Sunday 25th February
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The disciples have been with Jesus a fair while now and are getting to know him better – his healing power, his teaching skills and his authority.
The latest Bible Buddy book the children are reading is called ‘Heroes of Faith’ and they read about who was a Superhero in the Old Testament…..
Peter and the other disciples weren’t superheros, they were ordinary men of their generation.
Their idea of the messiah was of a conquering King,
one anointed by God to free them from foreign oppression,
and indeed the word Messiah – and also the word Christ – literally means the anointed one.
But we know, of course, looking back across 2000 years of Christianity that wasn’t what Jesus was about at all.
In fact, Mark begins his gospel with the words ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’
So although there is a current of secrecy throughout Mark’s Gospel, and the characters in the story don’t know who Jesus really is, WE are told right from the start ‘….. it couldn’t be more clear to us.
Jesus tries to explain what his messianic mission was about,
His mission is outlined…. he will suffer greatly, will be rejected by the leaders of his own people , will be executed as a criminal and on the third day he will rise to life.
This, obviously, comes as a great shock to Peter and the disciples.
To them, in their day, with their expectation from the scriptures they knew so well…..It just doesn’t make sense.
This is definitely not the Messiah they had been taught to expect.
We think of what we know is to come –
Jesus’ humiliation and execution at the hands of the Roman and Jewish authorities
We know this but the disciples around him would never have dreamt this would happen to their Messiah!
Peter steps forward, surely speaking for all of them, and insists that this couldn’t happen to Jesus.
But Jesus, knowing that Peter has become a real stumbling block in the way of his mission
‘Get behind me Satan, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’
Now we have to remember that Satan, in this context, just means adversary, an opponent and indeed, at that time, Peter’s attitude must have seemed like a real temptation to Jesus…opposing everything Jesus was trying to achieve, undermining his resolve.
Jesus goes on to tell the disciples and indeed to tell anyone who reads this gospel and has ears to listen
That not only must he – Jesus – go the way of suffering and death to life but that anyone who wants to be a follower of Jesus must also go the same way.
How many of us are like Peter & the disciples in the gospel, setting our minds totally on human things and ignoring divine things.
We want to be morally good people but our values in life are often indistinguishable from the rest of society,
We are mostly concerned with material wealth, with professional success , with great careers for our children.
We are in the business of saving our lives not losing them as Jesus instructed us.
He tells us that we have to let go
To stop clinging – To be really free
To give and not to grab To share and not to hoard
To see others as sisters and brothers not as rivals and competitors.
We live in a world that we are meant to reach out to
rather than to guard against.
Yet we suffer with a ghetto mentality
An I’m all right Jack attitude,
To be a Christian disciple is not primarily to ‘save my soul’ or to ‘go to heaven’ but to enter fully into the mainstream of human living and human concerns
To become part of it through loving and sharing and building up with others.
It is not a matter of everyone for themselves
But each for the other , one for all and all for one!
In our current approach to life, there are only a few winners and many, many losers…….. and we know in our heart of hearts that this is not right.
Jesus is proposing a subversion of that worldview,
His good news proposes that we all just let go and live our lives for others
And for sure, if we all lived like that , our society would be radically different.
Jesus is telling us in our gospel reading today that,
‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’
The story of Abraham and Sarah in our first reading seems not to have anything to do with what Jesus is telling us in the Gospel……
The reading from Genesis is about an unlikely, elderly couple who hear the call to service and respond with a shaky but faith-filled “Yes.”
In a later verse, Sarah will actually laugh at God for the proposition of becoming the mother of a nation. It seems quite impossible given that they are already beyond child-bearing age. But this is God’s promise – They are blessed to be a blessing to all nations.
His promise for the future…. For the faithful..
And of course, Paul, in his letter to the Romans, also speaks about the promise made to Abraham and underlines to the small Christian community in Rome that it was the Faith of Abraham that made the difference ‘He did not weaken in faith…. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God’
Abraham accepts God’s promise of the future for him and his family.
Jesus proclaims the future to the disciples,
but Peter can’t step out in faith
and face it
he won’t hear of it…..
The previous verse heard Peter say in answer to Jesus’ question ‘Who do you say that I am’ – that Jesus was the Messiah . But Peter is still seeking the victorious Messiah, not a weak, slain leader.
When Jesus rebukes Peter by giving the highest insult and calls him “Satan” he then tries to teach the disciples what it is all really about….
‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’
He is telling them that the way of discipleship is
but it is not without sacrifice, and it is not without loss.
This call to the first disciples is still our Lenten call today..
We deny ourselves, take up the cross and we follow him….
In our time , in our way…… in whatever way we can.
Sunday 18th February
Síle Hunt, Diocesan Lay Reader
What does the term lent evoke for us? If we are honest it can bring about feelings of emptiness as we give up items that are part and parcel of ordinary daily life, e.g. marmalade on toast or taking a social media break. It can involve feelings of frustration as we give up that tempting first cup of coffee in the morning. When I was a teenager in the 90’s there was an advertisement with the tag line’ nobody said it was going to be easy’ and Lent is not meant to be easy.
David Van Biema wrote in Time Magazine in May 2020 that the time period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday “is a time many Christians spend considering the nature and depth of Divine compassion”. Today’s Old and New Testament readings contain the overarching theme of compassion. Today’s gospel reading of Mark opens with the reception of the Holy Spirit by Jesus through his baptism by John the Baptist in the river Jordan. In verse 11 we are given an insight into the tender nature of God as a proud and loving father who builds Jesus’ self esteem “you are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased”. This statement sets the first signpost towards the way of the cross on Good Friday. God’s deep love, especially for his only son and his compassion for humanity is key to his very nature, a love that reaches it’s pinnacle when Jesus offers up his life to atone for our sins. The ultimate unselfish sacrifice.
This reading is situated in the wilderness. The story takes an unexpected twist. The holy spirit (the protector) that Jesus receives in baptism then drives Him out into the wilderness for 40 days in the open desert, a barren landscape, together with wild animals that were an ever-present threat. Jesus is tempted by the devil but does not succumb to temptation. We are reminded that Jesus defeated temptation in his 40 days in the wilderness. Lent is a time of preparation and personal reflection as we examine and develop our relationship with God as we prepare our hearts for the way of the cross. At the end of today’s gospel reading Jesus proclaims the Good News in Galilee and heralds that the Kingdom of God has come near and invites us to repent and believe the good news.
We all have encountered our own personal wilderness at some stage or another, perhaps a fear of change in work or in school/college, illness, being stuck in a rut or a time when our faith was challenged or side-lined and we put the desire for material gain ahead of our own spiritual development. We all have different challenges as we enter Lent and no two people in the congregation here this morning are at the same starting point. But we are all journeying together in support of one another.
We are promised salvation with the advent of the kingdom of God and today’s gospel is dovetailed with the lesson from 1 Peter, which reminds us that the Holy Spirit made Jesus who died on the cross come alive again. Peter reflects on the saving act of baptism as “an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.
How about we consider an Invitation to use the time of emptiness to examine ourselves, our attitudes our reactions and their consequences are they in good conscience? How can we make room for what God has planned for us? We can participate in reflective bible study. When we give up items could we put the savings from same towards a local community project? Perhaps we can look at how we can best budget our time for the benefit of others this lent, e.g. spending an extra hour outdoors with someone special in our lives. We can reach out as God did and offer compassion and affirmation to those who need it, perhaps to a friend or a colleague who is struggling. Lent provides us with a time to reflect openly on our own personal relationship with God and make the necessary adjustments as we enter a period of deep reflection, prayer and preparation during the season of Lent. God will be faithful to us through our own personal wilderness as we journey together as a congregation towards Easter.
Sunday 11th February
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Today, the Sunday before Lent, we celebrate the Transfiguration.
I always feel that this is great timing.
Just before Lent.
Just before we get down to the hard task of fasting or whatever it is we feel we should be doing to mark the season of Penitence.
Obviously we can only go by the accounts in the Gospels….
We don’t actually know .. and can never know .. what physically happened up on that Mountain top.
But something marvelous did happen.
Jesus was praying
He was just about to begin his journey into Jerusalem and the cross and he was taking time out to seek his Father’s approval and to ask for strength to face what lay ahead.
Up there on the Mountain top,
Moses and Elijah appeared to be talking with him.
Moses – the great Lawgiver
Elijah – the greatest of all the Prophets, Elijah who we heard about in our first reading this morning.
Symbolically these two major Prophets represented Israel’s life and thought and religion…. And they were there, right beside Jesus, giving their approval of Jesus and his path.
But while the moment of the Mount was absolutely necessary, it could not be prolonged beyond its own time.
Jesus had to come down from the Mountain top and face his destiny.
I must say I can understand why the Apostles wanted to stay in that perfect moment.
Why they wanted to put up tents and stay put.
It was one of those perfect moments.
All was well with the world.
We are granted those kind of moments sometimes.
I have often spoken about my own understanding of Epiphany.
The moment when you see a bird for the first time, its heartbeat underneath the feathers, and you know , you just know
exactly what its all about.
When we are lucky enough to have these amazing moments of understanding, it’s like stepping into unexpected light…
But those moments are by their very nature fleeting
And indeed afterwards its hard to believe it happened, these visions of glory.
Someone once said transfiguration was being
‘called to glory at that moments, but then we end up worrying about the Gas Bill!’
Now Peter was always the man of action.
He was the man who needed to be doing something ….anything!
Peter wants to build dwellings, sometimes the word used here is translated as ‘Booths’ or ‘Tents’, so a temporary dwelling place in other words.
Peter wants to put up some kind of structure for Jesus and Moses and Elijah to live in.
something to keep them there on the mountain top….
to keep this magic moment happening.
to put off the inevitable return to normality and all that that involves…. The dreaded Gas Bills!
But to stay on the mountain top isn’t living life….it’s postponing life.
We all have to accept that most of our lives are spent down in the valleys rather than at the top of mountains.
DISCIPleship is DISCIPline, interestingly the same word root….
Most of our lives consists of tough day by day existing…
And to be sure we gain strength and purpose from that mountaintop experience….
but any experience we gain is for sharing – not for hoarding,
There is a time for stillness, a time for contemplation
a time to ‘Be still and know that I am God’
and these are important times, needed times
But then we have to go back to the valley
refreshed and renewed by our time with God.
Ready to make a difference in our world.
and to quote yet again a piece of my favourite prayer from Teresa of Avila
Yours are the feet with which
He is to go about doing good,
and yours are the hands
with which He is to bless us now.
For the opposite to going back in the valley is to try and artificially stay in the moment, like the way Peter tries to.
Poor old Peter often gets it wrong doesn’t he!
That’s probably why we identify with him…
Peter does understand that this is an important moment,
a time of intimacy and nearness to God
but what he doesn’t get is that these moments are meant to strengthen and then with that strength go back out into the world refreshed, just as Jesus did, he drew strength that day on the mountain and went on to face the cross.
Which is why I think that the Sunday before Lent is the perfect day to hear about the Transfiguration…..
And so we thank God for all of our epiphanies, all of our Mountain Top transfiguration experiences ….
and long may we seek & find them
But we also thank God that, through these experiences, we have been given the wherewithal to use our inner strength and conviction
to be his hands and his feet in a world which so badly need him.
As I said, Peter quite understandably wanted to stay in the sheen of Glory and not have to return to the everyday common things…and who can blame him….
But we need to understand that the Mount of Transfiguration moments are given to us for a reason
to provide strength for the daily work of ministry
And to help us walk in the way of the cross
not in order to hide from the world.
Susanna Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley wrote a prayer addressing our instinct to try and form holy huddles of like minded people….
‘Help me Lord, to remember that religion is not be to confined to the church or closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I go, I am in thy presence’
I have mentioned before about the famous Anglican priest called George Potter who worked in the east end slums of London in the early 20th century when these were areas of high unemployment and the consequent huge social problems.
He was what you might have called very ‘high church’, bells & smells and all that.
But while he had the highest possible ideas of worship
he understood the relative value of those moments of high worship, that our transcendent moments are there to strengthen us in this world.
He used to say to the many young idealistic priests that wanted to work with him as curates.
‘You mustn’t sulk if you can’t get to the vespers on the feast of St. Thermogene, for you may be sitting in a police station waiting to help a ‘Client’
‘You mustn’t be the type of priest who runs into the kitchen sobbing because we run short of incense’
What Fr. Potter understood is that his curates must rightly value their prayer and worship time as without them they were not equipped to do the grueling work in the slums.
But he told them
‘ the fact is that we spend more time at the bottom of the Mount of Transfiguration than at the top’
He knew that these exalted times of prayer and meditation were essential in order to strengthen and equip these young priests out in the cold and ugly world of 1930s London,
But he also knew that these heady experiences were not so that they could wallow in them so as to escape reality but to equip them to get out there and tackle reality.
William Barclay , that down to earth Scottish theologian that Richard Dring often quotes in his sermons, puts it beautifully,
He says this about transfiguration….
‘The moment of glory does not exist for its own sake
It exists to clothe the common things with a radiance they never had before’
Isn’t that lovely – to clothe the common things with a radiance they never had before….. so beautifully put..
Our job is recognise the Glory of God
and then to bring Gods glory from our mountaintop back to the valley for all to see and understand for themselves.
We say in our service, in the post communion prayer, ‘May we whom the Spirit lights, give light to others’
Our job is to clothe the everyday with a radiance it never had before……. Amen!
Sunday 4th February
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The words of the old testament (or the Hebrew Scripture as they are more often called nowadays,)
today comes from the book of Proverbs.
It speaks of Wisdom , the word ‘Sofia’ in Greek, which is always used in the feminine. Latin is the same ‘Sapienta’ is a feminine word.
This particular proverb tells us that the Lord created her, (Wisdom that is ) at the beginning of his work….when there were no depths she was brought forth.
‘I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race’
Beautiful words and beautiful sentiments
God’s helper from the beginning of time.
And then in our gospel reading, from John, we heard the well known words… very well known indeed as this was the ‘Midnight’ Christmas Gospel too….
‘In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God’
tying in with Wisdom being with God always, before time , before space, before light….
John continues ‘The true light, which enlightens everybody was coming into the world’
And it really is startling….
and a little hard to believe really.
That the Word became flesh and lived among us.
Lived among us….. Humanity
I’ve told this story before but some of you may not have heard it….
In fact, I only told it to the Confirmation Class last week….
But they AND the rest of you who did hear it before are just going to have to listen to it again!….
It’s a story about a man, a farmer, a good man, but not a Christian man as we’d define it….
He just couldn’t get his head around God entering our world as an infant
Actually becoming one of us
This man just couldn’t actually believe it
And unlike many , he was too honest to pretend that he did… which was a hard thing to do back then…
So each Christmas Eve, when his wife and children would go to the midnight church service
He would always stay at home, on the farm.
The story goes that one such Christmas, when his family were already gone to Church, the snow came down very heavily .
As he sat in the warm kitchen, beside the fire, he kept hearing these thuds against the kitchen window and when he went outside, he saw lots of small birds trying to shelter under the lit window.
They had thought that they could shelter in the warm kitchen but they didn’t understand about glass windows.
The pathetic little wet bundles of bird touched this man’s heart and he decided that he would open his shed and let them shelter there.
But how to get them into the safety of the shed?
He opened the shed door and tried to shoo them in,
He put out bread in a trail to try and entice them in
But nothing worked,
Every time he went too near to them they just scattered in fright.
He realised that it was hopeless, he just couldn’t get them to move into the shed.
He hated to see them freezing to death out in the cold when there was a warm shed just waiting on them.
He was so frustrated and came to realise that only birds can communicate with birds…. If only he was a bird, then he could explain to them where to go ……
Suddenly he sank to his knees as it dawned on him just why God had become man.
He understood for the first time why ‘The word became flesh’.
He finally ‘got it’
Wisdom: there when the world began,
The Word: there in the beginning ,
Jesus: there in the flesh and who lived among us.
God draws near to us in person
He became one of us,
He lived among us
He meets us where we are
He took our humanity on himself
This means that we don’t have to deny our humanity to meet him.
He came to show us how to live out the fullness of our humanity.
Our humanity wasn’t something base or worthless…..
In Jesus, holiness is now connected to humanity,
Connected to earth as well as heaven.
By becoming one of us, God took away the distance between the divine and the human.
He bridged the gap….forever
The Word became flesh
Not as a judge but as a Saviour
Became flesh in order to reveal our divine dignity as God’s own children
This is the good news,
Like the farmer in our story, all we have to do is open our hearts to receive it.
The wonder of God’s creation is there for all of us and that is why it can seem so horrible to see it being wantonly destroyed, usually by our carelessness and thoughlessness.
Sally McVeigh, a famous American Theologican, uses the idea of a Hotel vs a Home in trying to get us to understand what humankind are currently doing to our planet Earth.
As she points out , when you stay in a hotel, you use all the towels and throw them on the ground to be washed by someone else. You use more shampoo than you need… sure isn’t it free!
But if you are at home, you’d be careful to hang up your towel to dry so that you’d get at least a couple of showers out of it….
You only use the amount of shampoo that you need and you put the cap back on the bottle carefully so that it doesn’t spill all over the floor of the shower and get wasted.
This is the difference in how we must view the Earth, our home.
As a great poster puts it ‘There is no Planet B’,
Earth is all we have
and we are risking everything when we treat it as some kind of Radisson type Hotel we can move from to the next Hotel chain down the road.
We have to work to recover our sense of wonder for what is around us.
We have to sit up and notice the miracle of the moon above us.
We have to listen to AND value the birds and the bees – while we still have them!
Its a habit we can cultivate you know…
When I was a child I don’t ever remember seeing blue tits or blackbirds…..
I know logically they must have been around but I don’t actually remember as a child looking and really seeing the beautiful colours of a Goldfinch or a Blue tit..
All birds I can remember were either crows, or seagulls or sparrows….
Is there more birds around now…. No….it’s only that now I take time to appreciate all that is around….
As I said, we take our lead from our scriptures and the Bible is hardly a minor contributor on writings about caring for creation, in fact, the Bible is a powerful ecological handbook on how to live rightly on this earth.
Since God creates and sustains ALL of creation,
we find, naturally enough, that the Bible calls us to honour all that is God’s
God repeatedly calls his creation GOOD
And Jesus Christ is the one through whom ALL THINGS are reconciled to God.
We are called, as part of Creation, to take care of the Creation that God has given us.
Often we just don’t do many of the things we know we should do.
Its important that we identify the stumbling blocks and try to do something about them.
We can do much as individuals obviously , at home, recycling , buying products that are not harmful to the environment, watching the water usage and so on but we can also do something as a church community
And that is where Eco Congregation comes into it.
As you all know , we are an Eco Congregation Church.
Eco-Congregation Ireland (ECI) encourages churches of all denominations to take an eco approach.
It was a project initiated by the Church in Society Forum – a standing committee of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting.
The Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist churches are involved as well as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
For three years I was the Church of Ireland Representative on the committee but I resigned from a lot of these committees about a year after I came to Cork as I was spending too much time travelling up to Dublin for meetings!
But that didn’t mean I stopped being interested in the environment …. I firmly believe that it all begins at home, we have to concentrate on these issues locally!
The Archdeacon Andrew Orr took my place on Ecocongregation and he is the Chair of it now, so we’re very proud of him.
Carrigaline Union became an Eco-Congregation a decade ago, back in 2014.
We signed up to their vision which is to see churches throughout Ireland adopt an eco approach to worship, lifestyle, property and finance management, community outreach and contact with the developing world.
Eco Congregation ask Christians everywhere to reflect on the beauty of God’s world and to consider what practical steps can be taken to prevent further damage to the environment.
Also, we are asked to pray for our wounded planet, for people in the developing world already affected by climate change and for future generations.
Eco Congregation offer resources and support which will helps us, as a church, to take practical eco action in the context of our Christian faith.
The resources are designed to enable congregations to be self-sufficient in their eco work and monitor their own progress.
Over the last 10 years, we have taken many small steps and while they seem small in the face of the magnitude of the Climate Change issue, they will make a real difference to our world and we can only begin here and now.
We have a vibrant parish Eco Group, headed up by Valerie and John Andrew and they would love to hear any ideas you might have to improve our eco living as a parish.
I would like to thank them both for the work that they put in and of course, the planting of the Bicentennial Oak Tree was at their suggestion.
Actually it has been wonderful the way all the different groups in the parish have been involved in our last year of celebrations.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
So let us all make a renewed effort to recapture the wonder of the glory of God – his creation…..
and then when we really really see the wonder of creation,
we will remember to treat creation as holy.
28th January 2024
The Revd Richard Dring
In the Gospel reading today Luke is detailing the Jewish rituals that are required following the birth of a child. This helps us to understand that Jesus was Jewish and was being brought up in the Jewish traditions and rituals. He was not a Christian living in Israel, the emergence of Christianity came as a much later stage after Jesus was crucified.
The Jewishness of Jesus and his family is a key part of his life, and we should not forget or overlook that aspect of his upbringing. It also helps us to consider what has happened to the Jews through the centuries, and particularly the Holocaust of World War 2. Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day where we remember the impact the Nazi regime had on the Jews, some 6 million were systematically exterminated. Imagine if the whole population of Ireland was rounded up and systematically killed. That is the magnitude of the atrocity of what happened. We must also not forget that there were many millions more systematically removed form society and killed, groups such as the Roma, Gay, Political opponents such as Communists and Disabled people who did not fit the Aryan standard.
Holocaust day is remembered so that these Genocide events will not happen again, yet since 1945 the following Genocides have happened. It is in remembrance of the day in 1945 when the Red Army entered Auschwitz. Significantly the theme this year is “Fragility of Freedom”:
Darfour (Sudan) 400,000 killed (Ethnic cleansing)
Rwanda 800,000 killed (Tutsi tribe)
Bosnia Herzegovina 200,000 killed (Muslim faith)
Cambodia between 1.5 to 3.0 million killed.
Cultural Revolution 27 million people starved to death.
The United Nations has been unable to prevent these atrocities from happening, and revenge is never going to be a solution. What is continuing to happen around the world shows us how ineffective the system set up after World War 2 has become where the Victorious powers have a right of veto at the highest level, I believe there are strong reasons for reform however I also do not believe it will happen in the short term.
Back to our gospel reading, Luke chapter 2. Luke has painted a picture in this Chapter to help us all relate to the Birth of Jesus. There is something for everyone:
- Jesus was born to a woman Mary who was not married to Joseph her future husband.
- Jesus was born in a Stable, probably not as we imagine but the lower area in a house where the animals are brought in out of the cold at night. The family living there were at a level slightly higher but unlikely to be separate room.
- The first people to visit Jesus were the shepherds, the lowest in society but encouraged by an angel to visit.
- Jesus is named on the 8th day.
- Mary and Joseph sacrificed two turtle doves, an offering of the poor, those with money would have sacrificed a lamb. The purification ceremony which is briefly mentioned was purification of Mary, which had prevented her from entering the temple for in the case of a boy 40 days and for a girl 80 days. She was considered unclean.
- Jesus was then presented in the temple before two key people, Simeon who had been waiting for this to happen and in the discussion and blessing that took place he foretold to Mary and Joseph what was going to happen in the future as a result of Jesus ministry.
- Finally they met Anna a prophet. We have very little detail of what was spoken.
In all the events described by Luke he has given us all individuals with whom we can identify and through this make the story our own. We all can play a part no matter how small a part we feel it is. We are not all born to be leaders, we need all the gifts God has given each of us individually to be able to work together to develop and grow Gods kingdom on earth. The analogy used by some writers is all the parts of our body are unable to function alone however when put together look at what is achiever a living person. So If we all were leaders, chaos would ensue, and we would not have the talents required to work together for growth and development of the Kingdom of God.
We also are encouraged that at this is the point in Luke’s gospel that all of the events described are part of Jewish rituals. Jesus was a Jew and remained a Jew for all his ministry. Jesus used his knowledge as a Jew of the Old Testament to be able to challenge the establishment. He would have spoken with authority in any situation and would have been able to command the respect of those gathered for what he was saying based on his knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures.
The 7 events listed earlier show how the many aspects of Jesus life can relate to so many different people, Mary was a young single mother, from a family that very clearly did not have unlimited wealth. Mary and Joseph had to be aware of what they had and how to survive in a very challenging time.
Jesus was then presented in the temple where he was presented to Simeon and Anna, two who were in the twilight of their lives, however it has to be seen as important as their meeting with Jesus is included in Luke’s gospel. Not all of Jesus life is described in detail so when included in the Gospel there is a reason and we need to take note, it is there for a purpose.
19th January 2024
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus consciously stepped into the shoes of John the Baptist (and remember how John had warned us that he wasn’t worthy to tie the thong of Jesus’ sandals!)
now here is Jesus , taking the risk of being aligned to the person who has just been handed over to the authorities (and who we know will be slaughtered at the whim of a dancing girl’s mother)
So knowing the great personal cost, Jesus preaches the same message as John, but perhaps in gentler tones… and maybe in better clothes!
But the message is the same
Yes, turn around your life
but do it because of your own intrinsic worth as children of a loving God, not just because of fear.
Today’s image is of Jesus walking along the shore and just picking out potential disciples….. just calling out to others to be with him in spreading the word of God. It all seems so random!
He called ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
They were fishermen, carpenters, tax collectors, a few hotheads, a few wise ones, and he asked them to step up to the mark, to leave everything they knew and to follow him.
But we don’t have to feel guilty when we look at this pattern of total service to God,
The pattern of just downing everything and following.
…. For not everyone is called to leave our boats and our nets,
to leave our family and friends and homes,
The vast majority of us are only called to stay where we are and serve God here where we are
But what we all have in common
and what we all have to take seriously
is the call to follow him, not by leaving everything we know
but by transforming everything we know.
By becoming ourselves the light that lightens the darkness.
Don’t forget this is still the season of epiphany,
where we celebrate the coming of THE light of the world
that’s why the Star still shines from the spire of our church.
We have all seen over the last few years how the increasing levels of denial, division and misinformation around in society means that we must remain ever vigilant against hatred and identity-based hostility.
Rapid technological developments, a turbulent political climate, and world events beyond our control can leave us feeling helpless and insignificant.
But ….. we can all stand in solidarity.
We can choose to be the light in the darkness in a variety of ways and places – at home, in public, and online.
There are many small ways that we can do this…..
We can be aware of what is going on around us,
we can ask awkward questions,
speak truth to power,
in any little way we can.
This is an epiphany of sorts……
We can train ourselves to be open to the suffering of ‘the other’ in a positive way, in a way that helps us to help others….
We can be the light in the life of someone else who needs help.
On the front of the Pewsheet today I spoke about people who quote other people and yet don’t actually change the way they live their lives to reflect the essence of the quote…..
So called ‘virtue signalling’
In this world of false faces on social media platforms, it can seem enough to just say something… rather than doing something.
And on the subject of quotes….we all know that very famous quote from the 18th century Irishman Edmund Burke ,
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
But maybe you don’t know the rest of the quote?
It says …
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little. The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.
Did nothing because he could only do a little… that really rings home to me anyway.
So what if we can only do a little…..
it’s a start ….. and didn’t Jesus tell us about tiny mustard seeds growing into trees that provided shade for many animals…
I know that recently I have often spoken about Sabeel, the Palestinian Ecumenical Peace Group. I try and attend their online Thursday services when I can.
But there’s another group that I’ve be connected with for the last few years called ‘Rabbis for Human Rights’, they are based in Israel and are exactly what it sounds like… a group of Rabbis who work, on the ground, for peace. I’m a great admirer of their brave work, often at odds with the Authorities there.
At the moment, they have an initiative called ‘Plant Justice – Build Hope’
At this tragic and brutal time , in the shadow of war, they feel that there is a desperate need for action, to build Israeli-Palestinian partnership, to show solidarity and compassion, and to act for human rights for all.
This month they are planting over 1,000 Olive Trees in partnership with Palestinian communities in the West Bank. Already dozens of Rabbis and activists have taken part in planting events, which are both symbolic and very real.
They said that they returned to the Palestinan village of Burin, just weeks ago the farmers had sent them a video of settlers burning their olive trees. They came together in their commitment that Palestinian farmers must have access to their lands and need to be protected from Jewish terror.
They planted trees in al-Sawiya, where Mohamad Bilal Salah was shot dead by a settler while he harvested his olives.
And they will be returning to Turmus Aya, a town which suffered a major settler attack, resulting in the death of a young man and the arson of homes, cars and olive groves.
The partnerships they build are meaningful and as they say themselves
‘our message is clear: Palestinians deserve human rights, their land must be respected, and their lives protected. In the context of the war in Gaza, these values are more important than ever’.
They ask people to please join them by donating a tree which will be planted in partnership and solidarity in a Palestinian community which is facing threats.
This I was able to do, donating from the comfort of my own sitting room….. I know it’s only a little but isn’t it better to light a candle than sit and curse the darkness.
Simon, Andrew, James and John had their Epiphany that day on the shores of the Sea of Galillee , and as we know, they responded wholeheartedly and followed Jesus.
They didn’t say, but sure we’re only simple fishermen, there’s nothing we can do that would make a difference …..
They were surely terrified at the change that was being asked of them……and yet they responded of their own free will….. and by their response they were freed from the mundane lives they had led,
So yes, they must have felt terror but perhaps exhilaration too!
When you put your life in God’s hands, it is terrifying, when you step out in faith, it is thrilling and frightening, but also so so right.
We don’t choose our Epiphanies, any more than the disciples did on the lake shore that day
Epiphany is all about our lives having changed forever ,
because when the word became flesh,
when the light came into the world,
nothing was ever the same again.
We are all called to be that light in the darkness.
14th January 2023 2nd Sunday after Epiphany.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I love the story of Samuel, his confusion about who was being called and so on. This was the first reading for last Wednesday’s HC service too.
I’ve mentioned before that it always reminds me of Donald Keegan, a wonderful man who had been the Archdeacon of Birr, and I met him when he had retired to Greystones and used to help out now and again, actually his daughter Ruth Elmes is now the Rector in Dalkey where I did my training.
Donald was a really lovely man who died all too soon into his retirement and is still sadly missed….
But why I mention him again today is that I remember him preaching about these words from Samuel and telling us all that he had a dog which he called Samuel because he always had to call him three times before he came to him!
The theme of two of the readings today is that of being called
Samuel is called to be a prophet.
Andrew and the others are called to be disciples.
We don’t decide if we are called….
The initiative is always Gods.
The call is always Gods.
We can just respond…..
And every call demands a response. You often hear of people who ignore a calling for years but it never goes away….
In today’s readings, we hear of specific and unique calls.
And usually we call a specific and unique call a vocation.
The bishop last year organized a wonderful morning of Prayer in Cloyne Cathedral specifically to encourage people to think about whether or not they were being ‘called’ – actually it was a lovely morning AND a great success, there were a good few people who came forward for lay reader training or OLM training… amazing.
Indeed it was so good that the Bishop is repeating it again at the end of this month…. It’s in the Pewsheet but basically there will be an ‘open’ church in Cloyne Cathedral from 11 until 1pm on Saturday 27th… you can just drop in for a few minutes if you feel like it…..
We used to think of vocations as something only people like priests had ….. or at a stretch, nurses and teachers, so even though I mentioned the Bishop’s morning, I’m not just speaking about vocations to ordained ministry…Thankfully nowadays it is beginning to be recognised that at times we are all called, in some manner or another, in whatever we are or do,
We aren’t all priests, teachers, nuns or doctors but we all share the same call to service,
And of course service to God doesn’t begin and end on a Sunday morning.
As I typed these words I am reminded that God is just as present with us at 20 to 5 on a Friday afternoon as he is at this minute…in this church.
And God has indeed called us all
In many ways and at many levels.
He called us into life, and throughout our lives God continues to call us….
calls us to live a life worthy of our dignity as his children.
And then at the end, God will call us again
From this life to life eternal.
There is no doubt that God’s call can take many forms, and be fulfilled in different ways.
And it is rarely experienced in the dramatic way as the call of Samuel…. I think God would have to have called me more than THREE times!
Or it’s rarely experienced in as real a way as the first disciples of Jesus, abandoning all they had and following him
God does call us – he calls out to the depths of our hearts
Calls us to be close to him.
There is a Jesuit Priest in the US , Richard Rohr, whom I admire greatly and whom I have spoken about many many times….
He and his team in New Mexico share daily thoughts by email and once when he was speaking about the practice of contemplation.. he said this..
You cannot know God the way you know anything else;
you only know God or the soul of anything subject to subject, center to center,
by a process of “mirroring” where like knows like and love knows love—
“deep calling unto deep” (Psalm 42:7).
The Divine Spirit planted deep inside each of us yearns for and responds to God—and vice versa (see James 4:5)
Perhaps we feel the call or whatever you like to call it like some kind of a tug on our hearts, rather than words or an actual call.
As St. Augustine put it in that well known phrase ….
Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.
Some people experience this call as a yearning inside of themselves,
which perhaps can be felt most strongly in our quieter and more reflective moments.
I have often mentioned that Mother Theresa quote about how she was once asked by a journalist what words did she use while she was praying.
She said that she didn’t use words….she just listened.
The Journalist immediately asked her what God said to her….she answered, nothing! God just listens too.
The story of the call of Samuel and of the disciples are still relevant to us now, here, in 2023.
For just like Samuel , we too are being called to work for God, here – in our own time and place, in this crazy, war weary time and place.
And just like the first disciples, we are also called to be his disciples…..
Last week, we thought about our baptismal promises….
At our baptisms, what we are actually called to is discipleship ,
At baptism , we are incorporated into the community of disciples.
All of us
In all of our different roles, jobs and situations,
Whether we are ordained, lay, working, retired …
We all have been called.
Samuel found out….eventually ….. that every call needs a response.
And we just have to work out, with God’s help,
what our response is to be!
Baptism of Christ 1st Sunday after Epiphany 7th January, 2024
In the name of God, Father , Son and Holy Spirit
Today we are hearing about what is the third great ‘epiphany’ or ‘showing of God’ in the human person of Jesus.
The first ‘epiphany’ was of course at the actual birth of the child Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem when he was visited by the shepherds representing the poor, the marginalised and the sinful for whom Jesus had specially come.
This, obviously, we celebrated on 25th December, Christmas Day.
The second ‘epiphany’ was when the ‘wise men’ came from ‘the East’ to worship the newly born Jesus. They represented all those peoples and nations who were being invited to be numbered among God’s own people through the mediation of Jesus as Lord.
This was celebrated yesterday 6th, the feast of the Epiphany….
But today we celebrate the third great ‘epiphany’ of the Lord in Jesus Christ.
The chronological time has leaped forward by at least three decades….. much later than the events celebrated over the last two weeks, the birth of Jesus and the visitation of the Magi.
In our Gospel today, Jesus is now an adult, probably about 30 years of age.
We are brought to the banks of the River Jordan somewhere north of Jerusalem where John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus, is living out in the desert.
All through the Hebrew Scriptures, we find that the desert in some ways is a place where God can be found, although for Jesus, immediately after the baptism, it was also a place of trial and temptation.
John leads a very austere life, dressed in the simplest of clothes and sustaining himself on whatever nourishment he can find in the vicinity.
He has already made a name for himself as a man of God and large numbers come out to hear and be influenced by him…. which is why he is always at pains to explain that it is Jesus and not he who is the chosen one of God.
The opening words of today’s Gospel tell us that he was proclaiming “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.
It is important not to misunderstand the meaning of these words.
It would be quite wrong to think that people simply had to come for baptism in the river for all their sins to be wiped out.
That would be little more than superstition.
The baptism itself was a symbolic act which had to be accompanied by an inner change.
The word for ‘repentance’ here is metanoia in Greek, a word I’ve often mentioned before.
This word implies a radical change in the way we look at the meaning and purpose of life
and how we actually and practically live that life ourselves.
It calls for much more than is normally meant by ‘repentance’ which we normally understand as ‘being sorry’ for something we have done.
Metanoia is much more than just feeling sorry.
It calls for a total re-organisation of our attitudes so that such our current way of behaving would simply be cut out of our life.
It’s all very new yearish isn’t it!
This then is what is required of us, to turn away from sin and turn to God, cleansed and renewed by baptism.
On Thursday , I joined in with people from all over the world for the weekly service from Jerusalem. Sabeel, the Palestinian ecumenical pacifist Christian theology group I have been connected with for the last 20 years have a zoom service each Thursday at 4pm Irish time and I have tried, since 7th October (imagine 3 MONTHS ago today!) to be there when I can. Tony Murphy is a regular too.
Each week, the readings for the coming Sunday are discussed , from the perspective of what these Palestinian Christians are going through, and it makes for some tough listening.
Last Thursday was no different.
One of the Sabeel fulltime people, a young man called Samuel, led the reflection.
For the last months, along with many others, I was guilty of assuming that he was only there to help the older Sabeel people manage the Zoom technology…. Boy were we wrong!
He was unbelievable. Such a powerful sermon.
He spoke from his own personal experience of being a young Christian living in the Holy Land, especially for the last three months.
He talked about Baptism, drawing also on Paul’s ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit’ theme in our epistle.
He asked just what is Baptism of the Holy Spirit and connected it with Martyrdom.
Martyr is a word you hear every often at the moment in Gaza and Israel.
To be a Martyr is to be a Witness
The word “martyr” comes originally from the ancient Greek legal term for “witness”, for someone who gives testimony or evidence in a court of law.
Samuel spoke about the fact that he and many young Palestinian Christians are being encouraged to stay put, to be witnesses , to be martyrs, in this land of Jesus’ birth.
One of the group afterwards commended Samuel on remaining in the land, especially as he has half British and could ‘escape’ anytime he wanted to.
Samuel reminded us that the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel we have just heard, was originally written for a martyred church but that is also a living text for all, for the whole community, heroes and villians alike…..
One sentence he said really stuck with me
‘The waters that cleanse you also drown you’
In Baptism , we are meant to die to the old life and be renewed in the kingdom values of Jesus.
Where oppressors will never have the last word, where we are committed to the power of love, not the power of power.
Where we take on the likeness and identify of Christ.
Where we commit to witnessing even if it comes at great cost. Where we have to reject the current thinking, reject colonial racist ideologies and toxic hierarchies
Where we have to work together to dismantle systems of thought that subjugate others…embracing humility, working at listening to others, even those, particularly those, we don’t agree with.
Which brings to mind Dietrich Boenhoffer’s ‘Costly Grace’ and of course he did pay the ultimate price when he was executed by the Nazi Regime days before the end of WWII.
When we are baptised , most of us as babies, ….I was only 5 days old when I was baptized… not that unusual 65 years ago…….
When we were baptised, our parents and Godparents would have spoken for us,
Then when we were confirmed, we took on these promises as our own, we ‘confirmed’ them, although to be fair, I wonder how many of us actually thought THAT much at the time of our confirmations back then?
I do think nowadays the young people think about their confirmations more but back then there was a certain way of just getting it ‘done’ …. Or perhaps you were all far holier than I was then! The only thing I can remember is being terrified of the bishop asking me a question!
But now, like Jesus in our Gospel today, we are all grown up. And as adults we must continue to live up to the promises that were made, by our Godparents on our behalf or by our younger selves.
I’ll just remind you of what the bishop says to the candidates for confirmation…..
He says that ‘In baptism, God calls us from darkness to his marvellous light. To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him’
Then he asks if they reject the devil and all proud rebellion against God?
If they renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
If they repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?
Here then is the commitment , the baptism of the Holy Spirit, what we are all signed up to, to work against evil and sin for the rest of our lives, here we have the responsibility to stand against evil.
After these renouncements, the bishop continues with the positive affirmations….
Asking if they turn to Christ as Saviour, submit to Christ as Lord, come to Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life?
All that is not just for confirmation days you know,
That is what is asked of us all… and not just in January but each and every day
to turn to Christ
and to live each and every day in his Grace… his costly Grace that sometimes asks a heavy price.
The Epiphany 6th January, 2024 St Mary’s
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Today we have moved out of Christmas tide into Epiphany-tide
The word Epiphany itself means a Revelation,
a showing forth
The wise men saw through the dirt and ordinariness of the stable.
They glimpsed the radiance of the Holy Child of Bethlehem.
Faith enabled them to see beyond the straw and animals,
I’ve heard the ‘Faith’ of the Wise Men being spoken of as their fourth Gift to the Baby Jesus.
Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh and Faith.
A wise man once said the original Wise Men didn’t see the star and set out in faith
but that they had set out in faith and this enabled them to see the star……
The word Epiphany means a Revelation and our ordinary daily lives are full of little epiphanies for those who have eyes to see and minds to reflect.
They slip though the cracks of our busy, restless lives and catch us unawares.
A moment of peace
A moment of beauty
We all have the capacity to catch a glimpse of what the Wise Men saw that day.
C.S Lewis puts it beautifully.
He calls it the ‘inconsolable Secret’ in all of us
‘The scent of a flower we have not found
The echo of a tune we have not heard
News from a country we have never yet visited’….
Like the three wise men, people can sometimes travel to far-off places in search of spiritual experiences
But we don’t have to physically travel anywhere.
His star rises before us wherever we are
Because of the coming of Christ,
we need no longer fear the darkness
A light has come into the world
A light that shines in the dark
A light that no darkness can overpower
That’s why I love having the Christingle service AFTER Christmas!
In our lives , there is no one Epiphany
There are lots of little ones…..
God has been gradually revealing himself to us all of our lives.
Through the conviction of our parents
Through the influence of spiritual people who have touched us in some way
Through the piercing insights granted sometimes to us while doing something perfectly ordinary.
In our faith communities….
And through unexpected kindnesses from strangers…..
It’s like looking at a flower in great detail all of a sudden, seeing it in all its glory,
Or really seeing a bird in all its feathery beauty as if for the very first time.
Epiphany – Manifestation or showing forth, something wonderful is revealed…..
Through the discerning eyes of these foreign visitors to a vulnerable baby,
Jesus who is to be the Christ is revealed to all of us,
not just as a Jewish baby for a Jewish Nation
But as a Saviour for the whole world
A Saviour for each and every one of us.
The Magi were searching for Christ.
When they found him, they worshipped him and offered him gifts.
Millions of people have followed in the footsteps of the Magi and have come to Christ.
We count ourselves among them.
Let us open our hearts and minds to encounter Christ anew in this Eucharist today, on the feast of the first Epiphany!