Saturday, October 29, 2011

mid-term



It's mid-term & I have the week off & am unlikely to be doing any blogging. But may I make a suggestion? There's been a fair amount of traffic on this blog of late (it has grown, a bit like the mustartd seed of today's Gospel!) ... why don't you introduce yourselves & chat a bit in the comments box? It would be nice for me to know who you are & why you visit this blog ... and a little bit of chat would create some 'virtual' fellowship ... instead of the blog being someting you look at, why not help make it something of an internet community?

By the way, if you want to keep up with the lectionary readings, you can find the list for the next week here and you can look them up by typing the reference into the search box here (of course, you can always use a Bible  - that still works!).

Anyway, enjoy the week. 

In Christ,

Levi+

Friday, October 28, 2011

St Simon and St Jude



Today is the feast of St Simon and St Jude. Both were apostles. Both suffered a martyrs death. Tradition holds that St Jude died in Syria, perhaps clubbed to death; while Simon may have died in Persia, having been sawed in half. Simon is also known as Simon the Zealot, perhaps as much to distinguish him from the other apostle called Simon, Peter; and Jude is probably the same person we hear called Judas, not Iscariot, in order not to confuse him with that other Judas who betrayed Jesus.

The need to distinguish these men from other, more well known, individuals, highlights the fact that both are relatively obscure figures ... we have very little information about them, other than that they are apostles. From that fact though we can be sure that where ever in the New Testament we hear the apostles, or the 12, or even once or twice in Acts, the 11, that these two men were present.

This means that they were with Jesus for almost all his ministry; that they journeyed with him, ate with him, endured hardship & good times with him; witnessed the miracle; listened to his teaching; questioned him when they did not understand; ate with him, daily and of course at the Last Supper; saw him risen; watched him ascend into heaven; received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; and then worked to establish the Church and spread the Good News of their Lord Jesus Christ until the day they died.

Hence the words of our Epistle this morning, which tell us that we are members of the household of God, which is built on the foundation of the Apostles. Hence also the words of our Gospel, where he warns his followers that they will face hatred just as he did and run the risk of suffering the same fate as their master. Simon and Jude knew what they were letting themselves in for.

And yet they remained faithful ... faithful unto death. Why? Because they had faith in Jesus, faith in the Good News that first he and then they proclaimed. We owe a huge debt to their faith, and the faith of others like them. We may not know much about them as individuals other than their names ... but we know what they did and what they were willing to suffer so they could pass on the message of the one with whom they journeyed. And so we mark this day in their memory ... and pray that we, like they, even though relatively unknown may keep the faith ... pass on the Good News to others ... and at the last join with them and all the Saints in Glory. Amen.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

faithful unto death


In our Gospel reading today, Jesus shows his awareness of his impending death. More, he shows that that he always knew that this would be the ultimate end of his mission. But his reaction is not anger but sorrow, sorrow not for himself but for the people. He wants to gather them together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. This homely image shows the love that he has for people. Knowing that they will kill him, he shows that what he wants more than anything else to protect them; knowing that his ministry will end in death, he does not run away from it. He is faithful to us, even unto death. We, in our lives, should be no less. Amen.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

the secrets of heaven



In our Gospel reading today, the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks  in parables to the crowds. The implication is: why not speak plainly to them, just as you do to us? I wonder why they ask that question. Jesus wasn't the first to use parables. We find other examples in the Old Testament. True, he seems to use them a lot. But then, they are such great teaching tools. People can learn so much more from a story than a plain statement of dogma. And it is easier to remember.

Jesus reply is fascinating. He says 'To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.' He seems to be saying that for those who open themselves to him in faith, understanding comes easily; but for those who do not, what he has to say seems a mystery.

Somewhat ironically it seems that in order to penetrate, even slightly, the mysteries of faith requires faith. I'm sure that must appear something of a 'cop-out' to those without faith (or those who think they do not have faith ... I'm not at all sure how many, in their heart of hearts, are truly convinced that life, the universe, & everything is a meaningless accumulation of random chance). But to me it makes sense. An act of faith is required to open one's eyes to the deeper mysteries of faith.

But the good news is, that however poor and small you think your faith is, however weak it is and however little exercise you give it, it is enough for a beginning. Remember that Jesus once said that even a tiny amount of faith, faith the size of a mustard seed, if it were sincerely held could move a mountain. I often puzzled over that statement, knowing that there have been a great many people of faith, and having yet to hear of a mountain being moved. (Of course, a person of faith would not ask for such a thing to happen; only someone without faith, looking for proof ... it's a bit of a Catch-22 really.) But I wonder if, in a sense, he meant that a tiny bit of faith was enough to move the mountain of doubt that we can all carry within us at times?

In which case we can rejoice. Because it means that when we read the Gospels, or hear them being read to us, we can hear Jesus speaking directly to us. And we can know that, even if it is only in our own frail and weak way, we are learning the secrets of heaven.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gadafy



Today's Gospel is the parable of the sower, but in the context of recent events I am put in mind of the verses from Galatians about reaping what you sow. I am talking about Gadafy. If ever a man reaped what he sowed it was he. After 42 years of presiding over a murderous regime he was finally and bloodily brought down. Not only that, but his refusal to accept that it was over brought death down on his head and on the heads of many of his followers, including several of his own immediate family. If he had fled, either to the Hague to face justice, or to some third country which was willing to offer him asylum, much of this could have been avoided.

So no tears for Gadafy. And yet, there is much about recent events that make me uncomfortable. I am uneasy when someone is captured alive, and then minutes later is shot dead. The claim is that he was killed in the crossfire between his forces and those who overthrew him, and that may well be true, but it is a claim with the whiff of vigilante justice hanging over it.

What has followed his death is nothing less than grotesque. His death may have been accidental, but this is deliberate. His corpse, now visibly decomposing, stinking, and leaking fluids on display as people jubilantly file by in a horrible parody of 'lying in state' is in blatant disregard of the respect that is due to the dead body of anyone. All through human history we find evidence of the deep rooted need to treat human remains with dignity and respect. What is happening in Libya not only is a violation of that natural impulse, but also of the religious laws that the people who overthrew Gadafy claim to follow.

It is not a good start to the new regime in that country. It makes me wonder if what follows the death of this man will be much better than what came before it. Gadafy presided over a brutal and bloody oppression of his people. It took a long time, but finally he reaped what he had sown. Those who brought him down should learn from that and make a fresh start in which everyone's rights are respected, including the rights in death that are due to all, even a hated dictator. If they do not, perhaps the day will come when they also reap what they have sown. I can only pray that they do not find that by neglecting their duties and obligations to others it is their own rights they have undermined.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Family



The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis suggests that in essence all people are conected by a common ancestry. Modern DNA testing proves it. And in today's Gospel reading Jesus says that this is how we are all called to live. We are all children of God. We are all called to do his will. In doing so we are all brothers & sisters in Christ.

To make such a radical re-declaration of what it means to be family was no light thing for Jesus to do. Family was important to the Jews of his time, who made up the crowd listening to him. Family obligations were complex, but the bottom line was that you looked after family. Jesus was just making a fuzzy, feel-good statement that 'we're all family now, boys & girls.' He was saying we're family and have obligations towards each other: we had to make sure their needs were met ... emotional, material - & of course spiritual.

We are all family, as children of God and by blood. And Jesus calls us to live as such. We have to look at the world around us and live as such. Amen.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

hard choices

 

Sermon notes: 23 October 2011
May my words be in the Name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit - Amen.

Today is the feast of St James, brother of our Lord, which is why we have the new Testament readings that we have today … our Gospel shows Jesus redefining family … from now on we were to be seen as children of God, with all being part of one family in Christ … and our reading from Acts showing St James as the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem … effectively its first bishop …

The meeting he is presiding over is usually referred to as the Council of Jerusalem or the apostolic council … or to use a good Church of Ireland term, we might call it the first General Synod!

So what was the meeting about? It sounds like they are laying down some very minimal requirements that people are to observe if they are to be welcomed in as Christians … but what is on the agenda is far more important than that … what is on the table is in fact the crucial issue that will determine whether Christianity will become a world-wide religion or remain an obscure cult …
Because what they are deciding is not about a few minimal rules … but whether if you are to be welcomed in to the Christian family you must first become a Jew … and all that entails … all the dietary restrictions … all the rules about table fellowship & hygiene … and most importantly the rule about circumcision …

The Jewish faith was very much respected in the Ancient World, primarily because of its strict moral code … many were attracted to it … and followed it in a way – they were known as 'God fearers' .. but few made the leap of actual conversion … for several reasons … Jewish laws about table fellowship & not eating with non-Jews made it seem very un-social … the hygiene and purity laws were very restrictive … and of course the law about all males being circumcised presented a lot of difficulties in the Ancient World, especially in terms of adult converts … in a world without antiseptics and anaesthesia such a requirement would not only have been incredibly painful but actually life threatening, holding out the prospect of a very nasty way to die indeed!
So that was what was being decided in Jerusalem that day … and it was far from being a painless decision for the early church … we know from St Paul's letters that it was very controversial … and you can perhaps see why … the salvation offered by the Messiah came through the Jews … the idea of offering it to all the world without their having to first become Jewish wasn't an easy one for all to swallow …

But the hard decision was made … for the sake of making the good news of Jesus Christ available to all the world … for the sake of growth to use another term … and it worked … free of the cultural shackles of Judaism, Christianity spread like wildfire … and within a few centuries was the state religion of the empire …

But it wouldn't have happened if those present at that first Council hadn't being willing to make some hard decisions & move outside their comfort zone for the sake of spreading the word and growing the church, fulfilling the command to make disciples of all peoples … which leaves us with the question: what are the hard decisions that we are willing to make? Are we willing to move outside our comfort zone? Do we invite people in … but make it conditional on their fitting in with the way that we do things … things that may have nothing to do with the word of God but everything to do with what we are comfortable or used to? These are not idle questions … census figures and the results of our own internal number crunching shows that the church is in a slow decline … it needs to be addressed … as a matter of urgency … and that will require hard decisions … but if we think what it is that the church has to offer is of value, then we will make those hard decisions, however painful we may find them to be to think about … and perhaps, in the making of them, we may find ourselves rejoicing as they did in Jerusalem that day … as we find that what seemed a painful sacrifice is actual the movement of the Holy Spirit calling us to do what is needed to share the Word that is so precious to us … ... Amen.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

by its fruit ...



In today's Gospel Jesus talks about judging a tree by its fruits. I'm not sure if this ties in, but I've recently suffered a couple of disappointments ... one major, one less so.

The minor one concerned a masters programme I was trying to sign up for. It seemed very good, reasonable in price, & do-able in terms of time commitment for a priest in parish ministry. Initially there seemed to be no difficulties with my application. Then the started to crop up. First the university was unwilling to accept my theology degree as meeting the entry requirements. But that wasn't a major obstacle; they would accept the masters degree I already had instead. But they needed a transcript sent directly from the awarding university, which was in the US. I sent off for it in good time, but as the deadline approached I heard nothing ... the deadline passed & still nothing ... they gave me a short extension ... and still nothing ... it was very frustrating.

While the clock was counting down, I remembered another masters programme that I had come across after I had signed up for this one. It had looked good & I sent off a query out of interest. They sent me loads of stuff, & even had a local rep phone me. They said they would have been very happy for me to apply, but understood that I had a previous commitment. The funny thing was, I was almost sorry I had applied for the first course: this one seemed better ... and the staff were very accommodating.

I got out the material they had sent me. The deadline for their course had passed also. I sent them a brief email: would they consider a late application? The rep said he would leave no stone unturned. A couple of days later I was accepted. So what was initially a disappointment turned into joy. The first course falling through led to something better.

So I'm trusting something similar will happen in regard to the major disappointment. That what seems now like something having gone wrong will in the fullness of time turn out to have been something right. That it wasn't so much a door closing, as a door opening in to another, better room.

In the meantime it is time for prayer & faith. Prayer to align myself to God's will in this matter, whatever that shall be. And faith that whatever that will is, all will be well. Because the tree of faith is one whose fruit I have tasted may times. And always it has been good. Amen. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

loyalty



Loyalty cards are all the rage. Every shop & cafe seems to have one. My wife was tidying out her wallet last night & held up the stack of them she has acquired ... it was literally over an inch thick! Dozens of every colour for all kinds of places and services.

Looking at them, I remarked to her that that many loyalty cards doesn't seem to demonstrate much loyalty!

But joking aside, it did make me think ... think about all the different things that compete for our loyalty ... politics, consumerism, secularism, sensuality, ambition ... not to mention faith! How many 'ways' can we follow before it becomes apparent that we are not really following any of them, that we are true to nothing?

So think about this. Think about picking one way & letting everything else flow in your life from that. Let it guide how you live in every area of your life. Don't pick at random. Pick according to what you judge is the way that wants what is best for you and for all people. Not the way that only cares for your vote; not the way that favours the rich over the poor, the strong over the weak; not the way that is without substance, that gives you nothing that can last.

Yeah, yeah - I know; I am being as subtle as a brick ... but sometimes I think we can over do subtlety ... we're almost at the point where we all want to be so politically correct that we are afraid to say anything. Well, I am a priest ... and if I won't say that faith in Christ is what gives true meaning to life, then I should think about doing something else! A bit of blunt talk is needed at times. I mean, look at today's Gospel: Jesus wasn't afraid of putting things bluntly now and again. The Pharisees suggest that Jesus casts out demons by the power of the ruler of demons. But Jesus all but snorts with laughter and says this is nonsense - this would be Satan fighting against himself, which would bring about his ultimate downfall. 

So I am offering you another loyalty card. It is a cross. It is yours and you are invited to pick it up and follow Jesus. I have no doubt it will give you a few splinters and blisters. But it also brings great rewards. It allows you to lead the life you were created to lead. And it offers the biggest reward of all: eternal life. Amen.

(icon: exaltation of the Holy Cross)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

mision, mission, mission



I've been thinking a lot about mission lately. Let me rephrase: I always think about mission - I think it is something that all Christians are called to as a priority - but I have been giving it some added attention of late. There are a variety of reasons for this. A major one would be the slow decline in numbers coming to Church of Ireland of the years. We have started a number of initiatives in the parish in an attempt to reach out to people. The initiatives are doing well, but so far it is mainly those who are already faithful church goers who come, rather than anyone new or who had fallen away.

That's ok, though, because hopefully it gives them added strength so they can fulfil their part when it comes to mission. I always think there should be a three-part approach when it comes to mission. Evangelise yourself, evangelise the faithful, evangelise others. Evangelise yourself through regular prayer and study to keep yourself strong in the faith - you can't share what you don't have. Evangelise the faithful, through regular encouragement through shared worship and prayer, amongst other things - everyone needs to be strong in the faith if they are to share it with others ... just as an athlete needs to eat well if they are to compete, so too the faithful need regular spiritual nourishment if they are to have the strength for mission. And evangelise others through welcome and outreach and especially by living what it is that we have in Christ.

In our Gospel reading today we hear the words 'and in his name the gentiles will hope.' They can not hope in that which they have not heard. They can not hear unless the name is brought to them by those who believe. And we can not bring it to them unless we have it strong and sure in our own hearts. So remember mission & remember to begin with yourself ... and remember it does not end there. Amen.

(icon of the myrrh bearing women)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

render unto God


May my words be in the Name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit - Amen.

Given the topic of the Gospel, the fact that the 'pay & file' deadline is fast approaching, & that I used to be a tax inspector, I was very tempted to preach about paying your taxes!

But instead, I want to talk about how the crowd must have reacted when Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees when they were trying to trap him. The Pharisees were bright boys … very full of themselves … we might call them the Jesuits of their time … they thought they were being very clever, setting Jesus a question which whatever way he answered he was going to look wrong … but Jesus instead made them look foolish … and I think the crowd of on-lookers must have roared with laughter to see them being caught out … Jesus was one of their own, from a working class background … there is nothing quite so sweet as seeing someone who thinks he's better than everyone else being put firmly in his place!

In fact, I think there must have been a lot of laughter around Jesus … we know he gave his disciples nick-names, for example; not the mark of someone who was grim & serious all the time; he certainly enjoyed a party … the wedding feast at Cana … and his critics called him a glutton and a drunkard … because he loved sitting down at table with his disciples, instead of going around all gloomy and fasting all the time … and it would be hard to believe, when you read about how Jesus and his disciples were waling all over the country side that they didn't shorten the road with some jokes and funny stories … his companions were fishermen and farmworkers … and having spent time in the Navy & spent half my youth on farms, I know full well that jokes and laughter are the order of the day … the same as you get when any group of people gather … and of course, we have to remember that Jesus was fully human … and a sense of humour is one of our most precious gifts from God … joking, smiling, & laughing … the sheer joy of being alive … must have been very much a part of Jesus life … and the lives of those who spent time with him …

The joy and the laughter must have been part of what drew people to him … that brought the every-increasing circle of followers to gather around him … and thinking about our Gospel today, I wonder if that is what we need to 'render unto God' more than anything else today … the sense of joy and fun that there is in being a follower of Christ … church attendance is plummeting everywhere … and yet, given the economic conditions & other causes of misery that are so widespread in our world, one might think that what people need more than anything is the warm glow one gets in one's heart that comes from knowing Christ and following him.

Perhaps we haven't been too good in the past at communicating that sense of joy … maybe we have focused too much on the negatives the 'you mustn't do thats' rather than the positives … we have given ourselves some pretty bad PR … and the time has come to change! Because Jesus wanted people to follow him … and he gave his disciples the job of making disciples of all nations … which means it is our job … and one of the ways we can do that is by showing people how wonderful it is to follow him … and to do that people have to see how much fun we have that comes from that … if we let them think that all the joy in our life comes from other things, secular things, then we are 'rendering unto Caesar' the things that belong to God … and so I pray the you & I & all others will share the joy we have in Christ with all others always … Amen.

Sermon notes for Sunday, 16 October 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

St Luke

 

Tradition has it that St Luke was one of the Seventy sent out by Jesus (hence our Gospel reading for this, his festival day) as well as being the other, unnamed, disciple who journeyed to Emmaus on the first Easter morn. However, if we are to consider him as a candidate for authorship of the Gospel that bears his name, as well as Acts, then these traditions are most likely not correct, for the writer makes it clear that he is not an eye-witness to the Gospel events.

So what do we know about St Luke? Well, from St Paul's letters we know that he was a doctor - he is called the 'beloved physician' - and one of his companions on his missions and that he was a gentile. As the author of Acts starts referring to events in the first person late in that book, then we know that the writer was a companion of St Paul. And a process of elimination of Paul's known companions, based on the information we have in the New Testament, makes St Luke the most likely author of Acts. And as no serious scholar suggests that Acts and St Luke's Gospel had different authors, this means that we have little reason to doubt that St Luke is the writer of the Gospel that bears his name.

There is something about the idea of the 'beloved physician' being the author of one of the Gospels that I find very appealing, because it carries with it, for me, the idea that this beloved doctor dispensed his best medicine through it - the healing medicine of the the good news of Jesus Christ. And it is interesting to note to whom he addresses his Gospel. It is to 'Theophilus' which means 'lover of God.' So it means that his Gospel is also addressed to all those who love God ... and that the healing medicine of this Gospel is also administered directly to us, by the beloved physician who feast we celebrate today. Amen.

(a short reflection preached in St Fin Barre's Cathedral Cork on the feast of St Luke)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

the prophecy of John the Baptist



In our Gospel reading today Jesus is praising John the Baptist. He is a prophet ... and Jesus reminds the crowd that this is something that they all knew; this is why they went out into the wilderness to see him. And as a prophet, John said of himself that he prepared the way for another who was to come after him; Jesus reminds the crowd that this was what the prophet Malachi said, that one would be sent who would prepare the way for the Messiah.

So John is more than a prophet, Jesus says ... for he is a prophet who comes in fulfillment of a prophecy. And John, as we know, pointed to Jesus and said that he was the one, declaring at Jesus' baptism that it was Jesus who should baptise him.

So Jesus is doing more here than remind the crowd that John is a prophet. He is reminding them what kind of a prophet he is and what it was he prophesied about. He is reminding them that he foretold the coming of the Messiah. And that those words found fulfillment in the one who was now before them: Jesus himself.

Friday, October 14, 2011

the one to come



In our Gospel reading this morning, we are told how St John the Baptist, in his prison cell hears about all that Jesus is doing and sends word to him asking 'if he is the one to come?' And Jesus' answer is not a simple 'yes - yes I am!' Rather he says: 'look at what I am doing. The blind see; the lame walk; the deaf hear; lepers are cleansed; the dead are raised; and the poor have the good news brought to them.' That is Jesus' answer to John's question. Not a 'yes' but 'look at the evidence and decide for yourself.'

It is interesting that it is John the Baptist who asks the question. In all four Gospels it is he who first points to Jesus as being the one who he had said was to come. Is he doubting at this point? Hard to blame him if he is: he is in prison for offending the most powerful people in his world. People who literally have the power of life and death over others. He must know he hasn't got long to live. He's alone, and vulnerable, and needs reassurance.

A bit like most of us at times. Perhaps more often than we'd like to admit. Maybe that is why Jesus answers him as he does. John needed more than a mere 'yes' under the circumstances. And Jesus gave him the best answer possible - an answer that says 'you know what I have done - who else could I be?'

And of course, he didn't just give that answer to John. He gave it to all John disciples as well. And all his own. Which includes us. So when we face the times when we are feeling vulnerable and perhaps beset by doubts we have more than just a 'yes,' more than just a claim which we can not verify. We have all that Jesus did. And they give us the same answer that they gave John. We see what he has done. And we know that he can be no other than the one who was to come.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

happy anniversary!



I'm just back from our annual diocesan clergy conference. Since it was last year's speaker who encouraged me to start a blog, this kind of makes it the first anniversary of this forum ... & I suppose I should be grateful that this year's speaker didn't suggest I stop writing!

This year's conference was looking at some historical perspectives on the Church of Ireland and we had as our guest speaker the distinguished historian (& my former Theological College principal) Professor/Canon Adrian Empey. I learned a lot at the conference & I'm not going to do disservice to all that Prof Empey had to say by trying to condense it all into a few paragraphs here. Suffice it to say that it is always good to know something of the history of any organisation or group, because history provides context, and from context flows greater understanding.

Equally important at these clergy gatherings is the fellowship that ensues. It is especially good when those who might have different perspectives on various issues are able to sit at table and chat about their varying views and listen each to the other with respect.

Perhaps this is the approach to take any time a contentious issue arises: take those who shout the loudest on either side of the debate and lock them in together for a few days ... get them to commit to live, eat, & pray together during that time ... and most importantly, to commit to really listen to what the other side has to say ... avoiding polemic, rhetoric, debate, point-scoring and all the rest ... simply commit to listen respectfully to each other ... and see if they can't find a way to journey forward in Christian fellowship.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

St Phillip the Deacon



Today is the feast of St Phillip the Deacon. As someone who was ordained first deacon then priest I have a special place in my heart for St Phillip ... but I wasn't too thrilled with his day falling today of all days, when I had a school assembly to plan concerning him - especially following a really hectic weekend with hardly a minute to spare!

So how does one talk about the idea of diaconal service to 200 children? Well, I read the story in Acts about the calling of Phillip and the rest of the Seven & inspiration came from that. I bought a loaf of french bread on the way to the school & began by having some of the teachers start handing some of it out to the junior infants up at the front - the poor, hungry mites! But then I stopped them and said that while this was an important job, the teachers already had an important job of teaching the children ... so maybe someone else should do this. I selected seven 6th class students - responsible children who had been in the school since junior infants - & had them hand out the bread instead. And as they did so, I read aloud the passage from Acts.

When the bread was all handed out, I spoke to the children about how important it was to divide the jobs up so that all the work was done and none of it was forgotten or neglected. I told them that we are all called to serve in our own ways & asked them to remember when they prayed to listen to what God was saying to them so they could find out what he wanted them to do ... to find out the way in which they were called to serve. It was, after all, what St Phillip and all the others of the early Church did, so I felt it was not bad advice for the children.

Probably it is not bad advice for everyone. God bless.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Creation 3 of 3


In our Gospel reading St John tells us that Jesus came so that the whole world might be saved through him ... the word we translate as 'world' is in Greek 'Kosmos' ... which means all of creation ... Jesus has come into the world so that all of creation might be saved ... we should not find that so strange an idea ... in Genesis, God creates through the power of his Word ... and in Jesus that Word has been made flesh, as St John tells us ... the Word that created everything has been made flesh to save everything ...

This, I think, ties into the idea of stewardship I spoke of earlier ... when God created us, he created us to be in relationship with him ... and part of that relationship was giving us this world to live in, to care for, to nurture, and protect ... and when that relationship with God was broken, our relationship with the rest of creation was broken also ...

and it is this broken relationship that allows us to see ourselves as somehow apart from nature ... to see ourselves as being above it, or outside it, to wound it or damage it in any way we like ... to destroy the habitat of other creatures without consequence ... to use up resources that can not be replaced with ferocious speed ... to pour every kind of filth and pollutant into the air, water, or earth with hardly a thought or hesitation ...

But Jesus came into the world to restore our relationship with God, to make it whole ... and in order to do that he also had to restore our relationship with all of creation ... with all the world ... with the 'kosmos' as St John puts it ...

Caring for the world we live in is not just the right thing to do because we live here, and need what it provides for our food and all our other needs ... and not just because other people live here whose lives are damaged by our lack of care ... and not only because we must protect it so that our children and their children and all the children to come will have a home that is filled with life and beauty and all the things they need ... and not only because it is the home of all life, plant and animal, who were also created by God, and who have just as much right to live out their lives here ... but because at a profoundly deep level we must live live out our lives in peace and harmony with our world if we are ever to come to understand what it means to lead the lives that God wants us to lead ... and created in his image to lead ...
Amen.

(part 3 of 3 reflections on the theme of creation given as part of a broadcast service on RTE One television 9 October 2011)

UPDATE: here's a link to RTE's 'Service On Sunday' in which the reflection above aired. The link is good for 21 days from date of original broadcast.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Creation 2 of 3



Earlier this week it was the feast day of one of the most popular
saints of all time ... St Francis of Assisi ... he is so loved

for a great many reasons; he was a good and humble man; as a rich young man he gave up everything to follow Christ and to lead his life according to the Gospel; he was fiercely passionate in all he did & inspired countless others to follow in his way of life, not only during his own life-time, but during the centuries that followed; he was unfailing cheerful and good-humoured, especially when his life was at it's toughest ... in his own short life, he surfed greatly from illness and disease, particularly when at the end of his life he could hardly move, was blind, and in great pain; and yet he always had a smile on his lips; was unceasingly kind and generous to others; and made his life an endless prayer of thanks to God ...

But St Francis is particularly loved because of his love of nature ... he loved the birds and the animals, the flowers and the trees, the wind, the moon, the stars, and the sun! Which of course makes him a very appropriate saint in relation to our theme of creation!

The love that St Francis had for the world around him is echoed again and again in scripture ... in our psalm this morning, we are reminded how the world is full of the different creatures that God has created ... 'your creatures' the psalmist writes ... all life, like us are God's creatures ... and they like us depend on God for their existence ... they look to you for their food ... all life, like us, were created by God, and all life, like us, rely on him to sustain them ...

In the Genesis account of creation you will remember that as God creates the the plants, the animals, the fish, the birds, the insects, that he looks on what he has done and sees that it is good. He looks on he sun, the stars, the moon, the earth and the sky and sees that it is good. As he creates each part of the world, he says that it is good ... but it is not until he is done, until he looks upon the whole of his creation, that he says that it is very good ... we are together God's very good creation ... and what damages one part of it, damages it all ... to harm it, is to harm ourselves ...
Amen.
(part 2 of 3 reflections on the theme of creation given as part of a live broadcast on RTE One television 9 Oct 2011)
UPDATE: here's a link to RTE's 'Service on Sunday' in which the above reflection originally aired. The link is good for 21 days from the original broadcast.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Creation 1 of 3


reading 

It is funny how things work out. A few weeks ago, long before I was asked to do this service on the theme of Creation, I was asked to do a school assembly ... and the theme for that was also Creation.

So I wracked my brains trying to come up with an idea that would give a group of 200 children, ranging in age from 4 to 12, the idea of how fragile the world we live in is ... and I came up with the idea of using a balloon, a pin, and some sticky tape!

Now, most of you will know that that if you put a tape piece of tape on a balloon you can stick a pin in it and it won't burst. It is simple physics – the tape stops the skin of the balloon from tearing open when the pin goes in. But to the children it seemed like magic! They really believed that I had a balloon that wouldn't burst. In fact, after a few pin-sticks I asked the children to raise their hands to show who thought that the balloon wouldn't burst next time ... and most of them thought that it wouldn't!

My idea was that the balloon was the world … and the pin is every-thing we do that's careless or dangerous with our environment … we can think we're being clever … that we know the risks and can control them … and we can get away with it for a while ... but eventually, something goes wrong ... we miss the tape ... or the tape is so full of holes that it can't hold the balloon together any-more ... and it goes bang!

And it does happen ... oil spills, over-fishing leading to collapses in fish-stocks, global warming leading to climate change and drought and starvation ...

In our reading a few minutes ago we heard the story of the creation ... about how God created the world and gave it to us ... the translation uses the words 'subdue' & 'have dominion over' but we shouldn't understand that to mean that we can do what we like ... God gave the world to all his children for all time ... that means that we are not lords and masters but stewards ... it is not ours to destroy if we wish ... it is ours to enjoy for now and look after for those generations that are to come ... and because it belongs to everyone, we can not do damage in one part that will affect those living in another ... when God completed his creation, he said it was very good ... it is not for us to do anything that will make it otherwise ...
Amen
(part one of three reflections on the theme of creation given as part of a live  broadcast service on RTE One television 9 Oct 2011)
UPDATE: here's a link to RTE's 'Service on Sunday' in which the above reflection aired. The link is good for 21 days after the original broadcast.

Friday, October 7, 2011

open your eyes



In our reading today, Jesus heals two blind men. And as remarkable as that is, what really catches my attention is what he says before he does it. He asks them if they believe he can do it. They say 'yes Lord.' and  Jesus says 'According to your faith may it be done to you.'

What is the connection in the Gospels between faith and being healed by Jesus? Why should Jesus healing someone be connected to their faith?

Remembering that miracles are parables in action, I wonder does it point to the idea that if we are to have a relationship with Jesus, it requires a response on our part ... that he is willing to give to us of himself, but not against our will. An openness to the relationship he offers is required.

For the two men in the passage some effort was required. They had to follow Jesus, first down the road, and then into the house. Images of seeking, journey, followed by an entering into an intimate space where the naked appeal is made: 'have mercy on us, Son of David.' Perhaps that is part of what these verses are telling us. That seeking and journey is required; that a humble appeal for mercy is needed - an appeal made prayerfully and with faith. And that what follows will indeed open our eyes to what it is that Jesus offers.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

the source of life



In today's reading we get St Matthew's version of the little girl being brought back to life 'sandwhiching' the story of the woman healed of a flow of blood. In St Mark's account we hear that the woman has suffered for 12 years and that the little girl is 12 years old, further inter-twining the story of the two recipients of Jesus power. In Jewish society of the time, a woman was ritually unclean when menstrual blood was flowing. So this woman had been ritually unclean for 12 years. She was effectively socially dead, excluded from normal human contact, excluded from the religious practices of her people. She is socially dead. And being debarred from religious practices, she must have felt spiritually dead also. She is shunned by people and feels excluded from God. Through this healing she has been metaphorically reborn to life. And the young girl is literally reborn.

Both are given new life through the healing powers of Jesus. He is, as St John tells us, the 'Way, the Truth, and the Life.' He is the source of all life: literal, metaphorical, spiritual.'

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

teach me how to pray



The Gospel reading for Holy Communion today has St Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer. While St Matthew's might be the better known, there is a simplicity to Luke's that I find very appealing. The beginning is more personal - instead of 'Our Father' it begins just with 'Father,' which I find suggestive of far greater intimacy. What follows is what might be called the 'stripped down' essentials of prayer:

1. a recognition of the Holiness of God;
2. a desire that his will be done in the world;
3. a request for the necessities of life for all;
4. an appeal for forgiveness for our wrongdoings;
5. an appeal for the strength to forgive others when they wrong us;
6. & a humble request to keep us strong in our faith.

Nothing elaborate; no frills; just the basics. Think about how your own prayer life might be improved by keeping these principles in mind. For example, when you're tempted to pray for worldly success, pray instead that God's will be done. Or when you're tempted to pray for wealth, instead pray that all people will have enough to eat. And when you're angry, pray for the strength to forgive.

But most especially, I like what prompted Jesus to give his disciples this teaching. They said to him 'Lord, teach us how to pray.' Perhaps it would profit us every time we pray to take some time with that simple request ... and instead of beginning by launching in with a litany of our own concerns and requests, simply say: Lord, teach me how to pray.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

the divine claims of Jesus



I have often heard the argument made that Jesus never claimed to be God ... that he was simply a good man & a great teacher, whose followers got a bit over-enthusiastic, as it were, with their posthumous claims about him.

Hmm. Fair enough, there is no where in scripture where Jesus stands up and says: 'hey guys, I just realised ... I'm God!' (or words to that effect). But there is other evidence in the Gospels that points to his self-awareness of his divinity.

Consider our Gospel reading for today, the famous story where Jesus tells a paralysed man to take up his mat and walk. But before he has done this, he has told the man that his sins are forgiven. Some of the scribes present think this is blasphemy. Why? Because only God can forgive sins. So for Jesus to say he is forgiving the man's sins is blasphemy, because it is blasphemy for a mere human being to claim to be doing something that only God can do.

So simply saying that he is forgiving the man's sins is a divine claim in itself. But Jesus does more. He knows what the scribes are thinking. So he says: 'OK; you think what I have just said is blasphemy; but let me show you that I do have authority to forgive sins.' And his proof is to tell the paralysed man to get up and walk ... which he does.

This is more than just a simple healing (if there is such a thing). Jesus heals the man to show that he does have the authority to forgive sins. And since only God can forgive sins, it is a claim of divinity. 

Jesus may not have used the words 'I am God' but he has knowingly said things that would be blasphemy if he were not; and done things to show that what he says is not blasphemy. These are not the words or deeds of someone who has no intention of making a divine claim for himself - quite the opposite. It is a proclamation that he is God. And he knows it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

mission



Demons; possession; swine; mass drownings. What am I talking about? No, not a horror movie. It's the story of the Gadarene Demoniacs, our Gospel reading today.

But interesting as those details are, more important is the fact that the story shows Jesus moving outside Jewish territory to reach out to a gentile group. His message is for everyone. And to do that he is willing to move outside the comfort zone.

There's a message for the Church there. All the statistics indicate we are in a period of decline. Conversely, it seems equally clear that most people have a huge spiritual hunger. Which means we have to ask ourselves a question: why is it that the Church is not meeting that hunger for them?

I wonder is part of the answer also in today's reading? Jesus went to people where they were, rather than waiting for them to come to him. In this story he is rejected. But of course, we know that the work of reaching out continued ... of going to people where they were.

And remember about what St Paul said about being a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks? The early Church took a very flexible approach to mission. It realised very early on the need not to encumber the message of Christ with the cultural baggage of the messenger. The Good News began in Judea, but that didn't mean that they had to had to try to make people Jews before they made them Christians.  

Are we ignoring this in parishes today? We do not live in a mono-cultural society. The late 20th & early 21st century is a time of sub-cultures running in parallel to the mainstream. How have we adapted to that in the parish setting? Not at all, I think. In fact, are parishes actually engaging in mission? Most parishes worry about the decline in their numbers, but what are they actually doing to reverse the trend?

And of course while we wonder what we should do, there is a world outside our church doors full of people with a deep spiritual hunger. There is an urgency here. Not just to keep what we have going so that it will be there to meet our needs. We need to figure out how feed the hunger of others. We are a mission oriented church. We have to reach out to people and welcome them in. Even it means, metaphorically, going to dangerous places to meet dangerous people and to risk being rejected by them.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

hoist by your own petard!

 
 
 
May my words be in the Name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit - Amen.

Our parable today put me in mind of the idea of being hoist by your own petard … that's where something one intends for the harm of another ends up harming them. The phrase comes from siege warfare. A petard was a small bomb used to blow up a city gate & if the engineer planting it was blown up by it himself, he was literally hoist by his own petard.

We have examples of the idea in scripture, where people are tricked into condemning someone, only to discover that they have actually condemned themselves ... The prophet Nathan does it to Kind David with the parable of the ewe lamb ... and today's parable of the wicked tenants is in the same kind of the same …

But first we must set the scene; this passage begins long before the parable … in fact we have to go back to our readings from the  Sundays for the last two weeks to get to the beginning of it & understnd it properly ... Jesus is teaching in the temple; a place where the official teachers of the law would hold court; a little like our university system today; they see Jesus & basically say: what are you doing here?

They are challenging both his teaching & his authority to teach. And they are hoping that he will try to justify himself & in so doing say something that they can use against him  ... something we see them doing this on many occasions.

Jesus response is to turn the tables on them; first he 'puts them in their box' with his question about John. I'll tell you, he says, if you can answer my question first. They can't, so instead of trapping Jesus or diminishing his authority, they end up looking foolish, diminishing their own authority, and increasing his.

Then he tells two parables against them,
i) parable of the two brothers;
& ii) parable of the wicked tenants

By the time Jesus is finished, the teachers present want to arrest him, because they know he is telling these parables against them …
But the sting in the tail is, I think, that they didn't realise this until Jesus pointed it out to them … they saw themselves as 'the good guys' … they didn't like it or accept it when Jesus said 'O no you're not!' …

Of course, not seeing the danger until it is too late is what makes something a 'hoist by your own petard' situation … and so the question for us today is: are we in danger of being hoist by our own petard when we read passages like this, and perhaps a bit smugly think that they only apply to others long ago?

Because the Gospel are not history books. They do tell us historical facts … but they are much more than that … they are the living, breathing Word of God … they speak to us today … & if all they were telling us was that the chief priests and the elders in Jesus day got it wrong, well they wouldn't be speaking to us … they would only be telling us about something that happened long ago … for my own part, I think these stories serve as a warning to us: to remind us that just as the chief priest and the elders got things wrong, so we can too … that we shouldn't read scripture in a smug or comfortable way ... thinking what we read there only applies to a situation long ago ... or perhaps worse, think that what we hear condemned there only applies to others, but not to us. If we read it and in our mind point the fingers at others, condemning them in our hearts, we might be in for a bit of a shock ... just like the chief priests and elders ... we might be hoisting ourselves on our own petards ... thinking the story condemns others ... only to realise to late that we are really condemning ourselves ... a trap that I pray that I, and you, and all others will never fall into
 … ... Amen.

(based on the notes for my sermon preached on 2 October 2011)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Calming the storm



Even though I spent five years in the navy, I can't claim to be an expert on what it is like to live through a really bad storm at sea. That's mainly because I spent my entire five years on shore duty! However, I did spend four of those years on a fairly small island which experienced more than its fair share of near hurricane weather. We often had 100 mile an hour winds whipping across the island and it was a standing joke that it was one of the few places in the world where the rain fell mostly sideways!

I have also spend some time in Israel. I've seen the sea of Galilee & I've seen the kinds of boats they would have used for fishing at the time of Jesus. And I have no doubt at all that it would have been a very frightening experience to be out in such a large expanse of water in such a small craft during a bad storm.

And yet when this happens to Jesus and his disciples his response is to say to them: ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?' Why does he say that to them? To be afraid during a storm at sea is a natural reaction. And more, these are experienced fishermen. They were used to rough weather. If they are afraid, it must be a very bad storm indeed.

But Jesus asks them why they are afraid. What does he mean exactly? Does he mean, 'why are you afraid when you have got me in the boat? Haven't you seen all I can do? Have you no faith in me?' I wonder. After all, they are the sailors and yet they have woken up the carpenter during a storm to say 'save us.' They clearly believe he can do something to rescue them from the peril they are in.

Is his rebuke then because they don't trust him enough? They know he can save them, but they are still afraid? Or does he mean 'why are you afraid when the worst that can happen here is that you may die? Why are you afraid of death? Don't you have faith in all that I have told you? Don't you have faith in all that I have shown you to prove that what I have told you is true?'

No doubt there is something of both in his response. But for us today, I think there is particular importance in the latter idea. This life we can go through is often a stormy business. And one thing is sure: we will not get out of it alive. We will all die. But if we have faith in Jesus, in his promises, in his promised proved true by his deeds, then we do not need to be afraid.