News from the Benwell & Scotswood Team
The Good Shepherd, 4th century, marble, 95 cm. Musei Vaticani – Museo Pio Cristiano
St James, 11.20am, Sunday 23rd May 2021
This year's 'Annual Parochial Church Meeting' will be held directly after the Sunday morning service. (This will also combine the ADCMs for the individual churches).
Worship returns to St James'
Our team service has now returned to St James' Benwell. You are very welcome to join us even if you're new!
Sundays at 10.30am
Free and cheap meals in the local area
Every Wednesday you can order cheap hot meals from Cornerstone. Get your orders in by Wednesday 10am for free delivery within 2 miles of Cornerstone. Call 0191 2260941 or drop them a message on Facebook. Find out more here >
From 19th April FoodCycle Benwell will dish up free, nutritious meals for the local community every Monday from 7pm - 8pm. Find out more here >
James, Christina, and baby Xavier
Ali Zareie and his family
The Riches Family
Graham Shaw (Priest)
all affected by Covid 19
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again:
keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’
‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
The Revd Chris Minchin
In the first reading Peter and John are arrested and hauled in front of the High Priest, rulers, and elders of Jerusalem. Peter and John have healed a sick man and the elders want to know on whose authority they did so. They suspect some sort of evil power. When asked, they declare it is in the name of Jesus Christ they healed, that the healing is a declaration of his goodness. They then say:
“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.”
Peter and John remind them that the person they rejected is the source of this healing, has become the cornerstone for building a new world. The rulers and elders did not recognise goodness for what it was, they cast aside something as rubbish when it was actually the most precious of things.
Contrast the reaction of the elders with the sheep of our Gospel reading. The good shepherd knows his own and they know him. A friend of mine who has worked on farms reliably informs me that sheep can be rather stupid animals, incredibly smelly, and frequently end up in danger and need rescuing. But even these stupid animals can recognise the one who cares for them- not the hired hand who runs away at the first sign of a wolf, but the shepherd whose livelihood is based on them, who loves them enough to lay down his life for them, and who adds to their number. The shepherd is precious to the sheep and the sheep are precious to the shepherd.
Do you look with clear eyes and simply see goodness for what it is like the sheep do? Do you look for goodness in the world around you? Or like the rulers and elders who arrested Peter and John, do you look with suspicion at those who are different to you?
This can apply in so many different ways to those around us. When you see a group of kids on the street, do you feel threatened or do you think “how wonderful that young people feel safe enough to play on the street”? When you see someone you don’t recognise coming into the church do you rejoice that someone has come seeking God or do you immediately assume they are here to steal the silver? Of course it’s not always easy to distinguish, it is not uncommon for a group of kids to be up to no good, and sometimes that person is trying to steal the silver. But the point is, if our minds get stuck always looking for the worst, then we can miss entirely where there is goodness. We can mistake the Good Shepherd for an uncaring hired hand or even kick out at him as if he were a wolf.
Ultimately, this attitude comes from an entirely sensible instinct to protect ourselves from danger and pain. When we have been abused, insulted or the things we hold precious have been mocked and damaged, then it is a completely natural response. But if we let ourselves be driven by this fearful instinct alone, then we not only run the risk of missing what is good, but it can turn into something more dangerous. This is where intolerance begins, where prejudice can grow, and when we can become bullies without realising it.
This week we have been reminded of the darkest extremes of that kind of prejudice. Race has been at the forefront of the news again. We had ‘Stephen Lawrence day’ in memory of the black teenager murdered by a group of white boys who believed that people who look different to them were a threat to our nation and culture. The murderer of George Floyd was also convicted this week. He refused to see humanity and goodness in the man whose neck he knelt on for over 9 minutes until he died, he saw only a threat, someone dangerous. What is truly horrific is I am sure Derek Chauvin at the time utterly believed he was doing the right thing to protect himself and others. He probably would argue he was just doing his job, but actually he acted out of a fear that had grown into hatred, he was a murderer in a police uniform, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
This week it also came to light that after the first world war, though the heroic efforts of so many soldiers who died fighting for the British Empire were honoured with distinctive headstones all across the world (including some you can see in our own churchyard), except for Asian and African soldiers who died fighting on the same side in the same war, were commemorated by being shoved in mass unmarked graves outside of consecrated ground.
These are the extreme conclusions of prejudice but they are not uncommon and the attitude begins somewhere. Those prejudiced sentiments can begin not very far from home indeed. Some of you may have seen the deeply shameful documentary on racism in the Church of England this week and its coverage in the news, including interviews with Augustine who was on placement with us here and Michelle, a Curate in Hartlepool who I sometimes have ministry training sessions with. They describe awful incidents, but also the constant grinding and disheartening sense of being overlooked and treated differently just because of their race.
In our churches we have erred too much on the side of keeping things as they are, trusting those who look, dress, and talk how we would expect. We only encourage those privileged few who look and sound right. We have longed for the good old days of people in their Sunday best, full churches, rousing hymns, Summer fayres, but we miss what is good in front of us now.
If we want to grow and build the church here in Benwell and Scotswood don’t fail to recognise the incredible goodness that is in front of us. Remember those two great commandments, love God and love one another. When you look at your neighbour, you must begin by looking with love not fear, there are no exceptions to the rule, it is the core commandment on which all others hang. Celebrate those who are different to you, celebrate those people that others would prefer didn’t exist or would go away. Let’s build a new world with the cornerstone of diversity. For those of you who are new, welcome to your church. You might not feel like you belong yet but we need you. You are not just here to receive our hospitality, this is your home too, we need you to build a better world with us on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ - the stone that was rejected.
All of us must look with the clear eyes. Recognise goodness for what it is. Not what you imagine it is or hope it to be. Look at the people who are here and see Jesus is right in front of you.