St. Mary's Church

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter

1 May 2021 • General news

Acts 8. 26-end

26Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

1 John 4. 7-end

7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

John 15. 1-8

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’

Sermon Thoughts 2 May 2021 (Lorraine Baker)

The story we have heard today from the Acts of the Apostles is an important stepping stone in the spread of the Good News about our Saviour Jesus, within the early church.

If you sit down and read the Acts of the Apostles (as you may know it is one of my favourite parts of the Bible and I have read it several times), you get a glimpse of how the story of Jesus was told to the crowds at Pentecost by Peter and the other disciples. Then as the weeks and months went on, through word of mouth - teaching and preaching in the Temple in Jerusalem - and through a developing way of community living, the number of those who believed in Jesus grew, but as far as we can tell, all of those who turned in faith to Jesus were converts from Judaism, like Jesus himself and his disciples they had been brought up as Jews.

Many people rightly credit Saint Paul with many accolades for having the courage to go out from the Jewish communities and to travel around various parts of the Roman Empire, spreading the Good News about Jesus to all who wanted to listen; and setting up church communities in various towns and cities on his journeys. Paul’s letters to those early Christian churches have provided much of our teaching down the centuries, but several years before Paul’s conversion, Philip has the encounter we have read about today.

Now the road from Jerusalem to Gaza would have been a busy one with travelers going to and from Jerusalem on Pilgrimage and merchants and others travelling to sell their goods.

We don’t know where Philip has been, or who he had been speaking to, all we know is that he receives a message from the Holy Spirit, asking him to go down to the roadside. There as he waits and watches, along comes a chariot, and there sitting in the chariot is an official from the court of Queen Candice of Ethiopia. This man was important within the court and had been in Jerusalem to worship Yahweh. Whilst there he has presumably purchased a scroll containing a copy of the book of Isaiah which he is reading as he travels. Suddenly a man (Philip) runs alongside the chariot and asks him, if he understands the words he is reading. After what appears to be a brief conversation, Philip climbs into the chariot and explains the prophet’s words, linking them to Jesus and explaining all that he has witnessed and what he believes about Jesus. As they travel they come to some water, and the Eunuch asks Philip if he might be baptised, Philip agrees, and as he comes up out of the water, Philip vanishes and the man is left to continue his long journey back to Ethiopia.

The man featured in the story is important for two reasons, firstly, he is an Ethiopian, so he is not a Jew, but what the Jews would have called a proselyte, a convert to Judaism from whatever religion was popular in Ethiopia during his day. Additionally he is described as a eunuch, which might have meant that he had been born with deformed genitalia or that he had been castrated - something that was common for court officials in those days. Whatever the actual reason was for his description, the more important fact is that Philip was led by the spirit to converse with and therefore convert this person who would have been seen as an outsider. Both due to being from Africa and also due to his status as a Eunuch, which would have denied him entry to the Temple in Jerusalem, but this story shows that God had wanted him to hear Philip and his response to the Good News was one of joy and faith.

Our reading from the 1st letter of John, also encourages us not to build up walls against others, but to love one another - to love everyone as God first loved us. In an echo of the famous verse from the Gospel of John, the readers of John’s letter are reminded that God showed his love among us, by sending his “one and only Son into the world that we might believe through him.”

Later on John reminds his readers that if someone says that they live God, but hate their brother, that they are not telling the truth. How can you love someone you haven’t seen if you hate those you live among? Earlier on in John’s letter, he reminds people that hate comes from fear. Fear of otherness often causes people to fear; to be nasty or bullying and that still manifests itself today in racism; in homophobia and in other acts of violence and trauma.

But I want us to hold fast to the message from our story in Acts, that God recognises those who love him regardless of their background or skin colour or any other difference. Everyone can and should have the opportunity to respond to the Gospel, our role is to share the word of God with those we meet, to plant that seed, which God himself can nurture into a fruitful and growing branch within the vine which is the people of God.

Amen.

Prayers of intercession – Sunday 2 May 2021 by Nickie Harwood

As you taught us to think of others, hear us Father as we pray for your church, our world and those we care about.

Father, we pray for our church community here in Walsgrave and give thanks that we can meet in person once again. We pray for Christians across the world- those able to meet together and those who worship alone. Help us to find you in the fellowship, the music, the words, the prayers and the silence. We ask for your continued encouragement for all those planning and leading worship. Continue to inspire and guide them. Help us all to find a deeper connection to you.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

Father, we pray for the nations of the world and their leaders. We long for the time where nations work together for the common good, sharing all that they have so that no one is disadvantaged. We pray for world leaders bearing the heavy burden of responsibility. Give them wisdom to know what is right and the courage to make the right decisions. We pray for the local elections coming up this week. We pray for young people voting for the first time. Help them value the democratic process and use their vote to improve their community. We ask that those elected act as true servants of the people.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

Father, we continue to pray for an end to the Coronavirus pandemic and think especially of countries such as India ravaged by a new wave of the virus. Be with those in crisis, anxious by the lack of medical supplies, unable to breathe and afraid. We pray that across the world the need to work together to eradicate this virus is realised and medical equipment, expertise and vaccines shared with those who need them in order to free us all from repeated lockdowns. Help us all to show the love we have for one another in responsible actions.

Lord in our mercy

Hear our prayer

Father, we pray for our families and friends. We give thanks for the gradual easing of restrictions and the opportunities to meet those we have missed or only spoken to from afar. We think of those visiting family in care homes at last and the chance to catch up on lost time. We give thanks for the joy that is felt and the smiles that are shared. Help us not to forget those who are alone or still unable to see those that they love. Give us a better understanding of the needs of others so that we can be a good neighbour and show your love through our actions.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

Father, we pray for all those who are suffering in body, mind or spirit. We think of those who are facing financial difficulties or who are stressed by their home situation. We bring before you those seeking employment and struggling to find appropriate work. We think especially of young people facing an uncertain future, one that is different to what they had planned or mapped out. Bring them reassurance and hope that tomorrow will be a brighter day. In a moment of quiet, we bring to God anyone known to us who is in particular need of healing and peace.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

Father, we think of those who have recently died. We pray for the family and friends of the PCSO Julia James whose body was found in woodland. Surround those who grieve with your love and comfort them as they come to terms with their loss. We thank you for the promise of eternal life and commend to your everlasting love and care all those who have died.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

Father, as we go out into the world this week, help us to seek out ways to live our lives according to the example set by your son Jesus Christ. Knowing that we are loved by you, help us to reach out to others in love and respect.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ