3rd December , 2023
The first Sunday of the Church’s new Liturgical Year –
We are now in Year B, the 2nd Year in our 3 year cycle.
The gospel readings will be mostly from Mark this year, with John as well on high holy days obviously!
Last year it was Matthew and next year, year C, it will be Luke.
At the beginning of each liturgical year, we are all invited to embark yet again on a great journey.
We set out to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
We will re-visit all the mysteries of his time on earth
From his expectation – which is really what Advent is all about after all, expecting the Messiah.
And then his birth, in a stable in Bethlehem
Through the events of his life, his ministry, teaching & healing
To the violent death on the cross,
his glorious Resurrection and Ascension into heaven
and finally to his sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In the course of this coming liturgical year – from today Advent Sunday 3rd December 2023 until the Feast of Christ the King on 24th November 2024 – we will relive the whole story
We of course have heard the story many times
but our challenge every year is to try and see it as new and present and alive – not as old and stale.
We are challenged to allow the celebration of each single feast, whether it’s Christmas, Epiphany, Candlemas, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost or Trinity ,
To allow each one to bring back the event in its original clarity and vitality
We can’t let it to grow cold and lifeless.
During these next four weeks of Advent, we will all wait
and we will all watch
and we will all prepare yet again to celebrate our belief in the birth of Jesus Christ, the One we believe to be God.
In this season, and I kinda mention it on the front of the Pewsheet, I always remind us that there is uncertainty among liturgists as to what the dominant theme of Advent should be,
Here, we remember each week the people who were waiting for the coming Messiah…
The Patriarchs, people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
The Prophets, people like Isaiah, Amos, Micah
John the Baptist
Mary the mother of Jesus
I feel that this always gets across the immensity of what was to happen… that people should have been waiting across the centuries for the one who had been promised.
We could also use these Advent Sundays to remember the slightly more general themes of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love each week…. Nothing wrong with that of course, but I always feel that it is a bit vanilla as the saying goes.
Or to be really serious , should Advent be focussed on the traditional ‘last things’ In the past, the traditional topics for preaching on the four Sundays in Advent were the “four last things” of death, judgment, heaven, and hell….which is indeed very much the focus of our Gospel today
I think my own favourite passage of scripture for Advent is Isaiah 40:1–5, which we will have next week. That lovely hymn echoes these words…. Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. (Isaiah 40:1)
In these verses, the themes of comfort, preparing a way, and reversals of power resonate with the revolutionary work of bearing witness in our modern world. These verses also show us where to turn our attention as we prepare for Jesus’ coming:
As I have pointed out before on previous Advent Sunday’s , it gets even more complicated when we realise that there is not just one coming but three comings!….
The 1st coming of the baby Jesus into our world, this is what we await in Advent.
The 2nd coming of Christ in glory at the end of times, the apocalyptic nature of today’s gospel tells us to be Alert! We do not know when the time will come….
And then there is that 3rd most important ‘coming’ ,
the coming of Jesus into our minds and hearts every single day,
The 1st coming has happened, but by focusing too much on the 2nd coming, waiting on the return of Christ, we miss that all important 3rd coming, and that can certainly be the case in life … we are so worried about the future or guilty about the past that we don’t notice how good the present is!
In our gospel today, Jesus actually warns us about trying to second guess when the 2nd coming will be!
‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the son, but only the Father.
While we are , of course, meant to be alert,
It’s not the Skies we are supposed to be watching but our lives!
And in watching, or to put it another way, in examining our lives,
we remember that, notwithstanding all the Advent calendars that abound, actually Advent is not just about counting down to Christmas,
but is in fact about taking account of our lives.
Advent is after all a penitential season…..just like Lent.
The fasting before the feasting…
That’s why the liturgical colour is purple,
the colour of penitence.
And Penance is about conversion,
About changing direction, about turning.
We have to turn from the old to more fully embrace the new.
The ‘old’ in this case is our current, sometimes deeply unsatisfying lives and the ‘new’ being a more fulfilling life in Jesus.
We turn from sin so that we may belong more fully to God.
We do tend to overlook the penitence side of Advent,
It’s often really really hard to think Lenten thoughts in Advent , what with all the Ads on Telly , especially the food shop ads, with cakes dripping out yummy warm chocolate and so on!
But while we are not required to actually slip into Sackcloth and Ashes …We do need to constantly remind ourselves that Advent is not just about a slide into Christmas
These days of Advent are not just reminders to us to think about what presents we will be giving this year.
These days of Advent provide us with a time for turning,
For facing in the right direction
A time for a seasonal push,
for a new and determined effort to improve our spiritual lives.
Advent, when we truly enter into it, can really help to remind us of the reason why Jesus was born among us in the first place….to be our salvation, our wholeness.
He comes NOW in his incarnation to equip and ready us to meet him when he comes AGAIN at the end of time
‘to judge the living and the dead’
God, in Jesus, enters our daily life and calls us to follow him and be with him, or as the Gospel today puts it to ‘Keep Awake’.
God not only came in Jesus at Bethlehem two millennium ago,
God not only will come at the end of time to gather us all
God comes into our lives now, at every moment, through every person, through every experience.
In all of the ordinary mundane experiences of our daily life, God is there.
We just need to allow him to mould us into his likeness, into the likeness of God,
Let us allow God to help us become people of integrity and truth, of love and compassion, of freedom and peace.
For God in Jesus is our Emmanuel,
As today we look forward to his coming, his advent.
We acknowledge that he is already here…..
Welcome to Advent ,
where it is said that everything is charged with the beauty and grandeur of God.
12th November 2023
Remembrance Day, 3rd Sunday before Advent.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Traditionally on this day, which we call Remembrance Sunday, in Anglican churches throughout the world, we make a point of looking back… remembering all of the men and women who have died in wars and conflicts of the last 110 years.
It is a tradition that began as World War I ended, for years they called this war, ‘the Great War’ or the ‘War to end all Wars’. The idea was to remember in order not to forget the horror of war.
It had been the first time that war had been on a global scale.
The obscenity of young men dying horribly…. Not just the main protagonists of British and German and Turk but people from all over the world…. Among them young Maori men from New Zealand dying in the fields of Belgium , Indian men dying in Africa, Arabs dying in Northern France as well as our own young Irish men dying on the beaches in far away Turkey….. all of them so so far from their homes and families.
After 4 terrible years of war where millions of young men were killed, finally a peace was signed.
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month…… in other words, at 11am on 11th November 1918, the Armistice was signed and we had peace in the world again…..for a while.
But unfortunately as we well know this wasn’t the war to end all wars…….they never are.
In fact, a number of historians now suggest that WWI and WWII were really just one and the same war with a couple of decades of unsteady peace in between.
We still have wars……and people are still dying, and we see that every night on our tv screens …..
On Remembrance Sunday we think about all of the people that died because they truly believed that by doing this they were ensuring that no more people after them should die in wars.
In our church services today, we are remembering the men and women who fought for us in the wars over the last 100 years.
But I don’t believe that we are not glorifying wars…..far from it.
Not one of us wants wars to begin or to continue but we recognise that wars do happen and that the soldiers who fight in these wars do so because they feel that they must defend their countries against a greater evil….and for that they deserve to be remembered.
But I also feel that today we shouldn’t just remember the past.
We have to also think of now.
Today, injustices still occur, war still rages in various parts of the world, people are still dying horribly, needlessly, where the natural order has broken down…. And in the light of what is going on in Gaza as you know I have spoken about this many times in recent weeks……
We know that war is always a failure,
a failure to find a way, a failure to communicate, to compromise,
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t remember…. We need to remember the sacrifices, the hardship, the heartbroken, the horror , the suffering and the painful memories
but we also have to remember and acknowledge that for many people in our world, this is their present not their past.
And we too, need to give, something…..
We can’t just sit back and say, Well, we remembered and honoured the dead today, we are so glad that they gave unstintingly in the past so we could enjoy our present.
We have to recognize that remembering is important but that doing something is imperative.
We too are asked to make sacrifices today, to give something now, here, in this time.
Each of us can be peacemakers….. each one of us can make small steps towards a more peaceful society and world.
We can step in where we see injustice, in whatever sphere we find ourselves.
In the present, we can advance a way of living in peace with our neighbours.
Why should we accept a world where people are exploited?, where big businesses decide foreign policy to suit themselves?
We surely shouldn’t be content to just remember the sacrifices of the past and ignore what is currently happening?
We can and should advance the process of peace in our own little part of the world
We can do this in many ways, locally, internationally, personally.
… by having a civil word to say to that person whom nobody else has the time of day for, the person in our community who is the latter day Samaritan.
… by being part of international justice groups like Human Rights Watch, or Amnesty or Sabeel Palestinian group , showing our solidarity with those who are ignored by the great powers of the world….being a voice for the voiceless.
… by voting with our wallets, choosing not to buy goods produced by Multinationals who interfere in the internal politics of small dependent countries. After all, it was us Irish who gave the word ‘Boycott’ to the world!
… And, perhaps most importantly, we can pray
and in praying, we can be with them in their pain and in praying, change ourselves for the better.
When we pray, our intercessions can bring us into a great worldwide fellowship of the spirit.
Human life becomes living when people are there for each other,
Life in the spirit becomes a living life when people pray for each other.
When I lived in Holland, I made several trips to the old battlegrounds, I visited Arnhem and was amazed at how ordinary that famous bridge looked. The bridge where so many people had died.
I would like now to read something that Jurgen Moltmann, a respected German theologian , wrote.
Moltmann served in the German army in World War II and was a prisoner of war in England for many years,
He writes about an experience he had when he was still a German prisoner being held in Scotland in 1947. He said
Then a group of Dutch students came and asked to speak to us officially. Again I was frightened, for I had fought in Holland, in the battle for the Arnhem bridge.
The Dutch students told us that Christ was the bridge on which they could cross to us, and that without Christ they would not be talking to us at all. They told of the Gestapo terror, the loss of their Jewish friends, and the destruction of their homes. We too could step onto this bridge which Christ had built from them to us, and could confess the guilt of our people and ask for reconciliation. At the end we all embraced. For me that was an hour of liberation. I was able to breathe again, felt like a human being once more, and returned cheerfully to the camp behind the barbed wire. The question of how long the captivity was going to last no longer bothered me.
Today, we need to remember that Christ’s bridge is still here.
May we remember those from our past in respect and gratitude and at the same time , in our present, may we have the wisdom and courage to step onto Christ’s bridge of peace between people.
5th November, 2023
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is a different Jesus in today’s gospel….
We have seen how compassionate he is with the sinner
How gentle he is with the fallen.
Today he is openly angry with the Pharisees and the Scribes, those who would use religious leadership for their own advancement…..
At the beginning of the reading , Jesus seems to be saying that we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater….
He makes the point that yes these Pharisees and Scribes ‘Sit on Moses seat’ but ….
in other words, practice and observe what they teach you on the essential truths but DON’T do what they do!
Their hypocritical actions don’t make the essential truths all of a sudden not true.
Jesus had been patient with the Pharisees and the Scribes, he had reasoned with them, answered their trick questions but now he was forced to expose them.
He had to show how they lacked charity and compassion in their dealings with others.
But the Pharisees and Scribes were not evil people,
I don’t believe that they were intentionally evil or self serving, they were just human
Just like we are
Do we all not like being treated in a special way?
Are we too not lacking in charity and compassion?
Jesus points out that the Pharisees and Scribes biggest fault was their blindness to their faults.
He came to save sinners after all.
These people KNEW they were righteous,
But their piety had actually blinded them to their own lack of compassion.
Jesus berated the Pharisees and the Scribes and we say rightly so…but which one of us can say that our deeds match our words?
One of those sayings you often hear at management training sessions is that to point the finger at another is leaving three of your fingers pointing right back at yourself!
Whoever is humbly facing up to their own faults will be slow to preach at others.
In our world today, it seems that image is so important, what you wear, where you shop…. It starts early – we hear stories all the time of online bullying because you haven’t the right Smart phone.
Back in the day, with the Phylacteries broad and their Fringes long, the Pharisees and the Scribes had the right labels alright …. but Jesus saw through the veneer of holiness and goodness.
These people might have been talking the talk but in Jesus’s view they were definitely NOT walking the walk.
Jesus saw behind the surface glossiness of their religious pomp and show.
We have to be true to ourselves, or we run the risk of being as bad as they were.
We have to change our lives to fit in with our convictions and ensure that we have peace between our inner and outer selves.
Piety is no substitution for goodness.
We don’t have to put on an outward show, we just have to be true to ourselves and put ourselves under God’s mercy.
We have to think about exactly what it is to be a Disciple of Christ.
We follow his example, his teaching. We are asked to dream God’s dream for God’s people
As Disciples, we are asked to seek a life that glorifies God not glorifies ourselves…. We are asked to seek the honour of God not the honour of ourselves.
Today in the Gospel we have Jesus re-emphasising the inherent democracy of the Christian message.
There is only one Father, all others are brothers and sisters in his family.
There is no ‘favoured’ uncle or aunt at the top of his table to enjoy the choicest cut of the meat… we are all equal in his sight.
There cannot be an insistence on dignity and authority that distorts this egalitarian relationship.
We are all servants of God, all of us loved equally, all of us deserving of God’s mercy.
When looking at any situation, and especially as we look at what is happening in the land Jesus walked upon, we have to ask ourselves ‘Is this action/reaction consistent with the love and service of God’
Jesus today slams the pharisaical tendency to exaggerate outward observances of the Law while being blind to its inner spirit or meaning.
Jesus was not original in this thinking …. He wasn’t the only one critical of the Pharisees; remember the Prophet Jeremiah pleading with the Holy Joes of his day to ‘circumcise your hearts’. Many of the prophets before Jesus has pointed out our tendency to fall into this trap.
Unfortunately it is an occupational hazard for all ministers of religion to think that the honours due to God alone are due also to those who serve in God’s name.
The priestly model we should be looking at is Jesus as he washed the feet of his disciples on the night before he died.
In fact, this is what all Christian Discipleship and service is all about.
The ‘Call’ is not to a position of social prestige but to a life of serving the community with the message of the Gospel.
We have an exemplar leader in Jesus.
Jesus didn’t follow the dominant model of Leadership in his day. He asks us not to slavishly follow the dominant model of leadership in our day.
Jesus provided us with a new model… the model of servanthood.
And as Christians, we are called upon to reject the current model of leadership, with it’s blind emphasis on might rather than right.
Listen intently to what our leaders are saying….
With their talk of ‘Legitimate Targets’ and ‘Collateral Damage’ and ‘Innocent Victims’ rather than saying what it is – people dying.
Jesus is always to be found beside the victims….. any victims.
Victims in Israel on October 7th and victims in the following three weeks in Gaza.
We have all seen the depreciation of human rights in recent times, starkly seen now in the incapability of the International Community to stop the current horrors.
Ask yourself if the action or reaction of our leaders, political, social AND religious , is worthy of God.
If our Leaders are not reflecting the values of the one we follow, then we need to challenge them, to ask who is being given glory here? Whose agenda is being followed….
It is up to us to hold them to a better way of being leaders, to insist that they act in a way consistent with the love and service of God.
Don’t feel that you don’t have voice….regardless of whether we are leaders in our communities or not, we all have a voice and we are all called to follow the example of Jesus Christ who made himself the servant of all.
Who came to serve, not to be served….. Amen.
Bible Sunday 29th October, 2023
United Service in St John’s Church
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today’s readings are the readings for Bible Sunday, rather than the readings for the 5th Sunday before Advent.
Bible Sunday is traditionally held at this time of the year, as we begin the countdown to Advent,
which is, of course, the countdown to Christmas….
its all getting very close now…
I’m tempted to sing
‘its beginning to feel a lot like Christmas’
– but I won’t! bad enough that there is all the stuff in the shops already…..
Although I must confess that I have already bought a Christmas Jumper…. My other one was 2nd hand when I bought it 10 years ago so I have a good excuse…. And if you leave it too long all the big sizes are gone!
Before I leave the subject of Christmas, just to let you know that I have the Sign Up Form for the Posada with me today and it will be in the porch of St Mary’s church for the next few weeks for you to pick your date if you would like Mary, Joseph and the Donkey to come and visit your home as they make their way around the parish during the 4 weeks of Advent.
But finally getting away from Christmas and back to today….
Bible Sunday each year has that lovely well known Collect which we just read together before the readings
‘help us to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them’
These beautiful words were written in the 16th Century by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for the Book of Common Prayer.
And here we are, in 2023, still reminding ourselves that Scripture was written for our learning , so that through patience and the comfort of God’s holy word, we can embrace and forever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which God has given us in our saviour Jesus Christ.
Today, on this Bible Sunday, we are lucky enough that it is a United Service and what a wonderful gathering at which to preach about the importance of the Bible in our lives.
This is the bible that I will give to all the babies when they are baptized…. If they are a little older I choose different bible books for them, like this Youth Bible and so on but everyone baptised in our Union receives a bible of some kind, underpinning it’s importance in our Christian life.
These younger children version ones are especially chosen by me as books which are both colourful & inviting AND Theologically sound!
Just look at the pictures – any child would be naturally drawn into the story….
and look at the little writing at the end of each chapter…. telling the person who is reading the story exactly where in the ‘Big’ Bible that the whole story can be found… Genesis 1-2, or joshua 1-6 or Acts 8 and so on.
………………Drawing them in …It’s the perfect trap!
So many of us try and fail to read the Bible
because we make it just too hard for ourselves.
I’ve spoken about this before but it is really almost impossible to pick up a Bible, begin at Genesis and plough through it yourself.
Most of Genesis is fairly accessible and readable but what do you do when you’re stuck in the mire of legal lists in Leviticus!
Last year, in 2022, when about 30 of us read the Bible from cover to cover , we discovered that. Some weeks were TOUGH!
For as you know , the bible isn’t just one book
It’s a library of books, 66 of them!
39 books in what we call the Old Testament
and 27 in the New Testament.
And each one is a different literary style… and some styles suit us better than others…
For instance, we have the poetry of our origins in Genesis,
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.
Or in the beautiful psalms we can read of David’s anxiety and trust in the Lord,
‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want’
‘I will lift my eyes up onto the hills’
and then we have the books of law, giving guidelines and rules, a bit harder to get through but interesting if you give it time and thought about the society when it was written.
2 When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. 3If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. 5But if the slave declares, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person’, 6then his master shall bring him before God.* He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life
and more accessible to our 21st ears are the books of first hand accounts like the Gospels, telling us of the birth, life & ministry, death & resurrection of our Lord.
‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.
And the book of the actions of the earliest disciples,
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
and lots of letters to fledging communities, these of course are the earliest writings of our ‘New’ Testament…. Including this early creed in the letter to Philippi…
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father
and then the much harder to understand visions and dreams of the Apocalyptic prophets like Daniel in the Old Testament and John in the New Testament…. Hard to understand but the words of Revelation are very familiar to us from our funeral services
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
So its all there.
All very different, all inspired by God
but we have to remember that is is written across a 1,500 year period,
from about 1,450 years before the birth of Christ,
this is the time of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt to about 150 years after the birth of our lord, Anno Domine,
So this span of time alone will tell us that the style of writing in the different books is going to be wildly different…
Chaucer , of the famous Canterbury tales, lived just 700 years ago, and wrote in English, but we need to have his lines translated before we can even understand it!
And if you think about it , some of our own prayers, written in Victorian times , are now almost unintelligble ……
why should little children ‘suffer’ to come onto thee?
Why is God aweful?
So my point today is that it can be well nigh impossible to just pick up and read the bible from cover to cover without any help….
but help is there!
You may have missed the year of reading the Bible together in 2022 but there are wonderful Bibles that explain the more difficult passages in easy to understand English.
The Living Bible is an example of this type of book.
There are also the daily devotional books that take a portion of scripture each day and explain it, and I know many of you use these.
There are our own parish Bible studies, usually held during Lent and Advent
(quick plug of the Online Advent series coming up in a couple of weeks… when we will explore the four famous ‘songs’ of Advent, Zechariah , Mary, the Angels and Simeon all had songs and over the four weeks, led by Revd Richard, Simon Woodworth, Hilary Dring and myself, we will explore them……. The posters are on the Noticeboards and in the Porches of the Churches with all the details on them)
But as I was saying , there are many ways to help us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the scriptures, we are not on our own,
each week in our Church Services,
we hear the words of Scripture read aloud, each week we hear two excerpts from the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, the first reading and the Psalm.
We hear two excerpts from the New Testament, the second reading, usually a letter and a reading from the Gospels.
Then we have the sermons help to break down the words for us and also to help us to understand how it all fits into our lives.
That is why preachers must use the readings assigned from which to preach… not just have their own theme or subject… that would be self indulgent and you’d end up listening to the same sermon each week, rabbiting on about the rectors favourite theme!
And finally the prayers that we say each week in our churches are scripturally based and reinforce what we have heard proclaimed.
We are lucky in this parish in that the Pewsheet has the words of the readings and so this can be so useful to bring home and re-read, and you can think about what is being said in the Bible today in the light of the sermon and the prayers…
and my mobile number is on the Pewsheet too….
so ring me if there is any aspect of that piece of scripture that you don’t understand….
I am always happy to talk about the word of God!
In fact, that is what I am paid to do…. Amen.
Sermon 22nd October 2023
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In today’s gospel, there are two very different sets of people putting it up to Jesus.
One group we have met before many times; The Pharisees
and a less well known group – the Herodians.
At that time, these two groups were more traditionally found at each other’s throat but there is truth in that old chestnut that
‘the enemy of your enemy is your friend.’
So this was the case with these two groups.
They had found a new common enemy in Jesus
or perhaps more specifically in Jesus’ teaching.
The Pharisees prided themselves on keeping ‘apart’ from the ordinary people in Palestine, whom they called the ‘people of the land’ , the ones who weren’t very religious minded….. a bit like nowadays when you hear ‘Christians’ call people ‘unchurched’!
So they looked down on some of their fellow countrymen never mind the Romans.
The Herodians were what we nowadays would call ‘fellow travellers’, the sort of accommodating clique that are always well in with the occupying force….collaborators, or in our Irish context of 100 years ago ‘Castle Catholics’
Ordinarily these two groups of people wouldn’t be seen dead in each other’s company but they were both so desperate to discredit Jesus and his dangerous theology that Matthew lets us know that they got together just to put this seemingly unanswerable question to him.
‘Tell us, then, what you think….Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, or not?’
To be fair to them, this was a beautifully crafted trick question..
If Jesus answered Yes, it is lawful to pay these taxes to the Roman Emperor, then he would lose respect among his fellow Jews, who loathed the Roman occupiers.
Yet, if he answered No to the question, then the Roman Authorities would be on him like a ton of bricks.
His answer was everything we had come to expect of him.. He uses an ordinary object, the coin, the denarius with the face of Caeser on it, to make his point.
Who owns this coin except the Roman Emperor?
…. For the state does have a role BUT its power is limited and never supplants God.
We don’t have to look back 2000 years to find people baulking at paying taxes, even to their own government.
People nowadays still object to paying their fair share of taxes.
But whereas in 1st century Palestine, the taxes went to swell the coffers of the rich, today’s taxes are mostly used to provide services for us all..
They go towards caring for the sick and the elderly, the
Towards the huge cost of maintaining the infrastructure of this state.
We should never forget that we have a dual set of responsibilities, towards God AND towards our neighbour in society.
State authorities have a right to our cooperation in their more or less successful efforts to ensure the material welfare of all it’s citizens.
And we fulfil our obligations towards achieving that by obeying the just laws of the state, by paying our lawful taxes and by helping to bring about the common good at all times.
Christians we may be, but we are also citizens of the country in which we are living. To it we owe many benefits and we respect its laws. Failure to be a good citizen is a failure in our Christian duty…..
But we are also citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and to it we also have a duty.
In most cases these two sets of duties never clash but when they do, as they did for many many people in the past, our duty is to the Kingdom of God first and foremost.
I saw a really interesting post a couple of weeks ago from the USA, it was highlighting that some of the very vocal people who are protesting the lack of Christian Prayer in the State schools there are, at the same time, objecting to the policy of debt forgiveness for children who can’t pay their school lunch money bills…..
Knowing what we know about Jesus… what do you think he would care about…
the fact that Christian prayers are not allowed in the classroom so as not to alienate other faiths OR the fact that some children in the school go hungry while other children eat?
The danger of devotion to State above God was grossly highlighted in the last century when the German Lutheran Church was full square behind the Nationalist Socialist policies of Adolf Hitler….
Many brave church men and women lost their lives objecting to this blinded acceptance of immoral laws. The so-called ‘Confessing’ Church of Germany was born, some of the leaders names we know and revere to this day… Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and so on.
We have to bear in mind that , as Jesus points out in today’s gospel… we owe to the emperor what is the emperor’s but we owe everything to God.
The legitimate state has rights and the good citizen should respect them BUT there may come a time when we have to listen to our supreme sovereign rather than the state
As Thomas More said just before his execution
‘The King’s servant but God’s first’ .
He felt, in his own matter of faith, that he had to listen to his conscience rather than his King.
Every Christian living in the modern world is faced with difficult decisions.
We must give God the first and highest claim on our loyalty.
Whatever else we must give to Caesar, we must make sure that we do not give him our conscience.
Let us pray that we may not be afraid to stand up and be counted in a world that often ignores the values of Christ.
Let us pray to be a voice to speak out, to provide a voice for truth and justice in the world. Amen.
St John’s (animal blessing in St Mary’s)
24th September 2023
Mt. 20: 1-16
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We have all heard stories of how it used to be in Ireland years ago, when there were ‘Hiring Fairs’ , where men and women went and stood, waiting to be picked for work.
They were men and women desperately looking for paid work to feed their families.
Jesus tells us of a similar story in today’s gospel, where we have another one of those parables that are so familiar to us.
The story of the hired hands , it seems so unfair, doesn’t it?
The people hired at the last hour…..
They are paid the SAME as the people who have worked all Day!
Yet when we think about it.
The desperate men…waiting around all day to be hired.
Desperate to provide for their families.
They weren’t just lazy layabouts.
They were just workmen who had hadn’t had the luck to be picked by the bosses earlier on in the day.
That didn’t mean that they didn’t have wives and children waiting to be fed, it just meant that they hadn’t been picked.
This parable doesn’t favour the idler above the hard worker….
It’s to show us that God’s justice is available to all, regardless of what stage in our lives we come to him.
Jesus’ audience that day knew exactly what he was getting at….
The Kingdom of God was the vineyard, those who had been working all day were the Pharisees and the law-abiding Jews in general.
The 11th hour people are us – sinners and gentiles!
Jesus is saying that God is offering the Kingdom to us all on equal terms…. Whereas the Pharisees and Jews assumed God worked on a Merit Scheme basis…
You know, where you must earn your grace by hard work…. And unfortunately that is still the attitude of many of us.
And yet here was Jesus, God’s Son Jesus, saying that God doesn’t work like this at all!
So you see, the story today is really not about justice but about generosity.
A generosity unlike anything we’ve ever known….
The generosity of God.
And like the forgiveness of God we spoke about last week, it is both a comfort and a challenge
This parable doesn’t make much sense if we view it from the point of view of actual Justice…..I mean the ones who only worked an hour really shouldn’t get the same wages should they!
yet when we think about it from the point of view of generosity….well then it’s a different kettle of fish entirely!
I mean…who would want to be treated by God based on what we are … or what we actually deserve!
We are all standing in need of God’s mercy and generosity.
Everything comes to us as a gift from God.
A gift that is given to us out of pure love.
Jesus took a situation as familiar in daily life then as now.
While we mightn’t see long lines of unemployed waiting for a ‘start’ as in the past, we still do have many people working on zero hour contracts….
If I was in the US, I’d be accused of Communism but it is true that
‘The Boss’ always has the power of who to hire or who to fire, or who gets the hours and who doesn’t…..it was ever thus!
Perhaps the idea for the parable came to Jesus from the sheer amount of people complaining about the time Jesus was spending with the outcasts and how he was not spending enough time with them—–the righteous , the saved, his true disciples, the ones who put money in the coffers……
But whatever prompted it, Jesus was determined to show us that God’s generosity transcends human standards.
In the parable , the owner of the vineyard has taken pity on the left behind workers. – he knows that one denarius represented an entire day’s wage – which was just enough to support a family.
Anything less would be inadequate.
The thrust of this parable wasn’t aimed at poor labourers but at all the begrudgers in the group around Jesus.
To some, God’s love for all isn’t ‘Fair’
God’s equal love of sinners and saints is an affront.
But how wonderful it is for me to realise that God loves me as much as ‘A Mother Theresa’ or a ‘Nelson Mandela’
So why should I – of all people, begrudge his love for others,
people whom I, in my sinfulness, consider less than me.
It’s a little like last week’s gospel where the servant was forgiven a mighty debt and then turned around and wouldn’t forgive a tiny debt someone else owed him….
As I said, the men who are given only one hour’s work aren’t lazy – really they were just unlucky , unlucky not to be chosen as workers earlier in the day.
And yet they as much as those chosen earlier also needed to feed their families.
And this is what the generous vineyard owner does…
He gives them the minimum day’s wage.
Enough to feed themselves.
The owner of the vineyard takes them on at the 11th hour and pays them a full day’s wage..
It would have seemed like a miracle! A bit like our first reading – the manna from heaven!
We can learn so much from this parable..
From the generosity of the Vineyard owner.
And from the other workers, the ones who toiled all day,
we can learn that we shouldn’t envy others their good luck,
We should be happy with the rewards of our own hard work and we shouldn’t begrudge others the good luck they seem to enjoy …… for which one of us can see into God’s plans?
And perhaps we can try & learn to model our own dealings on God’s style of generosity and not our own!
What a wonderful generous loving world we might have then!
24th September, 2023
St Mary’s Church
Animal Blessing Service
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Every year, I begin by saying that what I want to say to you today is short and sweet…. For a very good reason!
Our animals are not going to be listening to me and won’t be at all impressed by my words so I’ll keep it short.
All these animals gathered here today mean so much to us.
They bring such joy into our lives.
We are thankful to our animal friends & helpers –
not only to the official animals to help us like seeing-eye dogs or sheepdogs or rescue service dogs
… but also to the cat purring in our lap, the dog curled up at our feet, the sparrows chirping away on the hedge outside our kitchen window…. the glorious flash of red on the head of the Goldfinch, or if we are really lucky – as I am in the Rectory garden, the swish of the bats in the dusk….
The lovely farm animals; sheep, cows, pigs, Llamas (yes Llama farming is a thing now in Ireland!
And then we have the really exotic animals that we only see in Zoos or perhaps on the telly… Red pandas, Lions, Cheetahs, Monkies……
But exotic or domestic, each one of them can send us a message of joy… if we let them.
And animals can also teach us gratefulness, teach us the art of being in the moment.
The moment when you stop still to look at the Robin, who was come to join you in the garden… they are looking for a scrap of food, but we like to think they have come just to say hello!
The butterfly in the Funeral Service, palpably reminding you that there is life even at this tragic time……
Animals can teach us to be fully present in the moment.
Through their unconditional acceptance of each moment, they can draw US into it.
We sometimes forget that it is All of Creation that longs for the Father. When we read in John’s Gospel that
‘God so loved the world’ we are inclined to think of just us
We are the world
But it is much bigger than that!
The Greek word that is used by John is the word COSMOS
Meaning the universe, the entirety that is us, surrounds us
We are all part of that creation.
During this season of Creation, we do well to remember that!
Finally I would like to remember all the pets that couldn’t come here today, there is Becks and Polly over in Spain, tuned in to the Livestream!!
And I know some of your pets were too sick or old to come, and one I know was too young to come along….. and someone told me that one of their dogs was too bold to come! Although I personally find that hard to believe!
One of my dogs Nelson, or Nellie as he is known as, was that bold dog 6 years ago when he came to us from the Rescue and he was too bold to come to his first Blessing Service but look at how good he is now!….. little innocent looking Daisy is the one to watch now!
But anyway whether old or bold – the important thing to remember is that our animals love us unconditionally
And because of this love,
We get a glimpse of the way God has told us that he loves us….without conditions….. just as we are.
Every single breathing living creature in this church today is part of God’s wonderful creation.
As the words of the lovely hymn we just sang said
All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made us all.
Or indeed as our second hymn reminds us..
All created things, bless the Lord!
But it is truly lovely today to be part of this blessing and as always I would like to thank the Church Wardens of St. Mary’s Church for welcoming every single one of us , two or four legged…
And we should remember to thank them by making sure that when we are leaving the church, we are not leaving any bits and bobs behind!
I’m sure that if everyone will tidy up after their own animal, and then there won’t be too much of a burden on the churchwardens.
Finally I would like to thank you all for being such good sports and bringing along your animals.
During the blessing a little later we will be asking God to help us to look after our little friends.
But first we will turn back to the Service Sheet for some special prayers about animals…
The Rector 17th September 2023
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Look around you for a moment, look the people around you…Think about what differences there are between you and them.
We don’t have to look very far to find differences do we?
The length of our hair,
the colour of our hair…… do we have hair?
Do we like boiled eggs? Fried eggs? Scrambled?
Do we own a dog or a cat?
Are we farmers or not?
We could go on forever.
Some differences are easy to spot, like the colour of your skin or hair !
But some differences are more difficult to see….
like whether we like watching only the news programs or Corrie or East Enders… or both!
Or even whether hurling or hockey, Football or Rugby
Whether we find it easy to get up in the morning or not….
What political party, if any, we admire
The list is endless…
But there is one huge thing that we all have in common….
We are all one race—— the human race.
We are all sisters and brothers of the one human family.
We could go wider, in this season of Creation, and remember that we are all part of God’s Creation!
In Matthew’s gospel today, we heard Jesus telling Peter that he must forgive his brother not 7 times but 77 times.
Did Jesus say who that ‘brother’ was to be?
Did he say ‘forgive your Jewish brother 77 times but don’t worry about forgiving that Samaritan lad down the road’
No, of course he didn’t….when Jesus said Brother, he meant every other person you know.
In fact, Jesus’s stories confronted the main racism of that society at the time by constantly raising the Samaritan’s status….
Do you remember the story Jesus told of the Good Samaritan?
Now that would have been a really shocking story to the ears of Jesus’ Jewish audience…
For Jewish society of that time considered the Samaritans as being no better than dogs,
And in that particular parable Jesus was asking them to imagine a SAMARITAN behaving like a human being!
Behaving in fact better than the cream of Jewish Society – the Priest and the Levite!
Or in the story of Jesus healing the 10 Lepers, if you remember the ONLY one who came back to Jesus to thank him was the Samaritan…. manage how that story would have upset the Jewish listeners…..
Anyway, with these stories, Jesus was trying to shock them into recognizing that yes, even ‘the Samaritan’ was in fact
Jesus’ teachings always show concern for the poor, the social outcasts, the underprivileged , the ‘Different’
And as I said earlier, we are ALL DIFFERENT , in some way.
In Ireland, we don’t have Samaritans as such, but there is no doubt that we all have our own prejudices still.
During the fairly recent Black Lives Matter conversations, we listened to Irish people talking about how they meet discrimination each and every day…
Because they have a different colour skin
or a different religion than we do, or because they move in a different social set.
Last week we talked about how to forgive our brother or sister in our communities and here today our gospel reminds us that God’s Mercy is for all….
As we are ALL sisters and brothers in the one human family, all beloved by one God.
And so the mercy he shows us , is to be shown to others, regardless of clan or creed.
Look at the examples in the life of Jesus, anyone who came to him received the same treatment.
Jesus tells a parable in our Gospel today about an “unmerciful servant” who received forgiveness for his huge debt.
Then, instead of forgiving a tiny debt that he was owed, he imprisoned his debtor.
In answer to Peter’s question, Jesus says to forgive not merely seven times, but seventy-seven times,
(other reports say seventy times seven…. It was so mind-blowing to the original audience that later scribes couldn’t agree on what numbers Jesus had actually said, 77 times or 70 times 7 which is of course 490 … I used a calculator!)
But the point is not that it is 490 or 940 times, the point is that Divine forgiveness, given and received, is beyond calculation or comprehension.
Forgiveness on that scale is way of out of proportion to the sincerity of the penitent or the seriousness of their offense.
And anyone who seeks “serial forgiveness” makes us question their motives,
in fact Jesus says it doesn’t matter— we still forgive them.
But forgiving is never a simple thing….
How do these words of Jesus appear where people may have had ‘forgiveness’ held over their heads as a weapon?
How do these words of Jesus appear in a world where we too often feel the need to ‘get even’ with those who are utterly unrepentant in how they have wounded us
where forgiving would seem like letting go of the last bit of power we were holding on to?
What does it really mean to forgive “seventy-seven” times?
We can only answer that for ourselves…
I once saw a wonderful picture on the internet
Showing a scene of utter tranquility
Somewhere in America, beside a gorgeous calm lake, with a little wooden jetty stretching way out into the lake
and a couple of comfortable wooden chairs on the jetty,
you know the type of place where you could imagine sitting out with a G&T watching the sun setting into the placid water.
Anyway, the caption on the photo was
‘ Don’t let people pull you into their storms,
Pull them into your peace’
and that for me is what forgiveness is,
by forgiving someone you are pulling them into YOUR peace
whereas if we don’t forgive, we surely remain in the storm THEY have created in our lives.
The truth of this exchange between Peter and Jesus is that we tend to place controls over when and where and why we forgive others, whereas Jesus , by saying 70 times 7 or 77 was basically saying to us that not forgiving is not an option.
And perhaps it’s a hard truth to hear.
As much as we want to exercise one of the essential marks of the Christian faith, It is really really hard to accept or even imagine the endless nature of forgiveness that Jesus speaks of.
Think about the wonderful father in the parable of the Prodigal Son….
When he saw the broken son returning to him, the Father ran to HIM…. ran and hugged him and promised him the fatted calf even though the son had not yet trotted out his apologies…..
The son was forgiven BEFORE he repented to the Father.
This is how God asks us to forgive
and while I know that I fall short of this ideal, this is the direction that today’s gospel points us in.
It encourages us to forgive and leave the judgment to God.
As Paul says in our epistle reading..
‘Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another?’
For we will all stand before the Judgement seat of God…..
Each one of us is accountable only to God.
The God whose property is always to have Mercy
The Rector 10th September 2023
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Our Gospel today deals with a very practical issue – how to act when someone close to you is treating you badly.
Obviously these kind of problems happened even in the first Christian communities.
(I don’t know why that surprises me… but I tend to think of the early Christian Communities as being perfect!)
Today’s gospel gives us a way of tackling this sort of problem.
Remember that the word CHURCH in our text today is not meant to be a great big church community as we would know it..
Ekklesia, the Greek word used by Matthew in his gospel, would mean at that time a small group of people.
In fact Matthew is the only one of the four Evangelists to use this term. Mark, Luke and John never do.
The ‘church’ in Matthew’s day included at most 50 members. Their gatherings would have been much more like small family reunions – maybe 20-30 people. ….
More importantly to note is that these people would have felt very isolated, they were Jews and yet because of their recognition of Jesus in their midst as the Son of God, they were not Jews..
They had been perhaps shunned from their birth community and this is very much reflected in Matthew’s gospel and the words and phrases he uses, he is known for his hardness of attitude… there is a lot of ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ in Matthews gospel.
But it can help us understand his stance if we visualise this ‘church’ as being a small gathering of people…. More like a family gathering.
We can then easily imagine how the actions or attitudes of even just one family member could spoil the festive gathering for the rest of the family and how the ‘disciplinary process’ outlined by Matthew would encourage the wayward one to try to fit in
or if not, make sure that they were not invited to future gatherings!
But equally we have to bear in mind that pardon and mercy colour the reading for today……
God forgives freely and so should we.
We are told that we are to take the first step,
to risk an engagement that can lead to a restored relationship.
The final verse of our reading in fact might read ‘If two of you can come to an agreement regarding any disputed matter, then that agreement will be blessed by my Father in heaven’.
First of all , lets think about the way we would normally deal with this sort of problem.
We have a problem with someone’s behaviour…
We would of course start by keeping it to ourselves…. Classic human behaviour!
It might be that we are nervous about tackling it or perhaps we have been cut by what has happened and are too hurt to talk about it… so we pretend that everything is just fine.
Meanwhile …. we brood over it, … magnify it, we become sullen and sour and depressed and instead of dealing with it, we may cut out the offender completely as a kind of revenge.
But usually, eventually, we are unable to keep it to ourselves…. And then we begin to tell others about it …
Friends, relatives, neighbours….
Usually the last person to hear about the hurt is the one who actually caused it!
Today’s gospel is telling us that there is another way , a more merciful and just way……. A more ‘Christian’ way.
We should confront the person who is causing the hurt.
Confrontation takes courage and involves risk,
but sometimes a little honest talking may clear the air.
The person may not be aware of the extent of the hurt they are causing…..
Everything could be solved immediately !
But what then?
If it that immediate first step doesn’t work out?
Then we should seek advice.
We should get one or two wise people and enlist their help in facing the person who is causing the hurt.
The rabbis had a very wise saying
‘Judge not alone, for none may judge alone but God’
And if even then we fail, we should go to the community, the family.
The whole aim of the process outlined in today’s gospel is not to score points against your fellow human being
but to help them to mend their ways and be reconciled.
To seek reconciliation is, according to Christ, even more important that offering sacrifice to God
Remember the words in chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel….
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift
Do any of you remember the words of the old form of our Communion Service that invites to the Altar those who ….
are in love and charity with your neighbours
Reconciliation is to be desired and is to be the first option but …….
If at the end of the day,
after all efforts, reconciliation proves to be impossible, then the verdict you and the community come to will be understood by God.
It goes without saying that we should pray about these issues……our prayer helps us to follow Christ’s approach.
So it is appropriate to remember that the words of our primary prayer begins with ‘Our Father’
not ‘My Father’ !
A shared prayer for a shared faith
Dr Paula Gooder, who led the pilgrimage I was at recently in the Holy Land pointed out something to me that I’d never ever noticed before….
She said that , to her, the lines ‘Forgive us our sins… AS we forgive others’ meant Forgive us our sins the SAME WAY as we forgive others!!
That terrified me… my understanding has always been that we should be trying to live up to God’s way of forgiving NOT that God would forgive us the way we were forgiving others!
Now obviously we can’t both be right … but based on my understanding of a Loving God , I’m going to continue believing that God will forgive us our sins…. And we have to try each and every day to emulate that level of forgiveness and love.
We understand ourselves as part of a family in which we are all brothers and sisters….
The Lord is our Shepherd and we are the flock
and you can’t be a flock by yourself.
Jesus always underlined the importance of community.
Our faith is never a private matter, it is worked out in how we are to each other.
Think about the 10 Commandments. What did Paul say in today’s reading from Romans.
‘The commandments ‘ You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet’ … are all summed up in this word ‘love your neighbour as yourself’…. ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’
We all know how much this community means to us,
this is our church family.
We are a community but the presence of community does not mean the absence of differences….. those of you who have set on Select Vestries over the years know that!!
We are human…..But we are Christians ….. and the final words of our reading goes right to the heart of it
‘For when two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
Christ is here among us, empowering us to speak the truth in love to each other so that small offences do not grow to be walls between us.
As I said earlier, Matthew wrote with an eye to holding his community together and that is why we have the reading today, giving us the mechanisms to overcome dissension and quarrelling among a close group of people.
He knew that for his fledgling community of believers to survive, they would need to not break apart at the first sign of trouble.
The ‘Covid’ years taught us all the importance of family and community
My sister was down last weekend and we were just talking about how hard it was to remember how frightened we were during that time….
When older vulnerable people weren’t able to see their children and grandchildren,
When our loved ones were having to be buried with the minimal of people there to see them off, particularly painful here in Ireland where funerals play such a big role in our grieving process.
When children couldn’t go to school and then even when they went back in school they were unable to play together in the yards.
Here we are, together again
We realised during those years how awful it was for sociable animals like us to live like that.
But while that is in the past now …..
let’s not forget the lessons that time taught us about the importance of community.
About how we need to continue to nourish our community in any way we can.
In the darkest days in 2020 and 2021, I longed for us to be back in this church… and here we are.
We are not perfect by any means, but we are together and we can work on the perfection bit.
The most important thing is , we are still here, gathered in his name and he IS here among us!
The Rector 3rd September 2023
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This week there is a common thread throughout the readings… it’s all about how we might live if we choose to be God’s people.
In our first reading God reveals himself to Moses and then commissions Moses to lead his people out of slavery and misery.
Paul in his letter to the Romans is detailing how they should try to live if they are to be Christians
and Jesus in our Gospel is teaching us about the nature of his calling, warning us about how following him in his path might involve pain and suffering , but would ultimately lead to glory.
He cautions Peter, in no uncertain terms, against falling for the soft option…. You’ll remember that last week he named him Peter/the Rock and passed on the metaphorical keys of the kingdom!
So all of the readings are to some extent or another telling us how to live, what we must do if we want to live as God’s people.
Looking at the first of our readings, from what we call the Old Testament and what most scholars nowadays refer to as ‘The Hebrew Scriptures’ I must say that I love this reading….whenever it pops un in our lectionary, I am always drawn to it.….
It is such an evocative part of our salvation story isn’t it?
We know it so well on one hand but it is so mysterious too!
The burning bush is something that we all know from Moses’ journey.
And of course Moses is such an important figure in the Hebrew Testament
… last week we heard of how he was rescued from certain death when his mother placed him in a basket and made sure that the daughter of Pharoah spotted him and took him for her own.
Interestingly that we still call our little babies basket beds ‘Moses’ Baskets 3,300 years later!
But that was last week, today, we find the now grown up Moses, who has been living in Midian for some years, Midian in modern terms is the North Western part of Saudi Arabia,
you’ll remember that Moses had fled there after he killed an Egyptian overseer who had been cruelly mistreating one of the Hebrew workers, or perhaps slaves would be the better word.
Midian was about 500 km away from Egypt – a really really long way in those times.
Anyway Moses had settled down , marrying a local woman and having children there.
And so, on paper, Moses would seem to be an unlikely candidate for this role that God was now calling him to.
He seemed to be happy enough where he was, working for his father in law Jethro, tending his flock and now here was God, breaking into his life, calling him back to the land he had fled from.
A place he had no intentions of returning to….
Here ‘beyond the wilderness’ at Mount Horeb, God was calling Moses to return …. to go back to Egypt, where Moses had now escaped from death twice.
Once as a baby when Moses had escaped death by being adopted by the Pharoah’s daughter,
and then as an adult he had again escaped death by running away to Midian after murdering the savage Egyptian overseer.
Moses was now being called on to return,
to become a mediator between God and his people,
and between God and the pharaoh.
When God called him, Moses responded: “Here am I!”
(and we hear this response from Prophets all the time in the Old Testament.. Isaiah etc)
But then Moses wondered,
“Who am I that I should go to Pharoah?”
God had to reassure him that “the people will listen.”
No one in their right mind ever thinks themselves worthy or capable of that call…to remove your sandals and stand on “holy ground.”
And so Moses instinctively “hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.”
But God insisted: “I am sending you to pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
and God assured him, “I will be with you”
That’s the really key point… God will be with Moses.
Martin Buber, the famous Jewish theologian talking about prophets said that “It is laid upon the stammering to bring the voice of Heaven to Earth.”
Isn’t that wonderful! Not the silky tongued, the clever debaters but the stammering will bring the voice of heaven to earth!
God assured Moses then
and God assures us now ‘I will be with you’
Like the bush was right in front of Moses’ nose,
God is all around us too…
I know I’m always quoting the Poet Elizabeth Barret Browning whenever this piece about Moses and the Burning bush is mentioned
but she puts it so beautifully, I can’t not repeat it!
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware.
I love this poem so much that I wrote it out on a yellow stickie and stuck it up on the wall of my room in the Theological College
(because sometimes, even in the Theological College… or maybe especially in the Theological College…. It’s hard to remember that God is afire in every common bush!)
The words of the poem speak to us of the immanence as well as the incandescence of God.
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries………….
And of course, this is particularly appropriate for this time of the year when the blackberries are ready for plucking isn’t it!
What the Poet is saying of course is that we sometimes walk through this world unaware of the existence of God beside us.
we totally miss the holiness of the ‘common bush’
that surrounds us all.
We can miss seeing God in every person we meet,
In every situation we find ourselves in,
In every joy and in every sorrow.
This is where God is, where God always is….
but it is up to us to remember to metaphorically take off our shoes though and recognise that we walk on Holy Ground!
This week I was reading something that Mirabai Starr, a Spiritual teacher in Fr Richard Rohr’s Centre in New Mexico, said. She was speaking of Ordinary Extraordinary moments and said
‘The veil has been pulled back. Everything feels inexhaustibly holy’
I loved that … inexhaustibly holy.
Those epiphany moments, when you feel that connection with nature or with somebody.
‘And this is why you cultivate contemplative practice. The more you intentionally turn inward, the more available the sacred becomes. When you sit in silence and turn your gaze toward the Holy Mystery you once called God, the Mystery follows you back out into the world. When you walk with a purposeful focus on breath and birdsong, your breathing and the twitter of the bird reveal themselves as a miracle….’
I often am amazed how God manifests in all that is around me….
Whether that is in the different churches, in flowers and trees, in animals, listening to music, looking at art or in just in ordinary conversations with other ordinary people…..
It ALL is Holy Ground…..
We need to keep reminding ourselves of this… even as we listen to endless news stories
and as we watch again the madness of Trump and politics and civil unrest in the US, with the continuing rise of right wing politicians all over the world.
At this particular time, the world can seem to be the farthest thing from Holy Ground – it seems more like a hard and ugly place.
Frightening and disturbing scenes play out on our tellies every night of the week, Refugees as target practice on the borders of Saudi Arabia, People being shot on streets of big cities in the US,
others fleeing from their homes, terrified for their lives, having witnessed the harsh relentless side of nature…
and the experience we had during the recent Storm Betty gives us some tiny understanding of what Hawaii and Canada and Florida etc went through recently.
And closer to home , we witnessed the unbelievable tragedies of the loss of young lives in car crashes and drownings…
So it is sometimes hard to believe that God IS everywhere and that everywhere IS Holy Ground….
But we have to keep remembering that God IS
And that is all anyone of us can do…
Hold firm to the hope that is within you Paul told us and remember that God will triumph….
We keep trust in God’s gracious and real presence
and this knowledge not only brings confidence and peace to us personally but will open the door for blessing on everyone we come across in our respective spheres of influence.
we should remember that God is calling us ALL to something today just as he called Moses to free the Israelites from Egypt.
We do have to take off our shoes!
And be aware that we walk on the Holy Ground!
And learn to just be quiet for a moment and listen!
Listen to the voice of God telling us
“I am who I am” and “I will be with you.” Amen.
The Rector 27th August 2023
Trinity 12 Year A Matthew 16:13-20
The gospel reading today is a tough one I think.
It begins with Jesus asking the gathered disciples
‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’
This was easy for them, they just shouted out things, ‘John the Baptist’ , Elijah, Jeremiah etc.
It’s a bit like those sessions where someone has a whiteboard or a Flipchart and asks everyone to call out lists….
It’s easy to shout up something in that scenario
but Jesus makes it personal….. ‘But who do YOU say that I am?’
This is much more difficult for the disciples and there was obviously a silence until Simon Peter shouts out ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’
Jesus is delighted and goes on to tell Peter that he will be the rock (a play on his name of Peter, which Jesus had given him, which actually means Rock)
And on this rock Jesus will build his church,
Jesus tells him that he will give him the keys of the Kingdom of heaven and whatever Peter binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever Peter looses on earth will be loosed in heaven…..
all this is telling Peter that he was to be in charge.
This is the piece of scripture that was used by the Papacy (Peter being thought of as the original Pope of course) …. As many of you know the symbol of the Vatican is the crossed keys from this piece of scripture, symbolising the promise that Jesus made to Peter, and the binding and loosing has come to be understood as the promise of absolution that Peter was given that day. The photo I put in the Pewsheet is from a stained glass window showing Saint Peter receiving the actual keys….
The church has believed that Peter, as chief Apostle, named specially by Jesus as the Rock, is the person to whom Jesus passed on his legacy so to speak.
This power of absolution , given to Peter, is given to each of his successors when they are ordained Priest.
At my ordination the words were more or less the same, asking God to give me grace and power to fulfil the ministry to which I was called and to
‘to proclaim the gospel of your salvation, to minister the sacraments of the new covenant, to watch over and care for your people; to pronounce absolution; and to bless them in your name’
But I feel that the more important aspect of today’s Gospel is that Jesus wasn’t happy with just the Flipchart answers from the Disciples, he didn’t want answer by committee….he wanted to know what EACH of them thought,
Peter is only the one who answered first.
It’s instructive that this question was raised, and that it survives in our historical records. It shows to us that the earliest memories of the earliest believers were agitated about the personal identity of Jesus.
Even those who knew him were asking exactly who was this man?
Who do YOU say that I am?
is still the question he asks each one of us.
And indeed that is the question we have to answer
and not just by copying Peter’s answer
or not just by repeating the Creed…
Our answer determines how we live our lives,
our relationship with our loved ones, our time, our energy, our bank accounts…
I’m not trying to make this a guilt trip
But I would suggest that it is worthwhile for all of us to actually take some time to think about who Jesus is for US!
I remember years ago travelling on buses or on the DART in Dublin, there would often be a poster saying ‘Who do you say that I am’ in huge writing and underneath in much smaller writing there would be an invitation to join some Christian group in some church hall.
I never did go to the church hall but it did used to make me think … well at least for the length of the bus journey!
A few years ago now, our Bishop had made up a poster for the Confirmation services throughout the dioceses, you might remember it ?
In fact there is even still a copy on the outside Noticeboard in St Mary’s churchyard… have a look if you’re walking past……
Anyway, it was a poster showing a word thought cloud, with all of the words for God that the confirmation children had come up with at his Confirmation morning in Douglas that particular year…. It was made up of words like Father, Mother, Spirit, Guide, Comforter, Strength, Wisdom ……
When I do the confirmation classes , which last 3 months, I always do a little session like that, I ask the children to write down what God is to them.
It is a seemingly simple exercise but it always seems to take them ages…. because it is difficult.
In the Community school, I take groups of 5th years for a session on Prayer and I use the cards from USPG called ‘The Christ we share’ which has paintings and sculptures or whatever depicting Christ in different cultures throughout the world. Christ as a Rastafarian from Jamaica , Christ as a wanted poster of a Geurilla in South America, Christ as a Black man from Cameroon, Christ as a painted Egg from the Russian Orthodox Church, Christ as a Blond man with blue eyes… you get the picture…. Images of Jesus in different cultural settings.
Anyway , I lay out the cards on the desk and I ask the young people to choose just one image and then I go around the class and ask them to tell us why they chose that particular one.
It is ALWAYS an amazing experience as almost without fail, the young person has picked an image that resonates with how they are feeling about themselves or the world…. Christ is almost like a mirror image of what is going on for them at that particular time.
So….. Who do you say that I am?
We have in our heads all of the stuff we have learnt
, ….that Jesus is light from light , true God from True God, begotten not made …..
And sometimes we even understand what we are saying but how do we align our lives to this declaration?
We come up with titles and formulations to try and get at the mystery of what God has done in and through Jesus but if it isn’t part of our lives well then it’s only words……
Like the disciples today, each one of us has to step up to the mark and work out exactly who Jesus is for us.
If we were asked to explain to someone who had never heard of Jesus just who he is , how would we answer?
We could perhaps say that Jesus is God’s way of showing how much God loves us and all people… that God is so big that we have a hard time connecting with God so in order to reveal just how God feels about us, we have Jesus, revealing God’s heart in a sense.
We could perhaps say that Jesus shows us what is possible, how he healed, how he showed compassion, how he fed the hungry , comforted the afflicted,
how he didn’t let himself be limited by social conventions and silly rules,
how he proved that love is stronger than death and hate and fear…. how he showed us that God’s love wins in the end.
Jesus turns his initial theological question into a personal query.
“What about you?
Who do you say that I am?”
And so turns our very own identity to be bound up with the identity of Jesus
he asked them (and he asks us) to think about it on a personal level
because by thinking about it , it can make a difference to us
and to the way we live out our lives in God’s love and mercy.
We give witness to who Jesus is in our life not only about what we say
but by how we let Jesus change and reconfigure our priorities
what Peter answers to Jesus’ question is really important,
because for Peter, Jesus was not just another great or admirable figure, but the one who could change his life.
The one who changes all our lives.
The Rector, 23rd July, 2023 Mt 13:24-30,36-43
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I’ve often spoken about the way Jesus used parables or stories to get across important truths,
some of these parables are so well known that we recognise them immediately … the prodigal son, the Samaritan, the Mustard seed, the Widow’s mite,
and today is no exception, it is the well known story of the weeds among the wheat… or in the older translations the ‘tares among the wheat’
Jesus , the master storyteller, who shaped these parables into rich spiritual food for our limited human minds.
Trying to help us to understand what the Kingdom of God was to be… a glimpse of what the mind of God is really like ….
He wanted us to understand concepts that were way beyond our world as we knew it so he used these everyday situations as a springboard to try and explain the inexplicable.
The Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor speaks of parables as not being direct answers to direct questions that we all have and want answered in black and white
but rather, she says, they deliver
“their meaning in images that talk more to our hearts than to our heads. Parables are mysterious… Left alone, they teach us something different every time we hear them, speaking across great distances of time and place and understanding.”
Think about how we understood these stories as children! And perhaps how we understand them differently now, with our life experiences.
On the surface, these Parables are about farmers and soil and crops but they are more than that… they are also mysterious as well as down to earth examples!
Just as soon as we think we “know” what a parable means, we’re probably wrong!.
And when we’re made uncomfortable by the challenge of a parable… then we’re probably getting a little closer to the heart of its meaning …and certainly this seems to be what Jesus intended….
Today’s gospel parable began with the words…’He put before them another Parable – The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field’ which is really a direct continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel when we heard about the rocky soil, sandy soil, good soil etc..
(and here in St Mary’s Church, our visitor the Revd Julia spoke about her non-green fingers!)
Jesus, in his parables, was careful to use situations that his audience could identify with. The listeners would have immediately understood what he was talking about.
They were people of the land and Jesus was telling them a story that they could totally identify with.
In Palestine, there was a common weed called a ‘bearded darnel’ , which was so like the normal wheat that not even farmers could easily tell one apart from the other. When you google DARNEL, it’s called ‘Wheat’s evil twin’!
So even if the farmer identified it as a weed, the roots of it were often so intertwined that to pull one of the weeds out endangered the good plants.
The only thing that could happen was to let the weeds grow alongside the good plants and then separate laboriously by hand
but in the end, they did have to be separated as the bitter grain of the weed was actually poisonous, leading to dizziness and sickness. When people eat its seeds, they get dizzy, off-balance and nauseous, and its official name, L. temulentum, comes from a Latin word for “drunk.”
Listening to Jesus’s story, they were probably amazed at the idea of anyone so evil that they would deliberately sow bad seed in a good field.
It’d be like someone knowingly sowing Japanese Knotweed in their garden!
Jesus was trying to warn them that there was a hostile power in the world, that would seek to destroy the good seed.
Part of the teaching of this parable is that there really is two different kinds of influence in the world.
One influence that can help the good seed to flourish and grow
And a diametrically opposed influence that would destroy the good seed, to wither it before it can grow.
But life is never simple….
Things are not always as they seem.
We really can’t tell what is in any person’s heart.
In the 16th Century, the English Queen Elizabeth I famously said something similar to this.
At that time, when Anglicanism as a denomination was defining itself, Religious extremists on both sides of the Reformation debate were trying to push the Crown in different directions,
Trying to force the Queen to damn those who they felt were in error… and remember at that time, if you didn’t toe the Government line on religion, you stood to lose your lands, your rights and often your head!
In response to these pressures from both the extreme Puritan and the extreme Roman Catholic strains of Christianity, Queen Elizabeth I famously said that only God can see through the window of a person’s soul.
A person can appear to be good and yet turn out to be a bad influence
while a seemingly bad person now can turn out to be good in the long run.
That’s why I put that saying from St Augustine in the pewsheet, just under the second reading…
‘Those who are weeds today MAY be wheat tomorrow..’
Walter Wink , a marvelous American Theologian, who died back in 2012 wrote that
Evil is not our essence…God intended us for better things.
And I couldn’t agree more….
How could evil be totally eradicated anyway?
If God destroyed anything that was any way evil in its essence at the stroke of midnight tonight, how many of us would be left standing?
Just as the world is an ambiguous, mixed up place,
so we ourselves are mixtures of the good and the bad.
Even in our own church community, we have varying degrees of good and bad influences…..
It shouldn’t be news to any of us that we have sinners in our midst! …. Sometimes it’s us!
Think of all those stories of Jesus eating with sinners,
or his words about not judging one another:
We may be a religious community working toward perfection and purity .. but we still don’t get to judge others!
The Pharisees and Legalists of Jesus time would have considered Jesus to be a weed in their particularly pure wheat field!
The idea of the field of good & bad seed is referring to us all ,
We are not a community of the elect.
We are a mixed body of the righteous and the unrighteous,
Weeds and wheat all growing together.
I have said before that quote about our community
being intended as a hospital for sinners
not a mausoleum for saints!
We are a hospital for Sinners…….
All of us stand under the mercy of God.
It’s true that in the end we will all be judged
but we will be judged by God and not by each other.
For it is God alone who can discern the good from the bad,
the wheat from the weed.
God alone will look at us …. and at our entire lives …
and judge us.
I read this in an email from that wonderful US theologian Fr Richard Rohr just this week
So many Christians are absolutely sure they know who is going to heaven and who is going to hell. What a strange and horrible comfort that must be! Why would anything except the tiny mind want that? The great mind hands that back to where it belongs, with the only mind where everything does belong—which is, of course, the mind of God.
Richard Rohr 14/7
In this parable today we are being warned not to judge others
while at the same time we are given fair warning that we will all be judged in the end
BUT the hugely important detail is that we will be judged by the only judge who really and truly knows all the facts and circumstances of our lives.
The harvest time is still in the future,
and for now there is still that mixed bag of good and bad in Christ’s kingdom.
But there is hope in the parable too, for both wheat and weeds.
In fact I think that Jesus told this story particularly so that the weeds would have a chance to hear his good news….
The good news that the kingdom is among us,
The kingdom of God is still growing and advancing.
And may we all, with God’s grace,
hold off on judging others in the meantime! Amen.
The Rector, 9th July 2023, 5th Sunday of Trinity
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit.
It’s all about perceptions today….
The gospel tells us that Jesus had to remind the crowd that there were some people who were so anti everything that they even thought John the Baptist was possessed with a demon,
yet John, perhaps above all in Palestine of that time, lived a life of denial and simplicity…..
In their eyes, nobody’s behaviour or life was good enough….
You were damned if you did and damned if you didn’t!
John lived such a simple life that something must be wrong with him….
Jesus lives a more ordinary life, eating and drinking what others eat and drank and so he wasn’t good enough either……
they condemned him as a glutton and drunkard!
You just couldn’t get it right for some people!
We know, of course, that far from being a glutton and a drunkard, Jesus’ life was the one to emulate…
He lived in the world and for the world
He saw sin for what it was. the systemic sin, the sin that is in our institutions.
Jesus spent his life overturning injustices and trying to expose the many ways that society’s attitudes and laws actually reflected sinfulness, Sin was not just simply whether you as an individual lived as an aesthete or as a bon vivant!
He spent his life hammering home the truth that the only really important thing was to love God and to actively love our neighbour… and don’t forget the story he told of the Good Samaritan…..our neighbour was everyone we meet! Not just the people we know and like….
Jesus importantly demonstrated that sin could come from twisting a good law to cause loss of humanity and life… Sabbath was a good thing in itself and yet, remember the outcry from ‘good society’ when Jesus healed the man’s withered hand on the Sabbath?
He told us that the Sabbath was made for the Man and not the other way around…..
Human need should always top the strictures of a given society.
Jesus knew that his listeners were weary with carrying the burden of a set of laws that they could never keep….
They were always going to be losers in that impossible battle, they were always going to be sinners , in their eyes.
We often hear that most human of apostles, Paul, crying out with desperation with his human limitations and propensity for sin
(the bit ‘For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate’… & we have just said in our confession ‘by what we have done and by what we have failed to do’) but Paul then writes that he is calmed when he remembers and accepts that personal sin is defeated by God through our life in and with Jesus as our companion. In today’s reading Paul said ‘Who will rescue me from this body of death?….Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’
Jesus does not tell us that it is an easy thing to be free of sin and follow him.
In fact, he constantly tells us that there is a cost.
The cost may even come from the place we have trusted and have pledged our loyalty.
Remember the disturbing words from our Gospel just two weeks ago?
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother….and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
But importantly Jesus was saying to us was that sin cannot exist when we abide in Christ and Christ in us.
This is what Paul realised ….. He knows that sin is defeated by God through our life in and with Jesus as our companion.
As we say in our Holy Communion service
Through him, with him, in him, in unity with the Holy Spirit……
The Gospel words challenges us and also the words assure us.
They hint at the profound simplicity of a life in Christ,
But they also serve as a mirror for us to examine our understanding of who we are along with how we are living.
Our deepest desire, whether we are aware of it or not,
is to love God and to love our neighbour.
It is when we do not love God and our neighbour,
That we find ourselves in sin….and we suffer….
We have to put our trust in Jesus
In our Gospel reading, Jesus gave us those familiar and most reassuring words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Now we all know that a ’yoke’ is traditionally a thing around the neck of a shackled animal, a so-called ‘beast of burden’,
an oxen or horse who is being compelled to do what is not in his nature… namely ploughing a field.
The Yoke is a burden for the animal and so it is really clever of Jesus to use the image of a Yoke here.
He is saying that yes, we must take on this yoke if we are to be his…. But this is no ordinary yoke, Jesus’ yoke is easy to bear because he is ‘Gentle and humble in heart’…
And we will find rest for our souls…..
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild….. ….Gentleness is such an undervalued thing…
There is a belief that if you want to get on in life, you have to be hard, canny, nobody’s fool,
Because if you are gentle, people will walk all over you.
Gentleness is always viewed as being the same as being weak and passive…. Hence the ‘meek and mild’ tag onto the end of the ‘Gentle Jesus’
And yet Gentleness is not a form of weakness, it’s a form of strength, It takes a strong , self-confident person to be gentle.
A gentle person knows that healing and growth results from nurturing not forcing.
The lust for power is always rooted in weakness rather than strength, only the weak measure their worth by the number of people they can dominate…. Think of Putin…
Jesus’ approach was gentle for sure. He didn’t force himself on people. He didn’t try to control them or to impose his will on them.
He respected their freedom.
The people with the greatest influence over others will have no need to control those they influence.
All truly great leaders throughout history have understood this.
Jesus understands how hard our lives are.
He knew first-hand the struggles, difficulties and frustrations that ordinary people have to endure in our lives.
AND he understands how we have to fight daily against our natures…
They are such comforting words…..
Come to me, take my yoke, learn from me; I am gentle, humble in heart; you will find rest for your souls.
Come to God through Jesus.
Willingly take on the yoke of discipleship.
Learn from Jesus.
How to be gentle, humble in heart and be at peace
Peace not just with others but peace with ourselves and our own inner struggles, the peace that seems to elude us until we realise that it isn’t within our own power to attain it but only with the grace of God. Amen.
The Revd Richard Dring, 2nd July 2023, 4th Sunday of Trinity
Matthew 10. 40-42 & Romans 6. 12-23
I decided to look at both these readings today as there is much for us to consider in both of these readings.
To quote from the New Bible Commentary: Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Rome is one of the most important theological documents ever written. Its influence on the church has been enormous: Romans has decisively shaped the teaching of Augustine, Calvin, Luther and Wesley, to mention only a few. Yet Romans is not a systematic theology but a letter written in specific historical circumstances.
In this section of the letter Paul is talking about sin, and the fact that we have been freed from the slavery of sin that is a central theme in much of the Old Testament and so embedded in a substantial portion of Jewish rituals. This description is very apt as in the world of Slavery, the slave was bound and the property of the Master, a person. In this case Paul describes people as being bound to sin so in the case described Sin is the master. When we look at the text in this way it helps us understand how in the Old Testament people were bound to sin (Slaves to Sin). The Jews were bound by an ever-challenging set of rules as detailed in the early books of the Bible. In many ways they were bound by these rules for everything they do so in effect they are slaves to these rules so slaves to sin every time they broke these rules. These rules were overpowering and dominated everything. We only need to consider how many times Jesus was challenged when he either broke these rules or stretched the interpretation. In effect these rules were the most important aspect of daily life and were taking precedence over God.
As Paul states in verse 22 “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life”.
We are not however being let go free without any constraints, what I believe he is saying we are now bound by God’s values, so we have been freed to follow God’s values. These values are not as clearly defined and we are allowed to determine these boundaries and values based on our learning and guidance. There is not a set of written rules for us to follow, we have to discern these from Jesus teachings. So, we are not fully free to do whatever we may like but are free under the guidance and authority of God. We have been given free will but with that freedom comes responsibility for our words and actions. A somewhat daunting prospect as it is very easy to follow a written guidance but much more challenging when we must set our own boundaries under God’s guidance.
Looking at the Gospel reading from Matthew, presents us with a challenge to be welcoming. It also helps us to understand we do not all have to be prophets, there is a need for those who work in the background keeping everything going and on track. If we do not have those involved in the many roles supporting Christs ministry on earth, then that ministry will be starved and will not succeed. In the middle east there is a very strong tradition of welcome, and in many cases this is no more than offering a glass of water to the visitor. To not do this would be seen as an insult. In providing this welcome Jesus is telling us there is a reward for all of us.
Tom Wright in his commentary on this bible reading proposes that Jesus came to begin and establish a new way of being God’s people. This challenged many people as indeed change will always challenge people. We see so many examples of instances where there is considerable resistance to new ideas and change. We probably don’t have to look outside our own parishes and how change has been received. Jesus came to us to introduce a change in how we worship and believe in God, and as Tom Wright suggests there are many people who propose change who would expect the change to continue and not stop. Jesus also knew that the change coming about from his teaching was likely to cause division, this is why he is warning that it could split families where there is disagreement and so set families apart and maybe fight with one another.
Change will always be a challenge however there is one certainty, we are living in a world where change is part of our daily life.
This passage shows us that while The Church and Christ will always require orators and teachers it will also need those who are at home providing the necessary hospitality and welcome we need the all important unseen support group that makes it all possible! All will be rewarded, not just those who lead and preach!
The Rector, 25th June 2023 Sanctuary Sunday
As most of you know, I was lucky enough to have spent 14 days in the Holy Land… or as it tends to be called nowaways, the Land of the Holy One… I think people are trying to move away from calling the actual LAND holy…. Seeing as how various factions call it ‘Their Land’ and are prepared to go to any lengths to take and hold this land… So ‘Land of the Holy One’ it is… It’s also called Israel/Palestine… although if you look now at the map on the front of the Pewsheet, you’ll see that there is very little ‘Palestine’ left now.
This photo on the front page shows four panels, each representing a map of the area, the Land of the Holy One….the first map is at 1947 before the war of independence, then second one is how the United Nations proposed a division of land, the ‘Partition Plan’ to stop all out war, the third map is how the land was divided after the war in 1948/9 until the 1967 ‘6 day’ War and then the final panel shows the present situation.
I think most of you heard about the Ryanair Pilot announcing that the plane was landing in Palestine when it was arriving at Tel Aviv airport?
Even though Ryan Air profusely apologised, saying it was a junior member of staff, and nothing political was intended, that would have been like a red rag to a bull and when you look at the last panel of the photo, you know why.
There is really very little of ‘Palestine’ left…. If you look online, you’ll see a larger West Bank (supposedly Palestine) than this map but this map shows the areas that are truly under Palestinian control. The country is zoned, Zone A is under full Palestinian Control – that would be the smallest bit, in green. Zone B is what’s called Palestinian Administration, but Israeli Security, basically occupation. There is a Zone C which is supposed to be under negotiation , like East Jerusalem where I was staying but basically the rest is all Israel.
The ’Study/Pilgrimage’ I was on was called ‘Women of the Bible’ and it was over a period of 10 days, run by St George’s College Jerusalem, who are a part of the Anglican St George’s Cathedral complex in East Jerusalem, the Arab part of Jerusalem.
It was a fantastic 10 days and I am eternally grateful to the staff of St George’s for putting together, for the first time, a really interesting Pilgrimage, based around the women in the Bible. We travelled to many many places… in the whole 10 days, we had only 1 free period – and that was on the final day…. But we travelled as far north as Nazareth and as far south as Hebron, taking in the Sea of Galilee, the Dead See, the River Jordan, Jericho, Ramallah, Nablus, Shiloh, Mount Gerizim in Samaria, the Judean Hill country, the Jezreel valley, Bethlehem and so much more … as I keep saying to you, I’ll be boring you with details for years to come.
But today, as I mentioned on the Pewsheet, it is Sanctuary Sunday and I particularly want to talk about my visit to the Aida Refugee camp beside Bethlehem…..
Although Bethlehem is very near to Jerusalem , on a bus, it can still take quite a while to get there because you have to go through security check points and negotiate the separation wall.
It’s not so bad leaving Jerusalem TO Bethlehem, coming back the other direction is much tougher….. obviously the security is around checking that no suicide bomber or attackers are heading into Jerusalem.
The separation wall is huge… if you look at the photos on the pewsheet, the top photo will give you an inkling about the sheer size of the wall, it winds it’s way in and around settler towns….. It’s such an oppressive presence… the graffiti is , I suppose, one way of people getting to grips with it. Some of the graffiti is amazing, so artistic, and of course the renown Graffiti artist Banksey has painted iconic drawings on the wall…. You probably all have seen the ‘Scar’ of Bethlehem scene , where instead of the Star behind the iconic Nativity, it is a bullet hole scar in the Separation wall behind the holy family…
In the photos on the Pewsheet, all taken by me, you can see the very recent painting of the reporter Shireen Abu Aqla, an Al Jezeera employee, a Palestinian/American, who was shot dead by the Israeli forces while reporting on a situation in the Jenin Refugee camp back in May 22
Another photo shows the ‘Make Hummus not War’ graffiti and the one beside it shows a little fruit juice stall, parked beside the wall, with a sign that says ‘Make Juice not Walls’…. I bought some delicious freshly squeezed Orange juice from the young boy at this stall… His uncle was selling fridge magnets with his own design with the same slogan ‘make juice not walls’ … I bought one for myself and for Tony Murphy who’d asked me to bring something back from that area (here it is) .
But this was typical of the resilience of the people which shines through.
Aida Refugee camp was established in 1950 between the towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jala. Like other West Bank camps, it was established on land UNRWA leased from the government of Jordan. Aida covers a small area of 0.71 square kilometres that has not grown significantly with the refugee population. As such, it faces severe overcrowding problems.
The camp is fully linked to municipal electricity and water grids, but the sewage and water networks are poor.
The original refugees in Aida camp generally hailed from 27 villages in the western Jerusalem and western Hebron areas
Initially, the camp started as a safe zone with the promise that the refugees could return to their villages after the conflict was over. At this time, the camp hosted 1125 refugees living in 94 tents.
The lives of those living on the camp has been troubled, not only because of their status as refugees, and the hardships this entails, but also by the traumatizing and devastating experiences of the first and second intifadas.
During the first Intifada, from 1987-1993, curfews and gunfire were frequent occurrences on the camp. Only seven years after the end of the first Intifada, increasing Palestinian dissatisfaction with peace negotiations and other events saw the rise of the second Intifada in 2000.
During this time the residents of Aida camp experienced severe hardship, with every aspect of their daily lives completely hampered by the reality of military attacks.
The camp was subject to frequent strikes and invasions from both land and air, in addition to severe curfew measures imposed on the camp and surrounding areas. Even when not under curfew, residents could not travel anywhere within the camp where their movement could be seen from military bases, as they would risk coming under fire.
Even within their homes, residents were not safe. As many houses were made from cinder block and inexpensive building materials, they could not sustain gunfire, in contrast to the fortified military camps and lookout posts from which the Israeli forces attacked the camp. When invading the camp, Israeli forces occupied homes, made arbitrary arrests and even bombed the walls to neighbouring homes in order to travel through the camp internally, showing a disregard for injuries that could occur.
Needless to say, the impact of such events on the camp was devastating. The attacks killed, injured and traumatized many. The whole infrastructure of the camp was severely damaged, including the UNRWA schools on the camp and many of the roads, where tanks had damaged the ground and surrounding property in the camp’s narrow streets. Reconstruction was a slow process, and it was not until preparations for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the camp in 2009 that the main road, still showing signs of damage from Israeli tanks, was repaired.
The recent history of the camp is plagued by, in 2003, the construction of the Israeli separation wall, which borders the camp on two sides. Many of the working men in the camp are skilled construction workers, reliant on the Israeli job market. As the restrictions on work permits for Israel were tightened after the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, these men found it increasingly difficult to gain work. With the construction of the separation wall, they were no longer able to access the Israeli job market, and could not be absorbed into the weak Palestinian economy after losing their jobs in Israel.
As a result the unemployment levels in the camp have now increased to 43%. Currently 39% of the residents in Aida camp are living in poverty, on less than $2 a day. The wall has also cut off the camp from farmland and recreational areas for its youth. Throughout its course along the West Bank, the wall significantly deviates from the Green Line, and annexes 8.5% of the West Bank to Israeli territory. Likewise, the wall surrounding Aida camp is significantly further south than the actual Green line, and annexes the Jewish settlements of Gilo and Har Homa to Israeli territory. The residents of Aida camp are also sealed off from nearby East Jerusalem (where I was staying) which was just kilometres away, an area of religious importance and regarded under international law as Palestinian territory. The people of Aida now live in the shadow of the 8m high concrete barrier surrounding their camp.
In the photos ,you can see the ‘largest key in the world’ and ‘the Gate of Return’, a 12m high structure at the entrance to the camp.
As a person with mild claustrophobia, I found the refugee camp to be stifling… the roads were so narrow, the buildings tall but haphazard, badly built in on top of each other. You can see from the photos what it was like.
We were there as invited guests of the Noor Society for people with disabilities. The society was set up to provide rehabilitation services to children with special needs. One of the ways it raises money is by teaching cooking to foreigners (in-person and online) and we were there to enjoy a wonderful Palestinian lunch cooked by the wonderful women who founded the society.
You can see Islam’s photo alongside Julie Ann , the wife of the Dean of St George’s Cathedral in the bottom photo. Julie Ann was a wonderful person who has built strong relations with many of the marginalised women in the locality of the Cathedral.
Islam lives with her husband and six children in Aida Camp. She follows up with each family to meet their specific needs, leads staff meetings, and always welcomes those curious about Noor. She continuously advocates for the rights of disabled children with a big smile on her face. Her eldest son Mohammad is a twenty-one-year-old living with cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
The initiative began when Mohammad was twelve years old. As a disabled youngster suffering from brain paralysis, the family struggled to find resources for their son. They approached multiple centres in the Bethlehem Governorate for treatment and rehabilitation without success. Her request was rejected because most NGOs operating in the area either did not assist with this type of disability or serve his age. This rejection affected the family deeply, and they became even more passionate about providing alternative care for Mohammad. Out of this challenge, Islam’s self-efforts towards her beloved son began.
Islam desired to care for other children in addition to her son, so she approached numerous mothers living in the Aida refugee camp who have children with disabilities.
The start-up did not launch easily as Islam and her colleagues faced numerous obstacles. They lacked equipment, work experience with the children, received less care from the community, and had little funds for resources.
Regardless of these problems, Islam and her colleagues were not willing to give up; they recruited volunteers and continued to persevere each day with motivation and hope. Their efforts were fruitful, and the centre soon became known as the “NOOR Society for People with Disability”. They chose the name “noor” meaning, “light” in Arabic as they hoped to bring light to the neighbourhood, one family at a time.
To financially support the organization, they began offering Palestinian cooking classes. To this day, Noor hires disabled individuals from the community as instructors to support them as well.
Currently, Noor is the only non-profit in Aida camp that provides these specialty services and without charge.
It was quite a life changing moment to be in Aida Refugee camp, to meet Islam and her fellow women, to hear their stories, to eat their food…. You can see these places on the TV but to actually be there, with them, was on a different scale altogether….. it makes you want to do something, anything to help.
Our parish is a ‘Church of Sanctuary’ and this means reaching out to help, those in need of sanctuary near us and those in need of sanctuary further afield.
When I was in Aida, in Noor’s place, I spent money buying some of the locally produced crafts and while that was good, I felt that there was more that I , WE, could be doing.
Julie Ann, the dean’s wife, in St George’s Cathedral is a good contact for us. We can perhaps do more from here….. I can contact Julie Ann and see what we can do.
Perhaps we can organise to sell some of the crafts here in Carrigaline, perhaps we can have a fundraiser for Noor here in the parish?
I feel that it would be fantastic to be supporting these brave women as they try, in their own words, to bring light to their dire situations.
And we need light… there has been so much darkness recently….
The horrific drownings in Greece, Italy, Spain’s Canary Islands, Tunisia…..
More shipwrecks, more devastated lives.
Words like “refugees” and “migrants” appear again in the headlines, it may seem possible to disconnect from the fact that those referred to are people, the same as us.
They are people with families who will mourn them; with hopes and dreams which will now come to nothing. How many times must we repeat that fact before the horror of the deaths taking place on Europe’s borders finally sink in?
I was reading in the Irish Times that this weekend, in the Passionskirche church in Kreuzberg, Berlin, names or numbers representing thousands of the roughly 51,000 people said to have died trying to reach Europe since 1993 will be read out.
The action was planned as part of World Refugee Week, and it was expected to take about 32 hours to complete, running through the night.
Each name is someone. Someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, son, aunt, uncle, nephew, niece… each name is someone.
There is so much we can do , even from our comfortable situations, to help.
Like the Women of Noor, we too can help throw light into the darkness.
This is exactly what Christ would demand of us all
The Rector, 28th May 2023 Pentecost
In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place….. and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
I have been ordained nearly 18 years
and I was a student reader for 2 years before that while I was in the theological college so I have been preaching for almost 20 years now.
Each Pentecost I say I will try and say something different this time but when you read the words from Acts,
it is almost impossible not to preach about this particular text… although there were several sermons in the wonderful words from 1st Corinthians and from John’s Gospel too!
Spoiled for choice but today I think belongs to the account of the first disciples in Acts of the Apostles… and as I’ve pointed out before, we are obliged to read this on Pentecost… its not an option.
Each year we have that same reading from Acts and while I try not to say the exact same thing every year, it isn’t easy ! each year at Pentecost , I seem to want to say the very same thing!
Because this reading from Acts that we always use at Pentecost is just so dramatic isn’t it!!
Such a gripping story…..
How the leaderless disciples were enabled to be strong enough to get out and do what they had been commissioned to do…..
How strong they were to become.
How sure they were about what they were doing
How they were able to go into the world as witnesses to what Jesus had achieved for us.
How they were able to somehow enable others to see past the ordinary life to the extraordinary love God holds for each of us.
What is it about the Holy Spirit that they received that day that enabled these ordinary people to become so extraordinary?
Tongues of flame…. that’s how they described it..
(THROW OUT THE PETALS)
Something like this?
We have to remember that it didn’t just happen then
Today the Spirit is still outpouring on us….
It just blows in some very strange and unexpected places.
And are we listening?
Are the cries for Justice from economic and political
oppression actually cries of the Spirit?
Dare we shut our ears to the Spirit speaking to us in the churches through the cry of the World’s hungry?
Or our country’s homeless?
Or the Refugees living on the streets?
The Spirit is there for all that have eyes to see and ears to listen, for all who open their hearts and minds to receive it.
Jesus said the Spirit would come and it happened then and it is still the case that the Holy spirit is by our side,
We have moved the Pascal Candle to the Baptismal Font where it will remain except for Baptisms and Funerals until it is replaced at the next Easter Vigil.
This symbolise Jesus having returned to his father in Heaven at Ascension and having ‘organised’ the Holy Spirit to come to us….
In John’s gospel, the Spirit is called ‘the Comforter’,
‘the Strengthener’, ‘the Helper’
… the one who nerves and steels us for Life’s tough battles.
Because of course Jesus never promised his disciples that they would always be safe, but he DID promise them that they should not be alone….
And so it is for us, the Spirit is always with us, strengthening and helping us to become what Jesus knows we can become.
The Spirit is not there just for extraordinary people like the first disciples,
or for Paul as he journeyed on his missions across the Roman world,
or for Augustine as he helped define our doctrines and theology,
or for Wesley as he reinvigorated our church
or for Bishops…….
The Holy Spirit is also there for ordinary people like you and me,
to make US extra-ordinary by the spirit.
Those early Christians in Jerusalem probably felt just as ordinary as we do today, worse in fact….
and look at what they, with the power of the Spirit,
were able to achieve.
The Spirit shook the disciples out of their lethargy and warmed them up for their task.
The Spirit filled them with a burning desire to get up and do something for Jesus.
The Spirit gave them a thirst for the work of Jesus.
The Spirit filled them with energy for Jesus whom they loved, helped them to realise that they had to be out there on the streets, among the people, making the name of Jesus known.
The Spirit put energy into their feet and into their voices, gave them confidence, made them feel that their cause was worth every ounce of energy they could give it.
The disciples threw themselves into their task, pleaded and argued for Jesus, explained to the people in the street what Jesus stood for.
Could what happened to these disciples also happen for us?
or do we secretly believe that this was a once-only event in history which couldn’t possible happen outside of Palestine in the 1st Century,
never mind 21 centuries later in Cork?
But luckily for us, as I’m always and ever reminding myself and you….. regardless of our fears, the Holy Spirit still continues to burst out in every generation of believers.
I know I mention this every year but I always feel a powerful connection to Pentecost as it was 27 years ago I first went to church in St Patrick’s Greystones
I was back from Holland a couple of months and was
living in Wicklow,
and I wandered in to an ordinary Church of Ireland parish,
to an ordinary service celebrating Pentecost
and found that an extraordinary God was waiting there for me…..
People still feel their lives drastically transformed through an encounter with Christ,
(I certainly never thought I’d be standing here 27 years later!)
many still find the spirit so real and invigorating that sacrifices are made with joyful serenity,
unpleasant and dangerous work is gladly undertaken,
individuals stand firm to witness in a corrupt society and countless numbers spread love and peace daily amongst those around them.
There is still much to be done, but, living in the Spirit of Pentecost, we too are enabled to work as harvesters and take part in the establishing of God’s kingdom on Earth.
Today we are celebrating the gifts the Holy Spirit, the enabler gives us,
Writing to the Galatians,
The Apostle Paul listed the fruits of the Spirit as
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity , faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
These fruits or gifts are what enables us to be his followers and to make followers of others.
We ARE the direct descendants of those first disciples, spiritually if not physically.
God also has big plans for us,
Now….today in Monkstown/Carrigaline, in the year of our Lord 2023.
and as I am always and ever reminding me and you …..
….. God doesn’t expect us to do it alone
That is why God sent us the Holy Spirit…
I am going to give every person here one of these little heart shaped flames to take home to remind themselves that the Holy Spirit has come to them too!
The Rector, 21st May 2023
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today is the 7th Sunday of Easter, exactly 43 Days since Easter day.
I didn’t have to calculate this on my fingers and toes….
Ascension Thursday (3 days ago) is exactly 40 days since Easter dayand Pentecost is 10 days after Ascension Thursday ,
so in 7 days it will be Pentecost and I’ll talk about that next week!
But today I would like to talk about the Ascension,
falling on a Thursday as it has to in order to be exactly 40 days after Easter SUNDAY, it often gets overlooked doesn’t it?
Some Christians still live in a three-story universe—
heaven above, earth between, hell below—but few people believe that if you get into a space ship and fly up far enough, you’ll find a place called “heaven.”
But that is not what this is about.
The disciples saw what they saw and reported it as they understood it.
Jesus was gone from them, gone home to his father.
For us as a church community, I think it’s a shame that we don’t make more of Ascension Day.
It is such an important part of the journey of Jesus , his final journey you might say.
I had great plans this year, to properly celebrate last Thursday, cancelling the Wednesday HC but in the end, I had to ask the wonderful Revd Tony Murphy, who technically is a parishioner although he’s more often needed out in farflung exotic places like Fermoy (!), anyway I had to ask Tony if he would celebrate for me as I had picked up a rotten auld cold from somewhere….
Every year on Ascension Thursday, friends post these glorious paintings depicting the Ascension of Jesus, you know, beautiful stained glass windows, the magnificently mosaic-ed church in Timoleague… or amazingly moving poems and sonnets (and actually, sick as I was, I did post a lovely Sonnet from my favourite living poet Malcolm Guite on our parish fb page on Thursday)
But anyway, in the midst of all this, I always think of this wonderful depiction of the Ascension drawn for me by a little girl aged about 7 when I was a Vicar in Kilkenny about 10 years ago.
It is truly wonderful and I know I’ve mentioned it before.
She drew Mary Magdalen kneeling on the ground looking up at an ascending Jesus.
Her speech bubble says ‘OMG, Its God!’
High up in the clouds there is another speech bubble from God saying ‘U come back up here!’ that’s a ‘U’ with the capital letter, not ‘you’! and in fact there is another little ‘Ya!’ in the corner whom I can only assume is the Holy Spirit?
This is pure theological gold…. from the mind of a child …. and I remember thinking ‘My work here is done!’ ….
of course I came to Carrigaline soon after that so my work there really was done!
I won’t mention her name as she is in college now and would be mortified.
The Ascension, is, as I mentioned, very important to us , this is when Jesus , as the Risen Christ, is reunited with his father, in Heaven…He had promised to be with them always and he tells them (and in extension us!) that he will send the Holy Spirit to be with them, to strengthen them, to enable them to go out and be his witnesses in this world……This still holds true.
We are still dependant on the Holy Spirit to be our enabler and our guide.
The tongues of fire , which is how the disciples later described the coming of the Holy Spirit, must rest on us …..if we are to do his work in our world.
I think I’ve told you before about an old friend from Wicklow who used to give out to me about the amount of sermon preparation I had to do when I was training in the theological college.
She used to say to me that surely all I had to do was just trust in the Holy Spirit and get into the pulpit and be guided……
I used to say to her that the Holy Spirit did guide me…..
The Spirit guided me to the Resource books and Reference books that helped me write a Sermon!
Some people do have the gift of preaching in church without notes or preparation but that is definitely not one of my gifts…..
But any gifts I do have, I have only by the enabling of the Holy Spirit….
Today is ‘Vocations Sunday’ in the Church of Ireland and we are all encouraged to remind people of the ongoing need for each generation to think about ordained ministry and indeed ministry of all kinds….
In this parish, we have had many people over the years who have felt ‘called by name’ and stepped up to the mark – Edwin Hunter, John Tanner, Trevor Lester, Cliff Jeffers and more recently of course Richard Dring.
And of course Simon was commissioned as a Lay Reader last year, Hilary Dring was commissioned as a Lay Local Minister recently and is beginning studies to become a Diocesan Lay Reader soon. Clodagh King hopes to be commissioned very soon to be a Local Lay Pastoral Minister in our parish this September.
All of these people were enabled to do what they do with the help, the enabling, of the Holy Spirit.
You might think about if you are being called by name? Come and talk to me any time if you feel that you would like step out in faith.
Having Vocations Sunday on the Sunday after Ascension is clever I think… It is a good time to think about what we are about…
When we stand to say the Creed after the sermons at services,
we are stating what we, as Christians, believe,
these creeds grew from the first basic creed of ‘Jesus is Lord’
to the infinitely nuanced Nicene Creed which we will say together in a couple of minutes….
We will say…
‘He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father’ ….. and that is what we celebrate at Ascension time.
Our humanity, in all its glory and shame, is represented there at the right hand of the Father.
Because God loved the world so much , he sent us his son, to be the light to enlighten the world and to be the saviour of his people…..
Jesus was born, lived, died and rose again…. and then he ascended to his father in heaven, where he intercedes for US.
The Ascension made Jesus accessible to all people,
not just his disciples in a particular historic moment.
At the right hand of his father, he holds all of us in prayer,
And all of us may call upon him.
The Rector, 14th May 2023
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
On this Sunday before Ascension Sunday, the lectionary continues to nourish us with selections from the Farewell discourse of Jesus, today we are again back to the Thursday of Holy Week,
As I mentioned last week, in these last precious hours with his apostles, Jesus concentrated on speaking about essentials.
Many of the things he had to say was directed to the future. About how he wanted them to live when he was gone.
One of the things he said to them was
‘If you love me, keep my commandments’
It is from that commandment that Maundy Thursday gets its name. Maundy is a contraction of the Latin word mandatum, which means commandment.
In John’s gospel, Jesus used that occasion of the last supper to tell his disciples that he was giving them a new mandatum, a new commandment, that they love one another.
This still holds true.. the commandment to love one another should be the central theme of our life together.
We are not talking about keeping a specific set of commandments but about following his way of life, (and remember last week we spoke about Jesus being the ‘Way’)
This way of Jesus, demonstrated in his life, his love, his seeking out of those on the margins.
Plain and simple, it is Christian discipleship that we are talking about.
Discipleship calls for discipline – same word root!
If we follow his way, then ‘The way’ should be obvious….
People should look at us and know we are disciples of Christ by the way we love each other…..
We can’t truly call ourselves disciples of Jesus if we don’t listen to his words and make an effort to live by them.
We really can’t consider ourselves to be much of a Christian if we don’t at least try to live as Jesus taught us to.
But it is also important to remember that we don’t keep his commandments in order to make him love us…..
We keep his commandments because HE loves us!
The greatest need we humans have is for real, unconditional love…. This has certainly been highlighted during the awful isolation of the Covid years…..
Real, unconditional love….yet most times we find it hard to believe that this is exactly how God loves us.
I often use the annual Animal Blessing Service to try and illustrate this point, using the way animals love us humans to point out how God loves us! Unconditionally!
For we tend to believe that God will love us only if we are good.
God loves us , not because we are good.
But because GOD is good.
Our very existence is evidence of God’s love.
God’s unconditional love for us is the Good News
And our response is rightly to try and return that love.
Jesus responded to his Father’s love by loving him,
by obeying him, even onto death on the cross.
‘Not my will but yours’ he said.
It is through obedience that we are to show our love.
The discipline in the discipleship you might say!
To love is to obey …. And to obey is to love.
Some people will say , usually quite loudly it must be said,
how much they love Jesus
but then they deny him by their choices in life or by their actions.
Real love is shown in deeds,
People know us by our life,
not by what we say with our lips.
I have found that young people can be a good reminder of this. Especially in Confirmation classes when we are exploring issues.
They instinctively know if you are being hypocritical
If your words don’t match your actions.
It certainly keeps you on your toes!
Jesus said ‘Love one another as I have loved you’
In other words, I’ve shown you what to do….now do it..
But ………we don’t do it alone.
We have the Spirit….
(The spirit of God, unseen as the wind, gentle as is the dove, as we often sing)
The word that Jesus uses today for the Spirit is ‘Advocate’
….our gospel said ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever’
We are not alone in the struggle to follow the example of our Lord…
The spirit comforts us in times of sorrow,
enlightens us in times of darkness,
and makes us brave and strong in times of weakness and fear.
In our gospel reading, we heard the comforting words.
‘I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you…Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I love them and reveal myself to them’
Love is our connection to God and to each other.
Love is the climate in which we Christians should live, wherever we are in our stage of life.
Love one another as I have loved you…..
And that’s about it really..
The Rector : St John’s & St Mary’s, 7th May, 2023
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In John’s Gospel today we heard the beginning of Jesus’ farewell discourse that continues from this chapter 14 until chapter 17. That’s a whole lot of words!
The farewell discourse we are told by John, is what Jesus said to those gathered around him in the Upper room on the night before he was crucified – Thursday of Holy week as we know it.
Judas had just left the table and Jesus had just told Peter that he would deny him three times before the Cock crowed…
But now Jesus is trying to comfort them and we move into the famous set of ‘I am’ statements.
During Holy Week and Easter, we focused on what Jesus did.
But on these Sundays after Easter, the lectionary, the appointed readings that is, revives for us not so much for Jesus DID
but more about what Jesus does IN US and THROUGH US.
John’s gospel has been likened to a circular staircase and in the repetition of recurrent phrases like I AM, we are brought ever upward into understanding.
John’s poetic words in this formula, (actually the devise is called ‘cyclical repetition’ ) , these familiar words deepen our connection with the story so that each time it is heard, we identify ever more closely with it.
Just think about John’s wonderful gospel that we read at Christmas as an example
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
I absolutely love this gospel, especially when it is read at the Nine Lessons and Carols or at the Midnight Eucharist
And in the same way today’s words are also hugely familiar.
Its not just the ‘I AM’ phrases, I think its also something to do with these words being chosen by a great number of people planning funerals.
‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ …. speaks to something deep inside of us.
Jesus is actually trying to prepare his disciples for his departure from them, for when he will ascend to his father.
He tells them that he will return for them and, in the meantime, he is going to prepare a place for them.
As usual, the disciple picked to speak for us all is Thomas…. It is Thomas who expresses confusion, more than likely this confusion was felt by the whole group, but anyway it is Thomas who says:
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
And then we have the famous answer, the killer line:
“I am the way, the truth and the life. “
Jesus tells them that they have seen the Father – in him.
The Father is in him and he is in the Father.
And in fact, those who believe in him will do even greater things than he has done!
Again, Jesus is emphasising not what he has done but what he will do through us.
I once read a famous Buddhist saying that
Jesus embodied the way,
incarnated the way,
exampled the way
and that is true of every path that leads one to the divine.
The way that Jesus lived is the way of many of the ancient wisdoms, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism
and almost every major path leading people to the sacred.
This particular Buddhist was not saying
“I am a Christian – I believe in Jesus”.
He was saying truthfully that he could wholeheartedly
‘believe IN the way that Jesus IS’.
So what Jesus was telling Thomas , in answer to his question , is that he WAS the way….
What he meant by that was that believing in him was the right way to find God.
When we are trying to find our way in the often times confusing journey of life, we do need help in finding the right way to go.
Every day we face difficult decisions and sometimes its hard to know which way to turn.
Some people use their feelings to decide what to do.
They say ‘I’m going to do this….because it just feels like the right thing to do’
But that isn’t always right…
Sometimes our feelings lead us in the wrong way.
And also our feelings can change from day to day.
Just because we feel good about something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do….
Or some people might do something because everyone else is doing it…..
but that doesn’t make a wrong thing right!
‘Sure everyone is into this, or that ‘ Sure they’re all out together, it can’t be wrong…
I can still my mother ‘Just because your friend Mary is doing something, it doesn’t mean YOU should do it… if Mary jumped off a cliff , would you jump too!’
And as always she was right – we certainly shouldn’t follow others blindly…
As Christians, we believe that there is only one way to know if we are going in the right direction in life…..and that is to follow Jesus. He lived his life with humility, grace, love and charity and this is timeless.
We can always look to him for guidance.
When we are feeling lost and are not sure which way to turn?
We remember that Jesus said ‘I am the way’ and we can find examples in the way he led his life which will guide our path
When we are fed up with all the pressures and pretences of life? We remember that Jesus said ‘I am the truth’ and we examine each situation through the lens of Jesus and his ethical stances.
When we are desolate for the loss of a loved one?
We remember that Jesus said ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ and are comforted to remember that they are now safe with him.
When we feel we’ve no roots, nothing to connect with?
We remember Jesus saying ‘I am the vine, you are the branches, abide in me’ and this grounds us firmly in his love and in the community of all who love Jesus.
John reminds us today that Jesus told us
‘I am the way, the truth and the life….no one comes to the Father except through me’
Because everything , through Jesus, is interpreted by love.
because of him,
through him……we too can know the way
The Rector : United Service in St John’s Church , 30th April 2023
In the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As most of you know, and as our Finnish Visitors are learning, we are part of the Church of Ireland which, in turn, is part of the Anglican Communion
What most of you mightn’t know is that the Anglican Communion is in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the national church of Finland, as part of the Porvoo Agreement which was signed in Porvoo Finland back in 1992.
These churches in the Porvoo Communion all share episcopal polity of church organization with the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons within the historical episcopate with apostolic succession (only bishops ordaining clergy or other bishops, priests and deacons). This is based on the original ministry of the early church.
In the Church of Ireland , we have 11 bishops, who watch over us… Our bishops have oversight of us,
oversight being the meaning of the greek episcopos,.
So we are an Episcopal church,
we look to our bishops for guidance.
And while we don’t expect to get a bang of the crozier, We do expect them to lead us.
We want to hear their voices and we want to know them.
Jesus tells us that his sheep hear his voice,
I know them and they follow me because they know my voice…..
He knows them
He has a relationship with them.
He loves them and cares for them,
The flock – the community, have a deep need of community.
Jesus knows that.
He wants his flock, his followers to live in communion with one another.
We can’t belong to Jesus without belonging to his flock.
The image of Jesus as shepherd of the Father’s flock is one of the most beautiful images we have of him.
And this is no fanciful flight of a theologian’s imagination
BUT how Jesus described HIMSELF,
He is the Good Shepherd, the sheep belong to him.
He told us ‘My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me’.
And as sheep follow their Shepherds into fresh pastures, we follow Jesus to new life…..life in all its abundance.
In todays Gospel, Jesus also used the image of the gate.
‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate.’
Before I came to this diocese 11 ½ year ago , I was in Cashel, Ferns & Ossory diocese, Ossory to be precise…
I was based in Kilkenny and the bishop there at the time was Michael Burrows…. You may remember him as the Dean of Cork, which he was until he was made bishop in 2006.
Of course Adrian Wilkinson , our ex-archdeacon, is now the Bishop and Michael has moved Whest!
I remember Michael’s consecration so well.
It was on July 3rd 2006.
I remember the precise date because it is my husbands birthday and there I was – sitting up in Christ Church in Dublin!
But anyway, at one of Bishop Michael’s installations, I think it was in St Lazerian’s Cathedral in Old Leighlin,
his sermon was ALSO about being a gate for the sheep. His Pectoral cross actually has this image on it.
I can remember sitting at that time, really thinking about the images,
how the bishop is called to be the shepherd ,
we’re even called ‘his flock’ ,
how his crozier is based on the crook that shepherds traditionally carried to keep their wayward sheep in line!
I also think about how a middle eastern shepherd tends to lead from the front as opposed to hitting the reluctant sheep from behind and I really do hope that is how most of our Bishops ‘lead’
I know from personal experience that this is how our bishop Paul leads …
The Good Shepherd image is one that is enduring.
Our bishops do us all a favour by reminding us all of the eternal Good Shepherd, whose voice is so familiar to us, who came that we might have abundant life.
The Rector : St John’s & St Mary’s, 23rd April , 2023
Gospel reading – Luke 24: 13-35/Commissioning of Lay Assistants at the Eucharists/Confirmation groups 1st Communion
In the name of God ; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In the post resurrection accounts in the Gospel of Luke, the primary intention of Luke is to show that the risen Jesus is the same person the apostles had known prior to the crucifixion.
Luke makes it very clear that the Resurrection is not just a ‘return’ to earthly life – Jesus has risen to a new life beyond death.
I love that painting of Sieger Koder, in your pewsheet, where the outline of Jesus is seen, walking beside the couple on the road to Emmaus.
After the Resurrection was fully understood, it finally dawned on the Apostles that
Good has triumphed!
Love has triumphed!
Life has triumphed!
A fresh start was now possible and although they had just been in the depths of despair, suddenly they were filled with joy.
Apart from Jesus’ appearance, nothing else in their lives had changed. They would still have to face the authorities;
still have to leave the comfort of their hideaway, as the two friends walking on the road to Emmaus had done,
But one thing was different, as the couple soon found out
…..Jesus was risen.
Easter doesn’t take away our pain or remove our fears but it does introduce something new into our lives.
It gives a meaning to our lives despite our pain.
It brings hope to every situation.
All is different because Jesus is alive.
We have a quiet joy among us and a deep sense of peace because we know that life is stronger than death.
Although Jesus had warned them umpteen times of what was to happen to him, that he must suffer and die….
the disciples stubborn understanding was still that of a messiah who would be a glorious figure, conquering all around him.
And then when Jesus was crucified all their dreams and hopes lay shattered.
Their reaction was to huddle together in that room that had seen their last meal together.
There they felt somewhat secure,
Feeling a kind of protection in their combined misery.
But then Jesus comes among them again and they finally get it that he really is real and not some ghost or a shadow figure.
Then they realise that not even death had succeeded in breaking the bond between them and their Lord and Master.
The bond that had been forged between them over the previous three years.
The Bible doesn’t teach us that Jesus just continued on…
We are told that he died …and ….he rose
Bodily, not just his spirit living on in a new way
But Jesus himself.
The tomb was empty….they had checked
But now the disciples touch him, walk with him.
Jesus eats with them all the better to show
them that he truly lives.
We know that he was not a resurrected corpse
Yet it is clear that his body was not subject to the human boundaries of time and space.
It was a body no longer subject to the ordinary laws of Nature.
We are told several times that he was not immediately recognized by people who knew him really well so that he was obviously not AS he was
But in a most mysterious way, he is WHO he was.
The Christian belief is that the body will share in the triumph of the resurrection.
This is, in fact the message of true Christian humanism.
It invites humanity not to become something else but to be more authentically what it already is.
The resurrection means that Jesus lives
And like the gathered disciples,
we too can encounter him in faith.
In today’s gospel , we are brought back in time, before Thomas looked for proof, before the women had run with the news to the frightened disciples.
The events we hear about today seems to be around the same time as Mary Magdalen had discovered the empty tomb.
The two disciples are on the road to the village of Emmaus and they had turned inwards, blind to all else but their own troubles.
Meaning is always hard to find if we only look within ourselves.
But they eventually recognise Jesus in the breaking of bread, having shared the meaning of the scriptures as they walked along the road with him… they remembered how their hearts had burned within them while he was talking to them…
It is in word and sacrament that God is revealed..
Each week at our services, we listen to scripture and in the sermon, we hear more about the meaning of the scripture… that’s what a sermon is all about! Breaking open the word!
And then , at our Holy Communion Services, we too encounter him in the breaking of bread…..
And today , at this particular Service of Holy Communion, some of those confirmed just last Sunday will encounter Jesus for the very first time by receiving the broken bread. A very special occasion for them and us.
Another special thing about today is that immediately after I finish this sermon, we will be commissioning the people of this parish who will help with the administration of Holy Communion for the next three years.
Altogether 18 people, 4 in St John’s and 14 in St Mary’s who have undergone a process of study and discernment and are now commissioned in this special ministry of helping us to encounter Jesus in the breaking of bread.
We find that the Jesus we encounter doesn’t insulate us from reality or troubles
But he will be with us where we are…
He is with us … helping to give meaning and beauty to our lives
With us, most particularly in any painful or dark places of our lives.
There are no easy answers offered but hearts opened to the word of God.
And here, with open hearts like the two going to Emmaus,
we find the circle of meaning
Words shed light on events
Events bring words to life.
So we rejoice and shout our Alleluias at the good news of what Christ has done for us
And like the Apostles in that time after the resurrection , we too are charged to bring that good news to others
The words from the post communion prayer in our prayer book puts it beautifully….
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life
We who drink his cup bring life to others
We whom the spirit lights give light to the world
The Revd Richard Dring
Easter Day 9th April 2023
What is Easter really about?
Think back to the scene we have just had described to us in St Matthews Gospel. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus have been waiting till first light to go to Jesus tomb where they confidently expected to find Jesus. In Jewish culture they could not do anything on the Jewish Sabbath. The tomb may well have been outside the distance allowed for travel. This distance would be from Glenwood in Carrigaline to the GAA club on the Crosshaven road, further than that was not allowed.
When they got there imagine the horror and upset at finding the tomb empty!!
Just think, how would we feel if we went to visit the grave of a relative, mother, father, brother or sister and find the site ransacked and the body taken. Imagine the very real upset.
Put yourself in the place of the two Mary’s, and that is how they must have felt that morning to find the tomb empty
As I have said during the week, Jesus had been regularly teaching that he was to rise and come again so it should have been expected, very easy for me to stand here and say that with the wisdom of over 2000 years of Christianity. Wisdom is great in hindsight, if I had been there would I have been any different.
We have many symbols we use today to remember these events
1 EASTER EGGS, these were traditionally given at Easter as a symbol of rebirth, think about an egg and what it is like to eat, does it look like a chicken?
It does not yet an egg can become a chicken so we remember the new life the egg symbolises.
This is why we give eggs at Easter, many of us are delighted the tradition has changed through the years from real eggs to chocolate eggs.
Another reason eggs were significant and given as a present at Easter as eggs were not eaten during Lent in many traditions.
Traditionally eggs were decorated and given to each other on Easter Morn.
We have the result of the rebirth in church today with the chicks we can hear at the back of church.
When some people think of Easter, they think of eggs. Eggs represent the new life that returns to nature during the spring. Christians also view it as a reminder of the tomb from which Jesus Christ arose. Early Christians used red coloured eggs to symbolize the Resurrection.
2 LAMB this is traditionally eaten at Easter and is our link to the Passover meal which the disciples and Jesus shared the night before he was crucified.
The Lamb is very much a symbol of purity and Jesus was often referred to as the Lamb of God.
The Lamb is a symbol of Easter as it embodies purity and goodness, but the Lamb also represents sacrifice
3 FLOWERS springtime when flowers burst into bloom and change from the gloom of winter to the expectation of Spring and all that we can look forward to.
Easter lilies grow in the spring close to Easter time. Because they look like trumpets, they are a symbol for living forever with God. They are commonly used as a traditional Easter decoration in Churches.
This is why we decorate our churches and places of worship with flowers to express our joy and celebration in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We have all these symbols that have a meaning and a purpose to help us and remind us of the events and importance of Easter to us as Christians so we have to remember not to dismiss the way these have changed through the years as the meaning is the same whether the egg is Chocolate or an egg laid by a hen or maybe a duck the meaning is still the same as we sit back and relax and enjoy whatever egg we may like!
The Rector (St John’s only, Palm Procession in St Mary’s)
10th April 2022
Matthew 21:1-11 & 27:11-54
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Every year on Palm Sunday I have both the Palm and the Passion Liturgies in the one service.
This means that you get to hear the story about Jesus triumphal entrance into Jerusalem AND what happened later on in Pilate’s palace and on Golgotha, ‘the place of a skull’
It sometimes seems a shame to dampen down our Palm fun doesn’t it but the reason I always have both readings is that someone can be sitting here this morning, hear the shouts of joyful Hosannas and then come back next Sunday and hear the shouts of victorious Alleluias
But unless they are in church on Good Friday, they never hear about the shouts of vindictive cruel ‘Crucify him’
We have to know the whole story.
On Palm Sunday Jesus’ disciples were openly able to acknowledge their belief in him. They shout out their loyalty to him, clearly , in public.
We know that there was fierce opposition to Jesus and his followers from the Priestly class and yet today we see that the disciples displayed their support in full and open view of all.
This was to change….
There are times when a public demonstration is required.
And this was one of them.
As I said, this was unusual behaviour from Jesus, in fact this was the only time that Jesus had accepted this kind of hero-worship from the people.
He understood that his disciples needed to express publicly their belief in him…. Maybe he knew that they would need some happy memory to look back on… because we know what is to happen in the following days.
Matthew tells us that Jesus had even organised for the Donkey to be ready. He sent two disciples ahead to find the donkey and bring it back to him.
As you know , each year in Carrigaline, we ‘borrow’ Adrian & Caroline Bateman’s Donkey Billy and process in a long line around the Estuary Estate, shouting our Hosannas. The children always love it.
But yesterday when I rang Adrian to make sure we were still on for Billy to come this morning, Adrian teased me saying ‘Do you know that this is the THIRD time you have checked are we coming?’
I suddenly thought about Jesus having to make sure that there was a Donkey available …. And later in the week, he organises the Upper Room where the Last Supper would be held.
I always forget the humanity of Jesus…. I always forget that he was a Man as well as God.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that falls into that particular heresy (its called Monophysitism in case you’re interested!)
But thinking about what Matthew tells us about Jesus’ forward thinking just made me really really think about how he, as a man, must have felt on that day.
All Glory , Laud and Honour – as the famous Palm Sunday hymn goes
And yet, just a short time later, this human being was dragged down into the depths of despair and pain… and it was all for us.
It certainly makes you think, doesn’t it?
Our second gospel is graphic…. We can see in our mind’s eye, the palace of Pilate, his poor wife trying to warn him NOT to condemn this special man.
But Pilate, like Judas, had his part to play…. As did all the ‘players’ of the Holy Week story
The soldiers rough handling, the mocking, Poor old Simon of Cyrene, on his holiday in Jerusalem for the festival, being dragooned into service to help Jesus carry his cross… I bet he wouldn’t ever have thought we’d be thinking of him 2000 years later!
The thieves on the cross, or bandits as they’re translated in our reading today.
The Chief priests, the scribes, the elders
All witnessing to his pain.
All bit players in our salvation story.
And of course, ending with the centurion, the one who finally sees beyond the humanity of Jesus to his divinity
‘Truly this man was God’s Son’
We are heading into Holy Week,
The week when we spiritually walk the passion of our Lord.
We know the story by heart, we know what is to happen
How the disciples … who on Palm Sunday were strong and bold in their witness to Jesus will then deny him, desert him, not even stay awake in the garden with him.
As we go through the coming days, mMay the Lord help us to bear witness to the faith so that our lives may show what we say with our lips.
26th March 2023
Dr Simon Woodworth, Diocesan Lay Reader
Today’s Gospel reading is full of drama and suspense, equalled in vivid imagery perhaps only by our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel. However, it also throws up major problems when we try to make sense of it. For a start, the raising of Lazarus from the dead is not mentioned at all in the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – and yet it gets a huge amount of attention in John. This is a long and detailed reading at 45 verses. The other problem is Jesus’s apparent delay in going to the tomb of Lazarus, waiting two full days before travelling to see if he can help. At first reading it may not be entirely evident why he does this.
The backdrop to this story is rising disquiet at the reaction to Jesus’ teachings – there is a fear among his disciples that he will be stoned and there is particular alarm that Jesus plans to return to Judea. But Jesus is determined to go. Also, he is determined to delay his departure until it is beyond doubt that Lazarus is truly dead. In fact, when Jesus does arrive, Lazarus has been dead for fours days, to the point that decomposition has already started to set in.
Jesus’ intent in delaying seems to be that he wants everyone to be in no doubt that he has raised Lazarus from the dead, not from a coma or similar illness. When Jesus was tempted by the Devil during his fasting in the wilderness, he actively resisted the temptation to demonstrate his power. Here, he seems to be doing the opposite – he is using Lazarus’ death to demonstrate his power to redeem all of us through resurrection. This is a theme that carries from today’s reading from Ezekiel and from the Gospel on to Paul – Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.
But to stop here does neither Jesus nor the story of Lazarus justice. Lazarus, along with Mary and Martha, are close friends of both Jesus and his disciples. They are people of faith. Martha’s faith in Jesus in particular is on full display here, as is Mary’s. They understand that Lazarus will rise in glory in due course. But it is clear that Jesus intends to use the resurrection of Lazarus to send a message to the onlookers outside the tomb, and his own disciples, that those who believe in Him will be granted eternal life. His intent is to raise Lazarus from the dead right here and now, a miracle he has performed only once before.
However, Jesus is not some arrogant superbeing displaying his abilities to show how powerful he is. First, he makes it clear that his power comes from God. Second, Jesus repeatedly demonstrates his humanity when his upset at Lazarus’ death is clear. Furthermore, he is also deeply disturbed and moved by the distress Lazarus’ death has caused everyone else. Third, Jesus is not there to make himself look good but to demonstrate his Father’s glory.
There is no doubt that those who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead were convinced, and came to believe in him. But this all happened in Bethany, only two miles from Jerusalem, and would most likely have made Jesus even more of a public figure in the area, to the consternation of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In turn this would have made the trouble the disciples feared even more likely. Along with the overturning of the tables in the temple, this is a trigger for events to come during Holy Week and Easter.
In preparing this sermon I looked at William Barclay’s commentary for this passage of the Gospel. Barclay spends an awful lot of time discussing this reading and to be honest there are easily five or six sermons that could be preached from it. Barclay struggles with elements of this reading for some of the reasons already stated – it is clearly a huge event but gets no mention in the other gospels. I have no idea why this would be and neither does he. But Barclay is clear that the core message – Jesus Is The Resurrection and the Life – is hugely important to us. In fact it’s probably Jesus’ most important message to us, especially as we face into Easter and Holy Week. But the story of Lazarus is also clear about the message of Jesus’ humanity. The grief and distress Jesus shows at Lazarus’ death is real and deeply felt.
So, we are given a redemptive message about belief and the reward of eternal life. We have a clear demonstration of Jesus’ power as irrefutable evidence of that redemption. But, just as important, I think, we are left with a very powerful image of a Son of God who cares for us all, deeply, and who feels intimately our pain and distress in times of trouble and sorrow. God cares for us; Jesus cares for us. When we bring our intercessions to God, we can be reassured God is listening. To have someone that powerful on our side is surely a blessing. We go out from here as God’s children, to do God’s work, confident in the knowledge that He is always there for us. Amen.
St John’s & St Mary’s
19th March, 2023
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I know that I have spoken many times on the theme of Mothering Sunday, how the tradition came from the 16th century , when Servants getting one day off to return home and visit ,
and how it was expected that people should ignore their own local village church and make an effort to go to the Mother Church, the Cathedral.
I’ve spoken about Simnel Cake , being baked in the big house and brought home to the servants parent’s cottages.
How the young maids would pick the wildflowers on their way home as posies to present to their mothers……
Mothering Sunday has now become synonymous with honouring the mothers of children and is now generally referred to as Mother’s Day, although the two were originally different celebrations.
And there still is a difference in some countries, for instance, Mother’s Day will be on 14th May this year in many countries , the US in particular,
Holland also celebrates Mothers on that day in May rather than on our Mothering Sunday in Lent
and I know that I used to have to buy Mothers’ Day cards early in Ireland and hold onto to them until May to give to my older sister , who lived in Holland, she had been like a mother to me since my own mother died when I was 12. It was a nuisance but if I didn’t buy one for her in March, I couldn’t get my hands on one in May when she would be celebrating Mothers’ Day in Holland!
It was a lot easier the 10 years I lived in Holland obviously!
For us in Ireland though, as the custom is linked to our Christian calendar, and so the date of Mothering Sunday, like Easter, changes every year
but it is always celebrated today on the fourth Sunday in Lent, which is of course, always three weeks before Easter Sunday.
The customs of Mothering Sunday had lapsed a little in Ireland and parts of Europe by the early twentieth century
but was revived by Anna Jarvis in the United States and Constance Penswick-Smith in the UK, who created the Mothering Sunday Movement. Its practices were also revived by American and Canadian soldiers during World War II and began to be merged with other traditions, before finally we got the commercialization , the famous ‘hall-mark-ification’ in the mid-twentieth century.
On Mothering Sunday, we generally tend to look back a generation, we think of our own mothers
and if we are lucky enough to have a mother still alive, they would think back on their own mothers, our grandmothers and so on.
And of course, if like me , you have children, we can only hope that they think of us!
and indeed the readings for today emphasises that connection between the generations.
Moses biological Mother hid him away so as not to let him be slaughtered at the hands of a frightened Egyptian population who feared these industrious Israelites and were trying to keep their population down by culling any boy children born to the Hebrew tribe.
Moses’ Mother risked her life to protect the life of the next generation, her son.
We also hear of Moses’ Sister bravely suggesting to the Pharoah’s daughter that she could go off and find a nurse for her, intending of course to get Moses’ own mother to nurse him.
Pharoah’s sister, Moses’ adopted mother, deserved credit too…. she must have worked out that this was one of the reviled Hebrew children, but we are told ‘he was crying, and she took pity on him’ and she took him on as her adopted son thus saving him from the fate that befell most of his generation.
All three – brave women, – all working out God’s plan in their lives, they never knew their part,
except perhaps for Miriam , Moses’ sister, whom we read about accompanying the Hebrews in their exodus….
but for the most part, they did what they did for love,
for compassion, and it is this instinct for love that drives us all in the main….
Mary and Joseph, one generation
are met by Simeon, the previous generation,
and told in the temple that
‘this child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel….. and a sword will pierce your own soul too’
How frightening would that have been to hear.
Your babe in arms, the next generation,
to be heading into so much trouble and significance..
Thats not what any new mother wants to hear…
not even a mother such as Mary who already must have known there was nothing normal about her son….
I picked that lovely painting by Daniel Bonnell on your Pewsheet because I think it got across the love AND the vulnerability so well.
No parent wants to be told that their innocent child will be the reason that their soul will be pierced because of what is to befall.
No parent would want their child to be the ‘light to lighten the gentile’s’ if it would mean that they must suffer horribly and die a cruel death.
But that was the destiny for this child.
Paul says in one of his letters to the Corinthians that our hope in God is unshaken because we know that God shares in our sufferings and because of that , God shares in our consolation too.
This is what Mary , as a mother, must have clung to.
Her consolation must have been that her son was changing everything for the better,
that her own pain would be worthwhile in the long run.
That ‘all generations shall call him blessed’ as Mary’s own Song, the Magnificat has put it.
So what should Mothering Sunday mean to us today,
whether we are lucky enough to be mothers or not ,
we all have had mothers.
Our Mothers may not be still here to console us
but we’re here
and we are all Christ’s hands and feet here on earth.
We are all the church, not this empty building …. however beautiful it may be.
Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we may not be able to save everyone in our material, money and celebrity loving society,
but we can all do our bit to mother those around us.
Is there someone we have lost touch with, who would welcome a phone call or a letter, even an email ?
As we have so much ….. could we buy a little extra in the Supermarket for the Food Bank collection , for others in need?
Is there a broken relationship to heal?
someone we haven’t spoken to for ages,
perhaps someone we fell out with ages ago,
could we make the first move in reconciliation as mothers often have to?
Whether we have children or not, we were all once children ourselves and we can make this Mothering Sunday a time of renewing our mothering skills,
when we can try to emulate the mothering love of God and go out to reflect it in our community.
Pastoral care is not the sole province of clergy thank goodness.
Our mothering may be but a pale reflection of God’s love for his world, but we can all do our best.
Make this Mothering Sunday be the start of mothering all those people we know need a little bit of tender, loving care .
And if even just one life is better because of what we do today,
then for that, give thanks to God,
our God , who is both Mother and Father to us all.
St John’s & St Mary’s
12th March, 2023
3rd Sunday of Lent
Ex 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42
In the name of God , Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Last week’s gospel told us of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, under the cover of darkness.
This week’s conversation is in the strong midday light,
in open view of anyone who might pass by.
This is also the longest conversation recorded in the gospels…..And John didn’t waste time with inessentials….
So what was so important about this exchange ?
Well to begin with,
the very fact that this woman was on her own,
gathering water without other women,
and at that hour of the day,
would have spoken volumes to the 1st century listeners.
They would have known without being told that this was not what we’d call a respectable woman
and she was a foreigner, a Samaritan, to boot.
The Samaritans had always been treated with disdain by the Jews.
Four centuries earlier , the Jews of Samaria had intermarried with their captors,
losing their religion and racial purity.
They were NOT the faithful remnant and they were now held with contempt by most Jews in Galilee and Judea.
So…. Apart from being a Samaritan, she was also a fallen woman,
A woman who would have been shunned by other decent members of her own community,
never mind by the Jews.
And now here we have Jesus – a Jew and a Man
Speaking to her at length
She herself knew this to be out of the ordinary…..
She says to Jesus
‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria’
As well as the important fact of Jesus talking to her at length,
We need to be aware of the fact that
in John’s Gospel accounts,
this is the first time that Jesus reveals who he is…..
She is the first person , man or woman,
to whom Jesus actually reveals his true identity
She is the first outsider to guess he is the Christ and the first to tell others.
So that would make the Samaritan woman the first real witness to who Jesus actually is.….
And it is from her testimony , we are told, that many are brought to faith!
So what was it about?
As I said, last week we were introduced to Nicodemus.
This week we are introduced to the Samaritan Woman
And the contrast between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman is striking
It’s not just the Night and Day contrast… although that is interesting in of itself.
Because they appear one after the other in the Gospel of John , we are encouraged and meant to notice all the contrasts in all its detail.
Nicodemus is a Pharisee, an insider,
a leader of the Jews, a man.
He has a name but he comes to Jesus by night.
The character we are introduced to this week is a Samaritan, a religious and political outsider.
She is a woman,
she has no name but she meets Jesus at noon, in full daylight.
And the other contrast is even more striking.
Whereas Nicodemus is unable to understand that Jesus is sent by God,
the woman at the well recognizes him for exactly who he is!
And one final contrast
While Nicodemus’ last words in our previous reading was
‘How can these things be?’
The last words of the Woman at the Well are
‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’
So although her last words, like Nicodemus’s,
were in the form of a question,
she was so much nearer the mark than poor old Nicodemus for all his place in society and his learning.
In our reading ,
Jesus himself says ‘God is spirit
and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’
Marcus Borg, a famous American theologian , who died just a couple of years ago, once said that
‘what we can know about Jesus invites us to see
‘life in the spirit’ as a striking alternative to the way we typically live our lives’
Like Nicodemus last week, Jesus is speaking to the woman about being born from above ,
about living in the Kingdom.
about Life in the spirit….
This is what Jesus offered this nameless woman.
Acceptance….. Love.. A chance to live a new life….in the spirit.
Last Wednesday was International Women’s Day – its always on 8th March each year. On that day every year, people put up really interesting posts on social media….
Last week I read a really good one that made me think about our Gospel today..
It was written by Dorothy L. Sayers,
It was our own Hilary Dring that posted it … thank you Hilary!
This is what Dorothy L. Sayers had to say
‘Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man – there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.”
This was the man Jesus that our woman at the well encountered
Acceptance & Love was what he offered….and by the sounds of it ,
she grabbed the chance with both hands….
And then ran to tell her neighbours of the opportunity he offered.
Spiritually Jesus waits at the well for all of us…..
He offers each of us the same chance.
I suppose the question is whether
we grab it with both hands
and of course whether
WE will run to tell others?…. from a safe distance obviously!
St John’s/St Mary’s
5th March 2023
2nd Sunday of Lent
Genesis 12:1-4a, Romans 4:1-5,13-17, John 3:1-17
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, it is only John who tells us about Nicodemus… and as is the usual with John, there is ‘ateing and drinking’ in the story….
lots of depth and symbolism and underlying themes…
A respected leader among the Pharisees, this Nicodemus has come to see Jesus, but crucially not in the light of day where he could be recognized but discreetly – late at night…..
obviously with a hesitant curiosity.
In this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus,
two kind of communities are represented
- on the one hand , we have the older well-established faith community which is represented by the Pharisee Nicodemus
- and on the other hand, we have the new , vibrant, kind of in-your-face community of Jesus.
We recognise quite a few really well known phrases in today’s gospel reading.
‘The wind blows where it chooses’ is one
or that marvelous sentence which most of us had to learn off by heart as ‘a memory verse’ in boys brigade, or girls brigade, or Sunday school….
’For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’….. and as I’ve said before there is a whole sermon around that one sentence, but that’s not what I’m going to concentrate on today.
Today I want to talk about that one sentence that has caused such confusion and indeed has generated such suspicion over the centuries
‘very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born from above’
Or listen to the King James translation that we perhaps know better.
‘verily, verily, I say onto thee , except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’
The actual correct translation is ‘from above’ but I know that when we hear this text, a lot of us think ‘born again’
And indeed we perhaps think of tent missions and dodgy altar calls or some people who insist on telling you exactly WHEN they became Christian (and it is never at their baptism!)
But to associate this text only with quick and shallow religious experiences is to actually do the text a disfavour.
Of course, we shouldn’t dismiss any text out of hand…..
and especially not this one
Because here Jesus is speaking about one of the most important disciplines of the Christian Life.
He is talking about defining our identity not by earthly standards but by spiritual standards
Someone who enters the kingdom of God by being born of the Spirit has experienced the reign of God,
This cannot be experienced by someone who is simply born of the flesh…..
Nicodemus was looking at things from purely a human perspective – When what is needed is new life, new sight, new light
The kingdom of God can’t be seen , observed or experienced simply as a human phenomenon,
it is a gift to be received.
In this encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus,
we see that Nicodeumus has an idea of what its all about….but he hasn’t quite grasped the entirety of it,
he seems to have an inadequate , sort of naïve faith that is reliant on signs or miracles to confirm it.
Even though Nicodemus recognizes Jesus as a teacher who has come from God….
By reducing Jesus to just a teacher, he is still missing the mark ……. by a long shot.
Jesus was much more than a teacher.
He is the Word … who was in the beginning with God
and was God … and who became flesh and lived among us.
God is not only WITH Jesus
God is revealed IN Jesus.
And so Jesus tells Nicodemus that no-one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.
I think what Jesus was trying to do was to shock Nicodemus out of his comfort zone…. Nicodemus thought he was sorted because he had been born a Jew, a Hebrew, a son of the tribe of Abraham.
And that is where the first and second readings fit together with the Gospel reading today.
Abraham was the father of the nation.
He had been personally called by God to leave his home
It was a very long journey ….
Almost unbelievably this old man of 75 years of age goes without question or pause to the place God names.
So 4,000 years ago, Abraham’s family of nomads left Ur of the Chaldeans, which was , as far as we can tell, in southeastern Iraq near Nasariyah, and had settled in Haran, Turkey, on the Syrian border. So from Ur, Abraham already traveled 700 miles to the borders of present-day Iraq
And in our reading God is telling Abraham yet again to move on,
“Leave your country,” “Leave your people and your family.
Leave all that you hold dear and familiar.
Go to the land I will show you.”
So Abraham left, as the Lord had told him.”
Actually we are told that he would travel another 700 miles into Syria, then another 800 down to Egypt by the inland road, and then finally he and his family would go back into Canaan – what is now Israel.
He couldn’t have known it at the time, but in leaving Haran, as he was asked, Abraham altered human history forever.
He had set out in faith, not knowing where he was going, or even why he was going, except that God had commanded him
He was assured by God that he and his ancestors would be a great nation who would be blessed.
Abraham’s obedience to the call of his God leads directly to the founding of Israel,
Much later on in the history of the people of Israel, we hear the call from the Prophet Isaiah for Israel to be a “light to the nations” (Is 49:6),
Which ties in with the demand of Jesus to his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).
But getting back to today,
all our knowledge of what Abraham was promised and what he did at God’s behest, actually has an important bearing on today’s Gospel reading.
As I said, Nicodemus, as a direct descendant of Abraham, feels that he has a God-given pass to heaven.
That, as a Law observant son of Israel, he can just lean back on his laurels knowing his birth right.
But somehow, somewhere, this Jesus character has made him think….. and that is why he comes ,
under the cover of darkness, to find out more …
to find out exactly where Jesus gets his power.
So Jesus tells him he has to be born from above.
Jesus warns him that the accident of Nicodemus’ human birth as a descendant of Abraham doesn’t give him a free pass to the Kingdom of God! Which must have come as a bit of a surprise to this upstanding member of the religious elite.
But faith is never a once-and-done action of the believer but rather is an ongoing work of the Spirit who, as Jesus tells us, blows where it chooses …..
For some the coming of the Spirit and faith will be a dramatic event; for others it will move more slowly…. It is nothing to do with anything we might do… the spirit blows where and HOW it chooses!
Paul ( a man who also knew something of mind blowing dramatic events that altered the whole course of his life)
Paul, in our epistle , also warns against leaning back on ancestry.
He tells his listeners that Abraham, ‘their ancestor in the FLESH’, was deemed righteous because of his faith in God,
and so his descendants shouldn’t assume anything for themselves just through their observance of the Law and their genetic makeup.
Jesus clearly stated to Nicodemus that the purpose of God’s sending his Son was not to condemn the world but to offer it eternal life, to save the world….
The incarnation, life, death and exaltation of Christ is all rooted in the love of God.
Some of the more extreme Atonement theologies would insist on a heavy emphasis being given to what is called ‘Penal Substitution’
– that is the idea that God demanded a sacrifice worthy of the crime – the blood of his only Son,
The crime being our humanity….
But you know this wasn’t something that Jesus ever spoke about …. It was an idea that really took hold during the feudal middle ages, when Serfdom was the rule, when the all powerful Lords demanded their vassals to pay retribution for any transgressions. If you did something to your Lord and Master… well then you had to pay – somehow!
But in John’s gospel , the death of Jesus is NEVER viewed as God’s outpouring of punishment on his son but rather as a revelation of God’s love for the world….
’For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’
Nicodemus in our Gospel represents the sort of people who are always carefully and cautiously examining any new things or new ideas … checking what may or may not be from God,
They are exploring…. even though these new ways of thinking or being may not sit easily with their own traditions…. They are exploring …..
And this has always been the case…
We see the value of Martin Luther… but Luther was viewed with suspicion
And then later on, the Lutherans in turn viewed the Pietist movement with suspicion
The Anglican Church viewed Wesley’s Methodists with suspicion,
And The Methodists later on viewed the Holiness movement (which they themselves had inspired within Anglicanism) with suspicion!
We must allow people to respond to God in a variety of ways rather than prescribing one single mode of response.
We in the Church of Ireland are an older well-established faith community…….
But do we also need to be injected with the renewing power of the Kingdom of God and be transformed by it?
Our tendency is to fear the other, to marginalize the strange, to dismiss all that is different from who and what we know.
This Lent, may that spirit,
that wind that blows where it will,
find us all both ready and receptive!
As Helen says in her prayers which we will hear shortly.
Breath on me , Breath of God, fill me with life anew
St John’s/St Mary’s
19th February 2023
Sunday before Lent , Year A
Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today, as is always the case on the Sunday before Lent,
we hear in our readings of the transfiguration experience,
“transfiguration” is a strange word, one that you almost never use in everyday speech.
But this is how we describe the time when Jesus goes to the summit of the mountain with 3 of his disciples;
Peter, James and John
and has an experience that transforms or transfigures him.
Reminding us of the Baptism of Jesus which we heard about at the beginning of Epiphany,
we are again invited to hear a voice from heaven announce,
“This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
But today, unlike the Baptism description, today the voice says “listen to him”
And this instruction is addressed directly to the disciples
to Peter, James, and John
and this will become doubly sad in the weeks ahead as the disciples fail so often to do just that
or I should say as they fail to understand what they are hearing rather than just not listen.
For there is no getting around that the Transfiguration foreshadows Easter…. It’s not just stuck in here, on the Sunday before Lent begins for nothing!
We are supposed to see connections here…
When the disciples fall to the ground in holy awe, overcome by fear, the transfigured, glowing Jesus comes to them,
which here as in other places in the gospel of Matthew is a sign of healing,
Jesus commands them not just to stand up or get up but literally translated , he commands them to “be raised!”
Jesus further commands them not to speak of this event until he himself has been raised, this time from death.
this experience brings us unmistakably into Lent,
as Jesus comes down from the mountain to head to the death he speaks of to the three disciples……
There is something about this transfiguring experience that can’t be fully understood until after the resurrection.
I read once that Transfiguration Sunday is a sort of interlude between Epiphany —the appearance and meaning of the coming of the light of Jesus into the world
and Lent —the winding road to Holy Week and Easter where flowers and choruses and trumpets do in fact shout in the great day.
The reading from Exodus today also speaks of a similar transformation,
Moses who has led out the Hebrew people into the desert is called to come up the mountain and wait there…
It is no surprise that this mysterious passage has been chosen by those who put together the common lectionary to accompany the equally mysterious passage from the Matthew in our Gospel.
Both experiences occur on mountains,
both involve the prophet and lawgiver of Israel, Moses,
and both have something to do with divine revelation
… and its importance for God’s people.
The instruction to come up the mountain is not just for Moses’ sake.
It is a call for Moses to become the conduit through whom God makes the law available to the people.
It is for their instruction that Moses is summoned, not to exalt Moses.
Our first reading from Exodus is usually identified as being a portion of material regarded as among the oldest in the Bible,
the so-called “Holiness Code.”
Within these chapters 21-24 is found what is called
‘ancient case law’,
And of course in chapter 20 we have one of the most famous series of laws of all, the Ten Commandments.
Scholars have long been believed that the book of Exodus is a large collection of traditions that may actually span as much as 1,000 years or more and these chapters are among the oldest of them.
The meeting of the divine and human at Sinai is a hugely important event in Israel’s memory.
It is a holy occurrence in which the Lord speaks a particular word of revelation to the people.
In the ancient Near East, mountains often represent the dwelling places of the gods.
Within these Israelite traditions, however, the divine encounter was not simply an end to itself.
The words that emerge from this holy place are of huge significance in the life and existence of the Hebrew Community.
The words that come forth from the mountain’s summit are directly from God and are thus holy law/commandments and divine law/instruction on how the community should live.
So it doesn’t surprise us that in our gospel Matthew evokes this tradition of revelation at Sinai,
when God’s voice from the cloud instructs those present at the transfiguration to listen to God’s “Beloved Son.
We have been given the commandments to direct us in how to live a Godly life
we have been given Jesus to direct us in how to live a Godly life.
Moses ascended the mountain to receive the tablets of stone which have the law written upon them.
The Law written by God for the instruction of the people.
While on the mountain, Moses receives the law,
but he also spent forty days and nights in the presence of the glory of God.
In other words, he received the law within the context of worship.
We will be entering a period of 40 days and nights – we call it Lent and this period will begin next Wednesday – Ash Wednesday.
During this 40 days and nights, we can try and organise our lives so that there is slightly more time to focus on God,
free up some time during our busy days to seek an encounter with God.
Every rescued minute helps….
For instance, I usually give up Facebook for Lent….
And while its amazing how much I miss it, but its also amazing how much extra free time it gives me to focus on more important thoughts!
So back to our readings today…. We don’t know what happened to Moses on that mountain no more than we know what exactly Peter, James and John witnessed on the mountain in our Gospel.
Spiritual experiences are never easy to understand,
but what we do know is that Moses received the tablets of instruction while in the midst of what is called a theophany.
Theophany is a word that simply means an encounter with God.
And that’s what we will seek over the coming 40 days and nights,
An encounter with God,
Whether we pray more,
read more of our bible,
focus more on our neighbour,
join in the Lenten Course or whatever,
During the next 6 weeks, we too will be seeking a personal mountaintop experience in our lives.
The symbolism within the readings today is centred on the idea that the everyday experiences of our daily lives are grounded within the context of worship.
Our mountain top worship experiences are part of our ordinary lives… our ordinary lives feed into our mountain top experiences!
But we all worship because we are all in search of something holy.
Communities of people from the beginning of time have gathered together in sanctuaries
or on mountaintops
or beside the open water
because they were seeking God,
Without knowing what we know now,
The Ancients gathered to answer an unspoken need
A need to be reminded of the power of God in the world.
I was reading someone saying on facebook that
‘while many of us seek mountain top experiences, the real task is to bring the light DOWN from the mountain to where we and others in need actually live!’
As Christians, we gather in church to share in the weekly observance of the Lord’s supper, the Eucharist,
We gather, we tell the story, we break the bread.
And in the breaking of the bread ,
we are reminded that God has come to us.
We are already on the Mountain top!
The Revd Richard Dring
12th February 2023
2nd Sunday before Lent
The Gospel reading today presents us with many challenges. As a result it is open to many different interpretations. We also have to be careful that we don’t miss interpret what Jesus is actually saying. It helps to look at the text around this section, particularly the preceding verse:
“No one 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.”
Verse 24 challenges us about possessions; which is related to the challenge in the reading today, telling us not to worry about our life. In linking these two parts together we have to ask ourselves where our possessions have come from, have we exploited others in the accumulation of our wealth and possessions. I will leave that question to each of us to answer to ourselves. This aspect of accumulation of wealth and possessions is an increasing issue worldwide as countries face up to their colonial past and the sense of entitlement to the heritage of countries occupied as part of colonial exploitation which many ignore possibly in the hope it will go away.
Coming back to the reading today, Jesus is telling us not to worry about tomorrow but live for today. In summary if we have enough for today live for today and wait and see what tomorrow brings. This is where the meaning and interpretation can be lost in translation and choice of words. I have to rely on others here as I am not a Greek scholar for the other possible interpretations. Barclay highlights that older translations the phrase is written:
“Be not careful for your life” where careful is in the old meaning and the literal sense of the word being “full of care.” Meanings of words have changed through time and we have to be able to take account of this and reflect on what was meant. The added challenge in our case is the text was not written in English, it was ancient Greek! Not a language that is spoken in the world today.
Jesus is telling us not to worry. We do however have to remember that he is not telling us to sit back and do nothing; we have to work for what we have. In Jesus time teaching encouraged all to learn a trade so that a family was provided for. There was also the teaching that encouraged looking at life day by day. So if a family had food today, do not worry about tomorrow, instead enjoy today and wait and see what tomorrow will bring. The message of verse 34
This is also reinforced by the message from the creation story and the resulting temptation in the Garden of Eden. This follows on from the Creation reading we have listened to as part of our lectionary readings today. Here we went from having a life of leisure to a life of toil. We know we have to work for what we need and want. While the Gospel reading may led us to think God will provide all our needs without doing anything, the knowledge of the Jews with the Bible helped them to understand that they will have to work for what they need, ultimately us today having to do likewise
The challenge for us is to interpret the message of Jesus as it is in our nature and life experiences for many of us as we all have a tendency to worry about our future. For many with all the uncertainties around it is very hard not to get sucked into a spiral of worry. This is where we have God to help. We can place our worries with God and he will help us through the challenges that lie ahead. We have to take responsibility as well and work with God, the message here is clearly given that we do not sit back and wait for God to deliver all our needs. We have a responsibility to do all we can to help God meet our needs. The very clear message is God is a loving God who knows our needs well, however he is encouraging us to put Him first in our needs.
He did not tell us to sit back but to go out and sow seeds and weave clothes, but do this with joy and in the knowledge that our God is a creator God who created the beauty that is around us. We have to remember that despite the challenging and sad stages in Jesus life Jesus lived life to the full and enjoyed to party, we only have think of the wedding feast at Cana for a reminder of this. We also know that the soldiers when they were dividing up Jesus clothes at the crucifixion they drew lots for his tunic. This tells us what a fine garment this must have been as it was not divided but kept as a wearable garment.
Tom Wright interprets this reading by saying: if we put the world first then we will find it gets moth eaten in our hands; however if we put God first then we get the world with it. We all are only too aware that constant worry devours us and adds to our challenges as a life of worry in many instances can be a short life. We need to welcome our loving God in and share our worries with God and help us overcome our worries.
3rd Sunday before Lent
5th February 2023
St John’s / St Mary’s
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Today, both Isaiah and our Gospel from Matthew push us in the same direction
– to speak about what it is that God seems to want from us.
Just listen to Isaiah’s words
Is not this the fast that I choose.
To loose the bonds of injustice
To undo the thongs of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free
And to break every yoke
IS IT NOT TO SHARE YOUR BREAD WITH THE HUNGRY AND BRING THE HOMELESS POOR INTO YOUR HOUSE!
Its not enough to be pious ,
its not enough to fast ,
this isn’t going to make our voices heard on high as Isaiah tells us.
He tells us
‘if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted THEN YOUR LIGHT SHALL RISE IN THE DARKNESS’
And then Matthew really hammers it home when he repeats the words of Jesus as delivered to the crowd after he has delivered the Beatitudes, the charter of what we are to be like….
He tells us to
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
This of course is the famous ‘Salt and Light’ gospel
– an instruction directly from Jesus on how we are to live.
We are to ‘be’ the Salt in our own time and situation
We are to ‘be’ the light in our own time and situation.
Isaiah too was speaking to the people of his own time and situation.
These verses came from the so-called Third Isaiah.
First Isaiah (chapters 1-39) written the late seventh century B.C. and spoke into the situation of Assyrian aggression,
Whereas Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55) was written during the end of the Babylonian exile in the mid-fifth century B.C.
And this last section (chapters 56-66) which is where our reading is from today and which we call Third Isaiah
was composed specifically for that returned remnant who were rebuilding Jerusalem in the late fifth century B.C.
The exiles had returned from Babylon.
The euphoria of the homecoming had now worn off.
The back breaking hard work and drudgery of rebuilding their city was beginning to take its toll on the citizens.
They were getting fed up.
These final ten chapters of Isaiah are directed at trying to curb the sloppy attitudes of the community, trying to correct bad habits and attitudes that were gaining ground in the dispirited community.
The pious practices like fasting and wearing ashcloths were popular because they offered an opportunity for the whole community in indulge in self pity.
A kind of communal moan.
But Isaiah wasn’t allowing any such wallowing!
He reminded them that going through the motions of religion and expecting God to reward their external piety was not what it was about really.
At this time, fasting was usually associated with negative circumstances,
such as when people were in mourning
or in the face of some calamity from which the people needed deliverance or God’s presence
but this formulaic fasting had reduced worship of God to the level of magic, where people assumed that if they fasted, God would respond and sort out the situation that prompted the fasting.
So slamming the existing cultural fasting,
Isaiah instead asked a simple question.
……………….What was the true spirit of fasting?
The answer was to give up food and goods for the needy.
and then in their concern and ACTION for their neighbour, the truly faithful would shine.
Their true worship would shine to the heavens and then, God would be present to his people, hear their prayer, and heal the wound of the broken city.
Isaiah was reminding the people of his time of the true meaning of fasting… fasting as being prayer without words
He was trying to get them to stop with the “poor me” attitude, the finger pointing, and back-biting and the endless moaning.
He pointed out that positive attitudes and charitable actions are the best way to shine.
Isaiah was telling them that God’s choice for acceptable worship is for the PRACTICE of justice in the world.
Not an abstract appeal for cosmic justice
nor to support the cause of justice as an undefined principal.
But practical justice….
God’s choice is a call to practice compassion on a daily basis,
in the reality and nitty-gritty of life,
God asks us to practice the kind of justice that meets the most basic human needs of the powerless and oppressed and hurting of the world.
Being God’s people is clearly defined by Isaiah both in terms of specific acts of grace toward the needs of others (food, clothing, shelter),
as well as in terms of the larger issues of oppression and injustice that God’s people were actively to oppose (loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free)
In our Gospel reading, Matthew tells us that Jesus also calls us to be do-ers rather than view-ers.
To be the ‘Salt’ in our community calls us to action
To be the ‘Light’ in our community calls us to action.
Last Sunday in our united Service, we celebrated Candlemas as part of the final liturgy (and there were some moaning about the length of the service!!),
Anyway, as most of you know, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, or Candlemas , we remember the old man Simeon who held the infant Jesus in the Temple, he said that the child would be “a light of revelation to the nations”. The words of the Nunc Dimittis….
It reminds us that God had again entered history to bring light to a darkened world.
And in our gospel today the now grown up Jesus tells US that WE are to be a light to the world
We have experienced the light of God’s grace in our lives and we , as his people, are to take the light to others.
This thought can be frightening…
but Paul in his letter to the Corinthians today, reminds us that we don’t have to be Superhuman to do this.
He said that when he first came to the people in Corinth,
he came ‘in weakness and in fear and in much trembling’
but that his words were a demonstration of the power of the Spirit.
At the moment, we seem to be moving in a world that is heading towards darkness, and doing nothing is not an option.
As Edmund Burke pointed out in the 18th Century,
All it takes for evil to thrive is for good people to do nothing.
Nothing is not an option for Christians….
When Richard Chartre, the Bishop of London, retired a few years ago, one line in his final sermon in St Paul’s Cathedral stayed with me…
He suggested that our symbols should not be merely ‘illustrative’ but ‘performative’
Salt is only performative when it is performing as Salt should…. actually savouring something, actually preserving something.
Light is only performative when it is dispelling the darkness.
Salt & Light are not just illustrative….
they, we, are meant to be performative.
Doing nothing is not an option.
That is what today’s gospel is about.
We are to BE the salt and the light.
In our own context, in our own time.
This is what we are asked to do
And as I’m always reminding myself and others….
God equips us for what he asks us to do.
So let us take our lamps from wherever we have hidden them , whether its under the bushel basket or the bed,
and lets put our light out somewhere obvious….
so that others may see our good works and give glory to our Father in Heaven.
Sunday 22nd January 2023
Epiphany 3 – Year A
St John’s /(St Mary’s Baptism)
22nd January 2023
Isaiah 9: 1-4, Psalm 27: 1, 4-12 ,1 Corinthians 1: 10-18, Matthew 4: 12-23
In the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit
The text from our first reading today is almost repeated in our Gospel which shows how much Matthew valued the words of the Prophet Isaiah.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, we read of the people of God having many different experiences of God breaking into their world, Sometimes , the experience of the divine is described as a natural disturbance or a violent storm.
The stories about Mount Sinai show the Lord making a covenant with Israel in the midst of thunder and lightning (Exodus 20:18).
Or the Burning Bush in the case of Moses or when
God comes to Elijah in the presence of a profound silence (1 Kings 19:12).
Whichever form it takes, usually these experiences of God have a disruption of the present order, as God’s purpose becomes revealed to us in this world, from within God’s own creation.
Today Isaiah describes God’s manifestation with the wonderful images of light and darkness in order to demonstrate a total contrast
There was to be a dramatic change in the fortunes of the people of God.
A light has shined upon a people who once dwelled in darkness
The background to this darkness was the Assyrian occupation which I have mentioned before as being one of the major extremely traumatic occupations mentioned in the early Isaiah texts.
By the last third of the eighth century B.C.E., the evil empire of Assyria subdued much of the northern kingdom of Israel. Historians acknowledge them to have been a particularly cruel society and those peoples who were subjugated suffering greatly under their yoke.
The prophet Isaiah recognizes the dark reality of the people’s situation as one of “anguish,” when the Lord “brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali.”
Both of these tribes are associated with the northern region of Galilee.
The prophet declares, however, that this oppressive situation for the north will be transformed as the Lord makes this “way of the sea” glorious.
The harsh realities of a life lived under an oppressive regime will be broken as the Lord intervenes.
Matthew in his Gospel draws on this understanding of light overcoming darkness when he describes Jesus as the light of the nations and as the fulfillment of ancient prophecies.
At the time we are speaking about in the Gospel, John the Baptist had been arrested and Jesus had moved back up north to Galilee.
It is his home province after all and it is where he will begin his public life.
Matthew tells us that Jesus wasn’t in Nazareth but had gone to live in Capernaum, a town in Galilee, which, he tells us, is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee “in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali”.
And this obviously reminds the evangelist of the prophecy from Isaiah which we heard in our first reading and now which Matthew now sees as being fulfilled.
Jesus as the fulfillment of earlier prophecies is a very important theme in Matthews writings and so he includes verbatim the words of Isaiah in his own text.
I suppose Matthew was worrying that nobody could take seriously a prophet from Galilee.
For at this time Galilee wasn’t an obvious choice for the Messiah’s mission.
It was regarded as a ‘remote’ province.
(Remember how it was said
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”)
It was a rebellious region where even Jews were not noted for their observance of the Law
Yet Isaiah’s prophecy suggests that the Light of the World is to be found in Galilee.
The idea that Galilee, of all places, is to be the light of the nations would have seemed a little farfetched to contemporary ears but Matthew is telling us that it is precisely in this Galilean town of Capernaum that Jesus, whom we know is the Messiah, begins his mission.
Matthew tells us that Jesus’ preaching is summed up in one deceptively simple sentence:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Actually ‘Preaching’ would be better translated ‘proclaiming’, making an announcement of Good News.
This is what we do with the Gospel (Good News) during the Eucharist Service or at Holy Baptism , We Proclaim it…. and that is why we stand to hear it.
In the Morning Prayer setting, we sit and listen to the reading from the Gospel as the third reading….
In the Eucharist or Holy Baptism, by standing, it just helps to emphasise its importance in the most important liturgies.
Anyway, after his preaching, Jesus looks for and finds the first partners for his work.
They are not Pharisees or Scribes,
not scholars or influential members of the community but simple fishermen, who may have been quite illiterate.
In the sense that they could not read or write, although they would have been steeped in the oral tradition of their Jewish faith – knowing their Hebrew Testament much better than most of us know our bible.
It is significant that the call takes place right in their working place.
The initiative for the call comes from Jesus.
“I chose you, you did not choose me.”
For them it means a metanoia,
a complete break in their lifestyle.
There is a complete letting go.
“Immediately they left their nets and followed Jesus.”
They put their total trust in Jesus,
leaving behind their only means of livelihood,
not knowing where it would all lead.
Jesus himself had already taken this radical step
When he left Nazareth,
Leaving behind his family and his livelihood as a carpenter.
So he understood completely what he was asking them to do.
From now on their lives would involve
not in worrying what they could get and keep
but in service to their brothers and sisters,
especially those in greatest need.
At the same time there is no evidence that the disciples lived in destitution or want.
But they were leaving the tools of the only way of life they had known , Choosing to lead an even simpler lifestyle than they had previously known,
only having those things necessary for their sustenance and their work, the new work Jesus was calling them to do.
Their security now was to come from the new lifestyle they were beginning,
life in a mutually supporting community,
where the needs of each one were taken care of.
This, in effect, brought a life of greater material, emotional and social security than we often find in our individualistic, competitive, rat-race style of survival.
They separated from their families not because they did not love them but because, as disciples of Jesus, they realised they belonged to a much larger family.
They were learning not only to love their own but to love all, especially those who were in need of love, care and compassion.
To follow Jesus is to belong to a much bigger family.
A very diverse big family
In the Epistle today, Paul warns against divisions in our Christian family
It seems that the Christians in Corinth were dividing into factions and identifying themselves with various community leaders:
“I belong to Paul“, “I belong to Cephas (Peter)” and so on.
Obviously such divisions are harmful.
And Paul hammered home that it all can only be for one person,
the One who suffered, died and rose for them,
the One in whose name all of them were baptised – Jesus their Lord.
We have, unfortunately, many such divisions among Christians today in the middle of this week of prayer for Christian Unity
“I am a Catholic”, “I am an Anglican… a Lutheran… a Methodist… a Presbyterian…” The list is endless.
This is not the kind of family that Jesus intended.
Such a dysfunctional family is not in a good position to give effective witness to the Good News of truth and love and fellowship which Jesus prayed for at the Last Supper
That they all should be one, as I and the Father are one!
Paul’s words reminds us of the absurdity of identifying with a Christian leader other than Christ.
We always and ever have to root the unity of the church theologically in its centre, Jesus Christ.
As I said, we are in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which is always from 18-25 January.
To a certain extent, we can all still identify with what Paul was saying in his letter……. the propensity is still there to gather loyalty round something other than Jesus Christ.
We still participate in, and even encourage, similar behaviour today.
In our congregations, our denominations and in our reading of contemporary theology, we often identify with causes that are secondary to the gospel itself.
Ecumenically speaking, we now have areas of dissention that run like fault lines across denominations rather than between them.
Think of the labels we all use: evangelicals, traditionalists, high church, low church, liberals, conservatives, and so on.
but on the plus side, each year the week of Christian Unity is deliberately in the time of Epiphany
and Epiphanies are identifying moments:
moments when we think about who we are and who God is
something that is both a revelation and a challenge because it forces us to change.
Jesus must have watched Simon and Andrew,
noticing how they worked , how they waited and cast their nets.
It speaks about what Jesus valued in them, why he called them.
We need to imagine Jesus watching us in our daily life,
not in a creepy way…..
we need to remember that he values what we are
and what we do with our lives.
and so we need to allow him to call us to serve him in our own unique way.
not just try to fit Jesus into our already chosen way of living
but to try and fit ourselves into HIS vision of life.
We spend most of our lives fumbling around in the darkness–only rarely we are given the gift to see something old in a new way..
This season of epiphany can help us to see more clearly …
A light has shined upon a people who once dwelled in darkness
And as I said last week, we who have received this light need now to shine out for others.
Sunday 15th January 2023
Epiphany 2 – Year A
St John’s / St Mary’s
15th January 2022
Isaiah 49:1-7, Ps 40, 1 Cor 1:1-9 and John 1:29-42
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
I first have to apologise for not having the correct reference on the Gospel reading…. It is from chapter 1 of John’s Gospel NOT chapter 29 ! Actually John’s gospel only has 20 chapters in it so it would have been fairly obvious should you have looked it up!
Anyway, what I wanted to say was that the readings today almost seem like a repeat of last week’s readings don’t they?
Isaiah is telling us again of the one who is to come and our Gospel, this time from John rather than Matthew,
is again telling us of the Baptism of the Lord.
So why have we been prescribed what is in effect a repetition of last week’s description of Jesus’ baptism?
We are told of John’s witness to Jesus,
Jesus’ own epiphany in the river Jordan
and finally the call to discipleship
I feel that certainly our second account of the baptism of Jesus is to hammer home the importance of witnessing…..
We are reminded that John the Baptist testifies himself that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah,
the Christ; the anointed one of God
and that he himself is recognising Jesus’ role in history;
that Jesus is to be the sacrificial lamb upon whom our sins will be laid.
John the Baptist says
‘Here is God’s Lamb who takes away the sins of the world’.
A loaded statement.
That title, “Lamb of God,” says a lot in three words.
The listeners to this gospel in the first century knew what it meant! They were Jews – they remembered their history!
They remembered when their people were enslaved in Egypt
When Moses, speaking for God, had said, “Let my people go!”
And when Pharaoh refused
God had sent one plague after another to persuade Pharaoh to relent, the last terrible plague was the death of the firstborn in every house.
God had told the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and smear its blood on their door post so that the death angel would not stop at their homes.
They did so, and their firstborn were spared.
Israelites remembered that the lamb was God’s agent of salvation…. The sacrificial lamb.
And this is where our first reading from Isaiah comes in, where Isaiah is again telling of the one to come who will bring salvation.
The one who will make kings & princes stand up and take notice…..
The one who will be a light to the nations.
The one who will , as Paul tells us in our epistle,
strengthen us to the end so that we may be blameless on that last day.
We have to remember that when John’s Gospel was been written down,
there were various parties who were promoting their own candidates as the Messiah, ridiculous as that seems to us now
because when we as Christians hear the word MESSIAH , we think of Jesus…. But not so then….
At the time that John’s Gospel was written, the beloved Temple had already been destroyed and the big question was about what was going to replace it as their center of identification.
They were desperately seeking someone who would be God’s agent of salvation, they would have been re-reading the Isaiah scriptures with a finetooth comb.
This is the context that we have to read John’s Gospel.
Look at the strong opening statement about John the Baptist’s NOT being the Messiah …. HERE is the lamb of God etc. identifying Jesus as the very one whom he, The Baptist, has been looking for.
Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan is recalled,
And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God
A strong first hand witness account telling us that John did not consider himself to be the Messiah regardless of what his disciples are now saying.
And then in the second half of our gospel,
We are told that John the Baptist , as he watches Jesus walk by, personally witnesses to two of his OWN disciples who then decide to follow Jesus.
One of them, Andrew,
then witnesses to his brother Simon , who would be called Peter
- Peter the Rock…..
- Peter who would later deny his Lord and yet be forgiven and trusted enough to be given the commission to ‘Feed my Sheep’
Actually in the gospel accounts, we frequently see that a witness is needed to help others “see” Jesus.
In fact, I believe that one cannot fully follow Jesus without also extending the invitation to others.
Look at what the Psalm for today says
‘Your Righteousness I have not hidden in my heart…
I have spoken of your faithfulness and salvation
I have not concealed your loving-kindness and truth
From the great congregation.’
A bit like there being no such thing as a secret disciple!
In order to be a disciple , one must witness!
Even poor old Nicodemus , who came to Jesus in the dark of the night, eventually had to come clean at the time of the crucifixion.
And this is the nub of todays readings for me.
The act of witnessing….
When I was in the Theological College 20 years ago, we were encouraged to think of a personal Mission Statements
I thought long and hard and then actually nicked it from the Roman Catholic Parish in Greystones where I lived at the time…. I’m sure they wouldn’t have minded!
The statement was beautiful and simple, it was
‘To know Christ and to make him known’
If you know Christ,
you want to make him known by others
and in a wonderfully fulfilling way,
In the making him known,
you come to know him better and so it continues……
Evangelism begins with our own personal relationship with God.
The ability to share our faith hinges on this relationship.
This is the first bit of the mission statement I just mentioned.
……To know Christ.
And then the next logical step is in sharing our faith with someone — often those who trust us.
And that’s the second bit of the mission statement
…. To make him known.
To know Christ and to make him known…
The process then continues with the next person’s initiative to inquire and learn more about God, and so the cycle continues …
That is how the Holy Spirit works….
In an endless chain of witnessing to the Light.
For we are all called to be witnesses.
Or as the theology of the Orthodox church puts it
We are all called to become what we already are.
For the seed of God is in us all.
The famous 14th Century mystic Meister Eckhart,
whom I have quoted many times, spoke of our God seed
and put it like this
Given an intelligent and hard-working farmer,
it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is;
and accordingly its fruits will be God-nature.
Pear seeds grow into pear trees,
nut seeds into nut trees,
and God seeds into God.
We were all called in baptism to be servants and proclaimers of the Word of God,
We were freely given the grace and the desire to share the love of God with others.
On the one hand, baptism is meant to set us apart, separate us from the world.
But, just as equally, baptism calls us into family, community, and the Body of Christ
And so baptism sets us apart and calls us into solidarity with others, both at the same time.
Answering the call to follow the Lamb of God,
as we heard Andrew and Peter did,
answering that call is a daily decision made in the little details
of how much we consume, what and how we buy,
what we drive, where we live,
what we eat, how we use energy,
how we work,
what we keep and what we give away
and most importantly of all, how we treat others and how we care for ourselves.
Sometimes these decisions result in sacrifices that we would probably prefer to avoid.
But at its heart
witnessing and discipleship is about recognising that our faith is not an individual journey,
but is connected into community.
Our choice to witness or not impacts others
in our churches, neighbourhoods and the world,
and so we find that as we follow Christ,
we are brought face to face with others,
and the impact of our choices and lifestyle on them.
As W. B. Yeats said
If what I say resonates with you
it is because we are both branches on the same tree.
Which of course reminds us of the famous parable of the vine and its branches….. it is all about relationship… to God and to each other.
To make the sacrificial changes that will lead to a more just world – the world that Jesus proclaimed – we need resources beyond ourselves.
But as we embrace the life of witnessing to Christ,
We are given the internal resources we need,
the grace necessary
to become foundations stones – rocks – just like Peter – foundation stones in the Kingdom of God being built among us.
So today’s readings , especially the gospel, are , as I see it, mainly about witnessing.
As Isaiah tells us ,
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.
We, who know the light has come into the world, need to witness to that light.
We, who recognise the lamb of God, need to help others to recognise him too.
Its all about the ordinary person in the middle
who introduces other ordinary people to Jesus Christ.
And we don’t have to be or do anything exceptional.
And we don’t have to get it right every time.
We just need to keep widening the circle
We just have to know Christ and to make him known!
Sunday 8th January 2023
Dr Simon Woodworth
One of the nice things about having a lectionary is that it allows us to look at Old Testament and New Testament Bible readings in a logical manner. And there’s a lot going on in today’s readings, from Isaiah all the way through to the Act of the Apostles. It’s impossible in a sermon of reasonable length to deal with everything but a few things jump out.
We start with Isaiah, who promises a God of justice but also of fairness, who will look after the weak – the bruised reed and the dim wick. And that pursuit for justice will be unceasing until it is complete, a light to the nations that seeks to free all prisoners in the dark. Today’s Psalm then joyfully sings of the might and power of the Lord. The Psalm concludes by asking the Lord to give us strength and peace.
The Gospel of Matthew this morning describes Jesus’ baptism by John. Once again John’s humility comes to the fore, and he initially says he is unworthy to baptise Jesus. But Jesus insists, saying it is right and proper for John to baptise him. In doing so, Jesus demonstrates his own humility and demonstrates that he is with us to serve as well as lead. I think, though, that Jesus was also doing something else. I’ve mentioned in a previous sermon that the ritual of baptism predates Christianity and served as a cleansing ritual. So, Jesus’ modesty is not false: He is using his own baptism to cement it as a sacred rite for centuries to come. If baptism is good enough for Jesus, then it is good enough for the rest of us.
Peter’s words in the Acts of the Apostles then circle back to the idea of justice – “God shows no partiality.” In God’s eyes we are all equal. Jesus is also the one chosen by God as “judge of the living and the dead.” Peter says that everyone who believes in Jesus will be forgiven their sins in His name. It really could not be clearer – God is all-powerful, but is also fair and just, and, through Jesus His son, willing to forgive those who believe in Him.
There’s one other little detail – In Isaiah, the Lord says that he gives his glory to no other. But in today’s Gospel, after Jesus’ baptism, God proclaims Jesus as his beloved son, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus. Thus, Jesus’ role is uniquely special as intercessor for all of us. God promised us justice, and fairness, and impartiality and Jesus is fulfilment of that promise. This principle is firmly embedded in our culture and society, even if we’re not Christians. We are equal in the eyes of the law. We see that in the symbol of justice that stands blindfold over many courthouses. We are also equal in the eyes of God. None of us gets to set ourselves above the rest, and God will look after the weak and vulnerable.
But again, we come back to humility. It would be easy to imagine Jesus demonstrating a show of strength after receiving God’s blessing. But he chose instead to be baptised by an ordinary man, John, in a ritual that was freely accessible to anyone who wanted it. Jesus’ power lies in his humility. We know of worldly leaders of today or previous years who have behaved differently, who have taken upon themselves the trappings of power and have sat in judgement upon others while crafting different rules for themselves. It almost never ends well, either for them or for those they rule. We’re also familiar with capricious and unreasonable godlike beings in our literature and movies, from Greek, Roman and Celtic legend all the way through to the Marvel movies of today. These gods all have one thing in common – not one of them demonstrate an ounce of humility.
In contrast, Jesus actively resisted ostentation and the flaunting or abusing of his power. Straight after his baptism, he went into the desert to be tempted by the devil and he successfully resisted. Jesus, in being humble, gave us the gift of Baptism. It is an invitation, perhaps, to be like him, to be fair, and just, in our dealings with others. It is also a reminder to pay special attention to the weak and vulnerable and to rise them up as best we can. As St Teresa of Ávila said, Christ has no body, no hands, no feet, no eyes but ours. We can all bring those who are worse off out of darkness. It is our responsibility to do God’s work and today’s Collect and Blessing reflect this. As New Year’s resolutions go, it isn’t a bad one.