seven times (Luke 17: 1-4). Seven … the perfect number … I should be willing to forgive perfectly.

Forgiveness is so important to discipleship that what the steward does cannot be dismissed, despite his shrewd dealing, his agility as a three-card trickster dressed up as a cunning estate agent – and, in case you think I am biased, I said ‘cunning estate agent,’ not ‘all estate agents’ … I started training as a chartered surveyor and estate manager but never stayed the course. I was far happier to set my sights on becoming a steward of the mysteries of God.

If this story is all about forgiveness, then despite the cunning reasons the shrewd steward may have for forgiving, despite the fact that he had no right to forgive, he forgives. And it is this, perhaps, that redeems him in the eyes of the Lord.

What are the implications for us as Christians if Sarah Dylan Breuer is correct?

Well, then we must forgive, even if forgiveness helps us, even if we have no right to forgive, even if it does not benefit us at all. We must forgive with grand irresponsibility.

But there is another difficult point in this Gospel story. Verses 10-11 say: ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?’

Being faithful with what is given to me is also a familiar Gospel theme: it is found in the parable of the talents. But being faithful with dishonest wealth is a puzzling concept, even if it speaks to the present economic dilemmas in Ireland. Is it still possible to manage goods in ways that are appropriate to, that witness to, that are signs of the Kingdom of God?

If I am responsible for the small things in life, then hopefully I can be responsible for the large things. Very few of us are asked to do huge things, such as win a by-election, finish a masterpiece, solve the banking crisis, score a winning try or goal. But we are asked to do a multitude of small things – within our family, our friends, our neighbours, our fellow students, in our local community.

And: ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.’ Yet, it is often most difficult to forgive the small things.

I heard a comedian tell of a young man, up from the provinces, starting work in a menial clerical post in Dublin, living in a cramped, one-room flat in Rathmines. In the room above is another man in similar circumstances, working late shifts as a labourer.

Each night, just as he goes to sleep, the office worker is woken by his neighbour as he opens the front door, clumps-clumps up the stairs, plods into his room above, sits on his bed, and throws his two big boots on the floor above this poor, weary and demented friend, one-by-one.

Each night, this sad insurance clerk waits for the same routine, knowing that he cannot get to sleep until at least he hears both boots being thumped on the floor above.

One day, being a Christian, the more timid office worker approaches his neighbour, explains the problem, and asks could he come in quietly, and take his shoes off gently.

Surprisingly, his neighbour is sympathetic, understanding. The next night, he turns the key quietly, tip toes upstairs, sits down quietly, takes off both shoes in one go and places them together, gently, on the floor above.

Meanwhile, his friend is lying in bed, waiting anxiously. He cannot get any shut eye. He has heard his neighbour come in, go up, sit down, and has heard the one muffled thud on the floor … Only one … he waits … he tosses … he waits … he turns … And finally, he can wait no more. He screams out: ‘Would you throw down the other darn shoe and let’s all go to sleep!’

Learning to forgive the very little slights and offences is often very difficult with those we live close to. Sometimes, it is easier to forgive when it comes to the big things. Yet we ask God in the Psalm: ‘Remember not our past sins; let your compassion be swift to meet us …’ (Psalm 79: 8).

God, as the Lord, reaps his own rewards. But as stewards of the mysteries of God, Saint Paul urges us in the Epistle reading to make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone (I Timothy 2: 1).

Our spiritual relationship with God is reflected in our social and economic relationship with others. If we can be entrusted with the small things, are ready to forgive the small things, then we can be entrusted with the biggest of all … We can be stewards of the mysteries of God.

Perhaps, like the shrewd steward, we need to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.

How do we reconcile the needs of the today’s poor with the demands of our modern economy? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Gospel reflection 2:

Is the principal character in this Gospel story the ‘Unjust Steward,’ or, as the NRSV calls him, the ‘dishonest manager’ (Luke 16: 1-13)?

It might be to work with the previous Sunday’s images of the Good Shepherd or the widow searching for the lost coin (Luke 15: 1-10) to contemplate in the week ahead as we ponder and think about next Sunday’s sermon.

So, let me tell next Sunday’s story in another way. At the age of 18, I started training as a chartered surveyor and estate manager. I never finished that training, but I can visualise some of the characters in this story.

A very, very rich man lives in a big city, let’s say Dublin. He has a luxurious lifestyle made possible by the income from the apartments, hotels and office blocks he owns in the city centre. He has been a major property developer, and a key shareholder in one of the business banks lending to developers.

He has hired an estate manager to run his property holding company, his building society, and his insurance agency while he spends most of his time in his large country house in Kildare or Meath, or golfing and on his yacht in Marbella.

All the work of painting, maintaining the lifts and the plumbing in his apartment blocks, working the bar and servicing the rooms in his hotels, and working at the call centres in the office blocks, is done by people who travel in and out from the rims of the city, people whose grandparents probably once lived in the small terraced houses that once stood along the docks or the canal banks but were levelled to build those apartments, office blocks and hotels.

They pay their mortgages to the bank that financed the apartment blocks and similar developments. Their overdrafts are from the same bank. Their mortgage insurance and life assurance policies are from an agency he owns. They find themselves increasingly in debt, paying school fees, running a car or two cars, meeting hire purchase payments for fridges, freezers, TVs, the children’s school fees and laptops ... What they earn is never enough to pay off their mortgages, their overdrafts, their term loans.

Their families are slipping further and further into debt, working harder and harder to pay what cannot be paid.

But they never meet the rich developer. The immediate face of this system, of his companies and his investments, is the face of the estate agent who manages the blocks – a man whose grandparents came from the same families as the people who now suffer under his management.

However, his parents had escaped the system, he got a good education, and then got sucked into the system.

The developer hears rumours that the estate manager, who is also his insurance agent, has been squandering the developer’s resource, and gives him his dismissal notice. Now, remember that ‘squandering’ is not necessarily a bad word here – the sower in another parable squanders seed by tossing it on roads and in bird-feeding zones, and the shepherd in last Sunday’s parable potentially squanders 99 sheep by running after the lost one; the widow searching for her lost coin risks losing her other nine as she sweeps everything out.

Anyway, the estate agent has to work out his notice, but is no longer authorised to let, to rent, to buy, to sell, to do anything at all in the developer’s name.

He probably shares the same background only a generation or two ago with the maintenance workers, the tenants, the workers in the office blocks. But when he is out on his ear, they are not going to help him to find a place to live, or find a new job, given that up to now he has allied himself with the developer’s interests, collecting high rents, refusing to bring down rents when the reviews are due, managing the work rotas for the maintenance workers, forcing them to work longer hours rather than taking on the staff needed for the job, dealing unjustly with both tenants and workers.

He has been demanding higher rents and premiums, and longer working hours, yet providing fewer and fewer services – doing what all good economists advised him to do: increasing profit margins and productivity and cutting costs at one and the same time.

He may be shrewd, but that is why he is called ‘the dishonest manager’ (verse 8).

So what does the agent do?

He does something that is extraordinarily clever.

He gathers all the tenants and workers who owe him money, and he declares that their debts have been written down, more than NAMA could ever write them down, to something that might be repaid, freeing families from heart-breaking choices. He has been upping their rents and their premiums; now he brings them all back to a payable rate. And in doing this, he manages to wipe out the arrears that have been mounting up.

The smart agent manages not to tell the tenants or the workers that he has been sacked. Nor does he tell them that the developer has not authorised any of his largesse. But the tenants and the workers now think the developer, their landlord, is more generous than anyone else in his position could be. The developer is now a hero in their eyes – and, by extension, the agent is too.

The developer comes for his quarterly or annual visit to pick up the income the agent has collected for him, and he gets a surprise that is exhilarating and challenging. The people are delighted to see him. Workers shake his hands, tenants lean out of balconies to wave at him, children want to have photographs taken with him.

Then, as he inspects the books in the small office the agent has worked from in the complex, he finds out what the agent has done in telling the tenants and the workers that the developer has forgiven their debts.

He has a choice to make.

He can go and tell them that it was all a terrible mistake, that the agent’s stroke amounted not to generosity but to theft, or at least to dishonesty, and has no legal basis – he can tell them they are still responsible for the unpaid rent, for the overdrawn loans.

The warm welcome could quickly turn to nasty protests.

Or, the developer can go outside, bask in the unexpected welcome he has received, and take credit for the agent’s actions. At least he has cash in his hand where once he might have had nothing because of defaulting tenants and clients. That would save him going to court, but has he to take the agent back to work for him?

What would you do?

Picture yourself in this dilemma, both as the agent and as the developer.

From the agent’s point of view, does it matter any more what the developer decides to do?

Whatever decision the developer makes, his future is safe: either he gets his job back, or his own people are going to look after him.

But here is the big problem: what the agent did is clearly dishonest. He has taken the landlord’s property and squandered it – even after he was sacked and had no right to do anything in the developer’s name.

What is it that the agent has done, without permission? Who has he deceived?

The agent forgives. He forgives things that he had no right to forgive. He forgives for all the wrong reasons, for personal gain and to compensate for his past misconduct. But that’s the decisive action that he undertakes to redeem himself from a position from which it seems he could not be reconciled, to the developer any more than to the tenants and workers.

So what is the moral of the story?

This story is unique to Saint Luke’s Gospel, and for him there is a significance that is important throughout the third gospel: Forgive. Forgive it all. Forgive it now. Forgive it for any reason you want. Forgive for the right reason. Forgive for the wrong reason. Forgive for no reason at all. Just forgive.

Remember, Saint Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer includes the helpful confusion: καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν, καὶ γὰρ αὐτοὶ ἀφίομεν παντὶ ὀφείλοντι ἡμῖν: καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν (‘and forgive us our sins for indeed we ourselves are forgiving everyone who is [monetarily] indebted to us’) (Luke 11: 4) – the monetary indebtedness is obvious in the original Greek.

We pray it, but do we put it into practice?

The arrival of the Kingdom of God is no occasion for score-keeping of any kind, whether monetary or moral.

Why should I forgive someone who has sinned against me, or against my sense of what is obviously right? I don’t have to do it out of love for the other person.

I could forgive the other person because of what I pray in the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday if not every morning.

I could forgive because I know I would like to be forgiven myself.

I could forgive because I know what it is like to be me when I am unforgiving.

I could forgive because I am, or I want to be, deeply in touch with a sense of Christ’s power to forgive and free someone just like me.

Or I could forgive because I think it will improve my life and sense of well-being.

It boils down to the same thing: deluded or sane, selfish or unselfish, there is no bad reason to forgive.

Extending the kind of grace God shows me in every possible arena – financial and moral – can only put me more deeply in touch with God’s grace.

If a crafty agent, a dishonest manager, an unjust steward, the sort of person we meet in this Gospel reading, can forgive to save his job or give himself a safety net when he is sacked, then those of us who have the experience of real grace, we have been invited to the Heavenly Banquet, we who pray in the words of the Psalm, ‘Remember not our past sins; let your compassion be swift to meet us’ (Psalm 79: 8), we who believe, as the Apostle Paul says in the Epistle reading, that Christ ‘gave himself a ransom for all’ (I Timothy 2: 6) – we have a better reason than most people to forgive.

‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?’ … a sunny September afternoon on the River Maigue at Ferrybridge, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Gospel reflection 3, The Season of Creation, 2019

The Season of Creation is celebrated throughout the Christian world from 1 September, the feast of Creation, to 4 October, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi.

This year, the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches and the World Council of Churches have united in celebrating this special time.

Resources for Sunday and weekday services throughout the Season of Creation were posted on this site on 21 August 2019 HERE.

Each week during this season, these pages are also offering resources and reflections on the Sunday Gospel reading related to the theme of the Season of Creation, which have been circulated by the Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, the Right Revd Kenneth Kearon.

Homily or Gospel Reflection by Jane Mellett, Kingdom Economics:

If you think that all the parables Jesus told were nice stories about people of integrity then today’s Gospel might make you think again. The manager has been given notice by his CEO and decides to even up the tables, while he still can, for those who are struggling to pay their debts to the company. He is happy to let debt go and redistribute the finances. The only value the money really has is in the way it is disposed of. The manager won’t be the most successful man on the planet compared to the ‘children of the light,’ who are more concerned with accounts than with real people, but he is free-spirited and values what is important. Yes he is a bit of a scoundrel, but Jesus liked scoundrels, once their efforts were put to good use.

During this past year we have seen young people rise up and challenge the governments of the world to take immediate action on climate change. In March 2019 the Global Protest for Climate involved over 1.2 million young people worldwide. Initiated by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, the climate protests shine as a beacon of hope in dark times. Greta stands up to world leaders and calls them to account. She is a modern prophet inspiring millions of young people into political action and challenging all of us to raise our voices for our common home. During this Season of Creation, what can your community do to support these young people? As church, what do we have to say to this powerful movement? The manager in today’s parable invites us to ‘holy mischief.’

‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? ... Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.’ (Laudato Si,160-161).

Suggestion for the week: Explore how you might join with the eco-groups in your community to rejoice in the gift of creation, to share eco-stories and hear other good news of what is already happening. Perhaps you can explore becoming an ‘eco-parish’? (see and ask young people in your area to help you.

A ‘To Let’ sign within view of a Cambridge college chapel … can we reconcile the values of the Kingdom and the demands of commercial life? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 16: 1-13:

16 Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” 3 Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” 6 He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” 7 Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

10 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’

‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much’ (Luke 16: 10) … old pennies on a table in a pub in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
whose only Son has opened for us
a new and living way into your presence:
Give us pure hearts and steadfast wills
to worship you in spirit and in truth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect of the Word:

O God,
you call us to serve you:
enable us to be faithful in minor tasks
so that we may be entrusted
with your true riches.
We ask this through Jesus your Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
the source of truth and love:
Keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘I was ill and you visited me’ … a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital near the Vatican (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

Jeremiah 8: 18 to 9: 1:

62, Abide with me; fast falls the eventide
618, Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy

Psalm 79: 1-9:

569, Hark, my soul, it is the Lord

Amos 8: 4-7:

535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour
486, People of God, arise
509, Your kingdom come, O God

Psalm 113:

501, Christ is the world’s true light
360, Let all the world in every corner sing
718, O praise the Lord, ye servants of the Lord
719, Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
712, Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
73, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended

I Timothy 2: 1-7:

518, Bind us together, Lord
319, Father, of heaven, whose love profound
419, I am not worthy, holy Lord
81, Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided
619, Lord, teach us how to pray aright
673, O Christ, our hope, our hearts’ desire
366, Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
540, To thee, our God, we fly

Luke 16: 1-13:

643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
567, Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go
81, Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided
638, O for a heart to praise my God
527, Son of God, eternal Saviour
597, Take my life, and let it be
601, Teach me, my God and King

‘I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg’ (Luke 16: 3) … ‘Christ the Beggar’ … a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital near the Vatican (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The hymn suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)