SERMON FOR 9TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 9th August 2020
The Gospel today is all about trust….
Jesus said to Peter ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’
He said ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid’
Today, 9th August is Mary Sumner Day…. Hilary has written some lovely prayers in honour of Mary Sumner and we will get to them later.
But as a card carrying member of the Mothers’ Union, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about the organisation and their founder, Mary Sumner, who was a fantastic example of trusting the Lord and stepping out in faith.
I wasn’t always a member….. I only joined when I was around 43/44.
Seventeen years ago, when I was in the Theological College , the head of the Mothers’ Union in Ireland came to speak to us.
Her name was Paddy Wallace, which must have caused many confusions in her life, but her name was indeed Paddy and I’ll never forget her.
She spoke so powerfully about this wonderful organisation that a few of us joined up that evening… men as well as women!
Paddy was very adamant in pointing out that even though it was called the Mothers’ Union it was open for everyone.
Actually when I was putting together this sermon, I was googling her name to make sure I wasn’t mis-remembering and it was indeed Paddy
When I googled her, up pops this letter posted in the Irish Times in 2003, which would have been around the time she came to speak to us Ordinands….
‘Madam’ – remember then that the IT Editor was indeed a Madam! Geraldine Kennedy by name.
Madam, – Michael W. Walker (January 21st), grand secretary of the Freemasons, referred to the Mothers’ Union saying that he believed that our organisation “did not particularly want men as members”.
Just to put the record straight, I would like to point out that the Mothers’ Union does indeed welcome men as members.
There are currently about 1,000 men in these islands who are members of the MU – and that number is growing as people realise the role the MU plays in supporting families worldwide.
Further information about our organisation may be found on the websites www.mothersunion.ie and www.themothersunion.org. – Yours, etc.,
MU All-Ireland President,
She was a powerful woman indeed.
What she told us that day and what I am going to try and tell you today is how one woman, Mary Sumner, back in the 19th Century, began something that has grown into the foremost Women’s Organisation in the world.
Much of what I’m telling you now I’ve learned from the excellent Mothers’ Union website which Paddy referred to in her letter to the Irish Times
It all started when Mary, married to George, who was the Rector of the Parish of Old Alresford, was passionate about transforming the home-lives of Parish families, by helping the women to support one another in raising their children… way ahead of her time, as in Victorian times, the family unit didn’t take kindly to interference from outside.
Her husband was very supportive: “just share your heart – God will do the rest.” …Interestingly her husband George was a relation of William Wilberforce, the anti-Slave politician who did so much in the abolition of the slave trade… Tony Murphy is writing about Abolitionists in the Random Notes today and actually mentions Wilberforce!
Mary was so nervous at the first meeting of the parish women, that she refused to speak, and asked George to take her place.
In those days, it was very unusual for a woman to be a public speaker.
But her husband continued to encourage her to just trust in the Lord and to just speak from the heart.
So she found the courage to speak at future meetings.
Her talks were always inspired by her faith – A faith which was practical and down to earth – “Remember, Ladies, to be yourselves what you would have your children be” is something she would say.
After groups with women became well established, she was asked to speak to the men of the Parish. Again, she was apprehensive, but agreed, and helped them to be more aware of what their wives did for them, to show more respect and love.
The meetings grew, and included women – old and young, rich and poor. Others heard about her work, and started groups in their own areas.
Then in 1876, she founded “the Union of Mothers” – with a membership card and promise: “to be given up, body and soul, to Jesus Christ in Holy Baptism, and that your duty is to train your children for his service”.
In 1885, at a time when it was still unheard of for women to speak to large audiences, Mary Sumner was invited by the Presiding Bishop to speak to a packed church congress session for women in Portsmouth. He anointed her with the authority to speak – he felt that he had no authority to speak to a group of women whose prime concern was to get enough food on the table so that the children would not starve… very much a man before his time too!
Mary had to overcome her nerves again. “Together, by the Grace of God… we can calm each other when we are afraid; strengthen one another when we are weak; and work together to raise our children to the glory of God. Unity is strength”…. Wonderful words.
Wouldn’t that remind you of our Gospel today? ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid’
The movement grew further, increasingly with the support of bishops, internationally as well as in England, all through the Anglican world.
Some key principles were developed, including:
That the prosperity of a nation springs from the family life in its homes
That family life is the greatest institution in the world for the formation of the character of children
That faith is the foundation of family life
That the tone of family life depends upon the lived life of the parents – and ultimately, that lived example is stronger than any thinking.
As the movement continued to grow, Mary Sumner asked herself what its purpose really was, and what it should strive for.
She reflected: “A true home should be a light-house, shedding its quiet beams far and wide” – her dream was for every home to be filled with the light and love of Jesus, and for the movement to unite many hearts in many lands, nurturing healthy environments for little children.
And as talk is cheap, it is so reassuring for us to learn that she was a living example of what she preached.
Mary and the members started to advocate on issues of key importance to families and children – she campaigned to stop children collecting alcohol from public houses for their families, and for the age of marriage for girls to be raised from 12 to 16.
She was not afraid to speak up on difficult issues, despite resistance from members of the establishment. They were political activists!
This is still true of the MU , there are many examples where the members shine a light out and take on causes that are on the edge,
The campaign ‘Thursdays in Black’ being just one example, a campaign that is simple but profound where MU members wear black on Thursdays, together with a pin to declare they are part of the global movement, started by the WCC, to resist attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence. To quietly show respect for women who are resilient in the face of injustice and violence.
Mary Sumner was also not afraid to act outside the social norms, to do what she believed to be right. At a time when unmarried girls with children were condemned and cast out, she cared for and protected her niece and her illegitimate son.
A modest person like Mary Sumner could not have conceived how the seeds which she planted would grow into a movement 4 million strong today, of members in 83 countries putting their faith into action to nurture healthy relationships in families and communities and to fight for social justice.
Mothers’ Union members across the world to this day defy the label of being just another ‘women’s organisation’
supporting projects and campaigns at home and abroad, as varied as knitting to visiting in prisons, from organising holidays for those who could not afford it to literacy and education projects in the developing world, from world wide parenting programmes to local savings and credit groups.
I’m proud to be a member…. And if you would like to know more about the Mothers’ Union, you can just speak to Hilary who is the diocesan president, or to Deirdre Whitely, Hilary Warren-Perry and Valerie Andrew, who together run our parish branch…
And don’t forget what Paddy Wallace told us… it’s open for men and women!
To end, in thinking about the collect for today, it might be said that Mary Sumner, who lived from 1828 to 1921, really trusted in God and let her heart be open to the riches of God’s grace
and the organisation she left behind daily brings forth the fruit of the Spirit, in love and joy and peace.
SERMON FOR 8TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 2nd August 2020
In the name of God, Father , Son & Holy Spirit.
Our Gospel today speaks of a tired Jesus, seeking out a quiet place, where together with his close followers, he could reflect and grieve on the news of John the Baptists death.
The first words in today’s reading were
‘Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew…’
How awful it must have been…
In the previous verses we read of how John’s head had been
‘served up on a platter to the girl, who brought it to her mother’…. Gruesome !
No wonder Jesus needed to withdraw after he heard the awful news John’s disciples had brought him.
But Matthew tells us that the crowds followed him.
And tired as Jesus was, as anxious as he was for quiet, for personal space, he still had compassion on them and healed their sick.
And now it was evening, and the crowd were still there with them….hungry and needy and still there – and Jesus continued to have compassion for them!
He urged his disciples to share in the hunger of the people, to be involved in their need, to commit themselves to doing something , and thereby enabled a miracle of compassion to take place….
All were fed.
After decades of steady decline, world hunger has slowly been on the rise since 2015.
From a report issued last year, an estimated 821 million people in the world suffered from hunger in 2018.
If nothing changes, the report says that the immense challenge of achieving the Zero Hunger Target by 2030 will not now be achieved.
This is the 2nd Sustainable Development Goal (SDG),
to end world hunger. The first goal is to end Poverty.
You probably know about the SDGs ?
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States, including us, in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.
At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership.
There are 17 goals because they recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.
Every year, around 9 million people die of hunger, according to the international relief agency Mercy Corps in May of this year. That’s more than the death toll of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
I read the other day that Covid-19 is taking its toll on the world’s poorest and youngest, who are left least protected again.
The UN now reports that hunger is killing 10,000 children MORE a month than before the virus took hold.
The U.N.’s humanitarian chief has warned that without global cooperation and financial assistance, the number of people dying from hunger or hunger-related diseases could double this year due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic
We ask the difficult question,
why would a loving God allow such hunger in the world
and the answer is quite simple –
We don’t know.
Another, perhaps easier question to ask is why do WE allow such hunger in the world?
but again the answer is the same,
We don’t know.
I’m sure that there is not one of us here today that hasn’t been moved by the horrific images of hunger that flash across our television screens or pop up in our social media feeds.
We cringe from the images of starving children with distended bellies and sometimes if we can, we ring up the help lines and give a little.
We know its not enough but its all we can do…..isn’t it?
But our Christian response to Poverty and Hunger, based on the gospel imperative, must suggest radical transformation.
The UN and most NGOs (Non Governmental Organisations) feel, rightly, that we need urgent policy changes across many critical yet linked areas, like Trade, Debt & Aid.
They feel that if we make our voices heard loud and strong to world leaders, we can make change happen.
Like the throng surrounding Jesus in today’s Gospel,
We can’t send people in need away from our minds and our consciences … we must ourselves do something.
Someone said during the week that
‘Charity and Government aid begins – but should never end – at home’
Jesus said ‘They need not go away – you give them something to eat’
Certainly if you can afford to send money to one of the agencies helping alleviate crises in the world …. do
But we can also help by keeping an eye on what is happening politically and letting our political representatives know how we feel about the obscenity of people dying of hunger ….in a world full of plenty.
World poverty is sustained not by chance, or nature
but by a combination of factors, like injustice in Global Trade, huge burdens of Debt and insufficient and ineffective Aid.
All of these factors are made worse by inappropriate economic policies imposed by rich countries…..
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
These factors are determined by human decisions..
We need to make sure that we have our say…
We need to have input into those decisions being made by governments on our behalf.
Give what you can for sure
But as well as that, we need to educate ourselves as to why these divides in society exist and then get in touch with our politicians…..make our voices heard, make sure that we stick to our commitments and promises to the Sustainable Developments Goals.
We can lobby our local TDs, our Government, our very local Taoiseach (!) , our President…..writing to them, emailing them, ringing them.
Pandemic notwithstanding , we know that we still have the resources, knowledge and technology to end this human tragedy of people starving in a world of plenty
In today’s Gospel, Jesus said to his disciples ‘They need not go away…..you give them something to eat’.
He told his disciples to share the hunger of the people, and then a miracle of compassion took place.
So lets ask ourselves that difficult question again….
why would a loving God allow such hunger in the world?.
There is a story about a man who prayed to God in anger…
‘Why do you allow this hunger, Lord, if you are kind and full of compassion? ‘When are you going to do something about it?’
and the story goes that God listened to him
and because the man’s anger in prayer was sincere and full of concern, God answered him saying
‘But I am doing something…..didn’t I send you!’
And it’s true, you know, he sent each one of us. We are needed to offer up our basket of two fishes and five loaves..
This pandemic has underlined how connected we all are in this world, and has highlighted our common experiences.
I’m sure you all know that story about the difference between being involved and committed?
….In looking at a breakfast of Rashers & Eggs, we see that while the Chicken is involved, the Pig is committed…..
As well as being involved in the suffering of others, we need to be committed to change the existing broken way of doing things that allows people to starve if we really want another miracle of compassion to take place. Amen.
SERMON FOR 7TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 26th July 2020
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For the last two weeks I have spoken about Jesus’ parables and stories and I did think that we might have said all there is to be said about that particular aspect of the Gospels but then can you believe that this week the Gospel has no less than five parables in it! Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a Mustard Seed, to yeast, to a treasure hidden in a field, to fine pearls and to a fishing net!
It reminds me of the time when my training rector, the dean in Kilkenny , was trying to give me good advice about preaching. He said to me that I was always going on about love and that maybe next week I could focus on a different aspect of the gospel when I was preparing my sermon. No problem, said I.
Then when I read the assigned Gospel reading for the following week from John 14 , the following verse jumped out at me
21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.
I took this to be a sign… and I have been preaching unashamedly about love ever since!
Today , I feel it is a little bit the same about the parables…. I thought I was done talking about them but God had other ideas!
But for me, the most enduring images from the five parables we just heard is the idea of how the Kingdom of God can be compared to a mustard seed.
Matthew also speaks of the end times judgement and the usual gnashing of teeth & wailing but we have to remember that this is what Matthew often focused on and that his community was a tiny one under siege and he was speaking to them….
What Jesus is trying to do is explain to his disciples exactly what is to come, how the community can and will build itself up from this smallest of beginnings, and also of the value of seemingly insignificant things in our lives.
And as usual he is attempting to explain the kingdom of God, the brave new world, by trying to equate it to something that they would understand. Something in their own life experience.
Like 2 weeks ago, when Jesus had spoken about the seed being scattered on rocky soil and on good soil, or last week when we heard about weeds growing among the good wheat.
And in talking about Mustard Seeds, yeast, treasure hidden in a field, fine pearls and a fishing net Jesus is warning us about how we can overlook simple things or indeed how we can underestimate the power and potential of little beginnings.
He is trying to reassure his listeners about what is to come. He knows how overawed they are going to be when he returns to his father and they are left alone to witness to the Good News.
So he uses the example of a something that would have been well known to his listeners, the mustard tree, a common enough sight in Palestine.
They would have all known about the unimpressive mustard seed, apparently it is smaller than even a poppy seed!, those tiny little black seeds that get stuck in-between your teeth!
and yet they also would have known that from these seeds, there grew something capable of growing into a tree impressive enough to provide shelter for birds and other animals in the hot Middle Eastern sun.
When I was putting up the facebook post about today’s service, I googled photos of a Mustard Tree and it really does look remarkable in the backdrop of the stony barren middle eastern landscape. The shadow on the hot ground where shelter can be found is very striking. Look up the post on facebook if you want!
Always the master storyteller, in this simple image, Jesus invites us to think about Gods word as being like a mustard seed,
He assures us that we can be confident that once this seed is sown, in whatever ground, no matter how small and insignificant it is now, it will grow…..
God’s word will grow into a kingdom embracing all peoples of the world.
For us as disciples, this image is very encouraging, regardless of how small and insignificant we feel in the greater scheme of things, with this image of the small mustard seed, we are encouraged to continue Jesus’ preaching and teaching of this word or seed of the Gospel of God’s Kingdom.
I have often spoken about how with the grace of God, we serve and witness in each place that we find ourselves.
We may think that what we are about is peanuts in the scheme of things but our seemingly insignificant actions can have true repercussions both for good and unfortunately also for evil.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we can do nothing , or do very little, to change things.
But we are all called to be witnesses wherever we are,
We shouldn’t underestimate what we do as a community….. what one simple action, one small mustard seed – together with the power of God – can do.
The disciples listening to Jesus that day would have felt so inconsequential, so powerless,
their community was only a small community,
the world would have seemed so big,
What difference could they possible make?
Well we know what difference it has made to the last 2000 years.
They, as a tiny community, would learn that He who helps us to take those first small mustard-seed steps remains with us, guiding us, helping us to grow those seeds of faith into a tree big enough for others to take shelter under.
Each small community and each tiny beginning adds to the Kingdom until eventually His ‘Kingdom will come’ His ‘Will be done’ ‘On earth as it is in Heaven’ – the brave new world!.
This is what Community is about, achieving more together than we can apart. Synergy in Management Guru Speak….
Obviously we have a relationship with God individually but there is some almost indefinable way that community mediates the presence of God in a way that doesn’t happen individualistically.
When the community is gathered in prayer, there is a different quality to God’s presence that speaks to people who then in turn go out and speak about God.
I read, and shared , during the week a quote from Karl Barth (it was actually shared by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby , whom I follow on twitter , along with 152k others I might add!
Anyway, Karl Barth, that marvellous Swiss German theologian, said ‘to clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world’
Barth knew what he was talking about too, being a leading opponent to Nazism….. not an easy thing to be although he did survive unlike Bonhoeffer…. Actually it was Deitrich Bonhoeffer who said ‘Your life as a Christian should make non-believers question their disbelief in God’
Barth and Bonhoeffer understood that Christianity was hijacked in Nazi Germany, the horrors they perpetrated hiding behind a veneer of Christianity.
And Christianity is being hijacked again , now in Trump’s America, Fascism hiding behind the veneer…..
That our Triune God wants our church communities to be real and actual communities we can have no doubt.
The night before he died, Jesus prayed that we would all be one, even as he is one with the Father.
The Apostle Paul frequently reminded us that the same Spirit gives us all our diverse gifts, that we are all individual members but of the same body, the body of Christ.
When we accept that God is at work to make us one, we can relax into the process – knowing that it does not depend upon us alone.
All we are required to do in order to build community is respond to the grace of a unifying God.
This is where our liturgy comes in, the people in responding to God’s grace by participating in the common worship, are enabled to speak out beyond the walls of the church…..perhaps this sounds hard to do at this moment but the consistency of our worship as a constant in a changing and volatile world . It can provide a lifeline to people who struggle, to those who wander into our churches from the busy street of their chaotic life.
And during the lockdown, when the churches weren’t open, people still wandered in…. they wandered into our live streamed and recorded services.
We humans are resilient…..
The seasons of the Liturgy bring us gently through the year, through fallow and fertile times, hectic and quiet times, high holy days and quiet reflective days.
We worshiped together apart during the fallow time of lockdown but we remained a worshipping community, our services and liturgies binding people of all ages together, sending them out to reflect the light of God’s glory in the wider community, socially distanced of course!.
In our Anglican worship, we are used to balancing the sacred texts with visual liturgical language when we use symbols in worship and our pastoral rites.
We know this is not empty symbolism but is full of meaning, containing layers of meaning, each layer disclosing a different order of reality and experience.
During the lockdown, we used many ways of being together.
Our liturgies took many forms…..We left out flowers for Passer-by’s on Mothering Sunday, We put Palm crosses on our church gates for people to take away and use as an aid to prayer during Holy Week , We left on all of our church lights, throughout the diocese, to blaze through the night to mark the Easter Vigil, We tied up hundreds of red balloons for people to take back to their homes to mark Pentecost…. The children had Sunday School delivered to them by the Postman…. People cocooned had their Pew Sheets posted….. not to mention Zoom services and bible studies….
All simple things, all seemingly small things, just like the mustard seed…. All acts of worship, all small things but all these things keep our community together.
Our community is really about how each person has grown in their connection to God and how that, in turn, has made a difference to the quality of the entire community.
The many connections forming strands that together make the whole community stronger.
My hope is that each participating individual in our parish community, whether they are sitting in this church, or joining in online, or even reading this sermon on the website, my hope is that each one of you feels more connected to God and more a part of a vibrant and committed community through the rich tapestry of our shared and ordered worship.
My hope is that each one of you becomes more aware of the love of God because of the love you may receive and that you may give in this community.
This is, I believe, the tiny seed from which God’s Kingdom grows
SERMON FOR 6TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 19th July 2020
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Last week I spoke a little about the way Jesus used parables or stories, some of these are so well known that we recognise them immediately … the prodigal son, the Samaritan, the Mustard seed, the Widow’s mite, and today is no exception, it is the well known story of the weeds among the wheat… or in the older translations the ‘tares among the wheat’
Jesus , the master storyteller, who shaped these parables into rich spiritual food for our limited human minds.
Trying to help us to understand what the Kingdom of God was to be… a glimpse of what the mind of God is really like ….
He wanted us to understand concepts that were way beyond our world as we knew it so he used these everyday situations as a springboard to try and explain the inexplicable.
The Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor speaks of parables as not being direct answers to direct questions that we all have and want answered in black and white but rather, she says, they deliver
“their meaning in images that talk more to our hearts than to our heads.
Parables are mysterious… Left alone, they teach us something different every time we hear them, speaking across great distances of time and place and understanding.”
Think about how we understood these stories as children!
So these Parables about farmers and soil and crops are also mysterious as well as down to earth examples!
Like I said last week, just as soon as we think we “know” what a parable means, we’re probably wrong!.
And when we’re made uncomfortable by the challenge of a parable… then we’re probably getting a little closer to the heart of its meaning …and certainly this seems to be what Jesus intended….
Today’s gospel parable began with the words…’He put before them another Parable – The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field’ which is really a direct continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel when we talked about the rocky soil, sandy soil, good soil etc..
As I said last week, Jesus, in his parables, was careful to use situations that his audience could identify with. The listeners would have immediately understood what he was talking about.
They were people of the land and Jesus was telling them a story that they could totally identify with.
In Palestine, there was a common weed called a ‘bearded darnel’ , which was so like the normal wheat that not even farmers could easily tell one apart from the other. When you google DARNEL, it’s called ‘Wheat’s evil twin’!
Even if the farmer identified it as a weed, the roots of it were often so intertwined that to pull one of the weeds out endangered the good plants.
The only thing that could happen was to let the weeds grow alongside the good plants and then separate laboriously by hand
but in the end, they did have to be separated as the bitter grain of the weed was actually poisonous, leading to dizziness and sickness. When people eat its seeds, they get dizzy, off-balance and nauseous, and its official name, L. temulentum, comes from a Latin word for “drunk.”
Listening to Jesus’s story, they were probably amazed at the idea of anyone so evil that they would deliberately sow bad seed in a good field.
Jesus was trying to warn them that there was a hostile power in the world, that would seek to destroy the good seed.
Part of the teaching of this parable is that there really is two different kinds of influence in the world.
One influence that can help the good seed to flourish and grow
And a diametrically opposed influence that would destroy the good seed, to wither it before it can grow.
But life is never simple….
Things are not always as they seem.
We really can’t tell what is in any person’s heart.
In the 16th Century, the English Queen Elizabeth I famously said something similar to this.
At that time, when Anglicanism as a denomination was defining itself, Religious extremists on both sides of the Reformation debate were trying to push the Crown in different directions,
Trying to force the Queen to damn those who they felt were in error… and remember at that time, if you didn’t toe the Government line on religion, you stood to lose your lands, your rights and often your head!
In response to these pressures from both the extreme Puritan and the extreme Roman Catholic strains of Christianity, Queen Elizabeth I famously said that only God can see through the window of a person’s soul.
A person can appear to be good and yet turn out to be a bad influence
while a seemingly bad person now can turn out to be good in the long run.
Walter Wink , a marvelous American Theologian, who died back in 2012 wrote that
Evil is not our essence…God intended us for better things.
And I couldn’t agree more….
How could evil be totally eradicated anyway?
If God destroyed anything that was any way evil in its essence at the stroke of midnight tonight, how many of us would be left standing?
Just as the world is an ambiguous, mixed up place,
so we ourselves are mixtures of the good and the bad.
Even in our own church community, we have varying degrees of good and bad influences…..
It shouldn’t be news to any of us that we have sinners in our midst! …. Sometimes it’s us!
Think of all those stories of Jesus eating with sinners,
or his words about not judging one another:
We may be a religious community working toward perfection and purity .. but we still don’t get to judge others!
The Pharisees and Legalists of Jesus time would have considered Jesus to be a weed in their particularly pure wheat field!
The idea of the field of good & bad seed is referring to us all ,
We are not a community of the elect.
We are a mixed body of the righteous and the unrighteous,
Weeds and wheat all growing together.
I have said before that quote about our community
being intended as a hospital for sinners
not a mausoleum for saints!
We are a hospital for Sinners…….
All of us stand under the mercy of God.
It’s true that in the end we will all be judged
but we will be judged by God and not by each other.
For it is God alone who can discern the good from the bad,
the wheat from the weed.
God alone will look at us …. and at our entire lives …
and judge us.
In this parable today we are being warned not to judge others
while at the same time we are given fair warning that we will all be judged in the end
BUT by the only judge who really and truly knows all the facts and circumstances of our lives.
The harvest time is still in the future,
and for now there is still that mixed bag of good and bad in Christ’s kingdom.
But there is hope in the parable too, for both wheat and weeds.
In fact I think that Jesus told this story particularly so that the weeds would have a chance to hear his good news….
The good news that the kingdom is among us,
the ‘Bright new World’ in the translation I used last week….
The kingdom of God is still growing and advancing.
And may we all, with God’s grace,
hold off on judging others in the meantime!
SERMON FOR 5TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 12th July 2020
In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit.
In our gospel reading this morning,
we heard Jesus’ well known ‘Parable of the Sower’,
although it could equally be called the ‘Parable of the Soils…. Good, Bad and Indifferent’.
Jesus says ‘Let anyone with ears listen!’
So in order to be sure that we are listening , really using our ears, lets listen again to the reading.
We’ll listen to the parable again and see what we hear.
But this time , I’d like to read to you Matthew’s words in a wonderful translation by John Henson.
Henson’s translation of the New Testament is called ‘Good as New’….. which just about says it all really!
The subtitle is a ‘ A Radical retelling of the Scriptures’
and his aim is to warn people that NO translation or paraphrase is any more than somebody’s intelligent, scholarly, inspired and one can hope, honest guess.
He is also adamant that we must assume a common humanity between the first writers and readers and ourselves, otherwise we may as well give up from the start!
At the time of this book’s publication, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams said ,
‘John’s presentation of the Christian gospel is of extraordinary power simply because it is close to the prose and poetry of ordinary life. ‘the Gospel tells us that Jesus’ un-professional and un-religious audiences heard him gladly;
if they are to hear him gladly today, they will need something like John’s renderings for this to be plausible…..’
So lets listen again and we’ll see if it’s more plausible…
Later on in the day, Jesus left his lodgings and went to sit on the beach. He was mobbed by so many admirers, the only way he could get space for himself was to get into a boat.
Then from the boat he spoke to the crowd on the beach. Jesus taught them many things by means of stories.
This is how he began ‘Listen , a farmer went out to sow his field. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the path and the birds swooped down and ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky ground and the shoots sprang up quickly as there wasn’t enough soil for the plants to take root. When the sun came up they withered away. Some seed fell among the thistles. When the thistles grew the plants were choked. Other seeds fell into the good soil and yielded a fine crop of grain, thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times what the farmer sowed. If you’ve got ears, use them!
Later Jesus’ friends asked him ‘why do you speak to the people in riddles?’ Jesus said ‘ My stories may sound like riddles to them, but you should realize they’re clues to the meaning of the bright new world.
Those who use their imagination will open up to wider experience, whereas those who don’t exercise their minds will become more and more ignorant.
I use stories as a test.
Some people, it’s true, don’t get the point.
They’re like the people in the old book who look without seeing and listen without hearing. They refuse to put their senses and their imagination to good use in case they have a change of heart and let God make them better people. You’re lucky. You’ve had a grandstand view!
Many of God’s speakers and other good people in the past would have given anything to have your advantages’
So there you are…a radical retelling of a seemingly simple story about Soil, Good, bad or indifferent.
Like the listeners in 1st Century Palestine, we are left thinking ‘what does it mean?’
We know that Jesus liked people to work things out for themselves.
He didn’t seem to like to be too obvious.
Its like when someone asked a famous abstract painter,
I think it was Picasso but I’m not sure,
Anyway, someone asked him about his painting
‘but what is it?’
The painter answered
‘If I tell you, that’s all you will ever see’
Jesus used Parables to devastating effect.
They always seem so simple on first hearing but I know that if I interpret the parables so that there is nothing surprising or even shocking about it ,
then I must be missing something and it’s time to go back and read it again.
Jesus’ parables are a little like those oriental riddles like ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’
The point of those riddles isn’t that there is a correct answer that jumps immediately into your mind
but that the riddle helps you to transcend your normal way of thinking and see things anew.
Jesus’ parables work a bit like that,
They usually end in a shocking reversal of his listener’s expectations
or at the very least they dislocate us from what is comfortable
not just for the sake of making us uneasy but in order to free us to understand a different way of being…..
the kingdom of heaven within us
or as our translation called it ‘The Bright New World’.
This story of the Sower today seems extravagant and foolish.
Its not surprising that most of the seed doesn’t grow.
What is surprising is that the farmer chose to sow it there.
He seems to be just flinging it around on any old kind of soil….. Jesus wasn’t talking about a rich farmer, his listeners would know that this was a poor farmer , a tenant farmer who can only eke out a living for himself and his family by making wise choices about where to sow,
And even then has to rely on good weather and a great deal of luck.
Plus good seed is hard to come by,
So a wise farmer would have first chosen what kind of land to ensure that the precious grain he was planting had the best of soil.
But our farmer in today’s Gospel just flings seed around as if he’s standing in the car park of a shopping centre,
where the crows and pigeons will eat it ….
that’s if the hundreds of feet and car tyres don’t grind it into the concrete first.
Put simply, this farmer behaves as though the seed which was precious was available in unlimited supply…..
And we ask why?
Jesus is telling us that it is because God blesses a farmer like this ….
God blesses this foolish farmer who, in a world of scarcity,
casts his seed on soil everyone knows is worthless
and is blessed by God in shocking abundance.
Jesus’ parables are filled with stories about this kind of prodigious waste,
extravagant kindness and exuberant generosity.
Just think of the overly generous character of the embracing father in the story of the prodigal son,
how alike the father is to the extravagant farmer who sows seed all over the place.
He can do it joyfully because he knows that there will be some harvest from those seeds.
Jesus is teaching us that this is the nature of God.
Usually we hear this story of the seed and think of it as challenging US to be better prepared to receive the seed of the Gospel.
We hear it as a reminder that WE should cultivate our soil by learning, study and prayer
but how many of us actually meet that ideal?
And so we are left feeling like bad unreceptive soil……
We are living in a world of increasing unrest.
A pandemic, spreading now to really vulnerable people in refugee camps.
Right wing leaders popping up like they did back in the 1930s…. poised to take advantage of the economic uncertainties after we hopefully find a vaccine for Covid-19
How are we as faithful people to respond?
Rather than taking a meaning from the parable which berates US for not hearing the word of God correctly,
Perhaps the parable today can also be understood as being all about God’s abundance, generosity, openhandedness and not just our receptivness.
The Parable or Story reminding us that our Generous, Abundant God is our sanctuary
That God has promised to walk with us and uplift us in times of trouble…. This is a part of what Jesus is teaching us about God’s nature in this parable.
Because sometimes God seems far away,
And it is easy to lose or bury the seed within us.
But thankfully it’s not up to us.
This seed is God’s word, God’s gift.
It will fall where it will, thrown by the extravagant farmer …..but it will never fall in vain.
The good news of God’s love survives in the midst of chaos or dark days.
The good news of God’s love continues unchanging throughout the ages.
God’s love , that single seed of love that is planted in each of us, is a continued promise.
God’s love as a seed may fall when we are not ready,
when we are not receptive
but it grows whether we are ready or not
Plants are the most potent, powerful, resilient reminders of God’s creation……
Just think about how they spring up through every tiny crack in the path or even in the wall!
Think about what has grown out in the pavements during the last few months…..
WE are the soil where the abundant seed flung around willy nilly, finally takes root and grows and produces in us a plentiful harvest…..
and we can give this gift of hope to others.
By the way we live our lives, we pass on the seed,
The knowledge of God’s abundant extravagant exuberant Grace.
SERMON FOR 4TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 5th July 2020
In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit.
Well, here we are
(St Mary’s….not quite in the pulpit because of the view of the camera but nearly there..)
(St John’s …. back in the Pulpit!)
This is the first time that I have preached to a live congregation since 15th March……
It’d better be good!
It’s all about perceptions today….
The gospel tells us that Jesus had to remind the crowd that there were some people who were so anti everything that they even thought John the Baptist was possessed with a demon,
yet John, perhaps above all in Palestine of that time, lived a life of denial and simplicity…..
In their eyes, nobody’s behaviour or life was good enough….
You were damned if you did and damned if you didn’t!
John lived such a simple life that something must be wrong with him….
Jesus lives a more ordinary life, eating and drinking what others eat and drank and so he wasn’t good enough either……
they condemned him as a glutton and drunkard!
You just couldn’t get it right for some people!
We know, of course, that far from being a glutton and a drunkard, Jesus’ life was the one to emulate…
He lived in the world and for the world
He saw sin for what it was. the systemic sin, the sin that is in our institutions.
Jesus spent his life overturning injustices and trying to expose the many ways that society’s attitudes and laws actually reflected sinfulness, Sin was not just simply whether you as an individual lived as an asthete or as a bon vivant!
He spent his life hammering home the truth that the only really important thing was to love God and to actively love our neighbour… and don’t forget the story he told of the Good Samaritan…..our neighbour was everyone we meet! Not just the people we know and like….
Jesus importantly demonstrated that sin could come from twisting a good law to cause loss of humanity and life… Sabbath was a good thing in itself and yet, remember the outcry from ‘good society’ when Jesus healed the man’s withered hand on the Sabbath?
He told us that the Sabbath was made for the Man and not the other way around…..
Human need would also top the strictures of a given society.
Jesus knew that his listeners were weary with carrying the burden of a set of laws that they could never keep….
They were always going to be losers in that impossible battle, they were always going to be sinners , in their eyes.
We often hear that most human of apostles, Paul, crying out with desperation with his human limitations and propensity for sin
(the bit ‘I do what I don’t want to do and don’t do what I know I should do’… & we just said in our confession ‘by what we have done and by what we have failed to do’) but Paul then writes that he is calmed when he remembers and accepts that personal sin is defeated by God through our life in and with Jesus as our companion. In one of his letters to the Roman community Paul said ‘Who will rescue me from this body of death?….Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’
Jesus does not tell us that it is an easy thing to be free of sin and follow him.
In fact, he constantly tells us that there is a cost.
The cost may even come from the place we have trusted and have pledged our loyalty.
Remember the disturbing words from our Gospel just two weeks ago?
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother….and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
But importantly Jesus was saying to us was that sin cannot exist when we abide in Christ and Christ in us.
This is what Paul realised ….. He knows that sin is defeated by God through our life in and with Jesus as our companion.
As we say in our Holy Communion service
Through him, with him, in him, in unity with the Holy Spirit……
The Gospel words challenges us and also the words assure us.
They hint at the profound simplicity of a life in Christ,
But they also serve as a mirror for us to examine our understanding of who we are along with how we are living.
Our deepest desire is to love God and to love our neighbour.
It is when we do not love God and our neighbour,
That we find ourselves in sin….and we suffer….
We have to put our trust in Jesus
In our Gospel reading, Jesus gave us those familiar and most reassuring words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Now we all know that a ’yoke’ is traditionally a thing around the neck of a shackled animal, a so-called ‘beast of burden’,
an oxen or horse who is being compelled to do what is not in his nature… namely ploughing a field.
The Yoke is a burden for the animal and so it is really clever of Jesus to use the image of a Yoke here.
He is saying that yes, we must take on this yoke if we are to be his…. But this is no ordinary yoke, Jesus’ yoke is easy to bear because he is ‘Gentle and humble in heart’…
And we will find rest for our souls…..
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild….. ….Gentleness is such an undervalued thing…
There is a belief that if you want to get on in life, you have to be hard, canny, nobody’s fool,
Because if you are gentle, people will walk all over you.
Gentleness is always viewed as being the same as being weak and passive…. Hence the ‘meek and mild’ tag onto the end of the ‘Gentle Jesus’
And yet Gentleness is not a form of weakness, it’s a form of strength,
It takes a strong , self-confident person to be gentle.
A gentle person knows that healing and growth results from nurturing not forcing.
The lust for power is rooted in weakness rather than strength,
only the weak measure their worth by the number of people they can dominate….We just have to look at the shambles across the Pond to see the truth in this!
Jesus’ approach was gentle for sure.
He didn’t force himself on people.
He didn’t try to control them or to impose his will on them.
He respected their freedom.
The people with the greatest influence over others will have no need to control those they influence.
All truly great leaders throughout history have understood this.
Jesus understands how hard our lives are.
He knew first-hand the struggles, difficulties and frustrations that ordinary people have to endure in our lives.
AND he understands how we have to fight daily against our natures…
They are such comforting words…..
Come to me, take my yoke, learn from me; I am gentle, humble in heart; you will find rest for your souls.
We come to God through Jesus.
When we willingly take on the yoke of discipleship.
We learn from Jesus.
How to be gentle, humble in heart and be at peace
Peace not just with others
But peace with ourselves and our own inner struggles,
the peace that seems to elude us until we realise that it isn’t
within our own power to attain it but only with the grace of God.
SERMON FOR 3RD SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 28th June 2020
In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit
Now did you hear the gospel reading…..
Today it was all about hospitality…..
Jesus said to the disciples,
‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me
and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’
Jesus was talking about hospitality… pure & simple….
what does it really mean to welcome everyone?
If we are honest,
there are times when we might not want to welcome someone
Maybe we just might not like them…
or we are tired,
or we have put ourselves out too much and feel that we have been taken advantage of….
Many reasons why we might not feel particularly hospitable.
But perhaps we should remember….
weren’t there times when we mightn’t have felt welcome ourselves? …
we might think about how it felt bad when we were not included?
Jesus seemed to welcome everyone….
He welcomed everyone, friend and foe.
And he wants us to take on this type of hospitality
To join with him in his story,
For this is what he means when he says ‘ his Kingdom come’
His kingdom is where all are welcome,
where trouble shouldn’t arise because all will feel included.
The disciples of Jesus are listening closely at this stage.
They have been learning so much from their master,
lots of things.
They know that soon they will be called on to go out and witness for Jesus, to witness in his name.
Jesus reassures them that when other people welcome them , when other people say to them: “come on in!”
that he, Jesus will be there too.
Even when is not physically with them, he will be spiritually with them.
And he reminds them that any good they do for others,
they do for him and for the one who sent him.
As we prepare to open up our churches again next Sunday,
I admit that I am worried about the message we will be sending out by demanding to know who will be at what service.
You will have already read in the weekly email and in the pewsheet that we need to know if you will intend coming
to the 9am or the 10am or the 11am service?
Some of you have been very efficient and have already gotten in touch to let me know …and I have set up a wonderful clipboard with lists on it…. Very efficient…..
But what will I do on Sundays if more than 40 people turn up when we are only allowed to have 40 people in this church? Or 25 in St John’s!
What kind of a welcoming message is there going to be if we have to turn away people from our door?
What kind of an open and welcoming community are we then?
I know that Jesus was talking about welcoming him into your heart rather than into a building but for many of us the churches have become synonymous with God.
It is where we go when we want to be with God, for many of us, we feel God’s presence most strongly when we meet in community.
This feeling is particularly strong as we haven’t met together as a congregation since early March… and we miss each other!
So what is going to happen now, in our brave new world, when we have to have only a certain number of people allowed in through our doors for any given service?
I am worrying needlessly perhaps as most of you are being very understanding about the way we will have to conduct ourselves in order to stay safe.
Please do read all of the emails and notices over the coming week and please do let me know if you plan on being here in person next Sunday…..
Don’t forget that if you feel even a slightest bit ill, or if you are still minding yourself by cocooning …. Remember that we will still be live streaming the service at 11am so you can tune in then just as you are now!
Above all, remember that God’s welcome is not dependent on any human endeavour…..
God is not the less for any human error or misjudgement that may occur in the coming months as we get used to being together again.
Just remember that God is there, waiting for you, regardless of whether you set foot inside a church or not.
I know that like me, you enjoy our gathering together ,
to praise God as a caring and faithful community ,
but you know, we just have to get on with things as they are.
But we do it with God’s help….Amen!
SERMON FOR SECOND SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 21st JUNE 2020
In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit…
That’s what this mornings Gospel is all about.
The stranglehold that fear can have on us all.
Jesus understood this.
He is calling for witnesses, that is, for people who are not afraid to be seen to be followers of his out there in the midst of a skeptical and sometimes hostile world.
He knows that fear is one of the things keeping us from a bold and generous witnessing to his gospel of freedom & love.
Fear is an emotion with which we are all familiar as it often cripples our lives and hinders us from being the people we want to be, the people we can be.
We can think of many situations in our own life where our response to Christ is feeble and half-hearted.
Because of our fear of being laughed at, being out of fashion or regarded as weaklings, we often fail to stand up for what we know is just and right in our hearts.
Maybe we are afraid that in the company we keep , we will lose our so called friends by refusing to join in with the current gossip, or fad, or whatever
or are we afraid to being seen as goody two shoes for being churchy types,
The pressure in the face of temptation to abandon our Christian principles because of the smirks and sneers of others happens daily …..
As the Irish playwright Edmund Burke pointed out, and it is still true after 200 years, For evil to triumph, all that is required is for good people to remain silent.
Jesus knew of our fear…. Three times in the Gospel reading he tells his disciples not to be afraid.
And fortunately , there are always those who will overcome their fear to witness to his truth. People who are examples to us all in how to just witness.
Some are famous, like Oscar Romero, a South American Roman Catholic Priest, who was canonized recently.
He had been made Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 and at the time , he was a total Conservative…. A really safe choice for Archbishop….he wouldn’t rock the establishment boats…..or so they thought!
But he soon changed when he realized what was happening in his country. His eyes and heart were opened to the people’s pain and the injustice that existed there.
Every Sunday he preached in the Cathedral.
His sermons electrified the country…..he affected National Affairs when he spoke from the Altar
He made public the unspeakable crimes being committed, many of them by agents of the Government.
He was under constant threat of death.
Some of his closest associates and friends were murdered.
But still he would not remain silent.
Nor would he go into hiding or exile.
He said ‘At the first sight of danger the shepherd cannot run and leave the sheep to fend for themselves…I will stay with my people’
He was shot dead in March 1980, in the altar, while saying Mass.
Romero had said that to live as he did didn’t take courage but an understanding that his enemies dealt in fear.
And if he refused to be afraid , then they had no power over him.
Even though we might never aspire to such heights of heroism, people such as Oscar Romero remain an inspiration to us.
Although thankfully we live in a peaceful Ireland not war torn El Salvador,
every time and place needs Christian witnesses.
Christ says ‘Witness to me before all’
It’s in the world that we have to stand up and be counted.
And this doesn’t mean that we use our faith as a battering ram!
American writer Madeleine L’engle puts it beautifully when she said
‘We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it’
There is no such thing as a secret disciple….
We can’t witness behind closed doors and curtains.
We have to give public witness to our faith…. Although at the minute this might seem a little more difficult!
But even apart from Covid-19 restrictions, in 21st Century Ireland , we are extremely unlikely to actually be placing our life in danger by witnessing to Christ,
We are more likely to face a deadly indifference …..
And this can make witnessing to our faith a thing of fear.
We have to overcome our fear of what people will think about us or say about us,
and we have to overcome our fear of what it will cost us to let go of our ego.
We have to witness to the faith that has hopefully made us kinder, more empathetic, more loving, the faith that has impelled us to express sympathy in concrete acts of loving kindness……
When Jesus said to his apostles ‘Do not be afraid’ he wasn’t saying that they should never feel afraid.
He knew at times that they would be afraid.
Jesus urged them to move beyond fear, to have complete trust in God,
The God who lovingly watches over the life and death of even the smallest and least valuable of his creatures…. The sparrows.
God watches over us all.
I remember once years ago shopping in Dublin with a friend and she was some shopper!
Eventually in the 51st dressing room I sat down on a gorgeous couch right beside the changing area, so glad to rest my legs.
I said to the girl working there that she must love having such a comfortable couch in her area, but to my surprise she said that she hated the couch!
She then pointed over her shoulder to the camera watching our every move……
As an assistant in this posh shop, she got no chance to rest her legs!
Nowadays , thanks to the proliferation of security cameras, we are often being watched,
watched by a cold dispassionate eye,
intent on catching anyone in wrongdoing.
And while it’s reassuring to have these CCTVs, the feeling that someone is watching you is not a pleasant feeling……
God is not watching us…..he is watching over us.
In the words of our gospel….even the hairs of our heads are counted….
The conviction that God is watching over us gives us comfort, strength and hope especially in these times of difficulty and danger and fear.
In the end only God can allay our deepest fears….this was Jesus’ mission……to proclaim his Father’s love and care for each and every one of us.
He needed us to know that whatever happens, God is always in control.
It is God’s world.
God’s power and God’s Spirit are at work in our midst and we can be sure of God’s steadfast love.
SERMON FOR FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY , 14th JUNE 2020
In the name of God, Father , Son & Holy Spirit
The Gospel today was about Jesus travelling all around the countryside, teaching and proclaiming the Good News.
Of course, then the news had to be brought personally,
you had to physically go from one town to another in order to pass on the news.
So Jesus went to many different towns and villages and everywhere he went he saw crowds of people who were lost and helpless.
He felt for them, he thought that they looked like sheep without a shepherd…
One of the most beloved images of Jesus is of the Good Shepherd , caring for his sheep, guarding against the wolf and the lion, searching out the lost and bewildered.
In Jesus’ famous parable, the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 safe sheep and searches for the 1 that was lost.
I once saw a powerful cartoon of that parable with the 99 sheep whispering to each other after the Shepherd goes off to search for the one lost sheep , they were saying to each other … ‘He was not LOST…we threw him out’……
In his lifetime, Jesus went out of his way to intentionally help specific groups of people — the alienated, mistreated, and those suffering injustice.
We must recognize that our society is filled with numerous groups and communities facing systemic oppression, and we must act.
This is particularly obvious at this moment as we watch all of the protests across the world about Black Lives Matter.
As followers of Jesus, we must be willing to admit and address the complex realities within our world that create such problems, and avoid the spiritual laziness that tempts us to rely on generic excuses and solutions.
For those who say that Jesus wasn’t political, I say that we do a disservice to the gospel message by removing the cultural context from Jesus’ ministry and watering down his message to one of religious platitudes.
In our current unstable world, Covid-19, Trump, Brexit etc, it is tempting to say that the Church should stay out of politics, but that is not an option, for all sorts of reasons.
Obviously there are Politics and Politics… for example, I wouldn’t announce from the Pulpit that you should vote Fine Gael, or Fianna Fail, or Green or whatever…
And though I always remind you to vote, you can all make your decisions in good conscience and vote yourself as you wish- without Church interference!
What I am talking about is involving ourselves politically on the key issues of the day.
Jesus was crucified precisely because he upset the political and religious authorities of his day.
The cross turns ideas of powerfulness and powerlessness on their head.
Jesus is the one before whom all idols fall and shatter — and you cannot get more political than that.
So how do congregations “get involved’ in politics?
Well, we are called upon to act!
In our time, with our issues…
I read something recently written by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, an author , minister & activist, who grew up in the American South but who came to realise that the Gospel that his church was preaching was not Good News for ALL.
He says ‘We need to listen …. Then talk to one another about how we can unlearn implicit bias, leverage social privilege for the common good, and follow the leadership of impacted people working for systemic justice’
Living the authentic Gospel out in our lives isn’t going to be easy for any of us.
In our Gospel today, we get a feeling of how huge the task must have seemed to those first followers….
Jesus was aware of just how many people needed help and guidance, his lost sheep,
but there are not enough people who are willing to help them….
and he prayed that God would send enough workers to help those who need help.
In our gospel he called his twelve closest followers to him
‘Go … heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons’
He told them to tell all of the people they met that the Kingdom of heaven is near. His subversive Kingdom, where the first shall be last and the last first.
These first Apostles travelled all over the known world to tell everyone the good news.
But it didn’t end with them…. We are all called to be his workers …. all of us…
We are all asked to tell the good news of Gods kingdom to everyone we meet.
Because , like the first chosen apostles, we are all chosen, all followers of Jesus , all workers for God!
We probably all know someone who has helped God to seem more real to us
and we are so grateful for all those people in our lives who truly knew God and lived their lives so that we too could understood more about God.
The faith of those who have gone before us is something that can really help us, especially on days when we find ourselves doubting what is important and real.
When I am preparing the young people for confirmation each year, for ‘homework’ I ask them to speak to an older person about what difference knowing Christ has made to them in their lives.
The feedback is always fascinating … for me as much as them.
I know for a fact that some of the ‘older’ people questioned by the young person feel very awkward answering this question.
It is challenging.
What difference HAS knowing Christ made in our lives?
It’s a tough one, but one worth asking ourselves.
Living as a Christian should make us different.
We should stand out… we should be examples of the living Word.
And that can mean getting our hands dirty.
You may have seen during the week that the famous street artist ‘Banksy’ proposed a solution for people in the UK who objected to the statue of the 17th century Slave Trader Edward Colston being pulled down from it’s plinth and dumped in the river by BlackLivesMatter Protesters?
‘Here’s an idea that caters for both those who miss the Colston statue and those who don’t. We drag him out the water, put him back on the plinth, tie cable round his neck and commission some life size bronze statues of protestors in the act of pulling him down. Everyone happy. A famous day commemorated.”
Commenting on whether he should be involving himself in this matter he wrote “People of colour are being failed by the system. The white system. Like a broken pipe flooding the apartment of the people living downstairs.
This is a white problem. And if white people don’t fix it, someone will have to come upstairs and kick the door in”.
This really landed with me.
We all have to speak up when we see injustices, we all have to teach ourselves to really listen when someone is telling us that they feel oppressed, or hurt, or discriminated against.
Richard Rohr, the wonderful US theologian, wrote in one of his daily emails last week, that like Martin Luther King Jr. he believed that the ‘Arc of the Universe bends towards Justice’ but it depends on our participation.
We have to ask ourselves what we are doing to bend the Universe a little more towards Justice?
Jesus wasn’t just preaching a universal salvation message for the world,
he was also addressing specific political, social, and racial issues in his world.
He was reaching out to those who were being abused, violated, and oppressed.
When we involve ourselves within these issues — serving those who need justice — we are truly following Jesus , helping him to help all those people, throughout the world, the millions of people who are suffering
This is how we spread the Gospel, by truly living lives that remind people of God’s love ,
And in this way, we pass on the good news, the gospel of Christ.
We pass it on , not just by talking but by doing… Amen
SERMON FOR TRINITY SUNDAY , 7th June 2020
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today is Trinity Sunday.
On the Sunday after Pentecost each year, we especially remember the Trinity.
You might have noticed (or maybe not!) that I always begin sermons in the name of the Trinity,
God: Father , Son and Holy Spirit.
But interestingly ‘Trinity’ as a word, does not appear anywhere in the Bible,
and yet .. the Bible is full of accounts of the Trinity
the Creator, the Redeemer, the Comforter.
Each year on this day, in celebrating Trinity Sunday,
we are forced to think about this mystery of God.
Good sound Theologians , better by far than me!
have been known to quake in fear while preaching on the subject of the Trinity.
Because when you start explaining you usually fall into heresy! Especially worrying when you’re live streaming and the bishop can google it later!
So traditionally, Trinity Sunday is the day when curates preach, where the Rector sits back and listens
They say that Rectors sit back and listen on this day to hear how their curates are getting on,
But in reality, perhaps they are sitting back with relief that its
not them in the pulpit!
I was once that curate in Kilkenny
and unfortunately even though I am a rector, I don’t have a curate so you’re stuck with me……
Famously, St Augustine said that if asked to define the Trinity we can only say that
it is NOT this and it is NOT that…
But you know,
While the doctrine of the Trinity seems difficult,
it’s what we all know anyway.
For all theology is something we do… all of the time!
Everyone to a certain extent is a Theologian.
Theology means nothing more that what you think and say about God…. God talk!
Even the person who shouts ‘I don’t believe in God’ is actually speaking theologically ….whether they like it or not!
I used to torture one friend who claimed to be an atheist
I used to remind him that just because he didn’t believe in God, it didn’t mean that God didn’t believe in him!…
It drove him mad!… mind you, he still is an atheist.
Trinity Sunday has been celebrated in the Christian Church since the 10th Century.
And on this day, the Sunday after Pentecost,
in pulpits all over the world,
we address ourselves to the subject of the Triune God.
What we do have to bear in mind is that the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t attempt to explain God
The Doctrine can only begin to explain to us in a very simple way what God has revealed about himself so far.
Just like to describe the tip of an iceberg above the water is not meant to be the final description or understanding of the whole iceberg. It’s just the tip…telling us that there is an Iceberg below.
So when we Christians affirm our belief in the Trinity,
we do it not as an explanation of the totality of God
but as a way of describing what we know about God.
As I said earlier, the Trinity is not clearly stated as a doctrine in the Bible
but it is stated, by implication, many many times.
Just think about the baptism of Jesus
The spirit descending on him as a dove
And the voice of God ‘This is my Son, the beloved’
All three persons of the Trinity involved.
The early Christians soon discovered that they couldn’t speak of God without speaking of the three ways in which God had been manifest to them.
God, the Father, who created us
God, the Son, the incarnation , who lived among us
God, the Holy Spirit, the comforter, who enables and encourages us.
We understand that this doesn’t mean that there are three Gods, but one God,
A God who has shown himself, or herself, or their selves, in three different ways.
Down through the centuries, different theologians have used many diverse metaphors to get the paradoxical nature of this mystery across.
The fable of St Patrick’s Shamrock is a famous one here in Ireland, three leaves but one stem, one actual flower.
Or the example of Water, Ice and Steam
The Ice of the Father, the running Water of the Son and the otherworldly yet real Steam of the Spirit.
All are of water
but all are completely different manifestations of water.
The most important thing to remember with these illustrations is that they , all of them , are but illustrations.
All are human attempts to get across what we know of God and how we experience God in our lives.
In our ordinary lives, in the concept of the Trinity,
our minds are brought into loving contact with the complexity and wonder of God.
The three Persons of the Trinity,
the role of each person in that trinity in our salvation.
Through Christ we are able to overcome hostility and alienation and enter into relationship with the Father
As Paul puts it in his letter to the community living in Galatia
‘When we cry Abba Father!, it is the very spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ’…
Reminding us all that through the Holy Spirit,
God’s love is able to pour into our hearts and we become God’s own children, made in God’s image,
sisters and brothers with God’s own son.
If you read Acts of the Apostles you’ll find no better place to hear all about the role of the Spirit – carrying on in the Church the work of Jesus after Jesus has departed to the Father.
The role of the Spirit is to spell out to each generation the significance of what Jesus said and did
…..and to spell it out in ways that that specific generation can understand!
In 21st Century Ireland, the Spirit perhaps uses different methods than was appropriate in the early church era or in the time of St. Patrick’s.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit uses Facebook or Twitter or Instagram now too! And even , God forbid, TikTok!
Certainly I have felt the power of the Holy Spirit through our Live Streaming and through Zoom in the last few months!
I shouldn’t be surprised – that is what we were promised ….
Remember Pentecost…. the ‘wind blows where it chooses, you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes’
The Trinity is not meant to be off-putting abstract theological conundrum.
It is meant to be an invitation into relationship.
Even though he said we should define the Trinity as what it isn’t , even St Augustine himself found it helpful to depict the Trinity as a triangle,
each in relationship with each other.
all three inviting us into relationship with Love.
The famous Russian Icon painter Rublev has painted a wonderful Icon of the Trinity.
In this icon, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are depicted as people, sitting around a triangular table, all looking in the same direction, at the gap in the table.
All looking at the person who is looking at the painting.
All inviting and welcoming us into relationship, to sit with them at the table.
All three are inviting us into a relationship with Love itself.
And all we have to do is say Yes!
Our gospel today tells us of the Great Commission
‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations’
And the really important bit for us mere humans is that sentence
‘remember , I am with you always, to the end of the age’
So , on this Trinity Sunday,
Instead of wrecking our heads trying to understand the incomprehensible,
we can understand that God is with us,
that God is still active among us,
still continuing God’s work of building the kingdom here in our troubled world.
still giving meaning and purpose in our lives.
This we can all understand!
SERMON FOR PENTECOST 31st May , 2020
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place….. and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
I have been ordained 15 years, well almost… 24th June it’ll be 15 years.
and I was a student reader for 2 years before that while I was in the theological college
so I have been preaching for 17 years now .
Each Pentecost I say I will try and say something different this year but each year, when I hear the words from Acts,
it is almost impossible not to say the same thing! …
The account of those first disciples in chapter 2 of Acts of the Apostles is always read at Pentecost… its not an option.
So each year we have that same reading from Acts and while I try not to say the exact same thing every year, it isn’t easy ! each year at Pentecost , I seem to want to say the very same thing!… even in this Covid-19 surreal universe – when the world seems to be in total disarray!
Because it is just so dramatic!
Such a gripping story…..
How the leaderless disciples were enabled to be strong enough to get out and do what they had been commissioned to do…..
How determined they were to become.
How sure they were about what they were doing
How they were able to go into the world as witnesses to what Jesus had achieved for us all.
How they were able to somehow enable others to see past this ordinary life to the extraordinary love God holds for each of us.
What is it about the Holy Spirit that they received that day that enabled these ordinary people to become so extraordinary?
Tongues of flame…. that’s how they described it..
(THROW OUT THE PETALS)
Something like this?
Today the Spirit is still outpouring on us….
And it blows in some very strange and unexpected places.
Are we listening?
Are the cries for Justice from economic and political
oppression cries of the Spirit? The cries of the people of colour? The Dispossed?
Dare we shut our ears to the Spirit speaking to us in the churches in the cry of the World’s hungry, underlined in this time of pandemic?
The Spirit is there for all that have eyes to see and ears to listen, for all who open their hearts and minds to receive it.
Jesus said the Spirit would come to the disciples and that’s what happened.
The Holy Spirit came and never left….
Still by our side,
At the end of the Service today , I will extinguish the Pascal Candle and then later on, when we have stopped live streaming, I will put it way over beside the Baptismal Font.
It will remain unlit there except for Baptisms and Funerals until it is replaced at the next Easter Vigil.
This is symbolic of Jesus having returned to his father in Heaven at Ascension and having ‘organised’ the Holy Spirit to come for us….
In John’s gospel, Jesus calls the Spirit ‘the Comforter’, ‘the Strengthener’, ‘the Helper’
the one who nerves and steels us for Life’s tough battles.
Jesus never promised his disciples that they would always be safe, but he DID promise them that they should not be alone….so it is for us, the Spirit is always with us, strengthening and helping us to become what Jesus knows we can become.
The Spirit is not there just for extraordinary people like the first disciples,
or for Paul as he journeyed on his missions across the Roman world,
or for Augustine as he helped define our doctrines and theology,
or for Wesley as he reinvigorated our church.
The Holy Spirit is also there for ordinary people like you and me, to make US extra-ordinary by the spirit.
And God knows we need to be strong in these extraordinary times.
Those early Christians in Jerusalem probably felt just as ordinary, just as vulnerable, as we do today
and look at what they, with the power of the Spirit,
were able to achieve.
The Spirit shook the disciples out of their lethargy and warmed them up for their task.
The Spirit filled them with a burning desire to get up and do something for Jesus.
The Spirit gave them a thirst for the work of Jesus.
The Spirit filled them with energy for Jesus whom they loved, helped them to realise that they had to be out there on the streets, among the people, making the name of Jesus known.
The Spirit put energy into their feet and into their voices, gave them confidence, made them feel that their cause was worth every ounce of energy they could give it.
The disciples threw themselves into their task, pleaded and argued for Jesus, explained to the people in the street what Jesus stood for.
Could what happened to these disciples also happen for us?
or do we secretly believe that this was a once-only event in history which couldn’t possible happen outside of Palestine in the 1st Century,
never mind 21 centuries later in a pandemic world?
But luckily for us, regardless of our fears, the Holy Spirit still continues to burst out in every generation of believers.
I mentioned this many times before but I always feel a powerful connection to Pentecost as it was 24 years ago I first went into St Patrick’s church in Greystones.
I was back from Holland a couple of months and was
living in Wicklow,
I wandered in to an ordinary Church of Ireland parish,
to an ordinary service celebrating Pentecost
and found that an extraordinary God was waiting there for ordinary me…..
People still feel their lives drastically transformed through an encounter with Christ, many still find the spirit so real and invigorating that sacrifices are made with joyful serenity, unpleasant and dangerous work gladly undertaken,
In the power of the Spirit, individuals stand firm to witness in a corrupt society and countless numbers spread love and peace daily amongst those around them.
When we look at what has gone on in the US in the last week, it is a reminder of how bad inequality can get, even in what we loosely term a ‘1st World Country’.
And it’s not just in America that Racism exists, although it sometimes seems like that. We in Ireland have a long way to go before we can say that we are not racist.
The only people that seem to say racism doesn’t exist here are white privileged people who have never been at the butt of a racist ‘joke’ .
Listen to people around you, …. I haven’t experienced racism, but people I know have and I believe them and I believe that we have to acknowledge that fact before we can move on.
I heard the US actor Will Smith say last week that it isn’t that there wasn’t racism in the past but that now, it is being filmed on people’s phones.
Do you think we would ever have heard of George Floyd if he hadn’t been filmed with a Policeman’s foot on his neck?
Racism is never acceptable in our society. We are all children of God.
There is still much to be done, but, living in the Spirit, we too can take part in the establishing of God’s kingdom on Earth.
Today we are celebrating the gifts the Holy Spirit, the enabler gives us,
Writing his letter to the Galatians,
Paul listed the fruits of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity , faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
These fruits or gifts are what enables us to be his followers and to make followers of others.
They are what enable us to truly consider all humankind as our sisters and brothers for we are ALL the direct descendants of those first disciples, spiritually if not physically.
God has big plans for each one of us,
Now…Here . …. in Monkstown/Carrigaline,
Dublin and Holland, Luxembourg , Kilkenny and Colchester
Now… in the year of our Lord 2020.
and as I am always and ever reminding us…..
….. he doesn’t expect us to do it alone
That is why he sent us his Holy Spirit…
(THROW MORE RED FLAMES) Amen.
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.