Sermon for 7th Sunday of Easter, Sunday after the Ascension
24th May, 2020
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?
(Helen Morgan who made me lovely Ascension Stole didn’t overlook it ….. but generally we overlook it in our gallop from Easter to Pentecost. The photo is on facebook if you’d like a closer look)
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.
When I lived in Holland, Ascension Thursday was a Bank Holiday,
Hemelvaartsdag (literally Journey to Heaven Day)
everyone got the day off work and most sensible people tried to secure the following day, the Friday, in order to get a looooonnng weekend out of it.
To be honest, at the time, I didn’t feel that there was any spiritual or religious tone to the day off
but when I lived there I wasn’t actively involved in a church so perhaps I can’t really comment on that aspect of Ascension Day in Holland.
But 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.
On Thursday, friends were posting these glorious paintings depicting the Ascension of Jesus, you know, beautiful stained glass windows, the magnificently mosaic-ed church in Timoleague…
And I thought about 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.
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.
I’ll put up the photo along with this sermon on the website afterwards if you want to have a look at it… or you can look at the facebook page.
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.
An old friend 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….
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.
Sunday 17th May 6th Sunday of Easter Rogation Sunday
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,
The 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 in the last 9 weeks…
Real, unconditional love….yet 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 HE is good.
Our very existence is evidence of God’s love.
God’s unconditional love for us is the Good News
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 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, whether we are stuck indoors or not.
Love one another as I have loved you…..
And that’s about it really..
Welcome to all of you to St Mary’s Church in Carrigaline, Co. Cork……
This is our 10th Sunday to livestream from here, well the 9th really as we had that one Sunday when we’d no electricity as a car had ploughed into our Parish Hall, but it is 10 weeks since all this began and now finally tomorrow we will begin to ease up a little on the Lockdown. It’s still going to be a long journey but it’s going in the right direction at least.
Today, the 6th Sunday of Easter, is Rogation Sunday when we offer prayers for God’s blessings on the crops to give a bountiful harvest and thanks and prayers for the labours of those who produce our food.
The word “rogation” is from the Latin rogare, “to ask” and at this unprecedented time, as many of us are queuing to shop for our food or waiting for deliveries to our homes, it is good to remember and pray for those who produce our food, especially our farming communities.
In our parish, I always hand out Sunflower seeds to the children on this day so that they can grow them themselves and then we have a competition to see who has grown the tallest Sunflower. The prize is awarded at Harvest and is hotly contested among our parish families!
This year, I posted out the seeds a couple of weeks ago so hopefully there are lots of little sunflowers growing in your gardens.
I am aware that there are people tuning in from outside the parish and if you would like to grow some Sunflowers and enter our competition- Please do! All I need is a photograph of you and your Sunflower together with the height!
So whether you’re in Dublin, Luxembourg, Holland or Colchester, get planting and watering and you may be the prizewinner at Harvest Thanksgiving!
Before we begin our Service, we’ll say a short prayer for Rogation Sunday :
Remember, Lord, your mercy and loving-kindness towards us.
Bless this good earth, and make it fruitful.
Bless our labour, and give us all things needful for our daily lives.
Bless the homes of this parish and all who live within them.
Bless our common life and our care for our neighbour.
Sunday 10th May, 2020
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!
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. I actually highlighted the words in the Pew Sheet that most of you have received either by email or in the post.
‘I am the way the truth and the life…’
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, Thomas expresses confusion, perhaps confusion felt by the whole group, but anyway he 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 Buddist 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, none more than this moment of time, 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…. At this minute, it might feel very good to go off on a big picnic with friends!
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…
We certainly shouldn’t follow others blindly… wrong at any time but dangerously wrong at this time.
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 may not have had a Pandemic but 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.
Jesus told us
‘I am the way, the truth and the life….no one comes to the Father except through me’
Because everything , through him, is interpreted by love.
and now….because of him,
through him……we too can know the way
Sunday 3rd May, 2020
The Church of Ireland is part of the Anglican Communion of churches
In the Church of Ireland , we have 12 bishops, who watch over us…. Even if it is mainly by Zoom at the minute!
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 from the front.
We want to hear their voices and we want to know them.
In a previous passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us
‘my sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me…..
To hear is to obey.
Not only do his believers hear him, they obey him
He knows them
He has a relationship with them.
He loves them and cares for them,
The flock – the community,
and on our human level we 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.
I have told this story before about an American tourist who was travelling in the Middle East. He came upon several shepherds whose flocks had gotten all mixed up while they were drinking water from a stream.
After chatting for a while with the tourist, one of the shepherds turned towards the sheep and called out ‘Manah, Manah’ which means ‘Follow me’ in Arabic and his sheep left the group and followed after him.
Then one of the two remaining shepherds called out ‘Manah, Manah’ and his sheep also left the common flock and followed him.
The tourist asked the remaining shepherd could he try to get the sheep to follow him.
He put on the shepherd’s cloak and called out ‘Manah, Manah’ but the sheep didn’t even respond.
The tourist asked the shepherd would the sheep ever follow anyone else other than him.
‘Oh yes’, the shepherd replied ‘sometimes a sheep gets
REALLY sick, and then it will follow anyone’
In other words, no sheep in their right mind follows anyone except their own shepherd.
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 told us he was 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, I was in Cashel, Ferns & Ossory diocese, Ossory to be precise… I was based in Kilkenny and the bishop there was Michael Burrows…. You may remember him as the Dean of Cork, which he was until he was made bishop.
Bishop Peter Barret was the bishop when I actually went to Ossory in 2005 but Michael was appointed when Peter stepped down in 2006.
I remember his consecration so well. It was on July 3rd 2006.
I remember the date well 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 leads 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 for sure that this is how our bishop Paul leads … and this has been highlighted in particular in the last couple of months.
He has been such a rock of strength and comfort to all of us, perhaps his clergy in particular.
And I’m not just saying this because my sermons are now available on the Parish website and he could be checking up on me!
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.
Sunday 26th April , 2020
Gospel reading – Luke 24: 13-35
In the name of God ;Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In the post resurrection accounts in the Gospel of Luke, his primary interest is to show that the risen Jesus is the same person the apostles had known prior to the crucifixion.
He makes it clear that the Resurrection is not just a ‘return’ to earthly life – Jesus has risen to a new life beyond death.
It 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…..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…
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
And 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.
The two disciples we hear about today on the road to Emmaus eventually recognise him in the breaking of bread,
We too encounter him in the breaking of bread…..
We say these words in one of our Eucharist prayers
Dying, you destroyed our death
Rising, you restored our life,
Lord Jesus, come in glory.
The Jesus we encounter won’t insulate us from reality
But he will be with us where we are… with us as we stay at home, isolating in this time of pandemic.
He is with us, helping to give meaning and beauty to our socially limited lives
with us especially in any painful or dark places of our lives.
Today, even though we are not together in person, all of this is still meaningful
We can still 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 the good news to others, even if we have to do this by ZOOM!
Again, some words from the post communion prayer of our Eucharist service 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
Sunday 19th April 2020
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Nearing the end of his life with the disciples, Jesus had tried to prepare them for what was to happen, how to continue to be a devoted and confident fellowship of faith when he was gone.
They were supposed to be a community of profound love with the gates wide open and the welcome mat always out,
but in today’s gospel they seem to be barricaded in a house with the doors bolted shut ‘for fear of the jews’.
Actually we all know the feeling …. we’re currently barricaded in our own houses with the doors bolted shut ‘for fear of the virus’
But the Apostles were supposed to be the kind of people who stride boldly into the world to bear fruit in Jesus’ name,
a people full of the Holy Spirit performing even greater works than Jesus himself, for that is what he had told them . (John 14:12),
but here we find them cowering in fear, hoping nobody will find out where they are before they get their alibis straight.
In short, we see here the church at its worst — scared, disheartened and defensive.
This terrified little band huddled in the corner of a room with a chair braced against the door has only one thing going for it:
the risen Christ.
And that of course is the main point of this story.
In the final analysis, this is a story about how the risen Christ pushed open the bolted door,
How the risen Christ still enters our fearful chancels and naves and aisles in all of our churches , our sitting rooms and our kitchens in all our homes,
The risen Christ still enters in and fills the place with his own life.
Thomas , in a way, speaks for all of us.
That person who asks the question that we have all been thinking the question none of us would have been brave enough to ask!
Thomas was sound,
after all his response was rational and logical.
He was a proof-seeker who had put conditions on his belief.
Thomas takes the words right out of our mouths
and gives voice to every doubt and every question that we have about our faith in Christ.
Thomas’ doubt provides us with the opportunity to think about how we come to faith, about the demands we place on believing or not believing.
Most people quietly hope for something tangible that can bolster the confidence they have in their faith.
We know what we believe…. but we still vainly hope for real proof
Over and again we find ourselves wanting more,
more faith for us,
more proof for others….
The evidence of the resurrection of Jesus lies amongst other
things in the behaviour of the disciples in that crucial time.
Immediately after his death, his companions had run away and hid.
Even the favourite and closest apostle Peter, his ‘rock’, was to prove untrustworthy and deny that he even knew Jesus….
but regardless of the less than brave behaviour of the disciples, just a few days later, these same disciples were to be transformed.
The news of Jesus’ resurrection and the evidence from the tomb were just the first amazing things to happen.
Jesus met them in the upper room
He met them on the beach, he ate his bit of broiled fish….
He walked and talked with them on the way to Emmaus (which is actually the Gospel story for next Sunday).
Jesus was there with them, He broke bread with them,
They touched him, he appeared and disappeared in an amazing way.
Intriguingly they didn’t always immediately recognize him
The disciples must not have recognized him initially this particular day, because he identifies himself by showing them his wounded hands and side.
This is a common thread through the resurrection stories:
Jesus appears in the midst of those closest to him, the people who know and love him, but they do not recognize him.
Remember that Mary Magdalene mistook him for the gardener until he calls her by name.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, whom we will hear about next week, do not recognize the risen Christ until the very end of the journey, when they share a meal with him.
Only belatedly do Peter and John realize that the stranger on the shore, directing them to an astonishing catch of fish, is their teacher
And each time Jesus breathes on them,
…… filling them with life and the power of the Holy Spirit
Our experiences of God may be different from those of the disciples
But they are just as valid.
I’ve often said that John never wastes a word….. so what is John’s intention today?
His Gospel reads completely differently from the other three gospels not only because it is twenty or thirty years later than Mark, Matthew or Luke,
but also because John has realised that he is writing to you and me,
He is writing for people who never saw Jesus in the flesh,
never walked with him in Galilee,
never went anywhere near Jerusalem at Festival time,
and for whom the Garden and the Tomb was in another far away place.
So he tells us again and again that Jesus is the eternal truth,
the meaning behind all things, the source guide and goal of all abundant life.
He tells us that the proof of the pudding is in the eating,
the proof of his Resurrection is in the living,
not in trying to keep relying on first hand evidence.
Thomas becomes the vital and dramatic link between the disciples and all who will come to faith in the centuries to come.
A credible witness to generations of skeptics you might say!
The early church leapt into existence when those first disciples realized they had an unbroken ,unbreakable and tangible connection to Jesus Christ.
The life of the church is to be a witness to the resurrection
-evidence to the world that Jesus Christ is alive in the here and now.
The church is God’s sign to the world that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
The early church were enlivened and emboldened by the connection to their risen Lord,
And they lived in their world with such passion and compassion, such love and grace, such generosity and power,
that the only plausible explanation for their life together was the presence and the power of the risen Christ.
Like Thomas , we too are called to exercise great faith
All we have to do is to think about each other,
even while we are stuck indoors,
we can think about each other and recognise in each other the proof of his resurrection.
And like Thomas and the first disciples, we are commissioned to bring that good news to others.
Today , I should have been commissioning the Lay Ministers of the Eucharist for another 3 years in this ministry, but here I am on my own in this church.
I don’t know how long this is going to be the new normal… noone does. …. but I do know that we will get through it, we will emerge on the other side of this corona virus nightmare with our faith intact, ready to burst out of the Upper Room and witness to the world again…..
but in the meantime, we can be with each other spiritually and that will have to do for now.
Easter Day 12th April 2020
In the name of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
‘I have seen the Lord’ ………….
I often say that I envy the apostles and the first disciples.
I always feel that they had such an advantage over all of us later Christians because they were there.
They were actually there….
present at all of the events related to us in the Gospels.
They saw the risen Jesus with their own eyes,
they touched him with their hands.
Therefore, I reason, Faith must have come easier to them,
I am convinced that it would be easier for us if only we could see Jesus for ourselves, as the apostles did,
If only we too could see his miracles, as the first disciples did.
And yes, while the first disciples had the advantage of seeing Jesus with their own eyes, did it actually make faith easier for them?
When they looked at the figure of Jesus,
what did they see?
…..They didn’t see God …. In Jesus they just saw a human being , whom for all intents and purposes was just like themselves.
When you think about it , to go from seeing Jesus in the flesh to believing that he was the Son of God must have been even harder for them!
For they knew him as a man…. They knew his mother! His brothers and sisters….
Do you remember the words in the gospel….
How could this man be performing miracles,
isn’t he from Nazareth?
What good ever came out of Galilee?
The disciples who recognised him as the Son of God required just as enormous act of faith as we do two thousand years on.
Just think of the thousands of people in Palestine
saw him and heard him speak and yet still did not believe in him.
The crowds who shouted for him to be crucified did not see him as the Son of God!
So ….. seeing is not necessarily believing.
The shock caused by his passion and death on the cross was so great that the apostles were slow to believe in the news of the resurrection.
When Jesus appeared to them later on that first Easter evening, in the upper room , he gave out to them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed Mary Magdalene when she told them her story.
So where does that leave us?
Obviously we can’t see Jesus the way the apostles saw him.
We aren’t present with the rest of the disciples in the upper room when Jesus just drops in.
We can’t put our hand in the wounds of Jesus.
We can’t look into his actual face and say ‘My Lord and my God’
We must live by faith, not by sight
We are always going to be disciples at second hand.
And because of this some things are harder
But…….. some things are easier.
Twenty centuries have gone by since Jesus physically walked on this earth.
But on the other hand, he is with us just as strongly now in 2020 as he was with Mary after she discovered that someone had moved the stone.
All disciples have to make the same leap of faith
All of us must become disciples through faith alone.
Jesus said this to the people around him while he was still on this earth.
We don’t have to see signs and miracles in order to believe.
We don’t need to feel the wounds or see the blood
in order to recognise that Jesus is our saviour.
C.S. Lewis once said that belief in God was like belief in the Sun.
‘Not because I can see him, but BY him I can see everything else’
Jesus dying on the cross and rising again changed everything for ever.
As that lovely hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’ puts it , now everything is ‘interpreted by love’
On that Easter day God’s grace entered our lives and
We know that good will triumph over evil
That life will triumph over death
that we will get through this…..
We know this because Jesus is risen!
Sermon 5th April, 2020 Palm Sunday
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Here we are again… I am speaking to you and I can’t see you.
It is only faith that helps me to know that you are out there , somewhere, listening to me and thank you for the lovely emails and texts of support that you have sent me.
In our reading today, Palm Sunday, Jesus’ disciples gathered in Jerusalem openly acknowledge their belief in him. They shout out their loyalty to him.
Hosanna! they cry ….
Now we know that there was fierce opposition to Jesus and his followers from the Priestly class and yet today we are told by Matthew that the disciples … a very large crowd…. still displayed their support in full and open view of all. They spread their cloaks on the road, cut branches from the trees and spread these on the roads too…. Unlike our quiet cities and towns at the minute, Jerusalem would have been packed with people and noisy and bustling.
There are times when a public demonstration is required.
And this was definitely one of those times.
In fact ,it was the only time that Jesus had accepted this kind of hero-worship from the people.
He instinctively knew that his disciples needed to express publicly their belief in him.
We know what is to happen in the following 5 days.
We know that this public display by the crowd was only on the surface, as so many of these mass displays often are
I don’t doubt that they were sincere at the time but like the seed that fell on stony ground, they fell away at the first sign of trouble.
And who are we to judge them?
Its easy to witness to Jesus here in Ireland
and indeed in ‘normal’ times, we gather in churches and are mainly among others who think as we do ….
The real test for us comes when we try to witness to him out in an indifferent and indeed sometimes hostile world
but there, in the wider world, even if others don’t feel the same way about Jesus as we do, we are not being burned at the stake for it!
But sometimes, like the disciples on Palm Sunday,
Sometimes there are times when we need to state our faith in Jesus publicly.
There are times when the occasion demands it.
There are times when God demands it.
When we can’t remain silent when a word needs to be said.
A word of support in defence of someone
when that someone is being treated unfairly.
A word of praise when someone is not being thanked for their contribution and is being forgotten.
A word of truth when lies are being told and we know the truth.
We have to remember that while we profess our faith in Christ now, in our homes,
After this crisis, when we get our lives back , we must not forget him or deny him in the shops, in our work places, in our homes.
We are heading into Holy Week,
The week when we remember the passion of our Lord.
We know what is to happen
We know how the disciples will deny him,
Desert him, not even stay awake in the garden with him.
The first disciples made mistakes,
They misunderstood what was happening and took wrong turns
It’s hard to believe, knowing what we know about how things went on Good Friday …. how few remained true…
but at the beginning of that week, on Palm Sunday, the disciples were still totally strong and bold in their witness to Jesus.
Yes, indeed, there are times when the occasion demands us to be strong and speak out.
There are times when God demands it.
I’ve often repeated that wonderful prayer from Teresa of Avila about ours being the only hands God has on this earth
A couple of years ago I read a wonderful article from a woman preacher in the US called ‘Activate that Love’ and I’ll read a little from it… she said
I believe God’s heart is broken every time we waste planetary resources, every time we do harm to each other, every time we march the zombie death march, every time we cooperate with the death culture. God is striving with us. God is present, whether you just lost your mother to pancreatic cancer or your country just killed people at a wedding party in Yemen. God went to the camps, and God was lynched and shot and tortured.
And still God is loving. It’s not our job to read Isaiah and then go sit at Starbucks and talk about what a sad place the world is.
It is our job to collaborate with each other and activate that love.
In this time of Corona Virus panemic, I strongly echo those sentiments…… We have to activate that love….
Now more than ever, our words and deeds must reflect our faith.
We can no longer remain silent when a word needs to be said.
A word of support in defence of someone when that someone is being treated unfairly….
We have all read of stories of ethnically Chinese people being targetted for the origin of this disease… as if the person walking down the Irish street was somehow culpable! We need to be the person who faces down that kind of racism and bigotry!
A word of praise when someone is not being thanked for their contribution and is being forgotten…. and we can just look at how the front line people are most often forgotten in normal times…. who ever thinks about the retail workers or the sanitary disposal people as being essential …. except when they are!
When things go back to ‘normal’ as we hope they will…. We need to be the people that will remind others of exactly who is important in our world… and it’s not necessarily the highly paid bankers or the international moguls…. But the ordinary people who get up each day and do their very best….
We need to be speaking out publicly when lies are being told and we know the truth……
At at this moment in time, I thank God for our own politicians, whether we voted for them or not, we just have to look across the water to see how lucky we are! … to have a Poet/President at this time.
We have to remember that while we profess our faith in Christ here in church, we can’t forget him or deny him in the shops, in work, in our world.
We are heading into Holy Week,
The week when we remember the passion of our Lord.
We know what is to happen,
We know how the disciples will deny him, desert him, not even stay awake for just one hour in the garden with him.
The first disciples absolutely did make mistakes,
They misunderstood what was happening around them and they did take many wrong turns
But on Palm Sunday even they were strong and bold in their witness to Jesus….. they just lost their way because they were afraid..
May the Lord help us to bear witness to the faith so that our
lives may show what we say with our lips.
On this day when we remember the people who publicly praised Jesus as their Messiah,
– let us not be afraid to let our voices be heard in worship of our Lord of Lords.
May the Lord help us to bear witness to the faith so that our lives may show what we say with our lips.
As we move forward, let us not be afraid.
Sermon 29th March, 2020
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today we have heard a really great story from John’s Gospel. A long story but a great story.
The story opens with the announcement that Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, is ill.
Jesus’ immediate response is to say that this illness will not result in the death of Lazarus but that it will be an occasion for God’s glory to revealed to all and for glory to come to his Son also.
And, though we are told he had a deep love for Lazarus and for his sisters, Jesus stays where he is, in the same place for another two days.
Eventually he announces to his disciples that they were going to go to Judea, the province where Jerusalem and Bethany, the home of Lazarus, were situated.
The disciples immediately react in great alarm.
Jerusalem and its environs is very dangerous for Jesus – and indeed dangerous for all of them.
They want to know, not unreasonably , why Jesus is intending to go back to a place where recently people had wanted to stone him to death.
Jesus’ responds that the daytime is the time for getting things done; when the night comes nothing can be done.
“During the night one stumbles, because there is no light.”
Right now, is, in Jesus’ view, a time of light.
There is a time for doing things and they must be done even if there is risk and danger.
Up to this, we saw that Jesus has avoided unnecessarily provoking those who were hostile to him
(remember he kept saying things like “My time has not yet come” and ‘keep this to yourself’ ) but now the time is fast approaching for the final confrontation.
It can not be avoided.
Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus has fallen asleep and he will go to wake him.
Taking his words totally literally, as they so often did, the disciples at once say that then surely the visit will not be necessary. If Lazarus is only asleep, then he will get well soon.
Forcing Jesus to speak the truth unambiguously:
“Lazarus is dead.”
The disciples were all, quite understandably, very afraid.
Then Thomas the Twin, who always seems to be the one to speak up when others are silent says
“Let us also go, that we may die with him!”
I wonder did he really mean this or was it just a kind of bravado? Certainly if we were unkind, we could ask where was Thomas as Jesus hung on the cross ?
By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had already been dead for four days.
When the news reached the house that Jesus was entering the village,
Martha rushed out to meet him while Mary remained grieving in the house.
They are behaving very much in the character that we know from the gospel narratives :
Martha is the active one, Mary is the contemplative one.
On meeting Jesus
Martha says: “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died.”
She has great faith in Jesus whom she addresses by the post-resurrection title of ‘Lord’. She is aware of his healing powers but does not dare to go beyond that.
Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again…
and then follows a beautiful dialogue which we know so well from our funeral liturgies.
When Jesus says to her that
“I AM the Resurrection and the Life”
This is the core statement of the whole story
….Jesus continues to clarify his meaning by saying:
“Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live , and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’
In saying this Jesus is not only affirming that life goes beyond the grave but also that the life he gives begins here and now for all those who accept and believe.
Telling us that physical death is a transition and not an end.
Martha is asked if she believes this and she responds magnificently: “Yes, Lord! I do believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
So here is the great confession which,
in the Synoptic gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew
is made by Peter in the name of his fellow-disciples,
but here in the Gospel of John this great confession of faith is made by a woman.
We can link it with the revelation that Jesus makes of himself to another woman, the Samaritan woman by the well whose story we heard two Sundays ago.
Martha now goes back to the house and summons her sister Mary with the words.
“The Master is here and is calling for you.”
and Mary now rushes out of the house
her fellow-mourners think she is going to visit the tomb of her brother.
When she sees Jesus she says the same heartbreaking thing her sister had said: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
We now see the very human side of Jesus.
Although he is the Messiah and the Lord of life
he is also human, and is stricken by the death of his friend Lazarus, he is stricken by the grief of his two friends, Martha and Mary.
When he sees them all weeping he himself “was touched and was deeply moved”.
John tells us that Jesus is weeping and is greatly disturbed as he approaches the tomb.
“See how he loved him! ” say some of the bystanders.
There were, of course, the inevitable cynics: “could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Arriving at the tomb, which was a kind of cave built into a rock face, Jesus ordered the stone at the entrance to be removed. Martha, who still does not realise what is going to take place, warns Jesus that the body after four days in that hot climate will already be decomposing and will smell strongly.
Jesus reminds her of her great statement of belief she had just made. “Did I not tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believed?”
Now comes the climactic moment.
Jesus says a prayer of thanks to his Father for what is about to happen which will prove to be an overwhelming sign of God’s presence in Jesus.
With that he ordered Lazarus to come out of the grave.
And Lazarus, still wrapped in the burial clothes and with a cloth covering his face, steps out of the tomb to the astonishment of those standing by.
While they stand there dumbstruck, Jesus tells them, “Unbind him and let him go.”
The result of this, John tells us, is that many of those who had come out to mourn with Martha and Mary, began there and then to believe in Jesus.
The last few weeks have been taking us into totally uncharted waters,
as a faith community, as a country.
It has been a worrying time. Especially for those among us who fall into the ‘vulnerable’ category.
It has forced us to think about what are the important things in our lives.
We have been forced to give up so much and to stop doing what we normally would be filling our lives with….
We have really pared back to the essentials..
We are learning how to remain a community while being physically apart and thank you to all of you who have been checking in on neighbours and other parishioners.
As we approach Holy Week, we have to keep reminding ourselves that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
We have to continue walking together in hope and in the certainty of the presence of Jesus Christ as our companion and our guide.
As we walk with Jesus towards his darkest hour, we know that hope will triumph over fear and that a new dawn will come.
Sermon 22nd March 2020
In the name of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This was probably one of the hardest sermons I have ever had to write.
On the one hand , I have always followed the lectionary in writing my sermons…. I have never used themed Sundays to preach… but always straight from the biblical text,
yes, taking the current situation into account
but not letting it overshadow what scripture is telling us.
Yet, today, things are way way out of the ordinary.
I’m here…. alone in this church
and you ….. (and I really hope and pray that many of you ARE actually watching and listening) …..…. you are at home.
….and no doubt dressed in your Sunday best as always!!
but no-one can check that for sure!
Today , as we always do on the fourth Sunday of Lent, we celebrate Mothering Sunday. But no ordinarty Mothering Sunday, but as the dean of Cloyne entitled it in her prayers which we will hear later, ‘a Quarantined Mothering Sunday’
Mind you, it’s called Mothers’ Day more often than not here in Ireland, although it actually has no connection with the American festival of that name…… Although we all tend to buy the american Hallmark cards!
The history of Mothering Sunday is actually quite interesting,
in our experiences, on most Sundays in the year, churchgoers here in Ireland worship at their nearest parish church.
Centuries ago it was considered important for people to return to their ‘mother’ church at least once a year,
it was by way of a kind of pilgrimage,
Jerusalem as the mother of all cities , was held by the Infidel and therefore totally out of bounds for pilgrimages
and so the local diocesan Cathedral took the spiritual place of Jerusalem. ….You got the same brownie points by going there.
So each year in the middle of Lent, everyone would visit their ‘mother’ church – the main church or Cathedral of the area.
Inevitably the return to the ‘mother’ church became an occasion for family reunions when children who were working away returned home.
(Don’t forget that it was quite common in those days for children to leave home for work once they were ten years old.)
And most historians think that it was this return to the ‘Mother’ church which led to the tradition of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, or as apprentices, being given the day off to visit their mother and family.
As they walked along the country lanes towards home, the young domestic servants or apprentices would pick wild flowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift.
As like most things in life, Motherhood can be a complex issue for a lot of people
- for some, motherhood is an accident, and not always a welcome one;
- for some, biological motherhood isn’t possible;
- for some, mothers weren’t all that nice;
- for some, motherhood under the very best of circumstances is still less than a bed of roses …..
But on Mothering Sunday we are all reminded of our own Mothers.
Male or female, everyone had a mother.
There is no biological alternative ! …..Well at least not yet!
We were all born of woman.
And whether you are still lucky enough to have your mother with you,
or whether she is long past
We all carry our mother with us , as part of the very fabric of who we are.
A mother’s love stands for that part of us which is concerned about safety and security.
After all this is a dangerous world to live in and no matter how old we are, the protective impulses our mothers had for us and instilled in us are with us forever.
This has never seemed more real for me than in the past few weeks.
Today’s gospel with its strong themes of light and darkness is perhaps really resonating with us all in these dark days.
Yet darkness is not a bad thing per se, it is not always evil or negative…
Seeds need darkness to germinate.
Winter comes before Spring.
But in the gospel reading we have just heard, the darkness is clearly a prison for the blind man…
The people surrounding Jesus are all about focusing on the darkness and deciding who to blame for it
Was it the man himself who sinned….
or was it his parents who sinned?
Who was at fault!
Doesn’t this sound familiar?
It reminds me of people who seem to be obsessed with finding out whose fault is COVID-19?
Weak leaders like Trump, who for purely political point scoring and inherent racism, is insisting on calling it the Chinese Virus rather than the Corona Virus!
Jesus didn’t care about who was to blame but is totally focused on bringing light and encouraging them to do the same. “We must do the work of him who sent me while it is day”.
The night that Jesus tells us is coming, when we can no longer work, is of course his own death –
but even though we are still in the middle of Lent we all know how the story goes. We know that the night does come but the sun (Son) rises.
Light is still in the world.
Our job as disciples of Jesus is to share this light.
The blindness Jesus is worried about in today’s reading isn’t just the inability to see when one is surrounded by darkness.
It is the refusal to see by a deliberate turning away from the light……..a deliberate snuffing out of the light so others are also plunged into darkness.
But remember that even in the darkest of nights we can still spot stars in the sky.
In this time of social isolating and the increasing darkness of illness and death for so many around us, it’s even more important that we be a point of light for others,
to try and not be part of that cloud that hides the light from those who are seeking it.
We have to remember that it doesn’t display a lack of trust in God to be careful in these times…
I read a lovely piece about trust and faith on Instagram yesterday , I’ll read it to you…
I trust God… and I wear my seatbelt
I trust God… and I wear a motorcycle helmet
I trust God… and I make sure there are enough lifejackets in my boat for everyone on board
I trust God…. and I use oven mitts to lift really hot dishes
I trust God… and I have smoke detectors in my house
I trust God… and I take my prescribed medication
I trust God… and I will follow all the guidelines to share the task of flattening the cure of this coronavirus,
acting with caution and wisdom does NOT indicate a lack of trust in God.
God is trusting us to reach out ,
emotionally and spiritually if not physically to each other.
This is a time to touch each other’s hearts,
by what we say, what we share,
what we do – and what we do not do –
to protect the lives of all those whom God holds so dear.
Working from this position of love, and of care of ourselves and others,
we will learn to adapt our modes of worship and fellowship to the needs of this extraordinary time of pandemic,
so that we avoid the risk of becoming sources of transmission rather than means of grace.
That’s why we are together today in this way.
Me here in the church and you at home.
Adapt the way you are living ….
pick up that phone and ring others,
use whatever social media you know ,
write letters , write postcards
and just be there for each other.
And in this way , we truly reflect the light of Christ.