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 fell 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 (www.sarahlaughed.net), 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 www.ecocongregationireland.com) 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. http://nrsvbibles.org

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, 9 September 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 15 September 2019,
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity,
Vocations Sunday

Old drachmae coins in a tin box outside an antiques shop in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 15 September 2019, is the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XIII). This Sunday is also being marked in the Church of Ireland as Vocations Sunday.

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 4: 11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; I Timothy 1: 12-17; Luke 15: 1-10. There is a link to these readings HERE.

Paired readings: Exodus 32: 7–14; Psalm 51: 1–11; I Timothy 1: 12-17; Luke 15: 1-10. There is a link to these readings HERE.

Torn and ragged drachma banknotes in a tin box outside an antiques shop in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Part 1, Reflecting on the readings

In the Gospel reading next Sunday, we read about the woman who has ten drachmae, but when she loses one of them she sweeps thoroughly through every dark corner of her house until she finds it. Ten drachmae did not amount to much at the time, although over four days last month [17, 18, 22 and 24 August 2019], the Hunt Museum in Limerick held a child-friendly event at the Hunt Café described as ‘Stamp a Dekadrachma.’ It was an opportunity to learn more about classical Greeks by stamping your own 10 Drachma coin, learning about the history of the coin and making your own to take away. One version of this 10 Drachma coin celebrated the victory of the Greek city of Syracuse over Athens in the year 413 BC, another the victory over Carthage in 405 BC.

to be more up-to-date, I was working in Greece some years ago at a time when the Drachma was being phased out as the national currency, and the Euro was being introduced.

The Drachma (δραχμή) was the currency in Greece throughout several periods in history. It began as an ancient Greek currency unit issued by many city states over a period of 10 centuries, from the Archaic period throughout the classical period, the Hellenistic period up to the Roman period under Greek imperial coinage.

As far as I can remember, there were about 330 or 350 drachmae to the Euro. I still have a few old drachma notes left, stuck in holiday guidebooks or stuck into holiday reading. But I have been unable to exchange them since 2012. Until then, you needed 587.5000 drachma to get €1.

So a drachma in my days was worth about as much as a farthing. And when Greeks hear the passage in Saint Luke’s Gospel provided for next Sunday, they hear about the woman sweeping her house, searching not for a valuable silver coin but for a tiny worthless coin, searching for a farthing.

The Greek text says not that she has ten silver coins, but that she has ten drachmae and has lost one.

When she finds it, she is rejoicing over very little. And when she throws a party to rejoice with her friends, it is going to cost her more than the rest of her savings if she only has 10 drachmae, it is going to cost abundant generosity, generosity that reflects the abundant generosity of God.

Some years ago, Dr Philip Matyszak of Cambridge University published a light-hearted introduction to Classics, Ancient Athens on Five Drachmas a Day (2008). But you probably would not have been able to even buy a bottle of retsina or bottle of ouzo in ancient Athens for half of what this woman had saved.

And how the tax collectors who heard this parable (verse 1) must have laughed with ridicule! Finding a drachma certainly was not going to help the party spirit, never mind being worth considering for taxes and tax collecting.

‘Stamp a Dekadrachma’ … but how much was 10 drachma worth … and how much was one drachma worth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Leona Helmsley, the ‘Queen of Mean,’ was reported to have said: ‘We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes …’ But this little old woman probably had too little and she was probably too poor to be preyed on by tax collectors.

Sometimes, when we get caught up in grand plans and grand schemes, we forget about the little people.

We can be so committed to building programmes and working for the greater good of the wider Church or the wider community, we can forget those people who are on the margins, the little people, the poor, the oppressed, the marginalised, for whom the Gospel ought to be good news.

But is it?

I remember how in Achill I once heard about a shepherd who died on a cliff side as he went in search of a lost sheep, and slipped on the edge. A local man reacted by pointing out what a small price sheep fetched in the mart in those days.

When you do find a lost sheep, it has probably been caught in brambles, is full of dirt and matted with droppings. It is not a pleasant fluffy creature, as seen in so many stained glass windows. It may not even be worth bringing home, in the eyes of a shepherd or a sheep farmer. In its panic and distress, it will have lost weight, and may not be possible to sell.

So often we think of people in monetary terms … What they are worth to us, as if they were buying and selling.

You may remember the days when sustentation fund lists were pinned to the back of the church door, for everyone to see as they left on a Sunday morning. They were always headed by the richest parishioners, who were also the most powerful … they were on the vestry, they were on diocesan synod, they were parochial nominators and they were episcopal electors.

But the little people must have looked at those lists and felt that in the eyes of the Church they were not worth a farthing, that they were the lost drachma, the lost sheep.

As we are caught up in the great plans of the church, politics, business and society, let us not forget the little people, and never let us be too proud to become little people again, especially in the eyes of our heavenly Father, worth only a drachma or a farthing in the eyes of others, but worth the life of his Son.

‘Or what woman having ten silver coins (drachmae) …’ (Luke 15: 8) … a worn and tattered 10 drachmae note from 1940 was worthless soon after it was issued (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 15: 1-10:

1 Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

3 So he told them this parable: 4 ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

8 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost’ (Luke 15: 4) … ‘Paternoster’ or ‘Shepherd and Sheep’, a bronze sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink in Paternoster Square, near Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who called your Church to bear witness
that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself:
Help us to proclaim the good news of your love,
that all who hear it may be drawn to you;
through him who was lifted up on the cross,
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Collect of the Word:

O God, overflowing with mercy and compassion,
you lead back to yourself all who go astray.
Preserve your people in your loving care,
that we may reject whatever is contrary to you
and may follow all things that sustain our life in your Son,
Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our creator,
you feed your children with the true manna,
the living bread from heaven.
Let this holy food sustain us through our earthly pilgrimage
until we come to that place
where hunger and thirst are no more;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Suggested Hymns:

Jeremiah 4: 11-12, 22-28:

140, The Lord will come and not be slow
540, To thee, our God, we fly

Psalm 14:

649, Happy are they, they that love God
Exodus 32: 7-14:

584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult
358, King of glory, King of peace
372, Through all the changing scenes of life
374, When all thy mercies, O my God

Psalm 51: 1-11:

397, Alleluia! Alleluia! Opening our hearts to him
297, Come, thou Holy Spirit, come
614, Great Shepherd of your people, hear
208, Hearken, O Lord, have mercy upon us
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
305, O Breath of life, come sweeping through us
638, O for a heart to praise my God
557, Rock of ages, cleft for me

I Timothy 1: 12-17:

478, Go forth and tell! O Church of God, awake!
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
429, Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us
231, My song is love unknown
102, Name of all majesty
657, O God of Bethel, by whose hand
366, Praise, my soul, the King of heaven

Luke 15: 1-10:

683, All people that on earth do dwell
642, Amazing grace (how sweet the sound!)
328, Come on and celebrate
644, Faithful Shepherd, feed me
319, Father, of heaven, whose love profound
569, Hark, my soul. It is the Lord
587, Just as I am, without one plea
105, O the deep, deep love of Jesus
438, O thou who at thy eucharist didst pray
20, The King of love my shepherd is
660, Thine for ever! God of love



Part 2, Vocations Sunday 15 September 2019:

Recently, the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe produced a leaflet on Vocations, in which clergy in the diocese spoke in their own words about their call to ministry in their own words and tell their story of how they came to be ordained.

They ask: ‘How does God call his people to their vocations?’

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Christ speaks in three parables of things lost and found: the one lost sheep among 100; the one sinner who repents in contrast to the 99 righteous people; and the woman who has lost a small coin that others might not even bother to look for.

If you are preaching or reflecting on vocations on Vocations Sunday, you might like to consider people who have been hiding their vocation, whether this is to lay or ordained ministry, but how God may continue to seek them out.

You may consider sharing one or two of the varied stories in the leaflet produced in the diocese.

As the leaflet says, sometimes it takes a long while for people to recognise that you’re being called by God to his service.’

Sometimes it takes an even longer time for the person themselves to accept what others know very clearly.

Might it be yours is going to be a chance encounter with someone who sees something in you.

Sometimes, something changes and that feeling becomes a deep inner sense of the touch of God.

Let people know that a vocation for ministry be ground-breaking, like it was for women and that a vocation to the ministry can fit around other work.

There is a uniqueness to every calling and to every person’s sense of the role they can have in ministry, lay or ordained.

This video clip on vocations, produced in the Church of Ireland, includes an interview with the Dean of Limerick, the Very Revd Niall Sloane, who also features in the diocesan leaflet. This video-clip can be downloaded from this site, and could be used instead of a sermon on Sunday.

Liturgical resources:

The Collect for Vocations to Holy Orders:

Almighty God,
you have entrusted to your Church
a share in the ministry of your Son our great High Priest:
Inspire by your Holy Spirit the hearts of many
to offer themselves for ordination in your Church,
that strengthened by his power,
they may work for the increase of your kingdom
and set forward the eternal praise of your name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Fifth Sunday after Trinity:

Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
Hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Christ.

Part 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:

The three parables of things lost and found emphasise the unending forgiveness of God and God’s rejoicing for those who return. In each of the situations there is a frantic search for that which is lost and a huge celebration when the lost is found. In the third parable of the Lost Son there is much to reflect on. We hear that the younger brother eventually ‘came to his senses’. We might pray today that God shows us the aspects of our lives in which we also need to ‘come to our senses’.

In this Season of Creation (1 September to 4 October), we reflect on how each of us needs the transforming acceptance and forgiveness that Christ offers. We lament the destruction of God’s creation, we reflect on the loss of bio-diversity and the loss of human life caused by climate breakdown. Like the Lost Son we pray that as a global community we might ‘come to our senses’ and take the actions that are necessary to change course. It all seems so huge and perhaps we feel there is nothing significant we can do. That is not the case. As parishes we can lead by example and show our commitment to care for the earth. The future of our environment depends on the action we take now as a society. As with all significant change, it begins with the grassroots.

This is an issue that the Church can link with the wider community and offer a space to dialogue and pray.

This week can you encourage your family to make small changes in the home such as ensuring all waste is correctly recycled, composting, encouraging one another to use public transport or walk/cycle when possible? We start with ourselves.

‘I wish to address every person living on this planet … I urgently appeal … for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and it’s human roots, concern and affect us all’ (Laudato Si, 3, 14).

‘This week can you encourage your family to make small changes in the home such as ensuring all waste is correctly recycled’ … rubbish piled up outside the Palace 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. http://nrsvbibles.org

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)

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 8 September 2019,
Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14: 27) … Station 5 in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 8 September 2019, is the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XII).

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

Continuous readings: Jeremiah 18: 1–11; Psalm 139: 1–5, 12–18; Philemon 1–21; Luke 14: 25–33. There is a link to continuous readings HERE.

Paired readings: Deuteronomy 30: 15–20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1–21; Philemon 1–21; Luke 14: 25–33. Link HERE.

In addition, 8 September is also the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin. The readings for that commemoration are: Isaiah 61: 10-11; Psalm 45: 10-17; Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 1: 46-55.

And, of course, 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.

This posting is into three parts, with Part 1 reflecting on the readings for 8 September as Trinity XII, Part 2 reflecting on the readings for 8 September as the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin, and Part 3 including resources for this Sunday in the Season of Creation.

‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14: 27) … Station 5 at Saint John’s Well, Millstreet, Co Cork, Jesus is aided by Simon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Part 1: 8 September 2019, Trinity XII:

A few years, there were popular bumper stickers on cars and wristbands worn by young people that stated boldly: WWJD – ‘What Would Jesus Do?’

But the simplicity of the message, despite its appeal, can be disturbing if we allow it to be simplistic.

Because, at times, the Gospel readings and many of the other Bible readings can be not only challenging but puzzling too.

It is fine if we are asked simply to love God and to love one another is fine, even if we all fail to live up to both challenges for long stretches at a time.

But what about next Sunday’s readings?

The New Testament reading is all but the closing verses of one of the shortest books in the New Testament – but at times it is also one of the most puzzling. In the past it was used by those who resisted the abolition of slavery and the slave trade to justify their case, not morally but for their own vested interests.

And the Gospel reading, at first reading, appears to be telling Wannabe Disciples that they should hate ‘father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself.’

At first reading, it appears to be shocking.

But you know, I sometimes meet Wannabe Disciples who appear to hate ‘father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself.’

You know the sort of person – and they are of every age – who pretends to want to do the right thing but does another, who acts out of self-interest but justifies it by saying like: ‘Oh, I’d love to do that, you know … but my parents still need me … my family wouldn’t like me to … my friends would think me foolish to do so.’

And I’m wondering to myself, ‘so you’d behave like a real Christian if your mother was dead … your sister had moved to Canada … you had no friends left on this earth.’

Do they really hate those near or dear to them so much?

Do they really resent them that much?

Or is it just an excuse … a bad excuse?

So often, it seems that when it comes to making ethical and moral decisions, we take account of what the neighbours are going to think rather than what the Kingdom of God is going to look like.

If we thought first of what our decisions and actions as Christians looked like to those who are not Christians, to those who would like to know what Christianity is about, then we might worry less about what family members or people living on our street were thinking about us.

Do I always act in the interests of the Kingdom of God? Or do I do things hoping that others will think better of me, not do them in case others will think less of me? Does duty get in the way of discipleship?

In the Epistle reading, the Apostle Paul appeals to Philemon to act not out of duty but out of love.

Saint Paul is not thinking of justifying slavery in this Epistle reading. Quite the opposite: he has thought of giving Onesimus his freedom, by stealth (see verse 13).

Saint Paul could have said to Onesiumus he was free on condition he stayed in Rome, or Caesarea or Ephesus, or wherever Saint Paul was writing from. But only on condition that he worked with him (see verses 10 and 11); that would have been conditional freedom only, not true and total freedom.

Saint Paul appeals to Philemon to act not in his own interests, but in the interests of the Kingdom of God.

Imagine if Philemon decided not to listen to Saint Paul. Imagine if he worried about what his neighbours or his family said? Imagine his father saying this is a prize slave I bought for you as a present? Or a neighbour saying, if you free him all the slaves here in Colossae, slaves throughout Phrygia, will be demanding freedom?

The only person who can really free Onesiumus is his owner. And to do that, he must risk ridicule from his family and neighbours. But in doing so, he has the opportunity to be a sign of the Kingdom of God, to be a sign, a token, a sacrament of how God acts towards us.

And each time we return to God, turn back to Christ, then like Onesimus, we can expect to be received not as slaves, but as free brothers and sisters of Christ, welcomed, no longer owing anything, no longer having held against us those things we have done and left undone.

God gives us complete freedom in Christ. And when it comes to making decisions that require moral or ethical action on our part, if we are faced with the choice of living in the Valley of the Squinting Windows or the Kingdom of God, then we must always choose the Kingdom of God, even at the point of risking ridicule.

Then we are no longer slaves but free.

‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14: 27) … ‘Simon,’ Station 5 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 14: 25-33

25 Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.’

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
and to give more than either we desire, or deserve:
Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid,
and giving us those good things
which we are not worthy to ask
save through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

Almighty God,
you have taught us through your word
to count the cost of discipleship:
may we not be distracted by the world’s goods
but rather complete the work given to us:
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 compassion,
in this eucharist we know again your forgiveness
and the healing power of your love.
Grant that we who are made whole in Christ
may bring that forgiveness and healing to this broken world,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Suggested Hymns:

Jeremiah 18: 1–11:

No suggested hymns

Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-18:

51, Awake, my soul, and with the sun
567, Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go
226, It is a thing most wonderful
19 There is no moment of my life

Deuteronomy 30: 15-20:

206, Come, let us to the Lord our God
56, Lord, as I wake I turn to you
591, O happy day that fixed my choice
597, Take my life, and let it be

Psalm 1 :

649, Happy are they, they that love God
56, Lord, as I wake I turn to you
383, Lord, be thy word my rule

Philemon 1-21:

51, Awake, my soul, and with the sun
517, Brother, sister, let me serve you
455, Go forth for God, go forth to the world in peace
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
597, Take my life, and let it be
601, Teach me, my God and King

Luke 14: 25-33:

588, Light of the minds that know him
59, New every morning is the love
593, O Jesus, I have promised
108, Praise to the Holiest in the height
599, ‘Take up thy cross,’ the Saviour said
605, Will you come and follow me

A traditional Greek icon of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Part 2: 8 September: the Birth of the Virgin Mary:

Sunday next is also the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is one of her few festivals that is provided for in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland, which also include the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March) and the Feast of the Visitation (31 May), but not the Dormition or the Assumption, the commemoration of her death (15 August).

The readings for that commemoration are: Isaiah 61: 10-11; Psalm 45: 10-17; Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 1: 46-55.

The provisions of a full set of readings, a collect and post-communion prayer, as well as Penitential Kyries, Peace, Preface and Blessing, presumes that this festival will be celebrated with the Eucharist today [8 September] in cathedrals and parish churches throughout the Church of Ireland.

This feast day is being marked as the Patronal Festival in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and culminates with Choral Evensong at 3.30 p.m.

Canonical scripture does not record the Virgin Mary’s birth. The earliest known account of her birth is found in the Protoevangelium of James (5: 2), an apocryphal text from the late second century, in which her parents are named as Saint Anne and Saint Joachim. Tradition says Joachim and Anna were childless and were fast approaching the years that would place Anna beyond the age of child-bearing.

Traditionally, the Church commemorates saints on the date of their death. The Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist are among the few whose birth dates are commemorated.

The reason for this is found in the singular mission each had in salvation history, but traditionally also because they were also seen as being holy in their birth – Saint John was believed to be sanctified in the womb of his mother, Saint Elizabeth, before his birth (see Luke 1: 15).

The earliest document commemorating this feast is found in a hymn written in the sixth century. The feast may have originated in Syria or Palestine in the early sixth century, probably after the decrees of the Council of Ephesus.

The first liturgical commemoration is connected with the sixth century dedication of the Basilica Sanctae Mariae ubi nata est, now called the Church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem. By the seventh century, the feast was celebrated in the Byzantine tradition as the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the Latin Church was slower in adopting this festival.

In the eighth century, Pope Sergios (687-701) adapted the festival from the Orthodox calendar. The idea of the Immaculate Conception was not promulgated by the Papacy until 1854.

The Orthodox Church disagrees with the concept of the Immaculate Conception. The Orthodox position is that since Jesus Christ is God, he alone is born without sin. Orthodox theologians argue that if the immaculate conception is taken literally, the Virgin Mary would assume the stature of goddess alongside God. At the same time, the popularity of the name of Mary attests to the glorification of the Virgin Mary throughout Orthodox countries.

The Orthodox believe that she was conceived in the normal way of humanity, and so was in the same need of salvation as all humanity. Orthodox thinking varies on whether she actually ever sinned, though there is general agreement that she was cleansed from sin at the Annunciation.

The Gospel reading includes the words of the canticle Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed


The icon and the feast acknowledge a transition from barrenness to life. This foreshadows what is offered through Christ – the transformation from death to eternal life.

In the traditional icon, Saint Anna and Saint Joachim are depicted embracing to indicate the joy of all humanity at this blessed event.

The icon and this feast prefigure the Feast of the Nativity of Christ. But there is a stark contrast between her Nativity and his Nativity: he will be born in a cold and hostile setting, while she is born in a safe and comfortable place.

In these traditional icons, Saint Joachim is show hearing from an angel that he and his wife would be blessed with a child, while Saint Anna reclines on a bed, recovering from the childbirth.

These icons illustrate the tradition that Saint Anna invited pure young women to attend and assist with the care of her child. Some icons also show a banquet on her first birthday, to which scribes, priests and elders were invited.

Saint Andrew of Crete writes: ‘This day is for us the beginning of all holy days. It is the door to kindness and truth.’

The birth of the Virgin Mary in an icon by Mihai Cocu in the Lady Chapel in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 1: 46-55 (NRSVA):

46 And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

The Virgin Mary with her parents, Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, in a mosaic by the Russian artist Boris Anrep (1883-1969) in Mullingar Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on images for full-screen views)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical Colour: White

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who looked upon the lowliness of the Blessed Virgin Mary
and chose her to be the mother of your only Son:
Grant that we who are redeemed by his blood
may share with her in the glory of your eternal kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and his name is called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 7)

Preface:

You chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son
and so exalted the humble and meek;
your angel hailed her as most highly favoured,
and with all generations we call her blessed:

Post-Communion Prayer:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who stooped to raise fallen humanity
through the child-bearing of blessed Mary:
Grant that we who have seen your glory
revealed in our human nature,
and your love made perfect in our weakness,
may daily be renewed in your image,
and conformed to the pattern of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ the Son of God, born of Mary,
fill you with his grace
to trust his promises and obey his will

A statue of Saint Anne with her young daughter, the Virgin Mary, in Nicker Church, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Suggested Hymns:

Isaiah 61: 10-11:

218, And shall it be that I should gain
418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
671, Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
175, Of the Father’s heart begotten

Psalm 45: 10-17:

528, The Church’s one foundation
142, Wake, O wake! With tidings thrilling

Galatians 4: 4-7:

558, Abba Father, let me be
241, Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle
185, Virgin-born, we bow before thee

Luke 1: 46-55:

704, Mary sang a song, a song of love
712, Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

Also suitable:

459, For all the saints, who from their labour rest
461, For all thy saints, O Lord
460, For all your saints in glory, for all your saints at rest (verses 1, 2o, 3)
462, For Mary, mother of our Lord
471, Rejoice in God’s saints, today and all days!
472, Sing we of the blessed mother
139, The angel Gabriel from heaven came (omit verse 4)
476, Ye watchers and ye holy ones

The reredos and original high altar in the Lady Chapel in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Part 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.

Penitential Service for the Season of Creation 2019:

Introduction:

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:

Today’s Gospel is troubling. Does Jesus really expect us to hate our families, friends and even ourselves in order to be his followers? We are being invited to think about how we attach ourselves to things and to people, even to images of ourselves. Attachment can cause all sorts of suffering in our lives. If we are to grow, we must move on from the comfortable, let go of the familiar and that can often be painful.

During the month of September we are celebrating the Season of Creation. We know that our world is currently suffering from a catastrophic loss of bio-diversity, largely caused by a consumerist culture. God’s creatures are disappearing from the Earth at a rate we can scarcely comprehend. Insects, mammals, trees, plants and creatures are becoming extinct and may never be seen again. We pray that this ends and acknowledge that we are part of a complex, delicate and interdependent web of life, created by God. Today’s Gospel invites us to let go. Let go of the attachments in our lives which contribute to this destruction. Let us try to live more simply, more sustainably and encourage others to do the same. We are called to examine our relationship with material things and walk more gently on the earth.

Suggestion for the week: Can you remove single-use plastics from your life? Buy a reusable water bottle and reusable coffee cup. Say no to plastic straws and food wrapping.

‘It is not enough to think of different species merely as potential “resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves … Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right’ (Laudato Si, 33).

‘God has written a precious book, whose letters are the multitude of created things. From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe … Alongside revelation in sacred Scripture, there is a divine manifestation in the blaze of the sun and the fall of night’ (Pope Francis, Laudato Si, 85).

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. http://nrsvbibles.org

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)